Life according to Al

Have you ever met someone that just tells it to you like it is? Not like a child telling you that you have toilet paper hanging from your skirt, or an editor telling you that the story you’ve poured your heart into writing isn’t at all what she is looking for. The kind of person I’m talking about is a guy like Al.

My family and I are fortunate to be traveling around the US right now. A few days ago we had the great pleasure of visiting a city I’ve always wanted to go to – New Orleans -and our timing couldn’t have been better. When we got there we found out it was The French Quarter Festival, which is like a smaller and all outside version of the famous Jazz Fest, with mostly local musicians. I highly recommend it if you’re ever headed to New Orleans in April. Anyway, since we’re driving an RV we had to get a cab from the campground into the city, and it was Al that picked us up. In a short 20 minute ride we got the history of New Orleans, the history of Al’s life, the history of the people of New Orleans, lessons on life and love, advice on how to embrace people and life, and a whole lot of positive goodness. I wanted Al to stay with us all day. I wanted to be part of Al’s family. I wanted to holler, “Amen to that!” By the time we reached our drop off spot, just beyond the infamous Bourbon Street, Al had burrowed a special place in my heart and I gave him a big hug. My whole family did.   So what specifically did Al tell us? (If only I had written it down! Left my notepad in the RV, silly me.)

“I’ve never had a bad day in my life.”

“I had brain surgery – my second one – in March and went straight home from the ICU. I feel smarter since then because they gave me extra brains!”

“People need to take life more seriously and realize how beautiful it is.”

“Love is all around, you just have to let it in.”

“Let life come to you and you’ll never be disappointed. Just let it happen.”

Thank you, Al, for starting our day off right and telling it like it is!

Life Lesson #4: When you feel discouraged and buried in the mire of it all, just put on Paul Simon’s album and sing at the top of your lungs, “You can call me Al!”

And what better to remind us of life’s goodness and beauty than this quote from Tinkertown, New Mexico…

Words to live by

Words to live by

My Pockets

I live in a really small community. There are no chain restaurants, no big box stores, and many family owned businesses. The draw back is that because we are remote, it’s quite expensive. We pay $1.00 more per gallon of gas than most places, and our food prices are sky-high.

One of the grocery stores is family owned. The current owner is a forward thinking man. He recently installed shade structures in the parking lot with solar panels and plug-ins for electric cars. He’s on the board of a grassroots nonprofit that supports local agriculture and he purchases a good amount of produce from local farmers. On top of all of this, one of the things that I love about this grocery store is that on any given day that I drive by, Mr. Bernier (who’s probably in his 60s) is in the parking lot with a little push cart, sweeping the huge parking lot and surrounding sidewalks. Here’s a guy who has enough money to hire 3 people to get this job done in a snap, or buy some  fandangled machine to slurp up all of the litter. But there he is, day after day, sweeping.

On my way to work today I was inspired to stop and tell him how much I respect him for this small gesture. I was late to work, but sometimes you just have to stop and connect. So I tell him how much I appreciate that he is out there sweeping, in addition to all of the other things he does to improve his business, and this is what he said. “Every day I wake up and I put on my pants with a left pocket and a right pocket, just like most people. I thank god for all that I have and for the community I live in. And I promise to do my part to add to that community and make it a better place.”

Well, my pockets aren’t filled with nearly as much money as his, but that’s exactly his point. It doesn’t matter if our bank accounts are spilling over (I’m not even sure I can imagine that one!), or if we’re living hand to mouth. What matters is that we live in community and do for one another to make that community a place we all want to be in.

I got to thinking…the children’s writing community it just like that. Every single children’s writer or illustrator that I have met in person or online, whose blog or website I’ve read, and whose wisdom I’ve soaked up, has tirelessly been giving to the children’s writing community. They have collectively helped me get to where I am today, and I am grateful for each and every one. I, in turn, want to give back. Be it a thoughtful critique, a book review, an encouraging word, a resource I found invaluable, a connection with another writer or editor or agent, or (in my highest hopes) this blog…my pockets are full of eagerness to keep the writing community well fed and cared for.

Life Lesson #3: If we want to give to one person, it’s just as easy to give to many. Who better to remind of this than Sandra Horning in her book…

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with illustrations by the incredibly talented Valeri Gorbachev. (Click on book cover for link to Sandra Horning’s website)

How do you like to give to your community?