A Special Tribute to My Mom–June Guenette

Maelstrom art with border

The following piece appears at the end of my soon-to-be released novel, Maelstrom. Enjoy.

This novel began its journey to you, the reader, when I was a child. My father worked nightshift and my mother was writing a book. We kids would fall asleep to the clack, clack, clack of the typewriter keys, the ding of the bell at the end of a line and the unforgettable sound of the carriage return. When I got older, I would stay up late and my mother would share bits and pieces of the story with me – highly censored, I’m sure. My brief introduction to the characters left an indelible impression – Sheriff Bert Calder, the sadistically cruel man who held the town of Haddon under his thumb; Myhetta, the handsome, knife-wielding adopted son of Rafael Destino; Laura, the woman who seemed to exist always in her basically white kitchen.

The years went by and I assumed my mother had given up on her book. Nothing could have been further from the truth. When I was in my twenties, I visited her and she proudly showed me a large box filled to the brim with type-covered, fluted, white paper placemats – a complete draft of Maelstrom. She was working at a café and had purchased those placemats for a good price. My mouth dropped open, my eyes grew large and I demanded that she let me read it. But she shook her head – it was too rough and raw. It needed work. From time to time, I heard that she had written yet another draft of the first chapter but more often than not, she seemed content to move onto other work. She penned a column for a local paper and honed her craft in the genre of short story writing. She joined a writers’ group and contributed to an anthology. She had a short story accepted for publication in a magazine.

When my mother died in 1997, she willed reams of her writing to my son. He was only a teenager at the time but he took the boxes she left him. Overwhelmed with sorting the rest of my mother’s possessions, I never even peeked inside those boxes. My son carted his inheritance from place to place until he winged his way across the vast country of Canada. At that point, whatever he couldn’t get on a plane, he left with his father. The boxes from his grandmother were then moved from here to there as part of a thing parents do for their kids – store their stuff.

Two years ago, my son brought me a red folder that had turned up in some of his things – pages from a book his grandma must have been working on. He had glanced through it and wondered if I would be interested, now that I was writing books of my own. I was stunned. I hadn’t seen those typed placemats for decades. I read with my heart in my throat. The margins were full of my mother’s handwritten notes. I could almost see her dark eyes sparkling with intensity as she glanced over my shoulder.

The red folder contained eighty pages of Maelstrom. But where was the rest of the manuscript? My son assumed that it must still be in storage at his dad’s somewhere. Later, the news came to me that boxes would be looked through with an eye to finding the missing pages.

I convinced myself that the degree to which I desired those pages to be found was in direct proportion to the likelihood that they never would be. I held myself firmly, repeating T. S. Eliot’s words – hope without hope.

I decided to transcribe the portion of the manuscript I had. No sooner did I begin typing than I started to rewrite. I couldn’t stop my imagination from springboarding off my mother’s words. By the time I was done, I knew that I could outline a beginning and ending for the novel.

Then came the magical day when my daughter sent me a text with a photo of a tottering pile of several thick binders bulging with pages. The rest of the manuscript had surfaced. I stared and stared at that photo, not quite believing my eyes. Those binders contained over two thousand pages. But I was never to find the all-important beginning. The manuscript started at page thirty. I have no idea what happened to that elusive first chapter that my mother had rewritten so many times.

So began a long process of reading. By the time I had finished, I was holding her version and the version I would have written side-by-side in my head. I started outlining, blocking out sections I would use and those I would not. I put sticky notes here and there in colour-coded, reckless abandon. My handwritten comments down margins and across the tops and bottoms of pages vied for space with my mother’s.

I made major alterations to the story she had set out to tell and that resulted in even more changes as the book progressed. The majority of those two thousand pages were left on the cutting room floor. Some characters were toned down, others were fleshed out with backstory wholly of my creation, a few were combined to streamline the narrative and one even underwent a gender change. I mined my way through those pages again and again for the gems – the turns of phrase unique to my mom’s way of writing dialogue, the colourful descriptions and plays on words. And I never came away empty-handed.

As the months of writing flew by, I struggled to understand whose book this was becoming. It was certainly not the book my mother had intended though it echoed with her ideas and characters. On the other hand, it was not something I could have come up with on my own.

After fifteen drafts and countless hours of work, I have come to the conclusion that the premise for the story belongs to my mother; the book you have just read is mine.

I’m not sure I can adequately describe what this experience of ghostwriting my mother’s story into my own and bringing it to a reading public has meant to me. There were times when I was so emotional, I sobbed over the keyboard and had to stop working. I never felt as close to my mother or as frustrated with her as I did when working on this novel. She made me laugh and I could almost feel her hand on my shoulder as I typed. Then she would exasperate me and I’d throw my head back and moan. I thought if I turned quickly, I would catch her shrugging her thin shoulders and hear her say, “It made sense to me at the time.”

It gives me great pleasure to present my interpretation of the novel my mother began so many years ago and to bring her characters to life with my own unique spin. It feel as if a circle is closing and, though I’m not sure if my mother would wholly embrace this version of her story, I am confident she would be proud of me for making the effort.

Pencil sketch - Casa Destino - June Guenette (2)

(A conceptual, pencil sketch of Casa Destino by June Guenette)

Countdown to Maelstrom release is FIVE days Smile

How to Recognize Your Fan Base

Emma in Save-On with Chasing Down the Night - Guenette photo

I read somewhere that a solid base of a thousand fans is the tipping point for an indie author. That number of readers who are committed to buying the author’s next book, talking up an author’s work and recommending said author to friends and family will push sales and name recognition to a level where things start to snowball.

But how does one evaluate this fan base? It isn’t about sales because people often download books and never read them. It can’t be determined from the number of followers on various social media platforms because much of this type of engagement is people looking for reciprocal action. No judgement, here – just reality.

Self-publishing sign - Google imageIn my experience, fans are counted through engagement. My fans take the time to let me know they love my work. This post is a tribute to those people. They really seem to love the Crater Lake characters and they keep on asking for more. I’m not at the one thousand mark yet. Winning people over and generating true engagement is something that builds, slowly but surely, over time. This is what makes self-publishing a marathon and not a sprint.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking down the sidewalk of a nearby town. A store door burst open and a woman came running out. She stopped me by saying, “I know you.” I smiled and stuck out my hand. She went on, “I’ve read all your books.” Then she pulled me into a tight hug as she said, “Thank you so much for writing those books.” Stepping back, I could only stare at her in amazement. My first brush with being recognized solely on the basis of my writing was a surprising thrill.

As I said, fans keep asking for more. A case in point is a recent comment on this blog supporting Malestrom, my work-in-progress (a non-Crater Lake book) but ending with a plea for more from Crater Lake.

3-D Box Set - Crater Lake Series

Trilogy number one? Time will tell. Ideas are definitely percolating for book number four.

My daughter had an interesting conversation with her stepsister the other day. Amber had just finished reading Chasing Down the Night and she asked, “Has your mom told you if Justin and Lisa-Marie ever get together?”

Kristen replied, “Even if she did, are you sure you would want to know?”

Matt, Kristen’s husband, laughed and piped in with, “I heard she’s going to kill Justin in the next book.” Amber jumped up in alarm. (No spoiler alerts here – that joking son-in-law heard no such thing from me!) I do cherish the emotional attachment readers have with my characters.

I can’t even describe the fun I had watching my niece, Chelsea, read Chasing Down the Night. There was only one rule – every time she laughed or gasped, she had to say why. It felt like I was attending a weeklong book club. When she got to the end, she gave a heavy sigh and said, “It’s like a summer holiday coming to an end. You wait and wait for it then it’s over before you want it to be and you have to wait a whole year for another one.”

Silver's Book Review capture

Colleen Chesebro, who blogs over at Sliver Threads recently wrote a review for the box set of the first three novels. Her wrap up is well-worth bragging about. Please check it out by following the above link to her blog.

She topped off her thoughtful review and blog feature with this response to my thanks.

“Francis, I have read many books, but few touch me as much as these three did. I simply loved the characters and their journeys. I do want to know how they survive the winters on Crater Lake. I wish you continued success and look forward to your future books. I was honored to read the Crater Lake Series. Thank you.”

I know my fans because they let me know how they feel about my work. More than anything else, that type of sharing makes writing a thrilling and worthwhile endeavour.

Brit at the beach - Guenette photo

Brit making you an offer you can’t refuse – read my grandma’s books. You won’t regret it!

Go Ahead – Take a Chance on a Self-Published Author

self-publishing-word-cloud-google image

Confession time! Before I self-published my first book, the whole idea of self-publishing was not on my radar. I’d never, to my knowledge, read a self-published novel. If I’d been asked to define self-publishing, the only thing I would have been able to come up with was a negative impression of vanity presses and the writers who used them.

I didn’t possess a Kindle or any other electronic reading device and had no interest in owning such a thing. I read all the time but my book choices were discovered via print media and radio interviews with authors. I combed best seller and award finalist lists and then either ordered my choices via Amazon, dropped into a Chapters store or visited my local library.

Google imageWhen it became obvious that I was serious about publishing a novel, my son alerted me to the whole idea of self-publishing. Exploration into the indie author world were eye-opening. I purchased a Kindle and, for research purposes alone, I began to buy and read self-published authors. I wanted to know how far removed my book was from what others had self-published.

My first few random purchases were scary. If my eyes were opened to the idea of self-publishing, the reality of what I was reading had me gawking. I was suddenly plunged into a world of unfamiliar genres and, horrors upon horrors, books with all manner of problems. One thing came of these reading adventures. I was sure I could and would compete in the self-publishing world.

self-publishing-cartoon - google

Despite my initial misgivings, I haven’t stopped reading self-published books. I currently read three or four self-published books on my Kindle for every traditionally published book. Suffice to say, this has gone beyond research. I enjoy how my reading horizons have been stretched.

I’m convinced that the self-published books out there in 2015 are simply better than the ones that were around in 2012. But a system is necessary to determine what warrants the dedication of a few hours of my reading time and to help bypass anything that is utter drivel. It works most of the time but now and then a sow’s ear does get through. Such is life and the same thing can happen with traditionally published books.

I study the cover and the book’s synopsis. I’m not looking for something worthy of a slick publishing giant but the cover has to have some well-presented, solid elements and the synopsis has to intrigue me. I read a selection of reviews across the ratings from one to five. It isn’t all about the number of glowing reviews. There are times when a one-star review makes me want to read the book. I make use of Amazon’s look inside feature to read the first chapter. I can skim over a few typos or rambling sentences but if the first chapter doesn’t grab me it’s unlikely the rest of the book will either. I jot down the titles of self-published books that are featured on the sites of trusted book review bloggers and put those books through my system.

I’ve been stretched by stories I never would have imagined that I would read. A boxed set by Johnny B. Truant, entitled The Fat Vampire, is a point in fact. These books are hilarious, well written and have great character development – a total lark.

As an indie author, I encourage readers to follow my system, do your homework and do take a chance on a self-published author. E-books are reasonably priced – most often less than the cost of a latte. And doesn’t reading a good book and having a latte go together?

Beachbody-Blog-Pumpkin-Spice-Latte - Google image

Today is Mother’s Day. Many indie authors are moms! Just saying.

“You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand for all that is life.” (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

Happy Mother's Day - Google images

Homemade Bread and the Writing Process

Bread - finished product - Guenette photo

Homemade bread. Ah . . . the feelings those words evoke – everything from nostalgic images of Little House on the Prairie to mouth-watering memories of Grandma’s kitchen.

Bread Book - Guenette photoI’ve had various flirtations and more than a couple of long-term relationships with homemade bread over the years – all of them satisfying. More years ago than I want to admit, I received a gift copy of a book by Ellen Foscue Johnson entitled: The Garden Way Bread Book: A Baker’s Almanac. What a jewel of a cookbook. The book is sprinkled with black and white line drawings and filled with recipes time tested over the years to a level of perfection. Ellen Foscue Johnson and I have been through a lot!

My latest foray into the bread making world has me thinking about the parallels between making bread from scratch and the writing process.

Line drawing of wheat - Guenette photo

I’ll say from the outset – there is nothing particularly difficult about making bread. No special talent is required beyond patience and a bit of elbow-grease when it comes to kneading. The similarities with the writing process begin when I think of the flow experience I have with each.

Bread sponge - Guenette photo

Between morning tasks of checking out social media, making coffee, starting the wood-burning stove and whatever else needs to be done, I’ll toss two cups of water, two tablespoons of sugar (or other types of sweetness – honey for example) and one tablespoon of yeast into a large bowl.

Sometime later, I’ll add oil, salt and some flour and whip that up for a couple of minutes with my hand-held mix-master. Most of the time, I toss a tea-towel over that sponge and go about other tasks. When I get back to it, I add more flour and knead for ten minutes.

Kneading process - Guenette photo

We tried to get a decent photo of kneading but apparently I was moving too fast. Kneading can be a good work out and gives lots of time for thoughts to wander. I let the dough rise, punch it down, form it into whatever shape takes my fancy and let it rise again. Then it’s into the oven to bake. Easy-peasy as my granddaughters say.

Bread in the pans - Guenette photo

Like bread making, the writing process requires patience and elbow grease. Imagination and fledgling ideas are the writer’s yeast. We sprinkle those ideas out on a warm and receptive surface and let them bubble. Later, we outline and storyboard, do research and take notes – we’re about adding our writing flour. We whip everything together. We wait and we think. Then comes more structure and planning as we work the whole mess into a smooth story – so similar to that neat ball of dough we get after kneading and kneading until we’re sure we can’t push that dough around the floured board for even one more turn. At some point we need to leave the story alone. Let it rise. We punch it down and rework it a few times, forming it as we go. We bake it up with editing and formatting and then we send it out into the world. Hopefully our efforts are met with the joy that accompanies that first bite into a fresh-baked loaf.

Bread - first slice - Guenette photo

If you’re a writer, I suggest you bake some bread. Even if the process doesn’t match what you go through when writing, the results will be mouth-watering enough to make you forget any thorny, little writing problems you might be experiencing. And when the other people in your life take that first bite of hot-out-of-the-oven bread slathered with jam, they will forgive all the times you neglect them to be off in your own writing world.

Here’s the basic, white bread recipe from Johnson’s book – enjoy Smile

Bread Recipe - Guenette photo

(I used a half a cup of mixed, ground sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds in the loaves I baked today. Use any combination of flours you like – add an extra tsp. of yeast if you go heavy on the whole wheat.)

Sisters Forever – Inhabiting Overlapping Worlds

  Emma & Brit at the pool - Guenette photo

Whenever I spend time with my granddaughters I come up with the best ideas for blog posts. The mere observation of their collective antics is grist for the mill.

Let me share a vignette with you.

Scene – kitchen table.

Emma is creating a list of kids she will invite to her upcoming sixth birthday party. Three-year-old Brit, is sitting across from Emma, leaning as far over the list as her little body will allow. I am on the other side of Emma providing spelling assistance.

Grandma to Emma (mentally counting down the list that will soon be at capacity) What about Brit?

Emma (looks up at me and then over to Brit, frowns and looks down as she carefully counts the number of guests on the list so far. She looks back at Brit, head tilted to the side with a thoughtful expression on her face.)

Brit (face goes from a big grin and a nod when I mentioned her name to a dark frown as Emma studies her. She pounds her little fists on the table) Emma, come on. I your sister.

(I wish I had this snippet on tape. You’ll have to imagine the absolute derision a three-year-old can work into the words – come on – and the total outrage at the very suggestion that she would be denied her rightful place that came through in  – I your sister.)

Emma (narrows her eyes for a moment, then shrugs and adds Brit’s name to the list.)

This vignette captures an essential aspect of my granddaughters’ lives. For Brit – I your sister – is an absolute given. No negotiation. She has lived with that reality from the moment of her birth. For Emma, the situation is more complicated. Though she really doesn’t remember the times before Brit, she did have almost three years when Brit wasn’t part of her life. Though the two girls occupy overlapping worlds, it seems Brit’s overlaps into Emma’s more.

Emma & Brit eat popcorn - Guenette photo

This overlapping of worlds is, for me, a fascinating process to observe. I never had a sister and though my world definitely overlapped in spots with the worlds of my three brothers, I lived in my own space as the only girl. Responsibilities and privileges differed widely in those days. I didn’t see this phenomenon with my own children either – a boy and a girl, four years apart, my son and daughter occupied quite different worlds.

Not so for Brit and Emma. Brit can walk into Emma’s room and have a great time playing with toys designated for her sister and the opposite is also true. It might be nostalgia on Emma’s part but she can still have fun. Emma can open one of Brit’s drawers and squeeze into a favourite shirt or skirt that has been passed down. Brit would go crazy with sheer delight to be riffling through Emma’s dresser and wearing her clothes.

Emma & Brit go to school - Guenette photo

Brit goes to the same preschool Emma went to, she takes gymnastics at the same gym, she has the same swim instructors at the same pool. In every way, Emma has broken the ground for her.

Brit at the Gym - Guenette photo

Emma works her way through her home reading and then Brit gets the book and copies exactly what Emma did. She runs her little finger from words to word and repeats the story. She is a sponge for every move her sister makes. Her advantage is huge and though she must share everything with this older sister, she takes it as a given because she’s never known anything else.

Emma & Brit make tacos - Guenette photo

I look forward to so many more chances to observe and track how this sisterly dynamic works itself out over the years. Right now my money’s on Brit for sheer bull doggedness when it comes to expanding the boundaries of her reach into Emma’s world. The child was born to be a protester. Perhaps it has to do with a low center of gravity but when she doesn’t want to move, it takes a fair amount of finesse or sheer, overpowering strength to get her moving. And she has a tendency to chant. Take my word for it – Pumpkin Patch, here we coming – heard over and over in the car ride to said pumpkin patch is something that had us at first laughing hysterically before we all got a weird shiver up our collective spines when she didn’t stop.

Emma & Brit pumpkin patch - Guenette photo

On the other hand, consider this. I was standing in the kitchen with Emma when Brit walked by. Emma reached out and pulled Brit’s hair. I stared at Emma and said, “Why did you do that?”

As I comforted Brit who was holding her head and getting ready to cry, Emma looked at me with a frown and a shrug. “I don’t know. My head said don’t but my hand said do it.”

I made some kind of comment along the line of, “Well, smarten up and start listening to your head instead of your hand.” But it makes me think – what brews inside Emma’s little body when it comes to giving up part of her world to the miniature, professional, protestor who just happens to be her sister?

Emma & Brit ride bikes - Guenette photo

I predict some interesting times ahead for one and all. Do you have overlapping world examples with your siblings or have your observed this phenomenon in your own children or grandchildren? I’d love to hear your stories.

Words to Melt an Author’s Heart

Chelsea

My twenty-two-year-old niece, Chelsea, recently visited us at the lake and she left with copies of Disappearing in Plain Sight and The Light Never Lies tucked under her arm.

We then began a wonderful exchange (via text messaging on Facebook) as she worked her way through both novels and shared her impressions. I love nothing more than getting down to the nitty-gritty of discussing the characters with a reader and finding out how the story makes that reader feel. As the texting continued, I had to have Chelsea adopt the shorthand that my editor and I use. DPS = Disappearing in Plain Sight. LNL = The Light Never Lies and LM = Lisa-Marie.

It’s a real treat for me to share (with permission from my beautiful niece) our texting conversation from last night.

Chelsea: Well I have finished LNL and I LOVED it!! My favourite . . . so far. I found myself getting teary eyed at the good-byes and hoping that Justin would change his mind and go back to LM and so happy that Beulah and Bethany are getting married!! Seriously I need that third book soon!! LOL.

Me: Wow – you are one of my fastest readers. I’m so glad you enjoyed DPS & LNL. I think both books are totally suited to your age group. But, then again, older women love them, too, though they tend to identify more with Izzy than LM. Did you start to get a better impression of Izzy after LNL? I remember you said you didn’t like her too much after DPS.

Chelsea: I had a hard time with Izzy in the first book but after the second one I caught myself wishing I could be like her. She’s so wise and gentle and really cares about people. I wasn’t very happy with Liam for a bit there – LOL. I love how you write – the way you tell one side of the story then go to someone else’s view. I felt like I was watching a TV show because of how you were able to switch things up like that.

Me: You’ve really gotten to the core of what matters to me about my writing – showing both sides of things – trying to get people to understand that life isn’t black or white – right or wrong. Circumstances matter.

Chelsea: It’s funny . . . because I’ve been to the lake I feel a connection to the story. It’s like I know what you mean and how the people feel . . . I actually felt like I was part of the story. I got so into it. It got me thinking of how I want my life to be and how I want it to end up. I can’t wait for the third one! What’s the title do you have an idea yet? I think it’s so awesome that you are writing books. I tell everyone that my Grama June and my Auntie Fran are writers! It makes me happy.

Me: That is one of the great benefits I have as a writer – living here. I was able to use this place as a basic template for all the places in the book and then just embellish my heart out. I didn’t have to start from scratch or create a world to put my people in. Micah Camp started in my mind as a dream that there could be something more for kids who didn’t have all the advantages – something that could help them get a jump start on adult life. I feel like crying because you enjoyed the books so much. It means a lot to me. All I really want to do with my writing is make people feel things and think. The third book is called Chasing Down the Night. I am well into the first draft, which means lots of work to go. The whole story is in my head, though. I feel pretty stuffed with all these people and their issues some days.

Chelsea: Awesome. I can hardly wait.

Me: I know I’ve won over a reader for sure with you. Thanks also for spreading the word about the books. Feel free to lend them out to others. If you don’t get them back, I can always get you another set. Love you. Bye for now.

Chelsea: Sounds good. Yep, I will spread the word! Love you too. Bye

A fan like this makes all the agony of bringing a full-length novel (or two or three or four) to life well-worth the effort. And when she is also a beautiful, talented and funny niece who I’ve been close to since the day she was born – well, I better end this post before I dissolve into a pool of tears.

The pensive writer - Bruce Witzel photo

Picking up the Threads

Emma & Brit - Guenette photo

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King tells us that he produces a first draft over the course of one calendar season. We’ve all seen the length of some of his novels and that’s after he’s shaven off about ten percent. To accomplish this type feat, I expect Mr. King is able to stay focused. He probably doesn’t choose summer as his draft writing season while living by a lake, having family and friends visit, tending a garden and attending out of town weddings and fun-filled barbecue weekends.

Leaving the Lake - Guenette photo

Summer visitors have hauled their suitcases up the road. Our extended time of warm weather and bright blue skies seems to be coming to an end as Labour Day approaches. The calendar is blissfully blank. It’s time to pick up the threads of that first draft and get back to work.

My friends, I’m here to tell you, this task is easier said than done. Mr. King is right. Better not to take too many extended breaks while draft writing. I opened up my files yesterday afternoon and they resembled the contents of a knitting basket full of brightly coloured balls of wool after a dozen kittens had done their worst.

Brit - Guenette photo

 

 

So, like any writer worth her salt, I digress from the task at hand. I must write a blog, create a Facebook album of the granddaughters’ visit, update some of my social media sites, make some exciting announcements, clean up the cabin and . . . well, you get the idea.

 

 

I actually do have an exciting announcement. After three months of back and forth negotiation, I have managed to have both my books accepted for sale through a major BC and Alberta grocery chain – Save-On Foods. Trade paperback copies of Disappearing in Plain Sight and The Light Never Lies are now on the shelves of the Campbell River Save-On and will hopefully be showing up in more Island and lower mainland locations soon. Many, many thanks to Sylvia at the Campbell River store for working with me to make this happen.

Save-on foods logo

Lest I be misleading here, I still have to approach each store and ask if they might like to put a few copies on their shelves. I am the vendor of my books. But since I am already in the system, (all tagged and scannable) this task is more easily accomplished.

Emma - Guenette photo

Well, this blog is written, the Facebook album is up, my exciting news is out there and the cabin is clean, well . . . clean enough. Time to get to work on that basket of snarled yarn. As we say in the Twitter-sphere, #amhopeful that I will soon be #amwriting.

Family - Guenette photo

Brit’s Butterflies are Free

Brit & butterfly 2

Last week, my granddaughter Britney got to set ‘her’ butterfly free.

Brit attends a local Strong Start program two mornings a week. I hope you have something like Strong Start for your little ones wherever you live. In BC, Strong Start is funded through the province, open to all kids aged zero to five, taught by qualified early childhood educators and operates out of classrooms in local elementary schools. The overall learning experience is shared; parents and caregivers attend with their children and are encouraged to get involved in enjoying all the activities. The parent/caregiver/child component of the program has multiple benefits. Strong Start is a place for adults to meet one another in a supportive environment where valuable parenting lessons are learned right along with the playing.

Brit & butterfly 7

 

Brit red hand - GuenetteI went with Brit one day near Thanksgiving and helped her make a pumpkin pie craft – a small paper plate smeared with brown paint and sprinkled with cinnamon – easy but effective. We also did red-paint, hand prints that looked surprisingly like turkeys. Later at snack time Teacher Kathy had a deliciously real pumpkin pie for everyone to share. Sometimes we think snack is Brit’s favourite part of Strong Start. But what’s not to love – fruit, cheese, muffins, and other healthy offerings.

 

Turkey hand craft - Guenette

Tea-pot mother's day craft - GuenetteOn Mother’s Day, Brit presented her mom and both her grandmas with this wonderful little tea-pot gift. Who doesn’t love preschool craft gifts – seriously – it’s enough to bring tears to the eyes of the most

anti-clutter, what-the-heck-am-I supposed-to-do-with-this-thing type of person.

Back to the butterflies, she said, wiping away the  tears. There’s this place in the Lower Mainland of BC called Flutterbuy’s. They sell butterfly release kits to local schools. Check out their website. It’s worth it just for the flitting butterfly extravaganza. I suspect most schools in the area use their services. The kits are advertised as follows: The transformation of caterpillar to butterfly is one of the true wonders of nature. Watch the children’s enthusiasm as they experience the wonder of metamorphosis first hand. The caterpillars grow so rapidly that the children will see the difference from one day to the next, and may even witness the moment a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis. From caterpillar to butterfly takes about 3 weeks.

Brit & butterfly 6

And there you have it! The butterflies went free last week and, in terms of sheer wonder, I think these pictures prove it was everything the company promised.

Brit & butterfly 3

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

DSC_0341

Frozen movie coverMy granddaughters are crazy about the latest Disney movie, Frozen. On my recent visit, I got to watch the show, along with them, several times. Children do enjoy repetition. Frozen is, without a doubt, a Disney masterpiece with appealing characters, a heart wrenching storyline, breathtaking visuals, and award winning music. I defy you not to tear up when an act of self-sacrificing love saves the day – and not your typical Disney love moment when Prince Charming’s kiss awakens Sleeping Beauty. This is an act of love and sacrifice of one sister for another.

The story is loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Snow Queen.  If you are familiar at all with the original, you will take the word loosely to mean hardly recognizable. But therein lies the genius of Disney – take an idea and spin it widely in a commercial vein that will find traction far and wide. There is the question of marketing to consider – dolls, books, figurines, costumes, games, DVD’s, and CD’s. The wise consumer knows the movie is just one long commercial for the merchandise. And yet, there is entertainment value and lessons to be learnt.

ElsaIn the Disney version, Elsa (the oldest daughter of the King and Queen of Arendelle) has been born with a gift – she can create snow with the twirl of a hand, freeze the ground with the stamp of her foot.

Her younger sister, Anna, is delighted at Elsa’s ability and the two little Anna and Elsasisters run wild through the castle building snowmen and playing in wintery landscapes created by Elsa. Until one day when Anna is accidently struck in the head by a potent blast of Elsa’s freezing power and needs to be rushed to the wise troll king to be healed. He makes a foreshadowing statement – fortunately it was the young girl’s head. Heads are easily changed. If it had been her heart, that would be a different story. A frozen heart is most always fatal. The troll king erases all memory of Elsa’s magic from Anna’s mind. He warns Elsa that her gift will only grow stronger and, while it can possess great beauty, it also contains great danger.

As is often the case in Disney movies, parents are not especially helpful. Elsa’s parents choose to isolate the poor girl, keeping her from her sister and the world. She is taught to hide and control her secret – conceal it, don’t feel it. Elsa’s emotions turn to ice as she learns to suppress her power. Eventually, in another true Disney twist, the parents are suddenly knocked off. Elsa finds herself in charge of the kingdom. Coronation Day brings Hans and AnnaElsa and Anna back together with icy fireworks as Anna announces she will marry Prince Hans after knowing him only one day. Isolation has had a negative effect on Anna as well – too ready to fall in love with the first person who shows her any attention at all. Elsa refuses her blessing on the marriage and ends up revealing her freezing power as she tries to fend off Anna’s objections. Elsa escapes to the mountains to create an ice palace where she can finally be herself – let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered her anyway. She rules over a frozen wasteland. Unbeknownst to Elsa, her freezing spree spread beyond her mountain palace – she has frozen all of Arendelle, as well. Anna goes after her sister, confident that she can convince Elsa to reverse her actions. A wild adventure ensues where good guys become bad guys, a comedic/philosopher snowman named Olaf comes to life and both Anna and Elsa must confront the women they have grown to be.

Olaf

My enjoyment of the movie comes from watching how granddaughters, Emma and Brit react to the story. They have quickly learned the actions and lyrics for the most popular songs and with their Elsa and Anna dolls in hand, act out and sing their way through the movie. At five-and-half-years-old, Emma is able to unwind the more emotional aspects of the story. She tells me, “Grandma, this part makes me want to cry.” Yes indeed.

Two-and-a-half-year-old, Brit will run up to Emma with her Anna doll outstretched and ask, “Wanna build a snowman?” She sits on the floor and shakes her little head, singing, “Use to be best buddies, now we’re not. Wish you tell me why.” Emma holds up her Elsa doll and says, “Go away, Anna.” Brit slumps and turns, saying in a mournful voice, “Okay, bye.” If you haven’t seen the movie, pop over and watch the first minute of this You-Tube video. You’ll understand exactly what I’m describing.

Emma knows all Elsa’s words and actions for the wildly popular hit tune, Let it Go. As I watch her performance, I am struck by wonder at the facial expressions and body movements. Emma, a savvy, computer-literate, little girl, pulls up You-Tubes of each song from the movie as well as a host of videos of other kids performing the numbers – some of these are quite elaborate with soundtracks, voice overs and costumes. There is more than enough material available at the click of a mouse to fuel her desire to imitate.

Why should adults watch Disney movies with kids? We get to tease out what lies below the surface – under the ice, so to speak. In the final moments of the movie, it’s easy to miss the fact that Anna turned away from what she thinks will save her (true love’s first kiss from Sven) to save her sister from the sword of good guy turned bad, Hans. The act of love is Anna’s and that is what unfreezes her heart. It wasn’t anything anyone else could do for her. And through Anna’s actions, Elsa learns the secret of her icy gift. As the troll king said, fear was her enemy. Gifts of great power are controlled only through love, never fear.

frozen Anna

I am left thinking, what a mixed bag children’s entertainment is these days. There are valuable messages in Frozen that a wise adult can pull out and emphasize. Who wouldn’t want to play on the theme of the love of one sister for another when dealing with two sisters? And love healing all – wonderful stuff. I wasn’t above making a big deal over the fact that Anna didn’t need true love’s first kiss to get the job done.

So, are Disney movies turning a feminist page? I love this You-Tube Emma showed me of Elsa leading the other Disney Princesses in the song, I Don’t Need a Man. But, lest we toot a congratulatory horn too loud here, all the Disney Princesses are still an animated version of female beauty impossible to achieve, and though Elsa may have escaped the need for a guy, Anna is obviously headed for romance with Sven. But you do get the idea she will be calling the shots. After all, she is a Princess and he is the ice block supplier to the kingdom. Quite the disparity in social position.

If you have a young daughter or son, granddaughter or grandson, niece or nephew, sit down and watch Frozen with them. You won’t regret the time spent ferreting out the teachable moments and you’ll probably find yourself breathless, tears in your eyes, waiting for a miracle – just like the child beside you.

DSC_0348     Anna and Elsa

(All  animated pictures courtesy of Disney promotional material on Google images)