Tag Archives: kids

My first novel, The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies, is here

I’m not one for making yearly resolutions. Not the formal sort, anyway. And not at New Year’s.

I made a great list when I was 12 and realized those pretty much set me up for life. I review them every so often. Basically they are: Don’t be a jerk, to yourself or others, reiterated in a variety of ways (believe in yourself, be kind, be true to yourself, follow the Golden Rule, love yourself, etc.).

But this past January (when I also celebrate my birthday), I realized that, while I wasn’t likely to be nominated for one of those Under 40 awards in the next year, I could make another long-time dream reality. I could be a published author by 40.

And now I am.

children's book on grief divorce and stepfamiliesThe Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies is my first published novel.

I started writing it in March 2015, during Camp NaNoWriMo (same as regular NaNoWriMo in November, essentially). I’d had the idea of writing a children’s book based around my family life, told from the point-of-view of my youngest daughter. She can illustrate the book, I thought. I can tell a heartwarming story about an nine-year-old girl dealing with the challenges of friendship, divorce, remarriage and step-siblings and the loss of loved ones.

And so I did, blatantly using my family as inspiration for and the form upon which the story hangs.

I quickly ran into troubles.

While we have the usual sibling squabbles, all my kids are far too nice, caring and kind to each other to create the tension and conflict a story needs. So my apologies to “Lynn,” who’s truly a great sister in real life, as you’ll see in an accompanying series, The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Elliot, told from the perspective of Cherry’s brother.

The illustrator at work.

Berry, fortunately as she’s the main character, loved the idea. She read my first drafts and nodded her head in approval. When she claimed stomach aches prevented her from going to school, I handed her sheets of paper and said, “OK, you have to stay in bed and illustrate the book, then.” She did.She also let me tell the harder parts of her story – how she feels about losing my mum and our cat, Hobbes, as well as the changes that have happened to her family due to my divorce and remarriage. I’m grateful for her bravery and honesty.

The illustrator reviews the proof copy and gives her approval.
The illustrator reviews the proof copy and gives her approval.

There’s a lot in the story that’s drawn from our lives. And a lot that’s fiction. The splendid part of writing fiction is that you can change reality to make it work better for your story. That’s much harder in real life (though perhaps not impossible).

I won’t give the story away to tell you what’s true and what’s invented. Some of it you can figure out for yourself. Some you may never know.

But I do want to make sure you know about one thing. When you get to the part about the pancakes, mystery pancakes were really my idea. 🙂

The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies is an early middle grade novel for readers age 6-9 (grades 1-3).

Knitting for the digital age: Minecraft sweaters

The most awesome Mincraft creeper sweater ever.
The most awesome Minecraft creeper sweater ever. The eyes and mouth are pockets.

My kids are crazy for Minecraft. After I made Duncan a Minecraft creeper sweater (OMG, I did not blog about this. It is the most awesome Minecraft sweater ever), Berry initially wanted a similar sweater in skeleton form. But by the time I got ready to knit it, she’d gone off the idea.

custome Minecraft skin
Berry’s Minecraft skin

So after I finished Duncan’s Pikachu sweater and it was her turn for a hand knitted garment, she asked if I could knit her a sweater featuring her Minecraft skin. If you don’t know what a Minecraft skin is, it’s basically how your player (the person you move around in the game) looks. You can customize your skin to look however you want.

After some deliberation about how it would work, I realized it’s basically already laid out like a knitting pattern. I explained to Berry I’d have to stick with more basic colors – red, orange, yellow, blue, white, pink, grey and black – without all the slight shade variations. She assured me she was OK with that.

20150509_183337I’d stocked up on the main color yarn – Bernat Li’l Tots in All Blue – with the idea of knitting her a plain sweater. For her Mincreaft skin sweater, Berry wanted to have half sky and half grass, but the greenish color (Honey Dew) didn’t look right, so we went with an all blue background.

It was a fairly easy intarsia knit using a basic scoop neck pattern (that I keep in my head based on the gauge and desired length and width). I had all the other colors in about the right weight yarn in my stash – mostly Cascade Pacific (the white, grey and black from the rejected skeleton sweater) and some leftover red, yellow from Pikachu, a little Bernat Satin (Teal) some pink acrylic and Cascade orange from the Moshi Monster sweater (both were a little thin, but it worked fine)

For reasons I don’t yet understand, my neck openings have been a bit large on the last two sweaters I’ve knit the kids. I may have to go back to following a pattern again until I get it cemented in my brain.

20150604_162621It was a reasonably quick knit in nice, soft yarn, resulting in a cuddly, warm sweater. Berry loves it. She wears it all the time – eating frozen yogurt, making s’mores. It’s a sweater for any weather.

20150625_195110Adam says I should display my video game-themed sweaters in a gallery or museum someday. Perhaps once the kids have grown out of them, if there’s anything left, they can become retro relics admired behind glass.

Latest knits: the Pikachu sweater

“Knit me something next!”

It’s the first thing I hear whenever I finish a knitting project, from whichever kid didn’t just receive a piece of knitted wonder.

pikachu knitted sweater  Whatever it was that I knitted last wasn’t for Duncan, so his little voice was heard the loudest. So I dutifully planned and created a Pikachu sweater for him.

Here’s (almost) finished result. (I made the neck too big and had to unpick and redo it.)

How to knit a pikachu sweater

While I confess to loving the adulation I receive when I post photos of my knitted creations on Facebook and Instagram, I’m sometimes confused by it. Is knitting a sweater really that hard? Perhaps when you don’t know the steps (much like anything else in life that you haven’t tried or figured out the steps to do).

Taking an image and making it into a knitted image is actually quite simple. Pikachu is the latest in many designs I’ve come up with, but it’s not magic (or even artistic talent).

Here’s how I do it.

  1. Find the image you want to knit. Pokemon pikachuI got Pikachu from the Pokemon wiki gallery.
  2. Turn it into a knitting chart. I can never remember the website I use, so I do a web search and usually end up here on knitPro. The site has instructions, but you basically choose the size of pattern you want to end up with and whether you want it horizontal or vertical, and upload your image.
  3. Print the knitting chart. It’ll look something like this (click here for the Pikachu knitting chart I used).
  4. Adjust the blocks of color according to your available yarn colors, style and whim. I used yellow, red, white and black yarn for my Pikachu, as I didn’t have a darker yellow for his shading or lighter red for his mouth. I also decided to outline his body, tail and arms with black stitching so that he retained some definition.
  5. Start knitting — and count your stitches. Cross of each line of your chart as you knit it to help you stay on track.

Tips for intarsia knitting

Intarsia knitting can be tricky at first. My initial projects were a bit too snug in places where I didn’t leave enough yarn at the back of the work. Fortunately, over time and repeated washings, everything flattened itself out.

Here’s what I’ve learned over time to reduce the instances of puckered knitting:

  • Use a new bobbin or ball or yarn every time the color changes. Avoid running the same color yarn behind your work as much as possible and for no more than 4 or 5 stitches.
  • Twist the two strands of yarn whenever you change colors. This prevents holes.
  • Count your stitches and follow the pattern closely. No matter how carefully I do this, I still manage to mess up somewhere. I somehow made Pikachu’s left arm too skinny by one stitch.
  • When you make a mistake, decide if it’s an important one that you need to unpick (because you only notice the mistakes you made 10 rows ago), if you can fix it afterwards with a bit of over stitching/duplicate stitching, or if you can simply ignore it. It’s your call. Just because a pattern says something doesn’t mean you have to follow it exactly. You’ll just get slightly different results.

What sweater pattern should you use?

I’ve knitted enough sweaters that I decided to make this pattern up as I went along. I absolutely love The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns as it teaches you how to knit any size sweater you want just by knowing your gauge (how many stitches you knit per inch with the yarn and needles you’re using). I also like being able to knit a sweater that fits a particular body — in this case, a long, skinny one.

knitted kids pikachu sweaterFor this sweater, I measured my son, knit a gauge swatch and did the calculations. I cast on 85 stitches or so and went to work, knitting the back first, then the front, then both sleeves at the same time.

The only issue I have with intarsia knitting and a design like this is that I can’t knit in the round, so I have to sew up seams at the end, which is one of my lesser favorite knitting activities. There are also a lot of ends to weave in as well.

But you can use any basic sweater pattern that you like, as long as it works for the yarn and needles you’re using.

For this sweater, I used Bernat Satin worsted weight yarn on 5mm needles. I knit about at the expected gauge at 4.5 to 4.75 sts/inch. I used teal for the main color, yellow for Pikachu and, I confess, some black, red and white Pacific Cascade 40% merino, 60% acrylic yarn I had leftover from another prokect. It knits up at the same gauge and Duncan doesn’t have any wool allergy issues (unlike me).

So, there you have it — one cute boy in one cute Pokemon pikachu sweater. It’s cozy, warm and soft, great for a cool Spring day and hopefully with long enough sleeves that it’ll still fit him in the fall.

Next up? A cuddly blue sweater for my daughter featuring her Minecraft character’s likeness (aka skin).

Home Again

Rochester, NY
Rochester, NY, from the plane

When I moved back to South Florida in my early 20s and back in with my Mum, I was anxious that the ghosts from my past would catch up with me and pull me under. Throughout my life, I’ve had a tendency to move from one place to another – England, Barbados, Florida, North Carolina, New York, Oregon – with the intent to leave the past behind and go on to something better for me. Going back was never in my plans.

Yet I did. My Mum’s house was supposed to be a temporary way point, a few-month-layover, on my journey to England – the place I’ve always wanted to go back to. Moving to England didn’t work out, but neither did living with my Mum.

Did the ghosts rise up and haunt me? Not exactly. Although driving around some of my old neighborhood haunts did twist my gut. I’d changed my name – and my hair color. I couldn’t even find most of the old gang I used to hang out with. (I even wrote a song about it: Home Again “I’m back home again, but I’m a stranger now. I didn’t want that life anyhow.”)

When I left for Rochester, NY, I was glad enough to move on and put it all behind me.

No more fresh starts

These days I’m more interested in integrating my life — past and present — and living from a place of wholeness. I no longer want, or need, to package away the difficult parts of my life, to tidy them into boxes to be stored in the dark recesses of my mind. Or even to compartmentalize the contradictory pieces and keep them separate from each other. I’m a mother and writer, a medium and knitter, a whatever I am and whatever else that don’t seem to belong together, but clearly do as they are a part of me.

Every time I come back to Rochester I seem to reconnect with parts of myself — who I was when I lived here in a slightly different life to who I am now. Internally, it feels like I’m finding strands of myself and plugging them in to each other, creating new pathways and strengthening my mental and emotional capacities.

In the New Year, those connections were with the kids’ Dad’s family, people I hadn’t seen since before we left for Oregon. Back when I was seemingly happily married and starting a new life with my little family.

This trip I feel like I’m reconciling and reconnecting with places within myself. Who I was then with who I am now. How do those people match up? How do I match up with the vision of myself?

Who am I now?

I’ve spent the past year re-visioning myself. Allowing myself to conceive of a new idea of who I am and how I present myself in the world. What I do. What I look like (apparently it’s without makeup most of the time).

It’s lead me to surprising places — to writing a memoir about one of the more painful and tumultuous times in my life. To reconsidering what I want to do in terms of my career (always subject to further reconsideration, of course). To learning how to consciously parent again.

This trip to Rochester also has some surprises. As I drove to a business meeting yesterday morning, I realized I was driving by the facility where I visited my ex-husband after his suicide attempt. I caught my breath, thrown off guard by sudden memories I hadn’t yet unpacked from their tidy boxes. I wasn’t able to before, but I’m willing to unpack them and look at them now, though. To think about them and feel them, as uncomfortable as it may be.

They are mine and I claim them. Even if they make my toes curl.

A city of memories

There are so many memories for me here in this city. Nine years of them. Memories of the apartment on Goodman and Monroe where the kids’ dad lived when we met. Of the bagel place on the corner we’d walk to for breakfast. The house we brought our babies home from the hospital to. The neighborhoods I’d walk with my Mum.

Echoes of a time gone now. Of relationships changed. Of ghosts.

Reconnecting with our roots

I’m glad the kids get to come back here. That they reconnect with their roots. Most of the places I’ve left I’ve simply gone from, rarely returning. A short trip or two, perhaps. I’ve been to England three times since I left when I was 10, Barbados two or three times as well. North Carolina, twice, I think. But Rochester keeps calling me back.

I come back for the kids, to pick them up and fly them home again, 2,500 miles to the other coast where they spend most of their lives. So partly there is no choice. But I choose to stay for days extra each time, visiting friends and reconnecting, meeting potential clients and making new connections. I don’t have to do that part. But I do, because there’s part of me still here in these city streets. Part of me still here in the life I built for myself in my 20s, the one I was willing to give up for yet another fresh start.

Cuddles on the bed
More love than images can hold.

On the trip here, despite the 3:40 a.m. wake up time, the long travel and delays, I kept smiling at my fellow travellers. I realized I am one of the most fortunate people on this planet. I am loved, I have a fantastic home, good food to eat, ample clean water, a healthy wonderful family. Work that’s meaningful. A safety net of support. Time for myself (yes, with 4 kids!). I am so incredibly blessed. I have so much, and so much to give. A smile is the least I can do.

So even when feelings from the past rise up and wriggle my insides, I know it’s OK. Because I can feel those feelings, sit with them and be OK. My home, it turns out, is inside myself. And I’m coming home again.

The real experience of being a mother

There’s a thought that’s been going through my head lately. Since it has to do with kids, Mother’s Day is as good a time as any to spit it out.

Basically, the thought is this: If all the people who had told me how hard it would be having kids could have somehow caused me to experience it and truly feel it for myself before I had them, there’s a really good chance I wouldn’t have had them.

I heard all the warnings. I heard how my life would forever be changed, that I could never go back to life pre-child. That my freedom was gone — physical freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted, financial freedom to spend my own money on myself, even emotional freedom from the constant worry about something or the other that comes with children.

I did listen. I believed them. But I decided I could handle it. I decided it was something I wanted to do anyway (and it was also too late as people only start telling you this stuff when you’re already pregnant).

They were completely right. Motherhood (and probably fatherhood, too) is unrelenting, insanely hard work. The overwhelmingly intense experience of delivering a baby into the world is just the beginning of some bone crushingly difficult experiences.

However, I suspected then, when I had that well-contained life growing inside me, that the folks giving me dire warnings were leaving something out. Parenting is an intense experience, for sure. But part of that intensity is the amount of love, joy and satisfaction that comes from creating a family. Other than when I was a baby and small child myself, I don’t recall ever feeling so loved as I do by my own little ones. Behind every scream of “I need Mummy!” is a declaration of love and trust.

So I’m glad I didn’t really understand what it would be like (and no 10-lb bag of flour would have shown me). I’m glad I couldn’t feel the true sacrifices of motherhood — at least not before I could also feel the true rewards.

I know I’m not alone in struggling to reconcile who I was before I became a Mum with who I find myself being now. Having little kids is tough. It’s very demanding and doesn’t leave you the luxury of much time to ponder your former dreams, ambitions and visions of yourself. But I know I’ll find my balance. And I wouldn’t trade my two little imps — perhaps my greatest creations — for anything. Not even the luxury of going to the bathroom by myself.