Friday, May 28, 2010

It's a case of species confusion!

It's a case of species confusion. Sometimes dogs love to play people.

Sometimes kids love to play dogs.

Knees and Paws are for kids who love to play cats and dogs. Chocolate Lab Knees and Paws are inspired by our family dog, Bear. Sizes xs through xxl are available. Happy memorial weekend to my fellow bloggers and visitors.

The rewards of patience

This is the outside corner of my workroom, part of an enchanting little evergreen garden which the previous owners installed in an attempt to sell the home. Obviously, it worked on me, appealing to my need for a natural retreat in the city. My husband, however, would like to do something completely different with this area. He's often complained about the giant Hollies on the corners of this landscape design. The hollies have been a big problem due to the maintenance involved in keeping them at a reasonable size. This year, they had grown three times the size you see in this picture. I was worried about taking them down because the birds absolutely loved them. These hollies were prime real estate in our yard. All spring we were gifted with the show of three different species of birds fighting for nest building rights. Alas, this year the hollies took over the house and they had to go. And for once, procrastination was a good thing. As I cut the branches, I worried what would fall...egg filled nests? Babies just learning to fly?

I was rewarded with four beautiful empty nests. Next year I will miss my little bird families so close to my window.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Preview of New Items

Here's a sample preview of the new line of Knees and Paws to be showcased on the regular Knees and Paws domain. The new inventory is a priority before my vacation on the Appalachian Trail, which is coming up in two weeks. Top image is a Knees and Paws collage in plush inspired by the variety of Austrailian Shepard patterns. Calico cats are next on the list.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On the Eve of Sweet Sixteen

A new summer with my daughter approaches, this time with driver's permit and a bolder attitude. I think she's a little embarrassed about the whole "knees and paws" business. It's that time in life when nothing a mom does is interesting, exciting or cool. Today I am thinking of her. It may be less confrontational to live 700 miles apart while she learns what daily life is like with her dad, but really, it's not so easy. The truth is that I would live through the experience of a hundred heated arguments, name calling and tears just to have her in our home every day. I'm learning to let go.
I have let go.
Our summer together approaches. This past year she's experienced the death of her grandfather, the accidental death of her best friend's mother, the relocation of her two closest girl friends, the tumultuous ups and downs of loving and losing her first boyfriend, a bicycle accident, three of her girlfriends' pregnancies, fights with her step mother, and the absence of me. When I remember what my life at 15 was like I thank God for the boredom.
When I was a child I told my mother that the moon was God's flashlight. After spending yesterday indoors with my flu-sick little boy I managed an evening walk. Every time I looked up, the moon seemed to be right ahead of my steps. This is how I will walk through this summer, with the faith that God is just over the hill, making a way for me to love my daughter the way she needs me to.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Invention Sunday: Ear Muffs by Chester Greenwood

In an effort to further develop this home-made project of Knees and Paws, I have chosen to post a weekly foray into the world of inventing. One month from now I will commence with the daunting task of writing the official patent application.

Dear reader, please excuse me if this topic bores you, but I'm a self-declared geek, I'm skipping church today, I'm avoiding the laundry mountain and the garage that needs organizing.

Today I'm thankful for Chester Greenwood, inventor of ear muffs.

One winter, a fifteen year old boy was ice skating in his hometown of Farmington, Maine when he wondered whether tufts of fur sewn between a loop of wire would protect his ears from extreme cold. He asked his grandmother to sew them, then wrote a patent for the "improved ear protectors" in 1873. Once the patent was official, Greenwood began manufacturing ear muffs, providing jobs for people in Farmington for close to 60 years.

The tiny article about him on Wikipedia lists a few other of Greenwood's inventions which became more complex as he matured. Not only an inventor, he owned a bicycle business and helped establish a telephone system in his town. He married, had four kids, engaged in civic responsibilities and is remembered with fondness and appreciation. The State of Maine declared December 21 to be the official "Chester Greenwood Day".

I'm not in this to get a parade day. But it's so cool to think about the possibilities of what a simple, hand crafted invention can do. I personally did not enjoy wearing ear muffs, but the idea sold. It started in the home with a simple idea. This, more than anything, excites me. Chester did not have Etsy. (I wonder if his grandma would have started there?) He didn't have to learn online marketing. Without those avenues I do wonder how he got from point a to point z and every point in between.

And so I have a research project that promises visits to historical libraries. I am thrilled to do this. Despite connecting with many wonderful new online buddies I sort of feel like a loner in the patenting part of this. I need a historical guide. More on Chester as I uncover his story. Perhaps it will help to shape mine.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mission Monkey

Dear Friends,
I am participating in what's known around the world as Mission Monkey day! What is Mission Monkey you ask? Well, there's this blogger friend of ours known as Pixie Momma, aka Michelle. Michelle has a little girl, or Monkey as she's known by who was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma. To learn more about it, click here. Monkey is a sweet little 16 month old girl. She doesn't deserve this. Nobody deserves this.

But the good news is that Monkey only has Stage 1 (low risk). The bad news is the medical bills are mounting and the Physical Therapy (starts today) isn't covered by insurance. Michelle is using the donated money to offset medical bills. She will donate and unused portion to another family dealing with the same issue.

This is why the blogging universe is banning together like never before to rally around Michelle and Monkey to provide support. In addition to further entice you to lend your hand, and donate to the cause, we have over 50 items that have been donated. Many bloggers are hosting these fabulous giveaways and all you need to win one of these items is just one raffle ticket.

Donation pages:
Princess of Sarcasm -
The One and Only Oka -
SupahMommy -
Jenn B Says #1 -
Jenn B Says #2 -
Amber -
Two Little Monkeys -
Mommy's Nest -
Chief's Hiding From the Kids -
Jenny -
Jana -

Knees and Paws -

Click on monkey to donate...please help!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Benefit of Being an Amateur

I am an amateur at most of the roles I play. Dear hubby, thank you for saying that it's a good thing I can finally admit to the truth. Dear son, thank you for healing that wound by responding that I'm not an amateur when it comes to "loving".

It's okay to be a beginner. When I taught ESOL, most of my students were beginners. I found them to be much more enthusiastic and delightful than some of the intermediate learners. They loved to laugh at their mistakes and accepted my amateur style of teaching, coming back week after week to fumble with grammar and conversation.

Fumbling is what I do. A glowing light of positive intention is what I need. So here I go, believing in something unseen. Inventory: grow in quality and quantity; let the children find you.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Making a Move

As much as I love (abhor) making deadlines for myself, I suppose it's one way to move forward (back, sideways?) In two weeks, I plan to showcase the latest inventory of Knees and Paws on, complete with a pay pal cart. It's time to widen the scope and stand on my own outside Etsy.

The "Dad" in Me

If one looks very closely, in good light, there's no mistaking the mustache on my upper lip. I've never done anything to hide it, even taken comments from boys in High School with a sense of humor. My prom date's father said something about it on the big night, joking about mustaches and libido. But this story isn't really about the mustache that I have failed to hide. It's about wanting to name the uncomfortable feeling I sit with whenever I make bold statements to assert my power.

The Dad in me came out yesterday. I don't mean Dad as in my Husband "dad" but as in my father "Dad". The righteous, outspoken, non-negotiating authoritarian. Dad had lots of other gentle qualities but, for now, I'm talking about strength. The problem with this is that no one really responds the way I expect them to when I decide not to be so agreeable, complacent, so yielding and polite. So I sit here this morning worrying that I may have started an unnecessary war with two people whom I depend upon to assist me in educating and caring for my son---the teacher and my husband.

What is true strength? Is it knowing when to back down, let go, walk away? Or does life just require some real, face to face emotional engagement? Maybe I'm just bored and in need of drama. Here were the two issues that brought out the Dad in me yesterday:
A yellow dot in my son's planner. Yellow is not as bad as red, or purple, but the comment was that he was "making noises." The problem with this kind of communication with said teacher is that there has never been a single positive comment aside from "your child has shown improvement" on the report card. (Note the ommission of his first name.) I responded by writing "this space is also available for positive comments which you might make".

The second is related to a yearly problem we have with raccoons and possums visiting our back porch to snack on cat food and leave feces on my wicker furniture. Yesterday I heard our cat fighting with another animal (stray cat, racoon?) I was too chicken to watch. I sat there praying that I would not find kitty in the grass, wounded beyond recognition. An hour later, she came to the back door, intact. After this relief, the Dad in me came out. Why hasn't this problem been resolved in five years? Isn't this a "husband" job? What has prevented him from devising something to keep the wildlife out of the porch?

Perhaps it's time for the Dad in me to figure out how to use power tools.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monkey Minute

Dear Readers,

The following are questions posed by Ian at The Daily Dose of Reality in response to Mission Monkey.


1. Have you ever peed in the shower/bath/pool?

Heaven's no! But I might have when I was a tiny kid swimming in the Titabawasse River. And that's an obnoxious question that I'm only responding to due to the seriousness of this cause.

2. What's your biggest pet peeve?

When someone close to me says something negative about my kids. They are learning and engaged in the process of developing many more skills than were required of past generations.

3. What's the story of your blog title?

Knees and Paws are my patent-pending invention, and this blog was created to increase their exposure while being a medium to reach out to many wonderful people.

4. What is your definition of success?

Success is what happens when you've engaged in a challenge and then let it go without regret.

5. If you were famous, what would you want to be famous for?

Inspiring people to seek peace at the center of a chaotic world. And as the owner/inventor of Knees and Paws, of course.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Holy Mole' ! It's the Knees and Paws exclusive interview and book giveaway with author Caroline McAlister

Holy Mole'! It's the Knees and Paws exclusive interview and book giveaway with children's author Caroline McAlister!

One recurrent theme of the Knees and Paws blog is that of "making things." I'm delighted to share the words and creations of my friend and college professor, Caroline McAlister, as she discusses the process of making her books Holy Mole' and Brave Donatella and the Jasmine Thief. Caroline holds a PhD in English Literature from Emory University and teaches at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is the mother of two beautiful daughters and has a passion for quilting, peace, great books and, of course, children.

Holy Mole' is a fresh look at an ancient Mexican folk tale, illustrated by Stefan Czernecke.

At first glance, Holy Mole' catches my interest with a unique choice of characters. One doesn't often see stories about monks or Mexican folklore in American children's literature. The story opens with a picture of Carlos, scrubbing a floor.

On the next page, and urgent problem is presented to create tension and move the action right along: an important visitor is coming to the monastery, in two hours! Every mom reading this story would understand what it feels like to have to prepare a spectacular meal at the last minute for an important guest. PANIC ensues!

Here's where Caroline maneuvers the tricky writing dilemma of capturing the child's interest and the adult's attention span: she puts action in the kitchen and challenges her audience with new words. Never "talking down" to her young but intelligent readers, she gives them an unfamiliar word. For a five year old listening, the first question that pops out is "what's a viceroy?"

Which is exactly what the character Carlos asks when he's told to help prepare the meal. Then, true to the inquisitiveness in children, Carlos bluntly asks "but what if we don't impress him?"
This story's dialogue is lively and fun to read aloud. I especially appreciated seeing the monks create chaos in the kitchen preparing the food.

Then, disaster. Carlos bumps into a monk carrying a tray of ingredients, which sends them into the pot with the chicken.

The only thing left to do is pray. Which they do. But behind this miracle, the work of a child exists. Mole' is created! It's a new kind of food that becomes a national treasure.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on writing for children with us. I love Holy Mole' and will read this to the children in my life because it entertains while sending the positive message that children are a part of history too, and that sometimes accidents can become something truly wonderful. Parents will appreciate hearing that message as well. When you begin writing a book like Holy Mole', how do you work through the challenges of creating suspense and interesting characters?

I sent a lot of stories out that were really bad. I took a class at UNC with Ruth Moose, who teaches children's writing. This was a non credit class offered to the community. Hole Mole' was for that class.
I always work with legends and folklore, so in some ways the structures of the narratives are already in place. Ruth helped by showing me how to write from a child's perspective. The character Carlos did not exist in the historical legend. By including an Indian child in the monastery, a metaphor of two cultures colliding was created. I never know how the story is going to work until I start working with it. It's like working with clay.

Why is writing for children a different challenge than writing for adults?

With picture books, you have a double audience--that's tricky. Parents and editors buy the books. They are the gatekeepers. Then, one has to grab the child's attention right away. You have to think about including a child's experiences. The ideas and the language do not have to be simple or stupid. It takes cleverness. Picture books are like poetry.

Caroline, I was wondering how the study and teaching of literature informs your work?

Well, one thing that carries over from my academic work that I enjoy is research. I also enjoy reading in other languages, French and Spanish. But the thing that is wonderful about writing for children is that it's grounded in reality. The topics are things that one can see, touch, taste, smell and hear. This genre is not heavily focused on rhetoric and theory that one finds in academic writing.

Having your books published must have been an extraordinary experience. Did you celebrate the event in a special way?

Yes. It was so fun. When I set up my first reading, my husband emailed everyone I ever knew, even people I hadn't seen in eight years. They all showed up, they all bought books, and we sold out. Then we had a nice dinner out.

What is the most delightful part of writing children's books?

It's just really fun. I like trying them out on my daughters. I still do that. The first time reading to a public audience was wonderful. I love to visit schools. For Cinco de Mayo I read at a school with a large Latino population. Afterwards the children wanted to tell me their stories about their grandmother's mole'. At a recent reading I did at our local Barnes and Noble, one boy came up to me and asked, "so you're the writer of this book? I just want to give you a hug."

Please share your thought on your latest book, Brave Donatella and the Jasmine Thief.

I'm really excited about this book. I can't wait to see what happens when it officially comes out. It received the 2010 Junior Library Guild Selection Award. It contains more history than Holy Mole', in that it's based on a real person in history, Duke Cosimo of Medici, and a real location, the Volterra Prison. Later I discovered that portions of Twilight were filmed at the Volterra Prison. Besides the historical aspect, I wanted write a legend about a flower because I thought the illustrations would be beautiful.

They are fantastic! How did you create the title of this story?

There's a funny story behind that name. When I was in seventh grade, my father took a sabbatical and for a year, we lived in Europe. I knew a girl named Donatella. Later it was discovered that Donatella's father was an international art thief.

Caroline, will you share some of the process that goes into the making of a book?

Well, the first thing is getting an editor to buy a manuscript. I've recently sent 10 manuscripts with no results. Rejections happen a lot. But with both books that were accepted, I didn't hear from the editors for two years. Then, at the final stages of editing, they wanted me to do a lot of things all at once. One exciting stage in this process is receiving the first draft with illustrations.

An illustration that is historically correct would be a problem for today's readers who remember Madonna's pointy bras. See the edited version with color below.

notes sent to Caroline from the editor

an unbound copy before publication, color added to illustrations

Winner of the Junior Library Guild Selection Award, 2010

I celebrated this book being published by purchasing a jasmine plant.

Thank You Caroline, for sharing this wonderful glimpse of your work. We all wish you continued success!

Both books are available at or or directly through the publishers August House (Holy Mole') and Charlesbridge (Brave Donatella and the Jasmine Theif). Brave Donatella is available on July 1, 2010 but can be pre-ordered today.

For your free copy, join us in participating in the Knees and Paws Holy Mole' giveaway!

To win a signed copy of Holy Mole'

1 entry: post a comment below
2 entries: mention this post and link to it in your blog.
3 entries: do all of the above plus follow this blog.
4 entries: all of the above and visit Knees and Paws on Etsy

The Opposite of a Luxury Vacation

I must be crazy. Or just plain weird. I have one week out of every year to enjoy a real vacation with the love of my life and this year, because of my suggestion, I am going to be hiking approximately 50 miles on the Appalacian Trail in the Shenandoah National Forest. Mind you, my husband loves to travel, loves cruises and beaches and wonderful places like Key West. He probably would not have needed much prompting from me to buy plane tickets, arrange for child care and fly me off into the sunset. But I'm just plain stupid sometimes. I wanted to go backpacking in the humid woods where tics and bears live, sleep on the hard ground and walk beside him for days. In four weeks I'll be in the wildereness, precisely at a time when I'm actually making my life at home work for me. I'm comfy here. I have a nice soft bed, new friends online and in my town and a cuddly son who likes me to read to him, every night.
A ball of apprehension is forming in the pit of my stomach. There are too many unknown things that could happen to us. I'm not schooled in first aid and nearly pass out at the sight of blood. The guy at REI who helped us buy boots had one side of his face filled with scars, whatever happened to him cost him the use of his right eye. WE BOUGHT THE BOOTS ANYWAY.
My husband is concerned about my upper body strength. What if he falls and I can't drag him to safety? I can barely manage a few sacks of groceries before my wrists feel numb.
Let's just say that I chose to blog, sew, garden, play legos and entertain friends instead of lifting weights.
Four weeks left. What was I thinking?

Please check in later in the week for an interview and book giveaway from children's author Caroline McAlister!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Minute: Monkey

For Monkey's Mom, Michelle: Hold on...we are all putting our postive intentions together for Monkey's health to be completely restored. Holding you in the light with love. The following questions are from the daily dose of reality.

1. How old do you act?

If one can use the types of books one reads as a sign of how they feel mentally, then I'm between the ages of 5 (I love the Magic Tree House Series) to 105, (I also love ancient spiritual poets such as Rumi). As far as behavior is concerned, I go to bed at 9:30 every night so I must act middle aged.

2. As far back as you can remember, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a public school teacher with my own classroom that had a blackboard with chalk, sunny windows, children's art on the wall

3. If you were to write a book based on your life, what would the title be?

This is funny. I used to say I was going to be a real writer when I grew up. I went through a phase where I started several stories, but they only had titles. It takes HOURS to think up a good title. Writers know that the title usually comes after the book is written. I once wrote 50 pages of a memoir but got so sick of myself that I left that project behind. The fake title was "as yet to be written."

4. Something I do that's considered childish by most....

take a nap

5. A story about me or someone I know who overcame great adversity:

When I was 19, my father was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. He was the middle child of 15, 13 of whom survived into adulthood. If surviving a life of dirt, hunger and shame weren't enough, he beat the odds and survived his cancer too. After treatment, he went on to become leader in cancer support groups and spent his life volunteering as a friendly visitor for cancer paitents, offering understanding, hope and friendship. He gave a great deal of credit to his doctors but also to Bernie Seigle, MD who wrote Love, Medicine and Miracles. That book helped him survive. My dad lived a full life for 20 more years, and was able to enjoy his retirement, his grandchildren and so much more. He said his success depended upon the belief that he would recover fully, even when the odds were against him. I had a hat made for him that said,
I'm believing in that miracle/reality for Monkey.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day Mom

Dear Mom,

I'm sorry that I won't be with you today as the nation celebrates motherhood. Please understand that you're with me despite the 700 miles between our homes. Today I want to thank you for the love you share with all of us. If anyone were to wonder what distinguishes my mom's special style of mothering, I'd begin with this list:

You left a sucessful carreer to stay home with us.

You prepared delicious made-from-scratch meals for us, every day.

You smiled even though you had tough issues.

You gave us loads of affection and positive affirmations.

You gave us gobs of free play time.

You kept a clean, beautiful, comfy home.

You exposed us to many, many great people in the community and in our family.

You encouraged our success in school.

You took us to the library, often enough to satisfy my voracious appetite for books.

You taught us how to care for ourselves and for others.

You cared about us, every day.

I remember the hours you spent standing in the kitchen with Dad, canning enough vegetables to feed a small island nation for several years.

I remember all the pet accidents you cleaned up.

Thank you for supporting my dreams and activities, from ballet to softball, from my first job picking strawberries to Knees and Paws. I appreciate the lifetime you've given to me; to Roger, Ken, to Richard, Emily and Elliot. Thank you for teaching us by your example, how to be a loving, caring person and for enriching our lives with your light and faith.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Confessionals: I'm a Quitter

As a child, my parents heartily stressed the importance of not being a "quitter". For every new lesson or set of expectations, from riding a bike to learning the french horn, I developed a stubborn reslove to keep trying. This head-bashing-against-the-wall mule-brained obstinate attitude I'd developed was an admirable quality according to many of my teachers, uncles and parents. It was helpful when learning to water ski, weed a garden, drive a car.
In truth, I would like things to come easy for me and I do not especially enjoy the process of failure, frustration and having no real mastery in any one arena. I've wasted weeks, months, years even decades doing things that I should have quit long ago simply to avoid the shame of being the dreaded "quitter." Perhaps I'd learned too well the lesson that says "the only way to fail is to give up". Looking back, I appreciate this wisdom (after all I do know how to ride a bike and play the horn). Yet, in many ways my committment to not being a quitter caused unneccessary suffering and depleted my imagination and faith in new possibilities. So, I confess, I am a quitter.

I quit:


My first husband.

My housekeeping job. (thankfully, no more scrubbing public toilets!)

Worrying about unemployment.

Being afraid after being assuaulted by a homeless man at the library and the neighbor's vicious dog.

Asking permission for every little thing.

Expecting too much from my teenager.

Trying to be perfect.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tools, Teachers and A Peanut Sized Story Teller

Many people are not aware that I am developing a love for a subject I hated in school: science. Particularly the study of the human brain and all of its magnificent capabilities. When it becomes a commonly accepted view that our brains have an amazing quality called plasticity, I believe our entire educational system will have to be abandoned. The problem lies in a little ceremony called "graduation". Graduation tells us in an unintended way, that one has earned the right to take a break from class. Foolishly, I thought having my degree made me somehow knowlegeable, articulate, skilled...blah blah blah. Then I tried blogging! There are enormous gaps between what I know and what I think I know. And this is where brain science is useful: According to Jill Bolte Taylor in My Stroke of Insight, "One of the most prominent characteristics of our left brain is its ability to weave stories. This storyteller portion of our left mind's language center is specifically designed to make sense of the world outstide of us, based upon minimal amounts of information. It functions by taking whatever details it has to work with, and then weaves them together in the form of a story. Most impressively, our left brain is brilliant in its ability to make stuff up, and fill in the blanks when there are gaps in factual data. In addition, during its process of generating a story line, our left mind is quite the genius in its ability to manufacture alternative scenarios. And if it's a subject you really feel passionate about, either good or awful, it's particularly effective at hooking into those circuits of emotion and exhausting all the "what if" possibilities." The result: DRAMA and TRAUMA. On top of this, these little scenarios can become chemical loops of thought patterns rundunantly running over and over. Loops of thought that run rampant, until our imagination develops devastaing possibilites.

So, now that I am beginning to understand how I end up curled in a fetal position with a blanket over my head at the end of a long, frustrating day...maybe there's hope. Ironically, the story teller part of our brains is only the size of a PEANUT! How in the world does this little peanut have so much control over my happiness in life!

I have decided to recognize this lying little story telling peanut and not accept it when it tells me that I'm not savvy enough for business, interesting enough for blogging, loving enough to my children...

Sometimes one just needs the right tools and the right teachers, and the unfailing belief that an growing older doggie can learn new tricks. Today I LEARNED how to make a button thanks to a wonderful teacher at oikology101. Thank you for showing me how to do something that three months ago my storyteller said I could never do.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Potluck Photo Party Open Invitation

Every year, my husband and I host a summer's end bonfire/potluck party for our friends, coworkers and neighbors. It usually involves huge quantities of delicious food, frequent laughter, a variety of music, friendly conversations, crafts and games for the kids, s'mores and my favorite--- the jubilant shouts of children chasing one another after sunset. Last year, due to losing both of our dads, we scaled down the event to a more intimate gathering. This year we hope to include a larger group. Thinking of our potluck, I'm inspired to share an online version with my blogging friends. You are cordially invited to a Knees and Paws Potluck party! Instead of mailing me your fantastic covered dishes or yummy baked goods, please send a favorite photograph that shows a life affirming and your family enjoying solitude in nature or celebrating with my email at, with a caption. I'll put them all together at the end of the month for a fabulous buffet!

Monday, May 3, 2010

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