sleep-away camp


Today we dropped off my older son at sleep-away camp beneath the redwood trees in La Honda.  After dropping him off, we visited Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero.  For dinner: goat cheese on French bread.


reading (and give-away winners)

Have you ever unloaded a pile of library books from your bag and felt that life was so utterly rich?  I felt that way the other morning after a particularly good library haul. Awake at 5:30 in the morning, knowing I had at least an hour before waylaid by requests for pancakes, I opened a satchel of library books we dragged home the day before, pulled out Markets of Paris and emerged 90 minutes later feeling as though I had been on a great adventure exploring treasures of the antique markets, flea markets and farmer's markets of Paris.

At 7:00, things were still quiet in my house, so I made another cup of tea, gave the cat another scratch and finished the last few pages of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which had actually been pulled off my shelf and not from the library bag).  Still no interruptions so I started reading this book (which was hiding in another stack when I took the photo above, along with this book and this book).  Oh, we've been rich with such good books lately...

Meanwhile, I've also been enjoying comments which came rolling along in response to this blog post!  I've love hearing from readers because sometimes it's so quiet around here, I wonder whether I've been talking to myself.  Also, it was a thrill for me to read your hopes for the contents of my third book; while no one actually hit the nail on the head, at least four or five of you circled near some of the concepts appearing in the new book and touched on aspects of them.  This made me very happy because I sense I'm on the right track to deliver a book which will be of interest...

Now for the give-away winners: lucky #9 and #28 (chosen via RANDOM.ORG).  Thank you to everyone for joining in the fun.  Please stay tuned for more peg doll give-aways (most likely sometime this coming fall). xo


speaking of mermaids

Speaking of mermaids, you've seen our animated book trailer with the dancing pirates and diving mermaid, haven't you?  If not, you can do a little jig along with my merry swashbucklers by clicking below...

And, in case you're interested, I'm giving away a few mermaid peg dolls which I created for my first book. You can find details about the give-away HERE.


mermaid give-away!

I've been cleaning out my garage and it's obvious that I have far too many peg dolls.  Hard to believe, right? It's not much fun keeping them in boxes, so I thought I'd share some of them with you.


While I was working on my first book Making Peg Dolls, I couldn't decide on the exact mermaid variation I liked best, so I ended up creating four sets of mermaid dolls (totaling 20 mermaids in all, by the time I was done). Thus, I have mermaids in excess.

If you would like one of my mermaids (or two... or maybe even three) to swim into your mailbox, please leave a comment below; and just for fun, you can mention what sorts of peg dolls you think I should include in my next book.  The contents of the new book are already decided, so no promises re: including your ideas, but I'm always curious to know where your interests lie!

I will choose two names via random drawing and announce the winners at the end of next week.  Good luck!

Comments are now closed -- thank you to everyone for joining in the fun! Winners have been chosen; congratulations to lucky #9 and #28.


mermaid grotto :: tutorial re-post

Last August I posted this tutorial for creating a mermaid grotto, and it was so well-loved that I thought re-posting it today might be a nice way to welcome summer... and please come back later in the week for a special mermaid surprise.

-- A medium sized box  (such as a large shoe box)

-- Some paper in greens and blues. I had this
    scrapbook paper in my cupboard, but any
    sort of colorful paper will be great.

-- Seashells of assorted shapes & sizes

-- A small cardboard jewelry/gift box.  My box
    measures 2 1/4 in x 3 1/4 in (5 1/2 cm x 8 cm).

-- Scraps of fabric

-- A glue stick and glue gun

-- Scissors

(NOTE: instructions for making mermaids and octopus can be found here in my books.)

STEP 1 ::  Cut the front off your box and cut away 1/2 to 2/3 of the top.  (I also glued the top of my box so that it is tilted up, but this is completely optional.)

STEP 2 :: Cover the inside of your box with ocean-colored paper.  Using glue stick to affix your paper to box will ensure that your paper will lie flat and not buckle.  

STEP 3 :: I added waves, some seaweed, and a fish to decorate the walls of my grotto.  Other things to add might be an octopus, seashells, coral, starfish, etc...   You can find endless ideas and images by searching online for clip-art.  Have fun making up your own sea grotto design!

I didn't cover the outside of my box, however, feel free to paint the outside of your box or cover it with paper.


STEP 1 ::  Cut a strip of fabric to fit around the edges of your box and affix in place with hot glue.

STEP 2 :: Use hot glue to stick seashells around the sides of the box (note: I am not usually a fan of hot glue, however, it is the best type of glue for holding seashells in place).

STEP 3 :: Cut some small pieces of fabric to serve as a mattress and blanket.

STEP 4 :: Tuck your mermaid in and sing her a lullaby. 

It's a nice idea to set the table with your best dishes when you are expecting a friend for tea.

If you ask nicely, an octopus is always happy to help set the table.

Shhh... the baby is sleeping.

If you are looking for a beautiful bedtime story for your own mer-baby, I highly recommend The Mermaid and the Shoe by K. G. Campbell.

Note: instructions for creating mermaid peg dolls can be found in both of my books, and the pattern/instructions for making the octopus can be found in my second book Making Peg Dolls & More.


bar mitzvah celebration


Hello! Hello!  My older son's bar mitzvah was last weekend and so things have been very, very busy here.  We had countless family members visiting from out of town to share in our celebration, which meant lots of events and parties.  I wasn't able to take photos Friday night, Saturday morning or Saturday night, but did manage to snag a few shots on Sunday at a picnic we hosted under the redwood trees.  You might notice that I didn't catch any photos of my older son -- he was off splashing in the creek with his friends, as was right and proper after a year of rigorous preparation and study, plus a full weekend at the synagogue! 

I will be back soon, making up for lost time and lack of blog posts...


blog tour :: the illuminator rising

Today I am participating in a blog tour for Alina Sayre's newest book The Illuminator Rising (the third book in her Voyages of the Legend series).  The full blog-tour schedule is posted at the end of this post, and there is also a *give-away* (details of which also appear at the end of this post).

Alina Sayre is a local SF Bay Area author who began her literary career chewing on board books and has been in love with words ever since. Now, in addition to being an author, Alina is an editor, educator and speaker. She says that when she’s not writing, she enjoys photography, collecting crazy socks, and reading under blankets. She does not enjoy algebra or wasabi. And, when she grows up, she would like to live in a castle with a large library.

Alina's Voyages of the Legend series begins with The Illuminator's Gift where we are introduced to Ellie, a 12-year-old orphan with a mysterious gift. She climbs aboard a flying ship called the Legend, and joins the crew as part of a secret rescue fleet.  In The Illuminator Rising (the third book of the series), Ellie and her friends are driven from their home island of Rhynlyr to solve a riddle and find the survivors of the Vestigia Roi.  On this voyage, the crew members of the Legend face dangers like never before in a quest to save their world.

But brief synopses of Alina's novels barely scratch the surface; I felt that the best person to tell you about these books was the author herself, so I came up with a list of questions for Alina.  You will find her gracious answers below; I hope you enjoy getting to know Alina as much as I did!

How would you describe the genre of The Voyages of the Legend?

These books have been my project for almost eight years now (yikes!) and they’ve evolved along the way. At this point, I’d call this series middle-grades/young adult fantasy with underlying themes that arise from my Christian faith. However, they’re not sold or marketed as “Christian” books because I think a story worth reading should be enjoyable for anyone, not just those who share the faith of the author. I find that my readers, who come from all backgrounds, tend to find themselves in the characters.

Can you tell us more about the Christian/spiritual themes of this series?

I (like all writers) am always looking for ways to tell stories that hold and expand my understanding of the world. My first book, The Illuminator’s Gift, probes the experiences of fear, hope, love, and faith—all of which have been important parts of my life as a person and a writer. My main character, Ellie, has a special gift of Sight—a perception of spiritual reality that brings her into close conversation with the supernatural Ishua and makes her invaluable in the war against the evil Draaken. As the series develops, Ellie grows and matures, learning lessons about community, courage, humility, and holding on to hope even in the midst of darkness. In my latest book, The Illuminator Rising, Ellie must choose between obeying the fear-driven dogma of authority figures and doing what she knows is right. 

Ultimately, I try to tell stories that are original and true within themselves, however much they might contain parallels to a spiritual reality. It's never my intention to hammer anyone over the head. I find myself growing alongside Ellie as each book challenges me to choose between simple answers and exploring truths about life as I experience it. I hope the series is a fun read for anyone who loves fantasy, but for those who want to look, my hope is that they find the spiritual themes as an extra layer of meaning. 

As we settle in and get to know you a little better, can you describe the physical space or location where you like to write?

That would be difficult, since I’m a pretty nomadic writer. I feel that spaces lose their creative “juice” after too much use. I tend to bounce between my office, my bedroom, and several local coffee shops, but I’ve also written at the beach, on the terrace of a Slovenian castle, and in the waiting room of a Toyota dealership. 

Do you listen to music while your write?  What are some songs from your writing play-list?

I switch between music and silence when I’m writing (depending on the mood and intensity of the scene). I create a different playlist for each book project, and the songs for The Illuminator Rising are eclectic and fun, ranging from Celtic to Spanish to Turkish sounds. My favorite writing-soundtrack composer is Ludovico Einaudi, whose classical compositions inspire my imagination. “Divenire” ended up with a ridiculously huge play count.

Who are the most influential children’s authors for you? What else or who else inspires you? 

I love children’s literature outrageously. I read it obsessively. I also tutor writing and literature as my day job, so I have a good excuse. I’m especially in love with Kate DiCamillo, Gail Carson Levine, and Shannon Hale.

I guess there’s also inspiration outside of children’s lit. Some other people I find inspiring are my mom, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, and anybody who does hard things because they believe in the cause.

Do you ever feel stuck when you write?  What do you do when you feel stuck?

I don’t spend too much time feeling stuck, because I think writer’s block is like insomnia. If you lie there thinking furiously about how you’re not sleeping, you’re not going to fall asleep. If you think about something else, next thing you know it’s morning. When I start feeling stuck, I try to switch tasks for a while: edit yesterday’s writing, maybe, or write a blog post instead of a novel chapter. Sometimes switching physical spaces also helps—especially when I need to get away from Internet distractions.

How do you develop your plots and characters?

I’m what they call a “pantser,” meaning I tend to develop plots while flying by the seat of my pants J I do a little bit of pre-planning the main plot points, but it’s really important to me that my characters are authentic and have the freedom to make the choices real people would make—which, as we all know, can be surprising sometimes. The Illuminator Rising took a surprise turn when, halfway through an argument between two characters, I realized a different person needed to win that argument. It was a pain to restructure the plot from there, but I think the book is better for it.

What was the most surprising thing you learned along the way while writing your books?

I’ve learned a lot along the way. Writing grows me in so many ways. One thing I’ve learned is that a healthy writer makes for better writing. Sometimes I try to cut corners on my physical or mental health in order to get a book done. And there are moments for pushing hard to meet a deadline. But in general, I find that when I take care of myself, I’m more creative and productive, not to mention nicer to everyone around me.

Are you planning your next writing project?  Can you tell us about it or is it top secret?

I’m always planning my next writing project—or rather, projects J Next up on the list is Book 4 of The Voyages of the Legend, which (hopefully) will conclude the series. After that, I’m not exactly sure what will come next. I have some shorter works I’d like to polish and collect. Whatever it is, I’m always looking for ways in which writing can challenge me to grow and learn.

Now for the *give-away*: please leave a comment on this post (and make sure I can contact you via email) for an opportunity to win a digital e-book copy of The Illuminator Rising by Alina Sayre.  A winner will be randomly chosen from the list of comments below on Monday, June 20th, 9:00 p.m. PST.

A winner has been chosen and the give-away is now closed!

June 8: Jenn Castro (jenncastro.com)
June 9: Margaret Bloom (webloomhere)
June 10: Alina Sayre (alinasayre.com)
June 11: Angela Wallace (angelawallace)
June 12: W.R. Gingell (wrgingell.com)
June 13: Rabia Gale (rabiagale.com)
June 14: A.R. Silverberry (arsilverberry.com)
June 15: D.M. Stoddard (kingdomoftorrence)
June 16: Intisar Khanani (booksbyintisar.com)
June 18: Caleb Fong (geekosupremo)


making peg dolls :: the trilogy

One morning a few weeks ago, I woke up and ambled downstairs (as usual).  I made tea (as usual).  I sat down to quickly scan email before everyone else rolled into the kitchen (as usual).  But lo and behold -- something unusual and rather happy-making had arrived overnight via email.  A contract! For peg doll book #3!

The contract was not entirely unexpected; I submitted a proposal to the elves at Hawthorn Press last year, and have already spent time emailing to and fro with the head-elf-in-chief and head-elf-craft-book-editor, discussing possible titles.  But in our house we often say, "It ain't a book contract until the fat lady signs on the dotted line" (our own personal version of this colloquialism).

When I was working on my second book, I couldn't say much about it until shortly before the release, and the situation is the same again.  However, I can tell you this: my third book will be entirely different again from the first two.  As for the title?  Some suggestions for the second book were Valley of the (Peg Dolls), Night of the Living Peg Dolls, Peg Dolls vs. Godzilla, and Return of the Peg Dolls.  Contending titles for the third book?  Peg Dolls with a Vengeance! The Peg Doll Ultimatum!

It will be a while before the book is released (right now, it's looking like late 2017 or early 2018) but I thought you'd enjoy knowing that, even when things are quiet here on my blog, the elves and I are humming away behind the scenes...


catastrophic happiness & fear of flying

On Sunday morning, I opened up the SF Chronicle Books section (yes, we still read a "paper" paper in my house) and was awfully pleased to see a photo of Catherine Newman along with this review of her recently published collection of essays. ("Good morning, Catherine. Would you like some coffee?")

Catherine's work is regularly published in Real Simple Magazine, Oprah, Brain Child, the NYT parenting blog Motherlode, and you can read a recent essay over at Motherwell Magazine.  Her essays are fierce, wise, poignant & funny all at once; this quote, included by Malena Watrous in the SF Chronicle review, is vivid and evocative in a way that seems particular and specific to Catherine's writing.

“Cut me open and I’m a tree trunk, rings of nostalgia radiating inward. All the years are nested inside me like I’m my own personal one-woman matryoshka doll. I guess that’s true for everybody, but then I drive everybody crazy with my nostalgia and happiness. I am bittersweet personified.”

Warning :: I loved this book so very much, and also mailed a copy of it to my mother for her birthday (which is tomorrow). However, if you have a Fear of Flying (and I'm not referring to the Erica Jong novel), do not read this book while cruising at 35,000 feet with a warm, soft child curled up on either side of you.  This book makes one so very aware of the preciousness and fragility of those very children; and hurtling through the heavens while reading Catherine's book, with nothing but clouds between my babies and the earth was nearly too much to bear.


a landmark day

 Yesterday was a landmark day...

  My kindergartner learned to ride his bicycle without training wheels!

And just because he's adorable, here's a photo of my big son up a tree. (Did you know that boys grow on trees? Mine do.)  I don't get many photos of him these days; he's busy tromping around with his group of lanky friends who, in the fashion of Hansel and Gretel, rummage around my kitchen and then leave trails of crumbs behind them, as though they might need guidance finding their way back to the food cupboards for more snacks (and in sisyphean fashion, I follow after them, thrusting brooms and dustpans into their enormous, grubby hands, while enduring their bewildered looks with good humor).

And don't forget -- tomorrow is the final day to add your name to the give-away for this charming book.  Details can be found HERE.


blog tour :: pipsqueaks

FTC Compliant Disclosure:  I was given a free digital copy of this book by C&T Publishing to facilitate participation in the blog tour.

Today I am participating in a blog tour for Sally Dixon's book Pipsqueaks: itsy-bitsy felt creations to stitch & love.  The full blog-tour schedule is posted at the end of this post, and there is also a *give-away* (details of which also appear at the end of this post). In fact, there is a *give-away* at every stop of the blog tour, so if you are interested in winning a free copy of this darling book, I urge you to follow along and visit each blog on the tour over the next 5 days!

When I was a child, my favorite toys were all tiny: I stitched tiny dresses for tiny dolls and had a small collection of ceramic figures made by Hagen-Renaker. I would have enjoyed creating items from Pipsqueaks: itsy-bitsy felt creations to stitch & love as a child, and clearly some things never change. As you can see, just last week I had a great time creating tiny elephants from this book.

And if you are an enthusiast of the book If you Give a Mouse a Cookie, it will make perfect sense to you that, "If you sew a tiny elephant, he's going to ask for a tiny clown. And when you make him a tiny clown, he will probably ask for a silly hat.  And when the hat is finished, he will certainly ask for a tiny tassel to go on the very top of the silly hat."

No sooner did I blink, then I realized that I had the start of a tiny circus parade marching across the kitchen table.  As you can see, Sally's pipsqueaks and my peg dolls get along very well together, indeed.

Besides, tiny elephants, there are clear and detailed instructions for creating winsome mice, a budgerigar puppet, tiny dogs, bunnies & kittens, plus designs for two different koalas and a platypus in a peekaboo bed.  Yes, Sally Dixon (the author of Pipsqueaks) is Australian, and several of the designs in this book reflect her country of origin.  I especially love the embroidery and applique instructions for creating eucalyptus blossoms (there are two perfectly detailed eucalyptus designs; one on page 30 and the other on page 56).  To me, the inclusion of koalas, a platypus and eucalyptus adds an exotic variation from the usual flora and fauna (exotic for an American reader, anyhow).

In addition to clear patterns and instructions, I found some excellent crafting advice in this book.  For example, Sally suggests using small, sharp embroidery scissors for cutting out tiny, detailed pattern pieces; when I read this, I smacked my hand to my forehead and thought to myself, "Why didn't I think of this years ago?"  Sally also advises enlarging the patterns on a copier machine for readers who find tiny patterns too fussy; this advice is likewise given for children who are first being introduced to needle-skills.

Now for the *give-away*: please leave a comment on this post (and make sure I can contact you via email) for an opportunity to win a copy of Pipsqueaks: itsy-bitsy felt creations to stitch & love by Sally Dixon.  A winner will be randomly chosen from the list of comments below on Monday, May 23rd, 9:00 p.m. PST.  If the winner is in the USA, they will receive a hard copy of the book, and if the winner is outside the USA, they will receive a digital copy.   You can find the full blog tour schedule below, and don't forget: there will be a give-away at every stop on the blog tour. Thank you to C&T Publishing for generously sponsoring the give-aways!

Comments for this give-away are now closed.  Thank you to everyone for participating, and congratulations to #34 -- Lisa Marie.  I hope you enjoy making lovely, tiny things from Pipsqueaks!

11th May 2016

11th May 2016
Margaret Bloom

12th May 2016
Karen Wasson

13th May 2016
Joanna Riley

14th May 2016
Anna Day

15th May 2016

16th May 2016
Sally Dixon


making peg dolls :: new paperback edition!

There is some exciting news in the world of peg dolls!  My first book, Making Peg Dolls, has been reprinted yet again, and this time Hawthorn Press has issued it in paperback.  The layout inside the new edition is the same as the hard cover, however the paperback version feels fresh & modern, and the cover has a new tag-line, "Over 60 fun, creative projects for children and adults." 

Inside, there is a fancy jacket-flap with photos and text...

And, of course, all the excitement over the new edition has inevitably led to a session of peg doll painting.

Thank you to everyone who has purchased a copy of one (or both) of my books; your support is deeply appreciated!  And now a request: if you haven't already done so, it would be amazing if you could possibly write a review on Amazon, A Child's Dream, Bella Luna Toys or any other online store which stocks my books.  Fair and honest reviews help immensely with book sales; this keeps publishers in business, which, in turn, enables authors to write more books (hint, hint)!  My gratitude always... xo