Wednesday
Jul232014

Late, but with a Good Alibi

Like the White Rabbit, I’m running late, but I have an excellent alibi. For those who watch for my blog regularly on Mondays and Fridays, I’ll explain. I’m just back from joining our associate pastor as a chaperone for PassportKids church camp with five grade school girls.

Folk wisdom sometimes says getting there is half the fun. Well, maybe. We had three Google maps that couldn’t agree on the route, one cell phone taking us to an obviously wrong place, advice when we stopped at Subway for lunch leaving out pertinent details from another group leader who had been there eight times. Finally, a different cell phone loaded with a bit more information got us to a beautiful mountain location for camp. Even our lostness was not wasted. It provided fodder for discussions with our campers on the theme for the week – Follow the Road.

Glimpses of the week include:
•    A camper with a Care package awaiting her arrival turning cries of envy into companionship as she said, “Oh, I’m going to share.” She quickly began to pass out finger flashlights. Her mom had thoughtfully packed enough for the others in her group.
•    Being a bit lost, like the kids, without my computer. They had been told to leave electronics behind, and adults followed suit with the exception of cell phones just in case we needed to be in touch with each other or the girls’ parents.
•    Sharing my scarce time alone (only because I get up about five o’clock) with a jogger and a horsefly.
•    Girls who remembered the rule not to go into the cabin without an adult even when the chaperone forgot.
•    Kids in a rap drama during worship that concluded,
            “If you can love the God you call,
            Then you can love your neighbor, y’all.”
•    Rounding up five girls to go to the next appointed place becoming a guessing game about which one needed to go back for a towel, pencil and paper, or their Passport Guide.
•    Being last in line for almost every meal – see previous entry.
•    Five girls who were barely more than strangers when we set out who are now friends that I miss this morning.

So there you have my alibi. I think you will agree that it’s a good one. I plan to be back on schedule by Friday.

Friday
Jul182014

Hand-Me-Ups?

Hand-me-downs have sometimes taken a bad rap. My sisters knew more about them than I did since I was the oldest, and they might give you a different slant on this idea. Often it seemed that Mama made a dress for one sister and the next in line kept watch for it to get too small so she could have it. My hand-me-downs were more likely to come from older girls in the rural churches where Daddy was pastor. I have several good memories of clothes that might normally have been saved for a favorite younger cousin that came instead to their pastor’s daughter. I wore them with honor.

This all came back recently in a package from my younger sister. She sent some books for my husband from a series she had finished and thought he would like and a jigsaw puzzle for me. I got to puzzling about things that you had finished and passed to older siblings. Would you call those hand-me-ups?

I knew immediately why Ruth sent me the puzzle. The picture has more than fifty book titles. Since I am nine years older than she is, by the time she was old enough to need stories read to her or told to her, I was Ruth’s primary baby-sitter. Because of Daddy’s visual challenges, Mama served as his chauffeur and partner in ministry. When they were gone, I kept us both happy by entertaining Ruth with “The Three Little Pigs” and “How the Elephant Got His Trunk.” (When she caused me trouble, there were occasional times when she had to sit in the green chair, but I won’t mention that.)

The puzzle added an additional layer to the enjoyment as I put together titles we enjoyed during those days like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Little Red Hen. It has childhood books she learned to read independently as she caught the passion – Black Beauty, Heidi, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. There are mysteries that we both love – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason – and classics – A Tale of Two Cities and To Kill a Mockingbird.

In the very center of the puzzle is the slogan, “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” I think Ruth and I would agree, which is why we get right to it and open our books to begin.

The hand-me-up, if I may call it that, brought back good memories of good stories as I completed the picture of each book – well, not Moby Dick – and good memories of turning a little sister on to reading.

Monday
Jul142014

Writing Rule # 2

I’ve heard this rule voiced many ways, but I like the way Isabel Allende puts it. “Show up.” She contends that if she shows up long enough writing will happen.

The trouble is, whether your instrument is a computer or a long college-ruled legal pad with pencils or pens, it doesn’t call you to come and sit. Neither holds out threats or rewards. They just sit there, waiting. Good intentions of writing that poem or Great American Novel pave that road you’ve heard about that may not really lead to hell, but intentions alone won’t lead you to a blog, much less a poem or novel.

When people find out that I write, they often say, “I always thought I’d write a (insert picture book, novel, poem, memoir, etc.). I know better than to ask, “So, what’s keeping you?” I know about that. I have my own list of interruptive temptations. You may notice that cleaning house is not listed. That is not a temptation.
•    Weeds are taking my day lilies and coneflowers.
•    Email or Facebook might have an important post from a friend – or a grandchild.
•    Laundry needs to be done.
•    A friend wants to go to lunch.
•    I borrowed a mystery to read from the library.
•    There’s a new recipe in yesterday’s paper for blackberry jam cake.
•    And did you know you can find free jigsaw puzzles to solve on your computer?

So how does a writer talk herself (or himself) into showing up? You could get a lot of answers, but I’ll share the one that has worked for me. I came to realize that in spite of my self-proclaimed title as “writer,” some weeks passed with nothing to show for it – maybe not even a thank-you note. Beginning in 2004, I started tracking what I did each day making notes in the calendar I received for my contribution to the Smithsonian. I list writing that I’ve actually done in the day-by-day entry with an arrow added for projects that last over several days – only for the times I actually “showed up.” Since reading is also the work of a writer, I record the books I’ve read at the top of the page with some comment about my level of enjoyment.

Comparing the entry for one week of 2004 at the top and the entry for the similar week in 2014 in my photograph is typical for what has happened to my consistency since I began the visual record of how many times I showed up. True vacations are noted, but may also have some entries since writing sometimes beckons and can be done anywhere.

The calendar doesn’t call any louder than that computer or long legal pad, but it sits staring on my desk with blank eyes at my distractible self until I record something I have written.

Now please excuse me while I jot down “blogged about Writing Rule # 2.”

Friday
Jul112014

Mambo in Chinatown

Start with a 22-year-old Chinese girl – challenged by dyslexia, coping with life after her mother’s death, becoming a parent figure to an 11-year-old younger sister, and helping her father make his way in the strange culture of America. Give her a job at dishwashing that keeps her hands raw and coarse. Include the contrasting worlds of her mother as a dancer and her father as a noodle maker. Add a godmother with enough quotes to cover any situation and a mysterious illness that may keep her gifted younger sister from mastering the test to get into the school for academically gifted students. Complicate it all for by naming the girl Charlie. See her trying to make her way in America without upsetting the equilibrium of her Chinatown community and relatives. You have her story in Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok.

Several selections are worth quoting.  
•    When “The Vision” predicts failure in Charlie’s new job, the Godmother brings out a Lao Tzu quote, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
•    As she dresses in dance costumes, “I sneaked a glance at myself in the mirror. For the first time, I did not see a dishwasher.”
•    Her boy friend’s comment, “Every change has a hello and a good bye in it, you know? You always have to leave in order to go on to something new,” reminds her of a Godmother saying, “You must empty the cup before it can be filled again.”
•    Threaded through the book is the conflict of Western versus Eastern culture and medicine accompanied by a lot of dance instruction. Charlie needs to find who she is in order to adequately help those she loves.

I found this to be a good summer afternoon read with one caveat. There seems to be a need to include multiple popular issues in the modern day world whether or not they add any real value to the plot line.

Monday
Jul072014

Mets vs. Red Sox

Seeing the youngest Butler grandson in a Red Sox t-shirt brought on a series of baseball memories. Let it be said that baseball has never reached the passion level of football for me, but it’s had its moments.

I learned the basics from Daddy who divided life’s radio/television seasons into football, basketball, and baseball. He was an avid Yankees fan because he liked winners, and they usually were. I rooted against him for the underdog.

Forward a few years and the Army made Staten Island our home right about the time the rival NY Mets franchise was getting its start. Their egregious errors made watching them quite a comedy show. Their manager, Casey Stengel, wailed, “Doesn’t anybody here know how to play this game?” I became a fan and cheered the few games they won – especially when they edged out their cross-town rival Yankees.

Skip ahead several years to the 1986 World Series. The team had learned to play the game and advanced to the series against the Boston Red Sox. Our school principal was a diehard Red Sox fan. My second graders were awed after the first game when Mrs. Morgan brought down a red construction paper sock with big black marker letters  “Sox 1 – Mets 0” and posted it on my bulletin board. Quickly getting into the spirit, they mourned with me the next day when she brought another, “Sox 9 – Mets 3.” She did not appear after games three and four but my students cheered as I put up my own signs, “Mets 7 – Sox 1” and “Mets 6 – Sox 2.”

By now they were enjoying solving my math problems and ones they made up using baseball statistics and probabilities. Mrs. Morgan returned after game five, providing a sock “Sox 4 – Mets 2.” I sweated out ten innings of the sixth game to put up “Mets 6 – Sox 5.” We thought we’d seen the last of Mrs. Morgan after the last game, but she came down with good grace and watched my students cheer as I mounted the last sign, “Mets 8 – Sox 5.”

So, my youngest grandson in a Red Sox t-shirt because his mom grew up in New England? I’m forgiving my daughter-in-law this one. Now if she had been a Yankee fan . . .