Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Listen Up, World!

I could really improve the world if people would just listen to me!

We live downtown. Lots of downtown businesses have moved to the suburbs in the past few years. I remember when I was a teenager working downtown, and the streets were crowded with people shopping, going to lunch, dinner and movies. The theaters are now boarded up, the office buildings have their own cafeterias, kitchens and vending machines, and the shopping is in the malls. The streets are barren. There is a huge development in the construction stages that will hopefully bring people downtown again, and there are lots of city council planning meetings and newspaper articles wondering and worrying about how to bring life back to our city. I have sent some suggestions to the Mayor's office and have yet to see them put into action. So I will suggest them here.

Families live in the suburbs. Give them a reason to leave their neighborhood: a beautiful carousel, street vendors, gelato stands, a unique family-friendly restaurant (like Rainforest Cafe), a fabulous kids' bookstore with story times, (think "You've Got Mail").

Let people park! Don't invite people downtown and then stalk their cars for parking violations. Relax!

Put something in the vacant windows. There are lots of buildings that look bedraggled and empty, with "For Lease" signs decorating the front. Why not paint the exterior, and put art, or other displays in the windows? Let stores use the space for free advertising, and make the street interesting while there's vacancy.

These are a few of my great ideas. I have suggestions about health insurance, prescription drug coverage, and education, too. On occasion, when I've been especially motivated I've written my congressman, or my newspaper. Does anyone read my letters, or do they just hit the delete button? Most of the time I don't care. They're busy and important and there are probably lots of great ideas floating around that have to be studied and analyzed.

This week I read about a bill before our state legislature to lower the driving age for ATVs from 8 to 6! Six years old! Kids that don't know left from right... can't tie their shoelaces...think Dora's backpack really talks! I don't know...when I read about things like this I wonder who is running the world? And why aren't they listening to me??

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Creative Studies

My post graduate work (after I graduated from High School) wasn't what I'd imagined. I was so excited to choose my own major and just take the classes that interested me. Bag geology, good-bye geometry, sayonara physics, and hello creative writing! The summer before I started college I practically memorized the class descriptions in the catalog I had. I wanted to take poetry and literature and psychology...and major in German. I could hardly wait to select my subjects and jump around to learn everything I wanted to learn. I was very disappointed to find there was a structured curriculum, and required subjects that had nothing to do with my interests. Even my chosen major didn't allow for exploration. It was all outlined, and didn't include most of the classes that sounded fascinating to me. (Who gets to take those classes, anyway?)

I bucked the system, and against my counselor's advice, skipped a lot of courses outlined for freshmen, and signed up for classes that called out to me. From a diploma point of view it was a mistake. I dropped out after my sophomore year, and if I ever went back to finish, I would have to start all over with basic requirements; my 2 years really wouldn't count for anything. Except I don't regret the eclectic choices I made.

The internet has finally given me a chance to create my own curriculum. I spend hours studying and looking up very random topics. It's a private library for me. Recently I heard someone say they thought blogging was a total waste of time. Blogging has taught me more than many creative writing classes I've taken! Scholars study anthropology, current events, geography, psychology, child development and literature, and nobody questions the value of that. I have explored a lot of these very topics in the blogs I read. It's just learning in a different format.

When historians research, first person accounts and original sources are the prize! It would be so great to read what my mom experienced during the depression, or have a journal of my grandpa's journey from Sweden to America at age 17. Pioneer diaries, Civil War letters, Pearl Harbor headlines...these are turned into history books and documentaries. Won't blogs contribute, too? Blogs are archives of the future. Philosophy is the study of what people thought and wrote down. The Bible is a collection of histories and spiritual experiences, that people wrote down. I realize that not all blogs are of this quality, but I feel that record keeping is NOT a waste of time.

I don't have a diploma, but I feel that I have an education. Life has been my university and my major is Creative Learning.

So how do you feel about blogging? Leave a comment!

I took a survey that had interesting questions about this. Here's the address if you want to take it.
(The survey was at )

Friday, January 26, 2007

Worth the Risk

Heroes, 1984

I remember my active mothering days, when getting up in the morning was a risk. There was the day Micah set the field across the street on fire and I watched my neighbor doing a Hopi-Indian type dance trying to put it out. Another time Peter gathered up all the used firecrackers in the gutter after the 4th of July and sold them to his friend for $3 of his brother's savings. The $3 turned out to be three $20 bills, and I had to defend my 4-year-old thief to the lawyer father.

One day Josh decided to cover the shower drain and fill up the bathroom to make a swimming pool, which I didn't discover until water was leaking under the door. And who can forget the razor incident when Heidi shaved off her little brother's eyebrow? Or the day Amy backed up the truck and hit Dee as he was pulling in the driveway, wrecking 2 cars at once? There were times of heartbreak, like the day Gabi was asked to give up the lead in the Road Show because there was a bratty girl demanding the part and the director was a wimp. And the day 11-year-old Marta sobbed, "Nobody respects my opinion!" (Everybody does now.)

I remember that I felt like a revolving door. I was spinning 'round and 'round, while everyone ran in and out to live their lives. I sometimes wondered if I had a life of my own, or even if I was a person anymore. I gave myself so completely it didn't feel like I had any of me left. It was overwhelming in every way.

Now that I'm an inactive mother I realize the truth of the scripture in Matthew that says "He that loseth his life shall find it."
While I was focusing on my kids I actually became myself. They were really teaching me. I look back at the experience and understanding I gained, and know I could not have designed an education or career that would have provided me such intense personal growth. It almost seems selfish now, considering how I benefitted.

As I observe the active mothers around me I am in awe of them. I can't believe I did it. But I rejoice every day that I did.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gathering History

We spent last week gathering history along the banks of the Brandywine River. We were winding down lanes, searching the woods for ruins of old mills. Doesn't that sound romantic? I love research trips with Dee! It's like we're detectives searching for lost loved ones, and reuniting families.

Dee is writing a book about a pioneer family who started a very successful local flour mill. There's a family tradition that several generations have owned mills, dating back to Revolutionary War days in Pennsylvania and Delaware. The mill is celebrating it's 100th anniversary with the publication of their history, and we set out to discover the truth of their story.

Chadds Ford, PA, where George Washington lost a big battle, is where we started. A fabulous historical research library nearby, housed in an awesome old building, has a collection of newspaper clippings dating back to the 1700's, plus diaries, letters from Civil War days, local histories, and much more. We spent several hours at a big oak table, surrounded by handwritten accounts in spidery writing, reading, taking notes and making copies. With the dates and names we already had, we were able to find more names and locations, which led us to some old Quaker cemetaries in surrounding towns. We found graves, with more info and dates, mill sites, and evidence that this family originally came to Pennsylvania with William Penn. It was overcast, and atmospheric as we climbed over headstones taking photos to document our findings. We found an incredible bookstore housed on 4 floors of a 200-year-old barn, packed with information. We interviewed a couple who told us about Quaker marriage traditions, and explained documents we had discovered so we were able to place the families in specific congregations at the right times. With the help of old Bibles, wills, and deeds, we realized that the family had come from England almost 150 years before the Revolutionary War, establishing homes and farms, using their skills to feed and sustain communities. Unsung heroes.

The Brandywine area is dotted with plaques honoring soldiers and prominent citizens, telling stories of hardship and courage. Books are written, museums filled with artifacts, and buildings restored so we will remember their names and contributions. The only difference between a famous hero and all the others is that we don't know anything about them. When we gather the history of someone's life, they suddenly become important. They are no longer lying in the dust of graveyards or gathering dust in an archive. They are real. Their names are Levi and William and Hannah and Jemima, and we saw where they lived, and worked, and buried their babies. They knew winters without heat, sickness without medicine, hope without end. And, yes, they owned flour mills.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What do you think?

Dee's advice is "Think over everything you say, and don't say everything you think." This is fine for someone who can think inside their head. My head is like an overstuffed, unorganized scrapbooking drawer. Until I dump it all out I don't know what's in there. Then I sort through and discover random bits and pieces that I have to try out in different ways, and finally figure out a way to put it all together. You are the victims of my organization attempts. When I dump out my mind and sift through the junk, the dust settles in my blog.

Dee has never had the experience of laying awake regretting the dumb things he's said. He didn't say them. He hasn't called someone frantically after a conversation to try to restate what he meant, because he meant what he said the first time. I regularly say everything I think before I've had time to think it through, and then regretted it. Of course, Dee doesn't say much. Nobody knows him very well. He doesn't tell everyone he meets his life story, and the life stories of everyone he knows, before they've finished lunch. People know me! They can tell my anecdotes better than I can, and correct me on the details. When I mention a topic, even my in-law kids can complete my sentence (or paragraph), and have now turned it into a game called "Twenty-five Words or Less." I can't even tell it in 25 words or less!

I wrote a poem about 30 years ago about keeping a diary. It was called "Mama's Minutes" and it said "Mama had a diary she kept beside her bed, I'd see her write by candlelight, She said it cleared her head." I'll probably always have to clear my head by saying everything I think. It gives me a chance to think it over.