Tuesday, December 30, 2008


2008 is almost over! The number 8 in Chinese culture is lucky, so 2008 was supposed to be a lucky year. Looking back, it was rather a good year for me. I fulfilled some dreams--like walking on the Great Wall of China and visiting Taiwan with my parents. I also finished my novel which definitely took some luck.

The number 9 is synonymous with longevity in Chinese culture (hope that bodes well for the longevity WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON!), so 2009 is a year to think of long term ambitions. Here are 9 of my personal goals for the year (some are a little less aspiring than others):

1. Write a new good novel. Make books without any excuses-- work that I know that I have done to the best of my ability so that it doesn't matter what anyone says.

2. Grow my hair at least 3 more inches so I can donate it. This is actually kind of hard, because my hair is driving me a little crazy. I haven't had it this long for a while.)

3. Charity. Robert's Snow is a project that I am proud of but, not only is it too much responsibility for me to take on again, it is also a project of the past that, for now, I want to leave in the past. But I feel strongly about my art and charitable giving...so I'm working on a new project that will be revealed in the new year. Stay tuned!

4. Make dumplings. This is something I haven't done since I was a child with my mother. If I remember correctly, they were far superior than store-bought ones. I think this is a good year to find out if that is true.

5. Participate. I read a fair amount of blogs and lists but I never comment. I rarely even respond to comments on my own blog. I guess I am still in a weird-shy-lurking phase...that I will get over this year.

6. Do every school visit to the best of my ability. I've booked quite a few visits this spring, and I am SO grateful and honored that schools have requested me. The only problem is that sometimes my introverted nature takes over and students, schools, librarians and teachers begin to blur. I am going to make a special effort to check myself this year.

7. Learn how to make a frosting flower. I really want to get some impressive cake decorating skills down!

8. Embrace marketing, but know my limits. In this current climate, I need to give my books all the help they can get. I don't want to be QVC salesperson, but I'd like to get as many people who might be interested in my new book know about it.

9. Be thankful. No matter what this year brings, I know there will always be something to be grateful for. With thankfulness, nothing is ever that bad and the best things are even better. And that is something I hope stays with me for a long, long time.

Art to do list for 2009

This year instead of focusing on personal resolutions, I decided to make a list of all the art projects I've been meaning to do, but always put aside so I can focus on writing and painting books. What I'm realizing is that if I don't do those other projects, my writing and illustration will suffer, I need to dabble more to feed my inspiration! So here are some of my artistic goals for 2009. I may not get to all of them, but I like the idea of starting a list so that I can do them, eventually.

- Start a series of pet portraits (along the lines of this painting I did for a friend's wedding).

- I'd like to do some little paintings on miniature square canvases of trees and flowers in interesting color palettes.

- I'd like to do more sewing. Its something I grew up doing quite a bit, but again always something that gets pushed to the bottom of my creative list. In particular I'd like to sew little animals like these, and maybe some table runners with matching cloth napkins.

- I'd like to learn an animation program, and animate some of my drawings. I've had an idea about flying cats thats been flapping its wings in the back of my brain for a long time!

- I'd like to do more drawing from life.

What are your artistic goals for 2009?

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Third Day of Christmas

This wasn't really the first day of Christmas, but it's the day it started to feel like Christmas. On the day before Christmas Eve, Adam and I walked into town to choose a Christmas ornament for his best friend, a tradition started by their parents when they were babies. Then we had hot chocolate at the icecream shop over the drawbridge, and he asked for "Abraham stories."

I was a little puzzled so he prompted me: Lincoln's sons and the naughty things they did. I told some. Then we just chatted and I asked if he'd ever been to the Christmas pageant with live sheep a church here has. He didn't know what a Christmas pageant was.
"They act out Mary and Joseph in the stable -- the shepherds come (with their sheep), and The Three Kings --"
"I don't know who any of these people are," Adam said.
So I started to tell THAT.
"Is this a true story?"
"Well, lots of people believe it. Millions, in fact."
"I don't."

Of course, I don't think religion should be taught in the schools; but I think kids are missing something if they don't ever even hear these stories. My parents, who were not religious, didn't tell them, either -- but I learned them somehow, maybe from reading, maybe at my English boarding school; and having them in my head (even though I've never been able to believe in them either) has given me something that it's hard to put into words. Could schools here teach them AS stories -- not just the star and Jesus, but all the instruments in the world playing when the Buddha was born and other stories like that, one from each major religion or continent, maybe?

The day of Christmas was with my mother and one of my sisters; one of the things we did was look at old photographs. Here is my mother as a little girl:

and this one of her in college:

It was from a newspaper, and the caption said: "Co-ed Sally Rumble finds it easy to sell homecoming ribbons to..." My sister and I were both quite amazed at this view of our mother!

And now it's the third day of Christmas, and I plan to celebrate by writing -- or rather, rewriting: finishing a novel so that on Epiphany it can go out into the world for real. Writing it, finishing it, does feel like a celebration because for the next ten days I can write without interruptions -- and when it is done, I can start something new.

I plan to celebrate each day of Christmas, and part of that celebration will be to light candles and look at my decorations -- I bought the garland, but picked the berries myself.

There are 3 children's-book-related ornaments: a snowflake from Grace,

and the orange fish and little bell are from a store where Pamela Zagarenski is the main buyer. This is where Adam got HIS ornaments and he chose an orange fish like mine, only with more glitter.

POETRY FRIDAY: Snow by Naomi Shihab Nye

In the last two weeks, we have had our share of ice and snowstorms here in the Northeast. We definitely had a white Christmas this year in Massachusetts. I went looking for a poem about winter or snow to post this Friday and found the following poem entitled Snow, which was written by Naomi Shihab Nye. It blew me away...like a blizzardy blast of frigid air. Nye is one of my favorite poets. I wish I could do what she does with words and meaning and metaphor.

From Snow
By Naomi Shihab Nye

Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that.
Someone was crying hard at home again,
raging blizzard of sobs.

I dragged the sled by its rope,
which we normally did not do
when snow was coming down so hard,
pulling my brother whom I called by our secret name
as if we could be other people under the skin.
The snow bit into my face, prickling the rim
of the head where the hair starts coming out.
And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. People would dig their cars out like potatoes.

You can read the rest of the poem here


At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original rhyming acrostic poem entitled Chameleon.

Tricia has the Poetry Friday Roundup at the Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jack & Rudy at Christmastime

My daughter Sara is not living with me and my husband any longer. She now lives about an hour drive from our house. We miss seeing her every day. We do talk on the telephone often--and she keeps us updated with what's happening in her life by emailing photos. She and her boyfriend got a yellow lab named Jack several months ago. Jack is definitely always getting into mischief! But he's soooo funny and soooo cute.

Just a few days ago, Sara and Jerry got an adorable kitten they named Rudy. Jack loves Rudy, pushes him around on the floor with his nose, and likes to lick his belly.

Here is my holiday post of Sara and her pets at Christmastime!

Posted by Elaine


Alvina's family is all nice and normal, and this is mine...

I mentioned that my friend Julia secretly knows how to do Irish dancing... so then in usual McCarthy fashion, there was a competition to see who could do it better. Um. Yeah. How about no one?


Happy Holidays from the Ling Family!

Here's an animoto video I made for my family for Christmas. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Cookies

I have been having a bit of a cookie addiction this season. As I mentioned earlier, in my crafty Christmas post, I began this year's holiday baking with Martha's honey gingerbread recipe, which while enjoyable did not have the "zing" I love. So instead of waiting until next year, I began experimenting with spicy gingerbread recipes. There was a lot of experimenting...and a lot of eating.

I tried many ways to wean myself off of eating all these cookies, including drinking vanilla tea, until finally I decided that my tree which was decorated mainly with origami needed cookie ornaments. And cookies covered with acrylic glaze cannot be eaten!

I've kept them for tonight to decorate. I thought at Christmas Eve, I'll paint them pretty and put them on the tree. Maybe it will be my new Christmas Eve tradition!


Happy holidays everyone! This year we are not traveling, so we decided to get a tree! In lieu of xmas decorations (of which I have few), we mainly decorated the tree with ribbons, cards and wrapping...

On the top a paper flower:

In tribute to Beatrix, a Peter Rabbit ornament:

A sweet little ornament Grace made (it says "Hen Harmony"):

And next to the tree, George and Wilbur sleeping soundly:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday crafting

So each holiday I like to make a little something for the publishing folks I've worked with that year. This year it seemed fitting to pick an activity from my craft book, What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?, since I spent much of the year working on it. Sadly many of the projects are not easily shippable (I was definitely not going to send a dozen little red shoes in the mail), so I thought I'd make some good old recycled crayons. Who doesn't need crayons after all?

First I gathered up my bits of crayons from past art classes taught, and melted them in my oven. Then came the fun part, splattering them into ice cube trays:

Here is the result, in their imperfect glory (it is good for perfectionists like me to do something messy now and again):

I got some little envelopes from Paper Source and covered them with my web site stickers:

Then packaged up the little guys so they were all ready to go:

This is what my ice cube tray looked like after:

It was not, unfortunately, the only thing in my kitchen to get melted, colored wax all over it (the stove, counter, pans and the floor got their fair share)... but like I said, its good therapy for someone like me, who spends quite a lot of her time sitting in front of a computer or painting teeny tiny pictures of bunnies.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Newbery, Newbery

Greetings from the West Coast! I'm on vacation, so this is going to be somewhat brief.

I think many of you have already seen this article from the Washington Post with the headline "Plot Twist: The Newbery May Dampen Kid's Reading." The article basically asks if the winning books have recently been so "complicated and inaccessible" so as to turn kids off of reading. The article continued the debate that raged within the kidlit community after former Horn Book editor Anita Silvey posted a similar article in School Library Journal titled "Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?" back in October.

I can't say that I've agreed with every Newbery choice recently. And I can't say that it hasn't become a bit of a joke trying to predict which book is going to win. "It'll be a book we've never heard of," we say within publishing circles. Then again, I don't generally get to read enough published books during the course of the year to make an educated guess. But in a way, I think that's part of what makes the Newbery so valuable. It introduces to the world a worthy book that may not have received any recognition otherwise. And as an editor who loves quiet, literary books, books that may not have much commercial appeal, I'm thankful. Because I know there are kids out there who love those kinds of books, and I want to be able to continue publishing them.

I think the Newbery committee does an amazing job with such an incredibly difficult task. Say what you will about the winners, but I doubt that you'll ever be able to claim that a Newbery winner or honor book has been badly written. In fact, I'd wager that you'd have to say that all of the winners are finely-crafted works of art. Not without flaws, of course, but at the very least, well written. 

Not every child will like every book, and popular does not mean outstanding.

I took considerable offense at how these stats were used, put right in the second paragraph of the WSJ article:

Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.

Umm, since when were "issue" books considered not child-friendly?

Maybe times have changed, and maybe readers like the child me don't exist now, but I doubt it. I loved issue books as a kid. I loved drama. I loved books that made me cry, I loved books that made me think, I loved those Newbery books.

So, what book do I think will win come January?

I have no idea. But I look forward to reading it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Question of the week: Whats on your bookshelf?

Anna: I am presently admiring How the Mouse Was Hit on the Head by a Stone and So Discovered the World by Etienne Delessert. It was a book I loved as a kid and recently rediscovered. I love re-reading books from childhood, I can remember pouring over the illustrations and wanting to hear the story over and over again.

Grace: I am so in love/envy of the picturebook The Pet Dragon. It's an introduction to Chinese characters using an adventure story about a girl and her runaway pet dragon. It is the best book I have ever seen to get kids interested and excited about Chinese calligraphy; I wish so much I had thought of it.

Elaine: I loved Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—and I like all of his poems that I have read on the Internet. I decided to buy three of his poetry books for myself for Christmas: First Indian on the Moon, Old Shirts & New Shirts, and One Stick Song. They were delivered this week—along with Calvin Trillin’s Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Race in Rhyme.

Calvin Trillin writes political verse for The Nation. Here’s a link to my Wild Rose Reader post Deciding the Next Decider--and Other Political Verse by Calvin Trillin. The post includes an excerpt from Trillin’s book—as well as links to some of the political verse he wrote for The Nation and to a video of his appearance on The Daily Show.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Not what you'd expect from me or this child at Christmas


A few days ago, David's parents awoke to find this word soaped on the downstairs bathroom mirror, in David's handwriting. FUCK, there it was. I hope that doesn't offend the sensibilities of our readers.

David's parents were appalled; and shocked, too. As his mother said to me, "It seemed so out of character." David is a child who likes to do things by the rules.

His father said,
"What were you thinking? You knew we'd see it."

David couldn't really answer this question. After much debate between the parents, David's father determined the punishment. David would have to write a three-page paper explaining:
a) why he had done it
b) why it was a bad thing to do
c) how sorry he was
d) why he would never do that -- or anything like it -- again.

David is eight. When he read the completed paper, David's father said:
"That's a keeper."

I haven't seen this paper -- I was over there tonight, but David's mother didn't want to look for it - she had hidden it, and said that if David knew they were saving it, he'd rip it up. The gist of a) was that "he just felt like" doing it. Do you think that's all there is to it? I kind of think there may be more to it than that (but maybe not, I really don't know).....the other night we were at a party -- David and I were probably about equally bored with the other guests and spent most of the time playing with each other. Towards the end of the evening, an adult said, in that fake high voice lots of adults use when they talk to children, that she hoped David had a merry christmas.

David looked up at her, smiling innocently, and said, in the same sort of fake cheery voice,
"I hope you don't."

She didn't react in any way -- I don't think she heard him. As he has said to me more than once, "They (meaning adults) don't listen."

WEll, they listened to the message on the mirror.

POETRY FRIDAY: George Bush's Nightmare before Christmas

George Bush's Nightmare before Christmas--Brought to you by Brave New Films

Here's a video of an actor impersonating George Bush reciting a parody of Clement Moore's classic Christmas poem The Night before Christmas:

Here's an excerpt from George Bush's Nightmare before Christmas:

While children are dreaming of toys, dolls and ponies,

I’m out here scheming how to help out my cronies.

Yes to all my pals in the big corporations.

Here’s my gift to you: some new regulations.


From Think Progress and The Wonk Room

Bush’s Backward Sprint to the Finish

Excerpted from a post at Think Progress: In its “sprint to the finish,” the Bush administration is working tirelessly to promulgate or alter a wide array of federal regulations that would weaken government rules protecting consumers, workers, and the environment.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have an original memoir poem I wrote about my grandmother making her delicious Christmas babka.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Author Amok.


One last thing before my "thursday" posting day is over. Actually, it's friday... but I haven't gone to bed yet, so I still think this counts as Thursday.

I've finally put up a preview for the ASTRONAUT HANDBOOK. Check it out!
I might add some more pages if I can the green light. Also, these were from PDF files and the art/text wasn't quite done yet... but you get the idea.

I hope to put one up for Seabiscuit soon.


Thursday, December 18, 2008


I just wanted to share the awards I've gotten this year. I really appreciate how nice they look! The Maine Chickadee award was hand done, I believe (the bird part anyway). So I thought that was really cool!

ornament time!

It's time to decorate the tree.

Go here for the PDF and have fun!


RISD sale

Last Saturday. I had a craft booth at the RISD sale--thanks all that came out(especially Natalie who came with a suitcase of books for me to sign! Wow!). It was a fun time, though I do think it was a little slower than sales past. This year I had new items at my booth besides books and prints:

Ki-Ki's Merbunnies! Aren't they cute?
I also wanted to sell cookies or cupcakes but as I was recruited into the Merbunnie factory, it was a dream not meant for this year's sale. Next year!

But other than that, this years sale was very much like the sales I have attended in the past. Ki-Ki, as usual, was repeatedly assumed to be me. I have come to the conclusion that she just looks much "artier" than me. It must be my advanced years:
And I spent just as much money buying other peoples' goods than selling my own. Though it is a good deal, usually artists sell their goods cheaper at these sales than they do in the retail market. And the money goes directly to the artists...and all artists need money. (See how I try to justify my frivolous spending?).
This year I bought a painting from Gregory Poulin. If you remember, last year Anna traded him for painting of garlic. Well all year, every time I went to Anna's house I would see that painting and think--I should get one. So I did. Of course, I went for the opposite end of the tastebud spectrum. I do have a bit of a sweet tooth.

I also made a huge splurge and got these beautiful waterlily earrings from the jeweler Elise Moran. I really wanted the necklace too, but restrained myself.

There were about a dozen more artists that I wanted to buy things from as well, like the beautiful gingko leave pottery from Three Wheel Studio:

The cool cookie belts from Glitterlimes:

and the sweet collages from friend Karen Bessette:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

more about the trip. yeah.

Guess who drew this on this here wall and you'll win something! Well, maybe you won't. How about an invisible pat on the back?

I've spent I don't know how long updating my blog... it's all about the trip to Arizona, complete with lots and lots of photos... so please check it out! The story about the drawing on the wall will be there. I promise. It's just too hard to repeat myself.


Monday, December 15, 2008


I'm back from Arizona and welcomed by crazy crowds at B&N and a broken car window (AGAIN). Happy Christmas to me.

Most of the trip went very smoothly except for the last part, where my (I guess it was the Lupus) flared up and I almost puked in a parent's car and then puked in a librarian's house at least three times and proceeded to lay on her bathroom floor in agony until I got driven back to the hotel, and while on the way I managed to puke again and get vomit all over me. I feared that I'd have to cancel my flight back but miraculously I was okay the next day.

Did I mention that my life sucks?

The last photo is of my sister and the tour guide. We went horse back riding on my day off, which was fun. We also checked out a small rodeo and I was VERY temped to try it out for myself--no qualifications and only 30 bucks! Of course a small voice inside my head said I may break a bone so I thought it wouldn't be responsible since I had to get up at the crack of dawn and do four school talks the next day. But then another voice said that I'm sick all the time so why not break a bone. Who cares? Anyway, I didn't ride a bull. I did the responsible thing.

Censorship--is it ever okay?

Recently, two censorship stories have come to my attention. One involves the book Girl Interrupted and New Rochelle High School:

Sources at the school says that after receiving complaints from an as yet-to-be-identified person or group, the school district ordered students to return the book to the chairperson of the English department who then personally tore out pages 64 through 70 before returning the books to students. Ironically, news of the school censorship first broke during the same week as the school district's annual Literary Festival.
What?! I had never heard of this before. Apparently, it's something called Bowdlerizing, after Thomas Bowdler, who published an edition of Shakespeare's plays that he felt was more suitable for women and children. Basically, he censored certain sections of Shakespeare's plays that he found vulgar, or inappropriate. According to Wikipedia, here is an example of some of the changes he made:

-In Hamlet, the death of Ophelia was referred to as an accidental drowning, omitting the suggestions that she may have intended suicide.
-In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's famous cry "Out, damned spot!" was changed to "Out, crimson spot!" -"God!" as an exclamation is replaced with "Heavens!"
-In Henry IV, Part 2, the prostitute Doll Tearsheet is omitted entirely; the slightly more reputable Mistress Quickly is retained.

The fact that an English Department chairperson (or anyone, for that matter) would physically tear out pages of a book is appalling to me, regardless of the reasoning behind it. The poor books! (I'm one of those people who can't bear writing in or ear-marking pages of books.) And it goes without saying that I hate the censorship as well. At least in this story, there's a happy ending. The publisher issued a strong response, and the school district has said that the students will be receiving new books.

Here is another recent report of censorship, this time of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This is an amazing book, and personally, I think everyone should read it at some point in their life. The fact that a father would call the book "trashy" and succeed in getting the school board to remove the book from the classroom is ridiculous. This did make me think, though--is it okay for a parent to restrict their children's reading? I mean, sure, of course--parents should do what they feel is right for their children. But I'm of the camp that after age 12, give or take a few year depending on a child's development, I think young adults can handle almost anything (although I kinda wish I hadn't seen the movie Robocop at age 12 or 13!). I was reading horror and romance (Stephen King and V.C. Andrews!) and whatever else was lying around our house, including some erotica, by at least age 12, and I think I turned out pretty okay. Then again, I wonder if there are certain camps that will look at my lifestyle and political beliefs and disagree. And could they blame some of my beliefs on books?

I don't want to get too political here, but I've recently been in a debate with some of my extended family about Prop 8 in CA. Some of them (many of them?) supported it, which really shocked me. I'm not sure why, but every since I was a child, gay rights were important to me. I don't remember a particular book or movie that affected my beliefs, but as I did not have an openly gay friends or family, I have to believe that something I read or saw must have affected me, although I suppose it could also have just been how I always thought about fairness and injustice.

Anyway, my family has gone back and forth about this issue, and it occurred to me that my extended family and I probably differ on quite a few things (which wasn't really news to me, as we have very different religious beliefs), and I wondered if censorship could be another issue. Some people think masturbation is morally wrong, which I suppose must have been the objection to Sherman Alexie's book. If they feel that having their child read a scene where a character masturbates goes against their religious beliefs, then I guess I have to accept that decision, for their particular child. But regardless of what your beliefs are, I do think most 14-year-olds can handle reading a scene about masturbation.

But if the father deemed that his son should not, then okay, I suppose he should be able to make that choice. But I really can't stand someone taking their own beliefs and imposing them on other people who might not share those beliefs. If he objected to the book, then perhaps the teacher could have assigned an alternate book for that one individual to read, right? Isn't that how it works with dissection assignments and sex education on occasion? It just made me sad because I think this makes teachers more cautious about what books they assign, and there are so many wonderful, layered books out there with what some people would deem inappropriate material.

I do think that kids shouldn't be exposed to certain content at an early age. For example, if I had nightmares after watching Robocop, it was even worse for my little brother who was eight at the time. I'm not sure what my parents were thinking--although I'm sure somehow my older brother and I convinced them it would be okay. But I think my tolerance level is higher for sex scenes in books than for violence, especially for teenagers (I'd balk at nine-year-olds reading Gossip Girl). Teens know about sex. Denying them the opportunity to read a great work of literature because it has a few masturbation or sex scenes is a bit unreasonable, I think. Why not read the book alongside your child and then have a frank discussion about it? Because no doubt otherwise your kid will sneak the book and read it on his own, without the guidance of a parent of teacher.

I'm probably preaching to the choir on this blog, but I do wonder--do you think it's ever okay to censor? And is it better to censor part of a book rather than the whole? Would it have been better if the father had torn the "objectionable" pages out of his son's book and let him read the rest of it? And for you parents out there, did you monitor your children's reading and keep them from reading certain books at certain ages?

The Longstockings had an interesting, related discussion going on about the book Living Dead Girl here.

Thanks to Tanya Lee Stone and David Macinnis Gill for the original links, via Facebook.

Friday, December 12, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Applied Geometry

Here’s a poem I found yesterday at American Life in Poetry. It was written by Russell Libby who lives in Maine. The poem, Applied Geometry, seems most appropriate for posting at this time of year.

From Applied Geometry
By Russell Libby

Applied geometry,

measuring the height

of a pine from

like triangles,

Rosa's shadow stretches

seven paces in

low-slanting light of

late Christmas afternoon.

One hundred thirty nine steps

up the hill until the sun is

finally caught at the top of the tree,

let's see, twenty to one…

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have three Christmas acrostic poems today.

I also have three clerihews that I wrote for Tricia’s Poetry Stretch this week.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is over at Wild Rose Reader today.