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Friday, December 23, 2016

Candle in the Window, Wreath Upon the Door

This past Wednesday was the first official day of winter though the birds have been back for awhile now and the cold weather bullied autumn away weeks ago. Hard to believe that tomorrow is Christmas Eve.

Growing up, Christmas preparations could only begin after the magical tenth of December (my birthday). Lately, however, it seems I've begun preparing for Christmas earlier and earlier. More and more it seems that the world needs those candles shining in the window. More and more, whatever our faith or personal credo,  we need to believe in the spirit of peace and goodwill.

It seems this year has been exceptionally difficult. The radio choir sings children's faces all aglow, but the dusty, blood-and-tear-stained children of Aleppo haunt me. The bandaged face of a young man whose only desire was to live in freedom followed me as I filled my shopping cart with gifts for my family.

Most of what I write is middle grade historical fiction.  If I've learned anything from my research it's that the peaceful times we recall fondly were not really all that peaceful. While I was gleefully opening my Tiny Tears or Chatty Cathy, children in Vietnam were being born with birth defects from the endless war in their backyard. While we continue to sip our champagne, others are struggling to find clean water for their families. While many danced in squares, line and circles, others still labored in the fields.

I suppose this doesn't seem much like a holiday post. This December we are all exceptionally weary, maybe even afraid. Yet, I can't dismiss those candles in the window. That light in the darkness. That's the thing about hope...true hope continues to exist despite condition or circumstance. There is something exceptionally, extraordinarily beautiful in that.

So, this year, as I do every year (although maybe a bit earlier than usual) I placed on my door a festive Christmas wreath. And this year, as I do every year (although maybe a bit more fervently than usual) I hold in my heart a prayer for peace.

Happy, happy holidays to each and every one of my readers! I hope a little light always shines in your heart!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

While Waiting for Take-Off

Unless my thoughts hold a special remembrance of  a particular person or event, I tend to post my ponderings closer to the end of the month. That's because, despite my best efforts, most days charge by me, leaving me astounded that a week, month, or sometimes an entire season is already coming to a close. It seems just yesterday we were packing our car for Long Beach Island— how is it that my son has been in college a month? that already we are bringing in the lawn chairs and stacking fire wood?

This atypical, early-in-the-month entry is my best effort to stay ahead of the darkening days of October.  The next few months will be uncharacteristically busy as I trade my quiet, at-home writing days (with the occasional field trip to the library) for visits to Nashville, Atlanta, and Miami. I'll be packing for a sojourn to the Great Dismal Swamp, and traveling to festivals and bookstores across New York. 

I look forward to all these opportunities. I look forward to meeting students, teachers, librarians and other writers; I'm profoundly grateful for the opportunity to discuss the writing process and the characters I've come to love. This go round I will mostly be talking about Grace and her family, but I haven't forgotten Rebekkah, Matt or Serafina. Writing, like reading, changes us. It is impossible to enter the heart of another without gaining a change in perspective or a deepening appreciation for what it means to be human.

So here it is, late afternoon. The third of October. A copper sunlight shines through the still summer-blue sky. This month, my best effort is rewarded with the realization that no matter how swiftly the days charge by, or how crowded the calendar becomes, I am lucky to be doing what I love...I am lucky to be writing, to be visiting new places and making new friends...I am lucky to know that old friends - both real and imagined - are never far and will be waiting for me when the November sky grows dark.

Friday, September 16, 2016

On My Parents' Anniversary ~ My Own Family Album

A few weeks ago, while going through some of my father's old papers, I came across a neatly-folded, blue onion-skin letter postmarked the Vatican, September 25, 1950. The letter was from a family friend, a priest, who was expressing his congratulations and regret that he had not been able to attend the wedding of my parents. How many times, Father Cavicchi wrote, did we talk about the tree which is planted and watered and tendered for the purpose of getting flowers in spring? Father continued to compare marriage to a flower which unfolds in freedom and selflessness; he closed with heartfelt blessings for my father and mother.

All Father's blessings came true, I told my sister, and was immediately reminded of a poem by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I first read the poem in a slim volume tucked in a hefty stack of biographies and religious books kept on a side table in the living room. I remember talking about the poem with my mother but I don't recall it having the same meaning to me as it did to her or as it does to me today. 

What follows are excerpts from Anne Morrow's tribute to her  parents. 

Family Album 
(on a photograph of my mother and father just married) 
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 

My parents, my children:
Who are you, standing there
In an old photograph— young married pair
I never saw before, yet see again...

I who gaze at you and recognize
The budding gestures that were soon to be
My cradle and my home, my trees, my skies,
I am your child, staring at you with eyes
Of love and grief for parents who have died;
But also with omniscience born of time,
Seeing your unlined faces, dreams untried,
Your tentativeness and your brave attack,
I am no longer daughter gazing back;
I am your mother, watching far ahead...

I long to comfort you for all you two 
In time to come will meet and suffer through,
To answer with a hindsight-given truth
The questions in those wondering eyes of youth.
I long to tell you, starting on your quest,
You'll do it all, you know, you'll meet the test.

Mother compassionate and child bereft
I am; the past and present, wisdom and innocence,
Fused by one flicker of a camera lens
Some stranger snapped in laughter as he left
More than a half century ago—
My children, my parents.

Today would have been my parents' 66th wedding anniversary. Father Cavicchi would be proud. I'm proud. With tenderness, love, and longing, I whisper to the heavens. You did it all. You met the test.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Yesterday my son reminded me that he had only two weeks left at home before leaving for college. Of course, he needn't have said anything; it would be hard not to remember— every corner of our house is cluttered with  pre-college preparations. Blankets and pillows, sheets and towels, sneakers, sweaters, son will be leaving home with the best of everything we can afford.

Hopefully, he'll also be leaving with more than what we pack in crates and backpacks. 

Hopefully, he'll be leaving with a true sense of who he is and what he can accomplish. Hopefully, he already carries with him an awareness of his unique and immeasurable value. In this complicated and often contentious world, I hope he holds onto his positive attitude, his faith, and his individual voice. I hope he keeps his open and empathetic heart. Most of all, I hope he knows how much he is loved and how much he will be missed. 

Two weeks. Not a very long time. Especially with so much shopping, laundry and packing left to be done. 

Hopefully, the essentials were safely tucked away a long time ago.

one of the neater, more photogenic piles...


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Blogging from LBI ~ Summer of the Sand Dollar

My extended family has been vacationing in the same house on Long Beach Island for twenty years. Our sand bucket is filled to the brim with memories— some, as the summer of my wedding,  the summer of scraped toes, the summer of rusty water, or the one dubbed the summer of fried eggs and hurricanes, are singular memories. Others coalesce like cups of cold water poured into buckets of aged, sun-warmed brine: breakfasting with the gulls... walking the water's edge with my curly-tops... rainy day scrabble or marathon Crack-the-Case games... tables scraped together for breakfast at Uncle Wills... seaside gourmet lunches...festive Fourth of July celebrations...... surf and turf dinners prepared by my sister-in-law Theresa, chef extraordinaire... the list goes on and on...

This year we've been blessed by two full weeks to linger and though we are only at the halfway mark, we've already dubbed this summer, the Summer of the Sand Dollar.

Theresa found the first one and we all marveled at it's fragile beauty. The sand dollar's presence seemed rare and serendipitous, but then, before long, Theresa found another... and another... then I did...and then anyone who went looking seem to come back with at least one delicate star-embossed disk. Google research explained that sand dollars are the exoskeletons of flattened sea creatures who move along the ocean floor on tiny spines and burrow in the sand. A local commenter testily suggested that the proliferation of sand dollars on LBI was probably the result of beach replenishment— we were rebuilding our beaches at the expense of the precious sea creatures who live in the seabed.

The commenter's observation only deepens our appreciation of this year's fragile mementoes. And despite research recasting our wondrous finds as common sea creatures, each sand dollar that we've found remains an exquisite treasure. Though each has singular markings, all bear the same indelible star on their back, a delicate bond to the sea and to the long hours spent hidden in the comfort of their ocean home.

For a week every summer— for two weeks this summer— LBI is our ocean home. And though some summers have distinct markings, every summer is embossed with  the same indelible memory:  long hours spent in the company of family, our anchor in the passing of time and the inevitable changes in each of our lives.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When Grown-Ups Cry

In light of what happened the Sunday before last in Orlando, the blog post I had been working on seemed trite and uninspired. While social media shimmers in rainbows and heated conversations about gun control continue to evolve into rants about constitutional rights, I am finding it difficult to express my thoughts about this latest, heinous act of violence.

The following poem appears in my New York Reader (Sleeping Bear Press, 2008). Originally submitted as September Lullaby and written to soothe a child in times of sorrow, I should perhaps have given it a less restrictive title to be shared with a less restrictive audience.


Where are the stars on this dark, dark night?
Where is their tiny twinkling light?
Where is the music?
Where is the song?
Where are the colors?
Something is wrong.

Sometimes stars hide in the clouds,
and their light seems far away.
Sometimes voices are hushed and still
and the rainbow fades to gray.

Sometimes the world is topsy-turvy.
and nobody really knows why;
sometimes sad things happen
and even grown-ups cry.

But always, my child, always,
you are safe here in my arms.
The world may be topsy-turvy,
but I will shelter you from harm.

Always the stars are twinkling,
even when clouds hide their light;
I promise you voices will sing again,
and colors will again shine bright.

I promise there is always tomorrow
for starlight and rainbows and song—
my love will always surround you,
unchanged, unbroken and strong.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sunshine and Tortoises

Thanks to Kwame Alexander's latest verse novel, BOOKED, my own verse novel, ALL THE BROKEN PIECES has awakened renewed attention. How did I miss this? one teacher wrote. I can't wait to share it with my students. Kwame's inclusion of my characters in his book reveals his open, generous spirit.

A few weeks ago I met Kwame at a friend's house. Never one to be impressed by celebrities, I confess to being in awe of Newbery award winners, writer's who have opened their hearts and connected with readers in such a profound and positive way. I had read about Kwame's larger-than-life personality, his ability to fill a room with his voice, his personality, his stories. Kwame, it seemed, was like the force of the mid-day sun— unrelentingly bright, too bright for a tortoise who is ready to slip into her shell or burrow underground at a moment's notice. I was worried about meeting him. Worried about being too quiet. Worried about being too talkative. Worried about being out of my shell. 

I shouldn't have wasted my worries. What I read about Kwame was true. He is kind, open-hearted and gregarious. He's that guy you wish were your friend, the guy who knows just what to say and how to say it...the guy who makes everyone feel welcome and appreciated.

That's the thing about sunshine— sometimes, even the tortoise is delighted to bask in its warmth!

Friday, April 29, 2016

In Praise of Dandelions

Spring is already a month old, and our brave first blossoms still shiver in the early morning chill, but an abundance of dandelions promise that warmer days are coming.

One of my favorite springtime memories is of a certain curly top thumping at my back door. I had just finished mopping the kitchen floor when she burst in with muddy shoes and beaming face.
     Look Mommy, she said, opening her arms and spilling a bright bundle of fresh-picked sunshine all over my spotless floor. These are for you!

People may disparage dandelions but I never will. Dandelions are often a child's first flower, a gift from their heart freely given.

Despite the morning chill, Happy Spring! Happy Day! Happy Memories! And if you see a dandelion, smile!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

It's been a busy month, but here is a short post for Vietnam Veteran's Day — those who want to read more of my thoughts about Vietnam Veterans, may turn to my November, 2013 post,  The Veteran of Washington Square.

The real role models
are Ray and Chris,
Sam and AJ,
kids who graduated
from high school
and put off going to college...
Kids who gave up their youth—
and for some, their lives.

all the broken pieces, Scholastic Press 2009

Friday, February 19, 2016

Thoughts on Race: The Poet-Professor and The College Sophomore

This month our book club choice was Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie. Americanah is a sweeping novel which explores, among so many other things, identity, race and the nature of love. Our book club discussion was heartfelt and revealing, but seemed to only scratch the surface.

I never even got to mention Robert Hayden.

Somewhere in my late teens, while researching in my college library, I came across a book of poems that someone had left on the table. In typical procrastination mode, I remember flipping through the book and falling in love with the poem Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden. I wasn't familiar with Hayden but there was was no internet then, no immediate access to information— I made a copy of the poem but must have pushed aside any curiosity about the poet and buckled down to my research project. 

Last week, while reading Americanah, I came across an allusion to Hayden. Since I didn't recognize the name, I googled him and discovered that he was a black poet born in a poor neighborhood in Detroit, the first African American to be appointed consultant to the Library of Congress. I wondered if I was familiar with any of his poems. 

One click and our beautiful age of technology transported me to the beige Formica table on the pristine second floor of the Montclair State library. I had just spread out my papers when I noticed the poetry anthology and thumbed through it.  

Those Winter Sundays touched a poignant chord in my emerging recognition of love's austere and lonely officesDismissing the poet's fear of chronic angers, I thought of my own father. His smooth, gentle hands didn't bank fires, but he did wake early to leave for work in the city, often staying until the last bus brought him home. Like the poet, I had never thanked him.  

While issues surrounding race, equality and what it means to be American continue to be discussed and debated, decades ago, an African-American poet-professor and a white bell-bottomed college sophomore proved what we are still struggling to learn— that which is deepest and most tender inside us transcends the cracked-but-far-from-crumbling-walls I wish I could tear down.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Problem with History Books

Now that my upcoming verse novel is firmly in the hands of my publisher, I've turned to my newest WIP. I actually started this piece months ago and though I'm quite excited about it, I've  discovered that research has its limits. 


The problem
with history books
is too many 
and not enough 
though even names
tell so little


did he read books,
and if so,
what was his favorite?

did he like to sing?
did he whistle?

when he shaved,
did soft humming
with the scent
of citrus and wood?

or was his stubble
a scant wisp,
a single gossamer 
scarcely visible
but to him.

I wonder, then,
what was
his mother's name?

and when the rumble
in the distance 
grew closer,
and the trembling
in the trenches
grew louder,

did he think of her?

or was there 
a secret sweetheart
whose name
he'd never whisper
in the dark?

stacks of history books
don't say;
even favorited websites 
are silent.

Research has its limits.