Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Case for Books

In September, I joined a new book club. In our first organizational discussion of the club, everyone agreed that it would be fun to read a wide variety of books, from classics to the silliest genre fiction, old books and new, popular and literary.

Our first two selections were contemporary popular novels, so for some reason my brain immediately jumped to The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I tentatively suggested this Victorian classic for our November meeting, and everyone got excited. We'll see if they are still excited once they've read all 646 pages of it. Attention spans these days are not what they were in 1860 when Collins' brilliant novel was published. I was, in fact, shocked at how I had to rearrange my own thinking to get into the right frame of mind to savor its leisurely style.

I first read The Woman in White in graduate school and wrote a lengthy--and trendy--feminist paper examining how Collins portrayed women and power in what is essentially one of the first crime/mystery novels ever written and one of the finest novels of all time. I wrote the paper because I loved the story and the characters and because it is an excellent piece of prose.

But it is a Victorian novel, originally written and published as a serial in a literary magazine run by Wilkie's friend Charles Dickens. What, indeed, will a 21st century book club make of it? Will its leisurely prose and descriptive passages seem tedious to electronic-age eyes? Can we slow down enough to see how relevant and modern this novel really is? Will the women in our group enjoy the experience?

Oh, how I want them to enjoy it!

I searched B& on my Nook for free copies of the classic. Reviews indicated that the free e-book versions were riddled with typos and errors, and it seemed silly to pay $5.95 for a decent e-book when I already spent $5.95 in 1993 for the paper copy on my shelves.

I retrieved my old Penguin Classic and noticed a couple of faded post-it notes peeking out the top. One post-it is stuck to the page following the book's end notes and so might have made flipping to them easier, but the other seemed randomly placed in the middle of the novel and served no knowable purpose. Both post-its are no longer yellow but burned brown from the acid in the paper.

As I thumbed the copy more, noticing notes and underlining in red, pink, and purple ballpoint ink, I uncovered a bookmark whose source is a mystery.

I cannot remember ever visiting the Ozark Folk Center in Arkansas. George cannot remember it either. We both remember driving through Little Rock once, long ago, but no other details come to either of our minds. How I acquired the bookmark and how it came to reside in my copy of The Woman in White will remain a mystery. I am using it now, in this re-reading, and will likely leave it here for whatever future the book will have.

All sorts of interesting ephemera turns up between the pages of old books. In The Woman in White, Laura cuts a lock of her hair and tucks it into a sketchbook. She asks her sister to send the book to the man Laura loves if Laura dies before him. When he finds the lock of hair, he will know she loved him.

I once found a single strand of my dog's fur in my hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings. The dog, a Samoyed named Shemya, had died years before, and when I found the single, long white fur from her gloriously furry tail, I teared up, returned the fur to the book, and left it there.

The thrill of mysterious discoveries and the sentiment of mementos lovingly or accidentally placed between the pages of old books will become a thing of the past if paper volumes continue to be replaced by electronic books.

I enjoy my Nook tablet. It is convenient, easy to read in most lighting conditions, and allows me to play Sudoku and check Facebook at the swipe of a finger. It's also lightweight, fits in my purse easily, and holds more books and movies than any backpack I could carry. I can also download a new book at midnight from the comfort of my bed, which, I assure you, is pure bibliophilic hedonism.

But the Nook's not perfect. The battery dies. Reading in bright sunlight is difficult. In the rush to get books published electronically, quality has suffered. Many e-books are poorly proofread and edited, making the reading experience somewhat akin to grading freshman composition essays rather than escaping into a fine and carefully printed volume.

We pay a price for convenience, just as we pay a price for printed books. I only hope, in the long run, this brave new world of electronic books doesn't take away more than it gives us.

Only time will tell.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Gratitude Journal #201

Today, I am grateful for old books revisited.

Today, I am grateful for blue fall days of flaming trees and sweater-weather temperatures.

Today, I am grateful for my son's trip to DC and safe return.

Today, I am grateful for a clean bill of dental health. Yay!

Today, I am grateful for fish chowder. Thanks, George.

Today, I am grateful to the service people at the Mazda dealer who did not laugh at me when I showed up and said my diamond ring was lost in the gear shifter. I am also grateful for the man who finally got the diamond ring out of my car and back on my hand.

Today, I am grateful for this picture from Pinterest because it is true and made me laugh.


Today, I am grateful for this saying from Marianne Williamson because it is true and aimed straight at me.

What are you grateful for today? Please share!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Left Behind

Tuesday night, my firstborn climbed on a charter bus and rode through the night with his eighth-grade class to Washington, DC. It was his first trip without his family. Nick seems to be having a wonderful time although he got lost at the Holocaust Museum and I'm dying to hear the details of that.

Some of the best things happen to us when we're lost, you know.

I miss him. George and Jack miss him, too. George even commented last night, "I wish we'd bought him one of those little Cricket phones for the trip." "I thought that, too," I replied.

Part of missing him is rather selfish. I wish I were having the experience with him. I haven't been to the Holocaust Museum yet. I've never walked the Mall at night to see the monuments all lit up. I've been to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum (most recently with Nick) but not the American History Museum or National Cathedral. In fact, there are plenty of cool places in DC I've never set foot in. I'd love to do these things with him and George and Jack, and see everyone's faces as we share the experience.

I see a family vacation to DC in our future.

Being left behind is no fun. George once left me at home in Michigan while he took a B-52 to Key West. His jet broke, and he was stuck for two weeks sailing and swimming and getting a sunburn. Meanwhile, I shoveled two feet of snow while the water on my eyeballs and in my nasal passages froze and I muttered the lyrics to "Boat Drinks" behind my scarf in a very grumpy voice.

I've often joked that the Rapture will leave me behind because I don't believe in it. At least, I don't believe in it the way literalists say it will happen. The Book of Revelation gives me the heebie-geebies if taken literally, and I prefer to focus on the fact that God wins in the end, which is a very happy thought whether I get raptured or not.

But being left behind is definitely part of life. We leave others behind, and they leave us behind all the time, figuratively and literally. Some women have lots of babies because their babies grow into toddlers and leave them behind. Break-ups sometimes happen because one partner's love grows in a new direction and leaves the other behind. Children leave the nest, loved ones move to Liberia, and a flood of misunderstanding quickly sweeps one best friend miles away from the other.

Loved ones die, leaving us behind in the most complete way possible.

We feel the losses; in fact, we get lost in the losses. But when we are lost, we have an opportunity to find ourselves.

I hope that's what Nick is doing right now...finding himself. At least a little bit. Finding out who he is and what he wants to be and how he wants to be it. Because we--his mom, dad, and brother--can't give him that. He has to discover the options and choose for himself. All we can do is show him where he comes from, cheer him on, support him as he moves forward, and love him through it all so he doesn't feel so terribly alone.

Because the love...he will never leave that behind. It'll go with him every step of his life, every step away from us.

That's what family is for.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Doing Something Nice for Wounded Military Personnel

Every year, a bogus email/FB post makes the rounds telling people to send Christmas cards addressed to "Any Wounded Soldier" to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Do NOT do this. Anything sent to "Any Wounded Soldier" or the like will NOT be delivered by the US Postal Service.

It will be destroyed.

Which is sad and wasteful.

But here's the good news: there is a wonderful and legitimate way you can show your support for our wounded troops during the holidays!

Just visit the American Red Cross website for details of its Holiday Mail for Heroes Program. The Red Cross partners with Pitney Bowes each year to collect, screen, and deliver Christmas cards to troops in medical facilities. This year's deadline for cards is December 6th.

Your donations--as long as they follow the guidelines on the website--WILL be delivered and WILL brighten the Christmas of men and women who've given so much to our country.

Cash donations are also a lovely idea. The American Red Cross does amazing work helping our troops and their families in many real and meaningful ways all year long.

Instead of going shopping on Black Friday, I'm going to sit down with my kids and make a few cards to show our gratitude for the sacrifices these men and women have made on our behalf.

I hope you'll consider participating in this lovely program, too!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gratitude Journal #209

Today, I am grateful for plastic storage bins.

Today, I am grateful for my husband's cooking skills, which were exercised this weekend on rib-eye steaks; chicken with mint, cilantro, and jalapeno (sounds gross but is DEE-VINE!); and all-meat Texas chili.

Today, I am grateful for leftovers to last a week.

Today, I am grateful for our pastor, Dr. Suzanne Allen, who is amazing in how her sermons preach directly to my heart...each and every time. Makes me wish we Methodists were hand-raisers. I'd be doing the Touch-Down every Sunday for sure.

Today, I am grateful for allergy medicine.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Stuff I Don't Understand

1. Why so many new television comedy shows are so mean. What happened to The Cosby Show ethos? If the zeitgeist of the 2010's is sarcastic meanness, count me out.

2. The comments section of news websites, YouTube, and other mass public websites. Absolutely horrifying. A major science magazine website recently closed its comments completely because too many wackadoodles were posting. How did things devolve so badly? Or am I too optimistic about mankind? I've always thought the wackadoodles were the minority.

3. Why God invented fleas. Seriously? Are there not enough pests in life? We have to have fleas, too?

4. Why God invented (or caused a kind and portly housewife to invent) apple fritters. We don't deserve such deliciousness.

5. Why my favorite stamping magazine is moving to purely electronic publishing. I hate reading magazines on my Nook, my big laptop is not in my craft area, and this irritates me hugely. I don't care if it's better for the bottom line to eliminate print issues. Print is good.

6. Why there's a competitive cooking show on which children cook and pitch fits. As George said recently, "I think cooking shows have jumped the shark." Amen, honey.

7. Why I didn't start a book club years ago. My friend Tina started one, and it's beyond fun. What a marvelous group of women she pulled together from all sorts of places in her life. I totally love it and appreciate that she included me. I've met new people, read new books, and enjoyed the discussions so very much!

8. Why George feels it's never too early to have a plan for the day. Yes. It's way too early when I haven't had at least three cups of coffee. Duh.

9. Why dogs have such incredibly sensitive noses and yet enjoy the most disgusting smells. Things stink for a reason, Daisy.

10. Bullying. An adult I know admitted that she's being bullied online, especially on Facebook. She's a mature grown-up and baffled by it all, but it's got to hurt. Bullying isn't limited to playgrounds and teens. I just don't understand how grown-ups think it's at all acceptable.

11. How my baby got so big that he's going on a school trip to DC next week without me. When did that happen?

Now it's your turn. What don't you understand? What leaves you shaking your head in bafflement? Please do share!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gratitude Journal #208

Today, I am grateful for my lunch date yesterday with my honey.

Today, I am grateful for all the wonderful fall colors I see as I drive around town.

Today, I am grateful for chemical warfare in the fight against fleas.

Today, I am grateful for my vacuum cleaner and washing machine.

Today, I am grateful for breathing in and out.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Words, Words, Words from the Buddha and the Bible

"Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others." Buddha

Modern scientists have done extensive work on cognitive dissonance and the problems that develop when a person's words and actions are at odds with their deeds. When a person values helping others and their deeds don't express that value, then unhappiness and serious psychological dysfunction are the result. When a person's words and deeds match their values, happiness and mental health are the result.

That idea of a mind/body connection, which science is just now proving exists, has been around for a long time. It made sense 2,500 years ago and makes sense today.

A couple of Bible verses, one from the Jewish scripture and one from the New Testament, express similar thoughts.

"I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live..." Ecclesiastes 3:12

"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." James 2:26

Of course, James doesn't refer to happiness explicitly, but that connection between what we believe and what we do is clear enough. What is the point of faith if it isn't acted out in deed?

Cognitive dissonance, indeed.

There's also Gandhi's oft-cited quotation: "Happiness is when what you say, what you think, and what you do are in harmony."

So there you have it. Four of the world's major religions all saying basically the same thing: do good, be happy. 

Here's something to think about on a lovely autumn day...or spring day if you're in the southern hemisphere. How are you living out your values in word and deed? How are you doing good? Who benefits from your good? Do you need to do more good in some way? How might you go about doing good deeds in keeping with your fundamental values?

As always, I appreciate your comments and sharing!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dog Smarts

Our golden retriever Daisy is not entirely smart.

She's also not entirely dumb.

So when she's either smart or dumb, it still surprises me.

When she was a puppy, she ate rocks. And socks. And mulch. This did not bode well for her intelligence. She still eats socks and other textiles when she can get them. This, combined with the fact that so many people in this house leave socks on the floor, means poor Daisy has to stay in the crate when we're not home.

On the other hand, last year, Daisy was trained to the invisible fence in lickety-split time. The collar was on its lowest setting, which was startling but not painful (as I found out for myself), but Daisy learned VERY quickly that she did NOT like being startled and will not go near the boundaries of her realm.

Of course, she is a dog and is easily distracted. Nick accidentally threw a tennis ball for Daisy across the invisible fence. "Oh, a BALL! Running away from me!! I must RETRIEVE it!!!"

"Yip, yip, yip, yip!!!!"

And now Daisy will not retrieve balls in the yard.

At all.

One day, I let her outside through the garage. After she'd been out for a while, I called her in from the front door. No dog. I called some more. Still no Daisy. I started to panic, thinking maybe she'd run out of the fence, but then a small voice of reason inside my head whispered, "You let her out through the garage. I'll bet she's there."

I walked through the house to the garage and opened the door, and there she was, staring at the door expectantly. When she looked up at me, she seemed to say, "Oh, hi! What took you so long? You kept calling and calling, and I've been right here."

Oh, Daisy, my golden-butted ray of sunshine. The breeder said you'd be sensible.

When Daisy wants something off the kitchen counters or table, she's smart enough to wait until no one is around. I've sneaked peeks, and she actually looks around for people before putting her paws on the counter. She's eaten kale, guacamole, lasagna, cheese, egg shells, sticks of butter, chicken bones, napkins (used and unused), and an entire tub of Brummel and Brown yogurt spread.

It's surprising how rarely she barfs.

Eventually, we learned to build impromptu barriers between Daisy and food on the counter using large bottles of olive oil, wine, the toaster, the knife block, the coffee pot...whatever is at hand. She has us reasonably well trained by now, although occasionally we get distracted and walk away from the kitchen and ohmygosh! A doggie feast!

"No, no, no! Bad dog!"

Monday this week, I let her outside through the sliding glass door in the basement. (Our basement has a small walk-up beside the deck, which comes off the main floor of the house.) After a while, I needed to leave to pick the boys up at school, so I called Daisy inside through the same door since, well, that's how her brain usually works.

She did not come. I called again and heard a noise. Looking up at the deck, I saw her looking down at me. Expectantly.

"Daisy, come here!"

She cocked her head and looked at me, puzzled. Her tail wagged.

"Come here!"

Her expression clearly said, "I want to come down there, Mom, but I don't know how!!!"

When she came inside (through the upstairs deck door), she was very excited to be reunited with me. I said out loud, without really thinking and in a very cheerful voice, "I'm going potty and then you're going in the box!" She got even more excited and ran straight to my bathroom, occasionally glancing behind her to make sure I was following.

You see, she often accompanies me to the potty because I'm just sitting there so I might as well pet her, right? But I had no idea she knew the word in relation to that room. She knows it in relation to the yard--her potty--and when we say "Do you want to go potty?" she runs for the front door. This time, however, she understood the context as it related to my potty habits and went straight for my bathroom.

Smart dog.

Daisy is the sweetest dog we've owned. She loves everyone and assumes everyone loves her right back. She's also on her way to having the largest working vocabulary of any dog we've owned.

But when it comes to spatial relationships and problem-solving that does not involve food, she's got a long way to go before she's even sensible, much less smart.

She makes us laugh, though, and that's a pretty smart thing for a dog to do.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Gratitude Journal #207

Today, I am grateful for not living in Rapid City anymore. This weekend, Rapid received two feet of snow, high winds, 10-foot drifts, blocked roads, and extensive power outages. At the air force base, they were handing out MREs (Meals Ready to Eat...nasty things, really). I was wearing shorts and wondering when fall would get to Ohio. My thoughts and prayers go out to friends in South Dakota for safety, for warmth, and for patience given all the mud this will generate.

Today, I am grateful for rain. We've had a lot of it.

Today, I am grateful for sleep-overs with teenage boys. So much quieter than with girls. Our boys got wild and crazy playing Dungeons and Dragons, watching Big Bang Theory, and drinking Hawaiian punch.

Today, I am grateful for friends who come into our lives. Sometimes they have to move away, and it is sad, but how lovely they were here in the first place!

Today, I am grateful for Communion.

What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Perspective on the Randomness of Shutdowns

Yesterday, while driving to and fro with my children and dog, I listened to NPR because that's how I roll. All the radio talk was, of course, about the government shutdown...the unintended consequences, the annoyances, and the major headaches of a government that cannot get its act together.

However, while driving Nick home from dance class last night and feeling utterly sick of our government and the radio hype, I switched my audio system from Radio to Bluetooth and listened to the Beatles sing "Help!," the Eagles sing "Hotel California," and Jimmy Buffett sing "Hurricane Season."

The H's on my iPhone are full of angst.

Oddly enough, the lyrics of "Help!" made me think about the movie My Cousin Vinny. Go figure. At the end of the movie, two characters share an exchange that relates to the message of "Help!" and to our current events quite well and also confirms that sometimes the Oscar really does go to the right actor.

Mona Lisa Vito: So what's your problem?
Vinny Gambini: My problem is, I wanted to win my first case without any help from anybody.
Mona Lisa Vito: Well, I guess that plan's moot.
Vinny Gambini: Yeah.
Mona Lisa Vito: You know, this could be a sign of things to come. You win all your cases, but with somebody else's help, right? You win case after case, and then afterwards you have to go up to somebody and you have to say, "thank you."
Mona Lisa Vito: Oh my God, what a f*****g nightmare!

And the Oscar goes to Marisa Tomei!

What we want, as human beings, is to be independent, to win on our own, never to need help in any way. Sadly, that's not how life works. Life makes us need each other. Democracy, by its very nature, makes us need each other to keep our feet on the ground, forces us to work together to win case after case.

What a nightmare!

"Hotel California," on the other hand, made me think that drugs are not the solution. How weird can song lyrics get?

So why do I know all the words and why can't I stop singing along with it? I'm just a prisoner of my own device and can check out any time I like...but I can never leave.

What does it mean? It's a mystery. Or maybe allegory. Figuring out who the beast might be and who's wielding the steely knives hurts my brain. 

Which leads me to Jimmy, of course.

Something about the calypso poet always returns me to a state of equilibrium. I'm so prone to take things too seriously, to get pulled into storms, to feel like I have to stay on the island while the volcano blows because I can fix this!

Of course, I can't fix the shutdown, so my sticking around listening to NPR's verbal circus must stem from the sheer entertainment value of watching this entirely unnatural disaster take place. But I've had enough of Hotel DC and its craziness. I'd rather sing along with Jimmy, now...

Well, the wind is blowin' harder now
Fifty knots or thereabouts
There's white caps on the ocean
And I'm watchin' for waterspouts...

Must be all that hot air in DC.

It's time to close the shutters
It's time to go inside
In a week I'll be in gay Paris
That's a mighty long airplane ride

This will all be over eventually, but the ride will be deeply uncomfortable. Which brings us to an entirely appropriate scatological conclusion of mixed metaphors.

And now I must confess, I could use some rest
I can't run at this pace very long
Yes, it's quite insane, I think it hurts my brain
But it cleans me out and then I can go on
Yes, it cleans me out and then I can go on

Like a bad meal, this, too, shall pass.

But in the meantime, what a nightmare!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Gratitude Journal #206

Today, I am grateful for the Ohio Renaissance Festival and the fun time we had there on Saturday. We saw a silly play with lots of Shakespeare in it, visited interesting shops, ate fair food, saw Captain America walking around, and generally enjoyed ourselves.

Our front-row seats at the jousting made that event extra-impressive, although we all missed the actual unseating of one of the knights because it happened so fast. The unseated knight was, thankfully, fine. The really big horses struck me as quite anachronistic, seeing as they were so very kind and gentle. Real knights didn't ride kind and gentle horses; they rode horses trained to kick your brains out. But when Jefferson poked his enormous head over the rail and into our faces, we were delighted, not terrified. What a sweetheart!

Sir Jack of the Kingdom of Raihala is quite a fearsome knight, don't you think?

George was called on stage during The Swordsmen's performance. (He's the one with the sunglasses on the bill of his cap.)

These good sports put on quite the show, presenting legs and bowing and lifting their chests to God...

And pointing to the one whose fault this was.

All in good fun. And I got a rose out of the deal. Win, win all around.

Today I am grateful for a gorgeous fall day of frivolity.

Today, I am grateful for tasty cow grilled over open flame.

Today, I am grateful for pumpkin spice lattes. Seriously, people, autumn happiness in a cup can't be beat!

Today, I am grateful for my friend Audrie, who invited me to play along with her card-making challenge this week as a guest designer.

What are you grateful for today?