Whenever I go out of town by myself, I’m consulting in a school district, doing a speaking engagement, or attending a conference. My husband and I go away without the kids a couple times a year. But that’s pretty much the extent of my travel sans kids. So, today, I felt like I was playing hooky from my life as a professional and as a mom since I had a day of pure pleasure in Manhattan with two of my oldest friends: Stacey & Marc.
I got into Manhattan a little earlier than necessary so I could walk around SoHo. Then, we met for lunch at Sadelle’s (which has the best freshly-baked gluten-free bagels I’ve ever tasted!). When we saw each other, we enveloped each other in the tightest hugs you could imagine. After all, it’s been three years since I’ve seen Marc (who moved to the East Coast after years in L.A.) and five-and-a-half years since I’ve seen Stacey (who lives in Israel).
We spent hours at lunch. Around 3 p.m. we took the Subway uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We enjoyed several exhibits. My favorite was Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence, which was filled with French Impressionist paintings.
Daylight savings time gave us a false sense of time so we walked through Central Park — including the Ramble — in an effort to get to the West Side. Before we knew it, it was after 6 p.m.!
We parted ways a little before 7:00 p.m. We squeezed each other as tight as knots when we said good-bye vowing that we wouldn’t go so long between visits.
Tomorrow I return home and to my usual life. After all, playing hooky isn’t special if you do it often.
Last month, I celebrated a milestone birthday. One of the loveliest gifts I received were blessing bracelets from Lynne. Inside of the jewelry box, there was a tag that said:
This is a Blessing Bravelet. Whenever you wear it acknowledge one blessing in your life for each pearl on the bracelet. Each time you are drawn to the bracelet, silently find four people or things you can be grateful for.
Be grateful for: Your children, a flower, your dog, a perfect cup of coffee, a roof over your head – just find something. The more you wear the bravelet and the more blessings you find, the more you will be blessed.
In one year, if followed, you will be aware of a profound change in your life.
My birthday went off without a hitch. I’ve embraced this new decade of my life with open arms.
However, there have been some stressors that have popped up recently that are making these blessing bracelets more important than ever. (I don’t like to be vague when I write, but I’m choosing not to write about what’s been happening in detail out of respect to those close to me whose challenges are weighing on me — heavily.) I donned both bracelets this morning and touched each pearl, counting my blessings aloud.
Driving a car that works.
Residing in a safe and comfortable home.
My long-time friend, Alexa, who is giving me incredible guidance right now.
It’s important to count your blessings even when you’re feeling overwhelmed. As a result, I will be wearing these bracelets a lot as I navigate the next month of my life. Thank you, Lynne, for this incredible gift. These items are so much more than pieces of jewelry!
Today was the kind of day where I felt like I was running-running-running. In fact, this (8:45 p.m.) is the first “down time” since I rolled out of bed this morning. At one point, I doubted I was going to get everything accomplished today. You know why? I needed to make dinner in the middle of the afternoon.
That’s right. I stopped working on the study guide I’m writing for Craft Movesat 1:30 p.m. so I could make dinner.
But why? you might ask. Well, I’ll tell you. Lauren, one of my closest friends here in PA, had her third child earlier this month. Her husband went back to work today and she was home alone with her three boys for the first time today. Therefore, I wanted to deliver dinner to her doorstep so she wouldn’t have to cook tonight.
Even though I was making great progress on the study guide, I stepped away from the computer and headed into the kitchen at 1:30, which I thought would give me plenty of time to make the salad and to adapt and cook the black bean spinach enchiladas recipe.
I thought wrong. By 2:00 p.m., my kitchen looked like this:
By 2:30 p.m., I had Lauren’s family’s enchiladas in the oven, but hadn’t prepped ours yet. (Ours had to be made without corn in the filling.) At that same time, I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch yet!
By 2:45 p.m., I was supposed to be out the door. However, I realized I hadn’t wrapped the baby’s gift yet. I ran to the closet, found some baby paper, and wrapped it quickly. Five minutes later, everything was ready to go.
I was out the door by 2:54 p.m., which was nine minutes later than I wanted to be out the door.
While that doesn’t sound like a big deal, I had to drive to the West Shore of Harrisburg. While that isn’t a huge distance mileage wise, it would require me to get onto I-83, which tends to start getting clogged up at 3:00 p.m. Today was no different.
I made it to Lauren’s house ten minutes later than expected. While my lateness wasn’t a big deal to her, it was to me, since I had to go back in the other direction to pick Isabelle up from school by 3:45 p.m.
I took a back route to Isabelle’s school, but the back route meant I kept hitting 15 MPH school zones. By the grace of G-d, I made it to Isabelle’s school with three minutes to spare!
Of course, we had another appointment, ten miles away at 4:00 p.m. Somehow, I made it there with two minutes to spare.
All that being said, now that I’m reflecting on my hectic afternoon, I think I should’ve walked away from the study guide a little earlier.
* * * * *
A few notes:
If you like the enchilada recipe I linked to above, I adapted it so it was gluten-free. Here’s what I did: I used Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose GF Flour and corn tortillas.
I received a thank you note from Lauren. Here’s an excerpt from her email to me, which includes her son Jack‘s reaction to dinner:
Lauren:”Ms. Stacey made us dinner.”
Jack: “Isabelle’s mom or Lily’s mom?”
Lauren: “Isabelle’s mom.”
Jack: “Yum! She is a really good cook.”
I agree 🙂
..big hit here 🙂
Thanks again for taking such good care of us! It was delicious!
Rachel and I met during sorority rush my freshman year. She was a sister in a sorority (not the one I ended up pledging). I was hobbling around rush on crutches, which attracted a lot of attention. Rachel came over and asked the question I heard time and time again during the first round.
After I finished telling my story, Rachel noticed the last name on my name tag. “Are you related to Jeremy Shubitz?”
“Yes,” I replied. “He’s my first cousin.”
“We went to high school together,” Rachel replied.
And so began what’s been a 20-years-and-running friendship.
Rachel and I went out to countless brunches when we lived in Manhattan. We’d water each other’s plants and check each other’s mail when we were out of town. She has been by my side in the best of times and the worst of times. Even this past year, when she’s been working abroad in South Aftica, she was there for me in real time (despite a six-hour time difference) as I navigated my miscarriage. Now that’s a true friend!
I can’t believe I was lucky enough to be in town the one week-end Rachel was back on this continent! (Granted, I was almost an hour away from her condo, but an hour’s drive is way better than a 16-hour flight!) I drove to her condo. We hung out there and then went out for frozen yogurt. Afterwards, we got our nails done and went to dinner. Nothing too wild and crazy, but a wonderful afternoon spent with a dear friend.
I hear it all of the time. “She’s 7 going on 17.” I cringe every time I hear that statement about a little girl since it is usually a parent’s way of saying that the child is too sassy for her age.
My kid, on the other hand, is four going on 94! And I’m not sure I should brag about that. She’s the kind of kid people often refer to as “an old soul.” Case in point, this morning, after she guzzled her chocolate milk at breakfast time, she said, “I’m cold.” But it didn’t end there. A sweater was not within reach (She always requests a sweater if she’s cold!) so she snuggled into me until she warmed herself up.
But that’s not all! There were several old soul/old lady things she did when we went to Hersheypark with our friends Sarah and Molly on Sunday afternoon:
Isabelle and Molly walked into the park holding hands. Sarah and I pushed their strollers (which you HAVE to bring to Hersheypark since it’s hilly and kids get tired from all of the walking). We noticed them lagging behind. I turned around and noticed Isabelle and Molly chatting it up with a throng of people trudging along behind them. (How kind it was for no one to try to pass them!) There were about 20-30 people being held up by two four-year-olds who were just looking around, chatting, and enjoying the scenery. The girls didn’t have a care in the world about who they were holding up. And while I could say Molly was equally responsible for walking slowly, I know she was being a good friend and keeping up with Old Lady Isabelle who prefers a slower pace so she can take in the world.
Isabelle and Molly, both four, insisted on holding hands most of the time they walked around the park this weekend. It’s a cute little girl thing to do. But it reminds me of my grandmother, who Isabelle is named after, since she always liked to hold my hand or my arm in her later years when we walked together.
Isabelle doesn’t pay attention while she drives. I took her on the Classic Cars at Hersheypark and her eyes were everywhere except for on the road on which she was driving. Thankfully, there’s a track to keep drivers like her from going astray. Google “‘century village’ ‘pool’ ‘car'” and you’ll understand why this relates to older folks.
Isabelle loves rides that spin around (not so old ladyish), but she detests roller coasters (because she’s an old soul).
Long, lingering hugs. Those are the kinds of hugs my daughter likes to give. It doesn’t matter if you’re a character at Herhseypark or a friend, Isabelle will give you lots of hugs — repeatedly. It’s hard for her to stop hugging, especially when it’s time to go. Kind of like the way my grandmother never wanted to let us go when it was time for us to depart after visiting her.
I wrote the conclusion of this piece before I wrote the bullet points above. The ending was supposed to be: “I’m okay with Isabelle being an ‘old soul.’ It might not be desirable, but it’s better than her acting like a teenager at the age of four.” But then I stepped away from this piece of writing for a few hours and thought about it. That’s when I realized Isabelle doesn’t necessarily have stereotypical “old lady” traits. She happens to do things that remind me of my grandmother, who lived until 92.5 years-old, in her final years. While Isabelle might be an old soul, writing this made me realize that perhaps she has these old soul traits as a way of helping me feel as though my grandmother is here with me every day. That notion is kind of a long-shot, but that’s what I’m concluding with today.
I have been reading a lot of fiction picture books in the past few weeks since I’m looking for the final title for which I’ll write lessons for in Craft Moves. I have this bizarre, self-imposed criteria not to write craft lessons for books where animals talk. It’s not because I don’t like those books, but I want to make sure teachers across K-5 grade levels will be able to use my lessons in their classes. I read very few talking animal books to my fourth and fifth graders so I hesitate to include them in Craft Moves. BUT, that doesn’t mean I can’t feature books with talking animals here, does it?
Paulette Bogan’s wonderful Virgil & Owen landed on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago. I instantly fell in love with this story about a penguin and a polar bear who have a rough start at becoming friends mostly due to Virgil’s poor attitude about making friends. As the mom of a preschooler, I could relate to the way the characters acted and how the story unfolded. So I did what any reasonable mom/literacy specialist/blogger does after reading a new picture book. I contacted the publisher and requested to interview the author/illustrator.
Paulette answered my questions and shared photos of her studio with me. I hope you’ll enjoy the peek into her process and her studio that’s filled with art supplies lots of penguins.
SAS: Do you think in words or pictures?
PG: I talk to myself all the time – in words. But in my mind I see pictures.
If I have an idea about a character’s personality, or the problem they need to solve but no clear picture in my head, then I do a million sketches till I come up with a character that fits. If I clearly “see” a character then I spend a lot of time walking around talking to myself working out who this character will be.
SAS: Tell me about your writing and artistic process. What would we see if we visited your studio?
PG: My stories will often start in a sketchbook, on a scrap of paper, or on my favorite – post-its! I love post-its.
Then I usually sit in my mother’s old rocking chair and write the story on a legal yellow pad. After many drafts, I will type it up on the computer, which always results in many more edits. As I’m writing, I automatically think in terms of 32 pages for a picture book.
Then I do thumbnail sketches on tracing paper with pencil, enlarge them and do full size sketches, also on tracing paper. Next they are scanned in and a dummy is formed on the computer. (I made them by hand in the old days…)
For the final art I use Winsor & Newton watercolors and Micron pens on Arches 140 LB. cold press watercolor paper.
If you visited my studio you would see a mess, lots of books, penguins everywhere, Patrick from Sponge Bob, Gumby, Crush, the turtle from Finding Nemo, coffee cups filled with colored pencils, paintbrushes, and glue sticks, pigs, and two dogs, Spikey and Mufasa, sleeping on the floor.
SAS: Who or what inspired Virgil & Owen?
PG: I was drawing penguins, polar bears, squirrels and hedgehogs, and fell in love with these two! I had no story, but definitely knew their personalities. Owen the polar bear is named after my nephew, and the name Virgil was chosen by my oldest daughter, Sophia. After many versions I settled on how they became friends. Two very different characters. Owen is quiet, and steady, and sweet. He likes to think things through, and take his time. Virgil can’t do things quickly enough, has a very hard time sitting still, and is NOT a ‘look before you leap’ kind of guy.
SAS: Why a penguin and a polar bear instead of kids?
PG: I do love drawing animals! But the truth is I never know what the character will be till it pops in my head or comes out in a sketch.
SAS: My daughter noticed Owen floating away from what looked like his family in the beginning of the book. What happened there? Will he ever be reunited with them?
PG: I like to think Owen just took a trip. Although he is a quiet kind of guy he has an independent streak in him. Who knows, maybe Virgil and Owen will take a trip up north one day?
SAS: What do you want children to take away from this story?
PG: Making friends and sharing them is really hard! Not everyone handles things the same way. We are all different and that’s okay. (Hmmm, sounds a little preachy… but I mean it!)
SAS: What was the hardest part of this book to get across to young readers? (That is, how did you manage to teach a lesson without sounding didactic.)
PG: I think that’s one of the hardest things about writing for children.
I talk out loud to myself and try to think about what a child would say instead of an adult. I think about my childhood and often draw from my own childrens’ experiences. Although my girls are all teenagers and older, they are very quick to point out when I’m being too preachy in my stories (AND in real life!)
SAS: What are you working on next?
PG: I just finished a new book called Bossy Flossy, for Henry Holt, coming out Spring 2016. Flossy is the bossiest kid around and doesn’t understand why no one will listen to her. Then she meets Edward, who may be just as bossy as her!
I am almost done with a new Virgil & Owen adventure for Bloomsbury Children’s Books, coming out Winter 2016. This time Virgil and Owen go to school. Owen likes to do things his way and of course Virgil doesn’t agree. They both learn how to be patient and compromise, two very hard things to do.
This giveaway is for a copy of Virgil & Owen . Many thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for donating a copy for one reader.
For a chance to win this copy of Virgil & Owen, please leave a comment about this post by Sunday, March 22nd at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tuesday, March 24th.
Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Bloomsbury will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of RAISING A LITERATE HUMAN – Virgil & Owen. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Comments are now closed (3/24). Congratulations to Terrie whose commenter number was selected. She’ll receive a copy of Virgil & Owen.
Last week, I taught Isabelle what the word flexible meant since my husband had to work late. She didn’t like the idea of showering before dinner, rather than after. I told her she needed to be flexible when daddy had to work late.
Today was another one of those days I had to ask Isabelle to be flexible. She was all set for a play date with her new friend Abigail. We baked gf brownies yesterday and she was excited to bring them over to Abigail’s house for a play date snack. And I was looking forward to the play date too since Abigail’s family just moved to our area from New York. After yesterday’s snow day, I was looking forward to some adult conversation.
My phone pinged during breakfast, but I ignored it. Afterward I found out, via Facebook Messenger, Abigail woke up with a stomach bug. She wasn’t going to school. In addition, her mom needed to reschedule the playdate. Isabelle was disappointed.
“Wha we gonna do today?” Isabelle asked.
I had no clue. There was only a half-day of school due to a faculty in-service. In addition, school was already delayed an hour because of yesterday’s snow. That barely left me with enough time to think of possibilities. After all, I was supposed to use the little time I was given this morning for some revision work.
“You and mommy will do something fun.”
“What?” she inquired.
“Let me think about it. Maybe we’ll go to Midtown Scholar or to Sky Zone.”
I felt guilty. But then, on my way upstairs to brush my teeth before I took Isabelle to school, I was checking Facebook and saw this on a friend’s wall:
Our children should know how to deal with difficulty. It is okay for them to feel chilly, hungry, or bored. We don’t have to race to satisfy their every request. Many of our efforts to protect our children from discomfort simply weaken them and do not prepare them to deal with greater discomforts in the future. (SOURCE: Unknown)
Reading that reminded me I am not a cruise director. Isabelle would be fine if she didn’t have another play date today. In fact, if our afternoon consisted of the two of us coming home and making a fort by the fireplace, like we did yesterday, then it would be fine. It would be okay for Isabelle to live with the disappointment of a canceled playdate. I didn’t have to swoop in and come up with big, new plans. Life would go on.
By the time I arrived at school, I found Jess, another parent, was also dealing with a change of plans. She and her son Kai had tickets to see “Schoolhouse Rock” in Lancaster. Most Lancaster schools were closed today due to the snow so the theater canceled the show since most of the ticket holders were school groups. Jess, too, was left without plans. So, we decided to do something together. After going through a bunch of options, we settled on lunch at Starbucks, followed by a walk through Plow & Hearth (which happens to be one of Isabelle’s favorite stores). Nothing big, fancy, or far away. Just two preschool kids having a meal together with their moms.
Isabelle and Kai ran around for a few minutes and then played nicely inside of Plow & Hearth. By the time 1:30 p.m. rolled around, the two of them were ready to go home for rest time. (Fortunately, Isabelle is even napping today!)
I hope Isabelle learned a few things today:
People get sick and plans change. We have to be adapt to what life hands us.
When one door closes, another door opens. (Trite, but true.)
You can make your own fun anywhere. (Just look at the photo below.)