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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reading



I was recently asked to write a brief piece about reading and how it shapes us, and shapes how and what we write. Because I have written about my books and reading a number of times, I repeat some thoughts. But since circumstances change and books continue to add dimension and depth to my life, there will always be new thoughts.

A few tattered and faded children's books rest on shelves in our home library.  There are several shelves loaded with books of all sizes and shapes that belonged to my sons when they were growing up.  Now my granddaughters like to go to those shelves and choose books to read when they are here.  Sometimes I give one to Skye that has Sean (her daddy) printed on the inside cover. Or I may send a few home with Maddie and Jordann marked with "for Jeremy, from Mom and Dad" - books that belonged to their dad, our second son.  I have already given not yet one-year-old Nora books that include her own daddy's name, Ben, as the proud owner. 

But the name on the first books I mention is "Mary Ann." Mother Goose. Children's Prayers. Henny Penny.  They are books from my own very early childhood, so that makes some of them nearly 75 years old.  There are others on the shelves that were mine when I was a little girl and reading was already part of my every day life - The Five Little Martins, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Bobsey Twins and Nancy Drew series. Once in a blog post I wrote about the significance of these books by saying: Beyond the edges of the pages in these children's books is a narrative of family choices and values that is dear to me.  Neither my grandparents nor my parents were well educated or wealthy. "Times were hard." is an expression I heard often when they spoke of past years.  The fact that books were important speaks volumes about family standards and values. I cannot hold these books and finger their fragile pages without thinking of being read to when I was little, and remembering that my mother had the same advantage.  It was natural that reading to my own children was always one of my favorite things to do.  It is sweet to see that tradition carried on as my sons have their own little ones who share bedtime prayers and bedtime stories.  

Reading has indeed shaped my life and naturally shapes how and what I choose to write. I believe we are enriched by the stories of others, and that the more we read the wider our own life experience becomes.  This is more than just finding good prompts in what I read.  I read a wide variety of genres, including poetry, and often find a phrase turned in a way that it becomes a part of my own language.   I said it this way in a blog post about reading and keeping books:  there are those volumes I read that intrigue or entertain or illumine, that somehow stay with me as a changed piece of my heart.  Even the little yellowed children's books that I show my grandchildren saying, “this storybook was mine when I was a little girl,”  are me, like my brown eyes and freckles.  Many books in my library become part of me in different ways when I reread them in later years....


Books I have recently read which have stretched me, often making me laugh and cry out loud are Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon and All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Both are fiction, but the genre differs. They are such very different reads, but I feel each has enriched and filled me.  What books have made you feel that way?
   
The blog posts I have quoted from are below. 
www.mappingsforthismorning.blogspot.com/2012/08/bookkeeping.html

www.mappingsforthismorning.blogspot.com/2012/05/books-and-lobster-shells.html

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Pleasure of Your Company

I enjoy so many things about my granddaughters, all 5 of them. Since they range in age from 10 months to 21 years, there is wide variation, but some things are common to all. I am happy they like to be in our home.  Without fail, when they come if I am not on the front porch waiting, they knock and peer through the leaded glass on our front door and greet me with excitement!  I love conversation with them, Nora saying it all with her gestures and her eyes, and the others chattering away with me. Like most people who enjoy cooking and being in the kitchen, I welcome them there and that seems to be their favorite place inside. I like that they like to cook and ask to help with meals and treats. I welcome their pleasure in our shaded back yard or in the sunny garden, enjoying the fragrance of herbs or looking for butterfly caterpillars or climbing trees (well, Nora looks and smells, she does not yet climb trees) ! We have fun with sidewalk chalk, planting seeds, cutting flowers to dry, art projects, dressup, and tea parties.  One of my favorite pleasures is the joy they have in being with each other, as in the top photo of Skye and Nora.  But of all the things we enjoy, Nora tells us the best...


                                                     

Friday, January 30, 2015

Maddie's Homework

I can say with certainty that none of my school papers ever looked like this. My sons, even the two who graduated from high school in Jakarta, Indonesia, never had a writing assignment like this, either. But 2 of my granddaughters attend a school where they are learning to speak and write Spanish and Mandarin. This is recent homework sent home and finished beautifully by 8 year old Maddie, who is in third grade.

Our granddaughters are growing up in a world where communicating in a language other than English will be helpful, but they are receiving benefits that extend even further.  They are widening their world view and opening to understanding cultures beyond their own. They live in North Texas, and there as well as here in South Texas, we live in neighborhoods containing many cultures.

On our block alone, our neighbors include those originally from Pakistan and Guatemala. A couple of years ago there were also families from Scotland, Egypt, and Brazil. A CDC census of home spoken languages in our county looks like this!

Fort Bend County, Texas
Languages at home detail

Languages spoken at home:

  1. English only (227,070)
  2. Spanish (57,610)
  3. Chinese (7,395)
  4. Vietnamese (5,120)
  5. Urdu (4,240)
  6. Tagalog (3,160)
  7. Gujarathi (2,260)
  8. Hindi (2,205)
  9. Kru, Ibo, Yoruba (1,830)
  10. Malayalam (1,670)
  11. Arabic (1,635)
  12. French (1,295)
  13. German (1,080)
  14. Persian (965)
  15. Formosan (935)
  16. Korean (910)
  17. Mandarin (810)
  18. India, n.e.c. (645)
  19. Cantonese (635)
  20. Czech (560)
  21. Tamil (420)
  22. Telugu (385)
  23. Bengali (370)
  24. Marathi (330)
  25. Italian (305)
  26. Pakistan, n.e.c. (295)
  27. Portuguese (285)
  28. Russian (275)
  29. Greek (240)
  30. Thai (230)
  31. Dutch (200)
  32. Japanese (175)
  33. Panjabi (145)
  34. Kannada (145)
  35. Polish (135)
  36. French Creole (120)
  37. Sindhi (120)
  38. Swahili (110)
  39. Norwegian (95)
  40. Afrikaans (85)
  41. Indonesian (80)
  42. Bisayan (80)
  43. Hebrew (75)
  44. Bantu (75)
  45. Romanian (75)
  46. Turkish (70)
  47. Armenian (50)
  48. Swedish (45)
  49. Danish (45)
  50. African, not further spec. (45)
  51. Cajun (35)
  52. Ukrainian (30)
  53. Ilocano (30)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Get Well


                                                           
                                                    Alongside one another is a good thing!

We went to a wedding on Saturday. One of the familiar phrases in the ceremony rings in my head - "In sickness and in health..." At ceremonies like this, I often remember the vows that Joe and I repeated so many years ago when we became a family, when we numbered only two. Since baby Nora was born last year, our family numbers thirteen!

If I am to write about "the joy of journey as a family," honestly, I need to include the trying times, the upsetting times, the times when health is impaired. We all have those times, and the loving support of family is helpful beyond measure. I know of no better image of encouragement than that of coming alongside one another to share joys as well as loads.  With many extended families spread out with miles between, it is not always a relative who can do this coming alongside. Church family, friends, and neighbors may be ones who come with help and a hug.

 Three of my five granddaughters have been ill these past few days. Words like "pneumonia, RSV, ear infections, Strep" are not welcome words because they make our little ones very sick. Two of them live near enough for me to offer help. For the baby, it may mean a lap and loving arms to hold. I need to make sure our older girls know I care and that I pray for them, too. Supporting their parents who are trying to juggle busy jobs with the priorities of being good parents is also important. Offering a pot of soup or running an errand or early pick up from school can help. The miles that separate us from family in North Texas limit support to email, phone calls and a note, but there may be times when I am able to go there to help.

Of course, there are seasons when the sickness and offers of help are reversed. Joe has had many surgeries in recent years, and my own health sometimes takes a nosedive. Our family and friends offer hands and hearts. It is all part of our journey.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Birthdays




 Each year in January, and again in July and October, I spend time on my sons' birthdays just savoring those earliest days of their lives, including the months I carried them inside my body, the oh so unforgettable day of birthing, those precious times with a tiny baby boy at my breast, then having the privilege that only parents have - that of not only welcoming them to this world, but helping them welcome our world - first in our arms, then exploring beyond. I love the memories of their discovering taste and smell, touching and hearing and seeing beauty. Holding a tiny hand to catch a raindrop, touch a kitten's ear, hold a rose petal. First times for everything!

I am thankful for those memories and every one of those early days, as sleep deprived as I may have been, as chaotic as days with 3 boys could be. And I am thankful for the fine men they have each become, and for the privilege of being Mom during both the trials and triumphs of their becoming. Although I am proud and impressed with the work ethic and expertise each has developed, I am often most impressed by their home building.  Not the wood and brick kind - the kind of building that comes from loving and honoring their wives and being the best Daddies I know to their little girls.

It came as a kind of shock to me this week as we celebrated our oldest son's birthday on Tuesday (January 13) that there is a less significant, yet important to me birthday to remember.  On Monday, January 12, 2009, I began this blog, my first attempt at doing anything like this, in essence, sticking my neck out and publishing my writing, sharing my family and my feelings,  Since that time, I have added 2 other blogs and at present, post to each of them weekly.

www.stonesandfeathers.wordpress.com

www.kitchenkeepers.wordpress.com



Here is a repeat of the start.



Birth of a Blog

Blog? The word is strange to me. I know what it is. I read other blogs. But I do not know how to blog. The word as a verb instead of a noun is vaguely unsettling because it implies an action I do not yet know how to perform. But I will learn. I will.

Forty one years ago tonight I was beginning the labor that would bring our first son into the light. On that cold Saturday morning, mighty work was required but then came the overwhelming joy. The work that can deliver words that have grown within me into the light of print and scrutiny may be absorbing and intense as well but with joy I ask for grace in the passing on of life and story.


At the end of 2009, I considered whether I would continue the blog, and decided to stay with it, borrowing some courage from Whitman.

"The strongest and sweetest songs yet remain to be sung." ~Walt Whitman

Friday, January 9, 2015

Gifts Continued

As we packed away our home's Christmas dress, took ornaments off the trees, and reflected on all the comings and goings of our busy family during this season, I thought about the gifts we gave our children and grandchildren. We all know our best gifts are not topped with bows and found under the Christmas tree, but I want the gifts that are there to have meaning. Almost always there are gifts of music and books and games. Every year, I like to wrap up one thing for my "boys" - all of them, including their Dad, that will be fun and bring back memories of childhood Christmases. I enjoy giving them things that encourage their own home building and hospitality. But this year, there was a gift for each of our married sons and their wives (plus ones I mailed for my nieces) that took a little explanation. They all know my fondness for estate sales and might have thought on first look that I got carried away when I found a box of old silverplate.  But these gifts were nothing I shopped for, and cost me nothing other than a few minutes' time to assemble them.  

They each opened a tissue-wrapped, tarnished, mismatched knife, fork, and spoon.  Any questions about the odd set I hope were answered with the printed message I included explaining the origin of the old flatware.  

This worn, tarnished, mismatched knife, fork, and spoon belonged to Mary Clyde Curley Terrell, your great grandmother. I have had these for many years, and thought for a time to make something from them - a piece of jewelry, a windchime, or kitchenart perhaps.  Somehow, it never seemed right to alter them. Do with them as you wish, but I hope you will remember their story, her story.  Grandma Terrell likely never had a matched set of anything, that is part of  your knife, fork, and spoon story. She lived in the years that I remember her best in an old frame farmhouse on a hill not far from the cemetery in Bullard, Texas where she is buried. In the kitchen where she worked I remember a wood stove, a bucket and dipper which were for water drawn from the well by the back door, and a window at one end where food scraps were thrown out for her chickens.

She worked hard with her hands and loved fiercely with her heart. She had few material possessions, never drove a car, never had indoor plumbing util she was nearly 80. She cooked food that made my mouth water - peas and other fresh vegetables from her garden, biscuits, cornbread, and teacakes for a little girl who adored her ad watched everything she did never knowing she herself would someday have granddaughters. 







Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas Gifts

The gift of Jordann

We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, so our lights and trees always stay up past Epihany, meaning that after most of the neighborhood has hauled trees out for trash pickup and stored both inside and outside Christmas trim, we are still in full Christmas dress at our house.  This year, we managed to draw out even the family gatherings and gift sharing past New Year's day. For those of us who live in this area, gathering began Christmas Eve with a tradition that has become dear - going together to church for a meaningful time of meditation and communion, then going home (this year to our youngest son's house) to share a meal together.  Christmas day's meal and gifting followed. Our out of town family joined us earlier this week and New Year's eve was another joyous gift exchange. In the photo above, Jordann discovers how much fun Rainbow tiles can be when you build them on a lighted surface. This makes me think how much light plays a part in our Christmas celebration - in the yard, on the Christmas trees, twinkling behind stained glass, on the mantle and over the grandfather clock. We have a set of little houses Ben painted when he was around 10 that look magical when lighted from within.

But the lights I love best are those that sparkle from our son's eyes when they watch their daughters, and those that twinkle in the children's eyes from all the wonder. Those are my best gifts beyond the One Gift that is the reason for all of them.  I am grateful.