Jakarta News with Pictures!

Behold the power of pictures and posts: Miles and years vanish with a click, family's updated, old friends reacquainted. Maybe this is why Facebook--now shunned by youngsters--is so popular with us oldsters!  Calls to mind those old Bell Telephone slogans:

“The next best thing to being there”

”Reach out and touch someone”
— http://www.beatriceco.com/bti/porticus/bell/bellsystem_ads.html

Recently, I took a walk with friends from my old neighborhood. (note Tina: I did not write "old" friends). Tina mentioned how she had not received any of my Jakarta Stories * in some time and wondered how our Jakarta folk are doing. Well, some 5.2 miles later, I'd updated her, but dang my dogies were barkin' after. Which got me thinking: Tina is probably not the only one who received my posts that is curious about Rusnati, Aan, and everyone back in Jakarta. After all, after hearing so much about them for so long, folks from our Jakarta life had become, as sitcom characters do: friends. 

Allow me to digress a moment. (Jakarta news is coming, really!):  I don't know if it's an every Facebook buddy thing, or only for those of us with Facebook "Pages" ie my author page Kelly Bennett Books, but I receive weekly reports on how much attention my posts and page receives, including likes, shares & follows.  I also receive "helpful" offers to buy space for my posts. And booster messages movie idol Ronnie Reagan, "this one's for the gipper" quarterback might have given: "Come on, Kid, you're only 192 Likes away from 500! You can do it! Get those Likes! Get those Likes! Hup-Hup-Hike! "

As I write, Rusnati's grandaughter, Key, is in Bali on holiday with her folks!

As I write, Rusnati's grandaughter, Key, is in Bali on holiday with her folks!

What those booster messages should say is Post a cute picture, already? Because that what really grabs our attention: Throwback Thursday, Snapshot Sunday, Outtakes Any Day! We love those photographs! 

Which brings me to the long overdue Jakarta Stories, update with pictures, beginning with the newest:

Aan's oldest son, Ajie was married last weekend. So hard to believe that "little" Ajie (wouldn't he hate being called that) is married! Ajie is a college graduate. He works for MNC TV as a videographer. His bride,  Dewi, works in a local contractor.

The center photograph is of Aan's immediate family L-R, Izwan, Icha, Ajie, his bride, Dewi, Aan's wife, Entien, and Aan. 

Following Indonesian tradition, the bridal party wears batik fabric distinct to their region, and people from the same family will all wear the same bakik. (Makes it easy to figure out who's related to who. Dewi and Ajie's wedding dress is Central javanesse (Semarang). Aan explained that the bridal couple changed outfits 3 times. 

Mrs Kelly, we just already prepared 12 boxes of wedding gifts for Dewi: 2 paires of shoes, set of underwears, bed cover, towels, bags, dresses, fabrics, set of cosmetics, cakes, variety of fruits, set of praying and Qur’an, set of jewelry (golds).
— Note from Aan to Curtis and I, May 14, 2015
Aan and his youngest son, Izwan...twins

Aan and his youngest son, Izwan...twins

Izwan, was just seven when Aan began working for us, has proved to take after his father in the brains department. Since beginning school, he's been at the top of his class-#2 or #1. He tested into the bilingual Indonesian/English high school. He's in his 3rd year and #1 in his class. What's next? 

And Icha, Aan's daughter, majored in Public Relations in college. She's now working for a consulting company. 

Rusnati and her youngest daughter, Andrea, were at the wedding, too. Andrea, used to be a bit of a Tom-boy. She didn't like school. Loved sports. Love playing with her friends. In those ways, Andrea was much like Max (interesting that their birthdays are days apart.) Rusnati and I used to worry together about these "sedikit nekal" (a little naughty) children of ours. And, when she finished high school, like Max, Andrea didn't want to go to college (she wanted a job.) Turns out Andrea, like her older sisters, has a passion and talent for computers. And after working for awhile, Andrea went to college and works at SMS Digital Printing Service.

Andrea is 3rd from the left; Rustani 3rd from the right. 

Andrea is 3rd from the left; Rustani 3rd from the right. 

Rusnati-a quiet stranger when we first arrived-along with her husband, Rohemon, quickly became our caretaker, translator, guide, friend, family! Shortly after we left Jakarta, Rohemon passed. 

Still sad to say and think about, Rohemon, our patient, green-thumbed gardener, handyman, "Jaga" as safeguards of Indonesian homes are called, is gone. He passed away shortly after we left Jakarta. (Feels Like Rain post). In January, Rusnati and her family returned to Cirebon for a "Seremoni Seribu Hari" commemorating 1000 days since Rohemon passed. 

Rusnati cuddling her "cuci" grandbabies, Kenzi, Isa's son & Key

Rusnati cuddling her "cuci" grandbabies, Kenzi, Isa's son & Key


Linda, their oldest daughter, and her husband, married while we were still in Jakarta, Sept 2010 & we joyfully attended their reception. They met in college, both graduated with honors and work in IT. (No surprises there, when Curtis had computer issues he'd call and they'd zip over on their motorcycle to help.) In fact, the first time we met Agung was when he came with Linda one Sunday to recover data on our crashed computer. They have a daughter, Keysha, called "Key" now 2 1/2.

Rusnati & Rohemon's middle daughter, Lia, earned a Master's Degree in Computer from STTI I-Tech and teaches at Group Dosen Indonesia. She's married now and exciting news: She and her husband Isa are expecting a baby in October. 

L-R: Isa, Rusnati, Lia, Linda, Agung & Key

L-R: Isa, Rusnati, Lia, Linda, Agung & Key



Sugiman, our relief driver is doing well. When Joy and I were in Jakarta for our friend Lisette's 50th, he made a point of visiting (And, Aan took off work to drive us around.) We all met up at Rusnati's house. Sugiman was saving to buy a limo and form his own transport company. I'm thinking he has. 

And that's the end of my pictures and my update for now. What's especially nice is that our Jakarta folks are doing well. 

Sampai Jumpa! (Until next time!)

* For those of you new to my blog, I chronicled our 7 years in Indonesia in regular posts, some of which are available under the "Archives" tab: Jakarta Stories

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Ever think so vividly about doing something that you believe you did it? Or have a dream so real, you wake thinking it really happened? I do.  Sometimes, those night/day dreams gets me into trouble.

Just yesterday I was working through my email and came upon a note I was positive I answered. With my mind’s eye, I could picture myself typing it, actually clicking on the keys, watching the letters roll onto the page. When I saw that note still in my inbox I began to doubt. Had I dreamed it?

I keep a very tidy inbox, you see. I sort, respond, file emails daily (Sometimes more…it’s one of my favorite avoidance tactics.) I’ve devised an efficient filing system. Notes that need responses are sent to a file, along with my response, so I can refer back to the chain easily, if needed. That’s why that note in the inbox freaked me.

Stories come via dreams, too. The first time, was one of those the Ecstasy and Agony moments:

I dreamed I was in a glass & chrome, wall-to-wall white house. I was waiting for whomever to come out of a backroom, noticed a picture book on a white marble coffee table, picked it up and began reading. It was an absolutely original, adorable, rhyming story about a longhorn bull who finds a lost Holstein wandering in the desert, rescues her and later she rescues him. The last illustration on the last page pictured the smiling Longhorn and Holstein were standing together, in an expanse of was a wide open prairie, surrounded by fluffy white and black calves with tiny horns: Longsteins!

Imagine this holstein, but ball of wool plump with little horns

Imagine this holstein, but ball of wool plump with little horns

I woke myself up laughing at those adorable babies. And with a raging case of BOOK ENVY. I vivid recall turning the pages, thinking how delightful it was and sooooo wishing I had written it.

Then, I realized “I did!” That was my dream. My sub-consious working. Those were my Longsteins!

The opening lines were playing in my head:


Way out west were the sweet sage grows,

Where tumble weed tumble and the Rio Grande flows

Lived a herd of cattle, big and small.

A rangy Longhorn named Louie was in charge of them all!

On our walk and talk that morning, I shared the dream with my then writing partner, Ronnie. I told her what I could remember of the story—which wasn’t much—we  walk and talked the rest. Over the next weeks and months, we worked on Longhorn Louie. Then sent it out to several publishers. None of them wanted it. They didn’t want rhyme. (Or our rhyme) They didn’t want “Cowboy”, they didn’t want, didn’t want, blah blah blah…

Ever since then, I’ve learned to pay attention to my dreams. Whenever I have one that vivid or interesting, I hold tight to what I recall and write it down. And, when I'm short on ideas, I flip through it. (If nothing else it reminds me I can be creative. subconciously, at least.) I keep a notepad and paper in my nightstand.

Friend and former critique partner, author Kathy Duval, keeps Dream Journals.


"My stack of dream journals comes up to my elbow," Kathy noted on her website info page.

Kathy’s upcoming picture book, A Bear’s Year comes out this October.

Kathy has this quote on her website:

“No one is able to enjoy such a feast than the one who throws a party in his own mind.”

Selma Lagerlöf


Makes me wonder: Do Kathy's picture books comes from dreams, too?

(Her PB Take Me To Your BBQ, about an alien visitation feels like it!)




Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow. 

Langston Hughes

What of you?

What becomes of your dreams?

Do you let them slip away?

Oh yes, about that email response: I'll have to check on it... 

I DREAMED IT Playlist:

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You know the song from Guys and Dolls, the one Sister Sarah sings after she loses the bet against Sky Masterson and pays up by going with him to Havana? Cue the music: Ask me how to I feel . . . Well, Sir, all I can say is if I were a gate I'd be swing-ing!/And if I were a watch I'd start/ popping my springs!/Or if I were a bell I'd go ding dong, ding dong ding! 

Add to that, If I were a fish I’d be flip-ping! Because that’s how I’ve been feeling since I heard the big news—Like that swing-ing gate, that spring-popping watch, that ding-dong-ing bell, that fish!  Some of you may know why. For those who don’t, cue the trumpet!

My little book, NOT NORMAN, A GOLDFISH STORY, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones (Candlewick Press), is Jumpstart’s Read for the Record book for 2015!!!

What’s that mean? Only that, on October 22, 2015 children and adults will read Not Norman together, aloud, it what can become—for the Record—the world’s largest shared reading experience! You, too, I hope.

In case you don’t know, Jumpstart is a non-profit early education organization with a mission of helping every child in America enters school prepared to succeed. Their motto is:

How does it work?Jumpstart recruits and trains college students and community volunteers to work with preschool children in low-income neighborhoods. Through a proven curriculum, these children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for school, setting them on a path to close the achievement gap before it is too late.”

Jumpstart’s Read for the Record, began in 2006, to raise awareness of the achievement gap and Jumpstart's work with preschool children in low-income neighborhoods—and to raise funds to support programs. Candlewick Press, Jumpstart’s partner in the 2015 campaign, in addition to other contributions, will donate some 13,000 copies of the Jumpstart special edition (available in Spanish & English) to ensure that anyone who wants to participate, can!

Thrilled as I was when Jumpstart announced Not Norman as the 2015 Read for the Record book, the magnitude of this honor didn’t really register until I did some digging into the history of past campaigns. Since 2006, when more than 150 thousand children & adults read The Little Engine that Could on the same day, thus earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records*, funds raised, number of books given to children—for many their first book—and number of children & adult participating has burgeoned. The record high to date is almost 4.3 million, set in 2012, when children & adults reading the same book on the same day! Totally freaks me out to think my little fishy story is on the list with such time-honored classics, all for a single purpose: Helping children read & succeed!

For the record: Yes, learning to read the words in a picture book is the goal. But we all know it’s the picture on the cover that compels children to pick up a book, and the illustrations inside that keep them turning—and returning—to those pages. Let’s hear it for Noah Z. Jones!

I first met Noah Z. Jones at a school event 6 years after Not Norman was published.

I first met Noah Z. Jones at a school event 6 years after Not Norman was published.

Believe it or not, Not Norman is Noah’s first picture book! And, bucking traditional illustration techniques, Noah utilized his animation background and tech-know-how while he was at it; the art for Not Norman by computer!

Way back then, 2002-3, computer generated illustrations in picture books were unheard of. In fact, some reviewers scoffed. The rest of us, especially kids & I, loved it! One look at that cover, at that boy’s face peeking through the fishbowl with Norman as his nose, and I just have to laugh-every time!

You know, the 3rd thing I did, after learning Not Norman, a Goldfish Story, had been named Jumpstart's Read for the Record book for 2015? I went on a crazed Internet search. I looked up everything I could about Jumpstart, all about past Read for the Record Campaigns, and of course, the other 9 Read for the Record books.  You can bet my mind was ding-dong, flippin! Here's the list:

JUMPSTART Read for the Record books:

2006: The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper (more than 150,000 children & adults read the story on the same day, earning that 1st  spot in The Guinness Book of World Records.)

2007: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (258,000 children & adults participated)

2008: Corduroy written by Don Freeman (688,000 participated)

2009: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (2,019,752 participated)

2010: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (2,057,513 participated)

2011 Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney (2,185,155 participated)

2012: Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad by David Soman & Jacky Davis (4, 2,385,305 participated)

2013 Otis by Loren Long (2,462,860 children & adults participated)

2014 Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells (2,383,645 children & adults participated)

Add to that:

Not Norman, A Goldfish Story, by Kelly Bennett & Noah Z. Jones (How many children & adults participate on October 22, 2015 is up to us . . . )

What’s especially exciting is that this is Jumpstart’s Read for the Record and Not Norman’s 10th birthday! I sure hope you’ll join me in helping to make this 10th campaign a record breaker. Here’s How:

Mark Your Calendars: READ FOR THE RECORD DAY is October 22, 2015

Pledge to Read: http://www.jstart.org/campaigns/register-read

Get Involved: Donate! Join the Team! Be a Sponsor! http://jstart.org/get-involved/get-involved1

Buy the Jumpstart Special Edition of Not Norman: http://www.jstart.org/campaigns/jumpstart-shop  (English & Spanish available):

Play Around: Check out the free resources on the Jumpstart Toolkit: http://www.jstart.org/campaigns/toolkit

Spread the Word: Please share the Jumpstart Read for the Record link on social media word-of-mouth, too! http://www.jstart.org/campaigns/read-for-the-record

Who's Reading for the Record? Playlist:

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Some Call it Grouting; Do I Call it Love?

You Busy? Me too. Always, lately. Too busy. Which is why last Monday stands out. (For two maybe related maybe not reasons.)

I woke to a anomaly: a full empty day before me. When I write "full" I mean: The maximum number of non-sleep hours before me; the sun was not even fully up before I was. Wallowing in that rare luxury of nothing-scheduled/nothing-planned, I showered & dressed. . .

Next thing I knew it was after 10:00pm, my it's-a-school-night-get-ready for bedtime.


As I groaned my way into a TV chair to watch a quick wind-down program, it dawned on me that I was literally sitting down for the first time all day.

But here's the weird part: 

I have absolutely no recollection of how I spent all those hours. . .

I sat there trying to recall what I'd done with the day, how I'd spent those long, empty, unscheduled 16 hours I'd begun with, but couldn't. The last clear thought I had was standing before the mirror after showering that morning, overjoyed at the possibility all that unscheduled time presented and pondering what I wanted to do.

Flashes of meals, phone calls, messages, a trip to the post office and drug store, flitted to mind, like flashbacks in an amnesia movie. But none memorable enough, or long enough to consume an hour, let alone 16 of them. Where the heck had the day gone? 

 A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog post by author Fred Venturini, titled "The Accidental Novelist," in which he discussed how the key to his success could be summed up in one word: Luck. (Which, in Fred Baby's case,  is the same as saying Ben Franklin's discovery of energy was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Yeah right, everyone knows a key & kite are standard issue rain gear.) Blah-blah-blah, luck-schmuck.

Luck? Maybe. Just as Ben was lucky he was prepared when that mega electrical storm hit, Venturini was prepared. As he told the woman who scoffed at his "luck" answer, Fred had been writing, writing, writing and had several manuscripts to show for his efforts that fateful "lucky" day.

I'm not such  a fan of "good luck" stories. They leave me hopeless. I don't like the thinking getting what I want, what I work so hard for, may hinge on random chance, whimsy, kismet, simple twist of fate.

I am a total fan of "Persistence Paid" stories. My take away: with all Venturini had going on--mega buzzy bee buzy --he could have written so much and had sooo many stories to show for it when his lucky break came struck me. And it's one reason why my lost Monday is so worrisome. In response to that lady--and my--amazement as his prolificness, Fred said:

We find time for the things we must/need to do; we MAKE TIME for the things we love/want to do

 About Monday, one thing I know I did: I mopped my bedroom and all the upstairs bathroom floors, then sealed the grout in said bathrooms.


This has me really worried. As I piece together the remains of my yesterday, I have to ask, what the heck is my problem?

Do I really love stain-free grout so much that I'd spend my only in the foreseeable future free day, sealing bathroom grout? Do I love stainfree grout more than I love say, writing? Or sleeping? Or Fill-in-the-Blank ????

Or, am I so programmed to do what I must do that I do not Make Time for what I love/want to do?

What about you?

Some Call it Grouting; Do I Call it "LOVE"? Playlist:

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Secret of Eternal Youth

That got your attention. Mine, too!  An eager seeker of the secret of eternal youth, of course I read it. Should have taken a better look at the source of the advice, or not. It definitely was not a rag mag as the secret to eternal “youth” revealed was mental, not physical. (Call me shallow but, I confess to a degree of disappointment.) Nonetheless, I read on:

The key to keeping mentally open and vibrant is having friends of all ages, the article expounded. It stressed that we should actively—purposefully—seek interaction with people of both genders from each decade. That doing so exposes us to new ideas, new music, new fads, new mores and conversely to old ones.

Cultivate friendships with people of all decades and genders.

In case you’re doing as I did, mentally slotting friends & family into decades, go back and put question marks by “Family.” Do our interactions with children, grandchildren and parents counts? YES…and NO. Yes, culturally, family members will and do expose us to so much we wouldn’t know about otherwise. But as for interacting with them as “friends. That depends. . . .

Do you/Would you tell your mother or father, or your auntie, the same things you tell your woman/male friends?
"Ok so we'd had a few drinks and we weren't wearing seatbelts when..."

"Ok so we'd had a few drinks and we weren't wearing seatbelts when..."



What about your children?

 Be honest, do you really want them confiding “those things” to you? Do they? Do you? (I don’t.) 

"OMG, Dylan! That mother of yours..."

"OMG, Dylan! That mother of yours..."

Knowing this truth—befriending people of all decades is good for you—and doing this are, like many things that are “good for us”: not necessarily easy.




Shortly after learning this secret of youth, I shared it with a friend who’d recently moved to L.A. Ironically, the friend who was a decade and more older, physically recoiled at the idea. “Young people don’t want anything to do with me,” he argued.


Knowing my friend took photography classes—at UCLA and the Art Institute, not the Senior Center—I pushed him on the point. 

My children’s writing community includes people of reading age up, literally.  10-20-30-40…70, 80, beyond united by virtue of being writers. Years fall away while we strive for similar goals. That common thread initially brings us together, from there other connections form. Surely the photography community was much the same? 

“Don’t you discuss photography things with the other students?” I pressed. He did; they did. “So why can’t you try to extend the friendship? Ask them for coffee or drinks, to an exhibit…” He scoffed.

Water and time have passed since that conversation. I’m older. I’m more isolated. I’ve moved often and far, and my writing community has shrunk. My community while global is puny, too. 

Frankly, the family and friends I have keep me so busy, I didn't even realize it was happening. That decades of people, are rising up with whom I have no contact. 

To be honest, I hadn't missed that interaction with new, younger, older, different-- people--Or realized I missed it.

And, I must confess, like my friend, as I've gotten older, I've perhaps become a little, if not fearful, definitely lazy about reaching out.

It's what a twenty-something son of a friend I spoke with at a wedding said about dating. He'd recently broken up with his high school sweetheart, but was thinking about getting back together with her.  I asked him if he'd been dating anyone else. He got a pained look on his face then answered:

“I’m too tired. You have start all over with the ‘what sign are you? Where did you go to school? Getting to know you stuff.” —Son’s friend on dating after a break-up.

Reaching out, making new connections, learning new--older, younger, different languages--takes energy. Perhaps way more than sticking with the familiar. And it's easy to let ourselves think we're doing just fine, why stir things up?


Decades apart, but so much the same, I totally got what he was saying. Reaching out, making new connections, learning new--older, younger, different languages--takes energy. Perhaps way more than sticking with the familiar. And it's easy to let ourselves think we're doing just fine, why stir things up?

I hadn't realized how much "stirring things up" and doing the "getting to know you" stuff mattered, and how much I've been missing it, until recently. . .  

Earlier this month, at my sis-in-law, Marilyn Bennett’s invitation, I joined her for a week’s retreat on Sanibel Island. (Marilyn's an author, writing coach, video-biographer, documentary filmmaker, check it out at Truth in Progress). 

Marilyn and me my Ist morning on Sanibel, the view from "Beach Baby's" lanai. 

Marilyn and me my Ist morning on Sanibel, the view from "Beach Baby's" lanai. 

Marilyn had been invited to stay in a beach-front condo by friends of a dear, departed mutual friend of hers and theirs, named Carolyn. (I’d met Carolyn and knew about her via Marilyn, but that was the extent of it.) 

Speaking of ride: here's Marilyn trying out the beach cruiser.

Speaking of ride: here's Marilyn trying out the beach cruiser.


Clueless as to who our hosts were—beyond knowing they were retired—or what, if any interaction, I’d have with them, I was truly, along for the ride.

My first day on Sanibel, Marilyn and I joined our hosts, Deborah and John, for dinner at Trader’s Restaurant.  

Marilyn and I arrived first, purposefully early. I don’t know about Marilyn, but I was What if they don’t like me? What If I don’t like them? What the heck are we going to talk about? Nervous! 

“Buck up,” I told myself, as I ordered a martini  “Up, dirty, large, extra olives.” Drinks and dinner—one evening—we can all make it through one evening.

Deborah & John taking a spin!

Deborah & John taking a spin!


That get-acquainted dinner, there was no “making it through,” we shut the restaurant down! (But only after John had taken Deborah for a spin on the dance floor.)

Conversation floated and flitted From one topic to another, as “friend” chats do, with nary an awkward silence.

Birth year-wise, we were 3 maybe 4 decades; conversationally speaking we were contemporaries—interested, interesting, and challenging.

After that first introduction, for me, it was not a question of “Are we dining together again” but rather “When can we?

United in a common goal! That 2nd sunset when the smoke alarms-all 4 of them-started chirping: "Silence Them!"

United in a common goal! That 2nd sunset when the smoke alarms-all 4 of them-started chirping: "Silence Them!"


Each evening’s topics were rich and varied. Deborah and John's personal histories broadened what Marilyn and I knew of the recent past. May be we taught them some, too.

Motown: Everyone's Music!

Motown: Everyone's Music!


Decade to decade commonalities were never so pronounced as the night Deborah and John treated us to “So Good for the Soul”, a tribute to Mo-Town music at Sanibel’s Cultural Center, Big Arts. 



It was standing-room only in the theater. And Decade-schecade, it was OUR music!  



Truth is, if fate—and Carolyn—had not intervened, none of us (even if we were sharing the same sundown) probably would have made an effort to get to know each other. But we did and I, for one, am richer for it. 

Decades await! 

Be the one to take that first step—or leap—across those great age divides.

The fountain might be on the other side.


Secret of Eternal Youth Playlist:

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Village Life

“It Takes a Village…” Bless Hillary for coming up with that title.

Fish Dance!

Fish Dance!

Like Harper Lee, I have files... While preparing for Not Norman's birthday celebration (break for Glugs and a happy fish dance!)

I happened upon this unpublished post. Portentous in that I'm making travel arrangements and filling in my 2015 calendar, to DO IT-the whole Why? How? Will I? When? Waaaaaaa!-AGAIN! 

July 24, 2014: I’m just back from a month long visit with my village. My children’s book writers & readers village. It’s a mobile village. A global village. Despite that, connecting isn’t always easy. Especially living as I do with my feet and heart in many places: TT, WHB, NYC, TUL, RNO, CA, JKT . . .  And while techno innovations have made staying in touch, connecting, even face-to-face almost-like-being-there conversations possible, virtual can’t compete with actual.

Alicia Johnson, a long time friend and champion arranged this visit to Conroe Central Library

Alicia Johnson, a long time friend and champion arranged this visit to Conroe Central Library

First came the Why? Kids!!! 2 days of Library presentations at Conroe Central Library, organized by my friend and children’s librarian Alicia Johnson, let me get up close and personal with a couple of hundred children of all ages—all meaning 3 months to 20 years! Stand outs: 0-6 year olds: After reading NOT NORMAN we sang the “My Pet Says” song, which had us all wagging our tails, barking, clucking and almost left one little guy in tears because he wanted us to sing about his horse that said “neigh, neigh, neigh (no worries, we made him happy by singing one last verse just for him!) 6-9 year olds: Nothing better than that finger shaking No Bite! VAMPIRE BABY Chorus and loads of hugs after; creating a mystery with the teen group—which we got so caught up in that we ran over and they had to practically, physically pull us out the library so they could lock up but not before we managed to convict the chameleon and restore Mouse’s pilfered diary; and last—maybe best—Ideaphoria with 9-12 year olds who don’t let you get away with anything!

Don't be fooled by our demur pose: Wylld imaginings are in progress.

Don't be fooled by our demur pose: Wylld imaginings are in progress.


Then came the How? 4 days of intense picture book lock-down in Idywylld with 3 writer buds, Marty Graham, Sarah Tomp and Andrea Zimmerman, aka "The Wylld Bunch," which despite our names only had time to have wild imaginings.



After came the Will I?  Back to VCFA for the Alumni Mini-Rez and retreat. As we have ever since they kicked us off campus a few years back (that’s another story) my classmates, The Unreliable Narrators, have rented a house where we all bunk up, plug in and recharge each July.

Summer of 2014 Unreliable Narrator retreaters (The rest of the pack missed out on the lips) L-R: Kerry Castano, me, Katie Mather, Tam Smith, Cynthia Granberg, Cindy Faughnan, Trinity Peacock-Broyles

Summer of 2014 Unreliable Narrator retreaters (The rest of the pack missed out on the lips) L-R: Kerry Castano, me, Katie Mather, Tam Smith, Cynthia Granberg, Cindy Faughnan, Trinity Peacock-Broyles

This year our guest of honor was Katie’s son James. At 17 months, the toughest picture book judge ever…

James lounging with his UN posse

James lounging with his UN posse



When Jame's mom was napping, I used him a guinea pig (I started to type “lab rat” . . . Katie would have laughed, but I wasn’t sure anyone else would have.)


The bright blue cover caught his eye. Lost it fast when he saw the inside (so that’s why they call them picture books?)

Reading to a 17 month old shows why short is best—I was cutting words willy-nilly, and adding sounds—especially animal-ish noises…no wonder repetition is big.

Last came the When?

When will it end? That was definitely the question my family was asking when after the VCFA retreat, instead of returning home, I rode on to Cindy’s house for more. Talk about a dedicated writer. Cindy makes sure she gets those words down every day—and she made sure I did, too.

Best, each night of every phase: How-Will-When came “PUT UP OR SHIP OUT” Time when we read aloud the work we’d done. No way did I want to be voted out, so I worked.

Now comes the Whaaaaaaaaa. I’m back again, facing the blank page, the revision notes, the What! But I’m not alone. . .

Bob Dole thought he was slapping Hillary in the face with it when, during his Rebublican Nomination Acceptance Speech for the 96 elections, he spouted, “I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child."

What is a village if not an extended family? A community of individuals clustered together for similar if disparate reasons. Village. Family. Village.  .  . Potato. Pot-A-toe. Mash um up, add butter, salt, and a dash of pepper and it’s all the same—a blend that makes for good eatin’ and comfort which fosters creative living! 

Village Life Playlist: 

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Musing On Norman at 10

My fish baby is 10 years old!  

So many fun Goldfish birthday cakes on the internet. Norman wants one!

So many fun Goldfish birthday cakes on the internet. Norman wants one!

In celebration of Norman's birthday, I thought it would be fun to flip back through my file of rejections letters & revision notes with editors & my agent—yes! I keep them all. 

Was it fun? Fun… maybe, sort of, in a painful, embarrassing, sort of like childbirth way in that I know I wrote it-revised-revised-agonized over it. I can remember pacing the sort of cat-walk upstairs hallway of our then home in Katy, weighing pros and cons of various pets, but I can’t feel how miserable I was.

I just think this is a fabulous premise for a story, and not just because I’m more than a little partial to goldfish myself. . . . My concerns about the story are still with the plot line and structure. . .
— Sarah Ketchersid, via email Jan. 28, 2003

Miserable? Yes, writing is miserable work. I feel miserable, frustrated, inadequate when I CAN’T. GET.  IT. RIGHT.  What’s most incredible is that somehow, this once, with this story, I did. (Even if that critique who shall remain nameless called my text “bald”.)

— after Erin called to say Sarah at Candlewick Press wanted to published Not Norman

What’s weird and sad is that we writers (me, anyway) never know when we’ve gotten it RIGHT. It takes readers to tell us that. And even then, upon rereading, we won’t have a clue how it happened. Many readers tell me the best part of Not Norman is the scary night climax scene. The scene that had Mimi and Brian’s granddaughter Rebecca so worried she practically sucked the rubber off her binky?—again and again and “read it again.” That scene where our boy wakes in the middle of the night to Scritch Screech? I have absolutely no idea where it came from. I can’t recall writing it.  And I definitely never knew it was “the best,” all I knew is it worked—and it was done.

We are looking for someone who can capture the relationship between the narrator and Norman and also be able to express and perhaps even expand on the story’s humor, subtle sarcasm, and poignancy, too. . . We think we’ve found someone who can do all of that. We’d like to suggest an exciting new illustrator named Noah Jones.
— Sarah, on selecting the illustrator, May 9, 2003
This is one of Noah's art samples Sarah sent when suggesting he illustrate Not Norman.

This is one of Noah's art samples Sarah sent when suggesting he illustrate Not Norman.

After many versions and revisions and years, Not Norman, a Goldfish Storymy Goldfish Story lives! And lots of kids and teachers love it! (Thank you everyone who has ever sent me a note to that effect, and/or a photo of you and yours reading Not Norman.)

And some parents hate me for writing Not Norman because they have to read it over and over and over again every day, every night. (I know because they write and tell me so.)

Another sample: This has the feel of that scary SCRITCH SCREETCH night scene, doesn't it?

Another sample: This has the feel of that scary SCRITCH SCREETCH night scene, doesn't it?

So, during this auspicious month, I’m pulling out some snippets of Norman’s journey. For you writers, maybe they will help you as you work through your own stuff. For the rest of you, maybe it will explain the way it works. Interesting? Informative? (You decide.)

For now, before the notes, here are the kudos. Thanks to all of you who’ve bought and read and shared Not Norman, big hugs and glugs!

Enter to win a free copy of Not Norman from @CandlewickClass on Twitter here!

Nuthin’ Doin’

“What are you doing today?” Curtis asked as I drove him to work.

 “What are you doing tomorrow?” He asked again last night.

“What do you have going on this week?” He asked as I dropped him off at the airport.


“Nothing.” I replied. “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I have absolutely not one single thing planned.”



He gave me a surprised look. Curtis never has nothing to do, nothing planned.

Most people don’t. Or rather, DO…all the time.

Even when we aren’t “doing” anything, we are doing something: Listening to music, Texting, Checking email, Facebook, Instagram, Playing Candy/Trivia Crush, Scrabble with Friends, etc. etc. Usually something electronic.

ACG School in Jakarta 

ACG School in Jakarta 

When I visit schools, I’ll chat with the kids about my writering life. Inevitably someone will ask:

“Where do your ideas come from?”

 I often respond by opening it up to the class and asking them:

“Where can we get ideas?”

Eventually the flood of suggestions peters out . . . Because ideas do that.

Life, the everyday business of living, can be tiring. Trying to live creatively can be even more so. The myriad of How-to, Discovery, Recovery books and articles focused on ways to revive our creative spirits, suggest this tiredness, miasma, block, burnout, lack of creativity . . . . is because we are creatively exhausted. (And perhaps otherwise, too.)

Stock Photo: Stressed man with smoking head More www.dreamstime.com

Stock Photo: Stressed man with smoking head More


Whether from lack of use, or because we’ve used up all we had, our creative tanks have run dry and need refilling.

. . . and not a drop to think.

. . . and not a drop to think.

Many, including Julia Cameron’s oft sited 12-Step Recovery guide, The Artist’s Way, recommend taking oneself on weekly Artist’s Dates as a way of “refilling our creative wells.”

Filling our wells—if we follow this sage advice—is easy. The question then is: How do we empty it? 

How do we tap into those creative wells so those wonderful ideas can flow? 

When working with school kids, at that point where the ideaphoria slows, I’ll ask:

“Does your teacher ever give an assignment and not one single idea pops into your head? Does that ever happen to you?”

A sea of nodding heads is always the answer I get.

At that point I’ll give them my sure fire Well-Draining Idea-Generator:  

Empty your head and do nothing.

Try it.

I dare you.

I double dog dare you.

Make a “Do Nothing” Date . . .  and Don’t!  

Don’t take your phone. Don’t plug in. Don’t bring a friend. Don’t set an agenda.

Before long, the spigot will open Whoosh! and ideas will begin to flow. Could be they already were flowing, but we just couldn't hear to catch them.* Either way, that  plenty o’ nuttin’ starts to sound like something. 

To borrow from Dr. Suess: Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!

Nuthin’ Doin’ Playlist:

*What's the worst that can happen? You'll have spent an idyll hour or two. (Ever ponder the connection between idyll, idle and ideal?) 

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