Monthly Archives: January 2018

Winter Sunlight

Anna Silivonchik

Belarusian Illustrator Anna Silivonchik

I just finished reading an article in the New York Times about the record-setting lack of sunlight in Moscow this December. During the entire month, the poor citizens of that city got only six minutes of it, total. Yes, you read that correctly: six minutes. Total. That’s the time it takes to cook a soft-boiled egg. Now divide that by 31 days….

According to the article, the city was “shrouded in an unrelenting cloud cover” which meteorologists blamed on anomalies in cyclone patterns over the Atlantic, combined with warmer than average temperatures. When interviewed on NPR about what that month felt like, reporter Charles Mayne said that the sunlight was “painfully meted out over a number of days….you could enjoy just 30 seconds or so as it came by.”

I have subsequently vowed (on Facebook, if that can be called vowing) to stop my rants about the rain and the short days we suffer through every winter in the Pacific Northwest. The average duration of sunlight in Seattle during the month of December is 52.9 hours; in Moscow, the average drops to 18 hours. I do remember one winter where Seattle had measurable rain for 90 days in a row. That was dismal. But six minutes of sunlight in 31 days? Compared to that, the Northwest is a balmy paradise.

If you follow Books Around the Table, chances are good that you’re a writer or an artist or a creative person of one kind of another. Creative people can be instinctively hermit-like; we can stay at our desks or workshops and lose all track of time. I’m writing about the lack of light today only to encourage all of us (you, Readers, and myself) to go outside and soak up the light this winter whenever we can. Bundle up, put on boots, put on a hat and good mittens, but get outside. Sunlight helps our bodies remember their circadian rhythms; it helps us fight depression.

phoebe wahl

Artwork and Desk/Tools of Illustrator Phoebe Wahl

Sometimes, we need to resist isolation: a nice smile from (or to) passing strangers on a cold but sunlit day can make all the difference in boosting our moods. We can go from dour to cheerful in one walk around the block.  Better yet, we can embark on a ramble, completely unfettered. We can let the light fill us up.

It’s true that hot cocoa, a fire in the woodstove, a cozy chair, and a good book to read are lovely during the winter. No doubt about it. But don’t forget to let the light in (or let yourself out into it) whenever you can. Remember what Thoreau said:

“What fire could ever equal the sunshine of a winter’s day, when the meadow mice  come out by the wallsides, and the chicadee lisps in the defiles of the wood? The warmth comes directly from the sun, and is not radiated from the earth, as in summer; and when we feel his beams on our backs as we are treading some snowy dell, we are grateful as for a special kindness, and bless the sun which has followed us into that by-place.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunshine on the Snow (Replica of Thoreau’s Cabin, Walden Pond)

The reporter I mentioned above, Charles Mayne, said this: ” Well, you know, those six minutes – I mean, I pretty much remember every single one of them. You’d be in the middle of your day, working or meeting a friend. And if you were lucky enough to be either outside or near a window, you know, you’d suddenly feel this kind of shift in your mood, you know, something along the lines of – I think it’s called happiness….”

 


[In honor of all the snow around the country, I’ve posted a poem for Poetry Friday titled “Winter” by Walter de la Mare. You can read it over at my blog, The Drift Record.]

 

 

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Words and Images from the Women’s March

Words and Images. That’s how we convey story in a picture book. Yesterday, I tuned into the words and images that told the story of the Women’s March in Seattle.

It started with how it all looks. I had misplaced the pink pussyhat I knit last year – so decided to wear a red hat my sister Kate sewed me, edged with buttons from my mom’s button box. It was a way to bring Mom and my sisters along.

Then we met a woman on the Light Rail who’d sewn 100 pink fleece pussyhats to give  away. That set the generous feeling for the day.

with my friend Suzette

We took the train from the University station. There had been a smattering of pink pussy hats and signs as we descended the escalator into the Light Rail dungeon. By the time we emerged at Cal Anderson park everyone was showing the colors of the movement – which seems to stick to the purple and red side of the color wheel.

At the park, these two passed out the 1000 buttons they had made. I like the words on mine: strong female character, (especially good for a writer, right?)

Words and images. The Seattle march, which numbered as many as 50,000, was led off by Native Americans wearing black and red clothing, some with button blankets and woven hats. Their drums set a beat of gravitas. Their signs drew attention to the cause of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Before we fell into line, a guy with a microphone and camera asked us why we were there. Where to start?

Some of my favorite signs said why. Sometimes with humor, sometimes just pointing to the heartbreaking truth.

Respect my existence or expect resistance

I loved that many of the marchers were men…

 …and that many children participated as well, like this adorable group with Suzette’s daughter and her friends: four moms and seven little ones. When I asked seven-year old Sidney why she was marching, she said, “I want girls and women to have the same rights as men –  because I’m a girl.”

Their future keeps us marching. I plan to hang on to my new pussyhat. This story’s not over.

 

 

Many Gifts

Each month, Julie Paschkis, Laura Kvasnosky, Bonny Becker, Julie Larios and I meet at one of our houses, around one of our tables, to review and critique each other’s work. We also share news, thoughts, stories, quandaries and lunch (or brunch) and tea. As most of you already know, this blog evolved out of our working friendship.

Each year, we exchange gifts for the holidays – small things, often items we have made ourselves, sometimes souvenirs from places we have visited in the past year.

But the greatest gift we give each other isn’t at these yearly holiday gatherings; it is what we give each other each time we meet, and often in between. We give our eyes, ears, brains and trust. It has been many years since I joined this group (around 2002) and it started ten years before that. A few members have come and gone (and come back again). We started blogging together in January of 2012. Between the five of us, we have published 69 books and 309 blog posts. Geez.

There have been a lot of thoughts and ideas shared around our tables. I am forever grateful for the excellent input and feedback I have received over the years – and that is not to discount in any way the friendships we have developed.

If you have a professional critique group like ours, you know how valuable it is. If you don’t and wish you did, find a few open-hearted individuals whose work you respect see if they are amenable to starting a children’s book group with you. Maybe you will find a good group if you take a picture book writing or illustration class or workshop (that is how this group got started). It helps if you are all at a similar place with your writing and/or illustration careers.

Best wishes for a creative and productive new year!

 

On Board

At the end of every year I look back. I think about the shape of the previous year. I look at my decisions – good and bad, and see where they took me.
Each decision leads me somewhere, and each year has a different shape. Some of what happens is beyond my control and some isn’t.
Like a board game!

Here are some board games from long ago. I hope you will enjoy looking at them. Maybe you’ll be inspired to play a game, or to make up your own.


in 1804, this game was “Designed for the amusement of Youth of both Sexes and calculated to Inspire their Minds with an Abhorrence of Vice and a Love of Virtue.” (My generation had Twister.)


You could climb the Mount of Knowledge in 1800.


100 years later you could climb to Klondyke and search for gold.

Snakes and Ladders is a game based on Moksha-Patamu – an Indian game used for religious instruction, which has 12 vices but only 4 virtues. Some later versions also include moral consequences,

and some don’t.

When my niece Zoe was little she made her own version.

with vivid details.

Some game boards have squares.

And some are round.


Here are instructions for Mu Torere in case you would like to play.

Sometimes a game (or life in general) can feel like a wild goose chase.

Sometimes the box sums it up.

Here is a game from Roman times, with advice, as translated by R.C. Bell.


To Hunt, to Swim,
To Play, to Grin,
This is to Live

Lavari might be translated more accurately as “to wash”, but swimming is more fun.
Happy New Year! May you be awash in good things.

p.s. What was your favorite game growing up? I liked Chinese Checkers because of the star shaped board and marbles, and Milles Bornes, because we got to shout Coup Fourre! I still don’t know what that means.

p.s. Most of the games in this post came from two books: The Boardgame Book by R.C. Bell, and A Collector’s Guide to Games and Puzzles by Caroline Goodfellow.16 5x5 board