Thursday, August 30, 2012

Andare in Vacanza

by Graziella Pacini Buonanno

I just spent three weeks in Tuscany, Italy, visiting my sister Mary Angela.  Her house, elegant and immaculately kept, is about a seven-minute drive from lovely Viareggio, a seaside resort in the province of Lucca.

As my sister and her husband, Atos, had promised my daughters, they took excellent care of me. They provided a relaxing and loving atmosphere; AC at home and in the car; a low-sodium, healthy diet; local produce; fresh fish; and baked especially for me, no-salt, whole-wheat, crusty rolls for a delicious breakfast with my favorite, creamy cheese called stracchino. The smell of espresso woke me every morning, and I found the table set and breakfast waiting for me.

The one thing no one can control, of course, is the weather…it was an unusually scorching hot summer, with tropical humidity and no rain at all. I felt sorry for the tourists sweltering in our big cities.

Every morning by 9:30 a.m. we headed for the beach. We took a thirty-minute walk along the shore, followed by a swim under the watchful eye of our bagnino or lifeguard, and finally rested on a lounge, in the shade of our umbrella.
Grace (left) and her sister at the beach in Viareggio

I read my book (To Heaven and Back, by Mary C. Neil MD), or talked to M.A., Atos, and to Fiorenza, a lady who’s become a dear friend, after years of sharing the same umbrella next to ours, near the water's edge.

Our reading/talking was periodically interrupted by seasonal peddlers from various parts of Africa. We recognize some of them, for they return every year. We know the quality of their wares, (table linens, sundresses, jewelry, etc) and even their family histories.

At noon, we go home. M.A. and I get busy fixing lunch - pasta for Atos, or rice primavera, or gazpacho, or chef salad, or some fish fillet, etc. We do the dishes, shower, and after watching the Olympics, I’m off to my room for a siesta.

Some afternoons, due to the heat, Atos declined to meet with his childhood friends for a game of cards called briscola, and opted to stay home to watch television in the comfort of his living room.  He always wanted Mary by his side, they behaved like two teenagers in love, though they’ve been married forty-eight years.

After dinner, by 9:00 or 9:30, some nights we went to festivals (sagras) in nearby villages, where we enjoyed local specialties, played BINGO, or danced the night away under the stars. Many people on vacation, went earlier to the sagras to eat dinner there - delicious, inexpensive food prepared by volunteers, to raise money for their village programs (sports equipment for kids, seniors’ outings, ambulance service, etc).
Grace's favorite meal

I made time to visit friends and relatives too, and as usual, these encounters filled me with bittersweet, nostalgic memories, leaving me aching for the loved ones who are gone.

 I felt rejuvenated in the sincere embrace of my best-in-the-world friend. I, rejoicing in her art (paintings) exhibit; she, rejoicing in my picture book. “But why isn’t it in Italian? Yet?" she asked. “It ought to be, to become a success in Italy!”

 I had no answer. “It’s complicated.” I said. “ Maybe...some day… I hope.”

It is complicated. I felt at home, but I am glad to be back in the USA, my chosen home.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Importance of Correspondence

 by Regina Gort

Do you remember mail? When is the last time you received a letter with a stamp delivered by the U.S. postal service(ie snail mail)?

As a kid growing up in Texas, I remember walking out to the mailbox. It was an event. I'd walk down a dusty road with heighten expectations. What would come today?

Maybe a letter from my grandmother, Ruth. She lived in the tundra of Michigan, where we vacationed every summer. She started my obsession with mail. She wrote to me on a regular basis. Before I could even write her back, I would dictate a response and my mom would carefully write down each word.
My grandmother, Ruth

Once I was old enough to write my own letters, I wrote to my summer best friend. Her family had a cottage on Lake Superior next to our family's cottage. Our grandmother's encouraged us to write and a love affair with mail was solidified. Every year we wrote about what was happening in school and of course about boys and bands. We adorned them with stickers and glitter and paint. This went on for years. Some years better than others.
I signed up for pen pals in school. They were from exotic places like Spain and New York.

Today, I still try to write at least one letter a week. And on really productive weeks I can get out a letter a day.

It's an art that is being lost with every email, text, status update and tweet. But it is receiving somewhat of a revival. It's now vintage.  And vintage is cool.

I was so excited to hear about The Happy Mail project by Juliana L. Brandt. Basically you send encouragement via snail mail. No names, just addresses. All  it needs to be is words of motivation, inspiration, warm fuzzy thoughts, or funny anecdotes. I am in.

So as you sit in front of that screen to type another email, consider for moment putting a stamp on it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Who’s Ready for Summer to End?

by Jon Egan

We have one more calendar month of summer left, officially it ends on September 21st, but already I’m facing my annual KC and The Sunshine Band moment, you know the one, right? You’re flipping through that mind index system trying to remember KC songs and here it comes, yep that’s the one,

“Please don’t go.”
Those of you old enough to remember it are going all karaoke on it, right now, “The minute you walk out that door, Please don’t go, don’t Go oooooo o OOOOOO,” and a little smile is crossing your lips, and your hubby or wife is asking why you’re singing that annoying song?

January 1980, 1st number one hit of the year in Australia and right smack in the middle of my first long summer break in what was probably the middle of my adolescent years, and my first year of falling hopelessly in love…

Seven times total, well, eight if you count the time I went to Geraldton for that swim meet, but she was more like a crush than true love!

It was also the summer that I stenciled in big thick black marker on my bright red t-shirt the words, “I’m Available. Call 550 843 to Book Me.” Honestly I did that, and after every soul-punishing, tear-producing, heart-crushing, gut-wrenching break-up I’d throw it on and stroll around town in it.

Didn’t work out very well, never once received a call from my walking billboard, but, it helped ease the pain knowing I was getting back on the bike after suffering for at least eight or ten hours, or, on one occasion, after being dropped by Mira the Russian Super Model… two days of suffering, wondering if my heart would ever stop aching! Thankfully it did and I met Summer Love (Did the Soundtrack from “GREASE” just pop into your head?) number six at the local YMCA Disco Roller Skate Night. 

We fell in love roller-skating to “Magic,” from the Xanadu soundtrack, she was Kira and I was Sonny Malone… That lasted four days till we figured we were polar opposites, she liked old school skates and I was getting into inline and those two could never get along, very much like the modern day snowboarder vs skier.

But I digress, I wanted to talk about what the end of summer feels like for you, and I ended up wandering down memory lane, funny how we have the ability to bounce around like that, or is it more the inability to stay focused on one track? That’s probably it for me because if you could Google Map my mind it’d for sure look like the Los Angeles downtown interchange!

So Summer's end. I’m really torn about it for a few reasons:

The last few weeks have been punishingly hot, but I’m not sure I’m ready for falling leaves just yet.

Even though baseball is America’s sport, I’m ready for some football.

I do love a good BBQ, but there’s nothing like a good old beef stew simmering away in the crock-pot all day.

I did manage to get some writing done, but for me, I like being snuggled up in my office writing when it’s too cold outside. I just feel more productive in colder weather.

I got a few home projects done, but due to various injuries sustained during said activities I could use a few more weeks of project time.

My biggest pro for the end of summer though, would have to be that it’s just that much closer to the Swagger Reunion, Part 3.

So how do you feel about the end of summer?

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Top Ten (lame-ass) Excuses for Why I Haven’t Finished My Revisions on My Novel (yet) This Summer (complete with responses from my unsympathetic and accurately truthful inner voice)

By Juliet C. Bond

1.     I have been out of town.
a.     In out-of-town they don’t have computers, pencils paper or coffee shops where you might sit alongside your peers to create perfect pitch sentences, eloquent plot lines and voices unique to the children’s literature cannon? Really.  No, really?

2.     My kids needed my attention as they are home from school and miss me during the year.
a.     Your kids love being home, they would rather play with their friends, zone out while drooling and watching TV, read, avoid bathing and anything else that requires little effort but is blissfully relaxing.  You could write while they are doing this…

3.     Out of Town Visitors
a.     Although your fabulous sister-in-law and her family, your old friend’s children and your mother HAVE BEEN visiting, they do not need your hostessing prowess at 5am, which is your prime writing time.  No, they would not like you waking them up, pouring out coffee and handing them napkins at 5am.  I am sure of it.

4.     Writing when everyone is around is hard.  Seriously, right now there are no fewer than six, eight-year-olds playing Wii twenty feet from where I type.
a.     So get out of the house, Lame-o.  Your husband is home for the summer.  He can manage the Wii-fest.

5.     My husband, the high school English teacher, is home for the summer.
a.     Uh huh.  Does he block the door when you want to leave?  Does he dance suggestively near the computer as you struggle to concentrate?  Seriously, what is wrong with you?

6.     I might be experiencing writer’s block.
a.     Liar, liar pants on....

7.     The Bachelorette and The Bachelor Pad have been on TV.
a.     Okay, well those are kinda valid. I mean Emily was sooo fab and she deserved a perfect dude.  I’m not sure she found true love but it was exhilarating to watch her try.   Still, what about the other 166 hours in the week?

8.     I have an overwhelming fear that my revisions will suck, that they will destroy the perfect construction I have already composed.
a.     If it were so perfect your agent would be selling it to a publisher right now rather than handing it back to you to request revisions, duh.

9.     I sprained my wrist?  Wrists?
a.     No.

10. A combination of fear, laziness, time constraints and pathetic avoidance of something I actually really love doing when I sit my arse in the chair and write.
a.     The truth is not an excuse.

FWINE! I will join my fellow coffee addicts and get back into the groove until I finish this thing, compose the email, attach the bastard and hit send.

  You’re welcome.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Are you an avid fan of the Olympics the way I am? Were you glued to your chair for each event? Which was your favorite? Did you cheer along national lines or get caught up in Britain’s fervor for its own? Did you root for the favorite or the underdog? The seasoned veteran or the wide-eyed first-timer? Or the REALLY seasoned veteran twice the age of competitors? Did you celebrate teamwork or pull for every individual?
Olympic opening ceremony
Did you gasp as gymnasts reached for a bar or tried to stick a landing? Did you chew your nails to nubs as swimmers reached for the wall in races determined by hundredths of a second? Did you marvel as world records fell, and wonder how much more the human body is capable of? Did your heart break at every DNF, knowing all the preparation that went into something that didn’t happen? Did you tear up with those who ran/swam/jumped/dived/threw/shot/rowed/rode/played/fought/performed their hearts out—to finish fourth? Were you aggravated when silver medalists were disappointed? Did you revel with those who were thrilled just to be called Olympians?
Individual all-around gymnast Olympic champion
Gabby Douglas
Did you admire Oscar Pistorius who ran on prosthetic limbs after a five-year battle to be allowed to compete? Were you astonished by the gray-haired gymnast who restored the Bulgarian gymnastic program and performed on still rings better than most teenagers in the competition? Were you inspired by the fact that, for the first time, every nation’s team included a woman?
Oscar Pistorius
Did you watch breathless, sweaty athletes try to sum up their Olympic experience just seconds after finishing a race? Were you touched by the amity between teammates—and rivals? Did you listen to interviews with non-athletes or former athletes?
Post-race interview with US swimmer
Ryan Lochte
I did all of the above. And I loved it! I take two weeks off from writing every two years (I’m a Winter Olympics fan, too) to immerse myself in the wonder of sport. But I also savor those non-sport moments. Tom Brokaw’s segment on Britain during WWII was a must-see for a history buff like me. Watching Apollo Ohno traipse around London was a kick. But one night I watched an interview that really spoke to ME.

 Mary Carillo interviewed Sir Steve Redgrave, a five-time gold medalist in rowing (1984-2000). She asked him about the difficulty of returning every four years, and he said he always asked himself, “Are you going to give up or are you going to carry on?”
Sir Steve Redgrave
She asked him about the “sacrifice” it takes. “How do you do something like that?”

His response: “If you treated it as a sacrifice, you could only do it for a short period of time. So it has to become a love…a passion. When people talk to me about my gold medals, they want to talk about that moment of crossing the line, that moment of standing on the podium, that moment of…achievement. But actually what I look back on is the Olympiad, the four years of time in between each games. It’s the preparation. It’s the hardships. It’s a hell of a lot of commitment to put in to say, ‘Yeah, it’s just that moment that you have that medal put ‘round your neck or that moment your bow goes through the finishing line.’”
This man attained his goal—five times! And he kept going. He “carried on” because he loved what he did.

That’s the message I brought back to my desk.

No, I don’t have a medal of any kind or color. I don’t have a published book or even a contract for one, but I’m proud to call myself a writer. I love what I do. Now that the Olympics are finished, I am carrying on, following my passion, putting words on the page and heading my bow for the finishing line.

And after I cross it, I’ll begin the next race.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Southern history comes alive

by Kim Van Sickler

Savannah, GA. Home to fascinating locales chock full of stories, many within easy walking distance of one another. I just spent a week there with my Girl Scout troop. I didn't do much reading during this trip, but boy did I hear a lot of tales.

While traipsing in and around the largest historic district in the United States, we heard about:

Workmen fleeing the second floor renovation of Moon River Brewing Company, after a disrespected ghost tried shoving the foreman's wife down the stairs.

Jim Williams, the antique collector and owner of Mercer House, who was tried four times for the murder of his male lover. His story is chronicled in John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Robert Louis Stevenson visiting the pirate inn in Savannah (now the Pirate House restaurant) and using it as inspiration for Treasure Island.

Growing up in the isolated, but idyllic, Tybee Island as a member of lightkeeper George Jackson's family in the 1930's and '40s.

At Fort Jackson, learning soldiering duties manning cannons and communicating via bugles and flag semaphoring (visual use of Morse code with flags) to neighboring forts and the City of Savannah during the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

What it was like for African-Americans to band together in a community growing corn and rice, pressing sugar cane, and learning lessons in a one-room schoolhouse, in post-Civil War Seabrook Village.

The birth of Girl Scouts of the USA movement spearheaded by Juliette Gordon Low.

Beatings and public humiliation suffered by Andrew Bryan, the first pastor of First African Baptist Church, who declared in the midst of one particularly harsh thrashing that he'd rather die than stop preaching freedom.

Salty, a loggerhead sea turtle, rescued and looked after by the folks at Tybee Island Marine Science Center until it was determined it would be more humane to euthanize him. First diagnosed with bubble butt, a condition where air collects between the body and the shell, making it difficult to submerge, he flunked out of weight therapy. Turns out he suffered from a misdeveloped skeletal structure, resulting in both of his lungs being pushed into one cavity, which would eventually cause his lungs to burst as he aged.

It's these individual stories that made the history of Savannah and environs come alive for us. It's these stories that made our time down south such a memorable adventure.
Sergeant Claire--last girl standing after a rapid fire test of "About Faces" Right Faces" and "Left Faces" at Fort Jackson. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Top Five YA Novels of All Time

by Juliet Bond

Recently, NPR asked its audience to weigh in on the top Young Adult novels of all time.  The final list of 100 books can be found here and a critique of the list can be found on the fabulous Forever YA blog.  Pinning down my own favorites took only seconds.  Aside from The Hunger Games, which contains the most kick-butt teen heroine in the history of bad-asses (sorry, Buffy), I love Jennifer Donnelly’s Mattie Gokey.   Her book, A Northern Light has a more gentle, humorous heroine but she's no less brave.  The book also has a gripping plot (about a real life murder mystery) and a fantastic dash of historical fiction.  I don't know how she did this, but Jennifer Donnelly wrote a beautiful, perfect book.  I love her.  I also hate her.  A lot.  My jealousy knows no bounds...

Next, is Chris Crutcher’s Deadline for the achingly beautiful balance of grief, loss, realism and searing sarcasm.  I wish this man were my neighbor so that I could bring him hot cups of coffee in the morning and talk about politics or people, or flavors of bubblegum – whatever.  I will listen oh, Chris.  I will hear you.

I will also listen to John Green, who wrote a similarly gorgeous book about loss, The Fault in Our Stars.  However, Mr. Green has such a following of post and pre-pubescent fans (who self identify as the "nerd fighters") that I might get trampled on my way to bring him said cup of hot (now hopelessly splashed across the imaginary wraparound, oceanfront porch) coffee.

Winter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson, takes us inside the teenaged girl’s mind and heart and brings us out again with a sense of forgiveness both for her flaws and for the broken and blemished youths we all were.  I saw Laurie speak about teen girls in fiction when she accepted an Amelia Bloomer award a few years ago.  The snot sodden tissues I left at the table are a testament to how moving she is on paper and in person.

The British originated Georgia Nicholson series by Louise Rennison makes me laugh so hard beverages squirt from my hooter (vair, vair cool!)  I am ridiculously proud that my friend MJ includes me when she refers to her writer friends as the "four aces."  I also recently discovered the American equivalent to this, The Jessica Darling series, which is slightly bleaker but just as much fun.

And last a tie (I am a notorious cheater on lists of favorites limited to only five) between, I am the Messenger by Markus Zucac and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  Both of these books are carried by the voices of self-esteemless, uproarious and wise teen boys.  They are the only books my own teen son has read more than once.  He keeps them next to his bed and has learned to like himself better through the grace of these tender, generous stories.  In short, they rocked his world.

What are your top five (ish) and why?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Poetry Prompt

In my life right now there is little time carved out for writing. I am anticipating the return of a schedule once school starts for my girls. In the meantime I continue to journal write and find time for poetry prompt.

So here is this week's a poem by Julie Hanson from her book Unbeknownst
 First read the poem aloud. Read it a second time and write down words that you like. Or completely use her poem as a structure for your own.

Here is Julie's poem:

This will remind you of who has abandoned you;

if not, winter

And this will remind you of what you forsook;

if not, spring

And this will remind you of what has found you and welcomed you;

if not, summer

And this will remind you of the good you withstood;

if not, fall

What I like about this poem is all of the possibilities of subject matter and form. You could chose to focus on the seasons or the reminders. The point is it gives you a great jumping block into pool of your choice. I ended up writing about five versions so far.

Here's one I wrote for my husband:

This will remind you of our first date;
if not, the full moon will.

This will remind you of holding our first born;
if not, hunting chanterelles will.

This will remind you of the gains and losses;
if not, picking thimbleberries will.

And this will remind you of our future;
if not, the past will.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

My husband and I set out on a familiar road trip a few weeks ago. We drive many distances where others might fly, partly for financial reasons and partly because Jim likes to drive. His father was an over-the-road trucker, and Jim says he has trucker in his blood. For me, going by truck means I don’t have to pack light.

And we do usually travel by “truck”—a Ford F-250 pickup with a second seat and a sizeable bed. We use the second seat for our luggage, a cooler, and a container of snacks. There’s always a toolbox in the bed—just in case.

That day, we expected to be on the road for 11 to 12 hours. Jim isn’t much of a talker, so I settled in the passenger seat with a book—and my thoughts.

A few days before, I’d received some unsettling feedback on one of my novels, and was still trying to sort out its effect on me. It bothered me a lot more than it should have. It left me questioning all the work I’d done on that story (which was many years’ worth) and everything I thought I knew about being a writer. There was much to think about and process.

About seven hours after our departure from Cincinnati (we’d already stopped for lunch, fuel, and a stretch-our-legs break), Jim started to complain about the interstate’s condition.

“What did they do to this road? It’s making the truck vibrate.”

“Could it be the heat?”

“Heat would buckle the road, not make it do this. Can’t you feel the way the truck’s vibrating?”

“Are you sure it’s the road? Maybe it’s the truck.”

Bam! The driver-side rear tire blew. Jim eased the truck onto the interstate’s right shoulder, but couldn’t get very far off the road without putting the truck at a weird angle, where changing the tire would be impossible.

It was a hot day, not as bad as the 104-degree heat we’d left back in Cincinnati, but the kind of sunny day that can make a vehicle get extremely uncomfortable very quickly. I saw an overpass not far ahead, so we limped on the flat tire to the shade.

Jim took out the jack and a lug wrench and prepared to change the tire. Our flashers were on, but tractor trailers zipped by within a few feet as though we weren’t there, making changing a tire on the driver’s side a very precarious proposition. But what other option did we have?

Before Jim could make any real progress, a thought fell into my brain in “well-duh” fashion. I said, “Hey! We have AAA!”

We’d signed up with AAA a few years earlier when we began a cross-country road trip, not so much for the emergency road service as for the hotel discounts. We’d never used their roadside assistance, but figured this was a good time.

I called, told them our situation, and gave our location. I spent ten minutes on Hold while they contacted a branch in our vicinity. When I told them about the trucks whizzing by, they put us on “high priority” for safety reasons. But we still prepared for a long wait.

We spent the next not-quite-an-hour in the shade of the overpass, eating dust raised by the aforementioned truckers, inhaling their exhaust fumes, and joking about what activity the tow truck driver was being called away from on a Saturday afternoon.

He was there in just under an hour, and he voiced our own thoughts—loudly and in a colorful manner—to passing truckers as he changed the tire. Even with a flare at the edge of the road and the tow truck’s flashing lights, the trucks still zoomed past without caution.

The tow truck driver was efficient, and the whole incident, from Bam! to back-on-the-road, took about an hour and a half.

It made me think about that writing feedback that had upset me. When I had been overwhelmed and confused by comments I’d received, I’d called for assistance in that case, too. I contacted two experienced writer friends, who know my work and me, and who refused to let me (metaphorically) get splattered on the pavement, bake to death in a hot pickup, or remain stuck by the side of the road. They made me “high priority,” reassured me of my value as a writer, and gave me sound advice on dealing with the criticism I’d received.

I am prepared for a long wait on good news about the novel, but I am extremely grateful to AAA, and to two very special writer friends who were there for me when I needed them.