Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I’m not ready to make new resolutions. I fell a bit short on some of my goals for last year and have decided to just grant myself a re-do on a few of those. I’m calling in a mulligan and I don’t even golf, never have.

Last year, I pledged to read more broadly and while I did better than in previous years, I’ve still got some room to grow. I always find myself drawn back to memoirs or a good mystery and hesitate at the word “fantasy.”

While I didn’t blog about it last year, I also tried to commit to entering at least one contest or submitting one work every month. Now this, this was a lofty goal. I didn’t totally wash out but I’m not going to lie, I didn’t make every month. Let’s go with the rule of 80 and round up. The good news is that for the entering I did, a few pieces actually received some recognition.

Last week I picked up my contributor copy of this year’s Cuivre River Volume VII. I have four pieces in this anthology, two prose and two poetry. The very next day, I picked up my contributor copy of the Coffee & Critique Anthology and have one piece in this work. Not a bad 48 hours!
So for 2014, I will continue in my resolve to read in a wider variety and write more consistently. As for the diet (meaning food choices, not a diet) and exercise plans, these are once again being scrapped. A girl has to be realistic after all. Here's to a guilt-free 2014!

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Counter Narrative to Black Friday

See a need, fill a need. I love that approach to life. It just makes sense. With that idea in mind, I joined the ranks of the St. Charles City-County Library Foundation in August 2013. It's beautiful work - seeing unique gifts of time, talents, and treasure in action right here in our community. Now the St. Charles City-County Library Foundation has joined #GivingTuesday in an effort to inspire personal philanthropy and encourage bigger, better and smarter charitable giving during the holiday season, showing that the world truly gives as good as it gets.
#Giving Tuesday, a new national day of giving added to the calendar in 2012, will harness the collective power of a unique blend of partners – charities, families, businesses and individuals – to transform how people think about, talk about and participate in the giving season. Coinciding with the holiday shopping season,  #GivingTuesday will inspire people to take collaborative action to improve their local communities, give to the charities and causes they support and help create a better world. Taking place December 3, 2013 – the Tuesday after Thanksgiving – #GivingTuesday will utilize the power of social media to create a national moment around the holidays dedicated to giving, similar to how Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become days that are, today, synonymous with holiday shopping.
The Library Foundation joined #GivingTuesday to highlight the opportunity to give a vital gift – the gift of literacy. Focused on preparing young children to read and furthering lifelong learning for the whole family, the organization’s Take 20 and Read campaign encourages people to read for 20 minutes each day. The Library Foundation works to ensure that every child is equipped with the early literacy skills necessary to learn to read by the time he or she begins kindergarten and encourages adults to read as well. Through their Give 20 for Take 20 initiative, the Library Foundation will assist fragile families by providing books and parent resources to help make certain children from birth to age five are equipped with the tools necessary to read successfully.
“Much of what we see during the holiday season focuses on shopping and the search for the best deal. On #GivingTuesday we hope people will take part in the philanthropic spirit of the season and support an organization they feel a connection to and help improve our local community. A gift of $20 to the Library Foundation allows us to provide Early Literacy Kits to three families. And of course, we feel the gift of literacy is the best holiday deal of all,” said Kristin Williams, Executive Director of the Library Foundation.
The Library Foundation is one of more than 8,300 organizations who have joined the #GivingTuesday movement this year. #GivingTuesday is endorsed by Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, Dorothy A. Johnson Center on Philanthropy, Giving Institute, Giving USA Foundation and InterAction. Charity Navigator, Givewell and GuideStar are serving as Charity Advisors. 
Those who are interested in joining the St. Charles City-County Library Foundation’s #GivingTuesday
initiative can visit http://stchlibraryfoundation.org/ to make a gift to the Library Foundation. Follow the Library Foundation's social media activities on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SCCCLibraryFoundation and Twitter @SCLibFoundation
For more details about the #GivingTuesday movement, visit the #GivingTuesday website (www.givingtuesday.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/GivingTuesday) or follow #GivingTuesday (https://twitter.com/GivingTues) and the #GivingTuesday hashtag on Twitter.

Tomorrow I hope you kick off this season of holiday giving by choosing an organization near and dear to you and making a gift. Your support makes a difference. Love always wins. - Karen

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Thankful Heart

Well hello, friends. It feels great to return to the blog. The month has rushed by and those thoughts to update my blog never turned into action. I do apologize but promise, it has been time well-spent in other areas.

I don’t know about you but I love November. The cold comes but it is not that terrible bone-chilling frostiness yet. The leaves remaining on the trees are beautiful autumn shades. Best of all, so many people use this month as a time to reflect on the many gifts in their lives. While in the best of cases we find ourselves grateful all year, sometimes we need a reminder to look for the many things, big and small, to be appreciative for. 

This year has been a pretty monumental one for me.  So I am going to use today’s post to reflect on the many gifts of 2013, even those I couldn’t recognize as such at first. Funny how that happens.

I’m thankful I left teaching and can very honestly say I am happy with the decision. I couldn’t admit that for quite awhile. It was time for a change and when I finally embraced that, let myself off the hook for not being a “forever teacher” – there was a lot of peace in this. 

I’m unbelievably thankful for the gift of friendship. My parents live out of state and I have no living siblings. My friends are so often the closest thing to family here. From my teacher comrades, Delta Zeta sorority sisters, my wacky writer pals, Passion heart sisters, Girl Scout moms, and my new fabulous library friends, I count myself remarkably blessed.

I’m thankful I got sick again. For those of you who don’t know, I started 2013 in the hospital recovering from a complete hysterectomy. While that wasn’t awesome, there are major life lessons in getting sick and the recovery process. Coming out the other side, you see the fragility and strength in the human body. I am constantly amazed by it. You find out who is willing to drop everything and run to your aid and even better, discover how to then pay that help forward.

I am thankful and proud to work for a nonprofit (St. Charles City-County Library Foundation). When you do work that feeds your soul, it doesn’t feel like work.

I am thankful to DuBray Middle School in Fort Zuwalt School District for supporting Madison as she began middle school in a brand new district. She is happy and thriving on Teal Team making this mom very relieved.

I am thankful our friends and family fighting in Afghanistan these last six months made it home safely. No words for this one, just relief.

I am thankful and excited to have all our kids here for Thanksgiving. My stepkids spend most of the year in PA, but Jeff is driving up today to get them. We are looking forward to spending the week together and sharing Thanksgiving with my family down in Memphis. It has been several years since we have been able to do this!

I am thankful to live in St. Charles County. We have an amazing community here and are doing great work. Small businesses, passionate nonprofits, safe schools, thriving industry, and a great library district – I love “our” side of the river.

I am thankful for my scars – my lifelines as my friend Patricia says. All fifteen of them serve as reminders that I am here and am strong enough to live this life. My scars are detours on life’s journey but ultimately, have provided me with unexpected opportunities, clarity, and appreciation. 

I wish you all a beautiful Thanksgiving, filled with whatever it is that makes you happy and thankful. -- Karen

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is Gentle the New Strong?

    This month I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. It happens. Sometimes I am full of ideas and other times, not so much. I turned to my trusty resource bank, the internet, to see if reading a few good writing blogs would suddenly ignite some inner hidden spark. Not sure that happened, but I did come across an article I found interesting in one of those “not sure how I feel about this kind of ways.” Maybe that just happens to me, but I doubt it.

    I focused my reading on character development. I think with the endless amount of Halloween costume ads and commercials right now I have characters on the brain. So I googled “strong characters” just to see what would pop up and happened upon a blog post by a woman named Sophia McDougall entitled “I Hate Strong Female Characters.” Well that got me intrigued! A female blogger raging against strong female characters? I had to be missing something.

    I reviewed her post to find McDougall’s issue is more about how women are either strong or weak and very little in between. In her opinion, labeling women as strong puts them in a box, continues to isolate, and prevents audiences from seeing them as equals to their male counterparts. It’s a rather long post but if you would like to check it out, here you go: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/08/i-hate-strong-female-characters

     And now my thoughts, for whatever they're worth. I found a good portion of this blog post rather frustrating. McDougall primarily focused on women’s strengths only in regard to their physicality - their ability to punch, kick, fight, etc. It was not until the very end that she finally connected strength with broader (and more important) ideas of peace, intelligence, compromise, resilience, perseverance, and commitment.

    When I think of strong female characters, Charlie’s Angels don’t come to my mind. Neither do any of those superheroes. To me, strong characters include the likes of Jane Eyre, Hermione Granger, Anne Frank, Prim Everdeen, and Jo March.

    What makes a female character strong in your opinion? Got a few favorites?

Monday, October 7, 2013

It's that time again

Ever thought about writing a novel? Does the idea race through your brain only to be kicked to the side by tiresome thoughts of laundry, dinner-making, grass-cutting and the like. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to give that notion some real thought. Mush it around up there in your ole’ noggin, stew on it for a bit if you will. Why? Well, because next month is November and that means it is Nanowrimo time baby!

Sorry, maybe you thought I miswrote – never did take typing lessons. I wrote “NA-NO-WRI-MO” - short for National Novel Writing Month. We get a whole month dedicated to trying this crazy idea of writing a complete novel or at least a large chunk of one. 

Nanowrimo runs from November 1-30. You need to write an average of 1,667 words per day to complete 50,000 words by the close of the month and complete this awesome quest. It can, in fact, be done. Here is the basic lowdown. Novels can be on any theme, in any genre of fiction, and in any language. Planning, outlining, and extensive notes are permitted, but no earlier written material can go into the body of the novel, nor are you allowed to start early and then finish 30 days from that start point. You have to stick to November! 

I’ve done some checking and sadly, Nano-leave is still not covered by private insurance or FMLA. So if you work, well, you still have to go to work. But those of you already retired or exploring career options, you are set! And those of us not, we need a good kick in pants to put our butts in the chair and write anyway. 

Now I know what you are thinking…. no one ever actually finishes this or does anything with their manuscripts. Oh contraire my blog reading doubters! Perhaps you’ve heard of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen? Yep, awesome Nano-novels!

Visit http://nanowrimo.org/ to join in on the madness, er, fun and see what you can accomplish. The official Nano forums provide a place for advice, information, criticism, support and an opportunity for what they lovingly call "collective procrastination.” The forums are already available since sign-up has begun as well.
There are already 49,137 people signed up for this year’s quest, quite an increase from the 21 people who originally took the challenge back in the first year (1999). An expected 200,000 writers will take up their pens (or tablets, laptops, etc) this year. 

Will you be one of this year’s Nano-ers? Come on, you know you want the t-shirt! 

Photo Credit: Nanowrimo.org


Monday, September 23, 2013

My kind of competition

    In case I haven’t shared, I really love my new job and for so many reasons. Reason 237: the St. Charles City-County Library District Book Blog. I get to blog about books I’ve read while I’m at work – someone pinch me (but not too hard). I'm sensitive after all. 

    The SCCCLD Book Challenge is a Competitive Reading Challenge. It is like kickball for literary nerds which is, in my opinion, AWESOME. Because if we are really being honest here, a good many of us aren’t exactly getting picked first for most sports teams. But this one, this one, I’m all over!

    To play, participants earn points for various categories including: reading the highest number of books, reading an award book, responding to blog posts, etc. I just started so I have a lot to make-up, but this also gives me an excuse to read. I can hear it now, “Sorry honey, I can’t cook dinner (ever), I have to finish my book for work.”

   Feel free to stop by the site and check out some of the great books already posted by the library staff from the various branches. http://scccldbc.blogspot.com

Friday, September 13, 2013

How do we get our young friends Ready to Read?

Ready to Read is a new early-literacy focused program sponsored by the St. Charles City-County Library Foundation and is committed to ensuring every child is equipped with the tools necessary to read successfully in kindergarten. Through volunteer engagement and active partnerships with community-focused organizations Ready to Read will empower a generation of young readers. In addition, Ready to Read educates the community on the many services available within the library district to support families in becoming life-long readers.

The Ready to Read program depends on volunteers committed to our young readers. We are always looking for patron partners to deliver our Early Literacy Kits, maintain our Mini-Libraries, host Book Donation Events, and provide sponsorship. Most important, we need your voice to champion our cause as we work to raise awareness about the importance of early literacy and the role parents play as their child’s first teacher. 

Helping our young children is more important than ever before. Studies show children who fall behind in school stay behind and their struggles continue long after graduation, impacting their ability to gain employment and fully participate in the community. We can make a positive change and break intergenerational struggles with programs like Ready to Read. By working with family units and partner agencies such as Youth In Need, Crisis Nursery, Parents as Teachers (PAT), Sts. Joachim & Ann Care Service and many more, we are taking a stand against childhood illiteracy. The Ready to Read program and the Library Foundation are excited to invest in our next generation of readers.

For more information on the Ready to Read program, please visit the Library Foundation’s website http://stchlibraryfoundation.org/ or contact Karen Guccione-Englert, Extension Services Specialist, at 636-441-2300 x. 1517. 

Photo Credits: St. Charles City-County Library Foundation

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

MO-SCBWI Conference Update

I’m all registered for the 2013 SCBWI-MO Fall Conference "Follow Your Dream" November 2-3, 2013 right here in St. Charles, MO.  I’m super excited to hear from this year’s keynote panel and attend breakout sessions. Here’s a sneak-peek at the amazing talent with us this year. (Excuse the copy-paste, I didn’t want to leave out any accomplishments).

KEYNOTE - Author Matt de la Peña -- "Working-Class Writer"
Matt de la Peña is the author of four critically-acclaimed young adult novels: Ball Don't Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here and I Will Save You. He's also the author of the award-winning picture book A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (illustrated by Kadir Nelson). Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific where he attended school on a full basketball scholarship. Matt currently lives in Brooklyn NY. He teaches creative writing and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country. http://www.mattdelapena.com

KEYNOTE - Author Lisa Yee -- "Following Your Dream Without Falling on Your Face"
Lisa Yee’s debut novel, Millicent Min, Girl Genius, won the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award. With almost two million books in print, her other novels for young people include Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, So Totally Emily Ebers, Absolutely Maybe, and a series about a 4th grader, Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes). Lisa is also the author of American Girl’s Kanani books and Good Luck, Ivy. Her latest novel, Warp Speed, is about a Star Trek geek who gets beat up everyday at school. A Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence, Lisa's books have been named a NPR Best Summer Read, Sports Illustrated Kids Hot Summer Read, and USA Today Critics’ Top Pick.

KEYNOTE - Author Judy Young -- "Judy Young, Counting Her Lucky Stars"
Judy Young is an award-winning author of children’s fiction, poetry and nonfiction books. Judy is a frequent speaker at schools nationwide and her author visits include both educational presentations and poetry writing workshops for elementary and middle school students. She also conducts writing workshops for teachers for their professional development in-services and is a frequent speaker for educational organizations and professional conferences. With twenty years previous experience in the public schools, Judy has first hand experience with improving students’ writing skills and her presentations and workshops are directly related to school curriculum. www.judyyoungpoetry.com.

KEYNOTE - Illustrator-author Dan Santat -- "The 'IT' Factor (Parts of getting published that you need to know but no one has taught you)"
Dan Santat is the author/illustrator of Sidekicks and the winner of the Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators for Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett. He is also the creator of the Disney animated hit, The Replacements. Dan lives in Southern California with his wife, two kids, and various pets. http://www.dantat.com

For more information or to join me at Lindenwood on November 2-3rd, visit Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Missouri Chapter (SCBWI – MO) at http://www.moscbwi.org/Fall_Conference/Index.html