America at Work

By Ellen Leventhal

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Labor Day. People are lining up for sales, barbecue grills  are going  full blast, and some of us are putting the white shorts away until next Memorial Day.

But what is Labor Day really? It wasn’t meant to be an end of summer celebration, and it wasn’t meant to signal the start of school or football season. Labor Day is a day set aside to honor the American labor force. If you don’t know about the divisive Pullman Car Strike, you may want to take time this Labor Day to read about it. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland initiated the holiday as part of the federal response to that strike. But even so, a lot more work needed to be done in order to secure living wages and safe workplaces for American workers. Do you recall learning about the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory? Again, if you are not familiar with it, Labor Day is a great time to learn about it and the Labor Unions which had a huge impact on workplace safety.

The Labor and Working-class History Association put out this list of what they feel are good books about labor. Take a look and see what you think.

http://lawcha.org/wordpress/2015/06/08/twenty-best-labor-books-first-

So yes,  we can take this day to relax.  We can enjoy our friends and family, and we can hit the snooze button a few times.But let’s always remember the meaning behind Labor Day and be thankful to the workers who make our lives what they are.

I HEAR AMERICA SINGING

~ Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day-at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

 

 

 

Happy Leap Day/ List Day

time management threeBy Ellen Leventhal

The writer’s life and time management. Unfortunately, these two don’t always go together well. At least not for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in my wish for more hours in the day. Does anyone else end their days staring at the ceiling, ticking off all the tasks you did NOT get done that day? Please tell me it’s not just me!

So how happy am I that there is a full extra day this month? VERY happy. Surely, I will use this day to check things off my list. There aren’t that many things, right? I can do this! Here we go:

  1. Send poetry to that magazine.
  2. Dig out the email that tells me the name of the magazine.
  3. Type out texts of picture books to work on pacing.
  4. Go to the library and check-out said picture books.
  5. Begin work on that new website I’ve been talking about for years.
  6. Find someone to help me do that.
  7. Walk around the block. Sitting all day is bad for you.
  8. Finish three critiques.
  9. Call Comcast so I can get online to pull up the stories to critique.
  10. Re-write that short story in picture book format.
  11. Re-write that picture book manuscript into short story format.
  12. Have lunch!
  13. Stop at the Galleria after lunch to pick up those cute clothes for grandkids.
  14. Text daughters-in-law and double check sizes.
  15. Reply to store’s request for more books. Yes, the reissue of that book will be out by summer.
  16. Nag anyone who is responsible for getting the new book out.
  17. Have dinner.
  18. Climb into bed and tick off every item I did not accomplish. Sigh….

Sometimes it’s time management issues. Sometimes it’s computer issues. And sometimes life interferes with the best laid plans. But I will take this extra day for something. Even if it means counting my blessings because, although the book deals aren’t rolling in, a lot of other great things are.

Happy Leap Day, everyone! Use it to do what makes your happy.

 

 

Unicorns, Glitter, and Green Neon Marker

By Ellen Leventhal

I’ve had better summers. My house flooded, I broke two teeth, and I gained five pounds. Did I mention my house flooded? I watched parts of my life, including manuscript upon manuscript, float away. In the aftermath, I found soaked stories and putrid smelling poems. Ideas scribbled in journals were illegible, and water oozed out of notebooks and folders. Along with all of this, my creativity seems to have drowned too.  I have to assume that it will resurface at some point, but for now, I’m focusing on the creativity of seven and eight year olds.

Every year, teaching at the Writers in the Schools/ Rice Literacy and Culture Creative Writing Camp is the highlight of my summer. This year it saved my sanity. I usually teach older kids, but this time I was assigned seven and eight year olds. I was a bit concerned about working with such young kiddos, but there are definitely some advantages to working with kids this age. Here are a few.

  1. They laugh at my jokes and don’t roll their eyes.
  2. They are silly. And they don’t care.
  3. They ask questions like, “Why does glitter glitter?”
  4. They write about unicorns and kidnappers all in the same story.
  5. They love everything they write and think that “wings” and “fins” rhyme.
  6. They know that writing is better when it’s done in neon green, and the margins are decorated with pink hearts.
  7. They totally get that if you sing while you write, you can conquer the world.
  8. They know that writing with a friend is the best. Especially when you giggle and illustrate your work.
  9. They fall over laughing when they read their work aloud.
  10. They smile. A lot. And cry. Just sometimes.

These children’s creativity bubbles to the top. It hasn’t been buried under concerns about state mandated tests and grades. They are filled with wonder, and they are carefree. They make me smile. So when I am with them, just for a few hours,  I am not worried about FEMA, insurance, and the fact that I need to adjust to a new normal.  I just take a neon green marker and write a story about unicorns that save the earth. And of course, I decorate the margins with pink hearts.

My Favorite Things…European Trip Version

 

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I just returned from a trip to Europe where I was in so many different countries, I had a hard time keeping track.  But I do clearly remember a day in Salzburg, Austria, home of The Sound of Music. So, with major apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Julie Andrews, The Von Trapp Family, and pretty much the whole country of Austria, I offer you my version of My Favorite Things.

                        European Vacation…My Favorite Things (and some not so much)

Wine flowing freely and pastries so yummy

All the good food that expanded my tummy

Castles with turrets that look like gold rings

These are a few of my favorite things

 

Nice waiters bringing me hot apple strudels

Eating my plate of Hungarian noodles

Sailing and seeing swans spread their soft wings

These are a few of my favorite things

 

Learning to say, “Where’s the bathroom” in Czech

Flying first class, with no crick in my neck

The boy on the square, how I love how he sings

These are a few of my favorite things.

 

When the Coke’s warm, when there’s no ice

When I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don’t feel so bad!

 

Knowing I don’t have to make my own bed

My pillows were fluffed when I rested my head

Playing on playgrounds with children on swings

These are a few of my favorite things

 

Seeing real art by Manet and  Van Gogh

Having the time to just go with the flow

Running around the towns free with no strings

These are a few of my favorite things

 

Learning the history of such different places

Seeing so many brand new smiling faces

Hearing the old timey chime’s jing a lings

These are a few of my favorite things

 

When the Metro is so crowded

And some French guy’s mad

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don’t feel so bad!

 

                          Eind,  La Fin,  Das Ende,  A Vegen, The End

 

 

Ice Cream, Poetry, and Dancing Giraffes

by Ellen Leventhal

Did you know that May is Older Americans Month as well as National Bike Month? And is anyone else looking forward to July as much as I am? July is National Ice Cream Month, and as a proud Texan, I am planning a trip to the Little Creamery in Brenham. For those who don’t know, Blue Bell Ice Cream is made in Brenham, TX, and each taste really is a bit of heaven.

But there is something else I love even more than Blue Bell Mint Chocolate Chip (well, as much as Blue Bell Mint Chocolate Chip), and that’s poetry. April is National Poetry Month, and already I miss it.  Every day last month, I opened my email and read a poem a day from WITS Houston (www.witshouston.org). These poems, written by kids in the Houston area, are downright inspiring. Often they were the only thing of worth in an inbox exploding with minutia. After reading the kids’ poetry, I’d sometimes sit down and write something of my own. See? Inspiring! Unfortunately, often my poem wasn’t as good as theirs, and then I’d want to eat that pint of Blue Bell! But I digress. Aside from reading poetry, I love writing poetry with kids. Who wouldn’t love something that allows her students to express themselves after months of learning to bubble in circles? Poetry allows kids to figuratively color outside the lines. What freedom!

Of course, there are all types of poetry. Currently, I am hooked on rhyming picture books. I know, I know! Not everyone thinks of this as poetry, but if poetry gives wings to language allowing words to fly, and if poetry ignites emotions and gives a melody to what was once discord, then some of these books definitely qualify. I admit; some of the rhyming picture books I’ve read are terrible. But there are some that are absolutely beautiful. And they are fun!  Lyrical, rhythmic, and fun.

This past April I took the RhyPiBoMo (Rhyming Picture Book Month) challenge and wrote a rhyming picture book. Think it’s easy? Think again. I always tell my students that writing rhyme is, in my opinion, very difficult. Well, that is if it is GOOD rhyme. Thanks to Angie Karcher (http://angiekarcher.wordpress.com), I have learned to work with things such as dactyl, anapest, enjambment, meter, foot, iamb, and rhyme all while trying to write a well- constructed story with strong characters, a believable problem, and a satisfying resolution. Not easy! I spent April writing and revising, and I will spend May and June revising some more.

Yes, it’s really hard. Really, really hard. But oh what fun! Think about it. Rhyming picture books have become part of our lives.  Buying fish the other day, I heard a little boy begin to count the fish in the display. He said, “One fish,” and before he could go on, his dad said, “Two fish, red fish, blue fish.” The two of them just giggled.

One of my many favorite rhyming picture books is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees. The story is beautiful with a wonderful message, and the writing is rhythmic and lyrical. Think back to your childhood. What were some of your favorite rhyming picture books? I have many, but it’s getting late, and I need to go to sleep. “Goodnight Moon……Goodnight stars, and goodnight air, and goodnight noises everywhere.”  Sigh….that’s poetry to  my ears.