Celebrating Gramcracker’s 104th

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Gramcracker with my Dad c1935.

Gramcracker with my Dad c1935.

As everyone notices I often write about my Grandmother, who I lovingly called “Gramcracker.” She has been missing from my life for several years now. If she was still living, today would be her 104th birthday.

Recently, I was the recipient of the most fabulous gift...this photo of her my cousin found in an old box. I shared it with my dad a couple of days ago. In his 81 years, he had never seen it. Everyone recognizes it though; clearly it is the full-size version of my dad’s baby photo.

I‘m guessing, just like many young mothers today, Gramcracker had herself cropped out of the prints she shared with family. I’m afraid that says something a little bit sad about women and body image and our inner-drives for perfection. Ah, but that is another story!

Today is a day for my own quiet celebration of her life and the gift that both she and this long-lost photo were to me. Every year on July 2nd, I try to sit quietly for a while and recall the most mundane actions of our times together. 

Sometimes I think about the epic, summer-long yard sales we ran together–that’s where I learned math and negotiation skills. As a result, my husband sends ME to the car dealer to make the family purchases. No one can rough up a sales manager like Mom. For all the extra nice cars I’ve driven through the years, I can thank Gramcracker for teaching me to wheel and deal before I started Kindergarten.

Of course, I spend a lot of time thinking about food too.

Her house was Kid-Land-Deluxe where non-enforced nutrition was concerned. There was an enormous chest freezer out on the enclosed back porch filled with boxes of Fudgies (I believe the common and trademarked name is Fudge-sicles) and Popsicles. At Gramcracker’s house it was totally acceptable (and expected) that the red and purple ice pops were for eating…the orange and green ones were only fit for the trash or to share with our beagles on hot summer afternoons.

Other “foods” at Gramcracker’s included bowls of Lucky Charms. And by that I mean literal bowls full of Lucky Charms without the pesky bits of tasteless, vitamin enriched “cereal.” At Gram’s it was fine and dandy to eat only the good part and dispose of the rest without being forced to “at least taste it.” I ate many dinners consisting of only sliced cucumber salad without meat or other icky stuff forced onto my plate.

There were stacks of wooden soda-pop boxes filled with assorted bottles of fizzy stuff too. Flavors like Orange, Grape, and my coveted personal favorite–Strawberry–were always abundant. Oh she wasn’t all sugar and empty calories…there was always milk in the fridge…chocolate milk.

Did I mention the “cornies?” That was the house-name for cheese puffs. Chester Cheetah and I were orange-finger-tipped friends all summer, year after year. My mom used to grumble it was a wonder that I didn’t die of Rickets by the end of each extended visit.

Good Times

As age and time took her mind, my grandmother slipped into a non-specified form of dementia. I was her some-time care giver during those last few years. My uncle lived with her full time and cared for her around the clock. Fortunately, she was never given to bouts of “Sundowning” like many folks with memory issues. So there was no out of character, combative fits, or terrifying times when she was scared to death because everyone was a “stranger.”

Her form of dementia had a good dose of across-the-board memory loss–with short-term and long-term lapses being about equal. And there were certainly confusion issues. Most nurturing acts such as bathing her and hair brushing she thought were being performed by her mother, no matter who was holding the brush or wiping her face.

When Gramcracker first started having issues, it was as a combo of her eyesight (may have been an early cognitive impairment marker) and her arthritis. She had worked a “man’s job” inspecting rubber tubes at Uniroyal for years. Here entire body had suffered the effects of the long shifts standing on her feet, bent at the shoulders, doing her job. As a newly divorced mother of three, she had been lucky enough to be hired during the War years. When peace was declared, she was again fortunate to retain her position because she had proven herself as a hard worker and excellent inspector.

Perhaps one of the earliest indicators of her decline was that she could no longer hold (her hands hurt) or see (her eyes were bad she said) her beloved romance novels. Over the years she must have read every single “Harley Quinn” Romance ever available at the grocer’s check out lane.

When the corner market lacked a fresh paperback for her to take home she was an avid reader of the National Enquirer–which I was also allowed to read…hmmm. That might explain some stuff :)

So, she began watching Soap Operas in place of her Romance novels. She called them her “Programs.” Inadvertently interrupting a “Program” by telephoning or stopping by to visit with Gramcracker without checking the time and TV Guide first could get you hurt!

After a few months, she began speaking as if she were a narrator for a real-life soap opera. It was funny, trippy, and only a wee bit worrisome.

As her body fell into a quick downward spiral, her mind followed along for the ride. Soon she dropped all social filters and spilled several very juicy family “secrets” with no cushioning or delicate prancing around the cold facts. She became brutally honest and very straight forward. A few of those tales are what I would refer to as “hair curlers” and I cannot be sure which ones were leftovers from her Soap Opera Narrative stage.

Over recent years, I have chased down the many of the stories she told me from that period and have found evidence of truth in each one–so far.

In my eyes, those few months of odd lucidity concerning the recollection of painful events was short lived. Suddenly she moved on to the last stage of her mental affliction; the “continuous loop.”

And that brings us to the day that I think I killed Gramcracker.

I know that sounds weird, nefarious, confessive…but I kind of worry that is what happened.

Let me explain

One day while my Uncle went out to a doctor’s appointment and to run a few errands, I came over to hang out with Gramcracker. Her state of “crazy” never really bothered me. I always thought of it as life in reverse. When I was little and living with her, I know that I did, said, and caused more than my share of absurdity. Like the afternoon my mom called the police because she thought I’d been snatched. I was hiding among the coats at the rack beside the telephone desk. When I heard her making the report I began to giggle. She hung up the phone and I got a heck of a whooping–Gramcracker wasn’t there to save me, she was sleeping after a night shift. I also know that I loved to sleep with her on her big feather bed. And she always let me, never complained, not a wink…even though I was a notorious bed-wetter.

The woman was a Saint in my eyes.

Her need to ask a question, re-ask, and then ask again– or to repeat the same sentence over and over didn’t annoy me in the least. Plus, among all the people she would see and not recognize–she always–always–knew me. She often couldn’t remember my given name, but she did remember that I was Goldie. Remembering me by the pet name she had given me, that was a gift for me to hang my heart on. All else aside, recognizing me as Goldie let me know she recalled our special bond.

On this particular day there were two questions that Gramcracker could not, would not let go of. Although they were nothing along the lines of what was shared between Bernadette and Our Lady of Fatima–the two things she kept asking me will never be revealed. And in reality, in the bigger scheme of things in the world, they were very small little matters, but they clearly were nagging her.

She asked me the same questions over and over in a carousel fashion.

I felt dizzy as she would ask, I would answer, she would ask the other question and before I could get the “brush it off answer #2″ past my lips, she would hit me again with query #1. 

And then I snapped. Even though I had been told–don’t tell your Grandmother about blahblahblah#1–I did. 

She didn’t flinch. She moved on to question #2–I had been “sternly told” to not upset Grandmother with that situation either.

Well, she knew she had me cornered–I buckled–gave her the answer and then I watched as her entire demeanor changed. She relaxed, became quiet and a veil of serenity dropped over her. She was not upset. Gramcracker was a very intuitive woman and she knew she had been lied to about these two small issues for a long time. That hurt her, obviously pressing her with a great deal of unease. She was not shocked or upset. Relief is what happened. The two people and their “situtations” she had asked me about like a “ring around the rosy” were things she needed to know about. Without the truth, she could feel no peace.

When that understanding crossed the room from her adled mind to mine I audibly gasped.

Oh crap! I just killed Gramcracker! 

Seeing the great weight lift off of her I sensed that these were two very important answers that she needed to have. She was always a mother to many more than her own children. She worried about and protected and fiercely loved us all. She had to know that we were all safe–that was the end game for her life–to be sure that those she loved were capable without her. I felt like I had just given her the permission that she had been seeking to leave.

Several weeks later she “took a turn” and within days was gone forever. I knew it was okay with her, because she knew the truth about two nagging questions her heart couldn’t let her relent on. 

Living without her still hurts though.

But she taught me some important stuff and so I am strong. She taught me to fend for myself, only keep a man around if he was good to me and my kids, and to take good care of my hair–because it’s “a woman’s crown and glory.”

So Happy Birthday Gramcracker, I’m pretty sure you can see me–but just in case, I want you to know– I can buy my own car, I have a good husband–and my hair looks really good!  

*************

If you or someone close to you is a caregiver or love someone who is experiencing a dementia spectrum disease, do yourself a favor and check out the excellent blog “Going Gentle Into that Good Night” the information and stories there are worth a read! See it by clicking on the name. I highly recommend it.

Father’s Day in Prose

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Mom’s real-life family of origin. That handsome devil on the left is my Pop. I’m the tall one on the right. How many times do you suppose an Olin Mills photographer had to look at this same pose in the 60s?

In honor of all the Fathers out there, and in celebration of their “Day,” I’ve been saving up a small cache of poems. I love that all three are written by, or about men who are/ were fathers.

All are very different pieces, and all speak to different facets of the condition known as “manhood.” One is of the Veteran who never watched “War Movies.” One is of a man wishing to resurrect his younger years fathering his son and sharing adventures in a canoe. And the third, was written about the camaraderie and ritual of having breakfast, lunch, and “coffee” at Jack’s Place, the restaurant and small town bee-hive operated by my husband’s Coon Hound raising grandfather.

Happy Father’s day to All Dads– both here now and those who have already gone on. Know that you will live forever in the fiber that swaddles us up together as a family 

#1 Sailor Man

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#2  Resurrection

Looking backward, time with our children seems to have rushed by like running water

Looking backward, time with our children seems to have rushed by like running water

   Resurrection

     T. D. Richards

Hope dead that it will be reborn

in this life, the canoe lays upside down in

a field of weeds.

A warped  bottom proudly shows

a roadmap of its weathered history.

Anyone interested can see it has lived long.

Early on, a companion for father and son,

it now seems to be in the way.  It can’t

help it wears heavy metal and is extra long.

How to compete with youngsters

who are sleek and sexy in fiberglass.

What really matters though is

who’s left to recount it’s connection

with  its’ family of origin?

Who gets excited telling of its passages?

Who can thrill by reciting its blustery

as well as its halcyon days?

Who is there who can point out

which dent came from Sugar Creek

in Parke County and which came from

the West Fork of White?

Like few others she is not totally forgotten.

Some believe that there’s a river

to cross when you die.

Father to son, refit the old lady

when it’s time for my last voyage.

If it’s true, I’d like her to smooth the way.

#3 Coffee Shop routine

Champion of Hound Breeding and owner of the Town's best Diner

Champion of Hound Breeding and owner of the Town’s best Diner

I believe this piece first appeared as a tribute to Grandpa CoonHound in the local newspaper

I believe this piece first appeared as a tribute to Grandpa CoonHound in the local newspaper

Marjie Gates Giffin is an Author and Poet. Look for her new book of poems coming early next year

Marjie Gates Giffin is an Author and Poet and one of my very favorite people in the world. Look for her new book of poems coming early next year

Click to order TD Richards' book This Side and That from Amazon

Click to order TD Richards’ book This Side and That from Amazon. Look for his new collection coming soon!

Leaving (a) Home

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This isn’t the first time it’s happened–but it will likely be the last. And I suppose that makes it different, harder, odd. My Mom and Pop are selling their farm. And why shouldn’t they…they’re both past 80 now. When they bought it several years back, there were only two grandchildren. I don’t know why I feel so shaken by this. After all, I never lived there. They moved to this farm after my husband and I had been married almost 10 years. But so much of our family story is perked into that spot of ground, it’s been hard watching the Realtor sign go up next to the mailbox.

They love to tell the story of how they came around a bend in this old, barely paved country road and followed a long line of overgrown orchards mixed in with native trees. They passed over a one-lane bridge and came up a hill past the biggest Sycamore tree in Indiana. Suddenly, there, with the Sycamore standing vigil, the woods opened up and a meadow became visible. It sloped downward toward a barn lot on a gentle rolling hillside. Uphill, the tall meadow grasses and overgrown pear, apple and cherry trees hid the eaves of an old, long abandoned house.

Field of Dandylions and Dirt

Field of Dandylions and Dirt

They looked at each other and nodded. They carefully steered their city sedan up what was left of a gravel drive–more like a natural gully made by a hundred years of neglect and summer showers. Tiger Lilys grew wild, poking their fiery orange and speckled brown heads up above the wild Timothy hay. The well-house had long ago blown over in a forgotten storm, but the pump-head still stood, with the handle only lightly rusted. They looked at each other again, and stepped out into the knee deep weeds, grass and wildflowers.

More as it looked through loving eyes

More as it looked through loving eyes

The old house looked a bit ragged. It seemed the barn had fared better. The way it was sited on the hillside had probably given it some breaks against the weather. But the old house stood tall and straight. It had been built by a Quaker family in 1857 the farmer had told them. No one had lived in it for over 50 years, except an occasional Mama Coon raising her kits. It hadn’t been painted for much longer than that. At some point a porch had been added, then fallen away and removed again. So that’s how it stood, looking so plain-faced and sturdy.

My parents said they looked at each other again and smiled. My dad said–“Just looks like a Grandma and Grandpa farm doesn’t it?” they shook hands with the farmer and officially bought it the next week.

The Grand-kid population kept growing over the years, and regular weekend visits to the country were always a favorite treat. Where else could you go fishing, talk to a cow, climb a tree full of Bumblebees and cherries or walk along manger walls to the hay-rope and pretend you were a circus performer? All the flowers in sight were grown just to be picked by eager little hands, and the crop of barn kittens was an unending rainbow of variety.

Chatting with Bossy

Chatting with Bossy

So, I hope that the next family who buys it understands it for the treasure trove of childhood entertainments that it is. Maybe then they can overlook the uneven floor boards or the agony of the electrical and phone lines failing for days on end during an ice-storm or heavy snow. It’s time for Grandma and Grandpa to move on. The children are all Great Grandchildren now, and the farm is too much to keep up with. But it sure was fun mowing that grass–all 7 acres. The other 25 or so were for the big tractor

Daddy and Grandson riding the little tractor

Daddy and Grandson riding the little tractor

Totem Poles, Movie Stars, and Power

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The Home is Currently for sale, click to see the MLS page

The Home is Currently for sale, click to see the MLS page

Today’s post is about the house I consider to be the most beautiful and amazing one ever built here in the heartland. I’ve enjoyed watching its restoration, meeting the amazing craftsman who had the vision and hands-on skill to do it, and shared some amazing stories. All the photos are from the private collection of Jerico Properties, and these and many more can be viewed on the company’s Facebook page. Thanks John and Jodi!

Golden Hill is not just a neighborhood or its centerpiece home. Golden Hill is a beautiful footbridge–an umbilical tether to the storied past of Indianapolis–Crossroads of America.

The makings of dreams are never easily traced. That is how I describe finding the simple entrance to Golden Hill. Tucked behind a small play park, it hides hugging a stretch of a wide urban route running between newer suburbs and the commercial hub at the city’s center. You must navigate your way past history on all sides as you try to find the magical hidden gem, Golden Hill.

The owner/developer of Golden Hill with his son in a Parry Motor Car

The owner/developer of Golden Hill with his son in a Parry Motor Car

The entrance cuts away to the west off a wide thoroughfare bordering Crown Hill Cemetery. Here is the final resting place for an impressive roster of celebrities, inventors, politicians and war heroes since opened in the middle 1800’s. The White River and the old Canal Towpath serve as a scenic twin boundary lines to the West.

Across these waterways, in winter time, one can glimpse a world class velodrome, a public golf course. Just beyond the line of sight a private Catholic University, the old Marian College, and the adjacent Seminary count themselves as Golden Hill neighbors.

To the north Golden Hill’s property adjoins Woodstock, arguably the city’s most prestigious Country Club. Just past the legendary sweeping greens of the old club’s golf course comes another main thoroughfare of the city, 38th Street. Rather poetically named “Maple Road” in the 19th century, overtime it was renamed with only the number “38.”

Facing Woodstock is the grand gated entrance to the Indianapolis Art Museum. Of international renown, the IMA and its acres of woodland, formal gardens, and Clowe’s Hall theater are proud neighbors as well. Even prestigious Butler University and the Christian Theological Seminary are within reach of Golden Hill’s enclave. Look south as you near the entrance and you gaze upon the towering glint of the ever renewing Indianapolis skyline.

Once found, Golden Hill strikes stirrings of a miniaturized Biltmore Village in the heartland. It is an enclave of homes where the mythic Great Gatsby’s lawn parties were inspired by those hosted here in real life. The guests in attendance were the power brokers of the nation, stars of the silver screen, and darlings of the stage. Poets, playwrights, and novelists enjoyed all the ambiance of the most metropolitan cities of the world, while entertained by their Hoosier hosts and hostesses.

 

Clark Gable with his 3rd wife Lady Sylvia Ashley enjoying an evening at Golden Hill

Clark Gable with his 3rd wife Lady Sylvia Ashley enjoying an evening at Golden Hill

Houses here were inhabited by those of generational wealth like the fictitious Magnificent Ambersons. Here in Golden Hill, the long-monied lived happily next to neighbors who were new initiates to the growing Midwestern aristocracy. All the residents shared a common appreciation for finery and show.

At it’s center, the home on Spring Hollow Road is both the anchor and the original. This is a bold house; a home built for a man wealthy by virtue of hard work and an inclination towards tenacity. For years a Totem pole that once decorated the Alaskan pavilion at the 1876 Chicago Exposition–the World’s Fair in the White City–stood sentinel at the entrance. As the original, it was christened and named “Golden Hill” and then later lent the name to the neighborhood developed by the home’s owner around his own breathtaking manse.

The house DM Parry built for his family was meant to be more than an address. It is a central member of the family–a back story character witnessing growth and heartaches alongside the fortunate and privileged lives unfolding beneath its roof. The walls were built to be a sturdy rival to the massive monuments in Rome. Their purpose was well served as they were put up to impress, engulf, embrace and, yes, even protect those within them.

In contrast, the wide ornate doors were placed skillfully to invite in others of the same mind. Those who had a vision for a better way of living amid the cornfields and prairie lands along the White River found it here. The movers and shakers, the barons of the industrial revolution in the newly birthed Tin Lizzy marketplace all longed to live amid the bucolic curving lanes of Golden Hill.

Golden Hill, the Parry Mansion is now restored to its proper glory by Jerico Properties

Golden Hill, the Parry Mansion is now restored to its proper glory by Jerico Properties

How to Write a Book–4

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Don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds...really!

Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds…really!

 This is the boring technical stuff that scares the living B-Jeebers out of many Family Historians! We tend to be delicate creative souls…not to be bothered by scholarly details and creepy stuff like “math.”

If you have diligently played along for the past few weeks, you’ve know this was coming! The “A” word–Acronyms. Yes, these are the confusing non-word words hurled at us just when we think we may have a handle on the whole “self publishing” gig.

We’re going to work on (work-over) just one today. That’s enough to sweat in a season when the pollen counts are tortuously high, and we all have assorted graduation parties to attend.

Today we’re talking ISBNs (via Bowker).

This is the ISBN that appears on the backcover of Deborah Sweeney's new book. You know her as The Genealogy Lady

This is the ISBN that appears on the backcover of Deborah Sweeney’s new book. You know her as The Genealogy Lady

ISBNs are the numbers under and above the bar-code on every book you purchase from a retailer. The “A-word” stands in for “International Standard Book Number.” I believe just knowing what that string of letters represents in big bad ISBN makes the whole thing less intimidating in general.

The CATCH? Yes, of course there is a “Catch.”

There is only one “company” in the “world” selling (yes, you may have to pay to have an ISBN). That company is Bowker. If you would like to learn more about Bowker, and what their in-depth trade is, click on the link. It’ll send you to the Wikipedia listing instead of their webpage. I chose to do this because the writer of the Wikipedia article did a nice job of boiling it all down to a tidy and understandable overview. Once you decide a definitive “yes” or “no” for using an ISBN, you can Google the RR Bowker company, load your cart and go to the check out line.

**Also see Bill’s Comment below, where he points out that other firms indeed are authorized to sell ISBNs, just not here in the US. Thanks Bill!

One common misconception here is that once you have an ISBN, no one else may use that title to obtain a number. The thought being that you have effectively just “called dibs” on your title.

NOT TRUE. There is no such thing as a copyright for a book title!

What? Why do I need to have an ISBN? Why wouldn’t I need an ISBN? I have to pay for one…but just “maybe?”

Here’s the deal

Remember back on the installment of this series How to Write a Book-2 , I encouraged you to consider your audience–Who are you writing this book for? That was a really important decision. Because:

You will need an ISBN for your book if:

  1. You offer it for sale on a website or in a bookstore (including Indie and Mass Market stores.
  2. You plan to donate (or sell) copies to a library or local historical society, or museum.
  3. You are writing this with hopes of selling it to a wider audience than just your family and would thus need for it to be searchable.

You will not need an ISBN if:

  1. You are only making the book available as an eBook (Note: this is highly contestable in my opinion. I suggest you err to the safe side and include an ISBN for eBooks as well)
  2. You are writing the book to share with relatives as a PDF file–one they can view on their screen or print out at home onto normal paper with a link you provide them.
  3. You plan to write this book, pay a printer for a run of copies and then either gift them to your relatives or hope that you “sell” them enough to cover the costs you have accrued while researching, writing, editing, and printing your work.
  4. You plan to only sell the book via your own webpage and/or during book fairs or personal appearances (this can work well for some niche topics).
  5. You are willing to have the books printed in this manner and risk being stuck with many boxes of your masterpiece collecting dust mites and mildew in a seldom visited corner of your home.

You may have an ISBN for no charge IF:

  1. You upload your finished book to CreateSpace (Amazon’s POD–print on demand–service) you may choose to receive an assigned ISBN at no charge. When you accept this option, you are allowing CreateSpace to be the publisher of record. This is a no-brainer if you plan to sell only to friends and family, or via the online Amazon store. They will do the same for the Kindle version (also an Amazon product-line) should you choose to add an eBook version. However, don’t expect to see your book on library shelves or in bookstores with CreateSpace/ Amazon as the publisher of record. The push will only be on for internet sales. Also, the ISBN is only “good” for selling via Amazon (and CreateSpace). You can’t, for example load it to Barnes and Noble for sale on their website/stores/ or Nook eBooks…or Google, or iTunes blah blah blah. The freebie is Amazon’s property and it’s provided at no charge to keep it on Amazon’s selling sites.
  2. You publish with a Traditional house with live Editors and full staff services and advances and such…they’ll absorb the comparatively dinky fee.

So, I want one, my very own, so I can do whatever I want, when and with whoever I want with my book– what’s it going to cost me? 

You may buy an ISBN from Bowker, just like the big boys. They come with substantial price breaks for buying in bulk. Don’t get excited. Unless you are highly prolific and planning on cornering the market on your own family stories, memoirs and poetry chap books–don’t go too crazy. And, you will own all the ones you don’t use forever. You cannot “gift” them, resell them on eBay or make a cottage industry out of buying in bulk and then undercutting Bowker’s price on a single to your aspiring author buddies. 

They are non-transferable

Current pricing is as follows:

  • $125 for one
  • $250 for ten
  • $575 for one hundred
  • $1000 buys one thousand individual ISBNs

Why on earth would you ever need more than one? I’ll redirect you here if you want the in-depth explanation. I’m not including here, because we’re trying to keep our path in an arrow-straight trajectory :)

Is your head spinning? Sorry. It’s just part of the ride…That’s why I thought

Maybe I should write that down..

Now I see! Yep, get me a 10 pack Mom

Now I see! Yep, get me a 10 pack Mom

Mr P. Floyd vs The Education

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Mom ala' Kindergarten--Sheesh!

Mom ala’ Kindergarten–Sheesh!

School. We’ve all done it. One way or another, some more than we needed, some less than we would have liked. On a recent post, Deborah (aka The Genealogy Lady) asked me why I use the magazine line-lead style on my blog. And then, she shared a really interesting link on the reading style effects technology is having on the readers of today. It wasn’t exactly the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Method, but it comes dang close.

Apparently several “big deal” studies have been undertaken lately on the effect technology (aka “screen reading”) is having on our brain-training when it comes to reading. We are developing into a society of “F readers” and are training the “youngins” to be the same. Is that surprising?

This made me think of schooling and “schools of thought” in general. It seems that invariably, what is old, eventually becomes new again. Thus proving the old saying “Nothing is ever new under the sun.”

Although the concept of “Blab Schools” sounded rather absurd to most of us growing up, it didn’t look all that bad when we saw the concept demonstrated in the weekly episodes of “Little House on the Prairie.” Kids of all ages and abilities were taught in one open room, by a single instructor. Often siblings shared a desk.

This Blab School stuff isn’t a far cry from the experimental and highly controversial “Open Concept” format of my own grade school experience.

Growing up in rural Indiana, my mother had attended school in a One Room School House–just like Halfpint— and then advanced to the centralized and consolidated High School where there were exactly 7 kids in her graduating class.

Fast forward a few years and that same rural county had become substantially more populated. In our little area, the original schoolhouses had been abandoned and the modestly sized high schools were re-purposed as consolidated grade schools.

Then, around 1960ish came the biggest change in the history of our county. Several of the “re-purposed” schools were abandoned and new, modern elementary schools were built in their place. In the approximately 25-30 year stretch between my mother’s first day of classes at a blab school and then on to a high school with a couple of dozen kids, I started school in a brand-spanking new elementary.

When I say new, I mean new! Parts were still under construction during the early weeks of that first Fall. Kids were uprooted from three old high school buildings and transplanted into a sprawling, one level, carpeted and grade-level segregated Shangri-la approved by our County Commissioners.

Around Second grade, just as Mrs Dean and I had come to a sufficient understanding that I would indeed be doomed to spend my life as a “Lefty,” a new Superintendent came to our district. He held a flashy Doctorate and lofty uptown goals for educating our hayseed little brains on the prairie. Under his direction, our new school would become the second of its kind in the nation.

Did you get that?–IN THE NATION!

In that newly cleared spot, tucked quietly in with the vast acres of corn and soybean fields a sizable plat had been generously donated to build our new school. We were to become national lab rats. Progress!

Immediately, ground was broken for expansion at our new school. The addition was one, massive, open room. The glass of the outside walls was pretty continuous except where sets of boys on the right, girls on the left restrooms stood. There were also large skylights in the ceiling for natural lighting. Structurally, there could not have been a worse design for our safety here at the tail end of Tornado Alley. The single room addition was about three or four times larger than our gymnasium/cafeteria/stage with curtains area they called a “Multi-purpose Room.”

The big project was completed, staff was all run-off or retrained, and when Fall rolled around and I started 4th grade, it was a strange new landscape. My classmates and I had spent the K-3 years at the new school under a strict program of the utmost “oldschool” fashion. We had a teacher, a room, and that’s where we stayed throughout the duration of that grade.

We did have a music teacher who rolled an upright piano down the hallway from room to room for our once-a-week music class, but otherwise, we never ventured past our classroom for anything but lunch, gym or recess.

Suddenly with the coming of 4th grade year, our school was transformed. We, the upperclassmen of the 4th, 5th and 6th grades would be divided by ability and assigned labels / levels. I was a 4-1. There were also 2’s and 3’s. It didn’t take much to figure out that everybody labeled a 4-1 was considered smarter than a 2, and far superior to a 4-3.  Even at that tender age, this “labeling” and “segregating” thing didn’t feel right to me. But still, the terror and the stigma of possibly being bumped down to a “2” (essentially re-labeling me a fallen “1”) was a lot of pressure.

We also “moved” from room to room with a bell schedule. All of this to prepare us for high school. Which is kinda what I thought our stint at the in-town Junior High was supposed to be about. We had a slew of new teachers and separate rooms for each subject. Homeroom was simply where our first subject of the day was, and where we were to hang our winter wraps and leave our galoshes.

We had no lockers. There wasn’t a budget for those.

Kindergarten remained conspicuously untouched by all this upheaval. Their nap-times and double milk breaks remained the same. As a concept borrowed from “overseas,” Kindergarten didn’t really seem significant enough for the new Superintendent to tinker around with.

The addition to the back of the school was officially referred to as the “Pods.” I’m not sure whether that was an acronym or not. But it was basically “stupid land.” My poor little brother started 1st grade that Fall. He was ushered from the quiet and sweet softness of close-doored Kindergarten to an enormous room filled with “study carrels,” lots of teachers milling around, three full grade levels of roaming kids.

There were teachers on staff for each discipline–basically the three R’s of Reading, wRiting, and aRrythmatic. Science, the Arts and Developmental Strategists (teachers’ assistants) milled about as well.

Basically, the kids in first through third grade were gently encouraged to follow their bliss and do whatever motivated or called to them on any given day. This was an effort to promote self directed (aka “learn it when you become interested in it”) mastery.Kids were laying on the floor all day with headphones on listening to stories on tape. Others sat on the desk tops of the study carrels (which we thought were somehow related to Christmas Carols because they kind of echoed when you put your head in them and started singing) drawing beautiful crayon pictures of John Deere tractors.

A few of the kids voluntarily migrated to the “structured lesson” areas; some were herded by the “Developmental Strategists.” These were the students who would later be sorted out into the 4-1 and 4-2s. But the poor suckers who were “learning in their own time,” playing Legos and drawing tractors while they said “putt-putt-putt” into the echoing desk area, they were gunning to be 4-3s. Branded for life.

And there it was–the Blab school, the one-room schoolhouse was back in use. Only a few hundred feet from the shadow of the abandoned one my own mom had attended, kids of all levels were thrown into one open room this time without rulers smacking knuckles or paddles whacking hineys. There were also no dunce caps. Dunce caps were self expressed via the kids who preferred freedom of expression and time management to “learning.” Bedlam at the taxpayer’s expense.

Fortunately, after about 2 years of this nonsense, some changes were put into place. The class levels where changed from numerical designations to insect species for fourth graders, animals of the Sahara for 5th graders, and assorted mythical predators for the 6th grade classes. I was a Thunderbird. Still moving from classroom to classroom with the same kids I had been a 4-1 and a 5-1 with, it was some pretty thin repackaging.

Meanwhile, down in the “Pods” (the “Blab School”) changes took place that no longer allowed for the self directed learning of 7-8 and 9-year-olds. Kids were given assigned spots at tables with their own name written on a strip of construction paper, and taped onto their assigned spot. Nobody got to lay in the carrels and draw tractors or echo out the putt-putt noises anymore.

Gradually, the only thing that had changed about classroom instruction for 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders was that free standing chalkboards were brought in along with bookcases to make “rooms” inside the acres of abandoned newfangled open concept,  carpeted space.

My brother spent three years crawling around under the carrels playing “explore.” Consequently, academics were a struggle for him over the next nine years. School just wasn’t the same when it suddenly became structurey.

So, I guess at least in the case of my own elementary school education, the saying stands true: There is nothing new under the sun. Or maybe Pink Floyd had it right–We don’t need no education

Do you suppose that Maybe someone should write that down… 

 

Shall We Eat?

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One table, 4 generations of skilled cooks

One table, 4 generations of cooks and a Chihuahua

One of my favorite topics to write about when I’m doing a family remembrance, is Food.  Almost any significant life event that has occurred, or will eventually occur, within any sect of my family ends up revolving around the table.  We feast at weddings, on birthdays and anniversaries (of anyone or anything), even after funerals.

Holidays are a traditional food-centric “thing” for us. Picnics and barbecues are the celebration of eating–for the sake of celebrating eating.

Across my family, each generation, and each cook reigns supreme over one item or another. And, depending on the “current relations and temperaments” at any given time, some of these recipes will be passed down the generational line, others will be lifted only to the “Great Cookbook in the Sky” for retirement.

Some cooks are/were generous with the sharing of secret methods and gastronomical magic–others are down-right stingy. Why? I couldn’t tell you, I’d probably be poisoned at the next big “occasion.” Some of these recipe withholding food fights can smolder for years…slowly escalating to a boil…just like a perfect stew or…

For years my Dad harped at my Mom about the way her “peppers and onions” tasted different from the “peppers and onions” that his Mom made. Maybe because her Mom never made “peppers and onions”–didn’t really believe in them as a food suitable for cooking.

“Call Mom and ask her before you cook these next time,” was the proclamation I recall hearing after every “peppers and onions” incident. In fairness, I think my mom did call her Mother-in-law, once, about “peppers and onions.” I also think she got the complete stonewall treatment. Because she (Grandma) wasn’t a huge fan of her (my Mom)–follow?

Well, followed or not, take my advice and stay clear of the middle

When my own husband experienced the famed and authentic “peppers and onions” at Grandma’s one day, he gave Grams a hug, a little peck on the cheek, and the next thing you know, he was cooking up those “peppers and onions” the same way my Dad remembered them as a kid.

In our family, it’s all about how you approach the Bear. Some are better about laying the honey on nice and thick ;)

So throw whoever you can into that ring of wild beasts (the women who cook and tightly guard their “special secrets.”). See if you can schmooze a little and find a way to preserve the best ones. I still want Aunt Helen’s potato salad, but at least I’m privy to the family sugar cookies–which are–to die for–if you let loose a single crumb of the secret recipe!

And check out this recipe…handwritten, and attributed as the first written record of a recipe (or receipt as they were called back-in-the-day) for ice cream. By whom? Thomas Jefferson.

Hmmm. Glad he wrote that down…

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2. bottles of good cream.
6. yolks of eggs.
1/2 lb. sugar

mix the yolks & sugar
put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla.
when near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar.
stir it well.
put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent it’s sticking to the casserole.
when near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel.
put it in the Sabottiere[12]
then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. put into the ice a handful of salt.
put salt on the coverlid of the Sabotiere & cover the whole with ice.
leave it still half a quarter of an hour.
then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes
open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabotiere.
shut it & replace it in the ice
open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides
when well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.
put it in moulds, justling it well down on the knee.
then put the mould into the same bucket of ice.
leave it there to the moment of serving it.
to withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate

via @Biblioklept and OpenCulture

Today, reminisce about a food that was a tradition at any event for your family. Made by a nice cook or a mean cook…doesn’t matter, as long as it was delish!

And once you’ve done that, consider asking (an unsuspecting) cousin or sibling to start collecting up family recipes for a compilation so you can write about what made you and your ancestors grow.

Heck, have a snack while you do it and let it stick to your ribs in glory!

Heraldry and We the People, Return from Spring Break

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I originally wrote this post several years ago while the “Mom blog” was in its infancy. But after watching a good friend pridefully chose “just the right spot” to display her new, official and authentic family crest– complete with expensive frame and mat–freshly purchased while visiting a Theme-Park-Mega-Land…I thought we could all use a refresher. We Americans just don’t “get” the whole Heraldry and Flying the Family Colors thing. But boy, we sure want to participate! Here’s the real scoop, along with a bit of my own shame showing ;)   1219121525aI’m not sure, but I believe it was PT Barnum who said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

What I am sure of is:  I am one of those suckers.

  The other day I was clearing out a drawer and ran across a family crest certificate that my husband and I had purchased many years ago.  Can you hear the Merry-go-Round music yet?  It came from a very “proper” looking shop.  I believe that it was even spelled “shoppe” ~ a spelling meant  to further endorse the authenticity of fake stuff.  But we were young and silly and newly married.  So we scraped together the $35.00 ( a pretty Royal sum for us 30+ years ago) and bought a “fully researched and authenticated, heirloom quality” piece of paper with our last name slightly misspelled on it.

Wow.  How cool is That ?

What I have learned since ( ironically for free via library books) is that we were totally duped.  A crest is only “good” for the original “owner.”  A father may have a certain design, but it does not pass down verbatim to his children.  When important families married, as was generally the plan, their crests were merged to create a new one for the identity of the newlyweds.

Maybe there was an Earl of Momenhousen who bore the crest in my drawer a bazillion years ago.  However we, the current-day Momenhousen family, have no claim to it.

  Heck at this point, I don’t even know what happened to the receipt !   I do have an excuse though…I am an American.  Almost all of us are about one inch away from obsession with “the Old Country.”  Additionally, we are also generally convinced  there is a Demi-Czar, a Baron or at least a Bergermeister in our family pedigree somewhere.

Therefore, it stands to reason that we (meaning the immediate “us”) must have claim to a heraldic shield, a family crest, or something that verifies we are from a stock above serfdom.  Thanks Mr Barnum, you have given a name to this madness~

Sucker.

The real truth is that Heraldic Design is pretty much about Art.  If you are Canadian, you may claim a crest for your lineage if you wish to go through a long and arduous process. For better or for worse,if you are looking for something cool to put up on the wall, its time to do some doodling.  Although I did some intensive research on the topic and found a few favorite books that I think are very good for being technically correct, I just recommend the use of an artsy relative.

Simply by Googling “Heraldry” or” Heraldic Design”, or” Colors in Heraldry” you can save yourself some time and money. If you are looking for good books on the subject (and you can persevere for a few months to get through one) I would recommend one of these three.  And please note, the third one is not an opening chapter, it is the title of the book:

1.  A Guide to Heraldry by Ottfried Neubecker

2.  Concise Encyclopedia  of Heraldry by Guy Cadogan Rothery

3.  The Manuel of Heraldry a Concise Description of the Several Terms Used and Containing a Dictionary of Every Designation in the Science with 350 Illustrations  by Sir Francis James Grant

If these all sound too scary, have a sit down with your clan and start brainstorming what it means to be a “Dipfenhoffper” or “Smith.”  Think up some words,symbols, and colors to use to represent You.  Maybe then craft a family logo~for your ” house”.  Remember, siblings should be allowed to represent the same ancestry with their own selection of colors, symbolism and mottoes.  Consider using a string of words that spell out your last name as a motto like the poems kids are so fond of writing out of their names .

Example (bad one, really bad one):

Bravery In The Hood Masked At Night (Bithman)

In my post titled Managing the Help(ers)” I talked a little bit about dividing this task up among different factions of the family.  It’s a great way to get everyone started with helping without driving you nuts.  And, as a bonus, if you can get everyone to create their own crest, then the cover design for their copy of the finished project will already be done.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Julie-Everhart-Fine-Art-and-Photography/161130630622523?__mref=message_bubble

Lord Levi, as rendered by my friend Julie Everhart, of Julie Everhart Fine Art and Photography

Wow, how cool is that?

It’s also as authentic as the “Heraldry” you buy in a glitzy little shop or from one of the online retailers. This is my fabulous furboy, posing as the Lord of a fictitious family who lives out their on-screen lives in a private home rented annually by their production crew.

I’d rather have this photo any day over one printed out with an ink-jet from a tourist trap! If you’d like your baby, or yourself, transformed into Napoleon or Marie Antoinette (before that whole unfortunate beheading thing) get in touch with Julie, you can have royalty “your way” as the great American (Burger) King says ;)

The Old Mare Knew the Way Home

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Image of Alabama and Market street stands circa 1912. Families who had "truck gardens" came here to sell their wares

Image of Alabama and Market street stands circa 1912. Families who had “truck gardens” came here to sell their wares

This is the perfect photo–the one I’ve waited on for many years–to help me tell one of the most heart wrenching stories in our family lore~

When one branch of my family arrived in Indianapolis, they took up the trade of “truck farming.” Truck farming meant generally anything you could grow or produce on a bit of land, and then take into the city to sell. Depending on one’s farming skills, acreage, connections–and time of year, one could buy or sell about anything from a stall along the street.

At times, beautifully crocheted lace work, wool yarns, eggs, honey, fish, baked items, seasonal produce, smoked hams, tobacco, even rags or “whittled” children’s toys were available for the asking.

The work was unceasing for these families. I would imagine that getting to Market Street and being able to stand back and take a breath seeing your stall ready for trading must have felt like a day off. The rest of the week was spent tending gardens and animals, preparing for market, the chores of family and daily living of course.

Until very recently, I never had a real photo of what the Truck Farm Market might look like. Then, by a fluke, I ran into the kindness of Darron Chadwick of the Chadwick Studios who lent me this image. When he posted the photo above to a “remember when” type of local webpage, I knew immediately what I was looking at pure gold for my storytelling.

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Grandma Marie and the Old Mare

     When I was enormously pregnant with our second child, there were some some scary moments. I remember my own grandmother, Gramcracker, looking at me as if she were watching someone else in those days. She visited more often than usual–as if she wanted to keep an extra close eye on me during that pregnancy. My husband and I had never told anyone about the near miscarriage. We didn’t want anyone else worrying.

One day in late July on the driveway as she was in her car preparing to leave, she rolled down the window to say goodbye. But instead of “goodbye” she said the oddest thing to me.

“You know, we’ve been worried about you.

You look so much like my Great Grandmother Marie. ” 

I dutifully lied, assuring her that I was fine, the baby was fine…insisting that everyone and everything was in fact “fine.”

Now, would you like to hear something a little eerie about what she said to me?

When Gramcracker said “we’ve been worried” she wasn’t speaking of her and my uncle who was her chauffeur and live-in caretaker.

Nor was she referring to conversations she’d had lately with other family members…well…not living ones.

Gramcracker was very “in-touch” as they say.

I guess I wasn’t creeped-out, because she had half raised me and I was quite accustomed to hearing such talk–I completely believed in it. Gramcracker could always see things deep beneath a surface that most folks never knew existed.

I went back into the air conditioned house, curled up on the sofa and thought to myself–

“Well crap, now she knows this pregnancy is a  fragile one, I really didn’t want to worry her.”

I never gave another thought to the second thing she’d said to me–about her Great Grandmother, Marie.

Of course I was not surprised that I looked like Grandma Marie! I looked like all the women on that side of the family.

What I didn’t account for was that special way Gramcracker saw things, most all things, in a way different from most people.

 Once Babykins was delivered, and both she and I were pronounced healthy, Gramcracker came to visit. She wanted to express her reasoning for gratitude and general feeling of relief that I’d “made it.” She very gentley unfolded the story of Grandma Marie with me as I listened, holding my perfect baby in my arms.

To this day, I wonder if what she told me about Grandma Marie accounts for my life-long tendency to panic if I feel too cold…

On Christmas Eve in 1904, Grandma Marie and Grandpa Paul were in the city with their oldest boys working at the Saturday Truck market. It was a busy day. Many vendors had purchased crates of oranges fresh off the trains coming up from the Mexican farmlands. Oranges were a favorite treat in a wealthy child’s Christmas Stocking. Business was good for everyone the day before Christmas. Even the bitter cold hadn’t slowed the sales. 

Grandma and Grandpa Paul’s younger children were home at their small farm on the fringe edge of the county. Under the care of an older sister Lizzy, the children were very busy with chores and tending the house. Late December weather is generally cruel in the Midwest. Since this year was unusually so, the children busily kept the stove stoked and frequently checked the water troughs in the barn to be sure they hadn’t frozen solid.

Around noon-time at the Market, Grandma Marie began feeling ill and looking pale. A small woman, but a hard worker, she was nearing the due date of their 8th child. While carrying this baby she seemed to get tired quicker than she had with previous pregnancies. Grandpa Paul told her to take the wagon and their reliable old mare home early. That way she could get out of the bitter cold and help Lizzy watch over the little ones. Grandpa and the sons would walk home or hitch a ride with some neighbors.

With everything arranged for the boys, her husband, and any unsold goods to get home safely, Marie finally agreed to leave early. She set off alone on the short five mile trip towards home. As she rode along the rutted and frozen stretch of the bumpy Old National Road (Route 40), she began feeling the familiar pains of labor. The intensity and quick on-set let her know there wasn’t much time. Knowing that the baby’s birth was imminent, she dropped the reigns and climbed into the back of the open wagon. She had little choice, but no worries about making it home. The horse was indeed an old and reliable mare who always found her way to the barn.

Marie didn’t make it back to the farm. She gave birth in the moving wagon to a tiny girl and instinctively tucked her under her clothes next to her warm skin; sheltering her baby from the cold.

When Lizzy and the young ones heard the mare’s familiar clip-clop coming up the frozen barn drive they were delighted the family had come home early. The children set the kettle on the wood stove and began heating up water for coffee and gathering bread and jam to tide the others over until dinner could be prepared.

After a few minutes of excitement, the children were puzzled that no one had come inside. When they peered out the back window, all they saw was the old mare standing patiently before the closed door of the barn. Her head bobbed up and down as she waited to be let in and unhitched from the empty looking wagon. There was no one else, only the driverless horse and wagon. After a few moments of trying to understand what was happening, Lizzy bundled up against the cold and approached the barn lot to investigate.

What the poor teen found was her mother, covered in blood, dead, in the back of the buckboard. On closer inspection she found the nearly frozen baby girl clinging to life on her mother’s chest. Lizzy called to the other children to run across the big field to get the neighbors. By the time the children returned with help, the baby had died too.

I sat there dumbstruck as I listened to my own Grandmother tell this story. I knew how Marie had died without hearing a medical explanation. Marie had suffered a placenta previa–the same condition that had threatened my own recent pregnancy. My Great, Great Grandmother had bled to death in that wagon–long before her body froze. She never had a chance.

Gramcracker didn’t have to tell me. I knew what had happened. The answer danced in the air, just as it had danced around me as Gramcracker watched over me through the long fretful weeks of that pregnancy.

And that was when I understood what she truly meant as she told me at the car window that I “looked” so much like her Great Grandma Marie.

Grandma Marie ~A woman who had died seven years before dear Gramcracker was born.

 The ground stayed rock hard the rest of that long winter. The temperatures and northerly winds kept everything frozen solid past Easter. The baby and Marie were covered in blankets and laid in a small shed near the barn until the earth finally give way to shovels in April. Then they were buried together, one wrapped tight against the other forever– the baby never named. Grandpa Paul never forgave himself for letting Marie out of his sight that day. He died about a year and a half later. Reportedly, he drank himself to death.    

 Now I’m the one who is so grateful, finally I got to write this story down…

*again, my heartfelt thanks to Darron Chadwick for allowing me to share this photo and thus finally feel I could share this story exactly as it needed to be told <3, what a true kindness from a stranger!

I’m so sorry. What can I do to help?

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How many times have we said this, written it on a card, spoken these words genuinely? Or conversely, been on the receiving end of these words as they are spoken to us?    What can I do to help?

While all is well with me and within my own house, at one time it was not. And now, there seems to be a startling rash of catastrophic diagnosis all around me, involving my friends, my family and others who I care deeply for.

In a departure from my norm, I am writing today about what are heart wrenching situations that are simply a part of living. There are moments when all that can be felt is helpless desperation– for those dear to us, as well as ourselves.

The year is still young but already I have attended too many funerals, heard news of too many devastating diagnosis, freak injuries, life changing illnesses and emergency surgeries. There are also instances of loss all around that are not so obvious–jobs, addictions, nasty divorces, financial devastation, ill treatment, and parental heartbreaks of every sort–both expected and unimaginable. There is, simply put, too much sadness going around. And when it’s close to us, if we can speak at all…we often say those words:

I’m so sorry. Let me know if you need anything. What can I do to help?

Let me pull up my pink soap box for a moment.When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2008, I needed a lot of help. I wanted a lot of things. But I was so overwhelmed by trying to make it through the next breath without crying, I didn’t have room in my head to think of what specific things I could ask for. Don’t get me wrong, hearing the above words from family and friends was much appreciated. I felt the genuine concern behind what they were saying and I was grateful for it. But I couldn’t respond. I was burning up every neuron I owned just trying to keep going in a forward direction. I was scared to death…not so much about what could happen to me, but about how much this was hurting my family right now.

There were the crazy things that only my heart knew. Like my wish to wake up as Dorothy had without the Ruby Slippers on my feet, realizing that none of it was real at all. I longed to be a 4 year old again, wrapped in the loving arms of my dear Gramcracker, covered in dog hair, wearing all the jewelry my hands could grab with black garden dirt under my nails from playing “dig to China” under the grape arbor.  And I desperately wanted to find relief from the nagging pain I couldn’t put aside as I ached for God to answer my list of questions that all began with “Why?”

Your head does crazy stuff to you. It demands you to give it the impossible, the ridiculous and the immediate gratification of “this” being only a cruel trick of the mind…a dream…a hallucination…a mistake.

It also straps a mask across your face and listens to all of the rah-rah encouragement, clings to the assuring words on cards, and holds a stiff upper lip to not scare others around us. Those closest to us are the ones we most want to protect from the horror show inside of us. We want to spare them from knowing how scared we feel, how little we trust, and how very angry and tortured we’re feeling.

And then there is the jealousy, and the guilt for all the feelings dancing around it. The friend standing before me, holding a lasagna and a handful of posies with a greeting card hand-picked for its uplifting verse doesn’t know shit about how I feel, or how dark every corner of my being feels. In that same moment I feel badly that I had the ingratitude to even let those kind of thoughts cross through my mind. Clearly, everything that isn’t already broken within me, is upside down. What a mess. What a pitiable, hurting mess I am.

With rare exception, we have all been there, or will be one day–whether as the one wounded or the one struggling to help. I would like to offer up a list of things that I wish I would have had the sense to ask for during those dark times. This comes from what I’ve learned to do for my friends who are hurting. I have the luxury of distance from my darkness- that luxurious distance is called “survival.” And what I learned from it is that the overwhelming sense of helplessness we feel when faced with death, dying, disaster or any true midnight of the soul, can only be eased by allowing others a chance to help us.

So Here’s Mom’s List, I hope it will help you when you find yourself sincerely wanting to help, but being without direction from your loved one, friend, or neighbor. And, if you are the one in need, please help another by asking to be helped in one of these ways. It is not weakness, it is a sign of dignity and strength. To those who are on the giving end, it is not a burden to help, it is a relief knowing there really is something real to be done to ease a loved one’s suffering during a terrible time.

If you are wanting to help, here are simple things that you can do~

As my friend, let me tell you my story. This is so important!  Processing this hurtful thing helps me heal it in my heart. It helps me to make peace with, if not sense of what is going on. As a family stands next to a casket in a receiving line, they speak the story of who they loved and knew in many different pieces. Undertakers and therapists have long known that this is an important step in the grief process. This repetitive talk therapy carries the buried grief out into the air from the places we want to hide it and pretend it’s not true.

This same talking helps cancer patients, their family members, victims of violence, returning troops, displaced workers, parents fighting their child’s self inflicted harm, death, mental illness or drug addiction…the list goes on. Everyone needs an outlet for their story. You don’t have to have answers, just compassion. You shouldn’t offer up knee jerk solutions or opinions, just hear what I have to say. Fight back your urge to say things like–“Oh, you mustn’t think like that, everything will be Okay.” Because I won’t believe it, the words are trite, and I won’t feel you are honoring my pain and fear–your good intentions will be useless. After listening, then hold these things in a pact of confidence if that is what is asked for. Gossip, exaggeration, blame-placing, doomsday predictions, opining what is not yours to have an opinion on is all very cruel.

Comfort and help my Loved ones. I am sick, but they are exhausted with worry. They spend sleepless nights, hours at my bedside, double up their workload to pick up what I can no-longer do. All while trying to stay proficient at their own job, or maintain their grades and get rides to where they need to be for activities. Listen to them, and try to find ways you can ease their burden. Bring them a hospital survival bag filled with the things that can make their life less miserable as they are camped at my bedside. Shuttle my kids. Pick up their cafeteria tab for the week at school, or deliver them a weeks’ worth of lunches packed up and ready to go. Give them wake up calls. Be sure the football pants get laundered, the mail comes in from the mailbox, and the pets have food and are cared for.

Offer to “be there” by temporarily adopting one of my kids or my spouse.  This one of course goes without saying…if the wife is ill, her husband should be “adopted” by a friend who is also a husband–and vice-versa. Don’t inadvertently add to my worries! Commit to calling or texting your adopted person every day. Check in with them.Get to know them, let them tell the story of how they’re feeling--how this is for them.

Be there for them by acting as the bridge between normal and what is happening. Trust me, they don’t have a tether to the ground right now. The rug beneath their feet has been jerked out from under them too.

Don’t let them miss anything they love because the person who is usually in that role can’t be there to remind them or accompany them to the game. Go to Target after school and get science fair poster boards.  Become the official driver my daughter’s volleyball practice, pick up my carpool, take my kid to lunch on Saturday, do homework with them, take them to the mall, ask about their day.

Perhaps the hardest one~ if I have passed–help my spouse by rounding up suits for the boys to wear to my services. They grow so fast. Don’t forget shoes. Check in with the girls too, but chances are, they’re in better shape clothing-wise. And if my spouse has nothing to wear, and is in no shape to go out in public, go shopping yourself with sizes in hand and buy three or four outfits for them to try on at home. Return what doesn’t work. If your budget won’t allow this, gather a group of wardrobe helpers together to divvy up the expenditures or final cost.

Do the quiet, unseen small things, and be specific about what your plan is. Remember, I am simply not able to “ask” because filling your very loving need to help just isn’t something I have the space in my heart or head for right now.Tell me to leave the back door open on Tuesday afternoons so I can stop by to run the vacuum and do your laundry. Or let me be in charge of changing trash bags and wheeling the garbage to the curb for the next day’s pick up. Maybe offer to scoop the litter box twice a week, take the dog for a run, or put his flea and tick medicine on monthly. Bring over your son’s football team to mulch the flower beds this spring. If you’re my neighbor, snow-blow my driveway or cut my grass without saying a word. Sneak over and put a fresh planter full of seasonal annuals on my front porch.

Go to the grocery, or through your own pantry and make up a bag full of the irritating-to-run-out-of stuff for daily living. Things like paper towels, trash bags, feminine products, chap stick, dish soap, TP, sandwich bags, coffee filters, Q-Tips, a Sudoku book or anything else that can sit quietly on the front porch without spoiling until someone comes home to take it inside.

Most importantly, don’t do more than one or two of these things yourself. Work in cooperation with others. Doing too much, even when it comes from the heart, seems invasive. Doing nothing makes you feel awful and helpless like you are standing on the sidelines wringing your quite capable hands. I don’t like feeling helpless and out of control–no matter on which side of the equation I’m currently sitting.

By writing this, I guess I hope a lot of things. I hope that it will be helpful if you use it. I hope that this list can spark some ideas tailored to your own unique situation. I hope it helps you to understand needing help, but not being able to pinpoint how or where. I hope you can print it off and hand it to your friends and family when you can’t speak these words by yourself. I hope you’ll step around your pride and allow others the comforting feeling of being able to do something helpful. I hope you can hand it to a loved one and ask them to kindly circle what would help them most.

But mostly, I hope you never need to use this list

xoxo~ Mom

Best Book on How to Become a Writer

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Lots of folks are out there selling the latest and greatest (usually written by them) books on How to Become a Great Writer. 

Personally, I have nothing against promoting your own work. In today’s cyber-spaced-out-twitterpedia market, it’s just what is demanded of authors. But before all this instant gratification culture hit us, there were writers who took it slow. Who did the deed deeply and with precision. These are the ones to follow and sit quietly studying if you truly want a shot at stardom.

Of course, that’s just Mom’s opinion :). And we all know how Moms are in general when it comes to having a thought about something–right. Just blatantly, unarguably, right.

If you are interested in peering in over the shoulder of many great writers, take a look at Francine Prose’s book “Reading Like a Writer.” My review of this “rocked my world” book follows. It was originally written for my gig as a reviewer at CatholicFiction.Net for Tuscany Press. If you want to write, buy this book, dog-ear it, go in deep, savor it and don’t spare the highlighter markings! I promise it will up your game, no matter whether you’re a wannabe, a beginner or a seasoned pro!

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In her book Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose sets out to explain the art of reading and enjoying words written by some of the world’s most gifted authors. In artfully dissecting great works piece by piece, Prose succeeds without lecturing.  In Reading like a Writer she uses sample passages by literary giants to teach her readers, while simultaneously demonstrating her love for the written word. The only part of this book that nearly caused me to knock it down to four stars from the deserved five, was the passage where she tells of her passion and enjoyment of diagramming sentences! Mercifully, this errant exaltation only lasts for a scant few sentences and then Prose is back to the beautifully told stories of and about the stories we love to read.

Anyone who loves books, read books, writes them or hoards them in tall stacks should own Reading like a Writer. The 300+ pages are crafted like a tour of a well curated library.  Each point made by Prose (whose ironic last name is quite telling) unfolds before the reader as a gift. At no time does this book feel like a required text for a tiresome Lit class.  Francine Prose herself is a gifted writer. She sets out to teach appreciation of the perfection laid onto pages for readers by the greatest of the great writers and succeeds fully.

Prose begins Chapter 1 by explaining the method and joys of “Close Reading.”  This is something I have never thought of or experienced.  Like most people, I am a casual reader. I am generally not “deep.”  I tend to read at face value, simply closing the book when the last page ends. “Close Reading” totally changed my approach to pleasure reading.  I pulled a couple of my favorite books down from the bookcase to “play along” as I read on.

Chapter 2 is about “Words.”  She teaches the reader to intimately consider each word chosen for a sentence. We learn here that one by one, the writer of substance discerns each word and asks if it is meaningful, meaty, or simply acting as a place holder.  I was on fire with the idea of the power of a single word given to or taken from a sentence. Back at my bookcase, into my personal manuscripts, the same questions and word scrutiny was happening alongside Francine’s coaching.  All the way through her book, Prose introduces and then thoroughly demonstrates her method for understanding and appreciating one narrow topic after another.

We are led through such chapters as “Sentences,” “Paragraphs,” “Narration,” “Character,” “Dialogue,” “Details,” and “Gesture.”  Each part inspired another look back at my own beloved books and indeed, my own writing to make comparisons. Just as it seemed no other topic is possible to explore, Francine Prose walks right up to the lofty and learned principles of the author Chekhov in her chapter “Reading for Courage.” This chapter is one where the true God-given talent of the author is revealed between words.

While the head spins with happiness from the new enjoyment that one is able to extract from old favorites, Prose hits the reader with her personal recommendations.  This is a lengthy list of titles (117 but who is counting?) which she names as “Books to Be Read Immediately.”  A tall order?  Absolutely, considering that no fewer than five are tomes by Tolstoy.  However, being armed with these new insights imparted by Reading like a Writer I feel inspired and capable.  Those 117 books will all go on my bucket list alongside my well-worn copy of Francine Prose’s wonderful field guide to absorbing great writing!

What Samuel Johnson said so perfectly — “A writer only begins a book; a reader finishes it” — Francine Prose eloquently proves in Reading like a Writer.

When You’re Bored, Write Nothing

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Bleachers made from well worn boards at an indoor hockey rink

These boards have weathered it all over the years. Wish they could talk!

Yes, I said that. 

When boredom strikes, there just seems to be nothing sparky or interesting. So, it’s time for some Nothings.

Nothing writing is my way of resetting my brain. Maybe it’s a close cousin to Electric Shock Therapy. I’m not sure. Sometimes these exercises seem like torture, that’s for sure! So it may be a good idea to grab a sturdy stick to bite on before you try your hand at these…remember, you’ve been warned! 

The basic concept behind these creative mind games, is to do your normal thing (write) with some very abnormal restrictions in place. It’s sort of a board game for your ho-humming Muse.  Try one or all of these and see what tests you most. There are a number of them out there, but these three are my all time favorites. At times I get so frustrated by the “Nothings” my annoyance in itself is enough to relight the fire under my lethargic hiney.

Nothing I: Write a pyramid of sentences. This is an indefinate exercise. You decide when it ends. Simply start a story with a one word “sentence.” Your tale’s next sentence will be only 2 words. Guess what’s next? Yes, a 3 word     sentence. Sound easy? Give it a try. And remember, you’re writing a story     as this is going on! 

Shhh…

What the?

Who is there?

Did you hear that..

Let’s get out of here

Wait, who took  my car keys?

 

Are you an overachiever by nature? Make your pyramid story rhyme line by line!

Nothing II:  If bouncing your brain from the left to the right with counting and prose isn’t enough of a mental pickle to get your synapses firing, try the letters only brain assault. Write an essay. Title it with a word starting with the first letter of your first name. Now, the opening sentence of the piece         needs to start with a word that beginning with the next letter in the                 alphabet. Keep going from there, moving your way alphabetically through       the story until you have circled back around after writing 26 sentences.         For example, my essay would be titled with a “K” word and begin with an       “L” word, and the last sentence would start with a “J”word. 

Kicking

Lately, I’ve had a few run-ins with farm animals. Mainly cows and goats. No chickens or pigs have crossed my path. Of course there have been brushes with sheep as well….

For the overachiever faction, you can do the same exercise placing the “letter word” at the END of each of the 26 sentences.

Nothing III: Roll a pair of dice. The number that comes up is the number of                          sentences you will be writing in a paragraph.

                     Roll again for the number of paragraphs.

                     Roll one last time for the number of words you are allowed for                          each of the sentences you use. 

Give yourself bonus accolades if you can also work the number words in to each of these elements. This added challenge gives you practice with dimension for repetition, cadence and alliteration in your writing. Sounds pretty sexy doesn’t it? 

So next time you’re bored, write “Nothing” exercises. The simple little brain tricks behind them are fun, frustrating and sure to knock you back on track!

Let me know which you like best, and if you have any favorite boredom busters up your sleeve. Mom says it’s always polite to share!

It’s Not Where They’re Dead, It’s Where They’re Honored

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Where better to read Little Orphant Annie than atop his tomb from a bronze book  inscribed with the famous last lines

Where better to read Riley’s poem Little Orphant Annie than atop his tomb from a bronze book inscribed with the famous last lines

Taking kids to a cemetery for the first time can be a tricky business. I always wanted mine to visit their ancestors and loved ones, and I didn’t want them to be terrified and jumpy while they were there. I’ve always tried to put the emphasis on the grave markers as a way that we honor people, rather than a way to mark where their bodies are now.

Recently, I decided that my 1st grade granddaughter (I like to refer to her as Doll-baby) was old enough to be intro’d to leaf viewing at the graveyard with Grandmama. So, last week over her Fall Break from school, I resurrected (sorry, there are just too many terrible puns to resist on this topic) an old tradition from when her mommy was small. We loaded up the car, the dog, and ourselves and headed to the old city neighborhood surrounding Crown Hill Cemetery.

We passed through the ornate brick and iron entrance gates and drove by the Victorian era mourning station. For what seems like miles, the larger than life (haha) winged angels, obelisks, fancy tombs and little cave-like crypts are lined up in rolling winding rows. They look like randomly placed sculptures set in an outdoor gallery. The bleached white marble seemed to glow against a backdrop of red and gold maples.

Crown Hill is a big place. Covering over 550 acres, and currently just short of a quarter of a million interned, the cemetery has 25 miles of paved roads within it’s gates. With no road signs and so much to look at, it is an easy place to get lost in. To find the way to our destination (the famous “Strawberry Hill”) we follow a white line discreetly painted along one of the of narrow lanes winding through the graveyard.

The hill is the absolute best place I know of in Indianapolis for fall color viewing. It is unofficially the highest point in the city. From here, the view of the downtown skyline and all the rest of the panoramic scenery is breathtaking.  And it ls from here that Mom begins her sneaky, slipped-in-before-they-notice-what’s-happening local history lesson. Doll-baby has expected to go trekking with crazy Grandma to see the pretty fall colors at the big city cemetery.

We are really there to soak up a little poetry and culture without getting spooked.

Here, scattered across the landscaped sections lie a US President, several “Veeps” all sorts of Senators and Ambassadors, a bunch of Union Generals, athletes, pillars of industry and society, gangsters (yep, over there that’s where ol’ John Dillenger is),the man who played Uncle Remus in Disney’s movie Song of the South, and even a Gypsy King and some race car drivers. It’s really quite the assortment at rest, eternally planted here together.

James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Kurt Vonnegut and that “Fault in our Stars” kid Augustus Waters are all buried here in our local cemetery (well, not Augustus really, he’s just a fictional character). I, like many of the “old timers” of Central Indiana, often refer to Crown Hill Cemetery merely as “out at 38th Street” and usually call the most swanky and coveted section of Crown Hill “Strawberry Hill.”

True, we are headed up the marked lane to see the city from it’s highest point, but we are also going to visit and leave a little gift for Mr Riley. It’s a tradition whenever you scale Strawberry Hill. And though I am not creeped out by graves and burial grounds, I sure would never want to get that way by snubbing tradition!

220px-Mary_Allice_Smith, _c_1863Famous for his poem about goblins who would come and get misbehaving kids, Little Orphant Annie was a poem often read to children around Halloween– or bedtime when ill behavior warranted.

Crowning Strawberry Hill, James Whitcomb Riley’s tomb has the best spot available out of every inch available in all of the massive cemetery.

“Annie” was a real girl who worked as a housekeeper and sort of nanny to the Riley children. She is pictured here in this photo from 1885. When her father went off to fight in the Civil War, her mother had already been dead for many years. When he was killed in action, little Annie was orphaned (or “orphant” in Hoosier talk).  Her name in real life was actually Mary Alice, and the poem written about her was to be titled “Little Orphant Allie” but it was misread during typesetting and became famous instead as “Annie.”

Amazingly enough, Mary Alice wasn’t aware she was the inspiration for “Annie” for several years, or that James (or Jim as she knew him) had spent many years searching for her. He ran numerous ads in Indiana newspapers trying to find her and reconnect. In about 1915, just before his death, “Annie’s” daughter happened upon one of the advertisements and contacted him. You can read about it in Mary Allice’s obituary.

If you are unfamiliar, you can click on the poem’s title above if you’d like experience the sort of dark humor Mom was raised with. Those who are not at least partially fluent in “Hoosier” as a language will probably have a pretty tough time understanding the written words. So, for your convenience, enjoyment, and usage if you ever find yourself in need of a way to snap those pesky grandchildren in line…here’s an actual recording of Mr Riley, the old coot himself, reciting “Little Orphant Annie” around 1912.

220px-James_Whitcomb_Riley,_1913The recording is also a bit tough to understand between the accent and the poet’s age when the recording was made, and likely his general condition. It seems that JW was an enthusiastic imbiber. So maybe he sounds a little slurry because he was a little sloshed?

I do recall times in my own childhood when by chance or by well planned attack, our Grandparents would somehow end up with all 9 of us grandchildren for the weekend. Occasionally things got a bit rowdy. I have flashbacks to scenes of our Grandpa  (ol George the Methodist aka “The Dog Nab”) loudly reciting the lines of the Goblin poem in our direction. Then he would shew all of us, still white faced and breathless up the terrifying narrow stairway to our beds. In present times, this would probably be considered emotional abuse enough. However, the real abuse started when the snarling, howling gasps and whistling grunts started to waft up the steep stairwell as he slept denture-less and his snores crawled up from the master bedroom below us.

 Sweet Jesus! We were all sure goblins and werewolves roamed those hallways at night!

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We ended up having a wonderful and educational day. We gathered loose change up from the car and participated in the Riley Tomb tradition. Doll-baby thought that was really cool. Her class was always collecting soda tabs for “Riley.”

The tradition? Well it seems that although Mr Riley was widely known, well published and dearly loved by children and adults alike, he died completely broke. When the children of the city heard that their beloved spooky poem writing favorite was buried without a marker, they began coin drives until one could be purchased. Funds poured in from around the world and in 1922 the cornerstone was laid on the Riley Hospital for Children, in no small part funded by the coin drives of his young fans. Today, the Riley hospital is a beacon of hope for the sickest children from around the nation. And that’s why the tradition of leaving coins on his tomb lives on today, a hundred years after his passing. The grounds crew gather the money each day and deposit it into the Riley Children’s Fund. 

Maybe those ol Goblins did more good than they could ever know!

So Write Like It’s Your Job

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Write like it’s your job? Who’s job? Mine? Yours? Maybe it’s just L. Frank Baum’s job to entertain us all. In his short career, Baum wrote just under 60 novels, 83 short stories and a couple hundred poems. He did all this within a 25 year time span. He created new worlds, wrote about politics, women’s rights, and all kinds of socio-political topics using friendly little characters and totally manual typewriters. He foretold some pretty awesome inventions and changes in daily living while selling the heck out of all these kiddy books!

So, what keeps you from sitting before your spell-checking, no white-out needed, multiple tab opening keyboard to write down a little story about Uncle Roscoe and his prize winning Blue Tick Hound Dogs?

If you follow along on the Mom blog here, you’ll know that right now I’m deeply immersed in NaNoWriMo. If that means nothing to you, the quick description is this:

Every November for many years (about 15 I think…wiser NaNo’s please feel free to correct me) writers can commit, totally on a voluntary basis, to writing 50,000 words, over the course of 30 days, yeilding 1 rough manuscript with room for 0 excuses. It is the Hell-dive we call National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo  for short. So I’m doing that!

There are of course incentives for finishing early (like having a clear path through the house when all the relatives land expecting Turkey and all the fixins on November 28th!). To “Win” the NaNo, one simply completes the aforementioned task…get 50K semi-coherant words written down within 30 days. It’s a hoot. Or a form of self flagellation :) What I have learned from writing for many years with or without participating in the fall NaNo frolic is this…

In order to be successful, all you have to do is Write Like it’s Your Job!

I know, I know~ There’s that whole “life” and responsibilities thing. Well guess what? Try explaining that one to your boss and see how many buyers you get for the excuse you’re selling! If you want to write, need to write, feel it and believe it in your bones that you were born to write…you just have to make time to write. Or else no one, not even you, will ever know the difference.

How many blank sheets of paper go wanting and wasted by those who were meant to write the next great American novel? Who but you could give Alex Haley a run for his Roots? Nobody but you has walked in your moccasins Powhatan and Pocahontas, so get on that Memoir and let your story be known! Honor your own need to tell the stories, whether fact or fiction or fantastic vision or expose by taking control and managing yourself. Be the boss, look over your shoulder, reward a good day’s work, and don’t be too quick to forgive a lackluster performance or a string of uneventful and unnecessary “personal days.”

Is it a dry day? No way to start, nothing dazzling rearing it’s head, pushing your fingers to glide swiftly with flair across the cosmic keyboard?

Tough @#$%.

I like the old saying used in retail and restaurant work:

If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean!

If your day-job is that of a switchboard operator (do they still have those?) and you are scheduled and paid to work 8-5 Monday through Friday with one hour each day for lunch, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the phone rings. If and when it does, while you are clocked in, you better be chipper, proficient and professional when you respond to the chiming bell. Your dedication to writing needs to be revered in the same manner. On a day when nothing worth noting passes through your head to your empty pages, you need to side step the urge to “lean” and busy yourself with the opportunity to “clean.”

That’s the real life, real world, school of hard knocks truth of writing for any sort of long-term project. It has to have your full attention. You have to treat yourself like an employee, set expectations,  and work full speed to get the job done.

Any day where there is just not a word to say (and yes, those are real) is a day made for cleaning. Not literal–unless you make a pigsty of your work space–but cleaning up your prose. Do some edits, spend some time with Grammarly, catch up on your correspondence with distant cousins, seek out a nice map of the home town of your pilgrim forefathers, surf the web for museum collections of clothing common to a time period you’re working on. Re-read your stories and improve your sentence structure or descriptive word usage. Sort or scan photographs, do a little more research, go out to the closest family cemetery and walk around. Take some photos of former family homes, do some research on Aunt Zelda’s flatware that’s been handed down to you.

Like finding the base of your family heritage all the way back to the Garden of Eden, writing the story is a work with endless opportunities to be fuller, richer and more rewarding. 

Even if the only shift you can manage for your job as a writer is a scant 20 minutes per day, don’t squander the time with the equivalent of break-room chatter, laziness or habitual leaning like the perpetual “ne’r do well” (look that one up some day when there’s nothing to do). Use and cherish every opportune moment to get your Genealogy stories written and make them come dancing off the page.

Time spent writing stories down for those who come next is never wasted time or work unrewarded.

By the way, did you happen to notice someone missing on the photo above? I cannot seem to find my Lion finger puppet, he’s usually right here on the desk with the others. Maybe during my next break I’ll ask the dog…wpid-2014-11-04-12.31.55.jpg.jpeg

 

Praise the Saints and Dish Up the Dirt

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wpid-img_20140825_103611.jpg There’s always a black sheep in every family.

If there isn’t…well, somebody must have scared ’em off long ago !

There was a certain aunt in my hubby’s family who was evidently removed from the planet at some point.  I stumbled upon her on an early census.  She lived at home with her parents and two brothers until she was about 20.  Then all of a sudden she is married, and widowed within about a year.  Hmmm.  His death certificate (signed by her) states his cause of death as homicide, fatal gun shot wound.  His body was claimed by his parents and I as far as I can tell, was hauled back to Tennessee.  See ya Robert !  That’s around the time that Aunt Mary walked off the face of the earth.  Poof!  Gone.

Now heaven knows, my bloodline is not Saint-laden.  I am probably descended from more than my share of bootleggers, moonshiners, batterers and hatchet murdering types than I care to claim.  A couple of them even got caught!

Honestly, one end of my gene-pool had a real “thing” for smacking others in the head with a hammer. I can’t imagine it was their fault. Maybe hammers were just laying around waiting in those days…maybe it’s what most women carried in their handbags…maybe they didn’t know how to “use your words” to settle differences. I’m not really sure, but as far as I’ve found, none of them ever seemed to have been ever proven directly fatal.

Some tales are a bit less violent, but illegal nonetheless. Like the bootlegger faction of the family who warehoused their stock on underground shelves dug into the sidewalls of the outhouse. Bathtub Gin was the (out)house specialty. When a buy order came in, one of the kids was lowered down the hole–yes, that hole–by rope to retrieve the merchandise.

I would like to think that the customers sat on the front porch  or maybe stood around on the curb chatting while their order was being filled from the “stockroom”. But, who knows, maybe they didn’t give a…

Well, you could guess where that was about to go!

So think aloud around the table today and dig up a few of your “less than suitable for Sainthood” stories. You could start by Googling some names of cousins or other “contemporaries.”   They could be more recent than you think!

Who knows what you may or may not find. But if it’s ‘juicy’…you know what Mom always says:

Maybe someone should write that down!

 

6 Things Every Writer Needs

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In a departure from my norm on family storytelling, I’ve decided to share something that I think is a pretty big deal in any sort of writing. Recently in my Writer’s Group, we brainstormed an invaluable list:

 6 Things Every Writer Needs

The beauty of this compilation is that we are a highly diverse group writing everything from CNF (Creative Non Fiction) to Poetry, to Screen Plays, to Educational Materials, Memoirs, and on and on. Our voices and styles are vastly different (some lyrical, some concise, some babbling…me) But we were able to distill our lists down to six key elements, and then to start holding each other accountable for creating our own perfect environment for productivity while honoring our chosen genre.  We meet every other week and do a check in with the group over how close we are to honoring and providing for our writerly needs. In short, this has made a huge difference for all of us!

Now a word of caution before you peruse the list…This is not open license for dilly dallying and lamenting that you simply cannot write because you’ve made no progress past numbers 1-3 (yet). The idea is to have a vision of your perfect writing situation and to mindfully work toward that as you keep chugging along with less than ideal circumstances.

Shall I pull out the JK Rowling card? She was a single mom, on welfare, who loaded the babies up in the stroller, went to the corner coffee house and started writing down this big story thing that was in her head. There was no MFA, no Macbook, no Scribner, no editor, blog platform or fan base. There were only stolen moments when the kids were lulled to sleep for their naps by fresh air and the soothing buggy ride along the bumpy sidewalk. It seems to have worked out well for her, wouldn’t you agree?

*So here it is* Pay Attention* It’s for your own good* Do it*

1. Tools  Readily usable, reliable, in good repair, comfortable tools. I waffle between the soothing sound of a pencil skipping across paper, and the ease of spellcheck on my super light weight laptop. I also cannot leave the house without my smart phone and portable full page scanner. I’m picky about my pencils too. They either have to be all black, old fashioned wood with pink eraser #2s or a Pentel 0.5 mechanical. Why? Couldn’t tell ya…they’re just comfortable and don’t annoy me when I’m writing.

2. Inspiration What starts a story out for you? Is it a conversation with a cousin? Seeing old photos? A daily prompt from a book or webpage you like? How about your journal, or the writings or possessions of a family member–an heirloom that you admire in a case, or use everyday. For some it’s a place, a date or an occasion. Others write methodically from a task list. They have a neat outline of what they want to say and can go down the list working one subject at a time and feeling a great deal of accomplishment. Some look for contests or open calls for submissions and can write inspired by the given topic. Maybe it’s something you notice on the ground, the funny title of a book, or a childhood memory. Pinpoint your inspirations and gather them up.

3.  Space Oh this is one that’s a bee in my bonnet. The beautiful red cabin above is my oasis, nestled in a meadow of wildflowers, just at the edge of the woodland, a bit disheveled..OK…there are buckets all around to catch the drips when it rains…it is my land of sweet creative repose. My mind unwinds into dazzling sentences and the prose created while there, though lightly written, is unnoticeably heavy in deeper meanings and rich detail.  Or, maybe that’s my dream sequence and this is a photo from Lady Grace (click on “red cabin” to see more of her fabulousness) that she let me borrow and drool over as I patter away on my Chromebook, from the love-seat, in my family room, with an obese Golden Retriever hogging more than his share! Yes, space is my bugaboo.  Right now some of my best writing is done on a legal pad balanced on my knee under the steering wheel as I’m headed down the highway.

A little hint here…if you’re ever behind a grey Volvo on I-65, give it room!

4.  Support I could have easily called this community, feedback or cheerleaders. Don’t cringe. I know most of us who write are rather solitary by nature. We were the kids in the family who could entertain ourselves. But let me say this–Do not try to write in a vacuum! I know it sounds like you’ll have your ideas stolen and dreams quashed, but sidestep your shyness/anxiety/fear and join some sort of group to support you as you write! It could be as simple as a local genealogy club, a critique group, or a class series on creative writing. The blogging community is a great place to look for help too. For women (sorry guys) there’s a great group I belong to called The Story Circle Network. Having fellow writers (not relatives) critique your work and help you along the way is the best thing you will ever do as a writer. Doesn’t matter what your talent or experience level is…do it!

5.  Organization and Techno Savvy  It’s just a fact of our modern lives that we are busy, connected, constantly interrupted and short on time. To be serious about writing, you have to value the writing you do. I keep print outs of all of my submitted pieces, including blog posts and guest posts I do in binders separated by what they are. Some are Chapters for my book, some are short stories and essays, I even occasionally pop out an accidental poem. I keep a note on the printed page of where they are out for review, what the status is, and what my publication rights are, and what I was paid for it/ when it was rejected.  I have a big wall calendar too where I note submission deadlines and when mine was sent and how (electronic or mailed). But most importantly, everything I write gets saved in multiple ways. I copy all the docs onto Word, Google Docs, Google Drive, Drop Box, WordPress, and onto flash drives, and of course slip a hard copy into my handy dandy 3 ring binders.

6.  Accountability  Did I hear you mumble “Ouch!”? This is perhaps the biggest one of all…accountability. There’s an old saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and I would add that the desk drawer is loaded with the empty pages we’ve never begun writing on! Writing can be quite self directed and introverted, and because of that…easily neglected. You must make it a priority in your day (you would be amazed at what you can get done in just 10 minutes with a kitchen timer ticking at you!). Accountability is also, across the board, mandatory in every one of the other 5 needs we’ve listed. You must set goals, share them with others, and be responsible for achieving them. Otherwise, your family history, your great american novel, your spy thriller, or your weight loss cook book will just pave the road…while you burn your favorite candle, sharpen those black pencils, and listen to Pandora.

Without “Accountability” I would loll around in my red cottage moving rain buckets and thinking about redecorating instead of tackling the book I’ve been assigned to review, the approaching column deadline, or the blog post I should care about. Let’s look at that cabin again ~ sigh…0171

Yep, I’m accountable to getting that too!

 

 

 

Happy Tuesday to All

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My Pop as the BA biker-boy that he was.

My Pop as the BA biker-boy that he was.

Today Maybe someone should write that down… has gone off on a field trip with Mom. I’m guest blogging on the PressBooks site, writing a quick synopsis of the How to Write a Book series. You can read Writing the Book on Your Family History by clicking the link. I don’t know if they recognized how many “Mom-isms” are peppered in to the article…see if you spot them ;)

Next Tuesday, I hope to report back with too many photos from Son’s Indy Car experience…he’s doing a 2-seater ride around the famed oval, speeding across the yard of bricks at 200+ mph. I want to get him wired for sound so I can hear a 20 year old 6’7″ young man scream his way around the famed Indy 500 track. I’m looking forward to that being a great story…perhaps after he’s had a few hours to regain his voice.

Maybe someone should write THAT down…

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