Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Pictures below: Corn-on-the Cob Eating Avery, Avery Buckled up for Safety, and Chuckling Stuart

You knew it was coming--the blog about the grandbabies. Here it is and with good reason. After spending a couple of days in Atlanta with Laura, Chad, Avery, Stuart and the Atlanta Braves, we have had Avery here at our house this week. I know Laura and Chad are suffering from withdrawal while she is with us; Stuart certainly will enjoy a little one-on-one time (although he recognized Avery's voice on speakerphone when we talked today, and he grinned.)

We semi-empty nesters have been without little ones for so long. After all, Ben will be twenty-one in about a month. Having Avery around has been one big case of deja vu. I know she looks like her daddy, but she is the spitting image of not-quite-two-year-old Laura in my favorite picture I've always kept framed in the living room. She hit the ground running here and hardly winds down--until naptime or bedtime--and then she's on a schedule that has actually worked: Every night she gets two books, a few songs and her prayers (during which she thanks God every night for "butter, syrup, waffles, and bagels.") She came with some of her own books, Counting Kisses and Llama Llama Red Pajama, but we've pulled out a few old favorites and she's under their spell.

If I don't get rid of my own books, you can be sure I kept the children's books. We actually have William Steig's original Shrek and far more Dr. Seuss books than one can imagine. This week I haven't found Go Dogs, Go or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I suspect they may still be where I hid them after being forced to read them again and again when our kids were little. I don't actually need them in front of me, since they are burned into my memory ("Do you like my hat? No, I do not! Good bye! Goodbye!"). This week we've pulled out a few Berenstain Bear books--Inside, Outside, Upside Down and He Bear, She Bear. We've also enjoyed the old Caldecott winner In the Forest. Avery most enjoys the books for which she can anticipate lines (such as Jake Baked the Cake.)

I realize that most of us didn't have the wealth of books growing up that our kids had or that we have now. My own book fetish perhaps gets out of hand, especially since I have nowhere to put them all, but what fun to be able to pull out an old favorite and share it with Avery. Best of all, I know that if I play my cards right, she'll get pleasure out of my books for years to come too.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Poetry in Progress

Robert L. Brewer, editor of Writer's Market and Poet's Market, brought April's Poem a Day Challenge to completion this week, acknowledging those of us who actually completed the challenge and awarding us a logo (seen on this page) and certificate to commemorate the activity. The goal of the project was not necessarily to crank out a fine polished poem every day but to produce a draft of a poem in response to the daily prompts with a goal of editing after the month ended.

The group turned into a little virtual community, a novel experience for me since I'm new to blogging and completely out of the MySpace and Facebook loop. Brewer continues to select daily highlights from each day's prompts. I'm pleased to have had at least four of my poems highlighted (highlit?) so far. Furthermore, by popular demand of the participants, he is continuing a prompt each Wednesday. I'm on vacation and the battery is getting low. More later!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Book Pages and Poetry Sites

Where do you turn first when the Sunday paper arrives? We've subscribed to the Charlotte Observer since we've lived in North Carolina. I also take the Hickory Daily Record, and I subscribed for a time to the [Lenoir] News Topic, but the Observer is my favorite morning fix. The Sunday paper is my favorite, and I read it ritualistically, sorting out the parts that go immediately into recycle, then stacking the coupon section and the Sunday magazine. In the most ideal arrangement, for a time the Perspectives section with op ed columns and selected quotes appeared in the same section as the book page and the Sunday crossword. Now they are in three separate sections.

The crossword and Sunday Sudoku now appear on the back page of the comics in large print, so I can no longer fold it up and hide it to complete undetected. Sunday's crossword is the only one I do. The daily puzzle is too simple and predictable; Sunday's puzzle is clever, using some of the same thinking skills that worked on the Miller Analogy Test required for my entrance to grad school years ago. It usually takes me all day long to finish, but I make a good start in the car on the way to church. When I visit Laura and Chad in Nashville on weekends, I enjoy the Tennessean, which publishes both the New York Times and either the Chicago Tribune or LA Times puzzles.

(My exception to my "no easy crosswords" rule is the airline magazine crossword puzzle. I whip it out of the seat pocket as soon as I strap myself in. My goal: to complete the puzzle before the plane takes off.)

My favorite Sunday section, though, is the book section. I've enjoyed at least four different Charlotte book editors and have written review for the last three. When the paper cut back from two book pages to one on Sundays, I wrote to complain. It must be a sign of the times that while books get one page, the "A List"--news of Brittany, Paris, P-Diddy, and the like--merits daily reports on page 2A every single day.

This week I had a review published in the Sunday Mother's Day issue on Jimmy Carter's memoir of his mother Lillian Gordy Carter entitled A Remarkable Mother. I'll admit I enjoy my occasional opportunity to appear in print. Last October, my friend Jane Shlensky and I pretended a session at the fall conference of the North Carolina English Teachers Association entitled "You Can't Teach What You Don't Do." I've tried to model to my students what I teach them: real-world writing.

This week's book section also included some of the summer reading requirements for the colleges in the state. Now I have a few more books to add to my list. The books columns and other literary articles appear at the paper's website:

Another site I continue to check regularly is the poetic asides page: organized by Robert L. Brewer, editor of Writers Market. I took part in the April Poem a Day Challenge. He continues to post highlights from that site and, at the request of the participants, he will continue to post a prompt every Wednesday. Even if you weren't part of the original PAD challenge, you can jump right in and make your contributions to the blog. Even if you don't want to write, you will enjoy some of the different takes on the prompt. Today's prompt, for example, suggests a poem about phobias. Check it out--if you aren't afraid.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Reader's Guide to Periodicals

Do you remember when library research included flipping through the Reader's Guide to Periodicals, hoping that once you found something slightly related to your proposed topic that the library actually (1. subscribed that periodical and (2. still had that issue? Everything's online now. Too bad for those who peruse the local media center (the PC term for libraries now, presumably because the "libra" refers to books, of which there are fewer and fewer to make room for the computers.) to skim the cartoons in the New Yorker or hoping to read Playboy for something more than the articles.

I am still drawn to magazines, especially for those occasions when my time is limited but I want to fill it--stoplights, restroom breaks, the doctor's office. My first magazine memory is, of course, the Reader's Digest. When I had just learned to write a few words, flipping through a copy of Reader's Digest at my grandmother's house I came across one of those annoying little insert cards, this one offering the opportunity of a subscription for myself and two or three of my friends. At the time, I thought of it as writing practice. I patiently wrote out my father's name and address, then my grandmother's, then my great grandmother's address.

Next I needed a little mailbox practice, so I walked out to the roadside, placed the little card inside, and raised the red flag. Not until I saw the postman pull up to the box, take out my little missile, and pull away did the read red flags go up. I knew I had to confess, so I went to Daddy. Softhearted Daddy. When I told him what I'd done, he struck a deal: he agreed to pay for all three subscriptions as long as I promised to administer the "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power" quiz to him every month. As far as I know, he still subscribes, and when he gets twenty of twenty correct, he calls to compare scores.

I honestly think I can track my life changes by my magazine subscriptions. Through high school and into college, I was an avid reader of Seventeen. These were the years when Jean Shrimpton, then Twiggy graced the covers. I vividly remember the fiction. One story that still haunts me had a Kate Chopin-type twist at the end. I also remember an article about Allison, a girl who died at Ohio State in the incident memorialized in song. I still have some poems I copied from those pages--I never clipped my magazines back them. I do recall the ubiquitous ads for Mark Eden's bust developer (our generation's alternative to implants at seventeen, I suppose) and the hairpieces--falls and the "bippy tale.") I don't know what finally prompted me to discard the whole collection, but I wish I hadn't.

Next was my Bride magazine phase--a short one for a relatively brief courtship. These I passed along to a friend who threw them out around the same time she discarded the fiance. During my newlywed and young mother phase, I subscribed to Good Housekeeping (more for their fiction than the recipes) and House Beautiful. I boycotted Parents Magazine because of my mother's dependence on their movie ratings during my adolescence. (During this same phrase, I ever read some Danielle Steel, Harold Robbins, and Judith Krantz. There. I admitted it.)

In recent years, I've leaned more toward the New Yorker, although I could never make the finalist stage for writing cartoon captions. Even though I'm out of the secondary classroom, I still faithfully read NCTE's English Journal and serve as a peer reviewer of manuscripts. Probably my favorite magazine is Oxford American, "The Southern Magazine of Good Writing." It has survived a couple of near death experiences, finally moving from Oxford, MS, to Arkansas, but the writing is good. Even the brief bios of the monthly contributors make for a good read. Of course, the issue worth waiting for is the Music Issue with its accompanying CD--eclectic and decidedly not Top 40.

My reading recommendation today, though, especially for any of my English teaching friends is the June 2008 issue of The Atlantic. I just finished reading "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower" by "Professor X," an adjunct faculty member at a private college and community college somewhere in the northeastern United States. Having just finished turning in my grades and attendance records to complete my first year of full-time teaching at the community college, I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or cringe. Instead, I'll probably follow my usually instincts and photocopy the piece for anyone within reach.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Free Bird!

No, I'm not warming up for a concert. I'm self-identifying. Three students are finishing up my last exam of the semester, and I can actually see the end in sight. On one of her CDs, Allison Brown plays an instrumental piece called "The Sound of Summer Running." Even without words, the song has that melancholy feeling associated with the end of summer.

I would love a soundtrack for this time of year. It's the same feeling I have every Friday--only multiplied: all the promise of time lying before me. I don't experience a direct correlation, though, between August and Sunday evenings. Ask any school teacher and you'll find that Sunday evenings are full of dread and self-recrimination for procrastination.

By August, however, I feel an anticipation of the new year. I still have the urge to go out and buy notebooks and the big 64-pack of Crayolas.

For now, though, I look forward to sleeping past six, to sitting down in the evening without the ubiquitous sack of essays at my side, to visits with the grandbabies. Summer renews my spirit. I'm already circling book titles in my lates QPB order booklet.

For now, I'm going to finish Follett's World Without End, then I'll read Tony Earley's sequel to Jim the Boy (the name of which I keep forgetting. The word "star" is in there somewhere.) For
bookclub, I'm reading Jodi Piccoult's My Sister's Keeper, Sarah A. Allen's Garden Spells, and Kris Hollaway's Monique and the Mango Rains.

And that's just the beginning.