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.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Senior Road Trip

Summer Time is for road trips. I suppose when you’re retired, anytime is good for a road trip, but they’re much more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in a blizzard, or agonizing about how many coats to bring. I’ve gone on trips with my parents, with my husband, and with my kids and grandkids. I haven’t gone on a road trip with women my age and above until last week.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I am aging. Having seven children who call me “grandma” tends to do that. Having doctors who weren’t born when I graduated from college does that, too. But they say you’re as young (or old) as you feel, so I prefer to think of myself as “well seasoned.”

Anyway, one of the things separating me from my progeny is what I consider to be fun. I’ve heard terms like “I’ve been to the Promised Land”, “Hog Heaven” and “Like a kid in a candy store” but other than the thrill of actually BEING in a candy store, I haven’t had the euphoric feeling those phrases imply until early this week. There’s nothing more exciting to a crafter than being in a warehouse FULL of supplies, and for me the supply of choice is fabric.

Twice a month, I work with a group making fleece hats, which are donated to various charities. Fleece is fun to work with, but it’s not cheap, and donations don’t come readily. So this week, the group decided to go to a fabric warehouse in Chicago. We piled into Jackie’s van, followed the directions provided by Marcia’s GPS, pooled our gas money, and away we went. Diane and I both brought our knitting, and I managed to finish two dish cloths on the way there. The time always goes faster when your hands are busy!

We arrived at the Troy Corporation without any problems (okay, there was one wrong turn, but the Garmin got us there anyway). We were introduced to a friendly young man named Derrick, whom Diane had contacted previously by phone. He led us through the warehouse to the area where the polar fleece was stored. I left the price negotiations to the experts and wandered through the warehouse.

It’s dangerous for me to go into a regular fabric store. The yards and yards of colorful designs cry out to me, begging me to take them home and put them into a project. My mind nearly exploded with the possibilities this place offered. I imagined outfits, quilts, handbags, curtains, and more. It was enough to make Marcia hyperventilate. I briefly considered getting an extra shopping cart in case we had to wheel her out.

After leaving the warehouse, we ate lunch at a lovely place called the Jolly Inn (great food, wonderful ethnic atmosphere) and then we headed home. There was barely enough room in the full size van for the six of us and all the fabric! I was home in time for supper. My children were appalled that we hadn’t stayed for some entertainment, or shopping in some of the fabulous shops, or knowing my interest in just about anything, gone to a museum. A few years ago I would have agreed – a trip to the Windy City deserves more than a visit to one place and a meal. But I guess I’ll save that stuff for when I’m with them!

I’m finally starting to complete some of the projects I’ve been writing about. Next time I’ll put up some pictures.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Budding Artist

Abby June is nine years old!

Okay, she’s eight and a half. When you have a birthday so close to Christmas, it sometimes gets lost in the holiday festivities. So this year her parents decided to have a “half-birthday” celebration at their summer retreat. We thought it was a great idea – another reason to have a family gathering in good weather, instead of the unpredictable mess that usually haunts us on her real birthday.

I remember when she arrived in the dead of winter, on the heels of a raging blizzard. It was a nasty winter, and we worried about her mother getting to the hospital safely. But she got there, and Abby came into the world ready to make a statement. Since then, we’ve cheered her on at piano recitals, church programs, softball games and soccer matches. And recently she’s making a name for herself in local races. I’m sure the school track and cross-country coaches in her district are watching her closely!

Art is another talent for this young lady. Abby comes from a long line of creative women. Her mother and her mother’s mother are talented artists, and it seems she has inherited the gene. I’m not a biological grandma, so I can’t take credit for her talent, but I can certainly encourage from the sidelines. One of the first things she asks for when she comes to our house is paper, drawing supplies, scissors, and glue. By the time she leaves, our family room has been transformed into an art gallery. So when the birthday gift request list came out, I was happy to choose the art supplies. Markers that mix colors, markers that write on glass, and – an absolute necessity – a sketch pad.

I’m sure there will be interests and causes that will come and go in Abby’s life. Some will be tried and discarded, others will be embraced with passion. But creativity comes from within, and will always be a central part of her. It’s impossible to predict what venue it will take, but I’m sure it will be wonderful.

So almost nine years after her snowy entrance, Abby is busy making her mark on the world. I plan to see her make many, many more.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Right to Write

This week I’m attending a Writer’s Retreat at GVSU. I’m privileged to be here among the learned elite of the university. The retreat is intended for professors who are completing doctoral dissertations, but unused seats are allotted to us lesser faculty/staff members who are working on other writing projects. I applied for an empty seat and got it. So here I am, sitting in front of my laptop, in a large quiet room full of other people doing the same. We’ll be here from 8 am to 5 pm every day, Monday through Friday.

I have a plan. I know what I need to research to make my stories authentic. I have specific goals for each day so I don’t spend time each morning wondering what to work on. I have my own laptop and a comfortable cushion for my chair. I have my favorite “working tunes” downloaded on itunes, and my headphones. The university is going to feed me lunch each day and keep an endless supply of munchies, water, coffee and tea available each day. So my physical needs are covered.

The only thing I need to supply is my creativity. And that’s the scary part. I’ve been working on this historical novel for five years. The contemporary novel has been brewing for almost a year. What if I never finish them? What if I finish them and they’re awful?

I guess I need to console myself with the idea that the only person I really need to please is me. Even if nobody else likes my writing, I’ll have completed a life goal of finishing a book. And that’s something to be happy about.