Saturday, November 10, 2018

What's Up on the Walls: Yours and Kid's

What do you have on your walls? Right now, I have nothing, but it wasn't always so.

My first house was full of prints and photo prints - too full, in fact. When we put it up for sale, the realtor warned us that if people come into a home and see the owner's art, they won't be able to imagine their own. So we took everything down and lived that way for more than a year while we got the house in shape to sell.

I thought it would bother me, but somehow or other I liked the quiet walls. That may be due to the stress of selling a home, and not wanting more stimulation? I really don't know.

I can tell you that when we moved to our new home, I was looking forward to putting up prints again--but haven't. As Thanksgiving approaches, I am starting to look at the pictures I want and the pictures I don't want. I'm happy to say my husband doesn't want to throw a bunch of art up, either--perhaps because we've been living without any for so long.

In any case, I've decided less is more. If you're living with children, you of course want to display their art--and that's what refrigerators and bulletin boards are for.

I do think kids should be allowed to vote on the art you want to put up in their rooms - whether they're five or fifteen. You don't have to say yes to everything, but I think a big benefit of having your child choose his or her own pictures is that they can learn a lot about their own preferences--and of course, themselves.

At our house, there are a lot of paneled walls (built in 1957) so I don't really know what I'm going to do there. We do have some favorite prints and even an oil painting or two that can go up elsewhere, but for some reason lately, I've been stuck on Charles Addams cartoons, and whatever else we do or don't do, I really want one of those.

And no, I don't want the movie photos - (yuck!) I'm talking about the original cartoons.

I guess my preference for Addams tells you a lot about my Beat - Punk - Goth sensibilities (and why writing about a Beat girl in the Beat Street Series so appeals to me). As it turns out, we have a hideous wallpaper mural downstairs that I would love to cover with an Addams print, but the mural is way too big and wide and we're probably going to have to settle on something more like a nature panorama -- though to be honest, I'm not terribly crazy about those.

If I could, right now, I'd put up nothing but Addams cartoons. If my son was younger and still living here, I'd have a great excuse, as he loves them too. He had an Addams Family Values poster (along with a Jim Carey poster and one of King Kong.) I drew the line when my son asked if he could have a live bat in his room (we had an infestation and he wanted to keep one as a pet.) Otherwise, though he was pretty much his own decorator. And I pretty much liked what he did.

For now, I think, I may have to settle on just one Addams cartoon print. But the idea of too much color in all the other the prints we have around here just isn't appealing to me.

Maybe I should leave the walls blank for a few more weeks?


But if you want an original Charles Addams print, you can find one here.

For more information about how to involve YOUR children in choosing art for their rooms, I'd take a look at these articles:

Should Parents Let Kids Design Their Own Bedrooms? (I say yes, but not entirely)

Letting the Kids Decorate Their Own Room

Let Children Do What They Want With Their Own Bedrooms  (can you tell my bias here?)

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sneak Peek at Fool's Errand

Thought I would share a short excerpt from Fool's Errand, which is book TWO of the Beat Street Series. If you don't know much about it, the series focuses on a young girl named Ruby Tabeata growing up in the Beat-Generation world of 1958 in New York's Greenwich Village. 
Fool's Errand opens when Ruby realizes her best friend Sophie is missing. Ruby convinces her older brother Ray to go to Grand Central Station and search for her best friend.

Excerpt of Chapter One - 
"Under a Bridge" - Fool's Errand

...A cab stops when we’ve only gone a little ways and a lady gets out. We rush inside before the cabbie can turn around.
“What the—“
“Grand Central,” I tell him. “And step on it.”
I’ve just always wanted to say that.
But the cabbie gives me more than I bargained for. He’s weaving in and out of streets and nearly runs into three other cabs trying to get us there. I don’t even know what streets we’re on because he’s going so fast. All I can do is cringe when I hear his brakes squealing, which happens every other second. When he finally pulls up to the curb at Grand Central Station, I’m practically drenched from sweating buckets, but Ray is laughing hysterically. He pays the cabbie and I jump out, fighting the urge to kiss the ground.
“Keep the change,” Ray says, and I grab his hand and pull him towards me. I don’t want either one of us near that cab again for the rest of our lives. Ray lets me drag him into Grand Central before he drops my hand.
“This way,” Ray says, pointing towards the central ticket booths.
“No,” I tell him. “If they’re here, they’ll be in the waiting room.”
We walk through the station, edging closer to the benches. It looks like there are mostly single people waiting for their trains, but here and there you can spot families, with kids wailing or trying to go to sleep. A guy is feeding dog biscuits to a German shepherd and someone else is cooing to what seems like a guinea pig in a cage. For some reason, it’s not noisy even though a ton of people are here. In fact, it’s not noisy at all.
Sophie, Sophie, where are you?
“Look, Ruby!”
Ray’s voice shatters the quiet and I stop in my tracks to look at him. Wouldn’t you know it, he’s pointing upward at the ceiling.
“What are you—“
“Just look!”
Twinkly yellow stars and constellations in a turquoise sea meet my eyes.
“Zodiac,” Ray says, and for once I don’t want to tease him about being obvious, because I never learned much about stars at Blue Skies. I was hectoring Sky and Blu to take me to the Planetarium, but they never got around to it. This zodiac mural has a lot of cool stuff, like Aquarius, the water carrier; Pisces, the fish; Aries, the ram; Taurus, the bull; Gemini, the twins; and Cancer, the crab; plus constellations like Orion, the hunter.
Normally I’d stand here staring at this stuff for hours, but I’m just too worried right now. “It’s great, Ray,” I tell him, “but we’ve got to find Sophie.”
“Just for a second, Ruby,” says Ray. “See Pegasus?”
I’ve read about Pegasus in a comic they had at Blue Skies. I think he was Sophie’s favorite, because she loves horses and this one could fly. I can’t help but think of her looking up at him tonight.
“Just wanted you to see,” Ray says, and then for some reason, or no reason at all, my eye falls on a bench with a mother and daughter at the opposite end of the station room. Maybe it was Pegasus; maybe it was just taking my eye off the benches for a while; or maybe it was just the color blue they used on the zodiac that perked me up, but I felt like I could see more clearly now than I had since Sophie disappeared.
The woman had dark chin-length hair like Mrs. T and her daughter’s was only a teeny bit longer—like Sophie’s. I couldn’t tell if the girl had glasses, but it looked like she had a royal-blue sweatshirt the exact same color as my friend’s, and the back of her head—leaning on her mother’s shoulder—was exactly the same.
I ran like the wind, faster than Pegasus, with Ray right behind and then overtaking me. He practically flew at the bench, blocking my view until I grabbed at his shirt and he stopped, suddenly, his sneakers squeaking on the marble tiles of the floor.
“Soph?” I call, but when the woman looks up at me all I see are the tired eyes of a stranger. I can tell Ray is staring at me but I don’t want to look at him. If I do, I’ll have to admit something, and I don’t want to own it right now. Both of us know it anyway.
Sophie’s gone.

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Afraid of the Dark

When I was four, I walked into my parents' bedroom after dark, weepy and frightened. My father quickly walked over to me, his voice gruff and reassuring, as it always was.

"Don't be afraid of the dark," he said, listing all the reasons calmly and reasonably:

Dark was not a punishment; it was what happened to the earth when turning round the sun.

Nothing would appear in the dark that wasn't already in the light; it was only a matter of what we could see.

If you wake up in the night and it is dark, there is still enough light to see your way to the bathroom and back to bed. Your eyes adjust to the light, or lack of it. 

Your eyes can also play tricks on you in the dark so shadows look more menacing. But shadows are shadows. They are not ghosts and even if they were, they could not harm you.

These words come back to me after the shooting this week in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Another instance of the ugly antiSemitism that seems never to disappear, no matter how dark it gets.

Another instance of prejudice and hatred of "the other" - because of different religions or races or beliefs.

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Jews ask forgiveness for a variety of sins, not only for ourselves but for the community of people standing around us. Xenophobia is one of those sins.

As defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary:
Xenophobia = fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign
To me, that is another way to be afraid of the dark. Because anything unknown to us may feel like it is covered in darkness. The only way to get past that is to look more closely, and realize the familiar is right there in front of us, whether or not there is enough light to see it.

We are all but a step away from the dark, until we let the light in. 

Being afraid of the dark is something we are supposed to grow out of -- and not growing out of it is deadly to all of us. Christians, Jews, people of all races, people everywhere.

In the 1950s, America went through a trial where its own citizens were persecuted through something called the Blacklist. I wanted to shed some light on this time with my new book Fool's Errand, book two of the Beat Street trilogy to be published in early December. Fool's Errand is about a young girl growing up in Greenwich Village in 1958 who encounters the prejudices of her time.

Seeing this weekend's news makes me feel even stronger about writing it. More importantly, it makes me look again with fresh eyes at the word xenophobia and understand in a more visceral way why it is considered a sin -- not just a problem.

If anything is dark, it is fear itself. If anything can kill us, it is the hate and fear we feel, unchecked, as we go through our daily lives. 

My hope is that our eyes will adjust and we will see through the darkness. See each other's faces and erase the hate and fear in them.

Because we can't keep stumbling around out here.

Shadow photo: August Brill

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Yogurt Chronicles

In the beginning, there was yogurt, and as you probably know, it didn't have flavoring. When I was growing up, we had plain yogurt with bananas and sugar, which I loved.

(We also had diet soda, which my mother loved, and got so used to it I had a long addictive with it. Took all my will to break that addiction, and maybe I haven't yet, but at least I'm not drinking it any more).


Back to yogurt. As I got older, there were more possibilities for yogurt, including vanilla, and fruit-on-the-bottom options; then, as an adult, I fell in love, and it was really love, with Stonyfield Farm Chocolate Underground.

I ate this yogurt for years and years -- even though my mother in law made fun of it -- snatching the last one at grocery stores if I had to, though I always had a guilty conscience. (What if there was someone else like me, desperately needing a fix of this stuff)?

Second best was Chobani pineapple yogurt, which one of my colleagues at work couldn't stand, but again, was one of my favorites. And, dear reader, I could have been happy like this, forever, until I got a condition that forced me to give up sugar (which, by the way, is in nearly everything).

So, I switched back to plain yogurt, thinking how ironic it was that I was more or less returning to my childhood full circle, except without the sugar. I tried putting raisins in at first, and that worked pretty well, until I read that raisins are loaded with the kind of sugar that's bad for you (unlike fresh fruit) and I had to stop those, too.

I have managed to hang on for quite a while now using grapes and pineapple in my yogurt, and hoping the winter doesn't take the taste out of these sweet fruits. But what's interesting is that, while there was barely ever any Chocolate Underground on the shelves (and sometimes I had to go to FOUR grocery stores to find them), you would think plain would be available everywhere, right?

Because plain has basically no flavor. Because plain is not fun to eat.

But in fact, it is almost as hard to find plain yogurt in small cups as it is the chocolate kind. My sick mind keeps wondering why, because who in their right mind would be gobbling up plain yogurt unless you have to?

Then last week at a workshop in Door County, a male actor started talking about how he preferred plain yogurt with fruit to all the flavored kind, and other actors of both genders agreed.

I was eating yogurt at the time, and nearly choked on it.

Is this a new trend? Really? When there is all that lovely Chocolate Underground and Pineapple yogurt on the shelves?

Sigh. Not only do I have to eat a yogurt I hate, but I have to fight you all for it?

I can hear you all now, saying it is what it is. If there is a moral to this story, and I hope there isn't, could it be that parents should never give their children any flavored yogurt (or sugar) so they won't buy up pound after pound of grapes and pineapple, trying to approximate their flavored yogurt days?

I don't know, but that's what I think it might be. And if you actually like plain yogurt, I stand in awe of you.

And if you want to help your kids like plain yogurt better or you're looking for yogurt brands for your kids, I found a few ideas:

Great Ways to Sweeten Your Plain Yogurt

The Best Yogurts for Toddlers

Plain Yogurt Never Tasted So Good

Little Screamer: Greg Westfall

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

If It's Right

What is it about an anniversary that's worth remembering? Tolstoy's comment comes to mind about every unhappy family being unhappy in it's own way--but every happy family being alike.

I don't know if that's true, but I think there is something about being happy with someone that may be what makes us all happy.

I couldn't be with my husband on our anniversary, which was on Monday of last week. I had to go to Wisconsin to work on a new musical--and though it was wonderful to have the time to do that with the composer and company--it was hard to be away. We both knew Monday wouldn't be a good day to celebrate anyway, since he would be working late and I'd work most of the day.

We celebrated last weekend, but there was so much more than a dinner and presents and cards that brought us here. (Card made me cry, though).

The couple in our musical is celebrating their anniversary, too, and as I've gotten to know them, I've come to realize all the little moments they have pretty much make up the kind of moments my husband and I have, too.

Well, yes of course, Virginia, you're the writer.

But what I mean is that all the little things we said, and did, and lived through, are what made us happy in the way other couples are when they're happy, too.

This year we sold our first house and bought a new one. And all the stress that happened before we wrestled that monster to the ground didn't hurt us--in fact I think it brought us closer. Because you can have the most perfect situation possible with no speed bumps in sight and if you aren't right together, it won't work.

But if you're able  connect as soon as you walk in the door and start talking, if kissing makes you shine 23 years after your wedding day and if he/she still makes you laugh not just once, but twenty times a day then I think no matter what the world throws at you, that marriage can still survive.

And probably nothing I said just now makes sense. But it's the end of a long week.

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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Looking for a Lost Friend: Book 2 of the Beat Street Series

How far would you go for a friend?

How far would you go to keep from losing a friend?

When I started writing The Beat on Ruby's Street, I had no idea it would turn into a series. By that I mean a limited series of three books--with the second just being completed.

The first reason I started expanding Ruby's story was because my first publisher requested it. As I moved to Dragon Moon Press, I realized I didn't have to continue--but I wanted to.

The characters we meet in book one were pulling me into book two--especially Ruby's best friend, Sophie. Because Sophie's mother was a comedy writer, and it was rare for a woman in the 1950s to be one, I wanted to start there. I also knew that the 1950s brought the Blacklist--an infamous list used to persecute writers believed to be Communists.

Ruby doesn't know what Communists are, but soon finds out that if you're suspected of being one, you can lose your job, home and everything that's important to you. During America's "cold war" with Russia in the 1950s, being a Communist meant being one of "them" -- Russians who wanted to take over the world and take money away from people who worked hard for it.

After reading about the history of how the Blacklist got started, I started thinking of it as a time of political hysteria. People ratted out their neighbors for being "Commies" or reported them to people who put them on the list. Those on the list couldn't get work, and most of them were in the entertainment industry.

The more I learned, the more parallels I found with our own times--people turning against each other because of political differences and attacking each other personally and professionally if they didn't agree. I started to think about friendship, about what it means to lose a friend due to reasons beyond your control.

I also started thinking about the perceptions we have of each other--such as the way Ruby thinks of the neighborhood social worker, Mrs. Levitt--and how a policeman might think of Ruby's father's friend Bo, just because he has a different color of skin.

Most of all, I thought about what Ruby would do to find her friend Sophie and Sophie's mother Mrs. T when they both had to leave town. Mrs. T is afraid to stay in New York because she knows a committee in Congress wants her to testify against her friends. Ruby admires that, but doesn't want to lose Sophie.

How far would you go for a friend?

That's what I wanted to explore in Fool's Errand, which should be released in about eight weeks. By exploring this question, and friendship itself, I found a little bit of an answer. I hope you can, too.

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Picture This: Images While Writing

Just thinking this week, as book two of my Beat Street series gets closer to its publication date and I am looking at possible covers, how well and easily pictures can convey a story. The photos in today's post are not about the book or even close... but I'm curious what they make you think of?


Because it's the Village when my character Ruby lived in it...


Because I loved this young woman's face and it always makes me think of my character Ruby in the Beat Street Series (is there really a series? How did I get here?)

This... because it makes me think of Ruby's best friend Sophie's mother, who is one of the few female comedy writers in Ruby's time (the 1950s).

And another image of Sophie's mom:

Plus, these -- which make me think of Ruby's Nell-mom and Gary Daddy-o.

And of course, her brother Ray and his girlfriend Jo-Jo.

Last but not least, Ruby's best friend Sophie.

And of course, these are just photos I found on Flickr Creative Commons and they really aren't the characters I've written. But in fact, it IS how I see them -- in my mind, at least.

Greenwich Village street: Robert Huffstutter
"Ruby" photo:  Christina Welsh
Bearded Lady: York Berlin
Laughing woman: Alessandro Valli
"Ray" photo: J. Zark

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