Monday, June 8, 2015

What We're Reading: The Eclectic Edition

Ready for the randomness?

All-righty, then. Book #1: Everblaze, Book 3 of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, by Shannon Messenger (Middle Grade Fantasy). This is that last-last book I have to finish from the library, because I'd had it on hold for forever and couldn't really betray the library by not reading it after all that. Like the first two books in the series, this is a light, easy read and lots of fun so far. Super great character development with the secondary characters.

Book #2: Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin (adult non-fiction...hippie non-fiction). I could also count this one as humor, though at its heart are a lot of beautiful things about natural childbirth with which I totally agree. My midwife warned me it was "psychedelic"...which truly is the best word for it. I loved all the first person birth accounts, even as I laughed my head off at the hippie vocabulary which related how things/people got "real heavy" or "stoned" by a spiritual "high" while they shared their "telepathic energy" with each other. Groovy, dude. (I read a different book by the same author before Lucy was born, and from what I recall, it was a lot more accessible to the non-hippie reader, if you're looking for a good read about natural birth. Also, her Ted Talk is mostly great.)

Book #3: By Mouse and Frog, by Deborah Freedman (picture book).  Deborah is not only one of our very favorite author/illustrators, she is one of our favorite people ever. I love having such talented authors living nearby (Connecticut is seriously chock-full of them), because it means we get the fun of going to all their awesome book signings and release parties--and Debbie's presentations are super, super fun. As are all her books! So far, Lucy's favorite is Scribble (go figure--there's a girl named Lucie in it), Ginny's favorite is Blue Chicken, and Zoe's favorite is this newest. Fish and Snail, though, is also pulled off the shelf enough for the dust jacket to be worn out already. If you haven't discovered these delightful, whimsical, creative stories and pictures yet, you need to make a trip to the library or bookstore posthaste.

Book #4: Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words (adult non-fiction/spiritual/biography/historical document). This is just what it sounds like...the actual words of Joan of Arc, mostly from the testimony given at her trial. I had no idea these documents were still around until my sister gave me the book (as I've become a little obsessed with Joan of Arc the past few years). It's a very interesting book, though, like the story of Jeanne herself, not exactly....comfortable. Can you imagine being put to death by members of the very institution you held most dear? Jeanne was never trying to be a rebel, she was trying to be faithful. Which is why that same institution now honors her as a saint.

Linking up with Jessica--go see what everyone else is reading this month!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fear Unmasked

Last Tuesday, Mark and I gave a short speech at the celebration of the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children's Literature, an amazing contest for unpublished children's writers and illustrators in Connecticut. (Mark and I both won the contest in past years and are now on the committee.)  Because several people mentioned they'd like to be able to turn back to the text again later, I decided to write it up for anyone interested here.

Obviously, a speech is not a blog post, so it doesn't completely "translate," much of the humor was ad-libbed, and some of it is specifically geared towards the night's attendees. But hopefully you will all find something encouraging and/or humorous here to keep you making art. :)

Veiled virgin 400.jpg

Mark: Good evening! We'd like to first offer our congratulations to the winners and finalists tonight, and a special congratulations to everyone who had the courage just to enter.
For all the quiet, introverted writers and illustrators out there, we know how hard that was.

Faith: Yes.... We're both introverts. We'll even admit that our decision to give a talk together was mostly based on the theory that if you put two introverts together, you might get an extrovert...
We wanted to talk tonight about what we see as the biggest challenge that writers or illustrators--or any artists, really--have to face. And that is--

Mark (the parts in caps are in his best Christopher Lee impression): THE VOICE OF FEAR.
Steven Pressfield wrote in his book, The War of Art, "Resistance is fear. But resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear."

Faith: Because of that, if we artists want to grow in our craft, we need to unmask--


Faith: So for the sake of illustration, we'd like to present a few examples of how Fear disguises itself and tries to prevent us from doing the work we're meant to do.
Raise your hand if you've ever heard this voice:


Faith: The fact that you entered the Tassy means you conquered this voice at least once. Deadlines are its kryptonite. Every time you hear it, remember that there will always be something easier to do than making art. Pinterest isn't going anywhere...but your time is.
So take what you learned getting those envelopes out through the snowstorm to the Shoreline Arts Alliance, and give yourself little, daily deadlines to meet. (And then you can use Pinterest and Downton Abbey as rewards!)

Next is a disguise that fools me a lot, especially when I get a rejection letter or lose a contest. Have you heard this?


Faith: Now if you are a winner or finalist, you can say, "Ha! Professionals think my work is good!"
But  the truth is: none of us is good enough. Art is bigger than we are. It comes to the unqualified and demands that we make ourselves better for its sake.
I think a problem with our current culture is that we've redefined hard work and now call it "genius." Sure...Michelangelo could do great things--he was a genius. But Michelangelo wasn't born knowing how to paint. Louisa May Alcott had to get some really awful writing out of her system before she could create Little Women.
If you work hard enough, the art will come to you, and that is the important thing.

Here's one you may have heard when you considered entering the Tassy...or anytime you sit down to make art:


Faith: The idea that art is a "waste of time"--that's a total lie. Every time you sit down to draw or write or paint, you are positively impacting your life.
Sometimes it's your artistic life: you're training yourself, practicing, getting better. For a contest like this, you're polishing your work, learning how to properly format a manuscript or portfolio, meeting a deadline.
But creating impacts other areas of your life, too. It makes you grow in virtue: in self-discipline, in patience, in understanding. It actually forces you to become a better person.

Mark: Neil Gaimain said, "If you dare nothing, when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained." Whenever you make art, you are gaining something.

Faith: I've saved the most sinister disguise for last. Raise your hand if you've heard this:


Faith: I hope you know this is a lie. Especially as creators for children, your work has the power to change lives, in small or big ways, one at a time.
As a kid, I lived ten different places before I turned 16. Luckily, my mom was wise enough to find a library in each new town before she even figured out where the grocery store was, I think, because without books I would have become a depressed, strange child.
Books gave me a sense of normalcy. They taught me that friendship survives difficulties. They also gave me something to write ten page letters to my friends about, as we discovered Narnia and Green Gables and Hogwarts together, though we were hundreds of miles apart.

Mark: We forget sometimes, too, that the books we create offer opportunities for desperately needed quality time between children and the people who love them. A three-year-old, sitting on her mother's lap and listening to Guess How Much I Love You, will be experiencing love in a way that no TV show or movie or video game can provide. Those experiences will become a lens through which that child will view the world for the rest of her life.
Not bad for a 32-page picture book.

Faith: And that's why we have to face our fears and resistance, and keep making art. Keep entering contests, submitting to publishers, sharing your work with the world.
Thank you for doing that. And thanks to those who will share their art with us, tonight.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The secret to getting your kids to eat new foods and like them, too (or why Alton Brown deserves my thanks)

Here's a really family-oriented, non-writerly post for Friday...but it's all about the blending of life and art, so I hope it's not too out of place here!

A few days ago, one of the farmers at our local farmers' market was selling the most gorgeous, luscious-looking leeks. Instantly our imaginations started going wild with the possibilities: leek and potato soup (or, heck, a million other soups that are better with leeks)...grilled leeks...who knew what? The minor snag, of course, was that we would expect our culinary endeavors to be appreciated by four little girls ages eight and under whose greatest skill may be artfully turning up their noses. (Okay, no, talking is their greatest skill. But nose-turning is close.)

Luckily, I learned this lesson a few years ago: the more children understand and appreciate a food, the more likely they are to eat it.

So we turned to our good friend Alton Brown. My girls have never heard of Justin Beiber or whoever the new kid star might be, but they do have crushes on chefs Alton Brown, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon....but mostly Alton Brown. His show "Good Eats" is by far their favorite thing to watch on our weekly "movie" night, as it approaches a single ingredient or dish artistically, scientifically, historically and gastronomically. Occasionally I'll put on an extra episode during the week in cases of dire necessity. Like getting the girls to want to eat leeks.

I pulled out the laptop and the "Sprung a Leek" episode of Good Eats yesterday afternoon, and by the end of the half hour, two girls were arguing over whether we should make grilled leeks over a fresh green salad with bacon and feta cheese on top, or deep fried leek rings. We decided on the former, and then came the important (and often trickier part):

I let them be my sous chefs.

They instructed me on how to cut the leeks; they washed them; they gathered the lettuce from our garden; they crumbled the cheese and bacon. As we went along, we talked about what each component of the dish was adding to the whole. We tasted little bites, alone or with another ingredient. They helped me plate the dish to be sure it looked beautiful.

By the time those salads were on the table, the girls owned the whole experience and couldn't wait to dig in.

And my three-year-old, who last week told me that scrambled eggs were the "most yuckiest, terrible food ever," proclaimed that leeks were her new favorite food and cleaned  her plate.

Thanks, Alton Brown.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dear Library: It's not you, it's me.

I'm not going to be getting any books for myself from the library this summer.

I've always had a bit of a library addiction, and--trust me--that hasn't changed. I still get that tingly feeling in my fingers just driving by the building, and giddy elation when I walk out with an armload of books to be devoured.

But I'm forswearing those pleasures for the next few months. Not because the library has disillusioned me in any way. Rather, my own shelves have been chiding me for weeks and weeks. I have so many delicious-looking books in my own home just waiting for me. Last week I counted over a dozen unread books just on one bookshelf. So until I catch up on those a bit, I'll try turning a blind eye every time I drive by Main Street's chief attraction.

Maybe you can help me decide what to read first.

Should I tackle the YA shelf and delve into Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races? (I've heard so many great things about her writing style...) Or Elizabeth C. Bunce's Starcrossed?


Should I hit the adult shelf and read Rebecca, by Daphne  du Maurier, which my little sister lent me forever ago, and I still haven't returned? (I know...I'm a bad sister.) Or actually fulfill my decade-old goal to read Don Quixote? Or stay light-hearted and read a P. G. Wodehouse novel? (There're still a few on my shelf I haven't read, unbelievably.)


Or should I turn to the non-fiction and academic, with Josef Pieper's Liesure, the Basis of Culture? (Though it somehow sounds less than leisurely--but cool.) Or John Paul II apostolic exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio? 


Or one of those dozen middle grade titles: The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian, Fever 1793, Iron Hearted Violet, Rodzina, Pilgrim Kate, Sea of the Dead, The Wonder of Charlie Ann, Boston Jane, The Canning Season, The Friendship Doll, Meet the Austins, The Golden Name Day...? (Can you tell I have a MG book-buying addiction? Library books sales are just sooooo tempting.)


One thing's for sure...I'll have no lack of books to keep me company while wait these next 2 1/2 months for Baby to come, and you'll be sure to hear about a great many of them.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Family Friday

I've always struggled with the challenge of balance in blogging; I want this to be a space about writing and myself as a writer, but I also don't want it to be dull and impersonal. As an introvert, I'm never going to be able to spout facts and photos of my family every post, but as my family grows and matures, I do find that I'd like to say a little about this most prominent part of my life.

So, for now, Fridays are family day. I'll be posting about raising my family, homeschooling, and life in our home. If you're here for the writing blog, feel free to pass on by.

For today, why don't I catch you up on what's going on in the Hough household?

Big girls fishing at the river across the street
We're finishing up a really fun and productive year of homeschooling grades 3, 1 and preschool. A lot of people think that you have to be really smart to homeschool your children. In reality, while you should have a good dose of common sense, the most important attribute is that you should love learning. Because you will never be limited by what you know already. I've learned so much this year along with my girls, but I think the biggest surprise for me was discovering that, as I struggled to clarify the names of generals and battles, my husband Mark was already totally an expert on the Civil War. He took over a lot of history lessons, and I marveled that I still have so much to learn about him after being married for 9 years. Not that I didn't love him completely before, but I have to admit I love him even more now. He knows how historical tidbits and good grammar go straight to my heart. :)

I'm currently 26 weeks pregnant with Little Hough #5, and getting really excited about (fairly) soon giving birth and meeting the baby. We don't know if it's a boy or a girl, so while we've had a boy's name picked out since my first pregnancy, girls' names are getting hard to choose. We've sort of got a French name theme going--unfortunately, lots of their cousins have French names, too, so some of our favorites already belong to lovely young ladies who are bearing them beautifully. Any  ideas?

Lu stole the camera to take this one.
That troublemaker expression is on Maddie's face a LOT.
Our old, old house is full of almost-finished and waiting-to-be-started projects; our garden is full of carrots and peas and lettuce, and soon we'll put in the tomato and pepper plants that my dad started for us. Mint and comfrey are hanging to dry from our kitchen beams. The chickens are each giving us an egg a day, and I'm making lots of quiche and custard and angel food cake. My sister-in-law shared a "quick" sourdough bread recipe with me that takes about 1/10 of the effort of my standard recipe, so I'm once again relaxing by mixing together a loaf in the evening and baking it in the morning.

Ginny's first haircut!
Not to give you the impression that I'm not napping during the day and collapsing into bed at night and shaking my fist at the chickens when they break free of the fence and banging my head against the table when someone just can't understand the math lesson and occasionally messing up a batch of bread so badly that we have to either feed it to the chickens or watch our 3 1/2-year-old practice her face contortions while she tries to chew. But, hey, sometimes the faces she makes are totally worth it.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Mark's newest painting is on display until May 30 at the Scranton Memorial Library as part of the annual Madison Art Society's Juried Show. It won a prize. :)

She's pretty proud of her Papa. :)