Thursday, December 25, 2008

Time to Breathe... Time to Rest... Time to Gather and Time to Dream...

I can’t believe how fast the Fall slipped into Winter and into Christmas! There is a lull now after the presents are opened before the chaos of a family gathering and feast for me to slip down to the keyboard and write my first entry since November.

Almost every waking moment since Retreat has been filled with teaching, drawing, painting, volleyball tournaments, School District Championships (Erin’s team won!!), baking, Christmas pageant rehearsals and much more. I have taught or been a Visiting Illustrator through the Writers in the Schools Program every day that I have not booked myself off the system to paint, averaging 3 days a week or more! This went a long way to helping our family’s bottom line, especially in these uncertain economic times. My girls have learned how to get home and get settled into their homework for the first half an hour after school before I get home from supply teaching at the high school where Erin will head next fall. It has a school day that is an hour longer than theirs, but the bus ride home from school takes at least half an hour. They are growing up SO fast... It astounds me that they will be 14 and 10 next April!

After a fall of weekend travels to tournaments, the Provincial 15 and under Volleyball season wrapped up on the same weekend as a book signing and our church Christmas pageant. Life was a wee bit chaotic for 48 hours. Erin’s team finished in 5th place overall despite a good win/loss ratio because of the points scored against them. She enjoyed playing with the girls from last year’s team who moved up to the older division, but she is also thrilled that she can play another year in the 14 and under league that begins in January. The loss at the provincial level was more than offset by winning the School District championships as the captain of her team. This is the first time that her school has ever won a trophy and banner for girl’s Volleyball!

School wrapped up for the Christmas holidays after two FABULOUS report cards. We spent a week or so doing all the baking for the church baskets and teacher gifts. Can you see my dining room table at all under the cookies?? I do tend to go a bit overboard...

Last Saturday, Erin decided that she needed to spend some of her hard earned baby sitting money at the mall. She and two other friends roamed on their own for a few hours while Nick, Bethany and I searched for the last of the things on our lists, then her friends came home for a sleep over and gingerbread house decorating party. I think the house turned out better than last year’s with the extra creative input. It also helped to have extra bodies to nibble the candy leftovers!

Today will be a day of long distance phone calls to far-flung family and gathering with those who are near. Nick can’t wait to play his lego Batman on the Wii with the girls and I am looking forward to lots of long soaks in the tub with all the wonderful spa stuff that my family bought for me.

The holiday vacation is also a wonderful break for me because I can’t get any calls to supply teach! This lets me focus on spending time with my family and immersing myself in getting my portfolio ready for the SCBWI conference at the end of January in New York City. I have been rediscovering how much I like watercolours with a piece called “Raining Cats and Dogs”. I am just building up the shadows in the raincoats before adding the colour after masking all the areas off that I needed to keep white with frisket. It is SUCH fun to play with!! I am hoping to have 4 strong pieces ready that none of the Art Directors saw this summer in L.A. Anything more than that will be gravy.

So to those of you who have been checking this blog for updates and then e-mailing to see if I am OK... I am doing fine... more than FINE! I hope that all of you can find moments of peace and tranquility during the chaos of the Holiday Season... to reflect upon the year that was and dream about the year to come... then take the first steps out to make some of those dreams a reality!

To those who are traveling at this time of year, may your journeys be safe ones!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Of Accomplishments and Dreams...

I am literally counting the hours.

Tomorrow night, I abandon my family and beg my husband to drive my mother and I almost 40 minutes away from our city to a wonderful haven known as Camp Wildwood for an AWESOME cross stitch retreat! For almost 48 hours, I will be free from e-mail, phone, children and husband. Yes, I will be sleeping in my sleeping bag on a mattress on the floor (because the bunk beds are just too SHORT for me!) but someone else will be doing all the cooking and dishes. If I want to sit and stitch or knit or draw until midnight... I can! If I want to take a nap or go for a walk in the middle of the afternoon... I can!

Can you see why I am counting down the hours until I leave?

I used to lie to my youngest daughter every time I went to retreat. She would tell me how much she was going to miss me... and I would tell her “ I will miss you too!”. Now that she is older, I can be honest with her. I explain that Mommy will be much happier and much more relaxed after an event like this than if I didn’t go! Since the girls have Monday and Tuesday off from school, I will still have time to play with them and get stuff done here at home. I can truly skip off with minimal guilt this year! I probably need it even more this year because of all the supply work that I am getting. I have worked or taught outside the home every day this week. Great for the budget... not so great for getting ready for the SCBWI conference that I just registered for today in New York City at the end of January. I need to have 5 or 6 new pieces in my portfolio for that show so that they see change and growth since this summer in LA.

Instead of giving in to panic... I turn to my knitting and stitching. Knitters and stitchers know that you have to just work on the piece one stitch at a time.

LOOK!! I finally finished that second pair of socks! Aren’t they COOL???!! This is all your fault, Barb!

With volleyball season underway, we spent last Saturday in Fredericton at a 15 and under Provincial Volleyball tournament with Erin. Smart, multitasking mother and illustrator that I am, I had already arranged a book signing at the Fredericton Chapters bookstore with the author of Owen and the Dinosaur, Paul Burns. I watched Erin’s first set of games and then snuck off for 2 hours to peddle our books. They sold very well!

On the way down in the car, I decided to start an Irish Moss pattern scarf. The texture of the wool and colour shading lent itself well to this motif. I was fine in the car and during the second set of games that I watched when I returned to the tournament... but then our team made it to the semifinals. Since I knit by feel, I can watch the game and knit at the same time... but I found that I was looking down to often to see which row I was on to keep the pattern working properly! So this scarf got stuffed down into my “Knitting Bag of Holding” (yes, I did play a LOT of D&D!) and out came another tempting colour and new needles for a second scarf to knit in “plain old knitting”. Love the colour!

I also learned that you can actually knit TWO socks at once!! I bought some wonderful sock yarn at the Purple Purl in Toronto and started to work on two socks from the same ball so that my tension would stay the same for both socks. I did promise myself that 2008 would be the year that I learned to knit socks and I am well on my way to being totally addicted.

Of course I did buy a new knitting project to take up to the retreat.... but you will have to wait until the next blog entry to find out what could tempt me away from my sock quest!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Recharging Batteries...

If it hadn’t been for the CreativFestival and all the wonderful memories of last weekend, I doubt that I would have found the strength to get through this week. That... and having my sock to work on at the hospital helped.

Bethany is getting used to having the splint on her arm. It still hurts quite a bit and she found it hard to sit on the sidelines on Thursday when the rest of her class went swimming. Every grade 4 class in our school district gets 5 weeks of swimming as an extra gym event once during the year and Bethany will have to miss the last 2 sessions due to having her splint on her arm. At least we were able to remove it to bathe and wash her hair yesterday, but it felt very fragile to her and she was glad to have the support of the splint back on as soon as she was dry.

One of the girls on Erin’s team lost her father suddenly this week and so we had another visitation and funeral to go to. This has been the second girl close to her in age to lose a father figure in the past 5 weeks. She has been shaken by this since she can imagine all too well how she would feel if it were HER Dad. She’s kept a close eye on Nick during the week and keeps telling him to take care of himself.

Another young boy here in Moncton that used to attend Nick’s school decided to end his own life and that caused ripples for Nick to deal with among the staff who had taught him in the years just before Nick became Principal.

There were some bright moments as well. I spoke in the next community over from ours during a Writers In The Schools program and head off down to Riverside-Albert to speak to another Elementary school tomorrow. I love visiting with children and helping them understand what an illustrator does. They also get to “boss my hands around” as we draw a monster or silly picture together, which is always great fun.

Friday night, our family went to “Boo At The Zoo” put on by the Magnetic Hill Zoo as a fundraiser. They convert the zoo into haunted sketches with a fireworks show and almost a hundred volunteers. It was cold and crisp, but you could see so many stars in the sky as we waited in line with some of our best friends. I wore a long blond wig, a blue dress, a tiara and a huge wand... yes, I was the Size Fairy! Wearing my 3 inch heels, I got asked if I was on stilts a few times until they saw Nick dressed up as a huge pirate. Our best friend Karen dressed up as Jack Sparrow and had the walk and mannerisms down to a T! When one haunted house part got scary, she even pranced away like Jack causing the security guards to bust a gut!

It was wonderful to have all the great memories from the CreativFestival to savour though. Meals with good friends, pajama kit packing parties, getting the giggles in the dark, crying at a beautiful story from one of the class attendees that made the trials and tribulations of being a designer all feel worth it, sharing new projects with old friends, finding new craft supplies to fondle and inspire me and wandering the streets of a huge city then having the fun of flying back to the one that has truly become my home.

I just can’t wait for that “FALL BACK” hour of extra sleep next weekend!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

From Highs To Lows...

I had a WONDERFUL, soul-recharging weekend teaching in Toronto, but woke up this morning with NO VOICE! I did the sensible thing and went back to bed once I got the kids off to school and slept most of the day.

Erin arrived home after school while Bethany stayed behind for the final practice of cross country running before the District meet tomorrow. When she and some of the other faster runners finished their laps, they were told to go and play on the playground equipment where Bethany fell from the monkey bars. The 3 hour visit to the hospital was really quite quick compared to some of our more recent visits and I had the presence of mind to grab my knitting on the way out the door, so the heel of my sock is almost done. Bethany has a buckle fracture to her LEFT wrist this time and will spend the next 3 weeks in a fiberglass splint.

Talk about coming back to reality with a bang!

I will blog more about everything tomorrow while I am home with her.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Giving Thanks and Heading Off...

I meant to post here so many times in the past few days. We had a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving weekend, full of sunshine and warm temperatures (compared to earlier in the week when I turned on the heat, broke out my mittens and put the duvet on the bed) and great food. Yet, I was snipping floss and proofing charts for the show in Toronto.

My taxi arrives in about 5 hours, so I will make this quick.

In these tough, uncertain times, it is more important than ever to focus on what we DO have instead of what we don’t.

Celebrate the talents that you have been given. I love to bake, but since I also love to eat my baking, I save it for special occasions like Thanksgiving.

Celebrate the beauty around you. We are SO blessed to have such colours just beyond our doorstep. Our whole family went for a walk to enjoy the beauty and take a break from floss snipping.

Celebrate the tiny miracles in life. Bethany was in awe of the tiny chickadees landing on her hand to feed. We live in a wonderful world and sometimes we forget to treasure what is around us.

Celebrate that we have enough to eat. We shared some bounty with this fuzzy fellow, but it is important for us to remember to share what we have with our fellow human beings who are struggling.

Celebrate Life’s adventures. This path is close to our house in Mapleton Park. I am heading off on an adventure of my own to teach at the CreativFestival in Toronto for the weekend and I can’t wait!!

I just hope I packed everything!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Life in the Fast Lane...

The lyrics of Emmy Rossum’s “Slow Me Down” keep running through my head as I sit here at the computer wondering where on earth the month of September went.

Actually, I know where I spent most of it. In 9.5 days of supply teaching, I have earned more than my last 3 months of Hoffman cheques put together. This has sometimes meant such a diverse day as Kindergarten art in the morning where I discovered one little boy had quite an appetite for white glue to remedial English at the High School level in the afternoon on a warm, sunny day with teenager who would rather be anywhere but in the classroom with the student teacher. I was there to make sure that she didn’t get eaten alive and discovered that being 6’8” with my 3 inch heels on comes in handy.

My family is adjusting to the transition of having to come home to the house without me in it, to laundry piling up and meals in the slow cooker, but I no longer anguish when I take a full day to draw for my portfolio. Before, I used to sit in front of the paper and berate myself for costing my family money by spending hours on something that didn’t bring in a guaranteed income within 30 days.

I am loving the variety of supply teaching and the many different levels of classes that I get to visit. One hallway of Kindergarten and Grade One children at a new school yesterday is convinced that I am the tallest woman on earth! I may be falling into bed much earlier or pushing myself to stay up and design or snip floss for kits after hectic days, but at least the edge of panic that I spent the summer facing as I wrestled with what to do is wearing off.

The entire world economic climate seems to teeter on the edge of crisis on a daily basis as the news blares out to us about stock market crashes and losses in the billions.

What they fail to focus on is the resilience of the human spirit.

Our ancestors and much of the 3rd world would shake their heads at us for the hand wringing and teeth gnashing that we do in our land of plenty. For most of our human history, we made do with less. Pioneer women made toys out of scraps of cloth while we berate ourselves as we look ahead to the holidays and the list of expensive plastic toys or electronic gadgets on our children’s wish lists. We worry about cooking a meatless meal or two a week when stewed pumpkin or squash are often staples anywhere in our world when meat is scarce.

As a race, humans have encountered incredible challenges and hardships before.

As a generation or two right now, our society seems to believe that we should be able to have it all... no matter what. This relentless consumerism in the face of economic uncertainty is most obvious as I walk the corridors of the high schools doing lunch time duty as I listen to teenagers talk about the latest brand names they have to have or use their cellphones to check the time instead of wearing a watch. Few of them have any idea about what hardship really is. It was MY generation that had grandparents who went through hardships during the war or remembered the Great Depression, not theirs.

We need to remember just how resilient we are. Sometimes it may require hard work, being tired or moving out of our comfort zone. Any dream worth chasing will involve sweat and tears as well as laughter and joy.

Maybe there are still parts of our society that still need to learn this lesson. I know that I am stronger and happier for relearning it myself!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Fragility of Life...

Every now and then, there is a reminder of how precious and fleeting life can be. Yesterday, I was grumpy that I was running late for the Weight Watcher meetings that I lead on Tuesdays. I was down in the basement getting the tune Y.M.C.A loaded on to my iPod for the tie-in to how you can dance the pounds off, when suddenly there was a pounding on my side door. My neighbour was there with the tears streaming down her face because her husband had suddenly collapsed with some kind of seizure and she couldn’t turn him on his side as 911 had recommended. She is recovering from her own surgery not that many weeks ago. I raced over to do what I could and stayed until the fire and ambulance arrived. This afternoon, I learned that it was a massive brain hemorrhage and that he had passed away in his 40s.

My neighbour and I come from very different walks of life and backgrounds... and yet my heart goes out to her for her loss. Erin and her daughter are in the same class at school. It is far too easy for Erin to imagine what it would be like if something happened to Nick.

After a full day of teaching Kindergarten and having my legs hugged, I am also reminded of how much joy there can be in life as well. Working as a supply teacher is reminding me of just how deeply kids live in a state of wonder and learning. We would to well to learn from them!

It really is a wonderful and fearful cyclical dance we do through time as human beings. Perhaps it takes reminders now and then not to take anything for granted and to make the most of each moment!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Be Careful What You Ask For....

I’m not really sure if I am coming or going, but this isn’t the first time that life has suddenly gotten chaotic. I remember when I first made the decision NOT to return to the ad agency where I had been working up until Erin was born. Nick and I weren’t sure if we could swing things with me working from home. We knew that his salary alone wouldn’t be enough to cover our expenses, so I set about taking on every logo, copy writing and translating job that I could find in order to bring in as much as I could to help. Often, that meant working every moment that Erin was asleep for a nap or even until the wee hours of the morning. I even did my second cross stitch trade show ever with her as an infant. We flew my sister to Charlotte from Vancouver, Nick manned the trade show booth to take orders and I ran back and forth between show and hotel depending on my 3 month old’s feeding schedule!

When Bethany was born 4 years and 5 days after her sister, things hadn’t changed all that much. I’d become established as a cross stitch designer... enough that I didn’t do any trade shows that summer due to “my newest release”, but I had sold the rights for 3 designs to a Brazilian magazine for $1500 US, hoping that would give me at least a month of maternity leave. Sadly, the magazine took the charts and slides then disappeared from the address they’d given me without ever sending their payment. Bethany learned to sleep against my chest as I worked at the computer during her “naps” since she would cry whenever she wasn’t held unless exhausted.

Since I began supply teaching, I have barely had any time off. This is good because I really do need to replace the income that had dropped over 300% in the past 2 years from cross stitch. This is also frustrating because my fingers are itching to work on 2 new drawings for my portfolio and the book dummy for “One Grumpy Dragon” which I intend to take with me to the SCBWI conference in New York at the end of January. Then of course there is floss to snip for the CreativFestival.

Like I said. Be careful what you ask for... you just might get it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Of Birthdays, Bunnies and Beautiful Memories...

Today was my 43rd birthday and it was WONDERFUL!

Slowly, but surely, my life feels as if it is moving into a sense of order and purpose instead of one of regret and denial. Birthdays, new school years or new calendar years are like new beginnings. It is like a new box of crayons where every point is sharp and none of your favourite colours have snapped in half yet.

Yesterday, at the end of my Weight Watcher meeting, the delivery man from our favourite local Flower Shop walked into the centre with a big grin on his face and an armful of flowers from my wonderful husband. It was a birthday gift a day early in front of an audience... the man knows how to earn those brownie points!!! After walking home feeling like Miss Canada clutching my bouquet and waving at those who honked their horns, I put the lovely flowers down on the counter for a moment to snap their picture before arranging them in a vase. Here they are with the cut flowers from my garden.

This morning, after getting everyone off to school, I went exploring along with my Mom and John. We drove off in search of a new wool shop that the knitters I know had been RAVING about. London-Wul Fibre Arts is the home of Heidi Wulfraat. Walking into her wool shop was a bit like dying and going to heaven. Everywhere I looked, there were colours, textures, needles, accessories to taunt me, beg me to touch them and bring them home.

Did I mention that I finished the sock?? As I start the mate, I am already dreaming of the next pair to knit and so I just HAD to go look at wool..... right? Yarn Harlot would approve...

There is something SO INSPIRING about the way colours and textures can mix and match. I know that is what drew me into designing needlework and what keeps me imagining some images in threads and fabric rather than pen and pencil. I actually can’t wait to teach in Toronto next month if the reaction to the limited “sneak peeks” I’ve been showing off are any indication.

I found new stuff for my stash... and bless her heart, Mom bought them for me as a birthday present! How great is that!

Then it was off to an art supply store to pick up some watercolours that I need to work on a new piece. Some of my old ones are all dried up. The owner of the store and his wife both did Fine Arts at Mount Allison University, just like I did... but I discovered that they graduated a DOZEN years after I did. OUCH!

After a delicious lunch, I dropped Mom & John back home then raced to the school to pick Erin and Bethany up for their cross-country running session at the big park in our city with their school team. Another mother was driving them home, so once I was sure they’d met up with the coach, I headed home to check e-mail and play a tiny bit of Packrat. Those of you on Facebook know what a fun little game this can be... those of you who don’t, be wary of the cuteness and collections that lure you in and get you hooked!

The girls arrived home and Bethany was limping, covered in blood down one knee and elbow. My youngest had discovered the perils of running up hills, around corners and that gravel paths are not always forgiving. I got her cleaned up in a warm bath and bandaged up before my birthday dinner with my family.

Erin made me cry with her 43 things that she admires about her Mom and Bethany’s handmade coupons for a clean room, a day off and ice cream she’d buy me with her own money made me grin. I have such wonderful girls!! They even bought me my very own Webkinz (or should I say LittleKinz?) Gecko which I have named “Sneaky”.

After supper we let the bunny out for a play. Oreo is adorable, extremely intelligent and downright entertaining. I tried to shoot some video of her as well as this shot, but it may be a few days before I figure out how to put it on YouTube!

Tomorrow, I have my first day of supply teaching. I got my Local Permit and am on the list in this area with now 4 days of bookings already. It will be great experience, a chance to work with kids (which helps for staying in touch with their interests as a children’s book illustrator) and also goes a long way to replacing the income my family used to count on from cross stitch.

Now it is time to go to bed. I am looking forward to this year of being 43 and all the new adventures that are unfolding.

YAHOOOOOOO! Theo won Canadian Idol!!

Friday, August 29, 2008

To Be Creative... Instead of Destructive

Well, I finally figured out how to get a hold of people at the Chinese web site and get in to politely e-mail each person who had downloaded an illegal version of Santa’s Dragon. I told them how sad I thought it was that they thanked the person who shared it, complimented the design... but stole from the person who created it. Oddly enough, I am now locked out of that portion of the site, so I have sent a second request to the authorities to confirm that they have removed the files as requested.

While it made me sad and grumpy for the rest of that day, I found that the best solution was to do something creative. My dear friend Barb and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee a.k.a. Yarn Harlot have me totally hooked on knitting socks now. Barb sent me some lovely wool to tempt me through my initial fears of learning how to turn a heel. I am now on my second pair of socks ever and loving it!

I also spent more time sketching to keep my drawing hands limber and that made me realize something very important.

While it still makes me sad to think that some people consider it permissible to share patterns electronically and I begrudge the time it takes me to police or defend my work, in the end it is up to each of us how we live our lives with respect to the world around us.

I can honestly say that I have tried to be more creative than destructive. They may have the ability to steal my work... but I had the talent to create it in the first place.

Honest stitchers, crafters, knitters, artists, musicians and other creative souls know how much power there is in creating something of beauty and bringing it to life. When we add beauty to the world, care for our planet or treat each other with respect and love, then we are making the universe a better place one act of creation at a time.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In case you wonder why....

It has been a busy time. I’ve been labeling school supplies, getting a new URL to add to my collection that will be the page I show to Art Directors for illustration samples, working on class stuff for the CreativFestival in October and sketching or drawing like crazy.

I’ve also applied for a Local Permit so that I can supply teach here in Monition. I can fill in for teachers in either French or English and hopefully this will help me contribute to our family’s bottom line again.

I have been getting e-mails from so many stitchers and hearing feedback from shops who have upset customers. I am sorry that many of you feel hurt that I won’t be designing as much. Lots of you have been VERY supportive as well as regretful.

I just need to feel passionate about what I am creating instead of sad and angry! Lately, so many of the infringers have been moving to chinese and russian sites because Picassa and Multiply are starting to know some of us by name .

This is the type of infringer that made me decide to scale back on designing and move on to other things. For the first time, I am actually going to share the link to a site of illegal patterns, just to show you why I made my decision.

Stealing Santa's Dragon

This person not only chose to steal my design and scan it in illegally, they even took the image from my website to promote it! All of the stitchers who wrote such positive comments about the design are going to stitch my largest and most complicated design for free. They will treasure it, pass it on and probably never think twice about the fact that they helped the designer to give up on something that she loved passionately, because it was just too easy to steal what she spent 14 months creating.

When I have to spend two days jumping through hoops to try to get my stuff removed from this site, knowing that the infringer still has the illegal files to share, I know that I made the right decision to move on...

I just wish it hadn’t hurt so many honest stitchers and loyal shop owners in the process.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

All About L.A. At Last!

Sometimes, when you have an overwhelming experience, it takes a while to sort through all of the information and feedback that crammed into your heart, mind and soul during the experience. It is only after putting a bit of time and space between you and the event, that you gain enough clarity to actually put your thoughts down into words.

I read over my blog entries from LA and see how full of energy they were, but I really felt as if I was flying by the seat of my pants. I am sorry if you felt like I left everything hanging... I felt a bit like that as I was living it!

So here is the calmer entry about the SCBWI conference in LA.


If you are thinking about a career in children’s book writing or illustrating, then you need to belong to the SCBWI organization and you NEED to attend one of these events! I learned more in 4 days of speakers, presentations, workshops, critiques and networking opportunities that I could have in MONTHS or even YEARS of trying to learn this stuff on my own here in Moncton! Reading listings in trade publications or visiting publishers’ websites does not give you the same information that listening to them speak in person!

The hotel facilities were very nice too. I could have shown you pictures of my impressive marble bathroom. I could tell you that when I put down a preference for feather pillows, they piled 5 of them on the king-sized bed so that I could almost nest in them at night. I thought the picture that spoke for itself was the view from my lanai/balcony looking down towards Avenue of the Stars. This is as close as I got to the railing... the dragon does NOT do edges!

You know my adventures from Saturday morning of racing around to Kinkos trying to salvage my portfolio. I turned it in on time and then had to wait on pins and needles for the Portfolio exhibition that night. The lighting in the tent wasn’t the greatest for looking at artwork and the tables were a bit too close together, but other than that it was a wonderful chance to look at the over 100 portfolios that had been submitted. They represented a wide range of ages, nationalities and abilities as well as styles. I already knew in my heart by then that there was SO much I would do differently for the next time. When the winning portfolio and honorable mentions were announced Sunday during the banquet, I was pleased to see that 2 of the 3 were illustrators that I’d thought had outstanding portfolios.

My review with Mark Teague on Sunday pretty much confirmed what I had begun to suspect. I have 2 different styles of artwork that I do and one is going to be MUCH more marketable in the picture book industry than the other. The tighter style that I did for the Hanen Centre or the Nanny Kay book are considered more “textbook” style in the USA. Not that there isn’t a market for that type of thing... it just isn’t the same one as picture books. It was SO helpful to speak to an illustrator who has more experience in the industry, especially one that was so kind and helpful. The fact that I absolutely adore his work only made the feedback more meaningful!

Before you start feeling sorry for me, understand that criticism and feedback are a necessary part of growth. If you don’t learn, then you can’t improve. If I don’t “deadhead” my lilac trees after they bloom this year, I won’t have as much growth and beauty next year!

Best of all, I heard from some of the people that had been involved in looking at my work Friday night and then seen the changed portfolio for the exhibition, that they were impressed at how much I had responded to the feedback and improved upon how I presented my work. Just wait until NEXT time folks!

After the portfolio review on Saturday, came the “Paint the Town Red” party by the pool. Since wearing red makes me look like Mr. Spock with the flu, I opted for a great dress with fringes and sticking little maple leafs up my long legs! I also had a Canada lanyard and a Canada beach ball which I spent 15 minutes lobbing about the dance floor as a volleyball before my energy ran out and I crawled off to bed.

Sunday was a fun day full of great workshops and I felt much more relaxed with the portfolio review over. My critique with Mark covered most of my questions and affirmed the “battle plan” that I’d begun to map out by then. When the final speaker of the day turned out to be something relating to Young Adult novels, I decided to skip the session and see a bit of L.A! Having just stuck my toes in the Atlantic ocean the week before, I decided that the highest priority on my list was seeing the Pacific ocean, so off I headed to Santa Monica! I sat and sketched on the beach in the late afternoon sun for almost an hour, bought a few tacky little souvenirs for my girls, shot a few photos and then wandered across the street to a wonderful Japanese restaurant that was surviving specially priced sushi for Happy Hour!! Yummmmm!

I walked around the area for another hour or so, marveling at all the outdoor shopping areas (where we Canadians need indoor malls!) and even taking photos of the cool Californian plants! Then I headed back to the hotel in time for the evening peer critiques.

By this point, I had decided to get as much feedback, ask as many questions as possible and make the most of every opportunity left at the conference, so I decided to sit in on a WRITERS circle to critique the picture book manuscript that I have written called “One Grumpy Dragon”. I was absolutely TERRIFIED of reading it aloud to the group because I still don’t think of myself as a writer. I’m more of an illustrator who created a story so that I could draw the pictures to go with it!

The feedback was VERY encouraging! They pointed out a few places where I needed to tighten the story or move things around that improved the whole flow of the fantasy counting book. I went back up to my hotel room that night and changed the story around, rewrote a few of the lines and had a new manuscript by the morning. I was even able to touch base with two of the members from that critique group to see if the new changes helped... and the feedback was great.

Monday was a blur of last workshops, exchanging e-mails and business cards with new friends and closing speeches. Then we had a wonderful autograph session with faculty members whose books had been available all weekend at the SCBWI bookstore. Do you think the dragon came home with more books in her hoard??? Let’s just say that I was quite relieved to find my luggage still under the weight restrictions!

Here is a photo of me with David LaRochelle. David was one of the first people I met at the conference when we shared a shuttle to the hotel on Thursday. If you have never read his INCREDIBLE Fantasy picture book called “The End”, you need to look it up at the library or find it on Amazon. It is SO clever and such fun to read!! I also bought a copy of his hilarious book “The Best Pet Of All” where a little boy invites a dragon home to live with him so that his mom will realize that a dog is a much better choice!

Monday night was full of suitcase packing and having dinner with some of the friends that I’d made over the 4 days at the mall food court near the hotel. It was reaffirming to discover that I wasn’t the only one who felt as if my brain had been crammed full of information to the bursting point!

I reserved a spot for myself on the 5:30 am shuttle and went to bed. Around 3 am, I woke to the sounds of multiple sirens and voices over a loudspeaker. A quick peek out my window revealed this scene across the street....

Someone later told me that this is the Screen Actor’s Guild building, but I don’t know if that is true. Apparently there was a small fire somewhere in the building, but it involved massive amounts of fire trucks, ambulances, two helicopters with spotlights.... and one dragon who decided to just get dressed then try to doze until my alarm went off.

Needless to say, I was a bit groggy by the time I got home to Moncton at 10:30 pm AST on Tuesday night. I was actually quite civil when my family got up and on the road to Bangor, Maine by 6:30 am the next morning for our 48 hour back to school shopping trip.

Now that FTP access to my ISP is working and I’ve been able to upload my photos as well as ruminate about the trip, I hope you feel more in touch with all the dragon’s adventures.

Believe me.... this is only the beginning!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Home... Off... and Back Again!

I promise I will update everything tomorrow. The rest of the conference was an amazing whirlwind of information and the flights home were very long. I got home late Tuesday night and took off with my family for a 48 hour back-to-school shopping expedition to Maine!

We got home tonight and are tucking the girls into bed, peeking at the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games, sorting out the laundry mountains and downloading all the e-mail.

I will update things tomorrow before my sister arrives with her husband for a week!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

When The Going Gets TOUGH... The Dragon Hunts for Kinko's!

Talk about a roller coaster of emotion. I just turned in my portfolio for tonight's portfolio review competition and it bears absolutely NO resemblance to the portfolio that I brought down in my carry-on!

All of yesterday's sessions were incredibly informative, overwhelmingly helpful, impressive and inspiring. It was affirming to be with almost 1000 people who work in the children's book industry or hope to one day.

Everyone has been so gracious in answering pesky questions from the very tall Canadian dragon!

The Professional Track luncheon gave me incredible insight into how an Editor's mind works, how hard their job is when they go to bat for a book to the marketing and sales departments of the publishing houses etc. I'd never looked at things from their point of view before.

At last night's wine and cheese reception, I was lucky enough to have Bruce Coville ask to see my portfolio in reference to a comment about dragons vs. unicorns. He pointed out which images were my strongest and told me that I should move things around in the portfolio so that my strongest images were at the very front for the judges, editors and art directors who will be walking through the exhibition to see. They have a lot to look at and will only have a few glances at best.
GREAT ADVICE from someone who has been in this industry a LOT longer than I have. I just felt a little nervous taking ART advice from a writer! (Silly Dragon!!)

After that, we had a gathering just for illustrators with Cecilia Yung (Art Director and VP at Penguin Young Readers), Freida Gates (who puts together key events in NY for SCBWI) and Dilys Evans, Art Buyer. The session talked about what works in self-promotion and what doesn't, what editors/buyers/art directors look for in portfolios etc. Again, I heard that you only have a FEW images to grab them with... and the worry in my stomach turned to full blown terror. I was able to ask a wonderful woman to look through my portfolio to see if she agreed with Bruce... and she even called Dilys over to look at a few of our books and offer advice.

By 10:30 at night (2:30 am back home) I walked up to my room almost in tears, but determined to make the changes I needed to before turning in my portfolio. Out came all my little explanation tags. As they pointed out, the pictures need to stand on their own. Out came my first page promo slick and in went the image that had made them all laugh "The Fear of the Blank Page!"

I then swallowed my pride and divided my portfolio into two sections - one for the contest tonight with my strongest images in it, and the back half of my portfolio with the tighter Hanen Centre, Owen and more detailed illustrations in what they called my "more textbook illustration style". If I pick up work from publishers like that, that works too.

Then... I went to sleep around 11:30 California time.

I woke up at 5:00 am here (9:00 am back home) from a dream of reading to a dragon. I grabbed my sketchbook and the only 2 pencils I had and began to draw a new spot illustration to introduce the Children's Book section of my portfolio. I inked and coloured a little picture of a teddy bear with a backpack on and offering an apple in one paw then coloured it will the coloured pencils I brought along. I also called home to talk to Nick and the girls because hearing my family's voices reminded me of why I am here and who I am doing this for.

The time was now 7:30 am. I showered, dressed, grabbed some stuff from my little fridge and went down to find out if the business centre would be open early.

It wasn't.

So another illustrator and I jumped into a cab and drove to the nearest Kinko's.

THANK GOODNESS for Kinko's!!

There, I was able to make colour copies of the little bear, a two page spread from Just Nanny and Me that they felt was strong, print out some new computer text titles for the two new sections, use their paper trimmer, buy some double-sided scrapbook tape and jump back into the waiting cab. We made it back JUST as the first session of the morning started at 8:45 am!!

While I believe in my artwork and my own personal style, I also know that the wisdom I received last night and my willingness to rearrange stuff, simplify and play editor may have just saved me from being totally dismissed as "not ready to play in the big leagues."

I am a bit punchy, a bit trembly... but I honestly believe that I am MUCH stronger for this drastic pruning experience. I am also incredibly grateful to have had access to such experience and input BEFORE the competition tonight. Having seen some of the other artwork here, I am sure I don't even stand a chance of winning the top prize, but I have heard so many stories of how shows like this have led to publishers matching people up or providing that first chance... that winning the contest isn't everything. Getting my samples into the hands of so many top people in the industry is.

Time to go eat some lunch... you can only run on adrenaline for so long!!!

Friday, August 01, 2008


I arrived safely in Los Angeles yesterday just before lunchtime local time and got a shared shuttle van to the hotel. There were lots of conference attendees in the van to meet and share names with, one of whom named David LaRochelle who writes the most wonderful books!! I found his at the SCBWI book sale this morning and bought two called "THE END" which is a fairy tale told backwards and "The Best Pet Ever" about a boy who has a dragon move in as his pet in order to convince his mother that a dog would be better! Google them! look them up on Amazon! They are AWESOME!!

There is a mall close to the hotel that has a grocery store and a food court, so I was able to request a fridge for the room and pick up some food to keep there. California prices are just a WEE bit more expensive that Moncton ones! Sadly the delicious Yoplait Fat Free Yogurt here has more Potasium Sorbate than my allergy could handle... so I will be looking for someone who wants the other 4 hiding in my fridge!

This morning, I woke at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30 local time. The 3rd time I just got up and wrote in my journal for a bit.

At 7:30, I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed in the registration area picking up my name tag and conference information. Here's where the Jumping up and down with Excitement part comes in...

Sunday Morning, my one on one portfolio review will be with Mark Teague!! Google him and just look at how lovable he makes his T-Rex and other dinosaurs or how he uses dramatic composition and you'll understand why I am OVER THE MOON! If there was one brain that I wanted to pick at the conference, it would be his!!


Back down to the conference opening and keynote speaker... but I had to get on and write this for everyone to read. Sorry about the spelling mistakes if there are any. I had to write this right in Blogger!

Skipping off with my dragon claws barely touching the ground.....

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I am so excited I could burst...

I am so nervous I could barf...

I don’t know how much sleep I will get between the end of “So You Think You Can Dance” at 11 pm and the taxi arriving at 4:15 am, but I am all packed and ready to go.

Time to chase my dream!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Ok... I look a little like this dragon as I race around to get my portfolio wrapped up and get packed for Los Angeles. I just need to remind myself to take a deep breath now and then and trust in what I can do and in following my dream.

My iTunes mix right now consists of my two theme songs for this summer. Both songs have words that I have mumbled and sung to myself over and over. The first is Walk On The Moon by Great Big Sea and the second is One Step At A Time by Jordan Sparks. I will be humming them in my head all weekend in Los Angeles any time I get nervous!

It helped that a good friend who is an award-winning graphic designer came over last night and looked at my portfolio to see what needed to be moved around, edited etc. He had some very valuable insights and also pointed out some strengths I hadn’t realized about the work that I’d put together....

So now I feel a little calmer than I did when I drew this yesterday morning!

Of course this dragon can also apply to many of you who read my blog and visit my website...


There has been a wonderful flood of e-mails, messages, condolences etc. pouring in... and many of you seem to be grieving because you think I won’t be designing anything or selling my existing designs or creating any large designs or doing anything except teach in person.....

I tried to make things clear in my blog and on the website, but maybe I’d better clear up a few points of confusion.

1) I don’t own a shop and I am not going out of business! There is a WONDERFUL store right here in Moncton that will continue to carry and sell my stuff. I will also continue to sell my existing designs to shops through Hoffman and directly to shops that I deal with. You don’t have to worry that stuff will suddenly go out of print! If I do run out of any inventory of OLDER designs, those will be transferred to so that they can still be enjoyed by stitchers around the world.

2) I am not quitting designing completely! I have spent a great deal of the past 15 years focussed on cross stitch, but just because my focus is changing a bit does not mean that a design won’t creep into my head and demand to be stitched instead of painted. Some images that I have created could ONLY have come to life through needle and thread. I doubt that will change... it just may not be as often as fans would like.

3) Having new designs on won’t mean that they will all be small ones... just look at some of Teresa Wentzler’s designs on there!!

If you could see how crowded my poor 10 x 10 self-store is, you’d understand why I need to stop SELF-PUBLISHING cross stitch patterns for now. There is only so much room to store things, especially with a dozen or so cases of Owen & The Dinosaur books in there too!

To all those who sent messages telling me how much my designs have meant to you over the years... THANK YOU! The biggest joy for any artist is to know that they created something that touched another person in some way. That isn’t going to stop until my head and my hands aren’t capable of making pretty pictures anymore.

So Don’t Panic! Trust me... I’ve been doing enough of that for everyone!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Can Every Artist Relate?

I finished off another piece for my portfolio tonight. I came up with this idea after a huge panic attack last week at the cottage where I dreamed I showed up for my portfolio review late in L.A. because someone had given me the wrong room number. When I finally arrived after running through long, strange hallways, the person in the room told me that I shouldn’t dream of being a professional illustrator if I couldn’t even keep a simple appointment! As I woke up with my heart pounding, I knew that it was just a standard anxiety dream (like before exams in high school or university) but sleep escaped me so I got up to write in my journal for a while... then got the inspiration for this piece.

Since I needed to have at least one drawing in my portfolio that was greyscale, I used everything from a 4H to 8B pencil for as wide a range of tone as possible. I also had fun choosing textures for each fear. I particularly like the oozing drips for Copyright Abuse... since anyone who would steal that way is Slime!

Perfectionism and Envy of Other’s Talents are two of the fears that I wrestle with most often, so of course they had to be slightly dragon or snake like... and Self-Doubt’s fur was fun to draw!

I am sure that any creative soul can relate to this...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Excited About My New Adventures...

June was a total blur. Creating 13 detailed drawings for a client in less than 4 weeks when each drawing went through several changes was tough on the hands but great experience! It will also be nice when the cheque arrives in the mail! My illustrations will grace the 2009 calendar produced by The Hanen Centre and be a great addition to my portfolio! I can’t show off details just yet, since I did sell the copyrights to the client, but here’s a peek at the pile of drawings and the CD I burned of the final artwork before I sent them all off!

Drawing for someone else also gave me time to think as my hands did the work. Unplugging and getting away with my family also helped afterwards as I went for long walks on the beach, watched fabulous sunsets and had time to think about which path I need to follow right now.

I’ve made my decision and posted all the details on the summer issue of my website newsletter for stitchers to read. I don’t want everyone to think of this as an ending, it is just a transition into something else... something that is calling my heart a lot more right now.

It isn’t as if I’ll never design again, I just won’t be publishing my own work after DD-100. I will still come up with some surprise designs now and then, have stuff in magazines or teach classes at fabulous shows like CreativFestival and then make those available later on The numbers from my corporate return were just too stark to keep ignoring, so it is time for the Dragon to put most of her energy into illustration right now.

To that end, I even added a new part to my website! The Sketchbook page is going to be somewhere that I can keep sketches, show off stuff as it is being created or explain to people the process that is involved with bringing an image to life.

There are 10 days until I leave for Los Angeles and the SCBWI conference. I am being really careful not to hurt my back or strain things before such a long flight and my family is starting to think a am a TOTAL wimp for not wanting to lift anything! Hey... I think it is a great way to avoid laundry baskets, grocery bags etc. Before you think I am goofing off completely, let me assure you - I do all the hanging or putting away... just not the lifting!

I am busy finishing off the last few illustrations for my portfolio and going over each selection to make sure that I am taking along my very BEST samples. This gets a little hard to do when the butterflies in your tummy keep turning into DRAGONS... but that even gave me ideas for an image that I’ll post as soon as it is penciled. It is called “Fear of the Blank Page” and I am sure that every artist there will be able to relate.

Here’s a peek at one of the drawings for a storybook about a little bunny looking for a home and the Japanese legend of the rabbit in the moon. It was created on textured scrapbook paper with coloured pencil and chalk, then I gave the moon some extra glow thanks to Photoshop. What fun!

Even though I am both excited and terrified about L.A., I know that it is the right step to take. I need to know if this can be the next adventure for the Dragon... Whether I make them with chalk or floss, pencil or braid, it is still about making images that touch people. I hope that will never change!

I hope you'll join me as the path winds down a slightly different road than before...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Dragon Is On Vacation!

After a few frantic e-mails while I was checking things remotely, I thought I’d better post something here quickly so that you know the dragon isn’t dead!

June was an incredibly busy month with a HUGE illustration project, school ending and Mom going in and out of the hospital a few times. Our family has escaped for some MUCH needed R & R and time together. Once we get back, I will update the site and the blog because Dragon Dreams is about to move off into some new adventures.

Don’t worry... Be Happy...Stich and Laugh and Love. The Dragon just needed to hunker down in her cave for a while to figure some things out. Now she’s out playing in the sunshine that she dreamed of all winter long!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Forgotten... Not Forgotten...

It’s Illustration Friday in more ways than one! I was scanning in another batch of pencil sketches for a client to get a jump on Toronto (since I am one hour AHEAD of EST) and have them waiting on the clients e-mail when she gets in this morning. Because of a confidentiality clause in my agreement with them, I can’t post the images in progress. That’s a bit frustrating, but at least I will be able to show the work off when it is all done!

The topic on Illustration Friday today was FORGOTTEN and I just couldn’t resist using one of my favourite designs that I created in cross stitch called NOT FORGOTTEN. This is somewhat bittersweet because today, June 6th, I had planned to be in Columbus setting up at the TNNA show. I had to pull out just over a month ago for health reasons. My back just isn’t up to the travel and lifting involved right now. I’ve even had to learn to get up from drawing to take breaks so that nothing locks. Ask any artist how hard that is when you are just trying to get something to look just right.

Creativity requires that balance with discipline. You cannot just wait until inspiration hits or your hands may not be ready to interpret that vision. I know that in sessions like this where I am drawing for hours and hours each day, my hands respond much better than if I go a day or two without practicing my craft. Being creative is as essential to me as breathing, but I sometimes get caught up in other excitements and forget that drawing was my first love.

Cross stitch became a wonderful way, just over 16 years ago, for me to bring illustrations and ideas to life with thread instead of watercolour or pencil. Then, I would create the patterns to let other stitchers all around the world enjoy stitching up their own versions.

Since many designers had done their own versions of a Noah’s Ark design, I wanted my version to include all of the fantasy creatures I felt should have been on that boat. Chalk it up to an early exposure to Peter, Paul and Mary or the Irish Rovers. Dragons and Unicorns and other magical creatures will always be part of my world, even when I don’t include them in my drawings... but they certainly took over in this one!

Sadly, the patterns themselves have become the easiest part of the stitching experience to steal. Instead of respecting the time and energy that it took to create such a design to share with the world, there are unscrupulous people out there who feel it is their right to scan in a pattern and share it with friends electronically or post it to groups of hundreds of people. We have been shutting down HUNDREDS of groups in the past 3 months alone and it does get a bit frustrating at times. What part of “Thou Shalt Not Steal” is confusing? What makes anyone think that something an artist creates should be “Free” if they see it on the web?

Those of us in art have chosen a risky profession. We share our imagination, our creativity and a little piece of ourselves in every image we create. Just because it looks like something fun and wonderful doesn’t make it any less Work. Just because society isn’t sure how creativity should be valued doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the chance to try to make a living from this without our work being stolen or copied.

Think about how boring our world would be if no one took the risk of being creative. Please think about that before you download, scan, share or use anything without an artist’s permission.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Today’s topic for Illustration Friday was WORRY...

It is so easy to fall into that trap, especially with my Mom back in the hospital. Think of all the time we waste each day worrying about things that may never come to pass.

I dug out this cartoon that I’d posted on my blog a while back. When we worry about looming deadlines, it really can feel like something is lurking just behind us.

Today, that is getting my office back to rights. I’ve been meaning to do a “grand tidy” ever since the book launch happened and yet I always seem to get caught up in a new drawing or business task. Yesterday I took all of the piles from my floor and put them out in the family room. Then I pulled apart my closet where all of the cross stitch models and patterns are stored. If any of the patterns had dents or dings in them, I just ripped them up and threw them out. (I can hear some of you screaming “I’ll take them!” in the background)

The truth is that my accountant has had to write most of that stock off anyway. I can even tell how much of an effect the people sharing things illegally have had on certain designs because I’m just not selling as many of those patterns anymore compared to other ones. I had a nice little venting session as I ripped the leaflets to pieces imagining that it was something precious the thieves needed... like income tax refunds, power bills or winning lottery tickets. Petty and childish of me, but it felt good.

I have learned that when I work in clutter or surround myself with too much clutter, it has a draining effect on my spirit. That’s totally different that spreading out pencils or paper or yarns or threads to get inspired by stuff. It’s the pile of papers that you meant to sort and then can’t find something important when you need it that wears me down.

I can see progress. Thanks to plastic bins and my label maker, my closet is almost done and things are getting away in their proper places.

With each pile I tidy, the dragon looming behind me gets a little smaller.

Once I am done and he is pocket-size, we will go out and play!

Don’t Worry... Be Happy... It’s FRIDAY!

Friday, May 16, 2008

I belong to a group called Illustration Friday that puts forth a topic each week for illustrators to work with. Some create new illustrations and other rummage through their portfolios. Today’s topic was WIDE... and so I went digging for one of my favourite illustrations to submit.

My Nanny LOVED hippos. I blame it on seeing Disney’s Fantasia when it was first released in theaters because real hippos are not nearly as cute. For whatever reason, she fell in love with them and that gave all of us who loved her a chance to hunt for hippo figurines to give her at Christmas. One winter when I was over for a visit, she was watching the neighbours children make snow angels next door. She mused aloud about hippos making snow angels... and that artist supernova went off in my brain. I painted this for her as a gift and when she passed away, it came back to my portfolio.

I now use this photo when I speak to school children about illustrators needing to use their imaginations. You cannot borrow a real hippo from the zoo. Zookeepers won’t let you do that. You cannot convince a warm, mud-loving hippo to roll around in snow. It is cold... VERY cold. So, you have to use your imagination and think of how the illustration would look. How big is a hippo? Is it bigger and heavier than a field mouse or a bunny? You bet! After all this discussion, I show the kids the picture and usually get more laughter from the teachers than the kids. THIS hippo looks proud of her Oooomph!

That’s why I chose it for the topic WIDE.

Now back to working on my drawing for a new client who found me through my web site. The Internet can certainly be both a help and a hindrance as this week has proven in spades!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Not Such A Typical Morning...

It seemed like it was going to be such a simple morning. I’d put the kids on the bus, gone for a brisk walk in the woods near our home with a friend and returned home to check e-mail quickly before starting my day.

It the kind of e-mail that anyone, especially this dragon, hates to open. An e-mail from a concerned fan that had found something suspicious that seemed to be infringing on the copyrights of the patterns I create. She sent me the links to check it out for myself.

No matter how often this has happened in the past 10 years, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach remains the same. To see designs that you took hours of time and energy to create being traded at the click of the mouse make me feel absolutely sick inside. It makes me want to scream and cry.

I used to want to just crawl into my cave and lick my wounds and wonder why anyone would want to hurt me like that. Why couldn’t they understand that sharing a pattern electronically by making a copy of the original is stealing?

Somewhere along the line... the dragon got grumpy. Grumpy Dragons aren’t much fun to be around. They smolder and tend to want to bite people.

I stopped designing monthly samples for my web site even though it was the honest stitchers that ended up being punished.

I started speaking out and setting up blogs on sites like Multiply to have a presence out there in cyberspace and stand up for the fact that this is NOT right and this should NOT be acceptable.

I stopped sending out patterns to shops or guilds that requested them for retreats as often because I had no way of knowing that those wouldn’t end up scanned or being sold on ebay.

I started working with other designers and stitchers to find ways of reporting copyright violations as a group instead of individually so that we could close sites faster than before.

I stopped releasing as many new designs because they kept getting stolen so quickly.

I started to find other sources of income and put my energy into new directions as my income from cross stitch fell to less than 50% and then less than 30% of what it had been just 5 years before.

I stopped being surprised every time I heard that an independent needlework store had to close its doors to stitchers and go out of business.

I started to realize that this problem is much bigger than just the cross stitch industry. I started to understand that if we don’t place any value on creative ideas or intellectual property as a society and remain focussed on getting things as cheaply as possible or downloading them for “free” rather than paying for them, that eventually, our world will be a far richer place to live.

Friday, May 09, 2008

She Tried Her Best...

I survived the trip to Fredericton and back with Erin. She did really well, but not enough to place in the top 3. The girl who placed 3rd in our District 2 competition had one of those glorious days where everything went so well and she poured her heart into the competition, aced the impromptu question and won the entire competition. Erin was happy for her and gracious about the medal and other participation prizes. On the ride home, she admitted to being disappointed that she couldn’t bring a trophy home for her school, but I explained that to make it to the top 15 in the province was still QUITE the accomplishment...

and then I got lost trying to leave Fredericton.

We got home by 6 pm, fed her and have tucked her in for the night. She needs to be at the volleyball tournament for 7:15 am, so I am off to bed shortly behind her. All the driving and then sitting most of the day have made me really, really sore... but she was worth it.

How to I explain to her how proud I am for just trying? Perhaps she’ll understand some day when she watches her own child attempt something. It isn’t always about winning. Sometimes, it is just about the experience life offers you... to take a risk and reach for that star or not attempt because you might not place first.

I am SO proud of her!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Knowing What Needs To Come First...

When the going gets tough... sometimes I just get quiet. I don’t like it when my blog is full of complaining. There’s not enough cheese to go with all that whining!

My pinched nerve has flared up again with a vengeance. It has hurt to sit at the computer for too long, sit and stitch or sit and draw. After almost 3 months of getting better, I feel as if I have taken 2 giant steps back. I am wondering now if I didn’t begin to lift more things and exercise a bit harder or push my drawing and stitching times a bit longer because I was feeling so much better. For whatever reason, I am in pain again.

So... when the TNNA organizers contacted me about low class registration for the 2 classes I’d agreed to teach in Columbus, it brought all my doubts of being able to handle the show to the forefront. Since Wheat was also going through health issues of her own, it made me take a long hard look at what I had to put first. I chose my family and my health. If I don’t take care of my health, then everything else falls apart. I’ll just have to save the designs I’d hoped to unveil until closer to the CreativFestival in the fall!

Family has certainly been at the center of everything lately!

My brother and his family came over from Switzerland for a week during their spring break to visit Mom and John since they had to cancel their April trip to Geneva because of Mom’s health. My girls had 3 days off school for professional days, so it was perfect time to let the cousins just play and spend time together. When family lives that far apart, you have to make the most of each visit.

Nick is getting back to being himself, even though this is a hectic time of year. With less than 35 days before school ends and planning for next year’s teaching assignments, staffing, portables being added over the summer, budgets etc. he’s been spending a lot of time at work or on his laptop at home. It’s nice to have my Tigger back!

Tuesday night both girls performed in their school Cabaret show. Bethany did her part in the play for one last time in front of a packed house of parents and Erin sang a duet with her partner from the music festival. Every other night this week, Erin has been out at volleyball practice because the Eastern Nationals for volleyball begin tomorrow. Opening ceremonies are tonight and then we see if she has an early game tomorrow morning. It her team is down for an 8 am game then she can probably play once before we drive to Fredericton for the Provincial Middle School Oratory competition!

Erin has to represent our school district, after placing first here, for the Middle School provincial competition held at St. Thomas University. I’ve never driven to Fredericton on my own before, so it will be a bit scary. I am used to being the knitting passenger, the snack organizer and iPod tune-changer. Erin’s volleyball team will miss her for their first games, but she’ll be playing all day Saturday and any late Friday games that are scheduled. She’s really learned how to use her height to block things and her team affectionately calls her “The Wall”! I was so upset with both things ended up being on the same weekend (Nick is also serving at our church pancake breakfast all Saturday morning). Erin’s teachers felt that since she WON the District competition, she needed to be in Fredericton instead of one of the alternates. Luckily, Erin’s volleyball coach agreed with the plan.

Now if I can just keep from getting lost when we drive down tomorrow, I’ll be fine. I’ve already warned Erin that we’ll take stretch breaks whenever I need them!

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Ok... it is actually St. George’s Day, but my family decided that it should be Dragon’s Day instead! Why does the dragon always have to be the one to get picked on? We also felt like we had a lot to celebrate, even if Nick was battling a bad cold.

Last week, Bethany did a marvelous job as the tall Egret in “Once Upon A Lily Pad” for the District 2 Drama Festival.

Monday night, Erin won the District 2 Oratory Competition and I finally got a picture of her with the medal downloaded.

Bethany also visited the local SPCA to take in all of the animal food, kitty litter, toys and cash that she received instead of birthday presents at her party. They made up a nice certificate to present to her to thank her for her generosity and is already thinking about what charity to help out next year!

So... back to Dragon’s Day. Bethany and I decorated the dining room with some of our stuffed dragons.

My mom got REALLY inventive for this meal and moulded the meat loaf into tiny dragon shapes before she cooked them! Of course this meant that when we put them on our plates, we just had to add some ketchup and mustard flames.... right?

My stepfather, John, got even more creative... his dragon is also pooping out HP sauce!
(Glad that wasn’t on MY plate! Eeeeeewwww!)

The only hard moment was after grace when Bethany picked up her knife and fork only to realize that she had to cut the cute little dragon meat loaf to eat her dinner!

Oh well... maybe a few dragons did fall to the sword on St. George’s Day... but they were delicious!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Makes You COOL....

It was a beautiful day here in Moncton with temperatures finally getting up to 19 degrees (that’s into the 60s!) which felt WONDERFUL after this long winter.

I was standing at the bus stop this morning to get my kids on the bus and discovered that I have gone WAY up in the estimation of two of the kindergarten boys that get on at the same bus stop as Erin & Bethany. Apparently, the dinosaurs that I drew at Queen Elizabeth yesterday REALLY impressed them. Draw a few fangs and sharp claws and suddenly, I am right up there with Batman. Ok... maybe not quite that high, but it was fun to discover the priorities of a 5 year old male.

Another mother came over to tell me that her daughter had been very impressed with the Illustrator that came to the school yesterday, but the mother hadn’t put two and two together until she overheard my conversation with the two boys. “I thought you did that stitchy thingy?” she said sounding a bit puzzled. I hid my grin.

Nick called a few minutes ago to let me know that the photo of me is on the District 2 web site. Pretty cool... even if I can shoot webs from my hands!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

When Worlds Collide...

I am finally surfacing to take a breath! This was supposed to be three separate blog entries, but even getting my computer turned on in the past 5 days has been a rarity, so with three different titles and subsections, here’s a glimpse into the chaos of my life:

The Joy of Learning Something New...

Thanks to a wonderful friend named Barb, I am totally addicted to a new pastime. I am trying to learn how to knit a sock. Sock experts will laugh, but I am still in the feverish thrill of learning a new skill.

First, Barb sends me a box of lovely yarn and needles to tempt me. She figured that after the “excitement” of the past month, I deserve a little pampering and torture all rolled into one exquisite experience. Bless you, Barb, I haven’t had this much fun since I learned to cross stitch!

Of course the first time I cast on my stitches and started to knit, I started going backwards somehow and inside out, but my mother quickly set me straight. She couldn’t help with the knitting part since she and I have TOTALLY different tensions. I am a VERY tight stitcher. I always have to go up at least a size or two in needles to keep from creating things in miniature.

Learning how to hold this little porcupine handful of 5 needles was also a bit of a challenge. Nick found it so hilarious that he took my picture. I hate being photographed in my jammies, so I’ve cropped the heck out of the picture, but .... honest... I AM having fun.

My knitting, when learning something new (ie. anything other than fluffy scarves) is just a tiny bit faster than my stitching. Think of a turtle racing towards you blindfolded through molasses.... I am a little bit faster than that.

But I am having a BLAST! I finally finished the little bit of ribbing and moved on to the stockinette stitch. Here’s my sock so far. Laugh and the dragon will bite you!

The Launch of A Book...

When the author and I first decided to hold the book launch at the Magnetic Hill Zoo, we picked the second week of April because the Zoo was opened on weekends and we thought we might pick up a lot of people passing by as well as the people we bribed (ok... more like begged, pleaded and blackmailed) to show up for the book launch.

By the middle of last week, the temperatures were soaring into double digits and Maritimers were almost giddy as the snow melted around us. I saw neighbours out walking that I haven’t spoken to in almost 5 months. It was a LONG winter with drifts higher than Nick and I in many places. Wonderful, we thought. All the animals will be out and people will want to spend a warm spring day up at the zoo.

It snowed Saturday. Not just a few fluffy white flakes. Almost an INCH of the icky white stuff fluffed its way out of the sky and onto the city. The zoo animals were smart. They hid inside. We were inside too, but as the snow grew heavier around noon, Paul and I began to worry about the really important things.... Who was going to eat all the cake?

Luckily, we have a lot of terrific friends and a supportive community. People braved the slippery roads to come up to the book launch.

They brought me flowers, chatted, designed their own dinosaurs and got us to sign books.

Sue even made little blue dinosaurs for each of us. What talent!

I even ended up on the evening news for a quick 30 second promo spot!! Since absolutely NO ONE came to the zoo itself, they were VERY glad that we gave them a dollar from every book sold for the Year of the Frog. The leftover cake went to church with me the next day...

What Else Needs To Be Done...

Now amid all the excitement of the book launch, radio & newspaper interviews, my daughters decided that a little extra pressure might make my life more interesting. Erin had a group project to work on that required friends being over at our house painting a model, writing a speech in French and I also had to listen to her practice her Persuasive Speech on a given topic for a contest at school.

Bethany has been practicing for her role as the lead Egret in “Once Upon A Lily Pad”, a sweet musical that the grade 3-4s were putting on this week at the Drama Festival. Like an idiot, I had filled out the form months ago saying that I would help with costumes. Guess when they needed to be made? Yup, I spent most of Friday and Sunday nights on the living room floor with white garbage bags for egret wings, making turtle shells out of green garbage bags, wire, newspaper and green fabric or painting shadows onto flower petals for costumes. Am I just totally insane or stuck with that super mom complex? (I am somewhat reluctant to admit that I was totally pleased with the results... if somewhat stiff from crouching on hardwood.)

Monday was spent delivering costumes to school, books to local bookstores and shops then frantically stitching on the ornament for Just Cross Stitch magazine. I’d written down the wrong date for the deadline and that has really messed everything up. Remember what a slow stitcher I am? At least I am totally pigheaded about honouring commitments and doing without sleep if necessary.

Tuesday is my double meeting day for Weight Watchers and it was a great topic this week to do as a leader, but that meant stitching into the night a bit more than my hands were happy with.

This morning I went to Queen Elizabeth School as the visiting illustrator. When I’d blocked off the date 2 months ago on the calendar, it had been wide open!! Today was also the Drama Festival, so I raced over after I spoke to the 3 grade levels and managed to watch Bethany as the lead Egret. What a wonder to watch your children find a passion and run with it! If the photos I took this afternoon turn out, I'll post them.

Now I am frantically blogging before I head back upstairs to stitch. My fingers itch to knit a bit, but I am using that as a reward for getting the ornament finished. Bait is good. Sleep is optional. I am a crafter!!!