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1. 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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2. 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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3. 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.

The post A perfume for loneliness appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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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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14. 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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15. 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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16. Grandpa Green

by Lane Smith   Roaring Brook Press  2011   A boy fondly remembers his great-grandfather through the topiary garden he has built over the years.   There's something missing here, something I can't quite put my finger on. Or maybe something off. We have a boy, ostensibly the main character, going through the garden and explaining the meaning behind all the various animals and objects his

1 Comments on Grandpa Green, last added: 11/18/2011
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17. Coffin Hop Day Two: Ghost Floats (and a new story)

Head over to Every Day Fiction to read "The Long Walk to Never" today. As always, comments and ratings are appreciated.

Here's another blast from the past, Coffin Hoppers: Ghost Floats, a fun drink with a spooky pedigree. I offer it word for word as it was in the original text, The Little Witch's Black Magic Cookbook by Linda Glovach.

20 minutes / 2 servings

You'll need a blender, measuring spoon, measuring cup, and glasses.


1 cup prepared powdered milk (fresh milk won't work)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup diet soda

Ask your mother to get the blender out of the cupboard.

Put the milk and the vanilla in the blender. Slowly add the soda.

Blend at medium speed for two minutes. Pour into two glasses and put them in the freezer for ten minutes.

When you take the drink out of the freezer you will see the ghosts floating on top. This is a great drink fro mother witches on diets because it has only 57 calories*. And the little witches who are not on a diet can use regular soda.

*Yeah, I know. WTF? But the book was published in 1972. A whole helluva lot of witches were on diets back then. Or something like that.

Do you remember any recipes or special Halloween treats from your childhood?

8 Comments on Coffin Hop Day Two: Ghost Floats (and a new story), last added: 10/26/2011
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18. 50 Sentences to Spark Ideas

Tap into your childhood memories by completing the following sentences.

1.  The first thing I ever remember was…

2.  The things that made me mad as a child were…

3.  I hated it when my mother…

4.  I loved it when my mother…

5.  I hated it when my father…

6.  I loved it when my father…

7.  I wish I’d learned how to…

8.  My favorite food as a small child was…

9.  The foods I hated as a small child were…

10. The foods that I loved as a pre-teen were…

11. The foods I hate when I was twelve were…

12. The foods I loved at 17 years old were…

13. At 17 years old I hated eating…

14. When I was a child I hated…

15. When I was a child I loved…

16. My best freind made me mad when…

17. As a small child it really bothered me when…

18. When I became a teenager it really bothered me when…

19.  As a small child I was really scared of…

20. As a teenage I was really scared of…

21. The things I loved about where I grew up were…

21. The things I hated about where I grew up were…

22. What I loved during reccess…

23. What did I hate about reccess…

24. The things I liked and disliked about high school gym were…

25. The saddest thing that ever happened to me was…

26. What was the happiest moment you can remember from childhood…

27. The things I loved about winter were…

28. I hated winter due to…

29. The fun things I did during summer were…

30. Every summer, I hated…

31. The worst things about spring were…

32. The best things about spring were…

33. The best things about fall were…

34. The thing I hated most about fall was…

35. When I was young my parents made me…

36.  The most fun thing I did with  my grandparents was…

37. My best memory of my brother and sisters…

38. The most iportant adult in my life other than my family was… why?

39. My favorite pet was… because…

40. The games I liked to play when I was six were…

41. The games I liked to play when I was twelve were…

42. I didn’t like to play… when I was six.

43.  At twelve I really hated playing…

44. The things I worried about as a child were…

45. The most embarrassing moment in my childhood was…

46. Sometimes I felt different because…

47. I would like to be able to do over from my children these things…

48. My favorite books were…

49. As a child my favorite TV and movies were…

50. My favorite friend was… and why?

Write as much as you can.  Stop and try to bring back the memories.  They might make good additions in one of your manuscripts.

2 Comments on 50 Sentences to Spark Ideas, last added: 7/21/2011
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19. a few days to fill up

On the way home from Chicago, I took a few days to sleep, talk, listen, eat, cook, walk, and write, whenever the mood strikes, with good writer friends who've been retreating together for 14 years. Can you tell where we met? Do you know who the others are? 

4 Comments on a few days to fill up, last added: 10/25/2010
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20. That's a Big...Pencil

This picture is for Karen Schindler:

I received the "big" pencil as a gift when I was nominated for Kansas Teacher of the Year in '06. The smaller (regular scale) version with my name is an artifact of my childhood. My dear mother ordered a box of personalized pencils. The red specimen might be the last survivor from that box.

I'm not teaching a class on hunting monsters. Yet.

But I do have the pencil.

9 Comments on That's a Big...Pencil, last added: 12/1/2010
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21. Honoring My Mother on Mother's Day

A number of years ago, I read this at my mother's funeral mass. I am sharing it today with you to honor my mother and sister. It was the last gift that I could send upward to Heaven dedicated to her.

Our Mother, a Gift of Words

If my mom were alive today, she would thank you for coming here. So her family thanks you today. Besides prayers, the last gift that I can give our mother is a few kind words. She used to say, “If it makes you happy, do it.” And I am happy to share these words with you.

Our mother is gone, but she’s here in our hearts and memories—like Father Jim said. She’s here in her children and their spouses, grandchildren and many others. Yes, she’s here in her grandchildren. She was a “grand” mother to all of them. Whenever we closed a long distance phone call, she would add, “Give everyone a kiss for me and tell them that I love them.”

She even included our dog, Rosco, in her good wishes. Dogs held a special place in my mom’s heart because they asked for so little and gave so much. Dogs like Rudy and Lucy. Mom is here in her nieces and nephews and her friends.

So, who was this woman we call mother, sister, grandma, great-grandma or friend? She was an angel on Earth. That’s who she was. Those who used to watch “Touched By An Angel” know what I mean. This earthly angel wasn’t perfect, but she was as perfect as a person can be. She earned her angel wings by spending most of her teenage years without a father, a father who died in a fire. Her oldest brother, John, became her rock of Gibraltar, her substitute father. This lovely lass fell in love with a hard-working macho Italian man. It was a classic case of “Romeo and Juliet,” except that the relationship survived growing up in two different houses, with two different cultures and lifestyles.

In the first year of marriage, there were challenges and the background of World War Two. Out of love, my mother gave into her groom in many ways. She waited hand-and-foot on a man used to European ways of living. That’s partly how she earned her heavenly wings today. She pleased this tough macho man as much as she could because she knew that he would love her all the days of his life; that he would work hard for her and their family, as long as he could.

She knew a profound secret about him that escaped the minds of his children, even as their lives unfolded into adulthood. She knew that he wa

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22. Got Stories? Tell 'Em.

It's been said by some that a writer should write about what he or she is familiar with. For I suppose there's nothing quite like life experience as a rich resource for the tales we tell. The life experiences each of us has, add depth to a story. And it is the unique interpretation of those experiences that make those stories our own, told like no one else would or even could.

Each of us captures the world around us through our own particular set of sensory stimuli. And even when faced with the same view of the world before us, we may process the information differently and act on it differently still. Will the fact that I am color blind mean I will miss some things or see them in a different way than others? Do I have a high pain threshhold, making me indifferent to those more sensitive? Was I an only child? The oldest, youngest or somewhere in the middle?

Have I broken an arm or leg, had surgery, been lost? And what if I haven't yet or maybe never will? Have I ever been truly hungry or felt fatigue or cold down to the bone? Have I ever wanted to kill---or had to? Have I had a story to share and should have but didn't?

"Who knows?" you ask. "Perhaps there won't be anyone interested." But if the stories aren't told, we'll never know who might have learned from them or simply loved the listening. So, tell your stories. Write them down or simply pass them on as folk tales or oral history to be recounted again and again. For one day, without our knowing when, the time will pass and the untold stories will fade from memory.

It is the charge of writers and tellers of tales to not let that happen.

2 Comments on Got Stories? Tell 'Em., last added: 5/29/2011
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23. What My Father Read to Me...

When I was young I was a Daddy's Girl. I loved my dad- and all that he taught me. He instilled in me a love for reading and not only that, he helped learn to critique and think about what I was reading. When I was in fourth grade, he read The Hobbit to me. Every night before I went to bed, he would read to me. Now, I don't know that I understood every word of that book, but I loved it- I loved the language and the way he read it to me as if I DID understand it. 
The next year, we read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe together. I so wanted to be Lucy and stand in that snow covered wonderland. I could taste the Turkish Delight and I cried big, sobbing tears with Aslan died. I remember that my dad had to stop reading just to console me. My dad was crazy about science fiction. I remember him reading A Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy and Dune. He took me to see  The Empire Strikes Back at the drive in theater.  I would sit in his den while he talked on his HAM radio... KA0DYI. He collected and restored antique radios and he taught himself how to play the guitar. We would sing "Little Brown Jug" and "Drunkin' Sailor" and loads of other songs that I can't remember right now. When I was in 8th grade, life as I knew it changed. My father had a tumor on his optic nerve and he lost vision in both eyes. He developed several complications and lost his kidney function and got meningitis. We almost lost him.  He pulled through and adjusted to life without vision. He taught himself braille- to my amazement- and got books and newspapers in the mail. He received books on tape as well, but I knew it wasn't the same as him reading the words on that page. Of all the things he lost when he got sick, I think he may have missed reading the most. 
The years passed and I grew up, life got complicated and I drifted away from my family. The last time I talked with my dad was on my wedding day 14 years ago this fall. He passed away 6 years ago, and I never got to thank him for making me the reader I am today. I didn't get to say a lot of things. 
Don't take life for granted, dear blog readers. In the words of The Beatles, "Life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friends." Hug your dad, hug your kids.  Tell people how you feel every day, before it's too late. Read with your kids, make your kids feel important, be patient and answer all of their questions, no matter how silly they may seem... they will remember and they will be thankful.

1 Comments on What My Father Read to Me..., last added: 6/20/2011
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24. A World Without Borders

When I was young, our local bookstore was a Waldenbooks that took up one corner of our Fred Meyer shopping complex. There a bookseller suggested I try LJ Smith’s Night World series while I wiled away the hours browsing the shelves as my mother shopped for groceries. It was at this store that I met the woman who would one day lead me from the reading world into the bookselling one, giving me my first job.

Waldenbooks became part of the Borders empire in the mid 90s when Borders left K-mart. The stores were re-branded as Borders Express, but even rehabbed they were the first closed when Borders began to experience financial problems several years ago. My store, my final store in my bookselling history, was one of the first closed. Now the rest of Borders will be shutting down as well. On Monday the company announced that they will seek approval for liquidation. Soon 399 stores will close and 10,700 people will lose their jobs.

When our Borders Express closed back in 2007, it was clear that the company was having trouble.

“Why are you closing?” customers would ask as we filled their bags with 50% off books. “You always look so busy.”

We were profitable. We were out performing our plan, but it wasn’t enough to save us. “Over-expansion overseas,” we’d reply. “We don’t have the online presence.”

Funny how those were clear even then.

Despite what some claim e-books were not the cause of Borders' downfall. E-books weren’t even on the horizon. The first Kindle would not be released until November of that year.

Closing a store is heartbreaking. Not only do you have the lead up, where the feeling of something bad shadows ever move, but then you have the after. You have the weight of the questions asked - “Why? Where will you go? What will happen next? Will you discount even more?” - along with the boxes you will have to fill and the books you will have to strip.

Those Borders stores will be stripping a lot of books - romance, mystery, any genre where paperbacks are the size of choice to drop in your purse or tuck in your computer bag. As the New York Times points out “Borders was known as a retailer that took special care in selling paperbacks, and its promotion of certain titles could propel them to best-seller status.”

With Borders gone the print runs will be smaller and the market for new paperback titles will be reduced. The loss will be far-reaching.

But right now, it’s about the employees who have held on for months hoping for a continuance even while they knew the end was coming. It’s about the relief that they can finally cry openly about they changes they will need to make in their lives. It’s about the realization that some of these customers they have grown to care about will no longer be part of their daily routine.

When you close your store you want to believe you’ll stay in touch, that the heartache and sweat that went into those last few days will find you together. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.

But you’ll always have books.

I would like to believe that everyone remembers their first bookstore, and for the generation that has enjoyed Borders it will live on forever. For me a Borders always meant an escape from life’s pressures thanks to well stocked shelves and friendly people. A Borders in whatever city I was visiting meant a familiar place to go.

Thank you, Borders, for seeing me through the hard times, for giving me a job, and for being a place I could always find something to r

2 Comments on A World Without Borders, last added: 7/21/2011
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25. Book about memory loss

One of my upcoming books, Finish Her Off (pub date Fall 2012) is about a girl who wakes up and doesn’t know who she is - and then has to figure it out before the men who are trying to kill her succeed.

So you know how when you buy a new car and you realize suddenly that everyone drives that type of car? It’s the same thing with book ideas. Must be something in the water. So far I’ve read four books with a plot revolving around memory loss.

Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel. A huge international hit. Christine’s memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Every day she wakes up thinking she’s a 20-something, and is shocked to wake up beside a 40-something stranger - and to discover that she’s married to him and she herself is 40-something. She starts keeping a journal to help her keep track of what’s real - and what’s not.

I was totally looking forward to this book, but a) it’s not a real condition, b) you have to get past the idea that she writes a lengthy journal by hand full of sensory descriptions and detailed recaps of events, and most importantly, c) I didn’t believe the solution. Plus the ending is really rushed.

What Alice Forgot. As the publisher says, “Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she HATES the gym!) and discovers that she's actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.” This is a chick-lit book with a lighter tone.

I enjoyed this, although you have to suspend disbelief that in 10 years someone would have completely changed their habits and personality. And while someone who has experienced a head injury might forget a day or two before the event, I don’t think anyone has ever forgotten 10 years.

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes. A man wakes up on a beach, naked. Nearby he finds a car with clothes that fit him - and a gun. He realizes that he must be the man who owns these things - a man named Daniel Hayes. And he begins to realize he may have killed his wife.

Like a lot of books that begin with a good twist, the explanation for the twist is a tad strained. But fugue states (when the victim can’t remember anything ab

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