Susanna Hill’s Valentine Contest

In the midst of revising a story and writing a couple of articles, why not add a fun little contest to the list! Ha! Children’s author, Susannah Hill, is hosting her fourth annual Valentine contest.

While I wasn’t able to put as much time into it as I’d like, I still enjoyed participating and giving it a whirl!

The story has to be kid appropriate, maximum 214-words, in which someone feels guilty. What fun!

Here we go!

Lovey-Dovey Ollie

214-words

Ollie Octopus swirled and twirled on a wave of love. After all, Octopuses have three hearts.

Ollie blew a kiss to a swimming Seahorse.
“Bleck. Enough of the smooshy-wooshy love,” cried Seahorse.

Ollie wrapped her arms around a grumpy Hermit Crab.
“Please, no hugs.” He snapped.

She batted her eyes at the Banded Butterflyfish.
“Is something the matter?” wondered the Butterflyfish.

When Ollie swam near, the snails squirmed, the fish flittered, and the seahorses raced away.

They were tired of her lovey-dovey ways.

With broken hearts, Ollie hopped on a current and surfed out to sea.

Whoosh! The water crashed and thrashed around her.

“Help!” cried a voice.

“Oh no!” gasped Ollie.

Grumpy Hermit Crab swirled and whirled past on a current.

Ollie flexed her arms and STRETCHED as far as she could reach.

Sloop!

She suctioned Hermit Crab and pulled with all of her might.

Plunk!

Ollie wrapped Hermit Crab in a hug.

Whoa! Ollie thought. I have superstrength!

“You saved me!” thanked Hermit Crab.

Ollie blushed.

“I’m sorry for being a little too lovey-dovey,” said Ollie. “ From now on, I will focus on using my super strength.”

Back at the reef, Hermit Crab shared Ollie’s heroic story and Ollie flipped and flexed her arms.

“Three cheers for Ollie!” The sea creatures chanted.

Book Review and Author Interview with Lindsay Leslie!

I’m super excited to share with you a new picture book that is ready for little hands and creative minds everywhere on February 19th. Along with a sneak peek of the story, author Lindsay Leslie was so nice to answer my questions about her engaging new book. So sit back, grab a cup of tea, and join me. I’m glad you’re here.

Title: THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS

Genre: Picture Book

Ages: 4-8

Author: Lindsay Leslie

Illustrator: Alice Brereton

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Synopsis: Using the five-senses this wary and ‘spineless’ book tries to figure out what kind of story it might have on its pages.

Does it hear spooky wails from a ghost story?
Can it see a mysterious something peeking around a corner?
Is that the dizzy feeling of zero gravity it senses?
Might that be the stinky smell of animals in nature it detects?
Could it be tasting the saltiness of a story on the high seas?

Playful and humorous, Linsday Leslie invites the reader on an adventurous journey as the book grows braver and braver with each page until finally, it grows a spine!

The illustrations are quirky, textured, shape-oriented and colorful. They have an optical illusion effect begging the reader to take a closer look.

Now, it’s time to meet the awesome author, Lindsay Leslie.

Welcome, Lindsay! First and foremost, what was your inspiration behind this engaging title?

My inspiration was two-fold. One, I really had no control over. I remember walking into my youngest son’s room and stepping on one of his picture books because naturally, they were littering the floor. My subconscious took over. I thought things like: Did I break the book? Did I mess up its spine? What if this book were spineless? And, then, I said out loud, “This Book Is Spineless!” I immediately put the title in my notes section on my phone. I knew I had something with that title.

The second inspiration for this book is my personal experience with anxiety. I was an anxious kid and tried to hide it always. I was the kid who didn’t want to go on the roller coaster even though my mom bribed me with a puppy. I was the kid who didn’t want to learn how to swim. I was the kid who feared and feared a fair amount of things. The anxiety shifted over time and became different and not very fun as an adult, but I have developed better coping mechanisms. I was interested in looking at fears, fear of what’s inside all of us, and putting that on the page in a quirky, fun, relatable way. I also wanted the narrative to mimic the anticipation and heightening of anxious emotions and then the calming down.

You also use many sensory elements (hear, see, feel, taste, etc.). How did you come up with this unique twist to the story?

Oh, wow. How did I come up with that? Great question! I haven’t really thought about how that came to be until now. The sensory elements were not in my first awful draft, so it didn’t flow out of me in a flurry of words. They showed up in the second draft. I think with the first draft I was getting to know my character, which is the physical book, and with the second draft, I was exploring more of what the book was experiencing. I think I was trying my best to bring the book to life and to dig into its experiences. Because the book is afraid of the story on its pages, pulling on the senses became more apparent to me as I wrapped in various genres of stories that might be there.

There is a lot of fun play on words using alliteration in your story. Is the Thesaurus your go to?

The Thesaurus is my friend. Oh, yes it is. While some of these words popped into my head, I did spend a lot of time looking and searching for just the right words, like how to describe a particularly odoriferous animal or an alleyway that looks less than inviting. I love nothing more to go on a word hunt because I find some real treasures.


The illustrations are out of this world. There is very much an optical illusion element to it. Is this how you imagined them to be when writing your story?

No, not at all, which is FANTASTIC! I hold these illustrations close to my heart. Alice Brereton is a magician with her powerful, quirky, and thought-provoking art. If you can’t tell, I’m elated that what Alice created looks NOTHING like what was in my head.

How long did you work on this particular story?

I began writing this story in August of 2016. Page Street Kids offered me a contract late June of 2017. Together, my editor and I worked on it well into 2018. Word changes here and there.

If you had one piece of advice for writers, what would it be?

I’ve got so much advice that I could really annoy everyone with it. How about one piece of advice that would resonate no matter where someone is in their writing journey? That piece of advice is to enjoy. Find the work you enjoy, the topic you enjoy, whatever inspires you to start typing or scribbling on paper. Don’t chase the trends. Don’t watch what everyone else is doing. That all changes and you aren’t everyone else. When you write with joy, the reader will read with joy.

What is coming up next for you?

I’ve got some cool stuff going on that I’m excited about. I’ll be at TLA this year, so if you are attending or anywhere Austin, swing on by and do let me know! My second picture book, NOVA THE STAR EATER (illustrated by John Taesoo Kim, Page Street Kids), comes out May 21. I have a third book called DUSK RAIDERS WANTED slated for Spring 2020 with Page Street Kids, illustrated by Ellen Rooney. And, I’m on submission with other work, so fingers crossed!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing your amazing story with us!

Thank you for having me!

And there you have it.

To check out and purchase THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS visit here.

Want to read more of Lindsay’s picture books? Check out NOVA: THE STAR EATER here.

If you’d like to learn more about Lindsay and see what she’s up to visit her website: https://lindsayleslie.com/

Or visit her social media feeds:

Twitter: @LLeslie

Instagram: @lindsaylesliewrites

Thanks for stopping by and happy reading!


Forest Bathing: Nature’s Therapy

Need a break from the fast-paced world we live in? Or perhaps get away to quiet your mind and return feeling re-energized and renewed? Try Forest Bathing, but please, leave your towel at home. No bath is required.

Developed in Japan by Tomohide Akiyama in 1982, Forest Bathing or Shinrin-yoku is a term that means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere.’ It’s simply being in nature with no destination in mind and allowing yourself to just be.

With Americans spending over “93% of their time indoors,” and over 11 hours online every day, we’re in desperate need of quality outdoor time.

How Does It Work?

To achieve forest bathing to its fullest, set aside two to four hours. But if all you have is twenty minutes, allow yourself that total amount of time.

You don’t have to have a forest nearby, a park will do.

First, put the phone away or anything that will cause distractions. The focus is for you to be present.

Go for a walk or find a private spot. If you’re walking, don’t worry about your final destination. Go slowly and wander.

During this time, observe your surroundings and your breath. What do you hear? What do you smell?

Be present.

See an interesting leaf? Pause and look at it.

Close your eyes. Listen to the rustling of the leaves. The sound of the birds. Try to leave the everyday stress behind.

Once your time has come to a close, reflect on how your body feels. Your mind. Let the feeling linger.

Dr. Qing Li, a researcher from Japan, is an expert on Forest Bathing. He believes trees promote health and happiness and has made it his mission to spread awareness about Japan’s age-old practice.

The Benefits

According to Dr. Qing Li, he believes Forest Bathing can:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve mood
  • Increase energy level
  • Boost the immune system and more

Living in a world where screen time is at an all-time high, it’s no wonder Forest Bathing has become such a trend. In fact, there are retreats and classes dedicated to the practice. You can even become an official guide.

In the end, it sounds like nature’s calling. Perhaps we should listen and visit it more often.

From the words of John Muir, naturalist, author, and environmentalist, “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”

In other words, have you had your bath yet today?

How National Parks Helped Teach our Kids about the Environment

“Mom, what are those big white things?” my daughter asks while peering out the window as we drive through the grassy plains of the Midwest.

“Those are wind turbines. The wind helps make energy which gets turned into power. Like the power that turns on the lamp in your room or the lights in the house.”

Immediately following my explanation came the rounds of questions that spilled out of a curious five-year-old’s mouth after being told that a giant monster-like structure uses wind to create power. It is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Our conversation ignited a critical discussion that my husband and I felt we needed to start sharing with our kids about caring for our environment. How can we instill in them an appreciation and respect for the natural living life around them? After wrestling with this big idea, we finally realized the answer is a lot simpler than we thought: It’s about giving our kids opportunities to interact with nature starting at a young age.

What better way to explore this idea than by visiting and discovering the national parks across the United States and exploring the incredible landscapes of our country? With a map of the U.S. displayed in our family room and pins to mark our destinations, we were ready to explore the history, nature, and learn all about the preservation of our land and animals as a family.

With over fifty national parks spread across the U.S. and nearly 300 million visitors each year, these natural wonders can be a cornerstone in the way we address environmental topics with our offspring. The big question is, where do we begin?

Badlands

My family and I found ourselves beginning our journey by trekking through the rough and jagged trails of the Badlands in South Dakota, witnessing the damaging yet, renewing effects of a natural forest fire that had happened near Jewel Cave National Monument. The charred, black trees were the only remains of what once existed in a dense forest. Through the chaos of fallen branches and rotting trunks, sprung new life. Peering through the now open land, flowers and grass were slowly taking the place of what was once alive. This moment sparked an organic conversation about the dangers and causes of forest fires, but also how they can stimulate new growth.

FullSizeRender

My husband and I realized the value of teaching our kids about the magnitude of our actions on the ecosystems around us. While hiking on the paths in Yellowstone National Park, our children would discover a leaf or interesting rock along the way. To a young intrigued mind, this made the perfect souvenir to bring home and show friends. However, this proved to be another teachable moment as we explained the importance of leaving nature where you found it.

Kiersten Einsweiler, blogger and fellow adventure seeker from Hiking In My Flipflops, shares how she and her husband have helped their children to develop a deeper understanding of nature’s inhabitants: “We had a recent run-in with a snake on a trail, and my daughter was absolutely terrified – screaming and crying for a good part of the hike back. On the drive home, she thought maybe the snake was actually a ‘kid just like her’ and was just as scared as she was.”

With her children making this connection, Kiersten goes on to say that she believes her children see the “parallels” between how we respect human beings and living creatures and how nature is the “…home and space of a plant or animal.”

Our kids’ favorite experience on our life-long grand adventure was taking part in the National Park’s Junior Ranger program. Over the years, this program has evolved and now includes national monuments, with many being managed by the park service.

Their motto, “Explore, Learn, and Protect,” quoted by the many children sworn in each year, couldn’t be more true. With the typical participant age being between 5 and 13, our daughter could take part. Our son, who is three, was able to participate in the Pee Wee Ranger program offered at Jewel Cave National Monument located in South Dakota’s Black Hills. We have found that regardless of age, all children are encouraged to take part in their programs.

Making our way to Glacier National Park in Montana, our kids were equipped with various tasks in their Ranger booklets and prepared to earn their badges. Marveling at the giant “monsters of ice” as our son called it, we talked about the correlation between human activity and rising temperatures leading to shrinking glaciers.

Next up? Yellowstone, the world’s first national park located in Wyoming. It is known for its geysers, mountain beauty, and hundreds of animal species. With nearly 4 million people visiting the park, there’s bound to be garbage left behind. After picking up bits of trash found tumbling along the backcountry trails, my husband and I showed our kids what the saying, “Whatever comes in, must come out” quote truly means.

Along with Yellowstone, the national park service has made a concerted effort to become more sustainable based on the changing climate, and the impact visitors have made in the parks. Putting this into perspective, Isle Royale, a remote island in Michigan only accessible by plane or boat, spends $15,000 a year removing guests’ trash. This issue is one my husband and I feel we need to bring to the forefront of our children’s minds. Being respectful of the land, which means cleaning up after ourselves so other’s can enjoy it’s beauty too.

Providing tangible dialogue relevant to our future existence, there is a wealth of information to be shared with our little ones. For example, restoration of the Redwood forest, the impact tourists have on soil erosion in Zion National Park, or how trails protect naturally growing plants. And let’s not forget the increased water and air pollution in the Great Smoky Mountains. How about the encounter of non-native species causing detrimental damage in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park? These are the real-life experiences exposing the significance as to why we must protect these precious resources.

IMG_1432
Or the other right hand…

Looking back, we’ll never forget the moment they raised their right hand and promised to preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them. From exploring the third largest underground cave to hiking, observing, and identifying animal hides, our children were sworn in and declared lifelong Junior Rangers. The quest to accomplish this noble deed and earning a badge to commemorate this momentous time will forever live in our hearts.

In the words of songwriter Woody Guthrie, “From the Redwood Forest to the gulf stream waters. This land was made for you and me.” As we move into the 21st century, our world continues to change along with its environmental issues. Taking the time to search out destinations that satisfy our lust for adventure and thirst for knowledge, let’s continue to bring awareness to our children who will pass it on to future generations.

 

 

Lights Out

The light flicked on again. I stop and stare at the shining coming through the bottom of the door.

“How can he still be awake?” I ask my husband.

“He’s going to be exhausted tomorrow,” he says.

I take a deep breath.

“My turn to check this time.” I set my laptop on the couch. 

Padding across the floor, I gently push open our son’s door. I see the lamp is on. There are toys strewn across the floor. That’s when I notice him.  

He’s sitting on his bed wearing a hard hat, boots, and a superhero cape tied around his neck, meticulously lining up dinosaurs on a pillow.  

“I thought you were supposed to be sleeping?” I ask.

“I wanted to build first.” 

I sit down next to him. “It’s time for bed. You have to get up for school tomorrow.” I carefully slip the hard hat from his head and tug each boot from his little feet.

“I don’t want to sleep,” he whimpers.

“How come?” I ask gathering each brontosaurus and tossing them in a bucket.

“I’m scared. There are monsters in my room. It’s too dark.” Yawning, he crawls into my lap.

After checking under the bed, in the closet, and in his drawers, I confirmed the expected. There are no monsters in his room. Calling dad for backup reassurance, he does a quick sweep of the room and agrees there are no one-eyed furry creatures lurking in the dark.

With another kiss and hug, we flick the light.

“Time to sleep.” I close the door behind me.

Getting back to my cozy spot on the couch, I park my tired body. What’s on Netflix? Flipping through the channels for a new binge series, I hear a car horn. Ignoring it, I keep searching.

WeeOoooWeeOooo

A police siren? I glance back at my son’s door. Sure enough, he’s awake again. 

I peek in his room.

“We just checked for monsters, and there is nothing in here. Lights out.”

He looks at me. A slight smirk is forming on his face. For some reason, I’m starting to think I’m being tricked.

“I have to go to the bathroom.” He’s squirming around in his bed. I send him the Mama Bear stare.

“Hurry up and go.” Picking up his little body and walking to the bathroom he starts sharing a friendship problem at school. 

“I’m sorry those boys were running away from you on the playground. Remember, you want to play with friends that make you feel good. If they hurt your feelings, how about finding a new friend to play with?”

With a nod of his head and smile on his face, I’m feeling confident we’re both going to finally get some rest.

Again, lights out.

Lingering outside his door, I take a deep breath.  

Silent. I return to the couch and bury myself in the cushions. It’s late. There’s no time for an episode of anything.

My eyes start to feel heavy. I drift off to sleep.

Suddenly, I sit up and look around. Where’s my husband? Maybe he went to bed. I clumsily make my way to our bedroom fumbling for the lamp.

Click.

Only the cat lay curled up on the bed.

I poke my head in our son’s room.

Curled up under his covers are my three-year-old and my husband. Both crammed into the toddler bed. I smile and for the last time, turn off the light.

Why We Family Garden

Rows upon rows of colorful produce, neatly packaged and anxiously waiting to be chosen. Shoppers are inspecting each perfectly shaped apple, taut skinned peach, and crisp lettuce head while contemplating the purchase of pineapples shipped from Costa Rica. Comparing this to the dirt covered carrots, roots dangling off the ends, or the misshapen strawberries freshly picked off the vine, when I have the choice, I’ll choose the latter or whatever else is in season.

This thought encourages my husband and me to continue talking with our son and daughter about how we get our food and why we should appreciate it. No more wasting half eaten apples or tossing a banana out because it has too many brown spots. Instead, we’ve shifted our old habits and started new ones. Let’s toss them in the backyard composter and watch them magically turn into black gold or throw them in the freezer to use in smoothies later on.

“In the United States, food now travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table, as much as 25 percent farther than two decades ago,” according to an article from World Watch Institute.

Imagine the many hands and miles traveled a single orange or stem of grapes go through before it graces our table. All the effort put into planting, growing, harvesting cleaning, packaging, and shipping just for our enjoyment. Then to be picked over because it’s not as shiny or perfectly shaped as the next.

“In 2008, 43 billion pounds of perfectly good food was thrown out of grocery stores,” according to Move For Hunger.  

Whether the food is damaged, out of date, unattractive, or left untouched due to lack of interest, that’s equivalent to $165 billion wasted each year. That’s an astounding number when you think about it.

Our environmental impact is a topic near and dear to our family’s hearts. We do our best to keep our carbon footprint at the forefront of our minds when making life decisions. That’s why we’ve decided to start a family garden.

It’s an easy way to demonstrate to our kids the amount of hard work involved in the growing of our favorite fruits and vegetables. Sure, we could hop into the car and drive down the street to the local supermarket. But that wouldn’t be an accurate representation of how the process works. Not to mention, tasting the long awaited fruits of your labor is immensely gratifying and humbling.

“Mom, where does our food come from?” our curious daughter will ask. I think to myself, I’ll tell you, and I will show you.

In the spring, we let our kids help pick the seeds, turn and add compost to the tired winter soil, dig, drop the seed, cover, and mark each planting bed. With careful attention, water, and lots of patience, our kids make a stronger connection to the earth and their food by reaping what they sow.

The pleasure we get from watching our children pick tomatoes or raspberries off the vine while shoveling them into their mouths and scouring the beds for more delicious treats is insurmountable. Humorously, I’ve learned my lesson and started planting double of everything after watching the goods get consumed before they even reach the kitchen.

With the rising statistics of unhealthy Americans in our country continue growing, nothing seems more important than instilling a healthy attitude about food within our children and helping them discover the growing process.

As the growing season comes to an end and fall is upon us, we take time to prepare the beds for the next season, tally the seeds that we need to purchase for spring, and say a word of thanks for another successful planting season.

Embrace What You Love

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.”

-Roald Dahl

I came across this quote and wanted to share it with you. However, it’s interpreted, maybe it will make you step back and reflect a little. It did for me. It’s funny how I come across little reminders like this. 

I welcome these breaks. Don’t you?