Monday, December 03, 2012

Mrs Claus is busy...

Mrs Claus is all in a flurry to fancy up her hall. There are fairy lights to scatter, and santa miniatures to tuck into drifts of snow-like cotton. There are candy cane pillows to fluff, and wispy garlands to hang. 

Ah, but by noon Hildegard Claus (do you mean you didn't know that Hildegard is her first name?) sounds the jingle bells and sets the lights aflare!

Welcome Elves... to Tea with buns and cream and jam and fresh red raspberries. (Which are quite difficult to find at the North Pole these days.) 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Lap Books Are Forever...

As November, and Picture Book Month winds down, I'd like it to go out with a word, or two...

Think with me. A twilight blanket covers up each and every day with twinkling stars. Supper is consumed, over rumpus glee. The rhythm of the day becomes a distant drum beat. A slippery little body is bathed and pajama-ed. Maybe a chase ensues in defiance of sleep. At last caught, the child is drawn onto a parent's lap. A big book yawns across them both. Bedtime story. Snap. Picture.

Memories are made on the lap. The truest words, if ever there were, are read aloud, soft and real.
Pictures, luscious-glorious pictures, breathe even more meaning into the story. A picture book might just be a child's first glimpse of Fine Art. Bluest blues, reddest reds, ripe yellow, and toasty browns. Mental notes are taken. Unconscious. Of course.

Words, luscious-glorious words bounce around inside the child, sometimes never to be forgotten. A picture book might just be a child's first round of poetry or prose. And that lap. Who could ever forget that lap. Time spent in direct contact. Slow words. As rich as slow food. It lulls a child (and parent) into a magical sleep. Unfettered by the doings of the day.

Wake and repeat.

This month and every month of eternity, please read a picture book to your young child. You may think, she or he is too old for a picture book. Or that there isn't enough... TiMe. But think with me, and think again.

Scoop 'em up and fling a big book across your lap. You'll never regret having that memory stuck in your head. I promise.

(Illustration print available on Etsy by Kim Parkhurst)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Calling all dads...

Adore your daughters... it makes their paths to empowerment a bit less winding.

Friday, November 16, 2012

3... 2...1... and BOOK LOVE has ignition!

I'm part of a book launch team for a mighty little book, BOOK LOVE; Help Your Child Grow From Reluctant To Enthusiastic Reader, by award winning educator, entrepreneur and parent, Melissa Taylor.   

BOOK LOVE debuts today on Amazon Kindle. I like to think of it as a parent's field guide to understanding the reluctant reader. It's smart and personable. It investigates all the various reasons why your child hasn't yet embraced reading. Book Love is loaded with insight, inspiration, games, book lists and support.

My son, Nick, did not "learn" how to read.  For him it simply unfolded, when he was good and ready. Ms Taylor believes that reading happens when your child is ready. Rushing not allowed! That's my very favorite part. But not all children unfold in this way.   

I do wish I had a copy of Book Love when my youngest child's interest in reading seemed to pause. Was it soccer? Or ice skating, skiing, gymnastics, social butterflying, running, skipping and jumping that was stealing her attention away from books? Or was it something else.  

It was something else.  

In fourth grade,  my buoyant little Annie was tested by the reading specialist at her school.  The results led her to three weekly sessions with the plucky, seasoned, and fun Mrs Spotts'.  

Mrs Spotts' reading room had a mini fridge with single serving bottles of sparkling juice, bins of gadgets, and books and games, and all possibilities. It's never easy to leave your regular classroom for the reading specialist. But Mrs Spotts' made the leaving easy. Two years later, after a lot of hard work, Annie no longer needed to see Mrs Spotts'. And believe me, she did not want to leave!  Who would?

Fast forward to HS, and two sports related concussions. It was "something else" again.This time, Annie went to a vision specialist who prescribed prism glasses, and began treating Annie for vision/ reading issues.

I don't know for certain if the concussions brought on new reading issues, or if her reading issues simply resurfaced when the reading got more complex. Or if it was a combination of all of the above. Annie is in college now. She never ceases to amaze me. She is an honor student, with straight A's. She plays competitive volleyball, and keeps a very bubbly social/sorority life.  

No one misguided me along the way. Annie received excellent, thoughtful care from her teachers. But had I had access to BOOK LOVE  back then, I'm certain I would have had a different perspective on Annie's issues. I would have been more proactive.  Felt more protected and more empowered. 

And for that, (and more) BOOK LOVE is a treasure.  

Visit BOOK LOVE bonuses page here through November 18th for more information about this lovely guide book.  Read my Amazon review  here. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Back-to-School I go

Writers Workshop!

Next week I'm working with fifteen young, eager 6th grade writers from Mrs Spotts' reading class at The Denver Waldorf School.  

With our notebooks, we'll sneak outside and play around with the sounds of autumn in the city. And we'll do our best to find new and inventive ways to describe those findings.   I'm not worried. The English language has the largest vocabulary of all the languages. We'll be okay.

Children hear the hidden stories in just about everything. Can't wait to listen to their discoveries...

I'll post some of their musings later in the week!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

For girls of all and everything.

Dream in full SPECTRUM;  ask the BiG questions;  PONDER;  
wake in time to watch a PINK sunrise;  reconsider;  give your full 
attention;  shine from the inside;   if the crown fits...then by all means;
create a cause;  CHORTLE;  show ‘em who’s boss;  redefine pretty; allow to simmer, then stir;  seize the day and take NO prisoners........

Friday, September 21, 2012


I'm a cheerleader for CHILD'S PLAY...with a particular fondness for cardboard boxes.  Small ones, big ones, and the oh-so-perfect medium-sized ones.


To me, cardboard boxes are more than just corrugated cubes, and the carriers of something new, or basement storage... they are the gateway, the threshold, the precipice (!) to child discovery and imagination. (Warned you about the cheerleader part.)  

All of my children's books advocate good-old-fashion PLAY.  Sans technology. Simple-simple-simple.  Princesses and Super Heroes play inside/outside to their hearts glee.  In Do Super Heroes Have Teddy Bears? , brother and sister design/build a super sonic rocket ship from a few unsuspecting containers.  Play. Even when things get dramatic.  Play. It is the precursor to creativity.
(See Washington Post article on the importance of play.)

Give a kid some tape, boxes, crayons and scissors (the kid-safe variety) and let 'em roll.  Before lunchtime you will have, in your living room,  a submarine WITH sonar, or a dinosaur museum for T-Rex and Stegasaurus,  or a really awesome time machine, or grocery store.  Add some pulleys and string, and you'll have an elevator.  It's practically guaranteed.  3D at it's finest.  

Cardboard boxes ease the hard edges in a person, and make them more rounded. Bring on the blankies, and those boxes become a quiet haven, with sky lights, for gazing at books.

Granted, the little ones may need help getting things started, but once they glimpse a newly constructed pirate ship... they'll become cheerleaders for cardboard too.  "Arrgghh-Argh-Argh," I mean, "Rah-Rah-Rah."  There's simply no limit to the play potential.

Handspun cities are untidy and cumbersome, but trust me, your dining room will one day, soon, be a dining room again.  And you will, one day, miss the busy cardboard metropolis... and ESPECIALLY you'll miss it's co-creators.

(Nick was the king of cardboard at our house on E Warren Place. Here, at age six, he had just completed the finishing touches on his Sea Hunter.  Yep, 'caught many a shark and eel with that contraption.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ah, music! A magic far beyond all we do here! --jk rowling

Music forges the finer, more delicate compounds of learning, as aptly expressed in a recent guest commentary in The Denver Post, The Importance of Music in Schools.

This, many of us know to be true.  We know it personally.  We know it collectively.  And we know it to be true instinctively.  

It is this writer's hope that it's only a matter of time before public school administrators will lavish curriculums, once again, (or once and for all)  with music, art, dance and literature.   

I learned the flutophone when I was in 4th grade at Walt Whitman Elementary School.  Mrs Woods, the music teacher, taught us The Marine's Hymn using her trusty autoharp to keep us meticulously in time.  It was part of the curriculum. We practiced every day, the flutophone.  

Hardly the violin, or cello, but darn it, the flutophone was a musical instrument.  I performed my Marine's Hymn with the serious mind of a flutist.  Putting extra oomph into the notes, even adding a little vibrato.  Certainly, that flutophone facilitated my evolution to the penny whistle 20 years later, when my friend, Cindy Angel (now Schumacher,) suggested I give it a try.  Thanks, Cindy. 

Elderly Mrs Woods dressed gorgeously in raven black from head to toe.  Her hair was black, her glasses were black, her autoharp was... black.  I never learned the story behind all the black, but I believed there was one.  Was she in mourning? Maybe Mrs Woods was the forbearer of early Goth, wearing black pumps, black hosiery, and A-lines. Maybe. 

My own children were raised listening to classical music both at home and at school.  At the Denver Waldorf School, they learned the recorder in first grade, and then cello beginning in third grade, as part of the curriculum.  Even now, in college, they adapt to foreign languages, math concepts, technological complexities and social nuances with ease. 

There's something magical that takes place in learning... when children are allowed to "experience music."  Something happens to the brain.  Is it quantitative? I don't know. 
I hope so.  But it's not just the notes, themselves.  It's the yin and yang.  The knowing when to breath, when to strike, when to rest.  It's everything, the whole enchilada.  Mozart understood this,  "The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between."  Ah!  

Now that's what I'm talking about.   And I think... Mrs Woods would have agreed.  


Monday, September 03, 2012

Raising the Bar. Super Hero Energy Bars!

September three,  while on the brink of cooler mornings and all things yellow, orange, brown and red, I came up with this (mostly brown)  adaptation of my cousin Toni's chocolate energy bar recipe.  It's specifically designed for all you super heroes out there that may find yourselves in need of a little september-get-up-and-go.

I was particularly motivated to do this after talking by phone with my daughter, Annie, who, by noonish still hadn't eaten anything for the day, "because I don't have any foooood," she groaned, with a weak voice.  Not that I'm  suggesting she (or anyone) eat these energy bars first thing, but at least they could sit in her college fridge looking all sporty and super heroey for when she has finally eaten a solid meal.  And needs to scale a tall building, or something.

Tweak the bars... the possibilities are (almost) endless.

Beware:  this stuff moves like almond fudge in the mouth.

VRROOM Energy Bars

1 1/2 cup raw whole almonds
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup light maple syrup
1/2 cup coconut oil (room temp.)
sea salt

Grind the almonds well in a food processor.  Add cocoa powder and pulse a few times.
Add maple syrup and coconut oil and a few pinches of sea salt.  Pulse it around.
Should be thick and gooey, but not too gooey.  Spread in a brownie pan. Refrigerate.
Cut into pieces when cold.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Book In Hand? (Another Indie Book Store Closes...)

Yet another independent bookstore is closing.  I received the astonishing news today.  The Bookery Nook in North Denver closes August 31.

In a Facebook announcement, the book shop owners sited the increasing demands for e-books as the natural cause of death.  And yet they did everything right.  They diversified.  They connected with the community.  They advertised. They had stellar author books signings.  They sold all the best books in a comfy environment,  plus e-books, added Etsy goods, and even ice cream when business stalled.

I admire, and admonish technology, all in the very same breath.  Love my cell phone, schmancy computer,  my wheels, my flatscreen TV.  Yet, still I wonder, where will we go for the simple charms when technology, one by one, removes the tactile things?  The ascetic things.  The things we can hear, touch, smell...  The tick-tick-tick of a projector as a film chugs through.  The flipping pages of a book, causing a soft lilt of air to breeze across the face; " where was I... ah yes, page 73."

Where will we go?

Musty, crusty, crisply new.  I love holding books, touching books, smelling books,...reading books.

Here's to renaissance... Here's to long life.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Fairy House Tour!

Ever been on a fairy house tour?   With "way-way up there" tiny tree houses-- in which the fairies MUST use ladders?

With hobbit holes as tall as a bump on the ground?

With hingeless wooden doors?

Ever been?

Well... on August 4th the proprietors of Pixie Hill gave visitors, one and all, a fleeting glimpse of elvish abodes and fairy double-plexes during their (hopefully) annual Open House in Ontario.  

From photos on their blog, I even spotted teeny tablecloths hanging from a teeny clothesline!  And miniature lanterns... and a treasure cave.  Oh yes.

The fairy folk, the bashful lot that they are, assured the owner/artist  Nichola "Knickertwist" Battilana, also known as "the maker," that they wouldn't mind a tour at all.  

But of course, the fairies themselves insisted on keeping a low profile.  

Hmmm... however, I did notice the wee little sign below... 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Good Morning!! sterling coats; some sporting furs of platinum and other famous metals, luxuriate in an otherwise forgotten dawn. 
Cottonwoods out my window shape-shift from shadow black, to a lovely melancholy grey, to ruby pink, hinting there’s been some action on the horizon. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bitterdark... after dark....

At last, it's  here;  my latest crush!  A recipe for Bitterdark Chocolate ice cream.

I use a Cuisinart Ice Cream Processor.  We love our processor!  It's a little too convenient, if you know what I mean.

This photo was taken at night on the 4th of July, lit by a long strand of ambient terrazzo lights.

Most chocolate affectionados would take one look at this picture and say, "With all due respect, your ice cream doesn't look very chocolatey... "

To which I respond, "I do hope you won't be wearing socks when you take a spoonful, because that's the last you'll ever see them... "
(In the photo at right, you will see French Roast Coffee Ice Cream on the left with Bitterdark on the right.)                               

Bitterdark Chocolate Ice Cream

1/3 well-rounded cup cocoa powder*
Another 1/3 well-rounded cup cocoa powder*
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup raw sugar
rounded 1/8 teaspoon soma salt (from India) of course you can substitute!

1 cup whole milk

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla

Measure the two 1/3 cups of cocoa powders* into a mixing bowl.  Stir in the brown and raw sugars, mixing well to remove most lumps.  Whisk in the cup of milk until the mixture is smooth.
Add the cream, salt and vanilla.  Whisk-whisk-whisk.
Now, taste!  (Isn't that the best part of being the cook?)

* I know you could take a short cut and  measure 2/3 cup of cocoa powder, but you won't get the right
amount of chocolate depth and dazzle. Do keep that in mind. :) 

IMPORTANT: This ice cream batter needs to take a siesta before freezing. Patient, be the queen! Let her sleep...  you can nap too.
Put in the fridge for at least 2 hours.   Then whisk again right before processing.  Process according to the freezers directions.

Consume decidedly soft.  If heaven had a flavor...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Messy Kitchen

My kitchen is always messy.  Always in use.  Always in flux.  I try not to mind.  Actually, I don't mind.

And just so you know, princesses make messes, super heroes make messes.  There, that's settled.

Understand, today we moved from a late breakfast to a mid-1 pm  lunch.  (Note: we will soon move into prep for  a 7 pm dinner.  We love food.)   But for the mid-afternoon moment, Annie and I were in the throes of cooking... with 100 degrees outside.   We weren't even certain what we were going to make.  The best kind of moments, minus the 100 degrees outside part.)

I put to boil some various shaped pasta noodles (we used what we call "hugamuga" i.e.:  "the bottom of the box.")   That was when the fun (and yes, another mess) ensued.

Andee's Mix:

1 cup cooked pasta, we used hugamuga :) (see above)
1 teaspoon butter  (or more)
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt to taste (we used soma salt from India)
pepper a couple good twists of medium grind
1/4 cup grated parmesan (used two different varieties- another hugamuga:)
fresh chives

Boil pasta to al dente.  Drain.  Place back in pot. Add butter and olive oil to pasta.
Then throw it all in and stir!  It's fabulous!!!!  (You could add some thin peels of sauteed zucchini or other?)

Always a mess.  See?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cirque du 19!

Our version of a circus includes a small Big Top (tiny, in fact,) watermelon pink colors,  house squeezed strawberry lemonade, strawberry shortcake, a hula hoop and a baby elephant (see below;)

Yesterday, was my BELOVED Annie's, 19th birthday.  Home from college for the day with her big brother, we took every advantage of the 6 hours with them.  My husband and I, once again, found ourselves asking them the perennial question, "Ummm, how is that possible? Weren't you guys, like, three?  Last week?"  Maybe that's why we got into the whole circus tent theme.  It started out as a "ha-hah... wouldn't it be cool to make a circus tent for Annie's birthday table...ha-hah."  Until, my husband realized I was kind of serious. (He IS an engineer, afterall.)   So that very day "we" humorously concocted a tent from dowel sticks,  tiny nails, jute, a slab of plywood and an old muslin sheet, oh, and some red paint. (Yeah ok, we have too much time on our hands.)
But...truth is,  mini circus tent construction was a hoot.  First "we" built the frame: slab, dowels, nails, jute.  Then the hoot stalled for a bit when "we" came to the Big Top, and a lesson in Conics ensued.  My frustrations with math hopped to the foreground, long stuffed down into a dark canyon inside my middle school brain somewhere.  After a while though, the hoot came back as we hoisted a canvas top over the frame.  Hurrah. 
Then yesterday, we stuffed our snappy tabletop tent with small gifts for Annie, and stuffed the kids with a good home-cooked birthday meal.  So why did we choose a circus theme?  Ah,  that be Annie.  She has long dreamed of joining Cirque du Soliel.  Running away to the circus.  Maybe someday.  But for now she has her own miniature Big Top. And a baby elephant.   

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How-to-make-cake-flour... a snap!

I had not idea how snappy simple it is to make cake flour... until I was making Annie's 19th birthday cake. This year the tabletop theme is a cirque du 19,  because apparently cirque du soleil performer is one of Annie's fantasy careers.  Her request this year was a strawberry short cake.  The angel food cake recipe called for cake flour, of which I had none. So I did a simple google search and presto-chango:

For every cup of flour, remove 2 Tablespoons of flour and replace with 2 Tablespoons of corn starch. Then sift it all together.  I was able to modify to 100% organic by using organic flour and organic corn starch. Thank you That simple!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sprinkling the seeds....

Everywhere that Princess Daffodil walks, flowers bloom behind her.  So it goes in  The Magic Hill  by A. A. Milne, (gorgeously illustrated by Isabel Bodor Brown.)

Perhaps like Princess Daffodil, flowers bloom behind us all... only they're not the sort of flowers that are visible to the eye.

This spring, carry wildflower seeds in your pockets to sprinkle here and there while walking the urban trails.  You'll make the world a bit more colorful.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Are super heroes and heroes the same?

Are "super heroes" and "heroes" really that different from one another?

Aside from the cape, or the tights, masks and emblems, I think they might, just might, be very close relatives. And perhaps children, quite effortlessly, know this.

In my latest picture book Do Super Heroes Have Teddy Bears? (May 2012,) a little boy and his sister don capes to play outdoors in the mud. They save-the-day, escape the perils of a raining afternoon, conquer their vegetables, all the while striking their own unique pose. Yet might these small playful acts of "pretending" to be a super hero, be the precursor for real heroism one day? Perhaps, their makeshift capes allow them to try heroism on, for size. So that one day they might recognize a need when it faces them on the fly.

And so...  the lines between the two, blur.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sunny and mild...

We LaVigna-Coyle girls know our limitations in the weather department. Brrr is a four-letter word in our vocab. (Sometimes even six, seven or eight!) Neither one of us is fond of getting a chill. Simply put, life isn't as much fun when we are cold. Hence, we always carry provisions. And this explains why our luggage is always bulging. Sweaters, scarves, hats, coats WITH hoods, and warm wooly socks. You get the idea. We are wimps.

Do Princesses Surf? (You better believe it! But in a wet suit.)

It might very well be sunny and 65 on the beach in Santa Barbara CA (February 2012.) But that doesn't stop Annie and I from wearing puffy down, putting up the hood, and stuffing our feet into boots. The only real explanation is: humidity. Throw a few extra percents in there, mix it up with a cold sea, and fairly brisk breeze... and you have the ingredients for:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Truth On Snow...

The Truth On Snow...
White.  Bright.  Frozen.  Powdery.  Dry.  Light.  Wet.  Slick.  Heavy.  
Slushy.  Clumpy.  Brazen.  Trudged through.  Played on.  Slid down.
A combination of many.  Macro/micro.  Without borders.  
Without boundaries.  
Is.  Was.  Will be. 

Thus... a little back story.  Some time ago, while on a walk through a nearby wildlife preserve, I saw a stick in the shape of a "T."  I had to circle back for it because at the time, I didn't know I was looking for a stick in the shape of a "T" until I passed it.   Playfully,  I set out to find more sticks shaped in the letters of the word "truth."  But "truth" took a while to find.  The rules: it had to be found on the ground, no breaking or trimming allowed and no constant searching. 
So now starts my little series:  The Truth On...   

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Super sonic traveling author

On March 7, I'll be visiting classrooms in Ontario, Texas, Ohio and Oklahoma!
All in the same morning! You ask, how is that possible? Is she teleporting? Is she space porting? Did she get a new pair of running shoes?
Nope... just Skype and World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) AND a triple espresso. Actually could I make that a 16 ounce drinking chocolate, please? With whip. And chocolate shavings. Who am I kidding. I'll be hyped enough. Make mine a camomile tea.

I'll be comfy in my little studio next to a wall of glass. It's going to be fun! I might even wear slippers. Many nice schools contacted me to participate in this fabulous event made possible by author Kate Messner and Lit World .

It's designed for outreach, hopefully inspiring children all over the world to read. Isn't that cool? I'll read a couple books, maybe even share a few silly true stories. For sure I'll have to show all the kids my dog Lulu.  And my desk and studio... oh gosh, I better clean.