Monday, October 30, 2006


Holiday Hill Farm in Wilton, Connecticut, came up with an original marketing tool when it published Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano through Sterling Publishing. Since Troiano first told the story in 1997 (when his young son asked for a Halloween bedtime story that wasn’t scary), it’s become a popular Halloween tale of adversity overcome and even (you guessed it) diversity celebrated. Along the lines of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Spookley is the odd one out who ultimately saves the day. And Spookley’s legacy lives on when his wise farmer sows Spookley seeds and creates a new crop of unusual pumpkins that includes the rectangular, triangular, and rainbow-colored in addition to the square. My favorite line, “Oh what a garden diversity makes,” wraps up the meaning of the story for me. As Troiano puts it “I think everyone connects in some way with the core message that it’s OK to be square in a round world.”

But Holiday Hill Farm has taken this project a bit farther by inviting family farms across the country to become Spookley farm affiliates. As an affiliate, farm owners can take advantage of the growing interest not only in the Spookley story book, but in Spookley activities and promotions that help drive pumpkin pickers to their local family farms rather than the Wal-mart parking lot for pumpkins and other Halloween merchandise. Help support this effort by checking out the list of Spookley farm affiliates to see if one is located near you, or by ordering Spookley books and other fun stuff. My girls love the book as well as the CD that tells the Spookley story and features catchy, original Halloween tunes. Enjoy!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Beyond FRIDAY: Scouting for…A Halloween Thaw

Yes, this is what it really looks like in Denver right now…autumn leaves mixed with snow, snow and more snow. I look at this photo and then switch over to Simply Wait and the bright photo of autumn leaves Patry Francis has posted and understand why the rest of the country is so surprised we’ve been hit with a snowstorm already. This is Colorado, though, and surprise storms in the fall and spring are part of the landscape. Those of us who love to ski aren’t complaining, I can tell you that.

While at Simply Wait, take the time to read Patry’s memorable post on “best moments.” My parents seem to make it into much of my free writing, and the comment I left on Patry’s blog was no exception:

“My dad always walked in the door and gave my mom a hug. He ran a U-Haul business while my mom ran a household of eleven kids. Needless to say, she was exhausted by the time he came home, and I could see her—and my dad—touch base and gather strength to finish the day within that brief embrace each evening. What a gift they gave their watchful daughter in those best moments.”

We all have them…best moments. Thankfully writers like Patry are around to remind us to recognize them as they happen, recall them when we’re in need of comfort, and share them with those we love. I have a feeling my kiddos will remember this Halloween fondly regardless of the weather, and as each year goes by I’m beginning to understand how important it is for them to have their own best moments to savor and share. Hugging comes naturally around here, but maybe this wintry Halloween weekend we’ll try to slow down (okay, I’LL try to slow down) long enough to really touch base, gather strength, and add to our family’s collection of best moments any way we can.

Photo © Denver Post

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Beyond FACTS: “The Long War” by Charles Sennott

On my way to pick up the kids from school, I often tune into NPR’s The World. A recent World report on “The Long War” in Afghanistan nearly led me to pull over to the side of the road and weep. The damage done to the international community’s view of Americans in the past few years distresses and disturbs me. In the report, Charles Sennott, a reporter from The Boston Globe, spoke about his recent experience in Pakistan with a leading cleric who supports Pakistan’s President—a U.S. ally—but also supports Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. Asked how he can justify this paradox and promote a “violent interpretation of Islamic faith,” the cleric dismissed Sennott and proceeded to preach a sermon which succinctly answered Sennott’s questions: “We are friends of Osama because the Western world is against Muslims,” he stated, adding that he and his followers support President Musharraf despite the fact that the Pakistani leader is forced to deal with the U.S. “because America is a superpower.”

My next-door neighbors are from Pakistan, and I do not hate them. We’ve never discussed religion because, frankly, the religion they practice is none of my business. Americans in large cities on both coasts have neighbors and co-workers who are Muslim. They travel on subways and trains with people from Pakistan and other Muslim nations every day and do not bother them, question them, or hate them. I’m appalled that our government, in a few short years, has done so much to portray our country as hate-filled and prejudiced. As Charles Sennott’s report from Pakistan continued, however, I realized people in Muslim countries have been given many concrete reasons not only to view us with distrust, but to consider the U.S. a horrific enemy that deserves to be attacked.

Sennott’s story concluded in the Dir province along the Afghan-Pakistani border. In a small village, a young man named Shah Mohammed told the story of his imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay. He speaks, Sennott says, until “his face grows despondent, and his thoughts fragment.” Shah Mohammed, a baker in his family’s business, was apprehended at age 21 in 2001 for no reason other than a suspicion he might be associated with the Taliban. After 18 months of torture—torture—by Americans in Guantanamo Bay that led Shah Mohammed to attempt suicide four times, someone finally checked his alibis and decided he was innocent. He was not given any sort of apology or reparations. He was simply returned to his village, where his story has been told and retold and spread to neighboring villages, compelling thousands of angry young men to take up arms and battle the Americans.

I have nephews in their early 20s, and I can tell you if someone arrested one of them for no reason and tortured him for 18 months, leading him to attempt suicide four times and then leaving him to struggle with demons the rest of his life, I’d be incensed. The family of Shah Mohammed say “his treatment at Guantanamo destroyed the mind and the soul of a young man who was once confident and adventurous.” Their neighbors ask, “Why did they do all this with an innocent man?” And the hatred against Americans grows and grows.

I’m posting on Sennott’s brave report because it reveals the points of view of people on the other side of the globe who’ve come to revile us for very personal, painful reasons. It’s critical that we learn of others’ perspectives not only within our own communities but within the entire world in which we live. Perhaps one day such a collective awareness of what’s gone so terribly awry with American foreign relations will lead us to insist our leaders extend long-overdue apologies to innocent people like Shah Mohammed, offer reparations for the many crimes—yes, crimes—we’ve committed, and pave the path to a lasting peace with all nations. While Iraq disintegrates and Afghanistan heads to treacherous times with the frightening resurgence of the Taliban, the least we Americans can do is pray and pray and vote the people responsible for such destruction out of office. Maybe then, with new leadership, we can hope to rebuild our own self-confidence as well as our international reputation; maybe then we can hope to hear good news on the radio for a change.

Photo © National Geographic

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Beyond FANFARE: Nobel Laureates Offer Hope for Brighter Future

The list of the 2006 Nobel Laureates is impressive. Most are Americans who’ve made important contributions in various areas, including medicine. Thanks to the work of Nobel Laureates Andrew Fire and Craig Mello and their 1998 discovery of “gene silencing,” for example, plans are now underway to use “silencing RNA” to treat viral infections, heart disease, cancer, and other medical conditions.

I was most intrigued by two international Nobel Laureates, Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk and innovative banker to the poor in India, Muhammad Yunus. I’d read about Pamuk and how he’d been criticized in his own country:

“In his home country, Pamuk has a reputation as a social commentator even though he sees himself as principally a fiction writer with no political agenda. He was the first author in the Muslim world to publicly condemn the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. He took a stand for his Turkish colleague Yaşar Kemal when Kemal was put on trial in 1995. Pamuk himself was charged after having mentioned, in a Swiss newspaper, that 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in Turkey. The charge aroused widespread international protest. It has subsequently been dropped.” ( bio)

According to a recent Associated Press article, “Academy head Horace Engdahl said Pamuk’s political situation in Turkey had not affected the decision. He said Pamuk was selected because he had ‘enlarged the roots of the contemporary novel’ through his links to both Western and Eastern culture. ‘This means that he has stolen the novel, one can say, from us Westerners and has transformed it to something different from what we have ever seen before.’” As the Nobel Foundation put it: “In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city” of Istanbul, Pamuk “has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.”

While Pamuk draws attention to the challenges facing our world as Western and Eastern cultures continue to collide, Muhammad Yunus offers a simple but empowering way to help the poor in his native India through the Grameen Bank he founded: micro-credit. Through micro-credit, poor people are given small loans and are asked to pay back those loans as they are able.

According to another recent AP article: “Anyone can qualify for a loan—the average is about $200—but recipients are put in groups of five. Once two members of the group have borrowed money, the other three must wait for the funds to be repaid before they get a loan.” According to the Grameen Bank, “the method encourages social responsibility. The results are hard to argue with—the bank says it has a 99 percent repayment rate. Since Yunus gave out his first loans in 1974, micro-credit schemes have spread throughout the developing world and are now considered a key to alleviating poverty and spurring development.”

As the Nobel Foundation put it: “Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights” especially among poor women.

On the wall of our study is a rendering of a human figure by my good friend, teacher and artist (and illustrator of my book’s cover) Michele Holcombe Pisetzner. The figure is composed of words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Lecture in December 1964: “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it…. Today, therefore, the question on the agenda must read, why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table…?”

Thanks to the efforts of pioneers like Muhammad Yunus, the poor of India and many other countries now have a fighting chance as they struggle to establish small businesses and feed and clothe their families. Meanwhile, thanks to the outspoken bravery of people like writer Orhan Pamuk, governments are being forced to acknowledge mass killings that never should have happened. The deaths of innocents mar the histories of so many countries, including our own. Only through reconciliation and positive change can we hope to achieve a more prosperous and peaceful future. Thanks to all Nobel Laureates, past and present, for helping us find our way.

Photo of Muhammad Yunus © P. Rahman/Scanpix

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Beyond FAREWELL: Buck O’Neil, “Baseball Star who Outlived the Segregation of America’s Negro Leagues”

But John “Buck” O’Neil did much more than outlive segregation, and he played a prominent role in Ken Burns’ 1993 documentary Baseball because of all he’d accomplished through the years. “As clearly as he delineated the sad history of prejudice that had denied him the chance to excel on a bigger stage,” an obituary from The Guardian reads, “O’Neil displayed an enthusiasm for the game—as player, manager, scout and coach—so heartfelt that he was effectively baseball's one-man peace and reconciliation commission.

“His remarkable attitude was displayed again this summer, when US baseball admitted an additional 17 Negro League players to its Hall of Fame. O’Neil had been one of the 39 candidates considered by a special committee, but fell one vote short of election. However, he still delivered the keynote address in Cooperstown, New York, that day, and told the crowd, ‘I want you to light up this valley.... They didn’t feel Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame, so we’re going to live with that. Now if I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that’s all right for me.... Don’t weep for Buck, be happy, be humble.’”

Young O’Neil did weep—for two days—when he was denied admission to a segregated Sarasato, Florida, high school. But he earned his high school diploma and took college-level courses elsewhere (he was also barred from attending the University of Florida), eventually taking his incredible baseball skills on the road with Negro League teams. Ultimately, Buck O’Neil would work as a scout for Major League Baseball teams; he was named the first black coach in the majors when he took that job with the Chicago Cubs in 1962. O’Neil also helped establish the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City and fought to create a pension fund for veterans of black baseball.

Buck O’Neil died Friday, October 6. He was 94.

Thanks once again to Patry Francis at Simply Wait for the link to Buck O’Neil’s obituary in The Guardian. Another tribute has been posted on the Chicago Tribune site.

“Be happy, be humble.” Amen.

Photo © Reuters

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Beyond FASCINATION: “Whatever you think….”

Over at Simply Wait, author Patry Francis reflects on two memorable encounters from a recent trip to the grocery store. Check out the lively discussion in her comments section, too. I have a feeling her second encounter wasn’t triggered by the green of the stranger’s eyes, but by their intensity. I was captivated in a similar way while watching the second PBS segment of Eyes on the Prize (an appropriate title on so many levels!) about the Civil Rights Movement last night and was fascinated by that intensity in the eyes of so many people interviewed. There’s no looking away when you see someone like that, when you come across a person—even in a documentary—who views the world on such direct terms, who harbors such an intense understanding of what needs to be done. Diane Nash—a student at Nashville’s noted Fisk University in 1961 who organized sit-ins at lunch counters, founded a non-violent student group responsible for numerous peaceful but powerful protests, and selected students who would become the first Freedom Riders—is one of those people whose presence of mind and heart and soul ultimately impress, and whose eyes challenge assumptions at the very first glance.

For more striking photos of Nash and many other Civil Rights activists in action, check out the Civil Rights Movement Veterans site. Then mark your calendar for next Monday night for the final segment of Eyes on the Prize.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Beyond FORGIVENESS: An Amish Lesson in Living the Golden Rule

“Amish Mourn Gunman in School Rampage,” the headline read. I’d shied away from details of both the recent Colorado and Pennsylvania school shootings, but this article I had to read. And I’m glad I did. The “quiet milkman” who shattered the lives of so many last Monday left behind his widow, Marie, and three young children. Marie Roberts probably did not expect to see any Amish mourners at her husband’s funeral today, but she saw dozens. A chaplain from Colorado, Bruce Porter, is quoted in the article. Porter had gone to Pennsylvania to offer his help, and was moved by this simple Amish display of grace. “It’s the love, the forgiveness, the heartfelt forgiveness (the Amish) have toward the (Roberts) family,” Porter said, adding that Marie Roberts was deeply affected by such a show of kindness. “She was absolutely deeply moved,” Porter said, “by just the love shown.” I’m awed by the simple yet profound message the Amish sent out with this gesture. Hopefully clergy across the country will be moved to present this example of how we all ought to treat each other from their pulpits this weekend. Hopefully we’ll all learn a thing or two from the Amish as we try to make sense of the senseless, and seemingly endless, stream of tragedies that plague our world.

Photo © Associated Press

Friday, October 06, 2006

Beyond FRIDAY: Scouting for…Colorful Memories

In Colorado, the aspens get all the attention come fall. They turn bright yellow, and a stand of golden aspens against a bright Colorado sky is truly breathtaking. This fall has been stunning here in the Denver area; thanks to some extra rain this past summer, we’re seeing colors we usually don’t see even this time of the year. Streaks of red and orange provide stark contrast against the typical yellows; my Autumn Blaze maple out front is just about to turn and I’m hoping for a good show from it. As a native northeasterner, I was spoiled growing up. I thought everyone had a backyard that bordered on woods, that an annual riot of fall colors up and down every street was the norm. I remember the huge raked piles just waiting to be scattered, the smell of leaves trampled underfoot. I remember my grandmother tossing leaves into the air and letting them fall all around her as she laughed. My grandparents always came to visit in the fall. And on Columbus Day weekends, my parents would pile their brood into one of the motor homes they rented through my dad’s U-Haul business and drive into New England “to see the leaves.” I loved those drives and I know my brothers and sisters did, too. My parents, now in their 70s and owners of their own small RV, just e-mailed today that they’re heading out for a couple days of sightseeing. They’ve traveled those roads many times over the years; they know the best paths to take. There are more than a few of us who wish we were going with them. I’ll just have to settle for a quick scenic drive into the mountains of Colorado tomorrow, followed by a neighborhood picnic in the park down the street. Somehow I don’t think my kids will mind and I’m sure the views will be beautiful, but I have a feeling my heart will be somewhere in New England, cherishing the autumns of my childhood.

Photo ©

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Beyond FEAR: “Girls as Targets” article on

Tamika Payne, Executive Director of Denver-based Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, is interviewed in the article “Girls as Targets: Recent School Shootings” posted on In her discussion of the school shootings and assaults in Bailey, Colorado, and Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, Payne emphasizes the need to talk to all children about the reality of sexual violence, especially the fact that such incidents are not ever a child’s fault.

As a writer, I automatically imagine everything that such violent acts set into motion: the trauma inflicted on the survivors and their families that they’ll have to deal with for the rest of their lives, the anguish of the victims’ families. What about the sisters of the girls who were killed? My two girls are best friends; I can’t imagine one of them suffering the loss of the other. What of the teachers, the administrators, the people in whose care these children were trusted? The day of the Columbine shootings (this is such a tame word, really, when in reality multiple murders took place then and this past week, not just “shootings”) happened in April 1999, one of my brothers called to make sure we were all right. A dad to three teenagers at the time, he remarked that the one place in the world where we like to assume our children are always safe is at school. How I wish we could be right in that assumption, how I wish no school “shootings” ever occurred.

In the article, Tamika Payne also notes that sexual violence needs to be addressed long before highly publicized incidents occur. Organizations like the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault deserve recognition for their efforts to keep this difficult, painful subject in the forefront of the public consciousness. Only through such efforts will sexual violence ever be effectively addressed.

Photo ©

Monday, October 02, 2006


Eyes on the Prize, a documentary of the American Civil Rights Movement, will be aired on PBS stations on three consecutive Mondays this month: today, October 2, as well as October 9, and October 16. Here in Denver on Rocky Mountain PBS (channel 6), each airing runs from 8-10 p.m.

Parents and teachers also can direct their school’s administrators to the Facing History and Ourselves site for its new Eyes on the Prize study guide. Facing History and Ourselves will be conducting teacher workshops this fall to help ensure the important lessons presented in the Eyes on the Prize documentary will be reinforced in our country’s classrooms. As Margot Stern Strom, Executive Director of Facing History and Ourselves, puts it, it’s critical to get this groundbreaking documentary into classrooms where it can be viewed and discussed so “a new generation…can confront the fundamental reality that a strong democracy depends on educating its youth to the meaning and responsibility of freedom.”

An unflinching, revealing tribute, Eyes on the Prize covers the Civil Rights Movement beginning in 1954. It includes riveting first-person accounts that made this series a very deserving and critically acclaimed award-winner when it was first aired nearly 20 years ago.