My Journey with NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program!

Photo on 2015-10-26 at 10.39

This is my 5th year leading NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program in my own community. I began leading a Young Writer’s Group at my home with my daughter and her awesome friends, back in Lyndhurst, OH.

I began this group with two intentions:

One: To see if I would be any good at motivating young kids to write (those who already showed an interest in writing, even a mild interest).

and Two: To encourage my daughter and her friends to get together on a more regular basis. The writing part was a common interest they shared, so it just kind of happened that this group of friends ended up as a writing group that met at my house monthly (yes, National Novel Writing Month turned into an ongoing program for us).

This small group ended up most of the time as a rime to socialize and play, but I was surprised as the years went by that the girls continued their focus on writing. Even after five years, they like to collaborate on Google Docs to create stories. November was always the month to focus back on the writing and challenge ourselves once again.

This year we moved an hour away from where we used to live (from Lyndhurst, OH to Amherst, OH), and my daughter has been forced to try making new friends. A tall order for any introvert. All her best friends were the writing buds back home, so I thought maybe I should try launching an after-school writing program here in Amherst to make it a bit easier to find some kindred spirits, or “peeps.”

I ended up bringing the idea of leading an after-school Young Writers Program for the month of November at Amherst Junior High School (as a volunteer). I met with the Assistant Superintendent in Amherst who brought up the idea at the next board meeting. Thankfully it passed, and I was sent over to have my background check run (insert joke here). I ended up deciding to run two groups – one at the Junior High and one at Nord, the Middle School. Why Nord? Well, I couldn’t help but remember that the 3rd-6th grade ages are actually very fun to work with when it comes to a group like this, because the imagination is so free. The inner critic hasn’t completely been unleashed yet at that age.

Ironically, the Nord group ended up growing to about 25 kids and the Junior High group is at 6, including my daughter. It’s been an interesting learning experience, handling two very different group sizes. The large group can be fun, and I’m glad to be able to engage that many kids, but I can’t get as close to the kids in the group as I would like to because there are so many of them! I feel like I’m getting a little taste of what it’s like to be a teacher, in charge of such a large group of kids. Plus, when my head is turned, that’s when a paper airplane goes flying into the next room, onto the desk of a teacher I didn’t even know was behind the wall next door (facepalm)!

The small group at the Junior High has been more what I imagined. With this group, I have more time to get to know the individual kids. I know what type of genre they each like to write, and I get to share my own work with them at the same time. I get to share my worst book ideas with them and they challenge me to work on those very bad ideas to see if it’s possible to make something good out of them (I’ll share that bit later). There aren’t as many kids in this group as I originally hoped for, but I’m realizing the group size is perfect the way it is. PLUS, some of them want to continue to make the group a monthly meetup – which makes me very happy! And the 8th graders are insisting I continue it at the High School next year – which I am happy to do, even if they end up as the only two participants!

Launching the Young Writers Program in a community that is brand new to me (we have only lived here four months now) has been a true fear-facing challenge for me. The whole fear of rejection thing was very real while meeting with the Assistant Superintendent and waiting for the decision from the board meeting. This is something brand new to me, taking the writing club out of my living room and reaching out to involve more kids.

I keep asking myself, “WHY?” Why am I doing this, really? At first it was just to see if I could help my daughter find more friends. But maybe it was more for myself. I get such satisfaction from getting groups together. I like to see what happens when you get a group of people together and encourage them to be creative, handing them the permission slip to let loose their creative selves – no grades, no pressure, just giving them the freedom and encouragement to write. Writing can be one of the loneliest creative endeavors, and I want these young writers to know they’re not alone.

I guess that’s really what it’s all about for me.

 

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Angel: Sony Zambrano ~ In Memorium

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14695379_10208997911159792_2721280924429590629_n.jpgHeaven has gained a lot of angels lately.

Not long after my dad passed away, my friend Sonia (“Sony”) Zambrano passed (January 13). I knew Sony only online, and it was a dream of mine to meet her one day in Iowa. We met on Facebook (2011) in a mom’s group years ago. I shared to the group that I did caricatures, and that’s when Sony contacted me to do a sketch of her brother who had just passed away (January, 2012).

Little did I know, this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and Sony over time became my most cherished patron. 2013 was the year she first approached me to do what we called an “Angel Caricature” for a little boy named Bradley who had just passed away. This was someone she didn’t really know. It was a story she had read or heard about and she felt she wanted to do something to gift the grieving parents with.

I sketched the face of this little boy, giving him angel wings and surrounding him with floating, happy angels. It was the first time I ever shed tears while doing a caricature. I believe some of my tears dropped onto the drawing itself. I never felt such meaning in my work before. I thanked Sony very much for the opportunity.

Time after time, Sony would approach me with projects like this – every time for complete strangers. I would ask her to find the address for me and I would send the original directly to the grieving family. I started leaving notes inside the shipping tube to be sure the family would know who this caricature was from and that it came form the heart (the heart of Sony Zambrano). I counted myself merely as the vessel in which Sony expressed her love and support to others with these special gifts.

After a while, I thought I’d try to promote our mission on my website to ease the financial blow on Sony. She was such an amazing patron, there were times I would “GIFT” her a free caricature just because I appreciated her loyalty as a patron and her mission at the same time. I even started giving her what I called “The Sony Discount” because I appreciated her so much!

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Original Website featuring Bradley, the original inspiration for the project.

Since this original “Angel Caricature” idea, I thought perhaps we could try a digital approach to the project which would save on cost, and there would be less need for donations – more a way for people to request these special caricatures to carry on Sony’s vision.

 

Today I felt saddened as I sketched out Sony’s Memorial Caricature, but wanted to lighten it with the same spirit of love she always wanted me to have in the caricatures she called on me to do for her. Just like Bradley, I surrounded her with happy, floating angels and surrounded her with bright glowing light, mentioning on the sketch that she earned her wings, and scripted something special which she had posted on her Facebook page over Thanksgiving: “Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the Holy One.”

Sony, I give thanks indeed, to the Holy One for knowing you as well as I did, here on Earth. I thank Him, and I thank you for teaching me the love I can spread using mere markers and paper.

Thank you, Sony. I will never forget you, and will hold you in my heart forever.

 

I Miss You, Daddy!

It might sound like a strange thing to do – to write an obituary on your birthday.

My dad passed away two days ago and as a writer I volunteered to write his obit. He didn’t want a funeral, so I’ve been doing things on my own to honor him in my own way. Sharing favorite pics on Facebook, creating a shrine at home based around the wonderful floral arrangements I’ve gotten from family, and now writing this obit. The writer in me had to do this… needed to do this. I had to brag about my dad.

There was something about watching the actor Jackie Gleason on the screen that made me think about my dad. I believe it was that SPARK – whatever it was that made people call Jackie Gleason “The Great One…” My dad had that same special SPARK.

I began to write notes during our conversations on the phone, double checking my accuracy – he had so many stories, I mean to write them down for him and share them with the world – as unbelievable as these stories might seem.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

daddy-loresRobert Arthur Carrick (A Man of Many Stories) passed away at the age of 71 at the Hospice House of Southminster in Charlotte, NC on January 4, 2017. Robert (Bob) is survived by his loving wife, Charlene, of 21 years who was at his side when he passed.

Per his wishes, there will be no funeral service.

Bob Carrick began his life Canadian-born in Toronto, Ontario. As a youth, he hung out with “Aunt Ella” (Fitzgerald) while working at Oscar Peterson’s house. In Toronto, he grew a music career with offers to work with bands like Louis Prima and Woody Herman. He even gave Neil Peart a drum lesson.

In 1986 he became a Resident Alien of the United States and began his Security career at Wells Fargo and finally at Carolina Medical Center in Main and Pineville, NC.

Bob Carrick was never a passenger in life. He was a driver of his own dreams. Perhaps his favorite thing to do in life was to see how far he could drive down the path of a dream before hitting a new crossroad. Bob was the kind of person people loved to be around, accepting of everyone, with wit as sharp any legendary comic.

Bob Carrick will be greatly missed by those fortunate enough to have ever known him. He goes down as one of the Great Ones.

Mid-Life THRIVING!

200277130-001I recently had an amazing conversation with a friend back in my hometown who was feeling more than a little frustrated about her mid-life slump. Life is feeling dry. There are no exciting prospects, not even the feeling of something great to look forward to.

Another friend of mine spoke with me about the disappointing aspect of mid-life, and we both realized WHY it feels like such a slump.

Here’s what we realized:

When you are in grade school, there is something to look forward to – every year. You look forward to spring break, Christmas, summer break, Halloween trick-or-treating, birthday parties, the school year being over, the next school year starting up again, so on, so forth. In middle school, you look forward to when you finally get a boyfriend. When you’re in high school, you have real goals. You start to feel like your life is about to begin and you get excited! You get excited about your career goals, wondering what’s going to happen. The future is one big, open, exciting question mark! College gets intense – you feel right on the cusp of finally getting the life you are hoping for – a great career started, or at least your first real job! After you graduate and you begin your first jobs toward your career, you look forward to finding the perfect partner to marry, and fantasize about having a family. And then you experience the joys and miracles of having children.

And then…

… um…

… What now?… What now? You ask yourself.

You find yourself in what feels like a pit of nothingness, depressed, because you have no idea what there is to look forward to next. Retirement may never be an option, and even if it is, it’s over 20 years away. So… so what is the next goal? The next thing? The next piece of your life to hope and look forward to?

I really see this a lot in people. It’s an easy place to find yourself if you’ve never really done anything more than what has been expected of you. It’s a very frustrating place to be.

One of my friends decided to make a new name for her “mid-life crisis” – renaming it her “MID-LIFE THRIVING.” I freakin’ LOVE that. Ingenious!!!

What I’ve been doing to get through it is continuously work on the things I always told myself “I CAN’T DO.”

My “I CAN’T” LIST:

  • I can’t write without having complete and utter solitude, so I’ll never be able to finish my books.
  • I can’t get my writing published.
  • I can’t focus on my work with distractions around me.
  • I can’t be a teacher.
  • I can’t work with kids – they scare me.
  • I can’t do belly dancing.
  • I can’t be a good cook.
  • I can’t make time to do the things I want to do.

Write out YOUR “I CAN’T list, and try REWRITING your “I CAN’T” into “MAYBE I CAN…”

FOR EXAMPLE:

  • Maybe I CAN write without having complete and utter solitude, so I can finish my books! I should try!
  • Maybe I CAN get my writing published! Hey, what about trying self publishing, or guest blogging to start with?
  • Maybe I CAN focus on my work with distractions around me. I am getting used to tuning things out. It’s worth a try!
  • Maybe I CAN be a teacher! I should try and see if I like it or not.
  • Maybe I CAN work with kids! I do have two of my own, and THEY think I’m funny.
  • Maybe I CAN do belly dancing. I could take a class and just try it out to see if it’s any fun.
  • Maybe I CAN be a good cook. I should try cooking more things I would order in a restaurant.
  • Maybe I CAN make time to do the things I want to do. Even little bits of time could be helpful!

You’ll notice that every “maybe I CAN” also ends with an idea of what to TRY OUT. Really work on figuring out what you could do to FIND OUT if you can turn that “I can’t” into an “I can!”

All the things on the list above are real for me – I faced them and continue to work on turning those “I can’ts” around!

Share in a comment what you would like to try turning around!

I’d love to hear it, and promise to answer you with positive encouragement!

 

 

Time to “Make Good Art!” ~ as Neil Gaiman would say

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I am so excited to be involved with Lilla Rogers “Make Art That Sells” Assignment Bootcamp! I’ve been involved in so many different online programs, but this is the first one which is 100% geared toward furthering my career in freelance illustration. I’ve been a professional illustrator for a long time, but it wasn’t until I was laid off from American Greetings (as an ornament designer) when my illustration career actually began to TAKE FLIGHT! I was able to concentrate on my efforts to become a full-time freelancer. In April, 2011 I was finally hired (dream job) as an illustrator for an Akron company, Blue Frog Gaming. I was thrilled to finally have a job with the title “Artist” by my name.

But all good things must change, of course. The company had to downsize after a few years, and I was back to full-time freelancing again. Since then I have been trying to rework my portfolio as well as dip my toes into picture book writing, illustrating and PUBLISHING (a childhood dream of mine).

Now that I have a few self-published books under my belt, I feel I’m ready to commit to 2015 as a YEAR OF PRODUCTIVITY. My intention is to produce books, of course, but by joining this course I know the commitment is really about producing work as an illustrator and really polishing my new, improved portfolio, geared toward thrusting myself fully into the world of illustration so I can reach financial success and freedom.

I have a handful of clients (good ones), but I know in order to be lucrative as a creative professional, I need to really concentrate on producing a strong, new portfolio.

Wish me luck, please! And I wish you success as well!! There is enough work out there for all of us!

LRSSchool-logo200Time to share this again, by Neil Gaiman – the BEST advice for artists ever given.

Get a Mini-MARNEY in Your Pocket! ~ Reviewing “Hop, Skip, Jump!” – PART ONE: History of My Marney Fanhood

Me and Marney in Cleveland, OH - Her Creating Time book tour!

Me and Marney in Cleveland, OH – Her Creating Time book tour!

I have been a fan of Marney Makridakis’s work for several years now (since my discovery of Artellaland.com in 2008). I first discovered her website when I was shifting into my new life as an Independent Contractor, exploring the creative options out there and searching for creative inspiration. Her website, Artellaland.com, amazed me. There was SO much there to browse. I found myself staying on her website for long periods of time just to look and learn – asking myself if I would ever be able to produce such a magnitude of
work.

Wanting to soak up as much of this awesomeness as possible, hoping to learn a few things from this natural creative wonder, I signed up for everything I could: subscribed to The Artellagram Museletter, Artella Magazine, and The Blissness Magazine (one after the other – not all at once). I signed up for the multiple free teleclasses she offered, and learned from observing her in those venues. I had the pleasure of hearing her across the phone line during those teleclasses as she stumbled through the new technology of these teleclass settings, teaching me that it was totally OKAY to exhibit your imperfections when you’re trying something new like that (A quote comes to mind from “Goddess” Leonie Dawson – “It is better to be IMPERFECT than UNFINISHED.”). She came across as REAL. And she was indeed THE REAL DEAL. My respect for her grew even more, and I was able to see myself trying out new things like this as well, without fear of falling flat on my face (thank you for that, Marney).

I listened to audio lectures as part of the Complete Idealists Blissness Action Camp while I scratched out illustrations and caricatures as a contractor, just soaking it all in. I was HOOKED. I knew that anything this woman put out into the world, I wanted a piece of it… her words spoke to my core.

And then I took the biggest leap (well, the FIRST big leap, anyway) when I joined the Inaugural Artbundance™ Certification Training Program. By then I had already launched a few Artist’s Way-inspired Creative Women’s Retreats, had budded a little “Blissness” (to use Marney’s word) of my own called “Create-A-Way,” and was ready to see what could happen with an Artbundance™ Coach certification under my belt. As always, I got my money’s worth and more with the content. I STILL have material from that program that I haven’t made full use of yet. She had a series of “Artsignments™” that as a Certified Artbundance Coach you could use in your own coaching venues. I printed it all out and wished like CRAZY there was a printed book that had everything there that I could just flip through.

Well, VOILA!

HERE IT IS! And WHAT a gift this book is to the world!

“Hop, Skip, Jump: 75 Ways to Playfully Manifest a Meaningful Life!”

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To those who do NOT have Marney’s ARTbundance™ Certification Training, but have been thinking about it, this book is the PERFECT stepping stone for you. The exercises in this book introduce Marney’s playful approach which she uses in all her wonderful programs! It’s seriously like having a Mini-Marney right there with you! Ha!

There are 75 exercises (SEVENTY FIVE!) in this book which can be used in SO many ways to boost a playful attitude toward your work, business and life. It might sound like a hefty book – and YES – when I first received it, I thought, “Oh my gosh this is a thick book!” But when I flipped through it, I realized it was a VERY friendly book – one to KEEP OUT and flip through (I have been harping on my OCD husband to PLEASE not put it back on the bookshelf!). The chapters (exercises) are no more than three pages each, with prompt, “HOPPY” paragraphs (perfect for my “SKIPPING” mode).

Order NOVEMBER 11, 2014 and you get EXTRA goodies, by the way (book launch day)!

I’ll be continuing my blog posts this month to share my own experiences while “PLAYING” with the exercises in this book, as well as sharing some of the exercises I have done in the past with Marney!

Looking forward to sharing more of my adventures with Marney in later posts – I haven’t even gotten to my Mapping and Mentoring with Marney experience, as well as when I brought her to Cleveland, OH as part of her Creating Time book tour – but I’ll save those goodies for later!  🙂

Are You a Hopper, Skipper, or a Jumper? TAKE THE QUIZ!

I’m in the process of reading & reviewing Marney Makridakis’s newest book, HOP, SKIP, JUMP: 75 Ways to Playfully Manifest a Meaningful Life. I thought it would be fun to share her book trailer as well as a special QUIZ she has available so you can find YOUR most productive manifesting style: Hopping, Skipping or Jumping! PLUS, if you order her book on November 11, you get a $15 gift certificate from Marney’s website – a GREAT deal, because her website is FILLED with lots of fun inspirational, creativity-driving e-products!

Busy, busy, busy!

aug-10-blue-beeI can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve posted on my blog! I’ve had quite a lot going on. I’ve been blessed with some full-time on-site work recently (YAY!), but have consequently had to put a couple illustration projects on the back burner (ICK!). And now NaNoWriMo is coming up (a month to devote to writing 50,000 words), and also PiBoIdMo (the SAME month, challenging me to come up with a picture book idea every day).

Am I a glutton for punishment? Yeah, I guess so.

And quite possibly I am about to be slammed with freelance work (hopefully).

Okay. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.

But happily so.

Why add more to my plate by participating in Nano and PiBoIdMo? Well, I just love those two challenges. It’s the one time out of the year when you know there are thousands of other writers trying to do the same thing, and most likely not making their goals and getting frustrated – just like me. You know the saying, misery loves company.

PLUS I have FOUR or FIVE book ideas that are SCRAMBLING to get out of my darn head. And each one is totally different. I have the next Wearing My Weird book that is solidifying in my mind (thank goodness for the people who have asked me to write another one), a book about my own dad’s life, a nonfiction book about my creative heroes that has been gestating for the past 4 years that MIGHT end up being the most important book to write (keeping the title secret for now), a spiritual book, and a children’s book I wrote and illustrated back in college that just needs to be polished up (I SO wanted it to be completed before Christmas! Not sure that’s happening now)!

So I visited my blog today to add the Nano and PiBoIdMo widgets, noticed I hadn’t blogged for a while, and decided to finally type up a new post to explain what I’ve been up to (yes, I’m still alive!).

Amazing Authors I met at Author Alley this Year!

IMG_3515I wanted to share about some of the most interesting books and people I had the pleasure of meeting at Author Alley this year (my first year at Author Alley).

jerry_lewis_celebrities_coverI had the goal to meet one specific author I wanted to get advice from, who ended up being a really awesome individual, Irv Korman – author of I was Jerry Lewis’s Bodyguard for 10 minutes! and I was Jackie Mason’s Chauffeur for 5 Minutes. I wanted to get some advice regarding the book I’m working on about my dad’s life. My dad’s brushed up against several celebrities when he lived in Canada, and I want to write about his encounters. It was good to talk with Irv and get some important tips – most importantly to RECORD my conversations with my dad as I interview him about his experiences. It was cool too, because Irv also works as an entertainer for parties, so when a little girl bought Pretty Betty Butterfly, he made her a little balloon apple – a very cool surprise!

I was thrilled to meet the two wonderful people sitting on each side of me as well. They were both professional illustrators as well as writers, which we had in common.abirdsc

I met Lawrence (Larry) Hohman who had written and  illustrated a series of alphabet books, called Alphabetical Books in Color. We actually both graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art, which was another wonderful coincidence! I bought his book on bugs for my son Jack who is obsessed with bugs lately. Larry did pretty well at the event by selling a whole set of his books to one customer. That was exciting (and envious) to see!
fd5db72ecf996469e71348ecbb9379c4Another great person I met was Dixie Frank! I bought her wonderful children’s book, I’m So Glad You Saved Me – The True Story of Ringo Star-ling. It’s a beautiful story with equally beautiful illustrations. I highly recommend it. Her book is a true story about the Starling she rescued as a baby bird. This bird is actually quite amazing. Dixie told me that Starlings actually are mimicking birds – like parrots. So this bird talks and sings, and whistles the Andy Griffith Show theme! Ha! Dixie also creates Pet Portraits and does face painting for events as well.

There were other authors I wish I could have spoken with more, and their books looked very interesting to me as well!

Here are my favorite books & authors from the event:

Jennifer Priester – author of The Mortal Realm Witch Series – a series for ages 8-12 years old.

James A. Willis – Author of many “Weird” books and Ghost Stories (yummy!)

Tali Nay – Author of Schooled – A book about the things you REALLY learn in school – the life lessons you remember for the rest of your life. This topic of course interested me.

Mary R. Woldering – Author of Children of Stone: Voices in Crystal – A very interesting looking book. If the title interests you, I recommend checking it out! And this awesome woman lives in Euclid, Ohio – so excited to live so close to some of these people!!

Joel Ayala Ayapana – Author of The Book of Positive Light – Remembrance of the Heart. This guy will be conducting a workshop at the Ohio Journey Expo this year, and has an iTunes Radio page.

The experience at Author Alley was an interesting one. Not the best when it comes to book sales (but I guess selling 2 books isn’t too shabby for an event that’s tucked away in an alley), but a wonderfully fun networking event! I definitely want to do it again next year, and am looking forward to having at least a couple new books to sell next year (my gears are working)!

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Adding Gifties to my Book Orders – with Rubbermoon Stamps!

IMG_2464I’m having a lot of fun finding different things to gift along with the books I’m sending out. I just published my book, Wearing My Weird, a couple weeks before Christmas, and was SO excited to get some autographed copies out when I received my first batch! The first batch was sent during a time when I had some materials to make some little tag bookmarks. I didn’t have much time to get too crafty, but it’s fun to see what a simple amount of marker and rubber stamping will do to create a little something special.

When I purchase something from a creative person, I often am surprised by what I call “little gifties.” Just small little somethings that make me feel the person I purchased from is thankful for my order. I like to try to do the same for those who buy my autographed books!

For these little bookmarks, I simply used the following:

1) Some 1 x 2 ” tags.

2) Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen (the same I use for signing the books – they are great because they don’t smear like other pens or markers!

IMG_24653) The typewriter Rubbermoon art stamp. What’s cool about this stamp is that the heart shape is separate from the typewriter stamp, so you can have fun with the little hearts. For this tag/bookmark I placed the typewriter at the bottom, and stamped the hearts to look like they’re emerging from the typewriter.

On the reverse side (not pictured) with the Artist Pen, I wrote little sayings related to the title of my book, like “Embrace your Weird,” “Write your weird,” or “Express your Weird.” I made sure to sign the bookmarks to show it was a little handmade something from me.

The next time I make a batch, I’d like to add ribbon/yarn tassels to the end, and do some painting as a base, to dress it up more. But sometimes I just have to go with simplicity to make sure I just get an idea out.

I’ve been having fun using various Rubbermoon stamps as simple embellishments like this, finding new, creative ways to use them simply when I don’t have much time to get artsy. Loving this easy tool!