Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dorina signs new book contract

Just a quick announcement I wanted to share with my friends: I was just offered a contract for one of my children's picture books from Shen's Books in California. I'm really excited to be working with this multicultural book publisher on my book, CORA SWIRLS THE NOODLES, a story about a creative Filipino girl cooking up traditional Filipino food with her mother. The editor at Shen's Books says they hope to get the book illustrated and on bookshelves by this fall. I've been following Shen's books for a few years now. They work to publish books that will help encourage and educate kids about different cultures of the world. They maintain a great blog and reach out especially to teachers and schools. Thank you to so many of you who have encouraged me in this process of writing and publishing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Grand Rapids Trip: Dorina reflects on faith and writing

We just returned from a four-day trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan and my alma mater, Calvin College. Calvin hosted the Festival of Faith and Writing and invited me to come as a guest speaker. I felt so humbled and honored to be included on a list of such exemplary writers, poets, publishers and editors. These four days were the "shot in the arm" I needed to drive me back to my craft - writing children's and young adult books. Admittedly, over the last few months the busyness of mothering an almost 2-year-old, coaching a high school track team, serving as wife, daughter and friend, have consumed my time. I embrace all of these roles as well but I've often pushed my writing to the back burner. The Festival gave me a space to talk about writing and faith, to reflect on my journey and glean knowledge and inspiration from writers who have gone before me.

After a grueling red eye with two layovers in the middle of the night and two delays, Ericlee, Meilani and I arrived in Grand Rapids. The shuttle picked us up at the airport and our adventures began. During our shuttle ride, we met writer Lawrence Dorr and his dear wife. They adopted us right away as family. We were all staying at Calvin's Prince Conference Center on campus. Last time I was at Calvin, the space where this beautiful hotel sits today was only a field I passed on the way to my (junior year) apartment. Needless to say, the campus has changed immensely in the nine years (gasp!) I've been away. The Prince Center lobby was buzzing with excitement when we entered. People were drinking coffee, chatting, buying books and souvenirs from the vendors and checking in. We were greeted right away by my journalism professor and mentor Don Hettinga, who asked for my autograph (Yikes!). He introduced us to the Festival coordinator Shelly and helped us with our bags. Talk about red carpet treatment. I've never really experienced it like this before. Ericlee and Meilani unpacked and took a nap while I showered and dashed over to a session in the chapel by children's and young adult writer Gary Schmidt.

If there's one thing I regret from my days at Calvin it's that I never took a class from Gary Schmidt. How did I know I would one day be publishing children's picture books and reading this Newbery-award-winning Calvin prof for my graduate classes. His talk was "Writing for the Middle School Reader: War, Trouble and Calamity." What a way to kickstart my weekend. The most memorable part of Schmidt's talk (besides his stellar storytelling and wry humor) was this statement: "Adolescent and young adult literature is about the decisions that cause us to look away from childhood and turn toward adulthood." Since I'm writing a young adult novel right now for my MFA thesis, I was intrigued by this. It's what "coming of age" is all about. He concluded by challenging us writers to "give them joy and beauty that overwhelms the darkness." For me, this is where my faith and my writing truly do intersect. I've never been the type of journalist or writer to hit someone over the head with a moral. Didactic literature may have its place but it's never been my style. I do see an opportunity to share my faith in God and his redemptive power simply by giving my readers a glimpse of that joy and beauty. "We are on deck already," he said. "Our readers are headed there. Let us show them how to get there."
Outside of the inspiring panels and conference lectures, this trip to Grand Rapids was a great excuse to catch up with old friends. Thursday night we had dinner with my friend Christy Carlin now Knetsch. She and her hubby Brad just got married in March and it was fun to meet him for the first time. We reminisced about our days in college, especially our Interim in Hawaii Senior year. Friday morning we caught up with my friend Doug Roede and his three adorable little boys. The kids had fun together as we tooled around campus and checked out some of the construction projects. Friday afternoon I participated in two panels, sharing about what it's like "Writing for Children" and my journey "From Student to Writer." Calvin hosted a book signing for me in the bookstore. I signed a few copies of my latest children's book and saw some old friends from the Mosaic Community (where I was a Resident Assistant) and a few other Class of '99ers. To sign books in the bookstore was a surreal experience.

Saturday morning Ericlee and I joined a group of writer-runners for a 10K run through campus and Grand Rapids. The weather was surprisingly gorgeous - sunny and 70s - contrary to the cold Michigan has come to represent for me. We were ill-equipped for the run but we managed to push Meilani in our portable stroller. The best part about this run was getting to catch up with a friend, Jane (Knol) Schwartz, from my class, who teaches in Calvin's English department now. I also got to meet Nancy Hull, another Calvin prof and young adult writer. She was, indeed, the energizer bunny who inspired this Saturday run.

While I participated in a Young Adult Literature Circle and spoke on a panel of journalists called "To Tell the Truth," Ericlee and Meilani joined up with Ericlee's cousins for a trip to the Grand Rapids zoo. They joined all the other incredulous families who wanted to take advantage of the beautiful (California) weather. Meilani, the little monkey that she is, practiced hanging on anything she could find. (It's a wonder Daddy didn't leave her at the zoo!) I enjoyed meeting Christianity Today editor Edward Gilbreath, and Bruce Umpstead of the Amy Foundation Awards and Chicago Sun Times Religion columnist Cathleen Falsani.

My favorite lecture was Saturday afternoon - an interview with pastor, author and filmmaker Rob Bell of Mars Hill church. (In case you don't recognize the name, he's the NOOMA guy. Extraodinary artist.) I sent Ericlee to hear him Friday night and I saw him Saturday. He really challenged me to think about faith and writing in some new ways. He said, "If everything is going to be produced and pragmatic, you'll never have room to create." This was liberation for me. So often I have a hard time actually sitting down and writing because I'm paralyzed by the need to be profound. Or worse yet, I feel I don't have time to really complete anything so why bother? The interviewer asked Rob what he fears as a writer and pastor. His response really stuck with me: "My fears center around not risking...I fear resting on what worked in the past." I was reminded how important it is to step outside the box. It's so easy to get caught up in the feeling that I must write what a publisher or editor or my mother would want me to write.
Saturday evening I needed some real food (besides deli sandwiches and salads from Johnny's Coffeeshop) and we headed to dinner with Ericlee's cousins. This was a fun chance to turn off my brain and just be. We dined at an old college favorite - Arnie's Bakery. Ericlee enjoyed this abundant house salad with strawberries, rivera dressing and pecans while I scarfed a nice steak and mashed potatoes. I remembered the good old days when my parents would visit from Chicago and take me out here for a Sunday lunch or dinner.

After a great cappuccinno, which I haven't had in a long time, we headed for the Saturday night poetry slam, hosted by Patricia Johnson, an award-winning slam poet from Virginia. Let's just say that I have never actually competed in a poetry slam before even though I've attended several. I did timidly add my name to the list and quickly started rummaging through my folder of poems to find a few to read. A poetry slam is competitive performance poetry. Quiet, coffee shop poetry readings are more my style but this one was great fun. I started out with my "Chicago" poem and advanced to the next round. Then I read a poem called "Braids" about getting my hair braided in Haiti. In the end, I pulled out third place and met some great new poet-friends in the process. What a way to end the festival.

Sunday morning we went to my old church, Madison Square CRC, where my friend Christy is now the youth pastor. This truly multicultural congregation has grown since my college days and it was fun to show Ericlee and Meilani the place. Our student host for the weekend, Janelle, took us to lunch with her fiance at a vegetarian place in Eastown Grand Rapids called Gaia. We had a fabulous lunch and then headed for the airport very full in so many regards.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Three Little Monkeys: Hear no, See no, Speak no evil

Last week we had a fun sleepover with our friends, Peyton, Milani and Meliz McGowen while their mommy was having a baby. We had great fun with the kids, including a trip to the pet shop and the park, some great adventures at home making up plays and even a trip to Kingsburg to see another newborn. (Great practice for what life would four kids would be like. Let's just say it means being very organized in the midst of chaos!) This was one classic shot we had to share with the three youngest in the tub.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lazos and Gilmores host a Central California tour for old friends

Choo Choo. These were the familiar words among the "grandkids" this weekend as our friends the Martsolfs and their kids traveled to California for a weekend of catching up. My mom and Donna Martsolf were best friends from college at University of Michigan (we won't tell how long ago.) They both got married, had two kids (a girl, then a boy) and now are still enjoying happy marriages and life as grandmas. When I was younger, we would see the Martsolfs at least once a year and we grew up with LeeAnn and Grant. For this trip, Paul and Michelle drove up from L.A. so we could all hang out together. Our first stop on the Central California tour for our Pennsylvania friends was the Sugar Pine Railroad in Oakhurst.

This was actually all of our first time on the Sugar Pine Railroad near Tenaya Lodge right outside Yosemite. It's an hour-long ride through the beautiful big trees with a stunning view of the mountains beyond. Our train conductor/guide gave lots of history about the area and the wildlife and our group of 15 ate a picnic, sunbathed and chatted while riding the open air train. Donna and Rob Martsolf are my brother Paul's godparents.
While the adults were getting acquainted and reacqainted, the kiddos were just getting comfortable. Meilani was in a tickle contest with 4-year-old Brady. Meilani and Ally, who is 1 1/2, had fun chasing each other around and "sharing" baby dolls. The grandmas found lots of great photo ops.

I really had a chance to connect with Grant's wife, Christy. Even though we just met, we found loads to discuss. She's a fellow healthy food lover-creative spirit- traveler friend. It was as if we knew each other for years. We bonded over strawberry-rhubarb desserts and an interest in organic gardening. Grant and Christy recently returned from a mission trip to Haiti so Ericlee and I found lots to talk about with them in that regard as well.

After the train ride, we took the whole clan to Yosemite to see the breathtaking panorama we're so proud to live nearby. We finished up Saturday with one of Mama Maria's famous Italian meals, including salad, ravioli with two sauces, garlic bread and Dorina's Chocolate Pizza for dessert. On Sunday, we all went to church together at The Bridge and then we headed for the Wine Trail in Madera. (It's all about the journey - not the destination.) We drank in a few local wineries and some fabulous weather. We rounded out the day with a California bistro-style barbeque at our house on the deck and then sent our dear friends on their way.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Welcome Baby Olivia Ruby!

Olivia Ruby Andrade was born Friday afternoon. I had the chance to steal away to the hospital for a few hours Friday evening to spend time with Mama Mary, Daddy Antonio and Baby Olivia. They were all three doing well and Livy was even starting to breastfeed. Mama was still a little sore and numb but she was in good spirits.

I love Olivia's mix of Mary's fair skin and eyes and Tony's thick hair and round cheeks. A perfect blend.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Gilmores celebrate five-year anniversary

April 13 marks our 5-year anniversary. Yes, it's hard to believe how quickly five years have flown by. We celebrated a week early with a little getaway trip to the mountains last weekend. We reserved a room at the Apple Tree Inn near the Tenaya Lodge where we got married. Tenaya is just a few miles from the south gate of Yosemite National Park. We dined Saturday night at Tenaya Lodge's romantic fireside restaurant that serves all-organic and local foods. (Oh, how we wish we ate more of that food at our wedding!)The meal was fabulous and we had such fun reminiscing about our favorite moments over the last five years and our wedding day.

Many of our family and friends stayed at the Apple Tree Inn for the wedding and it was a treat to try this place out for ourselves. Apple Tree Inn is like a bed and breakfast meets mountain cottages. Each cottage has 3 rooms - 2 singles and 1 suite for families. We rented a single that had it's own patio, fireplace and little kitchenette, not to mention a fabulous view of the big trees on the mountainside. The Apple Tree Inn also has an indoor pool, hot tub and racquetball court but we hardly had time to enjoy all of those.

We relished in the opportunity to sleep in on a Sunday morning. (This is our first overnight trip ever without Meilani!) Then we headed out for a short hike and to drink in the peace and beauty of the mountains.

True to form, there was snow on the ground for our little hike, reminding us of the blanket of snow that began to fall just as our wedding ceremony. We laughed about our unplanned "tropical wedding in the snow." Ironically, I left my hiking boots at home and so I had to stumble along the trail in flip flops.

And just like a honeymoon couple without a photographer we snapped a photo of ourselves along the trail...

When the trail started to get steep and a bit slippery, we headed for Tenaya Lodge and took a few photos in the long corridor where the wedding ceremony was held. (Ok, so I should have dug my wedding dress out of the closet or something.)

Does anyone remember the bag pipes? Yes, they did fill this long corridor and beyond when my part-Scottish hubby and his best men marched down the aisle. What a wild, wonderful and multicultural event it was - much like our five years of marriage, I suppose.

Before we headed home, we stopped at the Three Sisters Cafe in Oakhurst. This quaint little cafe is the place where I had my Bridal Brunch with the ladies. Although they have a new owner and chef, the food and atmosphere was just as quaint and classy. We spent some quality time dreaming of what the next five years of marriage might hold.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Let the birthday season begin

In our family, spring is birthday season. We have 1 in March, 3 in April, 5 in May - just in our immediate family. (We almost need a separate bank account to cover all the festivities.) Wednesday was Ericlee's 34th birthday but we started the celebrations a little early with family. Last weekend when we visited Paul and Michelle we all went out to Buca di Bepo, a family-style Italian restaurant, for some grub. Ericlee's birthday is April 2 and Michelle's is April 9 so we decided on a joint party.

Just like old Italian grandmas, Mom (Maria) and I brought our knitting along and worked vigorously while we waited for our table. (Ok, ok, we were trying to both finish our baby gifts for the shower on Sunday. Like mother, like daughter, I suppose.) We were oh-so-nerdy and attracted lots of funny attention at the restaurant.

We also indulged in some time with Paul and Michelle to relax and catch up. Since last we saw them they have HAD A BABY and we took our trip to Haiti so we had lots of little stories to share and it was nice not to have dishes at the end of our feast.

We have to tease Michelle about this pic because when her birthday dessert arrived she was on the phone! (Yikes on the table ettiquete.) But we let her slide by on that one since it was her beloved grandpa who was concerned about Cynthia. We laughed because Paul's usually the one we have to pry off the phone.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Gilmores visit new niece Cynthia

It's no surprise that my brother's baby girl, Cynthia Joy, gave us a little lip when we snapped her first picture at the hospital. She has daddy's nose too! She's two weeks old now and clearly has a fighter spirit for a preemie.

We had planned this trip several months ago to Ontario, California, where Paul and Michelle live. We were going to be part of their last baby shower. Of course, no one expected that Cindy would be born at this point. Ericlee, Mom (Nana), Meilani and I packed in the car early Saturday morning and headed south. Our first stop when we arrived was most definitely the San Antonio Community Hospital where little Cindy needs to stay for a few more weeks until she gets stronger and gains more weight. I was so eager to actually hold her in my arms. The whole idea of my *little* brother actually being a daddy and having a baby still overwhelms me.

Paul as a dad is still kind of a funny thought; Michelle, however, is a natural mommy. Even though she has to care for her little one in the hospital she already speaks in those sweet mothering tones and takes care of Cindy like a pro. It's a very humbling experience to watch her change a 4-pound baby's diaper and untangle Cindy from her little cords. Right now she is still being fed through an IV. Amazingly, Michelle is able to pump milk and they can give it to her through the IV. She's very dedicated.

Despite all the extra care in the hospital and tubes and stuff she has to endure, Cindy is already interactive. She stuck out her tongue for the camera. She is working on her sucking skills with a little pacifier. And her long fingers are very good at gripping. I just couldn't get over how tiny she is - almost half the size of Meilani when she was born - but so perfectly formed and alert. Michelle says her hair was dark when she was born but you can see it's starting to lighten so she may favor Mama's looks after all.

On Sunday, Mom and I helped with Michelle's shower held at a friend's house. We, of course, contributed some food, including these cucumber tea sandwiches and Italian pizzelle cookies to go with the tea party theme. Cindy already has lots of sweet little girl clothes - a whole closet full of mini dresses and onesies, hats and shoes. At the shower, she also got a stroller-carseat combo, a video monitor (only the best technology for Paul's daughter) and a hand-knitted blanket from Nana Maria.

We loved our time with Paul and Michelle and friends. We also snuck in one more trip to the hospital Sunday night to kiss the baby girl. Please continue to pray for Cynthia Joy. She had a blood transfusion tonight and we're hoping she can continue to eat the breastmilk so she can come home soon.