7-MINUTE STRETCH:#1 Poetry Challenge-If You Dare...

I've got a proposition for you. A challenge. A dare.  . .

The gauntlet to undertake a similar challenge was tossed to me by my writing bud, Cindy Faughnansome 540 days ago--and I caught it! I can't say it has been easy, or convenient, but it has made me a better something?!  Maybe it will you, too. So come on, try it! What have you got to lose?

7-Minute Poetry Challenge

Write a poem, a paragraph or a story in seven minutes. Here's how: 

                                                               Read the prompt

                                                              Set the timer for 7 minutes

                                                              Start writing!

Don't think about it too much; just do it. If the prompt moves you, follow it. If it sparks something else, go with it! Our 7-Minute Poetry Challenge is not about writing great poetry; or writing what is expected; it's not even about writing anything good. It's about one thing, writing IT!  

Challenge #1  The First Day

Gavin & Keira's 1st Day of School 2017

Gavin & Keira's 1st Day of School 2017

On the first day of school what things do you bring? A backpack? Pen? Paper? Maybe you’ll wear a new pair of jeans or shoes? 

Think about it: Not only will it be your first day of school, it will be that “things” first day of school too. How do you think those “things” feel about going to school for the first time? Write a “First Day of School” poem from the point of view of one of those things.

Note: It can be the first day of anything. Just tell the story from the point of view of one of the thing you bring with you that first day.

For Inspiration read: SCHOOL'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook Press, 2016), the story of the first day of school as told by Fredrick Douglass Elementary—a brand new school building!



Gavin & Keira were up the the Challenge. As you can read below, Gavin's Binder shared. Keira's dress was "shy" on that first day:

If, like Keira & Gavin, you're up for the 7-Minute Poetry Challenge, please let us know by posting the title of your poem under "Comments". Or if you would like, share your poem (or whatever the prompt inspired you to create!) We would love to see IT!


This is only the beginning. Cindy and I will post a new challenge prompt once a week—every seven days. We invite you to take the 7-Minute Poetry Challenge with us.

And, please share our Challenge with your friends, students, classmates... (even those, like me, who are absolutely, positively, NOT poets!) After all, the state of the world being what it is, to paraphrase the BeatlesPoetry is All We Need!

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Fie on Harvey, Fie!

Harvey Aug 29, 2017.jpg

HARVEY rose up from the Gulf waters like one of those menacing cartoon storm clouds on Aug. 27th, 2017. My mother's 81st birthday. Harvey was definitely no cartoon we could click off when it grew too terrifying.

As I write, the rain is still falling, the rescue efforts are ongoing, people are still trapped and scared, animals are missing, and worse--much worse--the evil in us has reared it's nasty, greedy head--looters are prowling. But. . . 

Goodness! Kindness! Compassion! Win! And that is what I, We, cling to. 

Our Friend's mid-town Houston patio, garden and pool, Aug.27, when the rains came.

Our Friend's mid-town Houston patio, garden and pool, Aug.27, when the rains came.

You may have noticed (maybe not) that I've been Blog silent for the summer. Not because I didn't have anything to say (I always have something to say. . . ) Since January blues set in (preceeded by election disbelief-fear-healthcare despair . . . ), I have been reconsidering the energy I want to send. Our collective response to Harvey gladdens my heart. That what I break my silence to CELEBRATE!

As soon as the news broke that Harvey was coming, people from all over reached out with offers of help. Facebook messages flooded my inbox: "I have a boat! A generator! A room! An open door!" . . . Red Cross mobilized, communities banded together, individuals joined forces, support for relief efforts grew and grows!  Here's news footage of some rescues.

Our friends Dan & Kristin Stacy of Royal Fig Catering in Austin, are one example of how people are stepping up to help. Along with Royal Fig employees, friends, family and food & supplies donated by Austin businesses and folks, drove through the middle of the storm to set up a kitchen at Texas Children's Hospital where they are now cooking for the staff--cupcakes included.  National and local companies are sending relief, Texas Football star, JJ Watts kicked-off a relief YOUCare Compassionate Crowd Fund with a $100,000 donation that's now risen to more than $5.6 million so far, and the rain is still falling. 

Unfortunately, when the rain ends, and the waters receded, often so does the attention. And saddest to say, as heartening as they are, the funds pledged to date are just a drop in the bucket compared to what will be needed. Officials have estimated the amount needed to rebuild will be in the BILLIONS.

After the storm is when the most, long-term help is and will be needed. Let's be there, together. Let's bring the Sun!


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Slacker? Maybe . . . NOT!

You calling this kick-line "Slack"?

You calling this kick-line "Slack"?

It's not often, even when visiting a school, that I'm invited to lunch in the Teacher's Lounge. And before this week, I didn't realize that could be a good thing. But, maybe it is...

You know that old adage, "Eavesdropper seldom here good of themselves"? Well I was sitting there chatting with teachers at one table while behind me another table of teachers discussed my mornings presentation. How do I know? Because, as a self proclaimed committed eavesdropper, my ears bent back and cranked to high as soon as my name was mentioned. Anyway, here's what I overheard, read it in your envy-greenest disdainful voice: "She said she only writes for two hours a day--blah blah blah--I wish I only had to work two hours a day . . . 

On the way home, that night, the next morning, and after, unlike any other school visit, ever, the only thing I could recall was that teacher's comment. It bothered me so much I told Curtis about it. "What should I have told them? A lie?"

“What should I have told them? A lie?”
— agonized response following the teacher's lounge rebuke

A few days later, sweet Curtis sent me the perfect response by way of an article from the Natulus blog entitled:

Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too

Many famous scientists have something in common—they didn’t work long hours.

In the article, ALEX SOOJUNG-KIM PANG (author of REST and THE DISTRACTION ADDICTION), explores how many acclaimed scientists, scholars, thinkers--i.e.  Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, and Ingmar Bergman--spent very few hours doing deep work--2 to 4 hours a day in fact doing their "important work."

The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking.
— Darwin Was A Slacker, March 30, 2017

While the "10,000 hour" theory, Malcom Gladwell expounds in his book The Outliers (originally put forth in a study of outstanding violinists), holds true, in order for the 10,000 hours of practice to be fruitful,  it only counts if those are hours of "Deliberate Practice," capital D, capital P, as in practice that is "focused, structured, and offers clear goals and feedback; it requires paying attention to what you’re doing and observing how you can improve."

Turns out even the most gifted, committed students aren't capable of more than, at most, 4 hours of Deliberate Practice.

What's more, (and what is especially reassuring) is how, along with focused deliberate practice, these outstanding practitioners also sleep more! But not at night. Turns out, these great thinkers and doers nap. Capital N-A-P!

About four hours a day. About the same amount of time Darwin spent every day doing his hardest work, Hardy and Littlewood spent doing math, Dickens and King spent writing...four hours of really focused, serious effort per day.

I'm sharing this in case you, like me, have been called "Slacker", or worse. May (as I do) called yourself the same, all because you (like me) can't or won't keep your butt in the chair for more than a few hours at a stretch. Take heart! 

And, Give Yourself A Break!--Lots of them!

Slacker? Playlist:

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Celebrating Hitting 300!

Nope. Not talking baseball. Although I do love baseball. However . . . Ever since that time my boy Max was catching and I was up, batting lefty, and caught him in the head on my backswing . . . well, suffice to say, I'm benched.

But I have been doing something in secret that now, on this 300th day, I'm Celebrating! Cue the Band! 

...be kind to your fine feathered friends/for a duck maybe some-body’s mo-th-er!

For 300 consecutive days, midst two moves, construction, vacation, births and birthdays etc. etc. I have completed a poetry prompt ala Bernard Friot's The Aspiring Poet's Journal. 

No, I am not going to share any of my poems here, now. (You're safe...for now!}

No, I did not do it alone! 

Nor would I ever imagined getting to day 300. And that's what why I'm telling you about it.

Is there something you've been meaning to try, but haven't?

Perhaps a personal goal? Maybe a resolution? Do you keep saying to yourself, as I have/do/probably will again:  "I'll start next week" . . . "After the holiday, really" . . . "Tomorrow." . . Tomorrow. . . tomorrow. . . tomorrow . . . tomorrow . . . tomorrow . . . 

What's the Gimmick?       Gotta Have Skin in the Game. 

Here's what I mean:  I committed to the challenge with a friend. The rules of the game were set in writer's blood (aka "Ink"). We pledged to email or text our assignments to each other every day by midnight. Or else...

It's that "Or Else" that made the difference.

Rewards & Consequences: Some folks respond better to positive reinforcement. I've shared previously how my author-mentor-friend the late Paula Danziger bought herself pieces of amber jewelry but...gave them to her editor to hold until she met a deadline. In order to get SE Hinton to write her second novel (after The Outsiders), her then boyfriend waited each day for her to finish her pages. Others reward themselves by putting dollars into a honey pot. (Big bucks!)

Rewards do not work for me. It is too easy not to pay myself. Nor have I yet found a payoff big enough (and attainable) to entice me to do anything...and I mean An-ny-thing!

I need Consequences, penalties, shame. That's what motivates me. Deadlines with consequences. So, in order to insure that I'd stick with the challenge, I set a penalty a miserable embarrassing consequence. I pledge to complete each days prompt and send it to Cindy by midnight. If failed I vowed to donate $50 to Trump's campaign publically--on Facebook. Pre-election that was the stiffest-realistic-penalty I could imagine. One I was not willing to pay and so, I did the work Every. Single. Day.  Here's the 1-2-3 of it:

  1. Set a "realistic" Goal
  2. Set a "clear" Consequence or Reward
  3. Set a Timer (The secret ingredient!) Cindy and I devoted 7 1/2 minutes each day to complete the prompts. That's it 7 1/2 minutes. Read. Set Timer. Go. 

I was amazed at what we accomplished in 7 1/2 minutes. Having a set deadline and consequence for not meeting was exactly the motivation I needed to stick with the journal, especially through those first couple of days, then weeks, and vacations, and late nights, and yucky prompts. The answer is YES I CAN! 

Tomorrow is here. 300 down, 65 to go!

Celebrating 300 Playlist:

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Don't Toss The Baby Out With the Bathwater!

I Googled these...what're Yours??

I Googled these...what're Yours??

Happy 2017! It's a new dawn, a new day, a new calendar waiting to be filled with good intentions. Many of us--maybe you, definitely me--are making or have already made resolutions. Since one of mine (which I've already broken) is to be timely, you may already have your resolutions SET. IN. STONE. 

If you're open to revision, get out your chisel and read on. If you, like me, having broken many year's worth of good Resolutions, haven't committed yet, read on. 

A recent, informal survey revealed how most New Year's Resolutions are intended to break bad habits: Eat Better! Exercise More! Organize! Be More Loving! More Creative! BE More... Better...BETTER. . . 

BETTER. BEST. That's what it's all about. Being "Better" or best, THE BEST. Before you go hog wild with the "Out with the old on with the new," while make this year's Resolutions, I'd like to inject one word of caution: BABY

As in the adage ‘Don’t Toss The Baby Out With the Bathwater!’

What the heck do babies and bathwater have to do with New Year's Resolutions? To answer that we'll need Mr. Peabody's to set his Time Capsule back to the 1500's. 

Back then the term "running water" referred not to tap water, but to naturally running water, i.e. a river or stream. There were no spigots to fill a waiting tub. Instead buckets of water were lugged from a running water source, heated on a stove and then poured onto a tub. Then bathing commenced. Which ends, as you'll see in example #1, with Baby being the last one in the bathwater.  At this point, there are two possible ways the baby could have been tossed:

1. Since lugging and heating bathwater was heavy, hard work, baths were infrequent and everyone in the family used the same water based on family rank: the man of the house had First Bath privileges, "followed by other sons and men, then the women and finally the children—last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it—hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."-via mentalfloss.com

Yeah, if the "baby" is a catfish tossing it might be in order...

Yeah, if the "baby" is a catfish tossing it might be in order...

2. After bathing the baby, someone calls "Mother!" or "Woman!" or screams thus distracting Mom, so she tosses the tub of bathwater with the baby still inside. 

Still wondering what baby bath water has to do with resolutions? Here's what:

Traditionally while making New Year's Resolution, we focus on the mucky bathwater and forget about our babies. (Thus New Year's Resolution time becomes "Beat The Crap Out Of Yourself Time".)

It's just past the holidays, the busiest time, the time following a long period of so much MERRY MAKING has totally trashed routine making it easy to think of a kazillion things we should resolve to do better. 

WAIT! Before you go making that naughty list and checking it twice. Before you commit to any resolving what-so-ever. I challenge you to do yourself and everyone in your life a favor and make another list, FIRST.

On this First List, write down what you did RIGHT this past year.  List everything RIGHT! . . . . OK Everything you DID. Every. Single. Thing. YOU ACCOMPLISHED. 

Come on, Chick'n write the list!

Come on, Chick'n write the list!




3. I don't care how slovenly, lazy, messed up, OCD, ADD, RAP, MIA you might think you are, you did DO SOME THINGS right in 2016. (Assuming self-deprecation, I stopped at 3 in the example...This is your list, so LIST ON!)

Now--with this list of "babies" worth cuddling in plain sight--set your 2017 Resolutions. To be sure you don't throw your accomplishments out with the proverbial bathwater. Hug those babies! Embrace them. Celebrate them. If you're please with the way those things turned out. Put them on your new New Year's Resolution list FIRST!  Because dang it, YOU DID GOOD!

2017 New Years's Resolution #1 

Celebrate What You Did Right, First! and Do IT Again! Hooray Happy 2017!

Don't Toss the Baby Playlist:

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who + what + how = a better world

Someone, sometime back told me the difference between an Optimist and a Pessimist's view of an event. 

An Optimist is never surprised and always disappointed. Whereas, a Pessimist is never disappointed and always surprised.
— A Pessimist

That definition bugs the heck out of me. It makes being an Optimist feel like a sorry state of being. Why? Because of that word "Surprise." 

Who doesn't love a surprise?

Who doesn't like to be surprised?

 I can not tell you how many times I've pondered it, wondering if being one or the other is wiser. My conclusion: Even if I am sometimes disappointed, I would rather be optimistic. To that end, I'd like to share with you one of the most inspiring things I do for myself each day. 

TED Talk

TED Talks are short--15ish minute long--presentations by dynamic doers, thinkers, speakers sharing ideas on a huge range of topics of global interest. Contrary to most other talking we hear, Ted Talks are informative, interesting and almost always positive. Those I have listened to feature people trying to make our world through science, social interaction, literature & art, better. I've listed a few of my favorites below. For a complete list of talks click here: TED Talk Topics

Parents, Teacher, Librarians:There are also TED Talks for Kids!

TED Talks are FREE!

You can watch TED Talks on your phone, Ipad, Computer, or listen to them on your commute (although I must mention that many include visuals worth seeing, so some things do get lost with audio-only.)

What is TED? 

TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.
— https://www.ted.com/about/our-organization

Get this! There is even a TED Prize! (I just learned about this incredible Million Dollar prize!) "The TED Prize is awarded annually to a leader with a creative, bold wish to spark global change. By investing $1 million in a powerful idea every year, the TED Prize accelerates progress toward solving some of the world's most pressing problems."




The heart of the TED Prize is the wish. It’s worth investing time to refine it and push it further. At its most basic, a wish is: who + what + how = a better world. Who are you going to engage? On what issue, and in what way? For what kind of impact?
— https://www.ted.com/participate/ted-prize/nominate/nomination-tips

Winner of the 2017 TED Prize is  Dr. Raj Panjabi, Founder and CEO of Last Mile Health, most notable for his work on the ebola virus. Dr. Panjabi's wish is to train locals to provide heathcare in remote communities. I couldn't find a TED Talk by Dr. Panjabi yet, but he will be revealing his plans for fulfilling his wish at a TED conference in April. 

And, to hear past winners of the TED Prize and be inspired and excited by them and their WISH, click!

It begins with a Wish! Don't you love that? A Wish for our planet! A Wish for humanity! A Wish for a cure! For a solution! A Wish for the future!


That "difference" between Optimists and Pessimists noted above, might be true. Maybe Pessimists are surprised more often--surprised by what Optimists dare to WISH!

Cue Jiminy Cricket: "For when you wish upon a star your dreams come true..."


Need a Little Snappy Happy-Ever After, Too?


My hands-down favorite stick-in-my head musical number goes, "We need a little music/need a little laughter/need a little snappy happy-ever-after...

That's what I need right now, and I'm thinking with the news swirl and holidays upon us you do too. In truth, I didn't post last week because I couldn't think of anything Pollyanna-ish to say that didn't sound phoney-baloney

(For those of you unfamiliar with the term "Pollyanna", according to my old-standard go-to, Merriam-Webster (since 1828), A "Pollyanna" is someone "irrepressibly optimistic who tends to find the good in everything.") 

I first learned the term "Pollyanna" as the title of the Disney movie starring the embodiment of Pollyanna, Haley Mills (yes, I wanted to be her when I was little. And no, I was not her age when the movie came out--I saw it in reruns, too.) Longing for a feel good afternoon, treat yourself!  Here's the Pollyanna trailer.

(Note: "Phoney-Baloney" is nonsense, foolishness, deceptive talk; a phoney-baloney is one who spouts such bull! The terms usage dates back to 1936. Pollyanna is no phoney-baloney!)

But wait, there's more! Feeling a bit like Kathryn Hepburn in Desk Set, I did some digging beyond the movie and whooppeee! Music to my writer's ears, turns out the term, Pollyanna, like Hayley Mill's character, came from a book! 

Origin and Etymology of pollyanna
Pollyanna, heroine of the novel Pollyanna (1913) by Eleanor Porter †1920 American fiction writer

First Known Use: 1921
— https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Pollyanna

BTW: Pollyanna, was published in 1913, when Eleanor H. Porter was 44. 

Pollyanna ranked eighth among best-selling novels in the United States during 1913, second during 1914, and fourth during 1915 (with 47 printings between 1915 and 1920).

Why would a "sappy" book about an orphan who always looking on the bright side have gained such popularity? Consider the times: World War One began July 28th, 1914...


Another Pollyanna-ish Orphan bounced onto the scene in 1924. Harold Gray's comic strip heroine, Little Orphan Annie.  What else was happening in 1924 U.S.? 

  • Johnny Weissmuller--Tarzan!--won three gold medals at the Paris Summer Olympics
  • First Round The World Flight completed in 175 days by a Chicago based US Army Air Service team
  • J. Edgar Hoover appointed Director of the Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Prohibition (1920-1933)


This is the cover of my "Annie" book.

This is the cover of my "Annie" book.

Gray's Little Orphan Annie comic strip ran continuously through prohibition, the Depression, World War Two, the Korean Conflict, most of the Vietnam War and Cold War...even past Gray's death in 1968. (To be revived after Annie's Broadway debut in 1976.) 


FYI: Gray's Orphan Annie was an original. He didn't conjure her, he kidnapped the little orphan from an 1885 poem.  Here are the first few lines:

LITTLE Orphant Annie ’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups and saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper things is done, 5
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ’at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ’at gits you
Ef you
Don’t 10
— http://www.bartleby.com/248/1141.html

What to read more? Little Orphant Annie by James Witcomb Riley

What with all these Pollyannas, you might be asking? Historically speaking, what these Pollyanna's show me can be summed up in one paraphrase. When the going gets tough, Writers get writing. What do readers want? What does every Pollyanna ooze? 

HEART! Miles and miles and miles of heart...

Or, to quote another Pollyanna, "Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down...." 

Cause if we need a little snappy, everyone else might me craving one, too.  

Need A Little Snappy Playlist:

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Those Long Dead White Dudes Did It . . .

Back in the beforetime, before short skirts or yoga pants. Before American woman had the “right” to vote, or own homes, or for that matter, ourselves, women were writing.

In fact, “Female journalists were among the first to record, comment on, and publicize the events leading up to the Revolutionary War,” noted curators of the National Women’s History Museum exhibit, “Women with a Deadline.” But . . . did those white dudes buying and reading the papers want to read what they had to say? Not so much.  

“When Charlotte Bronte’s poetry received the feedback stating ‘literature cannot be the business of a woman's life’ from poet laureate Robert Southey, she changed her name—as did her sisters. Thus Charlotte, Anne & Emily became published authors, Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell.

Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life
— from poet laureate Robert Southey to Charlotte Bronte

Unlike the Bronte sisters, Ann Rule and Joanne Rowling, who published under male pseudonyms for publication (the Bronte's to fool the publisher; the others because the publisher hoped to fool readers), the decision for Mary Anne Evans, aka “George Eliot,” was completely her own. Or was it.

Evans used a pen named because she wanted to separate “Her own work from that of her peers, both in terms of genre and gender.” She made this decision after voicing her disgust of the romantic fluff female authors of the time wrote, in a “scathing essay ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.’”

In light of Southey’s feedback to Charlotte Bronte, the question that begs asking is:

Were 19th Century women authors publishing “Silly Novels” because that was all they wrote?

Or was it because “Silly Novels” is what the male-dominated publishing industry felt women should write? . . . And read?

Cover of Godey's from Jan. 1857

Cover of Godey's from Jan. 1857

At least one American male publisher, Reverend John Blake asked himself that same question. And in 1828 he answered it by inviting author Sarah Hale to edit The Ladies' Magazine.

BTW: Sarah Hale wrote "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and campaigned ferociously to establish the Thanksgiving holiday. 

In hopes that, as editor, she could “aid in the education of women, ‘not that they may usurp the situation, or encroach on the prerogatives of man; but that each individual may lend her aid to the intellectual and moral character of those within her sphere,” Hale served as, by the title she preferred “editress.” from 1828-1836 when it was acquired by Godey's.

Once the door was opened—and held open by that Long Dead White Dude and others like him—women poured into publishing. And while males still hold most of the journalism jobs according to a 2014 Washington Post article in response to Jill Abramson’s firing, “with 63.7 percent of the gigs, while women have 36.3 percent," that is not the case in all publishing.

Kekla Magoon noted in her April 2014 article, Vida VIDA Count: Children’s Literature: "Do Women Truly Dominate?"“All areas of Young Adult and children’s publishing is not only friendly to women writers—it is often considered to be female-led, since women occupy the majority of jobs in the industry, as authors, editors, agents and more.” 

Back in beforetime, if Mary Anne, The Bronte Gals & Louisa May had gotten together, considering the demographics of publishing back then, I'm thinking their topic of concern would have been the same as that of today. Diversity does matter. Inclusion is necessary and important, and it totally sucks to be locked outside, wanting to join the party, knowing you have something valable to offer, and not being allowed in--or even on the invitation list!

Those long dead white dudes did it—for whatever reasons—and look how far we've come!

In the same way John Blake bucked the system by inviting Sarah Hale to become the first American female magazine editor, we can open our doors wider and reach out by inviting, encouraging & including diverse writers, artists, editors & readers. 

Long Dead White Dudes Playlist:

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