Monday, October 25, 2010

why i did it

Starting about a month ago, FHDM has been regularly asking a favor of me. 

On September 16, he blogged that due to a lack of funding, Blue Like Jazz the movie wouldn't be getting made.  I thought this was sad.  Since I'd heard that it was going to become a movie, I've had mixed emotions about it, but having heard FHDM talk about it so much for the past several months that I've been following his blog, I knew it was important to him and to lots of people, and I was sorry that it wasn't going to happen.

Then a couple of guys decided that they wouldn't let it die--and that the fans of the book would want to help out.  They set up a page on Kickstarter to raise the bare minimum that would get the film made and asked people to help.  They and FHDM and the movie's director Steve Taylor set up all sort of rewards and incentives for giving at various levels.  FHDM blogged about the campaign to save the movie on September 29 and asked for my help.  So I did what any responsible soulmate would do.  I followed the link and looked at the details of the campaign, and I thought about it. 

I've said that I have mixed emotions about the movie.  Most of that is worry that a book I love that ranks as one of the most important in my life might not translate well to the silver screen.  I've seen many a beloved book ruined by a movie version.  I'm picky about things like that.  Additionally, while BLJ is a sort of memoir, it's still basically nonfiction exposition, not a story.  I know that the process of turning it into a story has been a huge part of FHDM's life for a few years now, but it still makes me nervous.

So while I didn't jump right on the bandwagon, I kept a close eye on the progress of the little movie that could, and I was impressed and proud when the project became fully funded in less than two weeks of fundraising.  People care about this movie and did something about it.  But they haven't stopped.  Those involved said that while the $125,000 initially set as the goal was the bare minimum needed, anything given over that amount would just go towards making the movie better. 

In the meantime, FHDM's blog has been updated regularly with videos of people involved saying thanks and tracking the progress as the numbers on kickstarter kept growing.  For the past week, I've been fairly certain that I wanted in.  I wanted to be a part of something that's never been done before, a movie that was funded by a few thousand fans.  I won't say I'm not still a bit nervous about the movie itself, but somewhere in this process, I became thoroughly convinced that it deserved a chance.  Story is a big deal to FHDM, pretty much everything he writes about these days is influenced by the idea of living a story, and I've been amazed at the story of how this movie came to be.  In a way, I think it raises the stakes for the movie to be something great.  So many people have supported this effort that it may be difficult for a movie to live up to all that expectation, but suddenly I just want it to succeed.

And with that in mind, I can tell you that I am now officially an investor in Blue Like Jazz.  And if you read this by midnight on Monday, imaginary reader, you can be too.  It's what any good soulmate would do.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

happy birthday to some of my favorite folks

Eleven years ago today, I became an aunt.  Anyone who's very familiar with me and the important things in my life will know that this was and is a big deal.  In the years since, I've added a couple more nieces and nephews to the Handful, but it all started with a cone-headed, broken-winged, sleepy little Pointer on October 20, 1999. 

These days it's a very popular birthday in my life.  I have a high school friend born on this day as well as Peep Kelly and a friend I go to church with right now.  And this morning, Peep Martha added two more birthdays to celebrate on 10/20.  My two newest little weeps put off making their appearance in the world just long enough to ensure that I'll probably always be gone celebrating Pointer when they're having their birthday party.  They're not the first weeps to be uncooperative in this way, so I guess I'll love them anyway.  Right now I've got some possibly contagious congestion and cough to get over before I can go and meet the tweeps, so I'll have to occupy my time with giving Pointer the birthday recognition she deserves. 

Here are my five favorite things about my entirely-too-old niece:

5.  She's a reader.  This weekend when were together, she told me, full of excitement, that she'd started reading the Anne of Green Gables series, which careful readers will recall as a big deal in my life.  She loves them, of course, but they're just the latest in a long, long line of books that she's devoured and loved.  She's been a lover of books since she was a tiny little girl.  The first time that Will ever deployed after Pointer was born, he made videos of himself reading board books to her because even at ten months, reading was that important in her life.  As she's progressed from Sandra Boynton to Eric Carle to Skippyjon Jones to Ramona to Dragonslayer's Academy to Nancy Drew to Anne, books have always been our thing.  I guess that comes with the territory of being in the book business in one manner or another for most of her little life, but Pointer always wants to tell me about her reading.  I love that it's a thing that we share.

4.  Pointer is all about fashion.  From the time she was old enough to mispronounce "uncomfortable" in the most hilarious way, my girl's been concerned with her clothes.  She's been vocal in her clothing choices for as long as she's been vocal.  Now sometimes her opinions on fashion haven't been lined up with mine, but lately anyway she's really been showing good taste.  When we're all together, she plans out her outfits so that we can any new outfits she's gotten, and she will routinely take polls of anyone who'll stand still long enough to vote about clothing or accessory choices.  Getting dressed is an event with Pointer.  That sentence is sort of true on two levels because she also loves to wear her pajamas all day.  On the first day of homeschool this year, Michelle took pictures of the girls.  Bird was wearing a cute outfit that she probably would have worn to actual school.  Pointer still had on her gown and some pigtails from the day before.  But I'm sure at some point later in that day, she went through at least a couple more costume changes.  And I'm sure she looked adorable the entire time.

3.  She's hilarious.  Pointer's been serving as comic relief in our family for most of her eleven years, and as she's grown from the funny tricks and things we used to make her say to entertaining with jokes of her own, she's gotten even funnier.  Sometimes her goofiness gets overshadowed by Bird, who's always been a different kind of funny, but Pointer definitely holds her own these days.  My favorite funny thing about her these days is that she's not just doing little-kid humor anymore.  She does this thing where she says funny stuff about the little kids, without being mean about them, that makes her seem like she's much older than her years.  That doesn't exactly sound like knee-slapping humor, but she does this very dry, adult delivery sometimes that is just sort of perfect.  Her humor alone is the main reason I'm letting her grow up.  And if she'll ever stop doing those funny voices, I'll let her be in my top five funniest people in the family list.

2.  Pointer may look like her daddy's family, but inside she's 98% Michelle.  She came by her older child/big sister bossiness and protectiveness all too naturally.  She's a perfectionist and loves having things done in just the right way.  She loves mothering her little sister and younger cousins and takes the lead in most all of their games.  And every bit of that is just like her moma.  And since I've devoted posts before to how much I love those traits in my bossy, protective older sister, it's no wonder that I cherish those same qualities in Michelle 2.0.

1.  My girl loves and loves and loves.  She's tender-hearted and kind and a fairly phenomenal cuddler--if you can get past her bony knees and elbows.  I love that even at eleven, she's as affectionate as she was as a preschooler.  She's easily moved to tears for others.  She cherishes our family and loves when we can all be together.  She is mostly patient with the little people in her life, and when no one's around to notice, she and Bird are the second sweetest sister duo I know.  I'm always surprised and warmed and blessed by her heart.

Happy birthday, grown-up baby girl.  Love and love and more love from your Aunt Ellio.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

100 haikus (but not really)

Today's poems mark
my centennial blog post.
Let's celebrate me!

 Faithful fans have hit
almost fourteen thousand times
in less than ten months.

Lots of time wasted
on my rambling. Thank you for
stroking my ego.

 No more numbers talk.
Statistics aren't poetry 
though I love them so.

You keep coming back
even when I don't post much
because you love me.

You are good for me.
I need this validation--
whiny narcissist.

I'd hoped to make this
 post one hundred syllables
but I had more words.

I did consider
a hundred lines instead, but
can't divide by three.

A hundred haikus
seems beyond my skills which are

But I will forge on
and see how many it takes
'til I've had enough.

I like the sound of
my own voice (or typing hands).
This could be a while.

Topics covered here
seem varied for your pleasure;
but in truth, for mine.

to boring diaries,

the open letters
that led to my short-lived brush
with internet fame,

tv obsessions
to vacations with the fam
to crafty projects

to blogging soulmates,
the famous FHDM--
we're getting married.

I cry when I write
my five favorite things in
random birthday posts,

probably because
I devote valuable space
to another soul.

I haven't mentioned
my chocolate-covered pretzel
love lately.  My bad.

They're still my main squeeze,
but they haven't been on sale
since last December.

A little known fact:
I think I'm more interesting
than I truly am.

Maybe you'd learned that
in our time together here.
You're humoring me?

Now here's a shout-out
to some special faithful fans
who keep me going.

To cousin, scholar,
theologian, number one
blog fan, a thank you.

You've been telling me
to write more for years, and I
am glad I listened.

To my sweet moma,
who thinks everything I do
is perfect, thank you.

Because of your faith,
I'm the over-confident
braggart writing here.

For my siblings three
and the in-laws too, a thanks
for laughing with me,

for cheering me on,
and giving me the Handful.
They photograph well.

And to the Handful,
Pointer, Bird, Ring, Pinkie, Thumb,
thanks for being cute.

I know you don't read
the blog--and you still should not.
 I might use bad words.

And to the Popster,
who I once accused of not
reading my blog, thanks.

I'm touched that I rate
with Netflix watch it now and
your other dot coms.

For Rob-Bob, thank you
for pithy comments that make
my favorite lists.

To peeps like Hailey,
Mo and Beck and Martha too
your presence pleases.

Maybe other peeps
read the blog too, but they don't
leave me comments.

So, Peeps, if you are
among my faithful readers
I thank you as well.

To Cory the page,
who thinks I'm hilarious
in person or print,

I appreciate
your laughter though I know that
it is very cheap.

For Lacey who does not
comment but reads avidly,
you should drop a line.

To Bill, who comments
as himself now instead of
some celebrity,

thanks for stopping that.
Now learn to spell opinion.
Google will thank you.

And to Jess, who reads
on her phone and makes no comment
but talks to me live,

you listen to me
when I need a sounding board
and keep me writing.

I know there are more
(thanks, Google Analytics)
who read in silence.

Thank you for coming,
imaginary readers,
blogging for you thrills.

Here's to hundreds more!
I'll keep having opinions
if you'll keep reading.

*****Insecure blogger's
question:  Did I go too far?
Are haikus played out?

This blogger hopes not,
or I've just ruined it all.
Tell me I'm funny.*****

I have done my best
to remind you of the great
moments on the blog.

If I omitted
one of your favorite bits,
please chime in below.

 More talk about me
in the comment section here:
icing on the cake!

For those who don't count,
I made it to fifty-three
including this one.

Friday, October 8, 2010

little known fact #1

I'm 98% certain that everyone who regularly reads this blog actually knows me.  But sometimes I like to dream of a time when I'm famous for these ramblings and folks will flock here and pore over the archives of my early days.  So I'm starting a new series (maybe) that will help those future fans (who truly are the imaginary readers I reference so often) get to know the real ellen--because you know, I've been doing such a first-rate job of not talking about myself up until now.  And perhaps, some of you who are actually acquainted with me will still learn something from these "little known facts."

LKF1:  It makes me crazy when speakers, writers, preachers, etc. define a word as a part of their speech/essay/sermon.  Serious pet peeve. (Also I hate the term pet peeve--you can consider that a little known fact bonus.)

You know what I"m talking about, don't you, imaginary readers?  Someone starts with a line such as
"Webster's Dictionary defines dog as 'a highly variable domestic mammal closely related to the gray wolf ' . . ." and then spends the next twenty minutes explaining that there's so much more to dogs than that.  Of course, there's more to a dog--or any thing, concept, idea, emotion, or action--than a definition can contain.  Words and what they represent don't exist in a vacuum.  Everything exists in context--every word, or every important word has a connotation.

And no one ever defines words that actually need a definition.  No one's out there giving speeches that begin with the definition of propinquity (in fact, I find the lack of use of propinquity to be a real tragedy). Unless one's central point revolves around a word which is outside the regular vocabulary of one's listeners/readers, defining a word is patronizing. 

This device just seems like a cop-out to me, as though the writer/speaker doesn't know how to begin.  When that's due to inexperience, I am much more forgiving than when it's someone who should know better.  It feels so formulaic--like a example introduction that someone picked off a list in the fifth-grade and has been using ever since.  It might work for an eleven-year-old, but it's just not okay for an adult. 

I have a blog post in me right now that I can't get started.  I've worked with a few different openings, and I haven't found a smooth transition yet, so yesterday I decided I could do that defining the word thing that people sometimes do.  I got as far as looking up the word, and that's when I realized how pompous and annoying I find it.  So you won't see that type of intro around here any time soon.

******Possibly offensive and definitely insecure blogger's note:  If any of my faithful friends/fellow bloggers have done this before, I promise I haven't judged you as harshly as it may seem.  I didn't have anyone in mind when I wrote this, and I still love you, even if you do this.  Additionally, I'll make sure that my next little known fact is not so negative.******

So . . . did you know that about me?

Monday, October 4, 2010

four months later

I could have let this go.  But they were nice pictures.  And once a couple of months ago, Cory the page told me he was really looking forward to this post.  So, imaginary readers, blame Cory the page.

Way back in May on the lovely whole family vacation, we went to the National Zoo.  It was sweltering, but we saw lots of animals, and Ring got her stuff naked mole rat.  And I got a panda magnet and a Christmas ornament.

 The last time I was at the National Zoo I think there was a baby panda.  I can remember that the panda was inside and there were lines to wait and see them.  We had to work a little harder this time to get to the right spot to see this guy in his habitat, and we didn't see him (or maybe her) too up-close, but I got some good shots anyway.
 I don't know which of the pandas this was though.

 The elephant house is being remodeled right now, but you can still see the elephants when they go out for their exercise.  They had just gotten to their pool to cool off when we got to see them.  This guy was very entertaining.
 He splashed and floated around and played with his toys.
 Then a friend came to play.
 He was a little more hesitant about plunging right in.
 But eventually the heat won him over.
 They have lowland gorillas which are much smaller (and less impressive) than the mountain gorillas that we have in Little Rock, but this guy did pose nicely.
 The daddy was sitting up on top.
 Mommy and baby were hanging out below.
 Then in a move that seemed choreographed, they switched places.  Look at that baby!
 There was also an incident involving the gorillas drinking urine that grossed out everyone and sent us on to the next set of animals.
 I love the big turtles.  Always.
 The orangutans at the National Zoo take the O-line from their house to another area where they spend time during the day.  None of them were in the house when we were there, so we were hoping to see them climbing across the line at some point.  I went in search of a bench in the shade while everyone else went through the reptile house, so my moma and I were the only ones who got to see this guy.
 Lions are so lazy.
 I really wanted him to hold his head up, but no luck.
 The tigers were super-lazy too.

 But the cheetah was ready to perform.
 Pacing . . .
  . . . prancing . . . 
  . . . and making a certain three-year-old cheetah-loving boy's day.
Some hot but cute girls.

There were lots more animals that we saw, but I didn't get pictures of everything.  I was probably busy talking animal business with one of the kiddos or doing continual head counts.  It was so crowded for most of the day, and I discovered that I'm more paranoid than I realized I would be about losing one of the Handful.

Speaking of the Handful: 
Man, I like those kids.

And I am officially finished blogging our DC trip.  Thanks for reliving the journey with me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

an open letter to martha

Dear Martha,

Have you had those babies yet?  Seriously, I fully expect to hear that you're headed to the hospital any second now.  I'm excited about their arrival.  And while I worry that they maybe won't have names when they're born, I know they'll be well taken care of in every other respect.

Do you remember, Martha, back when these twins were much, much tinier, you asked me about children's books?  You told me that you have loads of the books that you grew up reading that your librarian mother has saved, but that there were a couple of decades worth of children's lit that about which you knew little.  So you came to the expert, or perhaps more accurately, to the slacker who promised to put a list together for you and then prompty forgot and put it off and generally dropped the ball.  Sorry, Martha. (If it helps, you're not the first parent/person choosing books for a young child whom I've let down in this way.  I fail.  Often.)

I'm trying to catch up with lots of my failings lately, so just in time for the arrival of Baby A and Baby B, I'm going to give a partially annotated list of some children's books that bear mentioning.  And since I know many of my loyal readers are parents and educators, I fully expect the comment section to light up with better suggestions than I offer here.

Let's begin at the beginning:

Board books:
Board books are for babies.  They're much less likely to be ripped, and they can withstand a certain amount of drool, gumming, and chewing--more than paper pages at least.  They're also shorter and smaller (usually).  There are loads of picture books that are also available in board book format--though they are sometimes shortened, so beware.  I have mixed feelings about the shortened board book versions.  If you read them over and over and over again--and you will--you'll soon have them memorized, and if you later graduate to the full version, it can really throw off your reading rhythm.  I can't ever quite handle There's a Wocket in My Pocket because Pointer had the board book, and that's the way I know it.  Even if it's not shortened, you'll eventually have to deal with the situation of owning two copies of the same books.  It's dangerous ground.  Be careful.

Fortunately, there are loads of books that are published strictly as board books.  You already own some, and based on what I've seen of your growing collection, you're headed in the right direction.  There's really only one name you need to know when it comes to board books:

But Not the HippopotamusSandra Boynton.  She's the best.  My all-time favorite is probably But Not the Hippopotamus.  It's cute and funny and has a great cadence to it.  And those selling points are true in most everything of hers I've ever read.  Other titles that bear special mention are Doggies (a counting book where you get to do ten different dog sounds), The Going to Bed Book, Horns to Toes and in Between, Moo Baa LaLaLa, and Barnyard Dance.  Those are the best ones, I think.  But you really can't go wrong with anything she's done.

My First Animal Board BookI will give DK board books an honorable mention here.  They're not story books, but they have colorful photographs.  They're good for short attention spans because if little hands turn pages before you're done reading, it doesn't really matter.  You can just start pointing out the photos on the next page.  They have them for loads of topics:  animals, colors, toys, vehicles.  You need a couple.  They'll come in handy.

Urban Babies Wear Black (An Urban Babies Wear Black Book)There's a series of board books that's only come to my attention lately.  None of my babies ever had them, but we've got them at the library, and they're very cute.  The first in the series is called Urban Babies Wear Black, but there are lots of other babies:  Winter Babies Wear Layers, Rocker Babies Wear Jeans, Country Babies Wear Plaid, Sporty Babies Wear Sweats, Beach Babies Wear Shades, Foodie Babies Wear Bibs.  You get the idea.  I recommend them conditionally in that I've never actually tried them out on kids.

Picture books:
Here's the secret to children's books.  Don't read books that you don't like.  Until your kids are capable of sustained, silent reading, you'll be reading every book they do.  (And I'd suggest sticking with that even after they read to themselves.)  Don't buy things or check things out unless you enjoy them.  Choose illustrators who appeal to you.  Don't put up with substandard writing.  There's plenty of great stuff out there, so don't waste your time on the junk.

So here are some things I consider the good stuff:

Who Says Woof? (Picture Puffin)
John Butler draws very cute animals, and he's got a couple of great books with very few words.  Who Says Woof? has animal sounds and precious little baby animals.  If You See a Kitten is similar is style.  They're both really good for wee ones.  Back when I did baby storytime, I used both of these a ton.

Chester's WayKevin Henkes is probably my favorite picture book author.  He won the Caldecott for Kitten's First Full Moon a few years ago, but it's probably my least favorite of his.  He's written several books with mice for characters.  Lily, the star of Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, gets the most attention, but she got her start in Chester's Way, which is maybe my favorite.  Lots of them have storylines that deal with anxiety or making friends or teasing or people who are different or sibling rivalry, but they're not preachy.  They've got a very subtle wit about them.  They're not great for big group storytimes because the illustrations are smallish and have details that are better up close.  Wemberley Worried and Owen are probably my other two favorites.  They're quite nice.

Diary of a SpiderDoreen Cronin is another author  I like.  Her farm books are cute, though a typewriter factors heavily into the first one, and while that's charmingly outdated to adult readers, it's completely lost on kiddos.  I know kids that still like it, but it is definitely one of those deals where you choosing the book for your enjoyment just as much as your kids.  Click Clack Moo, Giggle Giggle Quack, and Duck for President have been around for a while, and there are a couple more recent ones about the same farm.  She also has done three books that are diaries of various animals.  Diary of a Worm came first, I think, but Spider is my favorite.  Harry Bliss, who illustrated the diary books did the SRC illustrations the year we had the bug theme.  I love all the little details in these books.  They're funny and very well done.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Mo Willems is another funny author of picture books.  The Pigeon books are his best.  It started with Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  The illustrations are very simple, and they're not too wordy, but they convey a lot of silliness in their simplicity. Willems is capable of being wordier.  Leonardo the Terrible Monster is a good one, and Knuffle BunnyA Cautionary Tale and its sequel are both great.  I'm pretty sure one of them is a Caldecott Honor book too.

I'll declare those my top picture book authors, but I have a few more books I want to list if you'll allow me:

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson.  Bear and his friends have some sequels, but none are as good as this one with it's sing-song refrain.

The Napping House by Audrey Wood.  It's a cumulative tale, and I've just always liked it.

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood. This is a fairly new book, that talks about all the different kinds of quiet.  I love the illustrations.

There Was an Old Lady by Pam Adams.  There are so many versions of this nursery rhyme, but this one has a die cut hole in the pages that expands as she swallows more and more.  It's my favorite version.
Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley.  Speaking of die-cuts, this book builds and then unbuilds a monster, talks about colors and some shapes, and is a great non-scary monster book.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.  I can remember loving this book as a kid, and it's still one I really love.  The pictures are pretty much all black and white, in case that's a deal breaker for you.

Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann.  Another old book, but I love this little gorilla and his night-time zoo hijinks.

Scaredy Squirrel and sequels by Melanie Watt.  Scaredy is this hilarious OCD squirrel.  They're probably better for bigger kids, but they're a hoot.

I could continue listing books all day, but since I'm working on a deadline, I'll save more picture book recommendations for another day.

I'm tempted to start a discussion of chapter book read-alouds, because that is all the rage among preschoolers I know, but we've got a few years to work our way up to that, and I'll be better at making those recommendations once I've met the little circumstances. 

I'm sure you've been sternly telling those twin babies that they couldn't be born until you had their library all fixed up, so now that I've finally held up my end of the bargain, you can go ahead and have our two newest weeps.  I'm ready to meet them!

Your book-loving peep,