Friday, June 27, 2008

You win some, you lose some....

Woe is me! Today I lament the loss of a dear, dear friend. A friend that sheltered me, guided me, made life more beautiful, and occasionally dropped its seeds on my head. Yes, our bad luck with trees continues, as yesterday's thunderstorms spelled doom for our most cherished cherry tree. We heard a loud "CRACK!" amongst all the thunder, wind, and rain—and no, it wasn't one of my knees. It was the last gasp of our beautiful companion. Witness the carnage for yourself:

This is the latest in a run of bad luck when it comes to the shade trees on our property. When we bought our house in 1997, the front yard was shaded by the cherry and a grand old ash, while the back yard had an even bigger ash and a corkscrew willow. Well, the ashes had to be removed in 2003, after they became the latest victims of the emerald ash borer. We made a garden out of the spot in the back yard where the ash had stood (the grass underneath was sparse anyway), and planted a river birch in the front yard. I don't know what we'll do now that the cherry is gone—get a lot more light through the front windows, for one. We have to see what our options are for replanting, as the cherry was right next to the walkway, and the birch is pretty much centered in the front lawn.

However, I should look on the bright side. When the cherry toppled, no one was standing in the way. (They would've been extremely stupid to do so, since it was thundering and raining horizontally, but you never know.) No one had their car parked in the driveway, so no surprise body work. The bulk of the branches missed the garage and the gutters, so no damage to the house at all. And my other half got the opportunity to use that chainsaw he bought a couple months ago "just for little trims." Cleaning this mess is going to involve more than a little trimming, but at least someone is going to get some nice firewood out of the event. Now I've just got to cross my fingers that nothing happens to the corkscrew willow in our back yard, because that would be a catastrophe no matter how it decided to go.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Knees, I'm not listening to you!

Despite what Boy says, my knees insist that I am getting old. Lately they've been emitting more snaps and crackles than a box of Rice Krispies; in fact, sometimes I stop and turn my head, trying to figure out where the baseball game is, because by the sound of it someone must've just whacked a huge home run.

I think my knees have chosen this month to begin talking to me because I've been training pretty seriously for AAU Taekwondo Nationals, which start next week. (Next week! Start panicking!) Almost every Friday night for the past five months, I've been working out with Olympian's Tournament Team to work on my sparring skills. This is a heavy-duty workout, and I'm lucky if I can make it through without wheezing like an old steam engine. (I'm 25 to 30 years older than most of the rest of the team, and asthmatic.) It can be tough, but it always feels great when we stop, and the kids motivate and inspire me.

For this week, the runup to the tournament, the team has been meeting mornings to run in a local park. My knees say, "No running!" My lungs say, "No running!" My doctor says, "Running isn't so good. Bicycling is much better." So I ride my bike the 2.5 miles to the park, and cycle around the paths while trying to avoid crashing into my teammates. Tuesday I didn't count, but I probably rode around 6 miles at the park. Today I did count, and I rode a little over 4 miles. (Plus I saw some kildeer in the nature trail adjacent to the park, and promptly scared them off.) I'm not sure my knees feel any better, but I'm surprised at how good I feel after I finish the ride. (Must be those endorphins I hear "athletes" sometimes experience. Oooh, am I an athlete now?)

So all next week I'll be away at Nationals (although I only compete on Tuesday and Friday), and I'm not sure if I'll be doing much posting in this blog. I'm not sure if I'll be doing much writing. (Chap. 16 still awaits!) Still, it's going to provide me with some great inspiration. Lately, a character has been sitting in the back of my mind, distracting me from Chap. 16. He's a nerd, like I was. He's a total klutz, like I was. He's going to discover taekwondo, like I did. I think we're going to have a lot of fun together ... but I have to make it through Nationals first. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Compliment of the Week

Kids, ya gotta love 'em. They say the sweetest things. Here is an exchange from earlier today I felt compelled to share:

BOY [looking at the sheet with my knee exercises]: Oooo, I think I'll do some calf stretches. They look like fun. Or maybe some hip and buttock stretches.

ME: Are you making fun of my decrepit old knees?

BOY: Aww, Mom, you're not old.


You're not young, either, but you're not old.

Writing for the inner child

So, you may be wondering, why does Diane write for children? Or you may not be wondering, as it's obvious to most people who know me that my inner 10 year old, the one who loves bad puns and fart jokes, isn't buried very deep. Actually, it's a question people don't seem to ask as much any more—not since Harry Potter became a phenomenon and made "children's books" both more respectable and more lucrative. (Ah, you may think, maybe she'll be the next J. K. Rowling? "I'd rather you'd been the first one," says dear hubby, anticipating early retirement.)

Still, it's a good question. Why, in addition to my inner 10 year old demanding to be heard, do I like to write for kids? Maybe it's because when I was a kid books were such an important part of my life. I loved nothing better than to immerse myself in a story, and some of those books have stayed with me even thirty years later. I was reminded of this at a writers' conference this month. Author/editor Patricia Lee Gauch was one of the speakers (a very good one, btw) and afterward she was available to sign books. I saw two women in their 30s come up to her with old, grubby copies of Christina Katerina and the Box, a picture book Gauch published in 1971. Even decades later, these readers were excited to meet the author of a book they loved to bits as a child. Now, what writer wouldn't want to have that kind of reaction to their work?

Your view of the world as a child can stay with you for a long time, I was reminded again during a visit to the doctor last week. My knee had started this annoying clicking and cracking—nothing horribly painful, but I wanted to make sure it was safe to train for taekwondo nationals next week. Amongst the cautions and exercises and advice the doctor gave me, she threw out this little comment: "... for sports people like you." Sports people like me? I was thrown off for a moment. I'm not a sports person. I was always one of the last to be picked for sports teams when I was growing up. I was a dork, my nose always in a book, not someone who joins teams or runs races. How could I be a sports person?

I guess people change. And for children (and our own childish self-images), that's not always an easy or obvious lesson to learn. But books do help—they make readers aware that there's a bigger world out there, filled with all sorts of intriguing possibilities. Maybe Max can tame his wild things. Maybe a klutz can grow up to be a black belt. Maybe anything can happen. So when I write for children, I see a world of possibilities to choose from, and hopefully I can show that same limitless world to readers. (That is, assuming I get some someday. My imagination tells me it's possible!)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Photo of the Week--6/16/08

Our first trip to Europe while we were living in England (and no, England is not part of Europe, not if you ask the English) was to the lovely city of Amsterdam. We spent most of our time walking the streets and cruising the canals of the city, taking in the wonderful architecture. I loved seeing the different types of gables on the different houses, and the different houseboats that also served as people's homes. What I particularly like about the houses, as you can see in this picture, are the little beams that stick out from the top of each house. These are used to lift bulky furniture in through the windows, as the stairways and doorways are much too narrow to use. I couldn't help but imagine the classic "piano on a pulley" cartoons as I looked at these houses.