Author Community Gathers at the Village

On May 3, I joined 14 authors in Los Gatos at Village House of Books to talk about writing and sign books. It was lovely to be surrounded by a community of authors and people who enjoy books and book stores. At left, I’m signing MOM ME for mom to Alina Sayre, author of The Illuminator’s Gift. At left, I’m signing for A.R. Silverberry, author of Wyndano’s Cloak. At bottom, book store visitor Susan Miller, Rayme Waters, author of The Angels’ Share, and I discuss writing and teaching.

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Lemonade Stand

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When I see a kid selling lemonade on the corner, I stop and buy a cup. If they’re like me, when I was 10, it will make their day. When I witness the happiness evident by the swing in their arm pouring my kids and me a glassful, while happily accepting my $1.50 cents, it makes my day too. Let’s adjust the slogan, “Drive like your kids live here,” to “Support your small local business like your kids are selling.”

Maybe you remember your small business ventures as a child? I do. Laughing now, I am shopping at Gristedes Market in New York City. My sisters and I would buy apples along with lemons and quarter them. We set up our market next door to the Guggenheim Museum. If location, location, location rings true, we had it, because the museum was around the corner from our apartment on 4 East 89th Street.

But apples? What were we thinking? How did we keep the sections from turning brown while waiting for customers, which In my mind’s eye, created while standing in line at Gristedes, imagined hoards of crowds lining up for our lemonade and fruit stand.

Alas, I think we may have had one or two customers, likely a mom or office worker buying a cupful because they felt sorry for us. Usually those afternoons turned into roller skating and scraping together some odd cents for the least expensive Good Humor bar. How come he captured all the business? He had a name brand.

In Lawn Boy, by Gary Paulsen, a twelve-year old boy, lands a lawn care business while practically falling off a log. When a neighbor joins his enterprise and encourages him and explains how to expand, he quickly becomes successful. In real life, starting a business usually is not that easy, but supporting and encouraging our kids now may pave the way for a lucrative future. If nothing else, believing in them will give them the confidence to try.

So as you drive around town this spring and summer, support your local lemonade (or plum) stand and consider this:  What other small kid (and adult) businesses can you support? Maybe shopping local at a kid’s small venture will lead to their starting a business as an adult. Have any thoughts or memories about your small businesses? Share a story or two!

MOM ME Fills The House

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MOM ME found a village at Village House of Books on April 24, when I returned to the Los Gatos bookstore for a debut reading of Thought Full, on jenncastro.com. Thought Full is a series of blogs about parenting, homeschooling, chickens, underground pests, stop signs, and other daily encounters.

Shared posts about mom courage, cooking quandaries, and time management. Also read MOM ME and answered questions about writing and reaching personal goals. Enjoyed talking with friends, kids, and friends of friends, from many of my walks of life. Thank you for coming!

My next author event is 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday, May 3, also at Village House of Books, 326 Village Lane, Los Gatos where more than 13 fellow authors will be visiting for conversation, Q&A, and book signing. Come say hi!

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What Does Mommy Do For You?

IMG_0426Batman, baseball players, princesses, and bedtime stuffies were among the 33 kids and adults who last night, laughed and giggled at silly stories, listened and learned about how to make short paper books, and munched on cookies and drank milk at the Wooden Horse Toy Store  monthly pajama party (796 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos).

Homeschool mom Jenn Castro read MOM ME, her children’s picture book and Alum Rock School Teacher Carolyn Bowman read Mommies Are For Catching Fireflies, Harriet Ziefert.

Asked to share what their mommies do for them, one girl grinned and said, “My mommy does everything for me”

That made moms smile.

“My mommy goes to work to make money so she can buy things for me,” said another. That made adults laugh.

“My mommy plays hide and go seek with me,” offered a little boy. That made moms smile knowingly.

“My mommy brings my lunch to my school every day,” shared another child who has an allergy and eats a special diet. That made moms smile too.

Before the evening ended, 33 kids and parents also learned about Screen-Free Week – May 5 – 11 , and a make your own book kit.

Now it’s time for this mom to find a pillow and get some rest.

 

Tennis Balls and Connect Sticks

IMG_0260All old objects are useful at Rock-it Science even tattered tennis balls that are cut open and mashed onto the bottom of chairs so they can slide easily across the floor. Who needs furniture pads?

Rock-it Science is staple science for kids in Silicon Valley, and for our family too. Kids meet weekly, hear a silly story and then investigate a fun and,  in my son’s words, dangerous experiment.

No minutes are wasted at Rock-it Science either. Arrive early and you’ll hear the seemingly unplanned part of class.

John McChesney, Mr. Mac, founder and teacher at Rock-it Science, who at the end of class tells kids to “wander wherever you wander” begs this writer to wonder if Mr. Mac wanders around his own classroom until he lands on a seemingly spontaneous story.

Consider connect sticks.

The story goes that college kids were trying to figure out how to make a circle with straight lines. Turns out that’s how connect sticks were invented. Connect Sticks are those plastic rods that when linked together form spheres that can be contracted and expanded into spiky and hollow balls.

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Mr. Mac’s invention story made me wonder (not wander) about what other lessons young kids learn when they hear about college students who invent circles from straight sticks and from a teacher who re-invents many things including furniture pads manufactured out of old tennis balls.

  • That everyone can invent.
  • That every idea begins with a vision, even if it’s not yet defined.
  • That straight lines can be shaped into circles.
  • What else?

What do Rock-it Science and other open-ended science class graduates invent? Are they sitting at university tables pondering shapes and straight lines and then churning them into something no one thought was possible? Rock-it Science and Mr. Mac’s stories are a precursor to youthful inventing.

Click below to read about Zome, a word invented in 1968 by Steve Durkee. Learn about a toy inventor whose ideas began while studying math in Switzerland. In graduate school there, he explored the possibilities of building structures using polyhedron shapes rather than rectangles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zome

Got an invention to pass along? Share your link at jenncastro.com

 

 

DIY Down Under

IMG_7692Decided to go down under yesterday to see for myself what a termite inspector said he didn’t need to investigate cause he’d already found enough evidence. Turns out I couldn’t see what he meant, cause I didn’t find anything either, termites that is.

But I did find capability, courage and many compliments from my husband and children who were very impressed at my determination and willingness to crawl on my belly army style in a 24-inch space with a flashlight on my head and covered top to toe in homemade crawlspace protector garb which starting with my head, included a layer of old t-shirt covered by a yellow raincoat pulled tight all around my face, and fastened firmly around the wrists, ski pants over pants with socks pulled over pants like you would to avoid a bicycle chain getting caught on the leg cuff, old hiking boots, and rubber gloves.

Surprised by the height of the space, I lay on the floor for several minutes half-torso stretched looking this way and that pointing my flashlight in the directions I knew I’d be navigating. Like a decision long ago to homebirth (another story) and then home school and urban homestead (http://jenncastro.com/2013/11/08/homestead-school/) , I’m now on my fourth home — DIY home termite inspection. Before I could think further, I found myself lowering myself into the pit of our dusty underground.

A family effort, Doug directed from the inside, and the kids, who had been sweeping the yard, met me at all the sunny chicken-wired shut grates along the outside of the house, describing the places so their directionally challenged mom could figure out where she was .

And there I was, under the house and looking for termites. Finally got a look at the copper pipes that were installed 15 years ago when we moved in. Dang workers left the old pipes under the house.

Turns out I saw no tubers and only the pellets the termite guy found from the outside. Does this mean we don’t need to eventually gas the inside and shoot gallons of pesticides outside and around our precious 6,000 square footage yard? I can’t say, but since comparing notes with our neighbors, who are tenting because termites are crawling out of the floors and walls, I’m pretty sure I ruled out the recommended complete house plastic wrap application.

Seems becoming my own termite inspector is part of an evolutionary DIY path that started with birthing my kids at home (tried), educating my kids’, (succeeding) and growing our own food and chickens (bit by bit). My first impulse used to be, “I don’t know how,” and “I need experts,” but when I try, I find, it’s not mysterious. What about you; pushed yourself to the brink of intrepid Do it Yourself indignant independence lately? If so, please send pictures and stories.

Gun Maw At the Okay I’ll Play Corral

IMG_7607I rose a few notches last night when while in the all-boy barroom, I hit the opposing team with 12 bullets. We was playing High Noon Saloon.

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/46362/high-noon-saloon.

Most of the time I’m invited to a family game, every ounce of me wants to decline. It’s not that I don’t like games, it’s because my game choices are usually outlawed.

My idea of a game involves square wooden tiles with letters on them rather than zillions of multi-colored square dwarf decorated cardboard pieces that respond when many-sided dice tell them where to move.

And when I play a card game, I pick a deck that has kings, queens, jacks, and aces rather than a Phrexian Hydra or Phrexian Dreadnought Oracle Revert card that yields plus one minus minus six points that add up to 17 hit points subtracted from 15 that you tap and turn when it’s your turn to fight.

But, borrowing a page from Playful Parenting (http://www.amazon.com/Playful-Parenting-Lawrence-J-Cohen/dp/0345442865) has taught me that if I can muster energy (and enthusiasm) to say yes when my kids ask me to play their game, the payback is enormous.

Letting them choose, lets me enter their world of strategy, combat, and, tactics. I get to know who they are. Plus they get to be the teacher. It’s good role reversal. And when I assemble a play that blasts the other team with 12 hit grit points I get to see that look of surprise in my kid’s eyes. Maybe they didn’t know their gun-slinging mom had it in her.

Some might compare this moment to filling a bank account, but I liken it to filling a well. As teenagerdom and other life passages approach and perhaps threaten to dry up communication, my hope is we all can reach down and pull up a memory or moment when we found common ground, and continue communication from there.

What’s your favorite game, and what do you say when someone asks you to play there’s?

Home Shopping Notwork

IMG_7575Recycled gifts – When I was a child, my family gave “recycled gifts”. Recycled gifts are different from the current re-gifting practice of, just before leaving for a holiday party, rewrapping and relabeling a fruitcake, or just received bottle of wine or box of chocolate.

In my family, recycled gift-giving involved two things; searching for things we no longer wanted or needed and matching those to what another member might like or need. The most generous I received, was my parents’ stereo. It had four parts — the speaker cabinets and receiver were contained in real teak and the turntable, yes turntable, had a glass top. I was about 20, and it was the first stereo I’d owned. And so, speaking of turntables, here’s how I rediscovered places and things.

Leaning inside an also teak wooden box in my living room are some 100 records. Rubber Soul, Harvest, Blood on the Tracks, (confession) Laura Brainpan’s Gloria, and measures and melodies from jazz of long ago, Ralph Towner, Herbie Hancock, Jean-Luc Ponty name some. This music is cheap low carbon transportation to a favorite place to visit with family and friends – my living room.

Listening to records requires intention. A spinning disk lasts a scant 20 minutes per side, so, it’s more convenient if you sit — in the living room. For me, living rooms are like backyards, I like the idea of going there, but can’t always find the path.

And so, instead of shopping for new things this holiday season, I rediscovered some old ones, and old places too. Anything new you want to rediscover this year?

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Wondering in the Pancake Aisle (with more parentheses)

IMG_7528Sometimes I wonder, in this supposed season of wonder, if my family would notice if I served them pancakes for dinner every night during the next three weeks. Something tells me my kids would be thrilled, especially if I used white flour.

The reason I wonder is, for nearly six months, meal ideas are unbelievably bereft. The refrigerator is empty too. If you took a peak (now you can) about all you’d find is a jar of pickles, a dozen egg box with only one left, half a bottle of milk, a dehydrated bunch of parsley, one-quarter bowl of left over cranberry sauce, various jars of several-year-old containers of jams, jellies, and mustards, an almost empty tube of wasabi, and an empty butter dish.

In the bread drawer are several empty bags (reminds me of the butter dish) with only the heal remaining.

But the bean drawer is, well, full of beans, and millet, and barley, and a bunch of other grains that, while on a vegan jag in June, and in a bit of inspiration while standing in the bulk food isle, I bought and, for a time soaked and cooked regularly, and now I am sick of beans.

Up until this summer, right around the time of the vegan vacation, for years, I cooked chickens (the indoor kind) two or so times a week and had a regular supply of broth and makings for stews and sauces. We’d eat something different every night. I’d pour over cookbooks (sometimes literally) looking for interesting recipes, and then cook them, enjoying nearly every minute of the creativity.

Of late, (and probably only me cause I don’t think my family notices) I am amazed when I can still put something on the table, cause inside I’m wondering if it will actually happen.

Food is an issue for many people these days. Most of my mom friends share they too live in a desert for ideas. And speaking of that, is it our job to create meal after meal that’s interesting? No! So onward to pancakes, and no I’m not going to puree and then add spinach and kale so the kids will get “their” vegetables. Because then I won’t get the meal prep reprieve I’m craving.

Here are three questions:  Any place in your life where there are no more ideas? Oh and what’s for dinner? Could we join you?

Mom Author Interviewed by Five Teenage Boys

IMG_0378“Who’s your favorite author?”

“What do you do when you get stuck writing?”

“What do you think of my story idea? Is it good?”

On Monday I got to answer these and many more questions at a creative writing class of five teenagers.  The boys have been writing all fall with Academic Antics creative writing teacher Susan Miller. Academic Antics offers a variety of classes to homeschool students in the Silicon Valley.

At their final class Susan invited me share my experiences publishing a book. The kids heard about how MOM*ME got written and published. They learned where I get story ideas, how I stay focused beyond initial inspiration, how to keep a writer’s notebooks, the importance of daily writing and critique, and benefits of professional writer’s organizations and critique. They also examined my first draft, story board, and dummy book, among many examples of the writing and publishing experience. It was fun to talk to kids about writing,  hear about their stories in progress, and hopefully have a part in encouraging them to write more. Looking forward to future presentations including joining Academic Antic’s Literacy Fair this spring!