Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins.

I couldn’t let July disappear without a mention that it is BLUEBERRY MONTH.  Here in NJ, blueberries are a major crop, and in addition to eating by the handful, I have used them in numerous recipes.  From smoothies, to jam, the baked goodies, what’s not to like about the berry with the highest level of good-for-you antioxidants.

Here is a recent recipe I’ve adapted to be healthier by lowering the sugar and butter. (I replace part of it with applesauce).  You can make these by the dozen and freeze for whenever you want a great breakfast treat or something on the go.

BLUEBERRY OATMEAL MUFFINS

1/4 C  coconut oil ( or another favorite)    1/4 C  melted butter

1/2 C applesauce        2/3 C sugar

1 C almond meal    2/3 C flour (I used whole wheat pastry)   1/4 C  rolled oats (plus extra for sprinkling)

1 tsp baking soda      3 large eggs           1 1/2 C fresh or frozen blueberries.

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Butter the bottom and sides of 12 2 1/2 inch muffin cups  (or use papers) .

2. In a large bowl combine: sugar, almond meal, flour, oats, baking soda and a dash of salt.

3. Add beaten eggs, butter, oil and applesauce to the dry mixture.  Stir until blended.  Fold in blueberries.         2015-07-11 07.07.06

4.  Spoon batter into prepared cups until 2/3’s full.   Sprinkle oats on top.   Bake for 20 minutes or until edges are browned and centers set. 

2015-07-11 07.32.07HAPPY BLUEBERRY EATING!

And The Winners Are…

ON July 15, my writer friend Kim Pfennigwerth did a wonderful post on Giving Something Away.  So many of you were kind enough to share some things you’ve recently given away.  I put all your names in my basket and pulled out two winners.  You each get a $10.00 gift card to Barnes & Noble.  May I have a drum roll please….

The winners are, Paul Czajak, and Roseanne Kurstedt.   Congratulations!

It is SOOO much fun to give something away!

Laurel Nakai on Songwriting For Kids.

The Art of Songwriting, and How Kids Can Get Started by Laurel Nakai

Music has always been a big part of how I express myself. As a young child, I used to sing the Sesame Street song on the playground at the top of my lungs, and I spent countless hours listening to my mother’s records of Broadway musicals. I wrote poetry, and I loved to read and write stories. I always approach songwriting like a form of poetry. It’s storytelling, just with a different set of tools. I learned to play the clarinet in 4th grade, but it was when I picked up the guitar at 13 that the words and music came together. It became my go-to form of self-expression.

Even now, when I am feeling sad or trying to make sense of something I don’t understand, I sing about it. I find the right notes and phrases to express what I’m feeling. That was a lifesaver for me growing up. It allowed me to explore myself and my world through all of the ups and downs of adolescence. Music is amazing that way, and so are all forms of art. I think it’s so important, especially for kids, to have that kind of outlet.

Tips on Getting Started:

If you want to be a writer, read. If you want to be a songwriter, listen. Listen to as much music as you can. Learn how to play your favorite songs. Try to figure out why they resonate with you and how you can replicate that feeling. Every musician starts out playing covers. We learn from the greats that have come before us, whether it’s Beethoven or The Beatles.

 

  • Keep a notebook, or recording device with you to capture sudden inspirations. Melodies or phrases often come to me while I’m driving, so if I’m able to, I will record myself on my phone. If not, I just keep singing over and over until I am able to write it down. I once wrote almost an entire song this way while stuck in traffic! I have also had the opposite happen, where I think of something great, but then don’t write it down or record it, and it gets lost forever. You never know when inspiration will strike, so be ready!

 

  • Practice with friends. Collaborating with friends is a great way to get started and take the pressure off. You might find that you are better at writing lyrics than making musical arrangements, or the other way around. Working with others, either in a band or co-writing, helps us learn from each other. It’s also way more fun, and a little less scary, to get up on stage with someone else.

Speaking of getting on stage…                  SongBird Episode 9: "Speak Up"- Inspired by Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Learn to harness your stage fright.

If you’ve got a major dose of stage fright, you are not alone! Some of the most famous, A-list performers, still get stage fright. I have always thought of stage fright as a natural response. My body is flooded with adrenaline, and I can either freeze up in the face of that, or I can harness that energy and put it into my performance. I try to imagine the adrenaline filling up my body, not as fear, but as strength and confidence. That’s a pretty metaphysical thought, but I have some practical tips, too:    

 Do a ritual. Many performers have rituals they do before going on stage. Some do breathing exercises, some gather in a prayer circle with their team, some have special objects that they carry or foods that they eat. Maybe it’s just a superstition, but I think anything that helps calm you can be a way of tricking your body out of that fear response.

  • Sing to the wall. Find a spot on the back wall (a clock, a poster, a crack) and perform to that. This will help you tune out other distractions, like all those people in the audience!
  • The show must go on. I’m about to tell you my most embarrassing moment. I was 12, and I was doing a dance with a friend in front of her church. In the middle of the song, my skirt fell down. It was mortifying. I ran off stage, pulled my skirt back on and jumped back into the routine. I’ll never forget that performance, and I’ll never forget all the people who came up afterwards telling me how brave I was to keep going. We all fear making mistakes. Nine times out of ten, the audience won’t notice if you just keep going. Even when they do, if you can laugh it off, the audience will be forgiving, maybe even call you brave. You’ll also remember to bring extra safety pins for your costume next time!

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to start out. Get a used, but good quality, instrument and use your phone or computer to record. There are lots of apps and programs out there like Garageband that make it easy to play around with sound recording. Still, I do most of my initial writing with just my guitar and a pen and paper.

Most of all, write what you are passionate about. So many songs have the same themes— love, loss, overcoming adversity—  but we all have unique ways of telling those stories. We need your unique voice and your music, so keep singing!

Laurel Nakai is a singer-songwriter and children’s author. You can find original songs, parodies, and Songwriting 101 videos, on her YouTube Channel SongBird. She is also a team member for KidLit TV where she contributes music for theme songs and special projects. Find out more on her website, and connect with her on facebook, and twitter.

Other Resources to check out:      Laurel'sBanner (3).png

SoundCloudSoundcloud is a great place to find new music, as well as connect with some established artists. You can upload your own sounds and find followers there, keep them private, or post them on your own website or social media.

Little Kids Rock a non-profit organization that teaches music to kids and provides schools with resources for music education. Their website features lots of resources for kids and educators including lessons, games, and video. Their YouTube channel also features inspiring videos including kid songwriters performing their original works.

Acappella AppAn app that allows you to make acappella videos (the ones where the same person sings all the parts). It’s fun to experiment and play around with. You can keep your videos private or share them with the social media feature. There is also a collaborative feature that lets you contribute to other people’s videos.

HitRecord- If you’re looking for collaboration, HitRecord is a production company started by actor Joseph Gordon Levitt with an interactive twist on creating. People can post and use each other’s work to make unique creations. For instance, a songwriter might write a song to someone’s or an artist might draw illustrations for another person’s story. There are even ways to get paid if some of your work is used. If nothing else though, it’s a haven for creative people and ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Olympics Here We Come!

The opening of the Summer Games in Rio are only a few days away.  I am one of those people who normally ignore sporting events and televised games during the regular season.  But there is something about the Olympics that keeps me riveted to the screen.  I think it has to do with the premise of peaceful International competition.  So many countries coming together to share their best athletes with the world.

Sure there is controversy, and rivalry.  But the “bloated egos” of professional sports is absent as athletes work as a team to support, encourage and cheer each other on.  It’s inspiring.

Sunday, 7-24-16 is PARENTS DAY. Why not make this day all about the family and enjoy some Olympic competitions of your own?  Got a pool?  Try some water polo or synchronized swimming.  Practice backstrokes or have raft races.  Who can get the wettest in a splashing contest?  Young children can enjoy water fun as well: Set up the sprinkler.  Or fill up buckets of water and have toddlers “paint” the driveway to their hearts content.  What is more fun than a water balloon throwing competition?

There are lots of ways to enjoy water-free Olympic events as well.  Sack races, three-legged races, wheelbarrow races, crab walk races and log rolling (using your body as the log) are guaranteed to bring on smiles and get everyone moving.  You can also set up games and events using balls, ropes, or other props.

Let you imagination go and enjoy exercising as a family by trying some “Backyard Olympics”.  For more fun ideas visit: http://www.familycircle.com/summervideo

What are some of your favorite outdoor family activities?

Karen Fortunati: YA Author Interview.

I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Fortunati a few years ago at a writer’s retreat in Avalon NJ.  We shared critiques and bonded over writing, the beach and sharing life stories.  Her brilliant writing stood out then and has only gotten better.  Karen’s debut YA, THE WEIGHT OF ZERO (Delacorte Press), will be out this fall and has already gotten raves and literary recognition.  It is with great pleasure that I feature her on today’s post.  Here’s Karen:

What’s In A Name? by Karen Fortunati

How do writers come up with their characters’ names? Divine inspiration? Subconscious memories intersecting with imagination? Focused creativity? Or just flat out making it up as we go along? For me, it’s a combo of all these methods. Here’s a little insight on the naming of some of my characters in The Weight of Zero.

Catherine Pulaski: The main character popped into my head with her first name firmly established. She was Catherine and there were no bones about it. Since writing her story, I’ve asked myself why “Catherine?” I’m guessing it’s because of my aunt/godmother, Catherine Lonski. Like my mother, she’s been a constant, positive and inspirational influence in my life. In addition, my mom has been interchanging my name with her sister’s for so long, the name feels like mine.

My mother, Margaret Angelo, Aunt Catherine (Lonski), Aunt Marilyn (Librizzi) (l to r) and little Emmy

My mother, Margaret Angelo, Aunt Catherine (Lonski), Aunt Marilyn (Librizzi) (l to r) and little Emmy

Now my fictional Catherine didn’t come with a last name so I had to choose one. Having gone through an American Revolution obsession several years ago, I decided to use a general’s name. I choose Casimir Pulaski, a Polish citizen who became enamored with the cause for independence. Once he got to America, he turned out to be a brilliant tactician and has been called the “Father of the American Cavalry.”

http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/chron/civilwarnotes/pulaski.html

So why him? First off, I’m part Polish. Second, the Pulaski name is familiar to me. I grew up in New Jersey and worked most summers at my father’s pharmacy in Newark. My favorite landmarks for the commute to the store were Newark Airport and the Pulaski Skyway, a huge elevated structure always hulking in the distance.

http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/roads/pulaski/history.shtm

Coincidentally, my dad owned a pharmacy on Pulaski Street in Newark prior to buying the one I worked in for most of my childhood. After writing the story, I feel like I see the Pulaski name everywhere. During a summer trip, we passed signs for the Pulaski Highway in Maryland and it gave me a little thrill. On a visit to the University of Scranton, my alma mater, I discovered a statue of Pulaski in town. I don’t think I had ever noticed it before.

 

Me at the General Pulaski Monument in Scranton, Pennsylvania

Me at the General Pulaski Monument in Scranton, Pennsylvania

Now, in writing this blog post, I’ve learned of another personal connection to General Pulaski. The general died on October 11th which also happens to be the release date of The Weight of Zero. In fact, October 11th is officially General Pulaski Memorial Day. I think the coincidence is weird but in a good way, like I made the right choice in choosing “Pulask

Jody Pulaski: Another name I purposely choose was Catherine’s mother, Jody. Originally, the mother’s name was Caroline (after one of my close friends) but due to the similarity of the two names, my editor thought something different might work better. This time the name jumped out at me – Jody – after one of my oldest and dearest friends. When I needed another name, I had to choose Stephanie, after another oldest and dearest and the remaining third of our friend triumvirate.

Jody Tole, Stephanie Hadley and me (l to r)

Jody Tole, Stephanie Hadley and me (l to r)

Jane Talmadge: I knew I would be naming one of my most favorite characters after my maternal grandmother, Jane. But my grandmother’s last name didn’t feel right so I used an old author pseudonym trick my younger brother Steven had told me about well before I even considered trying to write a book: Use your middle name and street name of house you grew up in. So I choose my grandmother’s first name and the street she raised my mother and her siblings on in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Aunt Darlene:  Again, this was an easy one. I choose Darlene after Darlene Beck-Jacobson. I met Darlene at one of Kathy Temean’s Avalon Full Manuscript Writers Retreats a few months before the release of Darlene’s first book, the wonderful Wheels of Change. From the very start, she’s been a continually supportive and encouraging writing ally and I’m so grateful to have met her.

It’s funny just how much your own experiences inform your writing. In The Weight of Zero, it’s the relationships between the women in the story  – mother, daughter, grandmother, aunt, friend – that help build a supportive network for Catherine.  Looking back on the names I choose, I’m thinking that maybe my writing (and naming) was one way to honor these relationships in my own life.

BDD_WeightOfZero_FB_Cover_1P_NO_DATE

The Weight of Zero: Contemporary Young Adult, Delacorte Press

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles medications, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its own living death on her again.

But Zero’s return is delayed due to unexpected and meaningful relationships that lessen Catherine’s sense of isolation. These relationships along with the care of a gifted psychiatrist alter Catherine’s perception of her diagnosis as a death sentence. This is a story of loss and grief and hope and how some of the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – impact a young woman’s struggle with mental illness.

GOODREADS

Website: www.karenfortunati.com

Twitter: @karenfortunati

Facebook: @AuthorKarenFortunati        WeightofZero_front cover new12.indd

 Recognition:

A SUMMER/FALL 2016 INDIES INTRODUCE SELECTION

A SHELF AWARENESS BEA2016 YA  BUZZ BOOK

A BARNES AND NOBLE 2016 MOST ANTICIPATED DEBUT 

Kirkus: “Catherine’s acerbically witty narrative voice is razor sharp and often raw, and the confessional tone of her present-tense narration makes clear how overwhelming her pain is…. An honest, informative, and ultimately optimistic novel about living with mental illness.”        re3669

Darlene’s Review of THE WEIGHT OF ZERO:

Catherine – Cat – Pulaski is a high school junior navigating the ups and downs of adolescent friendships and relationships.  She’s also preparing herself for the dreaded appearance of Zero by stockpiling medicine for its inevitable return.  Cat is bipolar and Zero is the crippling depression that makes it impossible to live a normal life.  A life that isn’t defined by her mother’s constant monitoring, therapy sessions, and a mood rating scale from 0-10.  Zero found her once right after her grandmother died.  Cat is determined not to let it get her again without a plan.

            This amazing YA debut gives an honest and true voice to the silent and often un talked about world of mental illness.  It is a story with humor, heart and hope. A story that will stay with you for a long time.  It should be required reading for all high school students.

 

 

 

 

BAKING COOKIES: Thoughts on Peace and Reconciliation During These Troubling Times

This post really resonated with me during our troubled times. A small gesture of peace and friendship goes a long way.

Laura Sassi Tales

IMG_2717

My blog celebrates “writing, reading, and life” and mostly I focus on things writerly and readerly. This week, however, has been firmly grounded in life.  Like many of you, I have been grieving over the state of our nation at this present moment.  There is just so much hurt and bitterness and anger and racism and misunderstanding.  And this week’s news breaks my heart – two black men shot and killed by police in Louisiana and Minnesota and five police officers shot and killed in Dallas?  Will this ever end?  Is reconciliation possible?  And what can I do? What can my children do? What can you do? What can we as individuals do in the midst of this miserable time?

Foster community.  Build community. Construct bridges. That’s what.  This Sunday morning, in an act that is totally out of my shy/reserved comfort zone, I listened to that inner voice inside which whispered to me – reach out.  What we did this…

View original post 475 more words

Kim Pfenningwerth Gives Something Away.

When Darlene asked me to write a guest blog, I hesitated.  

When she said it could be about anything. I thought, this could be fun but how will I ever choose a topic?

When she added pick a day—Everything clicked.

Without hesitation I chose to blog about July 15th.  Why that day you might ask.

…Is it for National I Love Horses Day? …Well, I do love horses.

…Is it for National Tapioca Pudding Day? …I’m sorry to say, I don’t love tapioca.

…Is it for National Pet Fire Safety Day? …I do have pets, so Pet Fire Safety is a Very Important Issue for my family. 

But if not those, then what is it about July 15th that gave me the idea for this post?

Today, July 15th is…drum roll please—National Give Something Away Day!

Giving something away could be useful. Clean off some shelf space. Clean out a closet. What could be more fun than to give something away?  The possibilities are endless.  Big or small. Playful or practical.  A bouquet of balloons or a simple posy.  But if you look deeper there is another layer to this day.

Giving something away is a kindness and kindness is a magical element.  It is an action with absolutely no expectation for something in return.

Without a doubt, kindness is a bad day breaking, moment changing gift. Kindness is a priceless commodity that is shared simply by giving it away.

Hold a door open for someone.

Give a smile to a stranger or a hug to a friend.

Buy a cup of coffee for the next person in line.

Give new or gently used clothes, books, or toys to a shelter.

Donate to your local food bank.

Have you put off visiting someone? Give away some time and pay someone a visit. If you live too far away call someone and give a warm hello and the time for a conversation.

National Give Something Away Day is a happiness boosting, smile inducing, pay it forward day.   So kindly mark July 15th on your calendar and remember to Give Something Away. I promise you and someone else will be delighted that you did.

Need a few ideas? Click on the links below:

Books for Soldiers: http://booksforsoldiers.com/donate_to_the_soldiers/

Donate Books – Find your public library: http://www.publiclibraries.com/

Dress For Success: https://www.dressforsuccess.org/

Food Bank: http://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-localfoodbank/?referrer=https://www.google.com/

Vietnam Veterans of America: http://www.pickupplease.org/

Volunteer Match: https://www.volunteermatch.org/

(Darlene Here:To honor NATIONAL GIVE SOMETHING AWAY DAY, fellow kid lit author Kim Pfenningwerth and I are giving away TWO (2) $10.00 gift certificates to Barnes and Noble.  To be in the running, all you have to do is leave a comment about what you’ve recently given away and how you felt afterwards.  I’ll put your name in a hat and announce two winners on FRIDAY, 7-29-2016 ON THIS BLOG. What do I plan on giving away on July 15th?  I’ll be doing an author visit/teaching session at my local Boys & Girls Club.)

Thank you Darlene for the opportunity to write such a fun blog post. Wishing everyone a happy and kind National Give Something Away Day. And good luck with our giveaway!

Kim 4-30-16

 

Kim Pfennigwerth is a lover of books, animals, children, and kindness. She is often spotted in a bookstore reading piles of books while revising her own picture book manuscripts.