The Best Time Of The Year

For the past two weeks, I’ve spent all of my free time working on a new perennial garden. I love annuals too, but I’m partial to the perennial flowers that come back year after year. There’s something nice about the parallel permanence of perennials putting down their roots at the same time that we are putting ours down in this new home. I think it speaks of hope and is a nod to the future.

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I’ve been a gardener for most of my life and I’ve planted many gardens at the homes where I’ve lived. Most of my planting was done in the Midwest where the rule of thumb was to wait until mid-May or around Mother’s Day, before planting to make sure there would be no more freezes.

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Many times, over the years, I have planted a mix of certain colors of flowers together, or perhaps created beds of different flowers in shades of the same color.

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Once, I planted blue Hydrangeas around our pool to match the blue tile that peeked above the water line. They were a lovely blue that first summer, then they came back the second year in a pretty shade of pink. That’s when I learned about alkaline and acidic pH levels in soil and their effect on different flowers!

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For any new gardeners, the pH (potential of hydrogen) scale goes from 0-14, with neutral being right in the middle at 7. What’s really being measured is the concentration of hydrogen (H) ions in the soil. The more hydrogen ions there are, the more acidic or sour the soil, and fewer hydrogen ions mean the soil is more alkaline or sweet.

My Hydrangeas turned pink because the soil around my pool was too alkaline to support the blue flowers. So, to make my Hydrangeas turn blue again, I had to make the soil more acidic. This was pretty easy actually. I turned to my mentor gardener (my mom) who suggested that I place used coffee grounds around the base of my Hydrangeas for a year or two.

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In Texas, the growing season begins earlier and the plants start making their appearances at the local nurseries in March. Before I went shopping for this new garden, I looked through all of my gardening books and read about which plants do best in zone 7 where I now live. After that, I made a wish list of plants and colors.

Since we live in a new house, there were no existing gardens in my backyard. My husband spent an entire Saturday removing the sod and digging up a pie-shaped garden plot for our first flower bed. (He likes gardens too.) Since our soil has a lot of clay, we added multiple bags of top soil to get the area ready for planting.

For this new garden, I decided on a mix of perennial flowers in all different colors. To find the specific plants I was looking for, I had to visit several different nurseries. Most nurseries do a really nice job of separating perennials and annuals. Some even alphabetize the plants in sections of “shade lover” or “sun lover” and have signs with all kinds of useful information for planting.

Plant nurseries are like libraries for me. I can easily get lost in them for a very long time. One sunny afternoon last week, I was slowly making my way through the perennial section at one of our local nurseries and a woman in the section with me looked up and said, “Isn’t this just the best time of the year?”

Indeed, it is!

It took me an entire day to plant the flowers and to add mulch and edging. I was pretty tired and dirty at the end of that day. Happy tired. Because the plants should double in size in the next two or three years, I had to leave room for growth. From experience, I know that the garden will grow and become more lovely each year.

One of my favorite sayings hangs in my writing room. “The Earth laughs in flowers.” I believe that is true. Now that the planning and planting of this flower garden are finished, it’s time for the tending…and for the laughter!





The Icing On The Cake!

Most of you know that in addition to writing this blog, I also write books. In the last four years, I’ve written and published three children’s books. All three are illustrated by my close friend, artist Vicki Guess.

Photo by Seraluna Sanchez

It takes us a year to produce a book. We aren’t very fast, but it’s more important to us to get it right than it is to finish quickly. We are also both working other jobs so we have to make time around the stuff of life for our loves of writing and illustrating.

When we are working on a book, we each work independently and we also meet monthly, halfway between our two homes, and work on every page together. We want the words and the illustrations to meld seamlessly into a book that is a joy to both read and see.

Our first book was a finalist in the national 2016 Best Book Awards

On April 7th at the 2018 North Texas Book Festival, our third book, “The Day The Turkey Came To School” won the award for Best Children’s Book. We didn’t expect to win because we had won in 2017 for our second book, “Which Came First?” and because the other two finalists in our category had created some darn good books.

Photo by Seraluna Sanchez

To say we are thrilled, is an understatement. We are incredibly humbled and grateful, and jumping up and down excited! It isn’t just the award that has us so delighted…it’s the recognition.

This year, our book was evaluated by adults and elementary school children. We consider them both to be our audience. We want to create books that children love, and books that parents and teachers and librarians like to read too.

This past weekend, Vicki and I had a book signing at a store in Dallas. I asked her what it means to her that our books have won these awards. She said, “It validates what we are doing; that we can touch people’s lives with the work that we love to do.”

Winning the Best Children’s Book Award for our last two books, means that what we are doing is working. It’s a shout out to the world that we are creating books that are worth noticing…and that means so much to us.

In June, we will begin working on our fourth book together. We are discussing three of my stories and trying to decide which one will be the next book. Because our first three books have been recognized with honors and awards, we are determined to work even harder to make the next book something really special and worth the wait!

Photo by Jeff Hull

Illustrator, writer, graphic designer, Crystal Wood,  for all three books

Authors note: Thank you to all of you who have loved our first three books. It’s our privilege and pleasure to be able to create them for you!

Writing Rituals

My favorite quote about writing comes from the late journalist, Gene Fowler. He said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper (or a computer screen) until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

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Often people come up to me at book signings and say something like, “I want to write a book.” To which I will say, “Have you written it on paper or on a computer yet?” Normally, the answer will be something like, “No, but I have the whole book in my head.”

Here’s what I know. To be a writer, you have to write. Everyone has a story in their head somewhere. The difference between writers and other people, is that writers are absolutely driven to write that story…whether it’s for themselves, for their families, for the masses, or simply for posterity. Writers have to write.

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One of the tools that many writers use, are something called “writing rituals”.  A writing ritual is a deliberate, conscious, repetitive behavior that has personal meaning and helps the writer get into a good mental place for writing.

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The point of using rituals, is to allow the writer to become more creative and productive. Going through the writing rituals each time, signals to the brain that it’s time to write and hopefully will allow the writer to get to that creative place where the words flow easily.

Examples of writing rituals might be things like:

*Writing at the same time each day when you feel the most creative or productive.

*Clearing the clutter from your writing space before you begin.

*Setting a timer so you will write for a certain amount of time.

*Turning on a certain song or kind of music before or while you write.

*Writing in the same place each time.

*Saying a prayer or meditating before writing.

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Many famous writers had or have writing rituals.

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Charles Dickens needed complete quiet to write and had a second door built on the outside of his writing study to give him an extra layer between himself and the rest of his household. He also would take a walk before he wrote.

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A number of other famous authors…Mark Twain, George Orwell, Edith Wharton, and Truman Capote did their writing in bed on legal pads. They felt they wrote better in the horizontal position.

John Cheever liked to write in his underwear.

Ernest Hemingway liked to write while standing.

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Maya Angelou would check into a hotel room with a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry and would work from 7:00 in the morning until 2:00 in the afternoon.

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John Milton would read from the Bible for half an hour every morning before he began writing.

Stephen King writes every single day of the year without exception. He has a daily writing quota of 2000 words and rarely allows himself to quit until he’s reached his goal.

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One of my favorite writers, Kate DiCamillo, always has lots of coffee and a string of festive lights on in her writing room.

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Three years ago, my husband and I visited the home in Mansfield, Missouri of author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie Books. We took a guided tour of her home and I was looking forward to seeing where she did her writing.

I was shocked to find that she wrote all of her books while sitting in the living room in an oak chair with very wide wood arms that her husband had built for her. She didn’t write her first book until she was 64 years old, and she wrote them all on legal pads in that chair.

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I asked a few of my prolific writer friends if they have any writing rituals.

Fred Funk told me that he writes all of his books longhand while kicked back in his recliner.

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Randy Schmidt said his best writing time is between midnight and 6:00 a.m. He says it works best in the summer when he isn’t teaching school.

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C.M. Healy likes to write late at night with the TV on. He said his years of teaching school taught him to block out the ambient noise but somehow the noise from the TV helps to keep him focused.

Becky Ross Michael, says she uses positive reinforcement and rewards herself with snacks when she gets a certain amount of writing finished!

My personal writing rituals involve a lot of coffee and a quiet house. I also light a candle and read through the Bible verse that I keep near my computer monitor:

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in they sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

As my friend and award-winning author, Jan Sikes, told me recently about writing rituals, “Everyone has to find what works for them!”

A Match Made At The North Texas Book Festival!

In April of 2013, I went to the North Texas Book Festival in search of an illustrator for my story, “The Button Box.” I didn’t meet an illustrator that day, but I did get the name of an artist…Vicki Guess…from an author who was signing her books at the Festival.

I called Vicki the next day and told her who I was and asked if she might be interested in illustrating my first book. She very wisely said that she would like to “read my story and think about it.” She said she would call me back. I tease her now that she just wanted to make sure I could write!

When Vicki called, she said she loved my story and would like to meet and talk about illustrations for the book. I asked her to bring samples of some of her artwork. Yes, I wanted to make sure she could draw and that I liked her style!

When we met, we felt an instant connection and decided to see what we could create together. Since that day five years ago, we have published three books and developed a life-long bond of friendship. We have done numerous book signings and speaking engagements, we have met one another’s families and welcomed new grandchildren, we have laughed…so much…cried a little, and have found great joy in this fun adventure together!

This Saturday is the 18th annual North Texas Book Festival and we are honored to be the “Featured Author” and the “Featured Illustrator” at this year’s event. Vicki is the first ever “Featured Illustrator” for the North Texas Book Festival so she is setting the bar for the future.

The North Texas Book Festival, Inc. is a 501(c)3 corporation and was organized in the year 2000 by a group of individuals, led by children’s author Lynn Sheffield Simmons. Its mission is “to raise funds to promote literacy and to encourage family interaction that will foster reading and the love of books.” Since its beginning, more than $70,000 in grants have been awarded to school and public libraries and literacy programs in North Texas.

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This year’s event will include 60 authors who will be signing their books, as well as incredible balloon twister, Al Curlett, amazing magician, Rick Morrill, a scavenger hunt, prize giveaways, and other fun activities for the entire family.

Vicki and I are proud to be a part of this organization which is having a positive impact on so many lives.  We are also delighted to have the opportunity to spend the day together and to talk with folks about our books. If you live in North Texas, we hope you will stop by!