Pictures from The Last Bookstore in LA

I had a FABULOUS time at the recent SCBWI conference in L.A. I loved the new location, I took away great thoughts for my work, I got to see muppets in action (!) and I was nominated for the Sue Alexander award.

I've been busy busy busy fixing some work. Sometimes I need a break from the Internet when I'm hard at work/play (am I the only one that feels like the Internet can be an echo chamber?). But I felt like it was long past time I at least posted these pics

Isn't this bookstore amazing? Their art section was my favorite. Although they had a stellar comics section too.

Cheers to a playful and promising summer's last few weeks.

Yesterday in the grocery store parking lot

 
I don't often write personal essays, but journaling about my day yesterday* I wrote this regarding my struggles with pavement (or maybe I should say anxiety) since my bike crash last summer and decided I might share what I wrote here. It's off-topic from my usual blog posts but I'm attempting to be braver sharing my art with the wider world and for whatever it's worth I thought posting this might be a small act of such bravery.  If that interests you, read on. Otherwise I encourage you to skip this post. 

Even while leaning on the grocery cart as if it were a walker, the elderly stranger looked like she'd topple. My mom and I were walking out of the grocery store, pushing my stroller full of my son and our groceries, on our way home when we saw the old woman. She moved glacier slow, the cart her crutch, her feet shuffling like a wind-up toy losing its wind. I motioned to my mom to take the stroller from me and I offered to help the old woman.

She was glad to let me put her groceries in her car. I stayed with her as she pushed the cart to her car door, tip-toeing with determination. She was grateful for my company, she said so, but I sensed hesitation in how she kept pausing and testing her grip on the cart, as if she wanted to let it go. It was clear she wanted to be able to do this herself. I felt for her. I wanted to respect her autonomy. Maybe she did usually do this herself. But then again, it was also clear something wasn't right. She looked off-center and a touch distant. Maybe it was a health episode?  Maybe she'd worn herself out shopping?

So I stood nearby after I unloaded her cart. And when she finally did let go of the cart it was like watching a cliffhanger letting go of a cliff. The old woman tipped, her hips swayed, her knees buckled. I lurched forward with both hands and latched on to her arm. She kept falling, I didn't have a solid hold on her and I tipped with her, at least partially. But she fell, my awkward catch at least softening the contact with the asphalt.

She was shaken, embarrassed. So was I. But she wasn't broken, at least I hoped not. My mom and I got her up and into her car. I stood next to her with her car door open and asked if she was okay. She looked at her arm. It was bruised. Probably from me grabbing it. She seemed rattled, but said, "I'm okay." Then she looked at her hand. "I'm bleeding," she stammered. And she was bleeding; it was a big cut, right on the butt of her paper-thin palm. Her hand shook.

My mom gave us some tissues and went to find a store clerk to help us. The old woman glanced at me, and looked down. "Thank you," she mumbled.  I asked if I could call anyone. She said she lived in an assisted living center not far away, but she'd be fine. She didn't want an ambulance. Her eyes knotted. I asked if she was in pain and she said she'd be okay. But I knew the pain was something different.

She was ashamed.

I recognized the look in her eyes, simultaneously grateful and horrified I'd gone through this experience with her. Or maybe that was just how I felt. I knew I wasn't only speaking to her when I pressed the clean tissues into her bleeding hand and knelt down with her, she in her car and I next to her on the asphalt and said, "You aren't alone. Lots of people fall. I've fallen. Look at this scar."

I pointed at my chin, at the place where I'd crashed into the pavement after flying over my handlebars on my bike just months before. The scar: the physical reminder of the accident that still replays in my head over and over and over during moments of weakness and vulnerability, the epicenter of my own mental issues with pavement.

The elderly woman looked at my chin. It was the first time she really turned and looked at me and she was looking right at my ugliest most unreasonably shameful spot. I traced the long red line of the scar.

"I got it only a few months ago falling myself," I said. "Someone else helped me get up afterward too." I added.

I thought not only of the two men who picked me up bleeding off the side of the road those months before, but of the paramedics at the fire station they took me to, and the emergency room doctor with the gentle hands who threaded my chin back together, and the friends who'd helped with my kids while I recovered from the accompanying concussion, and the friends and my husband who encouraged me to seek help when the anxiety and flashbacks and headaches overwhelmed me months later, and of my therapist who'd offered me relief just hours before.

"It takes a village," I said to the old woman who now sat bleeding and defeated at her steering wheel.

She nodded and half-smiled. I thought I saw her even raise an eyebrow. "It takes a village," she agreed."

I gave her my blessings as the store manager and a few clerks surrounded her and took over helping her. The asphalt was still hard under my feet as my mom, my son, and I walked away. But the sun was warm, the birds were chirping. And I was, at long last, moving forward.


*Please note that I re-wrote the intro to this essay a few days after I posted. Why? Because I didn't like the old one.

Screen time gives way to a happy something else

Do you ever feel like the NOW around you is way too full of screen time? I gave up nearly all television years ago. Not because I didn't enjoy it exactly. Just because I realized I enjoyed so many other things so much more. I guess I've had a bit of a wake-up call recently with another sort of screen. You know the one. You are looking at it now if you are reading this.

But the internet is sooooo darn useful.

So I won't give it up. I haven't disappeared. But. I do have a very good reason to have stepped away a bit and to be so absent recently from posting on my blog.

Here's why:

His name is Lars Archie. He was born on August 5.

(Ahem. Like I said, I know I'm late to post).

He likes to be held in his Mommy's lap (while she reads actual dead-tree books). He doesn't like the car and usually cries like crazy when he's in it. He seems to like being outside and I like being outside with him. His big brother makes him happy. When I play the ukulele for him, he coos along with me as though he's singing. When his daddy burps him, he belches like an old man. His smile can make one melt.

Sometimes being a mommy to a newborn is also super super painfully hard and tiring. But maybe because I've been here before I know that the hardest stuff doesn't last long.

And neither does the super sweet precious little-tiny-baby stuff.

So posting may stay a bit spotty for a bit. But pretty soon baby will have to share me with the outside world more. Pretty soon I'll have a bit of childcare and the siren song of my art and studio will nudge me into sharing with the world more regularly again.

But meanwhile I'll relish this very lovely moment.

Happy Heart Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!

 I love heart photos. The above picture I took in Chang Mai, Thailand. The below picture I took here in Bellingham, Washington when I was home visiting while living abroad.

 And the below screen shot is from a link my hubby sent me this morning to his Strava page where he tracks his bike routes via GPS watch. This was the unconventional route he took to work and sent to me.

Isn't he sweet?

 How about, while I'm anyway posting a valentine's mash-up, I also post some pictures of my other (littler) valentine making cards for his class.

 Oscar wanted to make a rocket-ship valentine this year "with hearts coming out of the bottom instead of flames."

I drew the rocket for him. He cut out the hearts. I sewed the hearts. He made the heart stickers and put them on the front. 

I wonder which one of us had more fun?

I heart crafty projects with my son.

One more Heart note. If you are unfamiliar with the site

Boy Sees Hearts

, maybe today's the day you should check it out. Eric Telchin posts lots of pictures of Hearts he finds EVERYWHERE. I've heard he has a

cool photo book

out too. Hmm... I feel a valentine's day trip to the bookstore coming on.

Have a great day!

Can't wait for PiBoIdMo

The last few Novembers I've participated in Tara Lazar's fantastic picture book writers' event: PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). And Yep, I signed up again.

What is it? It's the picture book writers' answer to National Novel Writing Month: Write a picture book idea every day for the month of November. That's it! Oh, and also Tara keeps a fantastic blog full of encouragement and success stories and whatnot that adds a sort of group support aspect to the individual challenge.

I can't tell you how much I've gained each of the last few Novembers from stretching my brainstorming muscle enough to come up with 30 ideas, day after day after day, all in a row.

For one, I've gotten a fair amount of picture books written that otherwise wouldn't have come to light. Last year I even wrote an entire novel (still revising) that spawned from one of the "picture book" ideas. Also, and not to be underestimated, I've realized how brainstorming does really bring out the best in my ideas. Sometimes my first idea is so exciting that I just want to run with it. But when I push myself to think more — to go for a 2nd, then third, and even maybe a 30th idea — I'm forced to think in fresh ways that lend excitement to my work.

This year PiBoIdMo comes at the perfect time for me. I'm just (finally) really getting back into my groove. I can't wait to fill up that idea journal.

If you are interested in participating too, register here.

Bookshelves bookshelves bookshelves

Show and tell time.

These are my family's new bookshelves:

Ahhhhhhh.

I LOVE them. 

Please note all the picture book shelves. And the face-out picture book rack on the wall to the left of the shelves. I am a proud picture book hoarder. I feel that this is a very fine thing. I have a five-year-old afterall (or maybe, yes, that 's just an excuse...).

Also! These awesome bookshelves do not stand alone.

How about some bookshelves just for all our handmade journals and photo albums?

Are two shelves too many? How about three? How about one for the wall? Face out!

Or maybe four?

Aren't these shelves AWESOME?

They are like half-tables stacked on top of one another.

 Dreamy!

Now, how about some handmade shelves by yours truly (and my crafty sister):

Patchwork bookshelves for the nook at the top of my stairs.

 Because every crafty lady should try DECOUPAGE at some point.

 Here's the shelves right after I hung them, before I filled them up. My son helped me. He loves helping mommy with projects.

 As long as said projects don't involve trips to the craft store.

Is it embarrassing to realize that this little list does not include the bookshelves in my studio? Or my bedroom? or the one downstairs for cookbooks? I mean, is that too many? Too many bookshelves?

NO SUCH THING!

In fact, how about I just add pictures of those shelves too. Why not?

Studio shelves, complete with flying pig light

Cookbooks under the T.V. Wouldn't we rather be reading anyway?

This one houses journals I'm still filling.

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS!

"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves."
-Anna Quindlen (from an article in the NYT)

Alright. Enough already. Go read a book.

Wish granted: the story of a small curve-ball deadline and a custom order

Regular readers of my blog may remember a wish I asked of the universe a few weeks ago on my blog: "Someone throw a curve-ball deadline at me, will you?"
Well, one of my husband and I's longest-time friends from Bellingham answered that call...
At least in a small way.
This is that story.
*Cue dramatic music.* 
It was to be a weekend away from home without our kid (Thanks Mom!).
My husband and I headed over the mountains to Mazama, WA, where one of our best friends from Bellingham was getting married. I had never ridden the entire way over the pass on highway 20, through the North Cascades Park (I usually head that way in the winter, when the pass is closed). The drive was beautiful. I was in awe of my own home state and feeling very in love with being home.
The wedding was set on a ranch near where my husband and I like to go cross country skiing in the winter. I loved the rustic homey feel of our friends' wedding site. I loved the relaxed feel of everything. I loved the views!

As the sun went down on Friday before the wedding I took in a deep breath and felt happy to be outside without anything to do but breathe and talk with nice people and eat s'mores (lots of people at home have been complaining about our June-uary cold weather, but after living in Malaysia I'm still not over the fact that I can be outside and not break into a sweat when the sun is out, or for that matter when it's not out too).
Over the camp fire that night, the groom said something to me about how he wished he had gotten me to make their guest book, but they hadn't wanted to bug me as I was unpacking and settling back into being home. I asked if they had a guest book. He said no, they never got around to getting one...

Hmmm...

Curveball deadline (albeit small) wish granted?

I offered to make something the next morning.

"Really?" He said.

Why the heck not?
So the next morning my retreat to Mazama became: SURVIVOR CRAFT CHALLENGE! MAKE A BOOK IN 5 (ish)  HOURS OR LESS WITH ZERO SUPPLIES!
I loved all the ways my friends decorated for their wedding; isn't this sign great?
And I was all over it.
I felt like someone had gifted me with a surprise treasure hunt or something.

I had already noticed the sort of details and style of the wedding. Rustic. Lots of burlap. Some splashes of color.
And the wedding invitation had had a tandem bike on it.
Yep, this was the alter. So pretty!
I gave myself two hours the next morning to gather whatever I could find in the nearby small (very small) towns of Winthrop and Twisp.
One touristy tea-towel souvenir (with some bikes on it) later, and I had my idea. 
The bride said a lot of these ideas for decoration were from Pinterest. I heart Pinterest.
Using a sketchbook and razor I bought at the only kind-of art supply store around, twine from the general store, and a couple of pretties from the farmer's market (a hand-blown glass bead and a little paper flowerette), I cut, dissected, taped, sewed and put together this last minute guest book:
Here's the guest book I made!
Voila! Crafty challenge met! So fun! Thanks universe (and Stacy) for granting my wish for a curve-ball art deadline, even if it was small. Plus it was fun because I've been out of practice in making guestbooks since letting go of craft shows when my son was born.

Anyway universe, I'll take more challenges like that please. Small or large, whichever.
Because that was super FUN!
Plus it was a super fun wedding. I got to wear pink cowboy boots.
And see a snake eat a mouse (okay, that was kind of gross and I assure you it was not part of the planned activities).
Sigh. Weddings always make me happy.
And
there was a hoe-down in the barn with a real band and a full moon! Can't beat that.
Of course the drive home wasn't bad either.

My hubby enjoyed it in his way.
And I enjoyed it my way.
(If you've never turned the volume up full blast with one of your favorite bands — in my case this time it was The Wailin' Jennys — when driving through a beautiful mountain pass all by yourself and singing along no matter how much your voice sucks, well then, you should).

Yay for crafty retreats, weddings and the Pacific northwest! It's good to be home.

Weavers in Laos

In our last months living in Malaysia, my family and I squeezed in every second of travel we could possibly squeeze in. It all went by so fast and everything was so busy that sometimes I'd visit some amazing new place or country and not even make a peep about it here on my blog, or on facebook, or even to best friends. 

Now that I'm home and things are *starting* to feel a little more normal in life (what's normal? I'm kind of glad it escapes me), all our travels can seem like some sort of crazy dream. Like, wait, was I really in Laos just a few months ago?

Yes.

And maybe it's not too late to share some neglected cool stuff from there and elsewhere in my last few months of living abroad.

I wanted to go to Vientiane, Laos, because I had read about Laotian weaving...
I have a thing for weaving.
Maybe because my aunt is a textile designer and as a kid I always looked up to her (she was a real artist! Wow! Could I be like her someday?).
Or maybe because of the texture. Or the implicit warmth in the medium. Or maybe it's because textiles are just so beautiful.
Anyway, my work-in-progress novel has a grandmother character who is a weaver and who also spins thread so it was lucky serendipity that I got to watch some weavers in action while I was working on writing a book that included their craft.
The weaving studio I visited in Laos is owned by an American woman, Carol Cassidy, who hires local weavers and designs pieces for selling abroad and in her gallery. She is working to keep some of the more traditional methods of weaving and ikat alive.
Woman weaving an ikat piece.
What's ikat? AWESOME is what it is! It's a kind of weaving where the threads are tied in tight bunches before they are dyed. The dye doesn't color the parts of the threads that are tied so that after you remove the threads, whatever color was underneath remains the color it was. A beautiful pattern reveals itself when the threads are later woven into cloth.
Ikat thread bundles, tied and ready for dying
Ms. Cassidy, the owner of the studio, was there when we visited.
Ikat thread getting ready to go on a loom
She showed us around and said it was fine to take pictures and watch.
It was one of my favorite craft experiences I had while living in SE Asia.
Ms. Cassidy was a delightful host and her enthusiasm and passion for her studio and work brought a smile to my face.
Oh my gosh, COLOR!
Also, as a side note, if you ever get the chance to eat Laotian food, do! It's delicious.
Lucky for me, while I wanted to go to Laos to check out some weaving, my husband wanted to go for the food. He took a cooking class. Yum!
And our son? Well, there was good stuff for Oscar in Vientiane too.



The Happy Secret to Better Work

This is my favorite Ted talk I've ever watched. It's by a man named Shawn Achor and it's called The Happy Secret To Better Work (he has a book too; I look forward to reading it).

The basic idea here is that happier people are more productive and that happiness is something you cultivate, no matter where you are on your journey. In other words, happiness is not an external thing.  He goes farther to suggest that reaching our goals isn't what makes us happy long-term, rather we reach more goals long-term if we cultivate happiness along the way (my so-so summary, not his), and meanwhile we live happier lives as well. It's sort of an attitude is everything deal. Only that attitude is something that you can choose, even when crappy things happen. And that a good attitude actually helps you get more done, and often with more quality results.

This is holy grail material for me. It's like somebody put the secret of life to words. So I can't help but share.



If you start watching, you probably won't stop until the end, if this is the sort of thing that interests you. But just in case you are in a rush or something, do look toward the end when Mr. Achor suggests actions that studies have shown to increase both happiness and productivity. There's gold there.

I can vouch at least for three of the five practices he suggests: a gratitude practice, a journaling practice (especially one reflecting on a good moment of the day), and a meditation practice (in my case I do yoga). I do all three regularly and usually daily. They have, all three of them, changed my life dramatically for the better and made me a happier, steadier, person. They make me notice good things around me and within me and within others. And while some may think this means I gloss over bad stuff, I'd beg to suggest that it helps me keep bad stuff in perspective and also helps me change bad stuff by way of noticing alternatives.

And what does this do for my productivity? It allows me to shake off the inner-critic more easily and sit down with my muse and get creative stuff done, with joy.

Probably few would be surprised by a fourth practice Mr. Achor suggests: exercise. I do this too, although sometimes I slack off on it, but I didn't think it was as surprising as the others as a path towards happiness; we all know exercise makes life better, don't we?

The practice that Mr. Achor suggests that caught my interest most, probably because I don't make a conscious regular effort of it, is to dish out random acts of kindness. Certainly I've heard of the idea before, and put it to practice from time to time as well, just not consciously and regularly. I think I'm going to have to do something about that...

I wish you all happiness and productivity. And if you haven't already, invest the 12 minutes in this talk. It's well worth it.

P.S.
Also too, if for some reason you've felt called to try one of these practices but never have, or maybe you feel guilty because you know you "should," but don't, why not stop beating yourself up about the whole thing. Let go of any shoulds or haven'ts and just choose one and do it already. Try a small one like jotting down your favorite part of the day before bed every night for a month. See if it does anything for you. And let me know how it goes if you try.

January Treasure List: Fun finds and things worth sharing

Fun finds from the past month:
An NPR article about a mysterious book/paper sculptor who keeps leaving artistic wonders in libraries.

I heart Sophie Blackall's new illustrated book, Missed Connections: Love Lost and Found, where she's illustrated missed connection ads from Craigslist. I also heart Sophie Blackall's blog of the same name that she's kept for quite some time.

My son and I went to a fun puppet show here in Malaysia last month where the puppeteer, Jim West, also showed the audience how to make really cool dinosaur puppets. In honor of that show (and because I was happy to see the new Muppet Movie last month), I thought I'd share a link to Jim West's website, where he explains how to make many of the puppets he showed us. Super fun! (Have I ever mentioned that I spent an entire summer in early high-school making puppets, from the moment I woke to the moment I went to sleep, whenever I wasn't working or eating. It's true. But I digress).

This article from the NYT about bookstores doing way better than expected this year brought a smile to my face.

So did this tutorial by CTHULIZ on how to make a dinosaur necklace (found from a link on the Geek Crafts Blog, which is always a favorite).

This article, "Twelve Things You Were Never Taught In School About Creative Thinking," (by Michael Michalko) inspired me and made me think, hopefully creatively (thanks goes to a member of my critique group back home, who sent it to me).

And, if you happen to be in New York City any time soon, you must go to the Jewish Museum and check out the exhibit on Ezra Jack Keats. If you are in NYC for the SCBWI conference at the end of the month, make sure you go early. The exhibit ends on Jan. 29th.

Okay, and to finish off the list for this month, let's do another silly Google Image search. How about since I'm missing snow, let's choose something silly that looks like snow. How about doilies? (Yes, I said doilies. Doilies are very snow-flake festive and looking at an entire webpage of pictures of them is strangely, playfully, satisfying. Try it.)

Happy New Year!

Things from November that made me happy or made me think

The last month has been one of the busiest travel months for my family of our entire time in KL, and it was a fabulous, fabulous month. We traveled to Chang Mai, Thailand; Cameron Highlands, Malaysia; and Hong Kong (for Thanksgiving). WOW!

My muse has also been busy delighting me with many fantastic art ideas in the studio, so I've been working, working, working. How much can I cram into one little month? Although I'm not sure when or what I'll share here, because a lot of what I have been up to is writing and not drawing, I've been loving the experience.

Anyway, while I let some blog posts from all of the above simmer (which part do I write about? Which parts do I share? I think I need some time to sort it out...), I thought I'd try something new here that I've wanted to do for quite some time.

I'll call it my November Treasure Hunt LIST. What is it? It's a random collection of crafty tid-bits and arty links that I thought might be fun to share, all things I stumbled across in Novmeber and jotted down as the month went on in preparation for sharing here. Maybe I'll try to do this again sometime; it was fun.

I hope you like it too...

Strawberries from Cameron Highlands


KJERSTEN'S NOVEMBER TREASURE HUNT LIST:

  • This video that a few friends posted on facebook made me smile wide with wonder. Did you know that a collection of starlings is called a murmuration?
  • This article in the New York Times clued me in on a fantastic charity that builds libraries around the world, especially in places where kids lack access to many books. The charity is called Room To Read and I LOVE what they do. I've been daydreaming about ways I can contribute in the near future... How about you?
  • I loved this article from the New York Times about a woman who built a treehouse in Brooklyn. Don't miss the slide show, the pictures especially made me smile.
  • Okay, I wasn't a horse girl, but umm... I would have gladly transformed my bike into a horsey bike when I was 9 anyway. Fun!
  • My favorite sweater accidentally went through the wash after I visited Cameron Highlands (it's actually cool there). Sadness! Maybe someday I'll splurge on one of these colorful beauties to replace it.
  • This article, from Wired, that talks about how constraints and rules can expand creativity, rung very true to me. How about you?
  • In the books vs. electric books category I offer a couple of interesting bits:
  1. Another NYT article, this one about parents still preferring actual paper picture books for kids as opposed to digital picture books. Loved this article and felt like it caught my own exact POV on this one. I've collected quite a few picture books on my I pad and I even travel a lot, which could mean maybe those are the books I read my son when I travel. Umm... no. I still bring picture books. And even if my son does enjoy some of the I-books, he still prefers the actual physical books. As do I. So ya, I firmly believe picture books are here to stay, no matter the digital revolution in books. 
  2. That being said... There were two pretty awesome picture book apps that came out this past month that I think stand out in their genre. Look for the Harold and the Purple Crayon digital app and the Mo Willems' app "Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App." Both use the medium well while staying true to the spirit of the original books. (That being said, I still like the books better).
  •  How about a google image search of the month. Ya, let's do it. I've been day-dreaming of ways I'm planning on changing up my living space in Bellingham when I move home soon. In that spirit, how about a google image search for something crazy like Patchork Chairs
  • And since Thanksgiving weekend is always a big part of November (at least for Americans like myself), how about this article affirming my beloved daily practice of keeping a gratitude journal (again from the NYT).

ENJOY!

An Alternative Gratitude Practice

This post comes from a comment I put up on Andrea Scher's blog recently as a suggestion for an alternative to keeping a traditional gratitude journal. Thought it might be a fun thing to share on my own blog in the spirit of Thanksgiving back home.

What moment of your day stands out to you?
 A while back, on a day when my gratitude journal felt forced, I tried starting a “favorite moment” journal. It was such a simple thing to do, I’ve continued the practice, and it’s been surprisingly light and rewarding and so so easy (while still going deeper).

I have a dated calendar (a cute one that makes me smile) and at the end of the day I just write what my favorite part of the day was. Just one sentence: “my favorite part of the day was reading stories to my son,” or something of the sort. It’s simple and small and it never feels like I’m trying to twist bad days into good. But it does help me wake up to small moments I perhaps take for granted on bad days. It also helps me recognize patterns in what are my favorite moments, which sometimes surprise me. I think it’s a good alternative “gratitude” practice, especially for days when you just don't feel grateful and you are sick of beating yourself up feeling guilty over it.

Because even on a crappy day, you can still pick a favorite moment of the day. And even on the worst days, taking note of that favorite moment usually brings a smile to my face. Which is welcome and nice.

P.S. I do also keep a daily gratitude journal, and even though some days it's hard to follow through with it, especially days that kind of suck, I have indeed stuck with it for several years now. And I'm so grateful for the perspective it offers me. I suppose after awhile the discipline of it sort of took over as habit and just like regular exercise, it helps keep me strong and healthy. So I'll keep it up.

How about you? How do you count your blessings?

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.P.S. Speaking of Andrea Scher's blog and since I mentioned it here, she put up such a fantastic Thanksgiving post on stealth blessings that I simply must link to it (and for those who don't always like making gratitude lists, there's respite for you there too). Enjoy!

Elephants on my mind

Sometimes I marvel at what experiences leave their mark enough in my mind so that ideas, or even art or story, are born from them. Many times it's small, seemingly insignificant parts of an experience that nag me to be turned into something or other in my art.

Other times it's big, obviously awesome, predictably crazy adventures that do indeed lead to big, awesome and crazy adventures in my art. 

And so it is this last week with elephants for me.

I've been obsessed with a new idea (one from my picture-book-idea-a-day journey) that all stemmed from my son and I taking elephant rides several times over the past year.

So I've dived into the idea, answered the muse and am LOVING the adventure. It's totally out of my comfort zone, but in just the right way. The way that makes me feel like I'm stretching my art muscles and pushing myself to my limits. All of which makes me feel totally alive and invigorated.

But at the same time. Gulp. If I think about it too much (as opposed to just going for it) makes me feel nervous.

When you leave the unknown and dive into adventure, you never know what you'll come up with. You may try a new restaurant that ends up being your absolute favorite noodle place in the entire hemisphere. Or you may wonder why you wasted your calorie intake on such slop. That's the way adventures go, you just don't know if you'll end up with shiny awesome experiences or if you'll end up with a whole lot of ugh. 

But you don't find anything new and exciting if you don't try new things. And even if you get the ughs instead of the ahas you still usually know how to better aim your trials next time. So, I'm in my creative realm. Letting go of my land legs. Riding Elephants, if you will.

What about you? Is there an idea that is just a bit more than you think you are capable of, but you really love it? Why not splurge and take an hour to give it a try. You may end up with a bunch of stuff to delete or crumple up, never to be shared with anyone. Or you might find a new way to stretch your muscles. Or! You might end up on a wild and crazy artistic adventure that fills you with delight, thrill, and a bunch of, "Ya, why not?" feelings.

I suppose, as you can tell, I root for the adventure.

A Picture Book Idea, every day in November

My muse thrives off of brainstorming. So it's with great enthusiasm that I'm jumping in to Tara Lazar's (now) annual November challenge: write down a picture book idea every day for the month of November.  It's a sort of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), for picture book writers with an equally silly name: PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month.

I participated last year and collected many usable snippets and ideas — one of which I've even written into a story I like and have even begin making into a dummy. Anyone else care to join?

It's very hard to share my ideas before they become real, solid, finished (or-nearly-finished) stories (it always feels a bit like squashing a firefly when I share an idea I haven't worked on yet), but I'm trying to figure out a way to share a bit more of what I come up with this year. Maybe I'll draw a few sketches from my ideas? We'll see. But I can promise you my new idea journal is about to gain lots of scribbles and scratches. And that makes me smile wide. Thanks for the challenge Tara!

Superhero Photo class, and pictures in Cambodia

From an assignment in Andrea's Superhero Photo Class.




One of my favorite bloggers, Andrea Scher, recently decided to offer a playful online photo course.

I couldn't resist.






It just sounded so fun. And so low-key. And there was no concrete reason to take it other than fun.

 I have this habit of taking a crazy amount of pictures. I look for color, shape, light. But it's all just playful.

Sort of an extension of my excessive journaling habit I guess.

Red-shirted girl in the distance


Anyway, the class exceeded my expectations.  It was fun. Super fun. Superhero fun! 
 There were no goals to make serious art, just an opportunity to play and share (and do photo treasure hunts!) with other like-minded playful (mostly) amateur photographers.
My mother and my son holding hands

The class also happened to overlap with my family's trip to Cambodia last week.

For once on a trip, I wasn't feeling guilty about how many stupid pictures I was taking, and worrying over looking like some sort of camera-happy Hawaiian-shirted stereo-type of an American abroad.


Instead I embraced my practice as a way of appreciating the moment. I was no more obtrusive with my pictures than I've ever been (Let's just say the overly shy girl isn't one to walk around with a camera dangling from her neck, She leaves that to the real pros, like my uncle, or to the bolder amateurs, or to the tourists riding big buses).

Anyway, If anyone out there likes to take pictures, especially in a playful way, I highly recommend Andrea's course.

One of the surprising highlights for me was the group flickr pool, where we shared photos and commented on each others pieces. It was so fun to participate in the exchange!
Plus it hardly took anytime. Maybe 10 minutes any day I felt like checking in. Yet I still gained a lot. 

Andrea will be offering another class soon, I believe. I hope, if you like to play with pictures, you'll join her.
And um... Cambodia?
Blue umbrellas at Angkor Wat
Ya, well, WOW!
Trees draping over mossy textured ruins,

 bicycles, bicycles, bicycles,




And some of the most amazing sites in the world.

Some dreams fall in your lap like an apple dropping from a tree. Other dreams you yank and yank and yank at the door, but it just won't open. Both have their place in my life. And I'm happy to say that while I keep yanking at the door of my biggest dream (and dang that door can frustrate me), I'm at least eating my apples. 

WHALES!

Fifteen minutes into our boat ride we saw...

 WHALES!

 Two of them!

Humpbacks.

 They were young whales, or so our guide told us.

So they were curious.

Which could explain why they hung out with our boat for 40-50 minutes,

popping their noses up,

 swimming back and forth under and around the boat,

and sometimes even waving their noses at us when we waved at them (it's true! the guide told us to try it, and it worked! Curious whales sometimes play with people like that, he said).

It was one of the most magical moments of my life.

My son loved it too.

 We also saw two Southern Right Whales involved in, ahem, courting.

They were a bit less interested in our boat though.

We even saw sea lions.

 It was a day I'm certain I'll never forget.

P.S. This was all while still in Western Australia, for those who didn't read my last couple of posts.

Staying open to MORE surprises

A few weeks ago I put up a post about staying open to surprises. I gave the nutshell version of the story of how I met my husband and how we were, at the time of the post, celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary with a long-weekend get-away in Bangkok.

I took this picture on our get-away. It reminds me of that idea of staying open to surprises in such a happy, lovely way. Click on it for a larger version if you don't see the surprise. I didn't see it until I got home and looked closer at the photo.


Some of the best things in life you just can't plan. But staying open for those surprises -- that's the delight and the challenge in finding those happy surprises.

Also please note: I took this picture because I loved the flower and the mosaics behind it, but the surprising bees are what make the whole thing interesting. Such small little things that bring what already seems to be pretty awesome and magnificent to an entire new level. Kind of cool how something so small and lively can do that.

Staying open to surprises

Twelve years ago I was traveling around Europe for a couple of months by myself, taking everyday to look at art. I lived on a small budget, spending money I had saved in college (I was lucky to leave college without debt -- the nerve to be an artist would have been a lot harder to bare, had I not had that gift of a no-debt college education from my mother). Anyway, I spent 8 to 12 hours in museums everyday. I stood or sat in front of paintings sometimes for up to an hour. I filled 4 huge spiral notebooks full of notes on the backs of postcards.

I was in heaven.

Then, one day, I met my husband.

No joke. He was staying at the hostel I was staying at in Rome. He was traveling around for a month watching bike races. He had just left a job in Seattle (where I was moving home to when I returned) and he was planning on moving to New York. He had also gone to school in Colorado. We had lots in common. But he really caught my eye because he was reading James Joyce in the common room of the hostel. I knew I could talk books with somebody who was reading James Joyce. We talked about reading. I was enamored. We didn't have a date or anything that evening, just great conversation.

Then we both left Rome the next day. I've met hundreds of interesting people traveling. I don't usually expect to ever see them again.

Only I ran into Bryce again in Venice. Then we met up on purpose again in France. Our first kiss was next to Claes Oldenburg's Buried Bicycle Sculpture in Paris. So to make a long and pretty interesting story a bit too short, after he returned from adventures in Europe, my now-husband took a crazy 4-day long grey hound bus ride back to Seattle (bringing back only one bag of clothes, his bike and his electronic keyboard) and begged for his old job back for a temporary basis. We were engaged a year later and married a year after that -- 10 years ago last Thursday.

What a surprising outcome from my dreamy trip to look at art.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Bryce! Thanks for a magical decade.

"Then we sat on the edge of the earth with our feet dangling over the side and marveled that we had found each other" -- Erik Dillard

Immersing myself in a new world

 I love the feeling of jumping into a new book and discovering a very specific new setting.
 Maybe it's just a completely different angle or view of an otherwise familiar setting,
 Or maybe it's a new world altogether, 
 But when I find it, I'm a traveler exploring vast unknowns.
 (And Lord only knows how much I love to travel).
 I see things from new perspectives,
 understand my own perspectives better,
 and best of all,
 I have grand adventures.
 Novelists talk about creating unique new worlds, even out of the familiar.
 But picture books do this too.
 Often in the illustrations.
 Maybe it's with a color palette that matches a theme or mood.
 Or maybe it's with composition, or view point.
Whatever the twist of magic, it's one of my favorite considerations when I'm making any kind of new art.
But the biggest reward is when I'm able to share that unique point of view, or new world. 
Especially with the newest of explorers.