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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: memories, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 163
1. dispatch from mississippi: belonging

I was born in Mobile, Alabama, while my dad was stationed at Brookley Field. He had gone off to the Korean War in 1951, just after he and my mother married, and now here I came, in 1953, on the heels of his return. We lived in Mobile for five years, until the Air Force transferred us to Hawaii. I have always claimed Alabama as the land of my birth, and I also claim Mississippi as home, as it was the land we returned to over and again as I grew up, and as my own children grew up, as my people were there. And so was my heart.

My mother was born in Mississippi and grew up in West Point, MS. My dad was born in Jasper County and grew up there. I grew up there, too, with the wacky grandmother who became Miss Eula in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, and the three maiden aunts who become Ruby's chickens, and all the cousins and aunts and uncles and a decaying town that is even more of a ghost today than it was when I was wandering its one main road and its cemetery and crossing the railroad tracks to visit Aunt Mitt and playing piano in the unlocked Methodist church.

Mississippi doesn't claim me, though. According to book committees who decide these things, I didn't live for five continuous years in Mississippi, so I am not in the club, even though I am a Mississippian by blood and by words.

This is a long story and one I hope to write about at some point, so I can figure out how I feel about choosing home. Home is in Atlanta today, of course, but home will always be where I've hung my hat: Hawaii, Maryland, D.C., South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia.... and Mississippi as well. "What you know first stays with you." I am a Southern Girl, through and through. I am a human being with stories to tell. What does that mean?

Here's what it meant this week, as I took part in the first-ever Mississippi Book Festival, visited that family I love so much (Uncle Jim is our patriarch now, about to turn 92), and that place that defined me as a child -- and as a writer. Photos below of what becomes Aurora County in my books LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER; EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS; and THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS.

And then there is my first book, FREEDOM SUMMER. I have never before posted pictures of the pool and roller skating rink that closed in 1964. The forest is claiming it now. I have taken photos there for many years, and have documented this abandoned place as it goes back to forest land. I wrote FREEDOM SUMMER -- and REVOLUTION -- to understand what happened. To keep this time and place alive, so we remember our history. So young people will know what it was like then. What it is like now.

Dispatch from Mississippi:

Picking up Kerry Madden along the way
downtown Jackson, Mississippi. My folks retired to Jackson after a long military career, and I kept coming to Mississippi with my own kids as they grew up... Mississippi has been a constant in my life, all my life.

With Ellen Ruffin at the Eudora Welty house on Friday night at the author reception
Kimberly Willis Holt, moi, Chris Barton, and Karen Rowell of USM.
Jamie Kornegay and Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi has been such a staunch supporter of my books. Jamie's new novel is SOIL. "It has saturated the South!" Jamie says.
Kelly Kornegay, who (among other things) reads and buys children's at Turnrow. She heard me whining about not being recognized literarily as a Mississippian and said, "Debbie, people who have lived here all their lives are trying to ESCAPE Mississippi!" which made me laugh and gave me perspective. She also said, "Your books are THE quintessential books on what it means to be from Mississippi, to be a Mississippian. You're IN." hahaha.

Fuzzy photo of a bunch of us including Lori Nichols, Ellen Ruffin, Greg Leitich Smith, Susan Eaddy, Kerry Madden
taking in all in. What a lovely evening.
We had to turn people away, in Room 113 of the State Capitol, for the Young People's Literature panel. It was that way on all panels, all day. The turnout was tremendous. HOORAY!
Pontificating. Which I am very good at.
This is what it's about at a Festival.
And this. Clara Martin is the children's book buyer at Lemuria Book in Jackson. Last year on the REVOLUTION tour, she had me sign her copy of LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER that she has had since she was a fourth grader. "My favorite book!"
Chris Barton signing Shark vs Train and John Roy Lynch in the Lemuria tent.
At dinner, Saturday night, with my loves.

My son Jason with his Great-uncle Jim. Both of them jesters.

Two more Jims: mine, and the cousin I have always called Bubba.

If you're a RUBY fan, you recognize this sign!

My grandmother's house, The Pink Palace, in RUBY, Snowberger's Funeral Home in LITTLE BIRD, House Jackson's home in ALL-STARS, and Young Joe's home in FREEDOM SUMMER. This was my world every summer, and the place I longed for when I wasn't there. Still do, I guess.
The back kitchen. Sloped ceiling, lightbulb on a string, Nanny eating buttered toast and milky coffee at the enamel table, closthepins in a bag hanging on the door, a pan of green beans waiting to be snapped. I did dishes in the deep sink with my Aunt Evelyn, who we all called Goodness. Once, when my mother sent me in to dry while Aunt Evelyn washed, Goodness waved me away with, "Go play. I let God dry the dishes."
My friend Howard now lives in Rhiney Boyd's house, across the road from my grandmother's. Rhiney had a son named Luther Rhinehart Boyd, which is where I took Mr. Norwood Boyd's name from in ALL-STARS.

Kerry listens to Merle's stories. Merle now owns my grandmother's house (The Pink Palace, in the background).

I adore Lois. She has just entered the Witness Protection Program. I think she got dressed just for us. "I used to wear all black and brown, but now I wear COLOR all the time." You go, Lois. Go on with your colorful self.
This is where I'm sitting this morning. Back to the pink chair and back to work. Knowing that it doesn't matter if Literary Mississippi claims me or not. I claim me, and those people who are, and who once were: moments, memory, meaning, as I always say when I teach. 

I will never live long enough to write all the stories asking for my attention. They claim me. And for that I am grateful.

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2. Give Heart Maps a Rest! Try Writing Territory Maps

The heart map is a great tool for helping students find personally meaningful topics, but used year after year, it might feel a little stale. Writing territory maps is another option!

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3. My mom’s letters

My mom's letters about me

My mom was something like a mommy-blogger, in 1973. From the time I was two to two-and-a-half, she wrote these astoundingly detailed letters about our lives and me and Miami, typed them up in quintuplicate, and mailed them to the whole family. I have multiple copies of some of them.

They’re an amazing resource for my book, and they prove, as she’s always claimed and I’ve doubted, that I was talking in complete sentences when I turned two. Apparently I was also always concerned with remembering everything that happened.

On the one hand the letters make me happy, because I can verrrry hazily remember some of what she describes, and because they’re so full of pride and love, but they also make me sad, because I can see how lonely she was.

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4. Double Dipping – Picture book therapy

When medical conditions affect children or the people in their lives, one of the most daunting aspects of their situation is how to cope. The management of a disease or disability is one thing, the understanding why they have it and why others react the way they do is another. Picture books are marvellous non-invasive […]

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5. 48 days, day 21-22: what's asking for expression

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Jim: "We are ready for an ice age."
Jim's brunch at Homegrown this morning with family.

out-of-focus bean blossoms. too excited to focus well. bean blossoms!
the cosmos! the cosmos! the cosmos! -- not carl sagan
jelly bean tomatoes growing in the front yard flower bed. WE ATE THEM. yes we did.
moving ferns to the rocks next to the new walkway. to the right is that ice-age of wood. it is stacked in such a way that I can take a shower outside and use the wood as one of my shower walls.
john mullin and jim discuss matters of great importance.
 Shhhh. Finally. Let me not torture myself with why it took me three weeks to settle into words, lots of words, on the page, lots of hours at the page.

Let me not ask why-oh-why I am not writing Book 3 or revising Rachel, but am instead writing an essay about growing up in Mobile, Alabama, where I was born and lived until I was five, and going, at night with all the lights shining in the inky dark, to a tiny dirt track in the middle of nowhere with my father, mother, and brother, to the stock car races.

Let me not question good writing energy. Oh, let me just gather it to me and go go go. GO GO GO. It feels so good to be creating something. Something that didn't exist before this moment. What power that is, what empowerment, to pull from thin air (moments, memory, meaning) something that makes me lose track of time.

I must remind myself that nothing is wasted, that it all connects, somewhere. You wouldn't know it to hear me tell it:

1. We got our last cord of wood from John Mullin and spent the drizzly morning stacking it and visiting with John. John -- who services our cars and grows the best tomatoes and sells firewood and god-knows-what-else -- was 21 and in the Navy in 1969, stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in NYC. He was on one of the many helicopters that landed near Yasgur's Farm and delivered food, water, and medical supplies to the revelers at Woodstock. Our conversation ranged from Woodstock to NASCAR to barbecue to water management to soil sweetness. By the time John left, the sky had cleared and we had beautiful weather for the Fourth -- and I didn't have to water.

2. I started reading about Woodstock and segued into Los Angeles in 1969 (since I will BE in Los Angeles at the end of this month), got off on a tangent about "courtyard housing" which is coming back in L.A., which led me to thinking about the courtyard housing I lived in when I was single and poor and raising my first two kids, and that led me to A PATTERN LANGUAGE by Christopher Alexander, one of my favorite books in the world, and the book I used extensively as I renovated this house (and yard).

3. I decided "Courtyard Housing" would make a great name for an essay. Or a book of essays. Hahahahahahaha.

4. I wandered back to NASCAR -- John will watch two races this weekend while he eats his bbq, sitting in his garage, watching his big-ol' television, bay doors open front and back, fans whirring, nobody's car to fix, Happy Fourth! I can hold my own, in the early talk of NASCAR. I spent two years in Charleston, South Carolina in high school, and all the boys talked about was the Yarborough family, especially Cale, and the Allison Brothers and Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

5. Didn't I go to the races as a little girl? I did. I remember it clearly. I might have pictures somewhere. The last race of the night was a demolition derby. They'd wet down the field for it. Where was that? Mobile? Outside of Mobile? ::check for dirt tracks around Mobile in the late fifties::

6. "Demolition Derby" would make a great title for an essay. From the beginnings of the family I grew up in, to its rather spectacular demise. I cut my writing teeth on essays and memoir -- it's all I wrote, when I started out, and I have a file cabinet full of clips from magazines and newspapers, a bookcase full of inspiration.. ::pull my favorites off the shelf::

E.B. White, Noel Perrin, Russell Baker, Sue Hubbell, John McPhee, John Burroughs, Donald McCaig, Pat Leimbach, Betty MacDonald, Barbara Holland, Anna Quindlan, Donald Hall, Andy Rooney, Erma Bombeck (Yes. She was good.). This is the kind of essay I wrote, full of love of the natural world, home, family, kinship, connection, and belonging. Sounds like my fiction....

7. So this is what I began to write in earnest on Saturday, with Rachel right beside me, staring at me.

Shhhh... I whispered to her. Let me not question this. Let me write what's asking for expression.

What's asking for expression right now?

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6. Tuesday's Question: What Song Brings Back Nostalgic Memories?

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Hello, and welcome to Tuesday's Question. Today's question is, well, I know you read the title, but I'll ask it again, and answer it: 

 What song brings back nostalgic memories?

 For me, it's I'm A Believer by The Monkees, which is odd because they were not my favorite band, although I did love them.

I'm A Believer pulls me back to a time in my life when the world was simple and friends were plentiful. When I was seventeen our lives and town were different; living was still and easy, yet loud and joyful. But the main reason the song brings back nostalgic memories is because my sweetheart at the time hid his Monkees 'eight-track' tape from me because I constantly played the song.
When I think of him hiding his tapes it makes me laugh, because he taught me how to play the song on the guitar, a deed I think he probably regretted. 

I hope Tuesday's Question's, and this question will encourage everyone to begin conversations by responding to each others comments. Plus, it's a way for all of us to have fun. But, if you are more comfortable reading comments that's fine too.  Alright, now it's your turn: What Song Brings Back Nostalgic Memories for you?

I've received a few e-mails from readers who aren't sure how to leave a comment.  

If you do not own a blog and aren't sure how to leave a comment, just hit the comment button at the bottom of the post, and a box will pop up, then just follow the directions. It's easy and fun.    

Thank you for visiting A Nice Place In The Sun. I hope you had a good time, and will return for the next Tuesday's Question.

Feel free to copy Tuesday's Questions logo drawn by my son. Eventually, I will relearn how to add my link to the picture, and post my favorite bloggers logos as well.

Have a super happy day everybody! 

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And by the way, What song is in your head today?

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7. Kaleidoscope available free - Amazon Kindle

Kaleidoscope - Poetry by Carole Anne Carr [Kindle Edition]

£0.00 includes free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet

available from 1st to 5th May

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By G. Appleton on 25 Jan. 2015

These poems are wonderful! I absolutely love them. They draw the reader in from the first line, and one feels not only totally engaged, but often greatly moved. Artistic sensitivity is in evidence throughout - pictures are painted with colour and texture and vivid appeal to the senses, all making for wonderful imagery and use of metaphor. To me this is a very fine collection of poems, which I find myself mysteriously drawn back to, such is the freshness and pull of the narrative.

Weaving youth to adulthood in a women's poems. 8 Jan. 2015
By Patricia Kennington - Published on Amazon.com

‘Kaleidoscope’ by Carole Anne Carr, is a story of child-woman growing into woman-child. Her shared lyrics become a vehicle to convey dreams, memories, hopes, and desires for “the more.” Through her poems, Carole invites us to relive and feel both the clarity and confusion of moving from child to adult. Her poetry encourages us to re-experience the poignant and the painful, self-realization, and the recognition of human failure. We return to past decisions, joys, failures, and the anguish of being alive and moving on.

Patricia Kennington, TSSF, Ph.D., Spiritual Director

My May Newsletter goes out today with this month's free book offer. I do hope you will sign up for this, the form is in the column on the right. It is my first attempt at such a thing. The interest rate in my first newsletter at Easter was 60%, so very hopeful. Thank you and hugs for being kind enough to get this far with reading my post xx

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8. Poetry Friday: Family Garden

April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. For our second Poetry Friday post, we chose Family Garden by Francisco Alarcón, illustrated by Paula Barragán from Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para soñar juntos.

poems to dream together

Family Garden

in the backyard/of our home/there is a garden

all in our family/do our part/in maintaining

Mamá loves/to plant and nip/flowery rosebushes

Abuelita keeps/her mint herbs/in a small pot

Papá really likes/to come out hose/in hand and water

the lemon tree/the squashes/and the tomatoes

that my sisters/would grow/every spring

my brothers and I/in turn weed out/and mow the lawn

all in our family/take time to tend/each other’s dreams

even our puppy/knows how/to grow bones

in this garden/the sun shines/green smiles

What poems is everyone else reading? Feel free to share in the comments section!

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9. Goodbye 1700: DC’s New York offices close for good today


“In this year on March 1st came at last the Passing of King Elessar. It is said that the beds of Meriadoc and Peregrin were set beside the bed of the great king. Then Legolas built a grey ship in Ithilien, and sailed down Anduin and so over Sea; and with him; it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf. And when that ship passed, an end was come in Middle-earth of the Fellowship of the Ring”.


Today is the final day of DC Entertainment’s New York office, long located at 1700 Broadway, opposite the Ed Sullivan Theater where the Beatles took America and Stephen Colbert will soon take up residence. DC will now be located in Burbank, near its Warner Brothers parent company.

After 18 months of slow, agonizing attrition, the final New Yorkers, those who chose not to make the move to the new Burbank offices, will turn off the lights, shove the last color xerox into the shredder and move on to their new lives. I understand that Mad Magazine is staying in New York, and Marie Javins is shutting down some convergence stuff before she to goes off to the Grey Havens, but this is really the end of an era.

Usually when I say someone retiring is the end of an era, I mean that the way that person did business is gone. In this case I really do mean it is the end of the era of New York publishing in general, and New York comics publishing in specifics. From its sleazy, pulp infused beginning in the offices of Harry Donenfeld and Major Nicholson Wheeler, to the shops of Iger and Fox, on through the legendary Camelot of the Marvel Bullpen, the confident smiles of Continuity Studios, the DC implosion, Marvelcution, the Crisis Era, the evolution of stats to FTP servers, from men and women with bottles of india ink bowed over pages of art to men and women with wacom tablets fixing pixels, New York was at the heart of the American comics industry.

Although by the dawn of the direct sales era, Marvel and DC were the only publishers left in New York proper, they still loomed large in the freelancer’s ambitions and the readers’s imagination. For decade, a visit to the city by an out of town creator might include appointments at both Marvel and DC, in olden days merely wandering the halls in search of a friendly editor; in newer times appointments, visitors badges and close supervision were more the order of the day. (I’m not sure anyone is actually allowed in the Marvel offices any more.) People still visit the offices of Marvel and DC—mostly movie stars and wrestlers, based on the photos I see on my Twitter feed—but for freelancers it isn’t the kind of cozy home away from home that made certain editor’s offices a hang out spot as welcome as the corner bar or coffee shop.


One of my first visits to the DC offices was in the 80s before it moved to 1700 Broadway. Hanging out in Mark Waid’s office he told me it was my lucky day because Steve Ditko was coming by to drop off some work a bit later. Needless to say, I hung out until the moment arrived, shaking the great man’s hand awkwardly. Ever the professional, Ditko dropped of his pages, mumbled you’re welcome and then left. Later in the day I stood in front of a wall of covers as some guy named Mike Mignola analyzed their compositions.

An earlier visit (I’m too shy to say what year) was to interview Marv Wolfman, who put up with my fangirl interrogation with more courtesy than he had any need to. During the ordeal, a tall, gaunt young man arrived to shoot the shit, introducing himself as Frank Miller. I think he had read some of my writing in the Comics Journal and as I stammered my admiration of Daredevil, he said he liked my writing. I definitely wrote all about that day in my diary that night.

Many years later—after I had actually become Marv’s assistant for several years, sitting in an office in Burbank not far from where the new DC offices are located—I actually got a job at DC Comics itself, and 1700 Broadway became the daily destination of my commute. I’m not going to lie, the brief three years I worked at DC were miserable, definitely as much for the people I worked with as for me. But there were fun times, despite it all. Crashing Letterman rehearsals with Martha Thomases. Listening to anime soundtracks in Andy Helfer’s office. Working with incredible creators like Brian K. Vaughan, Warren Ellis, Darrick Robertson, Rodney Ramos, Devin Grayson, John Bolton, Sean Philips, Dylan Horrocks, Philip Bond and many more. Giving some people their first notable jobs, like Pia Guerra and Giuseppe Camuncoli. My first assignment there was editing the Space Ghost Coast to Coast comic, and I got Andy Merrill who wrote it and did the voice of Brak, to record the outgoing message on my answering machine. That was fun and I wish I had a recording of that recording!


Even when I worked there, 15 years ago, DC’s 1700 office space already seemed to be some kind of throwback to a previous era of corporate life. Every other place I’d worked had open plan cubicles and doors with windows for all but mega boss level execs. At DC even assistants had a solid door that could be shut for total privacy, creating a little world where you could tear your hair out over late freelancers or office politics. (Sometimes the doors didn’t shut enough; on one of my early, journalistic visits to the office, through a door left ajar I was amazed to see someone—Joe Orlando?—taking a full on nap, face down on his desk.) A stat room—outdated even when I worked there—adorned with an 8-track tape was one of my particular favorite places. A hallway leading to the ladies room near the Vertigo offices was what I called “The Hall of the Failed Imprints” with the logos of Impulse, Piranha, Helix and more in a stately parade. A giant framed cover of a book called Leave it to Binky with the image of a man mistakenly kissing a fish suggested that humor comics had once been popular and I theorized that they could be again, but I was seemingly alone in that belief.

The years I worked at DC happened to coincide with the lowest depths of the US comics industry since Wertham. Sales were awful and morale was low around town—Marvel was coming out of bankruptcy and had some good stuff in the Marvel Knights line, but that was an outlier. I was convinced that graphic novels and the alternate esthetics of the indie comics world would help rebuild the audience that had fled in droves following the speculation bust earlier in the 90s, but finding a way to actually put that conviction into action wasn’t easy in an industry where risking any money whatsoever was a pipedream.

But I survived, comics survived, manga brought in a whole new readership, Bill Jemas’s daring moves at Marvel perked up the interest of some new and lapsed readers; DC figured out how to get the Wednesday crowd totally committed with events like the original 52, and movies starring Spider-Man, Batman and the X-men proved that the characters had legs outside the pages of deconstructed periodicals.

And a new boom was made, much of it coming out of the offices at 1700 Broadway.

I’ve written a lot about the politics of DC’s New York offices over the years, but the short version of the story I always heard is that Warner Bros. always wanted to move it to the West Coast, or at least had an inkling of wanting to do it. And Paul Levitz, the Gandalf of this particular tale, knew it, but always stayed one step ahead of those plans. When Levitz left all the way back in 2009 and Diane Nelson took over, moving the offices to the West Coast was once again considered—and a whole west coast office that was staff-ready was already built— but Levitz, or someone, had signed such a long lease on the offices that to break it would literally have cost more than the move. So it took a few more years before the plan could finally be announced, in the fall of 2013.

And then the long goodbye began.


I think the last time I was actually in the DC offices was five years ago, to see the late Jerry Robinson talk about his iconic Joker art he was selling. Over the last few months, I had a lot of plans to go up to DC for one last visit, but I could never bring myself to put it on my calendar. I guess it would have been too sad to actually see in real life. My Facebook feed has been sad enough over the last few months, with questions about Los Angeles real estate, then photos of packing, goodbye parties, and status updates located at LAX. The new DC looks to be an interesting place, with a lot of new attitudes and definitely some changed procedures. I’ll put up all the speculation I’ve been saving up about the future of DC in a later post, but for now, it’s time to end this era.

Ron Marz also has a bittersweet reminiscence:

Visiting a publisher’s offices is a boon to a freelancer’s career. It makes you a face, not merely a name attached to an e-mail. You get so much more accomplished in the same room, rather than via electronic means. Assignments result from those visits; bumping into an editor in the hall can bear more fruit than a stack of pitches.

I was offered the writing gig on “Superboy” when I was up at the office, the editor essentially saying, “Hey, we need new, regular ‘Superboy’ writer. Do you want to do it?” I said yes, and started on it shortly thereafter. It was that simple.


Dan DiDio had some of the best packing up photos of all on his FB page.

Computers for the last remaining New York employees were removed Wednesday, just leaving more clean-up, as wistfully chronicled by Vertigo’s group editor Will Dennis, who is not making the move.

All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain. Time… to die… #byebyeDC

A photo posted by will dennis (@thrilliod) on

Life goes on, and I’m sure we’ll look back on all this as an exciting new era for DC in years to come. Eventually people who remembered DC being in New York will be vastly outnumbered by people who only heard about it, and Will’s Roy Batty quote will be entirely accurate. I send my best to those who are leaving their jobs, and to those who took the move to the West. In the movie “Wild” there’s talk about coming to a “fork in the road” in life. This fork was more corporate than most, but instead of dreaming of a thrilling job at a New York publishing house, kids will now dream of a thrilling job at a small division of a movie studio. And Batman will still throw up his Bat-signal.

Anyone who knows me, knows I have a Lord of the Rings quote for every occasion, and here’s the one that kept going through my mind as I wrote this, from the end of the chapter “Lothlórian”:

At the hill’s foot Frodo found Aragorn, standing still and silent as a tree; but in his hand was a small golden bloom of elanor, and a light was in his eyes. He was wrapped in some fair memory: and as Frodo looked at him he knew that he beheld things as they once had been in this same place. For the grim years were removed from the face of Aragorn, and he seemed clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair; and he spoke words in the Elvish tongue to one whom Frodo could not see. Arwen vanimelda, namárië! he said, and then he drew a breath, and returning out of his thought he looked at Frodo and smiled.

`Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, `and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me! ‘ And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man.


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10. Bits of Heaven

Most of us lucky ones live many lives on our sojourn on earth. We assay many roles, we experience varying circumstances. We Live. And we make amazing memories while we do that.
My dad was a very senior doctor in the Indian Railways, and we traveled a lot - always in British Raj style. Of all the memories I have of that life, the holidays are the sharpest, and the most beautiful. A snapshot of  explaining murals on a lovely temple in Orissa to him, eyes scrunched against the sun, is probably clearer today in my mind than it was then.
Travel is a wonderful way to expand the mind. It teaches you about the place you visit, opens your mind to other cultures and people, tells you you can move, change and adapt. It is an entirely positive experience in most cases. Everyone likes to travel, some in any way, to anywhere, some with more specifications. For me, I would travel less, but travel well... really well. Four stars minimum. The fact that I cannot  bring myself to shell out for more than economy-class plane tickets is bad enough. But elitist compulsions aside, I believe travelling is a must for personal growth. A person who grows and dies in the place he is born in misses out on a lot. A lot of pain, maybe, but a lot of fun too. 
But I digress. I was talking of the memories that travel engenders. A holiday is a separate space in our lives. It is a time when we take out time for the 'unnecessary', when the routine, generic parts of living are given secondary place to the special, personal part. Precious taking precedence over the pressing. That itself makes it sacrosanct.
When we create memories with people we love in a different place, we make a personal landmark in time-space. A special time is created, a bubble in itself, indestructible. 
A trip to Orlando for the opening of Harry Potter Park is an indelible memory, easily revisited. The smiles, the frowns, the heat, the conversation. The silly guitar photo. Nothing that happens or will happen can change that. A big party at home becomes one of many, but the trip will remain unchanged through Time. The first time I swam with  Manta rays is as fresh today as it was then. I can feel the cold salt water, the rough scaly fin as it brushed me, the slowing of time, the meaninglessness of the world outside the water. Another bubble I can retreat to anytime.
That bubble is a reminder of who we are, of what we do, of what matters. It confirms that life has to be more than our earthly existence. We get little pieces of heaven in our experiences as we travel, and those are what we tuck away in our hearts and minds. Because every time we experience something new, see something beautiful, taste something fabulous, we know it cannot be meaningless. We know there is more. And we know that a lifetime is simply not enough - certainly not in this miserably limited existence. 
So when we are all standing in front of our Creator on the Day of Judgement, and he opens the gates to Heaven, (after all, does anyone think they might actually go to hell??) I am going to ask instead for the 6-star resorts on the beaches and mountains of all the worlds to travel around with the people I love. And yes, with the full dessert buffet. And if he has to do a bit of recreating... well, that will be one hell of a memory!

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11. Some stuff Anglos taught a Chicnao author

In an interview, Sherman Alexie once told Bill Moyers, "I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian.”

Similarly, Latino authors likely know a lot more about Anglos than Anglos do about us. This regularly plays out in some Latino literature's Anglo characters. This brings to mind growing up in San Antonio decades ago, and how Anglos gradually worked their way into my life. Although mine is no template for the "Chicano lifestyle," here's how it taught me the first things I learned about Anglos.

A highway like this "improved" my 1st neighborhood
Given the decrepitude of ageing, I don't remember most of the names, but the first one was a neighborhood kid my age, maybe five. He came over regularly and taught me that playing "cowboys and Indians" was fun. Ignorant of the fact that I was part "Indian," we'd ride around the dirt yard on our stick horses, shooting at each other, falling down, and getting dirty. I sort of remember sometimes getting to be the cowboy. He taught me that some Anglos would play with me.

The next ones were female teachers, first through third grade. They were mostly nice, even if I don't remember what I learned from them. Before entering first grade, mi 'amá had already taught me to read, so I assume I picked up whatever math and writing I was supposed to learn because I kept passing to the next grade. The teachers taught me that teachers were Anglo women.

Two incidents in elementary school stick out in my mind. The first was halfway through first grade. Our teacher announced that three of us were being skipped into higher grades. This one poor white boy who could've been twelve years old--the biggest, burliest kid--was being "skipped" to third grade, which was probably still less than age-appropriate for him. I remember thinking the teacher just wanted him gone from her room. From him I learned there were Anglos were much less intelligent than me, even if they were bigger, older and meaner.

Then our teacher announced that two of us--I think the other one was named Judy--were skipping into second grade. That meant something to other kids, my parents, relatives, and the teacher, but I don't remember being impressed by this, since I didn't know what it meant.

Judy gave me another memory, of dancing. During one of those school activities everyone had to participate in, maybe May Day. Out on the playground, we were all paired up and for some reason, nerd-brain, skinny, too-tall, blond Judy got paired up with the shortest kid--a "Mexican" as we called ourselves--who was me. I faked it, going around in circles, thinking I it was supposed to be having fun. Though, not as much fun as getting to be the cowboy. From Judy, I learned Anglo girls would at times be willing to hold my hand, at least in public.

San Anto was the military's playground
Next came my uncle Jack, a military-lifer who later married my mother's sister. He was real white, tall and big, loud and always made his presence known. Whenever the couple came by our house was a treat, probably because their income was higher than most of the family. Before they had any of their own kids, Uncle Jack would take me out while he courted my aunt. The best time was a zoo visit where I got to eat lots of junk because he could afford it. He taught me the military had it much better than most people, though maybe his Anglo-ness had something to do with his good fortune.

Projects like where we lived
About my age, Mary B. didn't teach me as much as I'd have liked. In the federal projects where we lived, her family was one of the few Anglo families around. She had an older sister who was a template for juvenile delinquency, and sort of respected by all the younger kids. Whenever they let her out of juvey or prison, she'd visit with her latest tattooed boyfriend who also looked like he was on parole. They taught me there were tough, young Anglos in the world, whenever they were let out.

Marie B's were shorter than this
Mary B. could've been my first love, or at least experience, except that never happened. She was hotter than her older sister and usually wore shorts that couldn't have been cut any shorter. Neighborhood culture dictated she was unapproachable because she was white, something I didn't understand. For my only teen birthday party I can remember, I invited her and, chingau, she showed up. I danced with her at least once and that was as close to heaven or to Mary B.'s shorts that I ever got. Like Judy, she taught me Anglo girls would dance with you in public, but that my life experiences might be limited to that.

like the coach who "taught" me
There were so few Anglo kids in my junior high (middle) school, none of them would've stuck out. The gym coach, however, taught me corporal punishment and how much it hurt. I got busted doing some regular-Mexican-kid obscenity to another Mexican kid, in jest. But it wasn't funny to the teacher establishment. The board the coach used on the two of us--the "victim" of my jest was deemed guilty as me--taught me to never get caught again. That's how I learned that an Anglo's "paddle" could hit as hard as my pinchefather's leather belt.

My mother snuck me into another school district so I've get a college-prep education. Thomas Jefferson was heavily Anglo, from higher incomes and taller parents, and being the shortest kid from being skipped a grade became a bigger joke; most of the kids were a foot taller than me. I learned they were much more silent around me and resembled actors on TV or commercials, with nicer clothes, make-up and styles of strutting that showed they were better than other humans.

Real pic of my high school
I had some great Anglo teachers, especially in the sciences, possibly why I later imagined studying to become a physicist. I don't remember facing prejudice from the teachers, but that might've been due to my I.Q., more than anything else.

My French teacher came straight out of an 18th century novel. She exuded European style and aloofness that I'd never seen in any "Mexican." Despite being ignored by most of the Anglo student body, I'd come to understand it wasn't that hard to get good grades, especially A's. There was only one student better than me in French class, and her grandmother was French-born.

Everybody knew your grades
Each grading period, we'd go up to the blackboard and write down every one of our grades that the French teacher dictated to us, and then figure out our average. As a private joke, through three years of French, I made it a point to totally fail one test. So, I'd stand at the board, copying down A after A, but always with one F. It was obvious what I'd done. Funny thing is, no student, much less the teacher, was ever impressed by this. It took me years to understand how difficult it was for old or young Anglos to admit when a Mexican could do better than them. And how much they didn't like being involved in my sarcasm.

I could write a book: How Chess Can Pay for Your Lunch
The only friends I had in high school were other nerds, the straight-As, headed-to-Harvard kids who sat together before school playing chess or sat at the lunch table playing chess. No other club, except for science clubs, would have them as members. I was comfortable among them, especially since the only way I ever had money to buy a Coke or breakfast was from beating them at chess.

One of them--name withheld--was as fat as Fat Albert and became my best friend. With coke-bottle lenses, he was definitely smarter than me, possibly the smartest kid in the school of a thousand. Midway through, he spent a summer losing weight, getting contact lenses, and returned as New Hunk on campus, and was admitted into the exclusive club for the richest, cool Anglos. He still came around us, and I learned that if you were Anglo, you could change your outside appearance and improve your status in society.

Berkeley radicalism my best friend's parents saved him from
After we graduated, that best friend and I played tennis for the summer, until we got into a fight over a racquet, and he disappeared. I don't remember why we got in the fight, whose "fault" it was. He taught me I could have Anglo best friends, at least for a stretch. He also taught me that Anglos were sometimes smarter than me, were able to raise their societal standing, and could be accepted to schools like Univ. of Berkeley.

last time I returned to San Anto, for my novel
When his parents refused to let him go to that college, because of the student radicalism of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, he taught me Anglos could be more fragile than me, who'd only be accepted to UT. His suicide wasn't the last thing I learned about Anglos, but it's enough, for now.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, a.k.a. Chicano fabulist-mextasy author Rudy Ch. Garcia, striving to put on paper some of the things I learned about Anglos. And others. And some things I never learned.

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12. Different Chicano stocking stuffers

If you forgot stuff to stuff stockings with, try cutting up and using these memorias:
Not mine, but maybe...
* "Traíste mis Kreesmas?" My abuela would say those words, pronouncing the last one like I spelled it, with a very long E sound. It was the closest that an old india-mexicana could do to melt into the pot of conquered south Texas. She was asking if I'd brought her a Christmas present, maybe wondering whether I'd forgotten her.

Her chemistry and electricity passed into the ether long before I was old enough to gift her anything of value, and I only wish I'd spent more time chatting at length with her, like I did towards the end, hers, not mine. I still think it's one of the cutest things--an old person asking about "mis Kreesmas," a heavy Spanish-laden accent that goes back even further in history to the time before the Olmecs. Before there was a Xmas.

* The most memorable Kreesmases when I was young were those held at my abuela's house. All the tíos would come and the primosand, sometimes, relatives that we didn't even know we had. The abuelo died early, from cirrhosis and spending months or years away from abuela, that she always forgave him for, and took him back. In between his stopovers, abuelafilled in her life with El Otro, whatever current man had moved in that she's hooked up with. El Otro's name changed, but there was usually one there. Especially on Kreesmas mornings when cabrón Tío Jesse would wake us all up at 5 or some unnatural hour. To open presents that we'd already opened. His family lived in Colorado, so they rarely came, but it was a treat to see the out-of-state cousins. I don't remember El Otro ever getting one, though abuela probably gave him late night treats.

* Tamales. Every Chicano family always makes tamales for the holiday, right? (Actually, not if they're cheap enough to buy, which they no longer are in Denver.) Over the years, our families had also cooked other things. Argentinian empanadas, fried or baked, buffalo burger or of cualquier cosa. Or albóndigas soup or tons of burritos, on occasion. The type of food didn't matter. It was the communal, tribal means of production that made the cooking enjoyable.

Not one of mine.
* Gingerbread houses. I loved making those, once upon a time. Not gringo gingerbread houses, but adobes or Zuni pueblos or barrio dioramas with Homie figurines. When I was a teacher, I'd make one for my class and let them play with it, destroy it (not always just the boys) and eat their hearts out, diabetically. I'm thinking of trying a new type, less diabetic-inducing and healthier, out of corn meal. Maybe with some Homies and other knickknacks I have around. I'll post a pic, if it happens.

* Possibly my best Krismas teaching was a first-grade class that got a visit from Greg Allen-Pickett, a teacher-friend who'd guided my wife and I through Yucatan a previous Krismas. My class of mostly immigrant students knew Santa would visit the room because I'd arranged it with Greg who had his own outfit. When this near-seven-foot man of broad shoulders and build entered the room, in costume, the kids were delighted. When they tugged on his huge white beard, they were surprised to learn it was real! But, when he spoke Spanish to them better even than their regular teacher, they were astounded. Greg left the state, and I left teaching. However, I doubt the memory of the most realistic, bilingual Santa ever left them.

Definitely not gentry
* My gentrified barrio has dark corners to show who's a gentry just living here temporarily, as an investment, who's the Chicanos with families, and who are those in transition. No Xmas decorations? A transient investor or a Chicano widower whose kids rarely visit. A few decorations? A really poor Chicano family or gentry who might be identifying their neighborhood as a home. Chingos of decorations? A hipster-rich gentry or abuelos with lots of kids and grandkids who do visit them. I'm stereotyping, but it gives you an idea of why I'm not overjoyed by the 7 out of 10 bare-front houses on my block.

* Most of you know that author Reyna Grande is spending the holidays in Iguala, Guerrero, where the 43 students were disappeared. It was her hometown that she trekked north from, as described in her books. She recently raised more than $5k for toys and food to present to the people of the village she left decades ago. It's like she's playing Santa, among some of the poorest people in the world, with some of the most minimal facilities, and walking around every corner wondering who might lurk to disappear you. Hopefully, she'll provide La Bloga with an extended report after she returns. I imagine that the only thing better than reading it will have been accompanying her. I'm sure that waiting list is longer than Santa's.

* Now that my two siblings are in their 30s, and wife Carmen has mellowed, neither bunch pays much attention to this father's ideas. But once upon a time, I'd come up with different gift-giving ideas. "No gift over $20," when I knew they had no money. "Everybody make gifts to give instead of buying any," when they were all young enough to have fun doing that. "Save newspaper comics to use as wrapping paper instead of buying any" was one of my better ones I still try to practice. There were other ideas, but I've forgotten them. Not sure how many more Krismases there will be, for me, but I won't run out of ideas, even if I run out of believers.

* Ya son muchos años that I had this asshole boss. One Xmas night, he took his young kids and his 38 Special outside. Shot into the sky. Told them he'd killed Santa Claus. He said they cried but they stopped believing, which was his intention. Go figure. He wasn't a Chicano guy. Chicanos shoot their 38s on New Year's Eve night.

* I'm completing work with dramatist Jose Mercado, on my first stage play, Los Doce Días de Mis Krismas. (I needed help since my two CU-Denver college classes mostly taught me professors were superior to any student's work or thoughts.) Some of you have read the story on La Bloga, as a radio script, but Mercado formatted it for a play and says it's funny now. I thought it was before. After it's officially copyrighted, I'll get it out in the world, however that's done. And maybe you'll get to see it one Krismas. It's even funnier than Jose thinks.

* The "American" gift-giving around Krismas makes less sense the longer I live. Stuff to fill an assumed obligation is no gift; it's some type of duty that lacks the spirit of. This ironically reminds me of the year I made umpteen individualized, riding horse sticks for  nephews and nieces. The kind that's like a horse head on a pole, and you ride it around using your leg-power, dragging the bare end of the stick over the polished wood floor or carpet. The kind my generation had when we were kids. They were cool. The ones I made went over like Obama's Cuban announcement at Rubio's Xmas party. A couple of kids tried riding them, looking for the gas pedal or the electronic display, but most of my creations soon found themselves in the attic or garage or Goodwill pile. I should have been crushed; they'd taken weeks of cutting wood, sanding, painting and decorating. Which turned out to be the most fun they provided anyone.

* Whenever I go to Mexico or even a poor neighborhood in the U.S., I inevitably see little kids playing with a lot less than electric Hummers they can ride or remote drones they can spy with. Instead, I've seen little girls in raggedy clothes stirring the ground with a twig, making designs, drawing scenes or imagining future paths. Or a couple of boys sorting rocks of different sizes, maybe preparing their teams or armies for a slaughter. Kids don't need stuff; they need opportunity for their imaginations, time to explore and discover the world's wonders.

* In that spirit, below are the opening paragraphs to my first children's story in English, that three bilingual publishers have already decided should be put where the wooden horses are gathering dust. I made copies of the tale for people who helped me with it and for relatives who have small kids. It may not have happened on a day that would become our Krismas, but it's my attempt to capture the wonderment that children find in the world, instead of in stuff. I hope it provides you with a touch of the same. Es todo, hasta que recibes tus Kreesmas. - RudyG

* * *
The legend of Sleeping Love begins in the most ancient times on the Central Continent. For the hundred members of a tribe of First People, a day of marching and foraging seemed like it would end as countless others had.
Instead, dozens of the boys and girls suddenly sprinted far ahead. On the mountaintop, they stopped. Only a little of the cold penetrated their animal-skin clothes, and their run had warmed them. They shaded their eyes against the low sun, and what they saw, steamed them up. Hopping around like crickets, they screamed, "Grand Ta, Grand Ta, come look at it all!"
As Grand Ta shuffled faster, his chest filled and he sensed it glowing. He thought, Almost makes me cry whenever they want to share their discoveries with an old man. Smiling, he patted his wrinkled cheek. Ah, nothing smooths out this turtle skin, anymore. Sweeping back his rabbit hair cloak, he accidently passed it directly through his nagual. The mountain lion-spirit growled a friendly warning at him. Too bad no one else can see or hear you, huh, my faithful companion. Its growl turned to a purr.
When he reached the youngsters, he let himself hope. Maybe we finally found it. They let him through and dozens of fingers pointed. At gigantic ahuehuetlcypress trees holding up the sky. Over an endless, deep-green valley full of wonders. He was so amazed, he couldn't hear every child.
"See, Ta, see?" He saw armadillos escaping into the underbrush. Children saw the hunter, a spotted ozelotl jaguar. They heard it cough-grunt, and they got the giggles from trying to imitate it.
"Look at them!" The youngsters saw dancing pieces of rainbow, which they playfully mimed. Grand Ta saw red-green-blue-feathered parrots and quetzalscrossing the rainforest.
"Just listento those!" Scores of ozomatlimonkeys swung from branch to branch. They chattered in funny tongues, making the children giggle louder. Grand Ta also caught the giggles.
He thought, This land is so bewitching, they could forget our Ancestors and their teachings. I will be remembered as a worthy Elder only if I use this moment to strengthen their minds and hearts. When they were out of wind, he signaled for the children to gather where he had started a sacred circle. Adults moved aside and stayed back.
The young people sat and squeezed one another's hands. They hoped there would be time to play before night fell, but they could wait a little longer. The tribe had been traveling for thousands of years and even more miles. Searching for a prophet's vision….

[I'll give you a hint: it wasn't a shining star.]

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13. A perfume for loneliness

As Christmas draws near, and the dark cold evenings become longer, a number of people will have a foreboding about being alone, creating a sense of loneliness. Is loneliness something to anticipate with anxiety? Or even fear? Should we avoid being on our own, and seek out companionship? On the contrary, I will argue that approaching loneliness and giving it focal time can enhance your wellbeing.

Loneliness has many faces. Sociologists distinguish two types: social loneliness, missing relationships with friends and family; and emotional loneliness, the missing of an intimate relationship, like a partner. Anthropologists have also observed other types of loneliness, such as existential loneliness, the feeling of being lost in the world. In practice, social workers and health care professionals tend to view loneliness as a condition, to be countered or cured. Although there are therapies for loneliness as a condition, they seldom are sustaining in the long term. They view loneliness as an aberration that needs to be treated, and not as a transient part of life.

Being alone has its advantages, offering time for reflection on your life, including the people within it, and most poignantly, those people whom you miss. It offers time to take distance and renew oneself, to step aside from the hectic, running pace of daily life and pause, to have time to yourself, time to muse, digest and cherish more deeply the thoughts and memories that surface, and to view your life with a different perspective.

The French novelist Patrick Modiano, the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, has sketched out the beauty of being alone in many of his books. Loneliness is a recurring theme in his oeuvre, where protagonists spend more time in their thoughts and memories than in physical action. His characters wander often alone, approaching their loneliness and longing for other people they have met and with whom they have shared meaningful experiences as balanced parts of life, reflecting and offering positive and negative feelings, not as a condition to be avoided, or feared.

Modiano is often called the heir of the French novelist Marcel Proust, who wrote his magnum opus In Search of Lost Time a century ago. Although the books of Modiano and Proust are very different, they share similarities of theme and attitudes about the appreciation of involuntary memories, which offer their protagonists new insights and perspectives on the situations they are experiencing. These memories are often evoked by the passing impressions of a sound, a visual image, taste, and most of all by scents.

Of all the senses, the sense of smell is the most capable of evoking intense emotional memories. Psychological and neurological studies have shown that memories triggered by scents are more emotional and evocative than those elicited by images or sounds, although there are little differences in the level of detail or vividness of the memories.

The involuntary nature of these scent memories means that they become difficult to control; a scent may pass by you and suddenly intense childhood memories are evoked. In this situation, the best response is to be open, to be aware of your environment and not to close yourself off to the scents that are spinning about the air amid your daily wanderings. The protagonists in the books by Modiano and Proust are often alone or absentminded in a crowd or society when, by chance opportunity, they encounter their best memories.

Besides being involuntary, the scents that evoke special memories are personal and situational, and as they layer and fuse become ‘autobiographical perfumes’, as I have coined them. Everybody can have several autobiographical perfumes that evoke these memories, and for each person, they are different. For one, an autobiographical perfume may be the scent of a special variety of fresh baked cookies, while for another it may be the scents of a church interior. People share common scents as well, especially when they are of the same generation or region and they have encountered the same kind of typical smells in their childhood. Think of the smell of local food, pastry, herbs, and spices; scents attached to familiar landscape and spaces, such as farmland and forest, bars and churches; and each of these experiences enhanced, amplified, and extended by new scents indicative of the holiday season.

And so I present to you the idea of a ‘perfume for loneliness’. This is not a perfume, comprised of chemical or natural extracts, or a medicine as one might expect, against loneliness. It is not a formula that works for all, and is not available to purchase in a shop. It is a perfume for you, personally to discover and create for yourself.

Begin by exploring what kind of scents trigger childhood memories for you. Gather these scents physically, and compose your own personal autobiographical perfume. When you are alone, in a time of reflection, consciously inhale these scents. They will create space to facilitate you to approach and understand your personal feelings of loneliness better. They will evoke special memories that, just like opening a gate, can lead you to deeper reflection on your life, and a richer understanding of the people who are absent and missed. As you inhale, be comforted by this sensory experience, and be at peace with the knowledge that loneliness is not a feeling to avoid or fear.

Headline image credit: Ocean view. CC0 via Pixabay.

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14. The World is Your…bathroom?

When the embers of a special event are dying, I find it wonderful to sit in their glow with the family and recount fond memories. I hope you have evenings that resolve in this manner. I am not overly sentimental, but I adore hearing my girls laugh at scenes they pull from the recesses of their minds. Sometimes I remember them from my own point of view, but many times I have no recollection of them at all.

agedparent_2119321bSo it was that we sat on the evening of my eldest’s graduation from high school talking about the good old days. They willingly lay down their electronic devices to discuss vacations, birthdays, special times around the home, and many other things past that held a luster for them. I mostly listened as they took turns – at times I was a minor character in their stories and sometimes I had main stage. So contented and relaxed, I felt like a player in a Dickensian novel with my shoes kicked off and feet resting warmly on the fender.

My interest was piqued when the graduate took the floor with what she described as her first memory. I, unfortunately, held the title role for that one. To set the stage for her recollection: it took place on the second floor of our previous house. She was a toddler, mother was away, and I was watching her. It seems she walked into the hallway to see me relieving myself in the bathroom at the other end of the hall. The next thing she remembered, she fell down the stairs, bumped her head, and I ran to help her. That is all her mind retains. No resolution. No happy ending. No idea if I pulled up my pants before valiantly diving to catch her at the bottom of the stairs.

I started to dispute this as poppycock until I realized it actually sounded quite plausible. With the stern admonition from her protective mother to watch her like a hawk, I can absolutely believe that I left the door open when I peed. I mean, I can’t leave her alone even when nature calls, right? I wouldn’t think it would adversely affect a two year old to see that from the back…unless she remembers it forever.

To my horror, this nugget set of a volley of stories about times they had stumbled upon me peeing with the door open. Some were old, some were far too recent. I promise, I’m not an exhibitionist. I simply fail to consider all of the viewing angles that mirrors give. I also forget how mobile my family members are and the sheer number of them – all female. While most of the time, they insist I am guilty of leaving the door open, they would have to admit that the door to our bedroom is one they feel free to open without knocking at any hour. You don’t knock, you get what’s inside! That’s my motto.HPIM0357.JPG


I also subscribe to the belief that one of the best things about being a guy is that The World is Your Bathroom. That sounds so cavemanish and outdoorsy, I really like the thought. My girls chuckle when I say stuff like that…but still wish I would learn to close the bathroom door.



Photo attribution: By Martins, Tito (my cam)
Book drawing: Aged Parent from Great Expectations

Filed under: Dad stuff

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15. this and that to begin a new year: experimenting

I'm sifting through an experiment. I got my first smart-phone in late November, and I put down my Nikon D-40 for four months. I've just learned (maybe this is a new blogger thing) that I can work on my laptop and access my phone photos here... very good! Google has done some silly stuff with animated gifs and an end-of-year doo-dad that's sweet, silly, and confusing, as I don't know a couple of

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16. Renaissance Means “Rebirth”

And so begins my blog anew, retooled and with a new focus on things that make you lose your breath. Moments that make you stop and say to yourself, “Yes–this is what life is for!” And all that mundane stuff in between.

Renaissance means starting over, refresh, reboot. So it’s only fitting that it’s that time of year again: Renaissance Faire time! I know, technically it’s always that time of year somewhere, but here it happens throughout May. Sadly there has been so much rain that we have not yet dragged my nephew off to the land of jousts and turkey legs and the king’s roasted nuts, but there’s time yet.

Gentle readers, in the spirit of the Faire, I ask you: have you ever attended? Participated? Do you think it’s ridiculous? Do you go every weekend?What is your favorite part?

I have two favorite Faire memories–from the first I ever attended and from the last.

The first was in Deerfield Beach, Florida, and it was magical. My friends are crazy, and they love to make costumes. I call this crazy because I cannot sew and would never deliberately make myself an outfit that involves boning in any way. But they are amazing, talented individuals, and they love to dress up, so we all put on their incredible handmade costumes and went to the Ren Faire. The weather was perfect, the dill pickles were icy cold, and we stayed until the sun set over the lake at the edge of the Faire grounds. And as we took emotive pictures together against the pink-orange sky, an old drunkard came up and attempted to urinate in the lake. (That isn’t my favorite memory, by the way, that is just the fittingly inappropriate end to a lovely day at the Faire.)

The very last time I went to the Faire, I went with a different group of friends, including D. Some dressed up, and some did not. Once again I found myself in borrowed bits and pieces, because I like to immerse myself. D showed off his axe-throwing skills, and attempted to climb this tricky rope bridge, and I swooned appropriately. Then he got dragged up to dance (because there are never enough willing gentlemen) so of course I had to join him, and we shared our first dance. It rained and it poured, because apparently May is the rainiest month of the year in Tennessee, and we got soaked to the bone and ditched our friends to change clothes and watch movies all afternoon.

I would love to hear about some other favorite Ren Faire locations and memories, so be sure to leave a comment! Tell me what takes your breath away?

Tagged: costumes, friends, memories, Renaissance Faires, starting over

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17. Clutching tulips, meeting a new sister

looking at baby Patty with my mom and grandmaLong, long ago, I was a seven year old girl waiting anxiously for my baby brother or sister to be born. It was a warm evening, and I had already put on my pajamas--yellow polyester ones with white eyelet trim. I wandered outside to look at the planting beds around our split level. Most of the tulips in my mother's garden had already bloomed and fallen apart. 

Then came the news: my sister was born, and I could go see her! I insisted on clipping the last two tulips out of the garden. I remember one was yellow and the other was red with orange streaks. It's funny; I don't remember which adult was with me. My grandmother? My father? I do know they tried to convince me to let the tulips stay behind, that my mother would want to see them when she got home from the hospital. But I insisted.

After that argument the adult-in-charge likely didn't want to take up the issue of me wearing pajamas. So, clutching tulips and wearing a coat over my pajamas, off I went to the hospital.

They weren't supposed to let me into the baby ward--I was too young. Likely too germ-ridden. But someone sneaked me in--a pharmacist friend? A doctor friend? I don't remember that either, not exactly. I do remember he was kind and he said those tulips were beautiful. And so I got to give the flowers to my mother. 

Then I got to see the baby who has become one of my very best friends: Patty. She was so little and red and already she had so much hair. I'd never seen such a beautiful baby. I couldn't wait until she came home and I could hold her.

Since then she has been my playmate, commiserater, confidant, bridesmaid, and critiquer. My sister is one of the best gifts my parents ever gave me. Even if she DOES have hair that is twice as thick as mine.

Patty celebrates her birthday in a few days. Happy birthday, Pattyricia! For an early present, I decided not to post any of the excellent family photos I have of you screaming your baby head off...maybe next year!


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19. Cowboy Curtains

I was awoke this morning with a burning sensation behind my eyelids, due to a desperate attempt to hold back tears. Tears I'd held for so long...

It was an early morning in December, my one of my favorite seasons- Although, I didn't have to wonder why I woke up teary eyed-

As of late, I did recognize this feeling...I 'd felt it before- this was not my first wagon ride.

I kept my eyes closed and began to think of the cowboy curtains on my grandmothers drapes, the smell of honeysuckle vines in her yard, her dusty back porch, the clothesline, and talkative morning birds.

My heart sings when I remember waking up at my grandmothers house long ago...When my brothers and I spent the night with my grandmother, we awoke to the smell of bacon popping in a pan, homemade grape jam on toast, and the loudest birds I will ever hear again chirping outside the window; I remember being curious about the birds conversation as they picked their way through the morning dew...

I imagined what they were gossiping about...but, they chirped so fast, that even if I could understand their language, their conversation would be impossible to follow.

I laughed to myself, thinking about how children think, and was careful not to open my eyes as my mind wandered back into yesterday. I remembered my grandmother laughing at my son's Golden Retriever, Wendy, as she raced squirrels from tree limb to tree limb, encircled the tree's trunk, and jumped toward the sky hoping a squirrel would lose their balance and fall. I started to laugh again, but suppressed it...and I'm not sure why-

I wished I was nine again, and squeezed my eyes together tight, willing the past to remain in my mind. Then, the sounds of the world waking up interrupted my trance, and I knew I would have to open my eyes sometime.

As a matter of fact, I knew that "sometime" was around the corner, because I had to wipe the tears that were sliding down my cheeks like rainwater. Why was I crying?- It was a surprise I decided to brush off and rationalize as tired, confused, lost, or "just one of those days."

I lay in bed feeling as though I were awaiting an unwelcome visitor- Nevertheless, I told myself I was strong and thought of good things until I felt better.

After all, it was an early morning in December, my favorite season-
So I shrugged off the feeling and decided to focus on secure moments and new beginnings before I met the day.

I always project myself into the future during the fall season and on Sundays-

For example, on Sunday I think of Monday, and during the spring months, I remember long hot summers.

Only, on this day of winter, I didn't think of the summer, I thought of cowboy curtains...

I thought again about the cowboy curtains that hung in my uncle’s boyhood room at my grandmother’s house. They smelled good, probably because they dried clinging to a clothesline on breezy spring afternoons.

It felt good to think about the smells and sounds rich in my Southern environment- In addition to the lasting impression my grandmothers five hundred year old Oak tree left upon my soul.

The agricultural climate in the south blends into your senses and becomes a part of who you are, and what you will remember for a lifetime.

Sometimes, I draw upon my heritage for comfort when I’m having trouble with life's harsh realities. I’m happy I can still smell the honeysuckle vines I pulled from my grandmother’s Azalea bushes, as well as hear the crickets' sing at night.
2 Comments on Cowboy Curtains, last added: 11/27/2011
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20. Chasing Away Sorrow


This entire month of blog challenge, dealing with family, led me to yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Obvious, I know. I knew that at some point I was going to have to speak seriously about my mother, and I knew how difficult that would be for me.

The stories I’ve written this month have taken me to places where emotions have near drop-kicked me on many days. This one will lay me out completely and I know it. I was going to write it yesterday. I just couldn’t force myself to do it. I wasn’t ready yet to drown in all of those feelings that had been swirling for a month, just under the surface where they would swallow me at the slightest provocation.

Let sleeping dogs lie is the old adage that covers this situation, and I’m about to begin poking that big brute that lives below the waves. That being the case, I’ll share a part of my mother that has less sorrow for me.

Mom loved kids and animals better than anything else in the world, family excluded, of course. She was a natural mother, who could sooth any child, tame just about any creature, and generally get along with the world regardless of circumstance.

From the time I was about thirteen or so, old bird cages, boxes, baskets, etc. shared Mom’s kitchen with us. Inside those cages, boxes, baskets, etc. were babies. Some were birds, some baby bunnies, or any number of other wild things. She definitely took after her mother in that regard.

There were orphans that stick strongly in my memory. I came home one day to find baby groundhogs nestled inside an old towel in a cardboard box on a chair beside the stove. They were two of the sweetest little creatures I’d ever seen; all brown and cuddly, rolled up into balls keeping warm against each other. Someone had found them abandoned and had brought them to Mom.

I don’t remember how long she had them before the groundhogs were released, and I don’t know that it matters now. I do know that there were few weeks during spring or summer when orphans didn’t come to our house.

Dad brought her the baby bunnies. He was mowing the yard and didn’t realize that one of the local cottontails had made her warren near the edge of the driveway. The rabbits were tiny things and terrified. Dad knew that the mother would never return to the nest warren after it had been disturbed.

On another occasion, a friend brought her a pair of silver fox babies to tend for a few weeks, until they were weaned. He bred silver foxes and needed a surrogate mother for them for a while. Mom did her thing and they soon went back to their rightful home.

One wet, cold spring day, Mom went mushroom hunting. Keeping her out of the woods during mushroom season was unheard of. Having her come home with a baby Great Horned Owl, though, was different. The wee thing had fallen/or been pushed from its next.

She heard it, found it, and scooped it up. It was in shock; its down feathers were soaked, and it couldn’t stop shiverin

6 Comments on Chasing Away Sorrow, last added: 3/1/2012
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by Yumi Heo
Henry Holt, 2012

Who can resist a book with their name in the title?!

In this Korean folktale, Lady Hahn is a seamstress. Each of her sewing tools claims to be the most important. Lady Hahn overhears them and grows angry, claims to be more important than any of the tools, and throws them into a box. The tools feel mistreated and misunderstood, so they hide from Lady Hahn, who has a miserable time trying to sew without them the next day. In the end, they realize that they all need each other to get the job done.

This Lady Hahn is more likely my mom than me, though. The Lady Hahn who raised and clothed me with hand-sewn blue-ribbon-at-the-county-fair creations made on her little black Singer worked miracles with needle and thread and fabric. She made baby dresses with smocking down the front, recital dresses from purple crepe, baton twirling costumes of velvet with sequins hand-sewn on, a dirndl from a German pattern, and even BARBIE DOLL CLOTHES with buttons so tiny I'm not sure how she didn't go blind sewing them on!

2 Comments on LADY HAHN AND HER SEVEN FRIENDS by Yumi Heo, last added: 5/17/2012
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22. Fireflies

Today, I am sharing books about fireflies with the children at the Allentown Public Library.  And we will be making this Karen Maurer original craft:  Bugs in a "Jar".  (I decided to do away with the crumpled paper at the bottom of the cup. It's distracting.)

I got my inspiration for this craft from an article I read, suggesting that children could use clear plastic take-out cups and the lids as bug collecting "jars".  That's a lot safer than the canning jars I used as a kid.  One trip on the pavement and there would be shards of glass everywhere.  And take-out lids already have holes punched in them for the straw.

To make my "bugs" glow, I used glow in the dark pony beads, available online at Oriental Trading.   Any pony bead will make a bug and you can get a bag of 100 hundred beads for $1 at Dollar Tree.  The glow-in-the-dark beads go with my firefly theme.

The wings are scraps of tulle.  I bought mine at Dollar Tree but any craft store has rolls of the stuff for cheap.  Other possible materials for wings include tissue paper, which is a little delicate, and scraps of thin fabric.

My take-out lids were given to me by the good people at Panera on Cedar Crest in Allentown.  If you are doing this with just your family, save your take out cups and lids and the craft is truly cheap.

It's Thursday and that means I should talk about Storytelling.  One of the best types of storytelling is when people share stories of "when I was little".  So instead of featuring a storyteller or a book, I challenge my readers to tell stories of summer nights "when I was little." 

When I was little, we chased fireflies, counting them up and trying to outdo each other.  The smaller kids would swing their hands through the air and shout out numbers, whether they caught a bug or not.  There is nothing worse to a little kid than not being able to keep up with the older kids. 

How do I know my little brothers and sisters counted pretend fireflies?  Well, when they finally caught a lightning bug - that's what we called them - they got so excited, they gave themselves away. 

We lived near a park - the picnic kind of park - and there were perhaps six lone streetlamps casting our shadows long and dark on the grass.  The street lamps didn't put out enough light to discourage the lightning bugs.

We ran outside in our pajamas and in our bare feet and we sang snatches of songs.  My sister and I liked to pretend we could speak other languages by singing "O Sole Mio" as loud as we could and then gibberish to the rest of the tune.  We only did this at night.  Night makes anything seem possible.

Those memories are not really a "story" but they were fun to share with you.  Catch some real lightning bugs tonight.  Check out Firefly.org for information about these amazing little lightbulbs.

4 Comments on Fireflies, last added: 7/6/2012
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23. Time, Place, and Memory

I took a walk this afternoon. A park sits just to the west of the school stadium, and a nature trail winds through the woods of the park. Years ago, when I taught Emerson and Thoreau, I would walk my English classes to the park and have them sit and experience "nature," journaling about their experience.

I hadn't been on that path for years. It had changed a little. A few taller trees, a little less water in the pond thanks to our summer drought. A felt a moment of nostalgia, but the moment passed.

Earlier this week, I took another walk. The top 10% from our senior class were honored at KU's Memorial Union, and after the ceremony I strolled around the campus. I have very few memories of the campus from my years as a graduate student. I was also a new father and full-time teacher, so most of my memories are blurry at best--not to mention 75% of my classes met in Kansas City at a satellite campus. Most of my memories stem from other times, some distant and some very recent... some slightly bittersweet and some strong and good.

Here's what I've learned about place and memory: time passed isn't as much a factor to how I experience a place as the time in my life when I revisit it. The lenses I'm wearing now shape how I tell the stories of my memories, and memories without stories attached are just vague things without much form or shape.Like ghosts of feelings which, like other ghosts, can haunt.

Visiting those places often exorcises the ghosts and leaves the story. I want the story. The ghosts can stay behind.

For years, I used to feel sad when we left my mom's place in Clay Center. It was a deep, chest-squeezing sadness. I grew up in that house. My formative memories hold it at their core. Earlier this fall, as we drove away from the house for the last time, no sadness came. I was done with that part of my life--I knew it, and this part, where I am now, has no need for that old house. The lack of feeling almost surprised me, but it also reminded me that this is how it should be.The ghosts don't need to haunt us.

I have countless stories from my childhood--countless stories built from memories of that house, my neighbors, and the small town which raised me, but I don't carry sadness anymore. Stories are good, wholesome things. Human things. And I count myself lucky to be able to tell them.

3 Comments on Time, Place, and Memory, last added: 10/26/2012
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24. you are perfectly reflected

Now, here's something I've been meaning to post for a long time. For a long long time. Since I had my first solo exhibition over a year ago, in fact. After the exhibition I was commissioned to create two of these 'small blue thing' drawings. This one was for Sally, a surprise gift for her husband (it's a scarab, by the way, Sally), and the other was for the Hughes family. When I delivered the Hughes' drawing I was given this poem, below. Karey had been inspired to write it after visiting my exhibition. I read it often, and have been meaning to come up with the perfect drawing to post with it. But, as yet, that drawing has not happened and as this one has remained un-posted it seemed fitting. Plus, if I continue to wait for the perfect drawing I'll never share the poem with you. And, that would not be right. It's one of the most lovely, and humbling, gifts I've received.
Thanks, Karey.

strictly ballpoint?

No, there’s pencil, ink, gel pen, crayon, marker
even tippex, in your riotous attention to detail.
Thousands of careful lines;
such small changes of pressure, shade, direction.
How much of your time
to draw all those buttons, coins, badges, tickets,
hair grips? Even tiny cat claws.
Obsessive? Compulsive?
I can’t look away.

I’m a voyeur reading your notebooks,
a kindred detective with too many clues:
mass-produced, man-made, plastic, metal
or something natural, unique?
Any object is subject.
Nothing escapes a curious eye.

You rummage in the attic of my memory
to conjour your magic; a delicate, crazy art
full of surprises
like your quirky picture-title puns
from songs in your head,
now in mine, old favourites -
Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega.

A kind of give and take
where nothing is too ordinary
or too personal
so you offer up your socks,
like fat birds on a wire,
even a black bra draped over a line,
and in “drawers”  - knickers,
blowing in a breeze!
Clothes in a washing machine,
half-submerged in soapy water -
you call it, “slooshy sloshy, slooshy sloshy”
Washed pots draining
and lots of shoes from all angles
and pages of doodles and travel memorabilia,
with whimsical thoughts in curly calligraphy:
“will it ever stop raining?”
“trying to keep out of the rain”.
You must be local. You make me laugh.

It takes time and close attention
to notice everything –
Like peering through a doll’s house window
and seeing my own life,
in every shiny detail:
I want to empty out my pockets!

 Karey Lucas-Hughes 2011
inspired by an exhibition of art work called “strictly ballpoint” by Andrea Joseph at  Buxton Museum and Art Gallery 2011
Above is a photo that I took at my show. For some really great photos check out THIS POST by Pippa, which was another lovely gift I received after the exhibition.  I really am a very lucky, ahem, 'girl'.

8 Comments on you are perfectly reflected, last added: 2/9/2013
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25. I Remember When . . .


Oh little Peepsqueak.  This picture of you reminds me of something that happened to me when I was little.  We were visiting an aunt in Washington.  She had a rope that dangled from a tree in her backyard. She also had a big DOG that came running into the yard barking at ME!  I jumped on that rope and UP, UP, UP  I went!  I did not even know I could climb a rope!  I just did it!  ha ha!

Most of my art comes from my imagination, but it is also from my memories and from my life experiences. All that being said, I think I can still climb a rope!

Filed under: My Characters, Peepsqueak!, Reflections

2 Comments on I Remember When . . ., last added: 2/22/2013
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