Story Wonders: Equity Day with Kids

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The last time I went to Equity Day in Olympia, or something like it, I was single, about 25, and ended up getting interviewed on some news channel before the whole world started watching social media.

Here’s how different it was this past President’s Day:

My friend Billie Jo has 3 children, 6 and under. Together with my six year old, we had a pack of kids with us, and I felt much more like a kitten herder than any sort of political activist.

We van pooled down there to arrive at 9:00 am before things got going at the capitol building. Quinton, usually the loudest in his home crowd, objected at one point to the noise level of our trip. We told him it was all a part of the adventure.

After a brief circling of the main streets, we found Batdorf and Bronson Coffee Roasters where we set up shop in the corner of their broad space with polished wooden floors.

With coffee for the moms and donuts for the shorter people, Billie Jo gave them card stock to draw onto and stickers to add. After they finished, Jo and I wrote messages asking our legislators to fully fund their public education. They have a few years in front of them! Because we live in Western Washington, my friend also packed ziplock bags to keep our words and art dry.

Then we tromped up the hill from downtown to the capitol where people of every order gathered to listen to speeches and lobby for equity of all kinds. It was even noisier than the van at some points and the crowd stretched from one set of stone stairs to the other.

Inside the building we found more quiet and the marble stairs of a building that looks like it lives in another time. The kids gazed up at the chandeliers and the giant dome where Quinton’s uncle Kim once worked to repair the earthquake damage of 2011. They stared down at the golden seal with George Washington on it in the middle of the floor and threatened to stress their mothers by stepping through the barrier ropes.

We even made it into the senate chamber during a recess. The suited guard ushered us in with a smile and asked us to put our pointy umbrellas to the side.

Sitting on the cushioned benches, we looked down into the chamber below with the swivel chairs while Quinton admired the piles of papers on some of their desks and the interns in suit jackets milled around. We talked about how the laws get made and the two branches of government working a little like a mom and a dad at home. Sam the four-year-old found this dull and circled the benches from beneath flashing us dangerous grins.

We did not push our luck and left the senate viewing before things got any wilder.

Before our bathroom break, I found my cousin Roxy and got to give her a quick hug next to the bust of Washington and the booths with Civics Day information.

Just like mountain climbing, the return to the van was more challenging than any other part of the trip.

The kids were tired. The moms were tired. And the five blocks to our parking space felt like five miles with whining about the walking and sidewalks too close to the traffic for the kitten herders.

But we made it. The kids settled into snacks and the moms loved the chat on our final push back home. I don’t know if any representative saw us but the kids know more about government, and I got to enjoy one of my favorite friendships once more.

I wouldn’t trade with the 25-year-old on TV for all the coffee in that shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Story Wonder: When that Thing You Hated Becomes Your Love

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I never meant to disappoint Mr. Zorro. Seriously, who could want to disappoint a teacher with a name like that?

He wasn’t as swashbuckling as the guy in black, but I liked Mr. Zorro. I agreed to do the solo contest under his guidance in college like I had done so many others before that–just because it was the thing to do. He chose Scherzo in C Minor by Paul Koepke and edited by H. Voxman.

The cadenza was the absolute worst. Every time I approached that string of notes in the score, my brain would start some sort of arooba noise, like a submarine dive alarm.

(Warning: This video is beyond annoying and way too long. I can’t be held responsible if you listen to the whole thing.)

This internal panic did not, as you might imagine, help my performance.

I think Mr. Zorro said something like: “Well, I thought this piece would bring out your tone but the notes held you back a bit.”

He was being kind. The contest left me numb, and it wasn’t long before I decided my part time job rolling tables, balancing beer bottles on trays, and folding napkins for the hotel banquets took too much of my time to continue with music.

I left the clarinet for a long time. So long, I almost forgot the sting until one day I started noodling on that old piece again with Mr. Zorro’s long ago notes telling me to memorize and use the H key for the trill.

Now, I love that cadenza if you can believe it. I love the roll of it and the way the notes pick up speed going downhill. I love that my fingers now find the notes like they would not when the judges sat trying not to shake their heads before.

For Mr. Zorro. I recorded my efforts last night. I won’t lie and tell you I got it all right. I didn’t. I do much better when I know I’m not recording with a demanding cell phone that insists on turning the screen to record my 1970s ceiling for you instead of the face down black screen I wanted.

It also helps when I’m not fearing the moment the 6-year-old barges in the pseudo-studio to ask a pressing question about whether he can have ice cream or not.

But the cadenza is better, I’m telling Mr. Zorro and you. Much better than it was in college. It’s better, I am sure, because I love it like I never did before.

Which just goes to show me once more.

I never know what joy might come around the corner even in things that used to freeze me in a panic.

Story Wonders: The First Snow Day

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The white flakes started falling on Sunday, and my teen wondered if the powers might, for once, cancel school on Monday. I had been burned too many times by the forecasters to get my hopes up yet again, but Quinton and I went for a walk in the woods to be sure we didn’t miss it.

We haven’t gone to the ravine much lately because it makes me ache for our dog. He would have flown around those trails and given that dusty white stuff a good shake up.

Still, I loved the way Q’s borrowed red jacket popped out of the scene like the girl with the riding hood.

After the flurry of school cancellations the next morning, we started in the warm living room with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Once the six-year-old figured out that wacky Gene Wilder was not going to go completely around the bend and that Charlie ends up with a life-time supply of chocolate, the movie with the Oompa Loompas became his all time favorite.

In case you’d like to hear a few of Gene Wilder’s snappy come backs made for the grown-ups:

Next we made the snowmen. (In Russia, they tell me, they always build a snow woman. I forgot to try this. Next time!)

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See the lean? This guy sadly did not last.

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After the teen left us for the his snowball fighting friends, Quinton and I searched for the perfect sledding hill. We never found it, but I did see a lamppost that reminded me of one of the best stories I know. The light in the snow wasn’t alone in the wood–I stretched my imagination to see it there without much trouble.

We finished the day with hot chocolate, cookies, and a craft with shaving cream. Thank goodness for snow and the little joys of life that add up to great big goodness.

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A bit more black and white beauty to close:

Wednesday Wonders: Mr. G the Gingerbread Man Goes to Japan Part 1

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Do you remember Flat Stanley? The cut out that kids sent to their friends and family around the world?

My son’s kindergarten teacher gave his class a gingerbread man to send instead of Stanley. Quinton’s cut out is making his way around Tokyo with my friend from high school who came to visit us this past summer.

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Summer fun in Sumner, WA

(Quinton loved Marci Kobayashi-Smith so much that he decided to go there as soon as possible. On a boat. I should drop him off and come back for him the next day.)

So today, I present to you the adventures of Mr. G as told by Marci with pictures and text. Enjoy!

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Mr. G leaves the U.S. from my kitchen table. 

For this first night, we are enjoying a quiet night at home watching TV. There is a show about a neighborhood police officer on TV right now. I’m sure you can see him in the background.

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First we took a walk along the bike path next to the river and saw some egrets. Sometimes we can see blue herons there, too but not today.

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The Gingerbread Man discovered that stop signs look different here in Japan. They are triangles!

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Then we came up to a very busy street and he noticed something else–people drive on the left side of the road!

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Now we are back home and having a snack. Even though many things are different, somethings are the same. For example, we are enjoying a big red apple for a snack.

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Actually, he let me eat most of it. 🙂

And that’s all for part one! Stay tuned to see what Mr. G gets up to next week. Meanwhile, you can find more about his tour guide Marci by going to her blog and website.

May you find great adventures of your own this week and maybe even eat an apple-

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Postscript: After I posted this, I remembered today is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. 

A part of me questions the wisdom of whimsy on such a day. 

The best part of me thinks a kindergarten gingerbread man free to travel to Japan somehow fits. I pray for more whimsy and far fewer moments of tragedy in all our lives. 

Wednesday Wonders: Falling Back

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“For this weekend, you get to call yourselves writers loud and proud instead of in a small voice at the end of a long list of other things you do.”

My writing teacher Lois Brandt said this (or something very like it) at the beginning of our Weekend on the Water retreat with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

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Lois wasn’t lying. All weekend long, I talked and heard about books. I talked about my books in progress, I heard from debut authors, and I listened to the faculty tell of how to write as well as what they as editors and reviewers look for when they read. I chatted with my group about their writing and heard what they had to say about mine.

It was glorious. 

Sometimes, I learned, it’s good to be stuck. Sometimes it makes me stop, look at what I’m doing, open my eyes and ears, and hear something new. Sometimes the stuck let me hear old things in a new way.

Gradually, I felt the cement blocks on my creative feet and fingers lifting.

When I got home I found a contest to submit to and the deadline is soon. After that I have my short story who sits so close to my heart I have to crack her open and send her out as soon as I can find a possible home.

And my middle grade novel. This weekend I felt my character wake up inside me as I listened to another writer give me story idea after idea from his own experiences with characters like mine.

Here is what I learned in my two full days at a former convent in Des Moines, Washington:

We do not create alone. 

Even as I sit at this keyboard, far away from everyone I met this weekend and from any of you reading, I feel all of them and you with me.

It’s crazy sappy, yet I have to say it because it’s truer than true.

May you find joy in the people who love life like you do.

And do remember the anonymous quote Kim Baker told us as we went our separate ways:

“You are a ghost driving a skeleton made of stardust on a rock flying around the sun. Fear nothing.”

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The published works of the writers I got to meet over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

 

 

 

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Last on this post, but first in my heart, Amanda Hosch. She told me her book journey from the summer of dreaming about her character to the 6 weeks of writing it in a flurry to the agent to the book deal after three years. She was so elated and bubbled over with book joy. Amanda is now one of my heroes. MABEL OPEL PEAR AND THE RULES FOR SPYING hits the stands and the websites in the fall of 2017. Hooray!!

 

 

 

Wednesday Wonders: How a Retreat Can Help (I Hope)

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Winter

I am hovering on the edge of doing anything writerly lately. I look at the work I need to do, lift my pen, scribble a few words, and then put the pen back down.

The keyboard isn’t much better. I’ll open programs, stare at a screen, and then wander away to vacuum. Or worse. I’ll click on the Facebook time warp and come up for air thirty minutes later, thinking it must now be time to go to the day job.

Today I had an even better excuse for not getting this blog post started: my internet was on the blink. I fussed for a good half hour with network connections before waking the teen and getting some help.

Instead of all this frittering away, I need to finish character sheets, follow plot lines, and most of all move forward. Somehow.

In an attempt to pull myself out of the funk, this Friday I am going to the Weekend on the Water through the the Western Washington chapter of SCBWI.

I hope the writers and editors there will inspire me and shake the muse back awake. At the same time, that little voice in my head is telling me how many other more motivated people will be there. (If I had the energy, I’d give that little voice what for. But I don’t.)

I can’t even decide if I should drag along the laptop or disconnect for a few days.

So it goes. Sometimes ennui is a wonder all by itself. 

May you find more pizzaz than I have this Wednesday-

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Wednesday Wonders: What Would You Say to the Past of Yesterday and Today?

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I’ve struggled with what to write this week. Much has happened.

A double funeral with dear friends who lost a mother and a father in two days.

The kindness of neighbors who could have hurt us but didn’t.

Neither of these are my stories to tell, though. So I won’t.

I did see something that grabbed my eye from another friend on Facebook, however.

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I posted these words:

Stay in Germany longer. 

I wish I had.

But then I had another thought. I even braved the process of making a meme to put it together here.

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I saw many post things to their 17-year-old selves that imagine I might later say to my today self.

Listen to yourself always. 

Know who you are.

Shut up and listen.

Be kind to yourself.

Do less, love more.

It will be okay.

Chill the (heck) out.

I think I might say all of this to myself. I might also say:

Keep writing. It matters.

At least I hope I’ll say that.

Wherever you are in the world,  I’d love to know what you would say to your 17-year-old self. (Especially you in Brazil. I see you on my stats page and have always wondered how you found me in the wide web.)

I’d also love to know what you think your future wisdom for yourself might be.

May you know love past, present, and future-

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