Monday, March 30, 2020

Sometime Selfies

What day is it? Did I miss the whole weekend? When our schedules are turned upside down, it is easy to lose track of the days.

Sunday came and went and no selfie from me. But, I have the same excuse we all have. So here is my Someday Selfie.

I have been staying up way too late. After midnight, one night last week, I heard a train whistle off in the distance.

It was a soft whistle a mile or so away. It was so soft that the only time I would ever hear those late night wails is on a night when I could not sleep.

Yellow Train

We lived about 1/10th of a mile away from the train tracks as I was growing up. The trains ran more frequently back then but they rarely woke me up. Kids can sleep through anuthing once they get used to it.

When the train whistle did wake me up,  the cars creaked and crashed as they made their away around the gentle bend at the end of the park.

The train's horn sent me messages back then - and now. Sometimes the messages were forlorn, the way train whistles are often imagined. Other times, as I lay safe in my bed, the train sang out, "Love to you! Love to you!

Love to my mother who still lives in that house on the side of the hill.
Love to my brothers and sisters who heard their own messages when the whistle blew.
Love to my husband as he sleeps soundly through the train's soft wail.
Love to my son, my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter who live close to another segment of that same track.

Love to all those who are gone, or far away, or out of touch. Love to everyone sheltering in place, close but out of reach.

The train I heard the other night sang another song. It wailed "Soon!" "Soon!"

Soon, the engineer and the brakeman will get home to their famiies.

Soon, the train and all of its cars will rest in the train yard.

Soon, the packages, or cows, railings, or gravel, or people - soon, they will get to wherever they are headed.

Soon, a train load of good health will roll our way. We need to be patient. We need to be ready. Soon, friends and loved ones, we will hug each other again. Stay safe. Stay at home. Stay well.

Listen to the train...."Love to youuuuuuuu!"


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Just read the BEST book - Weekly Book Review

Bad news: The Kutztown University Children's Literature Conference has been canceled. I am NOT HAPPY about that but there are books to read.

When the yearly Book Awards were announced by the ALA, this title showed up in the Honors. I never heard of it. I never read a review of it. But! Oh! My! This book is so good.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidegger, with illustrations by Junji Wu, gives an insder's view of what might turn a fox kit's blood to ice.  As a family of kits listen to an old fox tell scary stories, we learn of Mia and Uly, two kits who are separated from their families in horrible - for foxes - ways.  The short stories are cautionary as well as terrifying. One brave kit makes it through ALL the stories. Will you?

I made a book review video because that is what we do when we must stay confined to our homes. Those of us who can play instruments are playing beautiful music. Me, I review books.

BTW, the first book I mention on this video was so good!  The book is chock full of historical details about the silent film business, for us adult readers, and LOTS of adventure for younger readers.

Also, in my preview of Astronuts:Mission 2; The Water Planet, the book by Jon Scieszka, at the end I say it's by Steven Weinberg - Steven Weinberg is the illustrator.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay well. If you can, please stick close to home. If you must go out, be careful. The world thanks you.

Keeping reading!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Detectives at work - Stay at home with the Grand!

On Monday, Dulci came to us for the day.  It was beautiful - a tad breezy - but an awesome day for the playground and so off we went.

These days, we are orphan girls trying hard to stay out of the grips of the evil orphanage - think Annie!.  Sometimes, we are running away from a certain tycoon who sells everything. Dot - as D calls herself - works for A@@@@@ Prime editing videos. (I did NOT make this up.) I, Mary Ann, (not my real name, haha) work in one of the warehouses and it is HARD work.

But on Monday, we did not have to report for work because...nobody actually did, except first responders and medical personnel and support staff and postal workers, etc.

We maintained appropriate social distance from the others on the playground - grandparents and their grands.

Before lunch, we went home, grabbed our notebooks and went out for an adventure walk.  We wrote down everything of interest that we saw, including a pipe sticking out of a clump of grass, daffodils, plastic from a car, we think, grape hyacinths blooming in the middle of a lawn, and a huge pile of sticks stacked next to a tree.  Little did we realize that, much later in the day, these notes would come in handy.

We had other adventures right after lunch.  Then we got to work at our OTHER job as Dulcinator the Investigator and NanaLou, the Gumshoe.

We wait for your call.
We received a (completely fictional) call that pets disappeared from the neighborhood in the last few days.  Who could be responsible?  We floated several theories. But I remembered something from our adventure walk. Why would anyone have a big pile of sticks in front of  their house?

Dogs love to chase sticks!!  We agreed that this was certainly a clue.

D wondered if the pipe she saw could actually be where a laser pointer came out to lure all the cats in the neighborhood to play.

We are - I have no words for how clever we are.  So, now we just had to figure out which one of our favorite criminals may have perpetrated this theft of cats and dogs.

We examined the car of BGR (Big Gray Rabbit) and his crew of "workers", Hog, the Hedgehog and Fiddle-i-Fee, the fiddler and... you will not believe what we found. Plastic strips were missing from the edges of their car doors.

We caught our bad guys as they were loading up another (fictional) puppy into their damaged car.  Within hours, all the pets had returned to their (imaginary) owners.

Dulcinator was proud and happy to tell the last caller.  "We work for free.  Stay out of trouble."  Actually I added the "Stay out of trouble" part.

It's good advice. Stay out of trouble. Keep your distance. Be kind.  Wash your hands, etc.  Dulcinator the Investigator and NanLou the Gumshoe will be here to take your call!  We work for free.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Sunday Selfie - Small Steps

Small steps lead to completed journeys. That's my deep thought for the day.

This past week has been worrisome for all of us. And people in the "at risk" clubs - people with chronic illnesses, already in treatment for disease, immune compromised, medical personnel and, yes, the old - monitor each cough and ache with magnifying glasses and fine tooth combs.

Add losing an hour's sleep last weekend to that - and full moon, etc. superstitious baggage - and we are worn down with worry.

Each morning this week, I woke up feeling cranky and reluctant to engage with the chores of life itself. Where was my handmaiden to offer me juice and golden toast slices as I shrugged off slumber? Could no one free me of the chains of domestic drudgery?

Then yesterday I FORCED myself to do some yoga before I went downstairs. After a total of 8 minutes of stretching my mood improved.  I found some energy and ordered seeds and plants for my garden!  Whoo hoo! Things were looking up.

I took a walk. A walk, I say! Outside in the sunshine, under the trees - a beautiful walk! It might have been the sun that made me abandon my frown.

Fred understood the value of small - teeny-tiny - steps.
I think not. The act of forcing myself to actually take care of myself was the small step to a better day.

I am a Sitter. (If Sitting was an Olympic sport, I would medal in it.) Sitters avoid sports and unneeded physical exertion. Yoga and a walk, all in a single day- for me that is tantamount to climbing a mountain. I am so proud of myself.

For Do-ers, those who exercise every day as a matter of course, a small step to break gloom and worry might include taking time to engage in a hobby or taking time to sit still.

In Happiness in Five Minutes a Day, Vince Chiles, LCSW, encourages people to do five exercises a day: Wake Up Surprised, Take a Break to Re-Energize, Take a Break to be Creative, Learn Something New, and Go to Bed Grateful.  Vince describes how even one minute of a new or different activity can break the cycle of grump and worry.

(Full disclosure here: Vince is my younger brother. But his book's program makes sense and is easy to follow.)

Small steps, everyone. If this world class Sitter can banish worry with a small step, so can you.

PS. I did yoga and walked today, too. I surprise myself!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Words to Avoid when Reviewing Books (A through L)

Amazing - stop using this word - ever.

Awesome - see above.  I use this word to excess.

Addictive  - like addiction is a good thing?


Beautiful - that's like calling a book a "book".

Breathtaking - I will keep my breath, thank you.




Clever - this one is ok, sometimes, I guess.


Delicious - oh, stop it.


Devastating - honestly?  Isn't life hard enough already?

Delightful - see "Delicious" above.





Educational - gag!!






Gorgeous - yes, I have seen this word used about a book.



Interesting - YUCK!.(I use it way too often.)


Imaginative - well, I HOPE so

I pass on J's. If you find a good J adjective, use it. (Jaunty? jazzy? jolly? I'm out of suggestions.)

There are not a lot of K adjectives out there. Knowledgeable should refer to the author, so that one is fine. Avoid Keen. 'Nuff said.

LUMINOUS!  I loved it at one time and then it was everywhere. And what does it mean when referred to a book? That you can read it in the dark?

Luscious - books are not peaches!

Literary - Please enlighten me, someone.

That's all I have.  M through Z will arrive at a later date.  

All the Changes - Weekly Book Report

Love this cover!

Sometimes, it feels like I am just reading the same story over and over - the settings might be different but the main characters' struggles are the same.

These two books are a case in point. The characters struggle with you they are and firmly believe that they are something other than merely human.

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy McGinnis-Stark follows December, an 11-year-old foster child who is convinces that she is not truly human. In an attempt to change her life story, she writes what she wishes her past held and about her hopes for her future.  A new placement shifts her view of her life.
The author includes fascinating facts about birds and animal rehabilitation.

A Monster Like Me by Wendy Swore. Sophie has a noticeable hemangioma, or "blood blister" on the side of her face.  That disfigurement has Sophis convinced that she is not truly human. She carries a book about monsters to help her navigate a world that is filled with danger. The snippets quoted from the Book of Monsters will appeal to fantasy lovers - and to readers who want to hold on to their belief in magic.  Those snippets also contain deep thoughts and sound advice.

And THEN, there are the books that simply tell the truth.

This Promise of Change: On Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy. Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve black students to integrate Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee in 1956. The first week was quiet and then outside agitators arrived. While the principal of the school, the mayor of Clinton and the governor of Tennessee all upheld the law, perhaps reluctantly, aggression against the students grew. Cross burnings, angry mobs, bullying followed the black teens as they tried to get an equal education. Jo Ann finally tells her story of those events in this memoir written in verse.

Hello, Crochet Friends! Making Art, Being Mindful, Giving Back: Do What Makes You Happy by Jonah Larson, Jennifer Larson, Erin Harris. Jonah is a social media sensation because of his beautiful crochet pieces.  In this colorful picture book, Jonah tells his story, from being an abandoned infant from Ethiopia to being a crochet star in the US. Until his fifth grade teacher suggested he bring his crochet projects to school, Jonah was a problem student. He finished his schoolwork quickly and found ways to get into trouble. Crochet helped him focus. His classmates loved what he made and Jonah's Hands, his business, took flight. Great photos! Great problem solving! Great fifth grade teacher!

It Rained Warm Bread by Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet, Hope Anita Smith, Lea Lyon. At 13, Moishe Moskowitz's life was torn apart by the Nazi invasion of Poland. Moved from camp to camp, he lost his entire family. The title is based on one incident in this story of deprivation, degradation and survival. Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet brings her father's story to life in this small poetic volume. Let us never forget.

Running With Wolves by National Geographic Kids and Jim and Jamie Dutcher. Jim Dutcher, a wildlife photographer and cinematographer, wanted to show the world the intricate lives of wild wolves. This book relates his six year experiment studying a pack of wolves in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. Jamie Dutcher was involved remotely until the last three years. The descriptions of natural settings is stunning. The wolves have distinct personalities and loyalties. Animal lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, photography buffs will find so much to like in this book.

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Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sunday Selfie - Scrabble

My sister visited with her son this week. He had elbow surgery.  She lives in the Southwest. And when someone who lives in THE Southwest, is visiting someone who is a four hour drive from her Mom, well, that someone drives down with son in tow.

My nephew is a grown man of not yet 30, (I'm not sure how old he is). He works as a cook in a fine restaurant. He can talk knowledgeably and in depth about almost anything in the world and he has the darkest deepest brown eyes. He sports the rich red hair that his mother and several other of my siblings all have - red on the verge of auburn - and all of them have brown eyes of different shades.

His mother is a listener. I called her not long ago and when I got off the phone, my husband asked, "Did you let her talk at all?"

So, this listening sister, our mother, and I played Scrabble.

A cup of tea and the kind of easy chitchat that comes from knowing each other all of our lives was punctuated by the groans from a mix of vowels with no consonants and vice versa.  My listening sister worked on a yarn project. I repeated grand kid stories. Mom let us know about far flung relatives and friends.

We made words, big and small. The score never matters to me. I can never beat Heidi at Scrabble and Mom still holds her own. Seven letter words got applause and clever placement of the biggies (X, Z, Q) brought cheers regardless of who played them.

I missed the Hand and Foot tournament that happened at my Mom's house the next night. Another sister, a niece and another nephew showed up to play. Mom had two decks of cards to the Hand and Foot collection. The cousins talked about music and social media. My sisters shared photos of their pets. They don't have grandchildren - yet.

So, today, with the relatives from afar returned to northern lands and from there to the wilds of the Southwest, I walked over to Mom's and lost at Scrabble, yet again.

Someday, in the far future I hope, I will not be able to play games in my mother's dining room. But until then I plan to play as many games with as many members of my family as possible.

With every tile that we lay down, we spell the same word over and over again. That word is "Love".