GRANDMA SNUGGLES: TEN Ways to Stay Connected with your Grandchildren during Covid19 Curated by Glenys Nellist (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am delighted to have bestselling Christian children’s author Glenys Nellist here in celebration of the release of her most recent board book with Zonderidz, GRANDMA SNUGGLES. First, enjoy these delightful snapshots of Glenys with the book and her grandchildren. Then, take a peek at the lovely book trailer.

Now enjoy Glenys’ tips for staying connected during a pandemic and remember to enter the giveaway a chance to win a copy of GRANDMA SNUGGLES (Details at end of post.) Enjoy!

Ten Ways to Stay Connected with Your Grandchildren During Covid19

Curated by Glenys Nellist

I never imagined when writing Grandma Snuggles two years ago that this little board book would be released during a pandemic—the very time when all grandmas everywhere are yearning for their snuggles. 

The advent of Covid19 has meant that many families have been unable to spend time together, and grandparents have been forced to find new ways to stay in touch with their little ones. In honor of the release of Grandma Snuggles, here are ten creative ways to stay connected with your grandchildren during Covid19:

  1. Write to them. This might sound old-fashioned, but children LOVE receiving real mail! Even if they can’t read yet, and even if they’re tiny, your letters will become treasures for them in years to come, especially if you describe the world we’re living in right now.
  2. Celebrate milestones virtually. Just because you can’t be with your grandchildren physically doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate their birthdays, class graduations or other special occasions. For example—buy or bake that birthday cake, call your grandchild via Skype, Facetime or Video Messenger, sing Happy Birthday and have them blow out the candles on the cake. (Grandpa is, of course, hiding off-camera to blow them out!)
  3. Designate a certain time and day of the week, such as ‘Friday Funnies at Five’ to share jokes over the phone.
  4. Bake together via video call… arrange for your grandchild to have the exact same ingredients on hand that you have and bake cookies, or cupcakes, or try out a new recipe.
  5. Work together on a craft via Zoom.
  6. Do a Scavenger Hunt via Zoom or video call. Think of ten regular household items that your grandchild has to find. Name them one at a time and have your grandchild race to find them. Then let them name ten items for you! For extra fun, use a timer. Who was the fastest to find their ten objects…your grandchild, or you?
  7. Do puzzles together via Zoom or Facetime. Download a printable wordsearch or crossword puzzle. Mail a copy to your grandchild or have their parents download it. Work together to complete it.
  8. Use the Zoom whiteboard feature to play Tic Tac Toe or Pictionary together.
  9. Read together via video call. For younger children, choose picture books that have lots of detail in the illustrations. After you read to them, play ‘I Spy’…ask your grandchild to spot things in the pictures. For older children who enjoy chapter books, try taking it in turns to read one chapter each.
  10. Finally (and quite possibly, my favorite activity!) is to read Grandma Snuggles to your grandchild via video call. Written in rhyme, this brand-new board book features eight grandma animals with their little ones. A fun game to play with this book is ‘Guess That Grandma.’ Read each poem to your grandchild and have them guess the animal before you show them the picture. Can you guess this one?

I have a snuggly grandma,

God made her teeth so strong!

We build our home together,

It doesn’t take us long.

And when our lodge is ready,

We’re comfy as can be!

Grandma snuggles are the best,

She’s God’s gift to me.

And here’s one more bonus activity… download and print one of these cute coloring sheets from Grandma Snuggles. Color together over Facetime, but don’t look at each other’s until you’re both finished. Then compare the colors you used. As you color, take turns to talk about your favorite things: colors/ games/ candy/ fruit / places/ animals/ books / movies/ cereal / ice-cream flavor etc.

However you choose to stay connected with your grandchild, the most important thing is to find what works for you, and simply stay in touch. 

Thank you, Glenys! These are wonderful suggestions. To learn more about Glenys and her books, check out her website.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary copy of GRANDMA SNUGGLES (Zonderkidz, 2020) simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Zonderkidz, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 8/13/20/20 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day! 

Special note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog or “liking” me on my Facebook Author page, Twitter, or Instagram. I’d love the support and connection.

FINDING A CRITIQUE GROUP: Four TIPS for NEW WRITERS

After singing the praises of critique groups, I think it’s only fair now to offer a few tips on how to find a good critique group. After all, finding a critique group can be daunting, especially for a new writer who has been spending most of her/his time writing in isolation. At least, that was my experience as a new writer. I first posted these tips in September of 2016, but they are just as applicable today.

Here then are four tips, I’ve found helpful:

  1. Look inward.  First, decide what you want out of a critique group. Do you want an in-person group or an on-line group? Do you want a genre-specific group (i.e. picture books or poetry, YA or MG etc) or would you like a mix of genres? How much time are you willing to spend per week/month writing critiques? How often do you want to be responsible for submitting work? How big or small do you want the group to be?
  2. Network, network, network.  Once you have a sense of what you want from a critique group, you can use your social networks (on-line and in person) to see if anyone you know is part of a group. If so, is that group open to new members?  Another good strategy is to be pro-active at conferences to see if anyone is in a group that is interested in new members.  The SCBWI blue boards also have a thread devoted to critique groups seeking new members so that’s another possible venue to tap.  Finally, check your local library and book stores to see if they have groups that meet there.
  3. Do a little research.  Once you’ve discovered some potential groups, do a little research. Do the groups have both new and seasoned writers?  Have any members of the group be process? (In my experience, most of the better groups do.)
  4. Give it a try.  Once you have done all of the above, it might be time to take the leap and give it a try! If you feel it is the right step for you, apply to the group that sounds best for you.

Thanks for checking out these tips! I hope you will find, as I have, that being part of a critique group makes all the difference in your growth as a writer.  Happy writing, all!

Special note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog or “liking” me on my Facebook Author page, Twitter, or Instagram. I’d love the support and connection.

And the Winner of DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS is…

I’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway,  a brand new copy of DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS is…

Rebekah H!!!

Congratulations!  I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you.

Happy reading and writing, all! (And now I’m off to nibble a doughnut.)

SUMMER ON THE PORCH STORY TIME CRAFT: Egg Carton Creatures Inspired by GOODNIGHT, MANGER

Hooray for summer mornings, good books and cozy porches – perfect for story time! With that in mind, each Tuesday throughout July I have hosted Summer Story Time on the Porch (and a Craft!) on my Facebook Author page. Today is the last one. 

This week’s story time features GOODNIGHT, MANGER. It’s bedtime in this rhyming Christmas story, but between adoring animals, itchy hay, angels’ joyful singing, and three kings bearing noisy gifts, there’s too much commotion. GOODNIGHT, MANGER humorously weaves together the comforting and familiar routines of bedtime with the special magic and wonder of the manger story. I do hope you will join me for the reading. You can get there by clicking my Facebook picture in the sidebar of this blog. 

Now for the craft:

Inspired by illustrator Jane Chapman’s colorful depictions of the animals around the manger, today’s craft is to create our own stable creatures using egg cartons, paint, glue, and any other little add-ons you have on hand. As you can see by the samples made by my young assistant, the results are ADORABLE!

Here are the steps for creating your own:

  1. Read GOODNIGHT, MANGER and marvel at all the different creatures that illustrator Jane Chapman has included in the stable.

2. Next, take an empty recycled cardboard egg carton and cut the egg holders apart. Save the lid for extra bits.  

3. Then look through the illustrations in GOODNIGHT, MANGER again. How could your child transform your egg carton pieces into animals inspired by Jane’s art?

4. Shape your creature by arranging one or more cardboard egg cups together to form a body. Cut extra pieces from the lid to make heads, ears, legs… whatever!  For extra fun, use scraps of this and that to make each stable creature unique. For example, I used feathers and my sweet young assistant used cotton balls, glitter and more! Tip:  Glue the basic shape together first and let dry completely before painting and adding your extra bits. 

Tip:  Glue the basic shape together first and let dry completely before painting and adding your extra bits. 

5. TAKE A PICTURE!  I’d love to see your children’s egg carton creations, so take a picture and send them to me so I can share the pictures on social media and my blog and we can all enjoy each other’s creativity!

And here is a link to the story time!

TOP TIP FOR ASPIRING WRITERS? Join a Critique Group

In the thoughtful category, children’s author Glenys Nellist has written an inspiring post about her top tip for aspiring authors:  attend a writing conference. I love her tip and I wholeheartedly agree that attending conferences is important. It’s a great chance to interface with editors and agents, for example, and to network with other authors. It even led to her first book offer! (Yes, you really should read her post.)

But what would my top tip be?  Hmmm… there are so many possiblities.  Writing daily, reading voraciously. Attending conferences. Yes. But I guess if I had to pick one top tip for aspiring writers, it would be to join a critique group.

Often when I chat with newer writers, I discover they’ve been writing in isolation. And very often the manuscripts they share would benefit from several more rounds of revision. As a new writer, I, too, was guilty of writing in quiet isolation, never sharing my work in progress with anyone (except maybe my husband or mother) and consequently sending pieces to publishers far too prematurely.

It wasn’t until I started sharing my work with a handful of trusted critique partners that my writing really improved. Joining a critique group also got me connected with other writers eager to learn and grow and succeed.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that being part of various critique groups over the years has made all the difference in my love for this writerly journey.

Here then, with gratitude to my awesome, trusted critique buddies, are FOUR wonderful perks I’ve enjoyed by participating in critique groups.

1. COMMUNITY SUPPORT:  Writing can be lonely and the intricacies of the publishing world are certainly confusing. What a blessing it has been to be part of various critique groups that have included both new and seasoned authors, all eager to support and encourage each other, providing advice and insights along the way.

2. FRIENDLY ACCOUNTABILITY:  Most critique groups have rules for submitting and sharing work. Members are expected to abide by those rules and are kept accountable by the other members in the group. My current online group, for example, has seven members and we each take turns submitting one manuscript per week. I’ve also met virtually for in-person critique a couple of writing buddies during the pandemic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to set a story aside because I’m stuck over some sticky wicket, but instead I’ve pressed on.  Why?  Because my critique group was counting on me (and cheering me on) to produce a presentable draft.

3. FRESH EYES AND FRESH PERSPECTIVE: I am grateful for the honest, thoughtful feedback I’ve received from my critique partners. Indeed, there’s nothing like fresh eyes on your story to give you much needed perspective.  I must confess, however, that I have grown as a writer, just as much, if not more, from giving feedback to others. Sometimes it’s easier to see what is and isn’t working in someone else’s writing. And if you can articulate that for your critique partner, you not only help them, but you can most likely apply that feedback , or some variation of it, to your own writing.

4. DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR GENRE:  Finally, participating in a critique group offers members a chance to gain a deeper understanding of their genre. This happens quite naturally as you read and respond to each others’ work.  For example, when critiquing each others’s work, members in my groups will often suggest helpful titles to read, perhaps pieces that follow a similar structure, or that have a similar theme.  Through this process of feedback and discussion and reading suggestions, our understanding deepens and our skill improves.

Now it’s your turn. What critique group perks have I missed?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy reading, writing, and critiquing all!

Note: Over the summer, I will be sharing a few of my favorite analogies from years past as I stockpile new ones for the fall and beyond. I plucked this oldie, but goodie, from the September of 2016.

SUMMER ON THE PORCH STORYTIME CRAFT: Pass It On Kindness Pots Inspired by LOVE IS KIND

Hooray for summer mornings, good books and cozy porches – perfect for story time! With that in mind, each Tuesday throughout July I will be hosting Summer Story Time on the Porch (and a Craft!) on my Facebook Author page. Here’s the schedule:

This week’s story time features LOVE IS KIND about Little Owl who wants to show his grammy how much he loves her by getting her chocolates, but the quest proves much more difficult than he ever imagined! I do hope you will join me! You can get there by clicking my Facebook picture in the sidebar of this blog. 

Now for the craft:

Inspired by Little Owl, who extended love and kindness everywhere he went, today’s craft is to paint a little kindness pot, plant a seed or small plant in it, and then spread love and kindness by giving it as a gift to someone. Here’s what you and your child need to do:

  1. Read LOVE IS KIND and think about all the ways Little Owl was kind and loving.
  1. Purchase a small pot or find one around the house. Using Lison Chaperon’s colorful illustrations as inspiration, encourage your child to decide how they will share the themes of LOVE and KINDNESS on the pot’s exterior.
  1. Using acrylic paints (so you can water the plant and the paint won’t wash off),  have your child paint their pot Little Owl style. Tip:  Apply paint without diluting with water.  Let one color dry before adding another.
  1. Add a little potting soil and either a seed or a small plant.  Press soil down gently so plant/seed is properly secured in the pot. Water lightly.
  1. Finally have your child “pass on” a little kindness and love to someone by delivering their “Pass It On Kindness Pot” to someone special.
  1. FOR EXTRA FUN: Before giving away the “Pass It On Kindness Pot”, take a picture of your child’s finished pot and send it to me. With your permission, I will share the pictures on Facebook and my blog so we can all enjoy each other’s creativity!

And here, in case you missed it, is the story time!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS with Carrie Finison (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I’m delighted to have rhyming picture book author Carrie Finison here to share five fun facts about her debut picture book release, DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS. Illustrated by Brianne Farley and published by Putnam, it’s about a generous but increasingly put-upon bear who makes batch after batch of doughnuts for her woodland friends without saving any for herself.  Take a peek at the lovely reviews Carries’s book has received from Publishers Weekly and Youth Services Book Review, then grab a doughnut and enjoy as she shares five behind-the-scenes facts about the book’s creation.  My favorite?  Fact #1. It’s a good reminder that good writing takes time.  Happy reading, all!

Five Fun Facts about

DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS

by Carrie Finison

Fun Fact #1: Draft 89 is the one that was published.

I save a new file every day that I work on a story. That doesn’t mean every one of those drafts was significantly different – sometimes I may have only changed a line or two. But it does mean 89 separate days of work on the story – plus lots of thinking time in between. Since the book is written in rhyme, it can take a LOT of revision to change even a few words. That’s because when you revise, you have to find a way to say what you want to say in rhyme – and make sure you’re not repeating a rhyme from earlier in the story. So even a small change can involve alterations to many stanzas. It’s a fun challenge, but not easy!

Fun Fact #2: MANY doughnuts were harmed in the writing of this book.

My kids were quick to point out that every important publication milestone – acceptance, completion of the manuscript, the cover reveal, and now publication, be celebrated with doughnuts. In addition to all those doughnuts, I worked to develop a doughnut recipe that would be easy enough to make with kids (with adult stove supervision). I had hoped this would be in the back of the book but, alas, we ran out of pages! However, I’ve posted the recipe on my website and also wrote about developing the recipe on the Soaring ’20’s blog.

Fun Fact #3: All the animals in the book are hibernators – except one!

In some of the earlier versions of the story, the book ended with all the animal friends going to sleep for the winter together. I went down an Internet rabbit hole (or maybe a chipmunk den?) researching hibernators and learned a lot about the different ways animals cope with winter. The only animal in the story that does not hibernate in some way is Topsy, the opossum. Poor opossums have a hard time dealing with the cold and often get frostbitten on their bare feet and tails. I’m glad that Topsy found a warm spot in her friend LouAnn’s house!

Fun Fact #4: The characters didn’t always have names.

The animals in the book didn’t have names at first, they were just called “Bear” “Raccoon” and so on. When I decided to name the main character, LouAnn, I realized all the other characters would need names, too. It was a fun afternoon dreaming up those names! My favorite is “Mouffette” which is the French word for “skunk.” Isn’t that a pretty name?

Fun Fact #5: The cast-iron pan that LouAnn uses to cook doughnuts is verrry familiar.

When I saw Brianne Farley’s illustrations for LouAnn’s kitchen, I was thrilled to see the cast-iron pan that LouAnn cooks her doughnuts in. I have the exact same pan, which once belonged to my grandmother! So now, when I read the book, I’m reminded of my grandmother. I love that LouAnn is a bit old-fashioned at heart.

Author Bio:

Carrie Finison began her literary career at the age of seven with an idea, a box of markers, and her father’s typewriter. She has been writing off and on ever since, though she has (somewhat regretfully) traded in the typewriter for a laptop. Her debut picture book is DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (July, 2020), and a second picture book, DON’T HUG DOUG, will follow in January, 2021. She also writes for children’s magazines including Babybug, Ladybug, High Five, and Highlights. When she’s not writing, Carrie enjoys reading mystery novels, trying new recipes, and curling up on the couch for family movie nights. She lives outside Boston with her husband, son, daughter, and two cats who permit her to write in their cozy attic office. Find her online at www.carriefinison.com or on Twitter @CarrieFinison.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a SIGNED copy of DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (Putnam, July 2020) simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Carrie, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 7/30/20 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day! NOTE: This giveaway is now over. The winner is announced here.

Special note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog or “liking” me on my Facebook Author page, Twitter, or Instagram. I’d love the support and connection.

SUMMER ON THE PORCH STORYTIME CRAFT: Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse BOUQUETS

Hooray for summer mornings, good books and cozy porches – perfect for story time! With that in mind, each Tuesday throughout July I will be hosting Summer Story Time on the Porch (and a Craft!) on my Facebook Author page. Here’s the schedule:

This week’s story time features DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, an ode to cooperation and the joy of performance starring a new diva seal and the little mouse who wants to help her, but she thinks she deserves bigger help than a mouse! I do hope you will join me! You can get there by clicking my Facebook picture in the sidebar of this blog. 

Now for the craft:

Inspired by Rebecca Gerlings’ delightful depiction of Diva Delores being showered with bouquets these tissue paper bouquets are easy to make and fun to give away. 

Here are the steps for creating your own:

  1. Read DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE and perhaps have a quick discussion about the tradition of throwing bouquets to performers on stage. Hint: It’s a way to show admiration and love. 
  1. Gather five chenille sticks, a little glue, twenty 4” squares of colorful tissue paper in assorted colors, a bit of ribbon or yarn and a small piece of paper folded in half to make a note. 
  1. For each flower, stack four tissue squares. Using thumb and fingers, pinch the center to create the base to a flower, as shown.
  1. Wrap the end of a chenille stick tightly around the pinched base of the flower, using a tiny dab of glue to secure.  Bend the stick so its upright, like a stem.
  1. Gently fluff and the tissue paper flower, snipping the corners to make them rounded, if you choose.
  1. Once you have five flowers, arrange them in a colorful bouquet, tying with ribbon or yarn. 
  1. Finally, add a card, then “shower” someone you love (to use the wording from the story) with the bouquet.
  1. FOR EXTRA FUN: Take a picture of your child’s finished bouquet. With your permission, and I will double check to make sure I have it, I will share the pictures on Facebook and my blog so we can all enjoy each other’s creativity!

NOTE: Facebook Live reading of DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books, is no longer available. But the good news is the book is still available at book stores and at your local library. If they don’t have it, you can request it, for which Delores, Fernando and I would be most grateful. And if you’d like us to come to a reading for your class or library or organization, reach out to me via the contact tab above. I’d love to hear from you.

PLUCKING SAPLINGS: Thoughts on THE LITTLE PRINCE and, of course, WRITING!

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One of my favorite books as a child was LE PETIT PRINCE which I read in French because we were living in Paris at the time.  My teacher, Mme. Lucas, chose it for our class because it was relatively simple in terms of word choice and sentence length, which was perfect for intermediate level students (and foreigners) like me.  But even as an eleven year old, I understood that there was more to the story than the relatively simple word choice and plot structure.  THE LITTLE PRINCE, I soon discovered, had the magic ability to touch readers on different levels.  It was my first exposure to allegory and symbolism and reading it brought storytelling to life for me in a new way that still resonates with the reader and writer in me.

But, there was one part of the book that for years I just didn’t get. What was up with those pesky baobabs? The Little Prince was so adamant about plucking them the minute they sprouted on his little asteroid B612, that he insisted the narrator draw a picture of what a planet overrun by baobabs might look like as a warning to children who might travel to faraway planets as he had. “If you attend to a baobab too late,” he warned, “you can never get rid of it again!” As a child, the picture of the baobab infested planet was of my favorites because I thought it so preposterous.

To this day, every time I pluck a wayward oak or maple or elm sapling, I think of the Little Prince and those baobabs which is, in and of itself, a testament to the power of story. It wasn’t until last summer however, when an unusually large number of Rose of Sharon saplings invaded a corner of our back yard, that I fully appreciated his insistence on attending promptly to wayward saplings.

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At first, I ignored our sprouting Roses of Sharon. After all, they were small and green and seemingly harmless, right?  By end of summer, though, I had second thoughts and decided I should pluck them.  And guess what? The Little Prince was right!  I had waited too long. It was such hard work plucking all those tenacious little saplings that I vowed never again to ignore a wayward sapling.  However, I noticed this summer that I didn’t quite get them all, which attests to his princely wisdom.

I think the Little Prince’s wisdom can be applied to our writing as well.  First,  if we’re not careful, just like that baobab-infested planet, the little planet that is our work-in-progess can quickly become overrun with filler words, tell-y descriptions, forced plot twists etc.  Our job as writers, then, is, first, to be able to recognize those unwanted story bits, and second, to be willing to pluck them, just as the Little Prince insisted, before they take over our story planet.  

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But the Little Prince didn’t pluck everything. He allowed some seedlings to grow, like his treasured rose. He tended to that rose with the utmost care because she, unlike the baobab, was the perfect size for his planet.  And he liked her company. Likewise, our writing notebooks and computer files are filled with all sorts of stories-in-progress.  Some have more potential than others. The trick is to have the discernment to see which story seedlings are worth pursuing so they grow into magnificent – publishable – stories.  

With that last thought in mind, I’d like to share one final image. Nine years ago I spotted a wayward sapling growing in the garden by the fence.  It was a nice little sapling and I kind of liked it there, so let it be and it grew… and grew… and grew. It now provides nice shade in that part of the yard. It turns out it’s an elm, the offspring, probably, of the old elm just up the street that had to be chopped down last summer because, after almost 100 years, it was sick.  And now… there’s a new tree – with a new story to tell.  

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This week as you sit down to write, what kinds of seedlings do you spot – both within your stories-in-progress and in the larger body of your ideas and projects? Are there some story bits that need to be plucked or stories-in-progress that need to be set aside? Then do that! But surely there are also a few projects or ideas, that like this vibrant young elm, are meant to survive and thrive and enrich the world. Don’t pluck those! Instead tend to them with loving care!  Happy writing, all! 

Note: Over the summer, I will be sharing a few of my favorite analogies from years past as I stockpile new ones for the fall and beyond. I plucked this oldie, but goodie, from the summer of 2018.

GOODNIGHT ARK Painted Rocks SHARING TIME!

This quick little post is to remind you to send me your pictures of the rock creatures you paint. I know Jane would love to see them and so would I!

Now, as promised in my story time, here is my completed ladybug painted rock, inspired by illustrator Jane Chapman’s delightful rendering in the end pages of our book GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014).

Here are the other rock creatures I painted, inspired by Jane’s art.

And if you missed the story time, it’s still available for a limited time. Here’s the link to Tuesday’s post which includes instructions for the rocks and the story time!

Happy reading and painting!