Exposing My Family to National Poetry Month!


Does this word make you smile, or cringe? 

Word nerds should love poetry.  It’s concentrated language, without all of the articles and prepositions to interrupt the flow.  With poetry we hear the rhythms, the musical quality of words.  Remember iambic pentameter? 

My husband does not share my enthusiasm for poetry.  During college, I read him profound lines of Keats or Wordsworth, hoping to foster some interest.  Invariably, he wrinkled his brow, shook his head, and went back to memorizing the structure of Benzene rings.   

Nevertheless, I suggested that our wedding ceremony include a poem.  I knew the perfect piece: Shakespeare, Sonnet 116, the one I’d memorized for class:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove. 
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
     If this be error and upon me proved,
     I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

The enduring power of love.  Perfect, right?  My betrothed did not think so.  Nobodywill understand it,” he argued.  So, I went with the more modern, less cryptic, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Fortunately, I’ve had better influence over my children.  When I pull out Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabiesat bedtime, they cheer.  (My husband leaves the room.)  Andrews gathered a wonderful and varied collection of poetry, including pieces from Shakespeare to Silverstein, Dickens to Dickenson.  She grouped the poems by categories like “Growing Up”, “Talk to the Animals,” and “Accentuate the Positive.”  There are short and funny selections mixed with longer, more thoughtful verse. 

The current favorite: a fun little poem called I Didn’t Eat Your Ice Cream, by Jack Prelutsky.  And we all chuckle at a good Shel Silverstein. 

I like it best when the kids read poems to me.  Reading poetry aloud forces them to find the right rhythms, the places to pause and add emphasis.  Frequently when reading prose aloud, they rush and skip words.  But with a poem, if they miss a word, it ruins the rhythm, which naturally cues them to go back and try again.  (And I don’t have to nag…)

I’m pulling out the poetry more these days in honor of National Poetry Month.   The American Academy of Poets established the tradition in 1996 to celebrate poetry and its importance in our culture.  At www.poets.orgyou can find resources and programs, or sign up to receive one poem each day in April! 

Hopefully sharing poetry with my kids will help them enjoy reading it, even if it’s not April.  Better yet, they might feel inspired to WRITE some…  I think it’s working on my daughter… more on that next week.

Do you have a favorite poem or book of poems to recommend?  Do you remember reading poems as a child?  Please share in the comments below. 

My favorite poem from childhood: Jimmy Jet and his T.V. Set by Shel Silverstein.  I had to memorize it and recite it in sixth grade, in front of a video camera!  Yikes! 

More useful Links:


Improving Vocabulary with The Night Circus

I’m currently reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, a magical read with dark, mysterious undertones.  It’s giving me plenty of words to add to my vocabulary list.  

A sign that hangs at the gates of the Night Circus reads:

Gates Open at Nightfall and Close at Dawn
Trespassers will be exsanguinated

Doesn’t exsanguinated send a chill down your spine? It should. It means: to drain of blood. Creepy, right? Would definitely keep me out of the Night Circus. Here’s all the info:

exsanguinated: \ek(s)-‘san-gwə-nāt\ verb, from the Latin ex + sanguine- blood

My years in health care (as a P.T.) gave me a clue to this one- I knew sanguine referred to blood, and with the “ex” in front, it couldn’t be good.

To balance the dark themes, The Night Circus also offers plenty of extraordinary, magical fun, including cloud mazes and wishing trees.  Characters think and talk a lot about their ability to alter perception and see into the future or the past.   

After one performer in the circus gives birth to twins, a fellow performer announces that the twins’ hair, bright red, is an auspicious color.  Of course it is!  (If you can’t tell from my profile pic, I’m a red head.)

Auspicious: \o-‘spish-əs\ adj, from the Latin auspic= diviner by birds (avis- bird + specere- to look)
Affording a favorable sign, propitious

I’m curious about how we got from bird watching to predicting favorability.  Word etymology is so fun! 

Word Nerd Workout:  Try using one of the new words in a sentence.  I’m going to stay away from blood.

The warm, clear weather at our first stop marked an auspicious beginning to the trip.


Now it’s your turn; click on the comments to flex your word nerd muscles.  Remember, if you don’t use ‘em, you’ll lose ‘em. 

Review:  I was listening to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, the NPR news quiz, and one of the panel members used the word mellifluous.  Can you remember what that means?  If not, check the vocab page. 


What Makes a Great Character: Katniss Everdeen

I’m a people person.  I enjoy striking up a conversation with a shopper behind me at the Walmart check-out.  Or swapping fun and useful tweets with people in cyberspace.  Add my “people person”-ness to my “word nerdy”-ness and you get a reader who wants to find great characters.  If I’m going to spend hours of my precious free time with someone, even if that someone only exists in the pages of a book, I’d better like ’em.

So I’ve decided to make “Great Characters” a regular blog post topic.  And who is the hottest character to discuss right now?  Yes, Katniss Everdeen.

For those (three) of you who don’t know, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to represent her district in a brutal fight to the death in the dystopian YA novel, The Hunger Games.

Why does everyone LOVE this girl?  Usually, YA books attract female readers, but The Hunger Games has managed to draw young men as well.  How does Katniss do that?

File:Jennifer Lawrence at the 83rd Academy Awards crop.jpg
Photo of Jennifer Lawrence
from Wikimedia Commons

 Last week during an NPR interview, Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss in the recently released The Hunger Games movie, explained what she likes about her character:

“She’s not a hero…She’s just a girl standing up for what’s right when something is wrong, when it’s hard and when it’s scary.”

Great message, especially for the many young adults who have devoured this book, who undoubtedly face overwhelming pressures and temptations to NOT do the right thing.  Katniss proves that one person can be powerful, something that naturally resonates not only with adolescents, but also with all of us who feel manipulated or controlled by our circumstances. 

But Katniss also impresses me for almost the opposite reason: her sacrifice.  Without much deliberation, she steps up in place of her younger sister to spare her from a violent and potentially lethal situation.  And Katniss never regrets her choice.  In fact, she spends most of the time worrying about her family and how they will cope if she dies.  In a society ruled by immediate personal gratification, we need more examples of characters who show such remarkable humility and love. 

Katniss also demonstrates compassion and integrity in a world that isn’t black or white, but very grey.  She debates protecting herself (for the good of her family and her district) with trying to help some of opponents survive.  She never loses sight of how cruel the games are, and inspired by her competitor Peeta, she struggles to remain “herself” in a terrifying situation that could fundamentally change her. 

So, why do you like Katniss Everdeen?  Can you add any other outstanding qualities to define her?  What about faults?  Every good character has a weakness – what’s Katniss’s?  Add to the discussion by clicking on the comments link below.  And thanks for stopping by!

Related post:  Who Should Read the Hunger Games?


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Nonfiction Inspiration

Honestly, I don’t like non-fiction.  Give me plot, dialogue, metaphor!  When I flop into bed at night, I want an escape, not facts.  But that’s the great thing about a Book Club– it forces you to read books you might not choose on your own.  So, since “the club” picked it, for the past few weeks, I’ve plowed my way through Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit).

Unbroken doesn’t give me great dialogue, but it does give me an extraordinary character, Louie Zamperini.  This amazing man grew up fighting the world around him- he stole, pranked, and caused mayhem as a kid in the small town of Torrence, California.  Nothing could contain him.  As a teen, he channeled his boundless energy into running (specifically long distance), and he earned fame competing for America in the 1936 Olympics and the 1938 NCAA Track and Field Championships.  After his spectacular showing at those events, experts predicted he would run the mile four minutes, and Louie planned to prove them right.

Then World War II interrupted his training plans.

Unbrokenchronicles Louie’s experiences on the Pacific front of WWII, something I never learned much about in history classes.  I’m aware of it mostly because my father spent several years of his young life as a POW in a Japanese camp in Indonesia.  I can only hope the conditions were better for him than they were for Louie. 

Louie launched bombs from cumbersome planes, survived a horrific crash, floated for weeks (let me repeat, WEEKS) in a poorly stocked life raft on the Pacific, and suffered for years in various POW camps.

This isn’t lighthearted reading.

But, I read not only for entertainment but also inspiration.  And Louie inspires me.  I don’t necessarily enjoy the gory details about air battles or the beatings in POW camps, but stuff like this causes me to pause and think:

Though they (Louie and his pilot friend Phil) both knew that they were in an extremely serious situation, both had the ability to warn fear away from their thoughts, focusing instead on how to survive and reassuring themselves that things would work out.

I’ve never faced anything as challenging as Louie did.  The struggles that currently push me to my limits seem mild and petty compared to Louie’s, but I still can learn from him.  By the end of Unbroken, I understood that Louie’s perception of his experiences ultimately determined how much power they had over him.  During this season of Lent, I appreciate the potent reminder I can control my reactions to the stresses of life, and through the graces of humility and perseverance, I can attain peace.

Do you have a favorite inspiring character, either fictitious or real?  Can you recommend another inspirational read for the rest of us?  Please add your thoughts by clicking on comments below, and thanks for stopping by!


Word Nerd Workout: A Language Game to Stimulate Your Brain

Since I’m a word nerd, I love language games.  My husband, who has more of a “math and science” brain, does not.  Scrabble and Scattegories make him shudder.  But, thanks to his sister, we have finally found a language game he actually enjoys:  Apples to Apples.
You might not think of it as a language game, but this simple diversion uses TONS of language skills.  You need at least three people, and for each round, you need a judge.  (My daughter, the only girl and the off-center “middle child” in the family LOVES to be the judge.)  You get seven Red Apple Cards with words like “Benjamin Franklin” or “All-nighters” listed and defined on them.  Notice most of these words/ phrases are nouns.
Then the judge for the round picks up a Green Apple Card and reads it aloud; usually the card has an adverb or adjective, like “uncomfortable” or “quaint” or “macho”.  All of the players besides the judge look at the cards in their hands and try to pick the one that best fits the judge’s card. 
So, for the hand pictured above, if the Green Apple Card was “uncomfortable,” clearly I could pick “a broken collarbone” or “all-nighters”.  (I pulled one all-nighter in my college career, and it didn’t help me at all.  In fact, I could hardly read the exam the next morning.  Don’t do it!)


Quaint = antiquated, charming, odd
But sometimes, the choice isn’t so obvious, and that’s when the fun begins.  What if the green apple word was “quaint”?  From the group of cards above, I’d pick “Benjamin Franklin”.  You?
When everyone turns in their Red Apple Cards, the judge reads them all and decides the best fit.  The judge’s decision stands , no complaints.  Hopefully, you can imagine how hilarity might ensue.
Do you see all the good stuff going on in this simple language game?  Vocabulary!  History!  Parts of Speech!  And, most importantly, in this age of education dominated by the regurgitation of facts for standardized tests, THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX! 
Salt water taffy could be sweet, or it could be uncomfortable if it got stuck on the bottom of your foot, or it could be inadequateif, like me, you prefer chocolate over any other candy. 
Sometimes my kids don’t get it.  They wrinkle their brows when they get a card that says “Chevy Chase” or “Beowulf”.  I laugh the hardest when my husband throws out “Uma Thurman” for any derogatory adjective, like “eerie” or “tiresome,” and my kids ask, “What’s an Uma Thurman?” 
Fortunately, we have found the “Junior” version of the game. 
Sounds like fun, right?  Okay, word nerds, flex your language muscles.  Here are your seven Red Apple Cards:


·         engagement rings
·         mannequins
·         Matt Damon
·         the seven deadly sins
·         Mr. Spock
·         under the covers
·         Walter Cronkite
I’M the judge!  Here’s the Green Apple Card, chosen randomly, I swear: 
Yummy:  mouthwatering, scrumptious, luscious
 Pick the word or phrase from the list above that best fits “Yummy” and give your choice (and rationalization) in the comments below.  Depending on your taste in men, this could be easy.  Remember to think creatively.  Thanks for stopping by.



Which is better: The book or the movie?

With the all of the excitement over the pending release of The Hunger Games movie, I want to ask you all, which do you usually like better, the book or the movie version of a story?

Now any Word Nerd worth his or her sobriquet (see last week’s post for a review of this vocab word) will tell you the book is ALWAYS better.  At the tender age of eight, my daughter had figured this out while she read the early Harry Potter books.  When I asked her why she liked the books better, she said, “There’s more stuff going on, and I KNOW what Harry is thinking.”

Exactly.  Books give us more detail than movies ever could.  So here are my top reasons why books are a much better investment of time than movies:

·         We get more details, specifically sensory details, than we do in the visually focused cinematic world.  Better to imagine how Harry’s scar burns his forehead, or how sweet Edward Cullen smells.

·         On screen, we can only see a character cry; with a book, we often know the thoughts running through the character’s mind while she cries, which hits us much harder.  Of course, if you’re a sap like me, you will shed tears in either situation.

·         A movie lasts, at best (or worst?) two hours, but even the fastest reader gets to spend much more time with the story and characters of a book. 

·         Most importantly, watching movies will NOT improve your vocabulary.  Undoubtedly, reading will. 

Now, we have ALL seen BAD movie adaptations of the books we love.  But, sometimes movies do compliment their literary counterparts and offer worthwhile entertainment.  For example, Peter Jackson’s excellent  Lord of the Rings trilogy opened up the world of Middle Earth for millions who might not have otherwise dared to pick up Tolkien’s dense books.  (A true Tolkien fan will, of course, still read the entire collection, including The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and all the related appendixes, and will know how to pronounce Celeborn correctly in proper elvish.  Yes, I’m one of those fans.) 

Also, buzz in the media credits successful movie franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight with bringing more kids, particularly that prickly population known as “teenagers”back into the library. 

Finally, watching the movie after reading the book offers the opportunity for great discussion.  How are the characters different in the film and the book?  How did the film capture the story?  After watching all of the commentaries for the Twilight movies (I needed something to distract me while I was on the “dreadmill”), I have a better appreciation for why some things cannot transfer to the screen well.   But I get tense when films alter characters too much.  For instance, when in The Two Towers movieFrodo offers a Ringwraith the One Ring.  He NEVER does this in the book, and that scene undermines his inherent strength. 

Can you recommend any movies that have adapted well from page to screen?  I suggest Water for Elephants.  Some characters have changed, but the essence of the plot remains, and the setting, a Depression Era circus, lends itself well to visual media.  Besides, I don’t want to smell the animal poop.

Please add your movie recommendations, as well as your thoughts on the books vs. movies debate, by clicking the comments link below, and thanks for stopping by!