Keri Recommends

Recent Posts

  1. Dark Lord: School's Out by Jamie Thomson
    Sunday, April 20, 2014
  2. My Life: Swarm Season
    Monday, April 14, 2014
  3. Poetry Friday & Pine Pollen
    Friday, April 11, 2014
  4. Quote on Marriage by J. Allan Petersen
    Wednesday, April 09, 2014
  5. Sharpie Fine Point Stylo
    Monday, April 07, 2014
  6. Poetry Friday: A Winner
    Friday, April 04, 2014
  7. April is National Poetry Month!
    Wednesday, April 02, 2014
  8. Quote by Amy Cuddy on change
    Monday, March 31, 2014
  9. Poetry Friday: Giveaway & my favorite spread from Water Can Be!
    Friday, March 28, 2014
  10. Quote about achieving, by Bruce Barton
    Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Poetry Friday Party Locations

January
3   Betsy at I Think in Poems
10 Donna at Mainely Write
17 Keri at Keri Recommends
24  Tara at A Teaching Life
31  Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect

February
7   Renee at No Water River
14 Linda at TeacherDance
21 Karen at Karen Edmisten
28 Anastasia at Poet! Poet!

March
7   Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
21 Julie at The Drift Record
28 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading

April
4   Amy at The Poem Farm
11 Michelle at Today's Little Ditty

May
2   Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat.
30 Diane at Random Noodling

June
6    Catherine at Catherine Johnson
13  Carol at Carol's Corner
20  Buffy at Buffy's Blog
27  Jone at Check it Out

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Keri Recommends

Dark Lord: School's Out by Jamie Thomson

Middle grade fiction that is smart, funny and breaks new ground is hard to come by, in my opinion.



I was not prepared to be bowled over by Jamie Thomson's book, Dark Lord: School's Out, because the premise seemed to stretch credulity.

But I had a hard time putting down this engaging, mind-bending, world-creating saga divided into five parts, with chapter titles such as, "Rock Candy of Doom," "The Nanny of Doom," (see the pattern?) "On Your Pink Underpants," and "Bad Judgment Day."

What, exactly, is the book about? An evil Dark Lord from another realm loses his battle with the The White Wizard. His punishment is that he is cast from the Darklands to modern-day Earth and trapped in the body of a 13-year-old boy. Mistakenly named "Dirk Lloyd" by the humans who misunderstand him when he declares himself Dark Lord, he is taken in by a family with a son his age, Christopher, who befriends him, along with a Goth girl named Sooz. In his failed attempt to cast a spell that would send him back home, he accidentally sends Sooz to the Darklands instead.

Thus begins the saga of the Dark Lord's mission to outwit his enemies, save Sooz, and return his kingdom to its former menacing glory. Mwah ha ha ha!

Sounds crazy, right? Maybe, but it's hilarious. The first book won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize! Thomson manages to make a lovable antihero out of a murderous, violent, black-souled monster by giving him some sympathetic human characteristics and the typical struggles of a preteen boy. Hey, even Dark Lords have trouble figuring out girls. Dirk's childish delight in thwarting his enemies is endearing, especially juxtaposed against his horrifying megalomania.


Long but fast-moving, the narrative is broken up by journal entries penned by the Dark Lord, newspaper articles from The Daily Massacre, and imaginative pen-and-ink illustrations by Freya Hartas.

To me, this book is rather like a Monty Python/Lord of the Rings mash-up, with some girl power thrown in by Sooz, who takes to ruling the Darklands quite well, and with much more benevolence than her predecessor.

Ideal audience: kids who enjoy fantasy but get tired of how heavy and dark it is. Other readers: kids who play video games, adults with psychotic bosses, and writers who want to study humor or writing from a non-traditional point of view.

Read an interview with both Thomson and the Dark Lord here.

**The first two books were originally published in Great Britain with different titles, so beware when you shop online. The American editions are Dark Lord: The Early Years and Dark Lord: School's Out.

My Life: Swarm Season

Spring has arrived, and as the temperatures rise, the swarm calls begin.



Mark has gotten 3 swarm calls in the past week.

The first was from one of the young truck crop farmers who was working near our Starkville bee yard. Good news: his quick call allowed Mark to catch one of our own swarms. Bad news: the bees were mean and 20 feet up in a cedar tree.

The second call was from a woman in a trailer park. Incidentally, she'd called the sheriff first, so this is the first swarm capture observed by law enforcement. Good news: it was a sizable swarm. Bad news: it was lining the trunk of a pear tree, which Mark ended up sawing down one limb at a time at the homeowner's insistence. (Glad I wasn't there, considering all this happened in the evening!)


(My ingenious husband used packing paper as a chute to channel the bees down into the box!)

On Sunday we got the third call. We had our suspicions that this was a strange swarm, because they'd been outside for more than 2 days, wadded up in the corner of a window. Good news: nice homeowners in Columbus. Bad news: second story window. Good news: window A/C unit that could be used as a platform for the hive box. Bad news: the bees had already built two nice combs, were storing pollen and nectar and the queen had laid eggs. In the picture below, Mark showed Ellen, the homeowner, the pollen and eggs down in the comb. It was a family event -- Robert took pictures, Kimberly became the equipment manager, and I "helped Mark."



Mark worked diligently in a precarious situation to move the bees into the box. We're relatively confident the queen is in the hive box, and we'll return in a couple days to retrieve the bees in the wee small hours of the morning while they're all home.


(This picture is the crazy effort we made to get the hive closer to where the bees wanted to cluster. I had to shove that delightful antique cooler up onto the platform under the hive box as Mark held it. I am too old and out of shape for this!)

Then they can join the other two colonies we're nursing on the front porch.

Poetry Friday & Pine Pollen




My friend Michelle is hosting at Today's Little Ditty. Happy blog birthday, Michelle!



Pinethicket at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons


Loblolly Pollen
by Keri Collins Lewis

Golden stars
burst through
their pine needle galaxy,
a granular shower
tumbling to Earth.

***
Spring is singing in Mississippi, and the tune is a chorus of sneezes.
Oak pollen, pine pollen, and all kinds of wildflowers (aka weeds) are blooming.
I'm alternately delighted and reaching for tissues.

I tried to take picture out my bedroom window to show you the stars of pollen that inspired this short poem for Poetry Friday, but the windows were too covered in pollen. Blech. So I found one on Wikimedia Commons instead. (Because I'm married to a forestry guy, I will specify that our pines are not loblollies, which grow better in southern Mississippi. These details are important, you see. Or maybe you don't, but you understand.)

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Quote on Marriage by J. Allan Petersen



From Lessons Learned in Life

Sharpie Fine Point Stylo


This is a public service announcement.

If you love Sharpie pens but hate how they bleed through, check out their Fine Point Stylo -- no bleed -- pens!

I bought a set with 12 pens in multiple colors from Amazon. I am using them in my weekly planner in an attempt to bring some order to my work life. Whether I'm more productive or not I can't say, but I CAN say that I love writing with them, I love the colors, and I am a nerd.

They even have peach and mint green, y'all. I feel so totally retro. It's like being in junior high without all the angst!

Everyone out there who loves writing supplies: you are my tribe. And you will love these pens.

Poetry Friday: A Winner


It's Poetry Friday and National Poetry Month!
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting at The Poem Farm.
(And her new site design is fabulous!!)

Today I'm announcing the WINNER of a copy of Water Can Be . . . by Laura Purdie Salas.



Thanks for adding to our photo pool, Mary Lee! Maybe your extra entry is what gave you the edge! (I saved your address from the Summer Poem Swap -- if you don't want me to send the book to that address let me know!)

Please be sure to add photos to the Flickr pool as your days warm up and you're running through the sprinklers! www.flickr.com/groups/2586828@N23/pool/ 

 Happy
Poetry Friday, friends!

April is National Poetry Month!



Over at Jama's Alphabet Soup, she has a post with a round-up of activities and resources to celebrate this poetry.

Not sure poetry is your thing? I encourage you to give it a try. Not every type of poetry suits everyone's tastes, so if one type turns you off, keep searching -- you may find something you really like!


(Image from Writing Well)

Quote by Amy Cuddy on change

Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes.

~Amy Cuddy
Social Psychologist and Professor/Researcher at Harvard



Transcript

TED talks are a marvelous, fascinating way to go down the rabbit hole. I watched this video during my lunch break after it was suggested in an email blast from Scott Dinsmore at Live Your Legend.

It's impressive from the scientific standpoint . . . and then about two thirds of the way through Amy shares her personal story of how she came to the concept of "fake it until you become it" -- then the video goes from impressive to awe-inspiring.

If you know someone who constantly diminishes herself, beats up on himself, or needs a quick boost of confidence, Amy suggests a 2-minute life hack that can change you -- not just your body, but your brain.

And no, it has nothing to do with big hair, big boots, or tiaras.



After you watch the video, tell me what you think in the comments!

Poetry Friday: Giveaway & my favorite spread from Water Can Be!


It's Poetry Friday! Mary Lee Hahn is hosting at A Year of Reading!

So sorry I wasn't here last week! You can read about (and see a picture of!) my reason here.

Today is our last official day for celebrating the April 1 launch of Water Can Be, by Laura Purdie Salas. If you leave a comment on this post about how water impacts your life, a fun memory with water, or anything water-related, I'll put your name in the hat for a free copy of Water Can Be!! In case you missed previous posts, you can read interviews with Laura and her editor, Carol Hinz.

Just in case you didn't hear the exciting news, Publishers Weekly gave this terrific book a star, so now it has TWO! Laura has been popping up all over the blogosphere in preparation for the book launch. You can read her guest posts at Kirby's Lane and The Nerdy Book Club. She's also featured on Teaching Authors with an exercise for writers who want to tackle rhyming non-fiction.

She and I have both posted water-related photos in the Flickr group:
http://www.flickr.com/groups/2586828@N23/pool/  -- we hope you'll join us there with photos of your own! (To sweeten the deal, if you comment on today's post AND post a photo to the Flickr group, I'll give you an extra entry in the GIVEAWAY for a free copy of Water Can Be! Extra photos do not equal extra entries, however. I don't want to penalize anyone who is as technically challenged as I am!)

Finally, I get to share my favorite spread from the book. Maybe it's the hot Mississippi summers. Maybe it's the genius rhyme. But this spread just made me smile when I saw it for the first time! (With special thanks to Lindsay Matvick at Lerner for sending me the .tif file!) Don't these illustrations make you want to run through the grass in the summer rain?



I hope we've made you thirsty for your own copy of Laura's delightful new book! A portion of her proceeds goes to WaterAid.

Remember, a water-related comment = 1 entry for the free book. A comment + a photo in the Flickr group gets 1 more entry. If I won't recognize your name in Flickr, feel free to post a comment telling me you've added a photo! Good luck!!

The winner will be announced next Friday. (Giveaway is sponsored by me.)

Quote about achieving, by Bruce Barton

Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.
~ Bruce Barton



(Photo by Robert Lewis. See more images on Facebook at Pictures by Lewis: https://www.facebook.com/robertlewisphoto)

Quote on time by Ann Voskamp

The best use of time is to freely love.

The best way to love is to spend time.

The best time to love is always right now.

~Ann Voskamp

I'm a perfectionist.

It's hard to give myself permission to be flexible.

I'd planned 4 weeks worth of posts to celebrate a friend's book, but . . .


Benjamin Seth Williamson, Jr.

Someone needed to be burped, diapered, and sung to. He needed clean laundry and foot rubs. I love how he'd curl his tiny toes around my finger! And he was early!

I'm back home after nearly 2 weeks of newborn/family care. I got nearly all of my posts scheduled before I left, but ran out of time. Once I was there, I was relatively disconnected! So, I hate that I missed a post, especially a Poetry Friday post, when I had a goal for this year, but alas, they're only little once. Time to let myself off the guilty hook! I'm a grandma now, I've got to go with the flow!

Quote about saying, "No!" by Stephen R. Covey


We find ourselves able to say, "No!"
to some things

because there is a bigger "Yes!"
burning deep within us.


~ Stephen R. Covey

Do you know what your No and Yes are? Are you living out the No and Yes you've identified? What is the real YES burning deeply within you?

**Happy birthday to my friend since the 4th grade, Julie! LYLASS!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

As a redhead, it's hard not to love all the blarney about Ireland, St. Patrick's Day, hot tea, mystical isles and green hills.

But what I really love is Irish music.

Traditional:




Modern Interpretations of traditional songs:




When both collide on stage:



Or just Irish musicians...

Dream: to see U2 in concert. (Who would've though when I was in high school these young rebels would still be around, rocking crowds across the world?)



Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! My hope is to watch "Waking Ned Devine" and make some potato soup.

Poetry Friday: Interview with editor Carol Hinz

Carol Hinz is the editorial director for Millbrook Press and edited Water Can Be. After learning last week that originally the book was A River Can Be, I was even more excited that Carol had agreed to finish my sentences so we could learn more about the process of how Laura's book came to be.



My words are in blue.

When I first read Water Can Be I was delighted and could already see the finished book in my mind. Working on A Leaf Can Be had been a lot of fun, and I loved how beautifully that book came together. The thought that Laura, illustrator Violeta Dabija, and I could collaborate on another book made me very happy.

 

Being an editor is different every day. It involves everything from negotiating contracts to selecting an illustrator to squinting at large spreadsheets to drafting jacket copy to reading submissions to presenting at conferences to writing blog posts to, oh yeah, actually editing the words an author has written.

 

The thing that worries me most about every book is that we’ll make some colossal error that no one will notice until after the book is out in the world. Such as misspelling the author’s name. Or putting in half of the images upside down. I would like to say this worry is unfounded, but we did once have a book where the last couple lines of text went missing! Fortunately, we caught it in time and reprinted.

 

I became an editor because I’ve loved books and reading for as long as I can remember. (It’s a cliché, but it’s also true!) I love working collaboratively with authors, illustrators, photographers, and all of my colleagues to make the very best books we can.

 

Water is for drinking, not for dumping. Unless you’re outside. Or in the bathtub. Okay, that’s probably not the response you had in mind! But I have a three-year-old son, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation just like this in the last couple of years. I will say that he has opened my eyes as to just how much (messy) creativity a simple cup of water can inspire!

 

(Carol and her boys, photo by her husband!)

Poetry is daunting to me on some days. Laura makes it all look easy! I’ve been reading more and more poetry in the last few years, but I still have a lot to learn. A while back, Laura sent me a long list of recommended books of children’s poetry to help me get my feet wet (metaphorically speaking, of course).

 

I wish people knew some of the funny things we end up very seriously considering in the process of making a picture book. In Water Can Be . . . we had to make sure the animals in the illustrations were just right. While we wanted them to be adorable and appealing, we didn’t want them so personified that the book might feel out of place in a science class. For instance, on the “Woodchuck warmer” page, the woodchuck originally had a little blanket covering him. It was really sweet! But we decided in the end it was better to go with a blanket of leaves.

Thanks, Carol, for letting us see the editorial side of making Laura's new book!

Follow Carol on Twitter @CarolCHinz.

Poetry Friday friends: if you don't hear from me on your blogs, it's because I'm in the Grandbaby Zone ... and rumor has it they don't have Internet access at their house! I'll be back online later this month. 

In the meantime, if you have any water-related photos, we'd like to collect them. I've created a public group on Flickr. It's called Water Can Be. Very original, I know. The URL is www.flickr.com/groups/2586828@N23/. You'll know you're in the right place when you see one of the cover frogs as the group's icon. (Caveat: I'm not a computer genius, so my fingers are crossed that this works. If you have trouble and need to email me photos instead, leave a comment and we'll work something out!)

 

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

For my birthday, my friend Mari sent me Ann Patchett's recent collection of her non-fiction work, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I've been slowly working my way through it so i can savor each article. I'm not finished, but I'm anxious to recommend it so those of you looking for something wonderful to read will find it right away!


(Photo via Barnes & Noble review site.
I highly recommend you read this review for a more critical perspective on the collection.A more generous review with numerous quotes can be found in the NY Times.)


The collection reads like a memoir, illuminating details about Patchett's relationships, career trajectory, thoughts about writing and art, and devotion to her family. She writes in a tone so personal, as a reader I can't help but feel we've sat down on a front porch somewhere with a glass of sweet tea and are whiling away a summer day getting to know each other.

Her no-nonsense approach to writing had me stuffing pages with sticky notes that read, "Quote!""Wow!" "Double Wow!" and "Wowie wow wow!" She wrote that she doesn't believe in writer's block, but she believes in procrastination. (ZING!) She's also very candid: "No matter what you may have heard, the characters don't write their story." (WHEW!) She researches a lot, because she writes about what she would like to know more about, not just what she knows. If you're a writer, the chapter "The Getaway Car" is a must read, either in this collection, or on its own as an ebook. Not because it's filled with loads of practical advice, per se, but because she shows how hard work makes all the difference.

In "The Wall," readers get an inside look at what it takes to join the LAPD, but also get to experience all Patchett went through to pay tribute to her father, who retired from the department. "The Best Seat in the House" is a love story about Patchett and opera, something she came to adore as an adult. In "My Road to Hell Was Paved," she takes readers along for the humorous ride in a rented Winnebago.

This book has it all -- humor, drama, romance, pathos, stray dogs, censorship -- but it was the essay "Love Sustained," about her love for her grandmother as she watched her succumb to Alzheimer's that had me openly weeping. So much of what she experienced parallels what we have experienced with my sweet Granny, and she writes with such candor and devotion, I couldn't help but weep tears of empathy.

And isn't that what every writer dreams of? Words that resonate with readers? The ability to call forth emotion for people unmet and lives unlived?

Years ago, my high school friends decided we'd attempt a long-distance book club. Of all the books we read, Patchett's Bel Canto is the one that I still think of. I've not read any of her other novels, but it was still a treat to read the non-fiction that paid her bills while she built her literary career. (And I must say that it gave me hope that someday, were I to focus the way she did, my magazine and newspaper work might have the same result!)

So, a big thank you to Mari for the gift, and please go find yourself a copy of This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

My Life: Happy Day

We've had quite a week or two.

My dad came home from the hospital.

I became a grandmother.

Mark turned 49.

And we were invited to a special celebration with our friends, the Harris family.

Their daughter, Kelsey, died of a brain tumor in 2009, before we knew them. She was 16 years old, and dreamed of being a writer . Every year around her birthday -- the same day as Mark's -- they celebrate Happy Day by inviting friends over to eat her favorite foods and talk about how special she was. (Menu: fried pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, biscuits, and red velvet cake & ice cream for dessert!)

A few months before she died, she wrote these "resolutions." Last night Simon told us the staff at St. Jude's had instructed them to listen for New Year's Resolutions to find clues for some activities they could do together in her last days on Earth. Her list reveals insight far beyond her years and, as Simon observed, didn't give them the easy to-do list they'd expected. But they couldn't be happier to have this lasting testament to their daughter's thoughtful character.

Write something worth reading.
Read something worth sharing.
Say something worth repeating.
Give something worth getting.
Choose something worth keeping.
Sacrifice something worth giving up.
Go somewhere worth seeing.
Eat something worth tasting.
Hug someone worth holding.
Buy something worth treasuring.
Cry tears worth shedding.
Do something worth watching.
Risk something worth protecting.
Listen to something worth hearing.
Teach something worth knowing.
Be someone worth knowing.


~ by Kelsey Wynne Harris, 2009


Their foundation raises money to give annual scholarships to college students who want to become writers.

Poetry Friday: Interview with Laura Purdie Salas


It's Poetry Friday!
My friend and state-neighbor Margaret is hosting at Reflections on the Teche.

Welcome to my month-long celebration of Water Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas! This book is a delight from cover to cover.


(Cover image via Betsy Bird's blog post about the Lerner Preview.)

Today I'm very excited to share with you a short interview with Laura. She the type of person who makes you think, "If I lived in Minnesota, we'd be buddies. Except there's that winter issue. Brrrrrr!" Her warmth and charm draw in people of all ages.


(Photo from her website.)

I asked her to finish my sentences (hat tip to Mr. Schu).

My words are in blue:

When I first began writing Water Can Be, it was actually A River Can Be... and it was rejected. Then my editor, Carol Hinz, pointed out (rightly so) that not every kid has a river nearby, so it lacked the universality of A LEAF CAN BE. So, I started again, and I hope this book helps every reader see water with new eyes.

Violeta Dabija's illustrations knock my socks off. I knew her art would be stunning, but I was still shocked. That joyful dog dancing in the sprinkler. That river otter on a starry cobalt night. And that deer, drinking in the still forest. I respond emotionally to her art, which is rare for me, a word person.

The hardest thing about being a writer is the business side. I spend less than 1 hour per day on the writing I want to do. Shrinking markets (especially for poetry) mean I work extra hard with other tasks both to earn income and to get my books in front of people.

My favorite "hat" to wear is poet. I'm happiest when mashing up facts, feelings, and words into poetry or rhyme.


Poetry is
for everybody. It does not discriminate. Sarcastic 8th-grader? There's poetry for you. Unicorn-loving 2nd-grader? There's poetry for you. Teacher lacking confidence in your poetry-sharing ability? There is SO much wonderful poetry for you!

Water is life. I wrote WATER CAN BE... because I love water! Beaches (I grew up in Florida), storms, puddles, ice cubes, snowmen (I live in Minnesota now!), swimming pools, hot showers, hot tubs--all of it. Many of my favorite moments in my life have been in water!

When I decided that I would donate a portion of my royalties to a water charity, I discovered WaterAid. I've since become a little more educated about the world's water crisis. So WATER CAN BE... is purely a celebration of the beauty and power of water in all its forms. But I'm happy to use this book to raise some money to donate to WaterAid. The people of WaterAid help folks around the world who don't have access to clean drinking water and flush toilets.




One thing I wished people knew is that writing poetry matters. Will it be great? Maybe not. Will it be publishable? Probably not. But who cares? Writing and reading poetry is great for your language skills and for your heart, and kids write absolutely amazing poetry when given time and encouragement. So dive in. Make a splash! (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

Come back next week for more Water Can Be fun!

My Life: Published in The Progressive Farmer Magazine!

My day started off with a wonderful message from a colleague: a story I'd had accepted at The Progressive Farmer magazine had appeared in the March issue!


Davian Powell and his Hereford bull, Scooter. (Photo by Keri Collins Lewis)

To read the story online, go to page sixty in the digital version: http://dtnpf-digital.com/publication/?m=27946&l=1

It's a privilege to be able to work with such outstanding 4-H kids and their families!

Recipe: Granny's Lemon Jello Cake

This weekend we celebrated the 4th birthday of a special little girl we know from our church. She *loves* lemon-flavored stuff, so we had lemon Jello cake for her birthday cake. My granny used to make it for us for our birthdays (unless she made chocolate pie from scratch and then I was in heaven). We made whipped cream with almond extract and powdered sugar, and pastel sugar sprinkles for decoration. She was happy, even though I failed to have PINK candles. But her favorite part was opening presents.


Grumpy & the Birthday Girl
Granny's Lemon Jello Cake

1. Dissolve 1 small package of lemon Jello in 1 cup hot water. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix 1 yellow cake mix and 3/4 c. vegetable oil. Mix in 4 eggs, one at a time and 1/2 tsp. lemon juice. Add Jello & mix well.
3. Pour into a greased & floured 9x13" pan. (I use Baker's Joy.)
4. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 min. or until done.
5. Topping: 2 cups unsifted powdered sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup orange juice, 4 Tbsp. melted butter.
6. Prick the hot cake with a fork, all over the cake, to the bottom of the pan.
7. Pour topping over cake while it's still hot.
8. Let cool to room temperature. Frost with whipping cream and top with sprinkles. (Or leave plain. We like it served with sliced strawberries that have had sugar added to them, too.)

Poetry Friday: First


It's Poetry Friday!
Anastasia Suen is hosting the celebration with a twist:
she's creating a Pinterest board from our pictures.
Check it out at http://www.pinterest.com/anastasiabooks/poetry-friday-22814/


Today I'm sharing a poem I wrote based on a prompt to begin with the word "first." It's one that could go on for a while, but I stopped at 7 lines. The photo is by Robert Lewis.




Order

by Keri Collins Lewis

First the sunrise, then the day.

First the nest, then the egg.

First the raindrop, then the puddle.

First the flower, then the fruit.

First the comb, then the honey.

First the letters, then the word.

First the line, then the poem.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you have a honey-sweet weekend!

My Life: The Quiltaway

Last week I went to Tennessee for my second "quiltaway." We all bring fabric and sew quilts to be given to families who have experienced personal distress, trauma, illness, or loss.

About 22 women pieced 8 quilt tops in about 48 hours.



I made about 10 blocks.






But the best part was spending time with friends.



This block is made with a buddy -- you each pick 4 fabrics, then after you make your half-square triangles, you swap with your buddy, and you arrange your triangles in different ways.

Poetry Friday: Winter Rain by Christina Rossetti



It's Poetry Friday! Karen is hosting today!

As I write this, it's one of the prettiest days we've had in weeks. My windows are open. I can hear birdsong and the rattle of dried leaves that still cling to the trees. But, the forecast has rain, rain, and more rain. Is anyone else ready for spring?

I found myself browsing the web for poems in the public domain, and decided to share this poem with you today. Maybe you are like me, and need a little reminder of the benefits of this winter dreariness!



(The photograph was taken Feb. 15 by my stepson, Robert Lewis.
Birders: is this a yellow-rumped warbler?
The bird references in Rosetti's poem are much more appealing to illustrate than rain.)



Winter Rain

By Christina Georgina Rossetti
(Text via Public Domain Poetry)


    Every valley drinks,
        Every dell and hollow:
    Where the kind rain sinks and sinks,
        Green of Spring will follow.

    Yet a lapse of weeks
        Buds will burst their edges,
    Strip their wool-coats, glue-coats, streaks,
        In the woods and hedges;

    Weave a bower of love
        For birds to meet each other,
    Weave a canopy above
        Nest and egg and mother.

    But for fattening rain
        We should have no flowers,
    Never a bud or leaf again
        But for soaking showers;

    Never a mated bird
        In the rocking tree-tops,
    Never indeed a flock or herd
        To graze upon the lea-crops.

    Lambs so woolly white,
        Sheep the sun-bright leas on,
    They could have no grass to bite
        But for rain in season.

    We should find no moss
        In the shadiest places,
    Find no waving meadow grass
        Pied with broad-eyed daisies:

    But miles of barren sand,
        With never a son or daughter,
    Not a lily on the land,
        Or lily on the water.

My Life: Dixie National Sale of Jr. Champions

Most of you know I work in media relations for the Office of Agricultural Communications at Mississippi State University. Most of the time I work on stories involving the Extension Service. 4-H is part of Extension.

Earlier this month we made our annual trek to capture photos and related information for the Dixie National Sale of Jr. Champions. The short explanation is that for about a week, 4-H and FFA kids exhibit their livestock. The top market animals are sold at an auction, and the meat is donated to charity. The kids keep the money to offset the expenses of raising livestock, and to pay for college.

Every year we see a mixture of familiar faces and kids who have "made the sale" for the first time. This year, 10-year-old Julia set a sale record with her steer she called "Blondie" -- he sold for $28,000!!



I took this picture before the sale, because she was hugging all over that animal, kissing him and talking about how much she didn't want to sell him. She was sweet, and considering it was her first time in the sale, she had a lot of composure. One of my favorite parts of the sale is meeting all of the hard-working kids and their families. They put in so much time and effort -- raising animals is a big responsibility and they take it seriously.



Three guesses why I took a picture of this particular animal.

If you guessed "freckles" you'd be right.



Even sheep are into photobombing.

It was chilly this year so all of the sheep and goats had their coats on. This little boy isn't old enough to show, yet, but he liked hanging out with his sister's goat.

If you want to learn more about this sale, my colleague Susan wrote this year's feature.

Quote about wishing by Seth Godin

Wishing is not a strategy.

~ Seth Godin

The context of this quote is a blog post about hiring the right person for the right job. The above quote is the last sentence of the post, sort of the "Duh!" conclusion. It hit me hard that there are many things I "wish" would happen, but for which I have no true strategy. I know myself well enough to understand that when I set goals, give myself homework or deadlines, create a chart, or in some way create a strategy, I'm a lot more likely to take action. I'm more productive.

If I dig deeper, I allow some wishes to remain the stuff of stardust and birthday candles because they require a lot of effort, I'm afraid of failure or success, or I like the idea of the thing more than the reality.

Which is probably no matter how many exercise charts and goals I make, I don't do it. I just wish I were skinny.



Poetry Friday: Line Breaks



It's Poetry Friday!
The much-loved Linda is hosting today at TeacherDance.

Today I want to solicit your input on line breaks. Advice? Examples of poems that use it well? Poets who seem to break lines perfectly, every time?

One of the first questions brought up by fellow students in my online class, the Pleasures of Poetry, was "how do you know when to break the line?"

I found this video, and LOVE Sharon Old's very physical explanation of how she determines where to break the lines of her poems. All three writers have a very interesting view of line breaks!

The Critter Club #6: Ellie's Lovely Idea by Callie Barkley

Need a last minute Valentine's Day gift for a young reader? Try the latest title in The Critter Club series written by Callie Barkley and illustrated by Marsha Riti.



Ellie's Lovely Idea opens with the series' four best friends, Ellie, Marion, Liz and Amy, making valentines for their classmates. Ellie's mom, a veterinarian, tells the girls about a charity called Puppy Love, which raises money to help families adopting puppies pay for their medical care. Since the girls haven't had any stray pets to care for in their animal shelter -- the Critter Club -- they decide they'll focus on raising some money for Puppy Love.

While watching a Shirley Temple-style classic movie with her nana, Ellie dreams up the idea of selling singing telegrams for Valentine's Day. She and her friends will write and perform the telegrams to tunes they already know. They don't anticipate getting many customers, but after singing in front of the entire school at the Monday morning assembly, business is booming for these thoughtful second graders.

The only trouble is, the more Ellie writes and delivers telegrams for others, the more she wishes someone special will send her a singing telegram. Will Ellie's Valentine dream come true?

The old-fashioned sweetness of this story is endearing. Featuring strong family relationships, loyal friends, and a plot that shows the value of serving others, Ellie's Lovely Idea is the type of book adults will want to put in the hands of young readers. That said, the characters' honest and realistic feelings, their devotion to animals, and Riti's charming illustrations will draw in beginning readers whether they've read other books in the series or not.

If you have a precocious reader on your hands, this title is a great fit -- the content is appropriate for younger readers.

If you want to watch Grover discover the pitfalls of delivering singing telegrams, watch this video.

My Life: Valentine's Day Cookie Swap

On Saturday I hosted the annual Valentine's Day Cookie Swap. This year instead of a brunch, we celebrated with a tea. I got to use my grandmother's tea pots and my uncle's tea cups. We had a lovely time!

Kimberly, a family friend and local college student, was a huge help. She made these lovely stuffed tomato "tulips." (One Pinterest idea that actually turned out okay!)



We also made "Benedictine Tea Sandwiches" -- a delicious combination of cucumber, green onion, dill weed, and garlic. We added butter lettuce too. You can find the recipe here.



At the cookie swap, we vote for best tasting cookie, best display, best decorated, and best overall. Kimberly won best overall for her delicious "Secret Love" cookies -- they have a maraschino cherry hidden inside! The recipe is here.




Poetry Friday & a preview of celebrating Water Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas


It's Poetry Friday! The ravishing Renee has the round-up over at No Water River.

I know it's the first week in February, but I want to give you preview of March, because I'm just so excited! March is going to be a celebration of Laura Purdie Salas's new book, Water Can Be. The book goes on sale April 1, but this is not a joke: Kirkus Reviews gave it a star this week! WOOT! Poetry Friday Crew Happy Dance!


(Cover image via Betsy Bird's blog post about the Lerner Preview.)


What Laura and I have planned for you . . .

Both Laura and her delightful editor Carol Hinz from Millbook Press are finishing my sentences, we'll give away a book, and we have a special photo project in store (providing I can figure out the technical details, fingers crossed!). Until then, be on the lookout for all sorts of water-related photos in your archives ...

such as waterfalls,


(Photo by Keri Collins Lewis at Alabama's De Soto State Park)

and glaciers!


(Photo by Keri Collins Lewis, taken on a flight in Alaska)


But also look for photos of snorkels, lakes, beach umbrellas, kids playing (no "nekkid" -baby-in-the-bathtub photos, please!), fog, snow . . . you get the idea.

Special note: Laura is donating a portion of her proceeds to Water Aid. Have you been thankful for your running water today?

Now, I'm going to drink a nice tall glass of H2O!

Book Awards and everything Kate DiCamillo

On Jan. 27, all of the major awards in the world of children's literature are announced. You can see lists, watch videos of the awards, etc. here.

There is, of course, the usual debate about which books win and get honors, which books don't, what *were* those judges thinking, and just how valuable are these awards anyway?

Mr. Schu, who served on the committee, has had interviews with various winners on his blog since the awards were announced. One of the most impressive collections of videos is included in his post about Newbery winner Kate DiCamillo, whose Flora & Ulysses seems to have shocked many when it was selected for the top honor. But of course everyone is pleased because she's just so nice!


(Image from the American Library Association's Newbery homepage)

One of my favorite quotes about the Newbery came from honoree Amy Timberlake. This post not only made me want to read her book, but also made me think Amy & I could be friends. She basically said that seeing the sticker on the book cover made her think, "Good book," that she could trust the story to hook her and not let her go. I agree! I may not always love the story on a personal level, but the Newbery award winners and honor books usually stay with me long after I've finished the tale.

Do you have a favorite Newbery or Caldecott winner? Share in the comments!

For a full list of the Newbery awards, dating to the 1920s, click here.  (I think 2007 was the last year I read all of the honorees and the winner. Ack. But I loved all of those titles!)

A quote about writing, by Melody Gough

Last fall I won a free online course through Ed2go from MSU's Center for Continuing Education. I opted to take The Pleasures of Poetry. The course creator is Melody Gough, and while she's listed as the instructor, an enthusiastic assistant named Sara manages the discussion boards where we post our work. She's very encouraging and I'm writing on assignment so I'm producing a greater variety of poems. (Does anyone else do better/write more when they have homework? #nerdproblems)

One of the lessons last week was on writer's block, and in the introduction, Melody wrote that she wanted her students to avoid the mistakes she made early in her career. The next phrase struck me:

Always concentrate
on creating work
that sings
with your heart and soul.
~ Melody Gough


Are you working on any projects that sing with your heart and soul? In my effort this year to blog three times per week and organize my blog posts around central themes, I'm finding enjoyment. But my blog doesn't sing with my heart and soul (yet). This quote makes me want to identify a writing project that I can really pour myself into. I have a few ideas, but we'll see what sticks as I ponder Melody's advice.

Poetry Friday & Dollar Bill



It's Poetry Friday! WOOT!
Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect is hosting today's poetry celebration.

For the Start the Year Off Write challenge, I wrote three mask poems as part of an exercise in description. Today I'm sharing one of them.


(Photo via Wikimedia Commons: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Un_dollar_us.jpg)


Dollar Bill

by Keri Collins Lewis

I can’t breathe here in your pocket,

folded up and crammed against your hip bone.

You may think I’m nearly worthless,

but I began life as boll of cotton,

bright in the Mississippi sun.

You thought I was made from a tree,

didn’t you?

I could’ve been made into these jeans you’re wearing,

or this t-shirt you have on,

or even those striped underpants your granny gave you for Christmas.

But I’ve been beaten to a pulp,

smashed ‘til I was thin enough

dyed, stamped, engraved, coded --

all this

to buy you

a Snickers.

Have some respect.

 


My Life: Art Quilt Class

On Saturday I took my first quilting class. A master quilter named Julia Graber taught us, using a pattern based on a photograph she took of a silo. Everyone used different fabrics, and some of the more experienced ladies made their own patterns instead. The class lasted about 5 hours, but I wasn't finished. I worked on it about another 4 hours, I think, including the binding (which I put on, took off, and then put on again). I learned a lot about using my sewing machine, which ultimately is the best part of taking the class.

Here is the final result:



A closer look:


Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker, copyright 2013

Simple-living evangelist Joshua Becker follows up on his top-selling book, Simplify, with a practical guide for parents tired of treading on toys in the middle of the night: Clutterfree with Kids.


(Image courtesy of Joshua Becker)

In a conversational tone, Becker opens the book by sharing his road-to-Damascus experience: while he spent a day cleaning the garage, his 5-year-old son spent the day playing outside. His neighbor noticed and introduced Becker to the word "minimalist." Thus began his conversion to a simpler lifestyle.

Rather than admonish folks to "just pitch it," Becker leads readers through the deeper psychological underpinnings of the addiction to possessions and the illusion that true happiness can be bought. He sums up his philosophy early on: "Living life is more enjoyable than managing and organizing stuff," but he doesn't leave this lofty ideal floating in the ether.

After setting forth the why, he spends a large portion of the book on the how, with sections on specific types of possessions: toys, clothes, collections, artwork, gifts, and my Achilles' heel -- sentimental items. He includes real-life testimonies and practical tips, while reassuring readers that everyone is different and minimalism will be different for different families.

Becker anticipates resistance (he often seems like he is coaxing) and offers suggestions for including the kids and managing a reluctant partner. He motivates with promises that reducing stuff will save money and preserve sanity. He admonishes enthusiastic devotees to limit their decluttering to their own stuff first so that setting a good example will inspire other family members.

But most of all, he gently persuades readers to embrace living intentionally. To value relationships and experiences more than stuff. To be clear about need vs. want. To be painfully honest about the role possessions play in our lives, then to resolve to change.

And to spend more time playing than cleaning. That's an idea I can recommend without reservation.

On a personal note: After reading Simplify, I cleaned out all of my kitchen drawers and cabinets. I began with one cabinet, and the feeling of liberation was so strong I went through all of them. I gave away boxes of items we didn't need or use. I don't miss those things, and the space I have -- along with the ability to find what I need -- has been very liberating.

Now, after reading Clutterfree with Kids, I find myself re-energized. I may not currently have kids at home, but they left their stuff when they moved out.

If you're not sure that simplifying is right for you or if it seems overwhelming, I encourage you to pick one small project and give it a try. Don't start with a room, or a closet packed full of stuff. Pick one drawer, one shelf, or one cabinet. Set a timer, grab an empty box, and GO.

Clutterfree with Kids will be available at a reduced price of $2.99 for one week, beginning Jan. 27. You can buy it for Kindle or Nook, or as a PDF. The paperback is currently listed at $10.80. Or, find an independent bookseller near you!

I highly recommend Becker's blog, Becoming Minimalist, and his weekly e-newsletter that includes links to relevant articles, as well as inspiring quotes.

Are you a minimalist? A hoarder? A pack rat (or you're related to one)? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Review copy provided by the author.

Poetry Friday & Milking Time



It's Poetry Friday! Tara at A Teaching Life is hosting this week's celebration.

Most people, myself included, think of dairy farming as something like Thomas James Lloyd's painting, "Milking Time."


(Image via Victorian British Painting.)

For a few homesteaders, this idyllic scene may be reality. But in 2014, most dairy farms require a few more cows to make a profit, and can be very high tech operations. Cows can come and go as they please into the milking barn and be milked by a robot!




Through my day job, I've become a Twitter follower of Will Gilmer (@gilmerdairy), an MSU alumnus and dairy farmer just over the border in Alabama. Gilmer Dairy Farm has been in business for more than 60 years. Not only does Will provide candid insight into the daily ups and downs of farming, he's pretty funny. For example, check out his popular YouTube video about nutrient management, "Water & Poo."




When he was 11 years old, he was asked (by an adult!) if the Hosteins he was showing at the fair were Dalmatian cows. That experience taught him that not everyone is familiar with farm life. Will is very open to answering questions about agriculture, because he's passionate about what he does. So if you are an educator (or ice cream lover!) with pressing questions about dairy farming, Will's your guy.

This winter has been particularly cold, and I've often thought about how grateful I am to have a job inside a climate-controlled building. For some reason this made me think about Will and his dad, getting up in the wee hours to start milking their cows, and I wrote this poem for them.

Milking Time

By Keri Collins Lewis

For The Dairyman, Will Gilmer, and his dad

 

Twice a day the dairyman goes

into his parlor, between two rows

of Holstein cows with udders so full,

they long for the machine’s strong pull

on their flesh, warm and ready

tug,

release,

rhythm

steady,

filling the vat with milk and then

they amble outside to graze again.




Quotes: Roald Dahl

Some thoughts from creative genius Roald Dahl to perk up your Wednesday.

I'm very fond of the work by the artist Kayann Ausherman who blogs at From Victory Road. She's inventive and not afraid to push herself to try new things. I admire that very much!




The print is available from her Etsy shop.

Mashable put together a slideshow of images and quotes found online.

Reader's Digest selected some "comforting" quotes.

If you have a favorite Dahl quote, I'd love for you to share it in the comments!


My Life: Everything Has Its Season


Photo by Norm Smyth.

We're bracing for another round of wintery weather. (Time to cover the garden again!) I tell myself it's supposed to be cold, because that is winter's job. But after so many years in Florida and California, these 20-degrees-and-lower temperatures are surprising.

I received this photo from my friends Norm & Shirley in California and I'm reminded of the magic of the monarch migration. How nature has its rhythms and cycles, and poetry is everywhere if we just stop to take a look.

This poem by W.S. Merwin reminds me to stop fluttering about and be present, to be awake to the moments of joy staring me in the face.

Whatever season you are in right now, I hope you look around you with fresh eyes and see something you've never seen before.

Today is a holiday for me, and in my case, my something may be dust bunnies so large they could be mistaken for prehistoric creatures, but then again, I'm supposed to be looking for something I've not seen before . . .

Poetry Friday Round-Up: Welcome, friends!



Happy Poetry Friday, everyone!


I have a lot to celebrate today, because it's my birthday! Virtual goodies for everyone! Have a cookie!


Photo from Cake Wrecks blog.
Put on your party hats (not the kind with the itchy elastic under your chins, please!), grab a bowl of ice cream, and be prepared to smile -- because your fellow bloggers have some treats lined up for you today.

But first, some silliness from the Muppets, because my sister hates the birthday song and has outlawed it in our family.

What would a birthday be without chickens? And Gonzo? And singing bananas!!??


Originally I'd planned to take a day off from work so I could host in leisure, but with our first grandbaby due in March, Mark said to save my leave.  

So, please use Mr. Linky or use the comments, and I'll try to check in periodically throughout the day. And a special greeting to all of the early birds who post on Thursday night. I appreciate your organization skills, though I am sorry I didn't get in from a work trip earlier to post this for you!

The Year of the Baby, by Andrea Cheng, copyright 2013


Image via Andrea Cheng's website.

I got this book as part of my review activities for Children's Literature, and was captivated from the beginning of this sweet story filled with Patrice Barton's delightful illustrations and Andrea Cheng's realistic characters. The Year of the Baby is the second in a series.

The Premise: The baby sister Anna's family adopted from China is failing to thrive because they can't get her to eat. Anna, her parents, and her friends are all very worried about Kaylee, and wonder how they are going to get her to gain weight.

The Questions: Will the Wangs ever know what kind of experiences at the orphanage may have led to Kaylee's refusal to eat? Can they figure out how to get Kaylee to gain weight before the doctor puts her in the hospital to force feed her? Can Anna dream up a science fair project that really matters to her, without losing her friends?

The Themes: International adoption (with a brief and sensitive foray into the abandonment of Chinese babies), the scientific method, friendship, family, cultural differences, stereotypes (Camille is Asian but struggles academically), divorce (Laura's family is splitting up), and how different people deal with stress. There's even some child development thrown in! It seems like a lot to pack into one middle grade novel, but Cheng crafts the scenes and dialogue so beautifully nothing feels forced.

The Fun: Each character in The Year of the Baby has a distinct voice and personality, including baby Kaylee. Chinese words and traditions, along with an appearance by Grandma Wang toting her herbs from San Francisco's Chinatown, add a layer of detail that is both fun and educational. One story thread I particularly liked was Anna's teacher's struggle to have a baby and how Anna's experiences gave her teacher an opportunity to learn more about adoption. I love it when teachers are portrayed as real people, not caricatures.

Anna is introspective and struggles with her insecurities, but ultimately follows a path that feels right to her. The next book, The Year of the Fortune Cookie, will follow Anna to middle school -- and to China!

I'm always on the look-out for books suitable for precocious readers -- younger kids who can read more advanced books but may not be ready for some of the more mature themes found in many books. This title fits the bill perfectly and would make a great story to share together at bed time.


My Life: Being on TV

On Saturday, I was interviewed by a local TV reporter.

Our quilt guild meets at the local arts center, which is opening a new exhibit on Monday. We were asked to view the exhibit in advance so the reporter wouldn't be filming an empty room. (You can see some of my quilting friends in the video too!)

No one was willing to talk on camera, and the reporter said she couldn't leave until someone talked to her. So I agreed and tried to get a grandfather-granddaughter duo touring the exhibit to go on camera too, but grandpa wasn't having it.

The exhibit features artifacts from the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, and includes a video about the importance of radio in informing people about meetings. One part of my interview that got cut was the importance of the media and communicators in changing perceptions.

I don't think I sound like I'm from Mississippi. What do y'all think? Her questions were: Did you learn anything new from the exhibit? What did you see that stood out to you? Do you think we've come a long way since then? (A loaded question to ask the person from California!)

Poetry Friday & Sister Fox's Field Guide to the Writing Life, by Jane Yolen


It's Poetry Friday!

Donna at Mainely Write invites all poeters and poetrinas to participate!


Is there a literary way of saying, "Jane Yolen's new book blows my mind"?

Perhaps: "Jane Yolen's latest poetic masterpiece has torn asunder my cerebral hemispheres."

Maybe that's too graphic.

But, y'all.

When I arrived home to a package sent by Royal Mail from an address at St. Mary's College at St. Andrews, Scotland, I knew immediately what was inside. (Cue the squealing, happy nerd dance.)

Sister Fox's Field Guide to the Writing Life. I read it through in one sitting, but will go back and read it again and again to savor it.

In "The Muse Complains," her Muse talks back to her and argues Jane never stops talking long enough to listen to the Muse and get the work done -- hilarious. A fine example of voice. In "A Fine Membrane," she preaches to herself the advantage of waking without her husband -- heartbreaking yet hopeful in its realism.

The book itself is a wonder: gorgeous paper, an elegant cover, and a simple, yet revealing, jacket. Printed in the UK.


Interior art via Unsettling Wonder.

I'm sorry to say this hardcover edition was only available by preordering. On a happy note, the publisher plans to release a mass market paperback sometime this year.

One of my favorite poems, "Words are Like Moles" is posted on Jane's blog.

I rarely write reviews on GoodReads, but since no one had yet rated this book or posted a review, I felt compelled.

Here is my review for GoodReads:

My experience with this astonishing poetry collection began with the thrill of a package sent via Royal Mail from St. Andrews, Scotland -- not a common occurrence at this address.

On a chilly evening, I curled up to slowly savor this delectable treat: a series of poems carefully crafted by a master wordsmith. By turns sassy, wrenching, candid, sly, mournful, mysterious and funny, each poem's melodious ease belies Yolen's assertion that writing poetry is hard work.

Laura Rae's delicate art served as a lively companion with its own tale to share during my journey through the chapters: Musing; Ars Poetica; Storying; And After; and Closing, following the process of writing from idea through post publication.

Laden with intimate insights into this prolific author's writing process and life, Sister Fox's Field Guide to the Writing Life weaves a magic spell of inspiration for writers of all kinds, but especially poets.

The Sunshine Award Post

The very sunny Margaret from Reflections on the Teche, my next-door-state neighbor, nominated me for a Sunshine Award. Thanks Margaret! I loved getting to know you better through your post!


Photo from NASA.

The rules:

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger(s).

2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.

3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger created for you.

4. List 11 bloggers who inspire you.

5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 RANDOM FACTS

1. My curly hair went straight after I had heart surgery at age 4. I cut it super short in college, and when I grew it out again, it came back curly. Weird.

2. I hated vegetables as a kid, but now I really like them. (Granny is still mystified.)

3. I organized the archives at Hearst Castle and got to handle artifacts like a guest book signed by some of the major Hollywood stars of the 1930s.

4. In 2003 I experienced a 6.5 magnitude earthquake.

5. I was in showchoir before Glee made it cool.

6. I met my husband online. Yes, I'm serious.

7. I co-authored a book with my friend and colleague Jana, titled Faces of Hearst Castle. Wow, look at all those cheap used copies available!

8. I prefer pajamas over nightgowns, and my sister is the opposite.

9. My first published piece of writing was a Mother's Day newspaper contest entry. I didn't know about it until my mother read it in the paper and started crying. My sister said I'd stolen the idea from an episode of "Little House on the Prairie." Maybe my memoir will be titled "Tales of a Fourth-Grade Plagiarist."

10. I love stationery, pens, planners, and blank journals. Random fact, but probably very similar to a large percentage of people who read this post.

11. Baking is my Zen activity.


Brown Butter Salted Caramel Snickerdoodles

11 QUESTIONS FROM MARGARET

1. What is your favorite movie of all time? Mary Poppins
2. When did you first begin to believe you were a writer? 4th grade, see above.
3. Who was your favorite author when you were growing up? Roald Dahl
4. What is your most embarrassing moment as a teacher/presenter? In my first speech in speech class, my hands shook so hard all of the covers came off of my overhead transparency, revealing all of my visuals at once.
5. How many pets have you had? Can you name them all? One, a cat named Boots.
6. What do you love to do in your free time? What is free time? Quilt -- I'm a beginner.
7. What is your secret fantasy? To live in Scotland.
8. What is your smell/taste memory of your grandmother’s house? Fried chicken and apple pie.
9. Do you collect anything? What? BOOKS!
10. What book have you read lately that influenced you and how? One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. When I'm focused on being grateful, I cannot be angry, resentful, sad, frustrated, etc. Gratitude is the Magic Eraser for bad moods.
11. Sweet or salty? Yes. I like hot cocoa and a piece of hot buttered toast . . . because I like both.

11 INSPIRING BLOGGERS

My Sunshine Awards go to ... many people who have already been nominated, so I understand if they don't want to answer another round of questions!

Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup
Michelle H Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty
Diane Mayr at Random Noodling
Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm (Check out her new blog design! Wow!)
Laura Pudie Salas at Writing the World for Kids
Buffy at Buffy's Blog
Mary Lee Hahn at her blog A Year of Reading
Violet Nesdoly at her blog Violet Nesdoly / poems

And now...

11 BURNING QUESTIONS FROM ME

1. What is poem you know by heart and can recite?
2. A book you wish you had written?
3. A popular children's book you feel guilty about NOT reading?
4. Next place you hope to visit?
5. Unusual skill you possess?
6. Early bird or night owl?
7. Something you wish people knew about you?
8. Least favorite household chore?
9. Something you loathe?
10. Something you love?
11. Comedy or drama?

Mr. Schu's blog: Watch. Connect. Read.

It's no secret I am a fan of librarians. (Hi Denise!)

I've recently become a fan of Mr. John Schumacher, an elementary school librarian, passionate advocate for reading, and very active blogger and Twitter user (@MrSchuReads).


Image via Library Journal.

He gives away books, promotes library use, and has fabulous interviews with authors and illustrators, such as this one with author Aaron Reynolds. He is adept at finding inspiring book trailers and hilarious videos. He even puts book info. in the bathrooms at his school! Can you say "marketing genius"?

Not only is he a resource for educators interested in getting reluctant readers hooked on great books, he is a friend to authors. He served on the committee that selected Kate DiCamillo as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He's on this year's Newbery Committee. He co-hosts (with Colby Sharp) a monthly book club discussion on  Twitter, the #Sharp-Schu Book Club. He was even named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker!

His pursuit of creative ideas is inexhaustible, and if you wanted to follow just one blog to keep up with the latest and best goings-on in the kidlit world, I'd say his is the one to have sent to your email inbox so you won't miss a single post. His constantly fresh and awesome content guarantees you won't get bored.

My Life: Winter Weather Preparations

First off, I'm not complaining. I know our predicted single-digit temps are balmy compared to what many are dealing with. Our precipitation is still rain.

Even though my husband thinks nothing will save my garden at this point, what with 20-30 mph winds expected (which will blow away my attempts at covering my plants), I had to try.



Keri, Keri quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
With boxes & bricks, plastic & sticks, and freezing days all in a row.


Stay warm, friends!

Shannon Abercrombie's Writing Challenge

I can do anything for 21 days, right? I mean, it's not like I already have an ambitious list of habits to add into my daily routine in 2014, right? And, it's not like I'm starting an online poetry course on 1/15 because I won it in a drawing, so I'm sure I'll have plenty of time!

Eh, blame Michelle of Today's Little Ditty for inspiring me to join a challenge that starts tomorrow.

So, are you in? Visit Shannon Abercrombie's website for more information.


Poetry Friday & Bridge Over Troubled Water



It's Poetry Friday! Betsy is hosting at I Think in Poems, with a wintery, Michigan-inspired poetry party.

Back in April, I posted some song lyrics after they came up in a conversation with my granny.

I got home in the wee small hours of this Friday morning after a rerouted flight from visiting my parents and granny in New Mexico over the holiday break. It was a challenging vacation in many respects, but one highlight was being able to spoil my grandmother with shortbread, hot tea, polenta & stew, help when she needed it and constant attention. She'll be 94 in April, is hunched over and has shrunk from a size 14 to a size 4-6, and her joints clack when she walks. Despite her pain, she is constantly cheerful and positive -- she's an amazing lady.


Granny posing with the "cozy" bed jacket we got her for Christmas.

Out of the blue one day this week she asked me if I knew the song, "Bridge Over Troubled Water." To say I was surprised is an understatement -- I can't remember a time my granny listened to the radio or listened to anything except gospel singing, the Bible, or a couple of country music groups like the Statler Brothers. The Simon & Garfunkel reference threw me. I told her I knew the song, but she just nodded her head, and changed the subject.

When I was young, my granny was my bridge, and for a week at least, I got to be hers. For today's Poetry Friday celebration, here are the lyrics that made me weep on the flight home. I suspect this was the last time I will see her alive, but you never know what God has in store!!

Bridge Over Troubled Water
By Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel

When you're weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on Silver Girl,
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

Lyrics via Lyrics Freak.

And here is a video of them singing at Madison Square Garden when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Poetry Friday & a villanelle by Robyn Hood Black




Hello, friends!
It's Poetry Friday and the inspiring, tireless Wonder Woman Mary Lee is hosting
over at A Year of Reading!

This week I am privileged to share with you a clever villanelle, sent to me in the Winter Poem Swap by that talented lady, Robyn Hood Black. In addition to writing and illustrating, she's quite the crafty genius -- did you know she can make soap? You can see her art work at Artsy Letters, (congratulate her on reaching her goal of 100 Etsy sales in 2013! Go Robyn!), and her writing work at her blog, Life on the Deckle Edge.  

In addition to a fabulous box of treats she created, Robyn crafted a poem inspired by a sugar paste holiday decoration in the White House. She saw it on HGTV. You can see more photos here.


Photo via The Garden Rant.

In Robyn's letter, she wrote:

"In the Red Room, there is typically a cranberry tree. This year, an amazingly intricate and vibrant vase (actually, I think there are two) containing crimson and plum flowers and fruit crafted in sugar paste by a local cake artist adds to the decor instead.

The designer has only been a cake decorator for three years. I was intrigued by her comment, though, that she had been a professional dancer for many years -- and that both art forms require an immersion in 'discipline, line and shape.' I couldn't get those words out of my mind, and they spilled over into thoughts about other art forms (like poetry!). So I concocted a scene introducing the designer and her extraordinary sugar flowers. These attract a bee, but the bee discovers they contain no pollen or nectar. Then what? I figured if I confined myself to the challenge of writing a villanelle, something would reveal itself in that tight structure!"

The title of the poem comes from Prov. 16:24: "Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."

I think you'll agree with me that Robyn works delicious magic with this beautiful poem. I couldn't be more grateful. Thank you, Robyn, and thanks to Tabatha for making the match!

Healing to the Bones
(c) Robyn Hood Black
Used with permission.

She found a special way to shine.
On stage, on point, she danced for you -
She was all discipline, shape, and line.

She turned to something sweet and fine -
sugared roses, delectable glue.
She found a special way to shine.

The honey bee, with softest whine
found empty blossoms - What to do?
She was all discipline, shape, and line.

"This is not real. This is not mine."
Out the open door she flew.
She found a special way to shine.

A poet pondered bee design;
Words formed and dripped, her fingers flew -
She was all discipline shape, and line.

Letters danced, each sound a sign
for thoughts emerging, bright and new -
She found a special way to shine.
She was all discipline, shape, and line.

Publishers Weekly: Inside Stories about Memorable Books

If you enjoy reading the back story for well-loved books such as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, this article's inside peek at the publishing industry is a must read.

Poetry Friday, a poem, & Shortbread Cookies



It's Poetry Friday!
Buffy Silverman welcomes everyone with a fabulous poem
about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat at Buffy's Blog.

Today I have a quick poem inspired by reconnecting with a friend -- my favorite part of the holiday season. I love the cards, photos and newsletters that give me a peek into what has been going on with friends far and near. This is for Deena.

Cookie Exchange

You bake my shortbread,
I'll whip up your mint meringues.
Time zones apart,
we celebrate different holidays
in the same way:
food is love.

Years ago, some of my students baked me some shortbread cookies and they have become a family favorite. If you need a fast treat for unexpected company, this is it!


Image via Taste of Home.

Easy Shortbread Cookies

2 sticks of butter
1/2 cup of sugar + sugar for sprinkling
2 cups of flour

Melt the butter. Stir in the sugar. Add the flour. Press into a glass pan -- the smaller the pan, the thicker your shortbread will be. You can go up to 9x13 as long as you like thin shortbread. Sprinkle the top with sugar -- you can use colored sugar if you want to be festive. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until golden brown. The longer you bake, the crunchier your shortbread will be. We like it with golden edges.

You will long to eat it when it's warm, but it will fall apart. To be able to cut it neatly, wait until it has cooled a bit. (I say this like I have this kind of self control. Ahahahahaha.)

Poetry Friday, a winner, & Writing Advice from a former Pixar employee



It's Poetry Friday! The witty and wise Tabatha has the round-up at The Opposite of Indifference.

First, I must announce the winner of last week's giveaway! I numbered the comments and asked my colleague to choose a number between 1 & 9. She said, "Seven!"



The winner of the Keillor book is... DIANE MAYR!! (Diane, please PM me at kerikidswriter at yahoo dot com with your mailing address.)

Thanks to everyone who shared their writing goals in the comments. You inspire me each week, and even more so as you revealed your aspirations for publishing -- not just poetry but novels too!

Along those lines, I wanted to share some interesting stuff I discovered on the internet last week.

I found these short bits of wisdom brilliant in their brevity. They were originally posted on Twitter by Emma Coats, who worked at Pixar.

The LifeHacker version has one slide, so you can enjoy the visual aspect too, without giving up the time-saving list format.

Or, if you can tolerate intermittent advertising, you can see the rules laid over images from Pixar movies here. These may not be what Coats originally did, but I've not had any luck finding an illustrated original set. I like this set better, created to go with a Power Point guru's post on integrated storytelling with presentations. Or, you can see the "I Can Lego That" version here.


Image via www.imgur.com

Then, of course, there's the argument against her "rules." Because, at least in my opinion, any time someone dares to organize an artistic process, there are those who say art and craft can't be mixed, that if there's any kind of "rule" or "code" it must be bad. (And how dare she call them "Pixar's Rules"? She should have called them "Emma Coats' Rules"!!) For the record, I can't find where she said they were "Pixar's Rules." On her blog, she calls them story basics she picked up while working there.

In the end, something about her ideas struck resonated enough that more than 2 years after she originally tweeted them, they live on -- pinned to Pinterest, tweeted by LifeHacker, and blogged about here and elsewhere. Another artist formerly employed by Pixar even created an ebook expounding on the tips. (It's free, but donations are accepted.)

My observations:
1. Never underestimate the power of a tweet.
2. Life on the Web is eternal.
3. People want to know how to tell stories successfully. No matter how many books are out there, there's always room for more.
4. The argument that it's genius, not hard work, will never go away.
5. Getting snarky online doesn't really benefit anyone.

Your thoughts?

Inside Peter Brown's Studio

Check out this video interview with children's author/illustrator Peter Brown. He talks about his dapper new book, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.


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