Monthly Archives: May 2012

Doozying up Vocabulary

I expect that every tribe over the years develops a few useful words or phrases that make up its unique lexicon. Here are a few from my tribe that you, too, may find useful.

GMAZEL – an extra stop or errand. This recalls our friend LeRoy Gmazel and the winter day he drove us to the ski slopes. On the way, he made not one, not two, but three side trips: picking up skis, dropping off a bag of potatoes, returning a friend’s chainsaw. Thus in our family when you ask for an extra stop along the way, you request a gmazel.

WOLVERINE! – the opposite of crying wolf. Wolverines are serious, fierce animals. When you call “wolverine,” you really mean it. A family member will rush to your aid. Especially useful if the tp has run out.

MIMI HAIR – hair that sticks up in every direction. My friend Emilee Birrell’s childhood doll Mimi had the most unmanageable of unmanageable hair. Emilee’s mom bought Mimi a new wig– and still the wild hair persists. (Thanks for the photo, Em.)

“IS THERE A DAY YOU DON’T DISAPPOINT ME?” – a smart alec phrase used to get family members moving. We encountered this one on the Greek island of Kea. The innkeeper came by early one morning with maps and advice and helped us plan out the day’s hike. Two hours later, we were still sitting on the porch when he strolled by again. He called to us, “Is there a day you don’t disappoint me?”

Eventually we hiked to the ancient city of Karthaia and the ruins of a 6th century BC temple to Athena above this beach. Beautiful.

Zelda doozied up Ivy’s tail.

When you are creating the world of a story, you may find that words and phrases particular to that world begin to emerge. In my own Zelda and Ivy stories, the sisters  “punch paws” in solidarity, “woozy-weasel promise” to seal a deal, and “doozy up their tails.” These turns of phrase are part of their fox-tribal lexicon.

Now it’s your turn. What words and phrases are unique to your tribe?

Cooking Up Ideas

Once a month our critique group meets. We each bring what we are working on – rough drafts of manuscripts, storyboards and illustrations that are baked, half baked or sometimes overbaked. We talk about the work and then we have lunch. We each bring something to contribute to lunch as well; it’s a potluck.

I usually worry a little about the work I am sharing but never about the food.

I’ve been thinking about how to approach writing with the same ease that I approach cooking. I enjoy everything about cooking – planning what to make, chopping, cooking, serving, eating and even washing the dishes.

When I write or paint I love it once I get started. But I sometimes fear that I have a finite number of ideas. When the page is empty I worry that it will stay that way.

I am comfortable cooking because I have been doing it most of my life. Sometimes the bread doesn’t rise perfectly or the soup is too thin or thick. But I know that it will come out better the next time. I keep cooking.

With painting I have a similar comfort and a habit of working. Part of what makes me able to paint good paintings is allowing myself to paint some bad ones. Ideas beget ideas.

Writing is still not routine for me, but making writing as common as cooking could be the key to making ideas flow. As I write more the empty page will feel more like an opportunity and less like an abyss. The empty page could be that little pang of hunger that makes me want to cook.

p.s. Here is an attempt I made a while ago to literally bake an illustration for a book. It doesn’t completely work  yet but maybe the idea will rise again someday. Bon Appetit!


This next installment in my dinosaur chronicles is about Fate. Life is full of struggles and disappointments, but sometimes you can’t help but feel the stars are smiling at you.

When I was asked by an editor at Scholastic to illustrate Marion Dane Bauer’s manuscript, Dinosaur Thunder, there were many reasons why the prospect was appealing to me.

First and foremost, I crave the opportunity to work with  texts as well-crafted as Marion’s. I had the pleasure of meeting Marion at the Vermont College writers program in the Winter of 2009 when I rode there on the coattails of Laura Kvasnosky. Marion is a sensitive, thoughtful, beautiful writer and she impressed me with her insight and generosity as a teacher and mentor.

I am also a die-hard dinosaur devotee. I have been fascinated with Saurischia since I can remember. Of course I had a set of plastic dinosaurs when I was young (didn’t everyone?), but my devotion to them didn’t end when I was too old to play in the sandbox. The decorations on my dorm room wall my Freshman year in college included dinosaur theme-park postcards and a certified dinosaur-hunting license (from one of said theme parks), right next to my poster of a Degas ballerina. Even today, there is a glow-in-the-dark dinosaur skeleton in my closet. I’m serious. That’s not a skeleton-in-the-closet joke, although it probably should be.

Not surprisingly, I accepted the job. But there is one thing to consider when taking on the task of illustrating a book with dinosaurs in it. If you are illustrating a book that includes animals – say, dogs or cats or mice or armadillos – finding photo reference is pretty easy. Not so, dinos.

In spite of what you may think if you’ve seen Jurassic Park, no photos exist of real dinosaurs. There are lots of illustrations of dinosaurs, but no right-minded illustrator wants to illustrate from another illustrator’s work. It just isn’t Kosher.

I had a few toy dinosaurs sitting around already (see confession above) but not enough variety to work from. I decided I was going to have to invest in another toy dinosaur set. I braced myself for an Megasaurus-sized shopping spree. The good ones are expensive!

Enter a dinosaurus ex machina: Near my house, there is a collection box for a thrift store chain (not a non-profit). This box sits on the edge of the parking lot at my neighborhood grocery store, which I go to at least once or twice a week, and often donations are left on the ground around the box if it’s already full.

On this particular day, as I was lugging my groceries home, I glanced at the pile of stuff sitting on the ground next to the box and – I kid you not – there was a Tyrannosaurus rex head sticking out of the top of a plastic garbage bag. I stopped. I looked around. I crouched down to look further into the bag, and it was full of toys, most of which were dinosaurs. I think the clouds parted and the sun shone down, but I’m not sure if I remember that part correctly.

While stuffing dinosaurs into my grocery bags, my purse, my pockets, I considered the guilt I was incurring by taking things from a donation station, but I promised myself I would re-donate them some day, to a not-for-profit organization, and I prayed that none of my neighbors could see me…

When I got back home I unloaded my loot and surveyed what I’d scampered off with. There were over forty dinosaurs, all sorts. I no longer had to worry about finding dinosaur reference for the book.

Aren’t they a grand collection?

They were extremely helpful to have when I was working on the book. Like I said, sometimes you feel like the stars are smiling at you, and dinosaurs are your Destiny.

And I am going to re-donate those dinosaurs. Any day now…

Cats, Dogs, Rats, Cabbages…

Yesterday it rained. And rained.   Guess I should be used to it after 37 years in the Pacific Northwest, but I admit to feeling a bit “under the weather,” literally.  The French say it another way: Avoir le cafard – “to have the cockroach” – in other words, to be down in the dumps They also say that to be depressed is to “grind the black” – broyer du noir.  Maybe the rain is making me grind a black cockroach, but I sure wish it would stop. Of course, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride….I wonder how the French say that? Outside, the drizzle has chased hummingbirds away from our new feeder; inside this afternoon, I gave up and turned on the heater, and I thought “May 3rd, for heaven’s sake, and it’s raining cats and dogs.”

Why would someone think “cats and dogs” when the rain comes down?  Where do these figures of speech come from? Did you know that in Spain, it doesn’t rain cats and dogs, it rains jugs? Esta lloviendo a cantaros!  In France, it rains ropes.  Odd.  Of course, in some places in America, it rains pitchforks. Odder still, but we just don’t think it’s quite as odd because we’re used to it. One of the wonderful things about studying another language is not only learning new idioms (did you know that while American women “give birth,” Mexican women “give light”?) but also hearing our own language in a fresh way.  And that’s what a writer need to do, too – hear his or her own language almost as if it were a foreign tongue.

My wish that the rain would go away is “pie in the sky” – unattainable – or, as the French say,   prendre la lune avec les dents – taking the moon with the teeth. One of these days, it’s going to stop raining and we’ll go straight from our in-like-a-lion days to the dog days of summer – lions and dogs, odd again – without ever seeing spring.  Rats! (or, as the Italians might say Cavolo! Cabbage!)

I guess I shouldn’t get too cranky about it – the rain, the deluge.  We tolerate, we get by little by little or in fits and starts or in bits and pieces or in – well – andiamo por singhiozzo – we go by hiccups. And it’s important, in Seattle to ponder what the Romans famously said: Nos poma natamus. We apples swim.  We are unsinkable.

Next time I write a poem, I might try to write about people who are like apples floating in water. Or I might write a poem where I sink my teeth into the moon. People ask me where I get my ideas. This is where. Cats, dogs, rats, cabbages, hiccups, the moon.  Language.

It’s Poetry Friday today, by the way, and Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader is hosting the round-up. Head over there to see what poems, thoughts about poetry, and links people have posted.