Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Happy Jar

I brought out the Happy and Sad jar the other day. I'm amazed they still work, even though the boys are getting older. Here is how it all started.

About the time that Lukas turned two, he decided it was time to hold his own against his older brother Jonas, who was three and a half.  Previously, if Jonas had wanted a toy that Lukas was playing with, he would bribe him with a different toy and all was well.  Now, his formerly easy-going brother Lukas would say no, hold onto the toy for dear life, and hit, bite, or scratch him if he tried to take his toy away. Unfortunately, since toddlers are good at retaliating, this often meant that Jonas would do the same thing back.

After a while I realized that things were getting out of hand and I needed to up my game.  The time-outs and conversations with Jonas were not working at curbing the fighting and I felt like I was saying no all of the time.  I didn't like all of the negativity and I didn't feel like it was working either. Nevertheless, I knew that Jonas was old enough to know better and I needed to do something to curb his behavior.  After talking to my mother, the best childhood expert I know, and looking on the Internet for ideas, I finally came up with the Happy Jar.

I took two small jars and labeled on with a happy face and one with a sad face.  Every time Jonas or Lukas showed good behavior, like being generous with their toys or snacks or playing nicely with each other for awhile, I would put an M&M into the Happy Jar (as long as there were M&M's in the Sad Jar, I would use them first).  When they fought with each other or were mean to each other, I would take one M&M out of the Happy Jar and put it into the Sad Jar.  After suppertime, we would count the M&M's in each jar, mark it on a chart, and then they were allowed to share the Happy M&M's (a small hidden mathematics lesson for Jonas at the time).

I tried really hard the first few days to find as much positive behavior as I could to try to motivate them to continue.  I was amazed how well the jars worked.  Jonas loved being able to collect the M&M's and would always report to me when he was being really good.  Even though at the end of the day, they never had more than 8-10 to share with each other, I could tell that Jonas was really proud of himself (Lukas, being only two, was of course not old enough to entirely understand the jar concept).

Although I will admit, it didn't stop the hitting and biting entirely, it did bring it down to an acceptable level that I could handle.  I only needed to use the jars for about a week. Children love getting rewarded. The best anecdote from the whole experience, however, came from Jonas one night at the very beginning when he went to look at the jars. "Look Mom," he said, "the Sad Jar is happy now, cause he has M&M's, too."

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Illustration in the Making

A Linocut and watercolor illustration

From inspiration 
to cover design

This morning at  the World Book Day event in my child's school, I was lucky enough to be able to help out with some creative writing workshops led by Debbie Edwards, a local author. Superhero stories were definitely something the children could relate to and I really enjoyed watching them enthusiastically being a part of the creative process and seeing how a story is made from start to finish.

As my children were also at the school and told some of their peers that their mother is an author/illustrator, at the end of the session one of the pupils asked how I did my pictures. When I look at children's books I often ask the same question and I wished I could have given my own workshop today on the subject (maybe next year). I also find it fascinating to see how other artists do their work and how they get from start to the finished product. 

Therefore, I would like to show the creative process that was used for the cover of my latest book Little Jack Thomson and his Magnificent Brain (For more info on Jack's story, please see my website
First edition Jack

Jack, the main character, has changed a lot since I invented him. Originally, when I made the initial cover, he was daydreaming and lost in thought about his intergalactic space train and his dreams of mining rocks on Neptune. However, after awhile I realized that the cover made him look too melancholy and almost sad. He also looked too old for the children that I was trying to reach.

Since the book is uplifting, I did not want the cover to be anything less. Therefore, I went back to the drawing board and invented Jack again. This time I made him look enthusiastic and tried to convey a sense of pride. Although I think both the original and the final cover pictures are nice, the latter definitely gives the reader more of an immediate feel-good emotion. Books are often bought by the look of their cover, so I knew it was imperative that it grabbed attention and I think this Jack pulled the reader into his world in an uplifting positive way. Nevertheless, it was a long process to get there.

Here is my creative process for making a linocut/watercolor illustration:

1.  When I have an idea for a character I first begin by looking at stock photos online. For example, if the child should be withdrawn, then I would type in "withdrawn child" and see what images come up. If he should be proud, then I would look up words like proud, ambitious, determined, etc.. This helps to give me the general feeling I would like to evoke. Then I take the photos that I like best and incorporate them in my head with my own ideas and start drawing some sketches.

2.  Once I have the sketch that I would like to use, I transfer the drawing to a piece of linoleum or easy-cut lino. Then I begin the part of the process that I enjoy the most, cutting the lino. I find this to be very meditative and I love how the drawing takes on a new personality when cut out completely.

3.  Once the lino is finished, I make a print. Then after the print has dried, I scan it into the computer. I use various photo programs, but mainly Photoshop to improve on the print. I whiten the background and take out any unnecessary lines. Then I print this onto watercolor paper using my normal printer and the flatter back side of the paper. I am delighted to say that this works very well and most printer ink is permanent and does not run later during the painting process.

4.  At this point, I begin painting using watercolors. If I am unhappy with the result, I just use another printout and begin again. Sometimes, I will go over some of the lines again with a sharpie or black magic marker if the paint has washed over the lines and left the black too dull. This can also be done in Photoshop, but I often prefer the traditional method.

5.  Although watercolors do make beautiful colors, they are often not brilliant enough. This is why I usually scan the finished watercolor back into Photoshop and rework the picture a final time. As you can see here, I decided that the background was way too busy. The viewer has too many things to look at and Jack is lost a bit in this sea of colors. Therefore, part of the process of coming up with a final print is knowing what to cut out. I also cut out the planet at the bottom and one rocket.

6.  Now that my picture is finished, I can add it to a text program and begin making the final page. Here is the current draft cover for Little Jack Thomson's Magnificent Brain.

Unfortunately, when making a book, this is only the beginning. I have decided to try to do the entire creative process for Little Jack Thomson's Magnificent Brain from the text to illustrations to layout. I have already finished about half of the illustrations and I am currently playing around with some layout programs to see how I like the design. Even if I decide at the end, to send this book off to a publisher, I will feel better knowing that I know the process from start to finish. I am really enjoying making this book and I can't wait until it is finished and in stores near you.
To be continued...

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Be inspired!

My kids inspire me. 

The other day I sat down at the kitchen table to work on my storyboard for Little Jack Thomson and his Magnificent Brain. I wouldn’t normally do this while my kids are home because they are usually far too distracting, want food or drink, or need emergency services from me like band-aids, cuddles, or mediation. However, I had some really great ideas I wanted to get down on paper right away and I had one child away at a birthday party, so I decided to give it a try.

Within a few minutes, my four year old wanted to draw, too. So, I stopped what I was doing and got a piece of paper and some markers and sat him next to me. Then my seven year old wanted to draw. Soon, we were all drawing together quietly at the table. Yes, quietly. And, everyone was concentrating on their picture and we were all in the flow. It was total bliss. 

After we drew for awhile, though, I was the one distracted. When did my four year old learn to draw such dramatic trees and use such pencil strokes? It is such a great feeling when you see your child has made a leap in their development whether it's physically, mentally, or artistically. I loved his fantasy! The tree was getting hit by lightning which was coming from inside the house. The tractor had run into the tree. My son shared his story with me about everything in his picture and I listened like a child hearing a bedtime story.

I asked my children then to look at my storyboard and tell me what they see. It was wonderful to hear my children give praise and critique of my pictures and reminded me that their opinions were more precious than any I would receive elsewhere. Not only are children brutally (and tenderly) honest but they also see things differently. As an illustrator it is important to be able to see through a child’s eyes. I am lucky to have small children around me who inspire me to see what they see and feel what they feel and I am sure my illustrations will be better because of them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Little Jack Thomson and his Magnificent Brain

Little Jack Thomson and his Magnificent Brain
First illustration, Linocut with watercolor - Oct. 2018

About a year ago, I began writing Little Jack Thomson and his Magnificent Brain. I was lucky enough to have a few weeks off from teaching and I finally had some time to write.

One of my sons was struggling with reading, making our after school homework time really exhausting for both of us.  This motivated me to write a story which was uplifting for children who also have difficulties at school and to encourage those who feel rejected because they think differently than everyone else. As a teacher I have worked with many children with special needs, and I wanted to write a book which also supported parents and educators who work diligently to help children feel special in spite of the adversities they face.

Little Jack Thomson is a gifted young boy who has autism and dyslexia. After one horrible day in school where Jack is made fun of by one of his peers, he comes home feeling distraught and upset.

Little Jack Thomson was feeling quite down.
He wanted to talk, but no words could be found.
He’d worked so hard learning his spelling last night,
But today on his test, only his name was spelled right.
One kid in is class said, “You’re stupid and slow.”
Jack repeated the words and felt lower than low.

Little Jack Thomson sat on his bed.
He rocked back and forth and held onto his head.
He thought about rockets ‘cause that made him feel good
and relaxed just a little, as much as he could.
There were so many things that Jack wanted to do,
but with grades like his, he knew he was through.

Jack’s mother, however, believes in him and is determined to show him just how magnificent he really is. She begins by telling him some stories of others who also achieved great things while overcoming similar obstacles and tries to convince him that he should never stop asking the questions that he finds important.

“You can never ask too many questions, or know too many things.
Who knows, little Jack, what the future will bring? 
Those questions may lead you to invent something new,
you might change the world, or make a new theory or two.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to try.
It’s important you ask who, when, where, what, and why. 
Don’t ever give up, Jack, you are one of a kind.
Keep asking questions and open your mind.”

Jack’s mother’s stories slowly start to lift his spirits and once again he begins to believe in himself and all of the great things he could become.

And then Jack stopped and stood straight and tall
He glanced at his mom, smiled, and looked anything but small.
“The other kids,” he said “may be better than me
at reading, and spelling, and climbing a tree.
But when it comes to ideas, I’m the best of the best.
And one day, my theories will be put to the test.”

“I have ideas for how to fly a rocket to Neptune,
build a train between planets, and mine rocks on the moon.
I’ve have plans for building a soap-powered plane,
Someday they will say I have a magnificent brain!...

If you would like to know more about Little Jack Thomson and his Magnificent Brain, please let me know. I am currently looking for literary representation and encourage any critique or advice that is sent my way.  Please check my website for more information and contact details at

Saturday, September 22, 2018


Cup of tea anyone?

After living the last 6 years in beautiful northern Germany, my husband got an offer from his company that he couldn't refuse and we decided to give it a go and move to Cambridge, England.

The last three months have been pretty stressful to say the least. We cleaned out every drawer, got rid of anything we didn't need and sold our pretty little house in Germany. Moving with kids is not easy, and moving into a smaller house than the one you had before is harder, yet. I don't know how the British deal with not having any storage space. No wonder they get culture shock when they come to the states. Nevertheless, we did it. I can proudly say we are all settled in and almost everything fit.  Cup of tea anyone?

So far England has been quite nice. The weather has been good, the people are all really friendly, and the food has been surprisingly yummy. I'm even learning how to make Indian food. As I love to experiment in the kitchen, I'm sure that eventually I will create some German-British-American-Indian crossover foods for my blog. Schnitzel Marsala sound good?

The kids have already started school and I drop them off looking adorable in their smart little uniforms every morning. Back in Germany, between teaching and taking care of family matters, I didn't have much time to do many of my own projects. I decided that when we left, I would not look for a teaching position directly, but first concentrate on a few things that I have been working on the last few years. I want to do more artwork, more illustrations, and even publish a children's book.  Cambridge is a fantastic city and it has a lot to offer. I am looking forward to all of the great things that will happen in the next year. I can't wait to get started. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Easter Basket Zwiebach Frogs

I don't know about you, but my kids get way too much chocolate on holidays. They get a bunny from family, friends, and neighbors as well as from the school, Kindergarten, and the grocery store. We end up swimming in chocolate. I wish more people would offer fun, healthy alternatives. 

If you are interested in making your kids Easter baskets a little bit healthier this year, these Zwiebach animals are easy to make and a lot of fun (What is Zwiebach?).  They would also look great in an Easter nest ready to be nibbled up on Easter morning.

Making Zwiebach Frogs is a great way to combine fun with food.  These frogs are easy to make and this dough requires very little kneading making it a great activity for children. Your kids can make bunnies and chickens, too. Add vegetables or fruit for garnish or lay them out on a pretty plate filled with goodies. Enjoy!
Here’s the how to:

Easy Zwiebach Frogs

1 C warm water
1 ½ T dry yeast
2 T sugar
¼ C oil
3 C flour
1 t salt

For frogs, you will also need string cheese, raisins, and a toothpick

1. Mix warm water, yeast, and sugar. Let stand until foamy, then add oil. Blend in flour and salt with a fork until the dough starts to stick together. Use your hands to finish the dough by kneading it a few times, not long, and then forming it into a flat ball. Put dough back in large bowl, cover, and let rise until double in size. If it is still hot where you live, put the bowl outside to make it rise faster.

2. Pull off pieces of dough and roll them in your hand to form golf ball sized balls. These balls will be the frog body. Place them on a greased cookie sheet. Then pull off smaller balls and pinch them around the body to make the legs and feet. Roll very small balls to make the eyes.

3. Now take a toothpick, and poke a hole in the eye piece of dough. Move the toothpick around a little to make the hole big enough to fit a half a raisin. Cut a raisin in half and using the toothpick again, push the raisin into the hole. Do the same for the other eye.

4. Pull off little strings of string cheese. Wrap the cheese around the large part of the body dough ball and then use the toothpick to push in the ends into the dough, so that it stays in place. This part can actually be a little tricky. You may need to wet the cheese for it to hold better.

5. Now let your frogs rise again, about 15 minutes. I have also baked some Zwiebach, which you can also see on the picture. While they are rising, you can turn your oven on to 350 degrees. You may need to push some of the balls back into place, as the rising sometimes will push the balls apart.

6. Place frogs in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly brown. Serve the frogs on homemade lily pads. Cut out green hearts out of paper. I used a plastic flower, but you could also cut flowers out of paper as well. Eat with butter and cheese, but first have your frogs jump around the table.

Monday, May 18, 2015

5 Simple Ways Airlines Could Make Flying with Small Children Easier

Pretty impressive, huh? One hour of bliss
and then one jerked in his sleep and knocked
the tray table. It was great while it lasted.
Dear Airlines,

Traveling with a lap baby is difficult. Traveling with a lap baby and two kids under 5 is like child boot camp. Your kids are expected to be quiet, stay in their seats, eat off little tray tables without knocking anything on the floor, sleep during the day, eat in the middle of the night, and go to tiny bathrooms where they are not allowed to touch anything. I just finished a 30 hour flight from New Zealand to Germany, and I personally think I have now earned my ranks as Commander in Chief.
Seriously, no one wants to sit next to a screaming toddler or an uncomfortable baby.  And yet, hardly anything on a plane has been made with children in mind. It is in everyone's best interest to improve conditions on airplanes for families.

Therefore, here is my list of 

5 simple things you, the airlines, could do to make flying with small children on long flights easier.

1. Get rid of the bassinet and find something more practical to hang on the wall. I’ve flown now with three children and I can tell you, flying with a child under 6 months is the easiest.  Babies at this age sleep a lot and are usually very content to sleep on your arm. After six months, most babies are too big for the bassinet anyway and it’s annoying always having to wake them up every time the seat belt sign comes on. Instead of a bassinet, I would love to have a mini high chair or seat with shoulder straps so that I could feed my child somewhere other than my lap.  Or, they could hang up one of those toddler wall toys, so that your little ones would have something to do other than lick their armrest or walk back and forth through the aisles.

Jonas at seven months in the bassinet
2. Find a different way to strap a baby onto your lap. Those little extra seat belts that you fit onto your own seat-belt are very impractical. The baby always ends up having to sit right on the metal part of your own seat-belt and whenever you try to move your child around, say to nurse, you often accidentally unhook the child’s belt. Surely, they could make a better harness that is not so clunky. And honestly? I bet having your child in a baby carrier strapped to your chest has got to be a thousand times safer. It would sure be easier, especially with super squirming babies like I had.

3. Add sack lunches to your meal choices. Adult ones and ones for kids ages 1-6. First of all, on most long flights you don’t get your meals until the middle of the night when your children are already asleep. If you wake them up, they are then supposed to eat off of little tray tables with tons of little cups and saucers which love to get knocked off on the floor, especially when they are not picked up for an hour after the meal. Don’t even add turbulence to this equation. Toddlers and airline meals are not a good combination. Secondly, if you have a lap baby who either refuses to go to sleep or sleeps wildly, it is impossible to eat your own meal. If there were sack lunches with say bologna sandwiches, fruit, and animal crackers, you could give your children their lunch whenever they were hungry. Also, it would be possible to eat your own meal while your lap baby is awake. My first child at seven months slept only an hour and a half of an eleven hour flight. Trust me, mothers would be thrilled to not have to deal with those meal trays.
My child training for the marathon

4. Add drink bottles to your coloring books and crayons that you give to the children as handouts. Children under 6 are not capable of not spilling things. And, while you are at it, make a little fold out ring on the back of the seat in front where they can put their drink, instead of on the tray tables. Although the cups would cost slightly more, I’m sure the money would easily be saved on cleaning costs alone.

5. Ditch the huge TV in the front of the plane. It’s always on the bulkhead wall where all of the families sit with their little kids and it is annoyingly distracting.  It’s not only bright, but unlike a TV at home you can’t shut it off when it is time to put your kids to bed.  It is really hard for little kids not to look at a TV screen when it is on. My oldest child was incapable of tuning out the TV and it made it really difficult to get him to sleep. Everyone has a TV on the back of their chair. You don’t need an extra one as if the plane is a sports bar.

I’ve flown a lot with little children and I can guarantee that if your children are happy, the other passengers are happy as well. No one wants over-tired, hungry children sitting next to them. Implementing these five things would make flying so much more humane, and would make me feel more like a mom instead of a sergeant.

Thanks in advance. Please don't hesitate to contact me for further suggestions.


One Tired Mom