Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Things to Do with Teens in L.A.

This past spring we traveled with our younger sons, ages 16 and 19, to L.A. We went mainly to introduce the city to our rapper/producer/engineer/drummer/percussionist, who imagines his musical life may someday take him to that shiny place. And maybe it will.

But.  Perhaps the best thing that came out of the trip was his discovery that L.A. may be shiny, but as a place of residence, it doesn't suit him -- he said it was too big, too crazy, too hard to get around. (We spent A LOT of time in the car.) Maybe the music scene in Nashville will be a better fit? We'll see.

Meanwhile, we we did do some really cool things in L.A. that both sons enjoyed, so I am happy to share them with you here!

I know, this looks like a place for old folks. And yes, the salads cost $30 each. But the ambience is all Hollywood, and who knows who you might see? (We saw George Hamilton of the perpetual tan there on a trip a few years back, but no one this trip.) The guys said they really felt like we were on vacation. Get the sundae for the dessert.

What fun to journey through the history of music! Lots of hands-on, listening experiences, and booths for every phase of music production. Plus, you get to hold an actual Grammy!

me and Paul at Central Perk!
(Years ago we went to a live taping of a FRIENDS episode... fun!)
I really can't believe how much fun this place was. Harry Potter collections and Ellen's soundstage, and the giant warehouses where they store all the props... we took more pictures here than any other place we visited. Plus I think Eric wants to work there now. :)

This pic isn't from the show, but from one of the junk shops
 near Grauman's Chinese Theatre. (We also shopped
at a few thrift stores around town, which was also fun!)

We saw a "Cooking with Gas" show, and it was hysterical! We still talk about one of the bits that came out of that show... definitely a highlight of our trip.

We made this a priority because my father said it was one of his favorite places in the area. He loved the landscape and the history and the man... and I must say, it was especially fun during an election year -- nice balance of fact and beauty... not everyday you get to board Air Force One.

Actually, we did go to Santa Monica, and it's great for people watching... but SO MANY PEOPLE! We all loved our time at El Matador way more.

  • Get in line for the best hotdog you will ever eat at Pink's Hot Dog stand.

All the dogs are named after famous people -- and they're all good! (At least the ones we had were good!) Super fun!

We also spent one of our mornings on a lovely hike with dear friend April Halprin Wayland and her dog Eli. Lucky us!
Eli and the Pacific Ocean

Monday, June 27, 2016

LOVE THAT BOY by Ron Fournier

On a road trip this past spring, Paul and I listened to LOVE THAT BOY: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips and My So Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations by Ron Fournier. 

The book is for all parents, but it particularly centers on the author's reaction to his son Tyler's late (age 12) diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. Which is why Paul and I couldn't wait to read it: we, too, have a son (Andrew) who got a late (age 17) diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. (Andrew gave me his blessing to write this blog post.)

In fact, our stories are eerily similar. Here's an excerpt from the book that we could have written (except for the names and the job, of course!):

"All good things in my life start with Lori, including the story behind this story. Tyler was 12 years old and I was consumed by the 2010 congressional elections when Lori became hooked on a new NBC drama called Parenthood. It featured a large and loving extended family of Bravermans, including a boy named Max who had Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of Autism. Max frequently lost his temper, rarely made friends, and fixated on insects. His parents, Adam and Kristina, ricocheted between pride and fear. While they recognized max was gifted in his own ways – he was brilliant and preternaturally genuine – they couldn't escape the fact that he was a social misfit.

From the first episode, Lori recognized Tyler in Max – and cried. While our son's issues weren't as severe as Max's, Lori now realized that Tyler's social awkwardness was more than a phase. He wasn't just quirky. His fixations weren't just cute; they were a clue. His grades had fallen. Classmates teased him. He had no friends except for boys on the block, who didn't play with Tyler as much as they tolerated him. Lori thought, He's not going to outgrow it. She watched three more episodes by herself, not wanting to share her fears with me, because I might confirm them. Instead, she kept telling herself, I don't want him to be autistic."

Yes, after years of anxiety and anger and confusion, during which our son attended six different schools and two separate rounds of homeschooling, after talks with principals and teachers and parents who never once suggested Asperger's, and sleepless nights and teary phone calls and worry, indecision, fear...we discovered through a TV show what was going on with our son.

It makes me cry, still, when I think of it. So much grief for what we could have done had we known -- mostly, I think, we wouldn't have been so hard on ourselves, or on him. We found such relief in a diagnosis -- finally, a word to pin it on! We're not alone! Our son wasn't being willful all those times, he's just wired differently!

I also love this passage in the book:

"Why did it take so long? The most benign explanation is that Asperger's is easy to overlook because Aspies are so well-spoken and intelligent, according to [Temple] Grandin and other experts, especially when it comes to their favorite subjects.

Another excuse: We were enchanted. You've heard the expression “Kids say the darnedest things.” They all do. But kids with Tyler's particular wiring are uniquely bright and expressive, which makes them hypnotizing."

That's Andrew. And we're still enchanted!

In specific terms, I'm not sure Andrew's life would have looked much different if we'd known sooner. We we very proactive in helping him find tools to deal with his life in as positive a way as possible. For a family without a diagnosis, I think we did a lot of good things. But. I still wish I'd known when he was a toddler. I wish I'd had that word "Asperger's." Those years would have been more peaceful.

As for Andrew, the a-ha moment came for him after watching the play THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE NIGHT-TIME on Broadway. He recognized himself in that play and ever since has referred to himself as a happy Aspie. He still struggles with things like social situations and reading body cues, and he is largely a loner. But don't we ALL struggle with something? He's smart and kind and witty and steady and dependable. He's precious, is what he is. As all kids are, whether they meet our expectations or not.

And that's really the point of this book. Here's a final quote for you:

"From their first breath – if not sooner – our dreams for our children are at least in the ball park of perfect, because great grades, championship trophies, lots of friends, and professional success lead to happiness, right?

Actually, no. When a parent's expectations come form the wrong place and are pressed into service of the wrong goals, kids get hurt."

The best thing we can do for our kids -- and anyone -- is love them just exactly the way they are. 

If you're a parent or know a parent -- read this book.

Friday, June 24, 2016

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for all Seasons by Julie Fogliano

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! I am busy with the Buttercups, but I invite you to visit Diane at Random Noodling for Roundup. Also, dear Jan has posted a fun little interview at Bookseedstudio for those who might want to know a little more about me and my poetry books. I'm so grateful, Jan, to know you and call you friend!

Here at Live Your Poem I've been savoring WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illustrations byJulie Morstad. Please find below a sample poem from each season. Note the child-like sense of wonder in these poems as well as the e.e. cummings lack of capital letters and punctuation, What fun for sharing with young readers!

march 24

what the snow left behind
was a red scarf
next to a wooden carrot
one blue mitten
a big snow shovel
a little snow shovel
and mud
and mud
and mud
and more mud
and muddy mud
and mud

july 28

if you ever stopped
to taste a blueberry
you would know
that it's not really about the blue, at all

september 22

i still love you sunshine and swimming and sea
and strawberries, you know that i do
but i'm ready to move on
to something that's new
so now, i am waiting for sweaters

january 30

it is the best kind of day
when it is snowing
and the house
sounds like slippers
and sipping
and there is nowhere to go
but the kitchen
for a cookie

copyright Julie Fogliano


Aren't those wonderful?! Happy Tomato Season, everyone. xo

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Buttercups are Here!

Yes, it is that time of year again... Camp Buttercup: for Brave & Creative Girls!

We are busy adventuring, but I did want to share our traditional welcome-on-the-porch picture:

Anna, BrenLeigh, MadiLynn

and some quilt-ish chalk art:

More to come! Meanwhile, happy adventuring to all of you!

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Default Setting

In spite of everything, there is one song in this world that I will often find myself humming: the Christmas hymn "Joy to the World."

 What's YOUR default setting?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rooted by Thirst by Tina Mozelle Braziel

Hello and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Carol at Carol's Corner for Roundup. I've been in that grief time warp this week, missing my father, which makes me especially delighted to have a visitor today -- poet Tina Mozelle Braziel who is here to share with us her brand-new (first!) chapbook ROOTED BY THIRST, delivered to the world by the good folks at Porkbelly Press:

Tina has graciously given me permission to share one of my favorite poems from the collection here, with all of you. Thank you, Tina! AND: I'm giving away a copy. Simply leave a comment by Tuesday, June 21, and Maggie our cat will select a winner!
To Shake Another 
by Tina Mozelle Braziel
When heat visibly wavers over our truck hood,
we feel like puddles, our skin as thin as a frog's.

From the broom sage, the rattle of katydids
ripples through us. I first felt sound in grade school

when a struck tuning fork touched another. Its quaver
shook the other fork into its own humming. Evenings then,

when pines shivered with the chirr of peepers, I wondered
how frogs carry quivering metal inside their tenderness.

Today pressing my cheek to our house frame, I hammer
listening to how all the driven nails resound. Each strike

deepens the note ringing out from here to beyond
the ridge. In it, I feel the reverberation of hammer,

anvil, and stirrup of when he first called my name
setting all of me, what is tender and mettle, abuzz.
And now, here's Tina, responding to some simple prompts:

The Difficult:
Finishing poems is always difficult to me. I find that final revisions are tough to fathom, on the one hand. And on the other, I feel the urge to keep revising, to linger in the space of the poem I’m writing for a while longer. So I swing between those two states, wanting to stay or trying to get out. Putting poems in print doesn’t seem to solve my dilemma since I’ve already revised a poem or two in this collection.
The Delicious:
My first inclination is to talk about how much I enjoy building and living in our house. In our case, building means that my husband and I do the hammering and the heavy lifting. And “living in it as we build it” means we still need to lay floors, plumb the place, and put in cabinets. But you are asking me about poetry instead of life. Yet that is what I savor most about these poems, how entwined they are with how I’m living. I also enjoy how building a house and home feeds my poetry, one creative act nourishing the other.
Emerson claims that “Colleges and books only copy the language which the field and the work-yard made.” That rings true to me, especially when I discover words like “rock-bar” and “squarings” that feel so invigorating. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the term “sistering” which means nailing one board against another for additional strength. Such concepts and words recalibrate my perspective of what makes a home, what it means to claim a place as our own. And that feeds my writing.
We plan to burn lines of poetry into walls of our house. It’s a plan inspired by seeing the lines Robinson Jeffers inscribed on the walls of Tor House, the home he built in Carmel, California, back when the coast at Carmel was mostly wild. My husband has already chosen a few from this collection for our walls. I love that some words inspired by the house will become part of it.
The Unexpected:
I come from a working class background which is something I always strive to honor in my poetry. Now it feels even more significant that many of my family members are or were builders of one sort or another. My father is a construction worker / bridge builder as was his father and brothers. My husband’s father built the house he grew up in. My grandfather was a brick mason. He and my grandmother built a house together in Pell City. Like us, they moved in before it was completed and continued to build. But I didn’t learn that Mozelle, my grandmother, helped with the construction of their house until we began to build ours. It was then that my family started making comments that I wasn’t named “Mozelle” for nothing (I am named after her), something they had been prone to say when I quilted or knitted. Learning that bit of family history was unexpected as well as the feeling I am now more closely linked to a family tradition. When I was a kid, my father’s mother would claim that her sons and husband’s “shop talk” were building so many bridges she couldn’t make it through the living room. I am now the tom-boy who has grown up, joining the men in this talk and work. The tangibility of it, how those words become a built thing, prods me to make my poetry to do that as well. That’s unexpected too—“shop talk” challenging poetry to do more and be more real.
Something More:

I’ll soon finish a book-length manuscript about homebuilding, more poems about the house we are building, some about the house my grandmother helped build, poems about what develops or challenges a sense of home and what it means to be from and of a place. Our relationship to the natural world is something I keep turning over, examining from different perspectives. I’m writing non-fiction essays about our land and how we use it. Even though I was once an avid rock-climber and caver, I spend more time outside now than I ever had before. The house requires as well as provides this connection. We live down a dirt road, out of sight from our neighbors. Most of our walls are glass. So even when we are inside, the outside is with us. We heat our house with wood cut from our property or from our neighbors’. Not only do we spend time outside cutting and hauling wood, but we also appreciate the woods in a new ways. For example, my love of dogwood trees has grown since I’ve become familiar with how hot and fast its wood burns. We don’t cut them for firewood until they die of natural causes—our goal is to create a grove of dogwoods by cutting away the other trees and giving the dogwoods the light and room to flourish. I understand why the grove of dogwood that William Bartram found in Alabama were destroyed. Dogwood is great firewood.   
Tina Mozelle Braziel, a graduate of the University of Oregon MFA program in poetry, directs the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her poetry has or will appear in The Cincinnati Review, Southern Humanities Review, Tampa Review, and other journals. Her chapbook, Rooted by Thirst, was published by Porkbelly Press. She and her husband, novelist James Braziel, live and write in a glass cabin that they are building on Hydrangea Ridge.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Last Book

Thank you to all you wonderful folks who have reached out during this time of grieving. My father died last Wednesday, June 8, in Bismarck, ND. You can read the obituary here. I have about a zillion poems swimming in my head -- mostly I am just trying to take everything slowly and feel it all. It's hard.

One of the things I learned is that the last book Papa was reading was by Never Go Back by Lee Child. (Jack Reacher #18) His bookmark rested on pages 194/195. And he was using a bookmark I'd sent him! (Those who read this blog or who have heard me speak know that my father, for most of his life, has read, on average, a book a day. One of the things I brought home with me was his book catalog/diary. It contains all the titles he's ever read! Talk about a treasure!)

There were so many difficult moments, but there were some wonderful ones, too. Through it all, I tried to keep in mind these words from my father himself, which we had printed on the memorial service program:

“There is so much in life to be savored. But, first, it’s got to be noticed. Won’t you join me today in making a sincere personal commitment to remember to notice the blessings in life and to absolutely devour and savor each one?”
- Ken Dykes

These two poems were also part of the service:

The best part was being with family. Me and two of my siblings shared a hotel room. We convened with other loved ones in town: our stepmother and stepbrother and another brother and his girlfriend and so many fine folks who worked with or were friends with Papa during his 9 years in Bismarck, North Dakota. We shared a lot of meals and a lot of tears. Old wounds began to scab over. We laughed as we remembered the unique and precious person our father was. He gave us the greatest gift you can give another - LOVE. I'm so grateful.
after the ceremony of celebration for Papa's life

For the past several years my father and I have had a daily phone habit. Mostly I called him, and we would share about our day. I learned so much about him this way, and I felt so close to him. My emptiest moments have come when I pick up my phone and realize he's not there anymore to answer.

But he's with me. He's with all of us. This I know. And he was the biggest champion of my writing, bar none. And so I will write through this and about this and then write some more. I don't think I knew this until this moment, but all my words are somehow for him.

I'll do my best, which is all he ever asked of me.

Thank you again for being with me on this journey. It means a lot. xo

Friday, June 10, 2016

It's a Fresh Delicious Art & Poetry Show: Meet Barb Faust & Young Learners in Room 128 A!

Buttons! Love!
Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit dedicated poet and educator Carol at Beyond Literacy Link for Roundup. (And a favor, PF friends: would someone please add this post to the link up? I am in the middle of difficult things and would be so so grateful!) 

And now, I am so so happy to introduce to you wonderful soul and teacher Barbara Faust and the artists of Room 128 A

Watermelon-sized thanks to one Amy Ludwig Vanderwater for introducing us! Among so many other things, Amy is a connector. She generous and kind. And she knows everyone! Mwah! Thank you, Amy.

And now.... take it away, Barb!

"Hi Everyone!  I am very excited to a guest on Irene’s blog thanks to her generous invitation after an introduction by our mutual friend, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater  creator of another wonderful website, The Poem Farm.  Thank you, Irene and thank you Amy for introducing us!

Springtime in Buffalo in a pre-k classroom means creating art for two special occasions—Mother’s Day of course and the Pre-k Art Show.  Every year each Pre-k class in Buffalo creates original artwork that hangs in Buffalo’s City Hall for the month of May.   Each year I look for something not only original but meaningful for the children in my Montessori classroom to make—but what this year? Farmer’s Markets and food are an important part of our school and the Buffalo culture.  When I found Fresh Delicious on the Poem Farm website I purchased it immediately.  The children have been learning to recite “Tomato” and “Strawberry Jamboree” from Irene’s book.  One morning as I watched the 3, 4 and 5 year olds in my class recite “Tomatoes” I knew—Irene’s poetry was the inspiration for our Art Show poster.

WOW! What a smorgasbord of poetry and art!

I brought strawberries in one day, then tomatoes and finally cucumbers.  On the first day with each fruit we passed it around, touched it, smelled it and I took down the words the children said.
an angel! inside a TOMATO!
Then I cut the fruit in half in front of them passed it around cut and continued taking down the words the children said knowing poems would appear.  You can imagine how it feels to hear a kindergartner notice “an angel when you make it in the snow” lying right inside of a cut tomato.  Or a three-year-old see “jingle bell lights like Santa” travel along the edges of a cut strawberry.

Jingle bell lights! Ho Ho Ho!
"After this oral writing the children have a variety of options.  They can choose to draw, paint or photograph the fruit available.  When their work is finished—the words and the visual arts,  I match the poems with the photos and mount them on the poster for City Hall with a thank you to Irene for her inspiration.  In the photos you see some of their work matched with their poems.  You can also see a photo I took  [see below] of two of our kindergartners at work making art—one observer—one photographer who has arranged her shot of the inside of the strawberries that will become part of the poster. What I really love is the joy that making art paints on their faces.

This year we have begun to perform our poems more often while standing in our classroom. The children have memorized everything from Langston Hughes’  “My People” to Irene’s Fresh Delicious work.  In these early spring mornings, our room flooded with light I watch eighteen children drawing circles in the air and throwing an imaginary baseball as they recite Irene’s “Tomatoes” and see the same joy on their faces as I see in the photo of the kindergartners creating their own photographs.


Thank you again, Irene for the opportunity to share their joy and their work and to Amy LV for our introduction."
Oh, to be a child in Barb Faust's classroom! What joy! And to be a poet whose words are being feasted upon in this way... I'm honored and humbled and completely inspired. Thank YOU, Barb, and these amazing young poet-artists! Happy summer to all!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

One Little Word: PAPA

Papa & me, March 17, 2016
Those of you who follow this blog know that my father in faraway Bismarck, ND has battled numerous health issues over the past eight years, including multiple cancers.

A few weeks ago he fell and broke his hip. Initially his Florida cracker spirit shone through it all -- he was going to beat this thing, just watch him!

Since then he's been hospitalized where he's had good days and bad ones.

Over the past few days his body has grown weary of fighting -- and my heart is broken. It's so hard to say goodbye. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

Also: I prepared a post last week that is scheduled to publish on June 10 Poetry Friday. It's a very special guest post by a very special teacher and her young poet-artists. I hope you enjoy it, and I will be back when I am able.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Movie Monday: ME BEFORE YOU

Hi there. Yes, it's me, back after a wonderful week in Nashville with Paul, where we had all sorts of adventures while our son participated in Grammy Camp.

What an amazing experience Grammy Camp was for him! Great folks, great music... more on this soon. Meanwhile, here's an article about Eric and his music and Grammy Camp!

One of the things Paul and I did in the hours between checking our of our place and the end-of-camp Open House and performance, was see ME BEFORE YOU.

After reading less-than-stellar review, we talked briefly about seeing a different movie, but no, this is the one I wanted to see. So we went!

And... I loved it. Yes, it was melodramatic. I cried more than once. But who cares when there's a character like Louisa Clark played by oh-so-charming Emilia Clarke? That phrase "lights up a room" comes to mind.

While I have enjoyed several of Jojo Moyes' novels, I haven't read ME BEFORE YOU, so I enjoyed watching the movie unfold. I also enjoyed listening in the bathroom after the movie to what some women who HAD read the book had to say. :) Yes, I will be reading the novel now for sure!

I'm not going to write about what the movie's about because if you've seen the trailer, you already know. Suffice it to say it's an impossible love story with a Big Topic and loveable characters in which everything doesn't turn out the way we want, but it is what it is, and really, Lou's father Bernard (played by Brendan Coyle), who will always be Mr. Bates (DOWNTON ABBEY) to me, summed it up best: we have to let people be who they are.

So: put on some bumblebee tights and go see it! Bring tissues.

In case you were wondering: my favorite Jojo Moyes novel to date: THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER. What a story! Love.