Saturday, October 31, 2009

In the Name of Friendship

My mother-in-law, who is a very dear friend, gave me a starter for Amish Friendship Bread. The sweet woman can't bear to waste anything, so I took the starter. I told her I'm not very good at nurturing these things. I nurtured my children pretty well, but I regularly kill anything else that requires consistent care, like houseplants and sour dough starters.

The starter came to me in a quart-size freezer bag. It's a living breathing blob of dough that must be kneaded daily and fed on day five and day ten. The kneading is pretty easy. Just massage the plastic bag. Not hard, just make sure you crack the zip lock to let the gases escape.

Day five rolled around. I knew it was day five, but I had other things going on day five. When I lay down in bed that night, I remembered what I had forgotten. Tough, the stuff will just have to wait until tomorrow. So day six officially became day five.

On the new day five, I added milk , sugar, and flour. Whole wheat flour, even though that's not what mom used. But didn't people who used to make bread with sour dough starters use mainly whole wheat, not the enriched, bleached, white stuff? Mom had prepared me for the fact that the starter grows after you feed it. She recommended that I put the whole shabang in a plastic grocery bag, just in case it explodes.

On day seven, I got up planning to go knead the bag, only to find it had exploded. I transferred what was left of the gooey mess in the quart bag to a gallon-size freezer bag, scooped up the blobs of dough sticking to the inside of the grocery bag, zipped it shut and dutifully kneaded it.

Lying in bed on the night of day ten, I remembered I had forgotten again. So on day eleven, I fed the living, breathing mass another dose of milk, sugar, and flour. The next step called for scooping out one-cup portions into four new quart-sized freezer bags. Then with what's left, you're supposed to make the bread.

Add three eggs, done. Add a box of instant pudding. Rats. I can't even remember the last time I bought instant pudding. After some research on the internet, I concluded that there is no reliable substitute for instant pudding. I turned off the over and the kettle (I needed a cup of tea by this time) and went to the grocery store. I came home and added the pudding. Went to the cupboard to get the oil and didn't have a full cup to add. Should have checked before I went to the grocery. Jeepers. Mom wasn't home to borrow any from, so I headed up the street to my mother's kitchen. She only had olive oil. I'm not sure that's the best vegetable oil for baking cakes, but at this point, I wasn't too picky.

Home again, I added the oil. More flour, more sugar (less than called for), more milk, nuts, raisins, etc. I plopped the dense dough into two loaf pans and stuck them in the oven. An hour later, voila. Amish Friendship Bread.

It is now time for lunch. I used up the entire morning on two loaves of bread that have way too much sugar and a pudding box full of chemicals, all in the name of friendship.

And like my mother-in-law, I couldn't just dump all those little bags of living breathing dough in the trash. So I stopped by my beauty shop and left them all there for some poor sucker who's looking for friends.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Teaching Kids to Write (In Memory of Doreen)

I love teaching creative writing classes. It's always an eye opening experience to see what kids will come up with. Some funny, some heart wrenching, but always unique.

I've been reading two books on writing written for kids. Neither of them is new, but they found their way into my reading stack for different reasons. The first is What's Your Story: A Young Person's Guide to Writing Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer. I attended a conference this summer where Marion was one of the featured speakers. I thoroughly enjoyed her approach to the workshop and wanted to see how she passed on her wonderful body of writing knowledge to young writers.

In the introduction, Marion tells readers that "our stories put us in charge. They allow us to explore our feelings without having to face the consequences of acting them out." It's a good observation and a great way to start the storytelling journey. Marion's writing on writing is vivid. She is a master at capturing the intensity of the present moment, in her own stories and helping young writers tell theirs. A great resource.

The other book is Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words by Ralph Fletcher. Doreen Sears introduced me to Fletcher. "He's the guru of writing these days," she told me."You need to know him." So I went in search of his work and found I liked it a great deal. He has several lovely volumes of poetry and many novels, too. His clear thinking and practical examples bring life to his book for young writers.

Doreen Sears was a dearly-loved, K-12 reading specialist for Muscogee County. She died on Friday after a long battle with cancer. Her kindness and her smile will be sorely missed. So my book suggestions today are in memory of this gentle lady who loved reading and writing and helping students discover the power of words.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Who's Playing What Where?

Okay, I'm not a die hard sports fan, but I do like a good game every now and then. This weekend it was hard to tell who was playing what. My hubby is a die hard Yankees fan, even though we are less than 100 miles from the Atlanta Braves stadium. So I watch with him. The Yankees are in the playoffs. But on another channel, Alabama was playing football. He's an Alabama fan, too, but usually roots for anyone in the SEC who has a chance of winning the national title. It looks like Alabama might have a chance. Lots going on to keep up with.

It's not unusual for us to flip back and forth between two channels. You don't have to watch the commercials that way. But Saturday when he added a third channel--an old movie, not another game--I gave up and went to find a book. Two channels I can deal with, but three messes with my brain!

So in honor of the season, my book recommendations this week are the football books. Okay, there's baseball, too. And basketball and hockey for that matter, but like I said. Two at a time is enough!

These two sets are from Creative Company. I love these books. They are so beautiful. Dynamic photographs. Only 48 pages, but more like a coffee table book that appeals to kids than the typical educational market. Perfect for upper elementary, middle school, and even high school.

Basesball: The Great American Game
Titles for every team in the major leagues. Features player profiles, side panes, and great photos.
AR level comes in at 7.1

NFL Today
Titles for every team in the league. History of the team, player profiles, and again, fabulous photos.

AR levels 7.1

Two other well-done sets at a slightly lower reading level by Norwood House provides the same titles for both baseball and football. AR levels come in at 5.4 to 5.8.

For any of you writers out there who are reading. If you have sports knowledge, I have media specialists begging for these books at a low reading level. AR 2.5-4.0. If you can write them, they would sell.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wake Up Call

I'm not a morning person. Never have been. My dad still laughs when he remembers how I hated to get up for school. Oh, I liked school. I just didn't like getting up.

I've never worked a regular job, at least not after I got married. I worked at home or from home, so no drastically early hours. Of course, then there were babies. I got up for them. As they grew up, we homeschooled to the beat of mom's biorhythms. And they weren't early ones.

The kids are all off on their own now, and I'm working from home again, setting my own hours and managing my time well enough to get everything done. Until recently, that is. In the last three months I've had deadlines on three manuscripts, one for an agent who requested a full manuscript, one for an editor who wants to see a full manuscript and one work-for-hire contract. In the middle of all this, I landed another contract for a book that's going to require a lot of research and a lot of words. Suddenly, there isn't enough time in the day. There aren't enough days in the week, or the month, for that matter!

So I'm back to getting up with the babies. Only now the babies are books. Sometimes they wake me up in the middle of the night and need tending or changing. They aren't screaming for food at six o'clock in the morning, but I'm setting the clock like they were. I finished a whole chapter this week. I felt like a proud parent. And I'm ready for sleep when the sun goes down.

Monday, October 12, 2009

COMO se llama?

I do know there should be an upside down question mark before that title, but I cannot figure out how to find it!

Last week, I spent several days at the COMO conference. The Council of Media Organizations represents the Georgia Association for Instructional Technology, the Georgia Library Association, and the Georgia Library Media Organization. Librarians and media specialists from across the state gathered in Columbus to exchange ideas, listen to speakers, and wander the trade show floor.

I manned the Delaney booth, along with my mentor and friend, Veronica, who has taught me so much about taking care of my customers and their book needs.

For two days, I greeted friends and customers that I know and have worked with for the last two years. I said hello to many new friends, as well. I know my customers' names and schools, but put them all together in one place, out of the halls of their customary surroundings, and I have to admit, the names start to run together. Fortunately, most of us had name tags!

Southern Breeze writer friends, Hester Bass and Diane Z. Shore, were presenters at the conference. Many of my media specialists mentioned their sessions, so I know they did a great job.

Hester's book, The Secret World of Walter Anderson, received a starred review from Kirkus and was named an Okra pick for 2009 by SIBA. It's a beautiful book with artwork by E.B. Lewis faithful to the style of this fascinating American artist.If you haven't seen it, you should give me a call and I'll put it on your list!

Diane Z. Shore is a bundle of poetic energy, zipping from place to place with the speed of energetic six-year-old. And of course, children and librarians alike love her. Diane's I Can Read Book, How to Drive Your Sister Crazy, is a must read for boys. Their sister's should read it, too, for protection! Check out her lovely poetry, too, in This is the Feast and This is the Dream.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fire Safety in Action

My son is a volunteer firefighter in Wisconsin. The fire crew may be seeing some action tonight. My husband was reading the sports section this morning. It seems the entire state of Wisconsin is ready to burn all their Brett Favre paraphenalia. Favre played his entire football career with the Green Bay Packers and retired a hero. Then he had a change of heart and tried to get back into the game. When Green Bay didn't rehire him, he moseyed across the state line and joined the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay's most bitter rivals. Now, they're planning to burn his jersey. Firefighters will be on standby tonight when the flames of Monday night football rise to a new height.

Speaking of fires. I was talking with a media specialist last week, when the pre-K teacher walked into the library. "Aren't you looking for fire safety books?" the media specialist asked. "Take a look at this one. What do you think?"

The teacher flipped through the pages of Fire Safety in Action from Capstone Publishers. "Yes, this is perfect," she said and commenced to sell the book for me. "Even the photos show kids the right age."

You have to be really specific with pre-K students. You have to tell them exactly what to do if they smell smoke or if a fire alarm goes off. This set of fire safety books does just that. Simple, but clear directions explain how to get out safely if there's a fire.

Titles in the set by author Mari Schuh:

Fire Safety in Action
Fire Stations in Action

Fire Trucks in Action

Fire Boats in Action

AR levels aren't assigned yet, but the books are written for emergent readers.