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Poets to the rescue!
Apr 09, 2020  
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April is National Poetry Month, a celebration that could lift your spirits at such a trying time.  Social distancing and isolation have increased anxiety and boredom.  Those who are trying to entertain and teach school age children may want to check poets.org/national-poetry-month that features a treasure trove of free resources and activities, including a free poster, Dear Poet, Poem-a-Day, and the Shelter in Poems feel-good collection.  My personal favorite poetry resource is the DVD from the old HBO series Classical Baby: I’m Grown Up Now: The Poetry Show. The animated series features the voices of John Lithgow, Gwyneth Paltrow, Andy Garcia, Susan Sarandon and others reading poems by Frost, Shakespeare, Browning, et al.  It’s available from Amazon.

5 Feel Good Movies You May Not Know
Mar 21, 2020  
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Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

Enjoy these 5 "feel good" movies you may not know that are low-stress and highly uplifting. What are your favorite "feel good" movies?

1. Far From the Madding Crowd

2. The Hundred-Foot Journey

3. Hotel For Dogs or read the book

4. Under the Tuscan Sun

5. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

5 Healthy Snacks We're Obsessed With
Mar 19, 2020  
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Who else loves a crunchy and healthy snack that's not boring like carrots or celery? Move over boring health foods, you do not bring me joy! Small changes like adding a few of these snacks are important and can make a big difference not only in how you feel physically, but mentally.

Here are 5 that we're obsessed with. Enjoy with your favorite hummus, guac, salsa or by themselves! What are some of your favorite healthy snacks that excite you?

1. Real Food From The Ground Up Cauliflower Stalks 

2. Real Food From The Ground Up Butternut Squash Pretzels

3. Siete Grain Free Tortilla Chips

4. Popcorners Snacks Variety Pack

5. Angie's BOOMCHICKAPOP Sea Salt Popcorn

Life on the Mississippi
Feb 25, 2020  
by Mary Jane McKinney
Life on the Mississippi

Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain has been one of the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Book Club selection of the month. Guest author and historian Adam Hochschild calls Life on the Mississippi “one of the greatest non-fiction works ever.” 

Why is Twain’s travelogue so important? Hochschild points out that Life on the Mississippi is one of the few books about work. Twain goes into detail about the actual job of steamboat pilot as the book describes voyages on the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Minnesota. Hochschild adds: “When you are writing about an extraordinary, fascinating profession at the peak of its glory, you don’t have to make things up.”

Back to School
Aug 13, 2018  
by Mary Jane McKinney
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Back-to-School shopping is the second-biggest retail season of the year. Local retailers have kids to thank for the back-to-school bonanza. Kids don’t trust mom and dad to order lunch boxes and T-shirts online.

The recently published Deloitte 2018 Back-to-School Survey forecasts the following:

Biggest Season Ever. Shoppers will spend $27.6 billion this year. The average household will spend $510, an increase from $501 in 2017.
Let’s Go to the Mall! Foot traffic rules! Kids are picky about their clothes and supplies. They want to try stuff on, buy what’s cool, and see and touch selections. 83% of back-to-school buying is done in person at department stores and office supply retailers.
Clothes Top the List. Most of the budget is spent on clothes, shoes, and accessories. $15.1 billion will be spent on new duds, an average of $286 per household.

True Story for Black History Month
Feb 17, 2018  
by Mary Jane McKinney
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Up From Slavery reveals a secret to academic success . . . learn how to sweep a room.

Booker T. Washington once worked as a servant for a Mrs. Ruffner who was a neatnik. She taught the teenage Washington how to thoroughly sweep a room, how to dust, how to keep everything organized and clean. When destitute and homeless Washington applied to Hampton Institute in Richmond, Virginia, he was not admitted right away. He had fifty cents in his pocket, had not eaten or bathed in days, and looked like a tramp. The head teacher handed him a broom and told him to clean a classroom.

Washington knew this was his chance to prove himself. He swept the room three times. He moved all the furniture so he could clean every inch of the floor. He dusted four times. He cleaned the woodwork and every bench, table, and desk. When he was through, the head teacher took a handkerchief and rubbed it over the woodwork, tables, and benches, finding no dust or dirt whatsoever. She approved Washington’s admission based on his self-discipline revealed in his ability to clean a classroom.

Washington claimed: “The sweeping of that room was my college examination, and never did any youth pass an examination for entrance into Harvard or Yale that gave him more genuine satisfaction.”

Check out Grammardog.com's Black History titles: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe, and Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington.

FRANKENSTEIN DAY
Aug 29, 2017  
by Mary Jane McKinney
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FRANKENSTEIN DAY is August 30.  Why?  Because it’s the birthday of Mary Shelley who was born on August 30, 1797.  Shelley began writing the novel Frankenstein when she was 18 years old.  The first edition of the classic was published anonymously in 1818 when she was 20.

Mary Shelley’s name appeared on the second edition published in France in 1823.

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!
Apr 19, 2017  
by Mary Jane McKinney
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Sunday, April 23rd will be the bard’s 453rd birthday.

Harold Bloom, Yale University professor and Shakespeare scholar, observes that Shakespeare’s writing marks the beginning of the modern era and our idea of what it means to be human. Shakespeare explored human fears, virtues and flaws, giving each character a psychological profile and inventing complex relationships that still spark debate. Did Lady Macbeth force her husband to murder by questioning his manly courage? Or would Macbeth have killed the king anyway without his wife’s taunts?

If you once had to memorize a Shakespeare passage, try to recite it again. Chances are you will discover fragments of Shakespeare’s verse in the cobwebs of your mind. If you never had to learn a passage by heart, try memorizing a few lines. Here are some short quotes worth committing to memory:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant only taste of death but once.” (Julius Caesar, Act II, scene ii, line 32)

“For stony limits cannot hold love out.” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene ii, line 67)

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene i, line 184)

“All the world’s a stage, and men and women merely players.” (As You Like It, Act II, scene vii, line 139)

“To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles . . . (Hamlet, Act III, scene i, line 55)

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. (Macbeth, Act V, scene v, line 19)

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. (The Tempest, Act IV, scene i, line 156)

WHY DO WE SAY “MERRY” CHRISTMAS?
Dec 24, 2016  
by Mary Jane McKinney
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We say “Happy” birthday, New Year, Thanksgiving, Easter and lots of other holidays. But Christmas is the only “Merry” greeting. The answer lies in the tradition of drinking alcohol at Christmas. “Merry” used to mean “tipsy” or “drunk” and the custom of getting drunk at Christmas goes back to the 4th century.

- 324 A.D. Early Christians celebrated Easter only. Pope Liberius added Christmas to the church calendar and set the date December 25. The idea was to attract more converts who liked to celebrate the Roman winter festival Saturnalia when houses were decorated with evergreens and everybody played games, gave gifts and partied.
- Middle Ages. Christmas was celebrated as a rowdy party with dancing, drinking and sexual revelry.
- The Reformation. In the 1500s Protestants banned the wild festival of Christmas, but Catholics partied on.
- The Restoration. In England the Puritans banned Christmas when they seized power in 1640. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Christmas made a comeback. So did the drinking and revelry.
- 1844. Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, a novel where Ebenezer Scrooge says, “Merry Christmas!”
- Temperance Movement. In the late 1800s in England, women campaigned against drinking alcohol at Christmas. They proposed doing away with the tipsy “Merry” and replacing it with “Happy.” To this day the English and Irish say “Happy Christmas.”

O. Henry’s Banana Republic
Sep 27, 2016  
by Mary Jane McKinney
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Featured Artist @trishalyonsart

How did O. Henry wind up in Honduras? O. Henry’s real name was William Sydney Porter. The author of beloved stories like The Gift of the Magi was also a criminal. Porter was arrested in 1896 for embezzling from the First National Bank of Austin, Texas. The day before his trial, Porter skipped town. He took a train to New Orleans and then a boat to Honduras. While holed up in a hotel, he wrote the novel Cabbages and Kings set in a fictitious Latin American country.

In the novel, Porter coins the expression banana republic that refers to countries in Latin America whose economies are dependent on a single resource such as coffee, sugar, silver, copper or bananas. Porter also invents the stereotype of the cigar-smoking former general who is the ruthless dictator at the helm of an unstable, corrupt government in Latin America.

After six months in the tropics, Porter returned to Austin when word reached him that his wife was dying. He was tried and convicted of the federal crime of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison. Porter spent his prison years writing short stories under the pseudonym O. Henry. Getting the stories published from prison was tricky. He mailed the manuscripts to a friend in New Orleans who would then send them to various magazines.

Porter was released from prison after three years for good behavior. He moved to New York City where he wrote 381 short stories and enjoyed considerable fame. A heavy drinker, Porter died in New York at the age of 47 and is buried in Asheville, North Carolina where he owned a summer home.