Thursday, January 28, 2016

Me & Darth Vader (or Why School Librarians Are the Best)

Guess who I met yesterday at Somerville Road Elementary School?

A bunch a great kids, librarian-extraordinaire Sally Savas, so many enthusiastic teachers ... and Darth Vader!

I'm exhausted but had to pop in to say Happy Poetry Friday! Please visit Catherine at Reading to the Core for Roundup -- and get your penguin fix with a lovely post about WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA. Thank you, Catherine! I'm so honored and grateful. xo

What To Say about Selah?

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday! Today we are discussing Michelle Haseltine's word "Selah."

Confession: "Selah" is a new word for me. A quick Google search revealed that "Selah" is

1. the name of a city in the Old Testament
2. sometimes means "rock" because the city was a walled fortress
3. is found in Psalms and could be a musical notation
4. might be a word used for emphasis, similar to "Amen"
5. might mean something like "so let it be done"
6. might simply be a word that means "pause"

So, thank you, Michelle, for expanding my vocabulary!

I have this memory of watching the Charelton Heston movie THE TEN COMMANDMENTS over and over again with my siblings, and one of the repeating lines in that movie is "So let it be written, so let it be done." I know because my brother l still loves to repeat that line. :) In the movie it was what the scribes would say whenever Rameses put forth an order. It always sounded very formal and definite and certainly indicated action, though usually of a negative variety!

In my own life I have certainly experienced times when I needed to pause, think, not rush into action. But then there are the decisive times, the times when it's been time to DO instead of TALK or merely THINK about doing.

This often comes up in the creative life, doesn't it? How many times have I talked to a writer at a conference, and they tell me their wonderful ideas, and the next year, when I see them at the conference, they are still just talking (and not writing)? I find this so frustrating, especially as I realize it is related to fear. As long as one is just TALKING, there is no risk, no one to criticize, no failure.

I get it. It is So. Hard. To Fail. I put up road blocks to my writing, too. Writing is hard and scary. Which makes this a great word for writers: Selah. So let it be done.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Let the Gee's Bend Fun Begin!

This week I am visiting Decatur, Alabama, where LEAVING GEE'S BEND is their "River City Read." The best part is that the quilts are on display through March 5 at Carnegie Visual Art Center and four of the quilters -- Mary Ann Pettway, China Pettway, Lucy Witherspoon & Gloria Hopkins will be in residence from Feb. 12 - Feb. 21!

So, my job is to share the story of Gee's Bend at the schools, where I will be talking with students and faculty, and at the library so that the community will be able to more fully appreciate and enjoy this wonderful experience. I'm excited! Here's the library poster:

Full report coming next week!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On Being Present

Today for Spiritual Journey Thursday we are discussing Margaret's OLW "Present." Please join us!

How many times have I been working at my computer, and my husband walks by, speaks to me, and I respond, but don't look up, don't see him?

That's me, not being present.

How many times have I taken a shower and been so caught up in my thinking world that I didn't feel the suds on the fingers or smell the shampoo?

Yep, me, not really being there.

How many times have I, in my effort to get things done quickly and efficiently, cooked AND listened to an audio book AND helped a child with homework, all at the same time?

Again, that's me not listening to the book or to my child, or to the knife slicing through the onion, not feeling the rubbery surface of the cutting board or marveling at the sizzle as the onions hit the hot bottom of the pan.

The biggest thing that keeps me from being present in my life is ME. My mind just takes off and Will. Not. Stop.

Part of this is a result of the family disease of alcoholism, which taught me, from a very early age, that I HAD to think in order to survive, I had to do whatever I could to control my surroundings, I had to stay one step ahead of everyone else. Another reason is the dreamer in me -- how many times have I been focused on the past (often reliving or replaying mistakes and missteps) or so, so often, worrying about the future? I haven't always liked my "present."

This way of life made me crazy, and it hardly ever worked the way I wanted it to, so my answer was to think even longer and harder! Talk about EXHAUSTING. What a relief to learn that I am powerless over people, places, and things, and I can leave all those worries/thoughts/dreams/etc. to a higher power. This has given me a whole lot more time to be present in my life. And a lot more reason to love my life just as it is.

It's true that such a lifelong habit is a hard one to break! But here's the good news: just like the body can be trained to run a marathon, the mind, too, can be trained. For the past year I have subscribed to HEADSPACE, and I absolutely love it. It's a meditation app, and I use it right on my phone. I've learned to imagine my mind as a blue sky -- and my thoughts as clouds that sometimes go racing by and cover up the blue, but the blue is always always there. And with practice, I am finding that blue sky a lot more easily and a lot more often.

AND, even better news, I have been able to translate this to my daily life. I am much better now at showing up for my own life. Not all the time, but that's okay: Progress not perfection!

Now I recognize that being present is a way to express my gratitude for the life I've been given.

I will leave you with wise words from Melody Beattie:

"The magic isn't tomorrow or in some far-off place. The magic is in the moment and the exact details of the situation we're in right now." - Melody Beattie

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tougher. Stronger. Fearless!

I've just finished ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson.

I totally get why it won a Newbery Honor.

I laughed, I cried... I loved how BIG Astrid's emotions were and how real her friendship struggles felt. Also, some great mother-daughter moments and a nice messages about teamwork (vs. individual glory) tucked inside.

Read it! You won't be sorry.

And: go, Asteroid!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Poem for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear Martin,
- found in Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech delivered August 28, 1963, Washington, DC

Today injustice
still lives
in the corners
of our republic.
Yes, freedom
is awakening
of thirst.
Fresh storms
rise up
on the red hills,
heat exalted,
hope jangling
into faith –
we join hands,
        at last.

- Irene Latham

I wrote this poem last year for MLK day. View the original post here.

Also, here is a link to a post about my favorite MLK movie so far: SELMA.

Thinking of MLK today and all his good works -- and all we've yet to accomplish in terms of equality and the end of systemic racism.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

January Joy

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit for our resident beekeeper-poet at Keri Recommends for Roundup.

January has already been a full month for me -- this week our youngest son turned 16 (I am officially off carpool duty! A new chapter has begun...), and I got back in the saddle with my first school visit after a long break. I'm grateful to teacher/librarian-student Bethany Venable at Lake View Elementary who made my visit so smooth and wonderful... and to the students for their curiosity and enthusiasm! Here are a few pics:

writing workshop!

a card signed by all 300 + students who attended the assembly!

Bertha, part of the front office welcoming committee :)

the whole crew, ready to get on with things!
(we had the lights dimmed to better see the powerpoint)

And now a  poem I love, from a book I featured before (and will feature again!): A CHILD'S CALENDAR by John Updike, illus. by Trina Schart Hyman.

by John Updike

The days are short,
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.

Fat snowy footsteps
Track the floor,
and parkas pile up
Near the door.

The river is
A frozen place
Held still beneath
The trees' black lace.

The sky is low.
the wind is gray.
The radiator
Purrs all day.

Finally, I invite you to read my Spiritual Thursday post which includes an original poem "I Could Say I Believe in the Ocean." Wishing everyone a warm, happy weekend!

I Could Say I Believe in the Ocean

Today for Spiritual Journey Thursday we are sharing about Carol's One Little Word BELIEVE. Be sure to visit Holly for links from other pilgrims!

"Believe," for me, is an essential word. I think I have spent a good deal of my life thinking about what I believe instead of just believing. Every few years I write a "Creed" poem, and what I find is that what I believe is far less firmament than water -- always shifting, swirling, moving, changing. For a long time this movement bothered me. Shouldn't I know what I believe in? Shouldn't it be more permanent than that? But one has only to look at the natural world to know that change, flux, movement is the way of all living (and nonliving) things.

Here are some things I am working on believing right now:

I am enough.
I am exactly where I am meant to be.

And, going with these water-y feelings, here is a new "creed" poem.

I Could Say I Believe in the Ocean

But what I mean is,
I believe in water:
leagues wide
and miles deep,
still-cool-cold on one shore,
warm-salty on the other.

I believe in clownfish
and anemone,
riotous coral reef
and cruising grouper,

octopuses origami-ing
themselves into
castaway bottles
and now-you-see-em-
now-you-don't krill
diving into
the mouths of whales.

I believe in turquoise
and teal, cobalt
and blacker-than-black.
In shipwrecks
and tsunamis
and deep-sea

I believe in a world
with enough anything
for everyone
where I am a boat
floating quiet
as a moon jellyfish,

weaving between sharks
and icebergs,
allowing the current
to carry me
wherever it will.
- Irene Latham

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Morning Offering

When I first read this in TO BLESS THE SPACE BETWEEN US by John O'Donohue I just had to sit still a moment and revel in the perfection of the words and wishes expressed. I need this every single morning.
May I have the courage today
To live the life I would love,
To postpone my dreams no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

- from "A Morning Offering" by John O'Donohue

Friday, January 8, 2016

Three Poems from FELICITY by Mary Oliver

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for Roundup. While you're there, be sure to read Tabatha's "The Old Ship" poem from last week. Love!

I finally got ahold of FELICITY by MaryOliver, and I have three favorite poems from the book to share with you:

That Little Beast
by Mary Oliver
That pretty little beast, a poem,
has a mind of its own.
Sometimes I want it to crave apples
but it wants red meat.
Sometimes I want to walk peacefully
on the shore
and it wants to take off all it's clothes
and dive in.

Sometimes I want to use small words
and make them important
and it starts shouting the dictionary,
the opportunities.

Sometimes I want to sum up and give thanks,
putting things in order
and it starts dancing around the room
on its four furry legs, laughing
and calling me outrageous.

But sometimes, when I'm thinking about you,
and no doubt smiling,
it sits down quietly, one paw under its chin,
and just listens.

Everything That Was Broken
by Mary Oliver
Everything that was broken has
forgotten its brokenness. I live
now in a sky-house, through every
window the sun. Also your presence.
Our touching, our stories. Earthly
and holy both. How can this be, but
it is. Every day has something in
it whose name is forever.

The Giftby Mary Oliver

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful.That the gift has been given.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

On Waiting

This year I am participating in Spiritual Journey Thursdays, coordinated by Holly at Reading, Teaching, Learning. Today we are all blogging about Holly's OLW for 2016: WAIT.

I have a complicated relationship with waiting. I remember reading a poem once that basically said historically, it's a woman's job to wait -- while the husband goes to war or work or whatever. Why would I want to be THAT woman?

The truth is, I can be terribly impatient and impetuous, and one of the ways I deal with things in my life that I can't process, or feelings I am not ready to feel, is to dive headlong into some task, to chase after some goal, to go, do, move! This has been a valuable coping mechanism for me for many years and has helped me achieve a lot of things.

But. These days I am far less interested in going/doing/moving as I am in just BEING -- being myself, being content, being present. And waiting is a part of all these things. I can wait to check my email, I can wait to respond to an invitation, I can wait and see how I feel instead of planning (obsessing!) about the future. I can sleep on it. I can pause, pray, meditate before I commit or make a decision. All of these tools are available to me and help me know myself better, and to honor that self.

How often in the past have I created my own troubles by NOT waiting?!

And yet, waiting is still a struggle sometimes. It feels so passive, like nothing is happening. What I' m finding is that that moment, of waiting, is exactly the place where faith enters in. And I want to be there to meet it.

Thanks so much, Holly, for opening the discussion!

Monday, January 4, 2016

My 2016 One Little Word

A month or more ago, my husband told me he'd noticed I've laughed more in the past year than in all the time he's known me.

Isn't that a lovely observation?

I've thought about it a lot since then, and I realize I am generally a serious-minded, thoughtful person. And that's great. But this year I want to lighten things up a bit. I want to laugh more. So the One Little Word I've selected is...


The morning after I made my decision, I stumbled upon a bit about Julia Child. It turns out Julia had a sign in her kitchen that said, "Above all, have a good time." And didn't she have a good time?! She also wrote this in her book MY LIFE IN FRANCE:
picture of sacher torte I had in Vienna. Yum!

So, maybe, this will be my Julia year? I will be focusing on delight in all things, having fun, laughing. 

I do have two books coming this year... FRESH DELICIOUS: Poems from the Farmers Market and  WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA: Poems from the Frozen Continent. Talk about fun!

If any bloggers are interested in reviewing either of these titles, I would be delighted to request a review copy. Please email me! irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Hello! Happy New Year! And Happy Poetry Friday! (Happy, Happy!) Be sure to visit Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for Roundup and join Mary Lee and Franki's celebration of 10 years of blogging. Wow!!

As if that wasn't enough to celebrate... guess what? Multicultural Children's Book Day will soon be here --January 27, 2016! 

For the second year in a row I signed up to feature on my blog a review of a multicultural children's book. The linky will soon be live -- meanwhile, check out the website.

This year I was assigned a book that's near and dear to my heart: THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR CELEBRATIONS, compiled by Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong

Why is this book near and dear? Well, I'll tell you:

1. It's a book of poems! By some amazing poets.

2. Each poem is presented in English AND Spanish!

3. The poems celebrate silly holidays and serious holidays, in a (world)wide range, like Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Gay Pride Day and End of Ramadan and National Braille Literacy Month and National Cookie Day-- no matter who you are or when you pick this book up, it's got something for you.

4. I happen to be a contributor -- my poem "Let's Celebrate the Elephant!" appears in the September section for August 12, World Elephant Day.

 Every classroom (and parent!) needs this book. It celebrates diversity AND it's the perfect book to start out with for the New Year! More on this in a moment. But first, please allow me to share some "official" information:

What is Multicultural Children's Book Day (MCCBD)?

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom
 and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book
Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.

Look for the hashtag#ReadYourWorld on Twitter and other social media!

MCCBD wouldn't be possible without these amazing sponsors!!

Medallion Level Sponsors: 


Multicultural Children’s Book Day also has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.

Teachers! Earn a FREE #Multicultural Kids Book for Your Classroom through MCCBD's  Classroom Reading Challenge!

. This very special offering from MCCBD offers teachers and classrooms the chance to (very easily) earn a free hardcover multicultural children's book for their classroom library. These books are not only donated by the Junior Library Guild, but they are pre-screened and approved by them as well.
end of official business! Now for the perfect poem for today, from the opening pages of THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR CELEBRATIONS. Find additional curriculum connections and picture book pairs at Thank you, Janet and Sylvia, for providing a book of poems so unifying and useful and fun!

New Year is Here
by Kenn Nesbitt

New Year is here!
Let's shout.
Let's cheer!
Yippee! Yahoo!
We start anew.
New dreams to chase.
New goals to face.
New plans to make.
New paths to take.
New skills to learn.
New stars to earn.
New hopes.
New prayers.
new loves.
New cares.
New facts to know.
Can't wait. Let's go!
Let's shout!
Let's cheer!
It's here! New Year!

Love the enthusiasm in this poem! Also, what an easy and fun activity for students... ask them to fill in their answers to the following prompts found in the poem:

Welcome 2016!
New dreams to chase?  participate in the adult strings weekend at Univ. Alabama (I've now been playing the cello for a year!)
New goals to face?   last year I read the Harry Potter series; this year I want to read The Bible, all books by James Herriot, and Bas Bleu's Life Stories Book a Month series
New plans to make?  Key West for Christmas 2016
New paths to take?   sign up for Master Gardener classes in the fall 
New skills to learn?  vibrato on cello
New stars to earn?  totally out of my control, but who knows? The sky is wide!
New hopes?  not new exactly, but yes, somehow new, every single day: to be exactly who I am as often as possible
New prayers? as I enter this season of bringing 2 new books into the world, I am drawn to these words from "For Celebration" by  John O'Donohue: 

"Now is the time to free the heart,
Let all intentions and worries stop, 
Free the joy inside the self, 
Awaken to the wonder of your life."

New loves? oh, yes, keeping myself open and eager for this to reveal itself!
New cares?  hmmmmm... see above
New facts to know? I recently picked up a book at a thrift store called Eloquent Animals. It's about animal communication.
What about you?? Any new hopes, new prayers, new loves, new cares to share?