Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Doodle Dog Books: Teaching Lessons, Helping Others

Fate. Destiny. Kismet.
Some of us believe in it, others are skeptical. Think on this story for a minute.

Two kids go to the same middle school, junior high, and high school. They are even in classes together. They like the same music, a lot of the same activities, but never really connect on a one-to-one level. Years later, and I won't say how many, they finally get to talking at their high school reunion, and boom. No, it's not a love story, they are both happily married. It is a story though, well at this point, three stories actually.

Jim Wood and Michele Quinn started writing children's books dealing with subjects which are difficult for kids to understand, like the loss of a pet, or childhood illness. The proceeds from their books go to charity, so not only are they helping children with their stories, they are helping causes near and dear to their hearts.

The first Doodle book aided a family overwhelmed with medical expenses, the second benefited an animal shelter, and profits from their latest book, Doodle: When Times Get Ruff, will go to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio

Jim Wood is a writer, musician, dad, brother and friend. We've known each other online and in person for a few years now, and the work that he and Michele are doing is way beyond cool. Michele is a teacher, illustrator and a mom, so when you put the two of them together, how can these books be anything short of fabulous.

I recently had the chance to speak with both Jim and Michele about the journey of the Doodle Dog books. Please read the interviews, then check out the links at the end and order a few books.

Kath: The proceeds from the first Doodle book were donated to Ashley’s Army, to benefit the family of a child who had been undergoing cancer treatment. Is there an update on Ashley and how she’s doing?
Michele: She’s actually doing very well. I’m happy to say the bone marrow transplant was successful. Her numbers are not 100% yet, but they are so close that we can taste it, and she’s actually going to be walking with us at the Be the Match Walk & Run to raise funds for bone marrow transplants.

You’re involved in a whole bunch of charity endeavors. Where did the feeling that you should do so much to help others come from?
Michele: It really started in college, I became involved with my Honor Society where we did fundraising, worked with the Red Cross, assisting homeless people to find homes by sharing a home with somebody who was willing to take them in. Then I became a mom and I couldn’t just stay at home, and I started doing everything I could for my son’s school, volunteering from there. It’s just important for me to give back.

The second book “Doodle Meets the Pound Pup” was sort of based on your puppy. How did you ever get through the creative process?
Michele: We kind of collaborated on that one, and yes it was a difficult book to get through. It took a long time to do the illustrations. I was crying all the time, but I felt it needed to be done. As a teacher and a parent, I noticed in children’s literature, there’s not a lot out there for dealing with those things, of dealing with the death of a loved one. So that’s one of the reasons we’re doing what we’re doing, to deal with some of those difficult circumstances that kids face now.

It’s very true, you can talk to a child and try to explain it, but sometimes if they see a picture and the story is written in a basic child’s voice, I think they can grasp it, and it seems more ok. If it’s written down, then someone else must have had this happen to them.
Michele: Right, and one of the key things I’ve tried to keep, especially with the second and third books, coming again from an education standpoint and child psychology, we tried to take a lot of that pain and push it to the dog, transfer it. We’re going to deal with the friend’s friend, but we’re going to put the heavy stuff on the dog. It removes the heavy burden from the child. And it’s a book, so the child can look at it on their own and can process it in their own time.

The profits from the second book went to an animal shelter and the proceeds from the third are going to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. How did that partnership come about?
Michele: My neighbor, Ryan Wilkins is the Community Relations & Marketing Director, and I knew him from our FaceBook Community Page. Jim wanted to donate some books to a children’s hospital and I said my neighbor works for Ronald McDonald house, do you want me to give them to him, and that’s how I actually met his wife. So it just came up through there.

What’s been the best experience about this whole collaboration on the Doodle books?
Michele: It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to write a children’s book, and when Jim mentioned that he’d like to write a kid’s book someday, I said well I think I know someone who can illustrate, and it was that simple and that’s kind of how it fell into place. I’m fulfilling something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl, but honestly, the best part of it is that we’re doing it to give something to other people. We’re able to take the talent that we have, and do something for other people in a quiet way. With one project, we were able to give help to a family in desperate need, then for the animals, and now for the Ronald McDonald House, where Ashley’s family had to stay for two months, so it’s all connected. So that’s the best part of it for me

Then I spoke with Jim Wood.

Kath: The first book was about a little girl checking things out in the world and wondering if God was responsible for each part of it. What made you take a spiritual entrance into the series?
Jim: As I started writing, it was something that just came into my head. I thought about the girl and the dog and thought what could I do that’s kind of different? Just go out exploring the world “oh well, if this is like this, how can this be? How can a tree be?” Somebody made the trees, somebody made the grass, somebody made the rain, the seasons, somebody made us. Just basic fundamental questions of why are we here, what did this, and how wonderful it is that it happened, and here we are.

Now you are a music writer, an interviewer, and as both of us are, a ranter on your blog. How does your writing approach change when you’re writing a children’s book?  Is there a different mindset that you go into it with?
Jim: Actually I don’t think there is, because when I’m ranting I’m kind of in the mode that I feel like I could do whatever I want, but it seems whenever it’s time to write a children’s book it’s like flicking a switch. It just comes on… like, ok let’s try this, what’s this going to be about? We’ll start out by saying “let’s think about what we want to say. Like Chloe and the girl are playing and Christopher is a pain, the little kid thing. We’ll take things like that and turn them into rhyme. So it’s just like flipping a switch, it doesn’t really change at all, it’s just one way of looking at things.

Does the rhyming thing come natural to you?
Jim: Oh absolutely, I come from a music background. Rhyming and songwriting and all that, it wasn’t a problem at all. The hardest part is trying to find something that hasn’t been done before, and trying to get words to rhyme that don’t normally rhyme, but kind of sound like it.

As a writer I just have to ask, when you had your first book signing was there a moment when you thought that nobody would show up?
Jim: There’s always that thought that comes into your head. Then as soon as the first person comes, as long as one person comes, that’s it. But there is that certain fear.

I asked Michele this same question; what has been the best experience about doing these books?
Jim: Honestly, it’s working with her. As far as the back story goes, we hardly knew each other all the way through school. We went through middle school, junior high, high school. I didn’t know her, we never talked. It’s kind of sad because we missed out on all that, but in a way it’s good now because we’re adults and we get to work on things like these books, and get to help people. It’s given the books a purpose, and just doing them together has been the best experience for me. And now we have three, which is mind-boggling.

I have a dog question about this because Doodle is a Boston Terrier, and coincidentally or not, you have two of them, Doodle and Bruno. Now Doodle gets all the press while Bruno has only made an appearance in the latest book. Has this caused any problems at home?
Jim: No, not all.

So Bruno is pretty happy for his brother?
Jim: Yeah, he’s just happy to be a part of the story. He was tired of being in the shadows.

Jim and Michele are good people doing good work. Help them help others. If you have a child, the books are perfect. Don't have kids? Purchase one, two, five, or a dozen and give them to hospitals, libraries, day care centers, etc. This isn't a bucket challenge where you won't ever know where your money is going. All proceeds are going directly to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. Helping out families of sick children. 

Do a good thing, buy a book.

To order a copy of the Doodle Dog books, click on the links below:
A little girl and her dog explore the world around them and wonder how things were made.

Doodle Meets the Pound Pup
A heart-warming tale about the joys of animal adoption and coping with the loss of a beloved pet.

Doodle: When Times Get Ruff
 "Doodle: When Times Get Ruff" tells the story of Chloe, a young girl who faces uncertainty when her younger brother Christopher becomes ill. With help and love from both family and friends, Chloe is able to overcome her fear.

Follow Doodle Dog Books on FaceBook
Jim Wood's Website:
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back-To-Back Award Shows, Meh

Just like Twitter is limited to 140 characters, I kind of limited the time I spent watching the VMAs and the Emmys to about 140 seconds. That was about all I could handle at any one time.

So I can't actually say I watched either show, and can only comment that what I saw of each was excruciatingly awful. My views on them will be short, probably only a bit more than 140 characters.

The VMAs: When did a big ass become the new big boobs standard? Does it now mean if a woman has both a big ass AND big boobs, she is now considered a Goddess? Asking for a friend.

That is really all I have to say about the VMAs.

The Emmys: Was it me or have the women started dressing really badly again? Girls, Less is Best. Not in the amount of material, but in how the material is being used. Way, way too much on the ruffles, draping, layering. oy. One red number: one shoulder,draping over the bust, cinched waist with beading on one side, more draping over the hips, more cinching at mid-thigh and a flouncy bottom. Really? Another pink flamingo number, and one black dress with so much badly added tulle over it, it looked like someone just decided to wrap it around her, like ten times.

Fire your stylists and just take a look in the mirror.

In all the rehearsals for this show, did any of the participants actually think the jokes were funny? Whenever I tuned in and caught one, I had to switch it off because they were not just bad, but dreadful. One thing about comedy, timing is everything. The greats have it, only one person I saw last night did.


It wasn't his day to be funny, though along with the tears, his speech also brought a few smiles. When Robin died, we waited for what his friend Billy would have to say, and what he did say was perfect for that moment. "No Words."  And it was true. He was called upon last night to choose a few, and with just the right mixture of joy and sadness, he spoke of the man he knew so well.

And every word he said reminded us of how much sadder the world has become.

Robin Williams, what a concept.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, From Laughter to Tears

He made me laugh.

He made me laugh harder than anyone ever. He made me laugh to the point where I couldn't catch my breath. And now he's made me cry.

As the first tweet came across last night, I hoped it was another internet hoax, but with the quote from the police, the report from his agent, and the sad words from his wife, it was apparently true.

He was brilliant, watching him doing standup or acting in a film, there was no question he made great use of the voices inside his head. Unfortunately there were the dark voices too. We all have them, when you interact with writers and creative people as much as I do, you realize how many people struggle every day to live alongside them.

I am not a huge movie person, but I will watch "The Birdcage," every time it's on to see him interact with Nathan Lane. And there was "Comic Relief," the charity event he did with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal every year. The improvs between Billy and Robin were so ridiculously surreal, there were times when Whoopi looked as if she was holding on for dear life. But it was Robin who was trying to hold on.

My uncle took his own life several years ago, and until then I hadn't really thought about how suicide affects everyone who knew the person. It shakes you down to your core and makes you question things you knew as the truth. How could we not have seen it coming? How did his heart become so dark that he could not see that he was loved.... that he mattered to us.

Within an hour after his death was reported last night, social media lit up. It seemed 99.9% of the tweets and Facebook postings coming across were expressions of grief. It continued that way for hours. His genius touched the world as a whole, but it touched every one of us as well.

Life is a balance. Was the pain Robin Williams endured through his lifetime the price he paid for the genius of his work? We can't know. We can only graciously accept all he gave us and hope his pain is gone.

"“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”... Robin Williams

Depression Lies. Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

Easy journey Robin.


Monday, July 21, 2014

You Guys Getting Enough Sleep on the Weekend? Didn't Think So

Social Jet Lag.

Haven't heard of it? Well, we've all experienced it. In fact, it's pretty much what we strive for every weekend. It's called paying the price for having fun.

According to an article in today's Huffington Post, when we stay up a little lot later on the weekend, we are throwing our circadian rhythm out of whack. To which I say "no shit Sherlock." Really, they need to do sleep studies to figure this out?

Apparently in continuing the need to have a PC name for everything, we now have Social Jet Lag, or as it has been known in my circle... Partied Out. We all know if we stay up later than usual, we're gonna feel it the next day. And if you do it over the entire weekend, well, Monday comes and you're gonna be overtired and grumpy. Welcome to real life. Deal with it. Unfortunately Huff Post thinks we need to sleep more and party less. They have even set down some rules like:

  • Only booze one night of the weekend: ???
  • No coffee after 2 pm: So no coffee and booze only one day. Does not sound like a feasible plan
  • Get out in the sun: After a party night? um... just say no
  • Exercise: ???
There are a few more suggestions, but really, after reading the first one I've listed, can you even take it seriously?

Bottom line is one we've all learned a long, long time ago. If you play, you're gonna pay. Suck it up, down some Advils, keep the blinds drawn, and ease into the day. As for Monday morning? Shift into robot mode and arrive with the knowledge that everyone else feels the same way you do. 

Social jet lag. According to Shelby Freedman Harris, director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Montifiore Medical Center in NYC, "It isn't necessarily a sleep disorder that we would actually diagnose someone with clinically, but it is a trend where we notice that people aren't sticking with the same sleep-wake schedule every day." 

A trend? Like this is something new? I do believe people have been "Working For The Weekend," and looking to "Rock & Roll All Night, And Party Every Day," for as long as there has been a work week. And though I agree with Todd Rundgren's idea of "I Don't Want To Work, I Want To Bang On The Drum All Day," it is not recommended when nursing a hangover.

Party on.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

It's the Coolest Cooler Ever

Some things just suck me in.

I'm sure a lot of you have seen the Kickstarter for the Coolest Cooler, it's pretty much gone viral. If you haven't, here's the story.

This inventor guy, Ryan Grepper, came up with a new cooler. Yeah, big whup. But this is no ordinary cooler. This one comes with a freakin' blender which works off a rechargeable battery. But wait, there's more. How about built-in waterproof speakers, USB port for charging your phone, LED lights inside the cooler for evening parties, bungee cords for hauling gear, separate compartments, plates/cutting board, knife, great wheels and a damn bottle opener. Are you kidding me?

Here's the campaign video

The Kickstarter started with a goal of raising $50,000. In less than 36 hours, that goal was reached, and the money has not stopped pouring in. As I write this, the amount raised is OVER $3 MILLION DOLLARS. And, there are still 48 days to go in the funding period.

To say I am fascinated by this is an understatement. Grepper has already upped the ante with the updates for the next generation of Coolest Cooler. More color choices, better wheels and solar panels are all possibilities.

The biggest question I have about this is, what took so damn long? How have we not seen the future of the cooler in such vivid detail before? Why were cooler manufacturers content to offer us the same boring crap year after year. And now that we see it is a feasible option, how can we live without one?
I want one. Bad. So do 16,000+ other people who have invested in the Kickstarter.

Unfortunately we will be waiting for a while for the prototype to become an retail item. But for the next 48 days, I'll be having the Coolest Cooler campaign page opened on my browser.

It's just the Coolest.