Tuesday, January 28, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Grounding the Bell Tower

As a writer and artist, I spend hours living in my head. My husband jokes that I spend all day talking to people who don’t exist. This is true. Sometimes, the fires of imagination can take me far away. The bells can lead me on and ever on into the resounding hills.

So what keeps me on this earth I love? Every day, I balance out the time I spend living inside my head by doing things grounded in the body. Here are three specifics.

1. Working with my hands

I make sculptures out of wood. (The photo above is a work in progress.) Carving, sanding, handling something real and solid, anchors me to earth. Because I use sharp chisels, I must stay totally present to keep from cutting myself or marring the wood. Anything you do with your hands which requires your close presence and attention would serve the same function.

2. Connecting to the natural world

I write at a standing desk by the window. There I can look up from imagination and see the birds in the feeder, the wind in the bamboo, the rush of sky overhead. Whenever I can, even bundled in hats and coats, I work outside. 

3. Moving my body

While walks help, even then my thoughts can wander to my creative projects. When I used to walk on treadmills, I read—more head work. Instead of the sweaty, noisy gym, I now do expressive dance daily at home alone to music. Reaching, swaying, bending—in response to the emotions evoked by the music, unobserved by anyone, grounds me. And after working long hours at the computer, dancing exercises my upper body in a way a treadmill can’t.

Being grounded in my body helps me feel alive. Although it doesn't make the bells ring like the fires of imagination do, it supports that wild ringing. It brings me home from the hills to tend the body that makes all the life of the imagination possible. It gives the bell tower a firm foundation.

Ground the bell tower in the earth 
so the bells can ring

7:30 BELLS is posted every Tuesday. 
Join me on February 11 for a 7:30 BELLS Guest Post by Newbery Honor author Margarita Engle.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Halos on a Foggy Road

Sometimes the ordinary becomes the extraordinary.  One night this week, I drove through the fog after a long, difficult day. Right now, my life seems lost in fog, too—I can’t see far down the road. After an hour on the freeway, I was almost home. Then, through a tree’s bare branches, I saw a street lamp 's shining halo. And beyond it, fainter, a second halo.
This is beautiful I thought. Stop.
But I was tired. It was late. I was distressed. And then I thought, what better time to stop for beauty than when you are tired and distressed? Isn’t that when we need uplifting and heartening most?
So I stopped. As I looked, the street lamp halos became mysterious beacons beckoning through the fog.  But the fog itself was making the mystery. Maybe that’s true of the difficult moments in our lives, too. When we can’t see our road clearly, we're wrapped in a moment of mystery that might inform our way forward.
Then I understood something more important:  I was making the mystery. Because I stopped to see it. Because I made room for it. Only then did the bells began to softly ring. I was the mystery, and I could become the beacon.

Heartened, I drove toward home.

Be the mystery and become the beacon

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

7:30 BELLS Guest Post by Laura McGee Kvasnosky

I am so pleased to offer this month's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post by the always kind and insightful author, the acclaimed Laura McGee Kvasnosky.  


Nothing rings more bells than the collaborative fun of inventive play.

As we prepared for a big family holiday dinner, I found a list of clues to Christmas song titles, tucked into a book of carols. I thought the list might be the basis of a game and brought it to the table that night.

We divided into three teams. Each team gave itself a name. Then, in turn, they guessed the names of the songs as suggested by the clues. (For example, “Bleached Yule,” is the clue for “White Christmas.”) We decided to allow ten seconds to guess then moved along to next team.

Of course my singing family not only named, but started to sing the songs as well. We decided to give extra points for singing. The Reindeer Games team laid in harmonies. More points. The Silver Bells featured a solo. More points. The Unwrappers added choreography. What a show. We had lots of laughs as the competition heated up. We invented how the game worked as we went along.

I love my time alone in the flow zone, writing and illustrating. But what an added joy to create and play with my family.

Here’s the list, which I see is available several places on the internet.

Material for your own family’s creative play:
1. Bleached Yule
2. Castaneous-colored Seed Vesicated in a Conflagration
3. Singular Yearning for the Twin Anterior Incisors
4. Righteous Darkness
5. Arrival Time: 2400 hrs - Weather: Cloudless
6. Loyal Followers Advance
7. Far Off in a Feeder
8. Array the Corridor
9. Bantam Male Percussionist
10. Monarchial Triad
11. Nocturnal Noiselessness
12. Jehovah Deactivate Blithe Chevaliers
13. Red Man En Route to Borough
14. Frozen Precipitation Commence
15. Proceed and Enlighten on the Pinnacle
16. The Quadruped with the Vermillion Probiscis
17. Query Regarding Identity of Descendant
18. Delight for this Planet
19. Give Attention to the Melodious Celestial Beings
20. The Dozen Festive 24 Hour Intervals 

Thank you, Dia, for the opportunity to add to the tintinnabulation of your 7:30 Bells Blog.

Collaborative play makes the bells ring

Thank you, Laura! 

Laura McGee Kvasnosky is a general maker of things: gardens, quilts, ukulele songs – and books. She has written and illustrated 17 picture books and a middle grade novel in the last 18 years. Her books’ awards include SCBWI Kite honors for Zelda and Ivy, and the American Library Association’s 2007 Theodor Seuss Geisel award for Zelda and Ivy the Runaways. Laura is a founding instructor of the University of Washington’s Writing for Children certificate program, and taught January terms at VCFA MFAWCYA from 2001 to 2007. She earned a BA in journalism from Occidental College and has studied writing with Jane Yolen and illustration with Keith Baker. A fourth-generation Northern Californian, Laura lives in Seattle with her husband, John, and springy spaniel named Izabella. They have two grown children who live in California. www.lmkbooks.com

7:30 BELLS Guests Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Regular 7:30 Bells posts run every first, third, and fourth Tuesdays.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WONDER AND REFUGE: My Lifelong Passion for Children's Literature

My passion for children’s literature began in my elementary school library, where I found both wonder and refuge. After six years there, I could walk past the shelves and feel new worlds waiting, feel beloved books calling to me like old friends. There was The Secret Garden. There, The Wind in the Willows. My passion continued at Mills College when I read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase during breaks from studying for English Lit exams. And it has blossomed over the past fifteen years as I wrote and published eight novels for children and teens from ages eight to sixteen.

Of course, given my young readers, my books explore themes of coming of age. Another of my recurring themes is the relationship between light and dark in the human spirit. But the literary theme I return to again and again is the way nature brings us fully alive. This emerged in my first three novels, Firegold, Aria of the Sea, and White Midnight, all young adult fantasy novels. The theme came to the forefront in my seventh novel, my first realistic, contemporary book, Eva of the Farm, written for middle school children. But not until my eighth novel, After the River the Sun, a companion volume to Eva of the Farm, did the theme of nature restoring the human spirit come roaring to life.

Inspired by my love of my father-in-law’s commercial apple orchard in the Methow Valley, After the River the Sun is set in Eastern Washington. Full of guilt over his parents’ drowning death, Eckhart is a city boy who loathes the outdoors and only wants to play video games. He is sent to live with his uncle on an orchard in the Methow Valley. There, the demands, beauty, and perils of living close to nature bring Eckhart new life and hope.

For me, books have always combined both refuge and the wondrous prospect of new worlds. Maybe that’s the best thing about them. The continuing dream of my life is to write books that will so capture children’s hearts and minds, that they will embark on a lifetime of loving books When sixth graders walk past my books on the library shelves, I want them to feel old friends calling and new worlds beckoning.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

7:30 BELLS: The Best of the Bells

In THE BEST OF THE BELLS,  I feature the most popular 7:30 Bells posts from the past. This one originally ran on 2/26/13.

7:30 Bells: What Makes You Come Alive?

This weekend I visited a real Enchanted Forest--the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park in Washington where my husband and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary.  Walking through the Hall of Moss with its immense trees, I felt the same as when I’d watched the swallows in Siena fly around the Dumo. Here again, though in a different way, the ancient—the immense old trees—joined with the ephemeral—the red maple leaves. Here again, this joining of the ancient and the ephemeral made me feel as though I were standing in the Forever Now.

Something about this makes me come alive, makes the bells ring—this time in my own backyard. Now I know. What makes you come alive?

Listen and watch for what makes you come alive.

Coming up: Join me next Tuesday for a 7:30 BELLS Guest Post by acclaimed author Laura Kvasnosky!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Poetry Friday: THE APPLE WITCH

For Poetry Friday I offer this poem by twelve-year-old Eva from my book, Eva of the Farm.


Leaves whirling
from her moonlit skirt,
the Apple Witch sings
to the orchard trees:
"Winter will pass.
Wait again for me!"

Blossoms flying
from her twig fingers,
the Apple Witch blesses
the orchard trees:
"Spring will come.
Wait again for me!"

--Eva of the Farm
(page 89)