Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Poem for My Grandma Jane

There's No Place Like Home, Except Grandma's

Walking inside 
that red house of brick,
is like stepping into
an old fashioned lamp post.
There is a glow,
a warmth,
a welcoming yellowish orange light,
and a smiling orange haired grandma
waiting to meet you
at the door.

Illustration and Poem by Heather Dent

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What's In a Name?

Last week I attended a Writing Workshop hosted Rachael Peckham, a creative writing professor from Marshall University.  She prompted us to work on a braided creative nonfiction essay involving our names.   Her workshop inspired me and this is the result. 

What's in a Name?

I am not a Jordan

            My parents thought I was boy as I lay curled unclassified inside my mother’s womb.  They were going to name me Jordan.  Jordan is a fine name, for both boys and girls.  But it’s not me.  When I think of girls I know who are named Jordan I think of tomboys blowing bubble gum, wearing wearing their baseball caps backwards and grass stains on their knees.  Considering that I insisted on being a ballerina for three Halloweens in a row, and was never been able to master the art of blowing bubble gum, I think it’s safe to say that I am no Jordan.  I am a Heather. 

Rustic Beauties

The name Heather stems from a wild looking evergreen shrub native to western European countries such as Ireland, Scotland, and Scandenavia.  In the late summer they burst with tiny flowers in reddish hues and sometimes white. With my limited expertise in shrubbery and flowers I would describe them as something of a mixture between goldenrods and sagebrush.  I’ve seen several photographs of gorgeous, untamed landscapes covered in heather, but I’ve never actually seen these flowers in person.  Perhaps I should.  It seems only fitting for me to meet my namesake.

Red Hair

“Are you from Ireland?”  Is a question I’ve grown accustomed to answering over the years.  I don’t know what it is about red hair that makes people assume you’re from Ireland.  It is actually Scotland that holds the highest percentage of redheads at 13% of their population.  Ireland and Wales come in second with a 10% redheaded population.  I do have Welsh ancestry so perhaps that’s where the red gene comes from. 

My thick auburn hair has been a source of pride for me my whole life.  It’s what sets me apart from everybody else.  It’s unusual that a day goes by without my hearing compliments like, “I love your hair!” and “Is that your natural color?  It’s gorgeous!”  My hair has become so much a part of my identity that sometimes I think that’s all people see when they look at me.  I’m the girl with the long red hair.  Today my hair is as long as it’s ever been as it hangs past my waist.  I feel like a hippie.  Someday I will cut it off as Jo March did in Little Women and learn how to identify myself without it. 

Heather In Lore

In Scotland white heather is considered good luck, just as the four-leaf clover is considered lucky in Celtic mythology.  In 1544 the large Scottish clan Ranald attributed a victory to the white heather woven into their bonnets, and Cluny of Clan MacPherson claimed he escaped from his enemies by hiding in a patch of white heather.  It is also said that white heather grows on the burial grounds of fairy folk.  Alexander Wallace, said in his book, Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay “The Heather enters into the literature, the poetry, the lyrics, and into the home life of the Scottish people, to a degree unsurpassed by any other plant in the history of nations.”

Heather On the Hill

My dad loves the song "Maria" from Westside Story.  He loves it so much in fact that I remember him speculating that name for my younger sister before she was born.  Unfortunately we have no Latino or Hispanic heritage so that name was rather inappropriate.  She was named Michelle instead and now he sings "Michelle, my belle" from the Beatles. 

As far as I know there aren't any popular songs about someone named Heather.  However, there is a lovely song from the 1950's musical Brigadoon about two lovers frolicking through the fields of heather.  It goes:

Can't we two go walkin' together, out beyond the valley of trees?
Out where there's a hillside of heather, curtsyin' gently in the breeze.
That's what I'd like to do: see the heather--but with you.
The mist of May is in the gloamin', and all the clouds are holdin' still.
So take my hand and let's go roamin' through the heather on the hill.

When I looked up the lyrics to this song the line, "Out where there's a hillside of heather, curtsyin' gently in the breeze." particularly stood out to me.  So much so in fact that I was inspired to paint this self portrait of myself.

This scene in Brigadoon is really quite stunning as Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse dance through the fields of heather.  Cyd's dress is utterly gorgeous as it flares in colors of red and gold, and good old Gene is as smooth and charismatic as ever.  I watched this movie years and years ago as a young girl, and although the rest of the movie has faded from memory that scene has left a deep imprint on my mind.  Perhaps it was the repetitious use of my name throughout the song that engrained this scene so strongly in my memory.

Not so Dainty

Heather flowers are extremely adaptable.  The can survive an impressive range of moisture levels, from swampy bogs, to acid soils in open woodlands.  They typically grow in heaths, moors, and grasslands whose soil is not known for its plentiful nutrients.  It is an exceptionally hearty plant, able to withstand extreme weather conditions from temperatures ranging from -18 F to 100 F.  Their bark is among the toughest in the world for both trees and shrubs.


To be completely honest I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to upper body strength.  I am ashamed whenever I come up red faced and huffing completing after a measly one or two pushups, and I have never been able to accomplish a full pull up. I may be slightly pathetic when it comes to muscle mightiness, but fortunately for me there are other forms of strength.  Like the heather flower I can be quite adaptable.  I have lived in several places among different cultures across the United States, ranging from the hills of Appalachia to the deserts neighboring Navajo reservations in Arizona. I have always been able to do reasonably well in every place I’ve ever lived.  I make friends easily.  I adapt well to my surroundings.  I am able to do what is necessary to secure my own happiness no matter where I live.  

Calluna Vulgaris

Heather plants have many practical uses.  In fact, it’s scientific name, Calluna vulgaris, means to “clean” or to “brush.”  Which indeed seems appropriate considering people once used to make brooms out of heather.  But that’s not all!  Scottish Highlanders cemented heather and heath stems with peat mud in order to build their huts.  They also used it for bedding, basket weaving, and herbal remedies for coughs, arthritis, and rheumatism.   

Oh the Irony!

As a child my parents tried to teach me the importance of keeping the household tidy.  They gave me daily chores such as making my bed, cleaning the bathrooms, and doing the dishes.  Unfortunately I have not carried these habits into adulthood.  I am married, with a two-year old son and still I live like a college student.  I make my bed approximately once a year, clean out the fridge every six months, and sweep the floors about once a week.  It’s bad.  I think I need to rethink my priorities. It’s ironic that my namesake’s scientific name means “to clean” because that is my least favorite activity in the whole world!

What’s in a Name?

As you can see my name is very suitable to my personality in some ways, and rather contrary in others.  I’m sure if you do as much research on the meaning of your name as I have done on mine you will come to a similar conclusion.  Our names don’t determine who we are.  That is as it should be.  As a parent I would hate to be placed with that much responsibility!  Still, names are fun. I encourage everyone to reflect on their own names and do a bit of research.  You may be surprised by what you find.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

PPBF: The Contest Between the Sun and the Wind

It is a beautiful morning here in Berea, KY.  The sun is shining pleasantly through my window, and I am inspired to devote this week's picture book to its glory.  

Book Title:  The Contest Between the Sun and the Wind
Author:  Heather Forest
Illustrator: Susan Gaber
Published August House, 2008
For Ages 4-8

Opening: There once was a man in a warm coat, walking down a winding road.  The sun and the wind high in the sky watched the man as he walked by.

Brief Synopsis: This is an old Aesop’s fable retold through Forest’s talent with meter and rhyme and Gaber’s unique illustrations.   The story is about a challenge between the sun and the wind to see who can take the man’s coat off first.  

Why I Love This Book: A dear friend of mine Lindsay Clavare gave this book to my two-year old son as a birthday present.  She also purchased two tops to go along with it, one representing the wind, and the other represented the sun. 

I love this book because, like all Aesop’s Fables it is a remarkably clever tale, and it is told in a way that is pleasing to hear and beautiful to see.  
For more delightful picture books visit Susanna Hill's blog at http://www.susannahill.blogspot.com/

Thursday, April 11, 2013

IF: Urban

This weeks prompt at Illustration Friday is Urban.  This is perfect for me because I've been wanting to play with different settings for the picture book I've been working on, "The Cat Who Lived in the Flowerpot."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Midwouth SCBWI Revision Retreat

“Revising is like getting ready for summer, you have to trim the fat.”  ~ S. R. Johannes  

Although many us at the retreat successfully trimmed fat off our manuscripts this weekend, I don't think we were quite as successful at losing our body fat!  The dangerous wealth of snacks overflowing on the countertops made sure of that.  Despite the extra pounds I know that I personally left the retreat with a better manuscript than I came with, and I strongly encourage every writer in the midsouth region to attend the next revision retreat.  It was an extremely valuable experience.  

Here are a just a few of the many highlights from the trip:

  • Zip-lining at night.  I found out just how fearless writers truly are as I watched my fellow SCBWI members don their climbing harnesses and without hesitation leap into the darkness.  I thought zip-lining was only for high school and college students.  Boy was I wrong!
  • Sitting in the back porch with Mary Uhles enjoying the beautiful weather.  It was so nice to share that bit of peace and quiet with her as we set to work with our sketchbooks, pencils, and watercolors. 
  • Devouring Pat Nesbitt’s delicious banana muffins, banana pudding, and desert bars.  She is an incredible cook! 
  • Riding in the car with Beth Dotson Brown.  We shared the two-hour drive to the retreat together and I found her to be a delightful conversationalist.  We covered topics ranging from cows, past writing experiences, and childhood memories. 
  • Finding my place in the Midsouth SCBWI community.  I don’t think you could find a nicer group of people anywhere in the whole world!  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gummy Bears and Coke Zero

 Volker Grzimek is quite the character at Berea College.  He is an economics professor known for hanging out at the smoking gazebos, playing humans vs. zombies, and having a constant supply of gummy bears and coke zero.  I never had the honor of taking a class from him, but I've enjoyed eating some of his delicious homemade crepes (some of which were filled with gummy bears).  My husband Keith has enjoyed taking classes from him and working for him as a TA.  Thanks Volker for inspiring my first caricature!