On Sale Now: A is for All-Nighter, A Parent’s Alphabet

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I am excited to announce that my first illustrated book,  A is for All-Nighter, is now on sale on Amazon, for $12.99.  If you would like a signed copy, you can pre-order them by clicking the Buy Now button at the right.  They will start shipping on Dec 6.

The official publication date was November 27, and the book went up on Amazon then.  Thanks to Thing1 we caught an error before the final printing and the first shipment will arrive December 5.

This book is a huge step for me in simultaneously taking control of and surrendering to my creative life.

For so many years I held back from drawing or writing because I bought into the idea that if you weren’t Picaso or Tolstoi, if you were just a middle-aged, paunchy housewife, you couldn’t have anything worthwhile to say with your art.

My new idea is that the things that happen around the dinner table or at the laundry line are as important as the events in the great halls of government and business because, let’s face it, that’s where those events ultimately begin.  That idea is that the messes and bills can make you cry… or they can make you laugh if you let them (just don’t do it hysterically or your kids may try to have you committed – but that’s for another book). 

A is for All-Nighter is my way of giving the raspberry to my old,overblown idea that art should only be left to ‘professional’ artists. Raspberries have always been a favorite for me anyway.  I’m hoping you like them too 🙂

Throwback Thanksgiving

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I got to thinking of this post from last year as we started thinking about putting up the tree.  We can afford a ‘real’ tree these days, but we’re still attached to our little $10 second hand artificial one.  For us, it’s very real:

I’m not religious, but I’m a sucker for family traditions.  Most of our traditions are handed down, but there is one we accidentally created on our own.

A number of years ago healthcare issues and crappy insurance had nearly bankrupted us, and we had money for only the bare essentials.  We knew a tree was out of the question and had satisfied ourselves with decorations we had collected in the first 10 years of our marriage.  I had cobbled together food for our feast from gifted grocery cards and my latest paycheck and had about $35 to last the few days until my next paycheck when I headed to a thrift store that had been advertising $5 coats for kids.

I had completely excavated a corner of $5 coats when I noticed a long box behind the clothing rack. A few tugs and I unearthed an artificial tree.  The masking tape holding the box closed had a few sentences promising a complete tree for the low, low price of $10.  Reason failed me, and before I knew it, a six-year-old Thing1 and I were packing the box and his new coat into the station wagon.

It was the perfect find at the perfect time.  The bank account may have been empty, but the house was full. As far as Thing1 knew, it was the perfect Christmas, and he was right.

Since then, jobs have changed and bills have been caught up.  When it’s our turn to host Christmas we occasionally spring for a tree from the nearby tree farm (we love the tree-cutting ritual). Most years, however, our $10 second-hand fake fir still occupies the spot of honor in the living room and in my heart.

Off Grid

  
Once upon a family vacation a long, long time ago, Nephew1 was watching Grandpa bring groceries from the car into the kitchen which was located on the second floor of their house. Nephew1 was about three years old and was watching the progress with fascination through the bars of the railing at the top of the stairs. 

On one of the trips, Grandpa bought a watermelon almost to the top of the stairs and then reached across to the landing and nudged it through the bars which were wide enough apart to accommodate a watermelon but not to allow a three-year-old to fall through. They were wide enough apart for Nephew1 to observe wonder what would happen if you gave a watermelon a little push through the bars to the ugly indoor-outdoor carpeting below.

Grandpa realized what Nephew1 was wondering a moment too late and yelled out a warning just as the watermelon began to plummet. The moral of that story is that thanks to curious three-year-olds ugly indoor-outdoor carpeting will never go completely out of style.

I tell that story because I have been conspicuously absent from my blog for the last week. Thanksgiving week – complete with a house full of guests and meals to plan for – required full focus. There was no time for art or stories, I thought.

The week started on Saturday with cleaning and the entire family was drafted for the duration of the weekend. Monday was the beginning of the shortened workweek, combined with holiday grocery shopping. Tuesday was for making beds, greeting the first wave of family, and doing a little pre-feast cutting. Wednesday the rest of the guests and my first book arrived.

The books, like my blog this week, sat in their box, ignored, for most of the afternoon while I got our slow cooker meal on the table and made sure cousins had pillows and enough blankets. It wasn’t till after dinner that I pulled a few copies out to look at and to share with the people who had inspired them.

Kids and grown-ups laughed as they recognized themselves and the chaos in the pages. After a few flips of the page, Thing1 asked if I was taking revenge on the kids. I leaned over to see which page he was on. He was reading “R is for Rumpus,” in which Nephew1 and Thing2 (who often seem to share a brainwave) were re-creating the watermelon incident. 

I thought about the weekend of cleaning and cooking and screaming laughter from the assembled cousins, and I answered him honestly, “No, I’m celebrating you.”

The stories and art hadn’t stopped because of the cleaning and preparation or the five course meal that was devoured minutes. They had just gone off grid, which happened to be the best place for them to grow and remind us of all the reasons we have to celebrate and give thanks.

Daring to Dream

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The proofs for the new book came today. The UPS guy dropped them off at the Big Guy’s work, and he got to look at them first. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning waiting for the parents to come down so I could open my stocking as I waited for his workday and mine to end.

Opening the proof on a rainy Tuesday proved to be better than any Christmas morning I could’ve imagined as a kid-even if their head at actually been a pony in one of my stockings. Well maybe not quite that good but you get the gist.

There are one or two punctuation marks missing to fix, but, barring any major disasters, the book will go on sale next week. More to follow.

Absence of Fear

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On one of our last days in Iceland we went to the Volcano museum.  We thought we would learn about lava and magma.  What we got was a new world view that I’m trying to re-adopt this weekend.

The Volcano Museum is the back room of a cafe near Reykjavik’s harbor.  Our visit started with a brief explanation of the volcanic artifacts they had collected. Then we got a once-in-a-vacation chance to purchase lava dust (which I still can’t believe Thing1, as Southwestern Vermont’s foremost expert and advocate for the glorification of Eyjafjallajökull passed up).  The tour concluded with two thirty minute films.

This is what we learned from the films:

The continental divide between the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates runs right through Iceland.  The plates are pulling apart, causing frequent eruptions of molten lava through crevices, volcanic explosions of ash and lava and earthquakes. 

Some of the eruptions have had catastrophic consequences for Europe and the rest of the planet. The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, for example, shut down air traffic for weeks in Europe and prompted speculation that his neighbor, Katla might also blow.  And, she is not in the news much, Hekla, a.k.a the Gateway to Hell, erupted for 7 months in 1693, spewing ash all the way to Norway, choking streams and decimating fish populations in  the UK. She’s erupted at least once a century and is overdue by about 50 years.

And even though they are literally expecting the big one any day now, Icelanders don’t seem to be living in fear. Not one bit. 

Our tour guides talked about going to the heated swimming pools every morning, work, and grocery shopping.  They talked about getting their kids to school everyday and making plans.  

They are very well aware of their fiery neighbors, but they don’t live in fear of them because they’ve gotten to know them.  Icelanders have learned so much about volcanoes that there has been only one related death in the last century.  They have even learned how to harness for their domestic energy what most peoples would perceive to be a terrifyingly uncontrollable force of nature. In doing so, they seem to have starved the most crippling human force – fear.

I think few would deny that fear is fat and happy on our side of the Atlantic.  To be sure, there are real causes for concern. A shaky economy that has left too many people in the cold. Geopolitical and domestic divisions run deep through every demographic line we can imagine.  The reality, of course, is that these concerns are woven into the history of every country on earth, even the US.  Even Iceland. 

Recognizing these problems and really understanding them can inform our lives and spur us to find solutions that can make us stronger, or we can let them rule us, submitting to our own and others’ worst (and often unproductive) impulses.

FDR famously once wrote that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.  Seeing an entire country live everyday without fear of the very real, uncontrollable forces nearby led me to believe that even more important than rising over our fears, may be recognizing whether or not we are letting them consume us and cause us to mistake activity for courage and then consider if those fears deserve to continue to be fed.