Emptier Nest

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If you follow Pajama Diaries, of course you know that Amy has flown the coop. She hasn’t flown far, thankfully — only about an hour away — to the fictional liberal arts school, Waverly University.

I try to stay 5-6 months ahead of my deadlines. This keeps me relatively sane and allows me to get sick, go on vacations, or write a kids’ book or two. This also means I have to project how I (or Jill) will feel in 5-6-months’ time, which can get very tricky if the strip deals with a milestone like a bat mitzvah, prom, or yes…a kid going off to college.

Most of the time I can project pretty accurately…or close enough. This time was another story. Sure, I knew I’d be sad about my older daughter leaving for college. What I wasn’t prepared for — and wasn’t reflected in the strip — was HOW sad I’d be. The drive home from my daughter’s move-in day required a few (thousand pounds of) tissues.

Luckily I got over that and somehow I’m managing to lead a productive life without her. Yeah, okay, so I may text her a few (thousand) times a day, but that’s also another story.

Emotions aside, when I came up with this storyline during my daughter’s senior year, I wrote mainly from Amy’s perspective and largely ignored the devastating effects of her departure. Maybe it was subconscious avoidance or just plain ignorance (I haven’t done the deep-rooted self analysis yet). Either way, I think this was a missed opportunity to see how deeply Jill, Rob, Amy, and even Jess are affected. If/when Jess heads off to school, I think you’ll see the family having an even stronger reaction.

From what I’ve heard from other parents, it’s more affecting when the last child leaves, which makes sense. It’ll definitely be a great opportunity for Jill and Rob to explore their new lives without kids in tow.

I’m sometimes asked what I’ll do about the strip when both kids leave. Honestly, I don’t know. I write so organically, my characters tend to surprise me. I do think that the strip will continue to evolve. I just don’t know in what ways. 

One thing I know for sure: just because the characters grow older doesn’t mean they’ll stop having stories or being part of a family. And just because Jill and Rob approach empty nest-hood doesn’t mean their lives will be less relevant. 

You’ll just have to wait and see…like me.

Happy Father’s Day

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Apologies for the delay in posting. It’s been a busy, busy season. I was away for about half of it. 

I’m back now, (happily) chained to my desk, and ready to start a new entry. In honor of Father’s Day, I’d like to make it all about Rob. He’s Jill’s rock, glue, and straight man to her escapades. Poor guy puts up with a lot.

Here’s a fun then/now. My very first Father’s Day strip from 2006. (Yes…I cringe.)

This was based on a true event. Back when I was nine months pregnant with my older daughter, my husband had appendicitis. I took him to the hospital, and of course everyone thought we were there because of ME. Mike was pale as a sheet and in horrible pain, and nurses were asking what I needed. 

That one kinda wrote itself. But it sums up Mike’s — and Rob’s — life as a dad ever since: always being upstaged. And taking it with grace and humor.

Back to the strips — I’d like to think my writing and art skills have improved since that first one. Here’s today’s feature:

Also based on true events, but more self explanatory. 

I’d like to add one more from last year:

I’m including this one because it’s also 100% based on my husband, who is happy just to relax and enjoy some quiet time at home. He’d rather be out of the spotlight than deal with a big fuss. So frustrating! 

If you’re wondering, yes — Rob is essentially my husband, but with notable differences. Rob is a logical, practical IT guy, who tries to keep Jill’s head out of the clouds and her feet on the ground. That’s also true about Mike. However, Rob tends to be the straight man in my strip. In reality, my husband is more extroverted, talkative, and “the funny one” in person (not always intentionally). 

He is also extremely proud of his family, and lets everyone know it. Same as Rob.

So here’s to Mike, Rob, and all the other extraordinary dads out there, fictional and real. Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

 

Ohioana Festival

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So excited to be part of this year’s acclaimed Ohioana Book Festival on Saturday, April 14 in Columbus, OH. Click here for detailed info and here for festival authors.

Besides signing copies of Invisible Emmie and Pajama Diaries books, I’ll also be part of a panel for tween/teen readers:

1:00 pm – 1:45 pm: Learn from an expert panel of illustrators as they discuss all things connected to creating pictures for books – Joe Sutphin, Mark and Mary Willenbrink, Christina Wald, Terri Libenson (graphic artist)

Hope to see you there!

Recent Faves

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It’s been a while since my last post…apologies. Been busy writing, traveling, and taking frequent trips to the fridge. Stuffing my face is an important pastime here.

Just for kicks, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite strips from the past month or so, and provide some insight into their inspiration.

Here’s a Sunday strip from February that I call one of my “love letters” to freelance artists and designers.

Jill is a self-employed graphic designer who sometimes has to take a few, um, liberties in order to scratch out a living. Been there, done that (as a freelance illustrator). So these little white lies are just a way of surviving. Maybe not always moral, but justifiable. 

This next one makes me giggle.

Yeah, okay, it’s a nervous giggle. It hits a little too close to home. No explanation necessary.

Speaking of hitting close to home…

This is so me, it’s terrifying. For every one or two nice shots of myself, I probably delete ten. Which means I sometimes force my husband to take a dozen photos. Yes, I am that vain. Or self-loathing. Or just over 40.

This next strip is my love letter (one of so many) to other women, especially moms.

Emotional labor is a huge buzzword these days — as it should be. It describes (and I’m making a huge blanket statement here) what we women do and feel all the time. As Jill exclaims at the end, it’s so dang exhausting. In fact, it’s too exhausting to ponder right now. Besides, I have to go clean the produce drawer and make about ten appointments. So let’s move on.

This final set of strips just ran last week. Completely inspired by my kids, those little dears.

  

I went through a short period where I felt completely unappreciated by my darling daughters. (A parent of teens going through that, imagine!) I guess I was just fed up. So I wrote about it. And yes, I had a talk with them. No wait, my husband did. I chickened out. But I’ll show them the strips someday when they’re parents, too. …And rub it in.

In the meantime, feel free to bring up any of your favorite PD strips from days gone by. Till next time. I’ll be in the kitchen.

 

 

Au Revoir, Grandma Sophie

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It’s been a good run, Sophie.

You may ask: why oh why did I kill off that sweet-and-salty, adorable kvetcher? Well, simply put…it was time.

Sophie was modeled (loosely) after my husband’s late grandmother. On one hand, she could be very sweet. On the other, she had a habit of nitpicking me behind my back. It was clear that I did not measure up to her domestic standards. I didn’t cook enough, I worked too much, etc. Basically, she was the stereotypical mother-in-law I never had (my actual MIL is low maintenance).

My ultimate revenge was to turn this woman into a cartoon character. 

Writing for Sophie, however, was a joy. She was a little one-dimensional at first, but I like to think I rounded out her personality over the years. Like my real GIL, she had two dominant sides: the worrier and the complainer. Often they overlapped.

But, really, both were sweet at heart and only wanted the very best for their loved ones. In my GIL’s case, she lost most of her immediate family in the Holocaust. So no one could really blame her for that whole worrywart thing.

As you may know, much of my writing reflects my life. Not necessarily anything verbatim, just the typical day-to-day stuff. And if you’re a regular reader, you also know that my characters age in real time. So having a strip that has roots in reality and where people age…well, it makes sense that people also eventually die (don’t worry, no plans for anyone else…yet).

So that’s the long and short of it. It was Sophie’s time, simply put. She will be back in memories and flashbacks, I’m sure.

In the meantime, I thought it would be fitting to eulogize Sophie in pictorial format. Below are some of my favorite Sophie strips spanning the years.

RIP, Grandma!

 

 

 

2017: a (slightly edited) look back.

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This strip is from January 1, 2014, a little peek back at more boring times. In the grand scheme of things, how I miss “boring.”

Ah, 2017. What can I say? Well, I do have a few choice words, but I’ll keep ’em off this blog.

If anything, it was topsy-turvy. From a purely personal and professional standpoint, it happened to be one of the best years of my life. Pajama Diaries got nominated for a Reuben Award, Invisible Emmie made the best sellers list and continues to sell like hotcakes, I finished Book 2, and Pajama Diaries has been turned into greeting cards. 

I got to travel a bit, too. Went on a book tour, visited many cities in the US (some with my daughter for college visits), and even toured Italy with my husband for our 20th anniversary.

On the health front, I’ve been fortunate enough to have gotten on a good drug that’s used to control my platelet count. It’s helped tremendously, and I’m hopeful I’ll continue feeling this good for a loooong time. 

So, yeah, personally it’s been great. 

On the flip side, I’m pretty upset/terrified/p.o.ed about everything going on in our country, and — frankly — the world. I promise I won’t dive into politics here (I do it occasionally on Facebook and that’s enough), but I do want it known that just because things have gone well personally — jinx, jinx! — doesn’t mean I’ve been immune to everything else. From politics to natural disasters, it’s just overwhelming. And of course, we should never normalize this.

*sigh* Anyway, here’s to 2017. On one hand, thank you.

On the other, well…

…you know where you can shove it.

 

Fun with genealogy

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A few months ago, my husband and I took one of those DNA tests (aka “spit kit”). We were just curious. We already knew quite a bit about our families’ backgrounds, but we thought it would be fun to see if there were any surprises.

There were.

My husband, who we presumed was full-on Ashkenazi Jew (descended from Eastern Europe)…well, he was. Minus 7% Irish.

Irish?

His mother was skeptical that some wayward Irish lad or lassie had once honed in on their pure-blood Eastern European lineage. But we found out her brother had taken the test and it also came back with the Irish gene.

Well, that explains my husband’s red hair (back when he had it).*

As for me, I already knew I was a mutt. My dad was full-fledged Ashkenazi Jew, his parents having emigrated from Minsk in Belarus early last century. I don’t know much more than that — he and his immediate family died before I became curious enough to ask — except that it was a fairly straightforward lineage, unlike that of my Celtic husband’s.

I know much, much more about my mom’s side, partly because she’s so open about it, and because it’s seemingly more exotic and complicated, which fascinates me. Her family is Sephardic, descended from Jews who were booted from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition. They settled in Turkey and formed deep roots there. In fact, most of my mom’s relatives still live in Turkey. My mother was born in Ankara and raised in Istanbul. As an aside, my husband and I traveled there for two weeks early in our marriage. I took to it so much, it honestly felt like home away from home.

I joke that my parents had a mixed marriage with their unique customs and traditions. Luckily, my siblings and I turned out okay, despite our confusion as to whether or not we should eat rice during Passover.

Anyway, back to this genealogy thing.

So my results came in and I checked them out online. Here’s a screenshot. 

The surprises? Less Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Spanish (Iberian) DNA than expected (about 13% total). Also, more Eastern European DNA than expected (64%). But the biggest surprise?

19% Italy/Greece.

What the what?!

As far as I knew, there was NO ONE in our ancestry that was either Italian or Greek. So I dug a little deeper, and here’s what I found on the website:

Over the last thousand years, there have been times when some groups of people were isolated from neighboring populations. Isolation gives populations a chance to develop a unique genetic signature.

When individuals from two or more previously separated populations begin intermarrying, the previously distinct populations become more difficult to distinguish. This combination of multiple genetic lineages is called admixture. Regions that border each other are often admixed — sometimes to a great degree.

For example: we find that most of the people on our reference panel in Spain have about 13% of their DNA that matches to the Europe South region. This could be due to relatively few cultural and trade barriers between the two regions, as well as conflicts between the regions over the last thousand years.

Okay, that makes sense. Chalk it up to war, trade routes, and fuzzy borders. I also concluded (without checking any science to back it up) that my mom had some Ashkenazi DNA in her as well. Because I doubt that my dad was more than 100% Ashkenazi (I’m no math whiz, but I can add that much). Also, Turkish Jews tended to marry other Jews, not native Turks, so I was fairly certain there would be more Iberian DNA than Turkish.

Curious, I convinced my mom to take a test, too. Here’s her result:

I was partially right. She definitely has a good dose of Ashkenazi that she passed down to me (25%). She also has 34% Italy/Greece (or Spanish??). Then there’s 36% Middle East/Caucasus…which is more than I expected, considering her Jewish background. Makes me wonder if that’s “cultural osmosis” or if any of my ancestors married or bred with those who were native to the Middle East. 

Since I don’t claim to be a genetics expert, feel free to clue me in if you happen to be one.

Ultimately, I found the whole thing fascinating. But I have another confession for that test…

Many of my husband’s ancestors were also from Minsk. I used to joke that maybe we’re distantly related. And no, we still have no idea. But it did lead me to create this storyline.

I must tell you, my husband was NOT amused when he first read these strips. It actually creeped him out. But I thought it was such an amusing premise that I did it anyway.

So here’s to spit and all the wonders that it can produce (who knew). If you’d like to take a DNA test, these are links to two popular ones:

23&Me

Ancestry.com

Enjoy, Happy Thanksgiving, and happy hunting!

 

*I was kidding.The red hair presumably comes from his Hungarian background.

 

 

Amy’s college tour and other things I’m — I mean Jill’s — too young for

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I just took my older daughter to my alma mater, and it all came flooding back. I was just there! Yeah, okay, 25 years ago, but still…

So here’s the story. My daughter is a high school senior and is actively looking at schools. We took a road trip to see if my college was someplace she’d like to apply to. The evening before our official tour and info session, we drove by the campus. I was marveling at both the familiarity of the old and the novelty of the new (mainly dorm buildings). Finally, we came upon my old home away from home — the fine arts building.

It’s a good thing the campus was deserted, because I had a total and complete freakout. First, I emitted some kind of high-pitched scream that only dolphins can hear. Then I pulled over, jumped out of the car, and forced my daughter to take a gazillion photos of me in front of the building. She probably thought my body had been abducted by an embarrassing alien. This is the power of nostalgia. You may not know you have it until it’s too late.

I remained (mostly) calm the next day during the actual tour. I only regaled the tour guide with 300 or so anecdotes from the ’90s. When all was said and done, we enjoyed the tour, got the answers we needed, and I happily dragged my kid to a bunch of city bookstores to sign some (shameless plug) INVISIBLE EMMIE books. Oh yeah, I also got even drunker on nostalgia by meeting up with old friends. It was EPIC — a word, btw, you should never utter in front of your teenager.

Since then, my daughter’s toured many more schools. She has yet to sort through her thoughts and narrow down her list, but I must say we had a pleasant bonding experience on that trip. My husband was tasked with the majority of school visits, as he had more vacation days. His experiences were similar: pleasant, informative, and great bonding time. 

I’m no fool…I know the hardest part is yet to come: the applications, the deadlines, the acceptances/rejections. But at least my daughter got the physical sense of where she feels she’d fit in. And that’s huge.

I write about six months ahead. That means in about two months, I’ll hold Amy’s future in my hands…where she will ultimately get accepted to college and where she’ll decide to go. As a parent, I wish I had that power for my flesh and blood child, but I don’t. So I’ll take it wherever I can. 

Poor Amy!

 

 

Rob’s 50th!

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I’ve been a bad blogger. Apologies. My only excuse is…well, life. Too much of it lately (in a good way, for the most part).

Anyhoo, let’s talk comics. Latest update: Rob turned half a century old. BAM! And yes, his milestone is modeled after my husband’s, who forbade me to announce it or post anything online about it. Hello, doesn’t the dude know I have a syndicated strip? And a wayward drawing hand? Hey, I’m not responsible for the (digital) ink that flows from my pen.

  

So yes. As things typically go in the world of PD, something happens to Rob and Jill takes it personally. That’s right, she has the midlife crisis. And it’s taking the form of extreme planning.

At least Rob’s handling this with some dignity. I hate to think how I — I mean Jill — will deal in a few years. I’m guessing a straitjacket will be involved. 

Thankfully, Jill chills a little and they enjoy a nice getaway without the extreme stuff.

As usual, Rob can read Jill like a book. Well, she’s not that deep. Maybe a tabloid magazine. But he has a point. She (and he, if he really wants to admit it) knows that there’s only so much time left, and “50” is quite a glaring marker. But 50 today isn’t our grandparents’ 50. Today’s 50-somethings are still young, hot and vibrant…just with more joint problems. 50 means you can take those little getaways without hiring a babysitter. 50 is something to celebrate.

Hopefully I can keep all this in mind in three years…and avoid that straitjacket.

The NCS Reuben Awards in Portland

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Memorial Day weekend was pretty exciting this year for many reasons: first (the obvious one), because I was up for an award. Also, because it’s virtually the only time I get to schmooze with so many of my cartooning friends. Third, because there were some heavy-hitting speakers (Hello? Matt Groening and Lynda Barry!). And finally, because it was in Portland, OR, the “it” city I’ve always wanted to visit.

So Mike and I flew west and tried to pack it all in. We failed miserably — didn’t see as many of the sights as we wanted  — but we’re pretty damn sure we’ll be back. We did take a boatload of photos this year, so prepare yourself. Here’s the pictorial itinerary.

Thursday morning: my first board meeting. Yes, folks, look what I got myself into.

See that red tag? I’m officially a National Cartoonists Society board member (VP of BS?). Actually, I’m stoked. They must have taken my type A personality into account. I will definitely do my best to get s**t done. Here’s a nice pic of myself, fellow board member & sister-in-cartooning, Maria Scrivan, and Kevin Segall of Collector’s Shangri-La before the business meeting (click on photos to enlarge):

Thursday afternoon: My husband Mike and I explored downtown Portland with fellow cartoonists. By the way, cartoonists are like barnacles: we attach ourselves to the nearest living creature with a sense of direction and go along for the ride. In this case, it was Mike. 

First, we made a pit stop at the iconic Voodoo Doughnut (tourist’s note: go to Voodoo for the spectacle, but get your doughnut appetite fulfilled at Blue Star). Here’s one of Maria and me outside Voodoo.

I walked off my Butterfinger doughnut by hiking to the Japanese and Rose gardens. Here we are, a bunch of wayward cartoonists in the wild, outside the Japanese Garden entrance. From left: Mike, me, Maria, Daryl Cagle, and Hilary Price (not yet pictured, Dave Coverly, whom were were meeting):

We lost Daryl a little later and gained Dave Coverly:

Much fun was had and many hijinks ensued the rest of the afternoon (sorry, no details will be divulged).

On return, I ran into Jan Eliot. I just had to post this photo because — cartooning aside — she’s simply one of my favorite people to spend time with.

Thursday night: Wacom headquarters hosted a nice, informal cocktail party for the NCS. There was a fun drink-and-draw of sorts. Many of us participated in games conducted on Wacom’s state-of-the-art drawing tablets. My theme: “Draw America today, as if it had lost the American Revolution.” After a few drinks and only 5 minutes to draw, this is what I came up with (note how the sketch quickly deteriorated from left to right as I frantically tried to finish in time):

And here’s one right after (or maybe before?) the party, with Peter Gallagher, Jeff Knurek, Dave Blazek, and Eileen Blazek. Not sure why it looks like there’s a spotlight on us, but just go with it.

Friday morning: a main highlight of the trip. Many cartoonists were bused to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital to draw for the kids there. Always a rewarding, moving experience. I learned quickly that I enjoy drawing characters from “Moana,” which I was instructed to do by some small patients. Here’s a little montage of pics from that morning. (Top photo from left to right: Jan Eliot, Patrick McDonnell, Tom Stemmle, myself, and Jeff Knurek)

Friday afternoon: More barnacles joined Mike for another stroll in downtown Portland. Our main destination: Powell’s Books. My “book twin,” Mark Parisi (“Marty Pants”) and I signed some stock and toured around.

  

Loved seeing this display:

We even bumped into Mo Willems, who was acting like a civilian in a bookstore for once. He showed us his finds. (From left: Mo Willems, Mark Parisi, Jeff Knurek, myself)

A few blocks away, I finally found my Reubens banquet garb in a saucy window display. (not shown: whip and gimp accessories) Check!

Here’s a montage of some other random Portland sights:

Friday night: once again, the nice folks at Wacom hosted a slew of cartoonists for the NCS annual Welcome Cocktail Party. Here’s our selfie attempt from the rooftop balcony: 

With greeting card Reuben winner: my sweet and talented friend, Debbie Tomassi.

With “Cartoonist of the Year” (and someone I really admire), Ann Telnaes.

With another renowned cartoonist, Wily Miller. (I took this pic specifically for my brother, who is a huge fan of Wily’s work.)

Saturday: Another highlight of the trip was hearing some incredible speakers. The first was a round-up of Simpsons giants: Matt Groening, David Silverman, and Tom Gammill. The banter and visuals were as funny as you’d expect. Apologies for the blurry photo.

My own personal highlight was seeing Lynda Barry, the most influential cartoonist of my (young adult) life. I even erupted in tears while waiting to meet her (classy, Terri). Despite my fangirl breakdown, she was incredibly sweet to me. And wow — what a speaker. Here’s my post-breakdown photo op:

Saturday night: Reuben Awards banquet. Top to bottom: obligatory hotel room dress pose. Mike and me. With Sophie Miller Chatfield. With the ever-enthusiastic Mike Peters. Toasting with fellow “Newspaper Comic Strip” nominee (and winner!) Jeff Parker

 

Aaaand some more. With Hilary Price, and Maria Scrivan.

With Brian Walker, Dan Piraro, and Hilary Price…

…and Mo Willems.

More! Top to bottom: with Brian Walker and David Silverman (yes, I just earned my coolness cred there). With Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman. Opening remarks by NCS prez Bill Morrison and his wife, Kayre Morrison. With Jeff Parker and his hardware after the ceremony.

 

Nope, I didn’t get the prize this time, but Mike and I had a blast. As usual, the weekend was too short. Looking forward to more schmoozings with this fun, warm crowd. In the meantime, here’s one last pick with some talented fellow “losers,” Mark Parisi and Sarah Anderson.

Till next time!