Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Cook's Choice Today

Stephanie started us out this round with the fun story of Cook's Choice at her elementary school, and as usual, we were able to wander far and wide. To wrap up this round, I'm returning to lunch.

At W. R. Manz Elementary School, nobody ate lunch at school. At 12:00 we all put on our coats and walked home. And every day in the winter, cook's choice and my choice were the same–a bowl of soup and a sandwich.

My mom was the cook who would make the sandwich and heat up the soup, but my dad was the cook who made the soup. Anytime we had chicken, turkey, or ham, Dad would put all the bones in a pot and make a soup stock. Beyond that, he didn't do much cooking, but a strong memory of my childhood is the smell of fresh soup. After he had added noodles and vegetables and seasonings and let the soup cook and cool, he would ladle it into jars.

One of my favorite parts of the day is still lunch. I often give myself a task such as a certain number of pages to write or a project to complete. And then I have my lunch and listen to the radio. And since I'm the cook now and I'm choosing, one of my favorite things to have is soup.

Blah Humblog

Blah Humblog

This week I’ve given four freshman classes writing exams, and a class of seniors a journalism-writing exam. I am learning to become a diplomat writer-in-residence/educator in secondary education. The semester deadline for my MTSU Writer’s Loft students has arrived in synchronicity, as has a request for the title and a synopsis of a January lecture at MTSU (Unveiling the Narrative: Meta Code for Metaphor. --I think).

Yet a moment of joy arrives, truly; the homecoming of my sons from college was also this week. Boy-men, their dogs, their duffel bags and contents from college all landed in my two-bedroom cottage. We are a cozy tribe, the boys and I. Everything is as it should be and I am grateful; oh, filled with the light of celebration.

Then, Scout, my youngest son’s youthful black lab decides to go on a wingding with my dear Gracie in tow. Scout swims across Bayou Liberty to play with chickens, a neighbor’s experiment for their young children: Chickens who live in a coop, an Acadian coop that resembles the owner’s home, with a door that Scout learned to unlatch.

My son Michael’s dog played. She played and played with several chickens until the poor birds stopped playing. A few escaped death by roosting in the eaves of my across-the- bayou neighbor’s home. Gracie lay in my neighbor's driveway swaggering, welcoming them with her wagging tail. Scout pounced on the last chicken available and jumped in the bayou. The phone vibrated in the middle of a freshman exam.

This afternoon I am trying hard to become inspired to offer a word or two that might hold some meaning. But I’m afraid that anything I might conjure would feel untrue. I am tired and I am a grump. The truth for me is that the Chef’s Choice today would be to have someone cook especially for me.

Time passes . . . this evening I am going to an old abbey to listen and watch the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra perform Handel’s Messiah: between dogs and chickens and boy-men and me. Here I blend into the harmonics and find the one life I recognize. Home, now, renewing, I think: wonderful chaos. There might even be a story in the chicken chasing dog.


My Kitchen Counter

When I first met my husband in Manhatten we were invited to dinner at his cousin's apartment. She was a chef at the Union Square Cafe, a hotspot in the restaurant world of the mid-80s. We sat in her kitchen as she prepared our spontaneous gourmet meal. I say spontaneous because she surrounded herself with all of the ingredients and intuitively chopped and sauteed, stirred and whisked the dinner together before our very eyes. She used her fingers and hands for measuring and mixing. It was a very sensuous affair, all the time tweaking with a little bit of color-- by this I mean adding more herbs, more spices, more butter, or whatever made itself known to her. There were no recipes, only her imagination and her wits. As artists, both my husband and I remarked how it felt like painting-- being present at the canvas, noticing where a bit more naples yellow is needed or a little less cadmium red light, and relying on imagination, wits, and experience.

I have no doubt that the chef's process of working intuitively through an experience of trial and error is very much like the process I go through in my studio. I prefer not to have clear sketches and color studies in front of me like a recipe. I prefer to see what happens on the page, allowing the colors to settle and stand out as if speaking to me. Luckily I have worked with the same editor who has faith that the tiny chicken scratches I send her will turn into something beautiful and bold. When I was working on "Our Family Tree" after showing the small sketchy book dummy to her new assistant, the assistant asked "Why did you choose this artist for this book?" My editor replied, "Patience. Just wait and see." 

My palette, like the countertop in the kitchen gives me plenty of preparation space for mixing the colors and laying out the right brushes, flow enhancers, and spatulas. The author's story or my own is completely committed to memory and the words float like a mantra through my head-- perhaps like the name of a recipe. "Chicken soup, chicken soup", may run through the mind of a chef, while the ingredients make themselves known while using all of the senses. I too, use all of my senses to open to the possibilities of color and shape while holding the particular text of the spread I am working on securely in my mind. The words: "Patience. Just wait and see." also flicker through my consciousness. It is not always successful. I have been know to throw out an entire batch of illustrations and start over. No wonder it takes me a year or more to paint a book! But with imagination, wits, and experience I don my apron and begin anew. 


A Writer's Kitchen

Every great cook I know values the utensils and space in which they practice their craft. The same applies to writers and illustrators. Though it’s true that inspiration and the act of creating can take place anywhere – sometimes in the most unlikely places – having a regular space in which to work, for me, has always provided a sanctuary from the greater world.

Currently, I work in an 8 X 12 foot “writer’s shack” that I built on our acreage in the forested hills west of Olympia, Washington. The largest window, in front of my desk, faces south and allows in sunlight, a precious commodity in these days approaching winter solstice. I look out upon Rock Candy Mountain (so named though I don’t believe Wallace Stegner ever hung out around these parts) and watch the weather whenever I’m waiting for the next scene to percolate from my subconscious.

At our last house, I converted an old “pig barn” into my shack. It was a little smaller than my current writing area, but that was no matter. Instead of being in the woods, where my visitors include deer and an occasional owl sighting, the old shack faced a duck pond and a field that we left natural to encourage visitation from critters. Whether it was a family of quails ambling past, a pheasant showing off for his mate, a hawk dive-bombing a snake, or a coyote trying to sneak up on the neighbor’s chickens, there always seemed to be something happening outside my window, even if it was just the moon rising from behind the trees beyond the field. It was a peaceful place except in springtime when frogs inundated the pond, filling the air with their throaty voices, all talking at once. Of course I didn’t begrudge their presence – after all, it was their pond, too, and really they were just another source of inspiration.

Naturally I would write even without a shack. I’ve done it before. Spare rooms in apartments, at the kitchen table, in a boat – anywhere will suffice, when the work beckons. One of my fondest memories remains the summer, twenty years ago, when as a financially-strapped college graduate I had a garage sale (“Everything must go, even my books – well, most of them”) and then used the proceeds to spend two months living on a small 18-foot sailboat in the San Juan Islands, eating lots of hot dogs and Top Ramen while tap-tap-tapping out my stories on an old manual typewriter. It was a cramped and sometimes undulating space, subject to the vagaries of tide and weather, but it was my “kitchen” and I loved it.


A borrowed recipe

Okay, cooking. Hmmm. Peanut butter and jelly is a fine meal for me, as long as it's accompanied by a good book. And one of my favorite books happens to be a recipe for peace, or rather a prayer for peace. (See how I gracefully sequed out of the cooking topic?)

It's called Prayer for the twenty-first century, and it's by John Marsden (wish I could say that I wrote it!). The pictures make the poem sing, but the words shine nicely on their own.

"May the road be free for the journey,
may it lead where it promised it would,
may the stars that gave ancient bearings
be seen, still be understood.
May every aircraft fly safely,
may every traveller by found,
may sailors in crossing the ocean
not hear the cries of the drowned.
May gardens be wild, like jungles,
may nature never be tamed,
may dangers create of us heroes,
may fears always have names.
May the mountains stand to remind us
of what it means to be young,
may we be outlived by our daughters,
may be be outlived by our sons.
May the bombs rust away in the bunkers,
and the doomsday clock not be rewound,
may the solitary scientists, working,
remember the holes in the ground.
May the knife remain in the holder,
may the bullet stay in the gun,
may those who live in the shadows
be seen by those in the sun.

Amen, and happy cooking.