“Extra Yarn”

As someone who aspires to be a “real” writer when I grow up, I try to be an avid reader as well – to enhance my vocabulary, experience a variety of writing styles, and maintain a general awareness of what is happening in the literary world. However, since my book club has not exactly taken off here in Austin yet, and since my children occupy SO MUCH of my time, the authors on my recently-read list are more reminiscent of Silverstein and Seuss then Steinbeck and Salinger. Although, I still need to get some more mature materials back into the rotation, I’m not entirely disappointed by the deluge of picture books that flood my home after every trip to the library. I love children’s literature. I always have. As a matter of fact, the story I have been working on for longer than I care to admit is a children’s story – one that took me years to even begin writing because I didn’t want to start with an idea that had been written a hundred times before. I wanted something unique and subtle and surprising. A story with hidden layers that keep revealing themselves even after the bazillionth read (since that is how many times children usually ask you to read their favorite stories… every week). As surprising as it may seem, I think I’ve got the idea that meets this tall order, and one day I will finish it. Until then, I will leave you all to wonder about it in suspense, since this post is not about my story. (Hows that for a tease?)

This post is about another story I recently discovered that has so many of the qualities I aspire toward when writing, that it immediately became a source of inspiration and set my creative juices flowing. It is simple and beautiful, clever and subtle, and has layers upon layers of lovely messages for young people. Or it can be taken at face value and seen as just a cute little story that is accessible to even the smallest of readers. After the first time I read it, I liked it so much I was buzzing as I looked at my son and said, “That is what children’s stories are meant to be! I love it!” But I didn’t have to tell him that. He seemed as taken with it as I was – with wide eyes and a deep grin at each turn of the page. And don’t even get me started on the illustrations! So perfect.

The story is called “Extra Yarn” by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen.

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It is about a young girl who finds a magic box of yarn that never seems to run out.

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And she uses it to make herself and others happy.

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She presses on in spite of teasing and doubters…

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and even bribes.

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It tells how happiness cannot be bought or taken from someone else, but is something that you have to make for yourself – and definitely something to be shared.

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It is about self-assurance and contentment.

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And most of all beauty.

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If you have not already read it, please go get this book and read it to your children. If you don’t have any children, read it to yourself. What have you got to lose besides fifteen minutes of your time. Because, in my opinion, we could all use a little extra yarn.

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The Juggling Act

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Looking at this oddly chaotic drawing whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed somehow makes me feel better. I found it years ago, and, sadly, I can’t seem to find it again to properly credit the artist. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, this one tells quite a story about everyday life as an adult – a perpetual balancing act of everything that’s important. So many balls in the air, and the consequences of letting any of them fall can be great. Yet, somehow, we manage to do it – and not just survive, but often thrive. We grow, we grow people, we help them grow.

My oldest son told me the other day that he didn’t want to grow up (but he still wanted to have birthdays, mind you!) When I asked him why, he said ’cause grown ups didn’t get to have any fun anymore. I, of course, told him that wasn’t true and reminded him of all the fun things we have done together. But it’s not just pictures that speak louder than words. Actions do too. And somehow, my actions are portraying life as boring, busy, and work filled. All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.

His declaration got me thinking. I admire people whose enjoyment of life is evident. Who wear joy on their sleeves like a beautiful accessory and brighten every room they walk into. I’m not talking about the fun or thrill seeking type, who shirk responsibility and look down their noses at anyone who chooses to tie themselves down with it. Don’t get me started on those people. I mean the people who manage to do the daily juggling act, and make it look fun. Because it is fun after all. Not each individual piece of it, but as whole picture, it is. And when I see something I admire about someone else, but don’t see it in myself, I have some work to do. I need to do better about not sweating the small stuff. Occasionally letting the little balls fall so that I can keep the big ones up. And showing my son that this juggling act of life, even as a grown up, can be a lot of fun. Who’s with me?

Making Music Happen

Most of you who know me personally know that music is a central theme in my family and our home. It was a huge part of my past (having worked for 6 years toward a guitar performance degree) and a significant part of what made me who I am today. Although I rarely play anymore, as life, work, and children have engulfed my time, it does give me a certain measure of credibility and experience in working with and alongside my husband in his ongoing and consistently driven musical efforts, and also in instilling musical passion in my children. I have discovered that the active practice of our life’s various loves often waxes and wanes as time marches on and our circumstances change with its beat. But just because we may not participate actively in the same passions throughout all stages of our lives, does not mean those passions have died. For whatever length of time we did practice them, we wrote them on our hearts and made them a part of whatever we choose to practice in the future – in my case, blogging, gardening, hosting book clubs, raising children, and supporting the passions of those I love (just to name a few). But I digress…

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This post is about music. And it has been quite a week for musical happenings in our home. The first and most minor event is that I restrung my classical for the first time in years! Given the above diatribe about life’s changing passions, I hope this does not cause any of you to immediately assume you will be hearing the classical renderings of Diana Scarborough (as last heard circa 2005) any time soon. But it is a step. A small step. It opens the window a crack so that if I feel the whim and decide to exercise my fingers a bit, at least it won’t sound like doo doo. (Did I just say doo doo? I’m such a MOM!) But the most pleasant side effect of this effort is that my hubs, who plays all the time, will now be able to play my guitar if he wants to. And it is a BEAUTIFUL instrument. I know that I am biased toward it in the much the same way parents are toward their children (OK, maybe not that much), but it really is lovely. This classical can sing. And it has been hanging on the wall, un-played, for far to long now.

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The second musical event is that our oldest son, Aiden, was given his first real instrument! From the time he was old enough to favor one instrument over another, drums have always been his biggest love. And the kid’s got rhythm. He doesn’t just beat around and make noise like most 4 year-olds would. He creates beats. He jams. He writes lyrics and melodies to accompany his playing and he gets after it. When a good friend saw him playing at a party recently, he was so taken with his ability and inspired by his passion that he determined then and there to buy him his first kit. The very next day, he did! It arrived in the mail a few days later and he has been playing every day since. Lessons will be soon to follow, but for now, we are just letting him revel in the excitement and joy of playing something his size that belongs to him and makes him feel proud.

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The last and most important event is that Jonathan (aka Hubs) has completed and self-released his first album – an accomplishment several years in the making. Music is easily his biggest passion and the thing he gains the most fulfillment from in life. He has labored for a long time to meticulously perfect and pour himself into these 11 song. Writing, performing, and producing every bit of it in our home studio in the sparse time that life, work, and children have left him to work on it. But he never gave up, even when he felt like it didn’t matter anymore. That it could never get done. That he could never find the time. He did. He pressed on and now he has something beautiful to show for it. The beginning of a legacy. I don’t know if thousands of people will hear it in his lifetime, but some will, and those who do will be changed by it. And now he has walked through that door, closed it, and is free to walk through the many that lay ahead. I am so proud of him. And if any of you would like to experience the reason for that pride, click his image below to hear a sample, download the album, or order an actual CD. It is surprising, unique, and full of life… just like he is. I am excited to share this piece of him with the world.

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Growing Art – A Garden of Much More than Plants

There is an art museum not too far from my home – although, I must admit, I am lucky to live in a place where nothing is too far from my home. However, with two small boys in tow, I am not prone to frequent its subdued, quiet, sacred halls. The natural history museum, yes! The children’s museum, absolutely! The art museum, not so much. That is, not until recently. About a year ago, the museum architected a large outdoor space they called “The Art Garden“. It is a collection of manicured, multilevel garden beds, regularly dispersed with outdoor art including statues, glass art sculptures, artist-designed furniture, and water features. There is also a large open grassy space with a stage at one end where they regularly host concerts and other presentations. And at the center of this astonishing space is the one feature that makes it such an appealing choice for those of us with little people. There is a children’s fountain complete with tile mosaic underfoot and a continuously changing pattern of water sprays that is sure to delight not only the children, but all those looking on.

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I recently took my boys there for some “cultured” play time, and as I sat back and watched them run and jump and frolic in the water, completely un-self-conscious or even aware of all those looking on, I began to ponder the nature of art and its effect on those who view it/participate in it. This is a place where art is grown. The plants themselves are part of the art and they are growing and changing every day. The culture surrounding this space is something that is gaining momentum all the time and growing into an effectual catalyst for the revitalization of downtown. But the thing that struck me the most was the fact the children themselves, growing, developing human beings, became a part of the art of this place as they played. It wasn’t just the parents sitting and watching their children play. There were others who sat and watched, without the hindrance or distraction of smart phones, books or other shields between them and the outside world. They simply watched, as youth and exuberance and vitality displayed itself in front of them. And they drank it in. You could see its effect in the lines of their faces and the change in their posture. Art is meant to refresh – mind, body, and soul. To speak to hearts, situations, and cultures. To effect change. And these children – mine and others – were doing just that.

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It is humbling and awe-inspiring to be the care taker of such valuable works of art. I hope I can manage, every day, to fully appreciate their worth.

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Does First-Born = First Priority?

I find it slightly telling, and a little sad, that one of my primary motivators for doing creative and special things for Owen is a desire to keep up with my former self. I can’t very well play favorites even before my second-born arrives, so I have to gather up all the energy and creativity that remains in my older, more preoccupied life to simply do for Owen what I did for Aiden. The difference is, with Aiden, everything was novel and new. My whole life centered around the fact that I was about to have a child. So I read 12 different books on pregnancy and parenting, crocheted blankets, took pictures of my belly every few weeks to document the process, and did fun, creative things like making wooden plaques for his hospital door. This time, the fact that I am now 30 and already a parent with a wildly active toddler as well as a job and home to keep up (while trying to sell it and move!) definitely factors into the equation. It’s not that I love Owen any less (I hope), it’s just that life does not afford me the same luxuries it did before. Well, I may have fallen woefully short this go-round in my parenting research and belly pictures, and the blanket I started may or may not be in various shades of coral and pink (oops!), but I did manage to find it in me to make a pretty wonderful door hanger for Scarborough 2.0, with a little “help” from Scarborough 1.0.  We actually had a really good time and I devoted far more of my evening to it than I originally anticipated, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the results!

My big boy working on his "Project" while Mama worked on hers.

The finished product for Owen's hospital door.

Aiden's hospital door hanger (for comparison). After the hospital, his hung in his room for 2 1/2 years till he moved into his big boy room. I'm thinking Owen's will do the same and I coordinated the colors appropriately :)

Hopefully I can continue this trend and take plenty of photos once Owen arrives and document all his special milestones, just as I did with Aiden. And in all the ways that I do fall short, I hope he will one day understand that being first-born did not make Aiden first priority, it just meant his parents were FAR less busy!