One of Them

"So, Mohawks are a thing again?" Two in my class of twenty seems like enough that maybe they are a thing. They were during one of my previous incarnations as a student, way back, in the Time Forgotten, before cell phones and Starbucks and well, the internet. I've been back  many times since I was plopped out on the sidewalk with my B.F.A., blinking in the sunshine before wandering back into the nearest registrar's office where things were cool and dim and familiar. They don't tell you that. They don't tell you "You'll be back." But you will. Drawing, writing, art history, that ill-conceived foray into interior design. You'll be back.

I used to be able to blend. Thanks maybe to good genes, but probably mostly an avoidance of grown-up clothes with zippers and linings and darts, I never stood out as one of Them. You remember Them, those students who were always obviously so much older, who had no qualms about asking question after question after question, keeping the rest of the class from an early Friday night beer, who clearly had screwed up so utterly, so completely in their Real Lives. Why else would they voluntarily be back in a classroom with all of our fresh young faces?

It's hard to blend when you have to take off your reading glasses to see the board and put them back on to see your notes, when that glass of wine you had with dinner is making you wish you'd thrown Pepcid into your bag and you find yourself frowning in a most mom-like fashion at the trend of exposed bra-straps (on purpose! Who goes out like that?).

But I'm back, just for fun. School is fun now. There are cell phones and Starbucks and this thing called the internet (there's free wifi in the classroom, just sitting there! We're not supposed to be online, but one teeny tiny peek at Facebook never hurt anyone right?). I look around at all the lovely, fresh young faces, so full of angst and vampire stories and the great unknown, and I think, "yes, as it should be." I am one of Them. OneofThem

 

 

HoHoDooDa- December 21

One of the traditional holiday decor items of my childhood was a plastic candelabra with orange bulbs. Each window of our house got one and it was my sister 's and my job to run around turning them on at dusk and then off before bed. Every Christmas Eve, we were allowed to leave our candelabra on during the night. As a neurotic child prone to insomnia, I loved this. The warm orange glow in my room was the bonfire that kept back the scary creatures of the night that were for sure lurking just beyond its light, ready to spring. I'm a neurotic adult now, prone to insomnia, and have to keep my bedroom pitch black or sleep eludes me. But tonight, this winter solstice night, I will keep the tree lights burning, my own ancient bonfire holding back the darkness.

Please be sure to check out more HoHoDooDa with Marion Eldridge and Linda Silvestri.

Confessions of a Quitter

I have a secret. It is not one I share often, especially with young impressionable minds. Mine is a secret so shameful I can hardly speak the words, but I feel I must share it now, so that all that comes after will seem wondrous. As a young child, I was a...a... a QUITTER.

There. I've said it. Whew. That's right, I was a quitter. It started innocently enough. The year was 1976, and my elementary school was in a fervor of patriotic extra-curricular activities. I somehow found myself elected to the Bicentennial Club, an organization much like Student Council, but devoted to the reporting of aforementioned patriotic activities. I think I attended two, maybe three meetings. Even the requisite small notepad with spiral bound top, something that said, "I have important things to say, so sit down and shut up," could not hold my interest. My blowing off of that post was clearly forgotten a couple of years later when I was elected to the real Student Council. One meeting, tops. Church choir, quit. Clarinet, quit. Piano, well, I WANTED to quit, but by that point my parents were pretty sure they were raising a future deadbeat and so I was force-marched to lessons.

I blame the fact that every group, every organized activity interfered with recess. And if there was one favorite time of day for me, it was recess. I had no interest in athletic activities (had I ever actually begun such a thing I can assure you it would have ended with a major quit). Four square and dodge ball were the banes of my existence, but my friends and I whiled away hours and hours with on-going action-adventure sagas. With a nod to the Little House on the Prairie style of dramatic storytelling, it was one continuous blizzard/scarlet fever outbreak, blizzard/starvation or blizzard/mountain rescue for the better part of first through fourth grade. I had no time for plodding meetings. Besides, if one was late arriving at the recess rendezvous point, one got stuck in the role of the dog.

As a recent grown-up, I can no longer avoid group activities, but still find myself glancing at the clock as my rear-end goes numb and trying to remember why exactly I signed up for eight hundred million hours in a metal folding chair. I am still not a joiner, so it was with no small measure of trepidation that I committed myself to National Picture Book Writers Week or NaPiBoWriWee, begun three years ago by author Paula Yoo (www.paulayoo.com) as a way to help children's book writers of all levels achieve that most difficult of tasks: beginning. Participants are asked to write seven picture book manuscripts in seven days, and no, it is not that easy to write picture books. These are meant to be horrible, awful, embarrassingly crappy first drafts, not suitable for public consumption, but again, a beginning, words on a blank page, something to build on for the rest of the year. Like so many of my illustrator counterparts, I have many nebulous story ideas rolling around in my brain, several Word folders with quirky titles, a list of concepts for "someday." Could I actually keep my butt in a chair long enough to turn seven of them into stories or would I revert to my organized activity defense mechanism and quit?

Thanks to daily blog pep talks from Paula, and daily interviews with authors and illustrators and of course the lure of prizes at the end (names drawn from a hat, no actually reading of crappy drafts involved), I did it, and yes, I feel a real sense of accomplishment. I realized that even banging something out in the last hour or two of the day can count, can be something workable. Do I have seven stories with potential? No. Do I have two or three? Yes, absolutely. Am I wishing that I had stuck out Bicentennial Club? Nah.

The Pink Cupcake-A Mostly True Story

It is the kind of coffee shop you would expect to find in Portland or Seattle An old maintenance garage, adorned with mid-century modern fixtures and poured concrete floors, what urban hipsters everywhere imagine heaven's waiting room looks like, complete with heavily tattooed angels bearing espresso and vegan muffins. My friend and I meet here occasionally, mainly because if we squint  and talk loud, we can blur out the crush of harried moms and screaming toddlers and pretend we're breathing the rarefied culture-filled air of one of the aforementioned cities, instead of sipping lattes in semi-rural desert suburbia with plans to stop and check the Old Navy clearance rack on the way home. On this day, it was particularly busy. Maybe it was a school holiday. The place was packed and the line long. With plenty of time to choose a caffeine delivery method, we turned to the Plexiglas case of baked goods. The artfully arranged piles of treats looked ready for their Martha Stewart Living cover debut, but one stack of butter/sugar/flour outshone them all. Cupcakes, with thick swirls of pink frosting and a sparkling crust of coarse sugar glinted in the early morning sunshine. Oh, we wanted one, yes indeed, maybe two, maybe two and one for later. Next up to order, poised to plunk down whatever amount they were asking per cupcake, I froze mid-sentence as movement caught my eye. There, in the case, taking a leisurely stroll across one of the pink confections was the biggest house fly I had ever seen. Whether you are averse to the saliva a fly coughs up whenever it finds a food source, or just the fact that they land on everything--manure, road kill, public restroom toilet seats--most folks prefer to just say no to fly-pawed food. We were no exception. Closer inspection revealed that the case had no back, just a sneeze guard, and the restrooms were, in fact, right around the corner. The solemn vow was made right there on the spot to never eat anything from that case, EVER.

A few moments later, while we sat idly sipping our beverages in the Phoenix sunshine, we saw a young lady with a skip in her step and a pink cupcake shining in its plastic blister box. After a brief debate over the merits of telling her that the black specks were maybe not errant pepper, we decided ignorance was bliss and watched as she broke open her prize, crammed half in her mouth and drove away. We looked at each other, amused and slightly nauseated, and decided that somewhere in there was a truth, a life lesson if you will, only we couldn't settle on which. Sometimes life is a pink cupcake and sometimes it's fly poop? When life gives you a pink cupcake ask where it came from before biting? We never did agree on what to embroider on the pillow, but personally, I think it is always wise, when handed a giant sparkling over-the-top, pink cupcake, to have a good friend who will remind you to scrape the icing off. You still end up with cake.

Jacobsen at Jacobson

   

I almost forgot to put deodorant on before my school visit. If you doubt the seriousness of this near-miss of personal hygiene, you clearly have never referred to one of your drawings with  "and this is Number Two" to a classroom of third  graders, or sprayed the front of your pants with water from a recalcitrant bathroom faucet--twice--resulting in a snicker-inducing wet spot. Giant pit stains rest securely in the top ten of giggle-producing pandemonium at any elementary school, and rightly so.
Underarms coated twice, I arrived at Anna Marie Jacobson Elementary in Chandler for two presentations to fifth and sixth graders. My visit was part of the week-long Read Across America celebration, but I also had the good fortune of my day coinciding with the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Being greeted by Ms. Cartan  in a Cat in the Hat striped top hat with a black nose and whiskers artfully painted on her face can't help but put you at ease.
The two presentations went off without any embarrassments or technical hitches, and I was once again blown away and deeply impressed by the sea of bright minds before me. Their questions were thoughtful, their answers astute. The idea that we would short change these kids in any way, in the ways we already do, seems criminal and deeply saddening. Here in Arizona we seem to be fighting a losing battle. Certain politicians seem to think that the bare minimum is good enough. Well, it isn't. The kids at Jacobson elementary and everywhere deserve all we can give them, and I hope that in some small way my presentations said, "I believe in your potential. I will keep on fighting for you. I will not give up on you." I also hope it said "Making books is a fun and interesting job, and pit stains are not the end of the world."

Travelogue

Oh no.

No, no, no, this can't be happening.

No, no, no, no, nooooooooo it can't be, no...not...not...

THE MIDDLE SEAT!

Oh yes.

I can't believe this. I know I double, no, TRIPLE checked.  I always, always get a window, always. I would never, ever choose the MIDDLE! Wait, let's look again...28E. E. Row 28 D, E...F.

Kill me now.

You'd better believe I'm pulling that arm rest down mister, and it's MINE, you got the window, you lean on it. What? Why is she talking to me? Do I look like a chatterer? I'm in the middle seat lady, what do you think? Talk to that guy across the aisle, and keep that vermin-ridden blanket off my leg. I should have taken an extra Dramamine, and maybe a Benedryl. I am not going to be sufficiently comatose to survive four hours in the MIDDLE SEAT. Oh my God, what is that smell? Is someone, no really, he can't be, he IS. Who changes a baby diaper in an airplane seat?  Am I the only one who SMELLS THAT? I...I must be, she is seriously unwrapping a sandwich. Is she, oh no, ugh, is she  going to EAT while he does that?

I'm not trying to sleep to loudly for you, am I dude? How about you turn that Shuffle up one more notch, your ears aren't bleeding yet.

O.K. it must be almost over, right? Is that still the same movie? Oh no , it is. Aaaagggghhhh it's only been ten minutes. That's it, I have died and gone to MIDDLE SEAT purgatory. I'm pretty sure my foot has swollen to three times it's normal size and I think my spine is telescoping. My neck pillow is overstuffed.  It's perfect to lean against the window with, but I feel like I'm at the dentist in the MIDDLE SEAT.

No, no that was great, hey you tried to cover that sneeze. The fact that it came shooting out the sides of your cupped hand and hit my cheek is really not your fault. Just a few peanut crumbs, no biggie. Please, please, please  put your shoes back on.

Is it over? Oh yes, solid ground. We're here. Just a few more minutes. O.K. then... alright...O.K...PARK THE FREAKIN' PLANE ALREADY!

Anytime you want to start moving lady. You've got, you know, all that stuff, your giant purse, that pink Harley Davidson suitcase, that half eaten sandwich... I mean, it would help me out if you could get going. I did keep my mouth shut when you kept talking on your cell phone after the flight attendant had said it should be turned off and stowed, soooo...

Sorry, didn't mean to smack you in the face with my bag, and almost knock you unconscious as I charged up the aisle, but  I've been in the MIDDLE SEAT for four hours. You understand.

Going Global

Forgive me readers, it has been two months since my last post.  My work load has picked up considerably, and by considerably I mean I finally have some after the economic meltdown of last year that left most of us scrounging in the couch cushions for grocery money, if one was lucky to still have a couch and hadn"t traded it for toilet paper or a shot at being first in line for the grocery bagging job.

In between juggling assignments, updating my Facebook status and expressing my deep disgust, both verbally and through the written word, of the final Lost episode, time has flown by.

This is typical for life here in the trenches.  Projects never come nicely spaced, and if they do the space is soon eliminated by some crisis of biblical magnitude, anything from an editor going on vacation and "forgetting" to send you the revisions, to the washing machine deciding that draining the dirty water is too much trouble and it will wait for you to do it with a length of tubing and some lung power.

No matter how carefully one plans and schemes and pores over the calendar, it will never be a leisurely pace to the finish. Never. No, no, trust me, NE-VER. Remember those frantic college all-nighters? That is your life on freelancing, and unless you consider that grocery bagging job fun (it"s not) you will be thankful for it. Your social life will consist solely of the aforementioned Facebook updates, which is good considering personal hygiene also takes a back seat when deadlines loom. I like to alternate between Facebook and checking my website stats. For us regular Janes, even those of us who rocketed well past the planet of the horribly jaded in middle school, there is always the faintest glimmer of hope--maybe I"m about to be discovered (by whom and for what remains a bit nebulous). Maybe that hit from Moosebutt, Alaska is an editor on vacation. Perhaps right now, he is being wowed by the depth and skill of my work. Maybe he is picking up the phone RIGHT NOW. Maybe...huh? What? Oh right, right...where was I? You know on some level that it"s more likely your mom"s hairdresser"s cousin who just happens to be writing a children"s book and will soon be contacting you about some pro bono work, but still...checking one more time can"t hurt, can it?

The thing about stats that is the most fun for me is seeing all the different hits from countries other than the U.S. I usually get a nice handful each week from all over the globe, but recently noticed a deluge of hits from China, dozens! A little worried that I was suddenly on a watch list somewhere,  I clicked on the referring link and found myself on a Chinese website, which roughly translated by Google (and I mean VERY roughly, as in surely there"s a verb in this sentence) turned out to be a site where people in China post illustration websites they"ve found and like. How cool is that! Me! Big in China! O.K. fine, maybe "big" is overstating it, but it gives me a little thrill anyway. We illustrators tend to lead a very isolated existence, shuffling to the mailbox in our slippers at four in the afternoon pretty much sums up most days" outings, and to think that somewhere, on the other side of the world, another human being and I crossed paths in a way that could never, ever have happened before, well, that"s pretty darn cool. I spend a few minutes wondering about those folks, the ones who liked my website. What did they have for dinner? Where do they like to go for fun? What does their house look like? Where did they get that rug on the floor? And for a minute I feel a little more connected to my fellow human beings on this incredibly small planet.

Then it"s back to work.

Festing

"Come with me."
"No."
"Pleeeaaaaassseee?"
"No."
"I'll make eggplant Parmesan just for you."
"No. I am not going to drive all the way to Tucson just to sit around while you do your thing at some conference."
"Oh, but it's not a conference, it's a FESTIVAL!" I zoomed in for the kill. "There'll be funnel cake!"
Two hours later long-suffering hubby and I arrived at the Tucson Festival of Books on the campus of the University of Arizona. To say it is a large event is an understatement. Don't believe me? http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org
I did have "my thing" to do, but in between carrying stuff, holding stuff and guarding stuff while I waited in line for various restrooms, hubby was more than able to entertain himself among the booths, bookstore tents, and of course the food court. I presented with the author of my two books on Muslim holidays, Asma Mobin-Uddin, signed some books, and gave a drawing workshop for kids. The workshop's four o'clock time slot had me sure I would be taking a well deserved nap instead, but surprisingly I had a nice turnout of future authors and illustrators. Asma and I had to compete in our time-slot with some dude named Mark Teague, of whom I'm VAGUELY aware, so attendance was not standing room only. There is no accounting for taste. This was the first time Asma and I had met in person, something which seems to boggle everyone except writers and illustrators. Usually, an editor or art director umbrella is needed to protect each from the poo storm that is unleashed when one dares to comment or criticize the other's writing or art. Fortunately, Asma and I realized we could probably have handled it. Mostly.
" Please, please, everyone, no pushing, single file! There's enough autographs to go around!"
How cool is this? Huh? Huh? That's right-my books! In a STORE! Animal Mischief was there too! Piles of them! I had to sit down.
One of the highlights of the day was spotting the various book characters, obviously student volunteers in large, foam suits of dubious cleanliness. We saw a rather pasty Junie B., a slightly linty Hungry Caterpillar, a Wild Thing that almost got stuck in the doorway (and me without my video camera) as well as several fast food characters.
"Can you believe that," I voiced my outrage to hubby over the crass commercialization aimed at kids while I slurped down my third McFrappilicious as the Hamburglar and Grimace waddled by. I turned just in time to see hubby sprinting after them.

Wuv

“Wuvvv…Twue wuvvv…”
(If you have never seen The Princess Bride, you may leave now, head hung in shame.) It’s February, and time for the holiday that can cause even the most successful, well adjusted adult to flash back to middle school and a locker devoid of shiny foil and lace hearts from admirers. Oh, you pretended not to care, concentrating hard on removing lunch from your braces with your tongue, a skill that would in fact make you quite popular at a later date, but at the end of the day you went home certain your unlovable self would wander this dark earth alone for the rest of your pathetic, loser days.
What a relief to grow up and discover that, contrary to what People magazine would have you believe, human beings aren’t all that particular when it comes to mating.
Even steaming stew pots of crazy can find lids.
Being the companion, or “lid” in you will, of an artist takes a special fortitude. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part we are needy, whiny, and insecure. Add in an iffy list of employable skills and really most people should turn and run. On the off chance that these things do not deter you, that you find curiosity, creativity and the occasional odd piercing intriguing, allow me to pass along some tips for coexisting peacefully with the object, or “pot” if you will, of your affection.
1. We will frequently ask your opinion on the piece we’re working on, but your opinion will mean less to us than the treadmill repairman’s. Do not take this personally.
2. Pointing to a small insignificant element that took us thirty seconds to bang out and calling it “your favorite part” will cause a protracted period of sulking. Do not take this personally.
3. When faced with changes to our work or rejection in any form, your full participation is expected in the subsequent vilification of the perpetrator. You will take this very, very personally.
4. You should be kind, unfailingly encouraging and our biggest fan. And always, expect the same in return.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy New...hey, NCIS is on!

So December has come and gone without a single blog post from yours truly. It is difficult to work up enthusiasm for sitting in a hard chair in front of a mocking, blank computer screen when there are four pounds of fudge and a wheel of brie calling your name in the fridge. Triple crème brie. You see what I’m saying.

Now that the New Year has managed to rudely intrude on my butter-cookie-induced stupor, my mind turns once again to an annual tradition--the great New Year’s self-improvement list. On it I will banish my bad habits, recommit to my art, and no longer choose a re-run of NCIS over practicing my craft. The fact that this list is usually written on a Post-It that disappears during the great New Year’s studio clean is beside the point. This time I am etching it in the stone that is the World Wide Web, because putting things online you don’t want coming back to bite you in the rear is always a good idea.
1. I will make more art, instead of just thinking about making more art.
2. I will stop buying all the books about and supplies for mosaics/murals/ quilts/bread baking and instead actually use them to make art. 3. The whole NCIS thing, you know, instead of the art. 4. I will stop trimming my bangs/cuticles/the shrubs instead of doing art.
5. I will eat more yogurt. Actually, I’ll start eating yogurt…while doing art.
6. I will lose five pounds by not checking the fridge instead of doing art.
7. I will stop playing the passive aggressive “who can hold out the longest not replacing the empty Kleenex box” game with my husband instead of doing art.
8. I will write stories about weird kids like the one I once was and really still am. And I will actually send them out to publishers. With some art.
9. I will figure out what all the shortcut keys on my computer keyboard actually do, write them down and use them while making art. 10. I will try, now and then, to cut myself the same slack I try to give others, and be able to quote chapter and verse of all my artistic accomplishments instead of just my failures.
May 2010 bring us all a little peace, joy, happiness, fresh boxes of Kleenex and lots more art.

A Pocket Full of Purell

SARS, then bird flu, and now the first global pandemic in decades, H1N1. Finally, FINALLY, the germa-phobes of the world are cool. No longer do we need hide behind the turtlenecks we’ve pulled up over our noses, trying our best not to breathe in that giant mucous droplet-filled sneeze you just unleashed. When we glare in disgust at your uncovered, tubercular hack while waiting in line at the airport ticket counter, fervently praying to the gods that you will not be our seatmate for the next five hours, and that you will, in fact, be barred from boarding altogether and possibly walled into your own house, we are not alone. Everyday folks, people who will voluntarily eat from those unattended sample trays at the grocery store, heedless of the two snotty kids who just pawed through them, even they join us in our censorship now. Those of us too long relegated to the “weirdo” category simply because we can SEE the thick, writhing layer of viruses and bacteria that coat each and every object and person we come in contact with during the course of a day, can now squirt our Purell proudly. As a kid I had several bouts with strep throat, all before entering the third grade. The pediatrician, who would prescribe the orange flavored antibiotic liquid for the whole family as a preventative, and thus took his place among the fathers of drug resistant flesh eating bacteria, told my mother that I probably had picked it up from the drinking fountains at school. As a result, I successfully navigated my entire school career, and yes that includes college, without ever ONCE touching a drinking fountain. I consider it quite the accomplishment. Like most of the health conscious (we prefer this term to germ-phobic or nutter) I have several at-home, College of Google, degrees: medicine, biology, and of course epidemiology. That scratchy throat and runny nose you had three weeks ago? Your co-worker used your telephone, blatantly disregarding the tub of Clorox wipes prominently displayed on your desk. That intestinal distress you experienced two months ago? The barista at Starbucks pressed the lid on your triple chai soy latte with her fresh from the lavatory, yet unwashed fingers right over the mouth hole. The flu you were down for the count with for two whole weeks last winter? The unvaccinated waiter sneezed on the entire bin of mini-muffins before stocking your salad bar at T.G.I.McCrappy’s.

Finally, the word is out: disease is not due to going out in the cold without a hat, those mean thoughts you had about your grandmother or a misalignment of your chakras—it is germs, people. GERMS. Wash those hands, cover those coughs and don’t touch any of my stuff. We germaphobes are standing proud, not holding hands or anything because who knows where theirs have been, but standing together, as one.

 

Still Awake

I broke down and took a Benadryl last night, after a brief back and forth with hubby about whether two nights in a row made me an addict. I felt better after he pointed out that I was taking the age twelve and under recommended dosage. Lying awake long after every other creature is snoring annoyingly is nothing new; neither is waking at three a.m. to jab a sharp stick into the overgrown shrubbery of my psyche until the sun rises. I have been a master worrier since grade school, and bedtime has always been when I really hone my craft. My mom, in an attempt to reassure her bafflingly neurotic kid, would try to offer words of comfort. "Ninety-nine percent of the things we worry about never happen." Aaaaaaaaggggghhhh!" I was no fool! That left a full ONE PERCENT of horrible, awful things that could and in all likelihood WOULD befall me at any moment. This was the early seventies, before anyone knew what anxiety disorders and serotonin re-uptake inhibitors were. All you could do was go to the pediatrician and look on helplessly as he wrote "hypochondriac" in your kid's file and eyed you and your parenting skills suspiciously. At some point I glommed onto the idea that not sleeping put me at risk for untold horrors, no doubt disfiguring and probably deadly. I am sure it was an innocuous statement along the lines of, "go to bed, you need your rest," but it was enough to send me into a panic if I was not in dreamland within .5 seconds of my head touching the pillow. Apparently unable to grasp the concept that staying in bed might be helpful, I would creep from room to room, trying not to look at the glowing digital clock on my dad's desk and confirm the fact that yes, I WAS NOT SLEEPING. I knew how to avoid every creaky floorboard and probably succeeded in giving both of my parents a royal case of the heebies each time I would materialize in the hallway next to the t.v. room during the Rockford Files. "Laura...go back to bed," my dad would order without even looking, alerted to my spectral presence by the hairs standing up on the back of his neck. Fortunately, not every sleepless night led to haunting the prime time line-up. I have many memories of reading books by the nightlight in the hall. During the summer, I could sometimes be found, had anyone actually been AWAKE besides me, kneeling in front of a window, forehead pressed against the screen watching fireflies in the lawn below, the humid breeze cooling my face. While I will be the first in line to smack the smug off of the person who coined the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" platitude, I don't think I would trade any of those nights for the sweet coma of NyQuil on an empty stomach. I wish I could say that I eventually outgrew that nightly routine, that the guided relaxation exercises, the ocean's relaxing surf tapes, the medicine cabinet of sleep aids finally quieted the clamor of past mistakes made and future disasters awaiting. Hubby wishes I could say it too, instead of sighing loudly and fluffing my pillow furiously and often, disturbing his irritatingly deep and restful sleep. Three a.m. still comes for me, like it does for pretty much everyone I know at this point in life, and while I am much more likely to plot entire novels, and promptly forget them come morning, or plan my weekly schedule down to what I will have for a snack on Wednesday, I still occasionally get up and wander into the backyard, stretch out on a lounge chair under the full moon and try very hard to appreciate being awake.

Finders Keepers

I live in semi-rural suburbia, and as a member of the Artsy-Fartsy tribe, I am something of an anomaly because I love the 'burbs. Occasionally, I pine for an art store that sells something other than scrapbooking kits, but that's why they invented the Internet and overnight shipping. I'll take the deep quiet of a dark night and easy access to Super Target and all things caffeinated.

Most suburbs where I live are constructed around "green belts" (which for those not in real estate means "storm sewer"), vast swaths of a weed charitably called "grass" that fill up with water when the winter rains arrive. Not only are these places great for the dogs' daily constitutional, they are a gold mine for childhood ephemera. I have logged hundreds of miles channeling my furry kids' ADD and along the way have amassed quite a collection of items from what I consider public domain. Don't get me wrong, I am not snatching pacifiers from the mouths of babes, but if I find a Hot Wheels car or a Nerf ball hidden in the grass on my sojourn, well, finders, keepers. Occasionally, there is a major score, like the Buzz Lightyear kiddie meal prize I found on the horse trail behind my house, the fake rock complete with plastic seaweed in the middle of the street, and the prize of my collection, a pink flip-flop as big as my hand (an early indoctrination into princesses and glitter) from the gutter down by the Walgreen's on the corner. And no, it's not for sale.
As my "learning Painter" saga continues, I have been painting pieces from my collection. This one is entitled "Get That Out of the Driveway." The series also includes "Where is Your Other Shoe," and "If You Lose That, I'm Not Buying You Another One."

Cooking Nekkid

The monsoon is back in Arizona.
While it typically means a nasty rise in humidity, which coupled with a hundred degrees plus will cause even the most prudish resident to consider the nudist lifestyle, it is still my favorite time of year. The desert is a harsh environment; something easy to forget for those of us fortunate to have comforts like air conditioning and ice cream sandwiches, but the monsoon makes us sit up and pay attention--immense clouds, thousands of lightning strikes and sudden flooding rains. Plus, every year, despite numerous public service announcements warning against it, some nitwit tries to cross a flooded wash and ends up being rescued off the roof of a car he apparently confused with a pontoon boat. The hours of local news coverage and smug snickering by reporters and viewers alike ensures the guilty party will be forced to relocate under an assumed name.
You can’t buy entertainment like that.
I have been working on writing some children’s book manuscripts, including one about the monsoon here in AZ. Like most illustrators, I have a drawer full of half-baked ideas in various stages of development. I’ve gotten some positive feedback over the years, but was always busy with illustration work. So the stories were put on the back burner, along with the print making, mosaic making, quilting, oil painting, batiking, gourmet cooking, a degree in neuroscience, and losing five pounds. Enter economic downturn, and I find myself with time to revisit and perhaps fully cook to golden crispy perfection some of these ideas. So, when I’m not out snapping photos of the monsoon, I will be writing, and pointing and laughing at the latest doofus to be rescued off his car.

Just Point and Shoot Me

I’ve been out of the loop for a bit, suffering the medieval horror of slow Internet service. Not completely lacking it, but realizing that I do have a price and it is a high speed cable modem. I took a little trip to Colorado, which was beautiful and inspiring and relaxing, all of which was wiped away courtesy of United Airlines Express, a broken plane, a hail storm and eight hours in the Aspen airport. Aspen may be the playground of the rich and famous, but they don’t stop at the airport. Their private jets glide right on by us regular folk, who wait in vain for the one turbo prop plane that still has all its parts, without even a stick of gum to amuse us-that’s right, small, barely pressurized airplanes and the Aspen airport is GUM-FREE.

Upon landing in Denver, I promptly abandoned my seventy-one year old father in the six mile long United “help” line, and high-tailed it to the last plane out for Phoenix. United put my Dad up for the night and gave him breakfast; he was fine, made it home the next day in one piece, WITH his luggage—stop judging me!
I took a lot of pictures on my trip. Breathtaking scenery, quirky small-town details, the occasional slumming celebrity “keeping it real” in the ex-mining towns where I was staying, and I have to say, upon reviewing them, I am an AWFUL photographer. You would think an illustrator would be able to take a reasonably well-composed photo, that light and shadow would be dynamic, that the focal point would be clear. Sadly, for me it is not the case, even with the “couldn't be more simple” point and shoot digital camera I was using. Perhaps it was growing up in the age of the Kodak 110, maybe it was all those years I used a Polaroid to shoot reference photos of hubby posing as whichever character I was illustrating (elderly Asian woman, eight year old child, middle-aged man with rake), not really caring how the photo turned out since I would be changing all but the basic pose in my art. Maybe it is never actually reading the instruction manual that came with the camera. In any case, I have vowed to do better. I will pay more attention and take better photos both for pleasure and for reference. I will put costumes on my models and light them from a single source. I will not just point and shoot without so much as a glance at the viewfinder. And finally, let me just say, thank the gods for Photoshop.

Warm Feelings or Hold the Laxatives

I just received an e-mail from my publisher. It was from the reviews department. They send the authors and illustrators copies of all reviews published about their books. This is something of a double edged sword. One knows that opening such e-mails will result in either warm feelings of appreciation or kicked in the stomach nausea and prompt construction of a reviewer voodoo doll, complete with teeny, tiny laxative pills. One must always brace oneself before clicking "open".

The news was good. In fact, the news was wonderful. A Party in Ramadan, by Asma Mobin-Uddin and illustrated by yours truly, had won a Parent"s Choice Award. This gives me that wonderful warm feeling AND renewed hope that kids of all cultures and backgrounds will see their stories told, see those stories shared, and see that it is good. Very, very good.

You Have Arrived

I am a late bloomer. Warmly cocooned in a thick later of healthy snacks and educational television, I spent most of childhood and adolescence blissfully unaware of trends, fads and really any cultural references whatsoever. My husband dies a little bit each time one of his references to seventies Saturday morning cartoon shows goes over my head.
I catch on, but usually only after the bus has pulled away from the curb, and I"m left trailing gym shorts and a decidely uncool Disney lunchbox as I run waving and yelling after it. So here I am, jogging along, trying to catch up to my compatriots with their Cintiques and their animation. My first piece done with Painter, You Have Arrived, is finally finished. All done with a single brush, the Pastel Pencil 3 (I don"t know what the 3 stands for), and upon completion I promptly deleted the color set I was using (I have no idea how, but suspect it involved hitting the delete key) and so must now start from scratch on the next one. I am happy with how it turned out; it feels like my style, but also new. I am excited about the possibilites and this tough, stalky plant may be blooming a bit at last.

"Try Rebooting" : Adventures in Learning Painter

I’m trying to learn Painter. I love my traditional media, watercolor and pastels, but some disturbing “side effects” have become bothersome, mainly the scratchy throat and rainbow snot, or “Muppet Lung” that days of inhaling the dust produce. I’ve tried masks, but they always go the way of turtlenecks and my nighttime mouth guard (“I’m choking! I’m gagging! Aaccckkk!”), and the offending article hits the wall on the other side of the room. So here I sit in front of the computer.
To understand the enormity of this undertaking, you have to realize that I haven’t yet mastered printing an envelope from Word. I have a love/hate relationship with my computer. E-mail? Complete adoration. Google? Deep, deep affection. Mayo Clinic symptom checker, how did I survive to adulthood without you? Large program requiring, at the very least, a reading of an Oxford English Dictionary-sized manual, and multiple online tutorials, which start to feel uncomfortably like school, and not fun art class school, but “Laura needs to pay attention and stop chatting in the coat racks” school, and well, whoa, this is going a little fast. Let’s just be friends. Lucky for me, I have a live-in IT guy who I rely on to troubleshoot, tutor and frankly, do my homework for me. A typical session usually goes as follows:
Interior: Laura sits in front of her computer, staring blankly at the screen. She moves the mouse, clicks tentatively, clicks again, and clicks again furiously.
“No, no, no! Wait, AAAGGGHHHH, wait! Why are you doing that? AAGGGHHHH!! Crrrrraaaiiiigggg!”
Beleaguered husband enters, stands behind chair.
“What are you doing? Wait, why are you clicking that? Stop clicking. No. STOP CLICKING! O.K. move.” Hubby sits down to untangle mess that is Word envelope tool. Laura exits stage left for another cup of coffee.
Unfortunately, hubby has gotten wise to me, and the day I pulled my new Wacom from the box, made it clear I was on my own. He refuses to become familiar with Painter much in the same way I refuse to learn how to light the grill—do it once and suddenly you’re cooking every night. So here I sit. I know how I want it to look. I am just going to have to work hard (sigh) and practice (groan). I think I need another cup of coffee.

“Craig have you seen the manual?”

Hostess with the Mostess or The Lewins are NOT Jehovah’s Witnesses

No one will ever confuse me with Martha Stewart. I don’t understand people who make their own soap when there are Targets, and organizing my closet means shutting the door. I have two dogs whose missions in life are to shed as much hair as possible and slobber on anything not covered by an old bath towel. If the house doesn’t smell like a disreputable pet store, I’m happy. Unfortunately, this attitude can clash with a favorite social activity, the dinner party. Given my blasé approach to housecleaning, such occasions require several days of intensive preparation. I’m O.K. with hubby lint rolling dog hair tumbleweeds off his clothes after five minutes on the couch, but I prefer maintaining the House Beautiful illusion for guests. This is especially important if the guests aren’t the typical assortment of artistic neurotics usually found drinking my Three Buck Chuck, but are guests I want to impress, guests more along the lines of Ted and Betsy Lewin, Caldecott award winners.
Mary Wong, a librarian and children’s art collector, asked if I’d escort the Lewins to one of their school visits and have them over for dinner while they were in town. Mary knows everyone in the biz and frequently throws dinner parties involving multiple courses for visiting authors and illustrators at her dog-free, and thus immaculate, house. Mary sets the bar high, and Thursday, my day with the Lewins, was fast approaching.
Tuesday evening, I surveyed the scene. I needed to run the vacuum, but decided to wait so that the dogs would have the minimum amount of time to strew hair and assorted vegetation from the yard all over the house. The floor resembled a stuffed toy killing field, with the recently purchased three pack of migratory birds plucked and disemboweled across the living room. I had begun setting the table, spending a long time first locating the cloth napkins that only saw the light of day on major holidays, and then deciding whether the odd marks on them were stains or part of the pattern.
I had worked out that afternoon, and figured that was more than enough license to make the chocolate hazelnut brownies I was planning for desert on Thursday, and employ my tried and true baking technique of two thirds batter in the pan, one third in me. I debated over tackling the three week pile of ironing over the back of the dining room chair, or giving my full attention to Wheel of Fortune. The ironing had just won out when the door bell rang.
“Six-thirty on a Tuesday, who the…aarrgghh, I bet its Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are always bugging us, ringing the doorbell…” I usually try to be polite to the peddlers of salvation that show up on my front porch, I mean it can’t hurt, covering one’s proverbial butt, but tonight I was sweaty, covered in dog hair and most likely sporting a chocolate mustache, the elastic in my workout duds was threatening to give way at any moment, and I still had fifteen Post- It notes worth of preparations to do. I was in NO MOOD to smile and pretend I could ever conceivably join a religion that didn’t celebrate birthdays.
“Could you answer that?” I asked hubby, who was wrestling the little dog, shearing off the three months worth of coat that had turned an English Cocker into something resembling a dust mop with eyes. Hubby looked at me and then down at the giant clumps of hair that covered him from crotch to neck like a Sasquatch with mange, and that pretty much gave me my answer.
I stalked off, scraping my stringy hair back with a headband that doubled as a dog chew and flung the front door open, ready to send some unsuspecting Witnesses scurrying back down my driveway.
Except it wasn’t the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It wasn’t the Mormons. It wasn’t even some kid selling magazine subscriptions in a valiant effort to keep himself off drugs. No, it was Mary Wong. And the Lewins.
For a split second I thought maybe it was Thursday. Oh my god it’s Thursday. I forgot. I forgot to take them to their school visit! They’re here to yell at me, tell me what a bad, bad person I am, how I ruined their trip…no, no wait, it’s not Thursday. It’s Tuesday. It’s Tuesday.
“It’s Tuesday,” I proclaimed to Mary. “Tuesday!”
“Yes,” she said, “dinner was Tuesday.”
“Thursday,” I sputtered, “dinner, Thursday,” my growing embarrassment rendering me incapable of complete sentences.
“No, dinner was on Tuesday, the school visit is Thursday,” Mary said again, no doubt wondering how she had managed to miss my obvious below average intelligence up until this point.
For another brief moment I contemplated faking it. Oh, of course it’s today, hahaha, got ya! But considering I was not wearing a bra and had my thick black glasses on, which when I’m dressed up look chic, but paired with a sweat-stained tank top and saggy shorts make me look like a Florida retiree circa 1957, I decided to just surrender and admit I had flaked.
I broke the land speed record for changing into something more presentable while hubby whisked the ironing and dog clippings into dark corners and managed to go from Phoenix Suns gorilla lookalike to mild-mannered English professor faster than the Sauvignon Blanc could be uncorked. I threw together a pasta puttanesca, some garlic bread and salad and was grateful for the chocolate monkey on my back that had prodded me to bake the brownies. The Lewins and Mary graciously overlooked the dog hair tumbleweeds, the drool stains on the old blanket that covers the “good”, equally stained couch, and laughed and ate and drank and told stories on the patio under the star-filled Arizona sky. It was a perfect evening.