We Need to Talk About First Ladies . . .

Revolutionary War.jpg

Or, Who's going to worry about the China Collection?

It’s less than a month until Tuesday, November 8, 2016-Election Day! (I’ll be voting—I hope you will too.)

Even if you are sick, sad, tired, disgusted by this presidential campaign thus far—VOTE!

Even if you don’t want to vote for either of the presidential candidates—Please, go to the Polls & VOTE! Presidents aside, there are many other issues on the ballots: Propositions, inc. TAX proposals; elected officials . . . i.e. local & state issues that should concern & will affect you. Remember the Revolution? Taxation Without Representation? (If you don’t VOTE that’s what you’ll be getting.)

Assuming we are all voting, we need to talk about First Ladies. Every other election I can recall, the First Lady has played a huge part in the campaign. Copious hours of media attention has been paid to candidates for First Lady, too.

In the last election, Ann Romney, headlined at well over 40 fundraisers. Contrast that to this campaign. As noted it this Sept 16th CNN report, Melania Trump’s been AWOL pretty much since that July 18th National Convention speech… you know, the one she sort of copied from our current—extremely visible and popular first lady, Michelle Obama. 

Likewise, I haven’t noticed much campaigning from Past Pres. Bill Clinton either. So few that the fundraisers Bill subbed at when Hillary had pneumonia stand out.  I’m sure, as former President, Bill has been campaigning and fundraising—as a recent Washington Post article “Two Clintons. 41 Years. $3 Billion.” noted, the Clinton’s are pros at fundraising. 

To me, the absence of media attention on First Ladies (will that be “First Partners” going forward? Or something else?) is disconcerting. I missed seeing either of the First Lady/Partner? standing behind her/his Man/Woman when their spouses accepted their party’s nominations. And where are the fashion features we’d come to expect? You know the round ups of Jackie’s Hats? Nancy’s penchant for red jackets that led to all of us buying at least one red “Power Blazer.” Or, more recently, Hillary’s First Lady candidate hairdos & cankles? Michelle’s weight and wardrobe updates—and hair, of course. Why isn’t the media chatting about Melania’s hair and clothing—or lack of it? We sure rear plenty about Donald’s hair…why not Bills? Or his wardrobe update? There were heaps of articles about Presidential Candidates ties in past elections. One, “The Psychology of Tie Color,”  comparing Mitt’s ties to Barack’s concluded that Republicans prefer blue ties while Democrats go for red.  But what about Bill’s ties? If the color of Nancy’s blazer mattered, shouldn’t the color of Bill’s tie?

Fashion aside, let’s focus on what should matter:

According to Wikipedia (the source of all “free”—as in writers are not compensated for their research, verbiage, or time—encyclopedic knowledge) “The First Lady of the United States is the hostess of the White House. . . The First Lady is not an elected position; it carries no official duties and receives no salary. Nonetheless, she attends many official ceremonies and functions of state either along with or in place of the president. Traditionally, the First Lady does not hold outside employment while occupying the office.[1] She has her own staff, including the White House Social Secretary, the Chief of Staff, the Press Secretary, the Chief Floral Designer, and the Executive Chef. The Office of the First Lady is also in charge of all social and ceremonial events of the White House, and is a branch of the Executive Office of the President.”

What do the First Partner candidates plan to accomplish in office? Have any of you heard what issue Bill or Melania plan to battle when he/she is First Partner? Along with serving as hostess, and traditionally selecting the “State China, recent first ladies choose a cause to champion. BTW: Michelle Obama’s choice was “Kailua Blue."

I wonder, is Bill thinking about whether to choose his own china pattern or add to the pale yellow and gold “Clinton China” commemorating the bicentennial of the White House, Hillary selected. And what about Melania? Is she mulling over causes to champion? Or doesn’t it matter anymore? Did it every, really? Were all those article, all the media attention paid to past First Ladies, just filler?

As an American female, I have always paid close attention to First Ladies. It seemed that they, and the causes they championed were important. I googled “Causes First Ladies Championed,” and they were! And they did make a difference. If you doubt it, rewatch the episode of Mad Men where the Draper family went on a picnic. Imagine how high the litter on our highways, roadsides & parks would look like now if Lady Bird Johnson hadn't campaigned for highway beautification?

Here are some causes First Ladies are remembered for championing today.* What mark will the next First Partner make on America & the World? 

*First Ladies not listed may well have championed causes. Frankly, I didn’t want to take the time to research more. If you know other’s causes, send word and I will add them.

Ban My Book…Please!!!

So proud to find Tom Birdseye's hysterical book on the list! Write on, Tom!

So proud to find Tom Birdseye's hysterical book on the list! Write on, Tom!

It’s hump day of Banned Book week. Yes, I know, traditionally “Hump Day” is Wednesday. But that’s based on a 5-day work week. I moved Hump Day to the 4.5th day for those of us who follow a 7-day/every-day work week). That settled, back to my rant. . I’ve been known to jest, “Ban my book, please…” (Especially after Vampire Baby and Not Norman were published.)

As the saying goes, “Most truth is said in jest.” True. But I wasn’t kidding. And I’m not now, either. With both of those books, Vampire Baby especially, what I found happened is that rather than buying and then banning it, parents, grandparents & librarians—yes librarians—school, public and private—ignore it, avoid it, don’t touch it, or read it… Ignore it and it will go away, they think and do.

In the case of Vampire Baby, I was told it was because vampires are “taboo subjects” in many schools. At library/educator conventions, including TLA and IRA, I tried to explain to passing browsers how Vampire Baby isn’t really about a vampire. I tried to get the librarian or teacher to see for themselves: “Look at it! Touch it! Read for yourself, you’ll see…” They’d shake their heads or walk on by.

As for Not Norman, a Goldfish Story: Now it’s hugely popular & timely! People—adults, children, librarians—take one look at that adorable brown face peeking through the fishbowl with a goldfish for a nose and want to scoop it up. But back in 2005, when Not Norman was published, that was not the case.


I’d be at events & book signings, and many browsers, even “friends” who’d bought every other book I’d written offhand, skirted right past.

After all, that brown boy didn’t look anything like their children, grandchildren, students… Even still today this may happen. I can’t say for sure because I’ve banned those places.

Is being officially “Banned” bad? Yes. No one else should be able to take away our right to choose what we read.

…and No. At least. to be banned, someone has to care enough, be passionate enough, committed enough to go through all the trouble it takes to have a book officially banned. Truthfully, selfishly, I’d rather my book be banned than ignored…

Books can be dangerous objects—under their influence, people start to wonder, dream, and think.
— NYPL Banned Book Quiz

However, This is Banned Book Week! and so:

In honor of all those individuals and institution that went to all the time, trouble and expense—I’m talking hours and hours, sometimes years of trouble, People!—to get a book banned, let’s:


Here, courtesy of ALA is a list of the Most Frequently Challenged Children’s Books: 

And, to challenge your knowledge of banned and challenged books, the NYPL Banned Book Quiz

Happy reading! 

Ban My Book…Please!!! Playlist:

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The White Chick in the Room

I'm This Chick*

I'm This Chick*

The children's lit world is a-buzz over diversity! Everybody’s talking about how we need diverse books and diverse writers (and to a lesser extent, diverse illustrators), and they should be . . .  But nobody is talking about the white chick in the room—especially not the white Writer chick in the room.  I’m that chick.

There are two parts to the diverse books issue. Both of which, as a reader, educator, grandmother & citizen I recognize. Neither of which—beyond letting my book buying dollars speak for me—am I in a position to do much about. And, both of which are making middle-aged, female, marshmallow ME want to pull back into the corner I crawled into as a child to read, and crawled out of when I became a writer.

Social Media is to bless . . . and to blame.

Back in my youth (the second half of the last century), writers—authors—were invisible. What we young readers focused on was the story: if a story was compelling, interesting, engaging we read it, and shared it.  With the exception of a select few we studied in school, none of us knew who wrote the books we read. No one cared much either, except when it was time to check out a new book.

This anonymity was both good and bad. Lightly brushing the surface, on the bad side, anonymity was partially responsible for the gross stereotyping, misrepresentation, and historic inaccuracies in literature we are trying to correct by pushing to support diverse writers, artists and books.

On the good side, this pre-social media anonymity allowed this white chick writer to hide behind my words. I was the girl who, while learning cursive back when we used No. 2 pencils and were graded on spelling and punctuation, wrote as lightly as possible so my teachers would have a hard time reading what I wrote, or notice any mistakes. The girl who, used books as invisibility cloaks at home. The girl who wrote her feelings because I would have had the crap beaten out of me if I’d dared say what I was thinking. Children in our house were only supposed to do what we were told—quietly—and smile.

I loved to write, and teachers praised my writing. But, lacking confidence in my own stories, I found my voice by telling other people’s stories. I could be anything I wanted to be, and write about anything I wanted to—Poof! Use initials and I’m a man! A pseudonym and I’m an abused wife! An Indian—(with tribal approval)! A Cambodian! A boy! Poof! Poof! Poof!

YES! Those who cares about literacy, education, community—children—know: We absolutely do NEED diverse books. Children likeand deserveto see themselves and their ancestors accurately reflected in stories; children learn about others by meeting them in stories.

For a better look and the explanation, click over to "Picture This"

For a better look and the explanation, click over to "Picture This"

The graphic above shows books published in 2015 (and represents 2016 percentages too, according to Associate Professor and author of the post "Picture This", Sarah Park Dahlen, author/teacher Molly Beth Griffin & illustrator, David Huyck , the trio responsible for recently updating graphic.)

A huge majority of newly published books for children, 73.3% depict white characters; 12.5% animals, trucks & others,  and the whole rest of humankind depicted in a mere 14.2%, while according to Wikipedia, about 62.6% of Americans identify themselves as white. BTW: no figures were included for gender, religious, ableness diversity…Due cause for another chart?)

YES! We do need people of diverse backgrounds writing for our children! For the same reasons stated above and more. If every story was the same, who’d ever need to read, or hear—or buy—more than one? (And goodness knows, as a kid, I wanted to read about anything else but my boring old self.) This isn’t the reason no one is talking about the white chick the room. In truth, much of the Diversity Matters talking is being done by white chicks.

As Sarah Park Dahlen noted in her post unveiling the graphic, the Minnesota Children’s Lit community which supported this updating is, "comprised mainly of white authors, illustrators, and editors working to promote anti-biased and anti-racist children's literature, support writers and artists from underrepresented communities, and remove barriers to inclusivity." Similar groups are forming all over America, including WNDB, We Need Diverse Booksand my own VCFA’s Young Writer’s Network connecting authors with children in an effort to “raise a new generation of diverse writers.” (I can’t speak for the world efforts...)

Who better to tell diverse stories than diverse authors and illustrators? This is the diversity question that has everyone ignoring the white chicks in the room. But is it the question we should be asking? Really? 

Blogger, Kevin D.Hendricks a “work-at-home dad [who] wrestles with faith, social justice & story", charted the books he’d read during 2014, and wrote about his findings in his Jan.8, 2015 post “Defining Diversity is Kind of Tough.” When explaining his findings, Hendricks noted, “Sometimes you don’t know an author’s or a character’s ethnicity," and went on to explain: "In this case I made my best guess and counted any book with a non-white author or primary character (I didn’t chart other kinds of diversity—gender, sexuality, disability, religion, etc.—just because it was getting complicated). I’m sure I’m off in places.”

Defining diversity is kind of tough. Sometimes you don’t know an author’s or a character’s ethnicity.
— http://www.kevindhendricks.com/2015/01/08/why-we-must-pursue-diverse-books/

Writer Chick Me cringed when I read this. Not because Hendricks charted his booklist with an eye to reading more diverse stories. And not because he included authors (not illustrators, BTW) in the list. I cringed because he seemed disappointed that it was “kind of tough” sometimes to know an author's ethnicity from "the writing." Isn’t the goal of good writing for the author to be invisible?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Diversity in our literature, especially in our increasingly more global, changing, interconnected world does matter. We need to nurture and “support writers and artists from underrepresented communities, and remove barriers to inclusivity." 

But does it have to be an OR situation? When it comes to writers & writing, should:

  • WHO wrote the story matter to a reader sounding out her first books all-by-herself?
  • WHO drew illustrations that sucked that child so deeply into that story he can’t even hear the TV matter, either?
  • Should Diversity Matters mean AND?

If it shouldn't, then where does that leave white, middle-aged, marshmallow writer chick me?

Right now, striped of my invisibility cloak, I'm feeling more like a plucked chicken: raw, exposed, maybe even a tad too close to my sell by date, than I am a chick.  What are my stories to tell? . . .  Animals? Trucks? Songs about Rainbows? 


White Chick in the Room Playlist:

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Picasso or Cezzane-Which Are YOU?

Marty and I at VCFA this summer, learning to...(you guessed it!)

Marty and I at VCFA this summer, learning to...(you guessed it!)

I'm a Cezanne. My writing bud, Marty, is a Cezanne. It's a blessing...or a curse. We discuss it often, but haven't reached a definitive conclusion . . . 

If you are reluctant to scratch your John Henry on the bottom right corner of your work, or click "Send", you might be one, too. But if you're not, you--lucky you--might be a Picasso.

The inherent difference between Cezanne and Picasso, in this context, came to my attention by way of Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast, specifically Episode 7: Hallelujah, about the creation of the song, but not.

Leonard Cohen closer to how he looked when he first wrote Hallelujah.

Leonard Cohen closer to how he looked when he first wrote Hallelujah.

For purposes of this post, what I'd like to focus on is not the song, Hallelujah,  but how the song was written. Poet, Songwriter, Singer, CreatorLeonard Cohen is a Cezanne, too, as evidenced by this poem-turned-song's 15 year, countless drafts, journey from beginning to--Hallelujah!--Classic!

However, if/when you are so inclined take a listen to Gladwell's podcast for the whole story, including how, if not for Jeff Buckley having walked into the Mississippi--fully clothed, booted, singing--and drowned, Cohen's now-classic, oft covered & lauded song might never had been noticed at all.

                          Jeff Buckley (Dig the resemblance to Cohen in the photo above. 

                          Jeff Buckley (Dig the resemblance to Cohen in the photo above. 

Aside: Below, as usual, is this post's Playlist. When I was searching U-tube for these videos, the list on which I found Buckley's must have been one featuring songs by artists with tragic stories as the next video up was Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole's version of Somewhere over the Rainbow, the result of a late night, one take studio session after which "Iz" died. Fortunately, after that, on a lighter note came Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy. Bobby, I'm happy to report is, according to Wikipedia, still living, so by way of celebrating him--and because Don't Worry, Be Happy is a smile song--I included it, too. 

Back to Cezanne & Picasso: Gladwell highlighted these two artist in his podcast because they represent two distinctly different types of artists. The difference is not restricted to visual artists. As Cohen's process shows, these 2 types exist within all Creators. And most significant to me, right now, the difference might be the root of some deep seeding feeling of inadequacy (I'll get back to that later). First, on to Picasso and Cezanne.

Picasso's "Cat Catching Bird"

Picasso's "Cat Catching Bird"

Pablo Picasso was a Conceptualist. While Pablo, baby, may well have spent a lot of time thinking, planning, visualizing beforehand,  he created in bursts. His efforts produced polished pieces which, by all accounts I found, he considered "finished" and was more than happy to sign and send out into the world. No second guessing, no revising, call it "done" and move on to the next idea...and the next...and the next...


Cezanne's "Compotier Glass and Apples"

Cezanne's "Compotier Glass and Apples"

French artist Paul Cezanne was an Experimentalist (What I call a Revisionist). Cezanne, Gladwell noted, didn't sign much of his work because he couldn't admit to himself his paintings were finished! He had his manager pose for a single portrait some 100 times! Cezanne destroyed and/or tried to destroy what are today considered "masterpieces" because he felt he could not accomplish in creating them what he'd set out to do. He could not please himself. Cezanne did not know how to say "done." He agonized. He doubted. He revised...and revised...and revised...

We Cezannes, aka Experimentalists, aka Revisionists--are plagued with feeling of frustration, and inadequacy. Why, because we compare ourselves to Picassos. 

And worse, our work may well languish, as Cohen's Halleluia, almost did because we don't--won't--put it out there.  

Which do I think is better, to be a Picasso or a Cezanne?

Or, how we Cezanne's be more Picasso-ish? Or, do we want to?        

                                       Hmmmm I'll have to think on it . . . 

Reasons to Believe

You may have noticed I've been AWOL (I hope you have anyway...) To put it mildly, waters in the Fishbowl are all churned up. I've drafted several posts in response to increasing, and increasingly, hateful, needless acts of violence & our political situation, but haven't published them. Why? As I was recently reminded: 

The only way to vanquish hate is with positive energy, light and love. 

A recent note from my friend author, Ellen Yeomans, filled me with hope and admiration. In short, did what I want to do and encourage in The Fishbowl: it Inspired me. My hope is it will inspire you too.

And if you are inspired  to lend your support, Here's the TCS NYC Marathon Link: 

Dear Ones,

It’s true. I’ve taken a big step and registered for the New York City Marathon. To RUN. Figured I’d better make that last bit clear. Most of my friends and family will be scratching their heads by now and calling out to their significants, “Honey, did we know Ellen ran?”… “Ellen, who?”

Yeah. I know, surprising. But, people, I’m more than just Carhartt’s and pretty dresses. I have actual “workout gear” and running shoes. I even have an ipod playlist entitled “Running”—that’s how serious all this is. I’ve been running a long time now. Well, okay, I’ve been running since the end of December. Some have asked me how I was able to qualify for this marathon. Look, I’m NOT qualified, just rather determined. And if you have more determination than actual experience you can sign up to run through one of many great charities that have open spots. And that is how I’ve come to all this running business.

One of my incredible editors, Alvina Ling, lost her beloved young husband, Greg, to cancer on Christmas day. Their story is here:
goo.gl/OOSLcP . Alvina edited my novel, RUBBER HOUSES, which deals with a family navigating life after the devastating loss of the youngest child to cancer. So Alvina and I together have dealt with cancer both literally and literarily. Alvina resolved to run the marathon in Greg’s memory and asked if anyone would join her. I pulled a pair of sneakers from my closet, went outside, ran three miles, and decided I would.

And yes, 26.2 miles is a long way to go on foot. But some journeys loom larger still. The twice daily, six tenths of a mile I walked—and sometimes ran—from the Ronald McDonald House where I lived to Boston Children’s Hospital where my daughter, Paige, was a patient remains one of the longer journeys I’ve ever taken. It took forever to get there early each morning to see for myself how Paige was doing. The return trip to my room late each night seemed never-ending to my exceptionally weary body and spirit. Months of this daily journey passed and, as most of you know, Paige did not survive. Diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia at six years old, she died shortly after turning eight. A kinder, more considerate soul this world has never known.

So. I will run in memory of Paige and in memory of Greg. I will do this by raising money for Memorial Sloan Kettering’s “Fred’s Team.” Our official team name is Alvina’s Team for Greg. If you can help with a donation go to: goo.gl/kqcLwV If that is not possible, I will accept all of your prayers, good wishes, and New Age vibrations. Anything good that you’ve got, send my way! For those of you concerned that I need more than donations and good vibes, I have a coach. Phew, right? My coach attempts to keep me from doing anything particularly stupid. She is a dear friend who just competed in yet another Ironman triathalon this past weekend and I went along to spectate. Significantly, I now know what a marathon looks like. On November 6th my aim is to complete one. Help if you can, in whatever manner suits you best. I shall be grateful to you every step of the way.
Fondly, Ellen
— Ellen Yeoman's Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ellen.yeomans?ref=br_rs

Reasons to Believe Playlist:



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99 Days and Celebrating!

Get ready for a Fishbowl Trifecta! First, an apology, then a confession, followed by a huge celebration! 

I have been sorely neglecting my faithful Fishbowl followers, and for that I am truly sorry. There are countless, endless, reading opportunities, including blogs galore, and I so appreciate you--all 3 or 7 of you--for wanting to read mine. I have heaps of reasons why I haven't been posting (and each time I don't guilt ridden me finds a few more). The simple truth is this Gardening Leave has thrown me for a loop. And rather than taking time out to blog about it, I've wallowed in it.

 I must confess, it's been super fun, just being, living, doing, with minimal obligation. And a big part of me considered hanging a "Gone Fishin'" sign and calling it quits. But the truth is...Confession Time...I like blogging. 

People ask sometimes, "Why I write?" as in "Why do I think anyone should want to read what I write? What's so good about it?" Usually, that question is tossed at me during horribly uncomfortable moments: During a lull in dinner party conversations, after I've just received yet another rejection, when a big-time famous, award-winner author is standing nearby. I usually mutter something stupid. But now, thanks to this hiatus, I have the answer: I write to process events: I share my writing because I believe you and your, or you, might be experiencing the same things--if not in the same way. Or, you might need a diversion. I missed this time with you. 

And if that's not enough to celebrate, dig this: The day, June 22, 2016, marks the 99th consecutive day in a 365 day Poetry Challenge! 

Along with my writer bud, Cindy Faughnan, I am working through the Aspiring Poet's Journal, by Bernard Friot, illus. by Herve' Tullet. It's a fat book of guided assignments designed so "aspiring poets can spend a year developing their voice and practicing seeming the world through a poet's eye." While I am not a poet, not do I aspire to be a poet, I do want my writing to have a lyrical quality. Besides, what else did I have to  do these past 99 days???!! 

What have I learned during these 99 consecutive days:

  1. Buddy System Works: Alone, It's easy to cheat
  2. Consequences: If I don't post, I have to pay.
  3. No matter how busy I am, where I am, how lousy the Internet, If I really want to, I can do it! 

Only 264 more prompt to go! 

99 Days Playlist:

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Growin' Grapes 

Growin' Grapes 

Salads Fixins & Herbs 

Salads Fixins & Herbs 

Unpacking & Organizing

Unpacking & Organizing

Sorting of all Sorts

Sorting of all Sorts

On Gardening Leave

Is "Gardening Leave" the same as being "Put Out to Pasture"? If it is, should we be worried? Or happy? 

Us back then!

Us back then!

Four years, three months ago, Curtis and I moved to Trinidad from Indonesia. Seven years before that we'd moved to Indonesia from Houston. 

The day after April Fool's Day, loaded down with 6 suitcases, 2 carry-ons and lots of memories--especially of our dear Trini friends--Curtis and I boarded a plane bound for New York, and whatever comes after. . . 



Why we were New York and not Houston or somewhere else Bound?

Several years ago, while my Creativity Group (or the GGs as we called ourselves) was working through The Passion Test, I came to the realization that I wanted-needed-a base, a home, a nest of our own.

So, we went searching for that nest and finally found one in a seaside village of Westhampton Beach on Long Island. It met all our requirements--the requirements of late mid-life: Withing 2 hours of an International Airport; good doctors, hospital, within walking/biking distance to all the necessities. 

If you're wondering what "Renovation" means, this sums it up... sans the theatre/romance/fun subplot.

If you're wondering what "Renovation" means, this sums it up... sans the theatre/romance/fun subplot.

A better/worse/more realistic example...

A better/worse/more realistic example...

Our Vene Mange "Mini Band" won 3rd place in Carnival 2016

Our Vene Mange "Mini Band" won 3rd place in Carnival 2016

We proceeded to make the nest our own

And then,  little more ours . . . 

Fast forward three years. . .

We knew this day would come. Curtis's Trinidad & Tobago Work Permit expired on March 31t. We'd  been planning for it. Working toward it. We thought our builder was too...

This morning, as we were meeting with the electrician to decide where we should position the lights, outlets, switches, cables and wires needed to complete this reno, with detritus from our six suitcases & 4 carry-ons scattered throughout our crowded "nest" Curtis got the call we'd been expecting. As of today, Curtis is officially on "Gardening Leave," whatever that means...

Am I nervous? Excited? Scared? A little worries? Sure am!

Here's one thing I've learned these 4 years in Trinidad:

Trini hearts must beat with the rhythm of the steel pan. I'm sure of it when I see Trini's move and when I hear them speak. Sentences blend and bounce, ending with a upturn, a lilt. I try to recreate the accent but mine comes out sounding leprechaun.

Even courtesy greeting to passerbys dance. No quick, curt "Hi," or nod of the head. Joggers sweating and puffing their way up steep Lady Chancellor hill this past Saturday morning sang out, "Mornin' Mornin'" "G'day! G'day!" just as they had every other day. Morning greetings, regardless the age of the speaker,  come twice.

Curious about the origin of this charming greeting custom, I'd looked it up when we first came to Trinidad. I recall something about how the custom stems from back when servants manners better be above reproach. (Although when I searched just now for that reference, I couldn't find it.) 

I asked a Trini friend about the two-call greeting and she said she recalled her grandmother saying it was about not risking being considered rude. "Trinidad is a small community," she explained. "If you're not related to someone, you know someone who is. If it ever got back to our family that we hadn't been polite, hadn't greeted someone properly, we'd catch the devil. Better to say it twice and be sure to be heard."

Knowing this charming custom grew out of fear--fear of losing one's position or risking punishment--a "Better safe than sorry," mentality, should, I suppose, make me enjoy it less. On the contrary. I think there's something to this idea that if one has something important enough to say once, we should make sure it's heard. And if that means saying it twice, sing out!

So now, today, with Gardening Leave (and whatever it entails) about to begin, we're taking a cue from our Trini Friends:  We're Ready! We're Ready!


"Gardening Leave" Playlist

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Mosquito, Don't Ya Know!

I should have known I was in for it when the 4th forms started giggling before they started reading... (read why later in the post).

I should have known I was in for it when the 4th forms started giggling before they started reading... (read why later in the post).

Turn around is the best play! 

My last school visit as a resident of Trinidad & Tobago was to Guayaguayare R.C School, and what a treat! Instead of me entertaining them, the students, each grade in turn from 1st to 4th form (ages 5-10), shared their stories with the other students, teachers, visitors from Bridge Foundation, and me!

As part of its "Read to Rise," early literacy program, Bridge Foundation works with students and teachers in some of Trinidad's most needy areas, including Guayaguayare R.C. school.

Guayagyayare (pronounced exactly as it looks, with a Trini accent, yes I practiced heaps) is about 2 1/2 hour drive south-east of Port Of Spain. Reginald Holder, a Bridge Foundation staffer and long-time supporter before that, was kind enough to drive me down. (I'm thinking he and Anthea were worried I might not make it if I drove myself.) They might well have been on to something, some of the towns we passed through looked inviting and the beaches, spectacular. Here's a photo of the coconut palm lined highway in nearby Mayaro. That's the beach just to the left of the road, about 50 feet. (Now you see the temptation...)

Bridge's Founder,  Anthea McLaughlin, is a former Jumpstart board member, so naturally, when she moved to Trinidad about 7 years ago, she brought  Read for the Record® with her.

Jamie Tan from Candlewick Press hooking up the webcast on 10-22-15

Jamie Tan from Candlewick Press hooking up the webcast on 10-22-15

Now it's an annual part of the Read to Rise curriculum. And this year it was huge! Through Bridge Foundation's efforts 92 Trinidad and Tobago schools and almost 30,000 children and adults took part in the shared reading experience. Including the students and staff at Guayaguayare and Mayaro schools. What's more, Bridge Foundation gave every student at this school a book, and 2 copies each to the 90 other schools! 30,000 students, that's about 20% of Trinidad's children! 

Already acquainted with Norman, the 1st form students (4-5) were brilliantly equipped to respond to the prompt: When I got Norman, I didn't want to keep him.

(Can you guess which was Norman's fav?)

Through Bridge Foundation’s efforts 92 Trinidad and Tobago schools and almost 30,000 children and adults took part in the shared reading experience

Along with readings by celebrities who put a "Trini" spin on the story, Bridge partners created a slew of activities built around the theme of Pet and Sea-responsibility. Here's more about Bridge Foundation and Read for the Record® day 2015! 

Which is where I came in. Reginald read that I lived in Trinidad, he told Anthea who got in touch with me. Three heads together over coffee came up with a plan for me to give a workshop to UWI 2nd year Creative Art students on picture books, which they would then use to help Guayaraguayare students WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE their own stories. The books are being created as we speak! And having met the students, I know they will be amazing! (I'll share some if I can.) 

The really really fun part came after my presentation. 2nd form students, with hands clasped & sincerity gave a rousing rendition of their Trini version of There Was an Old Man Who Swallowed a Mosquito--

It had the Zeeka Virus, don’t ya know...
He swallowed a lizard to eat the mos-qui-TO
That wiggled and jiggled down to his gizzard!

Q&A session was hillarious! Of course one asked my age...and if my goldfish ever died, because their's did!

Bridge Foundation donated stacks of copies of Not Norman that will be given as prizes later. I was thrilled to sign them. Principal Burt Wiseman is fab and welcoming!

The grand finale was 4th Form's surprise. A recital of a brand new poem penned in Norman's honor! 

I should have known their was something, er...fishy going on when they lined up looking like they were up to something. Turns out Bridge's resident poet, Shurla Blade, had composed a poem in honor of my friendly little fish, Norman. They could not stop smiling even while reciting. Imagine my shock & Surprise: 

What do I get from school visits? Besides hugs and smiles--and being made to feel like a rockstar for a day? Images of those earnest, interested, bright children to hold, a reminder of who I'm writing for and why.