Saturday, October 26, 2013

Brainerd Writer's Alliance Writer's Workshop

Quote of the Day:  Great Quotes from Lorna Landvik, Minnesota author, actor, comedian, and storyteller. She's one of the best speakers you could get for a book event.

I'm not going to accept "No" as my final answer. Lorna Landvik, regarding her numerous rejections. She now has 9 books published and one on the way.

The zone of play is the sheer discovery in creating characters and story. Lorna is a panster (is that how you spell it?). She doesn't plot. Her characters lead the way. I'm that kind of writer myself.

My muse is my permission to write. According to Lorna Landvik, the muse is a myth. The muse is the time we spend with our Ass In Chair. It is also giving yourself permission to be creative and to pursue the creative life. (We're working on that over at Primo Art Spa.)

Lorna Landvik says that "Place is a character." One of the other presenters was quoting the Writer's Encyclopedia in saying that "setting is not the essence of the story." I took issue with that right away. In my play, Coffee Shop Confessions,the coffee shop held the essence. It was the place where truth spilled out, like an overturned coffee mug.

A fine group of writers:
Jodie Tweed Norquist, Candace Simar, Mary Aalgaard, Lorna Landvik, Kathleen Kruger

Candace Simar, author of the Abercrombie Trail Series

Lorna Landvik, author of nine novels, her latest is Mayor of the Universe

It was a great day for a Writer's Workshop. The Brainerd Writer's Alliance hosted the workshop at the library. They'd held a contest and the winners of each category received an award, and several were there to read their work. I enjoyed all of them. One young woman, Laura, drove up from Mankato to be part of this event. She said she wasn't sure that writing was something she'd pursue seriously. I told her, "You've come all the way from Mankato to find your 'peeps', I think that writing is your thing and that you are pursing it." How fun. It was great to mingle with other writers, hear their stories, and learn from two of my favorite Minnesota authors, Candace Simar and Lorna Landvik.

Lorna gave us a writing prompt that started out feeling a little bit like we were doing Mad Libs. She asked for an adjective (purple), a noun (sneakers), and a place (Bangkok), then she gave us a few minutes to write about a character using all three words. I popped out a bit of flash fiction, and the group wanted to hear more! Lorna says that when you think you're stuck in your writing, introduce a new character, or wonder about the ones you have. As in, I wonder how this character would react if a rock song was blasting on the car radio? Or, I wonder how this character would react to a fresh pan of brownies? Maybe even write a bit of flash fiction to get the flow going again.

I hope you all have a chance to attend workshops or events in your favorite areas of the arts.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Now, it's your turn. Use the above words to create a character and a scene. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Zoo

First of all, whether you commented on my blog, Facebook, or messaged me privately, thank you for all of the encouraging comments following yesterday's post. I don't blog for comments but I treasure those heart-felt ones I do receive. 

Now on to some fun photos--

Whether it was the Woodland Park Zoo when we lived in Seattle or the Toledo Zoo when we lived in Michigan, my older children (then younger) were often asking me to hold them up so they could better see the orangutans and lemurs. Come to think of it, this may explain some of their table manners!

But last month I realized that somehow in Lyla's three years of life, she has not yet made it to the zoo. What?!

I immediately shuffled around the puzzle I call my calendar and last week Lyla and I headed to the Cougar Mountain Zoo.

Below is just 30 seconds of the excitement that went on for over an hour as she ran up, down, and everywhere in between.

She kept this pace going to cover the zoo three times over--it's really small.

She loved the cranes.

And the wallabies.

And the McCaws. 

But most of all, she loved feeding the alpacas.

Clearly, the whole experience was a total drag for her.

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The Arts are Alive!

Quote of the Day:  You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children. Madeleine L'Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time. Her book was rejected 26 times before it was published, according to this blogpost.

This morning, as I was doing my daily reading online, I came across a post on The Guardian about Children's Theatre, written by Lyn Gardner. She is quoting her own speech about the lack of press and respect given to children's literature and theatres. She says that some people will ask her when she plans to write a "grown-up" book or play. She says that the UK is one of the leading countries for pushing the arts out of public education and over-emphasizing test scores, particularly in maths and technology. The US must be a close second. 

Many of you readers are also writers for children: picture books, middle grade, young adult, and children's theatre. You know the importance of writing for the younger audience. You also know how scary it is, because they'll see through your false voices. They won't put up with your preaching. You'd better be a good storyteller, tell it with truth, and give them real characters with real problems that they can relate to. From historical fiction to sci-fi, kids want stories that captivate their imaginations and characters they can root for. 

As I said in my recent review of The Wong Kids at The Children's Theatre in Minneapolis, teenage boys are a tough audience. They won't spare your feelings. They have many distractions and sharp minds. And, girls have such diverse interests, you can't even label what they'll pick up or be drawn to. I'm a piano teacher, and I often have siblings waiting for each other. Whenever they have a book along, I ask, "What are you reading?" They've brought in everything from "The Princess Diaries" to "The Graveyard Book," and everything in between. I've gotten some great recommendations from them!

As public schools are pushing out the arts, they're losing out on the love of learning. They are further institutionalizing education and squelching creativity. Kids, and adults, need space to set their imaginations on fire. The arts give us a chance to feel valued, to create and connect. In a recent article that I did for our school district magazine, I interviewed the high school band, orchestra, and choir instructors. They are an amazing group of teachers. They influence the lives of hundreds of kids every day. They give them something to look forward to from rehearsals that don't feel like desk work to band trips across the country. They are part of a group that works in cooperation, not competition. To read the article, go to The Brainerd Dispatch and look for We Are 181 magazine, Fall 2013 edition (the most recent one was not yet up on their website). 

You can keep the arts alive. I'm talking to you grown-ups. Show your kids that creating art, making music, and attending live performances are all important and life-giving activities. And, that they don't die once you hit adulthood. My teenage boys might not have been excited to visit the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, but I think they'll admit it was a fun day. They experienced new things, ate at a fun restaurant, and saw a live performance. We had a great time together.

Here are a few pics from our trip to the metro.

We ate at a restaurant with an old sci-fi movie theme, called The Bad Waitress.

We had the Falcon table.

Old movie posters and good food.

I said to my twins, "Go stand in front of the portrait of the twins."
They were so thrilled! Ha!

Sometimes, they stopped to examine the paintings.

Sometimes, they took a glance and walked on by.

I snapped one quick pic of them all together.
Most of the time, we were scattered about.
Eric said, "This is one big maze!"

Go. Create. Inspire!

And, enjoy the arts. Remember, the arts are life-giving. When we spend time in our creative world, we are re-creating our lives.

Journaling Prompt:  What is a story or art experience you remember from your youth?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Our Family- Imperfect and Incomplete

I didn't intend to share this on my blog--it's kind of personal. And really personal stuff I save for my journal. But when I read it to Wes, he encouraged me to post it. I was a little surprised by his openness, but perhaps one of my readers will find meaning in my thoughts.

As I hear my friends talking about being "done" with having babies and feeling maxed out in their family size, my own feelings to the contrary stand out starkly. Sure, raising a family is hard. Having a large family is exhausting and there are nights I pray for my children to fall asleep a little sooner just so I can breath. But so often I look around and feel our capacity to grow. Wes feels it, too.

How I long to cuddle a newborn skin-to-skin. To feel that special endowment of the spirit we have felt bringing each of our newborns home. I felt it the other day when I brought my friend a meal. She and her family had just welcomed their sixth child into their family and the beautiful spirit in their home--the gentleness, the fullness--was palpable.

But when I think of getting pregnant again, I feel guilty. Pregnancy for our family means losing the watchcare of a mother and companionship of a wife. The hyperemesis that accompanied each of my previous pregnancies made for an incredible burden, both physically and emotionally, on my family. How can we put our family through that again?

Since the first days of our marriage, Wes and I have talked about adoption as a part of our family plan. Lately, we've talked about it a lot more.

But sometimes the magnitude of my flaws as a mother overcome me and I feel unworthy to invite another child into our family. There are times when I see in my mind the disappointed face of a child who discovers who he has for a new mother--someone who sometimes struggles with being tender, who stinks at imaginitive play, and sometimes throws temper tantrums of her own. I don't know how I could bear the regret I might see in those eyes.

And yet I know the best place to raise a child is in a family--even one as far from perfection as our own. 

Getting us all out the door on time sometimes results in tears--and not just from the children. We have a growing problem of bickering among a couple of our children. My fourth child is terrified to wake up without me. Some days there just aren't enough clean plates for dinner and my daughter walks out the door to school in the morning with yesterday's mud on her "cleanest" pair of jeans.

But we kneel in prayer every day as a family.  I read to my children. A LOT. I'm good at that. We eat healthy food. I'm good at that, too. Wes provides well for our family, plays football in the front yard with the boys, and organizes family dance parties in the kitchen. Our children race to the door when they see his car come up the driveway. And they race just as fast across the kitchen to hug and kiss me so early in the morning.

Those are some of the best moments- when I can tell that even my children feel how good it is to be a member of our imperfect family.

For all that is lacking, for all we are working on, there is much we have to give. Financially, it is something we can do. Emotionally, we are all in. But I want it to be right. I've lived enough by the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and sometimes without it, to know that such a major decision is only to be made in the strength of the spirit.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review of The Wong Kids at The Children's Theatre in Minneapolis

Quote of the Day:  Imagination is more important than knowledge. Albert Einstein

Photos by Dan Norman featuring Alton Alburo as Bruce and Sasha Diamond as Violet

The Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis paired up with Ma-Yi Theater Company of New York to produce The Wong Kids and the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go! written by Lloyd Suh and directed by Ralph Pena, playing through November 17, 2013, in Minneapolis.

Photo by Dan Norman, featuring Matthew Gun Park

The setting for this play is a neighborhood somewhere in America and outer space. It's about a sister and brother, teen and preteen, who wrestle with how they fit in, when they're too old to play pretend, and what really makes them strong. The first demon we need to battle is our own inner voice that says we're not good enough.

Sasha Diamond as Violet and Katie Peters as Violet's inner voice, 
the one who heads the committee of negative voices and self-doubt.

Bruce and Violet learn that they have superpowers and are called on to save the universe. They need to defeat the evil Chupacabra from destroying all life forms and gobbling up all the planets, a cross between Pacman and Space Invaders. They use a simple set with fantastic special effects to create this show. The sound and light technicians deserve the standing ovation for this production. They create a stage with phantasmagorical effect. (I've always wanted to use that word!) It is fantasy and action, bright lights, rock music, and a story that reminds us that we need to be true to ourselves, that being different is sometimes our greatest asset, and that members of our family deserve our love and loyalty.

I brought my three teenage sons to this show. They laughed. They had a good time. We all enjoyed the fight scene with the really cool Nerf gun that shot disc-shaped bullets that glowed in the black light. They felt it was a bit juvenile for them, but maybe that's what you say when you go to the children's theatre with your mom. I know that teenage boys are a tough audience. Still, they said they all wanted to go back to the theatre with me, and have really enjoyed A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie.

I think this play is for kids 3rd grade and older. There are some dark images. The Chupacabra looks like a grim reaper with an alien head. Some of the action is wild, and young kids might be frightened by the dark scenes and loud noises. The special effects are what make this show, and the story is poignant for anyone.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What's your favorite word? What are some of your favorite haunting images?

The Drive Home

After spending an entire day alone together on the other side of the mountains, Wes and I decided to take the long way home. I love the long way.

We get to drive through a wind farm--a truly amazing marriage of art and technology. Really, I'm so glad Wes usually drives this stretch so that I can just sit in wonder at the incredible power and grace of these turbines. They are huge!

Also, I think my Dutch ancestors would be proud.

I'm surprised these photos turned out so well. I had my doubts as I aimed my point-and-shoot camera through our bug-spattered windshield. 

 Step aside, East Coast. We've got some beautiful old barns here, too.

Mount Stuart in the background.

The state of Washington just bought up 50,000 acres of this beautiful valley, curbing any further development. Fish will be saved, water supplies boosted, habitat restored and its breathtaking scenery spared from countless future vacation the one I was dreaming of building. Well, more like a family cabin. You know, the kind where I could picture our posterity gathering years from now. They'd tell their children how grateful they should be for their great-great grandparent's sacrifice so they could spend summers there fishing and riding horses in the Teanaway River Valley. How many winters had cousins come inside from snowmobiling to warm up by the fireplace with hot chocolate and wool blankets? When hard times came, they always knew they could count on the family cabin.

Poof. Bye-bye, dream.

Of course my dream didn't include all the hundreds of other people with the same idea. I do hate to think of this lovely place speckled with other people's vacation homes.

And I do actually care about the salmon run. You can't live in Western Washington and not care about the salmon run.

Maybe I'll just frame this last photo and hang it in our front room.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Piles of Fun- Part 2 (Wood Chips)

This is what you do for fun when your mother has a thing for free piles of wood chips-


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Piles of Fun- Part 1 (Leaves)

It was one beautiful fall day with two great big piles of fun.

First, the leaves...

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