Sunday, November 2, 2014

Celebrate: South Dakota, Bison, Picture Books!

Today is South Dakota's 125th Birthday. (North Dakota's, too, for that matter, but that's not what this post is about.) Yesterday was National Bison Day, and November is National Picture Book Month. That's a lot to celebrate!

South Dakota's best-known icon is probably Mount Rushmore, pictured above, in western South Dakota. South Dakota author Jean Patrick has written several books for the Mount Rushmore Society, including the picture books
Four Famous Faces (brand new) and Who Carved the Mountain? , both illustrated by Renee Graef.


Nearby, another mountain turned memorial stands as tribute to the first people who lived here. The work on Crazy Horse Memorial continues (pictured above), though carver Korczak Ziolkowski died in 1982. The grounds themselves provide The Indian Museum of North America,  the Native American Educational and Cultural Center,the carver's studio and home, a gift shop, and more.

The picture book Crazy Horse's Vision by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by South Dakota-born S.D. Nelson, tells the story of how Crazy Horse becomes a brave warrior.

Though South Dakota's official state animal is the coyote, the mighty bison has long played a part in state history. Once nearly extinct because of over-hunting, bison herds now thrive across the state, including at ranches that raise them to sell for meat. 

One large herd that attracts tourists lives in Custer State Park in the Black Hills. We once found ourselves amid a herd of buffalo trying to cross the road we were on. Believe me, there's nothing to do but wait, and you do not want to get between a mother and baby!

South Dakota artist Donald F. Montileaux's picture book, Tatanka and the Lakota Peopletells part of a traditional creation story with the buffalo (tatanka) as hero. The story is told in illustrations, English, and Lakota.

This post is just a brushstroke of everything that is South Dakota. South Dakota is proud of its history and its resources and is ready to meet the next 125 years. Come and visit! In the meantime, find out more facts about South Dakota here.

(photographs copyright Jane Heitman Healy, 2012, all rights reserved)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Zombies in the Real World?

(Zombie walk Pittsburgh 29 Oct 2006CC BY-SA 3.0view termsOriginal work by MissDeeCS; Original uploader at en.wikipedia was PNG crusade bot; The PNG crusade bot automatically converted this image to the more efficient en:PNGformat. The image was previously uploaded as "Zombie894.gif". - This is my own photo. Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.)

As Halloween approaches, zombie images and events appear. My own town is hosting a Zombie Walk tonight!

Zombies are the walking dead, beings who seem alive and yet are not, controlled by some supernatural force. Which leads us to the question, "Are zombies real?"

That's the question that children's non-fiction author Rebecca L. Johnson asks to begin her book, Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead.

In this award-winning book, Johnson tells us how fungus "invades" a fly to support itself and turns the fly into a mechanically-moving, vacant creature. Johnson also explains how parasites and worms do their work to make "zombies" out of other living beings.

Johnson's science background draws her to write about topics like this, making them interesting and accurate for young readers. Many of the zombie discoveries occurred when scientists noticed something and continued to observe. Johnson writes in her author's note for this book: "Nature has no shortage of wonders. Scientists are finding new ones all the time. Even as I finished this book, a new zombie maker was discovered that infects honeybees. Who knows how many more are out there, just waiting to be found?"

Be ever watchful and have a happy Halloween!

Here's a classic from the Kingston Trio, "Zombie Jamboree"

Monday, October 13, 2014

Many Ways to Tell a Story

Today South Dakota celebrates Native American Day, as it has since 1990. Communities across the state commemorate this day in different ways, including with storytelling.

I was privileged recently to hear and see Lakota Kevin Locke , who told stories orally, with his flute,

and with his hoop dancing. In each case, he talked about all people being one and challenged each of us to be a bridge of understanding from one person to another. With 28 hoops, he created an eagle, a globe, a flower, a ladder, and a whirl of color!

He demonstrated his message of the importance of each individual by removing a hoop from one of his formations. The formation collapsed. 

This kind of storytelling--hoop dancing--takes a lot of energy! Kevin does it with such joy and grace, it is a pleasure to watch.  See him in this performance from last year:

What other kinds of storytelling have you experienced? Which ones are most meaningful to you?

(photos copyright 2014, Jane Heitman Healy)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dappled Things of Fall

We're enjoying fall! These last couple of weeks have given us sunny, warm days and cool nights. The word "dappled" has come to mind as I see lawns dappled with dropped leaves...

Day lily leaves dappled with yellow...

Leaves themselves mottled with decay...

fruit dappled with ripeness and insect spots...

and sky dappled with clouds and green and yellow leaves.

All of that reminded me of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, which you can hear here:

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;       
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        
                  Praise him.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Autumn Leaves

Well, actually, autumn is not leaving, it's just on the cusp of arriving. It is, however, the time of year when we think about leaves turning color and dropping for us to rake or mulch.

Leaves here are giving us hints of color--a few flashes of yellow amid the green--that will peak in a week or two.

Otherwise, I don't give leaves much thought. Do you?

Someone who has given leaves a lot of thought is poet and author Laura Purdie Salas. Her award-winning book A Leaf Can Be..., explores the many ways leaves function in nature. Leaves can be cups, bathtubs, or lunch!

Easy for small children to understand, the book includes a glossary and information for older children (and adults!) to learn more about the science of leaves. The illustrations by Violeta Dibija of Moldova give the book a soft, fantasy look. 

Take a look at the book (I borrowed this copy from the library), and you will think of leaves in new ways year 'round!

As autumn advances, enjoy Eric Clapton's version of the classic song "Autumn Leaves"

(all photos copyright 2014, Jane Heitman Healy)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Back to School! Are you a Smartypants?

It's back to school time around here, which reminded me of one of my favorite books about school, Smartypants (Pete in School), written and illustrated by Maira Kalman. Released in 2003, I've read it many times since and love the humor and absurdity. I also adore the snarky side comments Kalman includes in her illustrations.

This book is for everyone who has had that "don't call on me" moment. Avoid eye contact! But when Pete comes to school (forbidden, of course!), he can answer every single question! As a student, are you really going to let a dog get the better of you intellectually? I think not.

My library is featuring back-to-school books in their displays:

Another of my back-to-school favorites is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. I won't go into details, but I will tell you that there's a surprise ending. Horn Book has a list of good back-to-school books here.

What's your favorite book about school? Make it a great school year, everyone!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's Peach Season!

Yes! It is time to celebrate the season of abundant produce, and particularly peaches! We are so fortunate that a local hardware store trucks in lugs each year from Western Colorado. This year's load (or lode, as I think of it) comes from Black Bear Orchards in Palisade. Yes, we got a whole lug. No, that is not too much for two people--at least not the two people at our house. 

This year's poem for peach season is a haiku: 

slices of sunshine
slide gentle juice down my throat,
cozy taste of home.

See last year's peach season poem here.

What flavors do you savor this season? Here, everything's peachy!
(photos by Jane Heitman Healy, c 2014)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Summer Romance

James Gillray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) See * for more information about this artwork.

As spring turns into summer, the weather warms up and so do hearts, making June a traditional month for weddings. Happy Anniversary to everyone who got married in June! Happy Wedding Day to those getting married this month!

With that in mind, I thought you would like to meet my friend Rose Zediker, romance novelist, from southeastern South Dakota.  I was pleased to meet her at a local writers conference several years ago and saw her recently at a book signing with other area authors, Sara Whitley (below left) and Mary Connealy (below center).

Q: Hi, Rose! You are getting a good track record for your romance novels! Congratulations! What led you to write that genre?
Rose: I always enjoyed reading romance novels, especially inspirational romance. The more romance novels I read, my imagination started sparking story ideas until I finally sat down and wrote one of my own.

 Q: You write both contemporary and historical. Which do you prefer, and how does the research differ?
Rose: I had a lot of fun writing the historical romance novels, but I prefer contemporary. There are less character restrictions, especially for heroines in contemporary novels since women have a more active role in society than they did one hundred years ago.  I research everything on historical novels, settings, names, clothing, household furnishings/architecture, laws. Research for my contemporaries consists of occupations and setting if I place the story in an unfamiliar town/state.

 Q: Some of your novels are set in South Dakota, our home state. Was the setting hard to sell to big city editors?
Rose: Absolutely not! The line of books I write for, Heartsong Presents, prefers smaller towns to larger cities. Because they publish four books a month, they need a variety of settings.

Q: I love hearing that, Rose, because sometimes we think novels should be set in some exotic locale, not right here at home.  Speaking of home, does the romance in your writing spill over into your personal life or does the romance in your personal life spill over into your writing? 
Rose: The romance in my stories doesn't mirror my real life at all! My husband and I have been married for thirty two years and our romantic gestures tend to be 'small' scale, like carrying the full laundry basket upstairs for me, than the big grand gestures found in most romance stories. To be honest, our romantic gestures have always been on the smaller, daily living scale.

 Q: That’s probably true of most couples, and it’s what sustains relationships—the daily caring. Besides daily caring, you are a daily writer, and I think you are one of the most disciplined people I know. You set goals and often exceed them. Would you tell us a bit about your regimen?
Rose: Since I work a full time job, I have to treat my writing like a part time job so I devote at least ten hours a week to my writing. That’s less than two hours a day! So it’s very doable. Sometimes, I use thirty minutes of my lunch hour to work on a project otherwise I work on my manuscripts from seven to eight in the evenings.

Basically, I set monthly goals then break those goals down to daily goals. Goals should be obtainable. If they’re not, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated which usually results in giving up. I know my limitations. I can’t write an 80,000 word book in a month so I’d never set that as a monthly goal.

I also place a huge importance on my writing career so I don’t allow my social calendar to fill up and crowd out my writing time. I’ve learned to say no volunteer projects unless they are near and dear to my heart.

 Q: Your discipline sets a good example for the rest of us! What romance authors, living or dead, inspire you?
Rose: Melody Carlson inspires me because she writes all types of inspirational romance and also books for children and teens.

 Q: I haven’t read anything by her. Thanks for the tip. What should we be watching for from you?
Rose: I have another historical coming out on August 1, Sweet on the Cowgirl. It’s available for preorder now. I signed a contract for a rodeo themed four book series. The first one will release in 2015.

Q: That’s exciting! Congratulations! Where can we follow you online?
Rose: I’m part of a group blog. My blog is: My author page on Facebook is under Author Rose Ross Zediker.
Thanks for having me on your blog today, Jane!

Thank you, Rose! Best wishes as you keep those love stories going!

* "Harmony before Matrimony", an October 25th 1805 caricature by James Gillray depicting a musical courtship. The woman plays a harp, and the man and woman sing together from "Duets de l'Amour". On the table, a book is open to Ovid (who would not have been considered suitable as reading-matter for girls or unmarried women in 1805). The hanging floral wall decorations include torches of Hymen (the ancient Roman god of weddings) on the left, and the bow and quiver of arrows of Cupid on the right. An oval-wall painting shows Cupid having dropped his bow and arrows, and shooting at a pair of cooing doves with a blunderbuss! At the left are two goldfish in a bowl, above a heart-shaped imitation-antique vase with a female sphinx decoration. Two cats do not appear to be influenced by the musical harmony, and are quarreling on top of music scores left on the floor.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day: Names

(Vietnam Veterans Memorial far left, photo by Jane Heitman Healy 2012)

On a trip to Washington, DC, colleagues and I toured the Mall one evening. School groups' boisterous enthusiasm overflowed in noise at the Lincoln Memorial in spite of signs requesting reverence. At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, though, they walked by quietly. 

What made the difference? I don't know for sure, but many of them may have had relatives who served in that war. The somber black stone, so grave-like, may have dampened their spirits. But it could be the names, row upon row, making sacrifice real and personal.

(photo by Jane Heitman Healy 2012)

I first saw those names on the Vietnam Traveling Wall, and I was struck then, as I was again seeing the real Wall, that the names represent many ethnic groups, from indigenous North Americans to people whose ancestors emigrated to the U.S. We cannot tell a person's race, religion, socioeconomic status, or IQ. We can only read names of women and men who served our country to preserve liberty and justice for all. Whether in military service or not, we should all strive to make "liberty and justice for all" a reality.

Thank you to all of those who have served or are now serving in the US Armed Forces. I especially remember my dad and father-in-law who served in World War II. I dedicate this post to Charles Rael, who served for over 22 years, primarily in the Middle East.

Friday, April 18, 2014

William Blake Talking to the Angels: Easter & National Poetry Month

Fourviere crypte agneau pascal
(By Lucien Bégule (Photo Thierry Wagner) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

William Blake, British artist and poet from 1757-1827, said he talked to the angels from the time he was a youth.  Once he told others that he could "see a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars" (Alexander Gilchrist, Life of William Blake: Pictor Ignotus, 2 volumes, London: Macmillan, 1863; enlarged, 1880).

He poured his visions into poetry and art, combining the two into what he called "illuminated writing." The Poetry Foundation describes the process:  "Blake's technique was to produce his text and design on a copper plate with an impervious liquid. The plate was then dipped in acid so that the text and design remained in relief. That plate could be used to print on paper, and the final copy would be then hand colored." 

His poems from Songs of Innocence are often anthologized for school students. They may be easy enough to read, but contain layers of meaning.

For this Easter weekend, I'll feature one of those, which happens to be one of my favorites.

(Public Domain,

The Lamb

LITTLE lamb, Who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,        
Softest clothing woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
  Little lamb, Who made thee?
  Dost thou know who made thee?       
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is callèd by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek and he is mild,       
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are callèd by his name.
  Little lamb, God bless thee!
  Little lamb, God bless thee!

British composer, Sir John Tavener, set Blake's words to this haunting music:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!” 
(Revelation 5:13)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fiddle a Happy Tune: National Poetry Month

Apple Blossoms (4532239974)
By John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA (Apple Blossoms  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I regularly play in children's poet, David L. Harrison's Word of the Month poem challenge. Each month, Harrison posts a word, and anyone is welcome to write and post a poem using that word. This month's word is BLOSSOM, fitting for many places in April, but not here yet!

Here's my attempt:

At the Old-Time Fiddler Competition:
Junior-Junior Division, Round 2

Waiting in the wings
For her turn in Round Two,
She tried not to tap her booted toes
To “Old Joe Clark,”
A classic her main competitor mastered
But she knew she’d turned hearts
In Round One
With “Ashokan Farewell”
When a judge dabbed his eyes
With his blue bandana.

Name called, she stepped forward
And announced, “Apple Blossoms,”
Lifted her fiddle and made melody
That could coax a fruit tree to bloom
With sweetness
In time.

Fiddle contests take place across the country with categories for all ages. Here are the Dillion Junior Fiddlers playing "Old Joe Clark:"

and a young champion fiddler playing "Apple Blossoms:"

What kind of tune says "spring" to you?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hai-KOOL! National Poetry Month

Spring has been slow to arrive where I live, so instead of whining I decided to try writing a couple of haikus about the situation. I am calling them "hai-kools" for the weather they represent. Check out another playful form of haiku on Laura Purdie Salas' blog, where she is writing a riddle-ku a day for National Poetry Month.

Our dog, Watson, is always an inspiration.

wrestling with snowflakes
snapping them out of the air
Watson wins a round.

impending snowstorm
laughs at April calendar.
"Take that, Spring!" it says.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wind! Happy National Poetry Month

Wind Swept Trees at Carskiey. - - 255753
Steve Partridge [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

When you live on the prairie, wind is constant and inevitable. Some days are windier than others, but it's seldom completely still. And when it is, just like caring for toddlers, you'd better watch out.

In early elementary school, I memorized the poem "Who Has Seen the Wind" by Christina Rossetti, and I have recited it many times since. It's one of those poems that is easy to learn and easy for me to relate to.

Since we have just endured a late blizzard with exceedingly strong winds, and April 1 begins the celebration of National Poetry Month, I thought this poem is fitting for today. Read the text here. And take a moment to enjoy the spring breeze here:

What are your favorite weather poems?

Happy National Poetry Month! Happy Spring!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Seeking Answers to Life's Great Questions

Blue question mark
(Salazar210 at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons)

"The unexamined life is not worth living," declared Socrates. And most people do spend at least a little time pondering life's great questions.  "What is my purpose in life?" "What is true love?" You know. Those questions.

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin
(By Karora (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

I recently read Lorna Landvik's Welcome to the Great Mysterious. Geneva, a Broadway diva, returns home to Minnesota to take care of her thirteen-year-old nephew with Down Syndrome while her sister and brother-in-law take an overseas vacation. In her sister's house, she makes a great find--a box containing The Great Mysterious. Now, it's not too much of a spoiler to tell you what the great mysterious is. It is a scrapbook created by Geneva and her sister when they were kids at their family cabin. Written out of boredom, it bore precious wisdom as they returned to it years later.

(By La Melodie,

In the Christian calendar, it's Lent, the time before Easter set aside for self-examination. Maybe it's time to create your own Great Mysterious with a group of friends or family, especially in a reunion or retreat setting. On one page, write one of life's big questions. Glue a pocket on that page and put some blank strips of paper in it. Or leave blank slips of paper and a pen near the scrapbook. Then as people wander by, they see the question and write their answer on the paper, and put it in the pocket. Later, around a campfire or coffee table, read the answers and see where the discussion takes you.

(By Brett Jordan,,

What questions would you ask? Whose answers would mean the most to you?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cozy up to a Good Mystery

(photo by OokamiKasumi,

Driving to a work site two hours away in a ground blizzard, I was thankful to reach my destination safely and check into my motel. The lobby fireplace was flanked by wingback chairs and bookshelves. "That looks cozy," I said at the check-in desk.

In my room, I enjoyed another kind of cozy--a mystery novel. The definition of a cozy mystery varies, but it usually includes an amateur female sleuth. Her occupation gives her skills that she uses to solve the mystery. These books are usually set in a small town with the usual small town goings on--but no sex!

My cozy in this case was debut novel Debits and Credits by Lyn Fraser. Fraser used the axiom "write what you know," and fortunately, she knows a lot! As a Texan and Coloradan, a teacher, business woman, hospice chaplain, spiritual writer, and golfer, Fraser gave Grace Edna Edge many of those traits. Grace's occupation is an unusual one--forensic accounting. In this book, Grace snoops into the sudden death of her aunt's friend on behalf of her aunt and the deceased's nephew. As usual in these books, the police are skeptical of Grace's suspicions, but one detective is interested in finding out more--about Grace herself. Fraser populates the book with a gamut of characters from all walks of life to make an interesting story containing laugh-out-loud lines. I hope this is the first of a series.

( By Club-oracle (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

True confession: I have to be in a "cozy" mood to enjoy these, as there often seems to be so much "side story" (those small town goings on) that the main action sometimes seems shoved into the background. Other cozies I have liked include the Goldy the Caterer series by Diane Mott Davidson, the Hannah Swenson series by Joanna Fluke, and the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert.

(photo by Mark Larson,, Creative Commons)

Full disclosure: Lyn Fraser is a friend who kindly gave me her book for Christmas. Would I have liked the book anyway? Yes, I would! Grace Edge seems to lean more toward the Edge than the Grace, which leads to laughs. She is also smart and unafraid.

What cozies do you like? With or without a fireplace?