Friday, December 6, 2013

Poetry, Passion and Photographs

I took a photography class this semester at Dine Community college.  I am still stuggling with the technology and I have learned a lot about the craft.

I came away from the course impressed by the similarities between the craft of poetry and the craft of photography.

Light, shape, line, texture, compostion, rythym, meaning and metaphore.  It is all there in a poem or a photograph.

One thoughtful photographic image should do what a poem does in a few well chosen words; evoke emotion and meaning for the viewer or the reader.  We should want to return again and again to a well composed poem or image for its mystical impact.

I have been espcially influenced by the poetic nature of the works of photographers such as Keith Carter, Eddie Soloway, Sam Abell and Victor Masayesva, Jr.  to name a few.

When I look at Iris, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan by Soloway, I think of Basho(1644-94:

The temple bell stops-
but the sound keeps coming
Out of flowers.  (translated by Robert Bly)

Just as a poet works and reworks the words on the page,  with attention to each sound, the rythym and meaning, a photographer studies his subject in all light from all angles, each part.

I am fascinated by the old trucks broken down at the end of town in an alley in Silverton, Colorado.  I am drawn to the faded color and petina of rust and I have taken many photogarphs of these old vehicles run into the

 I am interested in every angle and each part, the stories they tell.  I have revisted this subject over and over again as I would in a poem.   My writer's eye is similar to my photographic eye as I pay attention to the details that fascinate me.

My passion for these old trucks turned into one of my projects for the landscape assignment in my course this semester and eventually won an honorable mention at the Dine College ArtWalk.

As with my poetry I still work to perfect this craft, look for creative, evocative ways to view the world, express what I see as important, reflect upon it, bring meaning to a subject and pass that on to my reader or viewer.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Cook gives Thanks(Or I'd Rather Be Writing)

Warning:  If you plan to eat Turkey at my house this year should stop here.

After some thirty odd years of preparing Thanksgiving dinner I have much to be thankful for.  All my guests have survived.

I pretty much follow the rules.  I wash my hands until they are chapped and clean the cutting boards.  I do not remove the wrapping from the frozen turkey until it is time to cook.  And still I worry.

This year in the middle of the night a few days before the big gathering I sat bolt upright in bed suddenly wide awake.  This turkey tucked cozy in my frig, I realized, did not have a pop-up timer.  I got it free because I spent so much money buying the trimmings.  I have never cooked a bird this size without a pop-up timer.  I should have known I was getting an inferior model from the over generous grocer.  I am usually suspicious of "free".

A ritual every year, I play the game.  That turkey is like a baby that has entered my life for four or five days.  The Internet says the safest way to defrost is in the refrigerator.  Allow one day in the frig per 4 pounds.  The baby this year is 21.73 pounds.  So I am guessing it needs five days of refrigerator time...roughly.  This defrosting is the first step in keeping guests alive.

The fear of too early thaw or too late has me fondling the turkey daily, patting and checking it as often I would check a sleeping babe to make sure it is breathing.  I remove it for a half hour from the frig to "jump start" the thawing process when it is still rock hard after two days.  By day three and a half I am a tad concerned it is too soft too quickly.

Now this year I have realized there is no implanted timer.  I wonder how the pilgrims did it.  Think of it.  A little salmonella could have wiped out the entire first Thanksgiving and we would not be celebrating today.  How will I know if the turkey will be safely cooked without the little red and white gizmo whose judgement I have come to worship.

There are of course other methods.  "Wings should wiggle freely".  "Juices should run clear when turkey is pierced with a fork".   Really?  "Cut to the bone and make sure meat is not pink".  I have visions of a scared bird shredded by test cuts.

So I have sent out an SOS to friends and neighbors.   I now have four meat thermometers at my doorstep.  I don't trust meat thermometers but I have no choice.
One is a tad high tech for me. 

 Another is loaned to me with the disclaimer that it has read 140 degrees all year in the drawer.

I've decided to use all four and take the average reading.  The bird looks porcupine- like and I wonder if porcupines are edible and do they carry salmonella.

I will use some calculation based on the directions on the plastic wrapping.  The grid suggests that for a bird in the range of 20-24 pounds the cooking time if stuffed would be 5-6 hours.  Seems a lot of lea way there.  So I will add a prayer to the gods of the roast.

I am not worried if the result is too dry or juicy.   I will just be happy when the carved bird is delivered to the table fully cooked.

And I will be eternally thankful for another year of safe eating.  Happy Thanksgiving!  May your turkey be cooked with care.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Gem of A Day: Jewel Covered Ground

  There is a magical place about an hour and a half from where I live in Chinle.  Don't ask me how to get there.  Given the coordinates and a little luck the GPS keeps bleeping out things like, "In 1/4 mile turn left on unpaved road, in three hundred feet turn right on unpaved road, in two hundred feet..."  You get the idea.   I was lucky to be with Jolynn a seasoned rock hound at the wheel and we found our way there with only one wrong turn.

You know you are someplace special when the sand sparkles green and the ant hills rise up out of 

the earth glittering green and red.

 It is a lovely warm day early in November but it is difficult not to think Christmas surrounded by all the red and green bling.  The ant hills suggest Christmas trees.

 We were on a dig but at this special place there was little digging to be done.  The Garnets and Peridot were literally sprinkled on the ground.  We could sit or take a stroll plucking the gems out of the sand.

Those of you who know me and my penchant for collecting anything on the ground that sparkles or looks interesting, from driftwood to beach glass to petrified wood, know I was in shear bliss filling my jar with red and

green gems.

At the end of the day we scraped the tiny gems off of several ant hills and bagged them up to sift through at home.
The tiny bits hauled up out of the ground by ants suggest some ideas for Christmas decorations...tea candles for example or paper weights.

 But look at this swag.  There might even be a dark Apache Tear in there.  And some pieces are large enough to be cut and faceted.  Or they might sit on my window sill holding memories of a lovely day of found treasures.  Gems and friendship.   For this writer a new setting, poem or fantasy.

 I might be an eastern, beach kind of gal but the southwest keeps throwing me surprises.

(On any adventure remember to look behind you or you will miss half the beauty).

I am hooked and hope to get out and do some more treasure seeking for gems even if next time I need a shovel and a pick.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

One Author's Full Circle(No Favorites) Taiwan

When I go to  schools as a visiting author one question students always ask is,  "Which of your books is your favorite."

My answer is usually something like, "I have four children.  My books are like my children and I could never have a favorite one." ( OK anyone in my family reading this keep quiet....)  My books like my children all have their special qualities and they have all given me some difficulties along the way.

And for an author her books are like her children in that she never knows where they will go in life.  I have had letters from readers around the world letting me know that my books have traveled far and reached many readers, made friends.  

My children have traveled far too. Jonathan is currently in New Zealand, Christopher and his wife work with the Peace Corps in Mozambique and Rachel is a nurse in Long Beach, California.  I am currently in Taiwan visiting my son Peter, his wife Chimei and our two grandsons Ethan and Evan.  

Peter was 8 months old when he traveled to Malawi with Steve and I when we joined the Peace Corps.  I wrote the picture book, When Africa Was Home based on his life there where he climbed ant hills and ran barefoot with his friends.  He ate sugar cane snacks and spoke Chichewa.

How could I have guessed that one day Peter would live in Taiwan and have two children.  How could I have ever guessed that one day his father, Steve would read the book I wrote about Peter in Africa  to our grandson Ethan born in Taiwan.  I like the surprises.   I like the full circle.

No favorite children, no favorite books for this writer.  Only favorite moments.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Return to Africa: Full Circle

Mozambique would be my new favorite destination even if we were not visiting Chris and Laurie, Peace Corps son and daughter-in-law.  It did help that they speak Portuguese fluently after two years and some local languages too.

But the people, the colors and the simplicity of life in Mozambique made the experience.  Add to that the spectacular and varied beaches and travelers from around the world...exotic and bohemian.

My kind of place.  Watch out Steve, this is where I would retire with one drawback.  It takes a long time to get there including my least favorite part, a short trip on a twin prop plane that looked like it was from WW I.

Other forms of transportation included hitch-hiking.  We were spared the real PC experience of riding in a chapas, a beat up pick-up or van piled high with people and livestock.   But we had that experience in Malawi and Haiti.  Two of my favorite modes of transportation were tuk-tuks and dows by motor and sail.

 We also took something called a ferry but I am not sure I would call it that.  As we loaded that boat Steve suggested that I take  off anything like a back pack that might drag me down and make sure I could easily remove shoes in case we did not make it to shore.

It was pure joy and a tad bittersweet to spend time in the village of Mapinhane where Chris and Laurie are teachers and to observe how they have integrated into community life there.  They have the respect of fellow teachers and the love of their students and many friends.

Chris arranged a goat roast (which turned out to be a delicious stew) in our honor but Laurie was the one to show off her culinary expertise and can cook gourmet on two gas burners, a homemade dutch oven and a charcoal cooker made out of a tire rim.

Steve and I relived our Peace Corps days and reveled in our pride at the fact that Chris born in Malawi into the PC and Laurie have pushed through the difficult times in a new culture with a new language in a vastly unfamiliar world to feel at home and to contribute in a small way,

 to know that they have received more than they have given and that they are changed forever.  They will have memories that only they can share together as Steve and I have similar memories.

Full circle, the kind a writer likes to achieve in her work...a gift.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Next Big Thing World Blog Tour

I was invited to join the Next Big Thing World Blog Tour by friend and writer Deborah Prum.  Deb and I met in college and we even took a Children's literature class together.  Back then people called it Kitty Lit...very politically incorrect.  Debbie and I have only been in touch a few times since college but we both pursued our passion for writing for children.  See her new book Fatty In the Back Seat and check her out at

Or go to

Now on to my projects.  My most recent publication is Beatrice's Dream, Life in An African Slum  published by  Francis Lincoln Children's Books and now out in paperback.

With photos by Wendy Stone
this photo essay is told in Beatrice's own words as she describes how she lives in Kibera in Nairobi, one of the largest slums in the world, her school and what her dreams for the future are.

I am currently living on the Navajo Reservation in Chinle Arizona where I am working on several picture book projects including a biography of Albert Schweitzer, a hero of mine since I was a child but I was inspired to begin work on the book after living for three years in Haiti at the Hospital Albert Schweitzer named for this remarkable humanitarian.

I have also been inspired since living on the Navajo Nation to write the life story of Teddy Draper Sr. a Navajo code talker.  This story is also told in Teddy's own words as he describes how the US government once punished him for using his own language and later recruited him to help use that same language to develop a code that helped to defeat the Japanese in WWII.

Another picture book inspired by life in the southwest is Facing Fear (working title) about a young boy who is the son of undocumented immigrants from Mexico the fears he faces and how his friends stand by him.

Finally here are the answers for this blog tour about a novel I am working on. 

1) What is the working title of your next book?
Dreaming Tyson
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I have been wanting to write this book for a long time.  It is inspired and informed by time spent in Malawi, Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and three years living in Haiti.  Finally on a return trip to Africa, where I spent time in Kenya, I knew how to tell the story.  
3) What genre does your book fall under?
YA Multicultural fiction.
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Well, if I had a choice it would definitely be Dev Patel from Slum Dog Millionaire but he is getting too old for the part now.  And oh yeah, right, he is Indian, not African, never mind not Kenyan.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Boniface, an aids orphan in Kenya finds his way to Nairobi searching for his half brother and grandfather where he meets Tyson who takes him in and teaches him about life in Kibera slum.  They are like brothers until a tragedy happens that puts Boniface out on the streets of Nairobi, a much more desperate place than even the slum where Boniface learns much about himself and who his friend Tyson really is.  OK that is two sentences, I know.
6) Who is publishing your book?  
It is still in progress and I have not sent it out to my agent or to publishers yet. 
7) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  
I would like to compare it to Slum dog Millionaire but even the author himself says it was not a well written book and the movie did a much better job of telling the story and anyway that was not supposed to be a YA novel.  
So I guess I would say that I hope this book will compare with works by authors like Debra Ellis,  The Breadwinner and The Heaven Shop for example.
          8) Who or what inspired you to write this book?  I have had many inspirations for this book which come from living in Malawi and Haiti, meeting and working with street kids there and time spent in Kenya as well as stories from fellow travelers and research, reading many books of fiction and non-fiction for this project.  I have always wanted to write a book that includes a library and the library plays a role in this book.  Don't want to give away what happens at/to the library but it is a turning point in the novel. 

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?  
I have written a number of picture books where the main character is from another culture. Although I have published several mid grade chapter books and longer works I have been reluctant to take on the challenge of a YA story with characters not of my culture.  But I finally feel comfortable with my characters and have gotten to know them well so it is time to write this book.

Now something about Nancy Bo Flood who is next on the Next Big Thing World Blog Tour.  Like Debby, Nancy is a writer and a friend.  We have much in common, writing, four children, life in Malawi and Haiti.  We have known each other for a long time but only met three years ago when my husband and I moved to Chinle and it turned out Nancy also lived on the hospital compound where we live(another thing we have in common, husband docs).

Nancy's recent book Cowboy Up is a picture book, one of several of her books inspired by life on the rez.

You may well be familiar with her award winner Warriors in the Cross Fire.

Look for Nancy at  and check out the next stop on this 

tour at her blog

Take it away Nancy!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Italy Loves Poetry: Details From Ionian Jewel

Italians are passionate.  They love their pasta and seafood, cheese and wine.  Who doesn't?

It  turns out Italians also love their poetry.   Traveling in the southern region of Calabria we came upon this poem on the wall of a tiny cafe/bar.

Unfortunately I cannot read Italian but it was lovely to see this illustrated, framed bit of writing decorating the wall of a bar in a mountain top village.

I too am passionate about poetry.  I even write some so this idea intrigued me even without the translation.

See my recent blog about traveling in Italy with my sister-in-law,  Nancy Howard who organizes Ionian Jewel Tours, custom made tours in Italy.

Traveling with Nancy you experience the details of Italian life you might ordinarily miss.

 For example I had the opportunity to meet Calabrese Poet Alfonso Cutruzzula.

He lives in Montepeone where Nancy grew up.
There is a fresh spring fountain on the road up to Montepeone and recently the village had a celebration to honor this place.

Alfonso wrote a poem which is on a plaque there.

The people of Montepeone remember this place as an important part of life in the village.  Going up and down the road people would stop to meet and greet one another, chat and share the news of the day.

They would like their children to have this experience and keep the tradition of sharing at the spring.

Here is a loose translation of the poem by Alfonso.  It is written in Calabrese:

No one can refresh like you. You water the land and the forest from a distance with joy and happiness. It does not matter who they are or what they do. Here is where they refresh themselves. Like me they love my little fountain.

One of Alfonso's books of poems.  I hear there is an autographed copy on it's way to me. ;-)

My brother Dave Howard with Alfonse.

Dave is a jazz guitarist.  It turns out the Italians love jazz too.  Another detail of Italy Nancy will share with you.  In fact Dave has performed in Italy often and will be there this month.

Find out what passions you share with Italy and her people when you travel with Nancy and Ionian Jewel Tours.


"BACK TO FUSION" special guest DAVE HOWARD Dave Howard