Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lucky Rainbows

Ideas for the fourth book in the Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk series spent months spinning around in my head. One day on my drive to work, I looked out the window at one of the many farms on my back road commute. I've done field work on this farm several times for work and enjoy the view of the farm's creek, well preserved red barn, rolling crop ground and pasture, and mixture of oak and hickory trees. As I glanced at the field, all the ideas in my head came together into a solid outline, along with the title of the book, "Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve". From past experience, I know that if I wait for the right idea to hit me, the piece is easier to write, the first draft, anyway. Still, I was amazed at how everything fell into place at once!

Soon after the ideas came together, I began writing the rough draft. Writing went smoothly, and I was getting close to having the text refined into coherent sentences that explained conservation methods. I worked to fine tune the rough draft into the final version and recently submitted it for editing. I started taking pictures for this book almost a year ago. On another recent drive to work, I went by the same field, and I noticed that a new conservation practice had been installed; several water and sediment control basins were constructed to help reduce gully erosion on the crop field. The dams are well constructed, and I thought that including a picture of them in the soil conservation section of "Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve" would be perfect. After a long, hot, and dry summer, the rains have finally started to fall, and the weather has prevented me from getting the final pictures I need. More importantly, this much needed rain is starting to cause soil erosion on areas containing bare soil, and the basins were already working to hold soil in place.

Driving to work last week, I was near the same farm, when I looked to the west and saw dark clouds looming. I also noticed a double rainbow and pulled over to take pictures. As you can tell, this farm draws my attention and inspires me with many ideas, but this time, the rainbow I saw near the farm was a symbol of optimism. My life has been very busy and stressful the past few weeks, as I try to balance my day job, book work, home and family life, and working with my partners to form and grow the Rising Phoenix Press. Seeing the beautiful rainbow against the dark, stormy clouds made me realise that with continued hard work, all will be well and that good luck will prevail!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Leave the Highway

Driving along the interstate highways in Wisconsin on our Columbus Day weekend getaway, I was amazed at how beautiful the trees looked. We had driven on some of these same roads in August, when trees were merely green, and the difference was astounding.

In early October, fall leaves are at their peak in this area and contain a rainbow of colors, including various shades of yellow, gold, orange, rust, brown, green, and red. The bright sunshine shown directly on the pretty leaves, making the contrast between colors even more striking.

Although we noticed beautiful scenery along the major highways, at least more so than on Illinois roads, the scenery along lesser traveled roads was even more spectacular. We left the highway and journeyed toward lovely state parks in Door County and were fascinated by the gorgeous fall landscapes. We enjoyed breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and its sandy beaches, mixed in with colorful trees; we were seeing nature's handiwork at its finest.

A particular favorite view of mine was the white birch tree bark highlighted against the scarlet leaves of maples and the burgundy leaves of ash trees. I snapped photo after photo of the peaceful splendor, in an effort to complete taking photos for my upcoming book, "Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve". I kept thinking of how these pictures would have also worked well in "Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees".

Whether you choose to read "Rachel and Sammy Visit the Prairie", "Rachel and Sammy Visit the Forest", "Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees", or "Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve", I try to capture the true beauty of nature to use for the books' photographs. The photos, in conjunction with realistic illustrations and educational and fun storylines, help readers learn to better observe and appreciate our many natural wonders.

We had a fun weekend of relaxing, eating, swimming, and a little shopping, but it was experiencing the stunning autumn scenery that was my favorite part of our trip. I hope that as leaves continue to change and drop, you can all find a place to relax and enjoy the autumn's magical beauty. It won't be long before the landscape is drab, cold, and bleak, as winter nears.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Have Book – Will Travel!

I’ve been working with a local library to set up an event using my book, “Rachel and Sammy Learn About Trees”, as part of the library’s summer reading program. I love the 2013 theme for summer reading, “Have Book – Will Travel”. That theme pretty much summarizes my life. I love books, and I love to travel!
Living in the Midwest is wonderful, but I always enjoy traveling to other areas to absorb different landscapes, cultures, and traditions. As I write this, I am headed north to our neighboring state of Wisconsin. It is Columbus Day weekend, so we have a break from work and school. The colors of fall are at their peak, and I’ve been looking forward to this weekend since we returned from our summer vacation. In addition to spectacular fall foliage, we are planning to enjoy Lake Michigan, which is the landlocked Midwesterners' version of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Driving through the pretty and quaint Door County is on our list of things to do. The scenery along this peninsula is amazing, and we will visit state parks along the way.

In addition to doing the normal vacation things like seeing new places, relaxing, spending extra time together, swimming in the pool, shopping, and eating great food, I plan to finish taking photographs for the fourth book in the Rachel Raccoon and Sammy Skunk series, “Rachel and Sammy Learn to Conserve”.

Rachel and Sammy books are intended to be read indoors and then taken outside and used to help young readers learn more about nature, so “Have Book -- Will Travel” is truly a reflection of my life and the books I write.  By reading Rachel and Sammy books, you can visit your backyard or natural area and turn that trip into a grand learning endeavor. Whether you are reading an old favorite book or a brand new one, reading is a great adventure, and the same is true with traveling to different places. If you are unable to travel to far away places, it is easy to get caught up in a great book set in an exotic location, and you can experience the world by reading. You don’t always have to travel far from home to learn something totally new and exciting. A good book will help you see the world with new eyes, no matter where you are!