Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Judging Student Projects

Student projects!

Ah, the bane of parents everywhere, not to mention of the students themselves.

Last evening I helped judge senior projects at the Middle College here in the county. I had done this before, so no problem. I thought.

I soon found myself in over my head listening to elaborate technology related projects that go far beyond my knowledge of pressing start and stop, search and send. The future of the world is in these kids hands, and trust me, they know what they are doing, all four of the ones assigned to me. What they do with this knowledge only time will tell.

Time has told on the students who left Pilot Mountain School and made their way into the world. Most succeeded beyond what they could have imagined sixty years ago. A few faltered. A few met untimely deaths. But for the vast majority of students who once upon a time wiggled in those hard seats and played marbles on the gritty schoolyard, the footprints they left behind were significant. They were leaders. They were good citizens, good parents, good neighbors.

I won't be around in sixty years to write about those four students I was fortunate enough to listen to last night, so I'll write now. They will be leaders. They will be good citizens, good parents, and good neighbors.

Mark my words.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, November 25, 2013

John Kennedy - Fifty Years Later


Fifty years. Has it really been that long since I was sitting on the couch, in tears, watching John John salute his father's funeral procession? Fifty years seem like yesterday, it's that imprinted into my memory.

One thing I've noticed the last few days, it's been imprinted into virtually everyone's memory as well, those masses of us who sat huddled in silence beside a television, shocked into an unexpected grief. But I already knew that from doing this Pilot Mountain project. It was a defining moment for this little school, for the nation, the world. All the conspiracy theories that have cropped up since then have not distracted me from what I felt.

Only later did I realize this picture above of Jackie, her children, the Kennedy brothers, the picture of sadness in their faces, this one family portrait represents the moment we as a nation lost our innocence. Nothing was ever the same.

Fifty years, and we are still recovering.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Moms

Today I'm extending a special welcome to those visitors from the Learn Like a Mom link. I'm thrilled you have taken a moment from your busy schedule. If you haven't had a chance to check out the link, please do, and make note of the subtitle: Embrace Life's Teachable Moments. What a concept!
Earlier this week I posted a blog about Grandparents and the role Abuelo, Grandfather, plays in my When Christmas Feels Like Home picture book. He is secondary, but essential to the story of how Eduardo adjusts to his new life. So, too, is Eduardo's mother. She is there for support, to comfort him when he wants to go back home and to help him through the adjusting process.

That's what moms do.

When they can.

Sometimes, like in my second book, Called to the Mountains: The Story of Jean L. Frese, that proves to be impossible. The mom in this very true book could not support, comfort, nor help her daughters through adjusting. She was a single mom in 1927, working as a maid in the local hospital. Her energy went into surviving and her girls went into family members' homes. She did the best she could with the limited resources available.

As I went through the interviewing process for the Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School, I caught (I consider myself a storycatcher) many stories about moms. Mothers in the forties had the additional responsibility of comforting their children during blackouts, rationing, and nightmares of war. Often they did this alone, all the while worrying about their husbands or brothers on the battlefield.

Mothers in the fifties chuckled, I'm sure, when June Cleaver of "Leave it to Beaver" fame appeared at the door of their ideal television house in her full skirt, tiny waist, and pearl necklace, welcoming her husband, Ward, with the perfect meal after his long hard day at the office. Some of the mothers of this era in the mountains of North Carolina were stay at home moms that had three complete meals on the table every day of the year, square meals they called it, those fresh biscuits at the break of dawn kind of mothers. Other mothers worked in the furniture factories or the chemical plants and depended on their own moms to handle child care.

Their war was against polio. They feared nightly as they tucked their children into bed and listened to them pray, "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." That was their reality. It was happening across the nation, polio striking in the middle of the night, unpredicted.

Mountain mothers of the sixties didn't have time for hippies and love beads. They were busy raising children, working the gardens or the factories, being room mothers with Valentine cupcakes. Society was changing around them, yet they were the one constant the children had.

Styles change. Trends come and go and lead the world away from the known into the unknown. Through it all, mothers stand by their families and withstand the challenges.

That's what moms do.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, November 18, 2013

Grandparents

One of the unexpected joys of becoming a member of the writing community is that I have interacted with so many extraordinary  people both in person and online. We share ideas. We share our successes, and quite often our rejections. When the time is right, we share books.

The time is right. I am sharing a copy of my children's picture book, When Christmas Feels Like Home.

Actually, today is the last day to win one of my books in a drawing. Go to TALKING STORY: GRANDPARENTS  and follow the directions posted in the November/December issue that features grandparents in children's literature. Yes, there is a grandparent in my book. Abuelo. Grandfather. The one who helps carve the manger for the nativity scene.

Joyce Hostetter and Carol Baldwin
The Talking Story
 And yes, there are grandparents in Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School, gobs of grandparents, grandparents that are fondly remembered by those people I interviewed.

• My grandmother would tell me Indian tales. This little Pearson lady that was ninety some years old said her grandmother told her about the last Indian that lived in this area three or four miles back on the mountain. When they rounded the Cherokees up and took them out west, he started hiding out. He hid under the Raven Rock in a cave. When he got really old, her grandpa let him move down off the mountain and live in their cellar.
• My grandfather was a collector of Indian artifacts and his collection is now in the Cherokee museum. When the land was plowed in the spring, the kids would follow the plows and pick up the arrowheads for my grandfather or they would get out early in the morning right after it had rained and the arrow points were exposed. They’d trade with my grandfather’s store for candy.
• Gold mine holes were a big part of our play. They weren’t just barren holes. They were full of pine needles and leaves. My cousin would crawl down in a hole and pull a wooden cover over him. When my grandmother would call for him and he wouldn’t answer, she would come up in the woods looking for him. He’d be down hiding in that hole.
And those are all in the first chapter. Grandparents were essential to the family structure, then and now. Read through Talking Story. You'll be delighted.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day 2013

As I worked on this Pilot Mountain project a few years ago, I unearthed several stories about men connected to the school who served in the armed forces, a few of them paying the ultimate sacrifice so that I am free today to blog about them.

Ralph Smith - Viet Nam, 1965

Lawrence Crawley - Viet Nam, 1971

There were also those who paid the price and lived to tell about it. Or not tell about it, like my brother, who wasn't at Pilot Mountain School, but was in Viet Nam. He flew on helicopters, arriving after the battles, and a few too many times in the midst of the battles, picking up body bags filled with the latest casualties.

He was never wounded, not physically, but one thing I know. He couldn't walk past their names on the Viet Nam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC.

The cost of freedom is high even for the survivors.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen




Monday, November 4, 2013

Wearing Red for Public Ed

Today I wear RED.

Today the teachers in North Carolina have drawn a line, a "stop the madness" line.

Today many teachers performed an act that I am supporting by wearing red, because, after all, retirement doesn't break bonds with fellow educators. Today, November 4, they performed a "Walk-in." Akin to the powerful, often used (but not in North Carolina)"walk-out," today's announced through social media walk-in will have the teachers there, on the job, doing what they love...teaching. They aren't deserting their charges. They aren't leaving their posts, nor walking away.  


One example of today's Walk-In
  Instead, they are coming to work as they do every other day prepared with lessons designed to fit the core curriculum of their particular field. They are wearing red, announcing to the world they want their grievances to be heard. They are
inviting the world to listen to their pleas for fairness and equity.

My commentary here, after all, it's my blog: The teachers at Pilot Mountain School came to work every day ready to do their jobs, anticipating that their students would learn. Forty years after its closing, that hasn't changed. Neither has the determination to do the best for every child.

What has changed is perception. The state of North Carolina traditionally looked upon its employees as "civil servants" who gave willingly and sacrificially to the greater cause, for little compensation, a pittance in reality. Through the years, after much hard work to change that perception, teachers had been elevated to the professional career status. They still serve, but servants, they no longer are. Unless...

...unless the General Assembly in Raleigh carries through with current legislation. Loss of tenure. No pay increase again, fifth year in a row. Advanced degrees that mean nothing. Jobs lost over classroom test results. Required teaching methods. Wait. What am I saying? Even in the 1950's, an advanced degree meant something and test results were used to point out weaknesses in the student, not the teacher. There was no tenure, true, and teachers could be fired at the whim of an enraged school committee member. But are we going forward into a new century or backward to an earlier century?

I'm wearing red. You know my answer.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, October 28, 2013

There are so many joys associated with being an author and book events rank right at the top. Okay, so not all book events are whopping successes. I might sit at a book store for an hour and a half, meet many people, but sell only one book.

But…

The seed is planted. The name of my book is spoken. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, my mama always said.

I recently participated in an open house at the Caldwell County Historical Museum here in Lenoir. I prepared for the afternoon anticipating the usual history enthusiasts and packed accordingly. What I got from the day I could never have anticipated and goes to the heading, “Where were you when I was writing this book?”

Product DetailsWhen I first arrived, I arranged my display on the assigned table next to a gentleman, whom the curator of the museum introduced as Roy Pipes. His book, Darby, is a fiction based here in Caldwell County.

We talked politely and soon, as authors tend to do, the subject of our conversation steered to our books. “Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School,” I began.

“Pilot Mountain School?” he answered. “My father was principal at a school by that name.”

“There are eight Pilot Mountains,” I started my usual spiel. “This one’s in Burke County.”

“That’s where we lived.” I looked at the cover of his book and re-read his name, “Pipes.”

“Yes.”

I grabbed up my book, flipped frantically through and on pages eighty-eight through ninety-seven, sure enough, there he was, R.S. Pipes. To confirm, we looked at the eighth grade graduation picture.

Bingo.

1953 with Mr. Pipes

So we sat talking between visitors and signings and refreshment breaks. He told me what was missing from those pages, the real Mr. Pipes, as only a proud son can tell. How his father brought his work home with him, worrying about the children. How his father cared for the children and the teachers. How his father went on from Pilot Mountain School to more successes in education.

Coincidence? Maybe. Time well spent? Definitely.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, October 21, 2013

Willie Parker Peace Award Winner

This past weekend the North Carolina Society of Historians held its annual awards banquet to honor books published the past year. My book, Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School, was presented the Willie Parker Peace award.



A wonderful addition to the book cover!

Named to honor the memory of an historian in Henderson, North Carolina, this year's prize was awarded to several historical books. I feel honored and humbled that mine was included with them. I've read a few of the others and they are indeed remarkable. 

To me as an author, this award is a seal of approval. Someone out there, someone with no connection to me, thought enough of this book to validate my hard work, to say it was worthy of another reader picking it up and spending time with it. I've said many times, this book wrote itself. The people I interviewed were the true authors. I just collected and arranged, although I do admit there was a lot more to the process than that. 

Inside my award folder was a page containing the judges’ collective comments. I want to share a few:

“We thought we knew where this author was going before we even opened the book…Pilot Mountain, but were we in for a surprise and a rude awakening. We only had to read to page FOUR to gain our education, as we were informed that there were EIGHT (8)…YES, EIGHT…landmarks in NC named Pilot Mountain. One judge sarcastically remarked, 'What, they couldn’t come up with other names…they had to name eight landmarks the same thing? No wonder I get lost all the time!' Thank goodness Ms. Griffith cleared it up for us with regard to the Pilot Mountain School of which she writes.
Interviews with past students of the facility tug at the heartstrings. They absolutely loved their school and this feeling is felt through their words. These feelings, all these facts about the school, would be forgotten if not for the exhaustive work, careful research, wonderful production, of this book. Griffith has brought new life to this little Pilot Mountain School on paper. The old schoolhouse, once a beloved community hub, was revived to become alive again and frequented by the locals who had once had to sit quietly at their desks to…learn! Superb job from cover to cover.”

Thank you to the Society for recognizing Lessons Learned in this way. Thank you to the community for sharing their lives with the world through this memoir and to Tom and Judy Brittain for selecting me to be the collector of these precious stories. And finally thank you to my publisher, Cynthia Bright, and my editor, Carol Bruckner. We did good!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Embarrassment of a Mondegreen or Two

 I love words. I'm an author. Words are my tools, the hammers when I need to pound something in, the chisels when I need to refine. Sometimes my words bounce back and bonk me in the head and make me wonder what I was thinking. For instance, the mondegreen.

I’ve said more than a few mondegreens in my lifetime, I just never knew there was a name for this phenomena. But there is.

Mondegreen.

A mondegreen is the misinterpretation of oral words, replacing the original words with a mistaken version, the “unintentional incorrect repeating of similar sounding words.” This word, mondegreen, is an example of its own definition, going back several hundred years. Singers often misunderstood words in a particular seventeenth century ballad

They hath slain the Earl O’Moray,
And laid him on the green

And sang instead

They hath slain the Earl O’Moray,
And Lady Monedgreen.



When John Fogerty in 1969 penned lyrics to Bad Moon Rising, he created a huge and widely acknowledged ultimate mondegreen in his one phrase, “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”

 Okay, guilty here. I always sang, until wikipedia set me straight, “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

No telling what other mondegreens I’ve committed in my lifetime, unaware until someone coughs politely, draws me aside and reveals the truth. That's what friends are for, by the way.

Such a thing happened this week and I was completely dumfounded. Fortunately, I wasn’t with a group. ‘Twas just me and my computer and a video of the subject of my latest project.

There he was being interviewed back in the 1990’s, talking old-time living and real-life learning. One of his stories perked my ears. Seems that back during the Great Depression, he and his father were walking along a road in the mountains of western North Carolina when they saw a huge cloud of smoke in the distance. As large as it was, they were sure it was a house fire, so they rushed to help. When they arrived at the source of the fire, turns out it was a tarkill, with a man piling green, fresh-cut pine branches and pine needles on a fire he had set on an old piece of tin.

“Can’t get the fire too hot,” he explained. “It’ll burn the wood.”

“Isn’t that what a fire is for?”

“Not this time. I’m killing the tar.”

The heat would draw the sap from the logs making it ooze downhill on the metal sheet. At the end of the tin, he had set a bucket to catch the slow motion drip of pine tar from the logs he had set afire. As the flames grew too high, he would cut nearby pines to smother the fire, creating an unbelievable amount of smoke, and demonstrating the base phrase known to us around here in the Carolinas, “Smoking like a tarkill.”

Oh, drats. A Mondegreen!

A few generations removed from that tarkill scene, the expression I’ve always heard is “Smoking like a Tarheel.” In my child-like brain  when I first heard that expression, I had pictured a person from North Carolina sitting out behind the barn sneaking a puff or two, or twenty-two, or two hundred even, as in “smoking like a Tarheel.”

I will probably never use that phrase. It's old. Its meaning and use has gone the way of the mule drawn tobacco sleds I once followed behind. But it made me aware of one thing. Once they are spoken (and written), words belong to the listener as much as to the speaker. Lessons learned about that.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, October 14, 2013

Stagecoaches, Skating Rinks and Various other Diversions

I started a new project October 1. Wonderful. Except that within a few days, I received word that another project of mine had gone to the next level, if I am still interested. Oh yeah. Double wonderful. Which mean that project number one is either on fast track or on hold. Fast track for now.

It's about a man from Wilkes County, the Moonshine Capital of the World. It's about surviving, inventing, creating. Throw in a little redemption and forgiveness, and there's story in them thar hills.

It's about the stagecoach at Tweetsie Railroad, a wild west themed amusement park in western North Carolina, and about my main character on tour with his stagecoach and his friend Slim Pickens publicizing the 1968 remake of the classic movie, Stagecoach.
It includes making moonshine in the mountains and running liquor in the city. Skating rinks. Wagon trains. Oh, the stories I've caught already. I love my job!

For all of you who visited on the blog tour the last several weeks, you might remember Linda Phillips, the writer who hosted the next stop after mine. She became interested in my work, asked me a few questions, and ended up interviewing me. Our discussion is posted on her blog today, so please check it out. http://www.lindavigenphillips.com/my-blog/ 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Blog Tour Continues


I can't imagine how authors worked their craft before computers were invented, much less how they marketed their books without the internet. For Bertha Moore McCurry, the author who shared her writing and taught her craft to the children of Pilot Mountain School in the 1950's, a blog tour would be as foreign and unheard of as a man on the moon. My mentioning her series in Lessons Learnedabout "The Three Baers" is one of a growing list of what I call, "Wish I had done it differently." I would have included a disclaimer that yes, I know Baers is spelled incorrectly and is not a typo, but the clever title the author chose.

Bertha Moore McCurry


So how did Ms. McCurry write? Longhand? Notebook or loose leaf? Typewriter? I wish she could blog about it. Would she have participated in a blog tour so that she could share her craft and her product with the world? Let me take a guess.

Yes.

It's what we authors do. I would have been one of her followers, you can be sure.

But we have computers now. And the world wide web. And blogs. And blog tours where authors can introduce their work to readers without leaving the confines of the ergonomically correct computer chair, yet another twenty-first century concept that would be foreign to her.

So the blog tour continues and onward we go from our flashback to the present, which is also the future.

Meet Sarah Maury Swan at http://sarahsbookreflections.wordpress.com

Her blog is "Sarahs Book Reflection." Check it out.

Meet Tricia Martineau Wagner at http://authortalk.org/ She is the author of four historical books for children.

And meet Linda Phillips at: http://www.lindavigenphillips.com/ Her debut young adult novel is scheduled for release August of 2014.

Three authors for a new century. Wouldn't Bertha Moore McCurry be thrilled!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, September 30, 2013

Blog Tour Interview

To those of you who are stopping here on today's blog tour, welcome! I'm thrilled you are sharing time with me.

As you can see, this is a "school" themed blog...a "life in the forties, fifties, and sixties" themed blog based on my first book, Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School, although I can't help but insert a post or two about other topics that blip across my radar.

Like now, as I answer questions about my writing journey.


My newest book was released by Albert Whitman and Company a few weeks ago, a children's picture book, When Christmas Feels Like Home. It's Eduardo's story, completely fiction but based on what I've seen and experienced moving into new cultures, answering the ageless question, "When will this strange place feel like my home?" Big concept, I know, but you're never too young to need reassurance.

My love for children's literature goes back to my early years waiting for the bookmobile every other Thursday at the post office. I'm sure I would have checked out the entire supply had there not been a limit. Then at Appalachian State University here in North Carolina, a class in children's literature sparked my dream to publish. I wrote my first manuscript, used it as my final project for the class, put it a drawer and went on with my teaching career. I read back through it recently and realized one thing, in the drawer it will remain. I chalk that one up to practice, practice, practice.

I've grown professionally since that first attempt, thanks in large part to the information I've gleaned through attending conferences and online workshops sponsored by SCBWI, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Through that I have a wonderfully brutal critique group that won't let me get by with mediocre writing. I've met in person and interacted online with many authors in the writing community here in the Carolinas and beyond the borders as well. I've revised so many manuscripts that when some of those same online buddies ask about one, I've had to think which version they are referring to before I can respond. The drawer of castaway manuscripts is stuffed to the brim, believe me.

I'm beginning a new project this week, a short nonfiction about a crusty moonshiner filled with unbelievable stories, including redemption. Needless to say, it's not children's literature. Neither is my recent release about my mother's cousin in the Salvation Army, Called to the Mountains: The Story of Jean L. Frese.

I write what interests me.

It's that simple.
Next Monday, the blog tour continues. Drop by and visit these authors on October 7 (or now!):

Sarah Maury Swan at http://sarahsbookreflections.wordpress.com
Tricia Martineau Wagner at  http://authortalk.org/
Linda Phillips at: http://www.lindavigenphillips.com/

And please drop by and visit with me again.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, September 14, 2013

First Class

I've found a gem, a book that I can't wait to read.

Hey, I'm an author. I find gems and jewels and treasures in books. I was going to order it on Kindle, but no, I want to hold it in my hands, to devour it slowly as I flip from one section to the other. So I ordered it and must wait until next week to read beyond the few "look inside" online selections.

It's about a school and according to the author, "My protagonist is a building." Just like Lessons Learned.

It has a black and white, sepia maybe, cover that fits the appropriate era, not the flashy "read me now" cover that is so popular today. Just like Lessons Learned.

It is full of interviews with living characters that tell story after story about real life at school. Just like Lessons Learned.

This book should live up to its name, First Class, if I go by the reviews I've read and the Book TV show I just watched. It has a subtitle that elaborates on the claim: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School. Little wonder why I'm fascinated. I'd like to say it's akin to mine. It's a collective memoir, a collage as the forward states. It follows the history of a school from its beginnings in the 1870's to the present day state-of-the-art facility. And, like Lessons Learned, it follows the history of the community that runs parallel to the history of the school and parallel to the history of the United States.

Its author, Alison Stewart, spent countless hours interviewing former students, teachers, children of students, anyone who had the slightest connection to the school or its graduates. Sounds familiar. Listening to her today as she explained her project, I felt a kinship that only a fellow researcher/interviewer/author could know. The hours in front of a microfische. The long distant telephone calls to people with sharp memories or aged recollections. The tears at stories that tug at the heart. The white rabbit diversions. The, as she explained, "Oh honey, I don't have anything to tell you" comments that were followed by the most unbelievably fantastic stories.

Been there, done that.

Her book followed black high school students in urban Washington, DC. Mine followed white elementary school students in very rural, mountainous western North Carolina. How could they compare? Oh, my, in so many ways I don't know where to begin.

Teacher expectation, aspirations, inspirations. Disproving that children from "another" kind of background can't learn. Parental involvement. "If we messed up, the story got home before we did" kind of community, as one gentleman today stated. Dedication to learning despite what the world has against you. Spirit. Soul.

One question that Ms. Stewart said she asked every former student was one I never considered: "When was a time when you knew Dunbar made a difference in your life?"

Drats. I should have asked that. But wait. Looking back, the majority of those I interviewed answered that in their own ways. After all, these were elementary children, not high school. But they knew. This school made a difference in their lives.

Inner city. Rural mountain. The real lessons learned from school are never, never forgotten.

I'm so looking forward to next week's mail.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, September 9, 2013

Senator Sam Ervin and the Schools

This past Saturday I had a chance to meet and greet several people on the old courthouse square, downtown Morganton. I sat behind (key word, behind, since that was a six hour rear view) the life size statue of Burke County's favorite son, Senator Sam Ervin of the Watergate hearings fame. I watched as the crowds milled around him, rubbed his hand, patted him on the back as if they were reconnecting with an old friend.
Appreciating Senator Sam with my friend Martha

I understand their emotions. I ran across his name and his picture countless times during my research process, so often in fact, even though I never met him in person, I could have recognized this man's image without the inscriptions surrounding it. To the world, he was the "country lawyer" that maintained a semblance of order during a trying time in our country's history. To the Burke County people, he was the "city lawyer" they called upon when they needed legal assistance. Now there's a lesson to be learned in perception.

Sam ErvinIn January of 1947, the teachers in the area, including those at Pilot Mountain School, asked this former congressman and yet to be senator to represent their interests in what became known as the South Piedmont Proposal. These underpaid, underappreciated, underfunded classroom teachers needed an advocate, one familiar with state government, one who believed in fairness and education and working through the system. They found exactly what they were looking for, although the forty percent raise in the proposal didn't materialize. But this school bell could not be unrung, Sam Ervin's words could not be unsaid and the groundwork was laid for further talks.


Now in 2013 the teachers of the great state of North Carolina once again are needing an advocate, one who is familiar with state government, who believes in fairness and education. They've tried working through the system. That failing, they've resorted to a summer of moral Monday demonstrations, calling upon the state legislature to step up, wake up, and be aware of what the recent drastic funding cuts will mean to the children in public schools.

These current legislators need to spend a few hours watching the crowds appreciate their country lawyer. Lessons Learned.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Signing Time



This past Monday I launched my When Christmas Feels Like Home off to make its way in the world. I did my part in getting it ready for that moment and I'm not just talking about the launch party. I'm talking work, work, work and plenty of team effort. My critique group, brutal though they be, believed in this simple story about a boy, Eduardo, moving to a new life. They were with me for those first versions years ago, as were several online "beta" readers.

Then Kelly Barrales-Saylor, the Albert Whitman & Company editor, did her part, wonderfully so, I might add. The illustrator, Carolina Farias, did her part, also wonderfully so, way beyond my imaginings.

Now it's out of our hands and into the hands of the children. That was my goal through all the submissions and revisions and rewrites...get it to the readers. I've met with the reality that first it will go through the gatekeepers, the parents and media specialists who are the first line of defense. I appreciate their very serious task, applaud them, and encourage them to give Eduardo's story a reading.

And then I celebrated. Unairconditioned, park picnic shelter, water bottles instead of champagne. But I partied.

The guests participated in centers filled with activities related to the story. They played futbol and they played football. They wrote words floating on puffy clouds to inspire me. They created bony fingered tree skeletons and pumpkins that smile. They colored the Christmas page, the climax where Eduardo finally gets to open the Christmas box with the Nativity. They sat in chairs and read the book and rubbed their hands over the pictures, gently, softly, with reverence, tracing the outline of the characters' faces.

We ate food that I matched to the story. My antique toy car carried Moravian cookies shaped like Christmas trees so that for this day, trees rode on cars. The children sampled the candy pumpkins. I don't think too many of them attempted the pumpkin dip for the "Eduardo ate Thanksgiving turkey with his friends" page, but the adults raved about the flavor...and the book.

I came home worn out, drained emotionally and physically, but oh, so satisfied. No doubts now.

This book will soar!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen
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Monday, September 2, 2013

Lessons Learned from Lessons Learned



Today, Labor Day 2013, is the day I selected to celebrate the launch of my newest book, a children’s picture book…a beautiful children’s picture book, I must say so myself, When Christmas Feels Like Home.  
The illustrator took the words I had painstakenly assembled about a homesick little boy, and through her artistic interpretation, added a whole new dimension to the story, taking it to heights I never imagined. What joy! Thank you, Carolina Farias, for giving the readers an Eduardo to remember and a puppy to love.
  
This book is so far on the literature spectrum from the narrative nonfiction, adult level Lessons Learned that you'd think there was no comparison. True, the process was different, but in both cases I was blessed with editors who focused on making the book at hand the best it could possibly be. Thank you Kelly Barrales-Saylor at Albert Whitman & Company. Your patience and persistence helped me turn this manuscript into a reality far beyond my original concept.

One lesson I've learned from Lessons Learned and meeting readers, goes to the reality of putting a book out in the public. The writer has no control once the book is chiseled in stone. This is no baby I've birthed on Labor Day 2013. The birthing came months ago when the final revision was approved. This creature launching today is a teenager on the day he first gets the keys to the family car. It's driving solo now, and where it lands, in the hands of a homesick boy just like Eduardo, or under the couch, forgotten, waiting for the day someone remembers it and looks for grandma to read one more time, no matter the circumstance, I'm no longer in control.

Sounds exciting for Eduardo!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Friday, August 30, 2013

When Christmas Feels Like Home


Take a look at this adorable dog. I know that expression. It's happiness! I feel it, too, grinning as much as he is because I have just this very day received my first shipment of my children's picture book, When Christmas Feels Like Home.

I had seen the pdf. I had browsed through a friend's copy that arrived earlier than expected. But holding my own copy in my hands - priceless. Wait, maybe that's satisfaction I see in that picture.

This happy pooch is a featured part of almost every page in the book. Its personality is a story line in itself from the front cover to the final page with all the simplicity of the manger on Christmas morning. That image, I'll tease you with. The entire book leads up to it, to that moment when the main character, Eduardo, feels like he is finally at this wonderful place called "home."

Thank you, Carolina Farias, for the magnificant illustrations. They are beyond my expectations.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, August 26, 2013

Off to Kindergarten


My younger granddaughter is off and running (literally) to a new part of her life, kindergarten. She's happy and I'm happy for her. When my daughter-in-law gets over the meloncholy of her baby going to school, she'll be happy, too. That might take five minutes because she has plans to meet other mommies at Starbucks!

There was no kindergarten at Pilot Mountain School during most of its existence, or even for the most part in the whole state of public education in North Carolina. Local units, especially city systems, funded kindergarten starting in the late fifties, but the state didn't catch on to the value of early childhood education until the seventies, 1972 in Burke County.

However.

Beginning in 1969 there was a federally funded kindergarten there on the campus. It began the last year the school served first through eighth grades. It continued for two years after that when the school system realigned and it became a junior high with seventh and eighth grades only. Imagine being in a kindergarten class on the first day of school, walking in the halls with wanna-be teenagers and nothing between.

But it worked. The principal made sure it did. The teachers made sure it did. And the older students became mentors, dropping by the room to sit and read with the younger children, to buddy with them, all before the technique became a "modern" concept.

These children in 1971 didn't know how the world would change by the first day of kindergarten for their own future children. All they cared about was love. Security. Feeling wanted and needed. And getting home.

Maybe kindergarten hasn't changed all that much after all.

Reagan Griffith, have a wonderful first day of school!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, August 12, 2013

Teacher Flight

Fifty states in the union and North Carolina ranks fifty-first in teacher salaries. (District of Columbia in case you wondered.) That’s not a statistic to brag about or to attract twenty-first century thinkers who create jobs who bring up the economic level who…you get the picture.

Let’s look back a few years to 1957, in an article by Lynn Nisbet of the Raleigh Bureau of the News-Herald when Governor Luther Hodges stated that in the previous decade the average teacher salaries went from 28th place to 39th. He insisted the budget was as high as the state should go in paying teachers and that the local counties should assume any additional pay. School improvement would have to come from them, not the state.
He did “deplore the loss of competent teachers to other states.”
He did “fear the scale would slip further down the comparative ladder unless the communities assumed a larger share of the school costs.”
He did “know this idea is not popular and might not get votes.”
He did “distribute a memorandum comparing North Carolina’s per capita income, average teacher salaries, and the part paid by the state with data from five other states.”
He did “point out that their state teacher salaries were lower, but local units supplemented funds.”
He did “claim that in North Carolina, the local contribution averaged a mere $148.”
His goal to make the local units more accountable was across the board unpopular, to say the least. The more wealthy city systems cried foul because it increased their budgets, although it did relieve them from shouldering the expenses of poorer areas. The rural county systems had even less resources to draw from and could never compete for teachers under this plan.

Teacher flight had begun.
That was then. This is now. From 39th to 51st? Governor Hodges would be appalled.
Catch of the day,
Gretchen

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Legislative Repeats

One of the History 101 lessons learned is the undeniable fact that the study of history leads civilization to not repeat the mistakes of the past…if said civilization only would listen. One of the advantages of looking back into that past is determining what worked, what didn’t.
Case in point – the 2013 North Carolina General Assembly, along with Governor Pat McCrory, has drastically (if there’s a word on the continuum more drastic than drastically, feel free to insert here) cut funding to the public school systems across the state.
Nothing new.

An editorial by Glen Alpine educator Zeb Dickson submitted to the Morganton News-Herald January 29, 1957 explains it all:

In 1957 North Carolina Legislature will have to do something about raising the salaries of North Carolina teachers. The present critical situation…is a direct result of a short sighted policy on the part of the North Carolina legislature over the past 20 years.

It all started back in 1934 when our Legislature thought they could sacrifice the welfare of the children of the state of North Carolinas and pay us out of a depression by cutting teacher salaries to the bone. Our educational system has never fully recovered from that blow.


Check out the history. Please.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Monday, July 29, 2013

To Master or Not to Master

I’ve been on the sidelines lately, watching the status of teacher-hood in North Carolina change dramatically from the day I last set foot in the classroom a decade ago. Most of the changes were “accomplished” this year, the unlucky thirteenth of this exciting new century, the year of major funding cutbacks.

There is to be no more pay differentiation for teachers with master’s degrees, for starters. Seems that test results show no significant increase when children are taught by teachers with higher degrees. The logic goes along the “so why bother?” lines. For the record, I have a master’s degree in education that I worked, labored, toiled, scrimped, gave up time and part of my income just to earn. So I’m a little miffed at the very suggestion that what I did was in vain.

I must admit, however, legislators could find some backing for their argument in Pilot Mountain School where many teachers were not college graduates, must less holders of master’s degrees. They worked hard, labored, toiled the same number of hours as their peers, and at much lower salary, facing the same overloaded classrooms with little equipment beyond chalk and slate. Their children went on to achieve, or to fail to achieve, in equal proportions to those from college educated teachers. Look at all the money the system saved!

That worked for the 1940’s, sort of. We’ll never really know because the dropout rate was so significant, there weren’t that many students in the upper grades to reap long term test results from.

That also worked much earlier in 1905 where, in the county superintendent’s yearly report, only five out of fifty-three teachers reportedly had college degrees or “normal school training,” as the form was worded. The forty-nine uncertified teachers prepared the students for the twentieth century just as well as their five educated peers.

In theory, maybe, stretching it here, maybe that would make sense. But no. There is something intrinsic about being taught by a well trained, well educated person, something test results won’t expose. It’s one of those inherent rights, the pursuit of education, of sitting at the feet of a master, so to speak.

How’s that old adage go, the one that warns, “You get what you pay for”?

Buyer Beware.
Fast forward to the twenty-second century. What will the bloggers say about superintendent’s 2014 end of year report?

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rainy Events

One lesson I've learned the past few weeks, rain rules.

No matter the preparation, the anticipation, the equipment, it's the rain that's in control. Even with postitive thinking and sunny day attitudes and casual jokes and rain-rain-go-away sing songs, rain reigns.

Outdoor book events do not do well in rain. The dampness seeps into even the most tightly snapped plastic bin. The pages absorb, swell, push back their covers. Not a pretty sight. Neither is the mud splashing on posters. Or the tent sagging under the weight of trapped water. Or even the additional shower down the neck when that trapped water is jabbed from beneath with the crook of an umbrella.

But.

Sitting in a confined space under a tent with a group of writers. Priceless.

Tossing out ideas. Laughing. Commiserating. Are we having fun yet? Priceless.

Spending extra time with people who stop in for shelter and end up sharing their life stories. Priceless.

That's how I celebrated the Fourth of July week, 2013. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but I sure had fun.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Friday, July 5, 2013

Adverbial Days

I've been at the Red, White and Bluegrass festival all week, practically drowning in music and rain. More about that in a later post.

But today I'm guest blogger at another site, Southern Writers. Click on over and visit!



Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Red, White and Bluegrass

What better name for a bluegrass festival during the Fourth of July week than Red, White and Bluegrass!

What better way to celebrate freedom than sitting under open skies, listening to music that comes from the heart of American life. 



What better place to be with my Lessons Learned book than in the heart of Burke County where the story is set and with the people who are real live characters in the book.

What better group to share five days under a tent with than fellow writers.
What better attraction to entice the festival crowd to our tent than the wonderful Sweet Things Bakery and Ice Cream Parlor! YES! They will have tempting cookies and cake slices and oh, my, chocolate chip cookie sandwiches.

Join us every day, beginning today at eleven, all the way through the fireworks on the fourth. Enjoy the bluegrass music (the lineup of musicians sounds fantastic). And drop by our tent.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, June 24, 2013

Called to the Mountains

I can't seem to get away from them.

Mountains.

I was born in a town in the Alleghenies. I went to school at Appalachian State University, can't get much more mountain than that. I live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. My daughter lives in the shadow of Taos Mountain in New Mexico and soon I'll be sitting on her back deck sipping a cup of steamy hot tea as I watch the morning balloon launches in the Rio Grande Gorge, flat top mesas in the background. Aah!

I wrote about a school in the South Mountains in Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School. I wrote about a boy moving to the tree farms on the mountain slopes of North Carolina in the yet to be released but coming soon, When Christmas Seems Like Home.

Now...

Ta-Da...

Presenting my newest book! Set in the mountains, go figure.

Called to the Mountains: The Story of Jean L. Frese.



Only this time those mountains are the Smokies, the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. And there on the cover is the subject of the book, Jean Frese, also known as Lorraine. What a story she had. What a witness to faith and determination.

This is her memoir, her voice. I changed very little of the recorded interview during the transcribing to writing process. She's my mother's cousin, raised by my grandmother, so I look on her as my aunt, Aunt Lorraine, despite the subtitle of the book. Her name change from Lorraine to Jean was only a small part of this faith story. It's a story of her life at the Salvation Army Mountain Mission in Shelton Laurel, North Carolina. It's a story of answering God's call, her call to the mountains.

Available now on Amazon.  Kindle version will be available later this week.

The call to the mountains runs deep in our family.

Catch of the Day,

Gretchen