I’ve been away from blogging for a while. My computer stopped working so I’ve been cobbling together various work-arounds to get my work done (using Richard’s desktop when he’s not home and using my laptop, iPad, and phone), but none of those situations is amenable to my workflow for blogging. My “new” computer (actually Richard’s old tower attached to my peripherals) is up and running so I’m back in business.


Here is the turkey we roasted through the night into Thanksgiving. It was delicious, with all the sides.

anadama bread

Here is the anadama bread.

cornbread dressingAnd the Chef Red cornbread dressing (gluten free).

my three sonsMy three boys. (The eldest is minus his wisdom teeth.)

I’ve also been away from blogging because I’ve been working on a video project for HOPE Credit Union. Richard is an executive with HOPE, and we’ve taken this on together. Our videographer is Roderick Red, the production manager of Red Squared Productions.

roderick red

I’ve been conducting interviews and learning how to write for, and edit, video. Well, actually, I haven’t done much editing, just logging and clipping. I’ve learned a little about using Adobe Story (for scriptwriting) and Adobe Prelude (for ingesting and clipping video). Since we already use Adobe’s Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, and Premiere, and we became Adobe Creative Cloud users earlier this year, we figured we might as well learn more.

I’ll happily share the video once we’ve got a finished version.

For my interviews, I’ve been reading background material, including a few memoirs. I love reading memoirs. And, I know that soon I’ll get back to working on my two “life-based” stories. For this week’s interview, I’ll be heading home to Alcorn State University.












Five Years Old and, finally, a Name

As my regular readers know, I am in the midst of a complete overhaul of my website. This means I’ve been consulting people and doing lots of looking around at what else is out there. In response to a suggestion from a marketing professional, I’ve decided to name my blog. Hereafter, it will be called Amazed By My Luck.

This comes from an Iris Murdock quote: “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one’s luck.”

I like the name, too, because it applies not only to the writing and photography in my life, but to the other things I write and post photographs of on the blog: my family, my teaching, my garden, my sewing, and my other crafting. And, as luck would have it, it was five years ago this week that I launched the blog. So, five years old and, finally, a name.

Not much will change here with regards to the name — until we go live with the new website.

New Homepage

homepage mockup

An Interview with Me

Starting today, you can read my interview with Alison Hertz, an author, illustrator, and toy designer. She and I talked about how I create my nonfiction picture books.


The interview is part of the blog tour for the 2012 Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference, where I’ll be leading two sessions: “Story + Photos = Winning Nonfiction” and “You mean I’m not finished? Creating Marketing and Educational Materials.”


WIK is organized by the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. This year’s WIK conference will be Oct. 20 in Birmingham, AL. It’s a great place to learn more about the children’s publishing industry, meet agents and editors, and connect with a supportive network of writers and illustrators.

Learn more about WIK here.

Read my interview at Alison Hertz’ blog.

Killing Your Darlings

On our morning walk this morning, Richard and I talked about the new website, and I had to admit that my idea is not working. In fact, it stinks.

sarahs workspace

Even though this desk is the tidiest it has been in years, it still makes an image that is way, way too cluttered for an effective web home page. Richard has worked long hours on coding, etc., to start to make it functional, but, truth be told, it was a bad idea.

So, back to the drawing board.

The time I spent cleaning up wasn’t wasted (it never is). I’m still getting rid of and putting away stuff. I work much more effectively when I’ve done a major clean-up. It helps de-clutter my brain as well.

Other work life improvements

I’ve started using Pocket (formerly Read it Later) to save things I come across on the web. Just like with Evernote, it takes some time on the front end to get it installed on all the devices I use (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop), but it is proving very useful.

I also read this article about blog theft that prompted me to take more security measures with my gmail. Once again, it took some time, but those of us who fully engage with the online world need to take precautions.

Oldest Photographs from One Side of the Family

I am helping my mother and aunt with a family tree project. Both of them have been collecting facts, stories, and photographs on and off for decades. We think these are some of the oldest photographs we have in the family.
Bridget Healy Queeny Dillon
Thought to be Bridget Healy Queeny Dillon, who came to the United States in early adulthood. She was married to Mr. (?) Queeny and had two daughters. After Mr. Queeny died, she married Patrick Edward Dillon. Together they had a son, Richard Joseph Dillon, born on August 6, 1853, pictured here. Bridget is my great-great-great grandmother. Guessing young Richard to be less than two years old, it would seem this photograph would be from the late 1850s. Is this possible? Likely? Is it a daguerreotype?

unknown family memberThis is a photo of Catherine Weber. She is the mother of the first husband of my great-great grandmother, Clara Elizabeth Kraemer Otte (Gutting).
Our family history website is on my website here. You need to be a member of the family with login privileges to make changes and to view information on living family members. Contact me here, if you are family and want to join.

Growing Patterns with Stickers

I have time for a quick post today. One of the things I got in San Francisco was a whole bunch of stickers that say Outstanding Science Trade Book. I affixed them to the copies of Growing Patterns we sold at the NSTA convention, but I was eager to get a new image of the book featuring its stickers: the OSTB and the ALA Notable.

GP cover with stickers

In addition the partnering with the Children’s Book Council to select Outstanding Science Trade Books, the NSTA also has a program called NSTA Recommends. Growing Patterns is an NSTA Recommends title and the review appears here.

NSTA Annual Conference

I blogged about my school visits in the San Francisco area, but once I moved on to the NSTA conference, I stopped posting updates. There were a few reasons for this: First, I moved into The Palace Hotel and they charged for internet in the rooms (I still don’t understand why budget hotels provide free internet and breakfast and so-called luxury hotels charge through the nose for both). Second, I was working from breakfast to supper and falling asleep after a few clicks of my Kindle.

Boyds Mills Press rented a corner booth in the conference exhibit hall and my editor, Andy Boyles (pictured above helping M. make a Fibonacci Folding Book), and I were responsible for greeting conferees. Andy arranged display copies of all of BMP’s science titles around the walls of the booth. We set up a table in the front of the booth with display copies of Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I put out my two mini-quilts (here and here), some private eye loupes, a pinecone, a nautilus shell, a sample Fibonacci Folding Book, and a stack of my postcards. I’ve gone to two other national conferences, the 2009 American Library Association meeting in Chicago and the 2010 International Reading Association convention (also in Chicago). In those cases, I was one of many BMP authors and illustrators who signed books. I was scheduled for an hour on each day. This time, I was signing all day every day. We left the booth only for three presentations (two featured information about 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books) and a lunch meeting. I met lots of interesting people — some who teach science to kids, others who teach teachers how to teach science to kids, and people who work with organizations that promote science education.

We sold all the copies of Growing Patterns that BMP shipped and could have sold at least a dozen more. It helped that many teachers had seen the feature article about the 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 in Science & Children, NSTA’s magazine for elementary school teachers. Andy and I had a great time having lunch with current, former, and future members of the Outstanding Science Trade Book selection committee, including Suzanne Flynn, J. Carrie Launius, Betty Crocker, Steve Rich, Karen Ostlund, Kristin Rearden, and Juliana Texley. We also met Lauren Jonas and Emily Brady, who are on staff at NSTA and help coordinate the NSTA Recommends program and the OSTB list. We learned about the process and met some great people. Most of them seem to be on their second or third career. They started in classrooms teaching kids and then went into either administration or into teaching teachers at the college or post-graduate level.

They had stories about using trade books in classrooms. Juliana told me about the time she took flowers on an airplane so she could use them in a presentation about my book. They didn’t like the dry environment and shriveled beyond use. She had to hit a grocery store for replacements. One plant she bought was a peace lily (featured in the book to illustrate 1). When it was time to go home, she put it in her suitcase. “I threw some clothes away and made room for it,” she said. “It’s still doing fine.”

Right after lunch, I participated in a session featuring the 2011 NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books led by some of the teachers at the luncheon. Other authors with winning books who participated were: Debbie S. Miller, who wrote Survival at 40 Below, and Seymour Simon, who wrote Global Warming.

The final session Andy and I attended was led by Seymour Simon and centered on the changes in children’s book publishing being driven by electronic devices. Simon and his wife, Liz Nealon, who has worked in many creative capacities over the years including with Sesame Street, talked about the growing numbers of children and families who have access to electronic reading devices such as Kindles, iPads, Nooks, iPhones, etc. Simon demonstrated how he has begun publishing some of his out-of-print titles in electronic format. His talk was very inspiring and I left there thinking about how I could get some e-publishing going.

I mentioned it to Richard when I got home and he’s spent a good amount of time this week building an iPhone app for Wolfsnail. How cool is that?!

Why My iPhone Is Bad For My Photography

I am almost never without my iPhone. When I get the urge to take a picture, I pull it out and snap. This is bad for my photography because I tend to get crappy photographs and they are very low resolution compared to my Nikons.

lettuce sprouts

lettuce germinating taken with my iPhone

Here’s a good example. I should have taken the one-minute walk back to the house to retrieve a real camera. I could even have put on the macro lens. Then, I would have had a chance of getting these dicots in all their beauty. And, since they are the first seedlings in my garden this year, they deserve a real photograph.
raised beds

These are my raised beds. Richard and the boys built them three years ago. We had a great year the first year and a so-so year the second. I am hoping for another good year. I am using good seeds and starting most of them inside. Last year, we had a big flash flood that washed out the middle bed and took the wind out of my sails.
rain barrell

So far, all the water I’ve used has come from my rain barrel. I expect my water needs will exceed this supply, eventually, but right now it’s nice to be using rainwater.

One caveat on the iPhone photography thing. It has saved my butt a few times when the real camera I had along didn’t work for some reason — usually a dead battery. I had to use it to get photographs of classmates at a recent funeral and the kids’ MathCounts team.

Sarah with blue bottle

in Wisconsin

Guest on Read, Write, Howl
My writer friend Robyn Hood Black did an interview with me that appeared on her blog. She pulled a few obscure facts out of me that tickled some of my other writer friends. This photograph is a clue.

The photograph below is another clue.

I am looking forward to seeing my writer friends this weekend in Atlanta at the SpringMingle’11, the spring conference of the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI.

girls at store

In Mississippi at the old store

Guest Post on Cynsations

Today I am a guest on Cynsations, where I write about how I developed educational materials for my books. Come on over. I have a special treat for the next month.

another book

Behind-the-Scenes of a Self-Portrait

As promised, here is a short film Richard created from my self-portrait session. I hope you enjoy this window into my creative process.

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