Mar 29, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Happy Easter!

In celebration of Easter, I have a lovely little poem by one of my favorite poets, Joyce Kilmer. I hope that wherever you find yourself this Easter weekend, the sky is blue, the air is just a bit warmer, and the birds are singing! Enjoy!

                                                                            Easter                                                                          by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
The air is like a butterfly
With frail blue wings.
The happy earth looks at the sky
And sings.


Mar 26, 2013

Young Reader Review: Favorites from Dr. Seuss

Although the "gatekeepers" of children's publishing are adults, the true audience of children's literature is made up of a diverse group of young readers. With this in mind, I started the Young Reader Review series to give kids a chance to tell us which books they love to read, and why. I plan to cover board books through YA, so these interviews should be quite diverse (and lots of fun!). Thanks for reading!

* * * * *

Our review today comes from a young reader named Walker who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Walker is an expert on books for the preschool set, and was kind enough to tell us about his current favorites!

Hello, Walker! Thank you so much for talking with us today about your favorite books. Tell us about yourself!
Hi, my name is Walker. I am 5 years old and I go to preschool. I like to play with my friends. I like to play games on the computer and Skype with my Grandma and Paw Paw.

Wow, you sure stay busy! You are starting kindergarten this fall. What are you looking forward to the most about going to “big kid” school?
Looking around and playing with new friends!

Your mom has told me many times that you love to read. What is your very favorite book these days?
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. It’s about when they try to give Sam some green eggs and ham. At first he doesn’t like them. But when he tries them he likes them. I like this book because Sam always goes inside things and tries the green eggs and ham.

Dr. Seuss was one of MY favorite authors growing up, too! What other books do you like to read?

I also like The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss. I like the story in that book about the shirt spot. That sticky spot sticks to everything, even the cat and even back on his shirt again!

I also like a book called Underpants Thunderpants but I know that’s not a Dr. Seuss story. I like that one because it’s silly. I like books that rhyme!

Me, too—rhyming books are my very favorite!
Underpants, Thunderpants by Peter Bently
Thanks again for joining us today, Walker! It's definitely important for grownups to know what kinds of books kids love to read. Have fun at school, and HAPPY READING!

Mar 22, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Nature as Inspiration

Many people are inspired to write poetry after a walk in the woods, a stroll along the beach, a hike in the mountains, or other experiences in the great outdoors. Robert Frost’s (1874-1963) The Road Not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening are two of the many nature-inspired poems he composed. The Road Not Taken can be found on my Poetry Page, but here is Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The reader is drawn in by these images of a snowy forest, and can almost feel the damp chill in the air. (Robert Frost's birthday is, incidentally, this Tuesday, March 26, which is why I chose to highlight his work.)

Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are just a few of the many writers who frequently wove images of nature into their poetry. For a fairly comprehensive list of poems by these poets, visit and search by name—you will be glad you did!

Haiku poetry (which I explored in depth in this post several weeks ago) is a poetic form that developed specifically as an expression of nature. Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) was an early master of haiku, and brought natural images into sharp focus through his writing. Here is just one example:

But for a woodpecker
pecking at a post, no sound
at all in the house

(Due to the translation from Japanese, the syllables here do not exactly follow the 5/7/5 format, but you get the idea.)

Several weeks ago, I took a hike in the woods with my husband and boys, the day after a rare Carolina snowfall. I was struck by the way the sun reflected off the snow-laden tree branches, and we all stood still when a sudden wind brought snowflakes drifting down again, a million tiny diamonds sparkling in the sunshine. When I got home, I wrote my own haiku to capture the moment, called Second Snowfall:

Snow shimmers on trees
then gusty winds send diamonds
drifting through the air

Now that spring has officially arrived, I look forward to even more “nature moments” to preserve in words. Poetry provides a vehicle by which we can harness our experiences and shape them into meaningful creations, and nature provides an unceasing well of inspiration—all we have to do is take a walk and open our eyes!

Both photos are from the woods behind our house,
always a source of inspiration for me!


Mar 19, 2013

A Visit to Mepkin Abbey

On Sunday afternoon my sister Elizabeth and I visited Mepkin Abbey, which is in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, just north of Charleston. Mepkin Abbey is located on the banks of the Cooper River, on the site of the historic Mepkin Plantation, a rice plantation that dates back to the 1700s. In 1949, a group from the monks of Gethsemani in Kentucky traveled south to found Mepkin Abbey, and today a community of Roman Catholic monks lives, prays, and works on the property. 

As my sister and I wandered through the gardens and, later, participated in a guided tour led by Father Guerric, I was struck by the peace, quietness, and reverence that suffuse the grounds. The monks lead a simple, structured life and are dedicated to purposeful prayer and scriptural study. Their day begins at 3 a.m., when they rise for the first prayers of the day, and they retire at 8 p.m. Daily labor is an important part of abbey life, and the monks grow and harvest oyster mushrooms to help support the community, and also cultivate and maintain their beautiful grounds. It is a peaceful, disciplined lifestyle that is fostered by prayer, service, and community. 

Just one of the many beautiful live oaks on the property.
As a life-long Presbyterian, I have always been intrigued by the traditions and tenets of Catholicism, and I enjoyed learning more during my time at the abbey. I have a deep respect for those who have been called to service in abbeys, monasteries, and mission houses all over the world, regardless of their religious affiliation. My youngest sister Laura and her husband Felipe are (protestant) missionaries serving in Brazil, and in many ways live a lifestyle similar to the inhabitants of Mepkin Abbey—their days are purposeful, prayerful, and dedicated to serving those in the slums of Belo Horizonte where they live. On visits to Brazil, my family and I have seen the challenges and joys of their daily lives, and I am always amazed at what they are able to accomplish. (For a fascinating look into Laura and Felipe’s work in Belo Horizonte, visit their blog at 

Driving home from Charleston on Monday, I was still filled with the peace and purposeful atmosphere of Mepkin Abbey. I intend to hold tight to this peace, and infuse it somehow into my hurried, crazy (but happy) life—but I know that this will require some effort on my part. As a writer, I am learning to devote sections of my day ONLY to writing, despite the other duties that are constantly calling me away (like the basket of folded laundry waiting to be put away right now!). And I have intentionally taken on volunteer and church duties that genuinely bring me joy as I “work,” so maybe I am on the right track. But I know that I can do better, and intentionally structure my day and my time so that I am fully present and focused while writing (or whatever task I am doing), and not distracted by the many other duties waiting for my attention. My visit to Mepkin Abbey has reminded me that you don’t necessarily have to live in an abbey or mission house to live purposefully; I am thankful for this reminder, and so blessed to have visited such a beautiful, peaceful place!

One of the many statues on the property.

Mepkin Abbey has an online store with many wonderful items for purchase, including their dried oyster mushrooms and many jams and honeys produced on their grounds. The abbey also has Guest Houses available for spiritual retreats. For more information about Mepkin Abbey, visit:

Mar 15, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Irish Poets and Poetry

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here are a few poems written by Irish poets. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do! Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

* * * * * 

The Dawning of the Year
by Mary Elizabeth Blake (1840-1907)

All ye who love the springtime
and who but loves it well,
When the little birds do sing, and
the buds begin to swell
Think not ye ken its beauty, or know
its face so dear,
Till ye look upon old Ireland in the
dawning o' the year!

* * * * * 

 Flowers of Youth
by Katharine Tynan Hinkson (1861-1931)

Lest Heaven be thronged with greybeards hoary.
God who made boys for His delight
Stoops in a day of grief and glory
And calls them in, in from the night.
When they come trooping from the war
Our skies have many a new young star ... Dear boys! they shall be young forever.
The son of God was once a boy.
they run and leap by a clear river
And of their mirth they have great joy.
God who made boys so clean and good
Smiles with the eyes of fatherhood.

 * * * * *
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

 * * * * *
An Old Woman of the Roads
by Padraic Colum (1881-1972)

O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!

To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!

I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!

I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!

Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!

And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house—a house of my own—
Out of the wind's and the rain's way.

 * * * * *

I see His Blood Upon the Rose
by Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916)

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

 * * * * *

Leprechauns, castles, good luck and laughter
Lullabies, dreams, and love ever after.
Poems and songs with pipes and drums
A thousand welcomes when anyone comes.
~Author Unknown


Mar 14, 2013

In Memory

My grandmother, Catherine Bookout, passed away on November 9, 2012. Today would have been her 97th birthday. Because she has been on my heart and mind so much lately, I wanted to take a moment to honor and remember her.

Here is a picture of Grandma enjoying a glass of tea on my front porch.
My grandmother was my favorite person in the entire world, and influenced me in so many ways. She is definitely one of my personal heroes, and I miss her every single day! She was a wonderful Christian woman, and one thing she often said to me was, "I want to live my life so that if Jesus were to walk into the room, I'd be happy to see him!" (Not worried about or ashamed of something she'd said or done, she'd always explain.) She was also fond of saying, "Treat other people the way you want to be treated." When I was a child, she took me to church, loved me unconditionally, and showed me what being a Christian really means. As an adult, she listened to me, shared her memories with me, and always had an encouraging word to say--especially about the daunting task of raising boys! 

I was blessed to live only 30 minutes away from Grandma during her last few years of life. My boys and I visited her often, and they came to love her as much as I did. I went to see her twice the week she died, and really thought she was doing better, so it came as a shock to me when I found myself in the hospital’s ICU early on Friday, November 9th, knowing that she wouldn’t be with us much longer. 

I had the immeasurable gift of being with her that last day, and even though Grandma could not respond, I talked to her like I always did—about our family and all of the wonderful memories we had shared. I showed her videos of my sister’s new baby and her other great grandchildren on my iphone. I held her hand and prayed with her, and told her, again, exactly what she has always meant to me. I talked about every single person in our family, and reminded her how much we all loved her. She couldn’t speak, but earlier in the day I *know* I felt her squeeze my hand several times, and I have to believe she heard me. When she finally passed away later that evening, my parents, my aunt and uncle, my two cousins, and I were all gathered around her. It was a sacred moment, and so sad. But I knew that Grandma had finally gone home, and for days the foremost thought in my head was that she was reunited with loved ones long gone, and that she was finally at peace. 

Now that four months have gone by, I miss her SO much! I can't just go see her whenever I want to, and that has been the hardest thing for me. In a few hours, my boys and I will drive out to the cemetery where she is buried and leave flowers where generations of my father's family have been laid to rest. We will remember her and send her heartfelt "Happy Birthday" wishes, sad (I am sure) but secure in the knowledge that one day we WILL see her again. 

Happy Birthday, Grandma!  

 This is one of my favorite pictures of Grandma, with my boys Will and Ben in 2008.
Aren't they adorable?

Mar 12, 2013

Young Reader Review: THE LIGHTNING THIEF

Today, I am excited to launch my Young Reader Review series! Each month, I will interview a young reader about his (or her) favorite books. I plan to cover board books through Young Adult, so these interviews should be quite diverse! My first guest, named Will, is a super smart young man who has loved books from infancy.
Hello, Will! Thanks for joining us today! Please tell our readers a bit about yourself.
Hi, my name is Will. I am pleased to be here! I am in the fourth grade. Some of my favorite things to do are to ride my electric scooter, ride my bike, and read. I also love playing Minecraft, and I am on a soccer team and a swim team.
I know you LOVE to read! What is your favorite genre these days?
Definitely Fantasy.
I know it is hard to pick a favorite book of all time, but tell us about your current favorite.
My favorite book is The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. This story is about Percy Jackson, a boy who is a child of Poseidon. The Greek gods accuse Percy of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt, and his mother is kidnapped and held captive by Hades. Percy’s friends Grover and Annabeth join him in his attempt to rescue his mom, and they have lots of adventures together.
I like this book because it’s adventurous.
What other kinds of books do you like to read?
I also like humorous books, especially the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Any books that you would like to see written for kids to read?
I would like to read more fantasy books about Greek and Roman mythology.
Anything else you would like to add?
I think kids should check out all of Rick Riordan’s books. He is definitely my favorite author!
Thanks again for joining us today, Will, and HAPPY READING!
(Full disclosure: Will is my older-by-one-minute son, and agreed to do the very first Young Reader Review for my blog. Thanks so much, Will!)

Mar 8, 2013


Haiku poetry has always been one of my favorite poetic forms to write and to read. There is something immensely satisfying about creating a complete poem from such a small bundle of words. And reading haiku poetry can be such a calming and “Zen” experience; how amazing is it that such precise concepts can be captured in only 17 syllables? 

Haiku poetry originated in Japan over 700 years ago and made its way westward in the late 1800s. In its earliest format, hokku, as it was called, focused on nature, was non-rhyming, and the Japanese symbols were usually written in a single line instead of three separate lines. The hokku consisted of three complete phrases with 5, 7, and 5 on (Japanese sound units) respectively. There was commonly a juxtaposition of two different concepts, with a kireji (basically a verbal punctuation mark) used to designate the separation between the two.*
Here is an example of a Japanese haiku and its English translation, written in the late 1600s by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), who is considered by scholars to be the first great master of the Japanese hokku format. (Notice that the English version does not translate into the 5/7/5 syllable format.)

Old Pond
furuike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto
old pond...
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

Today's "westernized" haiku poetry commonly has three lines which follow a 5/7/5 syllabic structure, and often (but not always) juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated subjects. In the place of a kireji, ellipses or dashes are sometimes used. Modern haiku poetry may not always have nature as its subject, and somtimes has a broader conceptual range than early Japanese hokku. There is also more flexibility in form and structure, as some writers choose to veer from the traditional 17-syllable format.
Here is a haiku I wrote that was published in (the now defunct) Organic Family Magazine in 2007: 

Weeping Willow Tree
Plumed, tender green limbs
drooping, swaying in the wind—
dancer’s curtain call.

Haiku is a concise, accessible poetic form, and is ideal for anyone wanting to try their hand at writing poetry. Aside from the 5/7/5 syllabic blueprint, there are few rules; capitalization and punctuation are left to the author’s discretion, and no subject is off limits. Haiku can be uplifting or depressing, silly or serious, and can reveal the writer’s emotions, experiences, connections, and perceptions in a truly unique way. It is no wonder that it is so popular with poets of all ages!    

*I have presented a very basic history of haiku poetry here. There are also a variety of spellings and explanations of the Japanese elements, so I have included the ones I found most frequently. There are tons of resources online that have much more extensive information about haiku poetry, if you are interested. This is definitely a topic I plan to explore further!

Mar 5, 2013

Tricky Writing Pitfalls to Avoid

Today I’ve decided to tackle some common writing mistakes that I see quite often. I understand that nobody is perfect, and that everyone makes mistakes from time to time (we’re only human, after all). The good news is that these mistakes are all avoidable!

So, in the hopes of raising awareness of errors that often "fly under the radar,” here are five tricky writing pitfalls to avoid:   

5. Using the wrong spelling of words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings (homophones).

Some common culprits are: they’re/their/there, hear/here, you’re/your, too/to/two. 
Incorrect example: I gave them there presents. (There should be spelled their.)
Incorrect example: You’re mother called.  (You’re should be spelled your.)

These are mistakes that spell checks often miss, so just watch out for them. And look up any words that you are not sure of!
4. The misuse of hyphens. This really is a tricky one, because not everyone is aware of all of the rules associated with hyphens (and there are tons).  
One good rule of thumb is to hyphenate compound adjectives that modify a noun:
Correct example: The blue-eyed boy smiled at me.
Correct example: We looked up at the star-studded sky.    

This includes sentences where numbers are used as adjectives:
Correct example: The three-act play was delightful.     

Another simple tip to remember concerns hyphens used with the singular or plural form of the phrase "year old." If you are using "year old," you DO use a hyphen. However, if you are using "years old," you do NOT need a hyphen.
Correct example: The six-year-old girl sang a solo in the play.
Correct example: The little girl was six years old.

Also, whenever the word "self" is used in compound nouns or adjectives, you should use a hyphen. Correct examples include self-storage and self-respect.

You usually do not need a hyphen in between an adverb and an adjective.
Correct example: They are a happily married couple.

And you will usually need a hyphen when words that function as both adverbs AND adjectives are used (such as best, fast, least, most, and well). 
Correct example: One of the best-loved movies of all time is The Wizard of Oz.
Also, you will  usually need a hyphen after all- and self-; before -elect; and between prefixes and proper names. 
There are many more rules concerning hyphens (and also many exceptions to these rules), so when in doubt, look it up!

3. Writing “alot” instead of “a lot.” I see this quite frequently, especially when working with young writers. 
Incorrect example: We ate alot of cake at the party. (It should be a lot.).

Closely related to this is using “alright” instead of “all right.” However, “alright” is actually accepted as a non-standard spelling of the more commonly used “all right,” especially in recent years. I wanted to mention it, though, since I have heard so much discussion about this.  
2.  The misuse of apostrophes. Without a doubt, my biggest personal pet peeve is the misuse of apostrophes, particularly when an unnecessary apostrophe is used. (This one avoided being #1 on my list only because so many people are honestly unaware of this rule.)
The most common place I see this type of error is on billboards and other advertising venues—which is made even worse by the fact that someone has actually paid for the mistake!

The rule to always remember here is to only use an apostrophe to show ownership OR in a contraction!
Incorrect example: Buy 2 pizza’s and get one free! (Pizza’s should be pizzas.)

Conversely, it is almost as bad when I see plurals used where there should be an apostrophe used to show ownership. 
Incorrect example: The Shillington families pet dog is named Ellie. (Families should be family’s.)

A very tricky exception to this rule is the word “its,” which correctly shows ownership without the use of an apostrophe. (The word “it’s” is a simple contraction of “it is.”)
Related to this is another apostrophe error that I see a LOT—the misuse of apostrophes in reference to families.

Incorrect example: The Shillington’s are coming to visit. (This should say Shillingtons.)
Incorrect example: Happy Birthday from the Shillington’s. (Again, it should say Shillingtons.)

I could go on and on about “apostrophe abuse,” but I will stop now!

...And the #1 Writing Pitfall to Avoid is:

1. Failure to proofread in general (capitalization, punctuation, grammar—this can be just about anything). These are perhaps the most forehead-slapping mistakes of all; the ones that are right there in front of your face and you just don’t see them. Like the query letter I sent out to an agent several years ago with an obvious mistake that I noticed the second AFTER I hit “send” on my email. (I did this once—and only once—and still can’t figure out how it happened!)
These kinds of errors are so frustrating simply because they are usually so obvious!
By far the funniest proofreading error I have ever seen was several years ago in Texas. I was driving with my young boys into town when we saw an electronic road sign that said, “CAUTION: STRIPPERS AHEAD.” A short way down the road, a crew of (fully clothed) men in orange vests and hats were doing road work, and a slow-moving truck was spraying stripes onto the highway. Obviously, the sign was supposed to say, “CAUTION, STRIPERS AHEAD.” But for me and the many other amused drivers who happened by, it was a hilarious reminder of how the omission of one innocent letter can make a huge difference. I am still thankful that my boys could not read at that time! = ) 

I hope this short list has helped to clear up some of the confusion surrounding these tricky (and plentiful!) writing pitfalls. I will end with one of my favorite writing quotes, which is from an unknown author but is definitely worth repeating:

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.  ~Author Unknown 
* * * * *

I am *sure* that I’ve been “preaching to the choir” here, since so many writers I know have the same pet peeves. If you have any to add, please comment below. I will add to this list from time to time, and maybe together we can rid the written word of errors, one mistake at a time!  = )