Inspiration, Life

JOY IN THE LITTLE THINGS:  The Tale of a Sparkly Purse

Last Friday my husband, daughter and I attended a gala to celebrate the eight year anniversary of the founding of the dance company my daughter attends. The event was lovely and served as fundraiser for scholarships. There was music, food, drink, and wonderful conversation. It felt so good be socializing in person! 

The attire was semi-formal and I managed to put together a nice outfit – black velvet pants and a dressy cranberry blouse. I put on my favorite white enamel necklace and pearl earrings. But something was still missing. I needed a purse to hold my lipstick and phone. Something small and easy to carry with a short strap so it could dangle daintily over my forearm as we chatted, sipped wine and nibbled appetizers. And elegant. I wanted it to be elegant.

None of my purses fit that description, but I nonetheless opened the closet in the hopes that something would strike my fancy. It’s not a big collection and as I suspected, nothing was just right. Then at the very back, behind a basket of my scarves, I spotted this:

White and sparkly, and safely wrapped in a plastic bag, it beckoned me to investigate. It was an evening purse. Poking out of the side was the edge of a note. I could just make out the word: LAURA.

That LAURA was written by my mother! She passed away in 2013 and sometime before then, she must have given me this special sparkly purse – perhaps as part of downsizing her own purse collection. I could tell by the handwriting that she wrote the note before she got sick because the lettering is strong and sure. 

Full of loving memories of her, I gently removed the purse from the bag and read the note. This is what it said:

Laura – I bought this in Spain about 1968 to use at a New Year’s Eve party at the Royal Automobile Club of Espagne. For the very formal dinner and dance, I had an emerald green silk long dress made, and wore long, white leather gloves. At midnight, with each stroke of 12, we had to pop a grape into our mouths (pretty dangerous when you think about it!)”

I smiled reading it because it was so like my mother, first to be thoughtful enough to tell me the special story behind the purse, but also, in typical fashion, to include a little life lesson – i.e. don’t put too many grapes in your mouth at once!

I showed the note and purse to Miss A and we both laughed and teared up a bit. “That sounds like her,” she said. Then we both decided my mother would have loved knowing that I was taking her purse to Miss A’s gala! 

Just before we headed out for the evening, I unlatched the purse so I could put in my cell phone and lipstick. And guess what my mom left me there?  SIXTY dollars!  Abigail and I agreed that that was most certainly a special sign that she was with us in spirit and that the purse discovery was meant to be. 

Here is the purse at the party with lipstick, phone and that special $60 tucked safely inside:

And, after the gala, what did we do with that little bit of fun money? A few nights later, we ordered sushi- something Miss A, my mom and I used to love to order and eat together. And, in keeping with my mother’s grape advice, we popped only one piece into our mouths at a time.

As we head into our weekends, may this serve as a sparkly reminder not to forget to look for the joy in the little things – like finding a long-forgotten purse — and savoring the sweet memories those little things spark. 

Happy Friday, all!

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Inspiration, parenting

PARENTING REMINDER… from a TEEN!

Yesterday, as I was sorting through old school papers and notebooks in the basement (part of my new year’s resolution to thoughtfully thin and tidy), I came across this gem. Last year, Miss A took a childhood development course and, apparently, our family dynamics provided lots of material! 

Case in point: Check out this cartoon describing a terrible case of failed launching practices. Launching, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is the term used to describe the role parents play in the period of their child’s transition from youth to adulthood.

LOL, the cartoon speaks for itself, but I thought you might enjoy a little play-by-play commentary as well. Here goes:

Panel One:  

This panel shows two parents not trusting their daughter is doing her work. They are calling her cell phone and acting all exasperated. Meanwhile, the pooch, who is most definitely our sweet Sophie, asks, “When are they going to feed me?” I love the how stylish (or not) the parents look. My husband’s shorts are hilarious and check out my hair!

Panel Two: 

Meanwhile, seated her desk in her room (this, apparently, takes place during the pandemic when school was virtual), Miss A is focused the task at hand – her education. Ignored on the bedside table (as it should be) lies her cell phone which is ringing because her mother (me) is checking in to see if she is doing what she’s supposed to be doing – which she is!  There’s so much humor in this little vignette. And the message is pretty clear – as parents we have trained our children to be responsible, independent human beings and we must trust them to be just that without micromanaging or hovering too much.

Miss A’s Caption:

But just in case that isn’t clear enough, Miss A has written a thorough caption. Let’s zoom in so you are sure to catch the takeaway.

And what is that takeaway for us mamas and papas? Let your children launch. Let them be responsible. Let them make mistakes and learn and grow. In other words, hard as it might be sometimes, step back and let them take flight! Thank you, Miss A, for this reminder (and for letting me share it today.)

Happy soaring, all!

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my blog using the subscribe button in the footer or sidebar. I post once or twice weekly with inspirational reflections, tips, interviews and more.

Creativity, Inspiration, Writing

Letting our Stories Take Flight: FOUR Writerly Thoughts Inspired by THE LITTLE PRINCE Exhibits at the Morgan Library 

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.

Imagine my delight, then, to discover that the Morgan Library in New York City has put together an exhibit of original manuscript pages, watercolor sketches, photographs and personal effects to explore, not only Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s creative process, but also to shed light on how his experience as a pilot, an exile and love-torn human influenced this now classic tale.

This is not the first field trip I’ve taken to the Morgan Library to visit with the Little Prince.  Eight years ago, I also visited the Morgan to see a wonderful exhibit they put together in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the book’s release. Now, basking in the experience of both visits, I’d like to share with you FOUR writerly principles sparked by the exhibits.

Write the story YOU want to tell.  Now a classic, THE LITTLE PRINCE had a slow start because the publisher wasn’t sure whether to promote it for children or for adults. Thank goodness Antoine de Saint-Exupéry didn’t worry about how to categorize it. He just wrote the story he wanted to tell. And, as it turns out, it was the very story readers of all ages (and cultures) wanted to hear. Indeed, as I learned at the exhibit, THE LITTLE PRINCE  has been translated into more languages than any other work of fiction. So, take heart and write from the heart!

Revise, revise, revise! The early manuscript of THE LITTLE PRINCE was more than twice as long as the final published version. The framed pages on display at both exhibits are lightly scrawled in pencil and/or ink and show clear signs of intense revision – not only at the sentence level, but at the story level too. Big cross outs show where entire sections were deleted. Simple lines through phrases and words show how the author’s wording evolved. Revising can be long and painstaking, but also rewarding as you see the story emerge and transform on the page. So take out that pen and let the words overflow.  Then, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry revise your text to perfection.

Save your doodles. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a doodler and for years sketched a little “bonhomme” in the margins of his notebooks. Something about that doodle, in particular, captivated his imagination and ultimately gave birth to the little fellow readers now know and love as the Little Prince. I, too, am a doodler, but my doodles take the form of words and phrases – little bursts of inspiration.  Some of those word-doodles go nowhere, but like that little “bonhomme” some keep reappearing in my pages.  I’ve even developed some of the peskiest ones into stories and poems.  So save your doodles, for they might be just the spark you need to write your next piece.

Write from the heart. Do you remember the Little Prince’s cherished rose? The one he was so love-torn over?  Even reading the story as I child, I felt there was an intensity and complexity of emotions in their relationship. Well, at the “Taking Flight” exhibit, I learned that their relationship was most likely inspired by the author’s turbulent marriage to Consuelo Suncin Sandoval de Gómez. They loved each other deeply but struggled as well. I’m so appreciative that Saint-Exupéry found a creative way to weave those struggles into his story so that others can take heart and learn and grow as they navigate their own life struggles. That is one of the gifts an author gives his/her readers and one that we, as writers, should be open to as we write. 

The Morgan Library and Museum Exhibition: “The Little Prince: Taking Flight” runs through February 5, 2023. I highly recommend it, if you happen to be traveling in these parts. For more details check here: https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/little-prince-taking-flight

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Inspiration, thanksgiving

Giving Thanks: BOOK STYLE!

Every year at Thanksgiving, when all the relatives are gathered around the table ready to eat, my husband pulls out one of his favorite books. Printed in 1858 in New York, it’s a worn, but still beautiful old, leather bound copy of Book of Psalms.  As a US historian with a focus on religion in  America, it’s no surprise he treasures it.  He purchased it many years ago in the little “attic sale” corner of my grandmother’s retirement community.  Not only is it a beautiful artifact from the past that reminds us of my grandmother, it also contains familiar and wonderful words that are loved by our family.

That book – and my husband’s joy in sharing it with us each year – reminds me of the richness books add to our lives – shaping us as we grow, helping us through tough times, sparking special memories, offering joy and laughter and more.  With that in mind, maybe it’s time this weekend to give a little thanks – book style!

We’ll be doing this as family – and all ages can participate. And here are a couple that stand out in our family: 

E.B White’s Charlotte’s Web helped my then eight year old daughter process her sadness at her grandmother’s passing.

Amy Krause Rosenthal’s We are thankful for the way COOKIES: Bite-Sized Lessons led to such great conversations about living kindly and to lots of cookie baking!

My son remembers fondly the joy of reading every single Hardy Boys book – several times!  He loved them so much, that just like his daddy, he enjoyed perusing old book shops for old treasures like this 1942 edition of The Clue of the Broken Blade. 

Want to “Give Thanks, BOOK STYLE!” with your family? Here’s how it works:

Gather:  Ahead of time, let your family and friend know that as part of the Thanksgiving festivities, you will be sharing a book that you’ve been thankful for. If possible, they should bring it. 

Share: At a designated time, perhaps after the main course and before you serve up the pumpkin pie, let each person who would like share their book. 

If they need help structuring their thoughts, it might go something like this:

This is name of book and I am thankful for it because ______________.  (Possible reasons could include:  it made me laugh, it reminded me of _________, it taught me that __________, it helped me when I was feeling _________ etc. )

Then, if you want, each person can share a favorite page or passage from the book.

Celebrate: When everyone is done, celebrate the blessings of books with dessert! 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my blog using the subscribe button in the footer or sidebar. I post once or twice weekly with inspirational reflections, tips, interviews and more.

Christmas, Inspiration

TUESDAY THOUGHTS: Halos in Picture Books (Plus a Treasured Childhood Memory)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD is my first children’s book with halos. Can you spot them glowing on the cover over the heads of the Christmas family? They shine on each and every spread. I didn’t envision halos when I wrote the story, but I like them. They remind me of my childhood years spent in France. It was there that I was first introduced to these glowing nimbuses on family field trips to Notre Dame, Chartres and more. Then, and now, I find them to be artistically beautiful ways to represent both those who are divine (Jesus and God) and those who served God in special ways.  

So when I was asked what my take on them was and informed that there is currently great controversy over their inclusion in picture books, I was surprised. In my opinion, they are a joyous addition to HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, providing lovely opportunity for conversations about what they are and how they can help to remind us of God’s loving mission to redeem the world.  

Here are a couple of sweet pictures from my childhood years in France. In the first, I am standing with my mother and sister on an elegant outing. Can you guess which one I am? The second is a snapshot taken by my dad on a trip to Chartres cathedral circa 1979. My mother is on the left looking up and I am sporting a very bright red hat. My sister is running joyfully in the middle.

Now, inspired by my mom who skillfully used halos to spark conversations about God on those special outings, here are FOUR suggestions for doing just that:

  1. Set halos in historical context. I was fascinated to learn as a small child that halos in Christian art date back to the time when few could read words but all could “read” pictures and so churches were designed with biblical stories visually on display in the form of statues, paintings, and stained glass windows.  And what about those halos? As my mother explained to me, they were visual clues that the figures wearing them were either divine (i.e God or Jesus) or divinely appointed helpers with a special role to play.  
  2. Introduce the idea of SYMBOLISM.  Ask your little ones if WE wear halos?  Ask them why they think we don’t?  Ask if they think Jesus actually wore a halo? What about God?  This will be an interesting conversation…. but wherever it takes you, be sure to conclude that NO, Jesus didn’t actually wear a halo, neither does God.  Halos are the creation of artists looking for a visual way to show God – or his special helpers. They are symbols, sort of like arrows – alerting us that the wearer is either God or someone important to God’s story.
  3. Read a book with halos.  As you read HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, or another book with halos, have your little one point to the halos on each page. (Hint: They are on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.)  Ask your child how the halos look?  Do they add a sense of warmth and love to the story?  And why do they think each has a halo?  Ponder all this together, concluding that Jesus has the halo because He’s God’s Holy Son! And Mary and Joseph have halos because they were blessed to be Jesus’ earthly parents – special helpers indeed.
  4. After reading, go on a halo field trip. One of my favorite cathedral outing memories as a child was of going on halo hunts.  I think my mom did this to keep us entertained so she could listen to the tour guide, but I loved it. This is how they worked. First, we’d pick either a large window or maybe the statuary above the entrance. Next, we’d look for and count the halos. Finally, we’d see if we could figure out who the haloed figures were and how they could remind us of God’s power and love. You can do that in your community as well either by visiting a local church that has haloed figures or perhaps a museum that has a collection of medieval church art.  At Christmas time, you might even be able to spot some halos in people’s front yard nativity scenes!

Whatever your stance on halos, I pray that you and your little ones are filled with a sense of wonder, joy and thankfulness this Christmas as we celebrate the the birth of Jesus, God’s precious Son.

SPECIAL THANKS: A variation of this post appeared over at Big Books, Little Ears last week. I’d like to thank blogger/owner Kristin Wynalda for asking me this thought provoking question.

Also, Sophie, my pooch, is a bit incensed that I haven’t yet shared her interview over at Kathy O’ Neill’s delightful blog. Would you help make her happy and smooth over my oversight by popping over for a read? And maybe leave a comment for her? Here’s the link.

Inspiration, Writing

SAVING THE SHAVINGS: Four Writerly Reasons to Hold on to the Tossed Bits

My artistic daughter thought these pencil shavings were so beautiful she wanted me to save them.  We took this picture instead. For months I forgot about them, until I rediscovered them while browsing through old photos.

I find these lovely shavings inspiring.  As writers, our job is to whittle away at our stories, sharpening them until they shine.  But sometimes, in our haste to perfect the story or poem at hand, we foolishly toss the shavings. Those shavings, however, often contain precious marrow which, if tossed too quickly, we will later regret. So, before you hit delete or permanently toss old story bits, here are four thoughts to consider.

Oops! It Wasn’t a Shaving After All!  I can’t tell you how many times in the processing of revising, I have deleted a phrase or thought that I later regretted. Thank goodness, I learned early not to permanently delete anything when whittling a piece. Instead I “cut” the phrase or sentence that I think isn’t working and “paste” it in a repository at the end of the document. That way ALL my thoughts are captured and preserved, so if I realize later that something wasn’t a shaving after all, it’s still safe and sound in my shavings collection.

One Story’s Shaving Is Another Story’s Spark.  When working on a new piece, I like to brainstorm and write in my journal. Sometimes this takes up pages and pages. Over the years, I’ve been tempted to toss these old chicken scratchings, but I’m so glad I haven’t. Do you know how many new ideas those old notes have sparked? Shavings and shavings worth! (Bigger than the lovely heap pictured above.) My advice, then, is to find a nice box or shelf to store your old journals and unused writing bits so that one day when you feel uninspired, you can search those old shavings for the marrow of a new story or poem!

Is That a Shaving or is that a Sequel?  If a book does well, your publisher might be interested in a sequel. I keep this hopeful thought in mind when revising.  I tend to be an overwriter – infusing way more plot twists and content than a 32-page picture book can handle.  Over time, I’ve learned to put asterisks or boxes around plot twists or snippets of text that don’t fit the current story but which might be the spark for a sequel.

Save those shavings for posterity (or at least for school visits)! When speaking with students about writing picture books, they LOVE it when I can show them concrete evidence that published pieces go through many, many rounds of whittling before they are ready for print.  Here’s where those awkward early rhymes or plot twists that I wisely shaved off my story come in handy. Students love them! They also enjoy glimpses into early brainstorming notes or lists. Indeed, a thoughtful assortment of  select shavings that illustrate various truths about the writing and revising process will bring school presentations to life!

Happy sharpening all and remember to save the shavings!

(Note: I re-discovered this post from March 2016 while browsing through my blog archives. I found it inspiring so decided to post again.  I hope it inspires you, too, as you set about writing this week.)

Bible, board books, Book Launch, Inspiration

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD: Inspiration Video (Plus a Giveaway Winner!)

Every day recently, I’ve doing a little something special to get ready for my newest board book to release. Earlier this month these special efforts included producing a short video, filmed on my porch, sharing the inspiration behind HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD. Well, I just noticed that the video is now up on Paraclete’s website as well as their YouTube channel, so that means I can share it!

Enjoy the video and I hope it inspires you to pre-order copies for the little ones in your life.  You can preorder through the publisher, on Amazon , Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook or through the vendor of your choice. And if you want to add it to your Goodreads shelves that would be amazing.  

GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED!!! It’s also time to announce the winner of last week’s giveaway of a SIGNED copy of Patti Richard’s debut picture book MRS. NOAH.  Drum roll please… the winner is… GAYLE!!! I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you.  

Creativity, Inspiration, Life, Writing

FINDING YOUR JOYFUL SPOT: Thoughts on Parlor Pliés and Writing

My daughter, aged 17, is away at a ballet intensive for two weeks. I’m not hearing much from her except a few texts that says things like “I love it here!” and “I’m sore from all the dancing, but it’s really good!” and “The girls are nice and we are warming up to each other.” That’s all I need to hear.

Miss A has been a dancer all her life and she inspires me. And maybe because I am missing the sound of her dancing in her room (right above my little morning spot here in the living room), I decided to search “ballet” on my blog and turned up this nugget. It was just what I needed to read this morning as I jump (or perhaps dance) into a morning of writing.

Here it is… straight from the summer of 2015! Enjoy!

Right now my daughter, aged 10, is dancing around the living room to the rich music of Coppelia, a beautiful 19th century ballet. Using a dish towel as a prop, she’s flitting and twirling and swooping to the music in perfect motion. I would love to snap a photo, but she has asked me to remain in the kitchen (where I am cleaning up from supper) and I want to respect her privacy.  But, oh my, each time I peek in I am amazed. She is 100% into the moment – listening to the mood of the music and improvising as she goes.  And, wow, how her movements flow. The result is beautiful!

As a writer, I am taking note. This young budding artist is not letting the inner voices of self doubt and fear of criticism interfere one bit. Perhaps she hasn’t even recognized their pesky little voices yet.

I was never a dancer, but I have distant recollections of that beautiful innocent time when I just let my creativity flow both through writing and drawing without holding back. That phase ended for me in mid-elementary school when I suddenly became self conscious about my writing, especially at school. Thankfully, I continued to write stories and poems for my own pleasure.  Still, it took years for me to return to that safe place where I felt secure enough to really open up and let that creativity flow again.

To reach our full creative potentials, we must follow my sweet daughter’s example and reconnect with that creative sweet spot from our childhood when we felt free to create without inhibition. Will you join me this week in finding the joyful spot? Happy dancing, er writing, all!

Inspiration, Picture Books, Writing

Inspired by WONDER WOMAN: FOUR Tips to Activate your PICTURE BOOK Writing Super Powers

My husband gave me a card with Wonder Woman on the front and that’s all it took to remind me of this favorite post from 2017 which offers super hero wisdom for picture book writers. Enjoy!

A few years ago I was asked in an interview if, even as a child, I always wanted to be a children’s author.  And after a bit of thought, I answered no. When I was a child what I really wanted to be was Wonder Woman! I had her twirl perfected and everything. Activating her super powers, I would spend hours with friends, or sometimes alone, creating fantastic make-believe scenarios. These were the plot lines that brought wonderful play worlds to life.

As picture book writers we, too, have super powers we can activate to create engaging stories. So now, in celebration of my first career dream as a super hero, here are FOUR SUPER POWERS we can all use to bring our picture book manuscripts to life:

The POWER of the KID-FRIENDLY PROBLEM:  Losing a favorite toy, wanting a cookie, being afraid of a storm, not wanting to take a bath. These are just a few examples of kid-friendly problems in the books we read.  A kid-friendly problems connects the reader to your story.

The POWER of PICTURES that ADD: The hallmark of picture books, of course, is that they are illustrated. But there’s more. Good picture book writers let the pictures tell part of the story. Sometimes the pictures even include important details that are not in the text. See Mo Willem’s KNUFFLEBUNNY for a great example of this, or GOODNIGHT, ARK or LOVE IS KIND (or any of my books.) As you write and revise your stories, put stars next to parts of the story that could be told (or enhanced) by the illustrations. Then consider omitting the words from the text, instead substituting a simple illustration note, but only if absolutely necessary.

The POWER of the PAGE TURN: With only a few sentences per spread, picture books include almost constant page turns. These built-in pauses provide authors a great opportunity to build suspense. Consider pausing at an exciting moment mid-sentence as you write.  What happens next?  To find out kids will have to TURN THE PAGE! (Note: creating a book dummy during revisions is a great way to figure out how you can take advantage of page turns.)

The POWER of HUMOR:  Kids love to laugh, or at least chuckle, and so do parents. So anytime you can infuse humor into your story, via text or illustration, go for it!

What SUPER POWER would you add? Let us fellow writers know in the comments. And if wanted to be a super hero when you were little, let us know that too! Happy Writing, all!

Life, Writing

What’s Your Writerly BEESWAX?

With three weeks until my next book releases, I’ve been busy lining up blog stops, reaching out to schools, preparing for a virtual launch party (stay tuned for details on that very soon) and more. Still, each day, I’m determined to find time to write creatively. And how do I begin each writing session? I begin it beeswax. Curious what beeswax has to do with writing? Find out in this oldie-but goodie post from 2013. That sixth grader is now in college, but I’m ever grateful for the day he introduced me to beeswax. Enjoy!

As a sixth grader, my son is taking a mini-course in home economics. For the sewing component, he hand-stitched a simple felt pocket with a button loop to hang in his locker. He completed most of the “locker dangler” at school, but needed to finish the final step – sewing on the button- at home. After rummaging through my button box for a “funky” button, he was ready to get started.

I’m no seamstress, but I’ve sewn on buttons before. I’ve also hand-stitched doll quilts and sewn on my fair share of Boy Scout patches. So, in a knowing “I’ve done this before” tone of voice, I suggested that he double up his thread so it wouldn’t slip off the needle, but not make it too long, lest it get all twisty and knotted. This sometimes happens to me, and it’s a nuisance, requiring that I back up or start that section over.

My son, however, was resolute. “I’m supposed to do this by myself,” he explained. “And I know what to do.” Then, with remarkable skill, he threaded the needle, doubled up his strand and tied a tidy knot.  Finally, peering into my sewing kit he asked, “Where’s the beeswax?”

“The what?” I asked.

He looked at me incredulously. “You know, the beeswax.”  I didn’t know, but now I do, and I think my days of knotted thread might finally be over!  For, as every REAL seamstress knows, a coating of beeswax quickly applied to the thread, not only strengthens and bonds the double strand, it also makes it slippery so the stitches glide knot-free through the fabric.

Sometimes, like thread, my writing feels tight and knotty. The words don’t flow at all.  What I could really use is a little beeswax for my pen, or maybe even for my mind, to loosen me up and get those words gliding.

Thankfully, I think I’m a better writer than a seamstress. Here’s my writerly beeswax: I begin each writing session with 5 minutes (or more if I’m having fun) of just playing with words.  Somedays I’ll free write something that’s on my mind. Other days I’ll open with quick hand written list of, say, all the words that rhyme with shoe, or all the different ways a penny could get lost. Often that’s all I need to get me going.

How about you? What’s your BEESWAX?