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Monday, July 30, 2012

Stories in Beads

Sometimes in an old home or in just any room, I wonder about the people who inhabited a space, the stories told and absorbed by ears and walls, the memories made with others. I sometimes mutter, "If these walls could speak..." and ponder just what tales they could tale.

I feel the same about the antique beads that arrived today from Beadniks in Brattleboro, Vermont. Indeed, these beads have stories. The Venetian red eye beads are thought to offer protection from evil, and I have fingered them reverently. The Venetian green heart beads (lower left) do have tiny heart-like shapes in their glass forms. Who made them in the 1600s? How did they come so far from home? The bright Dutch glass mellon beads have streaks of red, blue, and white, representing the Dutch flag. Made a century later, their lemony color is in stark contrast to the Italian beads. What stories could they tell?

I look forward to imagining as I share them with friends and family.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Marriage = Good for You

Yesterday I had the honor of attending the wedding of my best friend from high school. I loved watching her family as they beamed and celebrated her marriage. I loved watching her interact with the many people who love her. I only cried a few tears of joy; she said I had to leave if I cried, and I so wanted to be there.

As we drove the 5 hours from our home to the church, I read Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs. Author of The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All, he is witty and thorough. Though each of the other books covers one thing (the Bible and the Encyclopedia Brittanica), he delves into the seemingly endless supply of health and wellness information available and attempts to find the legitimate things that really work. He focuses on one body system or function each month and incorporates the help of medical professionals and other experts as he tries various diets, trends, exercise routines, and products. I was laughing out loud (much to the amusement of my family) at some things and shaking my head at the ridiculousness of others.

But the chapter about the heart seemed most appropriate for someone going to a wedding. Often, the author visits his 94-year-old grandfather and talks with him about the many and varied things he remembers doing in life. Talk often goes to the grandmother/wife they both adored.

"Their marriage was likely as important to his longevity as his constant aerobic activity. Studies have shown that a good marriage is a boon to your health. It's been associated with a lower rate of heart attacks - as well as of pneumonia, cancer, and dementia." - p. 46

I'm so thankful I witnessed the beginning of another marriage! May it bring health and happiness to the new husband and wife.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Milking Memories

Growing up in Wisconsin, we often visited my parents' friends' farm. If we ever wanted to do anything with them, milking time kept us on a schedule. We needed to be at the farm for night-time milking. I spent many hours in that barn, and all the memories I have of those times came back to me as I read Phyllis Alsdurf's new book It's Milking Time.

The cows' hooves clicked on the bar floor as they made their way to their stanchions. The sounds of the milking machines created a rhythm with the cows' cud-chewing noises. The calves' tongues felt rough against my hands, and their strong mouths pulled the milk bottles - and me! - closer to their pens. Straw crunched underfoot. Cats and flies meowed and buzzed around me.

Phyllis creates such a warm tone in this wonderfully told story about the routines of milking time. Her narrator's concern for the cows and for her father illuminate a life of hard work and well-deserved rest.

The end papers look soft enough to stroke!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Noticing More

Reading aloud with my favorite neighbor kids has been one of the joys of this summer. Whatever I choose, they snuggle next to me on the window seat, listening, giggling, pointing, and considering. Yesterday we shared many Arthur books by Marc Brown and Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobbie. Though I always read the author, title, publication date, and any information about how the artwork was created, my two-year-old friend - halfway through the book - said, "Wait. Who wrote this book again?" I told her it was Holly Hobbie. When Toot had returned to Woodcock Pocket and all was well with the two pigs again, we turned to the end papers and the dust jacket. "Ahh. There's Holly Hobbie," she sighed, pointing to the author's photograph.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Boxes and Bubble Wrap

When the boys were little, we did not need elaborate toys and games. A large box from an appliance purchase would keep them entertained for days. A corrugated "house" once stayed in our living room for 6 months.

And then there is bubble wrap. They have always loved it. Still do. Whenever a book shipment arrived wrapped in the air-filled bubbles, the library staff set it aside for the boys. It is difficult to resist the urge to pop those bubbles. Both the sound and the feel is satisfying.

In Peter McCarty's new book Chloe, the middle rabbit child (with 10 older brothers and sisters and 10 younger brothers and sisters) is the only one not excited when her father brings home an addition to the family. It is not another rabbit. A television is the attraction for the rest of the family, but Chloe and her stuffed bunny refuse to watch. The box and the bubble wrap are far more appealing. Eventually, her siblings catch the enthusiasm. Children will love reading this book about simple entertainment!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Quilt Stories

Each of the quilts I have sewn has a story. Sometimes the story is in the fabric selection process. Sometimes the story is in the arrangement of fabrics or in how I quilted the pieces together. Sometimes the story is the fabric itself, especially if it was shared with me by someone else. As I am cutting, piecing, stitching, layering, and binding, I most likely am thinking of the person who will receive the quilt, and the stories shared with that person are woven into the quilt.

In Mooshka: A Quilt Story, author and illustrator Julie Paschkis takes quilt stories to another level. Karla is a young girl who loves Mooshka, the quilt sewn for her by her grandmother. The amazingly different thing about Karla's quilt is that it talks to her! It says, "Pancakes" before breakfast in the morning, and it tells her stories at bedtime. Each fabric piece (or schnitz, says her grandmother) has a different voice and takes Karla to a comforting place in her family's history.

I love that idea. I might have believed in that when I was a young girl. Maybe that's why I like to infuse my own quilts with stories.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Alphabet and Number Play

Sometimes, I feel so tired of going places that I consider forgoing events that would otherwise make me giddy. But I drive to the spot. I walk in the door. I listen. And I'm usually mesmerized.

So it was this evening. After a busy day, I considered staying away from the Red Balloon, but I'm so glad I drove down, walked there, and listened to Amy Krouse Rosenthal talk about her love of words and how that wordplay translated in her books.

She talked about walking backwards and about all the letters one can find in the alphabet: friendly letters, musical letters, letters that determine our being, and an identical twin letter. Kids and adults were mesmerized by her words and especially by the dummy of Little Pea she created after her daughter's nap one day many years ago.

I'm glad I went.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Getting a Voice

Voice is often elusive to children. They hear incredible example of it in the books read aloud to them and read wonderful examples in their independent reading, yet when it comes to writing, voice is a difficult concept to master.

Voice was dominant as Chris Crutcher read one of his "old" pieces to a group of MFA students at Hamline University this afternoon, and I wished I could have recorded it for my colleagues to hear. The narrator was a large teenager named Angus whose double sets of homosexual parents provide fodder for teasing by the boy's classmates. Add in his size and clumsiness, and the poor boy would seem to be constantly discouraged. Instead, he is spurred by his grandfather's admonition disregard the opinions and disdain. When he is voted Snow Ball King, Angus knows full well it is the senior class's idea of a joke, but he considers himself fortunate to have the girl of his dreams as the queen.

As I listened to Mr. Crutcher read his story, I occasionally glanced around the room at the faces watching his. Every person was rapt with attention at interest. We laughed often at Angus's insights about the world and his ways of tactfully dealing with uncomfortable situations. His voice made him real to me.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Read Walking

With limited time to read and so many books on my reserve list, read-walking is a good way to get another 90 minutes of reading done some days. Just as my fingers know the keyboard, my feet know the paths I have walked for 20 years.

Andrea Cheng's latest short novel for young readers features a girl named Anna who also regularly read-walks. Anna always keeps a book with her and is content to pick it up when the events around her are of no interest or when she is reading something so good she absolutely has to get back to it. Throughout the book, Abigail Halpin's tiny book cover illustrations show some of Anna's favorites: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Little Blue and Little Yellow, My Louisiana Sky, My Side of the Mountain, and A Wrinkle in Time. It feels good to have someone else - even a fictional someone - share my love of read-walking.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Who Would've Thought?

When I started this blog 18 months ago, I never expected to have much to write. I certainly never thought I would still be posting in 2012! I also never imagined all the people I would meet via this experience.

I met one in person on Monday at the Com. Park Pavilion. Kate is a blogger and writes daily at We "met" via our blogs. We share common interests and enjoy each other's experiences through our photographs and words. With only digital connections to that point, we identified each other immediately and conversed easily in the shade. I learned so much from her! And I marveled that a relationship could come about from blogging.

When we departed, I carried with me new ideas for books to read, motivation to work on a new project, and a warm heart because of this new-found friend.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Night Circus

I have never been delighted by the circus. Clowns are scary, especially the one in the painting in the pediatrician's waiting room when I was small. So, I hesitated to read Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. I almost exercised one of Daniel Pennac's rights of the reader ( The Right Not to Finish a Book. This circus, though, is not a typical circus. There are no clowns. There is not one big top. Instead, there are tents like rooms with amazing things to behold, like The Wishing Tree and the Cloud Maze. 

I kept trying, and soon, I was as enchanted with the story as the attendees are with Le Cirque des RĂªves. It is a love story, an adventure, and a fantasy about a wager made between two men over the talents of two young illusionists. Bound by this enforced competition, Celia and Marco do not know the rules of the game nor exactly what constitutes the conclusion until the book is at an end. The story bounces around in time and place, and interspersed with it are pieces about the fascinations of the circus tents written by a fictitious clockmaker whose love for the circus is deep and genuine.

Though I'd love to tell more about it, I think it is a book worth reading by others. So I will keep my thoughts to myself. If you read it, I would love to know.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Things in Common

Another librarian in my district has been pleasant enough through the years, but recent events have helped us realize all the things we have in common - and how much we enjoy each other's company. Today we spent most of the day together, kneading bread dough, talking about books, sharing knitting patterns, walking in the woods, eating foods we love, drinking tea, giving each other handmade gifts, and knitting while our loaves baked. It was a splendid day! We each have two fresh loaves of bread to share with our families and things to ponder until we meet again.

She asked to borrow one of my precious books (out of print, personalized by the author, given to me by my intrepid mother): Ken Haedrich's Country Baking: Simple Home Baking with Wholesome Grains and the Pick of the Harvest. Normally, I would not loan this book to anyone, but knowing her well now, I know she will treat it with love and cherish the baking experiences with it.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Studio Enlightenment #4

Eileen Christelow and her dog Emma welcomed me to their studio one day last week. Emma rested on her bed by Eileen's drawing table while we chatted. Eileen was finishing the details for a new Five Little Monkeys book. Spreads from the book adorned her white walls, and the many shades of green from her beautiful gardens and woodsy yard shown in contrast through the windows. Using her drawing tablet, she showed how she can adjust the colors of a page so simply with a click or two in Photoshop. Still, the sides of her computer "paper" were marked by various brushstroke colors, just as if she had been painting on paper. I loved seeing how she meticulously organized the versions of each double-page spread to save the changes and revisions.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Studio Enlightenment #3

Visiting Cyndy Szekeres in her Vermont home was such a pleasure. The home boasts high ceilings and wonderful woodwork and windows. Her studio is filled with bookshelves, artwork (her own and pieces by her favorite friends), loads of pencils, an amazingly designed drawing table, and so many interesting sculptures and items that I restrained myself from inquiring about everything. Throughout our conversation, I learned layers of information and came to respect this prolific illustrator even more than I had previously. She takes her work seriously, sketching every morning. Years of sketching mice that had lived in a home aquarium or that had been delivered to her slipper by the family cat has made her work anatomically correct and anthropomorphically amusing.

Taped to her desk lamp is a quote from her late and dear husband Jerry:
"He who speaks the truth must have a saddled horse."
She confidently spoke truth and stayed across the table to expand upon her words. I savored every minute.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Studio Enlightenment #2

Imagine the opportunity to design a workspace to your own specifications. Author/illustrator Diane deGroat was privileged to create the studio of her dreams, complete with a gallery, a library, and lots of storage areas! It is light-filled, welcoming, and brimming with objects and art that represent her personality, talents, and artistic career. I was privileged to spend time in her space, learning about how she works digitally and talking about her unique and lovely studio. Of special interest to many might be her collection of animals that used to help her as drawing tools! A Gilbert model hangs above her desk!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reading in Order

My inclination to read the end of the story first waned the past few days as Sharon Creech's soon-to-be released book The Great Unexpected held my curiosity. Narrated by Naomi, a wise young orphan girl living in Blackbird Tree, the story weaves so many people's lives together. I felt like I was walking along the crooked bridge described by the young Finn Boy who falls from a tree in the beginning of the book. With each chapter, I had more questions and a wee bit more insight until, just like for Naomi and her friend Lizzie Scatterding, all was woven together and revealed in such an amazing way. As she has done so well in past books, Sharon created characters that intrigued me (Mrs. Kavanagh who wants a murder and revenge, Pilpenny, the unfortunate souls, Mr. Dingle, and that Finn boy), adding Irish legend into the plot as well.

Near the end, Naomi captured some of what I wondered (and still ponder):
"I wondered if the things that might seem frightening could lose their hold over you. I wondered if we find the people we need when we need them. I wondered if we attract our future by some sort of invisible force, or if we are drawn to it by a similar force."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Sometimes I cannot restrain myself at the bookshop. I pick up a book and know I have to purchase it - either for me or for someone special to me. The other day it was the new book wri10 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustr8edTom Lichtenheld (whom I really hope to meet someday). Entitled Wumbers, it is a book of words cre8ed with numbers. Get it? I have been thinking in number/words since them, imagining how she made lists of possibilities and figured out ways to integr8 them in2 a book. Reminiscent of William Steig's CDB, I know it will be a popular book with children as a read-aloud selection, an independent choice, and a shared book. Ingenious!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Studio Enlightenment

Visiting Lita Judge's studio this week, the light coming in her north window brightened the space, adding illumination to her work. On the boards surrounding her drawing table, works in progress, works completed, and works in possibility shone in various stages of color. Her cat enjoyed the northern light and stretched along the window ledge, indulging in the afternoon calm. In her peace-filled space, I was pleased to read the folded and gathered version of Red Hat, a delightful sequel to the delightful Red Sled. Imagine what Bear and his friends do when they borrow the red hat from the boy's clothesline!