Saturday, December 29, 2012

Welcome, New Year!

(photo creative commons, by h.koppdelaney)

I was thinking about how to celebrate the new year, remembering my friend's tradition of eating black-eyed peas on January 1. A little research led me to this page of superstitions and traditions compiled by the folks at and this post by local chef, restaurateur, and author of cookbooks, Sanaa Abourezk.

Who knew there were so many things to watch out for, so many things to do?! This led to my little rhyme below. Do you follow these traditions or ones not mentioned in these posts? However you celebrate, I hope your new year is a good one!

Ways to Welcome a New Year

On the stroke of midnight,
that gasp between
2012 and 2013,
throw open the doors and shout!
Let one year in and the other out.

When twelve o’clock strikes,
And a new year starts
Enflame the ardor of our hearts
With kisses for those most dear
To ensure a loving year.

Before the old year dashes,
On December thirty-first,
To prevent financial curse
We fill our pantries, pay our bills,
Carry lentils, mend our ills.

On the first day of the year,
For luck the whole year through,
Wear clothing that is new.
Eat certain foods. This is a key--
Fill your plate with black-eyed peas.

As we flip the calendar page
From one year to the next
We hope for good effects
By trying out some superstitions
And carefully keeping our traditions.

Happy New Year!
(c2012, Jane Heitman Healy, all rights reserved)

Enjoy this version of "Auld Lang Syne"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Stories for a Cause

Tom Roberts was far from home one Christmas season, stranded by a snowstorm. Howling winds and snow closed the roads, so he sat in his car in a truck stop parking lot and waited.

He had just finished giving an acting workshop, and the familiar words from "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement Moore ran through his mind. He took out paper and pen and set to work writing his own Christmas story, 'Twas the Night before Christ.

That story poem became the first of Tom's three Christmas picture books. The year after 'Twas the Night before Christ, Tom released Santa's Prayer, a response to people who had commented on his first book.

The next year, The Little Lost Sock was published. This book was inspired by lost and found boxes in the churches and schools where Tom and his wife, Tammy, gave programs. The lost sock served as metaphor for the children whose cause Tom and Tammy have taken up, Children's Home Society of South Dakota.

Tom's books were published because of his family's desire to do a mission project. He and Tammy mentioned his poem 'Twas the Night before Christ in conversation over coffee at church, and the project was born. A professional printer, an illustrator with graphic design experience, and others donated time, talent, and funds to publish the book. Proceeds would benefit Children's Home Society, an organization where Tom had played Santa Claus and desired to help the children--and others like them--who had sat in his lap.

The other two books followed the same pattern, brought into being by generous donors.

Tammy is an integral part of the book-making team, acting as Tom's editor and advisor, as well as overseeing the many aspects of production. They travel and give presentations together, giving their audiences a Christmas gift of story and song, and making their books available for sale to help the Children's Home kids.

Tom's background as actor, storyteller, and script and commercial writer prepared him for his present job as Event Coordinator for Children's Home Society. Tammy's background in marketing is a perfect fit for helping promote the books and conduct fundraising for Children's Home Society.

What began as a poem penned in a snowstorm has become a blizzard of blessings all around!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Good Morning!

(photo "Winter Sunrise in Wicklow 2" by Matt & Kim Rudge,

I'm not by nature an early morning person, though I have gotten better at it through the years when forced into the situation. A couple of books show a good approach to mornings for those of us non-morning people--or even those who are.

S.D. Nelson's latest book, Greet the Dawn, published this year by the SD Historical Society Press, is already winning awards, and I predict it will earn more in the coming year.
(photo copyright 2012 Jane Healy)

I was fortunate to attend his session at the SD Festival of the Book in Sioux Falls this fall. Primarily an artist, Nelson has illustrated many picture books, and has authored and illustrated others. He uses a variety of techniques to achieve his art's end result, including crinkling Saran wrap into wet acrylic wash to achieve a batik-like look.

He lives in Flagstaff, AZ, and is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, giving him his Lakota world view. He was raised on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. A common theme in his work is the connectedness of all things and the human connection with animals as equals.

His art "injects the contemporary world into the ancient world." Illustrations in Greet the Dawn are a visual delight--almost an "I Spy" game of traditional symbols and modern life images. See samples here.

He told us that the traditional spiral symbol is a shape that brings balance. For him, the petroglyph-like handprints symbolize the contact a person has to a place. The circle of life shows "there's room for everybody in the world today."

Hear him tell it himself in this 1 minute interview:

Despite the title, the picture book takes readers through an entire day, showing that if we greet the dawn with a smile, we will be in harmony until we go to sleep at night.

Another favorite "wake up early" book is The Way to Start a Day by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall. This book won a Caldecott Honor in 1979. In the text, Baylor shows readers that people around the world have special ways of starting the day. As in Nelson's book, most cultures greet the dawn by appreciating the natural world and its rhythms.

Here's a snippet:

Baylor encourages us to make our own morning songs to welcome the sun. And if we think about the miracle of the universe and our place in it, the songs won't be moans about getting out of bed!

Good morning! How do you start your day?

Saturday, November 10, 2012


(photo by Alice Popkorn, creative commons license)

Here we are approaching Veteran's Day--Nov. 11, 2012--a day to honor veterans of military service. And since it's a national holiday, many of us get the following day off from work.
72-901-1 HR7786 Veterans Day June 1 1954
President Eisenhower signing the document that created Veterans Day
(Photo by U.S. Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

I read a letter to the editor in my local paper from a representative of the group Veterans for Peace. The writer requested that we change the name back to its original name, Armistice Day. Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, commemorates the signing of the armistice between WWI allies and Germany. The writer said that the focus of Armistice Day was on peace--the signing of a peace agreement, whereas the focus of Veterans Day is on war.

Our country and states have just come through a contentious election. In some cases, relationships were severed due to differences of opinion, so the idea of peace among people appeals to me at all levels.

(Photo by Workshop Cologne:

Here are some good books about that topic:
The Big Book for Peace is a compilation of works by such distinguished authors as Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, Lloyd Alexander, and others, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, Jerry Pinkney, Marc Simont, Allen Say, and others.

A new favorite children's author (to me), Todd Parr has dedicated his The Peace Book to the world. It contains simple messages of peace for small--and large--children. Things like "Peace is making new friends," and "Peace is helping your neighbor."

In Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World, Jane Breskin Zalben uses collage and quotations to highlight people who devoted their lives to peace, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Emerson, Gandhi, Elie Wiesel, and Anne Frank.

This November 11, we honor veterans to thank them for their service to our country. Let's also remember Armistice Day and work for peace. It can start simply, as Todd Parr says, by making friends. Let it begin with me.

Here's Gladys Knight singing in Washington, DC, Memorial Day, 2008

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fall in All its Glory

Fall on my street, late September 2012

I'm not the only one who says we'd enjoy fall more if it didn't precede winter! But maybe we appreciate it more because we know it is a fleeting season. It is one season that gets us out looking at nature, at least through our car windows. I love the crunch of dried leaves beneath my feet as I walk around my neighborhood. I love the earthy smell of fallen leaves decomposing.

Fall on my street, late September 2012 (despite the incorrect date on the photo)

We're told that colors in our area, now waning, were especially vivid because of our severe drought. Here's a scientific explanation of how and why colors change.

Other areas of the country may receive more publicity for fall colors, but Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota's Black Hills made the Today's Shows list. Sit back and enjoy this virtual visit:

Here's a list of good children's books about fall. And here's a list of recommended adult fall releases.

What's your favorite thing about fall?
Fall on my street, late September 2012 (despite the incorrect date on the photo)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Good Dog

Indiana (named for adventurer Indiana Jones) was with this family for nearly 11 years, offering friendship, companionship, and mischief. He wasn't much interested in other dogs, cats, squirrels, or rabbits. As one visitor said, "You think you're people." What he liked best was being with his people, and of course, food. We think it's no coincidence that his chin was exactly table height.

He loved to rummage in the trash cans for used tissues, a favorite snack. He loved to eat butter and butter wrappers (to condition his coat, no doubt). And he loved buns. At one holiday meal, we had set a basket of buns on a chair behind us because there wasn't room on the table. Oops! Gone in 60 seconds.

He loved to play tug with old socks, a rope, and other old fabric.

One of the funniest incidents occurred one day when he had really been into everything, exasperating me. When my husband came home, he sat in a chair, and Indiana came over to be petted. "Were you a good dog today, Indiana?" my husband asked. I entered the room, and Indiana swiveled his head and looked at me with an expression that said, "Are you going to tell on me?"

Books about dogs are notorious for sad endings: Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Marley and Me, etc. For a long time, I put off reading the Newbery Award winning Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo because, as a dog book, it must be sad. I was so wrong and heartily recommend this story of friendship and belonging.

Indiana was a BIG dog, and a book that fits him is My Big Dog by Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens.

What dog stories do you like? What dog antics have you enjoyed?

Indiana, Good Dog, November 9, 2001-September 27, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Everything's Peachy!

(photo copyright 2011, Jane Heitman Healy)

'Tis the season of abundance, as fruit ripens and vegetables mature for good, fresh eating. In August, the Western Colorado peach harvest is in full swing. The area around Palisade is apparently perfect for peach growing. Orchards abound and sell their goods on site and at farmer's markets. There's nothing like biting into a big, ripe peach and savoring the flavor while juice drips down your chin!

Here's a visit to one Palisade orchard:

Palisade held its annual Peach Festival last week--a place for fun and for finding a plethora of peach recipes, including interesting ones from area chefs.

(photo copyright 2011, Jane Heitman Healy)

I was delighted to discover two suppliers of Colorado peaches here in my South Dakota city! One hardware store and one large grocery chain bring in lugs by the semi trailer full. For a few weeks each summer, everything's peachy!

(photo copyright 2011, Jane Heitman Healy)

Your reading connection this time? The peach section of your favorite cookbook or maybe Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Big Minnesota Welcome

(Big Ole, Alexandria, MN, photo copyright 2012, Jane Heitman Healy)

On a vacation to Minnesota this summer, we were heartily welcomed wherever we went, but never more warmly than by the two big guys in Alexandria and Bemidji.

Big Ole, above, spearheads visits by watching over a small park on Lake Agnes' banks and keeping track of Broadway traffic. Born in 1965, he stood as mascot to the Minnesota Pavilion at the New York World's Fair. Big Ole's shield informs us that Alexandria is the birthplace of America. Not what you learned in history class? Me, either, but if you visit Alexandria's Runestone Museum, you may become a believer.

The highlight of the museum is the Kensington Runestone, unearthed by a farmer in rural Alexandria in the 1898. It has been dated back to 1362. The real question is, how did it get there? Did Viking explorers "plant" it? Did they settle in the area for awhile and carve it then? Were they merely passing through? The museum presents evidence to help visitors decide. The gift shop carries many books about the runestone and Vikings in general.

(Kensington Runestone, Alexandria, MN, photo copyright 2012, Jane Heitman Healy)

Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, greet visitors in Bemidji. Paul Bunyan is a lumberjack of tall tale fame. Paul and Babe are faster and stronger than anyone else! Read more about them at

(Paul Bunyan and Babe, Bemidji, photo copyright 2012, Jane Heitman Healy)

Paul and Babe, created for a Winter Carnival, are enjoying their 75th birthdays this year. These senior citizens were placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1988. If you want to celebrate Paul and Babe, wear plaid on Wednesdays this year like the folks of Bemidji.

What big welcomes have you encountered this summer?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Is...


Summer is hot!

This summer is also dry. How can we have 41% or more humidity and still face drought conditions?

In spite of that, summer is also flowers...
(copyright 2012 Jane Heitman Healy)

and produce...
(photo by F Delventhal)

and Shakespeare in the park...
(and here's Falls Park, the old mill, before the play.)
(copyright 2012, Jane Heitman Healy)

Summer is upcoming concerts in various parks around town....
First up at Music Monday at McKennan Park on July 16 is the Crabgrass Crew.

and vacation...

and, of course, reading!
(photo by brewbooks) This is someone else's stack, but you can keep track of my current reading by viewing the Shelfari widget on the right side of the screen.

What defines your summer this year? Do post a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June's Perfect Summer Days

(Knot Garden, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, copyright 2012, Jane Heitman Healy)

What is your idea of a perfect day?

Here is James Russell Lowell's:

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;

(Isle Royale trail, copyright 2008, Jane Heitman Healy)

Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;

(Clematis, copyright 2012, Jane Heitman Healy)

The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;

(pronghorn antelope,

The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

(Song Thrush, © Copyright Brian Robert Marshall and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence,

Read the entire poem, "The Vision Of Sir Launfal," from which these selections were taken. Learn more about James Russell Lowell . And do let me know your idea of a perfect day or which of Nature's songs you think is best.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Haiku: Nature is Our Playground

(© Copyright Rich Daley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

Many of us learned haiku poetry in elementary school because its three-line form reinforces the concept of syllables. Of course, this is pure mechanics. True haiku is usually about a season in nature and is written in the present tense. When you read a haiku, whatever you read about is happening now. Haiku often contains opposing ideas, giving this short poetic form a complexity not immediately evident.

The ancient poetic form began in Japan in the 1600's. The master Basho is still read and highly regarded today.

An example of Basho's haiku:

old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

Frog in garden pond in Davington, Faversham (pam fray) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Here's an example by Issa:

A red morning sky,
For you, snail;
Are you glad about it?

Snail on flowers by Jon Sullivan

Writing haiku well demands that the poet observe quietly and be mindful of all his or her senses.

This by no means reaches the master level, but is my own example:

luscious lilacs burst
into big purple bouquets
spreading scented spring

(copyright 2012, Jane Heitman Healy)

Author Bob Raczka and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds recognized haiku as a poetry form that boys can enjoy. Here is Raczka's introduction to their book Guyku:

The book features each season's outdoor activities, such as kite flying, rock skipping, listening to crickets, and looking at constellations, in haiku form. It's a fun book for all ages of boys AND girls. However, since some girls felt excluded because of the title, this author-illustrator team is at work on a version for girls.

A fun international haiku site for kids is Children's Haiku Garden. You can read haiku written by children around the world and submit your own (if you're a child).

Outside Japan, most haiku is written in English. There's even a Haiku Society of America!

What did you notice about nature today? Can you turn your observations into a haiku? Please share your observations and creativity in the comments. If you need some inspiration, see Round of the Seasons in Japan blog for beautiful pictures of that country and its gardens.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

To E-Read, or Not To E-Read

(photo by Rin Zebram├Ądchen, Creative Commons 2.0,

Is that the question? I am one of those people who likes books. Having favorite books around me is like being surrounded by friends. However, books do not equal reading. Like many of you, I read all the time--newspapers in print and online, magazines in print and online, and books, until recently, in print only.

(photo by April Younglove, Creative Commons 2.0,

Friends and coworkers got e-readers as gifts. I did not covet them but saw them as convenient gizmos. Besides, the array of choices is overwhelming, and as soon as you buy one, a newer, better model is released. How can you keep up?

This is the 21st Century, though, and we are well into it. Recently, I ran into a great deal and took the e-reader plunge. My local library offers downloadable books, so I'm off and reading. What I discovered is that author, blogger, librarian, and Cengage executive Stephen Abram is right. I credit him with coining the phrase "format agnostic," meaning that the format in which we read doesn't matter, as long as we can read. He was writing about this at least as far back as 2004.

With my first ebook, the story captured me, and I was as hooked in that format as I would have been in traditional print. When I finished that book, I looked online for reviews to see if other readers had similar reactions to the book. I learned then about an advantage to ereading that I hadn't considered--no back jacket flap to give away key plot points! Several reviewers had been disappointed because their print covers gave away too much in advance.

I see the main advantage of an ereader as its ability to hold many books, making it a good choice for travel, as opposed to lugging several print volumes. On the down side, print books never need to be recharged or turned off during flight take off and landing.

How about you? Are you reading print and e? Are you format agnostic, enjoying a good story however it appears?

(photo by Morten Oddvik, Creative Commons 2.0,

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fickle April: National Poetry Month

T.S. Eliot called April "the cruellest month." Geoffrey Chaucer referred to it as a "time of sweet showers." Toubadours Simon & Garfunkel note April as a time "When streams are ripe and swelled with rain." Even cartoonists recognize April's split personality.

I posted this poem on David L. Harrison's Word of the Month site, where I've participated regularly for over a year. A word is chosen each month, and the challenge to poets is to create a poem using that word. This month's word, "detour," seemed just right for April.


April detoured from
luscious lilacs and
sun-soaked skin to
cold cloud cover,
wicked wind and
fiendish frost.
Even the showers shiver.
(copyright 2012, Jane Heitman Healy)

What do you think about April?

Hear Eliot himself read from "The Waste Land":

Hear Chaucer's "General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales read in Middle English:
The Canterbury Tales - General Prologue -... by poetictouch

Sunday, April 8, 2012

An Easter Carol

Sunburst over a crest of a hill by C. E. Price

It's Easter and National Poetry Month! Enjoy this selection from Christina Rossetti. Wishing you Easter joy!

An Easter Carol
Christina Rossetti

Spring bursts to-day,
For Christ is risen and all the earth’s at play.

Flash forth, thou Sun,
The rain is over and gone, its work is done.

Winter is past,
Sweet Spring is come at last, is come at last.

Bud, Fig and Vine,
Bud, Olive, fat with fruit and oil and wine.

Break forth this morn
In roses, thou but yesterday a Thorn.

Uplift thy head,
O pure white Lily through the Winter dead.

Beside your dams
Leap and rejoice, you merry-making Lambs.

All Herds and Flocks
Rejoice, all Beasts of thickets and of rocks.

Sing, Creatures, sing,
Angels and Men and Birds and everything.

All notes of Doves
Fill all our world: this is the time of loves.

Botanic Gardens - Easter 2009 (William Murphy) / CC BY-SA 2.0

(This poem is in the public domain.)

I've known about Christina Rossetti since I was in first grade, memorizing her poem "Who Has Seen the Wind?," a poem any prairie child can understand. Read more about Rossetti, a 19th Century poet, here. See more of her poems here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Generosity: Women's History Month

(photo creative commons)

Upon being introduced to a librarian recently, I was asked, "Did you know Edith?" I did. We could go on then, knowing that we were members of the same "club." Many people are part of that club who were taught by or worked for Miss Edith Siegrist.

She was an excellent teacher--firm and demanding, but also kind and encouraging. My friend and I worked for her in the university library during our years as students there.

After graduation, Miss Siegrist and I exchanged annual Christmas greetings. I enjoyed hearing about her travels,the books she was reading, playing in the church bell choir, and special luncheon dates. In return, seemed to enjoy hearing about mine. Every year, she offered encouragement to help me make the most of my abilities.

Born in 1925, Edith was an independent, professional woman in a time when that was not an easy way of life. She received many well-deserved honors including the Mountain Plains Library Association's Distinguished Service Award, the South Dakota Library Association's Librarian of the Year Award, and the American Library Association's Extraordinary South Dakota Librarian of the 20th Century Award (with her co-worker and friend, Elaine Meyer).


Her generosity of spirit went beyond Christmas card notes and academic guidance, however. When she passed away last summer, big news revealed that she bequested monetary gifts toward several organizations, including a large donation to help the Vermillion Public Library reach its fundraising goal to begin constructing an addition. This expansion and renovation will provide space for materials and programming for generations to come.

I'm thankful to be a member of the "club" of Miss Siegrist's students and am happy to meet others from that club. We know now that her most important lessons reached far beyond classroom walls.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bearing Witness: Women's History Month

(© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

Women's History Month usually reaches back across the decades or even centuries for examples of women who broke ground in various life arenas. Today, I'm going to reach back just a little while and mention Marie Colvin, American journalist for the London Sunday Times.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because she recently made news as one of several journalists killed during a shelling in Homs, Syria. Or maybe you heard her name in the news a few years ago when she lost her eye during Tamil Tiger attacks in Sri Lanka. Or you may have wondered about a picture of a woman reporter wearing an eye patch.

(photo by syriana2011 creative commons)

Generally, reporters are supposed to get their bylines into the news, not themselves. Why would a middle-aged woman continue to put herself in dangerous places? Marie Colvin went where others were afraid to go so that she could bear witness to what was happening in the world, according to NPR's Phillip Reeves. Read the transcript here. Reeves closes his remarks with this: "She stressed the importance of continuing to cover conflicts. She acknowledged it is very dangerous. But she said people have a right to know what their governments are doing in their name, a right that Colvin and several others have just died for."

This report, and this one from the New Yorker, and this fabulous portrait and article with links from BoingBoing (caution: language alert) made me appreciate Ms. Colvin and everyone else who seeks to bear witness and bring on-the-spot information to the rest of us.

And I ask myself and you, gentle reader, to what do you bear witness? Is it big enough to stake our lives on?