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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's My Top Secret Personal Beeswax ...

"It's my Top Secret Personal Beeswax .... doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo" .... it would help if you could actually hear the melody that accompanies these words. The tune, along with these first six words of the song, keep playing in my head as if on repeat! So, maybe it's best you can't hear the melody ... because then it would be replaying in your head too!

I think I was looking forward to this day more than my son. The minute I heard that his first grade class would be attending a Junie B. Jones musical/play, I promptly volunteered to chaperone! I didn't want to miss the chance to see a children's book adapted onto the stage!

I am quite aware of the Junie B. Jones character and have thumbed through several books ... but, I must admit, I haven't read through an entire story yet. Don't furrow your brow ... it's just because my son is at the age to be reading this type of book, and Junie B. Jones hasn't really been his thing. Now ... in a few years, when my daughter is in the first grade, I suspect Junie B. Jones might be a regular on our reading list! Actually ... after seeing today's play, it might be on my son's as well.

Theatreworks USA's production of Junie B. Jones' "Top Secret Personal Beeswax" gets an A+ from me. Yes, it's designed for Grades K-5, but what adult wouldn't be wowed by upbeat songs, fantastic choreography, endearing and hilarious characters (played by super-talented actors!), and a fantastic story line ... all packed into one hour?!

The challenges Junie B. Jones has to triumph over in her first grade year would make your head spin ... losing her best friend, Lucille, to Camille and Chenille (because their names all rhyme!); finding out she needs glasses; making friends with the new kid at school; dealing with Tuna Noodle Stinkle in the lunchroom; and not being able to compete in the kickball tournament due to a piggy toe injury! Oh my! Lucky for her, she can write it all down in her Top-Secret Personal Beeswax Journal.

It all makes for a very entertaining tale ... one with a wonderfully embedded message of how to deal with life's unexpected changes and new experiences in positive ways! And we all need to be reminded of how to do that every once in a while ... whether we're in first grade or ... well ... in our mid-to-late thirties! :-)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spoonerism

No ... this post is not about spoon addictions ... nor is it about the fact that, in my house, spoons are always the first to be cleared out of the utensil drawer. We often have to run a load of dishes just to replenish the spoon supply ... and the bowls ... but that's a whole other post.

I love Dictionary.com. Since I never made it through the entire dictionary (I did try, in my grade school days ... but only made it to the third page of the As!), I subscribe to its Word of the Day e-mails in the hopes of enlightening myself with lots of new and fascinating words ... not always words that can be used in picture books ... but informative nonetheless!

Like today's word ... thaumaturgy (THAW-muh-tuhr-jee) ... a noun meaning "The performance of miracles or magic." Who knew?!

Well ... maybe you knew that ... but I didn't.

And, yesterday's word ... I had no idea a word existed for the phenomena that always seems to happen when you're speaking to a large group of people ... you know, when you flip-flop the first sounds or letters of a pair of words in a sentence, and end up saying something that sounds like gibberish?!

It's called spoonerism (SPOO-nuh-riz-uhm), a noun that means "The transposition of usually initial sounds in a pair of words."

Please tell me I'm not the only person who was not aware there was an actual word for this affliction!

Apparently (I thought this was fascinating), it hails from the Rev. William Archibald Spooner, who was a very kind but nervous clergyman and educator who committed this little flip-flopping of sounds quite a bit ... enough to get a word placed in the dictionary as a result!

Some of his examples included ...
"We all know what it is to have a half-warmed fish ["half-formed wish"] inside us."
"It is kisstomary to cuss ["customary to kiss"] the bride."

So, thank you Dictionary.com, for enlightening me, once again, to all those words out there that I had no idea even existed! It certainly helps with the goal to "learn something new every day"!

And the Winner Is ...

... Virginia, from the "In the Land of Broken Hearts" blog (http://landofbrokenhearts.blogspot.com)!

Congratulations, Virginia, on winning a copy of Christina Katz's book, "Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids" (Writer's Digest Books 2007).

Thanks to everyone for your insightful responses to the question posed! They were so fascinating and helpful to read!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stop #22 of The Writer Mama Two-Year Anniversary Blog Tour Giveaway!

What fun ... my blog was chosen to be part of "The Writer Mama Two-Year Anniversary Blog Tour Giveaway"! So, enjoy this guest post, with great information from Christina Katz, author of "Writer Mama" and "Get Known Before the Book Deal" ... AND don't miss your chance to win her book, "Writer Mama", by answering the question at the end of this post! Enjoy!

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The Writer Mama Two-Year Anniversary Blog Tour Giveaway!

Post #22: The Perils of Book Writing: Part Two

Continued from Part One (http://zookbooknook.blogspot.com/2009/03/writer-mama-two-year-anniversary-blog.html)

Mental Kung-Fu

Yours

If fear is the biggest threat to your emotional health while writing a book, then negativity is the biggest danger to your mental health. Negativity comes in many forms: thoughts we think about ourselves, thoughts we think about others, thoughts we think about the world, and thoughts we don’t even know we have about ourselves, others, and the world. So needless to say, when you are under the pressure of writing a book, you definitely want juice up your positive attitude.

When you find yourself thinking, for example, “I feel like I’ll never finish this book,” rebuff it with constructive action like sitting down with a calendar and scheduling your writing time backwards from your deadline. Then you can say, “If I stick to my writing schedule, I can make my deadline,” and know from your observations that it’s true.

On the other hand, watch out for ungrounded optimism like, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll make my deadline,” if you haven’t actually invested the time and energy to plan your course.

Theirs

When it comes to other people, things get a bit trickier. For the sake of brevity, I’ll over-simplify. Let’s say there are three kinds of people you’ll encounter when you are up to your eyeballs in book writing: folks who think it’s great, folks who aren’t that interested, and folks who are negative.

Which group of people do you think can provide the most wind beneath your wings during your book writing process? Of course, it’s the positive people. But if you are like most writers, you also have some indifferent or negative people in your life. How could it be otherwise? So you’ll want to learn to monitor how much energy you have to expend when you are around certain people.

For example, if you are absolutely exhausted every time a family member asks you another slew of questions about your book, then maybe that person is really not as supportive as you may have thought. Once you determine that someone isn’t really that supportive, don’t try to change them. Just improve your boundaries. Next time this person starts up with a long list of questions, try changing the subject to a topic that doesn’t drain your energy. Try something that is interesting to you both. And don’t expect support from that person, and then you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get any.

Ours

Creative careers have a bizarre status in America. We seem to have a collective love-hate relationship with the arts. I believe that even in its most practical execution, writing is an art. It’s a business and an art. We are used to business people but we’re not as comfortable with artists. A lot of silly mythology also surrounds art and artists. Try not to fall prey to any of the ego traps that trip up artists.

Anyone can do art. Anyone can become an artist. And artist doesn’t mean “exempt.” So if you want to be a writer and therefore an artist, remember, it’s just another role you play in life, not the only role.

With more people becoming creators, I think we can look forward to facing our collective shadow around the arts in the upcoming years. In the not so distant future, everyone will be an artist and artists will turn just about everything you can imagine into an art form. In the meantime, a book like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way can help anyone confront and transform personal myths about creativity and art.

[To be continued tomorrow…]

Today's Book Drawing: To enter to win a signed, numbered copy of "Writer Mama", answer the following question in this blog's comments:

Negativity. How do you deal with it in yourself, others, and in our culture?

Thanks for participating! Only US residents, or folks with a US mailing address, can participate in the drawing. Please only enter once per day.

Where will the drawing be tomorrow? Visit http://thewritermama.wordpress.com/ to continue reading the rest of the Writer Mama story throughout March 2009!

Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids by Christina Katz (Writer's Digest Books 2007)

Kids change your life, but they don't necessarily have to end your career. Stay-at-home moms will love this handy guide to rearing a successful writing career while raising their children. The busy mom's guide to writing life, this book gives stay-at-moms the encouragement and advice they need including everything from getting started and finding ideas to actually finding time to do the work - something not easy to do with the pitter-patter of little feet. With advice on how to network and form a a business, this nurturing guide covers everything a writer mama needs to succeed at her second job. Christina Katz is also the author of the newly released "Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform" (Writer's Digest Books 2008).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Listen to the Wind

"Three Cups of Tea", by Greg Mortenson, has been on my reading list for some time now. So what did I purchase this weekend? No. Not "Three Cups of Tea" ... that's still on my list. I purchased "Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea."

Surprising ... I know ... that a picture book writer would end up purchasing the picture book version of the story before the original, adult version! :-)

And, no, it wasn't just that I wanted the abridged version! :-)

The story of Greg Mortenson, who has now helped to build 78 schools (78!!!!!!) in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, is over-the-top phenomenal and inspiring. This man sold everything he owned to raise money to build the first school in Korphe, a small, remote village in the mountains of Pakistan. He sent letters to 580 prominent Americans, businesspeople, and celebrities asking them to help. Of those 580 letters, one was returned ... with $100 ... from Tom Brokaw. I've always known there was something about Tom that I liked!

Greg Mortensen has survived an armed kidnapping and endured and persevered despite multiple death threats ... all to promote a very simple and effective concept: Peace through education.

The picture book, "Listen to the Wind" is stunningly gorgeous. The illustrations are collages created by Susan L. Roth. My 6-year old son was overwhelmed by them. He couldn't believe that someone had created the pictures using scraps of paper and material, and kept repeating - with each turn of a page - "Wow, she's good!" (in reference to the artist!).

The story, itself, is quite a concept for a child to wrap their arms around. That these children from Korphe did not have a regular indoor school to attend was a bit worrisome to my son. However, the fact that their lessons were held outside and they wrote with sticks in the dirt initially sounded very appealing ... like the school of his dreams!

The story continues on to explain how that first school was built. First, they had to figure out how to get the supplies from one mountainside, across a river, to the next mountainside. The whole town came together, with Greg, to build a bridge. Once the bridge was complete, they could then transport - by foot - the supplies needed to build the school. A true labor of love.

Men, women, and children all came together to build that first school. This is truly an amazing story of a community coming together for the sake of its children ... to give them an education, so they could grow to be leaders with agendas of peace!

It also was a great prompt for a discussion with my son ... about this particular region of the world; about what many of the children would be learning about if it weren't for these schools; and about the organization - Pennies For Peace - that continues to raise funds to promote education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A penny may not be much to us ... but there, it can buy one pencil, thereby promoting literacy and learning. And, one dollar ... it can fund one child's education for a whole month. Wow!

A beautiful book with a remarkable message of community, hope, and peace.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Recent Lesson in "Don't Tell ... Show"

When you read about how to be an effective writer, you often hear the phrase, "Don't tell .... show." Don't just tell the reader that your character is sad, show them. Don't simply tell the reader about the beautiful landscape, show them. And, sometimes, that's easier said than done.

Recently, though, I overheard a statement that was the perfect example of 'show'. It has haunted me a bit, and will continue to be a vivid reminder of that rule when I write.

Last month, an acquaintance of mine marked a devastating one-year anniversary. That of the death of her 15-year old son. Unbearable ... unimaginable ... a parent's very worst nightmare. Her middle of three children. All of them her pride and joy. She was at work as a personal trainer when it happened. She saw the coverage flash across the TV screen in the workout room, and realized they were covering a horrific accident in the same intersection her son biked through on his way home from school. The call came minutes later. He had been hit by a bus. He had not made it.

As I learned more about this amazing young man, I grieved - along with so many others - over the lost potential and unrealized dreams. Even at such a young and tender age, he was a prolific and gifted writer. Wise beyond his years. A year before his accident, he'd written an article entitled "Please Don't Run Me Over" ... the topic being about the dangers of biking on our roadways, and the responsibilities of both drivers AND bikers.

I can't imagine what it must be like to recover, as a parent, from such a tragedy. I suspect that it's a day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute, process. I suspect that everything is different, including your definition of 'normal'. There is a new normal. And, even though you know they are in a place without pain ... a wonderful, comfortable, happy, bright place, you still desperately want them here with you.

The other day, I was doing my weights, and she was training with a client in the area right next to me. It was a beautiful morning, and the client made a comment about how lovely it was to see the sun shining. She agreed, paused, and then - without a single hint of self-pity - said, "Someday, maybe I'll be able to feel the sun when it shines again."

A striking and haunting description of grief, loss, and hope. My heart immediately started aching for her.

One simple sentence that conveyed all the emotions tied to her unbearable loss and was so impactful to those listening. And, a vivid reminder to me of how to show, and not just tell.

Photo: "Sunset in Kauai" - October 2007

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Say What?

You realize how funny the English language actually is when you're watching someone learn it. As an adult, you take all the rules and nuances and dual-meanings of words for granted. But, when you're watching your child learn the language, you realize that it's not always so simple to explain. The only thing I can compare it to, as an adult, is learning another language altogether.

Right now, my 3-year old daughter has quite the expanding vocabulary, but she's still in the stage where she absorbing all these new words and simply using them. Not questioning them ... just spitting them right back out ... amazingly in the correct context most of the time! Like last night, when she announced to me and my hubby, "At school, we're gonna put the eggs in the in-coo-bator (incubator) to keep them warm!"

My 6-year old son, however, is at the point of analyzing words and sentences. Something as simple as listening to songs in the car has morphed into complicated lessons in the English language! Take, for example, the following lines to the oh-so-awesome song "Free To Be Me" by Francesca Battistelli:

Oh, I got a couple dents in my fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
And on my own I'm so clumsy
But on Your shoulders I can see
I'm free to be me

So ... when I first listened to the song, I thought, "Wow ... what a great song; what amazing words ... and what a fantastic way to describe imperfection."

My son, however, heard the song and - with a look of confusion, sprinkled with a hint of concern - asked, "Why does she have dents in her car?"; and "Why does she say she has rips in her jeans?"

So ... I launched into trying to explain metaphors and literal vs. figurative speech and descriptive words using the phrases he had just heard in the song as an example.

Oh my!

When I hear lyrics or read a sentence, I automatically and immediately decide whether it's meant to be literal or figurative. I take for granted that I need to figure that out, and then determine the meaning. My 6-year old isn't at that "automatic" point yet ... he's now realizing there is a difference, and is trying to learn how to determine meaning based on how something is phrased and in what context it's used.

So very fascinating, and important to remember as we help our children become good readers, listeners, and writers!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

You're doing mighty fine for being 105!!

My son's first grade class is celebrating this very special birthday with a Dr. Seuss Day! Special crafts (yea!) ... writing their own Seuss-like stories (woohoo!) ... and, of course ... dressing-up in a Seuss-ish way! And, with that, we have the part where - as a parent - I think to myself ... 'oh dear ...'.

I could probably be classified as being fairly creative ... but only if a computer is involved. I pretty much enjoy creating anything using this technological wonder. But, challenge me with creating a costume or thinking up a fabulous craft, and I'm hopelessly lost and rather uninterested.

So, when I read the newsletter on Friday, suggesting the kids wear something special in honor of the rhyming wizard's birthday, I did my normal, "Eeeek!" But, then I was saved by a phone call.

See the adorable picture of Thing 1 and Thing 2? My son, Braden, is Thing 2. Thing 1 is his dear friend, Hadden. And, Hadden's mom just happens to be a teacher who - from all indications - is uber creative when it comes to costumes! Her message went something like this ... "Kelly ... I saw that it was Dr. Seuss day on Monday, and I was thinking Hadden and Braden could go as Thing 1 and Thing 2. We've already got two blue wigs, and I'll make the Thing 1 and Thing 2 signs for their shirts. Does Braden have a red shirt he can wear?"

"We do!!!" I exclaimed with glee to the message player! And so, it was settled ... and Thing 1 and Thing 2 looked absolutely adorable this morning! As did the rest of the class, dressed as Cat in the Hat and in all sorts of other shirts and hats that would make Dr. Seuss proud!

Thank you, Mr. Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), for creating a reading phenomenon that continues to touch and influence the lives of so many children (and adults!) ... and, no doubt, will do so for many years to come! Happy Birthday!