Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Deconstructing Penguins and Life

You know how you look forward to something for forever, then it flies by, and weeks roll by afterwards? That's where we are. We so anticipated our sort-of-impromptu-booked cruise, then it was here, and we spent a week sleeping, eating, reading and soaking up sun. Then we were back home, and life began to roll again.

That's the whole point, though, isn't it? We go away so we can come back home again.  Hopefully we come back with a renewed vigor for all the things that life consists of.

That renewed vigor led me to tackle a big ole book, Crime and Punishment, written forever ago with way too many Russian names, but I actually enjoyed it overall. Now I've picked up The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, another classic I somehow never read, but only 12 chapters versus the 41 that C&P boasted.

In the middle of those two, I grabbed another book - Deconstructing Penguins. The title comes from the book, Mr. Popper's Penguins, which I only read a few weeks ago, then I watched the movie with Jim Carrey, so if anyone out there is worried that I don't get enough variety in my reading or entertainment life, rest assured I do.

My daughter warned me I might not be interested in reading Deconstructing Penguins. It is, after all about teaching children to read, and my children are all grown readers, with children of their own.

It ended up fascinating me because it's about teaching children to really read, not as in learning to sound out the letters, and come up with words, but rather to read books and know what they are about. Read books and start thinking about life and how it affects them and the world all around them. It's all about figuring out protagonist, antagonist, plot, character, setting, etc through book clubs for elementary and middle school aged children, the thought of which never occurred to me. As dry as it might sound, it was actually really interesting, and mostly made me realize how little I know about really, really reading. Reading as in Deconstructing Penguins. Not just reading Crime and Punishment, but rather reading it to understand what the author was really trying to say.

I've kept a journal since the 1990's of almost every book I've read, and going back over the list I realized I've read very little that is substantial, or even memorable. The majority of my reads have been easy entertainment. Not that there's anything wrong with being entertained by reading, I'm all for that. I read three pretty much mindless books on our cruise because it was the perfect time for that very thing.

Reading Deconstructing Penguins made me realize children need to be taught, and can be taught, to really read in their early elementary years, not so they will understand the deeper meaning of books, but rather so that they'll start really thinking for themselves, pondering life in all its facets, as they are growing up.

A worthy quote from the book really struck me:
'Kids' self-esteem comes from the same source as adults' self-esteem: taking on something that seems hard at first and then doing better at it than you ever thought possible. Kids are hip: they know when they're being dumbed down, and no child develops genuine self-esteem from being praised for something he or she didn't work at." 
So I'm not knocking all those Nancy Drew reads; I personally read almost every single one, and it developed a love of reading in me. That type of reading was a place for my soul to anchor down during some tough growing up years, a solace from the storms raging about me, but I have to wonder, looking back, if someone had cared if I actually used my brain, what difference might that have made in my life? In the lives of others around me? In how I raised my own children?

Food for thought.


BTW Mr. Popper's Penguins is a delightful read, and a great conversation starter with children on pursuing what is really fulfilling, no matter what anyone else thinks about it.....

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Leaving and returning home

I'm barely home from a week at sea. I love how that sounds - 'a week at sea'. It sounds mysterious and full of adventure, when it was actually full of laziness and hours and hours of sleeping, dinners by candlelight that lasted more than thirty minutes, and days of sunning ourselves by the pool.

It was all beyond wonderful, restful and restorative, and I loved every minute but the very best part of it was walking in our back door.

Leaving does that - it enables us to come back home again. It allowed me time to re-appreciate how nourishing the familiar in life can be. My coffee cup, my pillow, my rooms and stuff, and my little dog jumping into my arms, welcoming me home.

BTW, If you don't have a dog, you should consider getting one just for the joy of being greeted so. Everyone needs to be adored now and then.

So I'm home, restored, and today feels like January 1 all over again, room for a fresh start on life. There's laundry, groceries, and a stack of mail, but there's also a calendar with lots of white space, a trip to the library later today, and a considering of menus that will whittle away from our middles the pounds added last week.

One thing I've accomplished this year is tons of reading. I've got more than a dozen books under my belt, and I'll be back soon to tell you about my favorites. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Little Cheesecakes

I've been following this blog for a year or so. Heather's life is radically different than mine, and maybe that's why it fascinates me? Or maybe she eats the way I wish I did? Or maybe it's that the title of her blog has 'Beauty' in it, and we can all use more of that in our lives, can't we? (You can find her in my sidebar, "Beauty that Moves'). It's worth a trip to her website to see her beautiful photographs.

I also follow her on Facebook and a few days ago she posted about mini cheesecakes. Hers were healthier and prettier than mine, but that's quite okay.

It was fun to pull out baking stuff, get the counter messy, and heat up the oven. BTW, does anyone else feel like our society is taking pictures like crazy, but only on our phones, and they never leave the phone? I'm guilty of that too, and decided to dust off my beautiful camera. Taking indoor photos of food is a talent I've yet to master.

 I've found this is is a great way to crush anything like graham crackers, vanilla wafers, etc. Also a great way to work out aggression - beat, crush those crumbs!

 These canisters were a shower gift to my mother-in-law, back in the early 40's. I love that they ended up living in my kitchen, after she'd used them for 50 years, and I get to treasure them now. And yes, the canister is labeled "sugar". I love to label things.

As you can see, I'm not a neat cook. I'm actually not a neat anything. You should see the floor of my sewing room when I'm working in it - threads and scraps all over the place.

They won't make the pages of a food magazine, but they will make tummies happy. I've invited a neighbor over - we've never actually seen each other, but met on the neighborhood website. She's coming over today to be my first ever knitting student. I figure I am still only an advanced beginner at best, but I know more than she does, and she wants to learn, so we're grabbing yarn and needles and mini cheesecakes.

What do you know how to do, or want to learn? Who can you invite over? Ask to have you over and teach you something?

Making our neighborhood just a bit smaller today, and who knows who she'll eventually teach to knit? She has a 7 year old daughter, so I'm hoping she'll at least pass it on to her.

The recipe I used is found HERE on all recipes. Sweet little Easter dessert too I'm thinking, and small enough to snack on in the afternoon without being too guilt-inducing. Perhaps even Heather snacks on these?


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring and dead muskrats

We're blessed with wonderful parks nearby. Parks with

 branches bursting forth with sweet little green buds, and

 furriness with a sense of adventure (look Mom, no hands!) , and

 they know when to take a break, and

 visitors with wisps of natural highlights that fight taming, and

 little boys who still act like little boys, and

 woody sermons, preaching of life springing forth, and

 reminders to take a break, or go out on a limb now and then, and

 visuals that what some would call weeds, we can choose to call something else, and

 reminders to go out where it's a little deeper, but keep your head up, and 

 sometimes what we thought held life just doesn't, and 

there are lessons on diving in, full throttle, and

sometimes it's okay to stick close to shore, and

a bad day of fishing is still better than the best day at work. 

Spring, alive and well all around us. We just have to take time to look for it. 


P.S. Littles first thought our creature was a beaver. Checked out tail. Then a rat. Then a muskrat, and after a few minutes of no movement, a dead muskrat. They thought it much more interesting than a live one. Oh to have the eyes of a child. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Don't take yourself (myself) so seriously!

I don't remember which book it was, but she said it. Surprising how often I find myself quoting her, or at least referring. But she's right.

Don't take yourself so seriously! Lighten up, laugh a little.

I've realized lately that if one were to peruse my blog, they might think I'm a serious soul more often than not.

I'm all about intentional living, but being intentional can lean a little to the serious side pretty easily. How about intentionally pursuing joy?

I don't often reflect it here, but I'm actually a bit of a nut, with a somewhat quirky sense of humor; I laugh too loud and sometimes snort, and am straight-forward enough that once in awhile I'm inappropriate. Or at least not completely a southern lady.

Sidenote: I still remember, growing up, when our mother said 'damn' we knew. She'd had it and the six of us had best make ourselves scarce for awhile. Cub Sweetheart tells me when his mother started banging on the piano, in the basement, he knew she was mad at his Dad and cut her a wide path...

So here's the other side of me - the one I need / want to show more of here:

I named our dog after Lily Tomlin because she makes me laugh every single day, and who doesn't need that? The fact that her haircuts cost as much as mine, and are needed as often, and she scoots her rear end across our carpet now and then, when things get a little itchy, oh well. It's hard to put a price on laughter that goes all the way down to the bottom of your soul. When I walk in and say 'woop woop' and she scootches her hiney down to the floor, then starts tearing around the house, in break-neck circles it's the best laugh of the day. When I grab the box of Cheezits from the pantry and she comes tearing across the house, it makes me laugh every single time. Did anyone else know, by the way, cheezits are perfect with red or white wine?

When I drive the littles, we play my 'littles playlist' through the cars speakers, and sing Hakuna Matata or the theme from the Lego movie at the top of our lungs, with the windows down, because that's the perfect way to start a day I think.

My favorite comedian of all time is Red Skeleton, and Carol Burnett tugging on her ear is right behind. I still have such sweet memories of Red Skeleton sweeping up his shadow, on stage, at the end of a routine. Oh that we had someone out there today, who was genuinely funny and wouldn't make me blush to listen to with our grown kids...

Cub Sweetheart, who does a respectable imitation of Mickey Mouse for the grandkids upon request, loves my completely horrible rendition of Mr. Ed, the talking horse. My 'hawk call' sounds much more like squawking hawks, but my family is endeared to it, especially when we're around a lot of other people who do not know us.

I'm better read than formally educated, so I come up with some crazy pronunciations. Words I know but have never heard aloud, and somehow they always come out completely wrong. I'm famous for it. A running family joke, my pronunciations.

I cannot tell a joke to save my soul. The closest I get is this:

Why didn't the tiger eat the clown? Because he thought he'd taste funny.

I'm convinced it's genetic from my mother. She's miserable at jokes too, but she still tries and that's always good for a laugh.

My hands down favorite lunch is fritos and bean dip, with a diet coke, which I recently gave up because I found out diet coke removes paint from metal. I try to prefer salad, but I just don't. I like the big fritos better, BTW.

I've repeatedly asked my family to play 'Happy Girl' by Martina McBride, at my funeral. They have repeatedly refused. So I've shifted to asking that it is played at the meal afterwards, when they'll all be sitting around laughing over all my goofy personality traits - the song would make the perfect background for the conversation I know will flow freely. If weddings can be more upbeat nowadays, with couples dancing down the aisle to some tune, why can't funerals? I swear I'm writing it in my final plans, so if they don't play it, at least they'll feel guilty.

Sometimes I over think, over analyze, over complicate. Sometimes I'm sad or hurt or overwhelmed, but most days, about 360 days of the year, I wake up happy and silly and think fritos and bean dip make the perfect lunch.

So there you have it - sunny, happy Monday. Plans for the day include taking the littles to feed ducks, draw on the driveway with chalk, and make peanut butter cookies, then eat said peanut butter cookies in bed - crumbs be damned (see what I mean?!), and finish my book.

So how about you? Serious or silly or a combination, or maybe you need more of one than the other? Life is too short, or too long, depending on how a body looks at it, to be so serious.

Sidenote: photo is of two of our grandchildren, on an ordinary summer day. Oh to be more like them!


PS If you have any good jokes, feel free to leave them here. I have one particular grandchild who loves to trade them with me.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Real Women - Real Community

For the past few weeks I've been working on something. I use 'working' loosely because, really, I haven't been working at anything. More of a pecking away.

I'm starting a book club / reading group in our small neighborhood. I hoped one would already be up and running, but it was not. So if I want it to happen it's up to me.

We wondered, when we moved here just over a year ago, if we'd have enough privacy. After a year of being here we know less than a handful of people. There's Barbara, the lady with the chihuahua, the house with a yellow ribbon tied around the tree in their front yard, the widow who moved from California, but there are only a few whose owner's name we know, and we've had more than a paragraph of conversation with.

The neighborhoods where we grew up weren't like that. Fifty years later, I still remember Danny Bacon who lived on the corner and had freckles across his nose; Pam Costilla's kinky crazy black hair and the canoe ride where we sipped warm beer; the crazy Erwins, all eight of them, who lived across the street and their Daddy hid in the back bedroom, playing his electric guitar; plump, odd Rose who was being raised by grandparents and had a hard time making friends; the older couple who lived next door and hired me to babysit their weenie dog. We borrowed sugar and eggs and played and fought and watched out for each other. That was back when neighborhoods were more than a bunch of houses that shared a zip code.

That doesn't happen anymore, we don't live that way. But maybe we can try to recreate that just a little?  We can know each other's names and hearts and life situations. We can pitch in and lend a hand when it's needed. We can have community. This woman talked about that very thing today.  I would venture to say we need each other more now than we did back then, in spite of being less isolated than my mother was, in spite of more so-called connection, often with people we don't really - and never will - actually know. Maybe all our friends don't have to be on social media but we never actually see them? Maybe many of these cozy looking houses are filled with lonely people?

In the past I've made friends through church or my kids' school activities. Our kids don't live with us anymore, and although we still attend church regularly, I want a bigger circle than that. I want people who see the world differently than I do; who believe differently; who live differently, have different life situations than I do. I expect that is true right here in my neighborhood. I want to be stretched by my friends.

I also want to rub shoulders with women who want to know. They want to know what it's like to live in a place or time where women have no rights, to have a  disease, to deal with life situations we haven't actually experienced. I'd like to get to know other women who want to be with other women, while enlarging our worlds, in the coziness of each other's homes. That's it in a nutshell.

I've also learned, as most of you likely have, what type of woman I want to gather close to my heart, and who to keep at a distance. She doesn't count the cost, gives more than she gets, makes mistakes and asks to be forgiven, tells me and forgives me when I mess up, laughs and cries with me, and drinks coffee and / or wine. She has bad hair days, kids that didn't turn out perfect, didn't ace the SAT, and she loves them with all she has anyway, or at least she wants to. She isn't mean-spirited, or prim. She may occasionally let a curse word slip. On her bad days it may be on purpose. She's got some stuff going on in her life and is willing to admit it. I only need a few of those women but I do need a few. If I found one from this group that would be great, and maybe others in our neighborhood will also.

I'd give up all my other interests, to keep books. I'd give up the yarn and fabric and pots and pans and swim goggles movies and TV shows, and this blog, to keep books. I don't remember learning to read, or when I fell in love with books, but I do remember the smell of the bookmobile, my little blue cardboard Terrell Park Library card and the three books I'd take home with me every week. I remember the musty smell that wafted from the pages of Nancy Drew books, and reading about Helen Keller and Benjamin Franklin and Perry Mason and Nurse Sue Barton, and so many others who made my world bigger. They still do.

I just finished Still Alice last week, and understand better what my mother is experiencing. Reading Delicious by Ruth Reichl sent me in search of James Beard cookbooks and eggs to make souffl├ęs; Right now I'm reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, making me wonder how I would have seen the world during the time of slavery. War Brides, All the Light We Cannot See, Tender at the Bone, As I Lay Dying, The Unlikely Pligrimage of Harold Fry - all these have provided 'wisdom, succor, escape' (as someone else put it), these first few months of the year when I've felt worn out, challenged, sad, overwhelmed.

So I'm hoping to find a group of women in our neighborhood who feel, at least partly, the same way about books. Or friendships with other women. Who see how important it is that we still gather together, share our hearts, stretch our perspective and if we don't agree, a't least we respect the way someone else sees the world, or lives in it. So far I've gotten about half a dozen women who are interested, and we'll meet in May to see if we can get this up and running. I hope so.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "the only way to have a friend is to be one." I can live in this house, in this neighborhood, for another year and not know anyone, or I can be intentional and start a group. I'm hoping this book club will grow some great friendships, and possibly eggs and sugar will be handed across fences now and then.

If you've been a part of a book club, and have any books to suggest for our reading list, please leave it in the comments. Also, do you read only Fiction, Non-Fiction, both? Do you share hosting? Leading? I've read a gazillion books but have never been a part of a book club so I could use some input.


P.S. Happy 1st day of spring!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Soft underbelly up

We vowed to never be those people. People who sleep with a dog. Then Miss Lily joined our family, and she now sleeps right between our heads. I won't say which end faces me. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, like a child and its wubbie, I reach across the pillows to find her sleeping on her back, legs straight up, head cocked to one side, and soft underbelly exposed.

Completely vulnerable.

I want to go through life soft underbelly up, exposing what is true, and feeling safe in it. When people, from time to time, have told me I'm so transparent I tend to think, 'no, I'm just me.' For good or bad, I'm wired to do life that way.

Back in December I posted resolutions here, and they are actually coming along. I'm reading a lot, knitting a sock very slowly, staying in touch with family and friends, and doing yoga most days. In spite of resolutions going reasonably well, so far 2015 has been tough. We started with snow and more snow, then a dose of flu served up to everyone around the table, and right after that my brother died unexpectedly.

We should have expected it. At least we should have been less surprised. His life was hard and tragic with too many years of destroying himself to undo the damage, and it caught up with him, but I didn't see it coming. And our last conversation ended badly. A hard lesson that you never know when the last is the last. I'm still working through all of that, and most days it's fine and okay but there are moments when it all bubbles to the surface and I don't know what to do with it. Losing another sibling to a tragic life.

Here's the thing: what and how much to share when you write? Some blogs are happy and chatty and recap latest episodes of reality shows; some serve up recipes for the best casserole; some debate current topics. Some write about family members, but only the ones who make for good fodder.

Mine is just me. I'm what is called a 'lifestyle blogger' -  I write about my life. The good, the not so great, whatever interests me at the moment, etc. Some writers can segment their lives, vowing to never write about this or that subject, or person, but I've got a soft underbelly bent to my personality so that when I try to write around the truth I don't write.

Burying my brother was hard in every way and then some, but the real storm was the aftermath. The time when I stayed with my mother, who my brother had been helping with this and that. I had been living in that world where I thought all was okay. Within days I found out it was not.

When you don't see something, and it's obvious to others, you go back and wonder why. A rear view picture of life often isn't helpful but sometimes it explains things, and that's what I'm finding.

It now makes sense that even though my mother insists on having a cell phone, hers will never be used. Rather, it sits on the shelf near the kitchen, protected by paper she fashioned into a holder, with 'SEL FON' written on it, to remind her what it is. I now am forced to see there's a reason the TV and the computer grew covered with dust. Christmas checks and birthday cards quit coming. The rules of a child's game were just too confusing to her. She will not only never beat me at Scrabble, we will never play again. It would be too frustrating for her and heartbreaking for me.

After digging through piles of paperwork, and gathering it all to take home, we've got some systems in place so that she can continue to live where she is. For now.

It's the 'for now' that is so hard. How long is that? And what next? I'm the one, ultimately, who has to make the decision, knowing she will feel betrayed and abandoned, and this middle child wants everyone to like me, be happy, especially my mother.

We sat in her little one room convenience apartment, where the chairs fight the double bed for floor space. I studied her frame, saw that she has become fragile and small, with pale blue eyes that look at me with questions she can't ask, trusting me with more than she knows. She tells me she is fine, great actually. But she can't keep track of her rent, or walk more than the circle where she lives or she'll get confused, and thank God she gave the car away, but she's stuck at home because even the senior bus is too confusing for her now.

I've prayed, I've cried a little, probably not enough. I've talked my sweet husband's ears off, I've read and I've done lots of work on the computer to set up bills and routines and helpers and right now we're okay. But I know the hard choices are coming and that is my soft underbelly right now.

So again, be kind. Don't honk. Don't growl. Smile. Let them go ahead of you in line. Listen. Because we all have soft underbelly that we're dealing with, the real, hard stuff of life that sometimes feels like a strong undercurrent carrying us far out to sea, leaving us not sure we can get back to shore safely. Mine is a little, old lady with grey hair all askew and a short gait. Yours may look different, or maybe not even be visible to the naked eye, but it's there, feeling vulnerable and exposed.