Still Creatin’

Posted April 28th, 2009 by Candice

Last fall I closed my art studio.  It had gotten out of control, I wasn’t feeling well, and, at that point, the room represented more work than creative pleasure.  So I sold, donated, and gave away nine-tenths of my supplies, and turned my studio into a 1920s-themed sitting room.  I squeezed my old studio into half of a small walk-in closet, my art supplies in an antique washstand, and the rest of the scrapbook supplies in a vintage seven-drawer lingerie chest.  If I want to create a project, I can.  If I don’t, I don’t have the "guilt" of piles of new product and half-finished projects glaring at me every time I walk past the doorway.

When our parents died, I wound up with the family papers from our mother’s and stepfather’s side of the family.  Also a large portion of the old family photos.  As keeper of the photos, it’s up to me to remember which great-uncle is on our grandmother’s or grandfather’s side.  I thought my sister (my only sibling) should have some of those images, as well.  So I created this collage for her upcoming birthday.

The base is one 12 by 12 sheet of scrapbook paper (which is mostly covered).  I photocopied all my elements–scrapbook rule #1: never use originals.  Some items I reduced 50%.   To "age" the old letter and envelope (even color photocopies are on that glaring white paper)  I wadded the paper in a tight ball, then ironed it flat.  With brown chalk ink, I lightly rubbed the creases.  The hardest part was layering the items so they made some sense.  I put things in groups, like our grandfather’s SSN card and the registration for his ’49 Buick (the sight of this brought back memories of Grandaddy backing down his driveway at 100 mph, then poking down the road on the wrong side at 10 mph).  The flower swirl in the upper left-hand corner made a handy "family tree." 

The frame is about an inch and a half wide.  I used rub-on transfers in the upper left corner.  The phrase says, "in the blink of an eye . . . ", meaning that life is shorter than we think.  Added three smoky "jewels."  The bottom right-hand corner is embellished with laser-cut felt (very cool stuff in scrapbooking these days!) and a vintage earring (I snipped off the finding and hot-glued it).  I chalk-inked the wooden frame to "age" it. 

I think it turned out well (though you’d never know it from this photo–I was backed up against a wall!)   I hope my sister likes it!

Our New Bird Garden and a Love Story

Posted April 20th, 2009 by Candice

A few months ago I read about the Wing Haven Gardens in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The gardens are lush and beautiful, a sanctuary for birds.  I was enchanted by the story of the young bride, Elizabeth Clarkson, who, in 1927, came from Texas to her new house in Charlotte. She had sent her husband-to-be letters describing the house design that would complement the gardens.  She planned the gardens before the house! 

But when she arrived at her new house, she was dismayed to see a plot of Carolina red clay, a few scrubby pine saplings, and one sad willow oak.  They couldn’t get in the house, so they crawled through the window where Eddie presented Elizabeth with her wedding present, a grand piano.  That was the last conventional present he gave her.  Elizabeth started her garden.  For birthdays and anniversaries they gave each other bricks, a week’s hire of a stonemason, mealworms . . . 

But then Elizabeth fell ill with dengue fever.  She lay by the window so she could see her garden.  The birds cheered her up.  When she grew better, she decided to turn the garden into a bird sanctuary.  The Clarksons lived a long and happy life together.  They deeded the gardens to the city of Charlotte so everyone can enjoy it.

After reading this, I gazed out at our back yard.  I’d created a sort of bird sanctuary years ago–a 20-foot oval ringed by stones with a few trees.  I preferred the "natural" look so the birds would have cover, but now the area was a jungle.  I told my husband we should have a little Wing Haven.  We’d been feeding birds all winter.  Why not continue to feed them in the summer and provide holly and other berry-producing bushes? 

For two straight weekends, my husband pulled, yanked, dug, and hacked at honeysuckle (with runners that seem to grow to Florida), wisteria, and other tough Virginia weeds.  He cleared a truckload of vines, sticks, and old leaves.  Then we picked out a holly tree, three holly bushes, and a rhodendron.  I had already bought a bird bath.  I added a birdhouse to the four feeders (suet, thistle, cardinal, and general population).  My husband spread bag after bag after bag of top soil and mulch.  He raked the area and washed the lava rocks and straightened the stone border.  He dragged the bird bath to its new location.  He stopped to fill and refill the feeders because the cowbirds had moved in with all their relations.

And when it was all done, I sauntered over with a small bird statue I had bought at Target.  I placed it by the bird bath.  My husband said it was just the right touch!  Of course, I said smugly.  So now we can watch the bird activity from our breakast room or from our new motel chairs on the back deck.  Just last evening we were rewarded with a rose-breasted grosbeak, the first I’ve ever seen here. 

That’s my husband, weary but happy, after his labors.  The bird feeders are hanging just beyond camera range.  You can’t see our blooming dogwoods or one of the holly bushes, either.  We’ll let a little honeysuckle creep back.

Our bird garden isn’t grand enough to call Wing Haven.  Maybe Feather Haven?  Whatever I call it, it’s a sweet present from my husband to me. 

Pub Date!

Posted April 16th, 2009 by Candice

Far away!

My middle grade novel–Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World–Well, Her Part of Virginia, Anyway–is scheduled for summer . . . 2011!  The reason?  The book will have inside illustrations and my editor wants to find the right illustrator.  Of course, I can’t complain, but it seems like such a looooong time.

I have plenty to do in the meantime.  First up, revisions.  Probably more revisions.  Maybe even more revising.  That’s okay.  Then I have to write the sequel, tentatively titled Iva Honeysuckle Discovers Her Match.  That book will come out summer 2012.

We talk about time like it so far in the future, but truthfully, the weeks and months slip by before I notice.  My years are anchored by deadlines and my Hollins teaching gigs in the summers.  Next summer I’ll teach a picture book tutorial and in 2011 I’ll teach writing middle grade novels.  Dovetails nicely with the launch of my own middle grade, yes? 

I will also have plenty of time to figure out what types of promoting I want to do.  An excellent resource for writers of all stripes is Bubble Stampede, expertly run by that dynamic duo, Laura Purdie Salas and Fiona Bayrock.  Those energetic gals thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of reader’s theater, teacher’s guides, cluster events, book trailers, blog tours, press releases, microsites, in-person and online launch parties, and much more.  

So . . . it’s almost the summer of 2009.  My editorial letter will be here in a few weeks.  The process that I began with the first sentence of the first draft (more than a year ago), a process that seemed all uphill then, will begin its downhill journey.  And downhill is always easier, right?

Easter Monday

Posted April 13th, 2009 by Candice

I hope everyone had a great Easter.  It’s one of my favorite holidays because you don’t have to do anything (much), if you don’t want to, unlike Christmas.  My husband and I spent the weekend working in the yard.  We’re clearing a  jungle area to be a bird garden.  We’ll leave some of the jungle, but keep it under control, if that makes sense.

So while he was digging out honeysuckle, which apparently have tap roots all the way to China, I fixed our simple dinner.  I used our Desert Rose dishes because we haven’t used them since we moved here 12 years ago.  Those Easter postcards are from my collection–many now over 100 years old.  I love reading them–they have comments like, "Well, we made it home okay."  Or, "When are you coming to see us?"  In the early 1900s people used penny postcards like the telephone.  In bigger towns and cities people got their mail twice a day.  So they could send one in the morning and it would arrive in the afternoon.

While we worked in the yard, I noticed a family across the street had lots of cars in the driveway.  The front door opened and I heard the kittenish cries of an infant.  Sounds of laughter.  An older gentleman with a cane came out on the porch.   Someone carried in a covered dish.  A houseful–four generations–for dinner.

It was much quieter in our house.  We ate quickly (we always do!), then did the dishes together (we always do that after a special dinner, too).  Then it was back outside to work until dusk.  Then back in again for hot showers and cups of chill-chasing tea and those big Easter cookies sitting on our dinner plates.

We made it home okay.

Building a New Website….

Posted April 9th, 2009 by Candice

….is like building a new house.  So many details!   So many choices!  So many things you can easily forget!

My husband built my first website back in 2000, which much gnashing of teeth and unmentionable words.  We had permission from Felicia Bond to use an illustration from my picture book she illustrated, The Big Green Pocketbook.  After struggling with FrontPage, my husband surrendered my site to a graphics designer he knew.  She finished it.  I had a monthly column and an ever-changing list of books and programs for school visits.

When I entered the MFA in writing for children at Vermont College, I had no time to update the website.  Between my contract books and new work for the program, I spent every minute writing.  I decided I needed a more streamlined site, one that I’d update only for new books.  The graphics designer gave me what I wanted–a slightly retro-looking, simple site.  I finished at Vermont and started my MA at Hollins University.  Once again, updating the website took a backseat to everything else.

And now it’s a shambles.  Two years out of date.  Bits of code poking through the text like a bra strap showing.  Book cover images that have disappeared.  It’s like a house falling down because the people moved out.

So I decided to build a brand-new site using Winding Oak LIterary Services.  The process reminded me of when my husband and I built our house here twelve years ago.   Once we decided on the plans, it was time to pick out stuff!  The best part!  I picked out the carpet and vinyl flooring and light fixtures and bathroom tile and bathroom vanities and kitchen cabinets (white–what was I thinking?)   But I forgot about a hundred other little things, like the toilet paper holders and outlet covers and towel bars and door hardware and the kitchen light fixtures and outside lighting.  All that was "builder’s grade," i.e. not-so-bad-at-first-but-ugly-when-you-really-look-at-it.  I grew tired of making so many decisions and paid for it later. 

It’s the same with the new website.  Fortunately, my Web Guy gave me a limited number of templates (about 30) after we discussed the kind of design I was looking for.  Before that, I spent hours on the Net, scouring dozens of sites.  Finally I stopped looking at everyone’s site in the entire world and concentrated on the Web Guy’s portfolio.  That was plenty.  Still, I spent more hours flipping back and forth between sites.  Did I like a separate entry page?  What about number of menu "buttons."  What was I going to put on my site, anyway?  How did I want people to perceive me now?   Not the cheerful "Big Green Pocketbook" girl.  Or the slightly aloof retro person.  Who, then?

I was drawn to sites that had cute characters from picture books.  But picture books are only a small part of what I write.  I decided against a home page featuring any of my books, except spotlighting the newest.  I brought back some material I had on my original site–activities for teachers and kids.  Created book discussion guides.  Although it took me months to figure out what I wanted and didn’t want, I only spent a week composing the content.  And now it’s all in the hands of my Web Guy.  I’m pleased with the template I’ve chosen and can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with.  It’ll be a while, but worth the wait. 

And I can relax, because the work is being done by a professional.

Professor Ransom

Posted April 6th, 2009 by Candice

During the summer–well, since last summer, I put on my Professor Ransom hat and teach in Hollins University’s MA/MFA program in children’s literature/writing for children.  I am gone for six weeks, but it’s no hardship.  The 500-acre campus in Roanoke is like Eden, with mountains and horse barns and beautifully-maintained old buildings.   I earned my MA in children’s lit at Hollins and marched in commencement last May.  Three weeks later, I was teaching in MFA section of the program.

Being a member of the faculty so quickly was a bit unnerving.  Students who had been my classmates for two years came up to me and asked, "What classes are you taking this term?"  "Which dorm are you in?" Um.   But as I adjusted to my new role, I grew to love teaching and am looking forward to going back this summer.

Earlier this year I was invited to be the Hollins delegate at the inauguration of the new president of the University of Mary Washington here in Fredericksburg.  Last Friday I dug out my regalia and joined 200 other delegates for the ceremony.  We were treated to a fabulous luncheon first.  Then we went to be robed.  My dresser helped me with my hood while I gawked at delegates from Harvard, Yale, Willilam and Mary, and others.  Many were university presidents who donned metal collars with enormous medals. 

Then we formed double lines in order of the founding date of our university.  Hollins was founded in 1842 so I was close to the front.  We marched outside.  The weather that morning had been abysmal–pouring rain and thunderstorms.  But the skies were blue as we paraded along Campus Walk like so many peacocks.  A bagpipe and drum corp led the procession. 

As I walked down the long aisle of the auditorium, I almost pinched myself.  Was this really me?  Candice from Centreville who doesn’t have a BA because she couldn’t afford to go to college?  I earned my MFA at Vermont College (applying with much prodding from my husband) at the age of 52.  Once I had that degree in my hand, I immediately applied to Hollins.  

Being a delegate in an important occasion such as the installation of a new university president (the first woman president at the only public university in the nation named after a woman) was a white-stone day for sure.  (An old superstition in which special days were marked with a white stone.)  I have the program and luncheon favor to prove it.  And this photo.

The delegates are in the center section of the auditorium.  I’m in the second row form the front, second from the left.  If you have really good eyes, you’ll see a whitish dot on the end of that row (delegate from the University of Michican).  I’m the dark dot next to her. 

Okay, so you’ll never see me.  But I was there.  My feet still don’t hit the ground.

Mrs. Rabbit’s Lovely Present

Posted April 2nd, 2009 by Candice

I’ve loved rabbits ever since I read Watership Down.  My house is filled with rabbit figurines, pottery, dishes, linens.  Our porch is home to a hutch of garden rabbits.  And that’s one reason I love Easter–what’s not to love about bunnies, chicks, and chocolate?  When I was a kid, I was more interested in my new plush bunny than the candy (now it’s about 50/50).  But my love affair with rabbits is long-standing.  I like to think of myself as "Mrs. Rabbit" sometimes, instead of "Mrs. Ransom."

So yesterday  my luncheon guest came bearing presents.  Lush spring paper napkins.  Four bunny cookies in two different designs–ostensibly two of each for me and my husband but you can guess how that will go.  And a lovely 1902 edition of A Child’s Garden of Verses, deliciously illustrtated by E. Mars and M.H. Squire.  One of the illustrators created soft color wash plates.  Not all of the plates were in color, some were gray scale.  Is that right?  When a color picture is reproduced in black and white?  Whatever.  The other illustrator drew some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau pen and ink drawings I’ve ever seen.  Honesly, you can get lost in the sinewy trails of lines.

My new friend brought just-right presents for a day that wasn’t so hot for either of us.  She got behind schedule, had cellphone charger problems, had her directions to my house "misplaced" by her husband.  I nicked myself shaving my legs, got blood on my khaki pants, had to wash it out, then dry my pants while finishing the salad, which I had never made and worried that I shouldn’t "try it out" on some poor unsuspecting soul.

But it turned out to be a lovely afternoon.  Despite the gray clouds, it was sunny at our lunch table.

My photo doesn’t do the book or the cookies justice.  I wish I could take photos like Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup blog..  She could be a food stylist! 

April Luncheon

Posted April 1st, 2009 by Candice

We’ve had a string of lovely spring days.  Other people’s hyancinths are blooming, phlox is starting to tumble down banks, cherry trees are still blossoming . . . note, I say "other people’s."  I love spring flowers–daffodils, tulips and especially hyacinths.  But I can’t remember to plant anything in the fall.  When fall comes, I’m all into Halloween and autumn stuff.  Which is why I rely on annuals I can stuff into containers . . . and flowers from the grocery store.  Like these gorgeous yellow tulips.

A new "old" friend is coming to lunch today.  Have you ever met someone and instantly knew you could have been friends since the sandbox?  We like all the same things–old children’s books, good stories, good food, good conversation.  The food is mediocre (I had problems with everything) because that’s all I can ever manage, but the table says "spring!"

The little green book is Lois Lenski’s Spring Is Here (1945).  I’ve layered the table with vintage transfer-print tablecloths and dishtowels.  The tablecloth has tulips and little Dutch girls and boys on it!  The Fiesta plates are new (because we’re not supposed to eat off the old stuff), but the Depression glass butterpats, serving pieces, and that wonderful blue milk pitcher belonged to my mother.  The vintage tumblers are a recent obsession of mine.

The salad is chilling.  The deviled eggs are deviling.  The banana walnut muffins are warming.  And the lemon bars are waiting to be devoured.  Cheers!