Give It Up for Community Colleges

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week.

At least, I think it was last week.  I’m a little fuzzy on the details, which is why we may or may not have sent in our tokens a week early.  But at least they got there!

And it’s all good because those reminders about Teacher Appreciation Week did work on the most basic level:  they got me thinking about teachers.  I have many friends and family members who are teachers and I can say that without exception, they are caring, dedicated, talented, smart, organized and PATIENT people.  And while my kids may have had a less than perfect teacher here and there over the years, I’m generally in awe of what the vast majority of teachers do all day every day.

This year, Teacher Appreciation Week got me thinking specifically about the people who teach at community college.  I’ve had a chance to see what these guys do up close and personal because I sometimes teach an online class when there’s a need for an extra English instructor. This semester was one of those times.  I enjoy the class I teach and I think I do a decent job as a coach and mentor, but I know enough to realize that I’m a writer first and educator second.  I have the luxury of coming to the class fresh because it’s part-time and occasional for me.  They are there all day every day.


Can you feel the energy? Students and teachers check out ways to use technology in the classroom at Blue Ridge Community College.

I firmly believe that community college instructors embody the definition of the unsung hero.  They don’t get the Ivory Tower perks that four-year university professors enjoy.  They don’t get many  of those warm fuzzies that K-12 teachers get either.  Meanwhile, they work hard, sometimes teaching six college classes a semester.  They have students with vastly different abilities and backgrounds and somehow find a way to mentor them all.  They are nurturing to students who may be the first in their family to attend college and they are challenging to students who are preparing to enter a high-pressure career such as nursing.  They do it all.

I grew up in a traditional college town where the local community college didn’t enjoy a lot of esteem.  Since then, I’ve lived several places and I’ve found the attitude is pretty widespread.  The lack of appreciation is kind of shocking.

So I’d like to pose a question to all the people who aren’t in the community college fan club:  What would your town be like WITHOUT its community college?

I don’t like to think about it.  After all:

  • When my kids were in Youth Symphony, where did they practice every single week and perform several times a semester?
  • Where did they go on a field trip to see a full symphonic orchestra perform?
  • Where did my son spend multiple evenings a week learning physics and upper level math as part of the county robotics team?
  • Where have my husband and I gone to see live theatre classics and original avant-guard plays?
  • Where did my daughter perform with her non-profit ballet dance company?
  • Where did she and hundreds of other public school students showcase what they’re learning at a technology exposition?
  • As a first-time author, where was I able to participate in a book festival?
  • Where do people from all walks of life come together to celebrate unity on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

This list could go on and on.  The waves of influence from Blue Ridge–our local community college– have touched thousands of people in a positive way.  A huge proportion of the artistic expression, open discourse and critical thinking that occurs in our community is facilitated and nurtured on its campus.  We are all richer because of it and we would be so much less without it.


It’s true that Blue Ridge is not Harvard.  It’s true that it offers open enrollment, that anyone with basic credentials can start the journey toward a college degree or certification or diploma.  Blue Ridge has no cut throat competition to get in.  The tuition is reasonable.  SATs aren’t required.

Here’s something else that’s true:  These things are the very same things that make it so awesome.

Community colleges offer a chance.  That doesn’t mean everyone will take the opportunity and score.  That doesn’t mean it’s the perfect fit for everyone.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t multiple uniquely difficult challenges on a community college campus.  But still … it offers a chance. 

In my mind, offering a chance is one of the best things any organization can do.

Over the last few months as I got to know my students I was struck once again by the depth of diversity at Blue Ridge.  I enjoyed the interactions in class.  I contributed by mentoring their academic progress, but they contributed by sharing perspectives I may never have experienced otherwise.


A few years ago I taught a very different type of class at Blue Ridge.  It was a continuing education class on blogging and one of my students was a former judge.  Talk about intimidating….

The former judge wrote a great post about the vast differences in privilege among institutions of higher education.  While some schools have mind-boggling endowments, others struggle with the bare minimum, if that.  Happily, a few people are starting to change the playing field.

I think the judge expressed it best, so I’d like to conclude with a link to her story about LaGuardia Community College and the Pushy Moms Club.

Food for thought.

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Another Surprise

After writing a novel based on the stories from discarded buttons, I’ve kind of developed a super power about finding buttons in surprising places.  Right now we’re in the midst of a house remodel and I’ve been looking at benches for flexible seating. I stumbled upon Iron Thread Designs, a furniture maker that uses buttons a lot and just developed a special Buttons with Benefits system .  It’s pretty cool–when you buy their starburst bench you get a set of interchangeable buttons to use as it suits your mood.  I think I must have this!


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Music Claims its Role in Manchester by the Sea

Most Critics Are Right about the Movie, but Wrong about the Music

I rarely watch a movie more than once, but Manchester by the Sea was an exception.

I saw it the Monday after Christmas with my husband and then went back on Wednesday to see it with a friend.  I don’t think I’ve had a cinematic experience that compares to it since Pan’s Labyrinth came out ten years ago.  And before that, the closest thing I remember was a documentary about the space shuttle that I saw at Marshall Space Flight Center just after the Challenger disaster.  These three films are nothing alike.  One is a dark, grown-up fairy tale, one an occasionally cheesy documentary and the third, a gut-wrenching drama.  But they all somehow sounded the depths for me in a spiritual sense.  For whatever reason, they struck a deep chord.  15203405_1399372940087331_180884748390306779_n

Manchester by the Sea debuted at Sundance and has enjoyed its share of accolades since then, so I’d listened to several interviews about it before I saw it.  I’ve also read a dozen or so reviews.

I noticed a definite theme: people tend to react strongly to the music. While Terry Gross of Fresh Air was intrigued by it and spent a lot of her interview with director Kenneth Lonergan talking about the music, many reviewers argued that it was a flaw in an otherwise masterful work of art.  They used different words, but the sentiment boiled down to something like this: “The music was too much.  I was distracted.  It didn’t fit.”

These reviewers irritated me.

A lot.

But it was all good because it made me think.  I personally found the music integral to the greatness of the movie.  How could I have such a different impression?  I had to sit with that conundrum for a while.

I came up with two ideas.

The Extra Beat

The first idea came from a moment when I was in college. I was an English major with a concentration in journalism, but I was definitely a literature nerd at heart.  So when a cocky, street-wise journalism professor somehow got on the subject of Shakespeare and announced that he’d found a “mistake” in Macbeth, I was suspicious.

“It shouldn’t be sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care,” he told us in his impromptu explication of the line.  “That messes up the rhythm. He shouldn’t have used “up.” Ha!  I found a mistake!”

That’s pretty much the only thing I remember about that guy because it took such a huge effort for me to keep from shouting at him—

Breaking. Meter. Is. The. Point.

Shakespeare broke meter—usually iambic pentameter–frequently and in different ways.  Why exactly did he use the offending “up” for this particular line?  To insert a note of dissonance? To emphasize the gravity of Macbeth’s deed?  To show things coming apart?

I’m sure there are myriad possibilities, but Shakespeare’s making a mistake isn’t one of them.

In Manchester By the Sea, the music is prominent from the very start. It is a little distracting.  It does call attention to itself.  It doesn’t always fit.

That’s not a mistake.  That’s the point.

Music as Subtext

Which brings me to the second, more complex idea.  This one comes from when my kids were little and had a lot of picture books.  (And by a lot, I mean at least 53,000).  I loved reading those books to my kids. There was one book I remember in particular called The Bear Under the Stairs.  887561It was about a little boy who is terrified of grizzly bears and becomes convinced there is one living under the stairs.  Of course, when he confronts his fear he learns the bear is actually an old rug draped over a broken chair and his mom gets him a teddy bear and he no longer fears bears.

Sweet, tidy story, huh?

Meanwhile the awesome pictures in the book create a subtext of their own and tell a quite different story.  Looking closely, the reader can see a bear hiding in the margins of the story, having his way around the house, drawing cartoon pictures of the protagonist, making breakfast.  It’s difficult to name the exact theme of the visual story, but often the pictures directly contradict the words, usually in a funny way.  At the end of the book, the pictures show the bear hiding just out of sight as William and his mom invade the place under the stairs.  Then he packs his bag and leaves, heading for another child’s house, in bittersweet Mary Poppins fashion.

The rather sophisticated interaction between the verbal story and the visual story is what makes me remember this particular picture book years after my children have outgrown my lap.  The opposing stories could be used to highlight all sorts of philosophical thoughts about reality and imagination, but the main thing I’m left with after all these years is a sense of tenderness.  That time of one’s life when it is completely possible for a grizzly bear to share one’s home passes quickly.  The infinite potential disappears.  The bear moves on.

The music in Manchester by the Sea created a subtext as well.  Like the subtext of The Bear Under the Stairs, the musical theme’s narrative wasn’t always clear, but it added to the overall complexity and meaning of the movie. manchester_poster

The movie opens with ethereal choral music accompanying scenes of a fishing boat passing the islands of Massachusetts Bay.  The acapella music demands attention, recalling Gregorian chant as well as creating a sense of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag and Salem and everything else the Massachusetts coast evokes in our American mythology.  In Manchester by the Sea, the raw beauty of New England is almost a character in its own right, and the choral music plays a major role in creating it.

At another point in the movie, Ella Fitzgerald’s I’m Beginning to See the Light is also unusually prominent, this time with a decidedly Disney-like feeling of hopefulness.  It’s a great song and the characters’ happy moment has been hard-won.  At the same time, surely every viewer is aware that this is no Disney movie, so there’s a slight sense of dread undercutting the happiness.  The masterfulness of the scene is that it truly is hopeful and yet we can’t forget the darker foundation below it.

In the end, though, the most incredible aspect of the music is how it distills the message that this is a decidedly spiritual film. It may seem ironic to use the word “spiritual” about a movie created by an atheist, but that’s the descriptor that I wholeheartedly choose. And, in the end, it’s probably not that ironic after all.  Perhaps it is only someone who is not bound by a certain tradition of what the word “spiritual” means who can get the closest to its essence.

Lonergan creates a spiritual tone by allowing sacred music—especially beloved pieces from The Messiah—to completely take over key moments in the movie.

Similarly, during the most climactic scene of all, an iconic string and organ piece is used to relentlessly emphasize the enormity of what is happening.  I recognized this piece immediately although I didn’t know its name at the time.  It is Adagio in G minor by Albinoni, a neo-baroque composition with a story of its own.  What I find interesting about the Adagio is that it’s been used in all sorts of ways—in parody, melodrama, rock, and somewhat famously in a popular video game.  It’s pervaded our culture, high and low, serious and comedic. The Messiah has also been adapted quite creatively over the years—just ask a seventh grader for their rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus.

Does pervasiveness lessen music or enhance it?  What does baroque music mean today?  What does sacred music mean?  What does sacred mean at all?  Can the sacred co-exist with humor or parody … can the sacred briefly align with a picture book or even a video game?

Echoes of the Familiar

I suspect that some of the qualms reviewers had with the music in Manchester by the Sea was that it was so extremely familiar, so deeply embedded in our collective memory.  I’m sure the director was acutely aware of how thoroughly our culture has been permeated by these pieces and yet he chose them anyway. I believe the people who said the music didn’t work for them were really saying that they noticed the music.  It wasn’t a subtle background piece.  It added something. It became something in itself, and that was a little uncomfortable.   A little disturbing.  It caused a flood of conflicting feelings and thoughts.

When I think of the two films I mentioned earlier — Pan’s Labyrinth and the space shuttle documentary whose name is lost to me — I see a core commonality despite their overwhelming superficial differences: both films created a vision of what it means to attempt the heroic.  And a hero’s journey is ultimately not a physical journey but a spiritual one. In Pan’s Labyrinth, the  journey takes an archetypal form. In the space shuttle film, it was natural to make the hero connection because I saw it shortly after the Challenger explosion.



Photo: NASA

What is singular about Manchester by the Sea is that it is a film about ordinary people in sometimes prosaic and even comedic situations.  And at the same time, it is obvious that what these people are attempting  is just as heroic as descending into the underworld or exploring the high untrespassed.

In certain situations, not giving up is heroic.  It’s more heroic, perhaps, than anything.

The music in Manchester by the Sea highlights this point.  Even when everything falls apart and life is tedious and people are dropping f-bombs left and right and a person’s heart is broken … even then, people can be heroes because they just keep trying and doing their best.

And somewhere on a plane of existence we aren’t usually aware of, music is playing.


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Honestly, I want to see ME be brave


Every once in a while, I have a nightmare about this picture.

My nightmare is not that I’m Elizabeth Eckford, the young Black woman walking into the Lion’s Den.

My nightmare is that I’m one of the angry White people screaming at her.

I look at the picture and I wonder about them. I don’t know their names or anything else, but I wonder: If I came from their world, would I have done the same thing?  If I’d grown up hearing the story they were told, would my moral compass have kept me from doing this?  And if it did, would I have spoken out?

I’ll never know for sure.  I grew up in the South, but I was born a few years after this picture was taken.  My school was integrated right before I entered first grade.   There was still plenty of racism around, but in my college town there were also plenty of bright stars.  I’m grateful for that.


What makes a person brave? What can explain the courage of Elizabeth Eckford?  Or the people who stood up for her?  The people not shown in the picture—what were they like?

I’ve been asking these questions for several years but I never thought they’d become quite as germane as they are today.  I never dreamed we’d so easily slide back to scenes that aren’t that different from this picture.

How on Earth has that happened?  And so fast?

Tomorrow is Election Day, but I’ve already voted.  And unlike lots of people I know, I enjoyed voting this year.  The reason is partly because of this picture. The Election, to me, was an opportunity to state for the record that I am not a racist.  Those people in that picture—they are not me.  Moreover, my country is still a country that welcomes immigrants.  We still value ALL PEOPLE, male and female, White and Black and everything in between, Christians and Muslims and Atheists.

Voting against Donald Trump was my chance to say “Hell No!” to this picture.  Voting required no great act of courage on my part—I didn’t have to risk my job or my life or my children’s well-being to do so.

I want to be brave, but I’m glad I don’t have to be.

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Step into my Time Machine


I don’t have a picture of a time machine, but I do have this really cool picture of a real live magic lantern.  We can pretend it’s a time machine.

magic lantern

Magic Lantern
© The Magic Lantern Society 2007. All rights reserved

So, let’s do it.  Imagine the magic lantern is shining its magic light on us and we’re magically back in the fall of 2012.  Mitt Romney is the Republican presidential candidate.

Oops.  Forgot to mention this funky device is actually a time AND space machine.  We’re back in the fall of 2012 in another universe where Donald Trump is the Democratic presidential candidate.

The scenario is not that far-fetched.  Before Trump became obsessed with Obama’s birth certificate, he was a Democrat.  And he’s been a member of an obscure third party as well.  He’s not a long term Republican.

So Romney vs. Trump…

Blerg.  This is a choice that leaves 2012 ME rather bummed.  Because I don’t like Romney.

For starters, I’ve been hearing people call him bad names like draft dodger for quite a while now. And I’ve been hearing wild rumors, like he is a cultist and wants to impose his beliefs on the whole country. And don’t get me started on the tabloid headlines and pictures!

Mainly, though, I don’t share his perspective.  I feel nauseated when I hear him talk.  I’m against most of his policies

For these and all sorts of other reasons, I would never pick him to be president.

But still, I have to choose.  Because I’m an adult and that’s what adults do.

So, 2012 Alternate Universe ME, who is it?

Romney? Or Trump?


It’s really not a difficult decision.

Whether it’s 2012 or 2016, I’m going to vote for the person who doesn’t brag about sexual assault.  The person who can focus long enough to show he has critical thinking skills.  The person who doesn’t admire Russian despots.  The person who doesn’t refer to immigrants as thieves and rapists.  The person who contributed at least some tax money to support our armed forces, schools, police and social safety net programs.  The person who doesn’t have a track record of thumbing his nose at our common values.  The person who doesn’t promise to throw his opponent in jail when he’s elected or suggest his followers shoot her.

I’m going to vote for the person who isn’t going to destroy our country.

Mitt's not all bad. He's got that Vineyard Vines Vibe down perfect.

Mitt’s not all bad. He’s pretty much perfected the Vineyard Vines look.  Plus, I don’t think he’s ever been on the Howard Stern Show.

In 2012, I would have done what I could to ensure that Romney beat Trump. That’s kind of a no brainer, in my opinion.  I have a 20-year-old son and I don’t want him called up because of a Twitter storm.  I have a 12-year-old daughter and I don’t want her to grow up hearing from the President that her body is not hers to control.

In this hypothetical 2012 election, I would have supported Romney even though I would have hated every single second of it.  The process might have made me feel sick at times.  BUT I would have sucked it up and done it anyway because that’s what adults do.


I’m grateful that there are adults among the Republicans of 2016.  I know that publicly supporting a person who is 1.) a Democrat  and 2.) a Clinton is not an easy thing for them to do.

Amazingly, all of these Republicans have declared for Clinton–John Warner, Christine Todd Whitman, Michael Bloomberg,  Richard Armitage, Brent Scowcroft, Hank Paulson, Gen. Michael Hayden, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Gregg, Meg Whitman and gobs more.

Does anyone think they’re doing it because it makes them feel good?

Does anyone believe that The Arizona Republic, a conservative paper now facing death threats and dropped subscriptions, endorsed a Democrat for the first time for their own benefit?  What about the Columbus Dispatch? Or the Dallas Morning News?

Does anyone believe that no major US publication has endorsed Trump because all of them—including the Republican publications—like Clinton so much?

I’m grateful the adults above realize that now is the time to call out the danger we are all facing, which is the destruction of our democracy, our ideals, and possibly our physical existence.  I’m grateful they have found the words to express this danger clearly.

Consider this excerpt from The Arizona Republic’s editorial board:

Trump’s inability to control himself or be controlled by others represents a real threat to our national security.…The president commands our nuclear arsenal. Trump can’t command his own rhetoric.

Were he to become president, his casual remarks — such as saying he wouldn’t defend NATO partners from invasion — could have devastating consequences.

Or this from a letter from former GOP National Security Officials:

Trump has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the (nation’s) democratic values.”  Moreover, “Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself.”

This list could go on and on.  Last week, 110 Republican leaders denounced Trump.  That, to me, is heartening and inspiring.  Most of all, it’s admirable.


What I’ve found unspeakably disheartening is the seemingly inexplicable support of Trump by evangelical church leaders. I have lived in the Bible belt most of my life and even grew up in a Southern Baptist church.  The way I was taught Christian teachings, Donald Trump represents the opposite of almost all of them.  Plus, he’s been in cheesy Playboy videos!!  And yet, as of October 11, this group remains one of his last strongholds of support.

According to Franklin Graham’s Twitter remarks, people should vote for Trump because of the Supreme Court.  I don’t believe Graham is naïve enough to believe Trump is likely to honor a promise.  I hope he doesn’t believe Trump exhibits wisdom.  His attachment to Trump made no sense at all until I read several articles including this one from the right-leaning Real Clear Politics:

“The Rev. Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association might have seemed an unusual political ally for the brash mogul from New York — but in April 2011, Graham began to publicly express support for the celebrity businessman.”  Not long after, “Trump used his foundation to send $100,000 to Graham’s association — one of the largest donations the foundation would make to any group that year.”

Is it just me, or does this story sound familiar?

Even though I’m not an evangelical, I feel disillusioned and sad for the positive aspects of the culture that I knew as a child.  That’s why I’m grateful that there are a few voices willing to defy the leadership and speak out.

Russell Moore writes in the Washington Post that a younger generation of evangelicals is unwilling to play the game.

“The 30-year-old evangelical pastor down the street from you would rather die than hand over his church directory to a politician or turn his church service into a political rally….Finding new ways of engaging our fellow citizens and forming collaborative majorities for public action are now the urgent priority of evangelicals who wish not to concede the public space, in our name, to heretics and hucksters and influence-peddlers.”



Please don’t laugh at my time machine!

magic lantern

Magic Lantern
© The Magic Lantern Society 2007. All rights reserved

After all, impossible things sometimes happen.

I never believed Trump would win the Republican nomination.  I still can’t believe that 40 percent of White Americans remain committed to voting for him.  And, last I checked, the de facto leader of evangelical Christians is all for him, which is something that would have been inconceivable a few years ago.

All this proves, to me at least, that anything can happen.  That’s why I’m sincerely thankful to all the Republicans out there who are choosing to be adults right now and work to make sure a nightmare does not come true.

I recognize how hard this is.  I know it may be the first time many people have not voted for the Republican ticket, and that in itself is traumatic, even if they write in or vote third party.

It’s not an easy thing to do.  But then, few things about being an adult are.


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And Now…The Big Things

When I sign a book, my usual inscription is this:  Always notice the little things in life.”

But sometimes big things need attention, too.  So I’m just going to throw my ZEN out the window for a few weeks.  I’m  going out of my comfort zone and into the political zone.  20150208_132127

I understand doing this probably won’t matter because who cares how I vote?   That’s why normally I don’t write about politics, but these aren’t normal times.  I know there are lots of other people out there who share my perspective.  Maybe if we stop being quiet, somebody somewhere will pay attention.

Mainly, though, I just need to be able to look back and say I was not a silent bystander–I did what I could do.  And one thing I can do is write.

So here’s my story…

Way back in 2007, I asked for an Obama bumper sticker for my birthday.  I was excited to put it on my car.  I like to think it was the first one in our county!!

The Democratic primary was hot.  I loved Obama and I didn’t like Hillary Clinton one bit. I found her cool and off-putting.  There were some real issues where I disagreed with her, but for the most part, I couldn’t really explain it.  I just didn’t like her.

Slowly and surely, though, I have changed my mind. The first step came when Clinton conceded the primary to Obama with class.  And then she went on to work with her former adversary as a team player.  Finally, I’ve watched how she has conducted herself during this nightmare election.  I’ve witnessed people viciously and unfairly attack her and her family day after day.  Sometimes the attacks are for things that are based in reality–like the infamous email carelessness–but usually they are for things that are obviously untrue–like committing treason, murdering multiple people or performing Satanic rites.


Troll Messengers by John Bauer

The attacks have been seething and writhing with blind hatred.  When one dies down, another equally ridiculous one will emerge, from the right AND left, whack-a-mole style.

I would have dissolved in a puddle, but Clinton has risen above it.  She has acted in a way that is only possible if a person has a deep well of resilience and integrity.

Maxfield Parrish's Ecstasy

Maxfield Parrish’s Ecstasy

Today I respect Clinton a great deal.  More surprisingly, I like her. I don’t love her the way I love Obama, but I like her. I think she is qualified, fit and wise. There are no sureties in today’s world, but Clinton is unequivocally our best bet to navigate safely through the next eight years.

I want to say–publicly–that I am happy and excited to vote for Hillary Clinton. I will do so enthusiastically.  I am not settling. Just because I’m not shouting vitriol about Donald Trump doesn’t mean I have an enthusiasm gap.  I don’t.  If anything, I’m more eager to vote today than I have ever been in my life.  My kids’ future is at stake like it has never been before.

Please read these guys, who say it a lot better than I can!

One silver lining in this election is that while a huge pile of garbage has been published and broadcast, the drama can yield gold in the hands of the right craftsman.  For example, if anyone hasn’t seen Jimmy Kimmel mansplain things for Clinton, go open another window and get your google on.

Meanwhile, these are seriously good!  Funny.  Succinct.  Insightful.  Clever. They say what I want to say much better than I ever could.  Check them out.  Please!!!

Garrison Keillor writes how the first woman to run for president has done it all while wearing concrete shoes.  Can anyone translate American better than Keillor?  Nope.  Didn’t think so.

If, like me, you can’t keep up with all the accusations being thrown at Clinton, let Brett Arends, a writer for the financial publication Market Watch, give you a summary of all the terrible things Hillary Clinton has done in one big (and convenient) list.  NOTE:  He is a bit behind, however, since there isn’t much about the Parkinson’s, brain injury, seizures and various other health-related problems that have Clinton at death’s door.

Isaac Saul, a self-described BernieBro, examines the more left-leaning perspective and makes an interesting observation about himself in I wrote that I despised Clinton. I take it back.


So that’s how I made the journey from “I’ll vote for Clinton but I don’t love her and I’m not happy about it” to “Hill, yes!  Bring it on!!” Stay tuned for thoughts about why I would walk over hot coals to vote for Clinton even if I still disliked her.


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Travelogue, Book Nerd Style 2

Thoughts on a Nordic Land ….

Over the summer I added a stamp to my passport when I went to Iceland for the first time.

Traveling with a 12-year-old meant staying active and busy.  But never fear dear reader, I did not neglect my book nerd duties.

But first, a few words and pictures about how incredible Iceland is.

Glaciers, geysers, geothermal spas, sheep, Icelandic horses, mountains, waterfalls, clear air, friendly people plus a small city vibe where you can walk past the French and Turkish ambassadors’ homes on the way to the old quarter …. That’s what Iceland is like.


The word geyser has an Icelandic origin



And then, there’s the sky.  In August, there is no darkness, only twilight.  And I learned that there are different kinds of twilight!  Who knew?  There’s civil twilight, nautical twilight and astronomical twilight.

What this meant for me and my travelling companions was that the Icelandic Sky treated us to long hours of blazing scarlet and magenta before it rested briefly in a still grayness and then started the show again.  It was a beautiful consolation prize for missing the Aurora Borealis.

Plus they have Icelandic horses you can ride through 800 year old lava fields.  What’s not to like?


And here are some book nerdy tidbits

  • Icelandic Sagas—the cornerstone of Icelandic and Norse medieval literature—are enthusiastically celebrated today.  I was disappointed to miss a hugely popular Monty Python style comedy revue featuring them and all their Viking gore, but it was impossible to miss the references all around.
  • As we were walking through a local cemetery—yet another book nerdy habit of mine—we noticed that the names on the gravestones were odd.  Later our tour guide explained that Icelandic people don’t have last names the way most Westerners do.  In a nuclear family, the children’s last name will be made from the father’s first name followed by “son” or “dottir.”  So in my family, my last name would have been Prycedottir while my brothers were Pryceson.  My mother’s last name would have been Charlesdottir and my father’s last name would have been Johnson. Makes life interesting!!!  On a related note, there is a phone app in Iceland to let you know how closely related you are to your date—probably comes in handy for an island people who were on their own more or less for 1000 years.
  • Icelanders are comfortable combining a thoroughly modern mindset with ancient beliefs in elves, trolls and other hidden beings.  We drove along a straight road with one curve that had been routed to avoid an elven home.
  • Game of Thrones.  Need I say more?
  • Finally, here’s the coolest nerdy thing about Iceland.  On Christmas Eve, while the British are watching a Yule log burn down on the tele, the Americans are putting out cookies for Santa and the Swedes are enjoying the 1959 Donald Duck Christmas television special (I swear I didn’t make that up), the Icelanders are taking a different approach.  Jolabokaflod is Icelandic for Christmas Book Flood.  Iceland has a longstanding tradition of giving books for Christmas.  They’re given on Christmas Eve and everyone spends the night reading them.

Icelanders love to read.  They publish more books per capita than any country in the world.

I think I’m in love…..


You too can enjoy Jolabokaflod!  Order your copy of The Button Collector today.

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Button Love

Love is in the air and button valentines are floating around all over!  Since Valentine’s Day is on Sunday this year, you can spend Saturday getting all creative with your button collections.  Here is a small sampling of ideas to get you started.

My daughter would love this whimsical ballerina button craft from Laurent.


Check out this cozy heart sampler from Life Is a Beautiful Place to Be:


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The Incredible Art of Jane Perkins

A few days ago someone shared an incredibly rich portrait of Father Christmas on Facebook.  It is made of buttons but looks like jewels!  The person who shared it didn’t name the artist, but it reminded me of other things I’ve seen, so I did a little digging and discovered the mind-blowing work of Jane Perkins.

I could go on forever about this woman and her talents, but it’s the day before the day before Christmas and I don’t have time.  So I invite you to check it out for yourself at Jane Perkins website.

And to all the readers and button lovers and collectors of little bits of life:  Happy Holidays!!!!!


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My Second Book

News from another PageSpring author!

Tales from Suburbia

As a famous author, I am recognized by literally tens of people who already knew me. The fame is so relentless I can’t even walk through my own house without hearing the chants of adoring fans like, “Hey Mommy, what’s for breakfast?” and “Honey, I think the dog threw up behind the chair again.” I’m not complaining—it’s simply the price I pay for my celebrity status.
Another question I get asked a lot is, “When is your second book coming out? Last year it was out by Christmas and it was my super hilarious one-stop shopping for the holidays. I bought one for everyone on my list, including the creepy lady across the street who wears a cloak and walks her cat on a leash.”
The good news: my second book will be out this spring! I will keep you all posted as it comes together but rest assured, it…

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