Monday, May 31, 2010

Get a Box of Kleenex for a Good Cry

Don't worry. We still have Hoover, the miracle dog who ate hot dogs and french fries yesterday and looked remarkably perky for a dog who was supposed to be dead a month ago.

What a blessing to us that he's doing so well!

No, today's cry comes to us courtesy of Pioneer Woman's photo contest "Coming Home," featuring photos of Armed Service members coming home. Not only did I have flashbacks to welcoming George home from the Persian Gulf War and Iraqi Freedom, but I was deeply moved by the sheer volume of photos. Some of the welcome home photos are of flag-draped coffins, of loved ones being handed flags graveside, and of grave markers at Arlington. Some are of daddies meeting their babies for the first time. Some are of moms in uniform holding their children. Some are from World War II, some are from the recent past. All are precious.

Click, and be moved. Sniff, sniff.

Coming Home Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4

Group 5

Gratitude Journal #43

My husband, George, served in the United States Air Force for twenty years. In 2007, about six months before he retired from active duty, he was invited to speak at the Cedarville Memorial Day parade. Here's a bit of what he said:

"So while we reflect upon our fallen patriots, and shed a tear on their behalf, let us also honor them by resolving, each and every one of us, to do what we can to ensure that America remains a place worth living for, fighting for, and yes, even dying for."

It's not just that these patriots died for the freedom we enjoy. Their sacrifice calls us to action to preserve and protect their legacy. For some of us, like George, this means serving in the military, but for most of us, this means voting, volunteering, and standing up for the oppressed in our communities, states, country, and world. It's easy to forget, to take for granted our freedom. Today is our annual reminder of what that freedom cost those who paid for it with their blood.

Let's carry that reminder in our hearts each and every day with faithful gratitude.

*And because I'm a total sucker for patriotic montages, check out this video of God Bless the USA by
Lee Greenwood

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Weekly Giggle #18

Friday was Business Day at the boys' school. Fourth graders formed businesses, made products, marketed them, and sold them to the other grades. Nick and his friend Josh teamed up to make brownies and mints, which sold extremely well.

Jack's teacher gave each of her students a dollar (fake money) to go shopping. Here is her account of Jack's shopping experience:

[Jack] ended up getting watermelon. On the way out he noticed a brownie with BLUE icing and really wanted it. He literally went up to the girl selling them and batting his eyes (I am NOT making this up!) said "You know blue is my favorite color and I LOVE brownies, but I have no money." Well....who can resist that, she gave him one for free. I told Jack that his charming personality will not always get him free things in life.... I'm going to miss him this summer!

That's my boy!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Words, Words, Words for Memorial Day

This photo shows the crew of a B-24 Liberator which bailed out over China during WWII. The plane that crashed (not pictured) had nose art that said, "Dippy Dave and his 8 Dippy Diddlers."

Dippy Dave was my grandfather, D.L. Willis, who was the pilot (back row, second from left). One of those Dippy Diddlers was Lt. Christopher Williams (back row, far right), the bombardier of the crew. Today's words were written by him, describing the crash of the Dippy Dave and the crew's long walk to safety.

My grandfather rarely spoke of this event, and I only remember him saying that he never wanted to bail out of a plane again because you can only do it wrong once. Williams' son, who found his father's diary after his father's death in 2003, states that no one knew of the existence of the diary. I'm so grateful he found it and took the time to post it online so we could all see the quiet courage and sacrifice of those who served.

Today's post is dedicated to them.

Words, Words, Words by Lt. Christopher Williams

Williams' Full Diary

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Things on Thursday: Angel of Courage

This Willow Tree Angel of Courage came to live with me during the Iraq War after George deployed. My sister-in-law Angela (great name, eh?) sent her to me at a time when I really needed courage. Seeing this wonderful gesture on my bedside table every morning helped me through three very long months.

The worst moment for me during that whole deployment happened when I was driving the boys back from the grocery store one day. From the back seat, Nick, who was three at the time, said with a voice full of happy expectation, "Daddy is waiting for us at home!" I knew that George was probably flying a mission at that very moment on the other side of the world and had to pull off the side of the road for a few minutes to pray for some more courage myself.

Of course, George eventually came home safe and sound, but the Angel of Courage stayed on my bedside table. We all need a daily dose of courage, even for the ordinary challenges of life. A few years ago, Jack played with my angel and loved her wings off, so I glued them back and set her on the top shelf of my bookshelf, out of his reach but in plain sight.

Do you have a symbol of courage in your house?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Weekly Giggle #17

I just posted this little story on my stamping blog and thought I'd share it here, too.

When George and I took childbirthing class, our teacher was a German woman with a very deep, heavily accented voice. At one point, she ordered us to "exp-herience da relax-A-tion." Her voice was sooooo NOT relaxing that George and I started to giggle. Anyway, she suggested we find our happy place and meditate on it during labor. My happy place was a North Carolina beach, with the steady, peaceful waves and the pelicans flying and a Scot in full Highland dress playing his bagpipes to the rising sun. (Yes, I actually experienced this very scene on an early morning beach walk, and it was so incredibly peaceful. Well, sort of weird with the kilted Highlander, but calming nevertheless.) Ahhhh, relaxation.

Fast forward to labor. It hurt sooooo much that I could NOT find my happy place. Every time I closed my eyes to conjure that Scot by the waves, the only image my brain could pull up was of the Pacific coast, specifically some cliffs we'd visited near San Francisco in 1988. The day was overcast and gloomy, and the waves violently crashed against the cliffs with, oddly enough, a German voice-over shouting "Exp-herience da relax-A-tion!" This was NOT my East Coast happy place at all. I could not get there because my giant watermelon-size uterus was teaching me a whole new definition of pain like I'd never felt before.

I begged for the epidural man, who quickly came and took all the hyperventilating pain away. I loved him and would have married him if I weren't already having someone else's baby. God bless the epidural man.

And that is how I flunked natural childbirth.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gratitude Journal #42

This is today's second post; to read my initial reaction to the Lost finale, please scroll down!

Today, I am grateful for bacon.

The bucket list is complete. As you can see, for a dog who was supposed to be dead three weeks ago, Hoover is remarkably alive and happy. And fat.

Today, I am grateful that Lost is over. It was a good story well told, and now it is time to move on. Oh, the layers of meaning in that phrase move on! I think my favorite line from last night was Miles saying, "I may not believe in much, but I believe in duct tape." But my favorite moment was at the very end, when Vincent the yellow lab lay down next to Jack. So glad they didn't forget about Vincent.

Today, I am grateful for benadryl. Again. Nuff said.

What are you grateful for today?

A LOST Goodbye

Spoiler Alert!


Scratch head.

Listen to husband say, “I hate ABC.”


Listen to husband, pulling up the bed covers, ask, “Who was Jacob? What was the damn island? We still don’t know.”

Sleep on it.

Wake up and decide I liked it. I really liked it. I still don’t understand a lot of it, but are we supposed to? No. What can we take away from it? Plenty, actually.

First, we’re not alone in life. We’re all in this together, and we need each other. We’re all lost on an island, scared and confused and hurt. “We stand together, or we die alone.” There are always Others out there whom we don’t understand, who don’t understand us, and who can be hostile or helpful. We should probably try to understand them and befriend them, but too often we end up fighting them for no other reason than they are Others. In fact, I think on a fundamental level, Lost is a six-year-long sermon against holy war. The others are just like us (remember that wonderful scene in the temple with Sayid and the Japanese guy, right before Sayid kills him?), and we all ought to be helping each other get through.

Then, of course, there’s a Smoke Monster/Boogeyman/Random Evil out there that can end everything for us in a second.

We also need leaders (the Chosen) to hold us together and give us direction, but they make mistakes and we need to pay attention. Sometimes the laws or customs the Chosen develop need to be changed. Jacob wasn’t perfect. He made a mistake in killing his brother (think Cain and Abel rather than Jacob and Esau), and he spent the next 2,000 years making up for it. Ben recognizes this after Jack sacrifices himself to save everyone else, wounded in the side by a blade (subtle, eh?). In the end, Ben sees the possibility of change in his new leader, Hurley. Those who least want power wield it best, and apparently, Hurley does a good job. Under Hurley’s leadership, even Ben does a good job, too.

Love that.

Science, it appears, doesn’t have all the answers. Each answer just leads to more questions. We were seduced by all the talk of electromagnetism, atomic bombs, and time instabilities into believing we’d get scientific answers (or science fiction answers) to explain what the island is and how it works. The message at the end of Lost seems to be that faith has to be there because science won’t yield all the answers we want. We can’t have one without the other, which is something I’ve believed for a long time myself.

Metaphor is a form of faith; the island is like life, the purpose of which we can only know indirectly. The truth is too bright a light for us to comprehend. Sawyer tells Jack, “Well, Moses, come down from the mountain and tell us what the burning bush said.” But even Jack doesn’t know for sure. That’s all the answer we’ll get. If Jack can accept that, with his scientific skepticism, and take a leap of faith, so can we.

That’s why we need our temples. They bring us together in community, and they can teach us forgiveness, harmony, and peace. The Bible is one long story about how we come together in community and keep screwing it up. The Hebrews in the Old Testament and the early Christians in the New Testament let pettiness and temptation lead them into conflict over and over again. The Bible is the story of us humans trying to get it right and always failing. But we keep trying; we keep building temples so we can find each other and sit down together. The final scenes in the church, with the stained glass representing the unity of different faiths, verged on the cheesy, but don’t we all hope the end is that comfortable and well lit?

Finally, we need to let go and move on. “Everybody dies sometime,” says Christian Shepherd. We die without all the answers but in community, together and forgiven, loved and loving. We get it right, eventually.

And a Christian Shepherd opens the doors for us.

Now I'm off to read what other people took away from last night's weirdness. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments. I'd love to hear what you took away!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Words, Words, Words on Peace

"First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others."
Thomas a Kempis

"Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained." Dorothy Thompson

Keeping or creating peace is active, not passive. Life's craziness is pretty much unavoidable, so you have to change your attitude toward it to find peace. If you're finding things in your life to be a bit crazy, stop and ask yourself, "How can I have peace right now?" The answer may be ten deep breaths, prayer, a moment behind a closed door, or promising yourself a moment behind a closed door when you can get it. But it's even better if you wake up and plan moments of peace into your day. That plan can sustain you through chaos.

Chocolate helps, too.

This morning I planned a fifteen minute break for a frappuccino and a little blogging at Barnes and Noble's Cafe. Here I am, at my cute red Gateway mini-laptop, frap by my side, blogging, after running three errands with two more to go, experiencing peace. It's a good day. How I wish I was so organized every day!

How do you plan for peace?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Things on Thursday: Modern Art

The kids' art projects are always fun, but this is my favorite ever. Nick recently made this wonderful piece of paper sculpture. It has such a dynamic quality, the colors are fun and balanced, and its asymmetry says a lot about Nick's sense of creativity and energy. He is so NOT mini-me (the AR/OCD stamper) or mini-George (the nature photographer). He captured his essence in this piece of art, and I cherish it.

What piece of art in your home makes you happy? Why?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Carob, Dragonheart, Lost, Laundry, and Coffee

It's a busy time of year not conducive to coherent thought, so today's post consists of random things I’ve been mulling over lately rather than an essay.

Whatever happened to carob? Some things might seem like a good idea at the time, but let’s face it: there is no substitute for the real thing. Especially when the real thing is chocolate. While talking about something related to flying, one of George’s Air Force instructors once said, “It was a good idea that shouldn’t have seen the light of day.” That seems also to apply to carob, doesn’t it?

Scholastic Book Fairs are fun. When I first started volunteering in our school district, I tried volunteer opportunities without thinking about what I might actually be called upon to do. Field Day and the Spring Carnival stand out in my memory as particularly painful. Then it dawned on me that I needed to play to my strengths as a volunteer, so I started doing early literacy tutoring, helping at the library, and volunteering at the bi-annual Scholastic book fair. There is no need to run after errant balls like a dork or use sunscreen or, you know, sweat. Besides, Jack is really proud that his mommy helps with the book fair, and Nick likes being able to beg me for books and win. Everyone is happy.

Worst movie ever: Dragonheart. To be fair, we only watched fifteen minutes of it, which was about thirteen more than I wanted to watch. Nick tried so hard to stick with it but finally declared it unwatchable. Dennis Quaid fluctuates erratically between a fake British accent and no accent at all, just like Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, another bad movie which at least had the grace to be campy…well, a little, and maybe not on purpose. Dragonheart’s script is appallingly bad, with characters changing their personalities for no good reason and using speech that was not ever and will never be natural. What was Sean Connery thinking?

“I appreciate people who are civil, whether they mean it or not. I think: Be civil. Do not cherish your opinion over my feelings. There's a vanity to candor that isn't really worth it. Be kind.” Richard Greenberg, NY Times Magazine, 03-26-2006

Oops. My candid comments about Dragonheart and Robin Hood could be construed as vain and unkind. So let me say that I certainly couldn’t have done any better job acting than anyone in Dragonheart. In addition, Dennis Quaid completely rocked in InnerSpace with Meg Ryan, and I will always love Sean Connery for his absolutely pitch-perfect performance in the third Indiana Jones movie (“Rats?”) and in every single James Bond flick he made. As for Kevin Costner, he has a really cute ass. Thank you, Dances with Wolves.


And while we’re on the subject of entertainment, I’m still lost with Lost, even after last night’s episode where we learned who was chosen. The most revealing line in last week’s episode was something like: “Every question you ask will only lead to more questions.” Sunday night, we will learn all we will ever learn about this silly island in the 2.5-hour series finale, and Monday morning, I imagine I’ll still be lost. At least it will be over, and as long as that worm Benjamin Linus dies, I think I’ll be happy. Or maybe not. Sigh.

Tomorrow, Jack’s class will be serving the moms lunch in their classroom. I’m so excited to see Jack in his classroom! Because children with autism rarely handle breaks in routine well and are so easily distracted by them, Jack’s teacher cannot have parent volunteers in the classroom. For a special event like this, it will be interesting to see how the other children react. Jack will be thrilled and will handle it quite well, I’m sure.

Laundry and paperwork. They are never-ending.

May and December are the busiest months of the year for mommies in the northern hemisphere. What month is the end of the school year Down Under? I want to say special prayers that month for all those mommies. I’m already praying for mommies here in the northern half of the planet. We need it.

So why, during one of my busiest months of the year, did I decide to read the epic-length novel World without End by Ken Follett? One-thousand-fourteen pages of obsession. If you’ve not read it and enjoy historical fiction at its sordid best, dive right in. But wait until your schedule is light for a week or two, or you’ll end up sleep-deprived and cranky. Like I am.

I’m going to miss the weekly coffee group that my friend Chelly and I started back in November. Once school is out, we’ll all have kids at home so getting together will be less…grown up. Play dates at the park or pool won’t be the same as sitting around a kitchen table talking about nothing and everything, drinking coffee and eating something fattening, with a group of fun women who like to laugh. On the upside, my dear friend Angela is moving back to our area this summer after leaving 18 months ago. I’m so thrilled to have my stamping buddy back!

As we wind down the school year, I’m thinking about how far my children have come since September. Jack has taken off in reading because his teacher understands that a whole language approach to literacy is useful for some children. Nick has overcome a lot of his math difficulties this year because his teachers have been so diligent and patient in teaching him. It takes a village, and we’re in a very good one. I’m so very grateful for that.

I’ll end today with a question for you. I’m almost finished with World without End and wonder what the rest of you are planning to read. What’s on your summer reading list right now? And feel free to add whatever random thoughts are on your mind this May as well. If I can be random, so can you!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gratitude Journal #41

Today, I am grateful for soft rain and sunshine.

Today, I am grateful for this odd little video.

Today, I am grateful Hoover is still begging for ice cream, popcorn, and cookies. If we'd known he would still be with us in the second half of May, however, we would not have given him quite as much ice cream or popcorn and or as many cookies in March and April.

Today, I am grateful for time.

Today, I am grateful for you.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Weekly Giggle #16

Dogs have excellent comic timing....

George [to Hoover]: Doesn’t it hurt to lie on the hardwood floor on the side with your tumor?

Hoover [George in his best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice]: It’s NOT A TUMAH!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Jimmy Buffett

Headin' up to San Francisco
For the Labor Day week-end show
I've got my hush-puppies on
I guess I never was meant for glitter rock and roll
And honey I didn't know
That I'd be missin' you so

Chorus: Come Monday, it'll be all right Come Monday,
I'll be holdin' you tight

I spent four lonely days in a brown L. A. haze
And I just want you back by my side

Yes, it's been quite a summer
Rent-a-cars and west-bound trains
And now you're off on vacation
Somethin' you tried to explain
And darlin', it's I love you so
That's the reason I just let you go

Chorus: Come Monday, it'll be all right
Come Monday, I'll be holdin' you tight
I spent four lonely days in a brown L. A. haze
And I just want you back by my side

I can't help it honey
You're that much a part of me now
Remember that night in Montana
When we said there'd be no room for doubt

I hope you're enjoyin' the scen'ry
I know that it's pretty up there
We can go hikin' on Tuesday
With you I'd walk anywhere
California has worn me quite thin
I just can't wait to see you again

Chorus: Come Monday, it'll be all right
Come Monday, I'll be holdin' you tight
I spent four lonely days in a brown L. A. haze
And I just want you back by my side


And better than reading it, listen to it HERE.
Have a great weekend, honey.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Modern Technology and Me

I’ve been having issues lately with modern technology. Our cell phone culture, for instance, has me hopping mad. Aside from annoyance at people driving while talking on their cell phones (please don’t do this, folks!), my interactions on the Internet and with certain hardware devices are becoming major distractions in my life. Don’t get me wrong. I adore technology, but does it have to be so annoying?

Facebook Oh, where to begin? Facebook is a great place to reconnect with old friends and stay in touch with people spread all over the globe. But I don’t understand a lot of it. What is up with Farmville, for instance? I’m happy if someone is happy playing a game, but do I want to know they just scored 100,000 points? Not really.

Yet this stuff pops up automatically in and amongst all the meaningful information I truly want to read, such as my cousin’s reporting of her mission trip last year or my friend Tim’s announcement that he was moving back to the States. I also adore reading funny stuff, like a daughter’s reaction to a friend’s haircut, or sweet stuff, like videos of kids being kids. I also like whiny status updates because they make me feel not so alone in the world. That stuff is real. Farmville isn’t.

My motto for Facebook: Let’s keep Facebook real!

Twitter I signed up for a Twitter account just because someone famous* tweeted about me. How sadly narcissistic is that? When you first register, Twitter automatically gives you randomly selected tweeters to follow. I don’t know these people and don’t care that they just went to Starbuck’s. I had to “unfollow” them one by one manually. Perhaps there is a way to do this en masse, but I couldn’t figure it out. After wasting ten minutes of my life, I decided I could do without Twitter.

And is “tweeter” the right term for a person who twits/tweets/tw…? I give up.

My Mini Laptop George bought me a cute little red laptop for Christmas. It’s small enough to fit comfortably in my purse (which is pretty big) so I can write while waiting for Jack at therapy or at Barnes and Noble while drinking a mocha and feeling all J.K. Rowling-ish in a café.

But there are some issues with this little laptop. I’d like to know when Microsoft started hooking advertising to its software. I can run MS Word on my shiny red laptop, but ads pop up on the side. Sigh. I hate clutter on my teeny, tiny screen, but can I afford $600 (more than the cost of the computer) to download an unpolluted version of MS Office to it? Not really.

George has suggested some freeware that will work like MS Word, which is one of the greatest inventions of any century in the history of mankind. I’m hopeful.

It also took a long phone call and surrendering control of my laptop to a friendly non-native English speaker to get Norton AntiVirus installed. At least now when I’m surfing at Barnes and Noble Café, I won’t get hacked. I hope.

Electronic Books I file these in my brain under the heading Signs of the Coming Apocalypse. I don't even have one of these and they are annoying. It is great that other people enjoy them so much, but my aunt, whose bibliophile gene I share, has taken it upon herself to convince me I cannot live without one. This not only breaks my heart but makes me want to go to Barnes and Noble and buy a bunch of REAL books while drinking a mocha just because I can!

Cell phone
I’ve never sent a text message to anyone. Shall I wait until you recover from falling off your chair in shock? The only person who sends me text messages isn’t even a person—it’s the cell phone company. I went so far as to learn how to delete text messages just to have the satisfaction of figuratively hanging up on AT&T without reading their superfluous marketing.

And by the way, I’m morally opposed to using the word text as a verb. Turning text into a verb weakens its effectiveness as a vaguely inclusive and extremely useful bit of jargon in literary theory. I imagine only literary theorists care about keeping text a noun, and I realize my protest will be as effective as Don Quixote tilting at windmills or Madonna trying to recapture her youth.

I’m sorry. Was that mean? Madonna, it’s a free country and you’re allowed to do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anybody. I wish you a happy life.

My Palm Pilot A few months ago, I wasted hours of my life trying to load the software for my Palm Pilot on my laptop. Hours I will never get back, folks. I love my Palm Pilot, but the current situation is sort of scary. If that thing crashes, or I drop it, or solar flares erase its memory card, I have no back-up of the information on it because the back-up information was lost when my old laptop hard drive crashed a year ago. All my addresses, phone numbers, and appointments are on that thing. Krikey.

Please please please tell me I am not alone in my love/hate relationship with technology. All these gadgets and websites perform wonderful services, but I almost wish I'd had a college class in managing them in my life. Oh, wait. When I was in college, only cell phones existed, and they were the size of bricks.

Now, I feel old and annoyed.

I need chocolate. Or perhaps a dope slap to stop my whining. Whatever.

*Jennifer McGuire, rock star of the stamping world, has tweeted about my stamping blog several times. I get hundreds—perhaps thousands—of hits each time she does this. She’s my new best friend.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gratitude Journal #41

Today, I am grateful for mothers who love.

Today, I am grateful for husbands who show their love by making steak tacos with fresh, homemade guacamole. Yum.

Today, I am grateful for children who make things for their mommies. Jack's card says, "Thank you for waachiing Thomas with me." Nick made a placemat that said:

Mama mia is awesome
One of a kind
The best mom ever
Every day you're sweet
Really awesome

Isn't that the best poetry ever written?

Today, I am grateful for another week with a happy Hoover.

Today, I am grateful for benadryl.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, especially my own! (Love you, Mom! Thanks for having me!)

My friend Sharon posted this on her FaceBook status, and I want to share it with you.

First Born

The day you were born, I don’t remember if it was warm or not;
If the sun shone or rain slashed across a sky obscured by pain and doubt.
But I know that I held you for hours; stared at you in awe –
And felt the warmth assault me,
Felt all the old forgotten smiles creep back –
Until I wasn’t sure which of us
Had just been born.

by Leslie Garcia

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bucket List Update

All items on Hoover's bucket list are checked off, with the exception of eating bacon.

If you've watched someone die of a slow-moving disease or if you've read Tuesdays with Morrie, you know how illness gradually erodes activity. Restrictions creep into life, narrowing or limiting activity and movement. It's inexorable and so very sad to watch. But it can be handled with grace and dignity, too.

Two months ago, Hoover went swimming in a lake for the last time. He was delighted.

A month ago, he went on his last walk around the neighborhood, which he enjoyed enormously. But it took about 36 hours and lots of tramadol for him to recover from it. Now, he gets walks around our cul-de-sac. At first he protested the shortness of the walks. Now he seems to understand.

One item on his bucket list failed amusingly. We've never given Hoover a bone to chew, and he's never been interested in chew toys. He's a retriever with a very soft mouth (meaning he doesn't mangle dead birds he retrieves). When we gave him this big bone, he just carried it around and drooled. He knew it was a cool treat but had no idea what to do with it.

The vet gave Hoover between two weeks to two months to live. That was two months ago. As long as he doesn't exert himself, he is fine and doesn't even need pain medicine most days. In a real sense, this makes it hard to believe he's dying, especially when he's on full puppy alert begging for popcorn or barking at the UPS man, who as all good dogs know has come to kill us all. But the tumor is now bigger than my hand, spreading out over his whole left shoulder blade.

I'm off to buy some bacon.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Umberto Eco et alii

"I love the smell of book ink in the morning." Umberto Eco

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers." Charles W. Eliot

"Any ordinary man can...surround himself with two thousand books...and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy." Augustine Birrell

"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." Erasmus

What words do you love about books?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Things on Thursday: A Love Letter

A letter from my grandfather to my mother, dated 4 May 1949. Papa was participating in the Berlin Airlift at the time. The airlift ended just eight days after he wrote this letter.

The letter is written on very thin air mail paper. The ink must be acidic because there are tiny holes in places on the letters.

The Parker 51 fountain pen belonged to my grandfather (and may or may not have been the pen he used to write this letter). I've had the pen since his death in 1987.

The letter reads,

Hi Dianne

I received your letter today, I sure was glad to here from you. I think you can write very good and I bet you can read pretty good too if you are in the Blue bird class. How are you and your little sister geting along? I sure would like to see both of you.

You sure did look dressed up in that new Easter outfit. I am sending you a paper with this letter it has some pictures of old funny men on the back of it. Write real soon.

Love Daddy


Do you have a special letter or pen you cherish? Please share something special that speaks of love to you in the comments.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why I Love Lost

Spoiler Alert! Do not read if you don't want to know what happened in last night's episode of Lost!

After watching last night’s episode of Lost, I started to wonder what, specifically, I love about the show. I’m not a freaky fanatic who gets all the allusions and references, and I can’t quote lines from the show. I have no plans to buy Lost on DVD or to spend that much time thinking about it after the series finale. In fact, I’m sort of looking forward to getting my life back. I have, however, watched every episode and puzzled over the weirdness and become emotionally invested in the characters and story.


One answer is obvious: it’s well done. The acting, the writing, the character development, the cliff-hanger plotting, the attention to detail, and the visual appeal…all the elements of a good serial television story are there.

Another answer seems pretty fundamental as well: it’s a huge mystery, and we want to solve it. We all want to know the truth. What is the island? Who are Jacob and Smokey, and why are they at odds? What sort of cosmic/religious/moral dilemma are we even dealing with here? Redemption? Salvation? Penance? Sacrifice? Who is good and who is not? What, in fact, are good and evil and how do we distinguish between the two? Why are so many characters blown up with dynamite or C4? What is the significance of being a candidate? Candidate for what, exactly? What does failure mean? Who are these people? Why are the dead people so alive? Who is the blonde kid who keeps popping out of the forest and laughing at Smokey? What is the meaning of time in all this? The list of questions grows with each episode.

If we don’t get at least most of these questions answers in the series finale, I’m likely to throw something at my television.

The show appeals to those who appreciate good stories told well, but the emotional and intellectual investments so many of us have put into Lost run deeper than these more superficial explanations.

I think the characters are what have drawn us in so deep. Most of them have been delightfully rounded out in surprising ways that make them seem more like real people than characters in a television drama, especially for such a large, ensemble cast. Have you ever tried explaining the series to someone who's never watched it? Hmm. It's tough. A movie like Avatar is easy to explain: "Dances with Wolves with big blue natives." But Lost defies summary.

No character in Lost really fits a stereotype, and they all do and say things that surprise us and yet leave us saying things like, “Yes, Sawyer, you really should be wearing nerdy glasses and reading classic novels.” When Sawyer, a con-man motivated by revenge, turned out to be a cop in the parallel time line this season, was anyone surprised? Not really, because the message in Lost seems to be that we all have a con-man and a cop in us. We are all drug addicts and brilliant spinal surgeons; abusive-stepfather murderers and loving surrogate mothers; scared, insecure fat men and big-hearted benefactors; sadistic torturers and tender lovers.

In other words, we have a choice, not only in how we live our lives but also—and this is critical as television viewers, I think—in how we judge the lives of others. The push of the series, at least in my opinion, has been to teach us as an audience of the show (and as lost human beings ourselves) that our moral judgment of others is based on too little information and is too often wrong. Characters we love to hate, like Benjamin Linus, turn out to be far more complex and sympathetic than we could have imagined early on. And did anyone want Sayid to become Smokey’s zombie? I mean, we all wanted the sexy Republican Guard torturer to turn out good. As sad as his death was last night (and oh it was sad!), it redeemed him. And there is a tragic satisfaction in seeing his redemption and knowing we were right about him all along.

Given our brief preview of next week’s episode, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see a good side to Smokey and a bad side to Jacob. The Biblical Jacob was God’s chosen, yes, but he was also a liar and a cheat. Part of me wants the show to keep the distinction between good and evil in these two characters very clear, but another part of me wants the ambiguity to play out even with them. Making Jacob and Smokey subject to the same moral ambiguity all the other characters suffer keeps them from being simplistic characterizations of God and the Devil, which, after all they've put the survivors through, would seem a bit like cheating, don’t you think?

When you look at the characters’ lives in the alternate time line this season, the common denominator has been love, not just in the romantic sense, but in the larger sense of compassion and social connection, a love that gives us a purpose and a sense of belonging or duty. My favorite moment in last night’s episode was when Jack offered to have Claire stay at his house because she was family. Locke and his father got along before (surprise!) a plane crash rendered his father a mindless idiot. Benjamin and his father are together, and Benjamin is able to help his “daughter” grow in her life rather than watch her be executed. Desmond has Whitmore’s approval. Jin and Sun fall in love and make a baby. But all of these characters show a growing awareness of something weird going on, which signals us that this seemingly better world is being manipulated and may be nothing more than an illusion, a mere fantasy of what might have been rather than what truly is.

But what is? What is real?

We’ve willingly submitted to this blatant manipulation of our emotions and judgment by the show’s creators with the faith that we’ll get our answers in the end because Lost is a television series, and a highly entertaining one at that. As the end approaches, we’re getting some answers, but a lot more questions are cropping up, too.

I think our desire for answers to the complex issues in the story is reflected in our real lives. We're often tempted to an us-against-them mentality, whether it's by political rhetoric or religious factionalism. But as with the Others and the Dharma Initiative, or the Others and the survivors of the Oceanic crash, who, really, is the enemy? Where is the truth and how do we figure it out if our basic assumptions about us and them are fundamentally wrong? Or what if we're all just pawns in a sick game of good and evil?

Deep stuff. And it’s so much easier to think about when it’s a television show and not the evening news. Fiction, when done well, often gives us a chance to learn something and make a better ending for ourselves. I wonder what sort of ending the wacky passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 are going to get.

For my television's sake, I hope it's a good one.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Gratitude Journal #40

Today, I am grateful for time spent with family doing nothing particularly special.

Today, I am grateful that George tried to buy a book I already own. It gave me a little thrill to be reminded again that the two of us, so different in so many ways, have some common interests, too.

Today, I am grateful that 42 years ago, my sister was born. She's my Best Friend for Life and an amazing, smart, funny, and kind person. Sorry I pushed you down the stairs all those years ago, Lisa. Big sisters can be so annoying.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

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