things to believe in + a holiday blog break

“My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Can’t believe Christmas is just a little over a week away and that 2017 is coming to an end.

What a year it’s been!

I think that aside from personal joys and professional accomplishments, most of us can say that in general it’s been an exhausting, tumultuous, frustrating, scary and very sad, demoralizing time for our country — and that’s probably an understatement.

Continue reading

[author chat + recipe + giveaway] Patricia Toht on Pick a Pine Tree

Please help yourself to milk and cookies (photo by P. Toht)

I’ll always remember the Christmas my parents visited us in Virginia and we decorated a balsam fir tree together. Unlike the artificial trees that defined my childhood in Hawai’i, this one was real — it liked to drop its needles but how we loved that woodsy, fragrant evergreen smell!

We sat around the kitchen table and strung garlands of popcorn and fresh cranberries while a cozy fire crackled in the adjoining great room. This was novel for us, but our lei-making experience served us well when it came to handling big needles and long strands of thread. Of course our tree was the best Christmas tree ever, because with shared memories, mugs of warm cider, and a nice collection of handmade ornaments, we had made it our own.

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht and Jarvis (Candlewick, 2017) celebrates all the joy, wonder, magic and anticipation of finding and decorating that special tree. Written in jaunty rhyming verse, this book is well on its way to becoming a perennial favorite with its timeless sentiment.

Continue reading

[tasty review + giveaway] Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge by Carrie Clickard and Katy Wu

Help yourself to a Joyce Chen 5-Minute Potsticker

 

Ni hao! Hello!

Do you ever dream about dumplings? I certainly do.

In fact, just hearing the word “dumpling” makes me happy. It’s the ultimate comfort food and my favorite term of endearment (feel free to call me ‘Dumpling’ any time). 🙂

Whenever you have a meat and vegetable filling wrapped with dough it’s a good thing. Plump, tender, savory, lip-smackingly delicious. Mmmmmm!

Since I’m a big fan of Chinese dumplings in particular, I was especially happy to see Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge by Carrie Clickard and Katy Wu (Simon & Schuster, 2017).

Written in rhyming couplets, this delectable new picture book is an absolute delight, a charming introduction to the Chinese-American chef, author, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and TV personality who popularized Northern Chinese and Shanghainese cuisine in America.

Continue reading

chatting with author kate coombs about Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems (+ a giveaway!)

“Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Today I’m happy to welcome back award-winning author and poet Kate Coombs to talk about her new poetry picture book, Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems (Sounds True, 2017).

Kate introduces the practice of mindfulness to children with fourteen poems that foster an awareness, appreciation and respect for nature through close observation and introspection, which in turn engenders a newfound sense of self.

With Anna Emilia Laitinen’s gorgeous watercolors, each double page spread is an invitation to pause, enter the world of the poem, and internalize the soothing imagery. Kate’s choice of the tanka (five lines divided into syllables of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7) is the perfect vehicle for brief but meaningful contemplation. The book begins with a centering awareness of breath and presence:

I breathe slowly in,
I breathe slowly out. My breath
is a river of peace.
I am here in the world.
Each moment I can breathe and be.

Subsequent poems illuminate various facets of mindfulness and meditation: objectively observing the flow of thoughts that “swim by like little fish,” finding a “quiet place” in the mind when seeking solace, imagining oneself as an element of nature (cloud, stone, river, seed, tree), and living in the moment:

Tomorrow’s an egg
that hasn’t hatched. Yesterday
is a bird that has flown.
But today is real. Here now,
this minute, the true wings.

Young readers will be able to see how nature can be a reassuring refuge in times of trouble, worry, sadness, or other emotional imbalance. By summoning the inner self, they can be a “calm umbrella” in the face of turbulence, or a strong, steadfast tree that remains patient in all seasons.

When days crash thunder
and throw lightning around
I am still, watching.
I am a calm umbrella
inside the blue and gray storm.

Envisioning each floating leaf in a stream as a negative thought drifting away can quiet overwhelming concerns. Above all, cultivating the ability to look within as well as without will enable them to “see the world new” and feel more “alive in this world.”

The illustrations feature a small group of multi-ethnic children in a northern landscape interacting with their surroundings atop tree branches and in hammocks, walking through the woods, and playing together by a campfire, on a hillside, in a boat, under a tent. There are trees in almost every picture and lots of small animals to delight and surprise. The peaceful image of toy boats drifting downstream, a tree-flock of fluttering birds, and a bevy of playful rabbits add to the charm, while butterflies and tadpoles signal transformation.

Sometimes I’m a cloud.
Sometimes a mountain or a stone.
Sometimes I’m a river,
a small seed or a great tree.
But I am always me.

 

A haven of stillness and beauty, Breathe and Be offers children and their parents a delightful, attainable path to inner peace and a renewed reverence for the natural world. After all, when was the last time you sat on a hillside to watch the clouds drift by, wiggled your toes in the sand, strolled through the woods to hear the whisper of leaves, or lazed in a hammock just “being”?

I see myself
by the ocean, toes touching sand,
fingers finding a shell
at the edge of blue water.
Where is your quiet place?

Let’s find out more about the book from Kate!

*

🌲 AUTHOR CHAT WITH KATE COOMBS 🐠

 

What inspired you to write a book of mindfulness poems for kids?

I actually wrote the book on spec! A writing friend of mine had become the children’s editor for Sounds True, which was just starting to publish children’s books such as Good Morning Yoga. She gave me a couple of topics and I was immediately intrigued by the idea of mindfulness. I started researching it and then wrote Breathe and Be. As you can imagine, it turned out to be a really rich experience.

Why did you choose tanka as your poetic form, and why did you write them in first person?

Mindfulness has its roots in Asian religion and philosophy, so I felt the tanka made a good fit. I thought about using haiku, but it just isn’t long enough for the kinds of things I wanted to say. I wanted each poem to be a comfortable, thoughtful little space to wander about in. I didn’t really notice that I wrote in first person! I think it probably made a good fit because mindfulness and meditation are very personal.

Kate’s workspace.

Please tell us a little about your writing process. Did you write most of the poems outdoors?

I did a lot of online research about mindfulness in addition to getting a few books, and I copied and pasted some of the ideas and lists and definitions I found into a document. Then I tried to turn each of the rather abstract ideas into an imagistic poem. Show, don’t tell! Although I didn’t write outside, my office windows overlook a tree-filled canyon, which is a good fit for this book full of trees.

When did you first learn to meditate? What is your daily practice like now?

True confessions: I’m not the world’s best meditator. However, I have learned that being in nature helps me experience mindfulness. I think that’s why this book turned out to be such a celebration of the natural world. I have a pine and scrub oak forest in the small canyon out back, plus 30 houseplants and a balcony herb garden. I wouldn’t know how to live without plants and trees. But with them and other beautiful things, like water and clouds, not to mention birds and bugs, I can be mindful. You don’t need a yoga mat to find peace and focus in nature. Though you can always lie down on your back in the grass!

Kate’s been taking cloud photos for about 5 years, and considers it a form of meditation.

How has practicing mindfulness fueled your creativity?

Mindfulness pulled me in and trying to describe it fueled my creativity. I did start entering a state of mindfulness as I wrote about it. More and more, I experienced the poems mindfully. It’s the most unusual experience I’ve ever had as a writer, creating and then living in a beautiful, tranquil space.

Describe your “quiet place.”

Both of my quiet places are featured in the book: a forest and an ocean shore. To be specific, my forest is in Sequoia National Park. Although I love simply walking the paths among the huge trees, my favorite spots are Round Meadow and Crescent Meadow in the Giant Forest area. Each meadow is filled with green growing things illuminated by sunlight, and each is surrounded by giant Sequoia trees, pines, and undergrowth. There is a combination of quiet and noise there, but the noises are the buzzing of bees and the wind through the grasses and branches. The sky is very blue.

A favorite family vacation spot: Sequoia National Park (1996)

My ocean shore is a beach along the Southern California coast just north of L.A., a little spot called Leo Carrillo that is part of a state park. When we were young we used to go boogie boarding there, but now I’m happy sitting and watching the waves, or walking along the damp sand just beyond the reach of the water, looking at little rocks and shells, the surf and sky, and seabirds, especially pelicans.

Please share your reactions to seeing Anna Emilia Laitinen’s illustrations for the first time. Which is your favorite spread and why?

I first saw the pencil sketches, and they were wonderful—I quickly fell in love with Anna Emilia’s beautiful work. I think its delicacy and peace match the quiet mood of the poems. Like Anna Emilia, I love nature, especially trees. The artwork makes me want to go for a walk in the woods.

I like all of the spreads, but I’m particularly fond of the little fish, just their colors and the way they swirl across the pages, with the children looking a bit like fish themselves.

What thoughts, happy or sad, are floating by you at this very moment?

I’ve had a tough year, but a lot of happy things have come into my life recently, and this book being published is one of them. Even though I know it’s my book, it feels like such a gift because it brings me comfort and happiness when I read it or even think about it. So that’s how I’m feeling right now!

Anything else you’d like us to know about the book?

I found out that the tanka is actually the predecessor of the haiku. Haiku is a cool little format, especially for pinpointing moments in nature. However, the tanka has more leeway both in terms of length and subject matter. I’ve seen it written with a very boring diamond-shaped formula in schools, but the real deal is much better. I hope this book will help kids experiment with writing tanka.

What are you working on now?

I’ve been regrouping lately after experiencing some writer’s block. I’m revising a picture book about traditional Polynesian navigation and I have a few other nonfiction picture books in mind. I’m also revisiting a poetry collection that has languished for months. I have a couple of middle grade projects on the back burner, as well. So we’ll see what happens!

I do have another poetry collection coming out next fall. It’s called Monster School and is a lot of fun, hopefully a little scary, too.

Thanks so much, Kate!!

*

BREATHE AND BE: A Book of Mindfulness Poems
written by Kate Coombs
illustrated by Anna Emilia Laitinen
published by Sounds True, November 1, 2017
Poetry Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
*Includes an Author’s Note with more info about mindfulness

♥ Check out this cool Story Hour Kit!

♥ Other posts about the book:

♥ Take a few minutes to bask in the beauty and stillness: Enjoy this lovely reading of Breathe and Be:

*

🌿 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 🌼

The publisher has generously donated a copy of Breathe and Be for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post telling us about your favorite “quiet place” no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, November 22, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with BREATHE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!

*

The lovely, talented, and tea-drinking Jane is hosting the Roundup at Raincity Librarian. Float over there on your autumn leaf of choice and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Go in peace. 🙂


*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2017 Kate Coombs, illustrations © 2017 Anna Emilia Laitinen, published by Sounds True. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

poetry friday roundup: coffee and donuts edition

“To find inner peace, search deep inside yourself. Is there a donut there? If not, take corrective action.” ~ Anonymous

When the going gets tough, the tough eat donuts —

(and they read good poems). 🙂

Welcome to Poetry Friday at Alphabet Soup!

I was thinking the other day — as aging dessert maniacs conscientious bloggers are wont to do — about the guilt factor that comes with eating sweets.

With age and unceremoniously acquired girth, this guilt steadily increases. Bad for your health! Too much sugar!  Put that cookie down. Now.

Sigh.

Times are tough. What’s a non-smoking teetotaler supposed to do? Why, pick up a copy of The Book of Donuts, of course! This delightfully sprinkled confection of a poetry anthology, edited by Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham, contains fifty-four poems by fifty-one poets for your nibbling, chewing, scarfing, and feasting pleasure.

And every single one of them is calorie free!

The poems do brim with emotion, insight, reflection, and candor, illuminating how this humble pastry figures in our everyday lives.

Today I’m happy to share a sample poem by Seattle-based poet Martha Silano, who so artfully describes that sense of deprivation many of us feel. I’m just glad I don’t live near a Voodoo Doughnut shop, or I’d be in BIG trouble.

*

“Krispy Kreme Dozen” by Joel Penkman (2011)

 

What can I say that hasn’t been said

about the old-fashioned glazed, the buttermilk bar,
the feather boa, the maple blazer blunt? Truth is,

I eat them rarely, less than once a year. I hadn’t
considered my ascetic life till I sat opposite

a woman smiling and moaning as she licked
each spoonful of tiramisu. What’s become

of the kid who ate so much Rocky Road
she made herself sick? I want to be that girl,

oblivious of the connection between indulgence
and a thigh’s girth, between powder-sugared lips

and the needle on a scale, but I am so far gone,
so not a sensualist as I jog past Voodoo Donut

where the bearded and the tattooed, the pierced
and the ski-capped, wait for their Dirty Snowballs,

their Tangfastics, their Raspberry Romeos.
I’ve overdue for a Pot Hole, a Diablos Rex,

to down an entire bag of Sprinkle Cakes,
my mouth transformed to an icing rainbow.

Where is that me who raced to the front door
when her uncle showed up with the box

of Dunkin’ Donuts, eager to devour the goopiest
jelly, the most velvety Bavarian Kreme?

by Martha Silano, from The Book of Donuts, edited by Jason Lee Brown & Shanie Latham (Terrapin Books, 2017).

Voodoo Doughnuts photo by Anna Maybach/5280)

*

Like Martha, I might eat a donut at most once a year. Of all the treats out there, I feel guiltiest about donuts. Yes, I ate one of the donut props in the first photo. I dutifully made this great sacrifice on your behalf. 😀

What’s your relationship with donuts? What is your favorite kind?

After you’ve licked the glaze off your fingers, please add your links to Mr Linky below. Enjoy all the posts by your fellow poetry lovers. Thanks for joining us this week!

*

*

♥ BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNERS! ♥

Thanks to all who entered the last two book giveaways.

Here are the winners:

For PIZZA DAY, the winner is Candace at Beth Fish Reads!

For AGUA, AGÜITA/WATER, LITTLE WATER, the winner is Diane Mayr!!

Congratulations, Candace and Diane!! Please send along your snail mail addresses so we can dispatch your books.

Thanks again, everyone. Another giveaway coming up next Friday. 🙂

*

 

Hand-signed Donut print available from Kendyll Hillegas’s Etsy Shop
Another cup of coffee for the road?

 

🍩 ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND!! ☕️


Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.