Make your notebook extraordinary

What is a notebook?

A notebook is paper, card, glue, and perhaps a twist of thread to stitch the binding together.

The components are simple.

But notebooks are magical.  As soon as you purchase one at the stationery store and scrawl your name in the front cover, it has been transformed.

It is no longer


paper, card, glue and twine; it is an extension of you. When you add yourself to the ingredients list it isn't just


notebook anymore, it's


notebook. There is no other like it in the world.

You add your thoughts, your habits, your visions, your goals. It is messy. It is neat. It is dog-eared. It is imbued with your personality and emotions. Sometimes your notebook is the only safe place to express those emotions...

Not only that.

It is your notebook at this specific time and place. A notebook you bought and used two years ago will bear no resemblance to the notebook you bought yesterday. In that interval of time you have changed and matured, and the notebooks will reflect that.

To make your notebook extraordinary, and like no other, all you have to do is sit down and: write, scribble, sketch, glue, paste, cut, doodle, or do whatever else you feel like doing at that moment.

And then it is yours.

And it is extraordinary.

Because you are extraordinary.

My notebook collection

This weekend I spent some time organizing my studio, and I thought it might be fun to take you on a tour of my notebook collection and show you how I use them.

My Journal

I have been keeping journals continuously since I was 12 or 13 years old. I started in sweet looking cloth-bount diaries, then moved on to Mead 5-star spiral bound scribblers, then decided that I needed to be stylish and chic, and graduated to moleskines.

I write an entry almost every day. Normally I describe what happened that day (or the day before, if I'm writing first thing in the morning), and outline my thoughts about my projects or things that might be happening in my life.

However, I don't always write journal entries in my moleskine journal. I keep a concurrent journal in a Scrivener file and sometimes I brain-dump my thoughts into that. It's nice to be able to type at the speed of my thoughts, instead of waiting for my hand and pen to catch up.

I'm not precious about my paper journals. They're messy. They're full of scribbles. They're peppered with mis-spelled words and incomplete sentences. Sometimes I only have the time to write quick lists about the day -- things I saw, things I thought about -- in a rapid logging style. My journal is for un-selfconscious experimentation and expression. It's where I push my voice to its limits and figure out what my heart really wants to say. It is utterly private, but at the same time, there isn't much in there that is deeply secret or unsharable.

My Sketchbook

I recently moved from a moleskine pocket sketchbook to a normal sized one. At first I liked the smaller size of the pocket book because I could wedge it between diapers, wipes and bottles in my hold-everything bag. Now that Little One is older, and we don't need to bring the kitchen sink on every outing, I've opted for a slightly larger notebook. It gives me more freedom to decide how large I want my sketches to be. 

This sketchbook is all about daily experimentation and play. I'm not enamoured with the moleskine sketchbook paper. It only does an adequate job of dealing with watercolours and some pens bleed on the paper. That being said, I quite like that I can't be precious about what I'm doing. I feel free to make mistakes because these drawings are only for myself. 

I have many other sketchbooks which are the workhorses for my various jobs and projects. For those I normally use A3 or A4 Seawhite of Brighton sketchbooks. They're big, bulky, fantastic, and rarely leave my studio. 

My Personal Dictionary

This is where I have to admit to you that I'm a nerd; I'm completely, hopelessly nerdy. When I'm reading and I come across a word I don't know, want to use more often, or think is particularly lovely, I write it and its definition down in this little notebook. 

I don't know where I got this book from and it started off as something different. It's first iteration was as a book of lists: things I wanted to bake, things I loved, etc.  But, it turns out that a book of lists didn't inspire me. 

But a book of words? 


Here are a few of the words therein....


ornamental covering for a horse


complimentary or flattering to a excessive degree


slow to act; intended to cause delay


gorse (a type of plant). Thorny, evergreen, small yellow flowers, grows in the moors. 


translucently clear


another way to say "complaints" 


having a strong religious or spiritual quality. 

Will I ever use any of these words in every-day writing or speaking? Probably not, but I love knowing that I have enriched my vocabulary with them. 

My Inspiration Notebook 

Whenever I read inspiring passages or facts I copy them into my inspiration notebook.

In essence, this is like an old "commonplace book," which is defined as a notebook into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use. 

I'm on my third commonplace book. At first I copied clichéd quotes and song lyrics (I was in my teens). In my second book I copied beautiful paragraphs from novels, and useful paragraphs from non-fiction. 

In my third book, in addition to recording beautiful and useful things, I'm also trying to incorporate more poetry. 

I need more poetry in my life.

My Gratitude Journal

My Easter resolution this year was to keep a gratitude journal. I've flirted with the idea for years; scribbling little notes in the margins of my journals or day planner, but I've never stuck with it for longer than a few weeks, because I've never had a concrete plan.

I realized that if I listed three things I was grateful for every day, that would be 1095 happy things to remember over the course of a year.

I wanted a special notebook to motivate my in my quest for gratitude, so I ordered the gorgeous "Line A Day" diary from Chronicle Books, which is a perpetual diary that runs for 5 years.

Think about this: five years of daily gratitude would record 5475 happy moments.

My Day Planner

My day planner is a black moleskine notebook with squared pages. I have quested high and low, though stationery stores across three continents, and never found my perfect planner. My main requirements are: a weekly view where the daily portions are vertical instead of horizontal, so I can write lists; and lots of space in the margins for weekly lists that are not day-specific. 

For much of last year I used a planner that I had made in inDesign and had printed at our local Notting Hill printing shop. However, after six months the ring binding was in shreds and pages flew hither and thither whenever I opened it. 

Since moleskine notebooks have the strongest binding of any notebook I know, I bought a book with squared pages and ruled the spreads myself. 

I LOVE this little planner of mine. It is my brain. It is my time-keeper. It keeps me sane and helps when I feel overwhelmed. Everything gets written down, so nothing is forgotten (at least nothing important). 

And, there are plenty of pages in the back for me to keep notes on projects I'm working on, books I'm reading or want to read, random lists, and weekly recipes so that I always have the ingredients lists on hand. 

It's a mess, but I love it.

What do you think? 

Do you have any notebooks you can't live without? 

And, would you like a more detailed tour of any of the above notebooks? Please leave a comment to let me know. 

And, as always, show your love by pinning on pinterest, sharing on facebook or twitter, or hearting in bloglovin! 

Dancing with Daffodils

When I open my front door I step into a cloud of purple fragrance. It is sweet and intoxicating. At my feet the bees are getting drunk on the nectar from the hyacinths. My window boxes are an open bar with an infinite tab.

I love to see the bees waltz, bourrée, and fox trot around the hyacinths, muscari and daffodils.

Sometimes, when I'm stuck in my studio with a fog of thoughts and worries clouding my senses, I think I hear the flowers knocking on the door, wanting me to come out to play.

So, the other day I did.

I drew a fairy, and she and I cavorted with the spring flowers for an afternoon.

My New Writing Routine: Take Two


My mom stayed with us for a month and helped to look after Little M while I tackled a few creative projects that were gathering dust in the corner. I had the liberty write and draw freely and exuberantly.

I finished the dummy for a new book for Penguin Random House South Africa. And I made headway on two personal projects that I had been bursting to start. One has completely changed shape after a transformative weekend retreat at Gladstone's Library; the other is plodding along at a slow pace, but I'm very happy with its progress. 

So... success all around.  

But it's interesting to notice how success "feels" versus how you "thought" success would look when you were imagining it.  

This is how success looked... 

I didn't write 500 words per day.

Not even close. But if you consider that a picture might be worth a 1000 words, then I didn't do so badly. 

I managed to close the door and turn off the internet.

 But I ended up sleeping most of that time. I'm convincing myself that sleep can be as restorative and inspiring as drawing and writing.

I wanted to page through the dictionary.

 I did look up a few words words (asperity, restive, adumbration...) but otherwise the tome gathered dust on the floor beside my bedside table.  Perhaps I'll open it more now? One can only live in hope. 

I hoped to read with reckless joy.

 And I did.  This isn't a difficult resolution to make because it's what I always do anyway.

And finally. I wanted to feel proud of anything I could accomplish,

even if it was less than I had hoped for, because being a stay-at-home/working mom is tough. Yes it is.  No question.  And I'm so proud of the small steps I've taken this month. 

Going Forward

This month of rest and creativity has given me a lot of courage. 

To all you readers who might be stay-at-home/working moms... it can be done.

It takes 3 minutes to sterilize Little M's bottles in the microwave.  I often pop them in, and then quickly do a few chores in the kitchen.  I wash a few dishes. I wipe the counters. I fold laundry.

It's amazing what one can accomplish in 3 minutes.  I can do anything for 3 minutes, even the things I think are impossible, like sitting down to write or draw.  (Someone, someday, will be able to run a 3 minute mile, even that's not impossible.)

Sometimes, when Little M is fractious and I'm exhausted, I divide my day into innumerable 3 minute parcels. That way things don't feel overwhelming.

I write for three minutes; I draw for three minutes.

I thread those little moments together like beads on a string, and suddenly I've accomplish more than I thought I could.

I'm not sure how I'll manage now that my mom has returned to Canada, but I saw a scintilla of light glimmering in the fog of confusion and exhaustion. 

It must be possible....

It is possible. 

The key is to realize that there's no way of knowing how to do it until you're in the middle of it, muddling your way through. 

I'm just going to start and hope for the best. And hopefully I'll find inspiration, energy and a bit of luck along the way. 


How I write: my new writing routine

My mom arrives this week; I’m excited and nervous.

I’m excited because I haven’t seen her for half a year, and I can’t wait to sit at the kitchen table chatting about not-much-in-particular, with Little M crawling underfoot and clinging to our knees.

I’m nervous because it means I have to start working.

I have two rather important projects that need time, energy and creative spirit. So far I haven’t been able to concentrate on them, and having my mom around means I’ll have live-in nanny for a month. So… no more excuses.

What I’ve realized is that, in order to succeed as a stay-at-home/working mom, I need to completely re-imagine my writing life.

My old writing life

I used to stumble out of bed just before M left for work. I kissed him goodbye, made a cup of decaf (always and only decaf), opened the curtains just enough to let a shaft of light in (but not to much to pierce the morning dream-state), crawled back under the covers, pulled my laptop onto my knees and started writing. Or, if I had pressing illustration work to finish, I would hunch over my paintings at the kitchen table, still in my pyjamas and with my decaf in hand, to complete the day’s quota of illustrations. In the afternoon I would switch, either writing or illustrating depending on which I had done in the morning.

The new routine

This is no longer possible; my mornings are unrecognizable.

Now, I jump out of bed at 7 am sharp while M is still in the shower. I fetch Little M, who is often already awake and playing with her stuffies in her cot. I change her diaper (usually poopy), make breakfast, pour her bottle. I try to coax spoonsful of porridge or fruit into her mouth. Meanwhile, I jump up to brew my cup of decaf in between her complaints at not being able to wield the spoon herself, and wiping mush off the floor.

I roll out the yoga mat and attempt a few serene sun salutations and other stretches while Little M climbs under, over and through. She touches my face while I’m in downward dog, she fiddles with my pony tail or climbs over my legs while I’m practising the splits, and she sits underneath me while I’m in the bridge, making getting down very challenging.

Then, I re-roll the yoga mat and open my computer and dayplanner to focus at the tasks at hand.

Little M roars around on her hands and knees, trying to explore any undiscovered corner or piece of fuzz on the floor. She bangs empty water bottles against the fridge. She watches the sudsy laundry revolving around in our front loading washing machine. She pulls her books off her bookshelf and pages through them, examining each page to see if any new characters arrived over night. (This means I need to read her a story, of course).

I take a deep breath and make another cup of decaf. Sometimes I clean something. Little M watches with fascination, thinking my scrubbing and spraying is some sort of game.

By 9 am Little M is ready for her morning nap. I snuggle her into her blankets and deposit her gently into her cot. I close the curtains and sneak out the door.

Finally. An hour and a half to write/draw/think/read/try to be creative.

And all I want to do is make another cup of decaf and stare at the victorian rooftops and swaying plane trees out our window. The hurly-burly morning has exhausted me.

Novelist Roxana Robinson wrote a poetic article about her morning writing routine in the New Yorker in 2013. She talks about how, if she answered emails or looked at the news, the delicate membrane of her early morning imagination would be pierced. She wants to keep the mysterious and limitless post-sleep dreamlike state alive as long as possible.

I can’t do that any more. I have to try to recapture that penumbral state hours later.

The new writing guidelines

So, for the next month, while I have a little extra help at home, I’m planning to adopt a few writing principles to help me through this transition…


Write and draw daily.

Even if it’s one line or one tiny gesture with the pencil. The ultimate goal is 500 words of either fiction or journalling every day and 2-3 spreads, sketched (even roughly).


Close the door. Turn off the internet.

I need to give myself permission to seek solitude. Little M will be fine with my mom. The internet won’t collapse without my attention.


Page through the dictionary.

Words are our resources, we need to know how to use them wisely.


Read everything else with reckless joy.

(Fiction, poetry, self-help; it all inspires)


Feel proud of what I am able to accomplish, even if it is less than my (probably) impossible expectations.

Being a stay-at-home/working mom is challenging… and amazing.

*  *  *

For this post I was deeply indebted the post my good friend Ayla wrote on her blog.

Check it out here


Be inspired

Favourite Quotes 

Judith of Pretty Words Please

. The more you kiss or hug babies or young children, the happier they will be when they grow up. {That sounds like a wonderful plan to me!}

Virginia Woolf

. I decided to go to London, for the sake of hearing the Strand roar, which I think one does want, after a day or two of Richmond.  {This is particularly appropriate after recent conversations of where we would move to if we left central London.}

Kate di Camillo

.  Poetry. He liked the word -- its smallness, its density, the way it rose up at the end as if it had wings.



D. H. Lawrence

. We ought to dance with rapture that we might be alive ... and part of the living, incarnate cosmos.

What has inspired you this month? 

How and why to keep a reading or book journal

When I was a teenager I discovered an old notebook of my grandmother's in which she had written down the title of every book she had read as a teenager in her gorgeous, florid handwriting.

Seeing her notebook inspired me, and shortly afterwards I bought a small notebook from our local dollar store and started keeping a reading journal of my own.  I have recorded 715 books that I read for pleasure since October 30, 1999 (which is weird, as I just realized that my daughter was born exactly 15 years later!).

I didn't realize when I started how much that little reading journal would influence my life. It has become a bibliography or road map tracking my personality, my worries, my likes, my dislikes and my fascinations.

Why you should keep a reading journal: 

1. To remember what you've read.

 Sometimes I'll remember a story I read, but won't remember the title.  Or I'll want to recommend a book that I loved three years ago... It's handy to be able to open my notebook, flip to the relevant page, and find the title and author.

2. To track your changing personality and reading taste.

 Certain books speak to us at certain times in our lives.  When I look back at the books I was reading a year ago, three years ago or 10 years ago I can see exactly who I was at that time and how those books nourished my personal quests.

3. To keep track of how much you've read.

If you're like me, you are a competitive reader.  Each year I want to read more than the year before.  The goal isn't always more books, but to read with more discernment.  One year I read all of Shakespeare (except for the history plays).  Other years I have had other challenges for myself.  Keeping a reading journal keeps me accountable for my reading goals.

4. To record your impressions of a book.

 My reading journal started out as a simple bibliography (Title, Author, Date Read), and hasn't expanded beyond that.  However, I also keep a "Commonplace Book" where I collect quotes and passages that inspire me.  This is like an extension of my reading journal.

5. It makes you a better reader and a better writer.

 When you keep a book journal you are practising conscientious reading.  You're reading with purpose, and giving focused attention to something invariably makes you better at it.

How to keep a reading journal:

1. Selecting a container.

The decision here is digital vs paper. When I started the digital world wasn't nearly as advanced as it is now.  I bought a little notebook from our local dollar store and started recording the books as simple bibliography entries. As that's how I started, I don't think I'm going to change my system.  You could get a slightly larger notebook and include your favourite quotes, if you wanted.

I know that Moleskine does a special reading journal notebook, which might be a nice option.

If you want to go digital, you could open a word document, or even use one of the reading log websites such as goodreads or librarything.  The thing with goodreads that frustrated me is that you can't record books twice, which means you can never record when you've re-read a book. (My husband always teases me about how often I re-read books.)

2. Decide how much or how little you want to record.

This is completely up to you. Do you want to write a book review and collect quotes for each book? Or do you simply want to record the title, author and date you read it?  Those three entries are the absolute minimum.  You could also record how you acquired the book or who recommended it to you (bookstore, library, borrowed from friend, found on the train seat, etc). And you could have a system for rating the book.  I usually put a small dot beside titles I really enjoyed.

If you do decide to copy quotes, make sure you write down the page numbers for each one, or you'll never be able to find the original again (I've learned from my mistakes).

3. Number the books.  

Your first entry will be # 1.  Then number each subsequent entry so that you can keep track of how many books you've read since you started.  I've read 715 books for pleasure since Oct, 1999.  I didn't include the innumerable books I had to read for academic papers and research, as all those books would have been recorded in the various research bibliographies appended to my essays and dissertations.

4. Record the book when you've finished it.

If you don't, you'll lose track.

5. Keep a page or two at the back to record books you want to read.

Whenever someone recommends a book, or I read a book review that sounds interesting, I write the title of the book down in the last pages of my reading journal.  That way I'm never stuck for something to read when I have no books on my bedside table.

Have you every kept a reading journal?  Do you have any tips? 

One Picture, Three Stories

{Skidding on Laurie Lake Manitoba}

Story #1:

 My grandpa spent the winter of 1942/43 working as a Conscientious Objector. As he was a Mennonite Pacifist, it was against his convictions to become a soldier during WWII.  Instead, he aided the war effort by cutting lumber at a camp on

Laurie Lake

in Northern Manitoba. He was an avid photographer, and all the pictures documenting his time at the camp were carefully pasted into an old photo album.  The young men must have had a lot of fun, as many of the photos are of the games and pranks they played.

Story #2:

Ever since I was a young girl, this picture has been an inspiration to me.  I want to live my life like that young man hanging on the back of the tractor.

I want to hitch myself to the world and let the forward momentum sweep me off my feet.  

Story #3:

My Grandpa died last week. I will miss him dearly. He was a quiet man; always the one observing; the one behind the camera. Did he know that when he took this picture 70 years ago that it would inspire his granddaughter?  

I've often thought that there are many layers of meaning to the photographs we take.  There are so many stories woven into each moment.

How many stories can you tell with just one photograph? 

Do you want to join in on your blog? Choose one of your pictures and tell a few of the stories that surround it.

Feel free to link to your post in the comments below! 

{Scene of the lake from a treetop: which means Grandpa must have climbed a very high tree!}

Take a deep breath


I've spent practically every minute either relaxing with my husband or curled up under my duvet.  

I'm not exactly sick, though I do feel like I'm fighting something that's gnawing at my lungs. Mostly I think I just need time to breathe....really breathe... deeply...  slowly... fully.  

I opened my day-planner on Monday morning, and was delighted to see nothing written in it for the whole week.  No deadlines. No meetings.  Just a page of days ready to be filled with enjoyment. 

And what is more enjoyable than breathing?  Fresh clear air (even in the big city) is so refreshing. And then there's the fragrance of blossoms and coffee brewing...Heaven.

I think I've spent three days sitting in my studio, pencil in hand, but not drawing at all. Instead of drawing, I watched the sun move across the white sketchbook page and the curtains dance in the breeze. 

That makes me sound lazy.  Which isn't true at all.  

In our rushed culture we forget that some of our best ideas come in idleness. Inspiration comes when your mind has space to breathe.  After all, the word "inspire" means "to breathe in".  (from in and spirare which is the latin for "to breathe"). I wish I could write a book about the correlation between inspiration and breathing deeply, but for now, let's just give that thought some space to grow in our minds. 

And while I was sitting and staring at the curtains in the wind some marvellous ideas for illustrations pranced through my mind.  Oh! I'm so excited to start drawing tomorrow!  

Life is busy. I'm constantly reminding myself to keep moving forwards, to push through the busyness, but also to take time to breathe deep and smell the roses.  

I think that's what this little illustration is all about...  

When life is flying at a fantastic pace, why not take the roses with you?   

And remember to breathe deep and be inspired

(which might be the same thing, after all). 

Follow your effort, not your dreams

Follow your effort, not your dreams.  

This is a truth that has been resonating deeply with me lately.

We often focus on what we dream for ourselves. In my case, it's dreams for my career as a writer and illustrator.  Where we are in the present moment is never good enough, there's always more to achieve, a farther star to reach.

This month (February) I have an illustration exhibiting at Foyles Bookstore in London.  It is an exhibit of the most promising up-and-coming SCBWI illustrators from 2012, and I'm very (very) proud to be included.  I'm excited because I'm in this amazing exhibition, hanging with all the other amazing illustrators, but also because Foyles is the best independent bookstore in London.  It's like a literary mecca for bibliophiles.

A few days ago I went to see the exhibition.  I admired all the amazing illustrations, and then I sat in the bookstore cafe and thought about life.  You see, several years ago I had a meeting in that exact spot with two editors regarding a children's book project for a major cultural museum in London.  I wanted that job so badly, and I was so nervous as I was pitching my portfolio.

Did I get the job?  Yes, I did.  But... the project fell through due to funding and other bureaucratic nightmares.  It was going to be my first major break, and I fell apart when the bad news came.

Sitting in that cafe, several years ago, I never could have imagined that my illustrations would one day be hanging on its walls.  

I never would have dreamed it could be possible. 

So you see?  It was all those days of effort, working for the sake of working, and trying to open doors whenever I found them, that led me to where I am today. (Not my dreams)

I still have far to go; and I'm still dreaming.  But I'm also so grateful for how far I have come. And I'm not going let setbacks keep me from working hard, for it's the hard work that will get you to where you want to go in the end.

What do you think?  

SCBWI Cape Town Spring Conference 2011

This weekend I attended the SCBWI Cape Town Spring conference (2011). It was such a treat! The roster of speakers dazzled the attendees: Steve Mooser (SCBWI president and founder), Erzsi Deàk (founder of Hen and Ink agency), Nicol Faasen, and Stephan Spies (publisher).

The afternoon consisted of crit groups moderated by prominent South African publishers: Michelle Cooper (Tafelberg), Sally Howes (Watermark), Carol Broomhall (Jacana), Aldré Lategan (Human and Rousseau), and Miemie du Plessis (Lapa).

The consistent theme throughout all the talks and critiques was how we all need persistence. It can be hard to trust the process of creating, but this conference definitely affirmed the need for bravery and persistence when facing blank paper. There is a story within you; cajole it out of hiding with songs and soft words, otherwise it may remain in the shadows forever. Don't give up!

Wisdom From Ben Norland - Walker Books

This weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar led by Ben Norland, art director for Walker Books, and Viviane Schwarz, illustrator and writer.

I wanted to take pictures and make sketches, but I was too busy taking notes instead. Here are some words of wisdom from the wise.

1. Sending samples/submissions to publishers is the least effective way of getting published. Most new projects are found through agents, or via word of mouth. It helps to know someone in the business.

2. Portfolios: Put your best illustrations in the front, and one really good one at the end. Never include something you don't like. If you get a meeting, it's helpful to bring sketchbooks, so you can show your working methods. Also, there might be some great book ideas in your sketchbooks.

3. Agents are really helpful and useful. And, they are always one your side. The publisher isn't necessarily, as they want to make money for themselves. An agent always wants to make money for you. The more money you earn, the more money they earn.

4. Children's book publishers are desperate for more texts. Lots of artists think they can become children's book illustrators, but very few writers aspire to write picture books. If you are an illustrator who can write you double your chances of being published. Publishers are hungry for texts. Ben Norland emphasized this over and over again.

5. Your portfolio is a performance. It should take 15-20 min to look through. That means 12-20 images.

6. Editors always read a story out loud before they accept it. Apparently, at Walker Books, if they're interested in a story, they will gather a few people together and have a 'story time' where they read it out loud to see if it works as a performace. That means that you should read your story out loud to an audience before you submit it to a publisher. Always test-drive your text.

7. A story book is a performance script: the adult is the narrator, the child is the audience, and the book is the stage.

8. Three things that really matter in a children's book: consistency of characterization, context and place (the world of the book), and humour.

9. A dummy doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to show potential.

And there you have it... an entire afternoon boiled down to 9 wise words.


... and how does a chair relate to determination?

This is how a book or story has to start.

Something rings in my head, like Great Tom. A knell...

Then I must invoke the magic word.

Oh, yes -- there is one.

All truly successful writers know it.

I shall whisper it in your ear:


It stands for

Butt In Chair.

Really. Hard work is the only real magic there is...if the book in your head is to get onto the page.

Jane Yolen

"Take Joy" (p. 84)

Oh, and what a chair it is! The most creative, writery chair of my acquaintance. Something Hemingway would happily sit in whilst smoking and drinking gin.

The various chairs around our house have aided me in editing (re-writing) 3830 words of my 45000 word story. Three days of work: one thousand words per day (minimum). They say Stephen King writes 2000 words per day, but he's special, I'm sure. Or, he has some amazing chairs.

Hopefully my chairs will continue to cooperate in the next month, as I pull and push my characters around a dusty town in North Africa.

Creating and Designing a Family Cookbook and Genealogy

Often the things we remember most about our families is the food we eat when we are together. Every family has treasured recipes that are beloved as much for the memories they evoke as how they taste. Those recipes tell a sensual history of a family: of generations passing down good food, good experiences, joy, sympathy, love. Many emotions can be intimately tied to food and its preparation.

Turning those family favourites and heirloom recipes into a cookbook is an original and inspired way of telling your family's history. The story slides imperceptibly from family recipes, memories, and photographs to family history and genealogy. It is a more human way of connecting one's life to one's history. Sometimes looking at family tree charts and time-lines can seem quite abstract and clinical. Combining them with recipes and stories makes the history more immediate and accessible.

Steps to Create A Cookbook:

1. Collect the Recipes: Send an email or make a phone call to your relatives asking for their favourite recipes. Set a deadline for the submissions so people don't forget. Organize them into sections: breads, appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, etc. Don't forget to include the name of the person who submitted the recipe.

2. Test a few of the recipes: Old recipes that have been passed down through the generations are often taught by example. The actual written part of the recipe functions as short-hand notes. Baking temperatures or times are often not included. It might be best to test these so that modern cooks won't find them so difficult.

3. Collect Memories: Ask for people to submit memories of your grandma's or great grandma's kitchen. Memories of when the food was served, or what particular dishes meant to people. Share traditions surrounding the preparation of a dish. Don't forget those memories when the food was burned but the evening was glorious. Or tender moments shared over a cup of tea and a cookie.

4. Collect photographs: Ask for photographs of your family preparing or eating that food. Don't forget photos of the prize winning vegetables grown in grandma's garden, or the apron that everyone begged to wear. Scan handwritten copies of recipes that are special. If certain family members don't cook, this is their area to shine. They can submit memories of eating their favourite foods. Make sure everyone is included.

5. Design your cookbook: The easiest way to design a book is to use a special book design program like InDesign or Publisher. However, you can do it in Word or any text editing software if you can't access these more specialist programs. Make sure you use fonts that are easy to read (like Times New Roman, Ariel, Lucida...). Include photos and memories on the recipe pages where appropriate. Design a title page for each section.

6. Family History: Make sure you include a written history of your family as far back as you can go. Also include family tree charts, photos of old homesteads, photos of relatives, and anything else you think might be relevant or interesting.

7. Introduction: Don't forget to write an introduction explaining why you decided to compile the cookbook and why you think it is special.

8. Indexes: Create an index of recipe titles. It is also useful to create an idex of contributers, so that people can easily find their recipes or memories in the book.

9. Publishing your book: You can print it at home and bind it with staples or in ring binders. Or, you can bring the file to a copy shop and have them print and bind it professionally.

Some Highlights of Our Cookbook:
  • It is over 200 pages long
  • Our family recipe for gingersnaps goes back at least 4 generations!
  • It took us just one month to design (but over a year to collect all the recipes)
  • We included Low German (plautdietsch) songs and rhymes that we used to sing as children
  • I did a watercolour illustration of a favourite recipe for each title page
  • Each watercolour features yellow gingham, because our grandmother had a beautiful yellow gingham apron.
I have uploaded an abridged version (not all 224 pages) to Issuu, where you can page through the book for inspiration. Enjoy! To see the cookbook in a larger screen, just click on it.

Note: In order to be able to see it you will have to visit my blog, for some reason Issuu doesn't work in feed readers or facebook.