Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Difference an A Makes

The current trend in American education is STEM, an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It's an excellent concept, but a bit lacking.

There's no A.


Children being surrounded by pure STEM activities and thought will miss out on what gives life its STEAM, its reason and purpose. After mankind discovered the basic technology of fire, he was then able to invent cave drawings to express himself in the darkness of the underground. Since then, mankind has taken a giant leap to great literature beyond those characters on the wall. Both are heartfelt attempts at communicating thoughts, and therein lines my concern. Leaders of tomorrow must be able to communicate, and that's where the A comes in.

I've had this thought ever since the pendulum swung towards all things scientific. I felt like I was the only person on earth ringing the alarm bell amidst the clanging, until I watched a program on CSpan during the Apollo Eleven anniversary week. The topic was spacesuit design and featured a panel of experts who devoted their lives to the ever evolving suits astronauts wear.
This group had recreated the Apollo spacesuit for the anniversary and was eager to share their findings and comparisons with current suits. One of the panelists, Dava Newman a professor of Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT, described her passion for suit design. What interested me most, however, was her other passion, empowering the next generation of scientists through STEM, only she suggested adding the A for Arts, and a D at the end for Design. 

Yes, people, let's get STEAMD up about nurturing a whole individual who is exposed to disciplines across the spectrum. Interpreting all the technologies mankind can develop means nothing without an understanding of history and psychology and literature, or without an appreciation of the fine arts to express emotions and thoughts. 

Time to swing back the pendulum.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 3, 2019

More Moon Magic

This Apollo celebration just never ends!! Today a friend of mine gave me a 3-D pop-up card featuring the Eagle lunar module.
How cool is that!
Look at the details up close:
Even the tiny footprints are included.
I added a frame around the cover of the card
to show the whiteness of the moon a little better.
The plan is for me to take the card to book events and wow everyone when I open it.

One thing I won't take with me is the bag of Fiftieth Anniversary Oreo cookies I finally got my hands on. They will be long gone in a few days.

Talk about a way to celebrate! How about imprinted moon-related pictures on each cookie? How about glow in the dark stickers on the back? 
I enlarged this photo so you could see the astronaut on the cookie.
There's a rocket on the cookie that is open and a crescent moon on the other.
Take these cookies with a glass of Tang to wash them down, and I've got the perfect Apollo snack. Too bad massive celebrations like these only come every fifty years.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, July 27, 2019

One Giant Leap

I'm doing a book signing today at an indie bookstore in downtown Lenoir, North Carolina, Tybrisa Books, and to garner a bit of interest, I offered a free copy of my Back on Earth: When Men First Landed on the Moon to the first person who tells me the secret password. When I was selecting the word, I wanted one that meant a lot to me. At first I thought of "one small step," but that seemed too used. Instead I went for "Giant Leap."
My own giant leap
The past few weeks have been giant whirlwinds for me, mostly connected to the Apollo Eleven moon landing. A feature article about my book was on the front page...FRONT PAGE!!!...of the Hickory Daily Record. I also made presentations to several groups. Unfortunately I missed the parade and fun and fireworks at the nearby Rhodhiss community where a textile mill produced the material for the flag that is still there on the moon. What a celebration they had! Their one small step of the process was important to the  American people and they earned those bragging rights.

Instead I was celebrating "Apollo at the Ball Park" in Atlanta, Georgia. Interesting thing about that, major league baseball had their own textile connections to Apollo Eleven's success, and they also bragged. I took these pictures at the Atlanta/Washington ball game on July 20, the very day of the anniversary of the moon landing.
I've been amazed at the contributions I've found of ordinary people fifty some years ago going about their daily work that ended up making history. I've also been amazed at the stories individuals told about where they were at the exact moment Neil Armstrong made his one small step statement.
We might not have been doing such giant leaps as a first major league home run, but we did have our own stories that we shared with this new generation. That was the whole purpose behind my writing this book. Have you shared your story? Have you listened to others as they shared their stories?

Catch of the day,


PS: I've been seeing rustlings about the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock coming now and people's stories about that. I have none to tell except that I heard about it, but I probably couldn't write a children's picture book about that anyway.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Eagle Has Landed!

Those words, "The Eagle has landed," sends a chill up my spine even fifty years later. We knew back then how monumental this accomplishment was, and that feeling of pure pride has not diminished in the time since.

Wow! Just Wow! Men walked on the moon. Imagine that! We couldn't, not really. No nonbelievers will shake my faith. Not then, not now.
All week long I've watched programs about this event. I've read articles. I've learned so much that I could have put in the picture book. Or not. There is only so much room in a book designed to keep a young child's attention span from wandering. I think I reached that limit with what I chose to include.

I could have told the story about the textile mill near here that wove the material that was used for the flag on the moon. I interviewed the Rhodhiss town clerk so I could share the story with the fourth graders I met when I made author visits this spring. The town is having a huge celebration this evening to commemorate their small part in this grand step for mankind.

I learned from an article in Parade Magazine that because astronauts were in a high risk occupation, they could not purchase life insurance at a decent rate. Each of these three astronauts signed several cards in the case that anything happened and they could not return, their wives could sell the autographs for a tidy sum that would support them for years to come. Didn't happen, but just in case!

So much of a deal has been made this week of Apollo Eleven, that everyone might be on overload. I hope people from my generation have shared their own personal stories with today's children. That was the purpose behind my book, after all. For us to tell about those of us Back on Earth When Men First Landed on the Moon. It's on kindle, so it's not too late to share the wisdom.
In Friday's local newspaper, a tribute column by Brent Tomberlin included interesting facts about Apollo Eleven I had never heard before. One touched my heart. Someone placed a card on President John Kennedy's grave while the men were walking on the moon. It read "Mr. President, the Eagle has landed."


Just Wow to this whole week.

Catch of the day,


Friday, July 19, 2019

Dedicated to...

I've not had a problem with deciding the dedication of my books, Lessons Learned to the children and teachers who were connected to the school, and When Christmas Feels Like Home, to children who move, since main character Eduardo, had moved to a new country and a new life. Those decisions were no brainers. My other book dedications were to the individuals I wrote about. Again, no brainers. Those dedications were made before I wrote the first word.

Then I came to the dedication of my moon book, Back on Earth: When Men First Landed on the Moon. Who should receive the honor? The three Apollo Eleven astronauts? No, they've had plenty of accolades. What about NASA? No, although these workers were essential, they didn't match I wanted to get across to the reader.

I mulled proper names and common nouns over and over. Who am I really honoring in this picture book? The title suggests those of us back on earth, those of us in front of the television set biting our fingernails and squeezing our mother's hands. Those of us cheering. I wondered what were they thinking when they clapped.
What about those of us on the sidewalks looking into storefront television displays? I wondered why they took time to stop by the window and look in.
And then it hit me. What I really wanted to honor was those people back on earth who were awed about the whole concept of putting a man on the moon, those who sat on a bench and wondered what was going to happen, those who let their imaginations soar along with the Columbia.
But that was then. I wanted to include more. I wanted to pay homage to those children (and grownups) who wonder about what is next. Could a child reading my book become the grownup who one day walks on Mars? 

I wondered.

In the end, I dedicated this sliver of a picture book finding its place in the great cosmos, to cover past, present and future, all wrapped into one phrase. I lift my wine glass to you who wonder about space and about life. I honor your drive and your passion.

Dedicated to those who wonder.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Counting down on Kindle, too!

The countdown to the fifty year anniversary of men first walking on the moon continues! I've seen an increasing amount of information about the Apollo Eleven moon mission the last few days. I've tasted the commemorative Krispy Kreme Donuts, the kind that you can't eat just one. I've eaten more than my fair share of moon pies this week. I've consumed a glass or two of Tang. Life is good five decades past the July 20, 1969 moon walk.

After many days of trial and error (mostly error) of trying to fit a square picture book into the oblong rectangle shape of kindle, I finally succeeded, at least I think I did. From all indications on my view options, things fit right in there once I selected the comic book format. This, my friends, is not a comic book, but call it that if you must, because it fit! This children's picture book is not a scientific report. It is an account of those of us back on earth watching, worrying, and cheering.
And there it is, with a completely redesigned cover showing "Liftoff! We have liftoff!" What the world needs now is a glimpse at the time when America was at its best.

Available now from amazon kindle. Back on Earth: When Men First Landed on the Moon.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Illustrated By...

Fifty years ago on the day after the rocket blasted off towards the moon, those of us back on earth went into a holding pattern. We waited and for little kids it was like waiting for Christmas in the middle of the summer. I feel like that now, after watching a day of Apollo Eleven features on the television set. We had liftoff on every channel, over and over and over. More hype is to come on Saturday when we watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. Until then we wait.

Which gives me a chance to introduce the artist who illustrated Back on Earth: When Men First Landed on the Moon. Bobbie (Roberta to be exact) Gumbert.
Look at those fantastic medals hanging around her next. She earned them at this year's North Carolina Senior Games, one of them for the painting beside her.
I took this picture the day we sat down together with her Apollo Eleven artwork. I was blown away. She nailed it! And our book with her art is featured in today's edition of the Hickory Daily Record.
The reporter, Emily Willis, chose pages from the book to showcase.
Thank you Emily for your article. This is what good reporters do. And thank you Bobbie for interpreting my words so a child can better understand. That's what good illustrators do.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Liftoff! We Have Liftoff!

Fifty years ago today something magical started in action. . . liftoff of the Apollo Eleven mission to the moon. I wasn't anywhere near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but I can imagine. I've never felt the ground shake from a man-made monster such as this, but I can imagine. I've never heard the roar of Saturn V rocket engines, but I can imagine. Or maybe I can't, since this power was unimaginable to those of us merely watching on TV.
I can picture the crowds shading their eyes, watching from the distance. I can see the birds rousted from their nests as liftoff grew louder and louder and even louder.
We weren't just idle bystanders. We didn't say, "They are going to the moon." We said, "We are going to the moon." Big difference. We were caught up in the drama, in the possibilities, and deep inside, maybe in the fear that something could go wrong.

But it didn't, and now fifty years later we review and relive the experience. My heart still thumps extra hard just imagining.

Catch of the day,


Monday, July 15, 2019


The countdown is on! This is the week I have anticipated for well over a year, probably even longer since I wrote Back on Earth: When Men First Landed on the Moon five years ago. It's arrived! The fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo Eleven Moon Mission, in case you haven't noticed all the hype floating around the internet.
My homage to those who wonder
Maybe I have anticipated this for fifty years, because this book is me, or at least what I remember from this week of July, 1969. It also is partly what other people remembered about their experiences. My artist, Bobbie Gumbert, lined her youngsters up in front of the TV set and watched with them. 
The purpose of my book was to start the conversation between generations about this historical event. My wish is that the children of today realize what a monumental accomplishment going to the moon actually was. As I've watched flashbacks on television and read articles in newspapers and online, I've developed a deeper appreciation. Maybe because I'm older. Maybe because I so passionately want us to return to that moment of unity. Our American pride was at its best as all eyes were looking upward at three men racing away from earth. 

Spread the word. Fifty years ago, we accomplished the impossible. If we can do that, we can do anything.

Catch of the day,


Monday, July 1, 2019

Closer, Closer, Closer

Today I'm taking a page from my own book to say that July 20 and the Apollo Eleven moon landing fiftieth anniversary celebration is getting closer and closer and closer.

The "we" in this excerpt is those of here, back on earth, watching the action unfold above. And there we sat, glued to the ancient television set, waiting, waiting, waiting.
There were many of us who had a personal connection to what was going on thousands of miles above our heads. One was Kristy Dempsey, a fellow children's author from the Carolinas. Along with illustrator Sarah Green, she relates the story of her father's contribution to the Apollo Eleven's success through the South Carolina textile mill that manufactured the space suit the astronauts wore. In her picture book, Papa Put a Man on the Moon, she pays homage to him in a most beautiful way. The artist shows what my artist shows in the picture above, watching the landing together. Kristy goes on to show commentator Walter Cronkite and his "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy" exclamations. She captures our emotions that, awe, more than a tinge of fear, and most of all in her book, pride. Pride in what America accomplished. Pride in what her father accomplished. What a wonderful honor to her father and to all those thousands and thousands around the globe that had even a tiny bit part in this.

Catch of the day,


Friday, June 28, 2019

The Ebook Adventure

I once attended a workshop led by our exceptional students' teacher where we teachers were given a taste of what being learning disabled really meant. This super-exceptional teacher passed out worksheets for us to do, simple worksheets similar to a typical classroom assignment of read and answer questions. Only in this case a few of us (including me) were set up to fail, without our knowledge. She had jumbled the words, misplaced some, twisted spellings, and done everything possible to make reading/comprehension difficult, if not impossible.

The control group hurried through theirs. I became frustrated. They were all clicking along like A-team students. What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I click right along, too?

I finally gave up in frustration and waited for the others to finish the lesson so I could hear what was going on and then copy them.

Lesson learned, and it was a lesson that brought a new clarity to me. I have no memory of the content of the assignment, but to this day I know what exactly the real lesson was - the emotions brought about in daily challenges and struggles of children with alternate learning styles. I was no less intelligent or worthy than anyone else in the room, but I began to doubt myself, even in that short period of time. I had never experienced struggle, since all things academic came so naturally to me. I enjoyed the thrill of learning - until that moment.

All this background to say I had one of those struggling moments this week when I doubted my intelligence and had no joy in the thrill of learning. I uploaded my latest book to Kindle, not that I haven't done it before, successfully, I might add. This one was different. I needed to get a square picture book into a rectangular ebook.

At issue: How to convert this 8.5X8.5 square into a 9X6 rectangle
No easy task. Frustration. Self-doubt. The same emotions from that workshop wound their way to the surface. Thank heaven for kindle create and YouTube. I'm a visual learner. No problem, once I realized what I was doing. I chose the comic/graphic novel option, and whoop, there it was! (After three days)

I also had to redesign the cover, so I went totally in a different direction.

From this:

To this: 

Now it's a done deal, available on line, and I've learned the lesson, no, I re-learned the lesson from this ebook adventure. I am no less intelligent or worthy. I struggled, but I DID IT!!!

Catch of the day,


Monday, June 17, 2019

Highest Bidder Takes Home Fly Fishing Basket

A couple weeks ago I posted about a gift basket I had put together for auction. We have results!

As announced by the Red Awning Gallery:

We are happy to announce that our first gift basket in our series of baskets went home with a long standing friend of Western North Carolina Society of Artisans and The Red Awning Gallery who wanted to remain anonymous. When asked what his primary interest in the basket was and he said actually it was primarily Gretchen’s book and as an avid fisherman thought it had some interesting equipment in it that he really appreciated.
Our next basket is a beach themed basket that is being put together and donated by Iris Wyvill, a member of WNCSA and displays in The Red Awning Gallery. She has included a painting she created especially for her basket. You can see more of her paintings at the gallery.
Proceeds from this basket series goes toward meeting the goals established by Western North Carolina Society of Artisans and The Red Awning Gallery.

So now you know. I hope the bidder is as thrilled as I am!

Catch of the day,


Friday, May 31, 2019

Fly Fishing Gift Basket Auction

Up for auction!
Fly fishing gift basket, an antique creel basket filled with goodies from the past!

I belong to the Western North Carolina Society of Artisans, a wonderful collection of outstanding local artists representing a wide variety of the arts. They accepted me as an artist and I believed them. I am an artisan. Writing is truly an art. So is fly fishing, and the two widely different arts merge in my book, Fly Fishermen of Caldwell County, which just happens to be the theme around which this basket is built.

At the center is a copy of the book and each item included connects in some way to a page or chapter in the book. The classic creel basket was donated by James Henson, page 91. He used it, and used it well in his years on the creeks and streams not only here in western North Carolina, but throughout the United States as well. Oh, if this basket could talk!
In our conversation when I told him my plans for the auction basket, he mentioned this creel basket that was sitting neglected and forgotten in his basement. Would I like to have it for the auction?


And when he brought it to me, he had a surprise. He had gone to his workbench and tied a few (eighteen to be exact) new ties, six of each, to also include. Wow!

And then. AND THEN...

He casually mentioned he would like to donate an old rod he had laying around that he would never use again since he has newer equipment. A bamboo rod. Cork handle. Would I be interested in including it?


It's a Horrocks IBBotson from the fifties. I found it on Clark's Classic Bamboo Rod Forum (thank you google!) Check it out.

I've said all along that I'm not a fly fisherman, well, fisherwoman. Never have been. Maybe I'll try it some day when the snakes have decided to vacate the streams. So I don't really know the value of this. My husband made the rounds showing it to various fishermen about town (who also just happen to be in the book) and they agree it is in excellent condition, but they disagree on the value. It is what it is, so bidding (and in depth research) will be what it will be.

One of the men we talked with was Jasper Reese, page 79 in the book. He was more than thrilled to donate something to the cause. Proceeds, by the way, will go to the WNCSA and its Red Awning Gallery.
That's him holding the landing net he donated. It looked a little dilapidated with rubber bands holding the container together. Until he snapped it open.
And there it is, in excellent condition. I brought it home with me and snapped it open to snap the picture. Big mistake. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to collapse that net back into the little, tiny pouch. So. Back I went for a fly fishing essential lesson from Jasper. He makes it look so easy!

You are invited to come into the Red Awning Gallery where WNCSA members sell our handiwork. See the basket I'm about and register to bid, and I'm not worried that you will snap open this net and not get it stuffed back in. The basket is wrapped in a see-through gift bag for your viewing pleasure only. The gallery is located at the HUB, Hudson Uptown Building, 145 Cedar Valley Road, Hudson, North Carolina 28638. Please come and enjoy our art! You can also call during gallery hours to register and bid once bidding gets under way, but do NOT leave messages on the answering machine. 828-610-6300 We do ask that highest bidder come in person once bidding is completed to show identification.

Bidding opens June 1 at 10:00 in the morning and remains open during gallery hours until 6:00pm June 11. (Gallery hours, Tuesdays through Fridays 11-6 and Saturdays 10-3)

Bidding starts at $100 and please bid in increments of $5 or more.

For more information contact me through my website, 

Let the bidding begin (tomorrow)!

Catch of the day, (and this basket full of goodies is a great catch)


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley

Of course I sang the song. I was a child of the sixties. In North Carolina. Enough said.

The Kingston Trio made it famous in the late fifties, but the original folk version twanged its way through the backwoods of the Carolinas long before that. In 1866 Tom Dooley murdered (or did he?) his lover, Laura Foster, who just happened to be the cousin of his former lover, Ann Foster Melton. Whether he did the deed or not has remained one of the greatest deep country debates for a century, worthy of a hit song that has kept the question alive for over a hundred years.

The story garners enough respect to be the focus of The Tom Dooley Festival, a delightful event despite its gruesome backstory. It was held last weekend, as every year, at Whippoorwill Academy and Village, in Ferguson in the foothills of western North Carolina, Tom's stomping grounds. Actors from the summer theatre presented a snippet of the story. I hope Tom's character had a chance to say his proclamation from the gallows: "Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I didn't harm a hair on the girl's head." And then he was hung. And then the legends and whispers and ballads began.

I didn't have a chance to hear it. I was over on author's row, selling my books, two of which by the way, are about characters who in addition to Tom Dooley, can claim the community around Whippoorwill as their stomping grounds.
Okay, so I really don't have a book by that title. It's a joke.

Neither does Charlotte Barnes, the author under the tent next to mine, the one in this Author's Row non existent book titles announces "I Am Laura." That's a little closer to facts than my "Secret Lives of Women who Stalk Fishermen," but we had a good laugh.

Charlotte wrote a well researched nonfiction about Tom Dooley, which was her reason for being present at the festival.
We had a great day, connecting as authors do. I later learned she was one day short of her newest publication, Dooley, a base-on-real-events, Tom Dooley novel told from the perspective of the newspaper reporter who covered the hanging. I can't wait to read it. Her initial shipment arrived at her home the next day, a Sunday delivery, in fact.

Meanwhile I talked with festival goers about my books, not only those two with settings in the Ferguson area. The most fun I had was watching children play with the rockets and parachutes I brought as part of my Back on Earth book, the one about Apollo Eleven.

So it didn't fit the theme of the festival with the spinning wheels and blacksmiths and the geneology of Tom Dooley, but we had fun.
There's nothing quite like spanning the history of western North Carolina civilization from colonial Daniel Boone, through Civil War veteran Tom Dooley to the 1969 Apollo Eleven moon shot. What a day. Nothing to hang down your head about, either.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Tree on Roof

I came up with the idea for my first children's picture book When Christmas Feels Like Home when I watched Robin Williams as Mork from Ork (or is that backwards?). As an alien he witnessed cars driving about town with trees loaded on their tops and wondered what was happening. Trees riding on cars! Go figure!

Thank you, illustrator Carolina Farias,
 for getting it right!
I began watching the cars around me, studying the people inside, their faces, their joys, and then a little story seed grew in the writing side of my brain. End result, a picture book.

There's a new seed growing now in the same side of my brain, at least it's been planted there. I'll call this one, "Tree on Roof," thanks to a violent storm that whipped through our neighborhood.

Image may contain: tree, house, plant, sky and outdoor

It could have been worse! We ended up with a few holes punched in the roof, which we were able to patch with no problem. Having an excellent insurance agent does help.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, shoes, outdoor and nature
Husband on roof clearing limbs
Okay, so my husband might not be yet ready for the literary version of our latest homeowner trials and tribulations. Fortunately we found an available company who came to our rescue. 

Image may contain: tree, sky and outdoor

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, house, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: tree and outdoor
Walnut wood, anyone?
The walnut harvest for the squirrels will be minus one tree this year. Therein lies the seed of a picture book. Maybe. Possibly.

Just in case any of you are in need, here's the company we dealt with.
Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Maybe it is time for me to go out on a limb and write this book!

Catch of the day,