Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sports, Writing and Life


I've been a University of Kentucky basketball fan almost as long as I've been a writer. When I was about twelve, I got one of those little transistor radios. We thought they were quite the trick. You didn't have to plug them in. You just had to have batteries. Then I could hold it up to my ear and turn my head this or that direction and get a pretty good signal. You young folks won't understand that, but you older folks will. I had to position the radio to catch those radio waves. And then I could listen to the UK ballgames. As well as I remember nobody else in my family listened to the games, but I loved hearing Cawood call the action. In my mind, I could see the players running up and down the court, racing out on fast breaks, making baskets, winning. I don't remember any of Rupp's championships. I do remember the year we thought they were going to win and then all the players had the flu or something when they got to the Final Four. I'm not like some fans who can name every player and the year they played. But I did enjoy listening.

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As to why I started listening, who knows? None of my family had ever gone to the university - to any university. But in Kentucky, if you weren't from Louisville and sometimes even if you were, you pulled for the Cats. I've heard lots of theories of why, but I think we just love basketball. We cheer for those little mountain town teams that go to the state tournament and pull off upsets. We never forget the guys who score like there's no tomorrow on their way to the state championship. We need winners. The UK basketball team was a winner then and now too.

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This year's team is in Houston at the Final Four. I filled out a bracket and put them all the way to the championship, but to be perfectly honest, I never thought they'd get past two games. That may be why it's so much fun to see them there. Last year we were expecting it. This year every win has been a hard fought treat. So I've got on my UK shirt and I'm ready to sweat through another game on Saturday.

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And of course I devour the newspaper articles about the team because that's part of the fun. I don't do the internet sites. There are only so many hours in the day and I've got a book to finish editing and another one to write. So as much as I like the Cats, I can't spend all my time checking out what the latest predictions or rumors are out there now.

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In the paper a week or so ago, the reporters were asking Brandon Knight - after the game where he missed every shot except the last one that won the game - if he was worried about shooting. Knight was as unflappable as ever even with all those microphones shoved in his face. He simply told them that he never lost confidence in his shot. That after a bad game he went in the gym for extra practice shooting, but he knew he had a good shot and the next time it would fall. Wayne Gretzky, the great hockey player once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

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That doesn't only apply to basketball or hockey although it's certainly true about those two sports. But you know what? It also applies to writing. I don't know how many people have told me that they "always wanted to write a book." I tell them that there are no age limitations for writers, and they smile and say maybe someday. But you know if you never take that shot, you'll never know if you can score or not. I started shooting stories at the writing goal a long time ago, but there have been plenty of times I have thought I shouldn't take another shot. But I kept taking my shots and eventually I got my game day legs and was able to win the game. Or maybe I should say the quarter or the play, because the game's not over yet. I'm hoping to have time for a few more winning shots at the goal.

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Anything we do in life is like that. We have to step to the line and take our shot. And when we miss, we have to jump right back in the game and give it another try.

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How about you? Are any of you sports fans? Do you ever relate the game of life to sports? Oh yeah, and go Big Blue. I'll either be extra happy Sunday when I come back to visit or saying wait till next year. :-)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tour Guide Ann



Everybody ought to try something new and challenging occasionally. Especially writers. While it's not likely I'd ever give skydiving a try unless somebody peeled my fingers off the airplane door and shoved me out, I am willing to try something new now and again. So Friday was one of those now and again days. This lovely bunch of ladies and a few others that my camera didn't capture asked me to give them a talk about writing Shaker books as they rode to a luncheon outing at the Shaker Village here in our area. They were part of a legal secretary group who were meeting in Georgetown.

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So I drove to Georgetown, found their hotel just as they were loading up the bus. Good thing I left a little early. I mean who would have thought a big hotel could hide. But this one did. But not good enough. I did find it. And got to meet a whole bus load of new friends. Of course then I had the challenge of turning into tour guide Ann. The organizer, Joe Ann, said I could sit down and talk, but how can you talk to a bunch of people without looking at them? I couldn't. At least I had to try to stand up and be a bonafide tour guide.

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It worked pretty good on the interstate. I didn't get motion sickness the way I had been afraid I might. My only problem was with my back to the road I couldn't tell when the bus driver was going to step on the brakes. A sudden stop can put a lot of emphasis on whatever you're saying. Trust me on that one. So I told the ladies to point and give me a heads up if something was about to happen. Believe it or not, we weren't far in the drive and I was talking away when one of the women gave a little gasp and pointed. A cow was walking along the opposite side of the interstate. The even funnier part is that it was when I was talking about how the Shakers improved the quality of the cattle in Kentucky by importing a breeding bull from England. I guess the good Lord was helping to illustrate my talk.

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So being tour guide Ann wasn't so bad. I got to meet a bus full of women having a good time out with friends. I got to talk about writing and eat a delicious lunch at the Shaker village. But that wasn't the only new thing I did this week. I spoke to the neighboring county's historical club the night before I was tour guide Ann. If I let myself think about it that was almost as challenging. These people love history and most of them probably knew way more history than me. I told them I always expect somebody to check my credentials at the door and then tell me that they are so sorry but there has been a terrible mistake. No way could anybody want me to speak. I'm just an old country girl who likes to tell stories. Well, write down stories. But amazingly enough, some people like to hear me talk about writing those stories and they laugh in the right places and carry home my books with them. Will wonders never cease.

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Oh yeah, and about that skydiving. I read this quote once and I don't have it in front of me so I don't know who said it, but it went something like this. "If at first you don't succeed..., don't try skydiving."

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Thanks for dropping by. Why don't you tell me some new thing you may have surprised yourself by doing?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Following the Story Trail


What is it about a creek like this that makes you want to keep on following it? To see what's around the next corner. To see where the water goes?
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This is my creek. At least as much as any creek can belong to anybody. I don't say it's mine just because it's on my land. I say it's mine because my feet like to follow its stepping stones. I say it's mine because hiking down through it or beside it brings me joy. I haven't been down the creek yet this year. I'm waiting for the time of the wildflowers and I suppose, time for the hike.
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I'm deep into edits on a book due out early next year and the changes I want to make in the story are more involved than my usual editing jobs. This time I'm having to whittle in places and enhance in other places. The story is there, but now I'm following down its creek and looking for some bright rocks I can point out or pitching out the dull rocks that are clogging up the flow of the story.
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A story is a bit like a running creek, at least my running creek. This creek, my creek starts with a spring of water spilling up out of the ground. A story starts with an idea springing out of one's imagination. The water begins rolling down the creek bed splashing past rocks and tumbling over little waterfall ledges. A good story too starts rolling along and twisting through the plot thickening rocks the writer throws into the stream. If the water stops running and gathers in a pool, it can get stagnant quick. The same with a story. No matter how beautiful the place, the story can't just sit there or it will be stagnant the same as the pool of water. It needs to rush on, find the next bunch of rocks, gather water perhaps from new springs as it keeps flowing to find its ending spot. For my creek that's a bigger creek and then the river. At least that's so when there's plenty of rain. When there's no rain, the creek just runs out of water and becomes a dry bed of rocks.
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I'm trying to keep my story from running out of water. I want it to keep flowing. I want it to be full of sparkling water/words that will quench the story thirst of my readers. And so I'm working over every page, studying my editor's suggestions, listening to every line of dialogue, testing every word in hopes that when the story is finally ready and in a reader's hands my story will look as enticing to that reader as my creek does to me in the spring.
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For those of you who might want another chance to win a book, I've got another blog interview up. I'm sure you've noticed that I've been talking to everybody I can about my new book Angel Sister. This time fellow Kentucky writer Karen Lange asked me some questons on her blog "Write Now." You can leave a comment on Karen's blog (see her posted rules) before Friday to have a chance to win a copy of what else - Angel Sister. http://www.karenelange.blogspot.com/
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And Friday I get to be tour bus guide for a day as I accompany a group of retired legal secretaries to the Shaker village near me. That may be interesting. Perhaps I should have told them that I sometimes get car sick. I'm hoping for smooth roads and few curves. I'll tell you how it goes Sunday and whether I had to have a barf bag.
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As always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring has sprung!


It's officially spring by the calendar now. And on top of that we're having this super moon. I went out to look for it a while ago and it must be cloudy. I did see it last night, but not as it was coming up the way I wanted to. I am seeing everybody's pictures - those people who went out to look at the right time. Oh well.

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I am enjoying the coming of spring. The flowers blooming. The birds singing. The basketballs bouncing. March madness, you know, and my team's still in the hunt for at least one more game. So I can enjoy the madness another week. Once they get beat out, I lose a lot of my enthusiasm.

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This flower picture is from a spring a few years ago, but I thought it looked very springy. But have you ever noticed how a lot of the early spring flowers are yellow? Then the other colors get added in. My mom enjoys flowers. We try to keep something blooming on the table in the room where she sits the most. It gives her something to talk about and to enjoy. Right now since it was just her birthday, she has three bunches of flowers, an orchid and an amaryllis about to open up. Lots to enjoy. And a way to bring spring inside to her.

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Last week I asked my Facebook friends what made them think spring. We came up with some good signs of spring. Those singing birds and blooming flowers. Lawnmowers roaring. Fish biting. Basketball tournaments - that March Madness. Kids riding bikes. Children swinging at the park. Bats hitting balls. Busy car washes. Colorful garden centers. Easter baskets.

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Of course some of the FB friends also mentioned sneezing. Pollen aplenty in the air. And I could mention grumbling about taxes. Getting receipts in order is not the happiest way to spend a spring day, but I had to do that this weekend.

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In my upcoming Shaker book, The Blessed, that's due out in the summer, I have a character who does a dandelion dance to welcome spring. So I looked for dandelions when I went for a walk today. I saw scads of some kind of teeny white flowers. I didn't see a single dandelion. I surely just missed them. Or maybe I didn't see them on purpose so I wouldn't have to try that dandelion dancing. :-) Easier to stick to writing about dancing for me. I have two left feet. Then again, a dance to welcome spring wouldn't necessarily have to be graceful - just joyful.

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Here's a quote from Nadine Stair who sounds as if she might jump right in with my character to do that dandelion dance. "If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies."


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So I hope you are embracing spring and living each day with joy. What makes you know it's spring?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mom celebrates 91 years


Today was my mother's 91st birthday. She has a hard time believing it. Every time we tell her she's 91, she gives us a look as if we must be crazy. Like there's no way she could be 91. She's even more surprised and amazed if we start telling her how old we - her daughters - are. I know the feeling. I think the same thing every time I stop and figure out how old my kids are now. You know, I didn't have a bit of trouble keeping up with their ages when they were 3 or 5 or even 18. But now, well, now I have to think about the year they were born and wonder where the years went.
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I think that is what Mom is wondering. When she was a little girl she told everybody she was going to live to be 100, and now she's actually in that last decade headed that way. Her sisters deserted her and went on to heaven, but she's still here. Still doing the best she can even though her body is getting weak on her and even worse, her memory is not only failing her, it sometimes plays tricks on her and makes her think things that didn't happen. Unfortunately, usually distressing things. Dementia is not for sissies.
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Mom was certainly never that. When a kid, she was out playing ball with the boys and wading in the creeks and catching toads and even sometimes snakes. She was afraid of very little and she knew how to enjoy life no matter the circumstances. So what if her family didn't have much money? They had food. They had a house. They had love.
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That's something Mom has always had - love. And plenty to give away. She was a wonderful mother who thought her daughters could do anything they set their minds to doing. We grew up working on our farm. We had chores and responsibilities and Mom expected us to act like we had some sense. But she also let us have plenty of freedom to explore the woods, to read library books, to find our way.
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Mom has seen a lot of changes in her lifetime. She warmed her feet at her father's blacksmith forge. She saw cars push horses and buggies off the roads. She carried plates of food out to hungry strangers during the Depression years. She saw her friends and brothers-in-law go off to war in WW II. Dad didn't go because he was a farmer. The government wanted to maintain a good food supply. She witnessed the lights coming on in her house when the electric coop pushed the lines out into the country. She gave birth to two babies at home and one in the hospital. She learned how to crank a car and start it so she could go visit her parents. She drove tractors and big trucks. And once when she was a kid she roller-skated eight miles to town. And back. One of her wedding gifts was a laying hen. She raised chickens to fry for supper and milked cows. She made lye soap and washed clothes with water she heated in an iron kettle over a fire in the back yard. She even learned to make souse. (If you don't know what that is or how that's made, you're better off not asking.) She claimed not to like cats, but let Maggie, a gray and white one, come in the house and sleep on the bed. When I got the dog hunger so bad all I could think about was getting a dog, she let a friend give me a pup. She bottle fed calves and lambs. And she liked to dress up in high heels and wear a dab of perfume behind her ears. She was president of the PTA and a 4-H leader. She worked as a clerk in a dress shop and a grocery store. She taught the grandkids how to play cards and didn't always let them win. She was a wonderful mother and grandmother too.
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She's still a wonderful mother. It's just that now her memory is failing her and her body is more and more fragile. But she takes it a day at a time and sometimes she remembers the good times when she was a kid. Those are the good stories. The ones I used to set the scene for my book, Angel Sister. And while Mom can't remember reading it, she's still glad it's there by her chair. Still glad to know each time I tell her that it is her story as much as it is mine.
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Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Season of Lent

Easter is late this year - actually almost as late in the year as it can ever be. The Sunday Easter falls on can be anywhere between March 22 and April 25. This year it's April 24. So most likely the kids won't have to hunt their Easter eggs in the snow. A couple of years ago all the grandkids had to wear coats over their spring Easter outfits. And who knows in Kentucky? They might have to this year too, but we've got more chance of a warm day.
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The Season of Lent started last week on Ash Wednesday. Lent Season isn't something the church I attend has ever focused on, but lately I seem to be hearing more people of many denominations talk about "giving up" something for Lent. The idea is to sacrifice something in order to do some soul searching and reflection. It begins on Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter, but the Sundays aren't counted in those forty days. Lent is a time for reflection and taking stock of one's spiritual life.
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You might also wonder why we don't have Easter on the same Sunday every year. That's a little complicated. In Western civilization, Easter is always celebrating on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon. The Paschal Full Moon is determined from historical tables. Beginning in 325 with the Council of Nicea, holy dates were established on an Ecclesiastical calendar after astronomers were able to predict the approximate dates of full moons in future years. So while in the beginning the date of Easter was said to be the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox, that's not exactly correct now. Instead of the first full moon, it's the Paschal Full Moon from a calendar established centuries ago. Confused yet? Me too.
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But I suppose the thing for Christians to remember during Lent is that it can be a time to focus more on things of the spirit. You can give up something dear to you for forty days and because you're giving that up, you become more aware of the reason you're denying yourself. I'm thinking it might also be a good time to begin something such as a more devoted study of the Scripture or more dedicated times of prayer. At the same time we shouldn't need to have to wait for a holy day to start good spiritual habits or good habits of any kind. But sometimes we need the incentive of a little push.
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So, are you giving up something for Lent? Does that sacrifice draw you closer to the Lord?
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Thanks for reading. Also, I did a guest interview for The Writer's Window. Check it out Monday, March 14, at www.kayedacus.com/2011/03/14/writers-window-ann-h-gabhart/. If you answer my question at the end of the interview, you get a chance to win an autographed copy of Angel Sister. Jill Eileen Smith was on Kaye's site last Monday talking about her writing and her new book, Bathsheba. It's fun getting to know the people behind the books.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Springing Forward




This is a wild hyacinth from years past. It's too early for it to be in bloom yet this year, but sometimes we have to anticipate the good things coming. Actually those leaves behind the hyacinth bloom are some of the flowers that bloom earliest - twinleafs. You can see where they get their name. The blooms of that plant have delicate white petals and they come and go quickly. Some years I see them and some years - if I don't time my walks right - I just see the fallen petals and the lush leaves. The wild hyacinths stay in bloom much longer.

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It's not spring yet. We have to wait a couple more weeks for the official start of that, but we're reaching for spring and our eyes are on the lookout for proof - blooming flowers. I almost stopped in the middle of the road the other day when I saw crocuses. That would have made an interesting insurance report. Having to admit I got rear-ended because I wanted to see a flower. Of course after this winter, the insurance adjuster might not have held me at fault.

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We're springing forward to daylight savings time on Sunday. I'm going to have to reset my head to get up earlier. Not easy to do. But I do enjoy the early morning hours when the house is quiet and I can imagine writing a thousand words. It doesn't happen that much. I have too many delaying tactics. But with deadlines popping up all around me like those wildflowers in the woods will be doing soon, I need to come up with get to work tactics instead of the delaying ones.
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What about you? Do you drag your feet when something needs doing or do you jump right in there and tackle the job? I've been tackling an editing job on the page proofs of my next Shaker book, The Blessed, due out this summer. There were some problems I had to work out. Some mistakes I'd made. I hate it when I mess up and don't catch all my mistakes before the book gets this far in the process of publication. But I'm thankful for careful editors and proofreaders who do catch what I don't catch. I finished reading through the pages a few minutes ago. I've made corrections, straightened out some thorny problems, and tried to make the story one where the words will disappear as the characters play out their story in my readers' imaginations. That's the best kind of writing. The kind where you don't notice the writing.
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Thanks so much for reading. And drive carefully if you go looking for flowers to prove spring is on the way. Guess next week we'll have more daylight time for our hunt. Do you have a favorite flower?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Winner and Sisters and Book Launches

I love having hometown book launches the way I did today. First off, I get to see people I haven't seen in months. We live in the same town but the only people I see are those on the same grocery store run schedule as I am. Does that happen for you too? You see the same group of people over and over and never see the others. In our little town, Kroger and Wal-Mart are the great meeting places.
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And the library too, of course. That's where I met my reading friends today. And some of them are big UK basketball fans like me. Yet they left the game while it was still touch and go and came to my book launch for Angel Sister. It must have been that chocolate I'd promised them. I did have chocolate - brownies and candy too. Along with lemonade. And door prizes. As someone said, I'm not above a little bribery to make a book talk more fun.
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We did have fun. I talked about how I got started writing and some of the good things and bad things along my writing road. My first book was published in 1978 so you can see I've been on this writing road a long time and I'm hoping I still have some miles to journey on a while longer. I want to have some more hometown book launches with my reading friends here in my town. I'm not exaggerating when I say that each time a new person showed up, I felt as though I'd been given a gift. A gift of friendship and love. The best thing is that these hometown friends are such an easy group. They laugh when I try to say something funny. They don't hold it against me when I get something wrong. They just do some more laughing with me. They carry my books home with them and read my stories. I am blessed.
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I drew for the winners of my Angel Sister Celebration last week. The winner of the "everybody who enters" drawing was Mary of MN. Kelly of MD won the "I never win anything" drawing. So now she can't say that any more. Connie of KY and Susan of SC won the "tell me a sister story" drawings. Connie told me about how her sisters-in-law have been the best "sisters" she could ever imagine and that they're always there for her when she needs a helping hand. Susan told me about how her sister always does so many things to make their family better that she is truly an "angel" sister.
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I also decided to give a bonus prize of an autographed book to the person who sent in the most touching sister story. There were several really great stories, but Laurie E.'s story of how her little sisters were answers to prayer won out. There were lots of different stories from funny to inspiring. I enjoyed them all. I hope to highlight some of them Wednesday night.
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Thank you for reading. And I hope you are feeling like a winner tonight and that you have been blessed with sisters to love.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fun is Good


"I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities." Dr. Seuss

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1901, so today is the anniversary of his birth date. He wrote over 60 books that have sold more than 220 million copies and are still selling like hot cakes. People love to read his books to their kids. If they're like me they sometimes want to round up a kid in order to get the chance to read a Dr. Seuss book aloud. It's fun for the tongue and as he once said, "Fun is good." Especially when you're reading to a child or that child is learning to read himself.
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I once tutored a young man who had gone to school nine years without learning to read. Eventually he learned enough that he could read Green Eggs and Ham. I'm not sure he was excited about reading the book, but my enthusiasm for his accomplishment was enough for both of us. That's why Dr. Seuss wrote that book and Cat in the Hat along with others. Not for my adult reading student, but for kids learning to read. Something fun to read that would light up their imaginations and make all the dots connect in such a way that they would fall in love with books and reading.
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Of course I fell in love with reading without Dr. Seuss books and while being taught to read from the dullest books ever written. "Jump, Spot, jump." Spot was the only good thing about those first grade reading books. I was already crazy about dogs back then. But my kids got to read Dr. Seuss and the Dr. Seuss reading books written by other authors. Even better I got to read those stories aloud to them.
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I asked my Facebook friends what their favorite Dr. Seuss books were and got a variety. I have a hard time choosing a favorite. I liked the Horton books and I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew and I Can Lick Thirty Tigers Today. But then somebody will mention a different title and I'll say, "Oh yeah, I liked that one too." My youngest son loved the If I Ran the Circus and If I Ran the Zoo. I sometimes wanted to hide those two books when we went to the library. He wanted to check them out every other time. Now his kids like those books. For sure reading them gives your tongue a work-out.
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So I'm glad Dr. Seuss thought reading should be fun. What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book or line from one of the books? I really like the line from Horton Hatches the Egg. "I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful one hundred percent." And I like the bit about having trouble going to Solla Sollew "where they never have troubles or at least very few." I don't know which book the following quote comes from, but it's a good one too.
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"Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!" Dr. Seuss
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So glad you are you. Thanks for reading. Sunday I hope to share some of the sister stories I got in my last giveaway and announce the winners of the gift cards. Then I'll have to think up something new to giveaway.