Jul 26

How I Cooked the Alphabet

by Hannah Holt »


In May, the idea for Spicy Alphabet popped into my head. From the beginning, I knew I wouldn’t try to sell it. Alphabet books are a saturated market, and several picture books about spices already exist. But I have my own website, so YIPPEE! I can indulge pet projects as much as my limited free time allows.

You can read Spicy Alphabet here. (You’ll need Flash.) Here’s the inside scoop on my most delicious project ever.

I knew I wanted to make an alphabet book about spices; however, I had to nail down the exact concept: one spice per letter, each letter would be made out of the spice (fresh herbs if possible), each page needed a food item made from the spice, the text would describe the flavor.

Then I created the thumbnails. Now this was a bit backwards. Text usually comes before thumbnails. However, since I was working with fresh herbs, I wanted to write after tasting. You can see my thumbnails are minimalistic at best. Really, I just needed to decide which spices would get a double spread.

Next I collected the spices. Best treasure hunt ever. If you can imagine my toddlers playing with cans of squid while I poked my nose around the vegetable section of a tiny Vietnamese market, you’ll get a taste for the experience.

Take photos: Once I had the herbs, I arranged them into alphabetic letters. I took 190 photos as part of this project. The white background was mostly copy paper. For wet items, I used a plastic plate.

Cook: Each herb needed a food item. I prepared 14 of the dishes featured in this book. The rest are photos of candies, herb variations, or preprepared items. My children elected themselves heads of taste-testing.

(My oldest tasting the lime zest muffin batter… The muffins didn’t make the final cut.)

Take more pictures: Once the dish finished cooking I needed photos of the final product.

Edit the photos and add them to the template: Each spread is a collage of four or more photos. I used a white background as my standard for combining the pictures into one image.

Here’s my basic double-spread template. Pink is one page, blue the other. The black areas are guidelines for formatting uniformity:

Here’s a sample of two unedited photos copied and pasted together:

I used Gimp to edit my photos. It’s open source (free) software and fairly user friendly. Even writers who feel a little clumsy with visual effects can benefit from it. Here are a few of the main Gimp tools I used for this project.

First –> Under the Color menu pick “Curves.” Pull the curve upwards to brighten the photo.

Second –> Under the Color menu pick “Brightness-Contrast.” Increase the contrast to sharpen the image.

Lastly–> Increasing contrast can oversaturate the photo (especially in the oranges and yellows). So under the Color menu pick “Hue-Saturation.” Decrease the saturation by a few numbers, and you’ll have a clear and bright photo.

Am I forgetting something? Oh yes, then I wrote the book. I’d sit at my computer, an herb in hand. I’d smell it, bite it, and look it over. I’d let the flavor tickle the roof of my mouth and drift into the back of my throat. Then I’d try to capture the unique flavor in three kid-friendly adjectives or less. I wasn’t always successful.

After I put all the pages together, I had a few of my nearest and dearests review the book and check for typos. I usually have a critique group for this kind of thing, but at the moment I’m in between groups. Darn cross-country move. A huge thank you to all my first readers! Of course I needed to make revisions, and we went back and forth until everything felt right.

Lastly my husband imported all the jpeg images into the flash program he designed (from scratch!), and I uploaded the final file to my digital library. If you like the flash book, there are a few similar products out there. I haven’t tried any of them. However, if you would like your own digital library, you don’t need a degree in computer programming to accomplish it.

Each book in my library took me a couple hundred hours to compile (not including writing time). I don’t sleep well when I’m enthralled with a project.

I could go on about things like: why I’m not selling Spicy Alphabet on a digital platform, or how this fits into my long range plan. However, this post is already waxing long. If you have other questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comment section.

Thank you readers! You make my day. Please take a moment to visit my Facebook page. I post exclusive crafts, additional videos, and secret recipes. If you aren’t following my Facebook page, you’re missing more than half the Lightbulb fun.

See you around!

Apr 10

Planting Words

by Hannah Holt »


A few weeks ago I stood amidst piles of books, boxes and packing tape when my son walked up and asked, “Mom, can we plant our garden now?”

I looked at him. I looked at the stacks of items to be sorted and packed. I thought of my long to do list, but said, “Sure. Let’s do it.”

We gathered the seedlings we had carefully nourished in the days before our move became final. My son collected his shovels and the watering can. In the middle of our hurry, we took an entire afternoon to garden.

It was my favorite thing all week.

That was Colorado. We now live in Oregon. We will never see the fruit of our garden, but planting it felt right.

Along a different vein, I recently entered a piece I wrote into two grant competitions. In the large national competition, it did very well. In the smaller local competition, it didn’t even place.

There are a variety of reasons for this, and I won’t go into them other than to say: I can’t decided how other people should received my work. I can do my best, but some will always dislike the offering.

Earlier in my career, I received a series of emails from a woman we’ll call Kate. Kate hated my work. I’m not sure why she kept returning to my site. Perhaps she enjoyed finding new ways to disparage my work.

Her emails used to make me mad. What is her problem? I thought. I write about graham crackers and pipe cleaners for crying out loud! I never replied to Kate and eventually she went away. (Trolls usually disappear if you don’t feed them.)

But it made me wonder: Maybe I’m not any good. Maybe I shouldn’t spend my time on these meaningless creative pursuits. At the time I didn’t have many followers, and no one would have noticed if I’d simply given up.

However, that’s when I realized, I don’t write for other people. Well, alright I DO, but that’s not WHY I write. I write because it brings me joy. It’s my garden of contentment.

In Colorado, I didn’t plant a garden because I expected tomatoes. Yes, I hope someone, someday will eat tomatoes from my garden, but planting it was enough.

We left our home in Colorado a little more beautiful than before. I can’t control how the world will receive that beauty, but I can create it all the same. And that is a beautiful feeling.

(Garden of the Gods National Monument, from our trip to Colorado Springs last December)

Feb 09

Author Meets Artist

by Hannah Holt »


Today for our ongoing series on art & friendship, we have children’s writer Carol Rose. Carol is one of my favorite people. Whether monitoring democratic elections in El Salvador or simply offering suggestions on a manuscript, she emanates compassion and courage. You can follow Carol on all her globe trotting adventures at her blog. This is the story of Carol’s friendship with Hawa, a Liberian refugee and artist:

Hawa and I met on the way to O’Hare Airport. Me, clutching the passenger seat with my eyes clamped shut, she struggling to merge into wild Chicago traffic. Hawa could barely drive. But she’d taken a job at World Relief in order to welcome refugees to our country. And to do this, she needed to make it to the terminal.

Hawa, herself, was a refugee from Liberia. As a young girl in the midst of a brutal civil war, she fled her village. Despite strict instructions to take only bare essentials, she smuggled a tray of paints under her clothing. And that is how she became an artist. During her long years away from home, she painted. She painted to forget the gnawing hunger, the men lurking around corners, her hopeless life. She painted mothers with their children, women doing chores, children playing soccer. She had no supplies to speak of, just dirty scraps of discarded cardboard and paper and her smuggled paints.

I was intrigued by her story and knew it would make a compelling chapter book. Children could learn about life in less peaceful countries, about what being a refugee really means, with crowds of people wasting away their years, with fears of attack, of abuse, of hunger.

When I showed Hawa my finished product, she was kind, but firm, saying I had to see Liberia for myself. She pointed out glaring discrepancies. In my story, I portrayed girls sitting under a tree, playing with their dolls. To me this seemed natural and logical. But Hawa knew sitting under a tree would quickly lead to vicious attacks of biting ants. And furthermore, they had no dolls, just corn husks bent and shaped into play figures.

From Hawa, I learned how difficult and important it is to get the story straight, down to the nuances. I’ve gone on to write stories about the Dust Bowl Era, still struggling with authenticity, down to the grit in the milk. Hawa’s gone on to open an authentic Liberian Restaurant, still struggling to sell her paintings.

There’s a portrait of Hawa hanging in my living room. She’s sitting on the ground, holding a paint brush, her body thin and angular. She’s beautiful. Across her face run tiny words, common everyday thoughts that any young girl might have, concerns about her complexion and skinny legs. It always reminds me of how alike we are, even when the circumstances of our lives are so different.

I will continue striving to capture truth in words. True friends, like Hawa, help me find the way.

Find out more about Hawa’s a Liberian restaurant in Knoxville, TN.

Find out more about Hawa’s art.

Follow Carol on her blog.

If you have a story you would like to share about art & friendship, please email me at hannahweight at yahoo dot com.

Mar 08

Teen Numbers Coloring Page

by Hannah Holt »


I put this together awhile ago for my oldest. Hope you enjoy.

{Click twice to enlarge}

And in color:

Dec 20

The Future of Printed Books

by Hannah Holt »

Comments Off on The Future of Printed Books

Last week for my birthday, I received a secondhand cookbook. Inside this cookbook, I discovered handwritten notes from my late grandmother.

Now I love cooking, and I loved my grandmother. So this gift was double bonus.

This exchange reminded me of why printed books will never completely go the way of the eight-track.

Now I am sure the market for digital books will continue to grow, and younger and younger children will become comfortable with computers and e-readers. However, there is something irreplaceable about tangible books. The smell. The feel. The marginalia.

Also, as long as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time for children, some parents will continue to prefer books to computers, games, TV shows, and movies.

Of course, the most influential reason printed books will or will not continue to sell depends on the behavior of parents. As long as children see their parents curling up with printed books, I have no doubt the following will continue to be seen in houses across America: