Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Poem for Halloween

OK, maybe I'm missing the fun of being a teacher on Halloween. At the school(s) where I worked, we always dressed in costume. One year we wore old bridesmaids dresses and paraded around on stage. Even the one male teacher dressed for the occasion, I think in a tuxedo. Then there was the year we all masqueraded as fairy tale characters.  Costumes are not my thing but I loved seeing what everyone showed up in.  I do know how to sew and attempted a few witch capes and a devil suit once, but that wasn't why I loved Halloween. I loved the great kids' books about Halloween. If I were reading to kids on this Halloween, I'd give Michael Rex's new book GOODNIGHT GOON a try.

Or maybe this poem, perfect for today. Read the rest at the Poetry for Children blog.

by Jane Yolen

We should have known when we tasted the eaves,
Breaking them off like toffee
And cramming them into our mouths.
And the dear little windows, the color of coffee,
And chocolate doorknobs,
And windowpanes striped with mint...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trip Food

Writers need to pay attention to detail, right? So, after listening to the same songs on the radio and admiring the fall color, what do you do when driving through NC, SC and GA for almost 10 hours straight? 

I took notes on what food groups were available at the Stuckeys and other food marts at the grocery stores along the way.

Here's what I didn't eat- but was tempted.

Little bags of peanuts to put in my coke (something my mother did, fond memories)
Pork Rinds (never liked them, still don't)
Vienna Sausages (ditto)
Beanee Weanees (double ditto)

Here's what I did eat:
Diet Dr. Pepper
GA Pig barbeque (a great place in Brunswick, GA where you can sit outside and enjoy a pulled pork sandwich with slaw and beans- yum!)

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Jersey in my Rear View Mirror

Lots of "lasts" this week. Last lunch of this season with Critique Group at the Summit Diner. Lee says best hamburgers in town, and I have to agree. Last dinner for a while, at a favorite Italian place. Was it serendipity that the special salad was FIG and mango?

So, here's what we really saw driving out of town:

(just so happens that Coviello's is where I discovered the nice gardener with 37 fig trees in his back yard, but that's another story).

Sunny, bright day as we hit the road for day 1 - a 10-hour drive towards St. Petersburg.
A little known fact: Jersey Girls Don't Pump Gas (it's actually against the law in NJ for anybody to pump their own gas). So here we are on the NJ Turnpike, getting gas pumped for the last time in a while.

Drove through lots of beautiful leaves! I do love fall leaves (as previously mentioned in another fall blog). I took a ton of pictures, mostly from inside the car speeding along I-95, so Leslie shared her fabulous picture of Mt. Lake, NJ. But that's exactly what we saw on our drive. Red, orange, yellow in so many hues it took my breath away. I was trying to get my fill as I know what's in my future: palm trees!

Next stop: St. Petersburg, FL...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Skirt Under the Covers

OK. Don't let that title alarm you.
I'm just sharing that some of the Skirt! Magazine book groups I edit are now available online. Click here and here to read a couple. My friend Barbara, who has not only written about her couples group for the magazine but has led me to her cousin Beth's group, her mother-in-law Peg's group and niece Anne's group, found the links.

I'm always looking for new book clubs to feature in my Under the Covers column. Skirt's a lot of fun to read and write for, so send them my way! Contributors receive a small check and your name in print.

It was only after writing this post that I discovered how timely it is. Who knew- October is National Reading Group Month. Whew. Almost missed that one. Happy Reading to all!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Names, again, 2008 trends

For obvious reasons, names fascinate me. (I've been asked more than once if my own name is a pseudonym...) You never know when you'll need a character named Narcissus or Rivers or Big Timmy or Lil'bit, so I keep those names handy. And I also collect place names. Can't wait to use Swallowwater, TX as a setting!

One thing my sage writer friend Leslie taught me was to match the name with the "person." And not just personality-wise. Think about when the character lived, and where.

So I'm always intrigued to read what the latest trends in naming babies might be. Click here to read all about it-- Baby Naming for the current year. Short names like Ty and Dax are in because they are easy for texters and e-mailers to type? An interesting theory.
Another trend-- naming babies after presidents. And I thought I was being unique when I named two kids in a story after a president and a president's wife. Though it did seem like Mamie was the perfect name for that little girl in my story.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

I'm delighted to be a new member of this blog of Southern writers. Thanks to my friend Kerry Madden, a regular blogger there, my first entry has been posted. Click here to check it out.
Hint: I wrote about one of my favorite topics- FIGS.

Later addendum to this post:
Although you may enjoy reading all the writers' posts, if you are looking for my Fig Essay on this southern writers' blog (the click here link, above), you must scroll down to October 17th to view that essay.

The Splitters

Outside the window of the second-floor bedroom I call my office, the yellow leaves of the huge ash tree have pretty much fallen. Last week I could hardly see the across-the-court condo neighbors for the blaze of color. This morning it was like kicking through a new snowfall to reach the newspapers at the end of the driveway. There are still orange and yellow maples blazing in the distance and plenty of purplish red colors for leaf peeping, but one good rainfall will bring them all down.

I love driving on these last warm fall days, seeing the colors off in the distance. Walking's not bad either, as long as the leaves are dry and crunchy. I think it was Anna Quindlen, though I'm not sure why I think that, who wrote that we love most the season we were born in. I love "my" summer a lot, but I'm beginning to love fall even more.

What I don't like is winter. So when my husband retired, we bought a little house in Florida and became what our friend Peter (who knows more about Florida, home ownership, moving around, living in two places than anybody) calls Splitters. I couldn't see myself in Florida year around so we split our time between Florida and New Jersey. We bounce back and forth on occasion, thus the Splitter thing. So far, so good.

And now the leaves are falling, which means time to pack up my writing notes, say goodbye to my fellow New Jersey writers and friends and our quick trips into the city, and head South. It hit me this morning as I was reading the paper. Even though my husband didn't stay retired long, we did attempt it. Maybe the suggestions in Key to a New Retired Life: Get Involved might have been a better way to look at that leisure time!

Mostly what I need to travel back and forth is a decent laptop and a good library in both places we live. I don't like hauling things from one house to another. Looks like I'm on the right track. Another article in my morning paper tells me not to fret over dragging clothes from one place to another. I've mostly always traveled light, hoping to find what I forget at my destination. My sister can attest to that, even though now I've grown up and no longer swipe her favorite nightgown when I touch down in her space. (Though I always appreciated her loaners. Thanks, Sis!)

So I guess it's time to pack up the writing notes and my favorite sneakers and head South. Check out what's new at the library, check in with my Florida writing buddies. If the leaves are down, winter isn't far behind.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Book Shopping

I do love traveling to book stores. Brand new ones, hopeful and shiny. Even old ones filled with ancient books and lots of dust. Mostly not the mega-stores, though I'm not above popping my head and my pocketbook into one as nice as the just opened Barnes and Noble near me--I was there yesterday to check it out.
But on my recent trek through the Mississippi Delta, we stopped in at TurnRow Books in Greenwood. And I wanted to stay awhile. A long while. First of all, look at the building:

Yes, that's a bookstore. I promise. Isn't it gorgeous?

I asked for a book recommendation and the owner mentioned an about-to-be-published novel by Ron Rash, SERENA, which is just out and getting great reviews. There are a lot of reasons to hang out with bookstore people.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading Poetry

Here's my weekly/ daily/ whenever-I-can-manage-it poetry fix. Even prose writers can learn a lot from poetry.
My friend Ann reported in on this year's Dodge Poetry Festival. Click that link to see what you, and I, missed. Billy Collins calls it the "mother of all poetry readings." Some call it Wordstock. In the past, our Critique Group has gone together. This year Ann went without us. Our loss.

Ann told us about Ted Kooser's reading, which reminded me that I have a book of his, given to me by a poetry-loving friend. So I'm thumbing through the book and remembered why she thought I'd like it (one of the many reasons). I once mentioned Praying Hands in something I wrote. The daughter of a preacher compares her hands to her daddy's statue of hands, and right there on p. 57 is this. I'll give you a few lines to tempt you to read more of Ted Kooser's poetry:

Praying Hands

There is at least one pair
in every thrift shop in America,
molded in plastic or plaster of paris
and glued to a plaque,
or printed in church-pamphlet colors...

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

Every time I happen upon this, usually via a link on another blog, I'm delighted to be there. Here's a great essay about critique groups, by one of my favorite writers of kids' books, Kimberly Willis Holt. It's funny and smart and you must read it. Right now. Click on over there! There's even a picture of Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. Together. I bet that got you!

Popeye's Biscuits

Tonight I'll cook a funny dish I haven't made in a while. The "secret recipe" supposedly duplicates Popeye's Biscuits, using 7-up or Sprite and Bisquick. My friend LePoint once made it for my mother and me as the shortcake for Strawberry Shortcake. I just found the recipe on a yellowed 3x5 card in my file. Perfect for an evening still warm enough to grill outside one last time before we clear the decks, and summer ends.

And I'm reminded of a favorite quote from Eudora Welty's EYE OF THE STORY.
To make a friend’s fine recipe is to celebrate her once more.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The She-Goat

In the enthusiastic years of my early career, I worked as a librarian in one of the finest school library systems in the country, Fulton County GA. I worked at the Harris Street Elementary School with an amazing group of teachers, who were facing a lot of challenges. It was the 60s, what can I tell you.

A wonderful replica of Picasso's "She Goat" sat on a round table in the middle of the library. The students loved that statue. They loved to touch her. They loved to make up stories about her. Most had never heard of Picasso but they wanted to know more. So yesterday when I saw the real one at the Museum of Modern Art, surrounded by other intriguing, fascinating sculptures from the museum's collection, it was a thrilling moment and a memory to cherish. I looked around at my fellow museum-goers. Who knows. maybe some of those kids who admired the replica might just travel to New York to see the real thing.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bats at the Library

Today I stopped by the town library and slipped into the back work room to say hello to Diane, Debbie and Kathy, my former co-workers. They were huddled around a picture book, laughing and pointing and generally marvelling at the illustrations.

"Look, the baby bats are wearing swimmies!" "What book character do you think that is?" The questions were flying. I elbowed my way in and peered over a shoulder. Wow! Now this is one fantastic book.
I'd given Brian Lies's previous book BATS AT THE BEACH to my beach-dwelling family members, but I may have to buy this one for myself (click those links for some great pictures). All I can say is that this book has to be in contention for a Caldecott Medal. The illustrations are perfect, the story a masterpiece.
The library in the story was based on a place he loved as a child and it shows. As librarians, we noted every detail. Yes! The water fountain! Bats pretend it's a swimming pool, but at our library, the children loved to splash the water out, push for a spot, generally making messes--just like the baby bats. And the fabulous library table legs! Not to mention the beautiful windows which, at the end, let in enough light to send the bats scampering toward home. BATS AT THE LIBARY- what a great book.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Viewing the sunset from the porch...

How can you not write with this as backdrop? One of my favorite places in the world- Rapidan, VA. Thanks, Courtenay.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sometimes you can judge a Book by its Cover..

I love book cover art. Love to think about how it draws kids to books. What it says about the story, before I even turn the first page. When I was a children's librarian, I often got requests for "that book with the ferris wheel on the cover. You know, the blue one." (Ann Martin's A Corner of the Universe). Or "that dog book, I think the cover's yellow and the dog is squiggly." (Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, a personal favorite of mine.)

So this quote from an article in Publishers Weekly Children's Bookshelf about a reunion of employees of Eeyore's, the late great children's bookstore in New York, really makes sense to me.
Not to mention, I adored Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Brian Selznick, who used to paint the windows of the West Side Eeyore’s every month, brought along a portfolio of all of his amazing window creations. Brian said he thinks about those windows every time he does a book cover. “Book covers, like the windows, have to look good from far away, from close up, and have to make you want to open the door or the book, as the case may be.”

Banned Books

As a former card-carrying member of the ALA (that's American Library Association to those of you thinking it's a subversive secret organization), I should have noted that this is Banned Books Week. Check out the ALA site for a list of most frequently banned authors (Kevin Henkes? OK, we're not talking Lilly here. He does write for a more mature audience of maybe 12-year-olds...).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Buster Brown and Junk Poker

My first Ebay purchase...

When my sister and I were kids, we had these shoeboxes filled with "junk." Junk was skate keys, Cracker Jack prizes, probably even our baby teeth we'd lost and maybe the Tooth Fairy didn't need. We played poker and bet with our goodies. Hey, a harmless game of 21 is appropriate for 9-year-olds, right? And I'm sure our boxes were from Buster Brown shoes. So when I saw this on Ebay (thanks to Leslie), I couldn't resist.

The game and the shoebox are a big part of a story I've been working on for a while. The matches, on the right of the above photo, came with the box. Not part of my treasures as a 9-year-old. Honest. But the ones from Antoines and the Monteleone in New Orleans will be saved!

And that box is a treasure. Now back to wasting more time on Ebay.