New Videos! Artworks for Sale & My DNA Genealogy Test Results!

Hello! I had a couple videos I wanted to make sure I shared with my blog readers! The first is just another look at some of my newest artworks and what inspired them (quite a few of them already sold!):

Also, I decided to do one of those DNA genealogy tests for fun, just to see what kind of results I would get, so here they are:

Hope you guys enjoy the videos! If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to my YouTube vlog channel, Spiritual Agnostic.

Life Update: MRSA, Cleveland Vacation, Freelance Writing, and Book Awards!

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Me at the USS Cod Museum in Cleveland, Ohio

As June 2016 draws to a close, I thought I would do a quick life update. Things have been kind of crazy lately between health problems, summer vacations, book releases, editing and freelance writing, vlogging, etc. So here are a few highlights (or low points) of my recent days:

*We went on an actual vacation for the first time in a few years! We went up to Cleveland, Ohio and went to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the USS Cod Submarine Museum, the Cleveland Zoo, Cleveland Botanical Gardens, and Lake Erie. I found some awesome driftwood while walking along the beach, drooled over the Michael Jackson and Nirvana memorabilia at the Hall of Fame, rode a camel, and ate way too much junk food!

*My hubby is fighting off another MRSA infection, which makes me afraid we are both going to be passing it back and forth again. Even with all the bleaching and cleaning we do, that stuff is hard to keep from spreading!

*I am proud of the fact that my career in freelance writing and editing continues to expand, with many repeat customers and brand new clients! My favorite projects are those that align well with my natural interests (specifically children’s writing and poetry), but even some of the more technical jobs have been more fun than I expected! These jobs allow me to continue to do what I love to do and work at home!

*My YouTube vlog, Maranda’s Toys & Books, continues to grow! I have been pleasantly surprised to find out I’m not the only nerdy adult who still loves collecting dolls, ponies, action figures, and other things from her childhood! I am even getting some free toys and books to review on my channel which is pretty darn awesome!

*My new middle grade children’s book, “Creepy, Funny & Just Plain Weird: Stories and poems for kids“, has already been nominated for a children’s book award! Fingers crossed that I win! If you haven’t read it yet, please give it a try!

5 things I miss about the 90’s

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I was definitely a 90’s child. Being born in 1982, I don’t remember a whole lot about the 80’s. Some bits and pieces of those earliest years break through my memory bank, but the 90’s definitely became the defining decade of my childhood in many ways. Now I find myself more and more drawn to songs, movies and other things that bring back those childhood days. When I find myself in that nostalgic state, I find it hard to believe how old I am now and that it has been about two decades since those memories were made. Remembering can make me feel happy and sadly bittersweet all at the same time. Here are a few things I miss about those days…

1. The music. Ok, some of the music in the 90’s was cheesy and stupid. No doubt there. But at the time, it seemed so cool and new. Listening to the soundtrack of my childhood can still make me feel like “one of the cool kids” in a strange sort of way. The music also reminds me of hours spent watching MTV when my older sister had the remote control – back when MTV actually played music. It makes me remember how cool and rebellious I thought Nirvana was and how amazing Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson’s music videos seemed. I also remember how angry my mom got when she caught me listening to and singing along with my sister’s Salt-N-Pepa cd (she especially hated their song “None of Your Business”).

2. The magic of childhood friendship. Is it even possible to have adult friendships that are as meaningful as your childhood ones? I think I have found that magic with my husband, but it is hard to find that connection with my other adult peers. Don’t get me wrong, I was never popular, but I did have some great friends throughout the 90’s. I’ll never forget the hours I spent with a few special people I grew up with. I’ll always remember that feeling of belonging somewhere – even if it wasn’t with the “in crowd”. I’ll never forget the hours of gymnastics, skating and playing ball or sneaking around construction sites in the middle of the night and even getting picked up by the police (who luckily we knew well enough to get away with just about anything).

3. Believing I could do anything. I miss the naivete I had back then. How I thought the world was a big playground and that all options were open to me. I do have a good life now and have achieved many things I wanted, but I never realized back then how hard and cold the real world would be. I wish life were truly as easy as I thought it was back then.

4. The simplicity of 90’s technology. I know we have made huge leaps and bounds technologically as a society in the past two decades, but sometimes today’s technology just seems overwhelming. Now, things become outdated as soon as they hit the market. While today’s phones, video games and computers are sleek, portable and able to do more, they can also become a big pain in the butt. Figuring out how to use all the features on these things can become annoying and time-consuming. When electronics malfunction we almost don’t know what to do anymore, it can shut society down and cause panic. And to be honest, I wouldn’t mind not seeing everyone on a cell phone all the time either.

5. Progress. In the 90’s, it felt like we were making real progress in fighting prejudice, hate, sexism and ignorance. We tried to become more environmentally aware and actually valued science. I’m not sure what happened, but it feels to me like we have somehow regressed horribly. Some groups want us to regress even more and are actually gaining faithful followers instead of being told how freaking crazy they are. What has happened to us? Have we let the fear of terrorists and an economic recession cause us to lose our minds and turn on the very values we all cherished so much? I try to think of what else might have changed our collective goals and just can’t figure it out. I know I might have been naïve back then, but surely I didn’t imagine it all.

A Sad Tribute to Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Last weekend my husband and I visited the Paul Laurence Dunbar House here in Dayton, Ohio. Being a poet myself I have wanted to check out the historical site for a while. When we arrived, I was happy to see quite a few others there, including several kids. I noticed that we were the only “white” people there (other than the tour guide), but I hoped that was just coincidence and didn’t mean that people from different ethnic backgrounds ignored this part of history. I have noticed over the years that many people tend to only care about the history of their particular heritage, which I find sad. There is so much to be learned by experiencing different cultures and studying the lives of people from all kinds of backgrounds.

Before we toured Paul’s house, we all watched a mini documentary on the life and times of Paul Laurence Dunbar. As the film went on, I began to feel worse and worse. They talked about how Paul was highly educated for his time, even becoming class president and the founding editor of his high school newspaper, but was still denied jobs in the fields he studied, because as they put it, “an uneducated white man was still considered better than an educated negro”. Paul eventually had to take a lowly job as an elevator operator. They went on to explain how even though Paul did eventually gain some notoriety as a poet, he was truly saddened because the public refused to notice his deeper, more thoughtful poems written in standard English and instead only celebrated the lighthearted ethnic “dialect” poetry. Even worse, they used his poems to back up their belief that African Americans were not as smart or important as “white folks” and even worse, that they had actually enjoyed being slaves.

When we walked over to the house, the tour guide explained that Paul and his family were the first African Americans to move into this nicer part of town (much to the dismay of some in the neighborhood). Most of the people of his race were forced to live in the “ghetto” in little shanty homes that were nothing more than thrown together huts. As I listened to all this I looked at the faces of the sweet, innocent kids around me. I felt awful that they have to live in a world where this kind of prejudice once existed (and still exists), even if the circumstances have gotten better since Paul’s day. I know it isn’t my fault and that I didn’t cause it, but I felt awful that my ancestors were likely a part of the society that so mistreated (and continues to mistreat) an entire race of people.

I could write about some of the other unfair things that were talked about, like the Dunbar family’s slavery background or how African Americans soldiers were considered “good to stop a bullet” but not good enough to be appreciated…however, I think a few of Paul’s words capture the frustration and unfairness best –

I know why the caged bird beats his wing

Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

For he must fly back to his perch and cling

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars

And they pulse again with a keener sting –

I know why he beats his wing!

Review of “Mud Puddles and Muscadines”

Mud Puddles and MuscadinesI’ll admit that before I even started reading “Mud Puddles and Muscadines”, written by Pat Brannon, I had to look up the word “muscadine”, because I had no idea what it meant. I guess you just don’t hear that word much where I grew up. So in case you are also unfamiliar with the term, please note that a muscadine is a grapevine species that is native to the southeastern United States.

Now, on to the actual book review. “Mud Puddles and Muscadines” is a collection of personal essays and poetry about the author’s experiences growing up in rural Arkansas. Ranging in time from the 1950’s until the 1970’s, the stories cover a broad range of people, places and memories that deeply affected the author’s life in one way or another. To me, reading through the book almost felt like watching an “Andy Griffith” marathon. Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s who was born in an urban, northern area, I certainly never experienced a place as innocent and charming as Griffith’s Mayberry, but while reading through these essays, I felt like I was vicariously experiencing the simple country life I had only before seen on tv.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the author of “Mud Puddles and Muscadines” always had an easy life surrounded by perfect people. She is very honest about the virtues and vices of those she knew and the struggles and victories she experienced growing up. However, even though life back then might not have been idyllic, there are some lessons our current culture could definitely learn from the past. It’s no wonder that many people long for a time when communities were close-knit and the people took care of each other. In our materialistic, often rushed modern society, it seems that some important things have been overlooked. Luckily, there are people like Pat Brannon who still remember those things and are willing to share them with the rest of us.

I would highly recommend this book for those who feel a bit nostalgic for their own past or for those who wish to experience the charm of an old-fashioned, small town world for the first time. For more information about the book and how to purchase a copy, please visit the author’s website.

“The Sandcastle Kids: A Mayan Adventure” review

“The Sandcastle Kids: A Mayan Adventure” picture book, written by Sonya Kimble-Ellis and illustrated by Matthew Hebert, contains an unusual combination of fantasy, history and life lessons.  The storyline of the book revolves around four kids named Rosa, Kamal, Richard and Daisy, who find themselves transported to an ancient Mayan village in Central Peten (now known as Guatemala) thanks to the help of a magical sandcastle.

Once there, the group of kids meet a Mayan native named Chamula, who teaches them more about his culture, including an introduction to Mayan hieroglyphics, local wildlife and all the different aspects of daily life in the village.  Luckily, this information is related in an interesting manner, one that doesn’t slow down or ruin the story being told.

This story was an enjoyable read, not only because I personally like history, but because the story is told through the eyes of children, and likeable children at that.  Rosa, Kamal, Richard and Daisy take what could become a boring history lesson and turn it into something that kids can relate to, something exciting and new.

I would definitely recommend this book for any history or fantasy lovers, but think it would also be a good pick for any child who simply likes a good story.  I will say that this book has quite a bit of text, so it is probably better suited for middle or older elementary age children, perhaps age 7-12 or so.

To find out more about this book, the author or how to order a copy for yourself, please visit The Sandcastle Kids website.

“Mary’s Atlas, Mary Meets Ontario” Picture Book Review

“Mary’s Atlas, Mary Meets Ontario” is actually part of a series of books written by Gwen Smid and illustrated by Sonia Nadeau.  The books are an interesting mix of fantasy and real history.

The main character, Mary, is a little girl who has a magic atlas.  This atlas has the ability to whisk Mary away to different parts of Canada, where she meets unusual characters and has adventures of her very own.  In this particular book, Mary is taken to Ontario where she decides to help a loon named Gavi figure out why the Great Lakes are drying up.  Everyone wants to blame it on the beavers, but is it really their fault?

I don’t want to give the ending away, but I will say it wasn’t what I was expecting.  Honestly I was expecting that the story would take an environmental turn and talk about global warming, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the author found her own creative solution to the problem in the story.

I also really liked how the author incorporated famous Canadian landmarks and historical facts into the story without slowing down the pace too much.  At the end of the book there is also a list of additional interesting places in Ontario that weren’t mentioned in the story.  Whether you happen to live in Canada or not, this is a fun series that your kids will enjoy.  The best part is, they won’t even realize that they are learning geography and history at the same time!

To learn more about the Mary’s Atlas series, please visit www.marysatlas.blogspot.com.