Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It is the night before we return to America, so my husband exchanges every EU dollar minus the small amount needed for the taxi ride to the bus stop and train tickets to the airport in Amsterdam. The bus tickets that will take us to the train station were already purchased in an economical book of ten fares.

We have come to Holland to bike the tulip season and to celebrate more than two decades of marriage and my forty-fifth birthday. Our home base is Noordwijk aan zee. We have a beautiful room with doors that open to the sea.
Each day we pedal to a different destination; Haarlem, the home of Carrie Ten Boom, Keukenhof, the garden with millions of tulips; Leiden, the ancient village with the oldest running outdoor market.

Each day is series of discoveries or take-your-breath-away moments such as when we turn a corner and see an unexpected ocean of yellow and red tulips. However, it is the morning that our taxi pulls up to the bus stop that I have the most enjoyable surprise; for travel is as much a discovery of self, as it is of people, of culture, and land.

Through a series of unfortunate events led by a national holiday that closes banks, and changes bus schedules, my husband and I are stranded at the train station without Eu dollars. Our carefully calculated money was spent on the taxi that agreed to bring us farther than expected and for less than the charge.
The train ticket vendors will take neither credit cards, nor American dollars. We have one commodity: our unused bus tickets. There is only one option and after a moment of self-reflection, I am standing outside the station trying to sell our tickets. The comedy is that today is my birthday and I couldn’t have imagined a scenario like this.

A wonderful thing happens when you reach the mid-life meridian, or so I’ve been told. Well-wishing friends expressed this in tenets such as: “I love middle aged women because they know what they want and they are not afraid to get it,” or “When I turned forty-five I finally didn’t care what other people thought.” These are words of encouragement as I stand in a foreign country desperate to sell some bus tickets.

Finally, a young woman allows me to tell my story. She recognizes the bargain, and hands me enough euro for two train tickets.

With relief, we board the train.

It is almost fate’s purpose to remind or reward me for this forty five year old awakening. As I previously wrote, we left Holland on my birthday. When we arrive home the next morning, with the change in time zones, we have gained a day and it is my birthday all over again!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Speaking to Children

An author must always ask him/herself if she is really speaking to children, middle graders or young adults.

I like the liberties that A.A. Milne has taken with language. I've included two excerpts for study from the classic Winnie the Pooh series:

"They both listened...and they heard a deep gruff voice saying in a singing voice that the more it snowed the more it went on snowing and a small high voice tiddely-pomming in between."

"Winnie the pooh woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and listened. Then he got out of bed, and lit his candle, and stumped across the room to see if anybody was trying to get into his honyecupboard, and they weren't, so he stumped back again , blew out his candle, and got into bed. Then he heard the noise again."

One more beautifully written paragraph: "Owl coughed in an unadmiring sort of way, and said that, if Pooh was sure that was all, they could now give their minds to the Problem of Escape."

It's the LITTLE ways he has written that make his writing so uniquely childlike. And so timely. And such a classic.

Last night, I delivered a tiny container of a dessert, cherry rice, to a neighbor girl who needs to be reached out to. Perhaps ten years ago, she had this dessert at our house and loved it. Over the years she always asks for it and I always tell her that if we make it I'll bring her some. It's been at least 3 years since we've taken her any. As I walked towards her house, I thought how silly it was because it is such a little thing--but was reminded that from small things come great things.

Apply that to your writing language-the new word you coin, the original simile, the unique syntax of a sentence. Put those little things together with a great plot and it may be what elevates a manuscript to publishing level. Now, think how uniquely children can use language. And perhaps that is what makes it child-language-the experimentation-the childlike use of language.

Bottom line: Pay attention to the little way you use words.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Memorable Los Angeles

I had an amazing short week in LA. A significant editor gave me her card and asked to see my revised manuscript. But that was the little stuff. The funnest experience was meeting Ruth's daughter and son-in-law:

One morning while returning to the hotel, I felt an immediate impression to cross the street at a certain point. It was Olympic Blvd., an incredibly busy 4 laner that resembles more of a freeway as it passes under Century City. But there was a lull in traffic; I looked both ways several times and ran across. At the exact spot where I crossed, there was a wallet laying in the middle of the road. There is no center island, just a small in-between the passing lanes. A wallet. Yippee, a chance to return it to its owner. The contents held a driver's license, an American Express credit card, a social security card and an insurance card. Ruth, the woman whose picture I looked at was born in 1925, and I could feel her anxiety over her lost wallet. Sort of the same way I felt with the lost dog Kolo. Remember that one girls?

Her address was posted on everything but not a phone number in sight. Called Tony to search the internet for her number, enlisted the help of the concierge, searched the LA phone book. Called a phone number with the same initial. Wrong person. There was the number of the insurance agent who insured Ruth. I gave him a call, no answer, left a message. I knew everything would be ok, because I could always send Ruth her wallet, but again, I could feel her angst.

Later that day: an ecstatic phone call from Jeff, Ruth's son-in-law. They shared the same insurance agent and he had contacted Jeff. Ruth had been extremely worried about her lost identification.

Later that night, Jeff and Ruth's daughter met me in the lobby of the Century Plaza Hotel. They were so grateful. We talked for a short while. Jeff moved toward me and I thought he was going to hug me but instead he was trying to give me money. pfffff.

Silly man! I told him to put it in Ruth's wallet and surprise her.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In every book is a little vacation. This was quoted at a talk today that I heard on literacy.

Other important thoughts about reading:
*Reading is to the mind like exercise is for the body.
*Children that are read to have 4000 to 5000 more words in their vocabulary.
*Nursery rhymes are very important and rhyming words are the beginning recognitions of the flow of language and rhymes are critical to language acquisition.
*Implement a strict bedtime but allow child to stay up another half hour to hour for reading.
*Give books for birthdays and holidays.
*Listen to CD's instead of watching DVD's in the car and at home to foster imagination.
*Do library and bookstore story time.
* Get children their own library card when age eligible.
*keep books in the car-reachable from child's car seat.
*Child should have own place for books or bookshelf.
*REaders are 300% more likely to: attend plays, museums, exercise, volunteer, not pick their nose (chuckle-not really).
*Two book recommendations on the importance of reading to children: Read to Your Bunny by Rosemary Wells and Reading Magic: Why Reading aloud to our children will change their lives forever-I haven't read either yet.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Violin Kindling

My friend went to school at the U of U and lived on the Avenues in an old house with a giant fireplace. One of her roommates worked at Peter Prier violins. When anyone made a violin that was the slightest, (even 1 millimeter) off, in measurement, it didn't sound right and was scrapped. She brought these home to burn in the fireplace. There were times when you would walk into the room and the fireplace would be full of perfectly looking, good violins--but they were not.

They weren't in tune or didn't have the capacity to be in tune and therefore were considered worthless.