Friday, February 28, 2014

What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit the ever-inspiring Anastasia Suen at Poet! Poet! for Roundup.

I'm pretty much in love with WHAT THE HEART KNOWS by Joyce Sidman. It includes 4 sections: Spells & Invocations, Chants & Charms, Laments & Remembrances, Praise Songs & Blessings.

Here are three of my favorites (though I totally could have selected 3 entirely different ones. Much to love here!):

Blessing on the Curl of Cat

As Cat curls
in a circle of sun--
sleep and round,
snug and warm,
a hint of ear
cocked in readiness--
so may I find y place
in this shifting world:
secure within yourself,
certain of my wroth,
equally willing to
             or leap.

-Joyce Sidman

Illness: A Conversation

I asked my feet why they could not walk
and they said, We are treading water.

I asked my legs why they buckled and fell
and they said, We are growing roots.

I asked my fingers why they had loosened their grip
on the world and they said, It is too hard to hold.
We are gathering clouds instead.

Why? I asked my eyes, which kept crying and crying,
and they said, We are waiting for the very last ear.

Speak! I told my lips, but my voice was not my own.

So I asked my heart, Who am I now?
and my heart said, The you underneath the you.

And I asked my soul, Who will I be?
and my soul answered,
        The one whose heart is open,
        the one whose eyes are clear,
        the one whose hands are full of sky.

-Joyce Sidman

Song in a Strange Land

I awaken in a village
on a mountain
far from anything
I have ever known.

My eyes are no use--
the dark is that deep--
and my ears
buzz with silence.

No ripples in the black,
no chink in the quiet.

I could rise, teeter,
rumble down the hillside,
drown in the sea.
Why am I not afraid?
Amazed, my heart
waits for direction.

And there -- oh!
A rooster has found the dawn.
Its peal arcs through dark,
waking the circling hills
till the valley rings
like a steel drum.

Oh, yes,
says my heart.
Whatever the day brings,
let it ring.
Whatever the music,
let me sing.

- Joyce Sidman

Let us all sing!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Err on the Side of Audacity" with THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd

You may have heard me talk about these words of wisdom from my mother:


Well. This past week I had the pleasure of listening to a wonderful book THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd. It's historical fiction about the real-life abolitionist Sarah Grimke and Hettie (Handful) Grimke, the slave girl Sarah was given on her 11th birthday, during early 19th century Charleston, SC.

I love this book. There's mothers and daughters and quilts and history and daring characters changing their own worlds as best they can. And young Sarah latches onto this advice: ERR ON THE SIDE OF AUDACITY.

I love it! Here's to audacious women!! I'm doing my best to be one. xo

Monday, February 24, 2014

Our Cat Maggie, Who Could Be a Circus Elephant

In my experience, every cat has a "thing." Maggie's is balance. She is constantly testing herself on narrow ledges and staircases and such.

image at etsy shop GraphicGears
Don't even bother calling, Ringling Bros. We're not-so-secretly hoping Maggie lives FOREVER. She's that great a cat.

Maybe next we should get her a ball?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Squirrel Poetry: Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Karen Edmisten for Roundup!

I'm taking a break today from my Karla Kuskin series to talk about the poetry in FLORA & ULYSSES: The Illuminated Adventures.

I'm a huge Kate DiCamillo fan, so I was very excited when I first heard about FLORA & ULYSSES. Yet I wasn't able to get to it for months. And then it won the Newbery! So of course I HAD to make time for it. :)

It's a zany adventure, in part, about a superhero squirrel and a self-proclaimed cynic. The best part? Ulysses (the squirrel) writes poetry!

"I love your round head,
the brilliant green,
the watching blue,
these letters,
this world, you.
I am very, very hungry."

"In any case, he wasn't thinking about dying. He was thinking about poetry. That is what Tootie said he had written: Poetry. He liked the word - -its smallness, its density, the way it rose up at the end as if it had wings.

And in one of the comic strip segments wonderful created by K.G. Campbell, one of the cells says this:




Finally, in the Epilogue:

Words for Flora

would be
easier without
because you
all of it --
sprinkles, quarks, giant
donuts, eggs sunny-side up-
are the ever-expanding
to me.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Poetry Is in the Air!

photo courtesy of wikicommons
We may still be recovering from snow and ice, but that hasn't stopped Poetry from springing up in all sorts of places around here! Hope to see you at some of these upcoming events:

PHENOMENAL WOMAN -- celebrate Black History Month with poems by black female authors! DISCO, Thursday, February 20, 6:00-7:30 pm. I will be reading Lucille Clifton's "Homage to My Hips."

ALABAMA STATE POETRY SOCIETY -- 10:00 am - 2:00 pm, Saturday, March 1, Madison County Library. Jennifer Horne will be talking about book-making!

 SAKURA FESTIVAL - a number of events, including these poetry-specific ones:

Bards, Brews, & Haiku, Friday, March 7, 6:30- 9:00 pm, Birmingham Central Library, Fiction Department. Featuring haiku readings and sake tasting in addition to the usual performance poetry and beer sampling. Japanese crafts for sale to raise funds for Miss Iwate, the Japanese friendship doll who has called BPL home since 1928. Miss Iwate is in need of some restoration work which will be done by master dollmakers in Japan. 

Haiku Workshop, Saturday, March 8, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm. Birmingham Central Library, Storycastle. Led by Terri French, the Southeast Chapter Coordinator for the of the Haiku Society of America (HSA). Registration required; call 205-226-3670.

Monday, February 17, 2014


In our quest to see the rest of the Oscar-nominated films, this week we rented DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

I remember 1986. I remember the homophobia and the fear and shock that came with HIV and AIDS. In some ways, it was hard to watch a film re-visit those things. In another way, it was a reminder of how far we've come.

It's an inspiring story, and Matthew McConaughey is scary-believable. We should all be so proactive about our lives. Who knows what changes might occur both inside of us and out?

Still to go: Nebraska, 12 Years a Slave, & The Wolf of Wall Street

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tree Poems by Karla Kuskin

Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! Please visit lovely Linda at TeacherDance for Roundup.

Also: Happy hearts and flowers and chocolates! Yes, it's a commercialized holiday, but it's never a bad time to let someone know that you love them, right?

And that brings me to CYBILS. Congratulations to all the winners, especially one Amy Ludwig VanDerwater! Yay, Amy, so happy for you and FOREST HAS A SONG. Such a fine group of finalists this year!

In Amy's honor, I've decided to share today some of Karla Kuskin's poems about trees. Aren't trees a wonderful subject?? I'd like to give them a valentine.

 The Tree and Me

There's a tree by the meadow
By the sand by the sea
On a hillock near a valley
That belongs to me
With small spring leaves
Like small green dimes
That cast their shadows on the grass
A thousand separate times
With round brown branches
Like outstretched sleeves
And the twigs come out as fingers
And the fingers hold the leaves
With blossoms here and there
And always  pink and soft and stout
And when the blossoms disappear
The apples hurry out
In the middle of the blossoms
In the center of the tree
With a hat and coat of leaves on
Sits smiling me.

- Karla Kuskin

If you stood with your feet in the earth
Up to your ankles in grass
And your arms had leaves running over them
And every once in a while one of your leafy fingers
Was nudged by a bird flying past,
If the skin that covers you from top to tip
Wasn't skin at all, but bark
And you never moved your feet from their place
In the earth
But stood rooted in that one spot come
Then you would be me:
A tree.

- Karla Kuskin


Three wishes
The first
A tree:
Dark bark
Green leaves
Under a bit of blue
A canopy
To glimpse sky through
To watch sun sift through
To catch light rain
Upon the leaves
And let it fall again.
A place to put my eye
Beyond the window frame.

Wish two:
A chair
Not hard or high
One that fits comfortably
Set by the window tree
An island in the room
For me
My own
Place to sit and be

My tree
Here my chair,
Rain, sky, sun.
All my wishes
All the things I need
But one
Wish three:
A book to read.

- Karla Kuskin

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

For the Love of Trees: A BIRD ON WATER STREET by Elizabeth Dulemba

Please join me in congratulating Elizabeth Dulemba on the release of her first middle grade novel A BIRD ON WATER STREET! It will be released in print this May.

What's it about?

The son of a copper miner who struggles to understand his tree-less, bug-less, bird-less world in 1980s Coppertown, Tennessee (modeled after the actual Copperhill, Tennessee) during strikes and lay-offs and the ever-present fear of having to move from the place he loves.

Jack has all sorts of adventures... and he loves trees!

Here's a couple of quotes, the first in honor of my “mystery” year:

“Now if I could just tell which trees they'd come from – the edge of the parking lot was thick with them. Most were a mystery, but the sugar maple stood out like a bright flame against the others. I stopped breathing it was so beautiful.”

Ahhh, sugar maples! One of my most favorite trees!

“I read that book over and over, dreaming of spending all my days hiking through forests, taking care of trees. The man who wrote it described how different the trunks felt, with their bumpy or smooth bark, and the spicy smell of sap, and the soft cushion of pine needles under his feet. It sounded like heaven to me.”

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? What fun it would be to spend some time identifying trees by leaf and bark. Could be a great classroom project....

The book includes a section called “Images of the Copper Basin” which shows actual photographs to give readers a clear visual of what life is like in a Company town.

Something that made me smile: the inclusion of the Appalachian vernacular “yu'uns.” I lived in those mountains several years during my childhood, and I can still remember how odd that sounded to me after years of “y'all.” :)

Congratulations, e!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Movie Monday: PHILOMENA

Every year we try to see as many of the movies nominated for Oscars as we possibly can. This past weekend we were fortunate enough to see PHILOMENA.

I'm interested in pretty much anything Dame Judi Dench is in, and when I heard this movie was about a woman searching for the baby that was taken from her 50 years earlier, I knew I needed to see it. (My parents were foster parents, and I chose foster care/adoption as my specialty in social work.)

But the movie was so much more than that! It chronicled an unlikely friendship. It provided much to ponder about faith and evil and forgiveness. It made me really miss the wonderful older ladies I have loved and lost: my grandmother, my mother-in-law, my grandmother-in-law (the real-life Ludelphia). It explores man's inhumanity to man... or in this case, the nuns' inhumanity to young girls.

It's a special movie. I can totally see why it's nominated. I hope you'll go see for yourself!

Nominated movies we've seen: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Her, Philomena

Movies we still need to see: Dallas Buyers Club (on video), Nebraska (on video Feb. 25), 12 Years a Slave (on video), The Wolf on Wall Street (in theater)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Math & Science Poems by Karla Kuskin

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Please visit Poetry-Video-Queen Renee at No Water River for Roundup!

I'm back with another post featuring poems by Karla Kuskin. (Earlier post: snow poems.) Two of them are untitled. Readers, how do you feel about untitled poems? What about titles in general? Are they hard for you? Do they come first or last, or sometime in between? Curious about your habits and processes.

And now, take it away, Karla!


Is six times one a lot of fun?
Or eight times two?
Perhaps for you.
But five times three
Unhinges me,
While six and seven and eight times eight
Put me in an awful state
And four and six and nine times nine
Make me want to cry and whine
Sop when I get to twelve times ten
I begin to wonder when
I can take a vacation from multiplication
And go out And start
playing again.

- Karla Kuskin


To count myself
Is quickly done.
There's never more of me
Than one.

Counting bears
Is fun by ones
But funnier in pairs.

Counting the birds
On the branches of trees
Is hard on the neck
But it's easy on the knees.

It's even harder
Counting leaves
Than counting tiny birds.
They shift their shadows
With the breeze
Among the branches
Of the trees
More  numerous
Than whispered words.

Counting fingers
And counting toes is
A harder kind of counting
Than counting noses.

Counting rabbits running
Rabbit races on the lawn
Must be done while one is sunning
And before a rabbit's gone.

Counting the stars
As they glitter bright white
Is lovely indeed
And a marvelous sight
When the air is as fresh
As the first night in fall.
But I always have a feeling
That comes very softly stealing
When my head with stars is reeling
that I didn't count them all.

- Karla Kuskin


Many people who are smart
In physics, French and math and art
Cannot tell two bugs apart.

Bugs are just not very smart
In math or physics, French or art.
But they can tell two bugs apart.

- Karla Kuskin

Words cannot express how much I LOVE that last one! :)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It's Snowing Kindness!

Welcome to another edition of Wonderful World Wednesday! You probably heard about last week's winter snowstorm... or for those local, you didn't just hear about it! When schools across the city suddenly announced school closure, we parents rushed to collect them... as the snow was starting to fall. We had NO warning about the storm -- all satellite data indicated it would pass just north of us. So our city was car-jammed, icy and paralyzed.

Two of my sons and I got stuck downtown. The youngest and I camped out at Alabama School of Fine Arts, where we were well taken care of, and, frankly, the boy was in complete heaven. The oldest decided to hoof it home... all 10 miles. It took him three hours. Some folks picked him up so that he could thaw a bit as they inched down the highway. Some folks were helping to push cars out of icy spots. Kindness everywhere!

Meanwhile, back at ASFA, the faculty and staff made it a once-in-a-lifetime party. Mr. J dragged out mattresses for all the parents. Dorm kids gathered extra blankets and pillows and soap and towels, and left it in the hallways for anyone who needed it. The library loaned us books. We were fed and sheltered and not once allowed to panic or despair. Kindness.

And now, backing up: my youngest son was wearing flip-flops. That's right: FLIP-FLOPS. Normally this is not a problem in Alabama, even in January. So we needed shoes and socks.

Across the street from the school, the city opened Boutwell Auditorium to serve as a warming station for the homeless population. We popped over there to see if, by chance, they had shoes.

They didn't. But they did have socks. And hats. And gloves. And heavier jackets. And snacks and cots and laughter... and HUGS. I was so moved in those moments... people who have little to nothing giving everything.

Thank you. I cannot express my gratitude. I promise to pay it forward!
Eric in his Subway-bag wrapped feet and flip-flops!

p.s. Middle son and husband also had adventures including a car wreck, a cold hike, and being stranded overnight at the office with staff and clients! Yikes! Once in a lifetime, indeed.....

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Survival Story with Heart: ICE DOGS by Terry Lynn Johnson

I love dog stories.

I love survival stories.

I love adventure stories that pulse with emotion.

ICE DOGS by Terry Lynn Johnson is all of these things! And it should be: Terry is herself an experienced outdoorswoman and musher. She LOVES dogs. It shows in her writing!

So far it has garnered all sorts of lovely reviews and was selected as a Junior Library Guild Selection. And doesn't it have a gorgeous cover?

Here are some things I learned:

Mushers bait the water with chicken parts to entice sled dogs to drink, and drink quickly, before water freezes.

Trappers hide cabin keys in the outhouse.

Don't leave home without your dog booties.

Sled dogs bark and yowl and gripe until you command them to do the thing they love best: run!

A wolf pack just might save your life, if you happen upon the remains of a kill and take some for yourself.

Thank you, Terry, for a page-turner! I enjoyed meeting Vicky and Chris and the whole team -- and I savored every word of their story.

Readers, don't miss this one! xo