Wednesday, January 26, 2011


So this quilt is the gift the enrichment students of Homewood Middle School presented to me. It's not any ordinary quilt: this one contains special pieces of fabric from each child -- sports team t-shirts, dance costumes, favorite robes, snippets of blankets, even the ear from a well-loved teddy bear.

And to make it even more precious, the students put the stories of their quilt pieces into a book for me called "The Story of Our Quilt." The book contains a swatch of each fabric, and each child's story is stitched into the pages.

I was so touched by the way these kids took this project to heart. They seemed to put such thought into the pieces they chose. Some even admitted in their writing how it was hard to give up a piece of that treasure, but how they knew I would love and care for their stories.

What a gift. From the teachers who hatched the plan and the parents who helped and the whole group that orchestrated such a special project. I am in awe, and I'm honored, and this quilt will join my Ludelphia doll on all my LEAVING GEE'S BEND adventures.

And made me remember this Mary Oliver poem. Mary Oliver is on my mind because I get to meet her on Sunday in Atlanta!! So for Poetry Friday, I offer it to you. Roundup is with the lovely Elaine at Wild Rose Reader.

What is the greatest gift?
by Mary Oliver

What is the greatest gift?
Could it be the world itself — the oceans, the meadowlark,
the patience of the trees in the wind?
Could it be love, with its sweet clamor of passion?

Something else — something else entirely
holds me in thrall.
That you have a life that I wonder about
more than I wonder about my own.
That you have a life — courteous, intelligent —
that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.
That you have a soul — your own, no one else's —
that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.
So that I find my soul clapping its hands for yours
more than my own.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Day One of my two day visit at Homewoond Middle School, and I cannot wait to share some pics with you. I spoke to 6th, 7th and 8th graders, and I was brought to tears more than once by the way this community of teachers, parents and readers embraced LEAVING GEE'S BEND and made it as personal as possible.

Not only did a group of students travel to Gee's Bend to meet the quilters, but they also...

...dressed up like characters from the story.

...created displays based on passages in the book. Like this one, about napkins folded like birds.

...invited quilters to come stitch and share sewing tips and some of their favorite quilts.

...made 3-D storyboards. SO VERY AMAZING! This one shows Mrs. Cobb's house and barn.

...rounded up quilting gear for tablescapes and made lemon cake and decorated the lunch boxes in fabric-pieced ribbon and and and...

More to come. The group presented me with a gift I will treasure ALWAYS. Can't wait to share!

But first. Must sleep. And prepare for my return visit tomorrow.
Thanks, y'all for sharing my joy. And HMS students, parents and faculty: You are amazing, and I will cherish this experience forever. xo

Thursday, January 20, 2011


For Poetry Friday I thought it might be fun to put on my editor's hat.

It has been my privilege to serve as poetry editor for Birmingham Arts Journal for the past (gasp) almost TEN years! It's a great job. I love reading submissions, love being inspired, love the worlds I get to explore through other people's stories.

What I don't like is sending those rejection notices. It's awful. Sometimes the work just isn't ready. Other times, it's just a matter of lack of space. Every time, I detest it.

But every now and again, something wonderful happens. One of those striving poets writes me back and asks if I might possibly provide some feedback.

So I do. And more often than not, I also pass along the following fabulous poem on revision. Big shout-out to poet Marianne Worthington for first introducing me to this poem... it still resonates after all these years.

Hope it resonates with all of you, too. Don't forget to check out Poetry Friday Round up: Tara at a Teaching Life Happy revising, all!

Poetry Workshop
by Jim Wayne Miller from Vein of Words (Seven Buffaloes Press, n.d.)

Try to think of your first draft as a creek
in flood time, roaring out of banks.
There’s been a night storm on your mind’s headwaters
so the poem comes trash-filled, tumbling,
full of chicken coops, barbed wire,
tin shed roofs scraping down over rocks.
It’s tearing along through trees on either bank,
dropping fertilizer sacks and two-by-fours in branches.
It’s swirling and standing out in bottomland.

Now you work with it until it drops
every tin can and bottle and runs clear
again between its banks. Of course, you’ll want
to leave a few surprises, so the reader,
out in your poem like a trout fisherman in waders,
rounds a bend and comes on a piano
lodged high in the forks of a sycamore.

photo found here.

Friday, January 14, 2011


This week I've been listening to an audio version of WOODSONG by Gary Paulsen. This is a special book, and I am still trying to decode my intense emotional reaction to it.

Yes, I love the woods. Yes, I love it when people learn things about themselves over the course of a lifetime and are brave enough to share it. And yes, I love dogs. Especially right now with little Ruby in the house.

But. What touches me most is this idea that we can learn from other animals. The magic happens for me when somehow all the differences between two species are bridged -- as in Gary Paulsen's story about his dog Storm and a stick the dog used to communicate his satisfaction or disatisfaction.

This kind of connection with another species requires a stillness, a letting go, a deep listening. And since my guiding light for 2011 is DEEPER, this sounds like a worthy way to spend some time -- to be alert and attentive to that kind of connection that another species may be offering, if only I'd pick up on it.

And how does this tie to Poetry Friday? Well, read the poem below and tell me if it doesn't affect you and perhaps change your perspective about the "ranking" of species. Then visit Laura Salas for Poetry Roundup!

What The Dog Perhaps Hears

by Lisel Mueller

If an inaudible whistle
blown between our lips
can send him home to us,
then silence is perhaps
the sound of spiders breathing
and roots mining the earth;
it may be asparagus heaving,
headfirst, into the light
and the long brown sound
of cracked cups, when it happens.
We would like to ask the dog
if there is a continuous whir
because the child in the house
keeps growing, if the snake
really stretches full length
without a click and the sun
breaks through clouds without
a decibel of effort,
whether in autumn, when the trees
dry up their wells, there isn't a shudder
too high for us to hear.

What is it like up there
above the shut-off level
of our simple ears?
For us there was no birth cry,
the newborn bird is suddenly here,
the egg broken, the nest alive,
and we heard nothing when the world changed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


This is my dining room table. Not a lot eating goes on here, as you can probably tell. And because it's cold, and because it's the start of a new year, and because I am feeling a bit scattershot this week, it has become the Project Table aka The Heaven of Unfinished Projects (after Neruda's "heaven of lost stories").

Among the projects:

a red "City Blocks" quilt I am piecing for a sweet little boy named James who is 5 years old and loves the Disney CARS movie. I'm using fabric from my stash, and on the back I am using a panel I bought with Lightning McQueen and Mater. I also purchased 2 yards of "Map of Radiator Springs" to carry the theme. Getting there!

my 2010 scrapbook. Have I mentioned that I marked 2011 as the year I switch to all-digital scrapbooking? Yep. No more paper and double stick tape for me! I love the ease of producing digital books. But I've still got to finish up my 2010 book before I can completely move on.

one of my wips, the one most calling my name at this very moment. I've got a complete first draft and need to read and revise. So excited about this one!!

poetry submissions, all printed up with lovely cover letters and SASE. It shocks me that there are so many literary magazines out there still NOT accepting electronic submissions. So, a-licking and stamping I go.

a map of the Pacific Ocean, which my middle son wants framed for his bedroom wall. After starting a successful gum business at school, he's graduated to e-bay, where he is selling maps from 19th Century atlases. But this one shows the shipping routes, and he doesn't want to part with it. The whole thing has got me thinking: what map would mean something to me? Of all the places in the world... what geography am I most attached to? Still thinking.

What projects do you have in the works this January? If you had a map on your wall, what would is show?

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Welcome to Poetry Friday Roundup!!

It's such a pleasure to host, and thanks as ever to Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for always putting out the call and providing the code and basically making Poetry Friday easy-easy so we can all focus on the joy we find in poetry.

What have I been doing so far this new year? Well, reading. A lot. As in a mad frenzy of reading to be ready for next Monday's Newbery Award announcement.

One of the titles I adored was this one, THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis, about young Pablo Neruda -- before he called himself Pablo Neruda! What a beautiful book, and what a hopeful story for anyone who has felt a parent doesn't approve of one's life choices.

Of course, I love Neruda's poems. No poet writes so beautifully about love. And this little book illuminated the roots of that poetry. So today, for the first Poetry Friday of 2011, I offer you this poem:


You will remember that leaping stream
where sweet aromas rose and trembled,
and sometimes a bird, wearing water
and slowness, its winter feathers.
You will remember those gifts from the earth:
indelible scents, gold clay,
weeds in the thicket and crazy roots,
magical thorns like swords.
You'll remember the bouquet you picked,
shadows and silent water,
bouquet like a foam-covered stone.
That time was like never, and like always.
So we go there, where nothing is waiting;
we find everything waiting there.

- Pablo Neruda

Monday, January 3, 2011


After much thought and consideration about where I am in my life as the calendar flares "2011," I've made my choice.

For all the words I considered, there was always this one word coming back again and again, like an echo across a wide canyon. You can't ignore something like that. And it's a word that makes sense, too, after a year spent in the more superficial celebratory mode of launching a debut novel.

This year I want something different. This year I want to go...

Deeper in my writing, in my relationships, in my spiritual life. I don't want to get all lazy and stop. I don't want to cave to the multitude of excuses that come with a life that chock-full.

This year I want to keep going, keep pushing, even when it gets itchy and tight and my stomach starts to lurch.

This year I will embrace the itch, create the burn, take more risks. This year I'm going deeper. And I'll share some of my experiences, here, with you, my friends in cyberspace.

Now. What about you? Have you chosen your one little word? I'd love to hear about it!