Monday, September 21, 2009


Why do we love Halloween?

At Halloween we can be playful AND spooky without being too serious. We can play with our darker impulses during the holiday without acting on them. We can bring our shadows into light.

Books are a good place to grapple with the shadow. Peter Pan had his shadow. When he lost it, he returned to Wendy so she could sew it back on. GOOSEBUMPS has long been a series favorite. Now vampire tomes for teens and young adults flood the market. Our cultural shadow continues to morph and each generation draws its outline differently.

I have always enjoyed Halloween. I loved dressing up in costumes and looting neighborhood candy bowls. “Arghhh. Hand over your Snickers, Matey!” One Halloween I dressed up as "Laura" from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE in a sunbonnet and gingham dress. Another year I was a hobo. More creative costumes usually involved wearing a painted cardboard box.

In retrospect, my favorite costume was the one my Mom made 5 minutes before my bus came.

“Mom--- Mom---Mom. I have a Halloween parade at school today. I need a costume.”

Mom headed to the linen closet. She grabbed a white sheet and her pinking shears. She cut out eyeholes, threw the sheet over my head, tied a red yarn ribbon around my neck and pushed me out the door.

“There, you’re a ghost. Go catch your bus.”

“But, Mom, I don’t wanna be a ghost,” I whined.

Slam. Door shut, case closed.

“Yay. Boo.” I said as I dragged my dingy gray Chuck Taylors to the bus stop wearing my sad little ghost costume.

Mom never had a problem with her shadow.

(Photo credit: "Halloween in Sleepy Hollow, 1978", by Emilie Spaulding)

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Hokey Pokey: What I Learned at the 2009 NC Literary Festival at UNC

Kids love funny. They love spooky. Kids love characters that make them laugh and shriek. If it’s going to be spooky – it better be funny spooky.

The two rock stars of the Children’s tent on Saturday at the 2009 NC Literary Festival were R.L. Stine and Judy Schachner – the authors of the Goosebumps and Skippyjon Jones series respectively.

Both were amazing presenters. They were highly interactive with their audience and involved the children in the telling of their stories. They had their programs well-rehearsed. They were playful, spontaneous and professional. They had the mastery of an unruly crowd that rivaled that of any elementary school teacher.

One author did highly personalized dedications and the line extended and snaked on at the book signing for over two hours. Now that’s the way to create a buzz. Everyone who passed asked, “What’s the line for?” like they were ready to jump on it – whether for winter boots or ice cream sandwiches.

It was totally worth the wait, because this author is a talented, lovely, and magnetic creative genius. I noticed, however, that the 12:00 noon hour for book-signings was torture for hungry and hot toddlers who have the patience of three-year-olds. Or for me.

The other author did not do personalized dedications, but simply signed, and took pictures with adoring fans. There was a two book maximum for signings and the crowd moved much more quickly through the book-signing process. We felt equally happy and attended to.

What I couldn’t get over was how darn nice and talented these authors are. Their patience and good-humor bordered on saint-like. Maybe the most important thing I learned from watching them work the crowd and do their thing is that, above all, they knew that children want to laugh, or shriek, and be entertained. These authors are great entertainers – on paper and in person.

Both authors voiced their belief that when a kid falls in love with a book or a character, that kid wants to read more and more – and that’s what it’s all about.

SHOUT OUT: Clay Carmichael read from her YA book, WILD THINGS. Zoe, her 12-year-old protagonist, has the sassy charm of Tatum O’Neal’s “Addie” in Paper Moon; she says those things you’d wished you’d thought of and is made for the silver screen. Catch WILD THINGS at a local bookstore near you…before Zoe goes Hollywood on us.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Musica Universalis

There can never be too much silence for me.

I hear everything -- the refrigerator rumbling, the cicadas clicking, the truck changing gears down the street. I hear the dogs sighing in the heat. I hear the tick-ticking of the wall clock, the crick of an ankle changing position. I hear a leaf falling to the ground, the scritch of bird shifting on a branch as it eats its berries outside my window.

I hear spiders singing to their children as they roll their egg pouch in silks. I hear the banana tree grow, the earthworm move and wriggle and tell all its friends about the time I dissected his great, great... great uncle in science class. I hear mosquitoes think about biting me.

I hear snakes shed their skin and new layers of bark slowly being added to the dogwood. I hear the mosses clinging to the hill and the rock mumbling "sorry" to the patch of grasses it has lain on for the past centuries.

I hear the spokes of a bike whistling in the wind and the frog's leaping toadstool slowly decaying in the crunchy wood. I can hear the trees thinking, dolphins playing, the sprites gathering in a cloudless form above me, waiting for me to talk back. I hear meadow heather whispering on purple plains -- they are very nearly shouting in their silence.

The Sunflowers in Tuscany are practically a riot of color and business -- stretching for miles and miles as we shoot past them on the train -- all yelling in unison -- "Slow Down. What's your hurry? You are so small. We -- so vast. What is so important anyway? We are here. Stay awhile and we will swallow you up."

I hear the waves lash the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee at night saying, "Nevermore, nevermore," over and over. Death is coming and they will keep talking and singing and humming. "Life is short. Slow it down a bit. And Listen. We have something to tell you that only we can tell -- and you will never be this way again."

I can hear butterflies flap their wings and pollen shouting "Wheeeeeeeee!" on the breeze. I can hear asphalt sizzle and water seep into the thirsty earth. I can hear the whole Earth humming and rocking and rolling and working and breathing and it is a symphony -- a cosmic kazoo -- a tissue-papered comb -- a planetary musical -- the music of the spheres.

Even my eyes can hear things not spoken. My ears can smell things and taste them and feel them. My ears are magic and bring me the intelligences of all sound.

My favorite movie as a child was DUMBO. Dumbo had the world's biggest ears and could fly. I always loved that -- that one's ears could set oneself free -- unchained from gravity.

I don't hear people talking to me when I am thinking. Can't listen to 2 conversations at once. I can't talk and listen to the radio at the same time.

But I can hear the moon spinning and that's enough for me.

Photo credit: Sleepy Hollow Books

Monday, April 13, 2009


I grew up in a town of great wealth -- wealth of bygone days.

The Rockefellers lived up on the hill on their country estate -- sprawling farmland that overlooked the Hudson River. Nelson Rockefeller had his sculpture garden hidden away and all the private Rockie homes were off limits but the family opened the grounds to joggers and bikers and horseback riders -- even though they were really the only ones ever on horseback.

John D. Rockefeller used to ride his horse down the hill into town I was told, and give out dimes to the townspeople in the early 1900s. The town was famous for being the place about which Washington Irving, another resident, wrote THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW -- the tale of the headless horseman who scared the poor itinerant teacher, Icabod Crane, by brandishing a false pumpkin head on a blazing steed. I always imagined John D. Rockefeller also haunting the town -- also on horseback -- hopefully doing good deeds -- or at least leaving little dimes on the pavement.

I spent my girlhood in Warner Library -- a grand Italianate library with pillars and palladian windows and high celings. The ornate bronze carved door, depicting Poseiden and the sea nymphs, was brought back from Italy. Although you could push it open or closed with just one finger because it was perfectly engineered, it probably weighed half a ton. Oil paintings of society ladies -- the Warners -- looked out over me as I sat in the wingback chairs reading Ranger Rick magazines or LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. It was like sitting in someone's really fine library at home, but anyone could come in and pick up a book and read.

When I went back on my last visit to Tarrytown, I visited the library and said a little prayer to the ladies in the oil paintings and thanked them -- the mother and daughter-- for creating a sanctuary for me as a girl.

I would come in from school each afternoon. I'd walk down to the library and Carol B. Caro, the white-haired but young children's librarian, would greet me. She knew me by name. "What are you looking for today, Amy?" she would say in the most cheerful, but library quiet voice. She was always happy and knew everything about books. She wasn't very tall so a kid could see eye-to-eye with her.

She would lead me down aisles of open shelving in the Children's Reading Room and pull off Little Women, Robinson Crusoe, Wuthering Heights, A Wrinkle In Time, I don't recall all the titles and authors -- Judy Blume -- everything a girl could want to dive into. I don't know if Carol knew I wasn't very happy and didn't fit in. She didn't really chat much. Her job was to feed me books to occupy my mind and to divert it from sadness.

I see Carol all the time -- maybe once a year -- at big occasions -- usually at weddings. I think I have told her what she meant to me back then -- how she saved me by being caring and interested but never too close. She let me do the discovering, the reading, the returning, and she was always there -- constant as the proverbial Northern Star and ready to turn over another page.

Friday, February 20, 2009

#42 - Pet a dog

STRESS BUSTING 101: What do I know about stress? EVERYTHING!

If you are feeling pressed, stressed, or blue, you can use this list as a stress-busting oracle: Close your eyes, blow out your breath slowly, and think of a number between 1-50.

Now look at the list and consider doing the following…

1. Take a bath (add Epsom salts for a good soak)
2. Have a cup of tea
3. Go for a run
4. Go for a walk (and do soothing self talk; flip the worry -- see if you can see the POSITIVES about why the roof leaks: The sound of soothing raindrops eliminates need for plug in feng-shui fountain; better view of the sky; cute repairperson; good time to add on an addition/solar panels...)
5. Draw a cartoon about the issue...include a positively outrageous solution
6. Put on music
7. Dance, dance, dance
8. Hit the heavy bag
9. Call your sisters
10. Call a friend (put their name on your stress-busting list with phone number)
11. Do a load of laundry; take out the garbage; unload the dishwasher; sort the sock drawer
12. Go swing outside; preferably in a park around kids; do not wear trenchcoat
13. Pull weeds
14. Transplant something
15. Lie in the hammock and read
16. Write a letter to someone
17. Go outside. Now.
18. Crouch down and touch the earth with your bare hands and feet
19. Hug a tree
20. Swim
21. Stretch; do yoga
22. Breathe out slowly
23. Have a drink of cold water
24. Splash cold water on your face
25. Write down your complaints and worries
26. Read a book under the covers and and take quiet time
27. Write a gratitude list of 10 things that make your life better. Now write 10 more.
28. Go for a bike ride
29. Yell in the car (preferable alone)
30. Color, draw or paint
31. Hit a tennis ball against a backboard; go to the batting cage
32. Call a therapist or smart, unflappable friend
33. Call Mom
34. Recycle something
35. Say or write positive affirmations -- put the really good ones on your bathroom mirror
36. Say a prayer (Lord’s prayer; Buddhist or Jewish blessings)
37. Sing Christmas carols to yourself (my favorites are Silent Night and Here Comes Santa Claus)
38. Have a green drink (a fruit smoothie or Odwalla Superfood green drink)
39. Take your medicine or vitamins – Vitamin B
40. Take flower essences (Bach’s rescue remedy)
41. Meditate
42. Pet a dog or cat
43. Hold a child
44. Go ice skating
45. Lie down
46. Go to the movies and see a COMEDY
47. Water the plants
48. Vacuum or sweep
49. Walk, walk, walk – take the dog with you
50. Get bodywork; massage; or ask a pal for a hug
51. Turn off the news; turn on the music -- and sing

(Remember, always take your own preferences and needs into account. Check with a medical professional before you get too wiggy. This is my personal list. Make your own list of 51 things you can do to soothe yourself when you are feeling upset or stressed.

Let me know what works for you!

(Photo credit: Joe Tansey Jr.)