Saturday, January 29, 2011

This & That, And A Little Good News

Oh, January, January.  You're a month of cold days and gray skies.  You're driving us a bit stir-crazy, and we've still got all of February (and much of March) to get through before any sign of spring will save us.  So maybe something whimsical is in order?  Say, something YouTubeish?  Perhaps...

Finish disco?
an absurd chicken?
a 5-minute out-the-door morning routine?
high-tech fruit?
low-tech nostalgia?
seventeen years of Dan Hanna's head?
a piano playing cat?

Ah, much better.  Now, back to it.

January has been a fun month on Jumping The CandlestickThose of you who are new visitors (and I’ve had lots of you lately – thank you!!!) – I thoroughly appreciate you stopping by!  Those of you who are longterm visitors, thanks for sticking around fairthfully through many months of reading the rather eclectic mix of posts I provide here.  Each and every one of you, it's truly kind of you to make time in your blog-reading day to spend a few minutes here!  Thank you.

As we near the end of the month, it's a nice opportunity for a quick look back.  This month, Jumping The Candlestick has profiled several Michigan children’s book authors, including Mark Newman and Jeffery Schatzer. In the coming months, JTC will continue to profile the wide-ranging children's book talent of this state, with at least one new Michigander Monday profile a month, and ideally one per week. So, kind readers, do keep stopping back on Mondays. I’ll do my best to keep the profiles rolling on a (semi)regular basis. (When there are gaps, please know that this is not due to lack of potential interviewees, but just due to lack of my timely ability to seek them out. Be patient: there are loads of Michigan authors and illustrators to get to know! We’ll meet them all in time.)

JTC will also continue to  feature my occasional poetry; my periodic workout reviews; and miscellaneous Michigan-related news and other announcements. And I’ll also continue to keep you posted on my upcoming events and appearances, should you feel the need to seek out the company of a funny-looking children’s book author leading small groups of children in stories and song as if she can carry a tune (which she can not) and/or speaking to grown-ups about writing as if she has a clue (which she does not). If you're in the area, for any of my appearances, please stop by!

With the January days dwindling away, take note, it's nearly last call on my current reading challenge! Every couple of months or so, I try to do some sort of reading challenge or giveaway. My current challenge is thematically centered on the recently released “Michigan Notable Books” list. Simply choose two of the Michigan Notable Books to read at your own convenience, and you’ll be entered to win a gift certificate to a Michigan indie bookstore of your choice. How cool is that! It's fun; it's easy; but you've got to sign up by Jan. 31 to be entered into the drawing. (You don't have to read the books by Jan. 31, but you do have to sign up by then.)  Click here to sign up. Your reading choices are...

Apparition and Late Fictions ( Lynch )

Blues in Black and White ( Erlewine, Livingston, and Erlewine )

Chrysler's Turbine Car ( Lehto )

Detroit Disassembled ( Moore )

The Detroit Electric Scheme ( Johnson )

Eden Springs ( Kasischke )

Freshwater Boys ( Schuitema )

The Hanging Tree ( Gruley )

Lord of Misrule ( Gordon )

A Michigan Polar Bear Confronts the Bolsheviks ( Anderson and Olson )

Mine Towns ( Hoagland )

Picturing Hemingway's Michigan ( Federspiel )

Reimagining Detroit ( Gallagher )

Sawdusted ( Goodwin )

Sixty to Zero ( Taylor )

The Sweetness of Freedom ( Ostrander and Bloomfield )

To Account for Murder ( Whitbeck )

Working Words ( Liebler )

Wounded Warrior ( Glazer )

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know ( Sellers )

Please take a moment to sign up, and then plan to read a couple of these great books in the coming year!

Finally, a bit of good news to share!  Yesterday it was announced by the Missouri Library Association that The Pout-Pout Fish has won the 2010 Missouri Building Block Picture Book Award.  This is a particularly neat award because it's selected by a vote that includes votes by kids.  On Mr. Fish's behalf, I'm pleased and honored that the book was selected!  But every book on the nomination list is wonderful, so you should definitely head over to the list and read take a look at some really neat titles.

Well, I guess that brings me to the end of my January-look-back.  As we near the end of this cold, dreary month: Happy Reading, Happy Blogging, and Happy January to you all!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Poetry Friday: Mile Marker

Mile Marker

I used to see her nearly every day,

the woman who walked alongside the busy roadway.

Short, wiry, and late middle-aged,
with a grim look on her face.
Each time I drove past her,
I wondered why it was she walked so hard and so long.

I always slowed my car,
not wanting to kick up dust
in her path.  But she took
no notice of the traffic,

just walked and walked and walked,
miles and miles in one direction,
miles and miles straight back.
I never knew where.

It occurred to me the other day
that I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen her.

It occurred to me the other day
how long the list grows

of the things we pass by

and the things

that we miss.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blog Commenting Commentary

For the past several weeks, I’ve been participating in the MotherReader kidlitosphere blog-comment challenge.  And by “participating” I mean “dismally failing to reach any of my blog-commenting goals.”

That's right.  Despite a worthy 5-a-day comment challenge and my best of intentions, and despite having spent much fun time these past several weeks visiting and getting to know better 100+ wonderful blogs, with the challenge nearly over my performance as a blog-commenter has remained as spotty as it’s ever been.

After much reflection and contemplation, I’ve determined that perhaps my commenting method may be part of the problem.  Herewith is my usual procedure:

1. Read an interesting blog post.

2. Think to self, “That was an interesting blog post!”

3. Think to self, “I should comment on that interesting blog post.”

4. Click on ‘Comment’ button. Wait a microsecond for the comment box to open.

5. Stare at blank comment box for 5 seconds.

6. Think to self, “So. Well. What to say.”

7. Stare at blank comment box for 10 seconds.

8. Think to self, “Good blog commenters say insightful things. Say something insightful!”

9. Stare at blank comment box for 30 seconds.

10. Start typing something that aims for “insightful.” Type two or three sentences. Add a fourth for good measure.

11. Reread insightful blog comment. Momentarily think, “What an insightful comment!”

12. Reread insightful blog comment. Realize it’s not insightful. Realize it’s inane.

13. Backspace to delete two of the four sentences.

14. Delete one of the two remaining sentences.

15. Delete the last sentence.

16. Stare at blank comment box for 45 seconds.

17. Wish for a moment that blogs were like FaceBook, with “Like” buttons. “That would be so much easier!”

18. Reflect that this wish, if granted, would mean never getting to read other people’s blog comments, which are frequently insightful.

19. Retract wish.

20. Feel the urge to check FaceBook page.

21. Resist urge.

22. Check Twitter feed instead.

23. Feel guilty about avoiding comment box by checking Twitter.

24. Feel the urge to check FaceBook page.

25. Resist urge.

26. Resist urge.

27. Resist urge.

28. Check FaceBook page.

29. Return to blank comment box. Stare at blank comment box for 60 seconds.

30. Say to self, “Forget insightful. Go for witty! Say something witty!”

31. Start to type a comment that aims to be witty.

32. Pause midsentence. Backspace and try again.

33. Backspace and try again.

34. Feel inspired. Type a witty comment!

35. Reread witty comment. Laugh out loud.

36. Think to self, “I’m witty. And insightful! Witty AND insightful!”

37. Reread witty comment again.

38. Realize I’m not even remotely witty.

39. Backspace and delete my comment.

40. Stare at blank comment box for two minutes.

41. Check email.

42. Check FaceBook. Compensate for feelings of blog-commenting inadequacy by clicking “Like” on every status update in the News Feed for the last 18 hours.

43. Return to blank comment box.

44. Stare at blank comment box for 5 seconds.

45. Suddenly feel totally exasperated. Reflect on how ridiculous the situation has become.

46. Say to self, “This situation has become ridiculous!”

47. Say to self, “So you can’t be insightful or witty. So what? At least just be kind! It was an interesting blog post. You should say so.”

48. Type, “I really enjoyed this blog post” in comment box.

49. Stare at typed comment.

50. Think to self, “Oh, that’s so lame.”

51. Think to self, “But it’s better than nothing.”

52. Think to self, “No it’s not. It’s lame.”

53. Think to self, “Ah, but isn’t it better to have blog-commented and been lame than to never have blog-commented at all?”

54. Think to self, “What??? That made no sense.”

55. Think to self, “I’m supposed to make sense all the time?”

56. Think to self, “I think this is internal conversation has gone on long enough.”

57. Think to self, “Yeah, I’ll say!”

58. Think to self, “Stop thinking!”

59. Squelch internal dialogue. Play a round of Minesweeper.

60. Return to comment box. Stare at un-insightful, un-witty, “I really enjoyed this blog post” comment.

61. Say to self, “Just comment already. It’s not really that hard.”

62. Stare at ‘Publish Comment’ button.

63. Backspace and delete comment.

64. Stare at blank comment box.

65. Close tab.

66. Open a new tab.  Return to list of interesting blogs.  Visit another blog and read an interesting blog post.

67. Think to self, “That was an interesting blog post!”

68. Repeat steps 1 through 67.

69. Fifteen times.

70. Return to very first interesting blog post.

71. Say to self, “This blog post is just as interesting as when I first read it seven hours ago!”

72. Click on ‘Comment’ button. Wait a microsecond for the comment box to open.

73. Type, “Great blog post!”

74. Click ‘Publish comment’ button.

75. Sigh deeply.

76. Log off, exhausted.

After reflecting on all this, I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, I should streamline this procedure a bit.  Seventy-six steps is, afterall, quite a few steps.

The only problem is, I really can’t think of any steps to trim!

Any suggestions?

Feel free to leave them in the Comments.  :)

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Most days, I take a walk.

Most days, I look forward to it.

Not so today.

Call me a weather wuss if you will, but frankly, fifteen degrees Fahrenheit is just not a fun temperature for perambulating. Plus, with the sofa being all decked out in its splendid Saturdayness – with a big mound of blankets and a tall stack of books fresh from the library – the prospect of setting out simply for the sake of a good daily habit seemed senseless martyrdom.

But set out I did. Layered and bundled and more than a little cranky about it all. It didn’t help that I had to slow my usual pace, due to icy patches under the blowing snow. I saw not a speck of sunshine, or even sky. Just colorless cloud cover. The wind carried out an ancient grudge against my face. My fingers stiffened. My nose ran. I thought, “You know, it probably wouldn’t have hurt to have skipped my walk today.” Or words to that general effect.

Yet despite all that – or maybe because of all that? – as I rounded the last corner and saw my home come into view, as I thought of the warmth and the family and the hot cocoa that awaited me, as I contemplated returning to my cozy sofa/cat/book nest – I felt that little lift that comes from a good walk. It’s a physical feeling, but a mind one as well: a subtle but powerful buoyancy.

And it suddenly occurred to me that my other daily habit, the one that I haven’t been so daily about in quite some time, gives me that exactly that feeling as well. Which is to say, writing regularly brings about wonderful moments of being nicely afloat in oneself.

And so it was that today’s walk -- a cold, dreary trudge that for most of it had my face saying “So this must be what a Botox treatment feels like” – ultimately left me feeling invigorated, warm, and recommitted to pursuing the regular habit of my writing routine.

All in all, a darn nice walk.

And a darn nice cup of hot cocoa as well.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Poetry Friday: Midwinter


The moon shines down.

Long, thin branches
slap thick-knuckled shadows
on the wide palm of snow.
The tree towers, wordlessly,
as if to say,

See me now.

See me now,
standing before you.
Leafless.  Unflourished.
Sans serif.  Bare.
See me now.
With nothing to offer.
In the colorless cold
in the midst of the night
in this midwinter old.
See me now.

And the moon shines down.

As if to say,

Trees cannot talk,
you thick-knuckled fool.
Stop chasing shadows.
Jump, you silly one, jump --

Jump --

Up --

From where you are now --

-- catch a moonbeam instead.

And the moon shines down.


Upon the midwinter.

But the moon --

The moon shines down.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snapdragon Book Foundation

School Library Journal online today has a brief article about Snapdragon Book Foundation.  It looks like a great organization -- small, but growing, and doing its part to meet an important need.  Former school librarian Anne Knickerbocker established the foundation to provide financial grants to media centers that serve disadvantaged youth.  The goal is to put good books in the hands of kids.

Information about donating to this organization can be found here (click for link).

For school libraries serving low-income populations, an online application for a grant is available here (click for link).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday already?

This is one of those weeks I've spent half of it wondering what the heck day it is.  Today I've spent a third of it thinking it's Thursday and then a third that it's Tuesday.  Not sure what I'll settle on for the remaining third; but since for the moment I'm currently pretty certain it's Wednesday (even if it doesn't feel like a Wednesday), I guess that means it's time for my weekly "Wednesday Workout Review."

Except that I don't have one for you.  Again.

Which is not to say I've been a total slacker on exercise.  Half-slacker, maybe; but mostly what it's been is just a lack of inspiring workouts.  A lot of things have come and gone through my Netflix queue lately without rising to "I liked this one enough to profile it" status.

But, rather than leave you completely empty-handed on this whatevertheheckdayitis, I'll use today's post for something un-workouty:  an opportunity to make a couple of announcements about some upcoming literary events in the Lansing area.

Neither of these are children's lit related, but they are Michigan lit related, so I encourage you to attend, and/or to check out these books.
Add comments if you know of other upcoming literary events in the Lansing area.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Michigander Monday: Jeffery Schatzer

This week I'm pleased to welcome Jeffery Schatzer to JTC's Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Jeffery, tell us a little about yourself.

Jeffery:  Hmmm. My name is Jeffery Schatzer. The “Jeffery” part is okay, but the “Schatzer” part is kind of funny sounding. My last name means auditor or treasurer in German.

I am a native Michiganian (more about that later). Growing up, I had visions of becoming an Olympic athlete. Unfortunately, I was born without any athletic gifts whatsoever. That didn’t stop me from reading about the greats of sports . . . Bob Mathias, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Bob Richards, Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, et al.

While in grade school, teachers began to tell me that I should consider becoming a writer. Maybe they thought I was goofy, but I can’t speak for what they were thinking. Through the gift (or curse) of this encouragement, I pursued writing as a vocation and as an avocation. Once out of school, I began a career as a commercial writer and did everything from creating names for things to writing film scripts for industrial film projects. While this was enjoyable work, I yearned for broader creative outlets. So, I spent my free time writing whatever I felt like writing.
My literary writing meandered over the years. Then, in 1996 I went to the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School with a friend. My writing took a unique turn after attending this school. That’s when I started writing Christmas and Santa stories. My first short story was published in 1998 in the Lands’ End October Christmas catalogue. This was after 28 years of trying to get something/anything published. In 2004 my wife and I self published our first book, The Bird in Santa’s Beard. Through the diligent and dedicated work of my wife, Deborah, nearly 10,000 copies of this book were sold within six months. With that level of sales success, publishers began to call us. Since that time, I have been associated with Mitten Press of Ann Arbor.

I currently have seven books in publication, including three Christmas stories: The Bird in Santa’s Beard, The Bump on Santa’s Noggin, and The Elves in Santa’s Workshop. I have one non-Christmas picture book, The Runaway Garden. I also have three Michigan historical fiction chapter books: Fires in the Wilderness, a Story of the Civilian Conservation Corps Boys; Professor Tuesday’s Awesome Adventures in History . . . Book 1, Chief Pontiac’s War and Book 2, Migrating to Michigan.

The Bird in Santa’s Beard was a finalist selection in the Great Lakes Book Awards in 2005. The Runaway Garden was the recipient of The USA Best Book Award in 2007, the Mom’s Choice Award (Gold) in 2008, and the 2008 Growing Good Kids Award from the American Horticultural Society. In 2010, The Runaway Garden was chosen by the State Library of Michigan as its Michigan Reads! One State-One Children’s Book selection.

Debbie:  Tell us a little about your latest book.
Jeffery:  In addition to writing picture books, I very much enjoy writing chapter books for middle grade readers. Because of my love of Michigan history, I focus on writing Michigan historical fiction. My most recently released book is Professor Tuesday’s Awesome Adventures in History, Book 2: Migrating to Michigan.

Professor Tuesday is an odd duck who obsesses about Tuesdays and the number 2. He’s invented a time machine that only works on Tuesdays and only goes back to Tuesdays in history. In this story, two students are having trouble getting along with each other. So, their teacher, Miss Pepper, gives them an assignment to learn about migration to Michigan. They pay a call on the professor to learn about the topic. The professor takes them back in time to see the Erie Canal and learn how ‘Clinton’s Ditch” opened Michigan up to immigration. Through the story, Rachel and Owen continue sniping at each other until they learned that immigrants, too, had to cooperate. Through it all they learn many lessons of the past and how people from many countries worked together to make Michigan a great state.
Debbie:  Other books and projects on the horizon?

Jeffery:  I’ve got an interesting stew of projects on the stove right now. My next Professor Tuesday book is at the publisher’s office right now. This next book centers on the western route of the Underground Railroad and the important role the state and people of Michigan played in helping slaves find freedom. That’s been a very interesting writing project.

I am also finalizing an article that I plan to submit to Michigan History magazine. The article is about a man who I consider to be a living legend in our state . . . John Selesky. Mr. Selesky is 93 years young, was involved in the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Army Air Force, and served with the Michigan DNR for 28 years. Fascinating guy!

Finally, I am also working on an adult murder mystery set in Antrim County. I’ve come to find out that writing 120,000 words is a daunting, but enjoyable, task.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jeffery:  The really wonderful part about being me is having a wonderful wife as a partner. She keeps all my appointments and schedules. It seems like there are always signing events and school visits on the books. Please visit for appearance information.

Debbie:  Your favorite place in Michigan?

Jeffery:  I think Michigan is a great place to live and play. My wife and I live in Bellaire, Michigan right behind Schuss Mountain. I can’t think of a more wonderful place to be. We enjoy fabulous summers on Torch Lake and magnificent winters in the middle of a snow globe playground. We’re near to Traverse City, Petoskey, and other great Michigan towns. Yet, we live in the natural beauty of the woods. Ah-h-h-h.

Debbie:  Jeffery, your favorite Michigan event or happening?

Jeffery:  If I had to pick one, my favorite Michigan event would have to be the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City. It has EVERTHING . . . parades, entertainment, rides, films on the street, air shows, stupid events like bed races . . . EVERYTHING. The Cherry Festival is a great week! A close second choice for favorite would have to be the Traverse City Film Festival.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should know about?

JefferyAnn Marie and Will Rowland are fun people. They are wonderful performers and Ann Marie is an excellent writer/poet. They live in Gaylord, Michigan. Shelly St. Ange-Sheldon is about the most fascinating person I know . . . wait, she’s tied in the fascinating category with her husband Roderick. And, I love visiting with the elderly. They are really interesting and I never tire of their stories.

Debbie:  Something a non resident should know about Michigan?

Jeffery:  Before Michigan became a state, it was in a squabble with the State of Ohio about its southern border. This event in history is referred to as the Toledo war. Ohio ended up with the contended strip of land, and Michigan was awarded the Upper Peninsula. The value of the UP ended up being vastly greater than the Toledo strip. The state prospered significantly from the minerals, lumber and beauty of the UP.

Debbie:  Finally, the last question for Michigander Monday profilees.  For our ongoing tally:  are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Jeffery:  During the Toledo war, the term Michigander was used in the Ohio legislature to signify the stubbornness of officials in Michigan . . . as if to say people from Michigan are as stubborn as geese. Therefore, I am firmly in the camp of those who describe themselves as Michiganians.

Debbie:  Jeffery, I'll add you to the Michiganian column!  Thank you for being here today.  Those of you reading this profile, please head on over to Big Belly Books to learn more about Jeffery Schatzer and his books!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Not Just Great Authors...

Michigan is well-known for its abundance of writers.  But we've got more than just great authors:  we've got great libraries!

The Peter White Public Library in Marquette and the West Bloomfield Township Public Library in West Bloomfield have received the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.  The medals were awarded in December at a White House ceremony.  Ten medals in total were given; five of those went to libraries.  I would say having two Michigan libraries of only five in the whole country receive medals qualifies as a well-deserved sweep for the Mitten state!

Also, two Michigan libraries recently were awarded star-ratings in the 2010 Library Journal Index of Public Library Service.  The LJ index is a rating system designed to recognize and promote America's public libraries.  Over 7,000 public libraries are scored, but only a small fraction of these receive star-ratings.  The Ann Arbor District Library received a 5-star rating, and the Kent District Library received a 3-star rating.  Congratulations to these great libraries on their star-ratings!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wednesday Workout (for your computer mouse...)

On Wednesdays, I usually try to post a workout DVD review (specifically in the subgenre of workouts that even a klutzy middle-ager like me can do...), but I don't have a new one for you this week; and I don't suppose details of my snow-shoveling technique really count as a workout review.  So, since I got nuttin', instead I'll give you something completely different:  a link to a great blog post over on the MacKids blog.

MacKids is the blog for the Macmillan Children's Publishing Group (a group that includes FSGBYR; you may recall that Mr. Fish was once a guest on the MacKids blog, with a list of all his phobias), and there are new posts pretty much everyday by children's book authors and illustrators.  I try to look at the blog at least a couple of times a week.

I did so this morning, and I particularly enjoyed today's post by Cathleen Daly, author of the newly released Flirt Club and the forthcoming Prudence Wants a Pet.  I've never met Cathleen, and I haven't seen her book yet, but based just on her funny and insightful blog post, I'm definitely going to take a look at her book.

And while I'm off to look for a copy of it, you should head over to read her post, "The Book That Almost Wasn't."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Michigander Monday: News edition

I don't have a new Michigander Monday profile for you today.  But there is some great Michigan-related kidlit news, if you haven't already heard it: A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by Erin Stead and written by Philip Stead, took the prestigious Caldecott Medal at the 2011 American Library Association Youth Media Awards.  To learn more about the book, click here.  To see a little of Erin Stead's process of creating the art, click here.

Another Michigan name on the ALA Awards list is Nic Bishop, photographer for the book Kakapo Rescue, which was awarded the Sibert Medal.

If anyone recognizes any of the other award winners as being from the Mitten state, give a holler and I'll add them to this post.

Congratulations to all of the ALA Youth Media Award Winners!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Poetry Friday: Winter Snowfall

Welcome, blog visitors!  Here on Jumping The Candlestick, on Fridays I often post an original poem.  I'm not much of a poet, but I figure it's a good creative excursion to be brave anyway and to write and post a poem.  This week, I have a short one about snowfall.  In other poetry news, please note that yesterday (Jan. 6) was the 133rd anniversary of the birth of Carl Sandburg.  His poetry and his delightful Rutabaga Stories are an inspiration to me always.  Now, switching gears back to poetry of the lame type, here's one of mine:

Winter Snowfall

It’s just whimsy to say they’re dancing,
those whirling snowflakes that skip past my window.
Dots of random rhythm, my mind
hums them a tune. Surely they do not
call to one another:
“Let us dance!”

So I shall call.

Temporary citizens of the sky.
Denizens of the ballroom of my mind.
Strike up the band, you crazy little flakes!
It is winter. Winter! This is your season.
Dance, my frozen friends,
Dance! --

as if there is no ground.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

This & That Thursday

It's a snowy day here in Michigan!  I'm hoping to make some progress today on a few manuscripts, but first thought I'd check in with a few items:
  • Be sure to check out this week's Michigander Monday profile, of Mark Newman.  Q&As with other Michigan children's book authors and illustrators will continue throughout the year, every other Monday or so.
  • If you haven't already, take a look at the great list of books that have been nominated for the ALA Notable Children's book list.  In terms of Michigan folks, nominee names that jumped out at me are Lynne Rae Perkins, Wong Herbert Yee, Patricia Polacco, Nic Bishop, and Erin & Philip Stead -- am I missing any other Michigan connections?  Stepping out of Michigancentric mode, all the nominated books are topnotch!  Final selections are made by the committee at ALA midwinter, and then announced usually in March.  Congratulations to all the nominated book authors and illustrators!
  • Stepping out of children's books mode and into general books mode, don't forget you've still got a chance to win a $50 bookstore gift certificate by pledging to read, some time this year, two of the books on the Michigan Notable Books list.  You don't have to live in Michigan to participateMore details here.
  • Do you read a lot of kidlit blogs, and though you mean well about commenting on the posts, you rarely do?  But you've resolved to do better in 2011?  Then MotherReader has a great challenge for you!  I signed up this morning.
Seems like there were a few other things I was going to include in this list.  I'll check back later and add them when I think of them.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wednesday Workout Reviews: Kelly Coffey-Meyer's "30 Minutes to Fitness - Weights"

Kelly Coffey-Meyer has numerous workout DVDs, but "30 Minutes to Fitness: Weights" was the first one of hers I've tried.  Based on my experience with it, I plan to take a look at some of her other DVDs as well.  "30 Minutes to Fitness: Weights" is very well done.

Kelly has a no-nonsense style and she hosts structured but quick-moving workouts.  The DVD contains two workouts, each approximately 30-minutes.  (There are also other workout items and mixes on the DVD menu, but I haven't explored those yet.)

The first of the two 30-minute workouts focuses on back, legs, and chest.  The second focuses on biceps, triceps, and shoulders.  For both workouts, you'll need handheld weights.  As handheld weights go, she's working with some pretty heavy ones, and she encourages you to push yourself a little.  Her beginner recommendation is a 7-lb pair, working up to a 15-lb pair.  Me, I'm at an 8-lb pair, and I think I'll be there for a while.

Within each of the 30-minute workouts there are three segments.  Each segment has three exercises, two sets of each.  Some of the exercises are standards; others have a new twist.  It's a nice mix.  In between the segments are "rest" periods.  "Rest" in this case is a bit of a misnomer:  you do set your weights down, but you kick into gear doing ab exercises or mini-cardio for two minutes.

I found both of the workouts to be fun and effective, and I really liked the length.  Sometimes 1/2 hr. is all you've got, and it's great to have a 30-minute workout that works you for the full 30 minutes.

Lots of other reviews here and here.  Kelly's site is here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Michigander Monday: Mark Newman

Our first Michigander Monday profile of the year is a remarkable one.  I'm very honored to have Mark Newman here today to tell us more about his and Mark Heckman's book and the story behind it.

Debbie:  Mark, tell us a little about yourself.

Mark:  I’m a writer and photojournalist with extensive credits in the field of newspapers and magazines. My expertise is in the area of sports and music. During my career, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a lot of famous people, everyone from sports figures (Magic Johnson, Bo Schembechler, Sparky Anderson) to film and TV personalities (Robin Williams, Ted Turner, Mister Rogers) to musicians (Ray Charles, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, U2, Ozzy Osbourne) to fellow writers (Ray Bradbury and James Michener). I spent several years at The Grand Rapids Press after earning my bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University. For the past 15 years, I’ve been the editor of Griffiti, the official magazine of the Grand Rapids Griffins (the minor league affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings) and I’ve served as the team photographer of the West Michigan Whitecaps (the Class-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers) for the past eight seasons. Every day I wear a different hat, it seems. I also stay busy as a communications specialist for a couple of Michigan-based automotive suppliers.

Debbie:  Please tell us about your book.

MarkSooper Yooper is the story of environmental superhero Billy Cooper, who does everything in his power to safeguard the Great Lakes from his headquarters in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The book was illustrated by artist Mark Heckman, who was my closest friend and battled non-Hodgkin lymphoma until his death in May 2010. Mark was ill during almost the entire creative process of the book, which was inspired in part by his work with philanthropist Peter Wege (an ardent supporter of green issues who makes a guest appearance in the book as the character known as The Wedge). It’s a picture book designed primarily for third to fifth graders, but it’s written to appeal to adults as well as kids. I’ll admit that it has its share of puns. In short, it’s a breezy, entertaining look at a serious subject – the threat of invasive species. In the past century, more than 180 alien species have found their way into the Great Lakes ecosystem, disrupting nature’s delicate balance. We need to remain vigilant to the dangers on our doorstep.

Debbie:  Do you have other children's books on the horizon?

Mark:  Before his death, Mark and I talked about doing at least two other children’s books, which his wife Diane and I plan to bring to life. One is about the environment and the other will be cancer-related. We’re hoping to find a young artist who might be able to capture Mark’s spirit and style. In addition, I’m working on a non-fiction book that will showcase Mark’s artwork and the many unusual projects that we did together. It will be a treatise of sorts on the art of collaboration, and I’ll be developing an educational program based on the book with the goal of encouraging more creativity in schools. I think it has huge potential.

Debbie:  Do you have upcoming appearances?

Mark:  In conjunction with the book, I developed an hour-long interactive roadshow that Diane and I have been taking to schools since October. It’s sort of a show-and-tell presentation that details the story of the Great Lakes and the hidden dangers of sea lamprey, zebra mussels, Asian carp and other invasive species. There is no cost to the schools, thanks to the support of the Wege Foundation. In less than three months, we have spoken to more than 5,700 students and the response has been overwhelming. People love the book, but the school program has really taken on a life of its own. We’re continually getting invitations to visit schools and I expect that we will have a full schedule of appearances throughout the Great Lakes region for at least a couple of years. If anyone is interested in learning more about the program and/or booking an appearance, they can visit our website at and click on the Contact Us link.

Debbie:  Your favorite place in Michigan?

Mark:  Well, everybody should cross Mackinac Bridge and people should make a point of seeing Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or Tahquamenon Falls in the U.P. If you’re a hockey fan, you have to go to Joe Louis Arena, and there’s nothing like a fall football game in Spartan Stadium or Michigan Stadium (The Big House). I’m a huge record collector, so I should plug Vertigo Music in Grand Rapids, Flat, Black and Circular in East Lansing and Encore Recordings in Ann Arbor, three great music stores. Vinyl, you know, is making a comeback. A lot of young adults, after inheriting their parents’ LPs, are discovering the joys of 12” records and turntables.

Debbie:  Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Mark:  It’s hard to pick just one. I’m a big fan of ArtPrize, which celebrates creativity and encourages conversations about art. The whole city of Grand Rapids has embraced the event, which has become this phenomenal success story in just two short years. The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is cool, too. And I love Opening Day of the baseball season, although I haven’t been to one since the Tigers moved to Comerica Park.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Mark:  Here’s something most people don’t know. Lake Michigan wasn’t always known as such. The early settlers called it “the Lake of the Stinking Water.” Legend has it that the less-than-flattering name came from explorers who caught a whiff of the strong sulfur smell of Green Bay and surmised that the whole lake must stink. Fortunately, the Algonquin tribe had a better name. They called it Michigami, meaning “great water.”

Debbie:  One last question:  some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Mark:  I’m going to take my clue from the residents of the Upper Peninsula. They prefer to think of themselves as Yoopers instead. Since I live under the bridge, I guess that makes me a troll.

Debbie:  Mark, we'll add you to the troll column!  Thank you so very much for being here today.  I hope everyone reading this interview will stop by the Sooper Yooper site to learn even more.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011: Predictions, Resolutions, Dental Floss, and Whatnot

Well, lookee-here, it’s 2011!  I note in passing that it's the first year in over a decade that hasn’t had two zeroes in it.*

It being the New Year, I suppose there's some obligation to make predictions and resolutions.  To Cast One’s Eyes To The Future, and/or To Make Plans For Big Changes.

Yikes.  Big changes?  Not my area of expertise.  I have trouble enough changing the throw pillows on the sofa.

As for resolutions?  Well, I don't make 'em anymore.  This is one of the lesser-known privileges of middle-age.  Once you finally make one that sticks (in my case, flossing, my resolution of 6 years ago), you can forevermore totally opt out of the resolutions scene.  (Did you not know this?  Now you do.  Thank me later.)

But I guess I do have a few thoughts on how 2011 is shaping up, at least as concerns this corner of the blogosphere's 3 Bs:

Books; Book Events; and Blog:**

Books: I’ll keep writing, always; but I think it’s fair to say my quirky take on the world of writing in general and children’s writing in particular is not necessarily in sync with the market. Will I sell more picture books in 2011?  And/or find a home for either of my longer works?  Or will I simply peter out into publishing obscurity? Oh, goodness -- here’s the thing: I have no control over the matter. You can only control what you write; you can't -- though you try your durndest -- control whether it gets published.  So honestly, I’m fine with either path, be it sales or be it obscurity. (Oh, that’s a lie. You’re desperate to sell another manuscript.) ((Shut up. Doesn’t matter.)) (((Shut up. Yes it does.))) ((((Shut up. Does not. ))))  Okeedokie, maybe 2011 would be a good year to cut down on the caffeine?  (And with it, the caffeine-induced overindulgence in parenthetical internal dialogue??)  ((Or maybe I could just change the throw pillows????))  (((Stop it!!  Move on to the next topic!)))

Events: Ah!  This one's easier.  For the first part of 2011, I won't be doing book-related traveling, but I'll kick back into gear spring through fall.  Look for me this spring (in April) at the Lansing Rally of Writers; this fall (September) at the Ann Arbor Kerrytown BookFest***; plus a dozen or so story times and a couple of speaking engagements in between. I'll eventually put details in the sidebar calendar.****  If any of my story times are in your neck of the woods, please stop by and say hello if you can!  It’s always nice to see a friendly face.

Blog: Michigander Monday entries will be rolling again, starting this coming Monday (my gosh, have we got a ton of children’s book writing and illustrating talent in this state!), plus I'll continue to have my other regular/irregular blog features such as Wednesday Workout Reviews (reviews of DVD workouts for uncoordinated middle-agers); Poetry Friday (featuring my lame if earnest poetry); and, every few months or so, some sort of giveaway, reading challenge, or contest.*****  Faithful blog readers who endure all this, I do SO appreciate you!  Thanks tremendously for being a part of this blog.  It means a great deal to me that you stop by periodically.

Anyway, I guess that's about it from the vantage point of 1/1/11.******

How about you?  What's on your radar screen for the year?



Throw pillows?

Do tell!


* The reduction in zeroes will have no practical significance for most folks; though alas, for people who love to make smiley-faces in zeroes, it will be a hard year, as their fun will be halved.  But the rest of us should be fine.

** Technically, that's 3 Bs and an E.  But 3 Bs sounds better.  Kind of like "The Three Tenors," only without all the singing.

*** And don't forget, per my previous fangirl post, Louise Penny will be at the Kerrytown BookFest this year!

**** "Eventually" is an admittedly vague timeline, but in this case, it means either "some time before spring" or "when I finally unearth my password so I can enter events again," whichever comes first.

***** In terms of my current contest, don’t forget that I’m still taking entries in my Michigan Notable Books reading challenge. Commit to reading a couple of books from the Notables list and you’re entered to win a $50 gift certificate to a bookstore!  You don’t have to be from Michigan to participate; and there’s no deadline for doing the reading. Just choose two books from the list of 20 by Jan. 31; then click here to sign upFor detailed information on each book, head over to the Michigan Notable Books site.  Oh, and there's a Notables page on FB, so head on over and "like" if you're so inclined.

****** Admit it, it's fun to write all those ones in a row, isn't it?  And hey, it's only 314 days until you get to write 11/11/11!

******* Happy New Year, everyone!  :)