How are you and yours in these wild times of Covid-19?
As an author, I usually don’t have trouble finding words, but this global pandemic is insane. I struggle to stay upbeat and decide what to write to you. Forced jolliness doesn't suit me. Ditto with gloom and doom.
Yet, I want to reach out and connect.
That’s why I’m revealing very personal take-aways from my third week of self-isolating in the #Gr8Blogs Coping in Coronaville Blog Hop and share how a simple flower gives me hope.
Let's commiserate and encourage each other as humanity morphs into crisis. Please read on to find why I refuse to waste away in Coronaville. Then find more ideas and inspiration from my #Gr8Blogs partners at the bottom of this post.
3 Weeks of Social Distancing and My New Normal
It’s our third week of social distancing here in central North Carolina since Hub developed what we now know was a common cold. We were alarmed at first. It was early days for the US outbreak, so we didn’t know what to expect. We self-quarantined, watching symptoms develop from six feet away. I did my best to tamp down anxiety and stay hopeful, but I was scared.
Fortunately, Hub never developed a cough or fever, and I never caught any of his symptoms. <knocking on wood here>.
He and I are beyond blessed!
We continue social-distancing despite being healthy. It’s an easy adjustment since we both work from home. We stick to our established schedules and have enough food and supplies.
Hub works on projects and his third ginormous jigsaw puzzle. I edit book drafts and send manuscripts for my middle-grade tale to beta readers. To stay active, I work in my new garden and practice yoga from an app instead of the gym.
TBH, I’m anxious about hovering at that age bracket, where we are advised to take extra precautions and stay home. That’s why online grocery shopping has become our latest venture.
It’s also why shaggy hair is my new normal after cancelling my monthly haircut appointment with Betsy. She’s been styling my hair for 20 years and is near retirement age. I worry about her and other small business owners trying to stay afloat. I mail Betsy a check for the missed haircut just the same; it had been earmarked for her all along.
I fret about the pandemic’s ripple effect. I believe its fallout will be with us long after everyone recovers physically. Unprecedented layoffs. Kids depending on school lunches looking elsewhere for food, or, worse, going without. Sigh.
I watch newsfeeds of empty city streets juxtaposed against vacationers frolicking on beaches. It frustrates me that some people still don't get it, and more will die before reality sinks in.
I gasp seeing military convoys in Italy carrying bodies to final resting places because local officials cannot handle rising mortality rates.
I worry most about health care workers on the front lines, who don’t have adequate supplies or equipment to protect them. Having to choose between saving their patients or staying alive for their families is a choice no one should ever have to make.
I Refuse to be Wasting Away in Coronaville
See how easy it is slip down a dark hole of fear and despair!
Instead, I seek kindness and light.
Like schools providing lunches to kids despite shuttered classrooms.
Distilleries crafting and giving away hand sanitizer instead of whiskey.
Neighbors offering to fetch groceries for those at high risk.
Relatives gathering outside a nursing home window
to sing happy birthday to an elderly loved one quarantined inside.
I chill and take a cue from my garden.
From my office window, I can see a beautiful Lenten Rose (Hellebore) resting in rich black soil. Transplanted from my former garden, it survived two winters in a plastic pot before a place was ready for its new home.
This perennial’s unique blush-pink double blooms dazzle and always bring a smile.
So, from my garden for YOU ...
I'm sharing the aptly named
Lovely and reliable …
Tough as nails, bouncing back every winter
no matter what …
Lifts the heart on dark days ...
We all need more of a Lenten Rose spirit!
(or you could say, "give 'em Hellebore" -:D)
You are in my heart.
We’re gonna get through this!
These are unprecedented and distressing times. What are you doing to stay calm and sane? Please share in the comment section.
But before you go ... click over to these #Gr8Blogs for more inspiration.
Every four years, we receive a gift of time at the end February … AN EXTRA DAY!
Just for fun, I looked back on my 2016 Leap Day post on how I’d use this bonus in 2016.
I was gobsmacked.
Life has majorly changed in four short years! Becoming a baby boomer orphan. Rightsizing to the cozy yellow cottage. Making new friends and connections. Feeling more mellow about life after a milestone birthday (Can we start counting backward, please <wink>).
To reflect this new reality, I thought of five easy things to do to make the most of an extra 24 hours on Leap Day. I hope these simple actions for finding quality time will be useful for you, too.
p.s....At the end of this post, find more smiles and inspiration for this gift of time from my favorite bloggers in our #Gr8Blogs 2020 Leap Year Blog Hop.
1. Find Your Happy Place
What place nourishes your soul and makes you smile just thinking about it? Lofty mountains? Countryside quiet? Big city vibes? Library or fave coffee shop?
No worries if you can’t get there in person. Just slip away in your imagination.
Me? I head to the beach (IRT or imagined). It’s an easy 2-hour drive from my North Carolina home to our sandy beaches on the warm Atlantic coast (btw ... the NC coast is also the settings of two of my Sweet T Tales chapter books for young readers).
I can already picture it. Emerald-green waves tickling toes. Kids splashing in tidal pools. Endless blue sky punctuated by squawking gulls and diving pelicans.
Maybe a pod of dolphins leaping offshore.
2. Spread Kindness
It only takes a moment to do something nice for someone, and your spirits will do the happy dance, too. Promise.
Today, I was waiting in line at the Dollar Store to check out with a few items when the woman ahead of me, who had a full cart, offered to let me go ahead of her. I was so touched by her gesture!
My friend offers a ride to an elderly gent when she finds him crossing a busy 6-lane street to buy groceries. Even when he declines because he enjoys his outing, he’s grateful for someone just noticing him.
Hey, you can even go high-tech. Ring, the video doorbell and home security, launched a Neighbors app. The app makes it easy for people to celebrate their neighbors' good deeds by posting "Neighborly Moments," good things that that happen where they live. How cool is that!
Try a super simple way to spread kindness on your bonus day ...
Smile at a stranger (we do it all the time in North Carolina!)
Reconnect with an old friend
Allow someone to merge ahead of you on the highway
Check on a neighbor or tired mom you haven’t seen in a while
Say thanks to an overworked cashier or teacher
3. Get Outside and Walk
It’s hard to make time to get outdoors, especially when stuck at the office or corralling little ones at home.
I’m lucky to live in an area crisscrossed by walking trails and parks. It’s easy to open the door and be on my way. Walking also returns me to the keyboard feeling energized and ready to write my next scene.
How about bundling up the kids in the stroller and heading to a nearby park? Even a lap around the block or parking lot during lunch helps you de-stress and be more productive.
4. Crack a Task
I see you rolling your eyes here.
Really, Cat?!? More work?!?
Consider spending only 30 minutes tackling a task you've been avoiding.
Remember, back in the day, balancing your checkbook? I hated doing that! Today's equivalent might be sorting out photos on your mobile (or boxes of print pics). How about cleaning out that overflowing closet or garage? Making an appointment for your annual wellness visit?
You’ll feel better knowing you made a dent in your to-do list Once you finish, reward yourself with #5 below.
5. Be nice to YOU
Do you push yourself to do more faster and better? Skip something you enjoy because there aren’t enough hours in the day?
Leap Day is the perfect opportunity to be nice to yourself, too. What if you .....
Grab a pedicure
Enjoy a favorite beverage with a friend
Play with a puppy at the pet store
Start a puzzle
Give a neglected craft project some love
Buy those shoes you’ve been eyeing
Make time to read
Whatever your neglected passion, find few minutes for it on Leap Day. You know you want to! Might as well. You have a whole extra 24 hours!
How would you use your Leap Day? What other ideas can you suggest? Please share in the comment section.
Hey, before you go, discover more inspiration and smiles by clicking over to my blogging buddies in our #Gr8Blogs 2020 Leap Year Blog Hop. Thanks a ton!
I see you shaking your head.
Goal setting fun? And sexy? No way!
I get it. Writing goals and going to the dentist are tied on my list of least favorite chores.
However, when I discovered New Zealand author Julie Schooler’s latest book in her Nourish Your Soul Series, Super Sexy Goal Setting, I knew that if anybody could entice me to come up with goals, it would be Julie.
Julie and I met a few years ago online after she tickled me with her children’s books, Maxy-Moo Flies to the Moon. Since then, she’s drawn me into her upbeat series of non-fiction books for grown-ups with her quirky, cut-to-the-chase writing style.
Have a peek at Super Sexy Goal Setting (it'll rock your goal-setting world!), meet Julie, and learn more about this mum of two humans, who lives in the bottom half of the world, in my author Q&A.
About the Book
Title: Super Sexy Goal Setting - The Fun and Simple Goals Strategy to Create a Life You Love Author: Julie Schooler | Publication Date: March 2018 | Publisher: BoomerMax, Ltd | Pages: 120 | Genre: Adult Non-Fiction
Are you sick of New Year’s resolutions that go nowhere?
Does goal setting seem too serious or boring to even start?
you were taught about goal setting
and embrace super sexy goals
that lead you to a life you love.
Follow Julie's short, chunked down chapters in Super Sexy Goal Setting to:
* Four super sexy goals *
* One year *
* Your life transformed *
Q & As
with Julie Schooler: writing, goal setting and more
Cat: What inspired you to write this book?
Julie: Super Sexy Goal Setting, was written to help people – anyone from 9 to 90 - to write and take action on exciting and meaningful goals.
Less than 10% of us write out goals – less than 10%!! Yet goal setting is proven to be one of the powerful things that bring clarity, joy and a sense of accomplishment to our lives.
I believe that people don’t write out goals because they think it is too hard or too boring or they can’t see the point. This book smashes through these myths by getting the reader to figure out FOUR super sexy goals for the next 12 months. It is the perfect book to read now at the start of a new year.
Cat: Do you usually reach your goals?
Julie: Yes, because I only set a few each year plus I make them inspiring and fun.
Cat: What is your top goal for 2020?
Julie: I am still writing out my 2020 goals (in fact I am doing it right after this). I will have four goals – one main one in each of health, business and relationships and the fourth one is around fun or side projects. My top author business goal is to write and publish the next book before May 2020 – I better work out what it is quick smart!
Cat: What is your one best piece of advice to help people who dislike goal setting (like moi -:D)?
Julie: Read my book of course!
If you are short on time or can’t read my book right now, I challenge you to do this: Write down just ONE goal. Decide on just one thing you want to take action, master or complete in say the next two months. When you can check that goal off through focus and work you will see in practice the real power of goal setting and hopefully it makes you want to create more goals.
Cat: What is your next book project?
Julie: To be honest, I don’t know! I am currently working out my top four super sexy goals for 2020 and part of that is working out the next book writing project. I have lots of ideas but haven’t settled on the first one yet. Any suggestions are welcome!
Cat: If you could be a Disney character who would you be and why?
Julie: Sleeping Beauty. It is currently summer school holidays here in New Zealand. I have had weeks of two kids climbing all over me, fighting with each other and complaining they are either bored or hungry. So the thought of a nice, long, uninterrupted nap sounds like bliss.
Cat: Favorite book you read as a child OR favorite book you read to your children?
Julie: My favorite book I read as a child was an old copy of Little Women that I found on my grandparent’s bookcase and read whenever I went to their house.
I have read that series of books so many times!
I just watched the new film version of the books and loved blubbering my way through it.
He gives her the piano.
So. Many. Tears.
Cat: Favorite genre to read OR last book finished?
Julie: I read a LOT of non-fiction self-help books as I write in that space. Love Brené Brown so much and am currently reading Rising Strong. For fiction I read anything and everything - latest bestsellers and recommended books are top of the list. If I had to narrow it down, I guess I would mostly read women’s fiction. The last book I finished was out of a pile of novels that I won at the start of 2019 and it was NOT great so I won’t say its name. There is nothing worse than an unsatisfying read!
Cat: What else might readers like to know about you?
Julie: I lost my job as an accountant four years ago and been writing ever since. Have not looked back although I do have to admit that I like to create spreadsheets for my book sales!
Cat: Thanks a ton for stopping by, Julie! All the best with your writing life and keeping up with those two young 'uns. With your focus and talents, we know you'll reach your 2020 goals.
Meet the Author
Julie Schooler is an author of 9 books and mama of 2 beautiful tiny humans.
She wants you to rediscover YOUR sparkle so is on a mission to help busy people have all the love, energy and fun they deserve without the guilt or overwhelm.
Her Easy Peasy books provide simple and straightforward information on parenting topics. The Nourish Your Soul book series shares delicious wisdom to feel calmer, happier and more fulfilled.
Julie lives with her family in New Zealand, a small, magnificent country at the bottom of the world where you may find her trying to bake the world’s best chocolate brownie.
Connect with Julie
or look for Julie Schooler on all the socials.
Find all Julie's books on
Growing up in a family of athletes and coaches, I don’t know how it was possible for me not to love organized sports. But I do not.
Sunday afternoons as a kid meant enduring hours of sports on TV. Hockey, basketball, baseball, football. It didn’t matter the season. There was always some kind of game being played somewhere.
While I watch infrequently as an adult, I cheer for my home team, the Carolina Panthers, whenever I tune in. Can't tell you who's playing what or where, but I’m drawn to the Panther’s mantra, a quote from a beloved colleague who battled cancer -- Keep pounding.
Stirred by the Panthers’ quest to be the best, I found five pieces of advice from the world of football to inspire authors to produce their best, too, and keep pounding the keyboard.
1. The Road is Bumpy
It’s football season; anything can happen.
― Troy Brown, Former professional American football player
You’re a writer, so anything and everything will happen. Whether you’re searching for an agent, going the Indie route, or fighting tech gremlins that want to eat your manuscript, writing is fraught with literary curves and technology potholes.
Some of my most creative outputs came from finding work-arounds to problems that blind-sided me. Keep the pitfalls in stride, and author onward.
2. Celebrate Small Wins
It’s the journey; not the destination.
― Tony Dungy, former professional American football player and coach
Because writing is a long game (see #5), you gotta value every victory. I’ve wanted to quit more times than I care to remember since I started writing full time in 2013. Writing can be a lonely and discouraging path.
But I was lifted up in 2019. After six years of authoring, my chapter book, Sweet T and the Turtle Team, won three international awards for best writing in children's literature. Plus, it was considered by a major Hollywood film studio for adaptation to movies or TV.
I’m also jazzed when celebrating others’ successes, especially seeing hard-working creatives soar. There’s something joyful about sharing good news and stepping into that circle of gladness. Your endorphins do the happy dance.
And so, we keep plugging along together.
3. Take Care of YOU
It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.
― Lou Holtz, Former college football coach, Inductee in the College Football Hall of Fame
Like football, writing is an all-consuming passion. At first, I worked at it for 10-hour days, seven days a week — a sure formula for disaster. I learned to pace myself, even unplugging for a few days or (gasp!) weeks at a time to refresh my computer and my soul.
Give that elusive chapter or frustrating book formatting a rest. Walk around the block, hug a puppy, or text a friend. And if you find yourself near burnout, allow yourself an off-season: take a few weeks or months away. Find whatever you need to reset, and then get back to the game. Guarantee the task will be there when you’re ready to tackle it.
4. Find People, Projects to Nourish the Soul
Always have four things in life: Something to do. Someone to love. Something to hope for. Something to believe in.
– Lou Holtz, Former American college football coach, Inductee in the College Football Hall of Fame
Connecting with family, friends, neighbors, and community feeds the soul. Plus, you get to be with people instead of staying inside your head, pounding alone at the keyboard. It’s amazing how much more I accomplish after time with friends.
I’m energized tackling other creative outlets, like photography and garden design. Besides being fun, I love seeing their immediate results instead of waiting forever on writerly matters like publishing a book.
More than being productive, research results demonstrate that people with active social connections are healthier and live longer. These connections are especially important if you’re an introvert as many authors are. So, get out there and mingle!
5. It’s a Long Game
Don’t give up at half time. Concentrate on winning the second half.
― Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, former American college football player and coach
Experts counsel it takes several years and publishing as many books to make it as an author. This fact of writing life drives me crazy.
I am impatient.
I want success n*o*w. Sigh.
I try to pace myself and enjoy the loonnnng writing ride. Truth be told, there are days I want to scream and tear out my hair. But I turn the crawl into a game and find something to laugh about.
Don’t be upset if you don’t see the results you want, especially as you begin your writing journey. Expect and accept: the going is slow. It will keep you in the game!
This is the fourth winter Hub and I stopped at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia during the grueling trek from North Carolina to visit family in cold-weather country. Our tradition started by accident. Or, rather, to avoid accident as a much-needed break from the 500-mile drive through evil I-95 traffic.
But our stay has evolved into a much anticipated two days of history, nature, hiking and CANDY! Lace up your walking shoes, find your mittens, and join me on a winter photo walk to see for yourself.
Our first year at Harpers Ferry, we immersed ourselves in the park’s history. It centered on abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 bloody evening raid on the arsenal located in Lower Town. Brown's actions escalated pre-Civil War tensions between the North and South. He was captured, tried, and hanged outside the courthouse in nearby Charles Town.
Photos: Harpers Ferry/NHP
Pass by the church,
the steep incline
for just a few more yards
until you reach
This natural structure, reinforced by four stone pillars in the mid-1800s, is a large mass of Harpers shale, with each piece of shale slabbed on top of another. It’s named after Thomas Jefferson, who commented on the remarkable view when he reached the outcrop in 1783.
Pinky promise: Jefferson Rock overlooking the Shenandoah River as it flows into the Potomac at the tip of Harpers Ferry is worth the climb.
Heading down from Jefferson Rock is a snap, but don’t zip by the fieldstone ruins of St. John’s Episcopal church that you were too tired to see on the trek up. Built in 1852, the church was also used as a hospital and barracks during the US Civil War in the mid-1860s.
There’s more eye candy ahead as you catch the Potomac River churning alongside Lower Town.
Speaking of candy ...
Of the many enchanting restored buildings, restaurants, and shops ringing Harpers Ferry's High Street, we always stop at True Treats Historic Candy. The store is easy to miss, so follow me down an indistinguishable set of wooden steps into an unremarkable old building. Then open the creaking door and step inside to be gobsmacked by a sweet tooth chronicle from biblical times though the 20th century.
True Treats is more than a written record. It offers freshly made, hard-to-find CANDY to purchase, taste, and rave about!
Be ready for olfactory memories to jump out at every display to whisk you away to a happy place.
For instance, we buy black licorice pipes for Hub’s mother because she enjoyed them as a kid. You may stumble on tasties like those Grandma kept, and you'll feel like a youngster, who’s back in her kitchen, dipping into her candy dish once again.
To walk off those sweet treats, let’s hike the historic C&O canal path along the Potomac River. This towpath was originally built in the 19th century for mules to walk beside the now-drained canal as the animals “towed" canal boats through the waterway.
Hey, you can even brag that you walked the Appalachian Trail because the C&O shares this flat stretch of the App Trail!
Normally, we’d reach the C&O path after crossing the Potomac via the pedestrian bridge attached to the exterior of a busy railroad trestle..
But not this year.
However, the day before Hub and I visited, seven cars of a CSX freight train derailed over that Harpers Ferry railroad bridge, and two cars spilled into the Potomac.
Fortunately, no one was injured, and since the cars were empty, no hazardous materials were involved, either.
By the time Hub and I arrive in Harpers Ferry 24 hours later, equipment and personnel from CSX and the National Park Service had already pulled the cars from the river, towed the freight train away, and closed adjacent structures in order repair the bridge and keep visitors at a safe distance.
While we miss our walk--and feel for true Appalachian Trail warriors, who now must arrange for transportation across the river to continue their trek--Hub and I are grateful the accident was not worse.
The sun is waning.
It’s time to catch the bus back to the visitors’ center
call it a day.
for your company
on my winter photo walk -:D.
If you’ve been to Harpers Ferry, what was your experience like in this place? What favorite historic site or hiking spot do you enjoy? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Let's explore new places together!
Photos by Cat Michaels except where noted
The first day of school can be both exciting and scary for young children. My Lil' First School, the third book in Toby Williams’s Brooke Lynn Adventure Series, addresses this issue and helps you get your child ready to step inside the classroom.
Join me on a Cat's Corner Book Spotlight ....
About the Book
Title: My Lil’ First School | Author: Toby Williams | Illustrator: Corrina Holyoake | Publication Date: October 2019 | Publisher: Toby A Williams | Pages: 21 | Recommended Ages: 4-8
* Amazon US *
My Lil’ First School is the third book in Toby Williams's Brooke Lynn Adventure Series.
The story follows Brook Lynn walking through the big front doors of her new school for the first time. When she looks for her seat before the teacher comes in, she notices butterflies in her tummy. After a warm smile from the teacher, being brave, meeting new friends and being kind to others ease her uncomfortable feelings of this new environment.
Hurry, there’s the school bell!
My backpack was full of goodies,
maybe too much just for me?
I noticed a boy had no lunch,
so I shared my sandwich and tea.
Excerpt_My Lil' First School
Q & As
with author Toby Williams
Cat: Is Brooke Lynn based on anybody you know?
Toby: My great-niece, Ava, was the main influence of Brooke Lynn’s character development. I also see a lot of my younger self in Brooke Lynn’s antics and personality.
Cat: What inspired you to write this book?
Toby: My great-niece, Ava, had just turned 4 and was already talking about going to school (Pre-K) in the Fall. When my niece, Jessica, sent a picture of Ava dressed up in her new outfit, backpack donned and looking like she just might keel over, it was exactly how I envisioned Brooke Lynn heading to her first day of school. My Lil’ First School (Book 3) is dedicated to Ava.
Cat: What will Brooke Lynn be celebrating on December 15th?
Toby: This series will have its one-year milestone! Since my first Brooke Lynn books was published December 15, 2018, a total of three books in my series hav been published to date.
Cat: What’s your next project?
Toby: Ava is growing up quickly, and so is Brooke Lynn. Being responsible with chores, following through on promises and thinking of others (selfless) will be the focus in the upcoming fourth book in The Brooke Lynn Adventures: When an abandoned puppy is left at the doorstep, will Brooke Lynn be able to keep her? What will it entail to show that Brooke Lynn is ready to care for a new member of the family?
Cat: If you could be a Disney character, who would you be, and why?
Toby: Cinderella – she not only overcomes adversity but learns to find happiness in the smallest of tasks; her positive attitude throughout shines through as the Prince chooses her genuine, kind nature over pretentious, self-seeking young ladies. It is the epitome of a fairytale!
Cat: What’s your favorite dessert?
Toby: Rocky Road; crazy for chocolate, marshmallows & nuts.
Cat: Favorite book you read as a child?
Toby: Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky. “Ka-plunk” – the sound of the blueberries hitting the empty bucket; I, like Sal, ate more berries than I brought home. Growing up in New Hampshire, this book is a New England favorite classic. And to this day, blueberries are my favorite berry.
Cat: Favorite genre to read OR last book you finished?
Toby: I read quite a bit – mostly fiction. It’s a tie between historical romance such as Rhys Bowen’s The Tuscan Child, and suspenseful thrillers. I just finished Robert Duggins’ The Eighth Sister, which was an excellent contemporary Russian-conspiracy thriller.
Cat: What else might readers like to know about you?
Toby: As an avid golfer, I enjoy weekly competition with my two women’s golf groups. The combination of being outside while while walking the golf course with girlfriends adds to the fun-loving competition of the game. Every Friday, however, is dedicated to my husband as “our golf day” – something we have done together for years.
My Lil’ First School by Toby Williams is the perfect picture book to help youngsters prepare for their school experience. Using a series of 4-line rhymes opposite charming illustrations by Corrina Holyoake, the book addresses uncertainties youngsters face as they transition to the classroom.
With Brooke Lynn as a role model, children learn how she prepares the night before and wakes early on her big day to catch the bus. At school, her teacher’s warm smile eases the way, with art class and making new friends further dissipating her worries.
Comprehension questions at the end of the book help children process what they read. Highly recommend My Lil’ First School for early readers, a delightful tale that instills confidence and positive attitudes for those crucial first days of school.
Meet the Illustrator
CORRINA HOLYOAKE is a children’s illustrator and artist based in the seaside resort, Bognor Regis, in the South of England.
Meet the Author
TOBY A. WILLIAMS, born and raised in Nashua, New Hampshire, currently resides in the San Diego area of Southern California with her best friend, who also happens to be her husband of many years. They enjoy travel, golf, helping out in the community and of course, reading and writing.
Her inspiration to write children’s stories was borne from her mother’s childhood reflections of a kind neighbor in New Hampshire. This woman had a magical name, Tasha Tudor (1915-2008, American author & illustrator of children’s literature). Toby’s mother spoke about the uniqueness Tasha Tudor had as a storyteller in capturing children’s imaginations. Mother would say fondly to Toby, “Look at the cow-cow-moo-caddities. That’s what Tasha Tudor calls cows!”
Thanks for stopping by Cat's Corner and meeting Toby and Corrina. I adore both these talented women, who brilliantly work together despite being separated by thousands of miles and living an ocean apart.
Brooke Lynn was ready for her first day! What else helps a child succeed at school? Please share in the comment section.
Was 2019 a bumpy ride for you? Or full of smooth turns and gentle curves?
My #Gr8Blogs writerly pals and I are diving deep into a year-end blog hop, December Dreamin’. I’m looking back at my moments and lessons learned from challenges this past year on the writing road.
Check out my personal reveals, meet Critic Cat and Confident Cat, and then visit the #Gr8Blogs linked at the end of this post for more shared recollections and smiles. We hope you'll be inspired to dive into special December Dreams of your own.
The conflict between Critic Cat and Confident Cat was brutal the first half of 2019. Their arguments spun round in my head and wore me down.
I put it down to winter blues on top of moving from our beloved neighborhood of 20 years to our cozy yellow cottage. While grateful for the new home, I felt overwhelmed and inexplicably sad.
Didn’t post much on my blog or newsletter.
Stalled on my adult fiction novel.
Wanted to quit writing altogether more than once.
Sigh. The battle raged …
On the Come Up
I recognized I was burning out and struggled to shake off my funk. It wasn't easy, but here’s what got me going:
Exploring New Ways
Author/Illustrator Rosie Russell and I began collaborating on a new middle-grade book. (We’re up to chapter 22 in our tale about a shy 5th grader who must stand up to a mean girl to keep her friends and reach her dream of entering her horse in the county fair).
Co-writing is a special challenge when working with someone who lives 1,500 miles away. But Rosie is a joy to work with, just as her name implies, and being accountable to another author nudged me back to writing.
Plus, I finally had drafts to share with my local writers’ support group. It was way better to share our chapters instead of berating myself when another month went by without having written a jot for our feedback sessions.
By mid-year, Critic Cat still hounded me, but Confident Cat convinced me to enter the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards Contest. Waffling until the the deadline, I submitted Sweet T and the Turtle Team.
Six months later ...
Turtle Team scored its third writing award and received a silver medal for children’s books, animal category
Turtle Team won the Wind Dancer Films competition!
That meant my book was being considered for a film or TV movie adaption by a major Hollywood production company. I am still over the moon and goose-bumping! My book adaptation may never come to pass, but I was 99% ahead of other authors, who only dream of getting their books on the silver screen.
As my 2019 roller coaster winds down, Confident Cat has been keeping Critic Cat in the corner.
But I want to be ready when Critic Cat strikes again. That’s the writing road, after all. Having doubts. Constantly striving to be better. Navigating bumps and curves mingled with smooth rides. Keeping going when everything feels hard and progress is slow.
Here’s to more of Confident Cat and readers like YOU, who keep me company on my writing road. Your support means more than you'll ever know. Beyond grateful!
Thanks for stopping by. What are you dreaming about this December as you look back over your year? Please share in the comment section.
But before you go, find more inspirational recollections from my blogging buddies at these #Gr8blogs, coming to you from California and all the way to New Zealand and in between -:D!
What's Up with the Daily Mystery Mail for Maggie, Millie and Merrie in Rosie Russell's New Picture Book?
Remember how you loved getting mail as a kid (the type found in your post box, not digital delivery to your device)?
And you usually knew who sent it, right?
Well, author/illustrator Rosie Russell takes a spin on that childhood delight in her ninth picture book, Maggie, Millie and Merrie's Mystery Mail. Packages arrive daily to brighten their long midwestern winter, but the triplets don't know WHO is sending them!
Join me on a Cat's Corner Book Spotlight to preview of this sparkling picture book and meet author Rosie Russell. Promise - she's just as effervescent and charming as her first name implies.
About the Book
Title: Maggie, Millie, and Merrie’s Mystery Mail | Author: Rosie Russell
Publication Date: November 2019 | Publisher: Books by Rose
Pages: 32 | Recommended Ages: 7-10
* Amazon US * Barnes & Noble * Rainy Day Books
The triplets are back, and my, have they grown.
The Midwest winter strikes with a vengeance.
Stuck in the house with too many snow days,
they turn grumpy with nothing to do.
That is, until a mysterious package is delivered.
Will the trio be pulled from boredom
as mail arrives each day?
Q & As with Rosie Russell
Cat: What inspired you to write this book?
Rosie: Hands down, the art project in this story. I learned how to make this project last year and became obsessed over the possibilities on what they can become.
Cat: Are the triplets based on anybody you know?
Rosie: The idea came from my mother, Mary, and her 1930s singing trio, Margret, Irene, and Mary. She also loved art projects, and she handed down the love of art to me. I changed the original names of Margret to Maggie, used Millie instead of Irene, and modified the spelling from Mary to Merrie.
Cat: Can children read your book as a standalone, or do they need to read the other two books in this series first?
Rosie: This book can be read as a standalone. I made sure to include instructions and ideas from the other two stories. I think readers will enjoy it even more once they read the first two books.
Cat: You feature fun kids' crafts in your book. What craft do you most enjoy doing?
Rosie: Oh my! That’s a tricky one because I love them all. I am fascinated by turning a plain object into something different or useful. Once I find a craft I enjoy, I make it non-stop.
Cat: Your illustrations shimmer on the page! How do you create them?
Rosie: Thank you for your kind words, Cat. When I started illustrating, I had to teach myself everything you see on the pages. I have learned so much along the way. I studied what other illustrators do with digital drawing and learned many fun tricks in Photoshop and a program I use called Photo Explosion.
This past year I learned about drop shadows in Photoshop. It has made a world of difference and gives the images dimension, so they don't look so flat on the page. My illustrations have evolved greatly since I started drop shadow. I can’t wait to learn more.
Cat: Have you ever met a gnome? (just kidding!)
What inspired you to write a gnome into your tale?
Rosie: I think we all love the thought of little gnomes in a little world. When the triplets go on their “Magical Adventure” in the first book, I wanted to create a fun gnome for them to meet.
Cat: What’s your next project? (tee hee…I know about one of them!)
Rosie: Besides working on my middle-grade chapter book with you, I have another picture book that's mostly written. However, I put it aside for the past year because I'm still looking for animal characters to add to the story. That’s all I can say about the book for now <wink>.
Cat: If you could be a Disney character, who would you be, and why?
Rosie: If Mary Poppins is considered a Disney character, then it would be her. I loved the movie as a child and still do.
Cat: What’s your favorite dessert?
Rosie: I blog a lot about sweets, but I don’t eat many sweets. Sure, I'll taste them when available. A bit of ice cream with a crunchy topping is always my go-to dessert.
Cat: Favorite book you read as a child?
Rosie: This is a hard one because I loved them all. “Naughty Bunny” was read to me by my mother. I truly think it became a favorite because of the loving voice she used when reading it to me.
Cat: Favorite genre to read OR last book you finished?
Rosie: I’ve been reading many middle grade books to get a feel for how they are written and what readers at that age enjoy. I also enjoy contemporary novels and non-fiction books for adults.
Cat: What else might readers like to know about you?
Rosie: Funny you ask because I was just talking to one of my author friends about this, Cat. It made me laugh!
Growing up and even today, food has been an important part of my life. Dinner always means an array of foods and special times gathering with family and friends. Although I often talk and write about food, people are surprised to learn I’m not a big eater, I also have an uncanny ability to remember everything I’ve eaten: the time, place, and person I was dining with (and often what they ate, too!).
Who knows! Maybe someday I’ll write a cookbook. If I do, each recipe will include a story about the person or history behind the food.
About the the Author/Illustrator
Rosie Russell is the author and illustrator of children’s books for early readers. Maggie, Millie, and Merrie’s Mystery Mail her ninth book.
Rosie studied Early Childhood Education and taught students in elementary and middle school for fifteen years in the Midwest. She now writes and illustrates full time. She enjoys sharing her books with students, and encouraging them to write and illustrate their own stories.
Rosie donates a portion of her books to different charitable organizations that help children or animals.
Crunchy leaves. Cozy sweaters. Hearty supper soups. Yep, autumn is here in central North Carolina, a welcome relief after five months of heat and humidity. Join me for inspiration and smiles as I search for autumn bliss and reveal what I’m reading, watching, getting excited about, and more to enjoy this season.
How can a book be well-written, witty, delightful and heart-breaking all rolled into one?
Dunno, but Elizabeth Gilbert pulls it off.
The author’s clever narrative revolves around an elderly woman, who writes to a younger woman about her then-young life with a theater company in New York City in the 1940s. We’re surrounded by rich characters supporting this coming of age story told in flashbacks to keep you guessing as Gilbert slowly reveals the protagonist's bittersweet secret.
The audiobook is narrated by another one of my faves, Blair Brown, Tony Award-winning stage actress and star of television and film. A must-read for Gilbert fans in print or audio!
Getting Excited About
I'm not attending the Readers' Favorite Book Awards for Sweet T and the Turtle Team's silver medal in Miami this fall. But it's all good.
Spouse JM and I had already earmarked our travel budget on a bucket list trip to Arizona in the American southwest. We're pumped about taking gentle hikes around Sedona's red rocks country, discovering native peoples' ancient dwellings in national parks, enjoying Flagstaff's laid-back lifestyle at 7,000 feet/2.1 km. elevations, and exploring The Big Kahuna .... the Grand Canyon!
I'm also looking for literary influences in this land of stark beauty and rugged landscapes. I can only think of Barbara Kingsolver's Bean Trees.. Any suggestions for me?
And I must see landscapes immortalized on the silver screen where John Wayne and other Hollywood cowboys giddy-upped into film legend.
Oooooo....feeling another blog post coming on! Stay tuned for a photo walk about my Arizona discoveries here on Cat's Corner..
What an adventure co-writing a middle-grade book with author Rosie Russell .... especially since we live more than 1,000 miles apart.
But regular phone convos, emails, and chapters drafted and uploaded to a shared cloud drive keep us connected. We’re about 25% into the book. Hoping to finish by spring.
Hey, if you have a minute, can you have a look at our *draft log line* below?
"A shy 11-year-old farm girl
just wants to survive fifth grade.
But the new girl in school is out to take her down
and crush her dreams
of entering her horse at the county fair."
What do you think? Rosie and I would be most grateful for your feedback.
Does the log line tell you enough about the story without giving too much away?
Might it draw fifth grade readers (likely girls, although we have boys as secondary characters)?
* log line: a 1 or 2 sentence description of a story's central conflict and plot synopsis
It's a waiting game until December.
I submitted my 3-page summary of Sweet T and the Turtle Team to Wind Dancer Films for the producers to consider for a movie or TV adaptation.
I get tickled thinking about what actor could play which character in my tale. I wonder how the turtles and nests would be shown? What about the bullying scenes? And the tropical storm? I'd love for it to be filmed on location in North Carolina.
It's fun to think about possibilities, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. My research says a a book pitch has about a 4% chance of actually making it to the screen. Plus, there are production technicalities and values that I don't understand, so it's more than just the book's quality..
You’ll be among the first to know if anything comes of this opportunity. Please cross your fingers for Sweet T and me!
Making Me Happy
I’m finally putting down a garden around our cozy yellow cottage. It's been begging for one since we moved here last summer. Major soil amendments coming to sweeten our red Carolina clay that’s brilliant for making pottery but brutal on plants.
Thinking a country cottage look, but not too unkempt. I want a child's garden along the sidewalk where kids pass on the way to the bus stop or pool. Maybe dinosaurs and painted rocks there. But low maintenance and lots of native specimens everywhere. Definitely lots of color and garden art for whimsy, too. Can't wait!
Buckle your swashes! Captain Poldark and Mistress Demelza are back for the fifth and final season of Poldark. This season, its set in the power halls of London as well as on the Cornish coast. Are you watching the series? Read the books by Winston Graham? Lucky UK folk have already seen how our fave 19th-century couple fare.
Fingers crossed here for a happy ending for the idealistic hunky Poldark and his sterling wife (ditto for Drake and Morwenna, Jeffrey-Charles and Cecily, and the Despards).
Hard to imagine anything sweeter than a holiday book festival held in a town called Holly Springs.
If you’re in central North Carolina, please stop by the cultural center in downtown Holly Springs, North Carolina, between 10 am and 2 pm., to say hey! and meet more than two-dozen other writers of books for kids and adults. I’ll be rolling out silver medal stickers for Sweet T and the Turtle Team and bundling toy stuffies for both Turtle Team and Finding Fuzzy.
Seeing Through My Camera Lens
I'm passionate about capturing nature and landscapes with my iphone or Lumix GX7 digital camera. Photography is in my genes, as my great- and great x2 grandfathers were professional photographers in the late-1800s in Minneapolis, MN, and Everett, WN.
Please enjoy fall scenes from my part of the world.
(disclosure: taken last year because fall tints have not arrived yet in central North Carolina)
Thanks for keeping me company as I share my autumn happy places. How are you finding your autumn bliss (or springtime happiness Down Under)? Please do tell in the comment section.
When fellow Tarheel Christine, The Uncorked Librarian, sent out a call for reviews of books set in the south, I jumped at the chance. My pick?
Guests on Earth, by awesome North Carolina author Lee Smith.
The novel is set around an Asheville neighborhood that’s now a stately avenue of historic homes. But there's a grassy field down the road! Peaceful now so hard grasp its heartbreaking significance to literary giant F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Explore this Asheville tragedy and read my review of Smith’s Guests Here on Earth. Then click over to The Uncorked Librarian for Christine’s juicy list of southern books to add to your reading stack.
About the Book
Guests on Earth
by Lee Smith
Algonquin Books | 2013 | 326 pages | historical fiction
Here's how author Lee Smith describes her novel:
"Guests on Earth is set at Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, N.C., during the years 1936-1948, including the terrible 1948 fire in which Zelda Fitzgerald perished along with eight other women patients in the locked ward on the top floor. Her body was identified only by her charred ballet slipper---for the brilliant Zelda was still a talented dancer and choreographer as well as a writer and a visual artist.
Asheville Literary History
I’d love Lee Smith’s books even if I didn’t live in her North Carolina home state, a frequent backdrop for her tales. Freely disclosing here that her local-to-me tales are especially enticing, but they will hook you, too, no matter where you live.
Guests on Earth is a brilliant historical fiction. Its centerpiece, Highland Hospital for Nervous Disorders, was built in Asheville, NC, in the early 1900s, was run by psychiatrist Dr. Robert Carroll. A mental health innovator, Carroll removed then-standard chains and straight jackets, offering his ‘guests’ instead fresh air, exercise, and creative arts along with counseling.
Dr. Carroll’s wife, Grace Potter Carroll, was a world-famous concert pianist who operated a music school in their adjacent home, Highland Hall. Mrs. Carroll sponsored many concerts, often featuring Highland patients, at their home that still stands proud on Montford Avenue on the historic register of homes.
Highland is forever linked to the literary world by F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Zelda.
The novelist resided at the Asheville at the Grove Park Inn during the summers of 1935 and 1936 to rest from tuberculosis and find writing inspiration. His wife Zelda, a brilliant creative in her own right, was treated at nearby Highland Hospital (for what doctors now suspect was a bipolar disorder) for months at a time during their marriage and after his death in 1940.
The hospital has the sad distinction as the place Zelda where perished. Trapped on the top floor with eight others when Highland burned to the ground in 1948, Zelda was identified only by her ballet slipper.
One hot summer afternoon as I wandered around Asheville, I stumbled across the historical marker commemorating that tragic night.
Smith’s main character, Evalina Toussaint, unravels the mystery of Highland in her compelling first-person narrative Admitted as a delicate child of a New Orleans courtesan and a wealthy aristocratic father, Evalina is a reliable narrator as far as her innocence and vulnerabilities allow. She becomes a student of Mrs. Carroll’s, finding her identity and stability by playing piano at the Carroll’s nearby residence, Highland Hall.
As Evalina accompanies Highland’s patients at musicals, she befriends a tapestry of fellow women patients. Smith portrays these characters with richness and empathy, and you feel their despair. Eventually, Evalina’s life intersects with Zelda’s at the clinic ... two creative, wounded spirits who develop a peaceful coexistence across Zelda's mood swings.
Much of the plot revolves around Evalina’s failed attempts at finding love and untangling dark family’s secrets that trap her. Bouncing in and out of Highland into adulthood, she feels at home there and eventually recovers enough to land a staff position as pianist.
Despite healing, Evalina remains haunted by that terrible night of the fire. As she explains in the opening chapter:
“I bring a certain insight and new information to that horrific event which changed all our lives forever, those of us living there upon that mountain at that time. This is not my story, then, in the sense that Mr. Fitzgerald’s 'The Great Gatsby' was not Nick Carraway’s story, either---yet Nick Carraway is the narrator, is he not?
And is any story not always the narrator’s story, in the end?”
With Evalina as narrator in Guests on Earth, Lee Smith seamlessly weaves fact and fiction for a compelling read.
More Southern Titles
Hankering for more novels set in the south?
Click over to The Uncorked Librarian for the complete juicy list of Christine's “deep fried and delish tales” to add to your reading stack.
What are your favorite books set in the south? Fave Southern writer? Please share in the comment section to keep book love strong, y'all.
NC Department of Cultural Resources
National Public Radio
National Park Service
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