Jen Goldfinger: Will Write for Cookies

WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES

DSCN7064

INSIGHT, INFORMATION AND INSPIRATION

FOR WRITERS

TODAY’S GUEST

head shot

JEN GOLDFINGER

Earlier this year, I went to lunch with one of my local critique buddies. We drove to a lovely restuarant in Massachusetts and met with two other author/illustrators. I really connected with Jen and, when I found out she wrote and illustrated picture books, I knew I’d want to have her on Will Write for Cookies.

Jen is a sweetheart and this past May, when I held the 2nd Annual #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge, she offered to donate a copy of her newest picture book, HELLO, MY NAME IS TIGER.

Jen lives in a town a quick drive away from Boston and Cambridge, with her husband and two daughters. She has a studio in an old Mill that’s on a bike path. It takes her 5 minutes to bike there, but it’s downhill from her house, so it takes twice as long to get home. She usually drives to the studio so she can bring her dog Lila. Sometimes they take breaks to go rollerblading.

I’m so glad Jen took a break to visit with us.
ME: Welcome, Jen! It’s so good to have you here. I know everyone is anxious to hear about you.
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

JEN: I lived on a farm as a young girl and it was a big outing to go to the library to get books. We’d come home with stacks and stacks to hold us over until the next long drive to the library. I have such a strong memory of reading THE PLANT SITTER and HARRY THE DIRTY DOG by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham. In the PLANT SITTER, I was so taken by the visuals of plants taking over a whole house that the walls fell down revealing a house shaped plant. I also loved HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, THE FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, WINNIE THE POOH and CHARLOTTE’S WEB.

ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

JEN: I know how to break down a story now to see if it has the elements that makes it have tension and resolve, how flaws in the protagonist and their failed attempts can make the story progress. Before I would write and cross my fingers that it worked.

I’m also getting better at showing not telling in my longer books. The use of words can make a sentence much more dynamic if you don’t describe too much. I don’t have as much trouble with this in picture books since I’m an illustrator. I tend to picture what I’m going to illustrate at the same time I’m writing it, so the illustrations pull a lot of weight.

ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

JEN: When I’m stuck on an issue an a book, I “write” when I first wake up in the morning and my eyes are still shut, I also “write” when I’m scrubbing my hair in the shower and even when I’m walking my dog. This is when ideas pop into my head, or problems are worked out.

workspace for art

The physical part of writing, I do in a couple of places. Inside, I write on a laptop, on a big brown fuzzy couch in my living room next to a giant window looking out a the treetops. Because I’m also an illustrator and fine artist, I also have a studio in an old mill where I do my artwork and sometimes write, although I do many first sketches on that couch too.

meditation chair

I also have what I call a “meditation chair” hanging on my porch. I go out there to think, solve problems and pound on my keyboard.

with tea

ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

JEN: It varies… I write when I have any free moment.  As I said earlier, I’m also an illustrator and a fine artist, so I toggle between writing, illustrating and painting.  I can work from 2 to 16 hours a day depending on other commitments and deadlines. If I have the time I can work for hours on end, I’m so immersed, it still feels like only a few hours. As a fine artist I sell my paintings in a gallery in Provincetown, MA called the Rice Polak Gallery.

DROPPING DAISIESDropping Daisies, 36″x 48″ Wax, oil stick, pastel

ME: Why do you write for children?

JEN: I’ve noticed when casually talking to other author friends that we tend to write for an age that we had strong memories and emotions. I lived on the farm from ages 6-12. I remember so many stories, feelings and hardships from those ages. I think my super power is seeing the world like a 6 year old.

bored 2Bored, gouache, colored pencil, watercolor.

bear bird 3BEAR BIRD, antique and colored paper, colored pencil, gouche

ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear. 🙂

 

JEN: Many people want to be children’s book authors and/or illustrators. One of the most important things to do is keep pushing yourself by writing and rewriting, go to conferences, show your work around, write it again, get knocked down, cry a little and take a deep breath and do it all over again. The people I know who are successful in this field did what I mentioned above, again, again and again.

ME: Thank you so much, Jen! This has been fabulous. I love hearing about how others have taken journey…and it’s especially helpful to hear it from the double perspective of an author/illustrator.

Dear friends, if you’d like to find out more about Jen, her artwork, and her wonderful books:

Children’s book website

Fine art

And I know you are waiting anxiously (just like the little boy in HELLO, MY NAME IS TIGER) for the sweet treat at the end of the post. So please take it away, Jen!

JEN: My favorite cookie is a fresh baked variation on the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie. It’s one of the only things I bake and I’ve memorized the recipe when I was a child. I tend to put in less flour, and bake a little less than the recipe because I like gooey cookies. Recently I’ve changed up the recipe even more because my daughter is vegan.

I’ve discovered that replacing the butter with coconut oil, I like the cookies even better than before. It has a slight coconut taste and it lasts longer than the butter version. I don’t think substituting the egg makes a difference in the quality of the cookie, so choose your preference.

In the picture below I also substituted 2 cups of almond flour for one of the cups of flour (because I ran out of flour and I was curious how it would come out, delicious and extra nutty, btw).

cookies

INGREDIENTS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1 cup coconut oil

¾ cup of brown sugar

¾ cup of white sugar

2 eggs or egg substitute for vegan cookies

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups flour

1 cup vegan chocolate chips (trader joes’ chocolate chips happen to be vegan)

1 cup broken walnuts

INSTRUCTIONS:

I only like to use one bowl, so I mix the wet ingredients first then add the dry ingredients and mix well. Put tablespoons worth of batter on a cookie sheet with room around the blobs and cook for around 8-9 minutes. Watch carefully so the base is slightly brown and the rest is slightly soft.

ME: Oh dear…this sounds just too tempting. I may have to try these when my grandson comes for Grammy Camp next week.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to leave a comment to enter the giveaway of a copy of HELLO, MY NAME IS TIGER.

And for those of you in the path of the Texas storm, we are praying for you.

 

Show-Me-How Story-time with Miss Vivian Travels to Chicago

Downtown from the lakefront, Chicago, IL, USA

Frank Sinatra sang songs about many of the cities that he loved…New York – San Francisco – Chicago.

After a fantastic long weekend in Chicago, I’ll have to echo some of his words (written by Sammy Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen):

Chicago is one town

That won’t let you down

It’s my kind of town.

I arrived on Friday morning and spent the day relaxing with my son and daughter-in-law at their home.  Visiting with them is like going to a spa…they LOVE to cook “healthy” and every morning they start the day with a bowl of fresh fruit…mangoes, papayas, bananas, apples, peaches…drizzled with a little honey.  For lunch each day, my son made a huge vegetable salad bowl for each of us…cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, mushrooms…all topped with some capers and a splash of aged blueberry balsamic   vinegar.

My book event, Starting School Jitters Be Gone, on Saturday at Lollie, a children’s boutique in Evanston, just 20 minutes north of downtown Chicago, was so much fun!  This shop is an amazing place…filled with many handmade and locally designed clothes and accessories, as well as other unique items for infants, toddlers and children.  The owner is knowledgeable, helpful and a really lovely lady…I know if I lived in the Chicago area, I’d stop in there for any new baby gifts I needed, as well as for birthday and Christmas presents for any little ones on my list.

Of course, Mother Nature had her own plans for 11am, the time the first presentation was to start.  The skies over the entire Chicago area darkened, and the heavens poured forth a torrential rainstorm, accompanied by huge claps of thunder and crackling flashes of lightening. 

Inside Lollie, however, everything was bright and cheery.  A group of young children listened attentively as I read The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.  As the story about Chester unfolded, the children heard how the little raccoon, anxious about his first day of kindergarten, learned a secret from his mother that helped him overcome his fear and go to school with eager anticipation. 

After the story reached its happy conclusion, I showed the children a sample of the craft project and explained how we would all be making “Kissing Handprints”…deciding who we loved and who loved us and then drawing in the features for each person (or pet or stuffed animal) on each finger.

Parents and children clustered around the craft table and we proceeded to draw an outline of each child’s hands.  The hum of happy children, busily engaged in a constructive activity with their parents, is definitely music to my ears.  “This finger is going to be my mommy” said one little girl.  “And those are my dogs” she added.

The storm had ended by the time the second presentation was over.  My son and daughter-in-law, who had brought me and had assisted during the program, helped me pack everything up.  I’m looking forward to my next trip to Chicago…Lollie’s owner has invited me to come back to do another program, whenever I’m in town.  Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking is available at the shop for those of you who are in the Chicago area.

The next few days were filled with family visits, an afternoon at the beach – unbelievable to have a REAL sandy beach with what looks and smells like the ocean (it’s really Lake Michigan) right across the street from the downtown area of a major city – and an architectural river boat cruise.  It was difficult to leave…I’m already looking at my calendar to see when my next jaunt to Chicago will be.

My next post will be a review of a children’s book, A Reel Cool Summer, written by Martha Rodriguez.  We connected online and she loved my book and did a great review of it.  I brought her book on my trip and was able to share it with my great-niece and great-nephew…they absolutely loved it and were totally engaged in the story…so  in my next post, it will be my turn to tell everyone why they need to run out and get a copy of Ms. Rodriguez’ fun-filled book for children ages 6-9.

Photo credit: Thanks to JCrocker for the Chicago skyline pic.

Starting School Jitters Be Gone!

COLORADO SPRINGS PARENTS/GRANDPARENTS/TEACHERS OF PRESCHOOLERS

SAVE THE DATE

STARTING SCHOOL JITTERS BE GONE!

THE SHOW-ME-HOW STORY-TIME PROGRAM

Saturday, August 6th

THERE WILL BE TWO IDENTICAL PRESENTATIONS

11:30am to 12noon and 12:30pm to 1pm

Family Christian Bookstore: 7560 N. Academy, Colorado Springs, CO

  • Bring your young children and listen to a story
  • Help your child make a simple craft project
  • Get a free flyer: 5 simple steps to a smoother school year
  • Enter to win free preschool craft supplies

 

Local author, Vivian Kirkfield, is a former kindergarten and Head Start teacher and mom of three. Her award-winning parenting book, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking, is a wonderful resource of story suggestions and educational fun-filled activities for preschoolers – a true shortcut for busy parents and teachers.

For more information: 237-3111 or vivian@positiveparentalparticipation.com

Year-Round School: Has Its Time Come?

 

I was thinking about what my next blog would be when I received a comment from Kat at education.com which sparked today’s post.

In my post on Is it Too Early to Begin Planning for the New School Year?, I referenced an article from Education.com.  Kat was kind enough to respond to that and she mentioned a great and FREE program that will help kids have fun learning this summer.  Here is her comment:

“Hi Vivian:  Thanks for sharing our computers in preschools article!  I also thought I’d let you know about our Summer Activities Challenge.  For parents who want to help their kids have fun learning this summer (in part to help get ready for the next school year) it’s a great (and free!) program.  Parents can sign up here: http://www.education.com/activities-challenge/.   Then they just need to complete at least 5 Education.com activities before the end of July and they’ll receive a personalized Certificate of Achievement and be entered to win some great prizes including a $500 Back to School Splurge.  Hope you and some of your readers will join us!”

As parents, we are always on the lookout for stuff to do with our kids…so check it out…this should be fun!

It made me think about the Summer Reading Programs at our local library back in Connecticut when our children were young…they really looked forward to participating and reading as many books as they could…how proud they each were with the certificate they received at the end of the summer!  I know that the Pikes Peak Library here in Colorado Springs also has summer reading programs Library Summer Reading Program: One World, Many Stories…what a great (and FREE) on-going activity for this summer!

Two months of summer vacation is an old remnant from the days when most people were farmers and their children were needed to help during the late spring and summer…planting, harvesting and weeding.  But these days, most people do NOT need their children home for two months during the summer…in fact, there are many reasons why this is an out-dated mode of planning a school year. 

  • School-readiness is often lost during the summer vacation…children get out of the habit of the school routine and all that implies…proper bedtime, early rising, good breakfast, getting things needed in the morning laid out the night before.
  • Studies show that children (and adults) forget much of what they learn if it is not used on a regular basis.
  • Everyone needs time off and a break in the routine…but two months is much too much.

I know that the idea of year-round school is one that has been talked about for decades…and there are some private schools that may adhere to it.  But most public schools still operate on the old schedule we all remember from our school days. 

What are your thoughts on year-round school?  Please share!

I also wanted to share some GOOD NEWS!  I’m partnering with the Family Christian Bookstore in Colorado Springs and will be doing a FREE Back-to-School program for parents and their preschoolers (ages 2-5+…kindergarteners and first graders are more than welcome) on Saturday, August 6th from 11am to 2pm.  We’ll be reading a story that addresses the topic of school anxiety and then doing a simple craft project that the children will be able to take home.  Parents will be able to pick up a couple of free flyers with additional activity ideas and simple tips to help insure a smooth transition from home to school.  In addition, any parent who fills out the entry form will be entered to win a gift package of preschool craft supplies. 

Please, please spread the word about this FREE and FUN-FILLED event for parents and children.  The manager of the bookstore told me that “author” events are not usually well-attended, but I know this is a topic of great importance and relevance to parents of preschoolers…also for parents whose children are starting a NEW school or starting daycare or nursery school for the first time.  If you are local to Colorado Springs, please stop in to say hello!  If parents show an interest, I plan to do a monthly program with different topics and stories and crafts each month…the manager of the Family Christian Bookstore has already given me the go-ahead.

Finding activities to do with our kids, especially during the long summer when they are home, can be a challenge.  I’ve continued my Jump-Into-Summer Sale on my website where you can pick up a copy of Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking for 50% off the cover price.  Buy online securely with PayPal or send a check or money order to me and you will have a treasure-trove of picture book story suggestions and summaries, parenting tips, easy eco-friendly craft projects and simple child-friendly healthful recipes all geared towards LEARNING, BUILDING A POSITIVE SELF-IMAGE and HAVING FUN!

Why I LOVED the start of school

I know that many parents are anxious about their child starting school.  I’ve addressed that in previous posts as well as how to help a child who is anxious about going to school.  I began thinking about how I felt when my children started school: EXCITED, EAGER and HAPPY, and how my children felt about going to school: as far as I know they were EXCITED, EAGER, and HAPPY. And, even though it was a very LONG time ago, I can still remember how EXCITED, EAGER, and HAPPY I was when I started school.

So what did my mother do all those years ago to help me and my sister look forward to going to school with eager anticipation?  I know that I tried to copy her winning formula when it came time to send my own children to school. 

  • My mother had a matter-of-fact, upbeat and positive attitude about us going to school.  I never heard her say anything negative about the school or our teachers.  Children are so very sensitive to our emotions…if we are tense and anxious about something, they probably will be also.
  • We went to a neighborhood school, so we knew many of the children in our classes.  Try to make sure that your child has visited the school before the first day…you can also try to connect with other parents of his classmates and arrange playdates so that your child will feel more comfortable with the other children.
  • We got a new pair of SCHOOL shoes and a new outfit to wear on the first day.  And, when we got home from school each day, we took off our school clothes and put on play clothes.  Somehow, that made “school” a very special place.  Encourage your child to lay out his clothes the night before each school day…this will help lessen the last-minute rush in the morning.
  • My mother encouraged us to bring friends home after school (she was a stay-at-home mom…as were most moms in those days).  Whether you have a career or not, try to set aside some time, perhaps on the weekend, to enable your child to get together with some of her classmates.  Maybe you can form a group with several parents and alternate having a little monthly party to celebrate one of the children’s birthdays, a holiday or whatever you wish.
  • She loved hearing about our day at school…she was a great listener…what we did was important to her and she was happy to help us with homework or studying.  In the early grades, I can remember sitting at the kitchen table and having her help me cut and glue magazine pictures.  When I was in high school (and even in my college years), I can remember sitting on the floor at her feet, pad of paper and pen in hand, asking her, “Mom, how can I start this paper?”…and she would throw out several ideas and off I would go, scribbling like a maniac.  Often, I would wind up changing the beginning that she had suggested, but her encouragement and willingness to help gave me the courage to trust my own inspiration and creativity.  Try to be there for your child…always be ready to listen.
  • As the school year progressed, my parents attended as many school functions as they could, whether it was a meeting with the teacher or a play we were in.  This showed me that what happened at school was important to my parents, and therefore, to me.  Do your best to fit school functions into your schedule…if you are not able to attend an event, make sure there is someone else there to represent you so that your child doesn’t feel you don’t care…because then he might not either.

So why did I love the start of school: I believed my parents loved it also, I had new clothes and new shiny shoes, I was going to spend the day with friends, I knew my parents loved me, and I felt that school (and learning) was IMPORTANT.  When my children were ready to attend school, I tried to recreate what my mother had done for me.  And I hope that my children will do the same for their children.

    Great ideas for end-of-summer fun!

    We just got back from a five-day vacation in the mountains of Colorado.  The weather was perfect.  The fishing was great.  The cabin was outfitted with everything you could need…even a flat-screen TV which we never turned on because we were too busy during the day having fun outdoors and too tired at night to even want to watch anything.  Cell phones don’t work there and we didn’t bring the computer.  And I began to realize how life was like in the days before TV and computers and phones.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the technology that allows each of us to know what is going on in the world the moment it happens.  But it made me more aware of how much closer a family could be if they were more isolated from all that is happening out there or if they made an effort to spend time together without the distractions that usually keep us going in different directions.

    So here’s a list of a few great ideas for end-of-summer fun that might possibly bring your family closer together and won’t cost a fortune:

    • Go camping…even for the day…but overnight, if possible.  Rent equipment or borrow it from friends if you don’t already have what you would need.
    • Check out local parks, museums and art galleries.  Some are free and many have special deals for families.  You might even purchase a museum membership that entitles your family to special museum privileges during the year.
    • Have an end-of-summer get-together.  If your child is going to school (or nursery school or daycare) this year, see if you can find out who will be in his/her class or group.  Invite the children and their parents…what an awesome way to help your child start the year already knowing some of his classmates.  The get-together can be a pot-luck with everyone bringing something to eat so that the burden of food is not all on you.  Also, have each family bring a favorite game…there will certainly be plenty to do.  Take lots of pictures and have your child help you make a collage or album of this special day.  He/she can bring it to school for show-and-tell…great for a child who is anxious about the first day of school…something like BILLY AND THE BIG NEW SCHOOL by Laurence and Catherine Anholt.
    • Plan to have dinner together as a family, if possible.  And please, turn the TV off and don’t answer the phone if it rings 🙂

    That’s it…just a few simple suggestions…hope they help you end the summer on a high note and begin the school year in a positive way.

    How to keep your house clean and green

    You are probably going through your child’s clothes right now, weeding out the items that have been outgrown.  Perhaps we can apply that same  concept to our cleaning supply shelf.  Haven’t we outgrown the toxic-to-our-children-and-the planet, chemical-laden glass cleaners, bathroom scrubs and dusting sprays.  I looked in my cleaning supply cabinet the other day and I was horrified to find cans and bottles of cleaning supplies that I don’t use anymore (having gone “cleaning green” a while back), but had not gotten around to trashing.  And throwing this stuff out is a whole other issue…you can’t (or shouldn’t) just dump these items in the garbage.  Many communities have drop off locations or special dates where residents can bring these toxic supplies for safe removal – I wonder if there is any safe way to dispose of some of this stuff.

    Cleaning green is not difficult – and in addition to being so much better for your family’s health and the planet’s survival, it is also CHEAPER!  White vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice…the triumverate of being green and clean!

    Here are a few simple “recipes” for some basic cleaning solutions:

    • GLASS/HARD SURFACE CLEANER: Combine 1/2 cup white vinegar with a gallon of water.  Soak your cloth, ring it out and wipe surfaces.  Dry with a clean cloth.
    • FABRIC SOFTENER: Add 1/4 cup white vinegar to final rinse cycle of your washing machine.
    • DUSTING MAGIC: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 tsp olive oil in a clean glass jar or spray bottle.  Apply a little to your dusting cloth and wipe down your wooden furniture.
    • ALL-PURPOSE CLEANSER: Mix 1/2 cup pure soap (such as Castile), 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1 gallon hot water for dishes, countertops, floors and walls.
    • BATHROOM TUB AND TILE CLEANER: Combine 1 part water and 3 parts baking soda for an awesome grout and soap scum cleaner.

    Now, I’m not saying you should leave these cleaning supplies around for your preschooler to play with.  However, unless your child drinks the bucket of all-purpose cleanser or sprays the dusting magic solution in his eyes, you will be able to rest a lot easier as your house shines and you, your family and the planet take a breath of less polluted air.  One person can make a difference.  Why not get started?

    Please post comments with your own green cleaning solutions.