Friday, December 31, 2010

Mittenlit's 2010 List

I was pleased to see that Bill Castanier included The Pout-Pout Fish In The Big-Big Dark on his list of recommended 2010 Michigan books.

But that's not the reason you should head over to his Mittenlit blog.

Instead, you should head over to Mittenlit because it's a really great blog, with daily updates about Michigan books, authors, and literary events.

So bookmark it, add it to your feed, and visit Mittenlit often!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday Workout Review: The Hollywood Trainer Cardio Sculpt

I count on variety (what with its "spice-of-life" reputation) to keep my interest in exercise from lagging. The library's DVD shelf and my Netflix queue ensure a steady rotation of new workouts in my morning routine.  But there are a few DVDs that are reliable standards I return to again and again.  One of my current favorites in this category is The Hollywood Trainer Cardio Sculpt, with Jeanette Jenkins.

The workout runs about 45-minutes, and it includes cardio segments plus toning with handheld weights.  It's an extremely thorough workout that hits pretty much every major muscle area, upper and lower body.  The pace is steady -- you won't get bored -- but not too fast or overwhelming.

I never know whether to call a workout "tough" or not, as it depends entirely on your fitness level.  I have a feeling I experience more "tough" workouts than your average exerciser, given that my own fitness level is, er, a work in progress, with plenty of room for improvement.  But for me, this is a fairly challenging workout.  The first time I tried it, by the end I collapsed on the floor in a heap and did not get up for five days.  More recently, I can finish without collapse, but it's definitely not a workout I can just go through the motions with.

More reviews are available here and here (as you can see, some folks love the DVD; others are not as impressed; but this tends to be the case with all things...) and Jeanette Jenkins' site is here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Brag & A Link

First, a little bit of good news for Mr. Fish and his pals:  The Pout-Pout Fish In The Big-Big Dark received a "Gold Seal" from the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, in the "Books for Preschoolers" category.  Gold is not the highest level of honor ("Platinum" is one level up), but it's still nice to be noticed.  Click here and then scroll down for the entry.

Second, though yes it is nice to have one's own books noticed, ultimately what matters to me is not that kids and families read my books but just that kids and families read books!  With this in mind, I found the Forbes article "A $5 Children’s Book vs. a $47,000 Jail Cell — Choose One" by Steve Cohen to be extremely compelling.  I hope you'll read it.  (The article starts a bit down the screen, so just scroll to get to it.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

No Firefighters Were Harmed In The Baking Of This Bread

I was the first rendered bankrupt in this afternoon's cutthroat game of Bookopoly (despite having bookstores on The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath).  So I wandered into the kitchen.

This is not a good thing.  I am the reason one should regularly check the batteries in one's smoke alarm.

Still, I mean well.

So, with these best of intentions in mind, I unearthed a recipe, "Harvest Grape Loaf," that I first made for a family Christmas dinner way back in high school.  This was a few years ago ("a few years" in this case meaning "several decades").  It's an easy but charming recipe, fragrant with cardamom and nutmeg, and impressive in its presentation.  To wit, the loaf before rising:

And just before baking:

And fresh out of the oven:

It's a deceptively easy celebratory bread, one that I always associate with Christmas and family and love.  I really should bake it more often.  Slathered with butter, there's nothing better than fresh bread.  Baking and eating it today was a satisfying end to the holiday season.

And if I can bake it without incident, anyone can.  So if you'd like the recipe, just let me know.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's That Time Of Year

Christmas is just around the corner.

Here at my house, we’ve got home-baked cookies enough to last us till spring; we’ve got Santa excitement; and we have the glorious joy that comes of love and luck and complacency. As we count down to the big day, I feel humbled by it all, and I number my blessings over and over. What a happy and lucky woman I am! I am grateful beyond words for my family and my friends, and for the unique but comfortable place I have found in this crazy world of ours.

But even in the midst of my heightened awareness of my own good fortune is my perpetual awareness of the challenges and hardships that life can present. I know that in the course of many years lived and many paths traveled, for many there is the sobering surprise of dark corridors and unwelcoming places. This can be true no matter the time of the year: for many, this is true especially due to the time of year.

This blog of mine has many visitors, some of whom I know and love, others of whom I’m somewhat acquainted with, and many of whom I’ll never even know stopped by. Given this, it’s a shot in the dark to know who might read a given blog post on a given day.  But just on the off chance that you – be you a friend, be you a stranger – just on the off chance that you, reading this now, might need to hear this, please know that no matter what is on your plate for the holidays, you – YOU -- matter. And if you are not in a good place right now, know that whatever pain you may have, whatever worries you may have, you, YOU, will get through it.

If you are alone this time of year, and it all starts to be too much, please don’t let yourself lose hope. Seek a welcoming place – amongst your family, your friends, your neighbors, your community. This is your world, and you belong here. You matter! Don’t ever let yourself think otherwise.

But if you are sinking, for whatever reason, know that there is help

If you are in crisis, or even close to it, and you don't know where to turn, please pick up the phone: 1-800-273-8255.

If you talk, you will be heard.  And it will help.

And no matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter what is on your plate, no matter what the holidays mean to you, please know that I send you Peace and Love and my best wishes for Great Joy for us all.

I will catch you after Christmas, everyone. May Santa be good to you.  May Santa be good to us all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Poetry Friday: Breaking Trail

Breaking Trail

I arrive later than usual,
a bit distracted.
I’m surprised to find the five-day-old snow
has not been cleared.
Seriously? No one could be bothered to plow?

But there’s a path of sorts, of stomped down snow,
from walkers earlier in the week.
It rings around an approximation of the paved trail.
Just walk there, I tell myself.

But that’s not the actual path, says another part of me.
See right there? It arcs too wide. Misses completely.
That’s grass peaking up through those bootprints, not pavement.

What’ll it hurt to follow it? It doesn’t have to be exact.
You’re being compulsive. You think too much.

Thinking’s got nothing to do with it.
You know the path well enough. Walk where it IS,
not where someone else imagined it was.

Oh, shut up. Aren’t walks supposed to be meditative?

Why don’t you shut up yourself, and meditate on doing things right?

I move forward on the bootworn path,
hoping for a little quiet.

Then comes a small voice,
at the very back of my head.

You know, you don’t have to walk on the path.


I SAID… You Don’t Have To Walk On The Dang Path!

I stop. Or nearly do.

You could walk right across the middle, you know,
straight across the park.
You could walk in a spiral!
You could go on a crazy walk.
Like a dog chasing a squirrel.
Just look at all that snowy space,
where there aren’t any footsteps.
could walk

Meditative? Yeah. Right.

I continue forward on the bootworn path.
One lap. Two laps. Three laps. Four.

It’s finally quiet.

I’m all done.

It’s time to go.

But as I walk out of the park, it hits me:

If I were to look back right now
there would be no place I could point to confidently and say,

“There. Those. Those are my footsteps. Mine.”

The small voice clears her throat.

Thoroughly self-conscious and awkward,
I turn around and walk back to the trail.
I step off, into a small, untraveled snowy place.
I stomp, and I leave two of my bootprints behind.

Satisfied? I say.

Sure. Yeah. Whatever.
The little voice goes quiet, and then leaves me alone.

But I begin to think,

as I turn and make my way back,

that I’m pretty sure

I haven’t heard the last of her.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Recommended Babies

I hope you'll allow me to indulge in a little bit of baby-pride.

First, a reminder.  Please take a moment to sign up for my Michigan Notable Books reading challenge.  It's me doing my small part to help encourage folks near and far to read books by Michigan authors.  Whether you live in Michigan or somewhere else entirely, all you have to do is look at a list of twenty books and pick a couple that you're willing to give a try to, and you could win a really great prize!  Easy, fun, and a nice distraction from the windchill.  (That's what's known as a win-win-win.)  Click here for the details.  I've got about a half dozen participants so far (some signed up in the comments; others have emailed me) but I'm aiming for 50 -- yes, 50! c'mon, we can do it! -- so please do sign up -- yes, YOU, if you haven't already! -- and then encourage a book-loving friend or two or ten to sign up as well.  Thanks.

Now, for the bragging bit.

My and Dan Hanna's two fishy books have come in for more than their fair share of kind mentions in blogs and on lists of various sorts.  I am thoroughly grateful for this!  But my and Tracey Dockray's bad-tempered babies have been a bit more under the radar.  Yet I have a real soft spot for those grouchy protestors, and wish they were crawling into more homes.

So I was very pleased to run across The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade included on a "Great Books to Give as Christmas Gifts" list put together by the Richland County Public Library.

Gosh, yes, the book would make a great Christmas gift, wouldn't it?  :)

OK, end of shameless self-promo segment...

But really, I'm just happy to have the baby book be noticed.  It's available in many libraries, so if you're looking for a book to share with a little one, please don't hesitate to check it out!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Michigan Notable Books Reading Challenge

Update as of 1/1/11:  Between the folks who have signed up in the comments and the folks who have emailed me, we're getting quite close to my goal of 50 participants!  But we do need a few more to get there.  So go ahead and sign up, and/or spread the word.  You won't be sorry - there are lots of great books to read on the list!
Now back to the original post....
- - - - - - - - - -

I tend to prattle on in my blog entries (word count of each blog entry generally exceeding the word count of my three books combined), so let me give you the executive summary first:

As a small show of support for Michigan literature, I’m doing a “Michigan Notable Books Reading Challenge.” If you’re willing to commit to reading at least two of the books on the 2011 Michigan Notable Books list, you’ll have a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to a Michigan independent bookstoreDetails later in this blog post.  Note: You do not have to live in Michigan to participate.

Now, for the Prattling On part...

I always look forward to the release of the Michigan Notable Books list. The Michigan Notable Books list is the Library of Michigan’s annual selection of up to 20 Michigan-related books, each written by a Michigan author or about a Michigan topic.

Followers of this blog know that I believe we have more writing talent per capita than any other state of the union. Though my weekly “Michigander Monday” blog feature (profiling a different Michigan children’s book author or illustrator each Monday) went for a while on an unintentional hiatus (ah, Life, you do get in the way of blogging), I’m a firm believer in all things mittenliterary, for children and for adults.

This year’s Michigan Notable Books list is strong and diverse. I’ve read or gotten started on about half of the books on it already, and I’m looking forward to delving into most of the rest. The list has a wide array of writing genres, styles and topics; and taken as a whole it's a wonderful celebration of Michigan.

But the Notable Books program is more than just a list of books. Many of the Notable authors participate in the Michigan Notables spring tour, so if you live in Michigan there’s a good chance one or more of the authors will be coming to a town near you. If that’s the case, please take advantage of the opportunity! You can show support for your local library (which, coincidentally, is a great place to find these books!!), and for the writing talent of Michigan, by attending one or more of the tour events.

In addition, there’s usually a public reception for the Notable authors in the spring. I assume this will be the case again in 2011. I’ve attended this event in the past, and it's a very nice gathering. Many of the Notable authors are present for the reception, so if you attend, you can mingle with wonderful writers and get your books signed. Usually one of the authors delivers a talk. I heard Christopher Paul Curtis speak at the Night for Notables a couple years back, and more recently I heard David Small and Bonnie Jo Campbell. If you live in the Lansing area, I highly recommend attending this function – it’s definitely worth the ticket price.

Given what a great program Michigan Notable Books is, and given that I like to do what I can to encourage folks to read books by Michigan authors, I’d like to offer up a Michigan Notable Books Reading Challenge.

If you’re willing to commit to reading at least two of the Michigan Notable Books, I will enter you in a drawing to win a $50 gift certificate to the Michigan independent bookstore of your choice. (Winner names the bookstore.)

To be entered in the drawing:
  • Sign up by no later than January 31, 2011.  You sign up by commenting on this blog post; or, if you’re blog-shy, by emailing me:  deborah [at] deborahdiesen [dot] com
  • You do NOT have to read the books by January 31. You just need to indicate your intent by then.
  • Double Your Chances: If you’re willing to spread the word about this challenge, I’ll enter your name in the hat twice. Just indicate so in your comment below (e.g. “I’m in, and I’ll link to this; tweet about this; Facebook this; make a 'Read Michigan' sign for the snowman in my front yard; and/or get a 'Michigan Notable Books' tattoo.").  Note: it's a maximum of two entries in the hat, even if you get the tattoo. (Note 2: No, I don't want to know WHERE the tattoo is.)
  • You do NOT have to tell me which books you plan to read. Just pick two that you haven’t read yet.  You can change your mind about which ones at any time.
  • You do NOT have to live in Michigan to participate – in fact, I think it would be wonderful for more non-Michiganders to become aware of Michigan’s contribution to the national literary scene.
Other important details:
  • You do NOT have to tell me if you do not finish and/or if you don't love one or both of the books that you choose to read.
  • You DO have to thank me profusely if you do love one or both of the books that you read.  I get all the credit.  Not the talented author who wrote it, but ME.  Thanks.
  • As of Feb. 1, I’ll enter all names of challenge participants in a drawing, and I’ll announce the winner by no later than February 15, 2011. (OK, so it’ll probably be Feb. 2 when I announce; but I’m building in a time cushion in case I get carried away with Groundhog’s Day festivities. One never knows…)
  • One lucky winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to a Michigan independent bookstore.
  • Winner chooses the bookstore, but it needs to be here in Michigan and independently owned. (Those of you out of state, remember, most bookstores have online purchasing options and can mail order to you.)
Ideally, I’d like to have at least 50 participants in this challenge, so please spread the word. But given that my blog readership consists of pretty much, er, my Mom, if I were to get even just 5 or so committed participants, I’d be thrilled. So if you’re reading this, please thrill me. Sign up!!

Regardless, though, of how many of you choose to participate, I hope that all of you will take a look at the Michigan Notables list and read several or even all of the books. In the words of the Guindon comic strip, “Michigan: Cold nose, Warm heart.” It may be the season of cold noses, but you can show your warmth by Reading Michigan!

Without further ado, the 2011 Michigan Notable books (click here for the official, annotated list, with descriptions of each book; and head over to Bill Castanier's wonderful mittenlit blog for more about many of these books and authors):
  • Apparition & Late Fiction: A Novella and Stories by Thomas Lynch (W. W. Norton)
  • Blues in Black and White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals by Michael Erlewine, photographer Stanley Livingston and designer Tom Erlewine (University of Michigan Press)
  • Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation by Steve Lehto (Chicago Review Press)
  • Detroit Disassembled by Andrew Moore (Damiani/Akron Art Museum)
  • The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery by D.E. Johnson (Minotaur Books)
  • Eden Springs: A Novella by Laura Kasischke (Wayne State University Press)
  • Freshwater Boys: Stories by Adam Schuitema (Delphinium Books)
  • The Hanging Tree: A Starvation Lake Mystery by Bryan Gruley (Simon & Schuster)
  • Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (McPherson)
  • A Michigan Polar Bear Confronts the Bolsheviks: A War Memoir by Godfrey J. Anderson, Gordon Olson (editor) (William B. Eerdmans)
  • Mine Towns: Buildings for Workers in Michigan's Copper Country by Alison K. Hoagland (University of Minnesota Press)
  • Picturing Hemingway's Michigan by Michael R. Federspiel (Wayne State University Press)
  • Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City by John Gallagher (Wayne State University Press)
  • Sawdusted: Notes from a Post-boom Mill by Raymond Goodwin (University of Wisconsin Press)
  • Sixty to Zero: An Inside Look at the Collapse of General Motors and the Detroit Auto Industry by Alex Taylor III (Yale University Press)
  • The Sweetness of Freedom: Stories of Immigrants by Stephen Ostrander and Martha Bloomfield (Michigan State University Press)
  • To Account for Murder by William C. Whitbeck (Permanent Press)
  • Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams edited by M.L. Liebler (Coffee House Press)
  • Wounded Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Michigan Governor John Swainson by Lawrence M. Glazer (Michigan State University Press)
  • You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face-Blindness and Forgiveness by Heather Sellers (Riverhead)
Congratulations to all of the winners!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Couple of handy book lists in today's newspapers.

First, the Michigan Notable Books have been announced.  This is a great program that highlights books by Michigan authors and/or with Michigan settings.  I'll have a longer post about Michigan Notables later in the week (and possibly a Notable Books reading challenge); but for now, here's the link to the list.

Second, the Grand Rapids Press has a gift guide of books by Michigan authors.  (Full disclosure: two of my books are included in the list, so I probably shouldn't be linking you to it; but eh, what the heck - why have a blog if not for the shameless self-promotion opportunties it provides? ;)  Fiction, history, memoir, mystery, kids' books, and more -- find the list here.

Other than having to put down your book periodically to go shovel the drive, it's a great day for reading in Michigan.  So start a fire in your fireplace, stir up some hot cocoa, and settle in for the afternoon with a good book!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NaNoWriMo for Slackers. Join Me?

Many of you are no doubt familiar with NaNoWriMo.  Participants in NaNoWriMo spend all of November working assiduously to complete a first draft of a novel within the calendar month.  From the NaNoWriMo web site:
National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.  Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.  Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.
Online resources and even in-person events aim to keep participants' motivation high during the month.

I've occasionally considered participating in NaNoWriMo, but never have, and realistically probably never will.  There's the fact that November is an awfully busy month already; plus there's the fact that I've learned through experience that trying to fit my writing output into a tight timetable usually backfires on me.

However, I did recently embark upon a new writing project, and I happened to begin it on November 30, the very day that all earnest NaNoWriMo participants were setting their pens down and breathing a satisfied sigh of relief.  The thing that I am writing is shaping up to be a longer work*, for an adult audience (i.e. not kidlit), and ideally, I'd like to have a first draft completed before winter is over**  But I've learned over the years that everything I do takes me two or three times more time than I think it will.  So eleven months is probably a better estimate for my completion timeframe.

Which puts me at (calculators, ladies and gentlemen....) exactly November 1 for a "please put your pencils down" date for this project.  That's Nov. 30 - Nov. 1, which is, conveniently, NaNoWriMo's calendar opposite.  I think of it as an alternative NaNoWriMo, and I dub it...

NaNoWriMo for slackers!



(which is just as easy to say as the original).

[Or I suppose it could be NaNoWriElMo (ElMo = Eleven Months).  Or AlNaNoWriMo (Alternative NaNoWriMo).  Perhaps we need a dedicated NaAcCreMo (National Acronym Creation Month) to get us started.]

But whatever you want to call it, I'm giving it a try.

I won't be posting my word count, tracking my progress, or providing any updates at all, given that none of those things would be in keeping with the keyword "slacker."  But I did want to mention what I was doing in case any of you would like to join me in NaNoWriMoFoSla.  As with my Lazy Person's Reading Group (session one; session two; session three - oh, yeah, it only met once...), though you're welcome to chime in in the comments section if you'd like, all you really have to do to join is nod at your screen.

And then, all you really have to do is write, slowly but steadily, until November.

So uncap those pens.  And Go!

*I hesitate to come right out and call it a novel manuscript, because the word "novel" implicitly sets forth the idea that I will someday be sending it around and seeking publication, whereas even the mere distant future prospect of submission -- and all the ego-crushing rejection and frustration involved -- is enough to shut down my creativity immediately.  So no, it's not a novel manuscript.  It's just my work-in-progress.

**My motivating technique of turning the furnace off and not turning it back on until I've met my word quota is weather dependent.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Poetry Friday & Friday Reads

I have no poem to share with you today.  But I did read a heartachingly beautiful poem earlier this week.  You can find it here, at the end of the post.

In other poetry news, the children's blogosphere poetry round-up is at The Miss Rumphius Effect.  Click here for the round-up.

And it's Friday Reads today!  So tweet, post, or just chat with someone about what you're reading lately.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Upcoming Story Times with Deb Pilutti and Sue Thoms

The Eastwood Schuler Books is the place where my writing group and I meet periodically for biscotti, er, the hard work of critiquing, and so I'm very pleased that Deb Pilutti, illustrator of the new book The Twelve Days of Christmas In Michigan (written by Sue Thoms) and author-illustrator of The City Kid And The Suburb Kid will be visiting there this Saturday at 11 AM.  Grab a kid and head on over to meet Deb!  Details here.

Meanwhile, also this Saturday at 11, Sue Thoms will be at the wonderful bookstore Literary Life in Grand Rapids.  Click here to learn more.

Deb will also be at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor Thursday, December 9, at 6:30 for a The Twelve Days of Christmas in Michigan reading and book party.  Details here.

Fun children's book creators in fabulous settings -- lots of opportunities to take yourself and a small one to a great bookstore in the very near future.  What could be better?