Friday, March 28, 2008

Are You Listening?

These last few weeks I've been able to spend more one-on-one time with my youngest son. With none of the rest of the family around, we spend the time doing whatever we want to do - so far, it's been trips to the library and long walks geocaching (oops, this week he played his favorite game on the computer without brothers helping and I finally tried the creme brulee recipe I'd been meaning to attempt - while checking in with him periodically), but I'm sure it will expand to other activities as time goes on. It is fun to have him alone and listen to him talk. And talk. And talk.

Reminded me of a terrific book called "Playful Parenting," by Lawrence Cohen. I read it a few years ago, while more of my kids were little, and a lot he said made great sense. I wish I had heard his ideas years before...

From the book:

Tuning in does not mean questioning our children about every little detail of their lives. Instead, tell an interesting story from your day; they might respond with one of their own. Another mistake we make is cutting them off when they are talking about "unimportant" things, or when they are chattering away about nothing, or when they are repeating themselves. Then, later, we expect them to tell us what we want to hear. That's not fair. We have to listen patiently to their way of telling things, even when it is excruciatingly dull to us, if we want them to get around to telling us the good stuff. Understandably, they want to know that we are really listening and aren't going to interrupt them or scold them, before they are going to share anything important with us.

Now that I'm listening more...yes, he's sharing more.

Stay tuned these next few posts for more from this terrific book. Your kids and grandkids will benefit. (If you don't have kids now, file this info away for when you do...please.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Purpose For Pain?

Like you, sometimes I wonder why we have to go through some painful times - if you haven't had a painful time, don't rest yet they will come - - For a different perspective on the painful times, try this:

From The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
All of my days in Egypt had been spent in that house, and looking back on them in the night air, I recalled little but good: the scent of my infant son and the face of Nakht-re, cucumbers and honeyed fish, Meryt's laughter and the smile of new mothers to whom I delivered healthy sons and daughters. The painful things - Werenro's story, Re-nefer's choice, even my own lonliness - seemed like the knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place. My eyes filled as I bade farewell to those days, but I felt no regret.

A good book, worth the read. About people in Biblical times - and the purpose of the red tent will be unforgettable (particularly for women).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday Blahs?

According to Toni Flores:

The world is full of wonders, riches, powers, puzzles. What it holds can make us horrified, sorrowful, amazed, confused, joyful. But nothing in it can make us bored. Boredom is the result of some pinch in ourselves, not of some lack in the world.

Agree? Disagree?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Project Overload?

This Easter weekend will be filled with visits with family of various generations - including visiting my mother who is an amazing quilter. Luckily, the genes have been passed down, but more about that some other time. This time, here are a few quotes I enjoyed from "The Cross-Country Quilters" by Jennifer Chiaveria - Just in time for a few days of working on and admiring quilts.
"Donna said, 'I have no many projects in the works that I won't possibly live long enough to finish them all."

How many of us have that "problem?" I can't be the only one! The trick is in identifying which projects are urgent, which will be fine set aside, and which are best given up entirely, along with the guilt we feel whenever we see them still unfinished.
Here's one answer (from the same book):
"You should do what my mother does," Megan said. "She keeps each of her works-in-progress in a separate box labeled with the name of one of her friends. If, God forbid, she should pass away unexpectedly, each friend will receive the box with her name on it and think my mother was working on a quilt especially for her. She used the names of women she doesn't get along with, too. She says it's a great way to make sure she has plenty of guilt-ridden, sobbing mourners at her funeral."

Incidentally, my grandmother was also a wonderful quilter, and made quilts for each of her grandchildren - there were a lot of us! Most of them had already gotten their quilt when she passed away, or their quilt top was finished, labeled with their name, and folded, awaiting quilting. There were a few of us grandkids who weren't born yet when she died, but somehow, she'd already started quilts for us, too! While I was engaged, my mother, sisters, and brother found there were the perfect number of "rings" (it was a double wedding ring quilt), added a bit more of the solids, and finished the top. It was quilted for my wedding and I love it! I confess, I don't use it all the time - I'm worried it won't last long enough with all the kids....Someday I'll put it back on the bed all the time.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Intuitive? Maybe Not.

I see over and over examples of how we have let our "intuition" and "common sense" be over run by what the media and others tell us...

From How Weaning Happens, by Diane Bergson, when she writes of primitive societies:

(Note: The name of the society is the !Kung, with an upside-down exclamation mark at the beginning. Since I have no clue how to make one here, I'll use a right-side up one.)
"In the book Childhood, author Melvin Konner tells about reading a passage to a !Kung woman from Dr. Benjamin Spock about the importance of having schedules and ignoring the baby's cries while you work about the house. Dr. Konner explains the mother's reaction: "The !Kung mother looked bemused and disapproving. 'Doesn't he understand he's only a baby, and that's why he cries?' she said. 'You pick him up and comfort him. Later, when he grows older, he will have sense, and he won't cry anymore.'" Dr. Konner adds, "the !Kung bet on maturation - and they have never yet had a child who didn't outgrow crying."

And we consider them "primitive"? Seems like we are the "primitive" ones, at least when we neglect our offspring...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why A Blog?

I've been asked why I started a blog.

I know, I sort of answered this one with my first post, which was not that long ago. But, for those of you who are curious about specifics, here are the quotes I copied into my writing journal that night I got inspired to share these with the rest of you:

From Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz:
"This story begins on a Tuesday. For you, that is the day after Monday. For me, it is a day that, like the other six, brims with the potential for mystery, adventure, and terror.
You should not take this to mean that my life is romantic and magical. Too much mystery is annoying. Too much adventure is exhausting. And a little terror goes a long way."
"Dreams that are rich as cream while they unfold are skim milk when we wake, and in time they wash out of our minds, leaving as little residue as water filtered through cheesecloth."
Any wonder why I like his style of writing? He's a master.

I just started reading the sequel, Forever Odd. We'll see what gems it will produce.

How about you? What are you reading that leaves you thinking "I gotta write that down!" (or mark it with a post-it flag until you've read it several more times, before the book is due at the library or you've finished and are putting it on your bookshelf...or that you want to share with someone else...?)

Friday, March 14, 2008

On Choosing A Career

Jerry Spinelli, author of Maniac McGee and many other great children's books, has written his autobiography titled "Knots in My Yo-Yo String." It offers this piece about his childhood of freedom, appropriate for those of you still choosing a career...

In those days I was many whats. A kid can be that. Grown-ups have gone ahead and answered the question: "What shall I be?" They have tossed out all the whats that don't fit and have become just one. Teacher. Truckdriver. Businessperson. But a kid is still becoming. And I, as a kid alone, was free to be just about anything.

So many careers came and went through me: salamander finder, crawfish annoyer, flat-stone creek skipper, cedar chest smeller, railroad car counter, tin can stomper, milkweed blower, mulberry picker, snowball smoother, paper bag popper, steel rail walker, box turtle toucher, dark-sky watcher, best-part saver. They didn't last long, these careers of mine, but flashed into and out of existence like mayflies. But while they employed me, I gave them an honest minute's work and was paid in the satisfactions of curiousity met and a job well done.

Be sure you're trying out plenty of whats.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Great Example of Stealing


Chalons-sur-Marne, Winter, 1971

The barracks at the Gunnery School.

When it comes to assigning details, Private So-and-So (serial number 14672/1, well known to the service) systematically volunteers for the least desirable, most disgusting detail, the one usually handed out as a punishment, that has tried the bravery of greater men: the legendary, infamous, unnameable latrine detail!

Every morning.

With the same half-smile.

"Who wants latrine detail?"

He steps forward.

"Private So-and-So!"

With a sense of mission, as if he were going off to storm Hamburger Hill, he grabs the mop and pail, his company colors, and marches off, much to the relief of his fellow soldiers. He's a brave man. No one follows him. The rest of the company lies low in the trenches for more honorable details.

The hours go by. Where has he gone? We almost forgot him. We did forget him. But just before noon, he shows up with a salute to the sergeant. "Latrines clean as a whistle, sir!" The sergeant receives the mop and pail. He'd like to ask the question that's on his mind, but basic human respect stops him. Private So-and-So salutes again, turns on his heels and marches off, his secret still intact.

The secret is contained in that thick book in his uniform pocket: the 1,900 pages of Gogol in a paperback college edition. The complete works. Fifteen minutes of noxious detail, and he's free to spend the rest of the morning with Nikolai Gogol.

Every morning through the winter, seated comfortably on a throne in a locked stall, Private So-and-So soars far above latrine detail. Nikolai Gogol, down to the last word!...

The army likes to celebrate its exploits.

But of this one, only two lines remain, written high up on the edge of the water closet. They are among the most meaningful in all contemporary poetry:

It's no lie when I tell you, pedagogue,
That I read all of Gogol in the bog.

(*While we're on the subject, old Georges Clemenceau, aka "The Tiger," another famous fighter, thanked his chronic constipation, without which, so he said, he would never have had the pleasure of reading Saint-Simon's Memoirs.)

From "Better Than Life," the book.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Yes, I Steal.

I do steal. A lot.

Wait - that may not sound right. Before you react too strongly, read these excerpts from "Better Than Life," that awesome book I talked about in the last post (or was that the first post?).

"Time spent reading, like time spent loving, increases our lifetime. If we were to consider love from the point of view of our schedule, who would bother? Who among us has time to fall in love? Yet have you ever seen someone not take time to love? I've never had the time to read. But no one has ever kept me from finishing a novel I loved."

"Time spent reading is always time stolen. Like time spent writing, or loving, for that matter. Stolen from what? From life's obligations. Which is probably why the subway - the very symbol of life's many obligations - is the world's largest reading room."

And finally,

"If you have to ask yourself where you'll find the time, it means the desire isn't there. Because, if you look at it more carefully, no one has the time to read. Children don't, teenagers don't, adults don't. Life is a perpetual plot to keep us from reading. 'Reading. I'd love to, but what with my job, the kids, the housework, I don't have the time.' 'You have so much time to read - I envy you!'"

Please - learn to steal.

Steal bits of time for reading - on the bus or subway, at long stoplights, at night before bed, in the bathroom, wherever. Steal it from your life's obligations. You'll be better off for it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Better Than Life. Really.

Last night I was adding something to my reading journal, from the book I just finished.

My "reading journal" is a blank book into which I copy quotes, stories, conversations, etc. - ones that I've come across in my reading that I don't want to lose forever. You know how it is, you read something great, and later try to remember where you read it and how it went. I was tired of that happening.

So, of course, after I added the new quotes to it I had to flip around, re-reading things I've written in there before. As it always does, it brought me to tears - so many beautiful quotes!

I'm not much of a blogger...But I decided to give it a shot.

The title of this blog makes reference to "Better Than Life", a book by Daniel Pennac. It was translated from the French years ago. I can't remember where I heard of it, but it sounded like something I might enjoy, so I requested it through the library (I don't buy many books). It was so inspiring and hit me so hard that I instantly went online to find a copy. I didn't care if it was gently used - aka "previously enjoyed" - and I bought my copy and a few extra copies to give away when I felt so inspired.

It is a wonderful book about helping children learn to love to read. He includes what he calls "The Readers Bill of Rights" - and, boy, do they hit home! I love the way he writes - very engaging - and so many parts got copied into my reading journal. Here's his "The Reader's Bill of Rights" - see if you "get" them:

The Reader's Bill of Rights
1. The right to not read
2. The right to skip pages
3. The right to not finish
4. The right to reread
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to escapism
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to browse
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to not defend your tastes

If you haven't read it yet, it is time to.

A different cover than any of my copies, but the same guts

And one more quote from the book, to whet your appetite for what's to come -
"For a reader, one of life's pleasures is the silence after the book."


Enjoy. Soon.