Saturday, February 28, 2015

#EveryBrilliantThing February Roundup

umbrella garden
This year I am keeping a virtual gratitude list, inspired by the play Every Brilliant Thing. Here's my post about it. And here's my February list:

Sunday afternoon siesta.
Live streaming when you can't be there. [Newbery Awards!]
When someone compliments my outfit.
Daily conversations with my father who is ill and lives 1500 miles away.
Mama's roast beef.
King cake.
Bumper stickers.
Morning conversations with Eric on the drive to school.
Mrs. Fattig. 3Rd Grade.
Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate brownie dough.
Books hand-picked for me by my father.
Skype visits.
Breakfast for supper.
Stuffed animals.
Cooking with an iron skillet.
Movie trailers.
#Oscars2015 pajama party.
This cookie from Whole Foods.
“A broken heart is an open heart.” -@jandynelson, I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN
Yesterday's no-Snow Day and today's snow-dusted delay.
Poetry Friday.
@billyjoel tonight at @philipsarena!

Friday, February 27, 2015

BLUE BIRDS by Caroline Starr Rose

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe for Roundup.

I'm excited to share with you BLUE BIRDS by Caroline Starr Rose. It's Caroline's second historical verse novel (first was MAY B.), and it is a lovely story of an unlikely friendship between English Alis and native Kimi in 1587 Lost Colony of Roanoke.

The book releases March 10, which is coming up shortly! I was lucky enough to score an ARC -- and now I am giving it away! Leave a comment to enter. Winner will be randomly drawn Sunday night (March 1).

Before I share a few excerpts from the book, you should know that Caroline and I have a few things in common: We love historical fiction. We both lived in Saudi Arabia. We share an editor. We've both written in voices of characters from cultures not our own. And more! Anything Caroline writes, I know I will savor and cherish and delight in.

So, first, allow me to share with you Caroline's responses to a few short prompts:

the difficult:

There are a lot of opinions and strong, strong feelings as to who has permission to write certain books. Im a non-Native American author. What gives me the right to try and speak for a thirteen-year-old Roanoke girl?

Im still not sure. But Ive been a girl. And I know how profoundly friendship can shape a person. Ive been in new cultural settings and have learned to see the foreign as familiar and the familiar as foreign. This answer wont be enough for some readers. I understand that. But Ive gone ahead and written BLUE BIRDS anyway.

the delicious:

BLUE BIRDS hinges on a forbidden friendship, and if thats not delicious, I dont know what is!
When I first started drafting, I thought the story would come from one character, Alis, my English girl. But the more time I spent in her world, the more I realized the story didnt belong to Alis alone.

Back in my teaching days, I loved to tell my students in order to most fully enjoy poetry, it must be seen and heard. A poet communicates with language, yes, but she also speaks to the reader through line breaks, stanza breaks, and the placement of words on a page.

My favorite passages in the book come from the poems Kimi and Alis share together. Here are two girls from two entirely different worlds, and yet they are drawn together. It was essential the structure of these dual-voice poems communicated as much as the words they contained.

the unexpected:

Having heard so much about the dreaded sophomore novel, I was relieved to sell a picture book between MAY B. and BLUE BIRDS. With an entirely different kind of book scheduled to release next, I felt freed up to set aside my worries of comparison between the two novels. But guess what? Though BLUE BIRDS sold a year and a half after my picture book, it will release four months before. Both novels are historicals written in verse. The comparisons will probably come. Im grateful, though, I was able to shut the door on this hangup during the creative process, that I could write without this burden in mind.

... and now, my favorite poem in the book. It's told in both girls' voices -- which makes it just about impossible to format on this blog! So I'm giving you a photograph instead:

Now, a favorite KIMI poem:

My mother and my aunts
work side by side,
their backs bend
as they tend the crops.

Like the corn,
a woman
spreads her roots wide,
like the bean,
a woman
settles her roots deep.

The English plans have been made plain:
Women mean they'll stay.

If we hope to rid ourselves of them,
push them from us
once and for all, 
we must do it
before their roots take hold.

- Caroline Starr Rose


Finally, one from ALIS:

All night,
our home is cuffed by violent winds
and waves of rain,
a hurricane.
This settlement will fly apart,
will be ripped like weeds,
until each board is stripped away.

This village is as fragile as an egg
unprotected in its nest.

I pray 
for peace
and silence,
for just an hour of rest.

- Caroline Starr Rose

Monday, February 23, 2015

Movie Monday: #OSCARS2015 Top 7 Moments

We were pretty excited when we cozied up in our pajamas last night to watch the annual Academy Awards show. Paul and I love going to the movies -- for nearly 25 years now we have kept a Saturday night date that more often than not, includes going to the movies. This year it seemed like we'd seen more nominated movies than usual, which made the show extra-fun. See all the winners here!

Here are my top 7 moments:

On the Red Carpet, Reese Witherspoon talking about her mission to produce films with strong parts for women... and her campaign for women actors to be asked about something other than what they're wearing.

J.K. Simmons, in his acceptance speech, urging viewers to call (not text!) their parents, to talk as long as those parents want to talk, if they are lucky enough to have parents on this planet.

Patricia Arquette, in her acceptance speech, calling for wage equality for women.

Neil Patrick Harris taking the stage ala Birdman only in his tidy (or is it "tighty" ?) whities.

Graham Moore, who won for Best Adapted Screenplay for THE IMITATION GAME, expressing his gratitude for life, urging young people to hang in there, and to "stay weird."

Common and John Legend and a stage full of people walking a Hollywood Edmund Pettus Bridge for an incredibly moving rendition of "Glory," which then won the award for Best Song.

Eddie Redmayne's boylike enthusiam when he won his award -- I mean, I felt just felt so happy watching him! And he deserved the award. Amazing performance in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.

And here's a little Bonus:

Creeper Moment of the Night: John Travolta and his big hands in inappropriate places. Come on, man.

Movie I want to see after watching the awards: STILL ALICE, with Julianne Moore's Oscar winning performance as a woman struggling with Alzheimer's.

What were your favorite moments??

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

To Tremble

Today's precept in 365 DAYS OF WONDER comes from Auguste Rodin:

"The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live."


2 things that have made me tremble in the past 24 hours:

I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson. More on this when I've finished the book!

...and the movie WHIPLASH. (Might be my favorite of Oscar Best Picture nominations, though it's very hard to rank! Probably should say it's my favorite
today.) It's about a young jazz drummer who wants to be great and his teacher who uses questionable/cruel methods to bring out that greatness. Husband's comment: "for a movie about drumming, there was a lot of blood." Can you imagine practicing so hard and so long, you make yourself bleed? I've been thinking a lot about the movie since I saw it, which, for me, is a good sign. I love movies that make me feel and think. Go see!

Friday, February 13, 2015

THE RED PENCIL by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Shane W. Evans

Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! Please visit Cathy at Merely Day by Day for Roundup.

I'm in with a favorite verse novel from 2014: THE RED PENCIL by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus by Shane W. Evans. Set in Sudan, THE RED PENCIL is a verse novel that chronicles Amira's life before, during and after the Janjaweed attack her family's village.

Here are three poems I especially love:


When I draw, it's not me doing it.
It's my hand.
And my twig.
And my sparrow.

My hand
and my twig
and my sparrow
make the lines.

My hand and my twig
and my sparrow
do the dance
on the sand.

I never know
what my hand
and my twig
and my sparrow
             will create.

My hand
holds my twig.

But my twig goes
on its own.

My sparrow - that's what's inside me:


- Andrea Davis Pinkney
I am in love with this "sparrow." I think Amira and I share the same sparrow, actually. Beautiful thought!


Dando and I have a favorite game called
What Else Is Possible?

The only real rule for our game
is that answers to the question
What else is possible?
can only be good.

Dando goes first.

"If you wake to find your sandals gone, do you worry?"
Dando answers his own question.
This is how the game works.

He says,
"Worrying, that is a waste of time.
Better to ask, 'What else is possible?'"

Dando peels off his own sandal, waves it.

He insists, "Your sandals may not be gone at all,
only missing, while a generous hand mends
their worn edges."

Now it's my turn.
"If two days pass, then five, then seven,
and still no sandals, do you worry?"

I shake my head fast, ready to answer.

I tell Dando,
"It could be those generous mending hands
have stitched you a whole new pair of sandals."

"Made of gold!" Dando adds.
Dando wave both his sandals.

I wave my sandals, too,
one right, one left.

"Lift them high," Dando says. "High!
They are new, and glistening, our sandals."

What Else Is Possible?
is the game about looking at things
in shiny ways.

- Andrea Davis Pinkney
How brilliant is this for staying positive and being creative?? And it reminds me of a game I play with myself all the time as a writer when brainstorming analogies... What Else does it look like? What Else?

Of all the funny-bug letters I know,
the letter O
is my favorite shape.

Ya, O!


Ya, O!

- Andrea Davis Pinkney
I have never before thought about my favorite letter -- favorite word, yes -- but letter? And now I can't stop thinking about O. :)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

3 Apps That Are Helping Me Learn to Play a Musical Instrument

Last month I started cello lessons.

Even though I took a few months of fiddle lessons in late 2014, the cello has humbled and challenged me in ways I didn't think possible.

Oh how confidently I called the teacher who once taught my son to play cello! I had been playing fiddle, after all... how hard could it be to switch to cello?

For those of you who missed my earlier musings on switching to cello, I just kept having this niggling feeling I picked the wrong instrument. I enjoyed the fiddle, but ultimately I chose it for convenience -- it's small enough to include easily in my travels.

But the cello. THE CELLO. Oh, my soul! That instrument speaks to me and always has. It's sound is deeper, moodier. More me.

After the first lesson, I wasn't sure I wanted to start over again. I practiced both fiddle and cello for two weeks.

It was too much. I couldn't get the bow hold for cello -- and it kept creeping into my bow hold for fiddle. I decided to put the fiddle away for a while and solely concentrate on the cello.

After the second lesson when my instructor had to manhandle the stiffness out of my wrists and constantly rearrange my hand on the bow, I wanted to cry in frustration.

But dadgumit, I still wanted to produce a beautiful sound out of the instrument! So I kept going. I ordered a CelloPhant to aid my grip and waited in desperation for it to arrive.

When it came, I experienced instant relief. My fingers relaxed. My hand eased. I practiced bow stroke on open strings and thought maybe maybe I could do this.

When I went back for my third lesson, my instructor and I celebrated. It was a breakthrough. I was on my way.

Since then I have discovered 3 (Android) apps that make my continued learning even more awesome:

1. Gstrings Tuner: oh my goodness, with what hesitation I first tuned those strings! But the tuner helped bunches. I DID IT. All on my own! FREE

2. Mobile Metronome: No more clunky machines on the tabletop. Just tap tap, and voila! FREE

3. Smart Voice recorder: one thing I learned from learning the fiddle was that it really helps me to play WITH music. Somehow I am forced to keep going instead of constantly correcting my fingers to get the best pitch. So at my lesson, my instructor plays the songs I am supposed to play, and I record them! It's brilliant. I can incorporate that into my practice time at home. I can feel my confidence building already. FREE

And so, now 4 lessons in, I am loving ye ol' cello. Nothing quite so humbling as learning an instrument when middle-aged. Never too late!!!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Because Scrapbooking IS Poetry

my sister & me
Every year the women in our family gather for a scrapbooking weekend. Actually, the womenfolk vary... the two who have been there every single year since 199-something are me and my sister. So yes, I am a long-time scrapbooker!

Once upon a time I used paper and stickers and double-sided tape. These days I go completely digital. In one weekend I am able to do my family scrapbook for the entire previous year! And a blog post, apparently. :) My sister still does it the old-fashioned way.. not as speedy, but her scrapbooks are GORGEOUS.)

Anyhow, I just wanted to pop in and say hello and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Liz at Elizabeth Steinglass for Roundup!

Here is a tiny poem I found in my morning pages... about morning pages. (For those who missed it, I am currently doing Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way with a group here in Birmingham. Loving it!)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Movie Monday: FOXCATCHER

This past weekend Paul and I saw FOXCATCHER. Only after we'd seen it did I realize I'd been mistaken about it being nominated for Best Picture... while it did receive 5 nominations, Best Picture was not one of them! (Turns out, the movie I overlooked was WHIPLASH. So we still have that one and BIRDMAN to get to before the February 22nd Academy Awards.)

This movie surprised me. It is yet another based-on-a-true-story film (like other nominees AMERICAN SNIPER, THE IMITATION GAME & THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) about John Du Pont and how he set up an Olympic wrestling training camp at his Pennsylvania home dubbed "Foxcatcher." I'm not much for wrestling, okay? But, history, yes. Relationships, yes. Fine films, yes.

I was immediately taken in by an early scene that shows the loving & also testy relationship between the Schultz brothers David and Mark. (Having 3 sons, this rings true to me. There is love, but there is always always a sense of competitiveness.) AND there is a scene nearer to the end of the movie that completely wrecked me. So much emotion. I was totally invested in these characters, these brothers, especially.

Now about Mr. Du Pont, and Steve Carrell's much-deserved nomination for Best Actor. What a creepy character Dupont was! I didn't know the true story before the movie, so everything was a surprise to me -- except it wasn't. Things happened that I just knew with a pit in the gut were going to happen. Oh, heartbreak and tragedy! Anyway, Carrell does an amazing job here. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so.

We'll see what happens Feb. 22. Meanwhile, Today is the Oscars of Children's Literature. What book will win the Newbery??? I'll be streaming the announcements to find out. :)