Books

Excessive Blushing and Twirling and Other Book Club Oddities

It’s Gratituesday! My book club drives me crazy. But in a good way. So, yup, today I’m thankful for book club.

Why, you ask. Why would your book club drive you crazy? And if so why do you continue to attend?

One of my all time favorites.

One of my all time favorites.

For seven years now we’ve read and discussed a handful of books. Eighty-four at most, since we read an average of twelve books a year. We’ve read fiction and non-fiction, memoir, self-help, religious, parenting, classics, recent releases, young adult, and yes, admittedly, even some romances.

My favorite meeting of the year happens in January when we pick our upcoming reads. It’s a process that’s evolved. Some books make repeat appearances until the proponent wears us down and we give in and read the thing. Others get voted off the island for reasons as odd as “it’s too long,” to “we’ve already read one like that.”

Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t always read every book on the list for the year. And even more surprising, if I haven’t finished reading the book by time we actually discuss it, I most likely won’t finish reading it. (I also hardly read any of 2014’s books, but then I didn’t read as much as I usually do either.)

Shhhh…I think the book part of book club is somewhat secondary.

The snacks definitely add to the experience and can make or break a book club night. (Just kidding, but it’s a nice addition.) One person does a full-on dinner for us, themed around the book we’re discussing. Impressive, don’t you think? I’m happy if chips and salsa or any kind of chocolate makes an appearance.

I think the people come in as the best part of book club.

Our group has morphed over the years. I’m not sure how many originals still attend. I miss some who’ve moved away or moved on. I didn’t like my bestie Kathy much when I first got to know her through book club because, frankly, I was jealous that she read more books than I managed to. What a prolific reader. Every new person who attends adds a twist to the group that shapes discussions and makes a difference.

There’s been young mothers, grandmothers, single women, a male or two, empty nesters, stay at home moms, people who work full-time, people who work from home and occasional visitors we hardly know a thing about. We’ve invited spouses to a few discussions and teens to a couple as well.

Photo By Tom Murphy VII (Own work)

Photo By Tom Murphy VII (Own work)

It’s fascinating to watch all these diverse personalities interact. Some haven’t read the book at all and are simply relieved at the chance to interact with live adults. Others have a definite agenda they want to discuss. Serious readers come and go, not really thrilled with our eclectic choices and off topic discussions, I suspect. Others seem intent on self-improvement. Some try to get a sentence or two in and get drowned out by louder voices. I might go one month and say almost nothing, just observing mostly. And then another month I might be the one solitary voice of dissent in a room of twirling blushing romance novel swooners. (I’ll never live that one down.)

I’d like to think I could have a one on one discussion about almost anything with any one of these book club members. It’d be easiest if we discussed books and reading. But surely there’s other possible connections that go deeper than the written word.

I’ve participated in a few after-discussions that turned out way better than the actual meeting. Smaller groups naturally have an intimacy and openness about them that invite more listening and less jockeying.

There’s definitely some holding back on strong opinions and some reservations about real open discussions. And there’s some unfiltered stuff that just spills out all over the place. It can get messy in a room filled with women.

Willi Heidelbach [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html),], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Willi Heidelbach [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html),]

I wonder at times what would happen if some of us stepped back and listened more and talked less. I wonder how safe each member feels sharing anything close to the bone. Maybe it’s happened a bit. Some of us joke around as a defense mechanism sometimes, I suppose. Some of us don’t say what’s really on our minds. Some try to and get glossed over. It’s group dynamics at work. Maybe we need to read a book about that topic.

I adore the different people there. I see my much younger self in a couple of them. I see qualities to admire and emulate in every single person in the group. I try to set aside my uppity English major self and just be a normal human who can and does enjoy variety.

This year’s book selections include three self-help/inspirational books, one memoir, one regency romance, (cough) four based on true events, and three fictional books. Should be interesting!

It’s good for me to throw in some different flavors I wouldn’t necessarily choose on my own. Book club makes me a more well-rounded person.

And once, it made me dizzier. Or ditzy. But that’s another story.

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It’s Probably for the Best

A little something for you to ponder.

Photo by Kettie Olsen

Photo by Kettie Olsen

“The most precipitous chapter of life always begins before we quite know it is under way.” ~ Ivan Doig, Worksong

 

(If you aren’t familiar with Ivan Doig’s writings, you’ll want to avail yourself of the privilege. He’s a master wordsmith able to leap large mountains with a single word.)

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Lost in the Translation or Perfectly Rendered?

photo 1-5 copy 9

Yesterday my favorite three-year old gifted me some drawings from pages of her “books.” These books of hers consist simply of a nine by twelve sheet of paper folded in half, then folded again, creating a four page book. Not bad work for a budding artist. I admit to some partiality.

I didn’t take the time to ask her about each drawing, which I should have done. I suspect one is a ghost and another a pumpkin since she’s been into Halloween stuff recently. I like that her people are smiling. That’s a good sign.

photo 3-4 copy 16Do people really look like that when she sees them through her young eyes? I doubt it. Round orbs with sticks for legs and arms. No. I’m sure she sees what you and I see, a fully fleshed out body with nuances and structure and complexity. But with her raw young skills with crayon and pencil the translation of what she sees into what ends up on paper captures only the barest essentials. Eyes, a smile, stick limbs, a scratched scruff of hair convert successfully, for her anyway, into a person.

It struck me this morning as I looked over her drawings, that we all lose something in the translation of what we see and think and feel as we try to communicate it. We also stumble in translating and converting desires and dreams into reality.

I often have ideas I want to convey but try as I might the words fall short in giving skin, bones and muscles to an idea sufficiently so that anyone else can understand. Or I might get the gist of it, but not the whole as I thought of it. That can frustrate an artist, a writer, a musician, a human.

If as an adult I struggle with this translating process, imagine how frustrating it is for young children to try to convey thoughts and feelings into understandable ideas and words.

The secret, I would guess, lies in not giving up too soon. Not giving up in conveying the ideas, as well as not giving up in trying to understand them.

Her momma, perhaps, since she has long flowing hair.

Her momma maybe, who has long flowing hair.

In fifteen years my favorite three-year old will look at these drawings of hers and scoff at their simplicity, and that’s a shame. She’ll compare it to her artistic abilities after years of practice and lessons and laugh at her young self. I would hope she’d also see the purity in her efforts.

We all struggle to translate what’s inside our heads and hearts into understandable terms that forge relationships and communicate ideas. We’re all at different ages and stages of skill at making sense of the world. We wrestle making tangible the visions of who we are or want to be.

A secret life-decoder ring would come in handy wouldn’t it? Dial a few codes in, and read an outcome, carry out the instructions and voilà. But, that’s not how it works. Ever.

We explain, puzzle out, infer, deduce, interpret all the time. And so often, so very often, the messages end up lost in translation.

My take on all this?

1. We’re all drawing the best we can, with what we have, where we are.

If that isn’t true, if we aren’t putting our best efforts into being and doing what’s before us then we sharpen our colored pencils, or peel back some paper on our crayons. Then we pull out a sheet of paper, and see what sort of drawing we can come up with when we try a little harder.

2. Everyone else’s drawing means something to them and probably something slightly different to us. Maybe I ought to ask what their drawing, words, music or actions mean so I can understand better.

It shouldn’t hurt to ask. It only takes a second. “So tell me about this,” you could say. Or maybe, “I like your color choice, any particular reason you picked that color?” A thousand other questions could clarify, untangle and help us understand better.

That’s all.

Maybe I’ve overthought this whole thing. That’s certainly a strong possibility.

Sometimes a stick person is just a stick person.

~~~~~

“Art is as natural as sunshine and as vital as nourishment.”

-MaryAnn F. Kohl

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Discovering Paradise

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” ~ Cicero

It’s Gratituesday! Today I’m grateful for libraries.

Elementary school provided my first introduction to a library. Ours resided on the stage attached to the gymnasium. We entered via stairs on one side and exited via the stairs on the other. I recall waist-high shelves, closely stacked and poor lighting. Books all grouped together in one room made me feel kind of giddy, even back then.

Empty space on the shelf? Say it isn't so!

Empty space on the shelf? Say it isn’t so!

An old house served as a community library in the town next-door.What once served as bedrooms, a kitchen, a family room, transformed into meandering corridors of books. The open hours posted seemed almost random and hardly long enough to wander, pick some books and check them out. By then Mom knew enough to screen what books I picked, ten and eleven is a bit young for Clockwork Orange, don’t you think?

A few years later I discovered the city library. (How long had that been there? And why wasn’t I told about it sooner?) A proper building, several stories, iconic, white stone and temple-like, complete with hushed tones inside. Stepping inside I felt worshipful and closer to the reading Gods if there exists such a thing. Every book I’ve read since then that has a library as a character/place, I picture as this edifice, this homage to the written word.

This quote captures how I began to feel about libraries:

“I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my soul could be chinked with a book.” ~Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

At University I stood in awe before a complete set of the Oxford English Dictionary. I knew I’d arrived at the mecca of knowledge and wisdom. Endless stacks ran maze-like and beckoned me to lose myself in there. An entirely separate building housed the law library, the place a serious student wanting no distractions whatsoever would retire to for study and contemplation.

Because proper reading requires feet up.

Because proper reading requires feet up.

Now we live less than a mile away from our town library, an architecturally beautiful building that dwarfs the books and shelves they live on. Huge windows look out on my beloved Riparian Preserve, instilling a sense of sanctuary in this noisy and echoing chamber. Seldom does quiet reside there. Libraries now serve more as community gathering places, media centers, toddler racetracks, an escape from home, a place to come in out of the heat. Books seem almost an afterthought. Maybe the librarians simply want to draw people in with a kind of “if you build it they will come,” idea. Offer all sorts of tempting tidbits mixed in with the m eat and potatoes of books and hopefully reading and learning will occur and keep the world sane.

Maybe that’s what T.S. Eliot meant on saying:

“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man”

I seldom wander the stacks, choosing instead to “place my order” online for books I want that get shipped in from libraries around the valley for my convenience.

Occasionally I’ll grab a couple of current months magazines and sit, my feet propped on the lovely log footrests to relax, perusing gardening tips, recipes and travel suggestions. But I get restless, the stack of books I reserved whisper my name, anxious to become acquainted in stolen moments, late night hours of lost sleep, waiting in lines, when other pressing matters linger.

Today's hopeful pile.

Today’s hopeful pile.

Today I did browse and picked up a volume of poetry and a second Alice Munroe volume. I have three weeks, and three weeks more, up to five renewals unless someone requests one of them. I’d like to think I’ll read two or three a week, it’s been such a drought of reading these past few months. But I have one book from our personal shelves I started, one online book I promised to proof months ago, and a few gifted tomes I’d also like to delve into.

Such a decadent life I lead, surrounded by my own books, stories swirled throughout my childhood, novels seasoning every month and year, libraries making words available for free. FOR FREE!!! Amazing!

Grateful doesn’t begin to describe the feeling for today. Graced, blessed, rich beyond compare, for I have libraries in my life.

 ~~~~~

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” ~Jorge Luis Borges

An eternity of reading? Sounds nice.

An eternity of reading? Sounds nice.

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Dear Reader: A Letter to Me

April 7, 2014

Dear Me,

Last night after searching Netflix and Amazon Prime for a movie to watch with MSH you left the family room with a rerun of The Twilight Zone playing. Sure, MSH felt slight disappointment that you didn’t want to watch yet another science fiction program, but you’ve never like Twilight Zone, not even any of the remakes.

Former reads.

Former reads.

Remember how you sat down in your comfy chair in the bedroom, put your feet up on the side of the bed and cracked open a new book someone had loaned you? “Mmm…ahh…” Yes, you remember. What a feeling to start reading a new story. You were so excited to begin that you forgot to bring a snack in with you. No sunflower seeds, no ice cream, no popcorn, not even a bit of chocolate. Of course, you were only going to read the first chapter or two and then turn out the lights and call it an early night.

Something happened in that first chapter, or maybe the second, it’s hard to remember now with half a night, and half a morning, of sleep behind you. Looking down at the page numbers, surprised to see that you were in the low hundreds already, you kept reading. Well, you thought to yourself, it’s a YA, young adult book, so it’s a quicker read than most. It doesn’t feel very late. I’ve probably only been reading about an hour. But the clock on the nightstand faced the bed, so you couldn’t see the time and frankly, didn’t care.

You were fully invested in the story, the words, the lives described, the town, the plot, and the nuanced epistolary style of the book. (You remember epistolary? You’re tired today, so I’ll remind you that it’s a book written as a series of letters.) This novel felt more like you had stumbled on someone’s ribbon-tied stack of opened mail to a loved one than a book from a shelf. How could a person put down such a stack of letters mid-pile? Impossible. And so, you kept reading, letter after letter, word after word, and surprise after surprise.

Letters. A thing of the past?

Letters. A thing of the past?

MSH came in to the room after a while. Was it past midnight already? He’s such a night owl, he does his best thinking and programming after you’ve gone to bed. A trait you will never understand in people, as you’re a definite morning person. He laughed at you and said, “are you still reading?” and you laughed back and asked, “you’re not coming to bed already are you?” You wanted to stay where you were and keep reading, not turn down the lights and read like a child sneak-reading under the covers. And you didn’t want to jinx the magic by finding some other comfy spot to cacoon in for the rest of the book. Luckily, MSH found another something to keep himself occupied. You continued to read.

A smattering of books, some read, some waiting for discovery.

A smattering of books.

The thing is, it wasn’t really like reading. It was more like following along while someone thought aloud. Or watching from a distance and hearing everything that went on. You wondered, in the back of your head, how a writer accomplishes that. But mostly, you were so much a part of the story that you couldn’t, wouldn’t, mustn’t stop reading. It would make as much sense as stopping breathing, which is really difficult to do.

The last words of the book crossed your eyes. You hesitated, ran your hand across the page, held it there. What were you hoping for? A sensation transferred through fingertips of the author’s final thoughts? Whispered, unwritten words that the narrator might still wish to pass on to those who are listening with an extra measure of attention? Some feeling of completion, a symphony to accompany credits, a promise of another book?

Something intimate happens between reader and writer, in spite of, or maybe because of the distance paper and ink provides. How else to explain the desire, the drive, to meet the author of certain books? What you want is to meet the characters. Yes, I know what you’re feeling, you want to begin or continue a discussion with those very real characters, find out reasons, background, what happens next, more details about chapter eight, a recipe from chapter fourteen. Whatever little unfinished bits remained, you want more of them.

When you finally closed the back cover, running you hand over those words and illustrations, you let yourself set the book down on the nightstand. And then you simply sat. Remember any of your thoughts? No. Not surprising. You were returning from a journey of weeks, months, years, that had taken a mere four or five hours. You’d traveled through time and space and back past through who knows what science fiction-like means and had returned, intact, whole, and yet changed in subtle and significant ways.

Do you remember pulling the covers up around your ears and snuggling into the pillow? No, you don’t because your mind had wandered back inside the book and carried you dreamlike and floating through that town, the story, to the people. Of course, as dreams do, it all jumbled up with odd real life details. By morning, late morning, since you let yourself sleep in after staying up far too late, you’d lost the sweet vacation essence of the book and found yourself back in reality.

A day of to-do lists and sunlight stood at the door, quietly tapping its foot as you dragged yourself out of bed.

What’s next?

A day or two of no reading. After such sweetness as last night’s book, nothing more will satisfy. In fact completely satiated and full to the brim, you may not need another book for four, or even five days. You might find yourself searching for other books by the same other. That wouldn’t surprise us in the least.

Now, you’ve reveled long enough. Close the door on that book and move on. You have much to do. If you’re productive enough, you might allow yourself a short nap later on.

Welcome back.

Sincerely,

Me

 

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A Challenge Followed by a Challenge

The oddest thing just happened to me here.

I responded to this writing challenge from WordPress by writing about how and why I’m a writer.

I wrote for an hour, then two hours, a beautiful essay that summed up so many disparate but connected parts of my life. The timing of this challenge synced perfectly with a need I had to remind myself why writing tops my daily list of things to do.

I felt energized and excited about writing again.

I saved the draft, then left the room to take a couple of photos to include in the post. (See the above photos? Aren’t they nice?)

When I returned to my computer what I had written had disappeared. Poof. Into thin air. Not on some computer cloud on the ethernet, or internet or web or wherever. Just gone.

Alakazam.

This magical thing I’d created didn’t exist any more.

Sure I could attempt to recreate it. But all creativity and originality aside, the wind had been taken from my sails. (Yes, it’s a cliche’, deal with it.)

But the words, I just can’t summon them again today.

Silly, I know.

I’ll write again. That is what I do.

Why?

Because.

I am a writer.

 

Categories: Books, self-image, Writing | Tags: , , | 21 Comments

Glass Tinted the Color of Rose

It’s Gratituesday! What a year! Our family grew by fifty percent this year! If a business grew that much competiting companies would be making offers to buy us out. We added a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, another  son-in law, a granddaughter and a future granddaughter. Every child of ours experienced an amazing year of growth, love and forward momentum. What more could a mother ask for?

empty nest syndrome

empty nest  (Photo credit: butterfingers laura)

All that good brought with it a breathtakingly rapid emptying of the nest, which I’m still adjusting to. Mostly, it’s a good thing. What am I talking about it, it’s a wonderful thing! I must be low on oxygen now to think it’s anything but wonderful to have alone time with MSH, quiet time to write and read, parts of the house that actually stay clean and a schedule that doesn’t involve a spreadsheet and color coding.

The past three hundred sixty-four days held so much more good than bad this year. In fact, the good weighed more by far in quality and quantity than the bad. On a strictly symbolic basis, the sunny days radiated, the semi-cloudy ones still shone with brilliance, the gray days brought much-needed rain.

But I’d be lying if I pretended there hasn’t been symbolic thunder and flooding, earthquakes and tornadoes. This quote from the beginning of Dickens’ best book, A Tale of Two Cities sums up this past year honestly.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” ~Charles Dickens

As true as that may be, today, though, this Tuesday of Gratitude, I’m focusing only on the good, the blessed, the wonderful, the hope, the light and the heavenly.

selfshooting through rose-colored glasses...

selfshooting through rose-colored glasses… (Photo credit: jmtimages)

Today I choose to look back through a window tinted the color of rose.

Tomorrow is a whole new year. What will its days and weeks bring? Hold on to your seat and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times, it’s sure looking like a doozy.

(If you haven’t had the chance to read A Tale of Two Cities, or if it’s been a while since you have read it, I’d suggest a plan in the coming months to pick up a copy, be it tangible or digital and familiarize yourself with his wisdom and words. You’ll be glad you did.)

Categories: Books, Family, Gratitude, Gratituesday | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Symbols and Cymbals and Cymbalta

I apologize for the weird title of this post.

Sort of.

The Red Wheelbarrow

The Red Wheelbarrow (Photo credit: Abbeh)

I got thinking today about how everything, and I do mean nearly EVERY THING is symbolic for me. I blame it on High School English classes. “But, what does it meannnnnn,” they were always asking about every piece of literature we read. It couldn’t just be about the white chicken and red wheel barrow and the rain, it had to mean something significant. It couldn’t just be that the writer was lazy and didn’t want to bother with capitalization, even how every word appeared somehow had to “meannnnnnn” something.

It wasn’t until later, after learning the barest minimum about Freud, that I understood how important his statement really was:

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Everything doesn’t have to be a symbol for something else.

But try to convince my once young and formerly pliable mind of that now.

No, my life seems to work just like an English class. Not only in what I read, but all the stuff I surround my life with. The things on the wall, the colors I choose for a pillow, even the seemingly random soda bottle on the mantle all has meaning for me. And not just the “Oh, great-aunt Matilda gave that to me” kind of meaning. I’m talking symbolism.

sym·bol·ism

noun
the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character.
Imagine a life literallly, not just figuratively, filled with symbols and symbolism. That’s tricky, I know, but stay with me.

Now, if you were listening to this post you might actually hear the word symbol and think this word: cymbal. These are not the same. Obviously to me, now, they aren’t. I can take the context of a word, it’s surroundings and topic and make sense of the difference between symbol and cymbal.

But as a kid there were so many words that sounded almost the same or exactly the same that some of the things I thought were lyrics to songs made no sense whatsoever.

photo-18 copy 28

Holidays are particularly heavy with symbolic meanings as well as confusing sounding words.

For example, as a kid I often sang this Christmas tune: “Up on the housetop reindeer pause, out jumps good old Santa Clause…” But what I heard was more like this: “Ug, on the how stop, rain dear paws, out jumps good, O Santa Claws.”

When you’re four or five years old and that’s what you think you’re hearing Christmas becomes a confusing mess.

Or there’s this familiar first verse of Jingle Bells.

“Dash he threw the snow, on a one ore soaping slay, ore the fields we go, laughing all the way.” What the heck is a soaping slay?

How does that make any sense to anyone? But a little kid, with very little contextual understanding, words are so wierd!! But I didn’t even know enough to ask what it all meant. I figured, maybe, that it wasn’t supposed to make sense. I mean, the whole red suited guy squishing down a chimney seemed pretty nonsensical.

But I digress.

I was talking about symbols and cymbals.

Couldn’t cymbals be symbolic? Sure they could. But could cymbal playing really be cymbalic playing? I don’t know probably not.

The point is I was pushed quite naturally by such nonsense in the direction of figuring out words, and meanings in, under, around and beyond words.

Old House

Old House (Photo credit: WaywardShinobi)

Words drip with meaning. Words bend under the weight of history, like an old house with a wing added in one decade and a room tacked on in another, and then another room or two, here and there over the years, and finally a garage cobbled together a little bit after that. Add in all that attic space and crawl space. Until what you have is this word with hundreds and hundreds of years of meaning in every pore of its few letters.

So much so, that when I hear an advertisement for some drug called Cymbalta my brain pictures a percussion player with flat brass discs waiting for the director to signal for the crashing loud bash of metal on metal.

Cymbals, Chinese New Year in front of House of...

Cymbals, Chinese New Year in front of House of Hong, International District, Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But that makes no sense for an antidepressant, except in a mean-spirited I’m gonna shove you outta your bed of depression by sheer loudness kind of way.

I’ve tried a few antidepressants in my day, so don’t go thinking I’m being insensitive here. I wish one of the meds I tried over the years had that effect on me. “Alright, already, Ma, I’m awake, I’m up, I’m good to go! Stop with the Cymbalta playing!”

So then I think symbolism and I worry about what’s realllllllly in that medication, what does it meannnnnnn? And I feel a little nervous.

Words very seldom serve as just words.

And that’s scary.

“You say tomato, I say tom-AH-to.”

You know Amelia Bedelia? Yeah. Her. That book.

That one children’s book says so much better anything I’ve just spent nearly seven hundred words trying to explain. And it has pictures. Funny pictures.

Sigh.

“What does it all meannnnnnn?”

Maybe I just need some medication or an orchestra concert or a sign.

Or sleep.

Categories: Books, Humor, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s Bedtime, But First, A Story

One of the happiest of memories I have raising my children involved nightly readings of their favorite books. Those books became etched into my brain matter permanently. Reading the same simple book over and over and over and over, night after night, can take its toll on a parent. Or it can encourage creativity.

photo-19 copyLet me explain.

See this book?

Absolute favorite of one daughter in particular. Although they all seemed to love it. By child three I had the thing memorized and could read it with my eyes closed. Then one evening, I don’t remember when, or with who, or where, but I started to use different voices for each character’s dialogue. The mother, the cow, the dog, the baby bird and others all had their own voice. Baby bird had a high squeaky voice. Mama bird of course had a motherly voice. The cow spoke with a moo inflection. It made the book more interesting. After a week or two of this I added a different flavor by making the mother bird’s voice a little more Grandma from the Beverly Hillbilly’s.

photo-18 copy 2Or baby bird’s voice took on the same tone and lyricism as John Wayne. “Excuse ma’am, but are you…my mother?” Soon every night the story became a venture into a different culture, dialect, or region. I looked forward to story time and even planned ahead occasionally to ensure an entertaining reading.

photo-21 copyAnother book I loved to read to my kids seemed a bit unconventional as a bedtime story, since the subject matter bordered on the scary, which doesn’t elicit happy dreams. I wondered if the strange topic, turned into something the kids could laugh at  made it a great bedtime story. Laughing at frightening stuff can often take the scare out of it. I still love this book and will occasionally thumb through its well-loved pages even without any children asking for a story.

This next book captures the essence of motherhood and childhood. At least for me that’s true. The artwork alone tells a brilliant story of love and power.  Adding the words brings a mother/child relationship into clear and wonderful focus.

photo 3This may come as a surprise to some of you, but mothers aren’t perfect. In fact, mothers are flawed and fragile, while at the same time they’re powerful and seemingly all-knowing. Another surprise about mothers comes when realizing that there exists no pattern for motherhood. Mothers come in as many shapes and sizes and colors and ways as there are mother/child relationships. I think this book lovingly and laughingly captures that feeling.

photo 1I stumbled on this delightful sleepy time book about twelve years ago. After a few dozen readings I made up a tune to rhymes and pretty much sang it every time I had a chance to read. Then the characters became family members based on things as silly as bulgy eyes or holes in  pajamas or floppy ears. Whether as a gift or adding to your own collection I’ve found you just can’t go wrong picking out a Sandra Boynton book.

photo-20 copyFor sheer silliness and irony in a kid’s book, nothing matches the fun that happens in this wonderful concoction. Who knew farm animals had such thoughts? Who would have figured the political savvy that ducks possess? If you’ve ever wondered what animals might think about, beyond the scary distopian “Animal Farm” this book could have the answers you’re looking for. At the very least it’ll make you laugh out loud.

I absolutely love children’s books! I can’t make myself get rid of any of the thin books in my collection, no matter how old or ratty, no matter missing covers or missing pages.

The one’s I’ve listed are just the tiniest sampling of magical books

Categories: Books, parenting | Leave a comment

The Looking Back Game

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Just a handful of my journals.

I play this game occasionally. It’s called, “What was I doing on this day x many years ago.”

I get out a few of my not too recent past journals and happy books and look up the month and day. Today I would look up October 12 in whatever year I held in my hands.

It’s a gambling game because the potential for happy memories is fairly high, but the risk that I’ll be reading about some low point is equally high. For that reason I have several years handy. If one years entry for that day is more than I want to delve into I can drop it like a hot potato and jump to the next entry quick and easy.

This morning I played the game with the idea that I’d find something muse-like to inspire me. Y’know, jog a great memory, remind me of a great day I could write about, or conjure people from my past. But like life tends to do, what I found instead wasn’t the thing I searched for.

Here’s a few things I found while playing this morning:

  1. I realized I have led a weird life that makes little sense to an outsider and even to an insider. 
  2. My experiences don’t fit in a box. I’m a rectangle peg in a round hole world.
  3. It’s a wonder I’m not completely nuts and committed and on heavy sedation.
  4. Forgetting is a healthy thing.
  5. Forgiving is even healthier than forgetting.
  6. There has to be a higher power operating in my life or I’d have never survived some of the roads I’ve taken.
  7. I’ve found beauty in the oddest of places and joy among ashes and destruction.
  8. I don’t see things the way most people do, which can fall on either side of the good/bad spectrum.
  9. I’m not always honest with myself even in my journals.
  10. The truth wins in staring contests every time.
  11. “Blessed” is too weak a word to describe my life so far.
  12. It’s a good thing I didn’t know about the obstacles in the road ahead.
  13. Looking back at those obstacles astounds and amazes me.
  14. I don’t want to have a clue about what’s still waiting for me up ahead.
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A page from a Happy Book.

For these reasons and dozens more, I’m extremely glad I’ve written down some of the stuff of my life. A review of the past like today’s little game makes me more determined to journal about the real, the difficult, the conversations, the laughter, the frightening and especially the love.

I particularly don’t want to forget a single person who’s been part of my days and hours. I want word snapshots of each one of them that, like a key, will unlock our shared time together in faded, but still clear nuances of smiles or tears, gestures, a certain look, words shared and sweet kindnesses.

The hard times give contrast and shadow to the softer ones and make me cherish the now, whatever that might bring. Honestly, reading about some of those struggles makes me pray all the more that I don’t have to face anything like it again. I’m done with difficult. Although, I’m pretty sure difficult isn’t done with me.

In journal writing or happy book writing, it’s not the historical details but the emotions behind those facts that really matter. As much as I’d like to forget at times, I really, really want to remember, too.

I think I’ll be a little kinder to myself today. I think I’ve earned it.

That wasn’t such a fun game as I’d hoped.

Categories: Books, Memory Lane | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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