Designing Dragon stamps & pop-up book… What could be more fun?

854649F9-213F-4961-B2E3-0D8142F26F93I went to buy some stamps at the Post Office. When I got to the counter, the clerk asked me what type of stamp I would like. I asked what she had. She opened her binder display and said, “Flowers, American flag, DRAGONS…”

Dragon stamps, at the post office?

Apparently, at the APS National Summer Convention Stamp Show last year, USPS unveiled these special mythological stamps. There were four designs for the FOREVER stamp.

Greg Breeding, Art Director for the U.S. Post Office designed the stamps. He worked with artist, Don Clark of Invisible Creature studio, who created the digital illustrations.

At first glance, some of the dragons appear hidden; however, as you look more closely, you can see the dragons. Here is a description for each stamp:

  • A purple dragon, orange wings, black armor on its back snaking around a white castle.
  • A green fire-breathing dragon towering over a medieval-inspired castle.
  • A wingless orange dragon weaving its way around a pagoda.
  • A black dragon, green wings/armor on its back swooping past a ship on the sea.

In addition to the stamps, Breeding and Clark also created a pop-up book to be sold at the U.S. Post Office. It’s interesting to read “how” they created the pop-up book.

Thanks to the Dragon stamps, I learned something about our U.S. Post Office. I didn’t realize we had an Art Director on staff. Most people are paying bills online now, so we don’t need many stamps or think about stamp designs anymore.

Glad I had to mail a package,

Dragon Stamps – what a surprise!

Brought me back to “Dungeons & Dragons” days…

Learning the Chinese Characters in a FUN way…

learning-chinese-charactersAre you trying to learn Chinese and you are overwhelmed with how many characters you would need to learn? While there are 50,000 characters, a Chinese friend told me that for basic reading I would only need to learn about 3,000 of them. My head was swimming in a sea of characters, only need to learn 3,000?  I had a thought that training to climb Mt. Everest might be easier.

As destiny would have it, I finally had my first introduction to Chinese characters this weekend. I stopped off at the Amazon bookstore. As I am writing a children’s picture book, I decided to do some research. I sauntered over to the children’s book section. I looked at ALL sorts of books, not many caught my attention even though some had been on the “best sellers” list. For me, the illustrations for many of the books were way too busy. What happened to simplicity, I thought?

THEN, I took a few steps to right, looked up to the top shelf and a beautifully illustrated book caught my eye called, “The Pet Dragon,” by Christoph Niemann. It was very sweet and innocent looking and who doesn’t love a story with a dragon! As I opened the book the author/illustrator wrote a message that he had been in China and learned his first Chinese characters there. Excited with what he learned, he wanted to share this with us, his result is this picture book.

learning-chinese-characters-page-2

learning-chinese-characters-page-3He cleverly writes his story teaching us Chinese characters by adding them into the illustrations, so we can visually remember the Chinese characters in a humorous way. Here I show you a few pages from the book, so you can better understand what I mean.

This is lovely book. I would highly recommend buying it as a gift. I could see children wanting to read it over and over as they practice writing Chinese characters. Well done, Mr. Niemann!

My First Race – Dragon Boat Racing

IMG_3594I heard a team captain say they were “short” one woman to be able to form a team for the Dragon Boat races that were coming up, so I shyly raised my hand.  DONE – I was part of the team!

Our day started at 5 AM on Saturday. We had to drive to the location, set up and prepare for the day’s events. A group got there before us and set up our tents. We all brought food for a pot luck and stored our bags, paddle, etc.  FYI: Never forget your towel and change of clothes. You do get wet, it’s fun, but not if you can’t change your clothes on a cold day.

IMG_3601When we practice we do not have a dragon head on our boat, so I was curious to see how this would look.  I didn’t realize that there is a real drum on the boat too. For those of you who do not know much about dragon boat racing I’ll fill you in. There are 20 paddlers to a boat. The first two paddlers at the front of the boat are called, “the strokes,” they set the pace for the boat.

The drummer uses the drum to set the pace of the strokes, so this person must have a loud voice for all of us to hear. When we are paddling it’s easy to get distracted by the boats next to us and their drum beats. I also learned that you lose time if you look up to see “how” you are doing in the race, best to stay focused and give your strokes ALL you’ve got. Finally, there is the steerperson at the back of the boat, who steers the boat and also gives IMG_3609commands to the paddlers. Here is a glossary of Dragon Boat terms.

We raced about 500 meters in 2.5 minutes. There were four boats racing at once and it took a little time to get us ALL lined up. I know 2.5 minutes might not seem long, but imagine how you feel when you are doing “planks” at the gym. You start out strong and then your arms get tired and it takes everything you’ve got to keep in the plank position. Same with paddling, you force yourself to continue paddling through the pain and finish STRONG. That’s where the drum beat comes in, it keeps the team focused.

BAD NEWS – We didn’t win!

GOOD NEWS – We had a lot of fun, we worked as a team and after our 3rd time out, we improved our time, and we finished STRONG!  It was a great day!   GO TRY IT!

Dragon Boat Racing / Italian Meetup

Ottawa Dragon Boat Feast

Ottawa Dragon Boat Feast

About a year ago I received an unsolicited Meetup.com email in my inbox. The title mentioned something about “Dragon Boat Racing.” Of course, I immediately thought this was “junk mail.” I didn’t know about Dragon Boat Racing and I had never signed up for a Meetup.

I was curious though, because I like being out on the water. I had heard that Meetups were a great way to do different activities and meet new people. So, I nervously pressed the “open” email button hoping I wouldn’t be infected with a virus.

Dubuque, IA Chamber of Commerce photo

Dubuque, IA Chamber of Commerce photo

I was pleasantly surprised. No virus! It turned out they had a Meetup scheduled for that Saturday, free to attend as they supplied canoe, life vest, paddle and free coaching – I just had to show up. I decided to give it a try.

It was a lot of fun!

So, I went again today and I wasn’t disappointed. The first group out to practice were the veterans. Wow – they are FAST. May/June time frame they have some competitions coming up, so they were focused on timing and their strokes. A canoe is 44 ft long with 20 paddlers. Wonderful to be out on the water, it’s a great team sport (see photo of a team in action).

View of Florence, Italy

View of Florence, Italy

This encouraged me to try another Meetup. This time I went to a weekly Italian conversational one. They meet every week on Sunday at an Italian café. This group spoke different levels of Italian, some basic/intermediate like me and others fluent, because they had lived there. Enjoyed being transported to Italy for an hour.

Well… I’m smiling, because I think that junk email is like dating. Sometimes the email you want to toss out is really the one you should keep!

Happy Easter!