Sunday Slideshow: Imagination Library Third Birthday Party

Last Saturday, Philip and I attended a birthday party. This wasn’t just any old party, but the Dolly Party Imagination Library Birthday Party. Imagination Library is a program that mails a book a month to all registered participants. It is open to children ages birth to five. Even though Philip has graduated from the program, we joined our local United Way in celebrating the third year of this great resource in our community.

Philip had a good time last year where each participating organization had a book-themed craft or activity. Since Philip’s skills at following directions have improved, I wanted to see how he would do this year. Unfortunately, there were fewer crafts offered this year.

Despite that difference, Philip had a great time. As another parent remarked to me, “I see he keeps you on your toes.” Philip was almost always in motion, darting around the gymnasium where the event took place. I did quite a bit of running myself.

Oddly enough, he was reluctant to get in the bounce house. There was no time limit, so children were always inside jumping. I think Philip felt nervous about climbing in while the incline was in constant motion. Rather than making him put his shoes back on, I let him stand and watch the other kids. We would move to one of the tables and then come back. Suddenly, he decided he was ready and climbed right in. I let him jump for at least five minutes. When he appeared to be getting sweaty, I announced, “All done.” He exited without protest.

Last year, Philip was scared of the various costumed characters, even his favorite, Curious George. There were fewer characters this year, so Philip spent less time cowering behind me. While Philip was in the bounce house, I snapped a photo of George. Little did I know that Philip would work up the courage to reach out and hold Curious George’s hand. He even gave him a high-five before leaving.

What’s a party without cake? Philip opted for a chocolate cupcake. I was leading him to the side of the gym to sit on the floor when Philip got his own idea. He took over the corner of the table where two National Honor Society students were helping with name tags. I can’t blame him for wanting to eat at a table. Apparently he has more class than me. The girls didn’t mind sharing their table. One remarked that she and Philip would make a great team after she noticed he was only eating the frosting. “I prefer the cake,” she said. The other girl, who had turned to reply almost got frosting on her cheek when Philip suddenly extended the arm holding the cupcake. The first student and I gasped, but the second one escaped unscathed.

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Driving the King: a book review

Before I read Driving the King by Ravi Howard, the name Nat “King” Cole would invoke memories of those Time-Life Records commercials from the 1980s. The name would invoke the image of still photograph of the smiling singer moving across the screen as a snippet of “Unforgettable” plays in the background. When I saw those infomercials, I wasn’t thinking of Mr. Cole as a pioneer. He had his own TV show? Never heard of it. To me, a white girl growing up in the Midwest, his voice was just one of many on a compilation album that could be mine for just one amazing low price (plus shipping and handling).

Unlike me, Ravi Howard grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, the city where Cole was born. I don’t know how much Howard knew about Cole before writing this book, but, as he mentions in the acknowledgments, he met many of the activists who boycotted the buses in his hometown. Howard decided to take the famous musician and make him a character in this novel in order to tell of the story of those many anonymous men and women who fought discrimination in the south, the ones that knew Cole as more than just another voice in their fight for equality.

Cole is not the main character in this book. Instead, Howard created a boyhood acquaintance who shares the singer first name. This other Nathaniel bears the apt surname of Weary. While Weary is invented, the incident and the conditions that land him in jail for ten years are not: Cole was attacked on stage by white supremacists during a performance in Alabama. In this Howard’s telling, Nat Weary intervenes, saves Cole, and ends up doing hard labor for his troubles.

Howard’s narrative is not linear. The story begins with Weary picking up Cole from the airport as he returns to Montgomery to give a concert. Then the reader is taken back a decade earlier to the concert interrupted. This back and forth is disorienting. However, this seems to match Weary’s internal struggle as he comes to terms with the years (and love) he lost while serving time for defending the singer.

I won my copy of this book in a giveaway on Nicole Blades’ blog, Ms. Mary Mack. I needed a book published this year as one of the tasks in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. While I may have originally thought this book was simply an opportunity to check another item off my list, it was so much more. This was a history lesson taught through story, giving me perspective on a time and place outside my experience. Through Nat, I had a glimpse into the injustices of segregation and racism. I also developed a greater appreciation for Nat King Cole. Thanks to this book, I realize he is more than just one song, but a complex man and musician who faced discrimination and hatred.


Sunday Slideshow: Maple Syrup Festival

When I woke up Friday morning and looked out the window, I was startled to see snow on the roof of my neighbor’s house and in my yard. Even though it was the first day of spring, the temperatures are still dipping below freezing overnight. As much as I hate that, I now know that the cycle of warm and cold is vital to the collection of maple sap. Fortunately, the daytime weather was just about perfect for learning that tidbit and more last Saturday when we attended the 39th annual Maple Syrup Festival at Malabar Farm State Park.

Horse-drawn wagons were available to transport visitors to the sugar shack, but the line was long. We opted to make our own muddy hike up the hill to Pugh Cabin. Philip loved stepping in every single puddle as evidence by the back of his pants legs.

Along the way, the first maple trees we passed were set up using the old-fashioned method of collecting sap. Metal spiles were inserted into trunks and with metal buckets hanging below to collect the sap. Further along, a more modern method was in use. Plastic spiles connected to plastic tubing between trees and ran into a 50-gallon plastic storage tub at the end of the row.

Inside the sugar shack, we were offered samples and listened to a ranger talk about the process of transforming sap into syrup. This involves straining out sugar sand and evaporating off water. Due to the high percentage of water in the sap, it takes 40 to 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Peter and I shared a sample. Philip kept staring at the white paper cup I was holding. Finally, he could no longer resist and he took it from my hand. I don’t know if he tasted the syrup, but he did touch it.

He was equally resistant to the sample of maple fudge we picked up at the gift shop. He held the toothpick and kept touching the candy to his lips. Finally, he took the tiniest nibble before devouring the whole piece.

Overall, the festival was an enjoyable outing. If we go in the future, we’ll try to get there right when it opens. As it was, we had to park way, way, way out in an area I didn’t know existed. They offered a shuttle service to this parking area, and the wait wasn’t too long, but I think we could have avoided more crowds by being prompt.  Still, one can’t complain about the price – free! We might also plan on having lunch: bean soup was on sale in Pugh Cabin with live music for entertainment. We skipped it this year, but will probably check it out in the future.

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escape velocity

Spiraling like some insignificant satellite, suffocated by your gravitational pull, I must break free from your orbit. By our next encounter, I may appear adrift, but I will draw expansive breaths deep into my lungs. Maybe my exhalations will eclipse even you.


grapes of wrath

I bought
you grapes (on sale)
after you tried to eat
a fake one displayed amid the

The grapes before they were subjected to many indignities.

The grapes before they were subjected to many indignities.

I smiled –
you popped purple
globes, one by one, into
your mouth, savoring each until

But then
the orbs became
your playthings to be scooped
and dropped, rolled and flung, flattened by

And now
you dance across
my kitchen floor, skating
on the skins, leaving sticky streaks
and pulp.

Next time
I see you grab
plastic fruits at the store,
I’ll recall my wrath and buy those

A crown cinquain for the yeah write March poetry slam.