Friday, December 25, 2009

Family Traditions


Traditions are important. They serve as anchors in the dizziness of our lives. But sometimes traditions change, and we need to make room for new ones. Sometimes we need time to assimilate the new, and make adjustments before we can embrace them the way we did the old traditions.

For years, Christmas Day was spent at my parents’ house. We would rise early and open presents here, eat a nice breakfast, and then finish wrapping gifts for the cousins who would also make their way to grandma and grandpa’s cozy little home. We’d have a delicious Christmas dinner, all the while gazing at the enormous pile of gifts stacked under the seven-foot tree. And then chaos would reign as six little girls ripped open their gifts. As the girls grew older, the girlish giggles settled into cries of delight. Last year a male voice joined in as my parents embraced my son-in-law as a long awaited grandson.

This is our first Christmas without Dad. Mom isn’t up to hosting the annual celebration by herself, so my brother and his wife took over. For the first time, the menu included some great takeout pizza and assorted munches contributed by all of us. The cousins gathered around a different tree in a different living room, opening gifts they had chosen for each other rather than things their grandparents and parents selected. We enjoyed games like “Catch Phrase”, “Buzzwords”, and “Bananagrams” and I marveled at the intelligence and wit of my daughters and nieces.

The celebration took place three days ago because our daughter and her husband left to spend the holiday with her in-laws. Mom is spending a few days with my brother, and our other daughter is with her boyfriend’s family. So this Christmas Day is a very quiet “pajama day” for the two of us. I hope to get a lot of writing done. Mark is trying out a new recipe for dinner. It seems odd, waking up on Christmas Day to quietness, no gifts under the tree, and no place to go. But this is nice. I think it’s going to be like this every other year, since the kids intend to alternate holidays with us – one year we get them for Thanksgiving, the next year we get them for Christmas. That’s fair, and I’m happy they’ve worked out a plan. It’ll take a little while to get used to it, and adjustments will probably happen, but as long as we make the effort, we’ll find our way to some great new traditions.

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

A New Year, A New Diet

I went to the hospital yesterday. I underwent a liver biopsy. It sounded a bit scary, but happily I snored through the whole procedure. The only bad thing was fasting all day. The procedure was scheduled for 12:45 pm and I couldn’t eat anything after midnight the night before. Of course the doctor was late getting there, so the biopsy didn’t take place until after 2 pm. Boy, was I ready to eat afterward!

It seems I have something called Fatty Liver Disease. I understand all three words separately, but I was unfamiliar with the three of them put together like that. I had to do some online research to see what I’m up against. The doctor had a skinny little pamphlet, but I needed more information.

Apparently there are three main causes for what I have. The first one listed was excessive alcohol consumption. I’m allergic to alcohol, so that’s not the problem. The second cause is improper needle use. I have no tattoos, and the only time needles go in me is when blood is drawn for these tests. So, assuming the nurses know what they’re doing, that possibility is eliminated. The third cause is – obesity! Hmmm. The doctor told me the biopsy was to determine the severity of the disease. He also said I need to lose ten to twenty percent of my body weight in order to effectively curb this problem. After the biopsy, he might up it to thirty. That would be just my luck!

I have nothing against eating healthy foods. Really. I love them. The problem is I also love unhealthy foods (hey, I don’t discriminate!) and sometimes I even eat lousy food, just because I feel like eating. So eating healthy is not a problem, but eating ONLY healthy foods will probably drive me nuts. I also like some exercise. I love walking across campus on a sunny day, swimming laps in the pool, and I had a good time in a tai chi class once. But the thought of doing it on a regular basis – because I HAVE to - turns my stomach juices sour.

Enough whining. Apparently my choice is pretty clear – if I want to be healthy and stay that way, I’ve got to make some major changes. Now. No excuses. The fitness center less than two miles away is offering a registration special. It’s time. And maybe some of my creative juices can be used to concoct foods that are so much fun I won’t miss the good old fried foods and sweets – and sweet fried foods (no more fried Snickers!)

Well, last week I was feeling pretty good about Christmas preparations. I still am – but now I can also say I’ve got one of my New Year’s resolutions planned for me! And like it or not, I’m going to have to keep this one. You see, I’ve got a lot to live for, and I’d just as soon be healthy as I watch each grandchild graduate, walk down the aisle, and become parents.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Countdown Continues

This year I’m feeling like I’m going to be ready for Christmas. Usually I’m so busy working and running around, the house gets neglected until Christmas Eve. But this time I’m ready! The tree is up (not decorated yet – I’m not THAT organized!), my cards are addressed (just have to sign them and add a little personal note to some of them), most of my gifts are purchased, and I have some decorations up. The house is in fairly good shape, too. I could almost write an article for a woman’s magazine on “Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday”. Here are my top five:

Tip #5: Get the kids out of the house

Now that the youngest is 22, we are officially “empty nesters”. It gets a little quiet sometimes, but the music I hear is stuff that I choose. I watch the TV shows I want (after the hubby goes to bed). And the running around I do is for me, not them. The only downside of it is the realization that all the clutter around here is mine, and I can’t blame the mess on anyone but me!

Tip #4: Let your fingers do the walking

eBay is my friend. So is anything with “dot com” after its name. Especially when they offer free shipping!

Tip #3: Hire cleaning help

Grandkids are great for this, especially when they need money. I usually spend two hours putting stuff away (stuff I don’t want them to see or break) before they come over, so the house gets neater as well as cleaner.

Tip #2: Teach the spouse how to use major household appliances

I’m lucky because my husband has always done most of the cooking. But when he retired, he got bored. I introduced him to the washer and dryer. Now he never complains about wrinkled shirts, mismatched socks, or pink underwear. Once he was well acquainted with them, I brought the dishwasher to his attention. Now they’re best friends. The sink and countertop are always clear. Next year I’ll try the more advanced tools, like the vacuum and maybe a dust mop.

Tip #1: Postpone Christmas until January

This is a major stress reducer. Two of our five kids will be out of town during Christmas week, so we’re having our family Christmas on January 2. The trick is not telling my brain that I have extra time. So if I THINK I have to be ready by December 25 and I’m not actually done until a week later, I’ll actually be on time!

* * * * * * * * * * *

I finally got some sewing done! Here are some of my stockings. I’ll just have to fill them before the grandkids come.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday - Again??!!

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It’s Friday again. Where did the week go? It seems the days go by faster and faster. But I suppose in reality, I’m moving slower and slower. I used to be able to spring out of bed, down a glass of orange juice, splash water on my face, run a comb through my hair, throw on some clothes and get out the door in ten minutes flat. Of course, that was back before jobs, children, and responsibilities took over my life. Now it takes more than ten minutes to get both eyes open.

It seems I was more organized. Not with my belongings (I am, and always have been, a pack-rat), but with my time. Working full-time and raising two daughters who were very active in extra curricular activities, I was often stressed but welcomed most of the challenges. I’d get up early, get the kids ready, drop them off, go to work, run errands, come home, and run again – piano lessons, gymnastics, church choir, band practice, tennis, swimming – it was always something. These days, if I see more than two things on my calendar for the day I need an extra cup of two of coffee before I can face it.

Sometimes I miss the old days, when I could multitask with the best of them. I could rise at 5:30 am and keep going until midnight, five days a week. It’s not that I want to go back – I’m happy being a retired grandma, thank you very much. And though I loved my kids when they were small, I love them even more now that I can have real conversations with them, and they are able to get themselves wherever they need to go. I’m ready for the “me” phase (okay, make that the “us” phase – gotta include the husband) of life. But I think I’d enjoy it more if I still had the energy for it!

Friday, November 27, 2009

And So the Madness Begins ...

Today is Black Friday. The stores are ready for the masses of shoppers who will help their businesses turn a profit. I suppose I’ll be one of them, but I didn’t get up early to stand in line anywhere, and I’m not going to fend off hundreds of other desperate shoppers in order to get a great deal. If I shop at all, it will be in the store where I work, which will be quiet after the 6 am rush, or online.

I’m reading news stories about people so anxious to score the great deals that they actually camp out in front of the stores the day and night before. I saw a news clip featuring a man eating his Thanksgiving dinner on a foil plate, wrapped in his winter coat, huddled in his tent. The last time I camped out in line I was in college, wanting to get a parking sticker for the lot in front of my dorm. My time has gotten a lot more valuable since then.

So, does that mean my loved ones won’t get the best gifts this Christmas? Perhaps. But I look at it this way. By getting a normal night’s sleep, I am more likely to be my cheerful self when Christmas gets here. By not going to the mall, I’m saving on gasoline, which is better for the environment and my financial well-being. By avoiding the crowds, I’m saving the poor sales clerks from having to help me.


I figure I'm doing my part to make this a Merry Christmas for everyone. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Counting My Blessings




Thanksgiving is next Thursday. It’s a four-day weekend for most people. Not so when you’re working in retail. I’m thankful not to have to work on Thanksgiving Day, but I’ll have to put in several hours during the other three days. But I really don’t mind working. I’d rather work than fight the crowds on Black Friday. In any case, I’m thankful for employment during these difficult times.

I’m having family here on Thursday. I HATE to clean. Thankfully, I have grandchildren who are eager to come and earn some spending money by cleaning bathrooms, dusting, and moving things around. It’s worth putting in a few extra hours at work in order to have the cash to give them. And I’m thankful I have grandkids who are industrious enough to work for what they want.

We’ll have the usual assortment of food: ham, turkey, salad, potatoes, beans, and dessert. Thankfully, my husband loves to cook. He’s taking care of the main dish and a few of the sides. And the rest will be provided by my adult kids, who enjoy cooking as much as their father does. I don't mind cooking, but I’m a firm believer that food always tastes better when someone else prepares it. And I fully intend to enjoy this meal. So I am thankful for all the fabulous cooks in this family. And I’m thankful that we have the means to get the food.

We’ll probably play a game or two while the football game is on. My kids love board games and they don’t seem to mind when I join them. I’m not so good at games like Clue, when I have to be logical, or Farkle, when I have to strategize. I’m okay with games requiring useless knowledge, like Trivial Pursuit, but it seems I know more of the answers to everyone else’s questions than the ones directed to me. But I’m thankful that my children don’t share my disabilities.

So I’m thankful for the holiday, because I’ll have a relatively clean house, plenty of food, and family to celebrate with. And I’m thankful that I have a whole month before I have to worry about getting things ready for the next family gathering.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Running, Running, Running ...

human_hamster_wheel_1.jpg Human Hamster Wheel image by aangelinsf

I guess I’m happiest when I’m busy. The more I have on my plate, the more I am able to get done. And when my schedule thins out, so does my energy level. I guess it’s the challenge of making things on my “To Do” list actually happen. But every once in a while, my cup overflows to the point where I wonder which end is up.

Tomorrow is going to be one of those days. It’s the second Saturday of the month, so my writers’ group is meeting for lunch and a program. Right now I’m the secretary, so I have to be there. The president is holding an executive board meeting that morning, and it would be irresponsible of me to not show up.

Tomorrow is also a special day at GVSU. The double reed faculty is hosting its annual Double Reed Day, and oboists and bassoonists are coming to campus to learn from experts, listen to each other play, purchase supplies, and make music. I’ve attended this event the last several years, and always enjoyed it.

Also scheduled tomorrow is a special sale at one of my favorite stores. I need a winter coat. My mother and two daughters plan to go. The sale lasts all day, but who knows what will be left by the time I get there? Anyway, I’m expected to make an appearance, and then join them for dinner.

And then my favorite Creative Memories consultant is holding her Holiday Open House this weekend. I need to go, if only to fill out my annual Christmas Wish List for the benefit of my husband and other family members who like the ease of having someone else take care of obtaining, wrapping, and deliver gifts. Fortunately, she’s letting me come late on Friday.

When I worked full time, I used to long for the days when I wouldn’t have to get up every day and dash around like a madwoman, taking care of my kids’ needs in addition to mine, and keeping up on my students’ needs, parent requests, administrative directives, and all the other stuff. Once I retired, I told myself, things would settle down. Now I know better.

I told my husband that once I leave the house this morning, he probably won’t see me again until Sunday morning. He promised to have the dancing girls out of here by then. I guess he’s got plans, too.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Music to My Ears

On Tuesday I went to my grandson’s orchestra concert. It was a long drive from the campus where I teach to the middle school where the concert was held, but I like to attend their events whenever I can. And since I’m a musician, I want to support their musical efforts.

Middle school is such a difficult time for many kids. It’s also a difficult time for many parents and their teachers! I often jokingly refer to one daughter’s teenage years as the time when my IQ started dropping – nothing I did or said made any sense to her. Fortunately, as she matured, my intelligence (or perceived lack therof) miraculously rose. Lots of veteran teachers, myself included, prefer to stay far away from middle school classrooms.

Anyway, I went to the concert, sympathizing with the director, who conducted several different combinations of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders from two different buildings. He must have had some very capable helpers backstage, rounding up the different groups of students and sending them on and off the stage at the appropriate times. Each group appeared, seated themselves without any fuss, and applied themselves to performing their music. I was impressed with the way they conducted themselves.

In some circles, it might not be considered “cool” to be involved in school music. Later on, these “cool” non-musicians might regret their choices, but middle school seems to be the point when so many aspiring music makers put down their instruments. So when Scottie decided to play violin, I wondered how long this interest would last.

The fact that he’s still at it after three years tells me he enjoys it, and he’s willing to work on it. The fact that both parents and three grandparents were listening tells me that he’s got the backing of his family. And the fact that he ran across the parking lot to give me a good-bye hug tells me he appreciated my taking the time to go.

I have a great extended family, with kids and grandkids who are well-cared for, and well-taught. Life is good.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Weekend Words


My husband and I don’t argue much. I always assumed the reason for this was because I don’t spend a lot of time at home. Now that I’m retired from full-time teaching, I’m finding lots of other things to do and places to go. We have rules, of course. I write these trips down on the calendar so he knows where I’m going and when I’m coming back. I leave my cell phone on in case he decides I need to be contacted. And I always come back when I say I will, or call if there’s a delay. Sometimes I wonder if I would be so tolerant if he went away as often as I do.

Last Friday, for the second weekend in a row, I packed a suitcase and left town. This time I went to the lovely town of Fremont, Michigan, home of the Gerber Baby Food Company. The Gerber Guest House is a wonderful bed and breakfast place. It was perfect for our group – since we booked all but one of the seven rooms, we had the run of the entire house – two large dining rooms, two sitting rooms, an enclosed porch, and a patio overlooking a beautiful garden. Check out their website at http://www.gerberguesthouse.com/index.htm

One of my writers’ groups booked the Gerber House for the entire three days. The idea was to spend the time clearing our minds of the outside world and devoting our time to our craft. My agenda was a bit different this time. I have a story well on its way to completion, but since a lot of it was written in 200 word chunks (hastily scribbled between classes, before going to work, or before going to bed), I needed to arrange these chunks into the framework of the manuscript. That turned out to be a bigger challenge than I expected. I went, hoping to organize all my scenes into a coherent whole, and maybe add some meat to some of the important parts. Instead, I caught up on blog entries, correspondence, and playing Boggle Bash (hey, at least I was working with words!)

Remembering my peaceful walk from last week, I joined two of my writing friends when they decided to walk through town and visit the quilt shop. If the fresh air could calm me down in West Olive, maybe it could work in Fremont. I had a great time rummaging through the bolts of beautiful fabric, the lovely patterns, and admiring the intricate quilts on display. I splurged on a few yards of fabric and walked back to the Guest House ready to write.


But the words didn’t come.

Sunday afternoon, I got back home. The kids were there, doing laundry. A nice hot dinner was simmering. I hugged my family, ate dinner, unpacked, and caught up on a few chores. And then I sat down at my keyboard. And I wrote. Paragraphs and pages. A new scene, a new angle. It was amazing.

So why couldn’t I write during my writing get-away? Who knows? I’ve written a lot during past retreats. Maybe I just needed the inspiration of my lovely, tolerant family. Or maybe the weekend was a chance to step away from them and really appreciate them when I got back. Whatever the case, the muse seems to be alive and well again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Picture This

Last weekend I spent two days in a quaint cottage on Lake Michigan with eight other women, working on scrapbooks. I’ve attended several overnight scrapbooking marathons, but this one was unusual for me for two reasons. First, this event lasted the full weekend instead of a twenty-four hour period, and second, one of the women attending was my daughter. As my kids get older, I’m more and more amazed at the wonderful adults they have become, despite their upbringing!

I had a later start due to my work schedule, but I eventually made it there and got to work. I love to arrange the pictures on the pages, often embellishing them with color, and journaling so that I can go back later and relive special times. But my favorite part of the weekend was when my daughter and I took some time on Saturday afternoon to stroll the boardwalk toward the beach.

I love fall in Michigan. It’s one of the reasons I moved back here after attending undergraduate school out of state. The colors are so plentiful and vivid, and the brisk coolness in the air just energizes me. And being outdoors near the water, I was enveloped in a calm that I hadn’t felt in a while. I’m not an “outdoors” enthusiast. Given a choice, I will almost always choose an indoor activity over an outdoor one, and I often admire the scenery from the comfort of my home or car. But there was something about the combination of the water, the cool air, and the colorful foliage that gave me a sense of peace and rightness with the world. I guess it was God’s way of reminding me how powerful He is.

We returned to our scrapbooking cottage refreshed and ready to resume our work. But my gaze kept straying to the windows, back to the source of my peace. On Sunday afternoon I went home, back to my frenzied life. A few days later I picked up my copies of the pictures I took during our walk. Amazingly, my heart lightened and I experienced the same sense of contentment I felt last Saturday. How incredible, this power of nature to calm and heal the soul!

So this past week, whenever I had the opportunity to be outdoors, I took time to really look at my surroundings. I am surrounded by beauty and splendor, some created by man, some not. It’s creativity at its best. And it makes me happy.

We’re not quite at the peak of the color season, but there was enough color for some lovely pictures. Thank goodness for phone cameras!




Friday, October 16, 2009

Matthew's House

Yesterday I delivered some of our “Warming Ears” fleece hats to a mission in the West Side of Grand Rapids called Matthew’s House. I had never taken a delivery before, so I asked my good friend Rose to come with me. In addition to providing moral support, Rose belongs to a Bible Study with the director of the mission, Pastor George Werkema.

Matthew’s House gets its name from Matthew 9:10: “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.” The door is open to all who need help of any kind. The neat white building on the corner of 7th Street and Alpine is set up like a comfortable coffeehouse where people can come and get moral as well as physical support.

When you first enter, large round tables invite you to sit and have a cup of coffee with your neighbors. Bookcases are filled with reading materials as well as games and toys. Baskets near the front hold items people can take, such as toiletries and clothing. In the back corner of the great room, three computers with internet access are available. These computers are used for computer literacy classes as well as job searches and resume writing.

In the next room, people have free use of a washer and dryer, as well as a shower. As one of the women there told us, “When I’m clean on the outside, I feel better about myself, and then I’m more able to accept the help I need to stay clean inside.” A quiet gentleman told us he went through a period where he was unable to pay his utility bills, so he came to Matthew’s House every day to shower and stay warm. Both of these people provided wonderful testimonies to the helping hand they received through this mission.

Students in the neighborhood can come to Matthew’s House for tutoring and mentoring. Adult education classes in skills such as knitting and crafting are also offered, and a beautician comes regularly to give free haircuts. Pastor George told me he doesn’t have an agenda for what happens there, but the gifts people bring and the needs that arise are what drive the events.


As with all faith-based ministries, the need is great. There are many ways we can work together to ease this need. Go to their website at http://matthews-house.org/home for information about this wonderful place. The “Services” page lists ways you can help. I know the Warm Ears Ministry will be back with more hats as the days get colder.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Celebrate Creativity

Community celebrations are wonderful opportunities to connect with friends, neighbors, and family. When you live in or near a large metropolitan area, the idea of community takes on a much larger dimension. Grand Rapids hosts its annual Festival of the Arts each June, but this fall a new event arrived. Art Prize attracted creative people working in endless mediums, displayed in all sorts of venues. Visitors had two weeks to view their efforts and vote on their favorites. The unique thing about this contest is that the winners were selected not by a select group of experts, but by the regular people who came. Young people, elderly, entire families – everyone had an equal vote.

My daughters took me to view the sights last weekend. One daughter took the time to plan our route. I had only two requests – I wanted to see the large table and chairs, and Nessie. Other than that, I was content to walk wherever they led me. My wishes were granted, and I have pictures of both for my scrapbook. But I was treated to so much more.

This celebration was unique. The focus was art in all sizes, mediums, and forms. That in itself isn't unique. But I think the accessibility of the art for everyone who wanted to come was wonderful. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some of the world’s most famous works of art. And I guess the experts knew what they were talking about when they decided what was special, and what was not. So those precious pieces are locked away, guarded against people who want to steal them for their own pleasure. And we commoners must pay handsomely for the privilege of peering at them for a few moments.

That’s what made Art Prize so special. The art was out there for all to see, and since we decided not to spend $15 for the shuttle bus, my only cost was a tube of Ben Gay for my tired legs and feet. But the rewards were priceless. I spent a wonderful Sunday afternoon with my kids, walking through a great city filled with the creative efforts of many talented people. I really think we saw Grand Rapids at its best.

There wasn’t much time for my own creativity this week, so here are pictures of my two favorites from Art Prize:

Friday, October 2, 2009

What's New?

This summer I joined the millions of people on facebook. It didn’t take long to connect to a lot of friends (73 so far) including most of my kids and grandkids, present and former co-workers, and friends from sewing and scrapbooking. I was skeptical about the necessity of knowing what everyone is thinking and doing, but I take time to check out the latest posts several times a day.

There are a lot of great things about facebook. I love seeing pictures of trips and events. I appreciate knowing about birthdays and other special dates. It’s great to hear about accomplishments, frustrations, and good or bad days. It’s also really convenient for contacting people, especially if I know they are likely to log in often. One of my children accused me of stalking, because I seemed to know more about what some of her family members were up to than she did!

Not particularly interesting about the almost hourly play-by-plays of people’s days. Morning post: “Today I’m going to ­­­___.” Mid-morning post: “I can’t wait to ___.” Mid-afternoon post: “I’m in the middle of ___.” Evening post: “Today I ___. It was great!” If an event is that momentous, how can you enjoy it if you’re constantly posting updates? Just tell us about it when you’re done!

There are ways to avoid seeing some of these things. I could hide the people who post constantly, but I’m not sure I want to totally ignore them. I suppose it’s like being around people who like to talk all the time – I just tune them out a little and let them talk. If they say something they want me to hear, they’ll let me know.

And if I have something to say that I really want you to know about, I’ll be sure to let you know – but not necessarily on facebook.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The First Thing to Go ...







Yesterday I took my second quiz of the semester. I got a 75 percent. Better than the first quiz (50 percent on that one), but still not so good. I really studied for it – I made flash cards and had almost every member of the family quiz me on them. I did all the homework and reviewed each night. The day before the quiz, my son-in-law sat down with me and read off the English words and checked to make sure the characters I wrote matched the ones on the cards he held. I thought I was ready. But I got a C.

Thirty years ago I would have been crying my eyes out. I would have questioned my intelligence and considered dropping the class. My head would be hung in shame and I wouldn’t be able to face my parents. I’d be a failure, unsuitable for intellectual pursuits.

I suppose if I were to look it up I would find a physiological reason why I’m not able to retain these bits of information. I imagine it has something to do with aging. But I’m not worried. I happen to have the luxury of not needing the class or the grade for a degree program, so I don’t have to stress about the bad grades. Yes, I’m still attending class each day, and yes, I’m definitely going to study, but rather than representing the extent of my shortcomings, the quizzes will simply be another form of review.

I’m sure the words and characters will eventually become part of my knowledge base, as long as I keep working at it. My aunts and cousins have begun writing to me, mindful of my limited vocabulary. And I’m able to decipher a lot more. I found some Japanese children’s books my relatives sent long ago and actually figured out a few phrases. I’m making progress! Maybe not at the same speed as the A students, but I’m getting there.

Maybe someday I’ll figure out a way to remember where I put my glasses …

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mental Cruisin'

Last week I attended my writers’ group meeting. I enjoy the monthly meetings. We meet at a great restaurant, and I get to schmooze with a lot of intelligent people who love to write. We have a business meeting, and then we have a speaker. This month one of our more prolific members spoke about Character Arcs – the emotional journey a character takes, caused by internal and external conflicts. It was a very informative talk and we all started thinking about the emotional journeys our characters are taking. I guess it makes sense that the more strenuous the journey, the more compelling the story.

After the meeting, did a few chores, and sat down to read. I just got the latest Stephanie Plum adventure from the library (yes, I’m too cheap to buy it!) And then I thought about some comments the speaker made. When a character’s story covers several books, the character’s arc in each individual book tends to be smaller. Especially evident is the lack of character growth in this particular series. Though she always solves the murder mystery, she never resolves her issues with either Morelli or Ranger. It’s hard to believe either one of them still shows any interest in her.

So, does that make me a literary simpleton? Why am I so attracted to a character who remains stuck in the same dead-end job where she gets abused both physically and verbally, where she struggles to earn enough to pay her bills, and where her mode of transportation either gets smashed, stolen, or blown up on a regular basis? What’s so compelling about a female who apparently has what it takes to attract the attention not one, not two, but occasionally three (if you count the mysterious and sporadic appearances of Diesel) sexy men, yet chooses to remain unattached?

The truth is, I love reading about Stephanie and her misadventures. A part of me wants to shake her and say, “You idiot! Why are you running around working for your cousin Vinnie? Why are you and your hamster Rex still holed up in that little apartment, eating your mom’s leftovers, when a hunk like Morelli is pining after you? Marry the guy! Live happily ever after!” But then, of course, Stephanie would be too boring to read about in future books. Part of Stephanie’s charm is her tendency to land in disastrous situations. And the men are attractive because they can be counted on to help her get out of them.

I still enjoy the deeper, more involved stories with the soaring character arcs and dramatic plots. I have to try and write them if I ever want to get a story published. But every now and then, I don’t want to go on an emotional journey – I just want a nice, easy ride, and Stephanie and her friends are perfect for that.

* * * * * * * * * *

I was hoping to finish a scarf and hat set this week, but my head is too big, so I have to take the hat apart and make it bigger! Oh, well, maybe next time.

Friday, September 18, 2009

In Search of the Thirty Hour Day

This has been an extremely busy week. Between my two jobs and keeping up with my homework, I haven’t really had time to write or work on crafts. Part of me is frustrated with this – after all, one of the perks of retiring is having time to do what you want, or so I thought. But another part of me is happy about this. Each day when I get up I have places to go, people to see, and things to do. I have a reason (or several reasons) to get up.

Granted, not everything I schedule into my day qualifies as a “must do.” I don’t HAVE to go to my sewing group. I don’t HAVE to drive 18 miles to have lunch with former co-workers. I don't HAVE to stop at the library to pick up the latest comedy/murder mystery. And I don’t HAVE to keep playing Spider Solitaire until I manage to hit a score of 1500! But my days are getting too full to fit in all the things I did this summer.

It seems I’m going to have to adjust my daily goals. When I started this blog, I promised myself I would write 200 words each day, and spend at least one hour a day on a non-writing creative project. Now that the school year has begun, other responsibilities are vying for my time. I could probably continue if I disowned my family, hired a maid (my dear husband cooks and does laundry, but there’s a limit to what I can ask him to take on), and cut back to two or three hours of sleep per night.

So – where do I cut back? If I reduce my writing goals, I’ll never get this infernal book finished. I think I’ll save that as a last resort. I’d really, really like to be able to write “THE END” sometime this year on at least one of my writing projects.

I’ve also got a lot of unfinished craft projects, but I can’t work on them every night. There just aren’t enough hours in a day. So as a compromise, I think I’ll simply broaden my definition of “creative project.” For example, if I spend two hours preparing a PowerPoint Presentation for my students, I’m creating something that wasn’t there before. If I spend time selecting music to illustrate my lesson and burn a CD with those selection, I’m also creating something. Of course I’ll have to tackle the usual projects when the “have to” stuff is caught up. But this way I’m not really reducing my goals, just redefining them.

Phew! I feel better. I’ve written my 200+ words. Now I can move on to something else.

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In light of my adjusted goals, I am considering the preparation of food as a creative project – especially since I don't cook all that often. Last week I went to a Japanese potluck/movie night. My contribution was a pan full of onigiri (riceballs) sprinkled with a Japanese seasoning called furikake. It’s not a particularly challenging dish, but it was food, and the kids at school wolfed it down in a hurry!


Friday, September 11, 2009

A Fish Out of Water

Last week the fall semester began at GVSU. As I mentioned last week, four times a week I sit in a classroom of children. Actually, they’re all legally adults. But in the scope of my world, they are practically infants.

I’ve seen movies depicting the adult sitting in a classroom of kids. The Adam Sandler movie “Billy Madison” and scenes from Robin Williams’ “Jack” come to mind. The adult stands out, mostly because of his size. In my case, my graying hair and wrinkly skin are the things distinguishing me from my classmates. It takes me a little longer to get to class, and my back aches from sitting on the molded plastic seats. And in classrooms that have the seats connected to the tiny desks, my matronly figure doesn’t fit as well as it used to.

When I enrolled in Japanese 101, my original intention was to sit in the back of the room, absorb as much as I could, and keep my mouth shut. After all, in my experience, the last person kids this age want to interact with is someone older than the instructor. So I showed up, did my work, soaked things in, and left. But language is an interactive skill, improved only when used. So I cautiously entered in class discussions, asking questions when a grammar point was unclear, or when the instructor’s use of vocabulary differed from what I had heard.

A funny thing happened when I actually “joined” the class. Instead of regarding me with disdain, the students simply accepted me. I discovered I wasn’t the only “non-traditional” student (though I was definitely the eldest). When we were instructed to work in groups, I didn’t have to wait for other groups to form and then work with the lonely student left behind. And when passing classmates on campus, I would often be greeted with a cheery “hello.”

Perhaps young people are more accepting of other people’s parents than their own. That was certainly the case with one of my kids. Or maybe these kids have matured to the point where they can accept someone of my generation as a peer. In any case, I no longer feel like an outsider. If it weren’t for my aching joints as I walk across the campus, I can almost imagine myself back to the first time I actually was a college student.

It seems that the news is full of horror stories about young adults who make terrible decisions. Television often depicts teens as lazy, self-absorbed, and rude. I guess it’s natural to worry about “the younger generation.” I recall the WWII generation worrying about the hippies in the 60s. But we survived then, and we’ll survive now. And from what I can see, there is no shortage of intelligent, well-mannered young adults who will take good care of me when I’m no longer able to walk to class. In the meantime, I’m thrilled that they are allowing me to swim in their pond for a while.

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I took some pictures of the fleece hats produced by our “Warm Ears” sewing group, as described in my “Senior Road Trip” post on August 17. So far this year we’ve made more than 2500 hats! Visit warmingears.com for more information about our group.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Making the Connection

After a half century of communicating almost exclusively in English, I decided it was time for me to learn my mother’s native language – Japanese. I tried once before, thirty-some years ago, when I was in college. But the course wasn’t very intensive, and I didn’t really use what I learned, so I never developed the skill. When mom’s relatives came to visit, I could understand a word here or a phrase there, but I couldn’t really join in the conversation.

Last year, the university where I teach hired an energetic new professor to teach the Japanese language. I decided that it was time to get serious about learning it and enrolled in the class. Before long I was making flash cards and asking my kids to quiz me, completing homework drills and listening to tapes. It was like being in high school Spanish again, except a lot more difficult. Besides learning the words, I had to learn the characters – hundreds of them! Twenty-six letters seemed much easier to memorize.

I started to rethink this ambition. How in the world would I do this? I’m not exactly young anymore, and sometimes I have trouble remembering where I am and what I’m doing. I’d hear the same words and phrases over and over, and each time I’d have to look them up. I’d practice making the characters, and wake up the next day wondering what I wrote.

Fortunately I had my own private tutor, who urged me on. Each evening mom would listen patiently as I read through my homework questions, correcting my grammar. Each weekend she looked over my workbook, catching the mistakes I made. I realized that she learned all this during the first quarter of her life, before she married her handsome American soldier and sailed across the ocean to a totally different world. She then had to learn our twenty-six letters, and she had to remember how to combine them in different ways to make strange-sounding words.

Learning this language is having several effects. It’s giving me a closer link to my mom and her family. I’m learning about the culture she came from, and appreciating more and more about what she gave up by coming here. I’m learning to appreciate what children go through as they learn to read and write. Even when I know the words, the meaning behind the characters doesn’t come easily to me. I have a greater empathy for those who struggle with the symbols we use to communicate in the written word.

So this week a new semester started, and once more I’m sitting in a classroom of students younger than my own children. (That’s something I’m going to explore next week!) I have a fresh pack of notebook paper and pencils, a stack of flash cards, and my dictionary. And I have the determination to someday be able to carry on a conversation with my aunts, uncles, and cousins.

So – how do you connect with family? Are they nearby, or far away? If they’re far away, how do you keep in touch? Or don’t you?

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Switching to the crafty side of my life, I finished another project this week! Here’s the afghan I was working on during the trip I described in “The Family Afghan” post on July 20:


Friday, August 28, 2009

Back to School


Those three words are starting to appear again in stores and in the media. And for lots of people like me, that means preparing lesson plans, setting up assignments and rubrics, and adjusting my “laid back” summer schedule. It’s hard to believe that almost a half-century has passed since I entered kindergarten. So much has changed. I’ve changed, schools have changed, and the world in general has changed.

I suppose it’s obvious that things are going to change in fifty years. That’s normal. The gingham dress and saddle shoes I wore to school on the first day my grandma walked me to school would look out of place now. And the squeaky black chalkboards have been replaced with gleaming white boards. Movies back then were watched by loading a big contraption called a movie projector. More often we watched filmstrips, showing one picture at a time. And we listened to music recorded on these large black disks called records.

Some changes are not so good. I remember when school doors were not locked against predators. I remember when knives in school were simply there to cut cakes for birthday parties. And I remember when the person with the most authority in the classroom was the teacher.

But many things are the same. Smiling, eager faces, laughter, and youthful optimism will abound. Freshly scrubbed floors, colorful bulletin boards, and dedicated professionals will greet my grandkids on their first day. And young minds will be opened to a world of wonderful mysteries. I’ve read a lot of essays about what’s good and what’s bad about our schools. But I especially like a quote by William Butler Yeats: “Education is not filling a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

It’s everyone’s job to ensure that the fire keeps burning bright.

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Last week I took pictures of some of the quilts I made and described in my “Crazy Quilt” post on July 6. Here’s one, all put together and tied by the ladies at Fairhaven Ministries, ready to send to someone who needs a little warmth.







Friday, August 21, 2009

Dad's World


My dad collected matchbooks. He didn’t buy them or trade them with other collectors. But he’d pick them up at restaurants, hotels, and businesses that offered them as promotional items. So each item in the collection has a direct connection to a trip he took or event he attended. After dad died, mom went on a cleaning binge and was ready to throw the entire collection out. The matchbooks were all stuffed haphazardly into several ziplock bags, and she didn’t know what to do with them.

I offered to take them home. I’m as much of a packrat as my parents – what was one more bag?Besides, I just didn’t feel right tossing something that apparently meant something to him. I’m not sure what he had planned to do with them, but I promised myself I’d do something. Maybe I’d tackle a project I saw on HGTV where they took the matchbooks apart, laid them flat on a board, and then covered them with a coat of varnish. Or maybe I’d keep them intact and display them in a shadowbox.

Yesterday I had one of those rare days when I didn’t have any appointments or commitments. I took the bag of matchbooks out and started to sort them. It’s been four months since dad left us, but I still felt him at my shoulder as I handled them. I wanted to turn around and ask him about some of the interesting ones. About half the collection was from their trip to Japan – beautifully designed pieces of art with elegant characters I can’t decipher. Another third were from other trips and various casinos he and mom liked to visit. And the rest were from local businesses and attractions. There were four from my stepdaughter’s wedding fourteen years ago.

I separated them, took out the duplicates, put each category in a separate bag, and put them away again. I’m going to need a bigger shadow box than I thought. But I had a wonderful time connecting with dad again, seeing the world through his eyes. He had a full, productive life that I can only hope to emulate. It’s a big, wonderful world, and his matchbooks were his way of bringing pieces of it home with him.

I know I promised pictures, so here’s one – these are the dishcloths I made during my “Senior Road Trip” from my last post.