LITTLE TOY CARS: Thoughts on Playing and Writing

I’ve been spending hours in my basement lately re-organizing and on one of the shelves I re-discovered this box of little toy cars. With that in mind, I couldn’t resist re-posting this car-themed post from 2017. Enjoy!

I was organizing boxes in my basement this weekend and rediscovered this – it’s a box full of my childhood Matchbox cars co-mingled with my husband’s –  with some more recent additions from when my kids were little.  The youngest cars in the collection are about fifteen years old – the oldest – almost fifty!  What amazes me most about this collection is the wildly contrasting condition of the cars.

I mean, if you look at them carefully, they are all comprised of the same basic elements – wheels, chassis, colorful paint job.  And, yes, of course, all have doors, hoods, and trunks (some that open which were my favorites as a kid). Yeah, yeah, some are trucks instead of cars, but basically they all fit into the same overarching miniature toy car category.

And yet, through the seemingly innocent act of playing with them… look how distinctive they’ve become! My husband’s cars are all battered up. He even had to repaint his little toy ambulance, a very necessary vehicle for his play world. That’s because for him, a perfect day of play involved car races and crashes and battles over rough terrain.

By contrast, my perfect day of automobile play involved creating a village in the fragrant bed of pine needles that covered the craggy old roots that abutted my grandparents’ driveway. I would spend hours creating roads and story lines to go with each car as they navigated my imaginary village world, stopping for tea at imaginary tea houses and picnics along imaginary vistas. Very different from my husband’s play.

But that’s where the originality and creativity emerges, isn’t it?

Writing stories is a lot like playing with toy cars.  We all begin with the same basic car parts – the words – and all our stories fit into a relatively small range of car models, i.e. story structures, plot lines and universal themes.

But does that mean that originality is impossible?  Not at all.  Like children playing with toy cars, that’s where the creativity begins!  So get out those stories-in-progress this week, or grab a new little car – and then PLAY! I wonder what new play worlds will emerge this week. Happy Monday all!

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. 

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/

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!

ADVENT REFLECTION: Joy in the Simple Things

As we begin this advent season, it strikes me that my favorite holiday memories don’t involve expensive gifts or lavish decorations or endless busy-ness. Indeed, my favorite memories are very simple, but priceless, and they are a good reminder to me not to get so caught up and worried in making the season grand that we miss the simple joys along the way.

With that in mind, here are four memories of simple joys I’ve experienced at Christmas.

Memory #1: When I was in third grade, we moved to Paris, France. For Christmas that first year we flew home to spend the holiday with my grandparents in the US. When we arrived, my sister and I were dismayed to discover that the tree didn’t have a single ornament on it! My grandmother wasn’t much on saving things and must have felt that as empty-nesters they weren’t going to bother with the fuss of storing ornaments. So, taking out crayons and drawing paper, my sister and I made all the ornaments which my mom strung with yarn and we hung on the tree. There were angels in high heels and stars and santas. For tinsel, we strung popcorn. It was the best tree ever!

Memory #2: My sister and I loved putting on plays when we were little and for Christmas one year we decided to have our own pageant. My teddy bear played the role of Jesus, I was Mary, my sister was the angel, and a couple of friends played the shepherds. However, we needed a Joseph so we enlisted my dad. He did a great job wearing his plaid bathrobe and a dishtowel tied snuggly with with ribbon on his head. He was kind of big and clumsy (sorry dad), but that was part of the magic!

Memory #3: Fast forward to when my daughter was little, her favorite part of Christmas was taking Baby Jesus out of our little plastic nativity set and playing with him. In her play, Jesus would be crying and so she’d feed him with a bottle and gently carry him. Then she’d sing him a lullaby and put him down for a nap in the manger. FUN FACT: It’s this sweet memory that inspired me to write my picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER because before her sweet play, I’d never imagined Jesus crying in the Christmas story.

Memory #4: My mother passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2013. When Christmas came a month later, we were still deeply grieving. None of us felt like getting a big Christmas tree, so we had little live tree that I later tried planting, but it didn’t survive. But even in the midst of that sad Christmas emerged a now a favorite memory which is a reminder to me that even in difficult circumstances, there’s joy to be found in the little things. That little thing, for me, was that on Christmas Eve that year after supper, all five of us (my husband, my dad, and our two kids, then ages 9 and 13) put on our winter coats and boots and our hats and mittens and we tromped outside. It was a chilly but clear night and for a delightful hour we caroled. We stopped at houses of friends and houses of strangers and sang our hearts out. We weren’t the most beautiful choir, but it didn’t matter. Whole families came out on their porches to listen. With big smiles they wished us a Merry Christmas and it was just what our aching hearts needed. Here’s a fuzzy picture of that night:

Thank you for joining me on this sentimental journey down Christmas memory lane. I hope my memories inspire you to reflect on some of the simple joys you’ve experienced over the years. If you have a memory to share, and feel inspired to share it, I’d love to hear it. Blessings all!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about WAITING TOGETHER with Danielle Dufayet

Today I’m delighted to invite picture book author Danielle Dufayet to my blog to give a behind-the-scenes perspective on her charming new picture book WAITING TOGETHER (Albert Whitman, September 1, 2020), written by Danielle and illustrated by Srimalie Bassani.

Here’s the official blurb from the publisher’s website: Waiting is not easy! And waiting can take a long time. Like waiting on the drip, drip, drip of rain to stop or the ding of the timer for cookies to be done baking. But there’s one thing that can make waiting go a little bit faster—a friend! A perfect read aloud, this book encourages readers to enjoy every kind of wait.

I had the opportunity to read an advance pdf of the book and I couldn’t agree more! Danielle’s newest book is charming and would make a great addition to your home or school library. And now, with out further fuss, here’s Danielle with her five fun facts. Which fact surprises/encourages you the most?

Five Fun Facts about 

WAITING TOGETHER

by Danielle Dufayet

Fun Fact #1: Waiting Together was the manuscript that landed me my dream agent, Karen Grencik, at Red Fox Literary. Another agent wanted to represent it before her, but her communication style was so inconsistent and unreliable! So glad Karen took me on!

Fun Fact #2: I had to put Waiting Together away for 4 years because two other, very well-known authors, were coming out with books about waiting. (Kevin Henkes and Antoinette Portis). One morning I woke up and said, “It’s time.”

Fun Fact #3: The idea for Waiting Together came to me in an instant after I read Deborah Underwood’s wonderful The Quiet Book. There are so many different kinds of quiet and there are so many different kinds of waits.

Fun Fact #4: I revised Waiting Together at least 30 times. I tried out a bunch of different arcs and plots until I decided to make it super simple with a morning to night arc and a heavy focus on onomatopoeia.

Fun Fact #5: I wanted the take-away to be: life is full of waiting and it’s not always easy, but always better with a friend! This was such a fun story to write!

And fun to read. Thanks, Danielle, for sharing your five fun facts! And readers, the book is available at bookstores everywhere! Enjoy!

Connect with Danielle on her platforms:
website: https://www.danielledufayetbooks.com
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/danielledufayet
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/danielledufayet
Art Website:  https://www.danielledufayet.com
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/ddaniwriter/

BIO:

Danielle Dufayet, born in Yonkers, New York, now lives in sunny San Jose, California, where she writes children’s books and paints. She also teaches English and Public Speaking (Self-Empowerment) to grades K-12. Danielle read her first picture book (Little Raccoon and the Thing in the Pool) when she was 18 whereupon she was blown away by its simplicity, timelessness and transformative power. That’s when she knew it was her calling. Thirty five years and a Master’s Degree later, she finally made her dream come true and she’ll have TWO books out in 2019 – one about inner strength and the other about self-love/compassion. Her third book, Waiting Together, by Albert Whitman, is out September 1, 2020.

[Note: Thank you to the author for a sneak peek at the book which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]