I'm not new to talking, sharing ideas, or stating my opinion, especially stating my opinion! After all, I taught elementary school for 30 years! However, my audience has typically been smaller,just family, the classroom, or just talking to myself!

My blog has two goals: be an outlet for sharing thoughts on writing children's books and the path to publication (got my fingers crossed that I'll get there) and a place to chronicle my journey of losing my sight. Sometimes I imagine these two paths will overlap .

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Write From the Soul

      By now most of us are experiencing some Spring weather. Maybe a few flowers have begun to pop out where you live, or the air temperature has warmed up a bit. In Atlanta, Spring has totally sprung. We're awash in dogwoods and azaleas. If you follow the television meteorologists, we're well past the "extremely high" range of pollen. More like the are-you-kidding-me-who-can-breathe-with-all-this-pollen range. And the temperature? Well, last weekend it was 85 and I was sitting by the pool.

       Communing with all this nature leads me to sharing with you the stories of two incredible nature lovers. One man, now passed, brought the artistry of nature to "life" in wrought iron; the other man, still alive and kicking, brings out "life" in plants through topiary sculpture.

              Philip Simmons, a master traditional craftsman, became interested in blacksmithing at the age of eight. He just knew a blacksmith would be his career. An apprenticeship at age 13 with an established local Charleston, SC  smith began his lifelong obsession with ironwork- first in the traditional way [shoeing horses, fixing wagons, making/repairing tools] then  by fixing wrought iron fences and finally switching over to artistic craftsmanship as he designed and created fences, gates, railings, and window grills all around Charleston and later the world.  His  pieces usually contain three-dimensional animals or plants, sometimes so real looking, you have to touch them just to be sure it's iron. I know all about Mr. Simmons because I've written a picture book biography about him. I hope to be subbing the manuscript shortly.

      A writer friend of mine, told me about another South Carolinian she's writing about, a man named Pearl Fryar. Mr. Fryar, moved into a neighborhood in Bishopsville, where in the 1980s an individual-of-color wasn't welcomed partially because the community thought he 'wouldn't keep up his yard'. He decided to use his creative spirit to form a unique topiary garden with a message. A message he literally cut into the ground: Love, Peace, and Goodwill. He also wanted to win the community's "Yard-of-the-Month, just to make a point! No one told him the plants he rescued from the compost piles behind his local nurseries, couldn't or wouldn't grow and flourish. No one told him the plants and trees couldn't be "trained" to grow into specific shapes.So he planted them, nurtured them, grew them, trained them, and developed an extraordinary garden that horticulturalists around the world- not to mention tourists- come to see and admire. Oh, and yes, he did get Yard-of-the-Month. Can you say, yard-of-the-decade?

        These two men stay with me; their hearts, their souls, their connection to their communities and giving back to others, it resonates within me. I can't help noticing all the commonalities these two men share:

            Philip Simmons                                         Pearl Fryar 
  • Came from meager beginnings                                           Same
  • Gained strong work ethic from his elders                            Same
  • Grandparents who raised him were farmers/fishers            Father was a sharecropper
  • Loved working with children, sharing knowledge                Same
  • Received recognition for his craft on a national level          Received recognition for his        before recognition from his town.                                          craft from State before his town
  • Strong connection to nature                                                   Same
  • Strong connection to his church and his community            Same
  • Inspiration to others, role model/mentor                                Same
  • Unpretentious about his skill                                                   Same
Trust me folks, these are both inspirational and interesting men. If you're curious to know more, check out the documentary called A Man Named Pearl, available at Netflix or the web site   Also check out
 The Philip Simmons Foundation.   Both sites have photo galleries to admire their incredible work.

       I hope the next time you see a tree or plant in a spiral or with an unusual curve, you'll smile and think of Pearl. Or the next time you pass a wrought iron fence or gate, you'll notice if it contains a bit of nature. As for me, thinking of these two men not only brings me a smile, it warms my heart and makes me want to reach out to others and offer a hand.

Thank you Mr. Simmons and Mr. Fryar for sharing your gifts and your spirit with the rest of us. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Write From The Soul

National Poetry Month

     Yup, April is the month dedicated to poetry. When I taught elementary school, I'd put out a huge plastic bin filled with poetry books in April and ask students to try out 3 or 4 books, find a couple favorite poems, then write them down. Next I'd have them pick one, copy it neatly [yeah, yeah, that's part of the teacher handbook to remind kids to write legibly], then illustrate the poem. 

Not only did it provide a beautiful bulletin board [hey, coming up with creative bulletin boards monthly was sometimes tough!] but it demonstrated the depth and breadth of poetry to kids who sometimes thought poetry was just nursery rhymes.

   Often the kids would ask me if I had any favorite poems. I would begin to recite a few verses from A. A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh. Such as:

Halfway Down 
by A.A. Milne

                                                                 Halfway down the stairs
                                                                 Is a stair
                                                                Where I sit.
                                                                There isn't any
                                                                Other stair
                                                                Quite like
                                                                 I'm not at the bottom,
                                                                 I'm not at the top;
                                                                 So this is the stair
                                                                 I always

That was my favorite verse. I even remember counting the stairs in our house so I could find which step was 'halfway down'!

Another favorite, also by A. A. Milne,  seemed to just roll off my tongue. [And watch the commentary about the title name!]
                                                                    by A. A. Milne
                                                                    James James
                                                                    Morrison Morrison
                                                                    Weatherby George Dupree
                                                                    Took great
                                                                    Care of his Mother,
                                                                    Though he was only three.
                                                                    James James Said to his Mother,
                                                                    "Mother," he said, said he;
                                                                    "You must never go down
                                                                     to the end of the town,
                                                                     if you don't go down with me."

Now many kids might be perplexed that a three year old was taking care of his mother. I, on the other hand, thought it made good sense. After all, at a very young age, I demanded to know why everything had to done my parents' way, WHY couldn't it be done MY way?!!! 

[Okay, being in charge seem to be a genetic trait in my family.]

So did any poetry stick with you from childhood?