Saturday, June 30, 2007

June Mosaic

June 365 mosaic

Here is my photo mosaic for June. I see a lot of round stuff here, and a lot of pink. Time passing, milestones, playing, growing, blooming, fruiting... that's June for me. I have had time to sit in the sun, walk on the beach, enjoy good food, cultivate new habits and plan for the future. I love this month.

I am doing the Project 365, posting one a day. I am keeping all my photos in a Flickr set because I can't keep up with another whole blog. Browse other 365 blogs:

Geeky Mom
Bright Star

Follow their links to lots more.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Beach Tritina

Rain, Sea, Sand

Mist rises up the beach at the edge of rain.
Surf fingers draw long scrolls of foam from the sea.
Three friends come from the city to walk across the sand.

It’s no mystery why they want to bury their toes in the sand,
Why they will drive for hours in the rain,
Why they are drawn to the sea.

Eyes fixed on the curling edge of a bottle green sea,
These three walk toward the surf over the shell-strewn sand,
Believing the sky will lighten, believing the end of rain.

They stand on the sand in the rain, staring longingly at the sea.

-Andromeda Jazmon
June 2007


I wrote this tritina poem after our day at the beach last week. I learned about the poetic form "tritina" from Nancie Atwell's book Lessons that Change Writers. She explains, "The name "tritina" comes from the latin word for "three". It is a repetative form of poetry that consists of three stanzas plus an envoy." Each line of the poem ends with one of three chosen theme words; in this case they are rain, sea, and sand. They go in a rotating order through the three stanzas - 1 2 3, 3 1 2, 2 3 1 - with the last line including all three words.

Marie Ponsot developed the tritina as a varient of the sestina, a more complicated form involving 39 lines with repeating end words. Here's a form for a lesson by Helen Frost on sestinas and tritinas.

The poetry round-up is at Shaken and Stirred today. Click over there and read more poetry.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Call for Submissions

Carmen Van Kerckhove, of Anti-Racist Parent and New Demographic, passed this on to me:

Did you grow up in a racially/ethnically mixed family?  Did you create
one? If so, we want to hear from you. We are collecting memoirs from
individuals of mixed race families. Your story can be about anything
within this topic. Positive and negative experiences are welcome, as
long as they speak your truth. This is a grassroots anti-racism
project, and is first and foremost a way to share the real lives of
interracial families from the inside out. We are looking for cohesive
stories. If your piece is chosen to be published, you will be
considered a contributing author for publishing and will be paid
accordingly if/when this goes to contract. This anthology will be a
resource to other interracial individuals/families as well as
outsiders who are looking to learn more about the subject. If you have
a non-fiction memoir or personal you'd like to share, please do! Send
a 3-5 page draft to start and we will work from there... We are
looking for at least 10 pages Times New Roman double-spaced
(approximately 4,000 words). And/or if you prefer to simply share your
story and have us help heavily with the writing, that can happen as
well as we are looking to balance the book with a diversity of
perspectives. Contact us with your story and/or any questions at:

The contact's names are Adina Ba and Heather Ellen Miller.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June 27 Haiku

pink poppy.JPG

lilies and poppies -
lemon, rose and tangerine
taffeta icies


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Review: The Prophet of Yonwood

By Jeanne DuPrau. Random House, 2006. This is the third book in a series. I liked the first two books a lot. The City of Ember tells about a city underground, where people have been living in the dark as long as they can remember. In The People of Sparks two children find their way out of the cave and back up to the light. They discover that there had been a disastrous war that had destroyed most of civilization. The City of Ember, where they were born, was a community of refugees. A scattering of humans still survive above ground in the gradually recovering world. The children struggle to find their place in the new society that forms.

The Prophet of Yonwood takes place 40 years before the war that had destroyed the old world. Eleven year old Nickie is traveling to Yonwood, North Carolina with her aunt to put an old family house on the market. The terrifying possibility of a major world war looms. Nickie wants to find a way to stay in Yonwood living with both her parents, fall in love for the first time, and do something good for the world.

I didn’t enjoy Yonwood as much as I liked the first two books. I think Sparks is the best of the three. The themes of nonviolent problem-solving and finding a voice to speak for oneself are presented with depth and clarity on a level that engages kids and adults. The plot tension builds to a satisfying conclusion and the story is hopeful.

I found Yonwood to be simplistic and disappointing. The major theme is Nickie’s struggle to understand how one knows what is a good thing to do or a bad thing. On the surface of the story is the tension of whether and when the world will dissolve into World War III. The first two thirds of the book are a count-down to the president’s ultimatum with other major world powers. I kept wondering how Nickie was going to end up underground in the City of Ember. When the deadline arrives nothing happens. The president is silent, no war breaks out, and local issues in Yonwood take over the story. The town comes to a crisis over leadership and faith in an eerie silence from the White House. Nickie has a hand in solving the town’s dilemma and her life goes on.

I was frustrated and disappointed with this ending. I felt betrayed and let down. It is not until the final chapter that the writer explains how Nickie ended up in the City of Ember at the age of sixty. It makes sense in the span of the three books but it leaves the story of Yonwood feeling flat and stretched thin.

I have recommended this series to a lot of children in my library in the past two years. The ones who have read all three have enjoyed them all. No one complained about this third in the series being less exciting or interesting than the first two, so maybe it’s my adult perspective getting in the way. In any case, I would still recommend the series, especially The People of Sparks.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Five Things Meme

Literacy Teacher tagged me with this new meme. I am having Internet troubles lately. It seems every time my kids fall asleep my DSL goes dead. When they wake up and want me it comes back on. SIGH. I'm having a hard time posting all I want and I am way behind in leaving comments. I have a book to blog about and some more about writing in the next few days, if I can get it up. The good thing about spotty connections? I am drafting in a word processor and thinking about it more.

Five Things I Was Doing Ten Years Ago
1. Teaching first grade.
2. Doing a paper route to make extra money to buy my first computer.
3. Doing respite foster care for infants in the summer.
4. Frequently feeling sick, fatigued and itchy from eating wheat, not knowing I have Celiac disease.
5. Practicing Tai Chi every day.

Five Snacks I Enjoy
1. Snickers
2. Corn chips and salsa
3. Rice crackers, cheddar cheese and gherkin pickles
4. Gluten free muffins
5. Gluten free chocolate chip cookies

Five Songs I Know All the Lyrics To
1. Amazing Grace
2. Be Thou My Vision
3. Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory, Glory
4. Mop Topper
5. Jesus Loves Me (five verses)

Five Things I Would Do If I Were A Millionaire
1. Buy a big house, adopt a lot of kids and not worry about paying twenty years of tuition for all of them.
2. Stay in university forever
3. Travel around the world
4. Give away at least 10 percent

Five Bad Habits
1. Procrastination
2. Neglecting certain housecleaning jobs
3. Leaving half drunk glasses in the fridge
4. Letting my kids watch TV more than I like
5. Spending too much time on the computer

Five Things I Like To Do
1. read
2. write
3. go for walks in the woods
4. cook
5. garden

Five Things I Would Never Wear Again
1. mini skirt
2. fake fingernails
3. tube top
4. high heels
5. bikini

Five Favorite Toys
1. computer
2. camera
3. sewing machine
4. ipod
5. swings

I'm tagging Heather, Samantha, Left Handed Trees, Mother Reader, and Chicken Spaghetti. Anyone else want to play?

June 25 Haiku


my young son
discovering raspberries;
no notice of thorns

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Compost for the Garden

This week in my garden I got poison ivy on the outside of my right hand and a bee sting near my thumb. The tomatoes drooped when I forgot to water them. I think they’ve recovered but I regret the stress I put on them. Not much is blooming right now either so I thought I would talk about compost today.

In 2001 when I moved into this house hardly anything was growing, not even the grass. There were a few shrubs and some perennials with potential. The patio had a raised garden bed built into the back side of it but the dirt was packed so hard and dry I could barely dig an inch in it. The former owners had three kids, three dogs and four cats.

We have three large Norway Maple trees so the first fall I decided to use the leaves to start a serious compost pile. I bought some chicken wire fencing and 3’ fence posts and made a 10’ x 5’ rectangular enclosure back by the garden shed. I bought a leaf vac/shredder. The month of November is all about collecting leaves for me. The leaf vac makes is possible for me to get all the leaves shredded and into the pile without overworking myself.

I started collecting coffee grounds, egg shells, and vegetable and fruit peelings. I use a plastic bucket and lid recycled from a laundry soap that holds about a half gallon. It holds a week’s worth of coffee grounds and peelings, which is just about right for me.

I learned from a friend at work about a horse barn nearby that was happy to share manure with gardeners. I bring my old kitty litter buckets by the barn every fall and cart a load home. It makes the car stink a bit but it is worth it. Manure is the best thing you can give your garden. For a while my sister kept rabbits and their droppings are really good too. Often the big coffee shop chains save their coffee grounds and give them away to gardeners. Coffee is another golden ingredient in rich compost.

So I layered the chopped up leaves with all the organic matter and let it heat up. Every week or so I turn it with a pitch fork. If you turn it a lot and have the right balance of dry “brown” (leaves) and wet “green” (manure, kitchen waste) mixed with moisture and air you can get “black gold” in a month or two. I have a hard time getting out there to mix it on a regular schedule what with little kids underfoot and work and all, so mine takes about six months to mature. I spread the resulting mulch on all the gardens either in the spring or fall. It keeps the weeds down, keeps the moisture in and feeds the soil. It is about the best all around thing you can do for your garden. If I had a spreader I would scatter it over the grass too. It is far better than any chemical weed/feed product you can buy.

About a year after I started this I saw an ad in the paper that our state farm extension cooperative was doing free composting workshops in the area. They were giving away free bee hive composters. I got my dad to sign up with me and we both went. We learned about how to compost and all the benefits. We learned about worms and the little micro-organisms that turn the leaves into good rich dark mulch. We brought home our large black dome-shaped plastic composters and were happy campers. A couple of years later he decided he was not going to continue composting so he gave me his dome. Now I have the wire enclosure and two black plastic domes to collect leaves. My trees fill all three in the fall and my gardens love the mulch coming out in the spring or summer.

In the past four years I have been pretty casual about keeping up with it all. Since I have two little ones under five years old I just don’t have the time or energy to play farmer. But even doing it halfway gives me great benefits. Have you done any composting? What tips or strategies can you share?

It’s time for my Sunday Garden Stroll. If you have a post up in the past week or so about your garden please put a link in Mr. Linky below. I’d love to hear what is going on in your garden and yard.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens is one of my favorite poets and this poem is a particular favorite:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (excerpts)

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes.
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

The rest of the poem is here.

Often when I see or hear something especially lovely I think of that first stanza. The silence of reflection after the sight or sound is what allows it to sink in and resonate. On those occasions of monumental change, such as a graduation or major move, I think of stanza nine above. The contrast of what the blackbird sees (continuous progression without boundaries) and what we see (a line at the horizon; progressive boundaries) perfectly illustrates changing perspectives.

I think I first read this poem in college and these two sections have stayed with me. In my mind they seem to be a kind of haiku. When I found the poem in Nancie Atwell’s book Lessons That Change Writers I was delighted to see how she uses it to teach students how to tease apart meaning by looking at the sections separately and then the poem as a whole. She asks her students to list the thirteen ways of looking Stevens uses in his poem. She says,
“What it did for us was lay bare some of the literary, cultural, and historical perspectives that Stevens packed into his remarkable poem. Attempting to name what Stevens did set the stage for students to feel confident about trying “ways” poems of their own. I told kids, “You could do this.”

Atwell and her students list the perspectives Stevens uses to see a blackbird. They include: “The blackbird as a tiny detail in a vast landscape, a simile, a metaphorical math problem, a philosophical proposition, a mystery story, a sermon, a metaphysical geometry problem, a legend , a fairy tale, a pearl of folk wisdom, and a view of something at the end of the world”. The more closely one looks at this poem, the more beauty and sophistication one sees. I am inspired by the poem itself and by the way Atwell uses it to teach and encourage her student poets.

The Poetry Friday round up is here today. Please leave a link to your poetry post here. Then come back later in the day to click on the links to other blogger’s contributions. TGIPF!

Review: Honeysuckle House

by Andrea Cheng. Front Street, 2004. 10 year old Sarah and her best friend Victoria share a cozy hideaway under the honeysuckle vines. They play pretend games and share everything. When Victoria suddenly moves away without explanation Sarah is heartbroken and worried about her friend.

In school the teacher introduces a new girl named Tina, who has just arrived from China. Tina has studied English but has little experience communicating with native speakers. Sarah is Chinese-American but can't speak Chinese. She feels completely American and can't understand why the teacher wants to pair her up with Tina. Both girls hate how teachers frequently call them by the other's name, as if they can't tell them apart.

The story is written on about a third grade reading level so the sentences and vocabulary are simple and clear. I am impressed with the depth of the portrayal of the racism the girls encounter. They both struggle with name calling and taunting on the playground as well as adults the dismiss them and have no cultural understanding. On school picture day Sarah forgot to dress up. Her mother came to school to bring her a blouse embroidered by one of her relatives in China. She doesn't like the special attention she receives in the school office when her mother shows it to her, and she doesn't want to change out of her tee shirt.
"Sarah, please," Mom says in a loud whisper. "Why are you making such an issue out of a simple picture?"

Mom is the one making the issue, not me. I don't have any issue at all. The secretary is looking at us. She sees the embroidered blouse. "That's a very pretty blouse," she says. "Is it from Japan?"

"From China," Mom says.

China, Japan, Africa, they're all the same to the secretary. Faraway places with funny-looking people. I fold my arms across my chest. Mom puts the blouse back in the bag and goes toward the door. I want to change my mind and take the Chinese blouse, but Mom is already out the door. I watch her through the glass, small and thin like Sam. I want to run after her and say, Sorry, Mom, I'll change my shirt, but my feet are stuck to the brown-and-white tiles on the floor.

Sarah feels the tension of growing up and finding independence from her parents. Her dad is often away on business trips and she misses him but doesn't know how to talk about it. She is afraid she is a bad Chinese girl because she gets her clothes dirty, causes her mother extra work, and accidentally breaks a vase. She feels guilty when she lies to the teacher by writing what she thinks the teacher wants to hear about celebrating Christmas instead of what she really enjoys about celebrating Chinese New Year.

As time goes on she begins to make friends with Tina in spite of herself. She still misses Victoria but she feels a bit more hopeful that her old friend is doing well in her new life when she receives a few notes from her left in their old honeysuckle house. Communication starts to open up between her and her parents as well.

I like this story very much. I found it a bit too simple and abrupt in the phrasing and sentence structure, but I think that is because it is aimed at young readers. The themes addressed give credit to children's intelligence. I think many children deal with loss and separation of friends and family as well as cross cultural misunderstandings and racism. It's nice to read a book that recognizes children's real experience.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

How to Be an Anti-Racist Parent:

Real-Life Parents Share Real-Life Tips

There is a new e-book just out, edited and published by Carmen Van Kerckhove of Anti-Racist Parent blog and New Demographic, an anti-racism training company. She has collected great contributions from many of the ARP columnists dedicated to combating racism. It's full of helpful and encouraging tips.

Unfortunately, I hate the piece I contributed. Everyone else shared positive ideas about raising children in healthy ways. I told a humiliating and long-winded story about a time I blurted out a really ignorant, racist comment and Buster called me on it. I am burning with shame right now thinking of the whole world reading about it. Why didn't I share something uplifting and hopeful instead of showing what an idiot I am? My piece is also the longest, with too much back-story. And I'm the only one that didn't use my real name in the credits. An odd mixture; I totally revealed my stupidity while refusing to tell my name. sheesh.

But if you want to read everyone else' great tips, go download it here.

June 21 Haiku


The sea trailed
foamy fingers down the beach
tossing small curls.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Surf's Up

beach with baby buster

We are driving to the beach today. That cute toddler in the picture is driving us. I'll be back to host the Friday Poetry round up.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

June 19 Haiku


lavender harvest:
my sissors snipping beneath
the drone of bees

Monday, June 18, 2007

30 Day Challenge Check In

HipWriterMama's 30 Challenge finishes up tomorrow. She inspires us to work on learning a habit that will lead to greater accomplishments in the living out of our dreams. I am so glad I participated in this exercise. I challenged myself to study Nancie Atwell's book Lessons That Change Writers and work on keeping a writer's notebook, writing every evening.

I can't say that I have accomplished setting up a new habit. I worked on devoting time to write in the evenings, but since I only have about an hour and a half between when my boys go to bed and when I need to get to sleep it is a tight squeeze. I want to blog then and I need to actually read Atwell's book. So I often ended up reading for a while and then taking out the writer's notebook to practice whatever writing lesson I had just read. It didn't always make for quality writing time. It was like doing homework. I think it was good homework though.

I learned some techniques for coming up with compelling writing topics. I practiced writing short memoir pieces and poetry. I shared an Ode I wrote in response to lesson 43 for last week's Poetry Friday. I really like the examples Atwell gives of great writers such as Wallace Stevens, Pablo Neruda, and Emily Dickinson. I was inspired to contribute a haiku to the National Wildlife Foundation's haiku contest and I am working on the final polishing of a bedtime story for the Johnson & Johnson and HarperCollins contest. I have many ideas now for poetry I want to try and memoirs I want to write. I still have the last third of the book to work through. The next section is about writing book reviews, and then there is a section on writing essays. I am eager to get into both of those. It seems like they would really fit well with blogging.

Although I don't think I have a solid new writing habit I am definitely breaking out of the deep freeze of terror and procrastination that has gripped my pen for the past many years. It feels good. Really good. Thanks Vivian!

Personal Policies Meme

I got tagged for this meme by LiteracyTeacher. She got it from HipWriterMama, who got it from the Simple and the Ordinary. It is so inspiring to read what everyone considers their important personal policies. After thinking about it I realized that it is really these values that shape my days and over the long term direct my life. I enjoyed thinking about and trying to narrow it down to the most important things.
  1. Early to bed and early to rise. I am strict about my kid's bedtimes. I always start putting them to bed around 6:30 or 7 pm. I get up around 5 am, even on weekends. I can only do my reading, writing and blogging when they are asleep so getting them to bed early and getting myself up early is really important to me. Fortunately since I have been a mother I have enjoyed being up early. I love the quiet and peace of the dawn hour.
  2. Devotions every day. I struggled to get in the habit of reading my Bible every day for years. About 12 years ago I had a really difficult school year where I was so challenged with my class of first graders I wanted to quit. I started dedicating myself to getting up early and praying for half an hour at the start of every day just to get the strength to go to work. The habit stuck and I relish it. Now that it is summer I take my coffee and my Bible out and sit in my porch swing. I read, listen and talk with God. It's delightful.
  3. Read to my kids every day. Always a couple of bedtime stories, one of which is a Bible story, but also through out the day when they need a few minutes of down time or I am waiting for something to finish cooking. If I sit down they go get a book and climb up in my lap.
  4. Keep a Beginner's Mind. I need to always be learning something new, developing a skill, exploring a new hobby or studying. I love being a "newbie". It is invigorating to let go of performance expectations and fly my ignorance in the interest of discovery. Serendipity gives me a buzz.
  5. Get Outdoors every day. I need to see the sky and be surrounded by green growing things. Even if the weather is bad I want to be out in it a little every day. I learned from Dr. Spock that it's good for the kids too.
I want to tag some of the new-to-me blogs I have been reading: food for thought, the whole self, My American Melting Pot, and luckybeans. And you if you want to play!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Frosty Father's Day

From The Dave Thomas Foundation:

We invite you to celebrate Father’s Day at Wendy’s restaurants, where 50 cents from every Frosty purchased during Father’s Day Frosty Weekend will be donated to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, in support of its signature program, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids. The Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program awards grants to adoption agencies across the nation to move children from foster care into permanent, loving adoptive homes. When you celebrate Father’s Day, you celebrate family!

Thanks to Baggage and Bug for the link.

Where I Learned to Garden

pink & white peonies

Going to my parent’s house this time of year always means getting a tour of the garden. They’ve lived in their house for twenty years, so the gardens are well developed. This photo of their peonies is from a couple years ago. They have several rose bushes that always delight me, including one beautiful red tea rose by the front door. When they first toured this house thinking about moving here it was December and that rose was still blooming. I think they chose the house because of the loveliness of that rose.

Both of my parents love to garden. They have parceled things out so each of them has their area of specialty. My dad loves to cultivate little nooks with delightful plants that offer particular blooms in season, like Lenten rose, foam flower and foxgloves. Yesterday he was showing me that his poppies are coming into bloom next to the brilliant yellow primroses in the corner near the deck. For Father’s Day we gave him a begonia plant with bright red double flowers. I have a dad who loves flowers. He has taught us to nurture them patiently and gently.

My mom takes care of the gardens in the front of the house that are open to welcome the world. She always has daffodils, pansies, marigolds, daisies and petunias. When they go away for a week’s vacation I often go over and water the window boxes for her. They also always have a vegetable garden full of lettuce, rhubarb, tomatoes, peas, and squash. One whole corner in the back of their yard is dedicate to raspberries that come ripe twice a summer. Yesterday when we were over there to eat supper on the deck my boys kept running over to check the raspberry bushes for the first early ripe ones. They love discovering a bright red berry and popping it right into their mouths; sweet and tart on the tongue.

Whenever I have a garden question I know I can call them up and if they don’t know the answer they have the right book to look it up. These three important things I’ve learned from them over the years:
  1. Take the long view. Work the soil and develop the plan and do a little each day. It might take years to see results but it is worth the time and effort.
  2. Mulch. Always mulch to keep down weeds, retain moisture and feed the soil. It’s the most important thing you can do for your garden.
  3. Meet their needs and they will produce. Every plant has its favorite spot in the sun or shade. It one doesn’t look happy and isn’t thriving dig it up and move it somewhere else. Research what that particular plant needs and find its best location.
I have found that these principles work for raising children as well. (In the case of number 2 I would say for children the mulch is literature, especially the Bible.) What principles have you learned about gardening that apply to the rest of your life?

Please join my Sunday Garden Stroll by adding your link to recent garden related posts below. Feel free to link back here and refer other blogging gardeners. Be sure to stop by later to visit the other gardens in the tour!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Africa Issue

Vanity Fair is putting out an Africa issue this month. I just watched a music video of the photo shoot they did to take the cover photos:

In this behind-the-scenes footage, which is accompanied by a beautiful track from popular Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, Annie Leibovitz and guest editor Bono go about the business of creating the issue's 20 iconic covers. "It's a visual chain letter," says Leibovitz, "spreading the message from person to person to person."

Fascinating stuff! There are also articles on Madonna's Malawi, The Lazarus Effect ,and Africa: An Interactive Map.

Thanks to Chasing Ray for the link. Be sure to check out her Summer Blog Blast Tour of author interviews starting on Sunday.

Ode to a Rag Doll

old buddy.JPG

You were first
drawn from the scrap bag
and mother’s wit.
She gave you brown
skin soft as peach fuzz.
Your tender fat fists
were sweet as figs.
Your belly was
round and plump
as a ripe plum.
Your hair was frizzed
yarn opened with a
darning needle;
a dark and lovely
halo. It is wild
as a tree full of starlings.
You held me
when all the world rocked.
Thunder on distant streets
crashed around us but
you still smiled.
Your familiar scent is
the sweetest rose.
I mourned your time
in the washer and dryer.
You are my
Home Sweet Home.
Today your fabric dissolved.
One leg fell off
and tattered threads hang down.
Your stuffing is scattered
like snow in January.
My little brother did it.
He flung you down the stairs.
Rag doll.
Still to sleep
I must curl around
your memory.
Rocking you is
Rocking me.

-Andromeda Jazmon
June 14, 2007

I wrote this Ode in the manner of Pablo Nerunda (more about Nerunda here) after studying poetic forms with Nancie Atwell's book Lessons that Change Writers. I haven't written very many Odes since college so it was an interesting stretch for me. It is in memoriam to Buddy Boy, my son's rag doll. I made the first Buddy Boy rag doll 16 years ago for Buster and he was handed down to my second son (called Buddy on this blog). The other day he fell apart. RIP Buddy Boy. We loved you well.

The round up is over at The Simple and the Ordinary today. Go leave a link to your poetry post or just read what everyone else is sharing today. TGIPF!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

If it's Friday, it's Poetry!

Susan has a lovely write-up of Poetry Friday on the site. She highlights some of the frequent posters and shares a little history of this weekly celebration. It's a great article and you should go read it now. Bookmark that site so you know where to find great poetry.

I have done Friday Poetry 60 times on this blog. My very first was back in April of last year. I posted a mixture of classic Japanese haiku and some of my own haiku.

I think I first saw Poetry Friday on Jo(e)'s blog. This is one of the posts I read last March. I think she said her students started posting poetry on Fridays after she read it to them. A bunch of other bloggers were doing it too, and someone would always post a word or theme for everyone else to bounce off. I thought that was so much fun I joined in. I didn't used to tell anyone I was doing it, I just used technorati tags and thought people would find me. After a while I realized I had to speak up if I wanted to play with the group. After I found Kelly doing a round up every week I realized I had be part of the circle. Next week I am even hosting the round up.

I didn't pay any attention to copyrights in the beginning. I am slowly going back and editing those old posts, taking out the full text of the poems and linking to sites that have the copyright permission to post them. If you get my RSS in your feedreader you'll be seeing the old posts cycle through.

So what am I posting tomorrow? I have no idea. I like to wait and see what I'm thinking about when I wake up. What are you posting?

Loving Day

June 12 was the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriage in the United States. The Loving conference is going on now in Chicago.

Thanks to Finding Wonderland for the heads-up and the link to Loving Day. Tadmack tells us: "Ms. Mildred Jeter (an African American lady) and Mr. Richard Perry Loving (a Caucasian gentleman) were residents of Virginia who married in June of 1958 in Washington DC, leaving Virginia to evade a state law banning marriages between any white person and a non-white person. When they returned home, they were charged with violation of the ban, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. They left... but they decided not to leave it at that, and that is why today we celebrate people's rights to love anyone they choose."

I visited the Loving site today and I was fascinated by their interactive U.S. map. You can click on the time line of dates in our history and see the states change color as they go from becoming a state, making interracial relationships illegal, and then making them legal. At first it seems tedious to have to keep clicking and wait for something to happen (for many years nothing changes at all). But then you realize - each click is a year. A Year. When it was illegal to marry and live in a family with people you loved. Because their skin was a different shade or their culture was different from that of your family of origin. I kept clicking back and forth through the years. Now we can be together. Now we can't. Can. Can't. I started crying.

If you are gay or lesbian it's still illegal in most places to marry the one you are committed to loving. I wonder what that map is going to look like in 40 years.

Another blog post about Loving Day:
My American Melting Pot

This one's not about Loving Day, but it's not to be missed: Los Angelista

I missed the celebration this year and can't go to the conference, but I am happy to hear about what others are doing. My son Buddy graduates from pre-school today so this tranracial family is celebrating all over the place!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

New RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign Aims to Close Reading Gap

From a Reading is Fundamental Press Release:

—Campaign targets parents and caregivers of young children—
WASHINGTON—June 12, 2007—Addressing a persistent gap in minority children reading scores, Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF) today launched the RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign to promote and support early childhood literacy in African-American, Hispanic, and Native American communities.
RIF's multi-year campaign, supported by Macy's, provides parents and caregivers of children under the age of 5 with new educational resources for building children’s language skills. The campaign includes a number of components: a new early childhood website and educational video available at, both funded under a grant from the Star Schools Program of the U.S. Department of Education; a partnership with the National Black Child Development Institute to conduct literacy workshops; and multicultural book donations for schools. In collaboration with media partners Univision Communications Inc., the leading Spanish-language media company in the U.S., and Radio One, Inc., which owns and/or operates 70 radio stations located in 22 urban markets, RIF will air a public education campaign to begin in August.
"Parents have tremendous impact on how well their children develop language skills in the first five years of life," said Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO of RIF, the nation’s largest non-profit children’s literacy organization. "The RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign reinforces this message and offers parents and caregivers new resources to help them get their children prepared for success with reading and in school."
Reading scores among African-American, Hispanic, and Native American fourth graders significantly lag behind those of white and Asian children. According to the most recent U.S. Department of Education data, 76 percent of white and 73 percent of Asian children score at or above basic reading level compared to 42 percent of African-American, 46 percent of Hispanic and 48 percent of Native American children.
"As a country, we cannot let so many students fall behind," said Claude Mayberry, Jr., founder and CEO of Science Weekly, and chair of the RIF Multicultural Advisory Board. "This RIF campaign is the start of a renewed effort to engage parents, caregivers, community organizations, educators, and corporations in a comprehensive approach to improving literacy outcomes among African-American, Hispanic, and Native American communities."

Check out the RIF main page for background information, tips for educators and parents, and ways to get involved, as well as games, stories and activities to do with your children from birth to age 5 or 6 - 14.

Thanks to Jen Robinson for the link.

Haiku contest anyone?

National Wildlife Federation has a haiku contest going on. I think the only prize is the chance to see your haiku on their website next month. What the heck, it sounds like fun. You know I love haiku!

And have you checked out their Green Hour program? Get those kids out of the house and away from the screens a little.

They have something else brewing called the Great American Backyard Campout. It's happening all over on June 23. Sounds like time for S'Mores!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

June 12 Haiku

wisteria leaves in rain.JPG

Greedy, those green curls.
Viney fingers round the post;
they'll pull down the house!

Surf report

I am working on updating our library web page. Today I am mainly looking at other library websites and exploring what's out there. What are your favorite library sites? What are the features you most value? If you were redesigning your library page, what would you include? Tips please!

In my surfing I have discovered these cool web 2.0 toys that I would love to share with teachers and students:
  1. Google Docs. Write documents and spreadsheets anywhere and open them on another computer. Share, collaborate, and work from a variety of locations...
  2. Mindomo: An online graphic organizer. Kinda like Inspiration, which we teach the students to use in planning and organizing their research or writing. Again, work in one location and share, collaborate or revise from another location.
  3. Thumbstack: Make and share presentations on the web. Kinda like PowerPoint. No need to tote all those old fashioned flashdrives or *shudder* floppies if you do all your work on the web, right?
  4. Picnik: Online photo editing.
  5. Meebo: Mush all your instant messaging pals together in one place. No need to remember if they are on aim, yahoo, whatever.

So now you can go on vacation and forget about what was on your desktop at work, right? Better put all these links in your account first.

Thanks to Online Education Database for all these links.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Challenge complete

I started reading for Mother Reader's 48 Hour book challenge on Friday at 11 am. I finished Sunday at 7:30 am, when my boys woke up. I didn't read straight through, of course. I just tried to carve out as much time as I could. I read four books in a total of 14 hours, covering 814 pages. I want to post about the books one at a time so I will put up individual posts. I have edited and reposted this with Monday's date and the clock at noon, to keep it on top for the day. The books are:
  1. The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
  2. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
  3. So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
  4. Sounder by William H. Armstrong


by William H. Armstrong. 1970 Newbury Award winner. It was made into a movie in 1972 and redone by Disney in 2003.

This is a classic story that I first read in Jr. High. I was in a mixed suburban school near Cleveland Ohio. The story is set in the American south in the 1930s and tells about a black sharecropper family's tragic struggle for survival in the face of intensely cruel racism and violence. I remember thinking that is was very far away and outside of the norms for our lives. I wonder now if the white teacher and the other students in my class, both black and white felt that way too.

Thinking about it now I realize that it wasn't that long ago. The boy in the story could be still living today. In the seventies, when it was written and when I read it he most certainly was. The students sitting in English class with me could have had relatives living in the south. The boy in the story is not far in age from my parents. My classmates' parents and grandparents might have lived that life. My own family was from New England so I felt no connection to the South, but that isn't very realistic. White racism dominates our country north, south, east and west. Being from New England doesn't distance my family from the acquisition and control over the wealth sharecroppers built, maintained and were denied.

The biting cruelty and evil of a society where a man could be taken from his family and forced to work hard labor with no pay for six years until he is disabled and sent to walk home in disgrace or die on the road for stealing a ham to feed his family is deeply disturbing to me today. When the sheriff turned around in the wagon and shot Sounder, the family's hunting dog, as he was taking the father and head of the household away in chains he surely knew what he was doing to that mother and her children. He was stripping them of their most important and legitimate means of earning a living. Let alone what he did to the boy's father, and to the dog. I can't even begin to speak about the pain of his mother's life.

When I read the reviews about this book online today they mostly put it in the past, as a historical novel about the old South. I don't see it as that far away anymore. Don't we have a growing prison population that is disproportionately African American? Haven't my own sons lost their biological families for mostly economic reasons? I have two adopted African American sons. Their biological grandparents and extended families may have lived that life. It's still with us today. Does anyone else feel this?

So Far From the Bamboo Grove

by Yoko Kawashawa Watkins. Yoko is 11 and living in northern Korea at the end of World War II. She is Japanese and her father works in Manchuria, just over the border in China. Yoko and her mother and sister are forced to flee their home when Korean forces begin to take control from the Japanese. They have many harrowing adventures and escape murder, rape and starvation on a daily basis for over a year. Finally Yoko and her sister make a new life for themselves at home in Japan and are joined by their older brother.

This story was exciting to read but full of pain and anguish. It wore on me because I read it all in one sitting during my son's nap time on Saturday afternoon. It is almost too horrible a story to believe, but it is true and Yoko is a real person.

I lived in the northern Chinese province of Heilongjiang for two years teaching English. There were quite a few Koreans living in China at the time and there was a visible legacy of Russian influence as well. We saw Russian architecture and bought Russian bread when we visited the big city of Harbin. Our school liaison was a Chinese-Korean man whose family had been living there since WW II. He enjoyed taking us to Korean restaurants. He was embarrassed to admit that many Chinese people thought Koreans were dirty and disgusting enough to eat dogs. One of the Americans I was teaching with could speak fluent Korean and he delighted in talking with her in his native language. I think he felt mistreated and disrespected many times. I witnessed the racism and animosity felt between ethnic Han Chinese, other Chinese minorities, Koreans and Japanese. The feelings toward the Japanese, who had occupied the area just forty years previously, were thinly veiled animosity and disdain. I knew people whose family members had been imprisoned, beaten, tortured, raped and murdered by the Japanese army. Many white Americans may not not aware of it, but these groups have a long and painful history of racism and abuse.

It is really interesting to me to read this story from the perspective of a Japanese girl who was living in Korea. Just before the story starts she is in a position of wealth and privilege, being a member of the occupying elite. The story tells what happens to the women in the families of the powerful men on the losing side of the war as they are fleeing refugees. I can't help but try to imagine what it would be like if America comes to that position and I am one of the women fleeing with my children, trying to stay alive after being so comfortable and privileged for so long.

Anyone else read this book? If you have connections to Korea, China or Japan it makes it really fascinating and I would love to chat with you about it. If you are reading it with your children or students I'd love to hear what they think.

More links:
Study guide
Sample student essay
Parents Choice award
Discussion Questions

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Light in the Forest

by Conrad Richter. Ballantine Books, 1953. I think I read this in Jr. High but I didn't remember it at all. I have recently read criticism of the use of the term "squaw" and reference to scalping on the American Indians in Children's Literature Blog by Debbie Reese. Those terms are all through the book and now that I doubt their authenticity that bothered me a lot.

The story is of a young man named True Son. He was taken captive by Delaware Indians when he was only four years old. He was adopted and became a beloved family member of his Native American family. When he is 14 a treaty is signed forcing his Indian father to send him back to his European American family. True Son is heart-broken. He hates life in the white settlement. He eventually makes his way back to his Indian home but the heartbreak doesn't end there.

This story moved me on a number of levels. The injustice of colonial take over of Indian land, the racism and violence inherent in the clash of cultures, and the issues of adoption and biological families competing for True Son's loyalty all touch me. I would love to be part of a discussion with young people reading this book for the first time, to hear their take on all these issues.

Edited to add: More on scalping. From what I have read online about the practice it was brought to the New World from Europeans. Colonial governments (including American, Canadian, French, English, Dutch and Spanish) paid a bounty for scalps during the 17th through 19th centuries, regardless of whether they came from Native Americans or settlers. Many sources claim that the Native Americans learned it from the Europeans. In Richter's story both the white settlers and the Indians scalp their enemies.

True Son is disgusted by evidence that the settlers have murdered and scalped Indian children. He later has a crisis of conscience and identity when he sees a fair haired child's scalp in Indian possession. He loses his tribal and family membership connections to his Indian people when he fails to help in an ambush attempt because he can not bring himself to draw a steamboat full of settlers closer to shore. He sees a child in the crowd and is reminded of his young white brother. His friends and family reject him after he warns the steamboat away in order to save the life of the child. I think he values the life of any child above his racial or family identifications. His Indian father and a handful of other characters share that value with him.

As far as the use of the word "squaw", from what I have read this morning it is a legitimate and respectful word for "woman" in Algonquian languages. Richter's book is about the Lenni Lenape who lived in a similar region of the U.S. (NY through PA). I don't think it's unreasonable for him to use the term. I would be interested to do a deeper language study of the book and research other terms he uses. Sprinkled through out the book are many terms in languages other than English but they are not identified by language or defined specifically.

I am interested in discussing whether anyone sees any racism in the book. The Native American cultures seem to be portrayed respectfully, with their values and integrity cherished by True Son. I realized this morning with a start that the white people in the book are mostly ignorant, repulsive and despicable. That's my race. It is interesting to me that I read the whole book looking for signs of racism against the Native Americans without feeling any acknowledged identification with the white people. I carry a deep sense of shame that it is my people - my direct family line - that the white people in the book represent. My mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts and grandparents lived that life. I want to be True Son and his adoptive Lenni Lenape family, not the white settlers in this story.

I am aware of a firm layer of resistance to dealing with being the white person in the story. And there is no where to go after that - what guidance do we have from popular culture or from our education systems to process that? When I read the story in Jr. High I was one of a class of about 25, half white and half black probably. The teacher was white. Did we talk about being white and black after we read the story?

For Mother Reader's 48 Hour book challenge: I read this book on Saturday, covering all 120 pages in 3 and half hours. I read another book later in the day, which I will blog about next chance I get.

The Ear, the EYE and the ARM

by Nancy Farmer. Orchard Books, 1994. It's the year 2194 in Zimbabwe. The three children of General Matsika, one of the most powerful men in Africa, were kept safe and secure within a lavish mansion. They were pampered and served and tutored in every way. What they really wanted was an adventure in the outside world. It goes something like this: out of the goldfish bowl, into the stew pot. Out of the stew pot, into the frying pan. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Out of the fire, into....?

This was a very enjoyable read. Children 9 and up who like fantasy, adventure, and Utopian alternate worlds will love this. I found it interesting, exciting and satisfying. There are a couple of spots where it seemed a bit unbelievable but the story moved so fast that wasn't a big bother. I was really moved by the justice issues where wealth confronted poverty. It seemed a bit too close to our present day world in some respects. I like being challenged in that way and I think young adults will as well.

I read this as my first book in Mother Reader's 48 hour challenge. I had actually started it a few days before, so I am only counting 275 pages of the book's 311 pages in my tally. I started reading at 11 am on Friday morning and read a total of 5 hours on Friday. I can't really put everything aside and literally do nothing but read, of course, so I just did what I could. It puts me out of the running for any prizes, but I don't really care about that. I am just so thrilled and satisfied to be doing it at all. In the past five years, since I became the mother of three boys, I haven't read this much in one weekend. It is refreshing and I am really happy I did it!



One evening last August my parents were over having ice cream with us. My dad said, "You ought to trim your wisteria or it will start to pull the shingles off the side of your house."

"My wisteria?" I said. "I have wisteria? Where is that?" I had been living in this house for five years and was still developing the gardens. I have always loved wisteria and I thought one day I would have a railing put around the porch with a high trellis across the side nearest the neighbors. I wanted to grow a vine covered with beautiful purple flowers to shade that side of the porch and create a privacy screen. I didn't think I had the wisteria yet though.

"On the side of the porch" My dad said. "It's climbing up the side of the house and sending shoots under the porch. It will tear the porch apart if you don't train it right." He walked me out to the front porch and showed me where it was growing.

"That is wisteria?" I said. "I thought it was a weed. I tried to pull it out but it was too stubborn. I chopped it back over and over but it keeps coming back."

"Ayah." He said. "That's wisteria."

"I never saw any purple flowers on it."

"That's because you keep cutting it back before it gets a chance to flower. Get a trellis and train it."

My parents have a really lovely wisteria in their backyard. It is trained to grow up an old clothesline post that is shaped like a T. They used to have a clothesline coming from the post too, but the wisteria took over and they had to cut the ropes out. Now it is about six feet high and twisted all around the post like a huge python. The green branches wrap around and around. In spring the clusters of purple flowers hang down like some exotic jungle orchids. I always wanted a vine like that growing where I could admire it. Who knew I had one right by my porch!

I looked into having a railing and trellis built onto the edge of my porch but the cost was beyond me last summer and fall. This spring I decided to just go to the garden center and buy the biggest, sturdiest trellis I could fit in my car and get Buster to help me set it up beside the wisteria. It's about 7' high from the ground and cast iron. Next to the porch it appears only about three and a half feet high, which isn't really big enough. The day after Buster put it in the ground the wisteria had it's greedy green fingers wrapped all around it. I guess it will outgrow my trellis in one season. I will just have to keep pruning it and keep an eagle eye on the wandering branches seeking the side of the house or the roof beams. The other day I noticed some wisteria-looking leaves creeping out from under the opposite side of the porch. Maybe it's a monster! I don't know if it gets enough sunlight but I hope I'll get some fat juicy purple bunches of flowers hanging right down the middle of the trellis next spring.


It just goes to show you; you never know what loveliness is growing next to you, waiting to be noticed and encouraged to grow in the right direction.

I'm doing my Sunday Garden Stroll again in the Mr. Linky below. If you have a garden post up in the past week or so I do hope you will join in by adding your link. If you know of other bloggers that are interested in gardens please invite them to join in too! You can copy my button and paste it on your site to link back here if you like. What's growing wild in your yard?

Friday, June 08, 2007

48 Hours

OK kids, mom is going to go read for a while. I am closing the door. Please do not interrupt me unless the house is burning down or someone is bleeding. I've got some very important work to do! See you on Sunday.

When all the want is a big fat book

What do you give them?

A lady walks into a bookstore. She's looking for a book for her brilliant niece. Niece is six and already reading H. Potter. What goes through your mind in those few seconds you have to pull up the perfect book?

"But if Harry Potter really existed, and the Dursley’s were nice people, this is what he would be reading at age six, and he’d like it a lot.”

Check out: Ten Seconds: Running the Hurdles with Harry Potter by A. Bitterman at Reading Reptile.

Thanks to Purled Pouches for this great link to an essay about how Potter has changed us.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

somewhere i have never traveled

pink rose.JPG

~e.e. cummings
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose


Read the rest of this lovely poem here.

The Friday Poetry roundup is at HipWriterMama's today. Go leave a link to your poetry post and read all the others.

Summer Goals Meme

Suzanne tagged me for the The Summer Goals Meme which consists of 10-15 professional and or personal goals that you would like to achieve over the summer. I was frightened of this meme until I saw Suzanne's goals. She is planning on having a ton of fun and I think I want to be like her!

Here is what I want to do this summer:
  1. Pick blueberries and strawberries with my boys. I remember what strawberries taste like in the field, and it's not anything like those red monstrosities in the supermarket.
  2. Go to the swimming pool three or four times a week and make some new friends from our neighborhood.
  3. Get Buddy swimming lessons.
  4. Help with Vacation Bible School at our church. I got put on the snack committee and I think I can totally do that.
  5. Read and blog about at least one chapter book a week.
  6. Work on my writing. I mean read writer's texts, practice the craft, keep a writer's notebook, polish some pieces and submit.
  7. Print photos of my kids and catch up on scrapbooks.
  8. Print photos matched with my haiku and make a book of them.
  9. Keep up with weeding and watering (especially the potted plants).
  10. Get Buddy music lessons (Suzuki violin? Any suggestions or tips?).
  11. Learn to make gluten free fig newtons with our home grown figs.
  12. Research library schools and make a plan to finish my degree.
  13. Find time to relax: play, laugh, watch and listen.
  14. Learn how to work with the school website; update library and class project pages. Plan to assist teachers with this next year.

I don't think I can tag ten people for this - it's too much. I am just going to say that if you have some vacation time coming up or are planning ahead for the summer you are TAGGED. What are your goals? Let's hear it!

Play Time is Learning Time

Last year at the end of the school year I had been blogging for about three months. Over the summer I discovered and played with:
  1. RSS feeds; Bloglines and Blogroll. I started using them so I could keep reading blogs on summer vacation without having to figure out how to remember or transport all my favorite blog URLs to my home computer.
  2. so I could transfer my favorites/link lists to my home computer
  3. Flickr so I could share more of my digital photos with friends and family; but more importantly so I could post them on my blog without having to mess with bloggers dog-gone s-l-l-o-o-o-w-w-w upload times and glitches.
  4. Trying to sell things on E-bay. Not too successful, but interesting.

By the end of summer I was exploring the 23 Things and learning about:

  1. LibraryThing
  2. Technorati
  3. Wikis
  4. YouTube
  5. Pandora
  6. NetLibrary
  7. Podcasts
  8. Image Generator toys
  9. Rollyo
  10. FD toys on Flickr

Here's a list of the Web 2.0 awards from May. (Here's the short list of just the winners) I wonder what I will discover this summer. What have you started playing with lately?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

48 Hour Book Challenge - Are you in?

It's not too late to jump on the bandwagon for Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge! It starts this weekend on Friday at 8 am. The idea is you drop everything and read chapter books in the upper-elementary , young adult or adult levels. You can count the hours any way you like, as long as they are consecutive and between June 8 and 10. There are prizes! One of the prizes is a framed photo taken by me, as a matter of fact.

I wasn't going to join the challenge because my little guys never give me extra time to read on the weekends, but then when I saw all the great books on my summer reading list I thought what the hey! I am diving in. I'll find a few extra hours in there somewhere. I won't be any competition for the prizes though, so the field is wide open for you. Go sign up!

The Daily Sponge

Make your own news here. Mary Ann at A Year of Reading is doing the round up. Fun!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Summer Reading List 2007

summer reading.JPG


1. Atwell, Nancie, In the middle
2. Calkins, Lucy, Raising lifelong learners
3. Graves, Donald, Writing
4. Calkins, Lucy McCormick, The art of teaching writing
5. Phelan, Thomas, 1-2-3 magic
6. Siegel, Daniel, Parenting From the Inside Out

Middle Grade chapter books:

7. DuPrau, Jeanne, The prophet of Yonwood
8. Collins, Suzanne, Gregor and the curse of the warmbloods
9. Collins, Suzanne, Gregor and the marks of secret
10. Farmer, Nancy, The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
11. Skelton, Matthew, Endymion Spring
12. De Mari, Silvana, The last dragon
13. Farmer, Nancy, A girl named Disaster
14. Erdrich, Louise, The game of silence
15. Erdrich, Louise, The birchbark house
16. Cheng, Andrea, Honeysuckle house
17. Watkins, Yoko Kawashima, So far from the bamboo grove
18. Balliett, Blue, Chasing Vermeer
19. Balliett, Blue, The Wright
20. Richter, Conrad, The Lightinthe Forest
21. Hamilton, Virginia, Plain City
22. Hamilton, Virginia, Justice and Her Brothers
23. Myers, Walter Dean, Monster
24. Armstrong, William H., Sounder
25. Mead, Alice, Jundbug
26. Yumoto, Kazumi, The Friends
27. English, Karen, Francie
28. Yep, Luarence, Dragon's Gate

I know I can't read all these, but I always put a few extra on the list in case I don't like something and abandon it. There are a few others that aren't even on the list, of course. What's on your list this summer?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lessons That Change Writers III

I am working my way through Nancie Atwell's Lessons That Change Writers as part of HipWriterMama's 30 day challenge. She is inspiring us to work on developing new good habits that will bring us closer to meeting our goals and realizing our dreams. I want to be more serious about working on the craft of writing. I am studying Atwell's text because the teachers in my school use it in our K - 8 writing program and I want to be more familiar with the techniques, as well as benefit from the practice of doing the writing exercises. So far I am finding it stimulating, challenging and invigorating.

This week I read lessons 4 through 6 and did the assigned homework. Lesson 4 is titled "Where Poetry Hides". Atwell takes an idea from Georgia Heard's book Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, where she says, "Discovering where poems come from is an essential part of the poet's process." Atwell says, "I am learning that when I ground my big feelings and ideas in small moments from my real life, I can write poems that resonate for me - and for the people I want to read them. It's noticing the small moments that's the tricky part..." Kinda reminds me of haiku! So you know I am down with this assignment. I had to take my writing notebook and spend a half an hour writing a list of places in my house and family where there might be poems hiding. "Go for quantity and specificity - as many things, places, occasions, and people as you can observe or recall that matter to you and that might hold the seeds of the poems of your life." A few of the things in my list:
  1. back of the garden
  2. dry birdbath
  3. binoculars hanging on the kitchen hook; dusty
  4. clutter on the dresser
  5. screams overheard after dinner, through the dining room window; brothers playing
  6. onions hanging in basket
  7. attic bins
  8. shoe boxes
  9. top of bookcases
It occurs to me that these lessons are intended for seventh and eighth graders and I am wondering how I would have done with sharing this in my jr. high. I think I would have been mortified to have to share this in the writer's workshop circle. Wouldn't that be a huge social risk for young teens? The other exercises are even more personal; I don't think I will share the most significant ones here on my blog. How would you get a class of 12 and 13 year olds to trust and respect each other enough for this to work? It must be amazing.

Lesson 5 is called "Problems to Explore in Fiction". Atwell decided to approach teaching writing fiction by a dual focus: character development as well as development of the problem as theme. She says professional writers are "impelled by the problems they create for their characters and how a character will confront - or avoid - a particular challenge. Theme, not to mention plot, emerges from the what if? of a problem." We are to spend time studying fiction we have been reading and make a list of the problem characters encounter. I chose to look over the picture books on our shelves at home. I found a lot of titles where the main struggle was around the theme of separation and attachment with parents or friends. Beginnings and endings, coming and going, growing up, behaving badly or well, learning something new and fluctuations between chaos and order were all prevalent. After making this list our homework was to create a list of problems we might be interested in exploring in a short story or poem. My list is titled "What if? problems for a bedtime story". I decided to try to develop a bedtime story for submission to the HarperCollins contest running till the end of June, just to give myself a target for all these homework assignments. Now I have some seed ideas and a specific goal with a deadline. I don't want to tell you what the most interesting problems are for me right now - it's too tenuous and I am timid.

Lesson 6 is titled "Twenty Actions". Atwell talks about how poet Billy Collins was greatly appreciated by her students. She tells them of an assignment he gives his adult students in writing class. He has them make a list of twenty actions from their everyday lives that could become poems. He tells of his own list and shows how a couple of things he experienced, moving his dog's head off his pillow and accidentally driving over an American flag, resulted in published poems. Our homework was to keep our writer's notebook open and write a list of at least twenty things that happen in the course of a day. "Observe yourself", Atwell says, "If you notice yourself engaged in an action that might have poetic potential, jot it down." Here are a few of my twenty actions:
  1. putting together a porch swing with the help of my 4 year old and 2 year old sons
  2. driving to my dad's to borrow his tools - he declined to help me but let my borrow his old tool box full of wrenches
  3. letting my sons play at climbing the 8" ladder on the porch
  4. Buddy taking my picture; blurry
  5. the different ways these sons handle a bottle of bubble blowing solution and wands
  6. Buster mowing the lawn, walking like his dad
  7. stepping out the kitchen door to look at my tomato plants while a child cries inside
  8. how peaceful Punkin is in the bath
  9. sorting through piles of shoes by the door to go out on the porch in the rain
Here is another exercise I just can't see my self doing honestly when in middle school. Would you? I am amazed at what Atwell expects and receives from her students. The teachers at my school do it too and it blows me away - these kids are a wonder.

I didn't get to read and write on this project every day, but I am excited about the progress I am making. Like getting your hands in the dirt and turning things over, my notebook is just full of surprising and promising seeds. I forgot I had this in me.

Does this sound like you?

Do you have Celiac? This is a link to the BEST food blog in the universe. It's not just about food - it's about being full of joy and loving life. It's beautiful writing. And here she is teaching us about how to be healthier.

Did you know that 1 out of 100 people in the U.S. has Celiac disease? And only about 3 % of us know it. That means at least one of you reading this today ( and someone else in your family) is celiac, and you probably don't know it. Go read that link and think about it.

Summer time, summer time, sum-sum-summer time!

porch swing.JPG

Checked these off my to-do list for summer prep:

  • Finished writing report cards and updating curriculum maps for the school year
  • Cheered as oldest son repaired, sanded, scraped, primed and painted the porch
  • Planted the hanging baskets, window boxes, bedding plants, tomatoes and herbs
  • Invited grandparents to preschool graduation and registered graduate for kindergarten (gasp!)
  • Signed the preschooler/entering-kindergartner up for summer camp four mornings a week
  • Registered and paid for family pool pass
  • Bought, put together and hung the new porch swing
  • Compiled a list of YA novels and teaching writing texts to check out of the library
  • checked that the ice-cream maker is chilling in the freezer
  • stocked up on sparklers, sunscreen, bug spray, poison ivy weed-killer and popsicles

Bring on those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Growing Herbs

In working on my garden in the past five years the primary focus has been on filling in shade ground covers. It's a small yard with three large Norway Maples and close neighbors. I like having a green screen around my space, and I like having low maintenance leafy contours and textures. The shrubs, trees and ground covers have done so well I have very few fully sunny spots left. Fortunately my side garden gets full sun all afternoon, but the irises, lilies, ivy and vinca have completely taken over the garden slope and choked out the herbs I used to grow there. There is no room at all for the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers that I would like to grow.

This year I am growing four Big Boy Bush tomato plants in two large pots. They are next to the kitchen door where they will get full sun all afternoon. As long as I remember to water them everyday they will produce more tomatoes than we can eat. I am so looking forward to picking them warm from the sun. The tomatoes you buy in the grocery store? Not real tomatoes. No comparison!

tomatoes, one week.JPG

In the first photo the tomatoes are one week in the pot. Here they are today, after two weeks of growth:

tomatoes, week 2.JPG

Next to the tomatoes I have some pots of herbs: rosemary, chives, basil in individual pots and one big combo pot with sage, oregano, parsley and marjoram. I can step out the back door and snip a handful of these for cooking spaghetti sauce, pizza, soups, salads and casseroles. Yum!

herb combo.JPG

Many years ago I fell in love with growing herbs and started collecting books on how to grow them and how to use them in cooking and crafts. My all time favorite is Rodales' Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. It is fantastic. It tells you exactly how to grow each variety as well as the history of its use, medical properties, crafting, cooking, and healing recipes and techniques. I learned how to make basil tea for headaches, a necklace of rose petal beads, and lavender sachets for my drawers among other things. Every time I walk out my kitchen door I have to smile at my pots of herbs and tomatoes. Their fragrance and juicy, vigorously growing leaves fill me with cheer.


What's happening in your garden this week? Please send me a link to one of your garden-related posts from the last week. Just use the Mr. Linky below, and then come back later to take a tour of other gardens around the blogosphere. It's the Sunday Garden Tour!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Bedtime Classics

In honor of Goodnight Moon's 60th anniversary Johnson & Johnson and HarperCollins are collaborating in a bedtime story writer's contest. If you are not a professional writer but you like to write children's stories I invite you to join me in submitting a manuscript by June 30, 2007. The grand prize is having your story illustrated and published as a "limited edition picture book", a collection of HarperCollins classic storybooks, and a gift set of J&J baby products. Not a book contract, to be sure, but a chance to practice polishing up a manuscript and submitting by a deadline. And a fun challenge to come up with a good story! The rules are here.

I am working on a list of ideas now. I am reading Atwell's Lessons that Change Writers, going through her exercises and working in my writer's notebook every evening. I've got HipWriterMama's 30 Day Challenge to get me moving and now I have a goal of submitted story by the end of the month. Anyone want to join me?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Project 365: A look at May 2007

Instead of making a mosaic collage (scroll down on that link to see other months postings) of the May Project 365 photo set this time I made a slide show at Big Blue Labs. I found it at the Flickr Toys site. Click the link below to watch the slide show. It's mostly from my garden. I only have 24 photos because I took out the face shots of my kids, for privacy reasons. If you are doing Project 365, please leave a comment and give me a link to your month in review post.

View slideshow

Take a look at the Photography links in my sidebar for some other 365 photo blogs, and follow their links if you like great photos.

Flower Scented Haiku


It grows unchallenged
along the parking lot fence;
sweet honeysuckle!

pink rose 4.JPG

That scraggly rose
I cut back last fall;
enchanting this spring.

jasmine 4

By the kitchen door
night blooming jasmine opens;
that scent in the air!

For Friday Poetry this week I give you three original haiku inspired by my garden. I wish I could include the lovely scents of these flowers in the post - it is incredible to have these flowers flavoring the breeze that wafts in my open windows morning and evening.

The honeysuckle, which is an invasive species many consider a weed, screens my garden from the parking lot next door and gives me great pleasure. Immediate gratification I may regret, to be sure.

The rose is an annoyance to prune in the fall with its great sharp claws. Last fall I put on my gloves and got rid of all the dead wood and this spring is is overflowing with pink blossoms.

The jasmine plant my brother and sister in law gave me for my birthday several years ago. It grows in a pot and I keep it indoors in winter. This week it is suddenly covered in tiny heavenly blossoms that smell like the Chinese tea we love to drink.

I like how these three haiku together contrast the changing seasons, the span of time from old to new, and the stretch between weed and cultivated treasure.

The Friday Poetry roundup is at Adventures in Daily Living today. Go leave your link if you have poetry to share and read all the other selections.

Don't forget to come back here on Sunday for my Garden Tour roundup. This week I think I will talk about herbs.