REMEMBERING 9/11: Twenty Years Later

REMEMBERING 9/11. It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years. I remember it as if it were yesterday. 

My mom was visiting from Colorado that week. In fact, just the Saturday before she had kindly offered to care for our sweet baby for the evening so my husband and I could attend a work party at a colleague’s apartment in Brooklyn. 

At one point during the party, the hostess invited us all up to the roof for a breathtaking view of the lower part of Manhattan. However, to get up there you had to climb a ladder and I don’t like heights and was a little nervous. My husband, though, insisted. It’s beautiful, he said. You’ll regret it if you miss it. 

So taking a deep breath, I climbed that ladder and the view was indeed breathtaking. Just across the river, practically within touching distance, or so at least it felt, stood the two mighty towers of the World Trade Center. It was a clear night with stars and a patchwork pattern of windows lit up the two great towers. I guessed that maybe the cleaning service was cleaning the floors. I remember holding my husband’s hand and feeling a sense of peace and gladness in that moment. 

Three mornings later, my mom and I were upstairs in the bedroom with the baby when the phone rang. It was my husband calling from the library. It was a little bit after nine. He said he was coming home right away but that I should turn on the TV because two planes had flown into the World Trade Center. Our nation was under attack! 

For the rest of that morning with a feeling of dread in our bellies, all three of us ( plus baby) watched the terrible events of the day unfold including the collapsing of the two towers. 

We were in shock. Across the street lived a couple. The husband worked at the World Trade Center. Was he okay, we wondered?

That afternoon, needing a break from the television, we took the baby for a walk. Other neighbors were out and we were all checking in on each other to see if our loved ones were safe and accounted for. 

They were, but no one knew about the situation with my neighbor across the street. We all started praying and hoping. 

The one moment of pure joy that day was seeing him return home, all covered in soot, as I recall, with his wife beside him. She worked further uptown and had run down to find him. And that’s how they found each other, both running from opposite directions. 

Not everyone in our town came home that night though. Six families lives were forever changed. I remember holding my son and crying. I remember praying for peace. I remember praying that they would find survivors. 

My mother was so shaken that she decided rather than fly home to Colorado she would take the train. And that’s what she did. It took more than 24 hours to get home.

Our world was changed forever that day. My thoughts and prayers go out today to all who lost family members and friends that day.  I pray also for peace and unity for our nation and the world. 

Writing Thoughts: FAIRY Edition!

Miss A and I just returned from a special overnight visit to my sister’s new house in Pennsylvania so the kids could have some much anticipated cousin time!  Since it it was our first time being together in a while we decided to surprise them with a special project – building a fairy garden!  

Finding the perfect spot was easy – I mean just look at the wonderful antique planter.  Next, everyone, including me picked a wooden dwelling to paint. There was lots of chatting and giggling and imagining as we painted. 

Once everything was dry, it was time to build the garden, adding a river and even a dangling precipice for the gazebo. Doesn’t it look wonderful? 

Now, inspired by my life-long fascination with fairies (which has clearly rubbed off on my daughter and her cousins) here are three fairy-themed writing posts to inspire your creativity and foster some writing skills in your little ones. 

Fairy Post #1: One of my favorite early morning activities as a child visiting my grandparents was to tiptoe across their dewy lawn in search of fairy wash. Do you know what I’m talking about?  Find out in this oldie-but-goodie: FAIRYWASH: Capturing Ideas Before They Evaporate.

Fairy Post #2: A few years ago, my daughter and I (this was at the height of our own fairy garden building frenzy) were delighted to discover the most amazing fairy forest at Boxerwood Gardens in Lexington, VA.  See how that inspired my writing in this special post: BOXERWOOD FAIRY FOREST: Learning from the Experts.

Fairy Post #3: Find out how I used my daughter’s love of our fairy garden to foster letter writing skills in my reluctant reader and writer in this sweet post: HAPPY SPRING: Time to Write Fairy Letters!

Happy Writing, Fairy Style!

SNAIL MAIL BLESSINGS: Fostering KINDNESS the Old-Fashioned Way

In this age of instant texts and emails, I’ve been missing the special connection of a different kind of correspondence – the old-fashioned hand-written note. 

Beginning in my tweens through my twenties, I regularly wrote hand-written notes. Some were condolence letters. Some were thank you notes. Most were letters to friends in places I’d previously lived.  Many were letters to my now-husband of 29 years! All were written from the heart and they were my favorite way to connect across the miles.  

Each letter began with a connection point where I reminded the recipient how much I missed them or had been thinking about them. Then I would ask a question or two about how they were doing. Next, I’d share some of the meaningful things that were going on in my neck of the woods, often continuing a conversation thread from a letter I’d received from them.  I’d close with a reminder once again of how much they meant to me and how I looked forward to hearing from them. 

Looking back, I see there was an art to those letters and a special connection built through the bond of writing – an art and connection that I fear we are only a few texts and social media posts away from losing forever.

So now, with September just around corner, I’ve decided to shake the dust off my stationary stash and develop a new habit of writing one old-fashioned note once a week to someone special.

Would you like to join me in this letter writing journey, which I’m calling “Snail Mail Blessings”?  If so, please let me know in the comments section so we can encourage each other along the way.

Getting started is easy. Just grab paper, pen, a stamp and an envelope. Find a comfortable spot to write. Pause quietly for a moment and see if someone comes to mind – an old classmate perhaps, or a special aunt or uncle you haven’t written to in awhile. Maybe you know someone who needs a little boost of encouragement this week. Your heart will tell you when you’ve got the right person for this week. 

Then write the letter and send it the old-fashioned way- via snail mail.  

I hope that this challenge is a blessing to your week, as I know it will be to mine. And be on the look out in coming weeks for more thoughts and inspiration for ways we can bless those around us (and be blessed in return) through the simple act of writing letters and sending them the old-fashioned way.

Snail Mail Blessings to your and yours!

Laura 

DOWN THE SHORE: Thoughts from the Beach to Inspire Your Writing

My family and I just returned from a lovely week at the beach or “down the shore” as they say here in New Jersey. Our destination was Surf City on Long Beach Island. It’s a long, narrow island and we enjoyed watching the sun rise, beachside, and set, bayside, almost every day.

Here’s a little glimpse of my morning coffee and quiet time spot. I read and wrote in my journal here every day except for the one stormy morning we had. On that morning, I opted to stay in our cozy cottage instead.

Spending the week “down the shore” was good for this writer’s soul and my various activities reminded that this is not the first time I have found writerly inspiration at the beach.

So now, while I can still almost feel the sand between my toes and inhale that wonderful salty air, I’d like to share three posts from the past that came to mind as I enjoyed the week through writerly eyes.

Every day, at least once, I walked along the ocean’s edge looking for shells. As a result, I now have a new collection of shells on my dining room table. Many are broken, but all are beautiful in their own way and they remind me of this seashell inspired post from 2012: BROKEN SHELLS: Thoughts on Creating Compelling Characters.

The abundance of seagulls eager to snatch up sandwiches from unsuspecting beach-goers, made me smile/cringe as I remembered this writerly post inspired by some greedy seagulls on visit down the shore in 2013: LUNCH AT THE BEACH: Thoughts on Seagulls and Writing.

Finally, the discovery of these delightful painted stones, colorfully arranged around a street post, reminded me of this post from 2012 about visualizing our stories as stones. Not beach-themed, per say, but called back to mind when I spotted these stones. Here it is: STONE STORIES: What We Write and Why.

And now, as we step into this new week, I wish you the best as you write and create!

BLESSINGS upon BLESSINGS: LOVE IS KIND Brings Comfort to a Kindergartner… and the Mother’s Note Brings Joy to the Author (me!)

Last week in the comments section to a post I had shared on Facebook about Feeling Blessed by a Bouquet, a kind young mom left a thoughtful comment, which blessed my day in a extra-special way.

Here are her words, shared with her permission:

Laura, not related to this, but I just wanted to tell you how much joy your book “Love is kind” brought into my daughter’s life. Last year you came into her Kindergarten classroom for the reading and we purchased an autographed copy that day. It has become her favorite book! I cannot tell you how many times she re-read it during the lockdown and then during the months of remote learning. She really connected with it and it gave her comfort during these difficult months. Thank you!”

It’s almost like this mom was reading my mind because her message to me about the impact one of my books has had on her daughter was just what this heart needed.  In fact, I was so moved, that I responded to her Facebook comment with this:

Thank you for telling me this. You made my month! This past year has been so difficult – and especially for the kids. I’m glad to know the book provided comfort. That, I know, would make Little Owl very happy!

And then after some more thought, the next day I added this: 

I’m still so moved by your sharing this. May I have your permission to quote your kind words in post about one never knows the impact ones words/book can have and an encouragement to keep writing and speaking from the heart…I was feeling a bit in a writing slump and your comment really, as I said, made my month!

Her answer: “Of course!” 

And I so share these words today as both a reminder and an encouragement for me and for you to keep writing – or developing whatever special talents you’ve been gifted – with the knowledge that, just as surely as Little Owl helped one little girl face a difficult time in her life, your story or gift will surely also impact others in ways that, most often, we will never know. 

Happy writing and creating… and connecting!

FEELING BLESSED by a … BOUQUET!

This post fits squarely in the “celebrating life” category of this blog. I wrote it just now on my Facebook page, but feel moved to share it here as well. I hope the joy I felt as I wrote it comes through in the reading of it. And now, the post:

This lovely bouquet, which now sits in a vase on my porch, is a LOVELY reminder to me of what happens when we SLOW down and show KINDNESS in the places we find ourselves.

Here’s the story: I am all ready to check out at Trader Joe’s yesterday, so I pull my cart up to one of the check out lanes. The cashier welcomes me and says it will just be a moment. The customer before me (whose bags were already packed and ready to go) has remembered at the last minute that she needs coffee. She has promised it will be just a moment and has dashed off to get coffee. Well, it isn’t just a moment. It takes many moments. Many, many moments.

I’m tired and hungry and want to get home, but I’ve been working on slowing things down, allowing for margin, so I have time to connect with others and choose kindness. So, instead of complaining to the cashier, who I can tell is feeling bad about the situation, I say not to worry, and we fill the time with conversation.

Before the customer comes back, the check out line next to the one I am in opens up, and the cashier there invites me to check out in his line, which I do. While I am busy with that, the customer comes back. She’s had to wait for someone to grind the coffee, apparently. In my mind, it is not a big deal. But just as I am paying for my groceries, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn and it’s the first cashier. She’s holding a bouquet for me. “Thank you,” she says. I’m stunned. The bouquet is not necessary, I say. But as I carry it out, I feel this overwhelming sense of joy at the positive human connection that is found when we take the time to both be a blessing to others and to allow ourselves to be blessed by others. My heart is full. And now, as I start my weekend, I wonder what other opportunities will come my way, and perhaps your way too. Blessings all!

FIVE Traits That Make PICTURE BOOKS Perennial Favorites

Summer time reminds me that I LOVE perennials, those wonderful plants that bloom in my garden, season after season, where they are enjoyed by all, again and again. My favorites include my butterfly bush, the daisies, the echinacea, and black-eyed susans.

The joy of seeing my perennials bloom more gloriously than ever has gotten me thinking about how picture books – the good ones – are like perennials too, enjoyed by generations of kids and caregivers. So, what makes a picture book a perennial favorite?

I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface, but here are FIVE characteristics that I think elevate a picture book to perennial status.  What would you add? 

NOTE: This is my first time doing a post like this. What do you think? For comparison, see a previous version I posted in the summer of 2019: https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2019/07/03/picture-books-what-makes-a-perennial-favorite/

Write like a…DOG!!!

I love my early morning walks with our sweet cockapoo, Sophie. For me, it’s a chance to get some morning exercise and enjoy the freshness of a brand new day. I often have my camera with me so I can snap pictures of glorious moments – like spotting a purple orb – or discovering sidewalk chalk art drawn by a child. But for Sophie it’s all about scent and sound! Indeed, it’s first with nose and ears, not eyes, that she notices a cottontail bunny or crinkling leaf or sweet clover.  She even sniffs out long forgotten, and apparently smelly, tennis balls, hidden deep in our pachysandra.

Just for fun, I sometimes close my eyes and try to soak up the world from Sophie’s perspective. When I do, it’s amazing how heightened my other senses become. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:  flags flapping, gate hinges creaking, wild onion smells so pungent you can almost taste them,  fresh coffee wafting out the neighbor’s kitchen window, the tickle of a lady bug bare skin, and the coolness of wet grass between my toes.

As writers for young children I think we could all benefit from closing our eyes sometimes.  I don’t mean burying our heads in the sand so that our writing is sappy and disconnected from reality. Of course not. What I mean is that my writing, at least, tends towards the visual if I’m not careful. But when I’m intentional (and close my eyes) my other senses kick in and my writing is enriched. Using multi- sensory imagery is especially important in picture books and other illustrated pieces, such as poems for magazines, where the illustrations already provide plenty of visual detail. So, go ahead, close your eyes and feel those other senses kick in. That’s my plan this week. Happy writing all!

How to Write Picture Books – DIVA Style!

February 8th is OPERA DAY! And since DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE is all about opera, I thought it would be fun to re-share a favorite post inspired the book’s protagonists, Delores and Fernando. My opera-loving duo made their opera debut when the book released in 2018, but as any well-trained diva knows, singing on stage is just the final thrill. What comes before that?  Hours and hours, even years of hard work! But is it all worth it? You bet!

Now celebrations of opera and divas and picture books, here are five tips to help you write picture books – diva style!

  1. Go to the opera… a lot!

If you are going to be an opera star, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the glorious world of opera by attending operas, listening to opera music, and all-around saturating yourself in all things opera.  Likewise, if you want to write  picture books, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the world of picture books.  For me, this means making regular trips to the children’s section of my library, or my favorite local bookstore, and reading, reading, reading!  I read with two purposes:  first, just for the pleasure and joy of it, and second… to learn. That’s why I always bring along my writerly opera glasses and a notebook so that I can thoughtfully ponder and record what makes each opera (i.e. picture book) sing… or not.

  1. Rehearsal is important.

If you want to be a diva, you have to spend time rehearsing and developing your craft. For opera stars, I imagine this means a daily routine of warming up with scales, practicing a variety of pieces, working on voice projection etc. Similarly, if you want to to write picture books, you have to be willing to invest the time and effort into writing daily. My daily writing routine includes free writes (my version of scales), as well as working on a variety of poems, blog posts and the handful of picture book manuscripts I’m working through at any given moment. 

  1. Control those crescendos.

I’m not an opera expert, but it seems to me that in the field of opera, like in the field of picture book writing – less is more!  I mean divas don’t just cut loose and sing at the top of their lungs willy-nilly!  No, they artistically control their voices so that it plays a magical role in telling the opera’s story. Likewise, as a picture book writer – and especially as one who loves to rhyme – I work hard to control my crescendos so that every word, sound, phrase, action, magically moves the story forward.

  1. Be confident, yet humble. (i.e. be willing to learn from others)

Confidence is good, but if you want your singing, er writing, to shine,  I’ve learned over the years that confidence must be tempered with an open heart, open mind, and gracious spirit when receiving constructive feedback.  As a young writer I thought my writing was fabulous! But now that I’m more seasoned, I look back on those early pieces and cringe. They would definitely have benefitted from a little more humility and willingness to productively process and put into place suggestions from more experiences writers! 

(Which leads me to my last bit of advice.) 

  1. Everything’s better with a buddy!

As Diva Delores discovers at the opera house, the journey to success is just all-around better with a buddy. Likewise, I’ve found that the picture book writing journey wouldn’t be the same without a nice support system. For me this includes my family, my talented agent, and the wonderful network of like-minded children’s writers I’ve connected with over the years, many of whom have become dear friends and trusted critique partners. So, my last bit of advice for writing picture books – diva style! – is to find a buddy or two to encourage you and help you grow along the way.

Note: A version of this post first appeared on Darlene Beck Jacobson’s lovely blog. She’s been kind enough to host me for the release of each and every one of my books. Thank you, Darlene!

ADVENT CALENDARS: A Special Christmas Memory

In the fall of 1981, a shy girl, still very homesick for her friends and life in France, moved with her family to a suburban community just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She didn’t know many people and to say it was a shock to her quiet self to be suddenly plunked into a huge junior high with 300 or so kids in the seventh grade alone, is an understatement.  There had only been 15 or so kids in the whole 6th grade at her previous school!

That fall this shy girl comforted herself by reading lots of books and writing and drawing.  But good things were at work for within days of starting school that girl (who was me if you haven’t guessed) met a sweet, kind, soul who immediately made her (me) feel welcome.

This girl, whose name was Elizabeth, was shy like me and also liked to read and write.  We quickly became “kindred spirits” for, yes, we had both, of course, read and loved Anne of Green Gables.  Elizabeth made that first fall in Minnesota not just bearable but delightful!  

This brings me to my special Christmas memory that was triggered by watching this Youtube video that this special friend, who grew up to be a Lutheran pastor, posted on her social media this week. In it, she shares a special life-long collection of hers:  advent calendars!  Enjoy the video and then read about my special memory below:

Pastor Elizabeth may not remember this, but that first December of my junior high life in Minnesota, she invited me over to her house.  I don’t remember all the details of that afternoon, but I do remember the highlight!  

“Do you want to make advent calendars?” she asked. I had never heard of such a thing so she showed me one and explained how it was a special way to look forward to Christmas day by opening little windows each day.  

Then she showed me how we could make our own by using two pieces of sturdy paper. First we drew our cover sheets with festive Christmas scenes. Next, using scissors we cut out 24 flaps for windows and numbered each one. Then we attached the undersheet and put a special Christmas message or symbol or verse in each window. It was so much fun!

I’m pretty certain that my own family’s love of advent calendars can be traced back to Elizabeth. Indeed, since they were little, my kids have looked forward to their advent calendars (and the chocolate inside) each and every year.  Need proof? Here’s a tasty close up of Miss A’s 2020 advent calendar.  

Now, in a spirit of gratitude and awareness of God’s blessings, I’d like to take a moment to honor Elizabeth, who’s been such a good friend over the years – doing kind things like cheering me on in my writing journey and even sharing my books with her congregation.

Here’s my closing thought for you. Is there some special holiday or family tradition that can be traced back to a special person in your life? If so, maybe today or this week is a good time to find that person and let them know.  

Blessings of the season, all!