Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Learning to Paint Sunflowers

One of the things I have loved about our move to the lake has been getting involved with the Lady Lakers. In anticipation of the community work we'll be doing this fall, the group decided to focus on "fun" for the summer. We started with an outing to Two Amigos in Oneonta, where, among other things, I got to know my tablemates a bit better, and Carolyn got to don the sombrero in celebration of her (85th) birthday! Thanks to Connie for sharing the pics.

check out Susan's very large
margarita :)

The Birthday Girl!

Lady Lakers!
We also gathered for a painting class (with delicious finger foods, too, of course), which was a great learning experience for me! We each had 11 x 14 canvases, and we were using acrylics. Judy Ritter served as our instructor for "Dance of the Sunflowers." (you can see the "model" piece at the above link)

see those squiggles?
I learned so much about painting!

1. The focal point of the painting will be where the darkest spot meets the lightest spot.

2. Use A LOT of paint. Be bold, not tentative!

3. Do not mix more than 3 colors - or your results will be "muddy."

4. Adding "squiggles" will add movement to the painting. (I really loved the squiggly parts!)

It was incredible how unique and beautiful everyone's painting was, even though we were imitating the same piece of Judy's work. Not sure if it's a left-handed thing or a "got to be different" thing, but the orientation of our model piece didn't resonate with me, so I turned it upside down and painted mine that way. :)
Carolyn, Irene, Cathryn, Connie, Susan, Allie, Grace

After I got home I decided to work on improving my canvas... I've got no wall space, and it's all about learning, right? So why not?... using paint I had at home, I brought my petals down around the seed pods on each of the smaller blooms. I learned it just didn't pop, because I didn't have the same paint colors! AND THEN... I painted over the entire canvas - a nice soft blue - to try something else. Maybe even another sunflower, I'm not sure yet. I got sidetracked with a fall quilting project. More on that soon! :)

Friday, July 27, 2018

TWO BY TWO by debut author Lisa Lowe Stauffer

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit beautiful Catherine at Reading to the Core for Roundup.

I'm delighted to share with you today a brand new poetic board book that's extra special, because it's a DEBUT! Yay! Congratulations to my fellow SCBWI Breezer and all-around lovely person Lisa Lowe Stauffer for the release of her first children's book.

TWO BY TWO is a board book with illustrations by Angelika Scudamore, brought to us by Zonderkidz, and if I recall, it's been about 8 years in the making! (This book biz is sure not for the give-up type, is it?!)

Here's Lisa responding to a few quick prompts. Welcome, Lisa!

The delicious: Holding an actual book in my hands and knowing my words will be a part of the lives of children.

The difficult: I’ve had an exceptionally slow path to publication. I started writing novels for children 20 years ago, threw myself into poetry at a retreat 8 years ago, wrote this poem 6 years ago, and had the book sell 2 years ago. Having friends who kept encouraging me has made all the difference.

The unexpected: TWO BY TWO is a short poem — 151 words. I was surprised at how nearly everyone along the publication route wanted to jump in to change a word here and there, often without any understanding of why I chose the word(s) I had on the page. 

Lisa at her desk.
And I was surprised at how often I needed to let those words be changed to achieve the book sale. (Not complaining: Many of the changes made it better.) Now, though, when I read TWO BY TWO aloud, I have to peek at certain lines to make sure I’m reading what’s on the page instead of saying what I originally wrote.

Anything else: Having a book that features monkeys gave me an opening to do some social media beyond the usual “buy my book” posts. I took two monkey finger puppets to Greece on a recent vacation. My premise is that the monkeys are taking a vacation before “their” book comes out. For the 40 days leading up to the publication date I’ve posted
2 little monkeys in Greece!
photos of them in Greece on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtags #Monkeys2 and #TwoByTwo. If you’d like to see these, on Twitter I’m at @LisaLStauffer and on Facebook, @AuthorLisaLoweStauffer. I’ll continue posting monkey photos once the book is launched, and take these little guys to readings.

Adorable, right? Those little monkeys seem to be having a pretty good time in Greece. :) So many thanks to Lisa for stopping by. Readers, be sure to share TWO BY TWO with some young readers in your life!

Also: I immediate wanted to get to know these little monkeys better... what are there names? what are they like? What if *I* had two little monkeys? And so I put it in a wee poem. Enjoy!
2 monkey selfie

A Tale of Two Monkeys

If I had two little monkeys
I'd name this Squash and Blossom.
They'd ride to school on my shoulders,
and at recess we'd play It and Possum.

Squash and Blossom would have their own room
where I'd read to them thousands of pages.
I'd plant banana trees for them to feast in,
and never, not once, put them in cages.

If I had a Squash and a Blossom
you'd just about never see me.
I'd disappear in that jungle room for days...
Two little monkeys sure can keep a girl busy!

- Irene Latham

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Learning About AWEtism

While in Chattanooga we ate at
Southern Star restaurant, where we found
inspiring quotes on all the tables!
This past weekend we attended for the 2nd annual Southeast Adult Autism Symposium. It's a day dedicated to the needs of adults with autism and is attended by adults with autism, their families, caregivers, public service groups and anyone interested in learning more and supporting the needs of this special population. Hats off to creator/director Scott Kramer and all the faculty/volunteers who made this a great day!

We attended sessions on employment anxiety and safety for Aspies (who are generally wallflowers and easy to pluck!) and independent living. We learned about resources for adults with autism in Alabama (not much), Georgia (growing) and Tennessee (amazing!). Seriously, I don't think there's a better place in the country for adults with autism to live than in Tennessee.

Here's a link to a favorite resource shared, and I think everyone should read it:
  10 Tips on How to Communicate with Autistic People

Other things we heard about and discussed was learning how to translate the language between NTs (neuro-typicals) and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) individuals. Just like with any other language translations, that takes time. Let's all take that time, shall we? *What looks like an attitude problem is usually a communication issue.*

We heard a lot about self-advocacy and the pros and cons of discloser. We learned about predators of this community and the particular vulnerability of women on the autism spectrum.

And we learned the story of 2 wolves within you. Which one do you feed?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Summer Summer Summer! Poetry

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit the ever-kind and inspiring Heidi at my juicy little universe for Roundup.

I am away from my desk but wanted to pop in with a fun summer something from earlier this week:

little sis and Paul
I was honored and delighted when librarian-friend Paige Bentley-Flannery in Sisters, Oregon asked me to send along a poem for her summer library group to enjoy...  and enjoy they did!

You can read the poem -- which I wrote after my little sister experienced some fear of swimming in the lake... and for Rebecca Herzog, as part of Summer Poem Swap, because Becky likes horror/creepy lit, and this was the best I could do. :) --

and see pics of the activities and art and poetry the kids and Paige created at the ALSC blog.

AND... I will leave you with a lake pic from our son's visit earlier this week:

Eric's sunset swim
Just looking at that pic fills me with peace. Thanks so much for reading!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

HOPE IN THE HOLLER by Lisa Lewis Tyre

Last year at AASL in Phoenix and then later at NCTE in St. Louis, someone mentioned the dearth of books for children that portray families living in poverty.

I thought instantly of HOW TO STEAL A DOG by Barbara O'Connor, because that family is living in a car. It's a wonderful story, full of heart and humor and goodness, as I've come to expect from Ms. O'Connor.

And now I have a new middle grade title to recommend: HOPE IN THE HOLLER (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018) by Lisa Lewis Tyre. Readers, you will love Wavie and the gang. (Samantha Rose? Um... not so much.) This book is one of my faves of 2018!

Sign found in Virginia that inspired
the name of Wavie's home.
Lisa lives in Georgia, so we are in the same region of SCBWI, and our paths have crossed a number of times as we've both pursued our kidlit author dreams. She's smart and kind and lovely. So it doesn't surprise me at all that I love this new offering from Lisa. It's a beautiful book that yes, just happens to be set in a trailer park in what the kids call "Convict Holler" in Kentucky. And today Lisa is here to answer a few quick prompts.

Readers, please welcome Lisa!

The difficult: Believing that I could do it! My first book was done on my time schedule, but HOPE was under contract based on just three finished chapters. I was stressed that I couldn’t get it done. Sleeping was very difficult. I prayed a LOT.

The delicious: I’ve had such lovely feedback from readers, and nice reviews (2 starred). The School Library Journal review took my breath away - definitely delicious.  You never know how readers are going to feel about your work so hearing from people that they enjoyed it, or that it touched them means so much.

Lisa touching a $70 MILLION
 horse in Kentucky!
The unexpected: I didn’t know Kentucky well, even though I’m from right across the border in Tennessee and lived there briefly while in 1st grade. What a beautiful state! I have fallen head over heels with it. I’m so happy I used the small towns and hollers as inspiration for my setting.

Anything else: I’m an adoptive mom; I’ve been a foster-mom. It was wonderful to enter Wavie’s world and explore the different ways we become family and the hopes of mothers for their children.
Big thanks to Lisa for stopping by -- and for delivering this beauty of a book to the world. Don't miss it! xo

Friday, July 13, 2018

Racism in Children's Poetry

not the version, I got --
mine is the 1961
"Platt &  Munk Classic"
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Sylvia at Poetry for Children for Roundup. I look forward to reading everyone's posts today!

Last month when I was in Memphis, we shopped at a used/new bookshop called Burke's Books, and I brought home a beautifully illustrated version of A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES by Robert Louis Stevenson.

This is not a book I recall from my childhood, but I do know a few of Stevenson's poems, like "My Shadow" and "The Swing."

Many of the poems are simple and delightful, like one I will share below called "Summer Sun." But there are other not-so-sweet poems, like "Foreign Children," which is flat-out racist. The poem is bookended with this stanza:

"Little Indian, Sioux or Crow,
Little frosty Eskimo,
Little Turk or Japanee,
O! don't you wish that you were me?"

The middle of the poem talks about how these "other" children live, and how

"Such a life is very fine,
But it's not so nice as mine:"

So NOT the message we want to send any child!

It reminds me of the recent name change of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. I grew up on the Little House books and love them to this day. BUT. These books require some discussion with today's reader -- a discussion that might include ways these attitudes are wrong and how this kind of language is inappropriate and also how the fact that we are aware now of its wrongness and inappropriateness shows how far we've come as a society.

Also, part of the discussion might be in how to "take what you like and leave the rest." How can we still honor/support/love these authors and/or their works in spite of these things? For I will always love the Little House books. I will still recommend them to others. Just as I will recommend Robert Louis Stevenson's "My Shadow."

But now I feel I need to say more -- and I will, as I am doing here today. No one need wish s/he were anyone but exactly him or herself. People live DIFFERENT lives, not better or worse. All humans are equal and should be treated as the valuable, precious gifts that they are.

It helps me to look at these people and their words as historical artifacts. We can learn something from them. We can learn about ourselves.

And now, on a happier note, the aforementioned lovely "Summer Sun:"

Summer Sun
 by Robert Louis Stevenson

Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven without repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays

Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlor cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through.

The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles,
Into the laddered hayloft smiles.

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy's inmost nook.

Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes.

Thanks so much for reading!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


 Last week Paul and I took a quick jaunt down to Camden and Gee's Bend for a program arranged by Alabama Folklife Association. It was great to get away! We especially enjoyed visiting one of my favorite shops ever: Black Belt Treasures, where there are lots of quilts and other folk art created by Black Belt artisans.

I also got to take Paul to Gainesridge Dinner Club, where you can enjoy black bottom pie, which is listed as one of the 100 Things to Eat Before you Die. (We also had key lime pie, and Paul said it was the best he's ever had!)

selfie in front of Gainesridge

 In the morning we drove over to Gee's Bend -- drove over, because the ferry is currently closed as it's being converted to all electric. Y'all, this is a big deal! When it's completed in August, it will be one of only 2 all-electric ferries in the world! I can't wait to come back and ride it. :)

The workshop was held at the Gee's Bend ferry terminal, and while I have been there a number of times, I never noticed in the yard parked an older version of the ferry! How have I missed this?! It's not the chain ferry from LEAVING GEE'S BEND, but it's close.

 The workshop was conducted by Tinnie and Minnie Pettway (sisters!) of That's Sew Gee's Bend, who helped us make potholders in the Gee's Bend style. Tinnie was the very first quilter I got to know in Gee's Bend, so it was a great pleasure to see her again.

 But the best part? Watching Paul put in his very first stitches on his own potholder! Minnie came over and got Paul set up, and then he went to town. I was super impressed with his tight, even stitches... especially as I opted for machine stitching both for the piecing and the quilting. Not Paul! He did it old-school. Fun!

On our way out, we stopped in at Mary Margaret Pettway's house where Marlene had her quilts out in glorious display. She told us stories behind many of the quilts, and we walked away with this one:
 Don't you love the bright pinks and blues? Also, you can't tell from the pic, but the brown fabric is actually a velvet, so it's got a lovely texture. We love it!

Finally, here's a pic of the potholder I made. I got the award for finishing first. Ha! (There's a reason our son Andrew calls me Speedy Irene-y. :)

I'll be going back to Camden/Gee's Bend later this year, just as soon as the great Mary Ann Pettway has completed the quilt I've commissioned... and maybe to talk with a book club that's reading LEAVING GEE'S BEND. I can't wait!

Monday, July 9, 2018


This past weekend we watched GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, not to be confused with CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (with Ewan McGregor) coming from Disney next month.

This film centers on A.A. Milne and how he came to create Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh and all the fine friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. It depicts him as suffering from PTSD after serving in WWI, in a marriage with Daphne, who in one moment is essential in pushing him forward in his writing, and in the next abandoning him and their son, the real Christopher Robin, whom they called "Billy Moon."

For starters, I did not know Christopher Robin was based on Milne's son. I also didn't really understand the context of the books, and how important they were as a source of happiness and healing after the War. England NEEDED Winnie the Pooh!

And the movie kind of broke my heart. I have to know now how much of it is true, because I was completely sucked into Billy Moon's world, his heartache, and how what started out as innocent father-son playtime in the woods turned into interviews and appearances and FAME. Unwanted fame, for Billy. What he wanted was time with his father, and his mother -- and they were mostly absent. Thank goodness for Nou, his nanny, who seems to have been the anchor in Billy's life. I can't wait to learn more!

I'm also very curious now to see how Disney handles Christopher Robin in this new movie coming in August. How much of the movie is real, how much invented? I'm excited to find out!

Finally, I'd like to share the poem that first made A.A. Milne famous: "Vespers." According to the movie, it was his wife who sent it in for publication.

by A.A. Milne

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

God bless Mummy. I know that's right.
Wasn't it fun in the bath to-night?
The cold's so cold, and the hot's so hot.
Oh! God bless Daddy - I quite forgot.

If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny's dressing-gown on the door.
It's a beautiful blue, but it hasn't a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.

Mine has a hood, and I lie in bed,
And pull the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes, and I curl up small,
And nobody knows that I'm there at all.

Oh! Thank you, God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said "Bless Daddy," so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember it. God bless Me.

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Lost Words

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for Roundup.
I am away from my desk yet again (O, Summer!), but I wanted to share with you two things:

1. a podcast with me and Charles Waters and  Matthew C. Winner, where we talk the writing process and CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Matthew was a fun host with great questions... lots to love here.

2. a gorgeous book of poems I've recently discovered: THE LOST WORDS by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (House of Anansi, 2017). I learned about this book in an article in which one of my literary heroes Geraldine McCaughrean (who wrote THE WHITE DARKNESS) was talking about how kids are smart, and they deserve rich language in children's literature. The book she cited as an example? THE LOST WORDS. So right away I secured myself a copy. (It's published in the UK, not US, but you can find used copies online.)

Here's the publisher's description of the book:
In 2007, when a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary -- widely used in schools around the world -- was published, a sharp-eyed reader soon noticed that around forty common words concerning nature had been dropped. Apparently they were no longer being used enough by children to merit their place in the dictionary. The list of these "lost words" included acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow. Among the words taking their place were attachment, blog, broadband, bullet-point, cut-and-paste, and voice-mail. The news of these substitutions -- the outdoor and natural being displaced by the indoor and virtual -- became seen by many as a powerful sign of the growing gulf between childhood and the natural world.
Ten years later, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris set out to make a "spell book" that will conjure back twenty of these lost words, and the beings they name, from acorn to wren. By the magic of word and paint, they sought to summon these words again into the voices, stories, and dreams of children and adults alike, and to celebrate the wonder and importance of everyday nature. The Lost Words is that book -- a work that has already cast its extraordinary spell on hundreds of thousands of people and begun a grass-roots movement to re-wild childhood across Britain, Europe, and North America.

And oh boy, what a treat this book is! Rich language? YES. The book is oversized for one, and there was no skimping on the art, that's for sure. The poems are all about wildlife of one kind or another, and they are presented in alphabetical order. All of the poems are a variation on the acrostic: instead of the first letter of each line spelling out the poem's subject, the first letter of each stanza does that. Which allows the poet a great deal more freedom! I have never been a fan of acrostic poems, but these I do like, very much! Here are two favorite examples:


I am ivy, a real high-flyer.

Via bark and stone I scale tree and spire.

You call me ground-cover; I say sky-wire.

An example of a poem that has changed the way I look at ivy... forever!


Kingfisher: the colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker,
  river's quiver.

Ink-black bill, orange throat, and a quick blue
   back-gleaming feather-stream.

Neat and still it sits on the snag of a stick, until with . . .

Gold-flare, wing-fan, whipcrack the kingfisher -
   zingfisher, singfisher! -

Flashes down too fast to follow, quick and quicker
   carves its hollow

In the water, slings its arrow superswift to swallow

Stickleback or shrimp or minnow.

Halcyon is its other name - also ripple-calmer,

Evening angler, weather-teller, rainbringer and

Rainbow bird - that sets the stream alight with burn
and glitter!

I mean, what a glittery poem for a glitterbird! Such a celebration of language, and of the bird, too.

And just for fun, I decided to write a poem in this style, about the skunk my husband photographed last week:


Stealthy as moonlight (and as predictable),
    you saunter past blackberry brambles,
    all regal swagger and peaceful gaze -- you, O

Keeper of night --
    you wear your stripe like a scar,
    just part of who you are.

Unfazed by fox, you rough your fluff,
    release a warning scent
    before lifting your tail in a blaze of battle . . .

No need to spray when wily fox turns tail,
    leaps to safety (anything to avoid being musked)
    while you forage for frogs and mushrooms.

Kingdom of kudzu awaits your return,
    soon welcomes you back to greentree hollow
    where you curl into a furrow to nap away daylight hours.

- Irene Latham

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Middle Me This

Hello and Happy Spiritual Journey Thursday! Today we are gathering at Dori Reads to share "midpoint musings" for this year that's nearly half over. (!)

Before we get to that, I blogged earlier this week at Smack Dab in the Middle about a writing habit I've freed myself from in a post titled Writers, Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. Wanted to be sure and share with all of you, as it certainly has to do with my Spiritual Journey!

For me the year 2018 has been a ripe blueberry: we moved Dec. 31, so for the entire year so far we've been adjusting to our new place -- learning where to go to the dentist and how long it takes to get to the library and all the quirky things about our house.

We shepherded our baby boy through his final months of high school and sent him on his way to his summer camp job, leaving us empty-nesters.

quilted bear discovered
at Springville Preservation
Society's antique toy display
We've been exploring our area, visiting the tiny museums and shops in nearby towns, looking for stories, and smiling as stories have found us!

We attended a family wedding and had houseguests. We tried three different homemade ice cream recipes and found our favorite.

I traveled quite a lot for CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?, and I've written (and sold!) two new books. So, lots of happenings, lots of joy, and some growing pains, too. Life.

Behold: skunk!
In terms of my 2018 One Little Word BEHOLD, oh my, has there been beauty to behold! I'm amazed and delighted about how much our conversation and days revolve around wildlife: bald eagles, birds at our feeder, squirrels, skunks, dragonflies, fish, wildflowers.

Also, mice: we apparently have an attic-full, so each night we put out the mouse cube, and each morning we meet our caught-mouse and marvel at each one's distinct personality (which becomes evident as we release them into the woods -- some freeze, some hit the ground running, some dart-hide, dart-hide before disappearing).

Truly, life is good!

stained glass at the church
where my niece was married
As for my expectations for the second half of the year, the calendar seems to be peppered with a number of short trips -- some related to books and authordom, others simple (and not so simple) adventures with family. And more of the same, I think: walks and nature and writing and beholding and reading and discovering.

Cheers to life in the middle (and the muddle!). Excited to read all of your offerings. xo

Monday, July 2, 2018

Meeting Mrs. Vandenberg

Reed Books (Birmingham, AL)
When Charles Waters wanted to name the teacher in our book CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? after a special real-life teacher, I was delighted! Teachers are heroes and should be celebrated. I was also delighted to connect with Becky (aka Mrs. Vandenberg) on Twitter and learn all the ways she's impacted Charles' (and others!) life. It never occurred to me that I might someday get to actually *meet* her.

But that's exactly what happened! It was my good fortune that a wedding brought Becky and her family to Birmingham last week, so after they visited the Civil Rights Museum, we met up at one of my most favorite Birmingham spots: Reed Books and Museum of Fond Memories, curated by my dear friend Jim Reed.

not "just" a bookstore... so much stuff!

so many books, so little time...

Becky and her family immediately shared my love of Reed Books, and I'm so grateful to Becky's son for taking these gorgeous bookstore pics with his fancy camera -- including this one:

Mrs. Vandenberg and Me

... and one final shot of Reed Books to savor, because Jim will be moving the store soon... 

yes, all these books will have to be moved! Wow.