Showing posts from 2011


One of the advantages of my work is that I get to see what people are reading.  In the course of handling requests, I get a feel for what's trendy at a certain time, at least among readers in my area.  I'm exposed to new ideas and reminded of old ones I may not currently be considering.  There is not, contrary to what some may think, any time for reading while working in the library.  However, you do get a dose of serendipitous mental stimulation through titles, blurbs or cover art as the books pass through your hands.  A few days ago, a group of Christmas craft books crossed my desk, including one that was solely about holiday decorations made from felt.  Seeing the cheery but simple ornaments displayed on the cover reminded me of my daughter's first Christmas.

She was a day short of one month old then.  My first husband and I were young parents, scraping to get by on the type of salary being young affords.  We were living in a tiny ramshackle apartment behind a shop that…

Group Project

Life is a group project.

In school, the assignment of a group project is usually met with mixed emotions.  There may be excitement at the prospect of doing something off the norm, the chance for a little socialization in what is usually a solitary activity.  You may have the opportunity to work with your friends.  On the other hand, an assignment is still an assignment, and there may be anxiety if your partners are not your choice.  Getting stuck randomly in a group that doesn't click can make a complex assignment seem even longer.  Most of us have found ourselves in that painful situation at one time or another.

Observing the dynamics of the group can be as informative as the project itself.  Some will naturally let their leadership or organizational abilities shine.  Others will be good followers, happy to be splitting the work among the students in the group.  There are opportunities for individuals to contribute their ideas and for creativity to blossom.  Compromise and adapta…


There are a hundred stupid little rules in our house.  Our son declared this the other day after learning the drink he had left open in the fridge had been discarded.  The no-open-drinks-in-the-fridge rule had been instituted (or rather, re-instituted, as it has come and gone in our house before) after too many times the fridge needed emptying and scrubbing when some forgotten cup of stale, sticky pop had been knocked over.  Warnings were declared just a few weeks past, so when the open can of iced tea glared at me one morning as I opened the refrigerator door, I promptly removed it to the sink.  Following a conversation with my husband, the half-filled can was poured out.  Having been warned of the consequences, he reasoned, our son's open drink was forfeit.

Our son wasn't too happy about that, and protested when he was reminded of the rule.  He was frustrated at what he perceived as all the unimportant things that he's required to take seriously.  Part of it is the natur…

Listening to the Fiddler

"The Earth keeps some vibration going
     There in your heart, and that is you."
           ~ Fiddler Jones,Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters

Spoon River Anthology was required reading in one of my high school English classes.  I don't know if that's a common choice or if the fact that Spoon River is an Illinois location might have played a role, but I'm glad this book wound up in my path just the same.  It's a collection of poems, each written in the voice of a different "resident" of a small town cemetery.  Over the course of the book, you get the singular glints of individual lives, but also the collective glow of shared stories, and a larger picture of the town emerges.  In that respect, the literature reflects the way the real world works; A community is bound together by shared experience, but we each have our own perspectives and our own stories to tell.  I think this was a big part of the appeal for me and why I have kept my copy and …


Families are communities, though we may not always think of them that way because they aren't communities of place like the town or country where we live.  They aren't communities of time either, like a high school graduating class or even communities of purpose like a club, a job, or a church group.  Most people don't choose their family, and it's not the sort of community you can decide to quit usually.  Nevertheless, it is one and is subject to those group dynamics like any other.
     Whenever you put two people together, you will discover differences of opinion.  When there are three, there will be alliances, disputes, stratification and evolution.  Families are no different.
     A few weeks ago, my husband argued with one of his brothers.  It began as a simple online discussion about whether the pledge of allegiance to the American flag should be recited daily in grade school classrooms.  It flared suddenly into a full scale debate, then exploded into a hug…

Say Again

It's an unsettling feeling to be halfway through telling someone something and realize that you've said it all the same person. There's doubt, too, because they didn't stop you. So, you try to gauge from their expression whether they really don't remember or are merely being polite by not calling you on it. You continue speaking because you can't be sure, and well, you've come this far already, but underneath it all, you're thinking, oh no, I'm that guy. We've all known someone who repeats their stories or jokes so many times that you wonder if they even notice their audience at all or if they just play back the words in automatic response to a given stimulus. Could they really not remember that you were there the last four times they recounted the funny thing that happened when...? For me, the supreme example would be my Dad, who generally entertains with his nonstop tale-telling on first meeting, but after a few decades, seems…

Change the World

The street I live on branches off a larger artery across from an old industrial building where they work with giant concrete blocks. The place is nearly abandoned. You never see anyone working there. Only occasionally are there lights on or a truck parked nearby. I imagine that the property is an unprofitable piece of some larger construction empire, caught in an economic limbo between life as a viable working factory and value as someone's tax write-off. So while it waits for the balance to shift and make it valuable enough to tear down and build another dream, it has been our landmark for directing visitors to our street. "Keep on the main road until you see the big ugly thing on the left, then turn right."
It's plenty ugly, too. Every morning as I go to work, I sit at the stop sign waiting to turn onto the main road, and our big ugly landmark just looms on the opposite side, staring back at me. Stark and cold, its face is the sort of sickly yellowed brown colo…


I know a beacon when I see one. Who doesn't? They're the sun-bright people doing big things in the world. They beam their light into dark corners and lead others to safe places. Beacons transform the world despite improbable odds. They inspire, and people are drawn to them like moths to...well, a big bright light.
Most beacons think nothing of their solar qualities. They are who they are. They'll do what needs to be done in the ways they're most comfortable doing things - which is big, bold, inspiring. I think they succeed, at least in part, because the gods love those big daring stories as much as we do. (And maybe Fortuna is fond of flashy lights. Seen Vegas?) Beacons exist at all levels of recognition, of course. You don't have to be internationally known or even a local celebrity to be one. We can all probably think of someone we know personally who fits the bill. It seems to be a collection of personality traits or mode of behavior more than anythi…

And another thing...

Just thought I'd add this bit that's been floating around in the back of my brain lately as I watch all kinds of people struggling to find themselves, catching bits of truth while other pieces drift away:
We're all lost, and we don't ever really get unlost. We can all just hope to do a little good on our quest for those clues. A happy person is the one who's OK with being adrift.

As Yet Unfinished

Somewhere in my early teens, I suddenly came to the realization that I had quite a few stories to tell and not so much time to do it in. I had always been writing and had always followed creative sparks in other arts wherever they lit up my imagination, but this moment was my epiphany. Moment is the appropriate word, too, because it was that sudden. One minute I was more or less typically shortsighted as other kids my age, and the next, the sky opened up and dropped a sense of mortality on my head. There was no apparent impetus for the revelation, no sudden winking out of a young life that presaged the thought. All at once, I just knew, and it seemed like the knowledge had been lurking in the dark corners of my mind all my life, that there was somewhere I was supposed to be and I was running out of time to get there. Some people might classify it "a calling," and I suppose it could be, but to me it's always been this weird little thing that happened to me when I wa…


I think that we handled the recent power outage fairly well, but it held a series of lessons nonetheless.
The storm swept through northern Illinois suddenly on Monday morning, knocking down trees and telephone poles, tearing off shingles and scattering anything that wasn't nailed down. It blew through quickly enough and left us with clear skies for most of the day, but the damage had knocked out power in a wide area including my entire town and most of its neighbors. I saw work crews on the streets just minutes after the worst of the storm as I drove cautiously to the library, dodging debris from the size of small branches to whole trees. Still, our power wasn't restored until Wednesday night.
LESSON 1: Mother Nature is still The Boss.
The library where I work was one of the rare establishments unaffected by the downed power lines. Our piece of the grid was still functioning while houses directly across the street were dark until late Tuesday night, and many businesses in …

Life with Raccoons

Living with teenagers is a lot like living with raccoons. You see them rarely by the light of day. Most often you only hear them skittering and clattering around in the middle of the night, and you wake to find the house in disarray. Things go missing and turn up in the most illogical places. Remnants of their snacks are left scattered in the living room or found stashed around the nest, tempting other vermin to the party. If you do encounter one and make a suggestion as to how they should amend their behavior, you just get the blank stare. At best, they will pretend to comply, but the charade is dropped or the lesson forgotten as soon as you're not forcing the issue. There seems to be no end to the messes, literal and otherwise, you're left to clean up.
Technically, we have neither raccoon nor teen in our house. Our son is officially just beyond his teenage years, though still not old enough for all the privileges of adulthood. But, despite the date on his birth certi…

On Time

"How do you expect to come loose in time when you pay so much attention to the clock," I've been known to say. Usually, I say this jokingly to my husband when he grumbles about coming in a minute or two off his estimate on some matter of timing. He's got a very good sense of it, and misjudgments of time don't happen too often.
The inferences in my comment are three:
A. Coming unglued and sliding around randomly in time as we know it would be desirable.
B. The things we use to gauge time, the clocks and watches and calendars, have power over time itself.
C. I am somehow less encumbered by the concept than most, and I am in a position to offer advice on it.
These are only partly true.
While coming loose in time might seem like a scary proposition to most, you would have to admit it probably wouldn't be boring. Imagine visiting any point in your life or in time as a whole, times from your past or future, other eras in history. You could revisit grand events…

Prairie View

Today, the prairie grass was a green echo of the windswept lake. And sadness settled in as I watched the life in those racing waves. In the suburban world of buzz-cut lawns, how many people have forgotten or never really knew that grass was meant to ripple?

Made with _ _ _ _

Many a cook has claimed their food tastes better because it was cooked with love. A product from my kitchen is as likely to have been cooked with another four letter word - or several. Oh, there's love, too, but for me the struggle and swearing are part of the process.
My father was an ex marine and a truck driver. He was a fisherman in his free time and an often belligerent alcoholic; so, it's really a wonder that I'm allowed in polite company at all. His bad example helped to demonstrate that there's a time and a place to exercise my vocabulary, and as a result, only a few people could guess the extent of it. Even as a teen, I was always amused when guys I hung out with would apologize for the occasional slip. Apparently, my image, built up from being a reader and a good student, a relatively wise and responsible child, put me in the category with mothers, teachers and librarians. I was a delicate creature who would be easily shocked by rude language. In truth…

The Magic of Things

I rarely wear any jewelry but my wedding ring, a simple thing composed of slender gold bands and tiny diamond chips (two of which have been missing since year one.) It just doesn't occur to me to put any on. Though I do have a small collection of jewelry, mostly inherited or gifts, they spend most of the time jumbled in boxes on the dresser. However, a short while ago, when I learned my uncle had been taken to the hospital with heart problems, I decided to wear a particular necklace and it's been with me ever since. Like most of my collection, it has little material value. A plain metal pendant strung on a waxed cord, it bears a single rune, uruz, for strength. My sister gave it to me years ago when I was going through some difficult changes, saying it seemed appropriate and that it suited me. Since then, it comes out of the box every now and then when I need a little boost to carry me through. My uncle's illness was one more discordant note in my world in recent d…


The thing about coming to rest in a house with a history of being everybody's temporary haven is you have to be ready to have people pass through your life on their way to better things.

That'll Teach You

Whenever we suffer misfortune, the first thing on our minds is WHY.
Why me? Why now? Why do bad things happen when I'm trying to do everything right? Don't tell me you've never thought one of these things. I've said them all, continue to say them, and will say them again next time something goes wrong.
It's natural to believe there is cause and effect in play or to seek some sort of reason in the mess. We wonder what we did to deserve the misfortune. Or else, we wonder if the Universe, God, or whatever power we believe controls our life, is trying to tell us something.
Human though it may be, assuming we have brought bad luck to our door is a dangerous way to think. I firmly believe in a balance, and that what we do affects others and may return to us in time. However, I can't assume that the cause and effect are always so straightforward and easy to see. While we can benefit from examining our actions for clues, our misfortunes aren't always linked to…

Thoughts from the Weekend

What an odd mix it's been for me, camping across the vernal equinox. My tent was pitched between a mound of lingering snow and the muddy morass of thawing ground. The days with stormy windblown clouds brought bursts of sunshine amid spaces of misty chill, prompting frequent adjustments of clothing layers.
Long walks and hours of firelight made room for thoughts to mingle. The world in turmoil, man made and natural, I wondered for our future. With lungs full of fresh crisp air and eyes full of Spring's green joys, I felt that familiar harmony, but still my mind returned to darker signs.
Since checking on personal friends and family in Japan, I've learned of others, extended connections, who are displaced and missing. It all serves to remind me that this larger disaster is full of smaller stories, each of them life-changing to those involved.
And this is only one outburst of a Mother at the end of her rope. This is only one symptom that things are not entirely right- with…

Dreaming of Dogs

I dream of dogs. Often. Their presence in my dreams is a reflection of their presence in my life.
They've been with me since the start, as regular a part of my family as a sister, a mother, a grandmother. In fact, because my father's truck driving job frequently took him away from home for days or weeks at a time, I've actually logged more days with a dog at my side than a dad. To put it in their way of seeing things, dogs are part of my pack, and my world feels unbalanced without them.
I know this bond has been a natural habit for humankind since cavemen first took wolf pups into their den. We are both social animals. On that primal level, we think alike. We share our lives. We work together. We comfort each other. We are family.
Many have weighed in on the subject of this ancient association. Here in modern times when the connection results in a pet relationship more often than a working relationship, the opinions often fall in the extremes. On one side, there a…


I had just prepared a post, intending to add it to the blog yesterday, when I got news of the earthquake in Japan. Pictures of the devastation in the Tokyo area flashed across the news reports as tales of damage, death and crisis filled the airwaves. It seemed the whole world was shaken by this massive earthquake and its aftermath.
Naturally, my first concern was for friends in Japan. I remain connected to my host family from my time as an exchange student, and there are others I have come to know over the years as well. Luckily, though phones were inoperative in many areas, e-mail communication was still possible though tricky with power outages affecting many.
Responses to my messages were quick but seemed to take forever. Thankfully, my friends were safe, waiting out the aftershocks for their opportunity to reset lives reduced to chaos. I only hope the rest of the country can do likewise.
Though my thoughts are far away, I will continue with the post as planned.

Hearing My Own Voice

In writing, as in most things we do, people tend to settle into patterns. We develop habits, both good and bad. The more we write, the more we start to take ownership of the language. There are grammar rules we honor above others (different for each writer, of course) and cringe at the transgressions when we see them in others' work. We form attachments to certain words or phrases and use them time and again in our writing. Yet we also get quirky with language as it becomes a familiar friend. We break rules where we choose and cobble together new words where the old ones just don't seem to fit. These choices become distinctly ours. The style and the rhythm of our words repeats unconsciously in each new story. Though the content may differ, the pattern is familiar. It's the trellis beneath the vines, a comfortable structure for ideas to grow on. Without realizing it, all of these habits gradually develop into a recognizable voice.

In a similar way, most writers …

Free Time

There are fluid properties to free time, whether vacations or their lesser cousins, weekends. You would think it would stay put in its own neat little pile. Here is the time that's mine, you could say. I've carved this piece from the block I share with the world, and it's my time to relax and be free to do what I want to do. It would seem to be the definition: Free Time.

But instead, it seeps out of the corral you've designed. It leaks or ebbs from where you had intended to keep it, and you end up filling that free time with responsibilities and mundane tasks rather than the things you say you'd do if only you had the free time.

This is my twentieth year at my workplace, so I've been allotted more vacation time than ever before. It's so much that I had to plot most of the days at the start of the year, spread out across every month, just so I won't run the risk of realizing I have a whole pile left at the end of the year. Theoretically, I…

Snow Driving

It was just about a week ago that I woke to snow falling soft and steady. It wasn't bitter cold, but it was the type of winter day that promised a slow, patient rise in the snowdrifts and the inescapable erasure of footprints and sidewalks. The path my husband had shoveled to free his car that morning was all but invisible by the time I peeked out at the driveway. Somewhere out in the haze of snowflakes, snow day magic whispered. There's beauty and comfort in an unstoppable snowfall when there's nowhere you have to go. As luck would have it, I had scheduled a vacation day, so I was in no rush, but there was a slate of errands I needed to accomplish in the precious free time. After a few chores around the house, I peeked again and noted that the carapace was still thickening on my car with no sign of slowing. Wait too much longer, and I might not be able to escape the driveway. Running those errands certainly wasn't going to get any easier. So I dug out and sta…

I is We

"I is We." My husband uttered the phrase over coffee at Baker's Square on my birthday. He was watching galaxies form from undisturbed drops of cream in his cup, a hobby he enjoys at every opportunity. The words stuck in my imagination not only because they were grammatically rebellious but because they expressed the idea so simply.
When we entered the restaurant, each of us had held vestibule doors for an exiting patron, I on the restaurant side and my husband on the parking lot side. My husband was bothered because his act of courtesy had been plundered by another who, though unencumbered and in full view of the pie-laden woman we were helping, dodged through the open door before the intended. After discounting the idea that the inconsiderate one might not have seen the other, we concluded that she must have felt she was entitled to go first. It was simply a selfish impulse that might have been generated by any number of unknown factors, but what it all boiled down…