Friday, March 13, 2015

"Home is where the heart is."
"Home is where you hang your hat."
But "home" is not a cliché. Home is what you see as soon as you wake up in the morning. 

Home is where you drink your tea before driving the children to school. Where you wake up in the middle of the night because someone has a fever or a nightmare or both. Where I, personally, make an extra-special meal the night before my husband flies off for another business trip. And, where we toast his safe arrival back home. Which has been almost every week since living in Belgium for the past 11 years.

This village is home. Where we've celebrated births, baptisms and, unfortunately, deaths. Where when we turn down the cobblestone lane, we know we're just about home.

In a few months, we'll drive back down those cobblestones on a brand new journey...
Career and family choices brought us here and will return us in a few months to the US. Acquaintances ask me, “Aren't you happy to be going home?” And that last word always throws me off.

We're not moving to Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, California, or New Jersey where I have lived at some point since knowing my husband. As for him, a Frenchman/Englishman/American, he was only born in Georgia because his parents were expats for a few years.

My twelve-year-old doesn't remember her YMCA daycare that she left at 11 months old. My ten-year-old was born in Belgium – the best by far souvenir anyone could wish for. So, “home” is a confusing assumption. I have concentrated so much on the fact that my children are Third Culture Kids, but I now feel just how much I am a Third Culture Grown-Up. All because of one word. Home.

When we get to Texas, rich with its own history, values, customs, cuisine and, yes, languages, I expect to experience a certain learning curve. I majored in French and studied abroad during college. I traveled. I was nanny near Geneva. I came back to France for graduate school. So, moving to Belgium felt quite comfortable. The biggest hiccups here have been remembering that I have to go by my maiden name (Every time I call for an appointment, they think I'm schizophrenic: “This is Madame Nott, I mean I'm Madame Ralph.”) and saying “nonante” for “quatre-vignt-dix”.

For Texas, we have a new school system to understand, new immunizations required (which reminds me I need to call for that appointment), and I'll have to take my driver's license test again (in surely a much bigger vehicle than I am used to). Plus, although we all speak English fluently, how long will it take us to stop saying Bonjour to the neighbors? And I must remind the children not to kiss their friends and teachers on the cheek every morning!

When the big yellow school bus screeches to a stop, and that door folds in, yes, I'll remember climbing those steps and hoping there's a seat open next to the nice kids. But, I have never had to watch my children do that. No more rabbit, duck, or fish served in the cafeteria, but hamburgers, hotdogs and pizza. We've never cheered at a football game. They've never even said The Pledge of Allegiance!

Our coffee table books of Belgium, Africa, Magritte, Peoples of the World (Usborne), find themselves now under Lonely Planet and Insider's Guide books to America and Texas. We started watching History Detectives on PBS, thanks to Apple TV.

So, technically, will my children still qualify as Third Culture Kids? Belgium has been their home for the first decade of their lives. Whether we stay in Texas for 2 or 10 years, this European soil has seeped into their blood and will circulate no matter where we are. More likely than not, a new adventure awaits us after Texas, and after that...

Now my original challenge flips: instead of assuring ways for my children to keep up their English, I'll need to find ways for them to keep up their French. Despite what the children will speak between school, church, and extra-curricular activities, we'll be sure to have plenty of French-language books, magazines, and music at home.

There's that word again. Home.

At then end of the day, inside each of us and wrapped up around us as a family, is the energy and space called home. When I go pick up the kids this afternoon, and someone else says, “Oh hey, I hearing your moving home,” I'll just smile, knowing that I'm not going, nor leaving, home... but carrying it with me.
Always up for a new adventure... together.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Christmas Eve, Connor and Jasmin plunked down by the window to wait for someone who they new for sure would arrive that night...

Jasmin purred and Connor stirred his hot chocolate until all the marshmallows melted.
“Where's Grandma?” he called to Mom.
She lit the last candle and said, “On her way.”

And Grandma was on her way...
On the train, Grandma dreamed of Connor's happy face when he would open his present. She hugged the box on her lap as if it were Connor himself.
But Connor shivered and Jasmin quivered waiting in the open door.
“Where's Grandma?” he called to Dad.
Dad opened the china cabinet and said, “On her way.”
And Grandma was...
At the end of the track, Grandma was dreaming of bells, and cakes, and snow while holiday cheers and snowflake kisses danced in the air.
Connor and Jasmin danced in their flannel pyjamas that sparked when they slid down the stairs.
“Where's Grandma?” Connor called.
Mom held up her watch. Dad wound the clock. “On her way?” they both answered.
And Grandma was...
In the railway station, she snored as passengers poured out onto the platform... except for one.
After one more cookie, one more story, one more yawn, Connor asked one more time, “Where's Grandma?” and fell asleep.
“Where am I?” asked Grandma to the man who woke her.
“Where should you be?” he asked back.
“At Connor's house,” she said.
“Me too.” The man smiled. He carried Grandma's packages to his carriage, snapped his belt across his lap, and told her, “Hold on to your hat!”
The next morning, Connor tied on his wooly hat and walked past the chimney. Mom and Dad followed him to the porch.
As the cold air froze the red in his cheeks, Connor asked, “Where's Grandma?”
“Right here!” she said, smiling beside the Christmas tree.

What do you think?
At the holidays, who do you look forward to seeing?
What special preparations do you do for their arrival?
Who do you imagine brought Grandma to Connor's house?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It seems like just about any and every thought has a special day or month. Although every day is a picture book day for caregivers, parents, and children, at the very least naming a month after such an amazing art grabs everyone's attention to fuel another year of stories.

I adore writing picture book texts and only wish I had an artistic talent to go with them, but alas no. When I was a French teacher, I would avoid translating at all costs and succumb to drawing a picture on the black board to represent a particular vocabulary word. One day, after what I thought was a perfectly acceptable shape of who-knows-what-now, I turned around only to see 24 puzzled faces. To which I responded/begged, "Un peu d'imagination, s'il vous plait!"

Imagination is the start of the fantastical and of the life-like images we admire in picture books. But I believe words can be the pencils to draw entire worlds in our heads. For this reason, the stories on Good Night, Sleep Tight are written more "flowery"and "descriptive" to start the sketches in one's imagination. And the best part of it, is that the same paragraph may create an entirely different image in my head than in anyone else's. And if I could turn the pages in a child's mind, I bet I would find the most impressive works of art that could compete with any surrealist.

In honor of Picture Book Month, I want to celebrate stories of all kinds - be them read-aloud, wordless, or a simple, yet so important, board book that makes the first connection between words and images in the youngest child.

I couldn't possibly write a post for this special month without noting a few of my favorite picture books. This list could go on for years, but for the sake of space and your, kind reader's, patience, I will limit it to the following (in no particular order).

The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowery
In a Pumpkin Shell by Joan Walsh Anglund
Dolphin Boy by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman
The Princess and the Wizard by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Lydia Monks
My Mom is a Foreigner, But Not Me by Julianne Moore, illustrated by Meilo So
This is Me by Philip Waechter (I love, love, love this book and will read it forever!)
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (This story made me laugh out loud at the book store.)

Some French titles I own with remarkable illustrations that are also worth a look (and read) are:
La Fée Coquillette fait la maîtresse by Didier Lévy and Benjamin Chaud
Petit dragon by Christoph Niemann
La Petite Poule Rousse by Pierre Delye and Cécile Hudrisier

And in terms of characters, illustration, and imagination, my picture book préféré is... À quoi penses-tu? by Laurent Moreau.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This post is going to look very different from my usual stories. In fact, one of my friends and fellow writers, Dina Von Lowenkraft (, has tagged me in a blog hop. Dina is a YA writer of fantasy and sci-fi. She is the author of Dragon Fire

For the blog hop, I get to answer the following four questions. At the end, you will see the writers I have tagged in return. Please share the love of reading and writing by visiting their blogs as well.

Here are my “behind the scenes” reasons why I do what I do.

1)What am I working on?

I have just completed a Middle Grade novel that grew out of an original story on Good Night, Sleep Tight. While that story is traveling through “query land” looking for an agent, I am skipping and dancing through some PB manuscripts I wrote during Julie Headlund's 12x12 Challenge last year, trying to find the right rhythm and words to create little masterpieces.

My two new character ideas (top secret) for future MG novels are also crawling their way through my mind in search of their plots.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I feel my work differs because, as for any writer, my stories can only be written by me thanks to my life experiences, travels, thoughts, and beliefs.

As much as I enjoy bouncy, active picture books, I also appreciate quiet, sweet stories with which to rock my children, nieces, and nephews to sleep. These are the types of stories I still remember my grandmother and my aunt reading to me. And because of these moments, I can still feel their love although they're gone. So I do tend to evoke emotions and softness in my youngest stories because, for me, that is what bedtime reading is all about.

Middle Grade stories do not appear on Good Night, Sleep Tight, but I will mention my latest manuscript for this post. Without giving too much away, the protagonist is a common fictional character who fights against becoming what this type of character is usually after. Not only does she have to figure out what she wants, but also what's best for her family and community. And once she works this out, she must make her decision as to which is more important.... and in the end, what will make her happiest. She lives in a fantasy world intertwined with the real world and its ecological issues.

3) Why do I write what I do?

As mentioned earlier in what makes my picture books unique, I write to create moments: moments of closeness, understanding, discovery, and joy.

In my writing for older listeners and readers, those same moments are important. In them, I want to also sprinkle doses of self-awareness and life-discovery.

Life can be so confusing and frustrating for little ones and older children as they grow. I want to provide an escape though my books. Yet once the story ends, I wish for the reader or listener to know something more than before and to feel encouraged.

4) How does my writing process work?

Very often, I get the idea of a topic I want to explore: family, friendship, loss, … Or, I see a situation in a child's life: a friend moving away, a family vacation, the desire for a pet, ...

From these ideas, I brainstorm what could be funny, frustrating, or satisfying from the particular predicaments with some sort of twist to it. Then, I envision a character to throw into the adventure and see how he or she handles it.

But sometimes, I get the idea of a particular child or of another type of character (animal, toy, etc.) and wonder what would be an interesting but challenging situation for them to encounter.

Being a very visual person, I “see” the story in my head as it comes to me and write it all down. Then, I go back and polish the story with the right speech tags, action words, just enough description, etc. I then revise over and over again until the pacing and the rhythm sound just right.

For my middle grade stories, the character comes to me first and then tells me where he or she wants (or does not want) to go. I find this creative process loads of fun and enjoy going along for the ride.

For more insights from my fellow bloggers and friends, please visit:

Olivia de Vos at Olivia Sadie's Blog ( She say, “I'm interested in anything and everything except cooking and sewing, so perhaps I should be writing feminist literature. Indeed, I'm trying to find my niche and have dabbled in, well anything and everything, from welding to bricklaying, to pottery. Currently, I read, travel, take photos and write, not necessarily in that order. In between, I work as a teacher to make a living.”

Ramona Siddoway at You Make Me Smile ( I first met Ramona years ago at a writer's group. She made me smile as soon as I walked in the door, and I'm sure her writing will make you smile as well, if not fall on the ground laughing.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


self-control, emotions, responsibility, family

When Dragon Drew danced around his cave, he jumped high. He tapped hard. He spun fast.
One day...
Swoosh! Crash!
His sister Amy's tower tumbled to the ground.
“Watch your tail,” warned Amy and packed up her pebbles.
Grrr. I always knock stuff over. Drew moped into his bedcave. He set up his play town. He lined up the houses. When he stood the last people in the school, he heard his neighbor singing.
What a rockin' song, he thought.
Drew jumped. Drew tapped. Drew spun.
Swoosh! Crash!
The whole town whipped under his bed.
“Watch your tail,” warned Mom and handed him a broom.
Grrr. I always scratch up my toys. Drew stomped into the playcave and set out paper and paints.
He dipped his brush in the blue. He smeared some red with his paw. When he hung his picture to dry, he heard Amy practicing her piano.
What a jazzy tune, he thought.
Drew jumped. Drew tapped. Drew spun.
Swoosh! Crash!
The easel flew against the wall.
“Watch your tail,” warned Dad and handed him a mop.
Grrr. I always make a mess. Drew sulked to the living cave and grabbed some books. He read one and put it beside him. He read a second book and stacked it on the first, and then another and another. When he closed the last book, he heard...
A pan clink. A cupboard bang. Plates clank. And a spoon ding on a glass.
What a great beat, thought Drew.
Drew jumped. Drew tapped. Drew spun.
Swoosh! Crash!
Books flew across the living cave smashing everything!
“Not again,” said Dad.
“Clean up this cave,” said Mom.
Grrr. I always cause a catastrophe. Drew wiped a tear from his cheek.
Drew looked at his tail. Then, he looked at the mess. Mmmm...
Drew hummed and wiggled this way. He hummed and shimmied that way. Finally, he hummed and twisted everywhere until the living cave was tidy.
Drew was so happy, he jumped. He tapped. He spun.
But no Crash!
“Look at that tail!” said Mom, Dad, and Amy. “Great job, Drew!”

What do you think?
Do you ever have days when everything seems to go wrong?
Do you ever have times when it's hard to control your excitement? If so, when?
Have you ever bumped into something or dropped something or spilled something by accident? How did you feel? How did you fix it? 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thanks to Susanna Leonard Hill for hosting the Halloweensie Contest! The rules are to incorporate the three words, cackle, black cat, and spooky, into a story of no more than 100 words. Here's mine.

Lizzy Witch and Spooky 

The final bell clanged. Schoolwitches cheered. It was Halloween break!

Lizzy Witch kicked up her broomstand and soared home to her black cat.

"Where's Spooky?" she asked Mum.

"We never know," she cackled.

Lizzy echoed into the caldron. "Spooky."

She plucked through the pumpkin patch. "Spoooky."

She flew over the chimney and under the thorn bushes. "Spooooooky!"

Lizzy coasted home with empty arms and an empty tummy.

"Soup's on," said Mum.

"I can't eat without Spooky." Lizzy sobbed. 

"Who do you think caught the ingredients?" Mum winked.

Just then, Spooky sprang into Lizzy's lap.

"Happy Halloween to you too, Spooky!"

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dolphins on Her Mind

My twin sister Avani and I watched the most amazing science video today – about the sea, about coral reefs, and about dolphins!
They squeak. They swim and play. They save people when they fall off boats.
And Avani wants one.
Avani could squeak in dolphin language. It can't be that different from whining.
We have a swimming pool. And she's not afraid to ride on a dolphin's back.
Avani asks Mom as soon as she gets home.
“You want a dolphin?” Mom squeals. She would be great at talking to dolphins, too.
“Please?” says Avani.
“Sorry, Avani. It's not possible,” she says.
Avani goes to our room and draws a picture of a smiling dolphin jumping out of our swimming pool. Dad always swims laps by himself. Surely he would like the company.
Avani asks Dad as soon as he gets home.
“Swim with a dolphin?” Dad repeats slamming the trunk. He is definitely strong enough.
“Please?” says Avani.
“Sorry, Avani. It's not possible,” he says.
Avani is so distracted during dinner, she pokes green beans into her cheek. She pours water down her chin. And worst of all, she forgets she has a piece of bread in her hand, leans onto her elbow, and smashes it into her ear.
Dad asks, “What's on your mind, Avani?”
“Dolphins,” she says.
He shakes his head.
“Mom, can I use your computer?” Avani asks.
“If it's for school work,” she says.
We both go to the living room.
She types DOLPHINS and we watch shiny, grey creatures swim in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean... Pink dolphins even swim in rivers! But not one dolphin lives near us, in the middle of the country.
I write down some notes while Avani types DOLPHIN CENTERS. They exist in North America, South America... Australia has several centers! But not one center is anywhere near our house.
Then we see a word at the bottom of the screen. ADOPTION. She clicks on it, and we read the description.
“Mom, Dad,” I shout back into the kitchen, “Avani can have a dolphin.”
As I scribble down names and places, my parents scoot back their chairs.
“Come see,” Avani shouts even though they're already standing behind us.
Mom says, “These dolphins have been injured and can't go back to sea. How sad.”
Dad says, “They need donations to help care for them.”
“I'll give everything in my piggy bank,” Avani says and runs upstairs. Her coins rattle as she runs back downstairs. “Please?”
“Sorry, Avani,” says Dad. “It is not possible that you have enough money to feed a dolphin for a year.”
But Avani asks, “What if we each add some money?”
Mom and Dad look at one another.
“Please?” says Avani.
Finally, a smile creeps onto Dad's face and in between Mom's cheeks.
Avani knew it was possible!

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