T.A. Barron, author of the Merlin Series, shares his thoughts about Chinaberry in this video. We thank him for his kind words. You can purchase T.A. Barron’s Merlin Series on our Shopping Site.
Archive for the ‘Author Interviews’ Category
Interview with Susan Magasamen, author of The 10 Best of Everything
When I read Susan Magasamen’s book The 10 Best of Everything, I found myself lusting after her job a little. Just as we at Chinaberry scour the nation for books and other treasures to enrich people’s lives, this woman has made it her mission to find destinations for families. While we’re searching for life-changing stuff, Susan’s out and about “testing” ice cream shops and campgrounds! (Sigh . . .) We just had to find out more about this woman and her amazing job, so we’d like to introduce to you Susan Magasamen!
Janet: What words of advice would you like to share with our readers for having the best family vacation of their lives?
Susan: Incorporate everyone into the planning! This will make the trip something adults and kids are interested in and are looking forward to! If you can start the planning early enough, it is great to introduce films, books, art, music and other aspects of the culture prior to the visit. We also find that after the trip there is always a heightened interest in a new topic. For example, we just came back from a trip to Vienna and discovered our kids had a real interest in opera. We are now renting operas!
Another tip is to allow for the unexpected and change your plans! No matter how much reading and research you do on a place, it is never the same as being there and experiencing it firsthand. That is really the wonder of travel…the unexpected and the expected exceeding your expectations.
Janet: As I read your book, I wanted to dog-ear every page because all of your incredible “finds.” I especially loved reading about the “best road trips.” If you could only go on ONE of these road trips this summer, which one would you choose and why?
Susan: As you know, this book is a compilation of other people’s experiences!!! We have families sharing their favorite places in California, another exploring Boston, or a folklorist talking about Philadelphia. The “best road trips” are amazing and I would like to do all of them. Hmmm, right now I think I would like to take my family to The Ultimate Florida Keys Vacation. This is the trip from Deb Kirkland and her two boys. They planned an adventure-packed, nature-filled week, from hand-feeding the rays to an alligator show.
Janet: Out of all your experiences, from checking out wilderness hikes to resorts in the Key West, which was the most memorable for you personally?
Susan: Throughout the book we share travel stories of famous folks — from scientists and artists to poets and explorers. I loved hearing about the places and experiences that helped shape their lives. This was very inspiring to me and reminded me that as a parent you have an opportunity to expose your children to what they might become in their lives. Elizabeth Spires’ visits to authors’ homes was very moving to me. As a writer, I relate to the way she got to understand the writers by seeing where they wrote. Often we don’t get the biography or background of things. When you have the opportunity to see where someone wrote something, what inspired them, what their life circumstances were, it helps to understand yourself, the world and perhaps even your place in it a little bit more.
Janet: During the course of putting together this book, what surprised you the most?
Susan: How much people love ice cream! And also how important time spent together is for families. As we travel, visit and see new things together, we create memories that last a lifetime. I come from a family of five girls. Whenever we get together we still talk about some of the crazy trips we have taken. I remember once my sister and I took our young children to Colorado to what we thought was a dude ranch. It ended up being a disaster of a place. So our husbands and kids all banded together and we went on a road trip all the way to New Mexico. We had the time of our lives! Again, expect the unexpected.
Janet: What’s the biggest mistake you feel parents make when planning family vacations?
Susan: Overbooking and pushing kids to “learn.” When your kids are engaged, interested and active, they will have a great time.
Janet: What is #1 on your Wish List right now for your next vacation?
Susan: We want to see the Northern Lights! We’re thinking about going to Norway to do that. Interestingly, this has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. At supper one night I said I really wanted to do this, not thinking anyone else would be interested. As it turned out everyone was! We’ve all done our homework now and have found a really cool website that reports on the Lights like a weather report!
Janet: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
Susan: The biggest and best piece of advice I can give is to take naps! Usually when kids are bored they are tired. If you can take a rest, eat a great snack, and get something to drink, you can get back in the groove.
Techniques, Tips, Stories and More Than 100 Great Recipes
I’m hard-pressed to decide whether it’s the recipes or the humor that makes this book one that the Man-of-the-Family simply must have. Sloan’s wit will make any grill-fearing or even ”there’s nothing I don’t know about grills” guy want to hunker down in the easy chair and read the book cover to cover.
A must-have for any family prone to BBQ, Dad’s Awesome Grilling Book has recipes for appetizers, beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, burgers/dogs/brats, pizzas…the list goes on and on. Add to that its funny musings and really helpful technical info, and the book lacks for nothing. Get it for Dad.
Review by Ann Ruethling
From the author, Bob Sloan:
If you’re like me, then Father’s Day is a chance to make a request for someone in your household to provide you with your favorite food. For me, that would be some barbecue. If you’re also like me, you don’t trust anyone else to smoke the ribs or brisket but yourself. So what’s a dad to do? Well, here’s a solution that’s worked for me–have your wife and/or kids throw together these Barbecue Pork Burgers for lunch. They’re not true, pure, unequivocally absolute barbecue, but they allowed my family to feel as if they were making something special for me–Dad–on my Day of Days. The burgers, in fact, do have that essential barbecue flavor, which is a perfect fix to hold me over until dinner. That’s when the ribs I have coated with my special dry rub the night before will be coming off the grill. Hey, I know it’s supposed to be My Special Day and everyone is supposed to be taking care of me, but I just can’t help myself. Anyway, there is no greater gift than my family eating together–especially when we’re getting our hands messy in unison eating barbecue. For great smoked barbecue recipes, check out Dad’s Awesome Grill Book.
An exclusive recipe for Chinaberry Customers from Bob Sloan:
Barbecued Pork Burger
This burger captures the spirit of an authentic down-home pulled-pork barbecue sandwich. Let the sauce soak into the bun and eat it with a fork. It will definitely give you a heady barbecue rush.
- 1 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons favorite bottled barbecue sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 hamburger buns
Place the ground pork in a medium bowl. Add all the ingredients except the oil and gently mix together until just combined. Shape the meat into 4 burgers about 3/4 inch thick and 4 inches across, handling as little as possible. Make a 1/4-inch dimple in the center of each burger about the size of a half-dollar about the size of a half-dollar with the tips of your middle 3 fingers.
Place a skillet, preferably cast-iron, over high heat, and let it get very hot, about 2 minutes. Add the oil and spread it evenly over the pan. Arrange the burgers so they aren’t touching and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn and cook 4 to 5 minutes more, or until the meat is no longer pink inside (160 F).
Serve in hamburger buns topped with additional barbecue sauce.
For charcoal grilled burgers, make a medium-hot fire (see note page 14). Cook the burgers for 5 minutes. Turn and cook 4 to 5 minutes more.
For gas grilled burgers, preheat on high until grill is very hot, about 500 F. Cook the burgers for 5 minutes with the lid closed. Turn and cook 4 to 5 minutes more, again with the lid closed.
Makes 4 burgers
Can you believe it’s already May??? Ever since I became a parent, time just seems to fly by at record speed. One day our family is celebrating the new year, and then, with Houdini-like magic, it’s Valentine’s Day, then Easter, then my twins’ birthday, then time to sign them up for summer camps. Isn’t it crazy?!?
Anyway, I digress… the photo is of the May Day 2009 Bloom from Susan McKinley Ross, toy and game designer. Check out our interview with Susan from last week for more information.
Here’s to life slowing down just long enough so we can catch our breath.
May Day History and Significance (from TheHolidaySpot.com):
Well, it is a fact that May Day, which the children do enjoy with all vibes, is not an overly prominent holiday in America. Yet, it does have a long and notable history as one of the world’s principal festivals. The origin of the May Day as a day for celebration dates back to the days, even before the birth of Christ. And like many ancient festivals it too has a Pagan connection.
For the Druids of the British Isles, May 1 was the second most important holiday of the year. Because, it was when the festival of Beltane held. It was thought that the day divides the year into half. The other half was to be ended with the Samhain on November 1. Those days the May Day custom was the setting of new fire. It was one of those ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. And the fire itself was thought to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men, with their sweethearts, passed through the smoke for seeing good luck.
Then the Romans came to occupy the British Isles. The beginning of May was a very popular feast time for the Romans. It was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers . It was in her honor a five day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The five day festival would start from April 28 and end on May 2. The Romans brought in the rituals of the Floralia festival in the British Isles. And gradually the rituals of the Floralia were added to those of the Beltane. And many of today’s customs on the May Day bear a stark similarity with those combined traditions.
May day observance was discouraged during the Puritans. Though, it was relived when the Puritans lost power in England, it didn’t have the same robust force. Gradually, it came to be regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for the kids, rather than a day of observing the ancient fertility rights.
Susan McKinley Ross creates fun: games, toys, crafts – anything involving fun for children. She licensed her first toy in early 2003, and she’s been busy ever since with her growing business, Idea Duck. I had the great pleasure of meeting Susan in 2004 when she was helping us select toys for the Chinaberry catalog. Today, we carry her award-winning board game, Qwirkle. When we had lunch together at Toy Fair last January, I could have listened to Susan for hours! Since we ran out of time, I thought I’d continue our conversation here and share it with you all!
Janet: When you were a child, immersed in toys and games, did you ever one day dream that you would become an award-winning game maker? What DID you see yourself doing? In other words, what were your aspirations?
Susan: Growing up, I had no idea there was such a thing as a toy designer. Or a game designer. I thought these products just magically appeared. The whole concept of product design was outside my realm of experience. We’re aware of authors, directors, fashion designers, but as a culture, we’re not very clued in to the people who design things like toys or silverware. Every single product was designed by someone and I’m fascinated by that. It’s a career I stumbled into, but if I had known it existed, I would have sought it out.
As a child, I spent hours making mud pies, playing with my dollhouse and inventing imaginary worlds for my miniature toy animals. I think that’s why I’m drawn to low-tech toys. I want to design toys that I would have enjoyed myself.
In elementary school, I planned to be a lawyer and do good things for the world. When I graduated from college, I was blessed to get a job working at Hospice. I still sing the praises of the amazing people who do Hospice work. Working at Hospice taught me how important it is to do the things you love to do. I realized I wanted to be doing something creative in my work life. It turns out I wanted to be designing toys and games, even though I didn’t know that was what I was headed for.
Janet: What were your favorite games growing up?
Susan: I’m lucky. My family played games often. They never thought that I was too young to play. They taught me whist (a simplified version of bridge) when I was six years old because they needed a fourth player. We played a lot of cribbage and a lot of gin rummy. We played Scrabble, Monopoly, Password, Pay Day, Rummikub and Mille Bournes. When I was in high school, I played a lot of card games with my friends - hearts, spades, canasta and pinochle. We also played Trivia Pursuit and Pictionary. These are all very popular games that anyone my age would have had access to. I was just lucky to grow up with people who liked to play games.
Janet: Could you tell us a little about the monthly game night you and your husband host in your home? What is your favorite game now?
Susan: My husband, Chris, introduced me to a much wider variety of games than I knew about. Since we both love games, we’ve hosted a monthly Game Night for 12 years. It’s similar to a book club. Ten to fifteen people come over and we break into a few groups and play games. Game Night gives us a regular opportunity to play lots of games with lots of different people. It’s a fun way to spend an evening with our friends, and it’s a huge help to me as a game designer.
My favorite game is Puerto Rico. I also love Dominion and Agricola. These are complex games that offer many routes to victory. I like games that offer choices, so that if your first plan is blocked, you can still puzzle out a good back-up plan. One of the things I like about Qwirkle is that as you play, the board grows and so does the decision tree. Late in the game, there are lots more choices about where to play. You get to search the board to find the best possible place to play.
Janet: You’re such a creative idea person! What inspires you?
Susan: When I started doing this work, I was mostly inspired by looking at all the amazing products out there and trying to figure out what made them interesting. I’m a huge fan of HABA toys. They’re so beautiful! When I see their toys, it makes me dream of designing something just as wonderful.
It’s always inspiring to see something beautiful, be it a toy or a greeting card or a children’s book. Toy Fair is a wonderful event and it makes my head spin with new ideas. I love it. But my absolute favorite part of going to New York for Toy Fair is my yearly pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Going there inspires me for weeks.
The best part of my job is when I’m in the throes of inspiration. Sometimes I wake up with a great idea and I’m blessed that it’s my job to hold onto that idea and develop it. It is completely compelling. I really let myself indulge in the joy of inspiration because it helps sustain me when I hit the difficult stages of product development.
Janet: If you could have only one item in the Chinaberry catalog, what would it be?
Susan: I love the Chinaberry catalog! When I read your catalog, it’s like having a conversation with a good friend. I’m always trying to find new things I enjoy, and Chinaberry is a great way to do that.
The thing that I’ve been meaning to order from Chinaberry is the new Himalayan Salt Inhaler. I’ve always been fascinated by the Neti Pot, but this looks even better. Leave it to Chinaberry to find a useful new version of a classic item.
Janet: And, lastly, tell us about your May Day ritual. I know I’ve been getting your May Day flowers for the past five years, and I’ve saved every single photo. Tell us how it started and how many pictures you send.
Susan: When I was growing up, my Mom and my grandparents taught me about May Day. They taught me to make a bouquet of flowers, leave it on our neighbor’s porch, ring the doorbell and hide in the bushes. Of course, the neighbors always knew it was us! But it was fun to do anyway. In high school, my cousin Stephanie and I would get up very early and drive around town delivering May Day flowers. And candy. We didn’t have enough flowers for everyone, so we gave some people candy. The best part was that we’d pick a few completely random houses to leave flowers.
Eventually I figured out a sneaky way to deliver hundreds of May Day bouquets. I make one beautiful bouquet, take a picture of it and email it. A few years ago I decided to turn the photo into a card so my favorite people would get a love note on May Day. I send out between 200 and 250 cards.
It gives me great pleasure to keep this May Day tradition alive. In general, I’m holiday crazy. But I especially adore celebrating May Day because it’s entirely my decision to celebrate it. It’s not a commercial holiday. There’s no apparatus to support May Day. It’s just a great excuse to remind people that I’m thinking of them. I usually deliver 5-10 actual bouquets on May Day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see people and let them know how grateful I am for their presence in my life.
Janet: Be sure to check our blog May 1 for Susan’s 2009 May Day bouquet!
At a recent conference, I had the privilege of spending some time with storyteller Jim Weiss and his delightful wife and partner, Randy. Chinaberry has been offering Jim’s storytapes for over eighteen years now. If anyone knows the value of storytelling, it’s Jim. He grew up listening to his father tell stories, and the memories of those magical moments never left him. For over 30 years, Jim has been captivating adults and children alike with his own magical storytelling ability. The following is my attempt at recreating our conversation:
Chinaberry: What do you feel are some of the main values of storytelling?
Jim: It’s a wonderful way to learn facts and hard data. Instead of just talking names and dates, tell them the story of Galileo and Beethoven. That gives them something to hang the data on. As they remember the story, they will remember the facts.
Stories are powerful. They carry the value of our culture and what we would like to see in our culture. It’s why someone once said, “Let me write the stories of a nation, and it’s more powerful than passing its laws.”
Telling a story is a great gift the teller gives to the listener. When I read, I am giving you one kind of gift, the sentiments of the author. But when I tell you a story, I am giving you me. It’s a beautiful way to build a bond between people. The walls, which we have all built, fall down. The armor we carry falls off. I have been in schools where 2-1/2-year-olds are wearing more armor than Sir Lancelot due to the horrifying experiences they have endured in their short lives. You can reach people like that through the vehicle of a story. You can reach people at their mental, emotional, and soul levels. Chinaberry readers will know what I mean by that.
Chinaberry: What are the key ingredients in the stories you choose?
Jim: For me, I choose to tell classics and stories from history for several reasons. 1) Some of the most fascinating characters are in these stories. That’s why they have lived for centuries. 2) They give us windows into other eras and other lands. It’s hard to make an enemy out of someone whose stories you know, because you understand that person too well to make them an object.
When Aesop told his stories over 2,000 years ago, he was a slave. The people who owned him thought he was just another object. Through his stories they learned who he was. They then set him free. He earned his freedom through his tales. I look for stories with meanings. I try not to hit anyone over the head with the moral of the stories, but there are always some ethical underpinnings to them. Of course, I look for entertainment value, but also for the meaning. Children are growing up in an age where we need to give them the best of the best.
Chinaberry: What stories are your personal favorites? (more…)
Each of us here at Chinaberry has his/her own personal favorite authors. Staton Rabin is one of my top three. Several years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting her in person at a Starbucks in NYC when she was in the final phase of writing The Curse of the Romanovs. I had intended to ask her some questions that I could share with our customers, but I became so mesmerized listening to her talk about the Romanov story that I didn’t want to break the spell. That’s the kind of storyteller Rabin is – spellbinding! Now that we’ve got our blog up and running, I decided to email her with a few questions. Perhaps not as much fun as chatting with her in Starbucks, but you can’t beat your computer for convenience. I’m very pleased to introduce to you Staton Rabin!
Janet: When did you first decide to make a living as a writer? And, as a child, did you ever dream of becoming a writer? If not, what DID you dream of becoming?
Staton: When I was growing up, writing was the family business — my parents and my older brother were all writers. I suppose if I’d come from a family of plumbers, I would have grown up to be a plumber. But when I was a kid, what I really dreamed of doing someday was becoming a U.S. Senator — or a magician. I still know a couple of good “tricks,” but I never did run for the Senate.
Janet: So many of your books revolve around time travel. If you could travel back in time, where would you go? (more…)
Jane Yolen has long been one of our favorite authors here at Chinaberry. Ann still remembers when she gave away the last 20 copies of Jane’s book Dreamweaver back in 1982. Each of the 20 autographed copies was sent free with orders over $40.00. Many years later, Jane is still autographing books for Chinaberry. Ann and I had the honor of visiting with her as she autographed books for us.
For those of you not familiar with Jane Yolen, she has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the 20th Century, having written more than 200 books for children, young adults, and adults. It’s not every day one gets to spend several hours alone with Jane Yolen, so I decided to seize the moment, grab a steno pad, and ask her if she wouldn’t mind answering a “few” questions. (more…)