Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Santa gets the VIP treatment on Air Force bases---sometimes

My kids grew up on Air Force bases, so they know Santa arrives in an F-15. Here's the drill:

The kids hang out in the flight rooms at the squadron until the announcement comes from the duty desk that The Big Man is in the landing pattern. Then they rush out with their parents to mob the flight line, where everyone shrieks and waves as Santa taxies by.

See the white line? The kids have to stay behind that to be safe. F-15 engines are loud, not to mention prone to sucking down loose objects like children.

Hi, Santa!

While The Jolly One parks in a secure location, the crowds return to the squadron building where there's a party with cookies to decorate and glittery, gluey crafts to make and of course, a line to meet Santa when he's taken off his flying gear.

My kids also know that Santa can be tracked on Christmas Eve via NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command.)  This year, it appears that Google Earth will also have a tracer on The Much Anticipated Visitor.

I hope NORAD and Google Earth keep a close eye on Santa. One year---in a story that's now part of Holmes family Air Force lore--- the fighter squadrons painted giant wooden Christmas cards to post along the main road into the base. Greetings of Joy and Peace and Love and All That.

Except that a group of well-meaning lieutenants (I don't think there were any wise captains among them) designed their elaborate sign to feature Santa's sleigh flying through the air, with an F-15 fighter jet as St. Nick's personal escort. The only problem: The F-15 was firing a missile. In a tragic artistic mistake, it looked like the missile was headed right for the unsuspecting Santa.

You can imagine the complaints.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


It's beautiful snow---fluffy and light. If only there wasn't quite so much of it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Letters (and Reviews and Interviews) of Note

When you have a new book child out in the world, it's nice when your first book child gets a little loving, too. On Monday, Valerie Geary posted a thoughtful review of Letters From Rapunzel, and today, she's featuring an interview with me about writing (and reading) middle grade fiction. Thank you so much, Valerie! She's exploring the middle grade genre for all of December, so bookmark her blog and check back the rest of the month.

P.S. (There's always a P.S. when I'm blogging about Letters From Rapunzel---have you noticed?)  My sister sent me a link to this intriguing blog called Letters of Note. The site posts scanned PDFs of original letters and then transcribes them so they're easier to read. A sampling: J.D. Salinger's letter, refusing to sell the screen rights to A Catcher in the Ryeinventer Nikola Tesla writing to the Red Cross, predicting contact with other life forms; Robert Heinlein's hilarious "tick the box" form letter to fans who wrote him. (One of them is "please don't write me again." Ha! I think my Rapunzel would've been a kindred spirit to Mr. Heinlein.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poetry Friday: White-Eyes

It's not winter yet, but it feels like it. (23 degrees outside!) Time to be warmed by Mary Oliver's words...

by Mary Oliver

In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
              where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
              Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
    but he's restless—
         he has an idea,
              and slowly it unfolds

The rest is here.

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Random Noodling 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Small Adventures

One of the hallmarks of a great read is the conversation it inspires. Both my husband and I read Barbara O'Connor's The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis this weekend during a four-hour car trip. I devoured it first while he drove, and my delight inspired him to read it after I took the wheel. (This was on I-95 through the first snow of the season, speaking of hair-raising adventure.)

Do you know how you can hear a person smile if they're close enough? That almost-silent chuff of breath? I couldn't resist---every time my ears caught my husband smiling in the passenger seat beside me, I'd imagine which line he was reading, and beg him to tell me where he was in the story. I guess that could get annoying. :)

But he and I both agree: not only does Barbara O'Connor write perfect titles for her books, on which she totally delivers, she also writes snappy endings to chapters, complex characters with awesome names, and hundreds and hundreds of juicy details that yes, make you smile with the joy of recognition.

Which brings me to the conversation that The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis inspired. I asked my husband about his own small adventures growing up on a dairy farm.

We used to hide in the barn, he said, and lie as still as possible, waiting for the rats to come out. They would surround us---maybe 150 of them. (At this point, imagine me, stiffening in terror, but trying to listen nonchalantly) Then we'd jump up and YELL and scatter them! he finished.

I don't know about you, but that's bigger than a small adventure to me.

He also used to go outside with his brother and shoot arrows straight up in the air (yes, they both had real bows) and dodge the points as they hurtled down around their heads. (Gulp. How close I came to a husband with a name like Popeye's.)

And how did he fuel himself during these small adventures? With butter and sugar sandwiches.

What's that? I asked. (I grew up in a house where everything was blessed with wheat germ.) Exactly how it sounds, he said: you put butter on one slice of white bread, sprinkle it with sugar, fold it in half, and eat it.  Like a proto Pop Tart.

Of course, I had small adventures, too: combing the woods for grimy soda bottles, which we piled in a wagon and took to the store for the deposit money. Avoiding the yowling dogs that chased us on our almost daily epic walk to the local Family Pantry to buy an Icee. I took a blood oath with a friend once, and kept the piece of paper with the browning smear of blood on it in a secret compartment behind a flap of a jewelry box.

Even today, small adventures are possible. My son and his friends chased an armadillo across half an Air Force base in Mississippi. In Rhode Island, my daughter started and published her own kid newspaper, whose staff raucously converged in our living room.

Don't get me wrong; I love books about big adventures, too. But today, Barbara O'Connor (and Popeye and Elvis) have inspired me to honor the small ones.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Poetry Friday: Friends, Marrow Each to Each (A Villanelle)

I'm beginning to think that if Liz Garton Scanlon called for the moon to stay full an extra night or two, she would get it. Last year, she cajoled seven of us into writing a crown sonnet---even though the majority of us had never written a sonnet, crowned or uncrowned, before. This year, she eased up and requested but a villanelle apiece. Oh, with one rule: we had to use the words "friends" and "thanksgiving" in our repeating lines.

Again, I tumbled into the task; my first lines were atrociously weak. Again, I felt the rules of the form, the interlinking lines of the villanelle hold me up. And now? Now, I'm wishing for a lute to clutch so I could play minstrel and attempt to recite for my supper. I might be beaned with a stale roll for my trouble, but no matter. I'm a convert to villanelles, and no amount of heckling can dissuade me.

Here's my contribution to the seven villanelles posted today. You can find the links to each of them at Liz's place; it's astounding how varied and beautiful they all are.

Note: I tweaked Liz's rules and used "give thanks" rather than "thanksgiving." I did not, however, mess with "friends." That would've been foolish.

Friends, Marrow Each to Each

Friends, marrow each to each; else famine steals the feast;
Deck Brie in berries; fat the soup with heart-shaped clams;
Tho' light is gone, give thanks; in darkness, praise increase.

Gild lintels; silk-gird chairs; burn candles by the fist;
Salad greens dress in yolks and salted curls of ham;
Friends, marrow each to each; else famine steals the feast.

Honey-spike the squash; with silver eat, bright and greased;
Flood mouths with wine; potatoeswithbutter enjamb;
Tho' light is gone, give thanks; in darkness, praise increase.

Lift turkey, speckled trout and haunch of wilder beast;
From hand to hand, pass blessings with the loin of lamb;
Friends, marrow each to each; else famine steals the feast.

Cling to those beside you, crying, as for a priest;
Drench cake in cream; slather black bread with bursts of jam;
Tho' light is gone, give thanks; in darkness, praise increase.

If sing, full-throated keen; if dance, 'til dawn at least;
Hearts consumed by sorrow are hollowed gram by gram;
Friends, to all be marrow; else famine steals the feast;
Tho' light is gone, give thanks; in darkness, praise increase.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

1. A soft oleaginous substance contained in the cavities of animal bones.
2. The essence; the best part.
3. In the Scottish dialect, a companion; fellow; associate; match.
4. v.t. To fill with marrow or with fat; to glut.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Elaine at Wild Rose Reader.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kate Messner: Twitter in the Classroom

I'm not a teacher, so why is it that creative teachers make me soooo happy? And why do articles like Kate Messner's piece in School Library Journal about using Twitter in the classroom make me want to borrow a few eager students for the day just to try out her list of ideas?

I think it's partly because she's so darn organized about it---offering a sample proposal to bring to the administration for approval, a list of Twitter resources, and several concrete examples of how her students benefitted from their use of a new technology. She makes me feel---despite the fact that I have no teaching experience, that I don't know the first thing about school policies, that I don't even have any students, for pity's sake! --- that I could do it too. Which, I guess, is the secret weapon of all great teachers. They inspire us to imagine what we could be.

Disclaimer:  Kate opens the article with a story about her class participating in my Twitter chat with editor Cheryl Klein about the creation of OPERATION YES.  I'm thrilled about that, but even without my book being mentioned, it would be a fantastic article. Go read!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Let Me Count the Nerdy Ways

How do authors chill out after they make their revision deadline? Let me count the nerdy ways:

1)  We find a too-good-to-be true deal on an all-in-one printer, order it in haste, and then worry obsessively when it's delivered while we're gone to the North Carolina mountains for Thanksgiving and it (temporarily) disappears from our front doorstep. We hug our neighbors when we find that they have rescued the box from the rain and have our purchase safely stored for our return. We superstitiously "christen" it by printing out a poem as the first "print job," and then play with the features on our dream machine (it can print graph paper! it can wirelessly connect with my laptop! it can download pictures from a Bluetooth camera--if I had one!) and wish we writers also came with a "Remove Red Eye" button for those late writing nights.

2) We write villanelles with our Poetry Sisters, agreeing that we must use the words "friends" and "thanksgiving." We don't have to use iambic pentameter, but we do. We don't have to fiddle with it lovingly, but we do. We know that other people would think this homework, but we consider it fun, right up there with paging through food catalogs that sell gourmet bacon and licorice from Australia.  We  count the days until this Poetry Friday when all seven Poetry Sister villanelles will be revealed at once...

3) We read lists. We love ones with titles like "Over 200 movies about the writing life" (compiled by author Susan Taylor Brown.)  And "Bookish Holiday Gifts: A Selection of Finds From Etsy."

4) Instead of cleaning our desks, we blog about silly things (in a list format, of course.) Then we go clean our desks. Really. We do.