What Do You Want to See More Of?

June 26, 2013

I want to see more carrots.

“Celebrate what you want to see more of.”
—Tom Peters

I want to see more lazy summer afternoons with a good book, delicious meals, conversations with friends, hugs from my family, quality time with my horse…

What do you want to see more of?


It's Summer--Let's Read!

June 24, 2013

Remember those summer reading lists we used to get when we were in school—books that were either required or “recommended” for us to read before school started the next year? Even though I’ve always loved reading, I used to hate those lists. Rarely did they contain something I wanted to read, and somehow it took some of the fun out of reading when it was assigned. Even now, I’m an extremely random reader—drifting from book to book as suits my mood. I don’t often plan out a course of reading, though I admire those who do, and I love to see other people’s reading lists (like Danielle’s at A Work in Progress) and summer reading recommendations (click here for some fun ones).

This summer, to make the most of what I hope will be extra reading time (when most people are preparing to get outdoors more in summer, here in central Florida, I’m planning ways to stay indoors as much as I can—it’s just too dang hot and humid), I thought I’d try making up my own reading list in an effort to read more widely and carefully instead of just reading more.

I started my list with books from the pattern that has emerged the past couple of years. For instance, every summer, I read a biography or autobiography of a writer. In past years, I’ve read about Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louisa May Alcott and Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. This summer, I’ve picked up a volume of L.M. Montgomery’s journals (she’s the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, see below), and I think I might also tackle Mark Twain’s autobiography

Interestingly, for the past two summers I’ve read a book by Wilkie Collins (The Moonstone and The Woman in White). This year, it’s No Name, the story of Magdalen and Norah Vanstone, who find themselves orphaned and penniless when their inheritance goes to their uncle.

I also like to pick up a classic. I’m already working on The Three Musketeers (which I started months ago—not a reflection on the story, but on the fact that I’m reading it on my tablet, which I dislike for reading). I’m also considering Eudora WeltyDelta Wedding, which is described on Amazon as “A vivid and charming portrait of a large southern family, the Fairchilds, who live on a plantation in the Mississippi delta. The story…[is] centered around the visit of a young relative, Laura McRaven, and the family’s preparations for her cousin Dabney’s wedding.” I’m just discovering Welty’s work, and so far I’ve loved everything I’ve read.

I’ll continue with my vintage mystery challenge—with Ngaio Marsh’s Spinsters in Jeopardy—what a great title!—up next.  I’ll probably also sneak in another Georgette Heyer mystery. I’m working my way through the Sourcebooks Landmark editions with their terrific vintage covers.

What would summer be like without a comfort reread (or two…or more!)? I’m thinking of revisiting Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners (especially for the Cretan setting), and Anne’s House of Dreams, the fifth book in Anne of Green Gables series. And I think it’s about time I reread an Agatha Christie mystery. 

And lest you think I’m eternally stuck in the past, I also want to read Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel Flight Behavior, I’m working on the fourth Maisie Dobbs mystery, Messenger of Truth and I’m already more than halfway through Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. (Jenny is better known as The Bloggess.) 

My summer list also includes Dave Barry’s I’ll Mature When I’m Dead and Val Frankel’s memoir, It’s Hard Not to Hate You, as well as Debbie Macomber’s Between Friends and Patricia Wentworth’s The Catherine Wheel, another vintage mystery.

Whew. That should more than take me through the summer! And if it doesn’t, I still have quite a mountain of choices on my shelves, despite my efforts to whittle them down. (Tip: in order to effectively reduce one’s total “mountain” of books, one must quit buying books. So much easier said than done.)

What will you read this summer?


The Yellow Bowl

June 19, 2013

The great American poet William Carlos Williams taught us that if a poem can capture a moment in life, and bathe it in the light of the poet’s close attention, and make it feel fresh and new, that’s enough, that’s adequate, that’s good.  Here is a poem like that by Rachel Contreni Flynn, who lives in Illinois. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

The Yellow Bowl

If light pours like water
into the kitchen where I sway
with my tired children,

if the rug beneath us
is woven with tough flowers,
and the yellow bowl on the table

rests with the sweet heft
of fruit, the sun-warmed plums,
if my body curves over the babies,

and if I am singing,
then loneliness has lost its shape,
and this quiet is only quiet.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Rachel Contreni Flynn, whose newest book, Tongue, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. Reprinted fromHaywire, Bright Hill Press, 2009, by permission of Rachel Contreni Flynn and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


Places My Husband Has Found His Reading Glasses

June 17, 2013

  • Hanging off the chain link fence.
  • In a shovel-full of compost from our compost pile.
  • Among the leaves in the back yard.
  • Inside the bird feeder when he took it apart to clean it.

This is why we have to buy readers in bulk from Costco.

Agnes Repplier

Finding Happiness

June 12, 2013

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.”
—Agnes Repplier

George Ella Lyon

Where I'm From

June 10, 2013

In 1993, in response to a poem in Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet, George Ella Lyon experimented with a “where-I’m-from” list, which he turned into a poem, and eventually into an exercise for other writers. His exercise has been used as a writing prompt in schools and other places. When I came across it a few months ago, I decided I wanted to write my own version*:

Where I’m From

I am from rocking chairs,
from Dr. Pepper
and Dodger baseball.

I’m from Looney Tunes and
volcanic kitchen experiments,
pie for breakfast, and Capture the Flag.

From sipping hot chocolate from a thermos
at the Rose Parade (I always burned my mouth);
pomegranates whose jeweled seeds stained my fingers, and
chocolate chip cookies with no nuts.

I am from the green house on the corner
where I practiced volleyball serves against the garage and
stayed up too late listening to music in my yellow room.

I am from oak trees
and peonies
and the irrigation ditch behind Grandma’s house
where I collected rocks and staged swimming races
for frogs
in the snow-melted water.

I am from matching, homemade
mother/daughter dresses,
from card games
(“You can’t play with the grown-ups if you cry when you lose”),
writing poems in church,
pretending to be a horse galloping
through fields.

I am from Pedro and Pokey, Taffy and
Mitzi, Honey Bunny and Tiger Boots
and Buster, the bunny
we found in the library parking lot.

I’m from the time I harnessed our cat with an apron
to help me put my toys away;
from the night no one asked me to dance
(I cried the entire next day).
I’m from trips to Taco Bell in Anita’s VW Bug,
and singing Devo’s “Whip It” on the courts at tennis practice.
I’m from Mrs. T and Dr. Mac and
The Outcasts of Poker Flat.

I am from Sacramento, California,
from Lakewood, and Cottonwood, from
Brandon and Lithia, Florida,
land of beaches and Spanish moss and Rays baseball and Disney.

I am from the box in the closet
hiding captured pieces of myself, the photo albums
in the family room,
the flying pig and
the mint green mini Vespa on my desk.

I’m from all I was,
what I am,
and what I’ll be.

*Read Lyon’s original “Where I’m From” poem here

Writing “Where I’m From” is lots of fun, and can be done over and over again, as poem or prose, and each time the author will uncover some forgotten piece of him or herself. If you want to try it yourself, you can find a template to get you started here and another example of it here.

So I have one question for you: where are you from?

Everyday adventures

A Summer State of Mind

June 07, 2013

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for summer. Maybe not the hot, sticky part, but certainly the no-alarm-clock or school-schedule aspects. Even though I work at home and for myself, summertime always seems a little more laid back and relaxed. I know summer doesn’t technically start until June 21, but it’s summer here already, especially in my mind. Here are a few things I’m doing to savor the simple pleasures and everyday adventures of summer:
  • Compiling a summer reading list.
  • Tweaking my weekly schedule to allow for more reading-on-a-chaise and baseball-game-watching time.
  • Changing the slipcover on the couch from winter to summer.
  • Finding someplace indoors to get a cardio workout. Probably won’t be walking our fitness trail much until October!
  • Scheduling a pedicure.
  • Checking our hurricane supplies (Tropical Storm Andrea drenched us yesterday).
  • Plotting a weekend getaway to the beach with another family.
  • Looking for a day game in the Tampa Bay Rays schedule. There’s something so decadent about going to a baseball game in the middle of the week during work hours! 
What about you? Do you find you have a more laid-back state of mind during the summer months? Do you do anything special or different during summer? Please share.


Season of Joy for the Bee

June 05, 2013

The poet and novelist Marge Piercy has a gift for writing about nature. In this poem, springtime has a nearly overwhelming and contagious energy, capturing the action-filled drama of spring. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

More Than Enough

The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
All over the sand road where we walk
multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
white or pink blossoms, simple, intense
the scene drifting like colored mist.

The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
clumps of flower and the blackberries
are blooming in the thickets. Season of
joy for the bee. The green will never
again be so green, so purely and lushly

new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
into the wind. Rich fresh wine
of June, we stagger into you smeared
with pollen, overcome as the turtle
laying her eggs in roadside sand.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Marge Piercy's latest book of poetry is Colors Passing Through Us(Knopf, 2003); her new novel Sex Wars (Morrow/Harper Collins) will be out in December. Poem copyright © 2003 by Marge Piercy and reprinted fromThe Paterson Literary Review with permission of the author. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Everyday adventures

The Graduate

June 03, 2013

Whew. We did it. It took all three of us, but we got him through the public school system. He graduated (with honors, even). Congratulations, Nick! On to the next adventure.