The title tells a lot about your poem or story or book. It should make your work stand out. It is the first thing a reader or editor or agent will see. It is often the last thing to go on my final draft. A really good title adds something to the work.
That Christmas tree topper can say a lot too. It too is often the final adornment on the holiday fir. The crowning touch. When I was a child the honor went to my dad. My own children used to argue(in true Christmas spirit) over who would get the privilege. The tallest usually won out. I have a vivid memory of the year they worked together...the youngest child downed in Santa's cap perched on the shoulders of the oldest. Still because the tree was too wide he could not reach the top of the tree. Ingenuity won out and with two broom stick handles one in each hand, he was able to grab the angel and guide her to her perch. There's a story there and it needs a title.
The ornament on top of the tree might address a theme. The traditional star might represent the star of Bethlehem. The angel could reference the angelic hosts. Like books, some trees are more heavily themed than others. The all white tree, topped by a snowflake, elf and miniature toys topped by Santa. Like a story the possibilities are endless...a cross, a dove, an apple. Endless possibilities, endless meanings. A roll of toilet paper? See the previous post in this blog.
A title takes some thought, some work. So does the top trim on that special evergreen. A friend out here on the Navajo reservation topped her tree with a lamb this year. I wish I had thought of this. I have come to love sheep on the reservation...they are nearly sacred animals part of everyday life. On the reservation "sheep is life." My friend told me she usually puts a snowman on top of the tree. She couldn't find it. The lamb is a dog toy. I like that too. This lamb kind of reminds me of Sherry Lewis and Lamb Chop(for those of you who are old enough).
So how will you top your tree in 2013? It can take a year to come up with a great title...and that perfect tree topper.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Actually some things do change. Now a days I am as likely to go to my laptop and google the Food Network for a recipe as I am to scour my cookbooks and old recipes. Really the options are
Believe me my files on my desk top (I do have one labeled Recipes) don't look much better. So Google it is.
Unless I am baking cookies for the holidays. Then I need those recipes that have become traditions in our family: Mint brownies, ginger snaps, lemon bars, raspberry diagonals, nutmeg logs....
Those recipes are easy to find in my hard copy "files". They are yellowed, brittle and stained written on index cards or scratched out on scrap paper meant to be recopied one day(hasn't happened in 25 years). Actually some of them have been typed and filed on my desktop...somewhere.... but when I am baking for the holidays I prefer
They are recipes handed down over the years from family and friends. Some have been translated. Lard the size of your fist = a cup of shortening. And baking soda as the last digit on your pointer = a tsp. of baking soda.
Some of these recipes crumble in my fingers but they are part of the Christmas tradition for me.Each year I scramble to find the favorites and stumble upon another and another and inevitably make too many and too much.
I begin just after Thanksgiving and have had to find new places to hide the tins and foiled batches of cookies from husband and kids deprived of homemade cookies all year long.
One year a roll of toilet paper appeared on top of the Christmas tree with the message: If you want the angel back, give us the mint brownies. The toilet paper stayed on top of the tree until Christmas eve.
Now my daughter-in-laws have the recipe, neatly typed and attached to emails. The mint brownies and all those recipes are from a time long before computers and Internet, long before I began writing my manuscripts in long hand, typing final drafts on a typewriter... I still pull out the old yellowed index cards, the recipes that have been copied and re-copied splattered and brittle and with them the memories of friends and families and Christmases past.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Who knew Chinle would be such a cosmopolitan place? People from all over the world. And I don't mean just tourists who come from everywhere to see Canyon De Chelly.
Imagine the food we have at pot lucks! Imagine the potential for sharing customs and cultures. Tuesday evening found me at my neighbor's home drinking green tea with cinnamon and cardamon and eating fresh made snacks from Pakistan. I had my hand decorated with henna.
What a lovely way to bring on the holiday spirit. And the weather outside only added to the cozy indoor sharing of stories art and customs.
Lucky we are to live in a community rich in diversity and beauty.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Around about this time of year many of us begin yearning for the perfect get-away. Here is where Steve and I were in Portugal last July with friends Jonny and Vio who provide a unique way to enjoy this country with warm and welcoming hospitality, great food and options to hike, kayak, surf and relax.
From sheep to castles, Portugal has it all:
And did I mention the food? Surf side, in the home with Jonny and Vio or cafe and restaurant.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
If you follow my blog you might know I collect stuff...most of it junk...sometimes I even put it to use. I always have big plans and sometimes I follow through( kind of like my writing).
Silly me. It was glass...everywhere there are broken bottles and bits of glass. Duh! No poem there...or maybe still...
But part of me loves trash. I attribute this to the fact that on "dump days" when I was growing up, my father used to take us with him. We were allowed to bring home one thing we found in the smoldering heaps of junk...I still have my little white ceramic elephant with a red rose painted on the side.
I have mostly managed to ignore the trash and enjoy the beauty. Part of me says I should DO something about the trash but the problem seems too big.
It took me a little while to put two and two together...the bed springs and the glass (it's the same way with writing a poem...kind of...SO that is what I was writing about! And this line just needs to bump up against that one.)
But first there is this. My laundry room kind of looks like a poem or picture book in the beginning stages (figuratively speaking of course).
I am kind of happy with this one. Bed springs + broken glass = Christmas tree. Although I get it that to others it might just look like a bed spring and broken glass. Or it's OK if you see a Christmas sculpture too.
I see holiday sparkle and maybe a poem or essay about life on the mesa...or both.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Last week I visited Fox Chapel Country Day School in Pennsylvania. Kind of humbling.... I didn't get top billing but birthdays are important.
And Painted Dreams.
As I have said these kids were well prepared and there is always one stumper question from the audience. These questions often have to do with my age or how much money I make...but one thoughtful fifth grader in this group wanted to know:
What is the most important thing you have contributed in the countries where you have lived?
Wow! I stuttered something about my husband being a doctor and saving lives...but what have I done? A humbling question. I guess the most important thing I have done is that I have made friends and I have come home to share what I have learned from kids around the world with kids in the US...maybe that is something....
And a postscript here: It was Native American month in November. Note the bulletin board:
Thursday, December 6, 2012
A week or two before the holiday I have the traditional meltdown because my husband has just suggested we ask a few more people to the table. The melt down is part of the tradition. In the end more is always the merrier.
I arrived home late Tuesday evening to find the house neat and clean and well stocked with all the trimmings. Never mind that the 20 pound turkey clearly marked "five days to defrost" had about a day and a half to get un-frozen.
And so began the turkey coddling and care...cold bath for a few hours, daring to set it out on the kitchen table for a few more, back in the frig just in case the turkey has a melt down.... too early. All that tension about how everyone at my table is now going to die of salmonella. Part of the tradition.
I have just found out that my niece and nephew are now vegetarian and vegan...well some things do change but "don't worry Auntie". So I didn't, mostly. At least THEY would not be taking the food poison challenge. But really did I NEED a twenty pound-er?
As it turned out that partially frozen bird was done early. You could hear my shriek across the street. That little plastic sucker in the turkey breast never pops up on time and this year the little red circle appeared early? I COUNT on the turkey being late. Tradition.
The mashed potatoes were gooey and lumpy. I have learned not to cry over lumpy potatoes.
As tradition dictates, the gravy was too thin but I have my own secret...the traditional packaged gravy mix...just add cold water.
And yes like every other year there was one dish left in the oven and never missed at the table...this year we found the extra pan of stuffing a day later.
The squabbles over which kind of cranberry sauce, smooth or whole berry or homemade? What you do or do not like in your stuffing. Not enough eggnog, the lumpy potatoes and thin gravy, the favorite dish that is missing this year...It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without.
My son who lives in Taiwan now still says it was always his favorite holiday...."That was the day when the house smelled good and warm. We all sat at the table and ate and you could take a nap(I thought he was just lazy and now I find he was relishing the holiday) and wake up and people would still be eating...then we all walked in the park...and ate more, right? The late night turkey sandwich...better than Christmas."
When I was growing up the turkey had to be killed that morning...thus I do know that turkeys are not born with pop- up timers. My Grandmother was dictator of the kitchen and the special down- home southern stuffing had to be just so. I regret that I never learned the recipe but not the loss of stress that went with getting it just right. After dinner the women in ruffled aprons washed and dried dishes in an assembly line while the men snored on couches in front of Football. Until...we children jumped on them begging for a walk before desert. Adults told stories around the linen white table and we children listened even if they thought we didn't.
Now at our house we have guitar music and singing and poetry. It has become part of our tradition.
We always have a few new faces at the table and miss those who will never be with us again. The table shrinks and expands with family and friends who grow up, join us with new family or move on to new adventures....Now a-days we SKYPE family who could not make it.
We are always Thankful to be together with whoever comes to the table and for the food lumpy, too moist or dry or otherwise... in abundance.
Thanksgiving. Tradition and memories. And make no mistake, the cook always gets her own bed in her own room whenever she is in town.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
It may have been Vegas with the lights and bling but at the booths and at the workshops it was all inspiring, energy and passionate dedicated teachers, librarians, parents, writers, publishers and editors. All offering great hope for education of future generations.
Many thanks to Eerdmans Books for Children for making it possible for me to be a part of this conference.
The bling was pretty much all outside.
Except for the inside where there was more sensory overload with music and lots of smoke.
Flashing lights a must.
I was part of a program that explored the use of books to help children understand and perhaps take action on issues of social justice. I had the honor of speaking with writer Deborah Ellis and illustrator Floyd Cooper on a panel. Books That Make a Difference: Kids Taking Action for Social Justice.
I used three of my picture books, Circles of Hope, Four Feet Two Sandals and My Name is Sangoel and stories of children I have known around the world in my presentation: Dreams, Hope and Loss in Everyday Life of Children Around the World.
Here is a tease: "I have lived with and worked with children who are aids orphans, children who live on the streets, sleep in trees. Young children who must find a way to earn a living, children who must be the adult in the family. Children who have lost everything including their country and sometimes even their name. These children have taught me much and they inform my writing."
It was an inspiring and thought provoking workshop. And I even got to sign books!
I came home with much to think about, lots of writing ideas and look what I get to read and share: