And Pete’s banjo gently weeps

“I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody…I love my country very deeply.”—Pete Seeger.

In 1986, I saw Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie in concert at the Front Row Theater—the Highland Heights wonderful theater-in-the-round (unfortunately, the Front Row met its demise in 1995, replaced by a Home Depot).    Pete’s banjo, however, lives on at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Pete Seeger, legendary folk singer, dies at 94 – The Washington Post.

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One Heart: Chardon, Ohio

The first game in a Division I boys basketball game was played last night—an important game because the winner advances in the playoffs.  At the end of the evening, there was one “winner” and one “loser”—right?

Not exactly. This game was between the Chardon Hilltoppers and the Madison Blue Streaks, and it was the first sports event since the school shootings in Chardon.

The crowd came wearing black and red ribbons and black and red clothing—Chardon’s school colors—no matter which team they came to support.

When it was time to warm up, the Madison team ran onto the court wearing black shirts with CHARDON emblazoned across their chests.  When they changed into their uniforms for the game, they wore red socks with their usual blue and white uniforms. Their actions sent a clear message of compassion and empathy.

This was not the only thoughtful action coming from students.  In the days following the shooting, Facebook carried photos from many other schools; masses of students posed for pictures while wearing Chardon’s red and black colors.  “One heart,” many said.

At Westlake High School, the Plain Dealer reported, students created and signed a banner that read, “Dear Chardon HS, We are thinking of you. Love, Westlake HS.”  The banner was delivered to Chardon High School on March 1, in time to be seen by students as they returned to school.

The students’ lesson is obvious, if we’re paying attention.  The things that really matter are not any team’s wins and losses, whether it’s sports teams, political teams, or even religious ones.  We are all part of one humanity, and we can look out for each other.  As adults, we try to set an example for our children to follow.  In this case, they are setting one for us.

Author’s note:  I taught in the Chardon community for many years, giving piano and flute lessons to Chardon kids, conducting flute choirs, helping to coach the middle school sound-of-music Science Olympiad team, and occasionally playing flute on the Chardon Music Shop float for the Maple Festival Parade. I don’t personally know the families that experienced this tragedy, but I feel very connected to the community, and my heart goes out to them. 

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Twelve Lines to Welcome 2012!

Twelve Lines to Welcome 2012!

Could this year really have come to its end

With days of good and bad and foe and friend

Two thousand eleven will pass its way

In ordained time, two thousand twelve will stay

But what will happen, and how will it be

Between now until next year’s Christmas tree

(In the spirit of beginnings we say:

Welcome, New Year…a new stage, a new play)

And how will we handle each day and night

Spread before us…the year’s canvas in sight

With three hundred sixty-six days sublime

Just like the others…one day at a time

An official farewell to 2011 and welcome to 2012 to all of you out in blogland.  I looked for a poem to post to my Facebook page, but I couldn’t find anything I really liked, so I wrote one.

I came up with the last line first and noticed it was ten syllables.  (NOTE: There’s really no reason why anyone should notice or remember that, but here I am).  If you studied poetry in high school or college, you’ll remember a ten-syllable line is called pentameter.  (See note above).  I had high hopes of coming up with a poem in iambic pentameter, a fairly rigid method of arranging words so the emphasis is on every second syllable, which is harder than it looks. (See note above). 

I managed to stick to pentameter.  Had I waited for iambic lines, however, it may have taken me into the new year and, well, my poem would have lost something by then.

With that said, I wish you a Happy New Year; may it be filled with health, happiness, and prosperity.  Welcome 2012!

John Kavouras

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Winging It

A butterfly painted in the seventeenth century needs a social network? Apparently so. Yet this was not a question I contemplated several years ago, when I began the magical journey that resulted in last month’s publication of my first children’s book, Belle: The Amazing, Astonishingly Magical Journey of an Artfully Painted Lady. Recently, and not unlike my butterfly protagonist, Belle, I have found myself attempting to navigate a protean twenty-first century world. It turns out she’s better at it than I am. I am jealous of Belle’s ability to travel through the centuries by effortlessly blending into great works of art. She’s got that morphing thing down. Me? Not so much.

I am an art historian by day, but I began writing children’s stories as a serious leisure pursuit back in the mid-1990s, when the Internet was barely available via dial-up. I wrote because I loved children’s literature and I loved the process of writing and, in truth, I thought if I ever got lucky enough to have one of my stories published, the most daunting aspect of taking it public would be creating a lively presentation for expectant grade school audiences. But the fast-paced, ever- expanding opportunities offered by the Web has left me – well, spinning.

In anticipation of Belle’s release and at the urging of my publisher, I opened a Twitter account. But now the novelty has worn off and I find I have to make an effort to check in. And I have yet to send out a tweet. I am in awe of people who are able to create witty, insightful tweets and blog posts on a regular basis. And as I try to build some sort of online presence, I find I am also in awe of those people that can keep all of their various and sundry passwords and log-ins straight!

I do have a LinkedIn page (but no Facebook – yet) and there are lots of lively and useful discussions going on in the LinkedIn SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) group of which I am a member – but I am still waiting for the right moment to jump into one of those chats myself. I don’t know why I find that so intimidating. I think it is in part because I always feel so pressed for time and I have a subconscious fear of being sucked into a vortex of my own making and from which there will be no escape.

I have a day job that I love, a family (with a typically-active teenage daughter) that I love, and of course, I have more stories to write! I try to feed my writer’s spirit by attending conferences and workshops, when I can squeeze them in, and now that Belle has been published, I have happily added preparing book talks to the to-do list. It is so exciting to see her in print and I want to do right by her in getting the word out. But how? I am a bit bewildered as to how to best use my time in the evolving online world. Which of the social media is actually effective and worth the amount of time they demand? Should Belle be on Facebook? Should my butterfly be Tweeting? Should she have her own webpage? How about a Book Trailer? What should come first? How do I figure this all out???? And then, factor in the learning curve for using these resources – but that’s a story for another day!

Thank goodness I have an amazing old-fashioned web of support – you know, the friends, colleagues and family, without whom Belle and I would really be flying erratically and blind. (For example, check out Belle’s new book trailer by MediaMix Productions, aka my sister! Where would I be without her!)

It’s a new world out there, for Belle and I – but we’re bravely winging it!

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Finding My Inner Hobo

Part of the fun of writing historical fiction is exploring other time periods. I never know what I might learn—and where my research might lead.  This summer, it led to Britt, Iowa—population 2,069—except for the second weekend in August, when several thousand more people converge on Britt to enjoy its long-running National Hobo Convention. 

 This year marked their 111th convention (yes, really!), and sixty-some hobos gathered in the hobo jungle on the northeast part of town.  For the four official days of the convention, the hobos sang and read poetry by the campfire, honored and memorialized those among them who had “caught the Westbound” the previous years, hosted a tea for women in the town, and performed a hobo marriage ceremony.  The townspeople, for their part, made giant drums of mulligan in the city park for everyone, elected the Hobo King and Queen who would reign for 2011-2012, and hosted a parade that starred a hobo float.

 When I describe the convention, people are immediately curious, and I’m peppered with questions. Who are these hobos?  Do they have jobs? Are they homeless? Do they still hobo? Why do they do it?

 There is no single answer.  The hobos range from teenagers to nonagenarians; some have jobs, some do not, some are retired.  Some still hobo, some hoboed in the Great Depression while looking for work.  Some “catch out” for adventure, some do it simply for transportation. Some live at the edges of society, and others have embraced it enough to earn master’s degrees and PhDs.

 But I witnessed one unifying trait that could be attributed to all the hobos:  their sense of community.  They look out for each other, and they care about each other. They share what they have, and they pool their money, even if they don’t have much, for a common need.

 The idea of being a hobo appeals to most of us on some level.  It stirs our wanderlust—that wish for a taste of freedom that comes from being unencumbered.    

The slogan for the convention says it well: There’s a Little Bit of Hobo in All of Us.  This summer, I got in touch with mine, and she wants to hop a freight.

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Writers on Reading

Writers on Reading

It could have been the summer doldrums…it could have been that we were all especially busy…it could have been that we were avoiding writing.  Who knows?  But as the July meeting of our writers’ group loomed, no one had submitted any new writing for the group to review. 

This lack of writing was not a new phenomenon, but when it happened I liked to think of things we could do instead; anything to advance our writing.  I began thinking about writing in general.  I knew that even if no one was writing anything, we were all reading.  So from Bee Season to World Without End we talked books…what we liked to read and why. 

What did the author do to make us keep reading?  What books would we read again? We by no means agreed on all of them, but we were willing to keep an open mind. 

We were supposed to think of four or five books each but, as anyone who remembers his or her multiplication tables can see, we didn’t quite follow the rules.  That wasn’t new either. 

Our daily lives had gotten in the way.  I figured that, at the very least, we would all have some new authors to consider, and I’m always looking for new authors.  This is not one of those stuffy literary-ish lists of books that no one really likes.  And because there are four “varietals” in our group, it gives a whole new meaning to eclectic. 

These are our favorites.  What are some of yours?

                                                                                –John Kavouras

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology by Cheikh Anta Diop

Dave Barry Turns 40 by Dave Barry

Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe Hill

Happenstance: Two Novels in One About a Marriage in Transition by Carol Shields

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Hero with an African Face by Clyde W. Ford

The Hunger Games trilogy (especially books one and two) by Suzanne Collins

Just Kids by Patti Smith

King Lear by William Shakespeare

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Living Blood by Tananarive Due

Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

World Without End by Ken Follett

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Poetic License

Poetic License

Last week, as I was getting ready to go on vacation, I tried to get through (read: delete) as many emails as possible.

In my quick run-through I came across an email that showed how backwards our thinking can be sometimes.  I don’t know who wrote the original message, but I wanted to make a few changes and pass the message on. 

This brought up several questions, not the least of which was: Do I have the right to blatantly use this piece of writing? And can I change it around to make a point?  I decided the answer to both questions is: Yes!

What gives me that right, one might ask—I know I would want to know—why, it’s Poetic License.

Poetic license—defined as the liberty taken by a writer to deviate from conventions to achieve a desired effect—was the perfect thing to allow me to ignore the rules in pursuit of a noble purpose.  Here goes!


Like she did almost every morning, Mother Nature walked out onto her huge balcony.  She lived on a high mountain and liked to look over her domain.  She didn’t stay out there long, though—something was wrong.

She buzzed her assistant, “Buttercup, can you come in for a moment?”

“Yes?”  Buttercup waited expectantly by the office door.

“You know how I feel about nature, and the way I set things up, and how I feel about change?”

“Of course, M. N.”  Buttercup was the only one who could get away with calling Mother Nature by her nickname.

“Well, what in the world is going on all over the planet? I expected to see a vast garden of color, but all I see are green rectangles.

“What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweed, and all the stuff I started eons ago? It was a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought, and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees, and flocks of songbirds.”

“It’s the people, M. N., mostly the Suburbanites.  They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.”

“Grass?” she said.  “Grass?”  This repeating of words was something Buttercup had gotten used to.  They’d been together a long time.

“But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful—not colorful at all. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds, bees; only grubs and sod worms.  And, and, it’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?”

“Apparently so, M. N. They make a great effort to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing the grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.”

Mother Nature wasn’t at all sure she liked the idea of humans killing her flowers. But today was an especially lovely day; she’d look on the bright side.
“The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. At least that must make the Suburbanites happy.”

Apparently not, M. N. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it—sometimes twice a week.”

Mother Nature was really confused.   She just stood there staring like she sometimes did—so long that Buttercup wondered if she should just get back to work.

“They cut it? Cut it? Oh, I get it, they bale it like hay?”

“Not exactly, M. N., they usually rake it up and put it in bags.”

“Bag it? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?”

“No, M. N., just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.”

Here we go again, Buttercup thought.  I mean there was something regal and timeless about M. N. but, really, how long could she stand there staring?

“Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. Then when it does grow they cut it off and pay to throw it away?”

“That’s about it,” Buttercup said, thinking about all of the typing she had to get done; but M. N. was in a talkative mood.

Mother Nature smiled.  “These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.”

“You aren’t going to believe this, M. N.  When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.” 

“You know how I like to look at the bright side, Buttercup, but what nonsense.  Well, at least they kept some of the trees.

“That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.”

“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable sitting down, M. N.?” Buttercup asked.  “This may be a bit of a shock.”

“Honestly, Buttercup.  Do you think I just fell out of the sky yesterday?  I’m over…well, let’s just say I can take whatever you have to tell me.”

“All right,” Buttercup said.  “Here goes…the Suburbanites have their own ideas. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.”


M. N.’s schock was evident.  Buttercup stood there trying to keep the I-told-you-so look off her face. 

“What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?”

“After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch.  They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.”

“And where do they get this mulch?”

“They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.”

“Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore.”

Buttercup knew their conversation was over; she turned to go.

“Thank you,” M. N. managed to murmur.

On the way to her desk, Buttercup closed her window and lowered the shade.  The sky was already starting to get dark. 

–John Kavouras

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