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Sunday, December 23, 2018

In a Tangle of too-much Tinsel

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas as I do, I wish all my readers the peace and beauty of this season of hope and promise. As I carry on the traditions of my family, it is impossible not to think of past Christmases. 

My father was a commercial artist with a keen sense of artistry and perfection. He also loved the delicacy of tinsel, a fondness which my siblings and I did not share. In our Christmas Eve enthusiasm, amid the smell and sputter of frying fish, with carols playing in the background and the yule log flickering on the TV, we did not have the patience for the time consuming application of singular silver strands and much preferred the placement of tangled clumps. Too much tinsel, my father would say, removing and returning knotted clusters into impatient hands. Though we no longer decorate our tree with strips of foil,  I do keep an unopened box of tinsel in the bottom of my family's ornament box. Every year, with carols playing softly in background, and real logs crackling in the fireplace, I still hear my father's voice...not too much tinsel, Ann.  Simple is best.

Like presents stacked
in falling snow, 
the years pile on

and perfectly preserved
in the silent, white cold

are Christmas mornings
and Christmas memories—

snowball cookies, struffoli,
and Christmas bread
shaped like frosted trees;

the crinkle of paper,
the laughter and song,

the circle of family,
of love unchanged;

such a gift —
when the wind gusts
and the snow drifts,

such a gift, to remember,
to quite simply remember

tiny twinkling lights
in a tangle of too-much tinsel.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Something Wonderful

In August I learned that my editor would be on sabbatical until the new year and publication of my forthcoming verse novel had been postponed until spring. Also postponed was the publication of a handcrafted pamphlet to be printed by a small but creative press. Small presses have limited staff and unexpected situations often affect the production schedule. I was disappointed by the delays, but the lull in publication seemed a perfect time to revamp my website. Unfortunately, revamping a website is not as easy as I thought it would be. A feeling of futility quickly took hold and did not alleviate the void I sometimes feel when not researching or writing. 

I've written about this before— when something I've been working on for so long is finally book-bound, I experience an emptiness that borders on loneliness.  Characters who have become so real, who have risen with me and accompanied me throughout my days are suddenly silent. With my mind echoless and emptied of what ifs, I suddenly feel friendless and alone. I'm not sure all writers experience this, but I do. 

Before beginning another project, I organize my notes— I file the unused thoughts, collect the excised words and quietly go about my day wondering what I'll write next or even if they'll be a next. What if no characters come to call? What if I remain in this soundless gray cave forever, with only a lackluster website to keep me company? 

Then something wonderful happens. Something exquisite. Something quietly extraordinary.  A small platinum pin drops in a dark, silent cave. I see the slim spark, hear a silvery ping and happily spend my days searching to find that sliver of light, straining to hear his or her shy voice emerge from the shadows. 

The path to publication is often filled with delays and disappointments, but today I heard a platinum ping. I pulled out a clean notepad and sharpened pencil. Updated pictures and fancy fonts will have to wait— there is something I need to find out first— someone I need to know. 

I look forward to working with my editor again. Hopefully, next year will bring more childhood dreams sitting on a shelf, and more opportunities to talk with students, librarians and teachers.  But being a writer is not about being published. It isn't about a dazzling website with updated pictures and fancy fonts. Being a writer is writing and something wonderful happens when a platinum pin falls in a darkened cave and I hold my breath searching for the story.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Mama Said

It might have been the most brilliant blog post ever. Words and ideas had been tumbling in my brain all morning. I knew just what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. Poetry rather than prose this month. Wow. What a first line! What a metaphor! Let me just finish what I started yesterday. I just need to attach this one PDF file then I'll hit send and blast out this month's post. The new website is still not up and running (getting closer) but I do want to keep up my blog. I've been neglecting it lately and want to settle down and write something more heartfelt. Been thinking about what I wanted to say for days, and this morning, the perfect words popped into my head. Haven't set anything down yet, but the whole  poem is practically written already.  Already the morning sun has burned off  yesterday's leftover clouds and it's going to be a glorious day. I'll get so much done! First the blog post, then  back to my WIP. Pour the coffee and get cracking! Such a great opening line...such a great metaphor...

Hmm..... wonder why my PDF files are's always been so easy to convert PAGES into PDF....let me try this..nope.... still gray... hmm...just downloaded an update—better check the support sites, maybe there's a glitch...oh, here's something, I''ll try that...hmm! guess not...let me try—nope...maybe I should just call support...I don't want to waste time with so many words tumbling in my brain...hello, yes, well I already tried that but I'll try again...nope still gray...still gray...sure I'll share my screen...sure I'll hold...hmm...another royal baby...another political  rally...oh, hello, yes, yes, I'm still here...again...try that again?...nope, still gray...shut down and restart? no problem...nope, still gray.... what keys do you want me to hold down again? oh, ok...yes the screen is blinking...yes, the apple is back...yes, I let go of the start button...nope..files are still gray...still gray...still gray...well yes, I understand...updates have glitches...I understand...thanks for the work-around tip...I'm sure the problem will be resolved shortly...thanks for your help...

The late afternoon sun bathes the yard in a coppery light and my brilliant blog post? Up in smoke, gray and irretrievable as my phantom files... mama said there'd be days like this.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Autumn Haiku

Been working on creating a new website which I had hoped would be up and running by now. In a desperate (and ridiculous) attempt to keep a New Year's resolution from a few years ago, I am posting this picture and Autumn Haiku which links to last month's reflection and reveals my losing battle with the onrush of time.

Already August
swoops to Almost October—
Where'd September go?!?!?!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Yikes! August Already?

The poem below was inspired by a recent  monologue of Jimmy Kimmel as well as my own backyard observations. I'm not sure how often comedians and poets contemplate the same phenomenon, but certainly the arrival of August elicited the same response from most everyone I know (and many of whom I don't).

You and your friends
always sound 
so surprised when I arrive,
but certainly,
 (especially at your age), 
you knew I’d return
as surely as you knew
I’d leave again.

Why, then, are you surprised?
Patiently, I waited 
as I always wait—
just around around the bend,
in the lengthening shadows,
for the fading call 
of the cricket and katydid. 

Finally, when the endless blue 
bamboozled you,
when the wisteria
wrapped you in her woody arms;
and the honeysuckle and hyacinth 
lulled you to forgetfulness,

I approached. 

My suitcase was packed
(as it always is)
with peaches and pears; 
with mulberries and melons;
goldenrod, sedum,
and well-worn passports 
for the warbler and sparrow.

You take what I have to give
(as you always do),
and when my suitcase 
is empty,
you shudder
and shut me away
never noticing the message 
tucked in my side pocket—

time passes. be kind. forgive your enemies.
most of all, 
do not be surprised—
winter is waiting just around the bend.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Sweet Vacation and Sneak Preview

This year's vacation, sweet as it always is, was made sweeter by an email from my editor at Scholastic who notified me that my newest manuscript had been accepted for publication in the spring of next year. It takes me a long time to research and write a book; my stories go through numerous revisions with many of my agonized words landing on the cutting room floor. Here's an outtake from my upcoming novel which I will write more about as it nears publication...

whenever people gathered,
the question was asked—
Where were you 
when it happened?
And then, 
How did you survive?

The important people,
the doctors, lawyers,
and citizens of great
would share their stories,
and we'd mourn their loss
or celebrate their courage.

I also survived and my story
has been told
by someone who matters,
remembered by name—

but even he now lies
beneath the earth,
the name on his headstone
washed away by time.

What should be remembered,
what matters most
is that we were both saved 
by gentle, loving, dog
who cared not a whit
that earlier in the day
I had been sweeping floors
and emptying chamberpots.

More to come!
My Vacation Office

Friday, June 29, 2018

History 101

The saga taking place on our borders is a sad reminder that time moves in slow concentric circles and that as a people, we often fall far short of our lofty American ideals. 
Decades ago, afraid that refugees were a threat to national security, Franklin D. Roosevelt turned away hundreds of desperate individuals escaping Nazi persecution. Finally, bowing to increasing pressure to do something, Roosevelt capitulated and 1944, 1000 mostly Jewish refugees were invited to wait out the war at an abandoned army base in Oswego, New York. Considered guests of the President, these displaced individuals had no legal standing and were expected to return to their homeland after the war.  Until that time they were kept behind a chain link fence — adding humiliation to the unspeakable traumas they had already suffered.
For generations, thousands of accompanied— and unaccompanied — children  arrived in Ellis Island with the blessings of parents who hoped that their children could forge a better life than they themselves could offer. My own grandfather was seven years old and traveling with a local family when he left Italy to meet an older sister living in New York. Danger often pushes us to make unthinkable decisions. Poverty does the same thing.
I doubt there are any readers who would condone Roosevelt’s initial choice to turn away so many desperate people seeking shelter, many of whom later perished in concentration camps. And whether or not they were accompanied by their parents,  how many of us are not grateful for the courage of immigrant ancestors who gave us our own American roots? 
Of course there is a great difference between legal and illegal entry, but desperation often forces difficult, life and death decisions. As in every choice set before us, kindness and compassion should always trump rigid man-made rules.
History is a  perceptive and truth-bound teacher but her lectures drone on and on to inattentive, apathetic learners. At best, we watch out the window, selfishly disengaged and absorbed in the minutia of our own lives. At worst, we are callous egotists, indifferent to the needs and suffering of others, wielding power instead of pity, stubborn righteousness in lieu of compassion. 
The more I read and research, the more I realize that History is not simply a indifferent record of the past. To those who are listening, History issues a vital warning about the present.  As human beings we are capable of great kindness and compassion, but we are also capable of great cruelty, self-centeredness, and indifference.  Be vigilant, History seems to implore. Be braveDo what is right before what is wrong destroys the good you have achieved.
As we sit daydreaming, History is taking notes. Years from now the conscientious student will wonder how we let it happen. With so many high ideals, how did we lose our way?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thoughts on Research, Racism and Role Models

Recently the New York Times began a series of obituaries written for noteworthy citizens who  had been  overlooked at the time of their actual death. As the Times states, Since 1851, obits in the New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now we are adding stories of other remarkable people. 

Always alert for tales of the forgotten, especially those that reflect a  refusal to be defined by any force that seeks to denigrate or stifle, I was delighted to read these miniature biographies. These were truly exceptional women, women who had contributed to both science and the arts, true role models, inspiration for a new generation. I decided to dig deeper and immediately set to work— new notebook, sharpened pencil, and special library requests for books that were long out of print or otherwise inaccessible. Boundless enthusiasm is always the hallmark of early research when voices from the past first invite me into their lives. Unthinkable! eagerly scribbled in the margins of my new notebook, a perfect title and first line for a possible picture book. 

Halfway down page 108 of a book borrowed from a nearby college, I put down my pencil. In a litany of accomplishments I stumbled on a line that derailed me. My subject was a racist. How could such an gifted and enlightened individual harbor such ugly, racist thoughts? 

Because my blog is a place for personal reflection and not to provide an exposé of historical figures, I won't be naming my subject. Let readers celebrate her accomplishments and let her ugly private thoughts remain buried in an out-of-print, not easily accessible narrative. For myself, however, I cannot unknow what I know. 

Some may argue that my subject was a product of her time; that we cannot judge people from the past by contemporary standards; that it is not our place to scratch too deeply into another’s person's private beliefs or politics. But if we are all and always the product of a given time, how does anything ever change? Civilization only moves forward when individuals are sensitive to eternal truths despite their society's restrictions. Isn't that what the Times was celebrating? Isn't that what they were rectifying by these long overdue obituaries? 

If my subject could see that a woman was equal to a man despite the limits of her generation, why could she not also see that the color of one’s skin does not determine a person’s worth or intellect? Why did she not also realize that poverty often stems from limitations imposed by the ones with the most power—  the same limitations that decreed a woman less capable than a man?

We rightfully admire forward-thinking people who step outside society’s unjust boundaries. Remarkable people should be remembered and celebrated. But if, in looking back we stumble upon something wrong or offensive, it seems that we should pause and note that too— not to chastise or vilify, or muddy the waters, but to hold racism’s ugliness to the light, to prevent it’s continued proliferation, and remind ourselves that we can be greater than our role models.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Sound of Time Passing

We very recently discovered that Smudges our well-loved but ill-behaved dog had grown deaf. Unrolling a strip of aluminum foil no longer brings him to the kitchen from his sunny snooze spot upstairs wildly barking and chasing his tail in chastisement. The doorbell barely registers a peep unless he is close enough to see the UPS man approaching the door. Then as expected, he valiantly protects me with loud if not ferocious threats aimed at the shadow outside.
Smudges is a rescue dog, adopted more than ten years ago when I realized that with my daughter in high school, the deadline was fast approaching to keep that promise to get a dog someday. Seems that someday had popped off the timeline and turned into tomorrow with the blink of an eye.
The next adoption day at the pet store brought us to a crowd of puppies and people. My daughter picked out Smudges immediately and immediately we were advised to put him back. That one is just trouble. Even placed him on a farm hoping the other dogs would teach him his place, but he just never learned. The woman in the blue shirt looked at my daughter and son, then at me.  If you are looking for a dog to play in the park during the day and rest at your feet at night, this isn’t the one.
I was looking for a dog to play with my kids and rest at my feet while I wrote, but my daughter had already made up her mind. This was a dog who was simply  misunderstood, maybe as she sometimes felt. She put the dog back in the box, but only to convince my husband and me that this was the one.
After the requisite ultimatums and promises, we finally agreed that this soft, freckled, bright-eyed bundle was the destined family pet. 
In the meantime, someone had snatched Smudges and was arrogantly walking around with him cradled in her arms. We followed the woman around the store for awhile, and I finally asked her if she planned on keeping the dog she held. I think so, she said smugly.
That was it. My daughter was done. No other dog would suffice. We left the store and drove around as if we had lost a beloved family member.
Let’s just go back inside and see if he really is gone, I said. Maybe she changed her mind.
The haughty woman had changed her mind (probably on the advice of the woman in the blue shirt) and my family happily left the pet store with our incorrigible puppy, one who despite numerous training sessions still forces us to chase him around the neighborhood with treats and threats if someone leaves the door open, who still barks at beams of light and dog treats that do not toss themselves when he wants to play. 
Smudges plays less frequently now; his bright eyes have grown filmy and he’s sprouted numerous warts, but no dog is more loved, and there is surprisingly little joy in unrolling aluminum foil in silence.
         Onedays and somedays keeping popping off that timeline and turning into tomorrow.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

An Open Letter to the Students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida

You don’t know me but I know you.  I have watched your valiant young faces and listened to your powerful voices. My heart broke with you on Valentines Day and again six days later when the Florida house of representatives voted down a motion to revive the bill to ban assault rifles. Yesterday when the CEO of Dicks  announced that the Sporting Goods Store would no longer sell assault style weapons, I knew that change was possible and that your voices are spreading the seeds of that change.
We have already asked so much of you — so much more than any child or young adult should be forced to give— but I beg you to continue the fight. Don’t be discouraged by those who chide you for your naiveté or seek to discredit you with false theories about the root cause of your intentions. 
You are not alone!
So, so many adults stand with you. We promise to continue the fight with the strongest weapon we have— the ballot box. We are grateful for your courage and hopeful that with your fresh voices we will be able to accomplish the sane solutions to gun violence which have eluded us. 
Like you, I cannot fathom any reluctance to reasonable restraints which would prevent our schools and playgrounds from becoming killing fields. Like you, I do not understand that there are those adults who do not recognize that the life of one human being is infinitely more important than the right to own assault weapons. Why does anyone need an assault weapon? Its very name suggests attack and not defense.  
I have spent my professional career caring for children, first as a teacher and now as a writer. Each of my books emphasize my sincere belief that every one of us, no matter our gender or race, is more alike than different and that even the smallest act of kindness will make the world a better place. Most of my books are historical fiction. There is no small amount of dark times in history for me to explore, but it is in the darkest times that heroes emerge.
You are my heroes and I beg you to continue to find encouragement and strength in each other and the many adults who love and support you.
I am one of them.


Ann E. Burg

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Perks of Being a Writer

Being a writer has lots of perks— flexibility to follow my own schedule with daily disruptions that require far less mental anguish than the years when I punched the clock (no one is waiting for me to unlock the break room or open the classroom door); freedom to work in the clothing of my choice which means that everyday is dress down day— and I'm not talking crisp jeans and trendy shirt—I'm talking faded jeans and frayed sweatshirt or favorite green sweater sadly stained with chlorine; and socks but no shoes (unless it's winter and I am venturing for the mail).

Some perks turn into liabilities. The ability to eat lunch whenever I want often turns into the simple ability to eat WHENEVER,  and even the ability to mingle with characters of my own choosing  sometimes leads to a longing for someone whose voice isn't the echo of my own heart.

I often miss the camaraderie of the teacher's room and even more, I miss the students, their chatter, their laughter, their questions (though grading their research papers, not so much).

Luckily, I still visit schools, both in person and virtually.

Last month, during a virtual visit, a student came  to the microphone and asked how I, a white woman, could write about slavery. There's been a lot of talk about cultural appropriation and I was harshly criticized on social media for exactly what this boy was asking me. But this boy wasn't antagonistic, just curious and very DIRECT. I answered him the best I could, admitting to the limits of anyone ever understanding how another person feels inside, particularly one who has suffered such unkindness and experienced so much injustice. But I also told him that I believed that people were more alike than different. I agreed that it would seem that his life and mine had very little in common and yet, on a deeper level, we both had the same needs, the same hopes— food, shelter and people to understand and care for us.

I said that there wasn't much optimism for the world if we just focused on our differences, but that writing— and reading— allow us to put ourselves in another person's shoes. Every time we open a book, we open our hearts.

The boy from Baltimore nodded. Thank you, he said. Wish I could put those words on a poster.

Being a writer has lots of perks. But the best one isn't what happens in the quiet of my kitchen as I tap at keys in my frayed, fading sweatshirt, sneaking cookies to myself. More than a perk, it's an honor to write for young people— to be reminded every day that we are more alike than different and that truth, beauty and friendship are always worth the struggle.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Repost: Haiti Land of Faith, Love and Hope

     There are places in this world the are downtrodden, numerous places that have been scorched by poverty and injustice, by war or natural disasters. The people who populate these places are as significant as the wealthiest or most powerful American. To think otherwise is to live in a country betrayed by unbridled arrogance.
Writing is the only way I know to combat bigotry. For that reason I am reprinting this post from September 2013.

In my last blog, I promised to share a little of what I learned from writing  Serafina’s Promise. Since Serafina hits the bookshelves in a few days, it seemed like a good theme for my September post.

I knew very little about Haiti before that Tuesday in January three years ago, when a powerful earthquake rumbled through what the media repeatedly described as the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The emerging and deeply-disturbing details horrified me. How could such desperate conditions exist less than two hours from the Florida coast? 

Days, weeks, months after the earthquake, Haiti continued to be tagged the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  Years into recovery and the label remains. Haiti, reporters often say, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere - as if this were somehow her official moniker -  the way we are officially the United States of America.

I don’t dispute the facts. More than half the population of Haiti lives in poverty with little or no food and limited access to fresh water. Relief efforts are hampered by policies and politics. The cycle of  hardship and suffering continues. But, if one scratches beneath the statistics, one finds a different Haiti - the Haiti where a struggling but proud people build families and communities based on faith, love, and hope.  It’s hard to imagine how hope can survive such desolation; the fact that it does is a tribute to the spirit and resiliency of the Haitian people. You beat the drum and you dance again, Serafina’s mother tells Serafina in one of my favorite Haitian proverbs.

People often think of writers as creators. We create characters who don’t really exist and then make up stories about them. Naturally it would seem to follow that we’re in complete control. We can make our characters go where we want them to go and do what we want them to do. In truth, it doesn’t work that way. We create the characters, yes... but somewhere along the writing line, our characters, like the humans they reflect, develop personalities of their own. Writers may choose the circumstances which their characters face - but a character’s emotions and reactions are elemental fibers. Writers twist - pull - dye - but we cannot change the fiber of a character - or a country. 

Serafina took me by the hand and led me through a country betrayed by nature and by forces both internal and external. She showed me a ravaged countryside where one must wake before dawn to gather water and often go to bed with an empty belly. But Serafina also brought me to a city alive with color and music. She showed me a culture rich in tradition. She shared her petty grievances and her grand hopes - what I learned from Serafina was that children growing up two hours from the coast of Florida are not very different from children growing up here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


While quite a few candy canes are still dancing in my head, it feels wonderful to be again sitting at my writing table with my laptop and open notebook. The time taken away from my daily writing schedule to celebrate the holidays has left me with a palpable eagerness to return to these quite moments.  Somehow, my thoughts and my hopes are never as clear as when I am sitting here mingling with my characters or reaching out to readers through my email or this blog.

I've a number of projects in the works for in the hands of my editor, another being revised, another in the research stage, and still another slated for publication later this year. This last mentioned project is a hybrid...verse but not a novel...printed but not a book (not quite)....they'll be more to come on this project soon...

Meanwhile, here I sit, eager, expectant and grateful for the joy of family, friends, (human, furry and feathered) and the opportunity to follow my heart with clicks, scribbles and continued hope.

May the unwrapped days of 2018 glisten with kindness!!!

Happy New Year!