Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heart Attack: A Very Bad Day

Sorry. No school today. It's been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. First off, Dee had a heart attack. Yes. A real, bad heart attack.

I was up moaning around with my toothache last night, and Dee was moaning around with "a bubble." He was sure he had a bad case of heart-burn, and we kept passing each other in the hall with our cold packs and hot packs, and bottles of water. At about 3:am I have to admit I felt picked on that he didn't seem to care much about my aching tooth, and was concentrating more on his bubble. Please. A bubble?

At 7:am I was waiting by the phone for the dentist's office to open and Dee said he really felt awful. He was light-headed and the pain hadn't subsided. I asked half-heartedly if he wanted to call the doctor and he said he thought we ought to go to the hospital. That got my attention.

I drove him up to the emergency room and when he said he had chest pains they rushed him in. Within seconds they had him hooked up to a blood pressure cuff and said he was having a heart attack right then! A new medical center at the other end of the valley is supposed to have the best heart-care in the country, and the emergency room team had them on the phone and Dee in an ambulance ten minutes after we got there. I drove myself in a panicky state, and got there after they had taken Dee into the cath-lab. It was 8:00 am.

There was no word for a few hours. Two of my daughters arrived to give support, and we just waited. Finally, the doctor came out and said two of Dee's main arteries were 99% blocked and one was 80% blocked. They'd put in 3 stents. I got a crash course in heart treatments: a hole was cut in his groin, and a tiny tube with a camera and a balloon was threaded up through his artery to his heart. The balloon was inflated so it could compress the plaque in the artery and push it to the sides. Then, when the offending blockage was shoved out of the way, little coil stents were inserted to hold the arteries open. Dee was awake, but groggy, for this whole event. Blood could now carry needed oxygen through his heart and the heart attack stopped.

Tests will tell us tomorrow how much his heart was damaged and if anything else needs to be done. The care at this new hospital was phenomenal. He was taken to ICU and when I saw him he had a zillion colored wires coming from IV tubes, hooked to monitors, etc., but he looked pretty good, and was able to tell us about the ambulance ride. (He loved it. 100 miles an hour on the freeway, with police escorts and radio communication with the hospital to prep him for his procedure. He said he wished he could have climbed up into the driver's seat.)

Over the next few hours he seemed almost back to normal, and he got up and walked a little, sat up and ate dinner, and talked to all the kids on the phone. His opening line each time was, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." He had several little one-liners that he seemed to have saved for this very occasion—all the additional oxygen had gone to his head.

Dee and the nurse encouraged me to go home. He was past the crisis, and was in good hands, there was no place for me to lay down, and he was anxious to sleep off his horrible day.

So I left. I drove with a prayer of thanksgiving in my softened heart. Unfortunately, my heart hardened four blocks from home. I was sitting in the left turn lane of a busy downtown street (between Library Square and the City and County Bldg for those of you who know SLC) and the car died. Died. I guess death was after someone today and settled for the car. It just conked out. It's Dee's car and it took me a few seconds to find the blinker lights, as people roared up behind me, honked like crazy, and yelled at me. Two guys flipped me off!

I sat there, close to tears, wondering what to do. I couldn't call Dee for advice—he deserved that much of a break. My sons had definitely done their duty, tending kids, worrying all day, and visiting the hospital. But I ended up calling my son. It was getting darker, and there were a number of strange types around. There I was, blocking traffic, and suddenly two guys knocked on my window. I assumed I was being car-jacked (it didn't occur to me that people don't car jack cars that don't work.) They motioned that they'd push me out of the intersection. A couple of minutes later another scary looking but nice man pushed me into a vacant parking spot. (Don't judge guys by their tattooed necks and pierced eyebrows.)

Pete arrived, and worked under the hood with jumper cables for a while, then crawled under his truck and my car, hooked us together, and towed me the four blocks to a car repair place. We left it there for them to discover in the morning. Then Pete took me home. He congratulated me on making it through a horrible, very bad day, and asked if I'd be all right. I said yes, as long as I could get in to my house. And then, I realized I didn't have my key!

So it all worked out. I'm home, Dee's alive, I'm getting a root canal tomorrow. What could be better? And I've used my blog as it's supposed to be used—to vent!!!

I'm declaring a fall break. I'll be back with School Days on Monday. (And thanks for listening.)

Schools Days: Take the Day Off!

My tooth broke tonight and I can't concentrate enough to write a post.
See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Travel Studies Seminar: Wrong Track

Wrong Train

Journal Entry:
March 27, 2007
I got on the wrong train.

Today I flew into Newark, which has a train station right in the airport. The train that would take me to my grandkids was leaving at 6:04 p.m, so I waited on the platform until a train pulled in at 6:03. A sign lit up with my destination front and center, and several other passengers waiting for the same train hopped on board with me.

NJ Transit

It was crowded and I shoved my suitcase through the doors and stood jammed in the aisle with a lot of tired people on their way home. About 20 minutes later the conductor came through punching tickets and informed me I was going the wrong way.

Apparently the train just ahead of mine was running late, and so was my train, so the train I was on was the one that should have departed at 5:54 p.m. "Don't worry. This happens to lots of people everyday on this train," he said. (Maybe there's a problem here?) When I asked about the sign at the station he said, "The signs don't mean anything. They're usually wrong." Now what? "You'll have to get off in two stops, cross the tracks, get on the train to Rayburn, cross the tracks and get on your train."

The conductor gave me a nod when we reached the right stop and I got off. There were 8 other people who got off, too, having made the same mistake. We were suddenly fellow wanderers, standing on a platform with no station, no train personnel, and no direction. It was interesting to see how quickly we bonded.

All of us had folks that needed to be notified. Immediately we were sharing cell phones and stories of the flights we'd just arrived on, where we were coming from and where we were expected. One young man had come from Paris to interview at a university. He spoke very little English. There were 2 sisters from Singapore, one of whom spoke English and French, and she became the translator. Another woman was originally from England, but had flown from Perth after visiting family. A wedding photographer was returning home after attending a posh society wedding in Chicago, which we heard all about.

Wrong Station

We waited almost 45 minutes and finally our first train came in. When we got off at Rayburn 30 minutes later, we found the station completely locked up. It was dark and we all wheeled our bags down the stairs, across the street, and back up to another track. There were some creepy looking people hovering around and we all commented that we felt safer because we were together.

While we waited I talked to a man who had just flown in from Toronto. He teaches Greek and Latin at a boys prep school. He had spoken recently at a conference on the Classics in Montreal. It all seemed pretty out of my league. He mentioned that he was originally from the west, had done undergraduate work in California and Montana, and had lived in several states. As we continued talking he referred to Judge Memorial High School. I commented that we have a high school in SLC with the same name. It turned out to be his high school! He grew up on Panorama Way, the street next to mine! He was several years younger than I am, but we knew some of the same families in the area. What a small world.

Suddenly a young girl (about 18) discovered she had left her purse on one of the trains. Extremely upset by the whole experience anyway, this was the crowning blow and she was close to tears. One of the Singapore women quickly put an arm around her, and the other found the number of the police on a poster. She called and reported the loss, and told the girl how to follow up.

The Perth lady needed to find a restroom and the photographer said she'd go along so she wouldn't be alone. The Panorama guy volunteered to walk with them and stand outside because he was concerned about the fearsome dudes in the hoodies.

"Good luck."

Finally our train arrived and we rode to our different stops. As each person got off, there were hugs and handshakes. One woman even offered to drive another woman to her final destination, because her connecting train had already left. We didn't exchange names, but I think we'll remember each other. We'll be part of each other's stories.

Where am I?

When we're on the wrong track there are always people who can help us find our way. When we've lost something precious there are people who can comfort us. There are people standing guard, watching out for us, who understand us; sometimes we don't even know their names. We are fellow wanderers, and there's an instinct we have to help each other. I think when it comes down to it, most of us are coming from the same place.

Happy Trails!

Homework: Do any or all or be inspired.

~Have you ever been lost? How did you get found? Write about a travel experience (or a life experience) where you needed help finding your way back. Prompt: "I didn't realize I was lost until______."

~Remember a time you felt a connection to a stranger in a strange place. Start a paragraph with this sentence: "I never found out his name, but I won't forget how__________."

~Read a journal entry you wrote a few years ago. Let your heart visit that place and time, remember what you learned, and realize how far you've come since then.

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Poet's Corner

The Poor Poet by Carl Spitzweg

"The first poems I knew were nursery rhymes,
and before I could read them for myself
I had come to love just the words of them; the words alone."
—Dylan Thomas, poet

When I was five my bedroom was painted light blue. On one wall there were two closets with a built in writing desk separating them. A wall-paper border ran around the room, with pictures of Jack and Jill and Little Boy Blue. My world globe sat on the desk next to a delicate pink china doll labeled "September," a ballerina jewelry box filled with pop-beads, and some babyish boy-stuff my little brother treasured. White painted bookshelves displayed our polished-rock collections, and held our books.

My favorite book was a willow green volume called Tell Me More Stories. In those days my mother wore red lipstick and a skirt, like Donna Reed. I'm sure she changed her clothes daily, but my memory has her sitting on my bed every night in a tapestry-like print dress, that was pink and gray, with cherubs and angels dancing around the hem. Could that be true??

Anyway, she read us Runaway Bunny and Peter Pan (the clapping version) from the green book. A poem followed every story, and I loved the comfort of the sing-song cadence. It was soothing, even when I couldn't follow the drift. "Over in the meadow, in the sand in the sun, lived an old mother toadie and her little toadie one. 'Wink' said the mother. 'We wink' said the one. And they winked all day in the sand in the sun." It was not a picture book, although a few simple ink drawings were scattered through the pages. Words were the art-form. I loved the images they painted in my mind.

Packed tightly on our living room bookshelf was a 21-volume set of The Book of Knowledge. Brown leather, with gold-leaf lettering, each volume held secrets I wanted to know. But the book of poetry was my preference. Late at night, when I was old enough to babysit my younger siblings, I entertained myself by reading the verses out loud to memorize them. Some that I still remember are:

By the shores of Gitche Goomee,
By the shining big-sea waters
Stood the wigwam of Nocomis
Daughter of the moon Nocomis . . .
And her little Hiawatha . . .


'Twas many and many a year ago in a kingdom by the sea
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabelle Lee.
And this maiden she lived with no other thought Than to love and be loved by me . . .


Now in Injia's sunny clime, where I used to spend me time
A-servin of 'Er Majesty, the Queen,
Of all them black-faced crew, the finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din . . .


There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place; There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
When responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the Bat.


Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay
To wash the cups and saucers and brush the crumbs away;
An' all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire and has the mostest fun
A listenin' to the witch tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the goblins 'at git yer ef yer don't watch out.

Bonni Goldberg asks "Are there words or phrases you like to say because they feel good to your ear and in your mouth? One of my favorite phrases to speak is the first line of a Coleridge poem, In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree . . ."

She says, "All words are associated with sound. Writing is using words with their volume turned down. In poetry the volume is turned up a little bit higher due to the attention poets pay to rhythm, meter, and the music of the words. A piece isn't complete until you're satisfied with how it sounds out loud: the rhythm of the phrasing, the melody of the words grouped together."

Words are a hobby with me; I collect them. I read the Thesaurus for fun (I know it's pretty pathetic, but I've given up on trying to be cool. It's a perk of being sixty) Searching for colorful, vibrant expressions jump-starts my writing. Verbs are the energy of a sentence—they dazzle nouns. Adjectives illuminate a gloomy page. Whine, pounce, raze, whisper, blaze, dusk, glitter—poets arrange alluring words into phrases like these:

Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


On my way into church, I saw Sister Monroe, her gold crown glinting when she opened her mouth to return a neighborly greeting.—Maya Angelou

Songwriters are some of my favorite poets. Paul Simon especially intrigues me: "These are the days of miracles and wonders;" "there's no doubt about it, it was the myth of fingerprints;" "the Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar." I've wondered if he just fashions random sentences and hooks them together, or if they mean something. No matter, the words sound great. Robert Frost said, "All the fun's in how you say a thing."

The greatest poetry of all is in the scriptures:

"And Jesus took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again; and he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones. And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them."—Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 17:21-24.

A truth told from heart to heart is poetry.

Homework: Channel your inner poet for the assignment you choose. Or be inspired.

~Write a line from a song or poem that speaks to you. Explain why.

Idea: "Doodely-do-do-do. The steel strings caught my attention over the raucous giggling in the back seat. I was chauffeuring the kids along the old Wasatch Boulevard to visit Mom when I first heard Paul Simon sing 'I'm a poor boy, empty as a pocket, empty as a pocket with nothing to lose.' I could relate. We had just come home from a year in England empty as a pocket with nothing to lose . . . "

~Imagine yourself as a child, listening to stories, nursery rhymes, or scriptures. Describe the person reading them, and the room you're in as vividly as you can. Prompt: "Grandma smelled like____when we snuggled in_____."

~Make a list of at least five words that are fun to say (ideas: googly, moist, chewy, linguini, juicy.) Write a poem using those words.

Write away!

Friday, September 25, 2009

School of Thought Seminar: Life as an Artform

Marta, 1984

This is my baby. In real life she's a grown up writer and graphic designer, with a family of her own, but she's still Mini Mart to me. Her whole life is a work of art.

When Marta was little she had an imaginary friend named "Gnome." He went everywhere with her, and we always saved a seat for him at any gathering. She carefully lifted him onto his seat, made sure he was comfortable, and never forgot to include him. If she was that nice to an imaginary friend, you can imagine what she's like with her real ones. Here's one of her actual to-do lists:

01. thank the mailman.
02. pay for the next happy meal in line.
03. pick up someone's recycling.
04. leave money in the meter.
05. read something uplifting.
06. rearrange your books by color.
07. hold the elevator.
08. dig up old photos.
09. watch Extra with your mother. because you love it.
10. then watch Law & Order with your mother. because she loves it.
11. and then watch Big because you haven't seen it since you were like 13.

Min makes everyday life fun. One day when she was about six we were on our way to Mervyn's. She said, "When we're shopping, act like you don't know me. I'm going to pretend I'm a midget." Even the sales lady laughed along with the gig, and thanked Marta for coming.

Midget Min

A few years later we were walking out of a cafe in Salt Lake City and someone held the door open for us. Min said, "Merci." The woman asked where she was from. Marta faked an accent and said, "Paris." Afterward she explained she wanted to give the lady a little thrill by thinking she'd met a foreigner.

A tiny foreigner?

Another time we were sitting at the kitchen table when we heard Dee come in. Out of the blue Marta whispered, "Mannequin!" and suddenly froze in position. She wouldn't unfreeze and come out of her new character until I explained, "She's being a mannequin." After that it became a routine game, and everyone had to become a statue until the arriving person broke the spell by saying, "Mannequin." One night Marta answered the door and her sister's brilliant and dignified new boyfriend was standing perfectly motionless in a silly pose on the porch. Min squealed, "Mannequin!" and he was embraced wholeheartedly as a brother-in-law on the spot!

Marta has a flair for life. Here's an example:

29 April 2008

feeling a brand new feeling

in my experience, there aren't a whole lot of new feelings to feel after you've grown up. sure, i believe each experience is it's own, but routinely my life doesn't have a whole lot of brand newness in it. i know how it feels to feel a lot of things. which i have never given much thought to. until now.

for example, i know what it feels like to hold a piece of buttered toast, i know chocolate milk in a cold glass, i know corn on the cob between my teeth. i know the ocean waves slamming against my body, i know sand between my toes, i know the hot sun on my face, i know taking a shower with a sunburn. i know what a cold slab of marble feels like against my skin, i know cool grass and sizzling cement on my feet, i know cold rain on my head, i know soap in my eyes, and lemon in my wounds. i know mud in my hair and lotion on my legs. i know unsweetened baking squares in my mouth. i know gusts of wind and feeling winded. i know what it feels like to knead bread and sink my fingers into clay, i know paint on my hands, i know dried plaster on my arms. i know gum in my hair and floss in my teeth. i know the itch of chicken pox and the fear of a nightmare. i know the hurt of a high heel and the sparkle of a diamond. i know pierced ears and glossed lips. i know new york cheesecake and mom's rice pudding. i know the hug of a friend and the loss of a love. i know butterflies of a first kiss, the ache of a sad heart, the tug of a string. i know how it feels to feel elated with joy, to be surprised, to be disappointed, to laugh until i cry, to worry until i'm sick, to blush until i am red. i know forgetting my lines on stage and i know a standing ovation. i know the smell of my grandma's perfume and my dad's shoe polish. i know flying in an airplane and riding in a train car. i know views of the swiss alps and i know a baby sleeping on my shoulder.

i know how it feels to feel loved and to be in love.

i didn't appreciate all of these small feelings i've felt until i felt this new feeling for the very first time.

i never want to forget how incredible it feels to feel a little kick from the inside; saying hello. reminding me of the miracle growing inside. reminding me of the miracles that are all around me. reminding me of the miracle of new life and the miracle of my life. and how blessed i am.

when he kicks from the inside, i smile every time at this brand new feeling. and realize all the feelings he will have to look forward to. all the feelings i will get to teach him about; like finger painting on butcher paper and rolling cookie dough into shapes and blowing bubbles in the shade and jumping into salty waves of the pacific and learning how to sound out words on the page. i imagine the newness of how it feels to swing on a swing-set and sit on dad's knee and ride a horse and run a race and spit out watermelon seeds and see snowflakes fall and build blanket forts and hear the boom of fireworks. i want him to feel all of these feelings. because i want to give him the same thrill that his little kicks give me.

i already love him. he will always know the feeling of love.

Marta has taught me to treasure the little things. Her life is a work of art. Pop over and wish her a happy birthday!


Homework: Do any or all or be inspired.

~Write a thank-you letter to someone who has inspired you.

~Make a list of ten little things that improved your happiness today.

~Set a goal to do three random acts of kindness this weekend. Record them in your journal on Sunday night and tell how it made you feel.

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Family Matters Seminar: Tradition!

Illustration by Stephen Cartwright

I think I'm totally normal, but then I discover that I think opposite of everyone else. I don't try to be different, or difficult. It just happens automatically.

Take traditions. I love creating traditions and remembering traditions. The thing I don't like about them is that they're so . . . well . . . you know, traditional! I hate being caught in a great idea that is past it's prime. I like to take a good tradition and tweak it to match ever changing participants and lifestyles.

Lundgren Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve when I was a little girl, my family and all my cousins and aunts and uncles went to Grama's house. There we had a traditional Swedish smorgasbord, including lutefisk and knackebrod, which my mom coaxed me to try. Uncle Allen and Aunt Ruthie directed a pageant called Christmas Around the World, complete with costumes and scenery. Twenty-four grandkids memorized songs and poems, and we even had a rehearsal! While the home movie camera lights blinded us all, we reenacted the Nativity and performed with relish. It was glorious and memorable.

Illustration by Stephen Cartwright

And then suddenly we all grew up. Some married and produced little actors and singers, but others produced rascals and party-poops. Inexperienced new in-laws turned on a football game during the festivities. Embarrassed cousins had to explain that Jr. didn't like to be on stage, and wasn't going to be a Wiseman that year.

The party had grown from the comfortable 1st generation to the prodigious 2nd generation, at least quadruple in size. Our little kids felt shy around their unknown second and third cousins. It had become an ordeal, not an anticipated event, but I insisted it was a tradition: we had to go. One year we got home very late, all of us tired and cross, and I realized it was time for the tradition to become a memory.

Stephen Cartwright

Plus, we had ideas for Christmas Eve. We were anxious to create our own holiday traditions to weld our little family. Bedtime needed to be observed so Christmas Day could start off with semi-rested, semi-cooperative kids, and to give us time to do our Santa magic. Dee and I had long discussions to bolster my courage before I broke the news. To prepare my mother ahead of time, I told her in February.

It was awful. Mom cried. Grama said, "I'd hoped I wouldn't live long enough to have the kids stop coming on Christmas Eve." I felt like I was stabbing my family in the back. Why couldn't they understand and support our desire to follow their example and create strong family ties with our own family?

The caught in the middle feeling haunted us. We decided that we didn't want to create that dilemma for our kids. We never wanted couples to argue with each other because of pressure we put on them. So we have some strategies. We often celebrate events on a different day, so there won't be a problem choosing between the families. This means that Dee and I have occasionally spent Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Mother's Day, and other traditional family days on our own. It has given us a chance to create some grown-up traditions, like eating out on Thanksgiving, brunch on Christmas morning, sleeping in on New Year's Day.

Our kids are always welcome, but never obligated. They don't have to give us explanations or excuses, or worry that we'll be hurt or lonely, or upset. At this point we're aware that our role is to support their families in the goals they set for themselves. We had our chance to create traditions, and now it's their opportunity.

Tradition is sometimes an explanation for acting without thinking. I grew up with lovely Sunday Dinners. Looking back, I realized my mom didn't go to Sunday School, and church for the family wasn't until 3:30 pm. Times were different.

Stephen Cartwright

But Sunday Dinner was a tradition. So, as a young mom, I used to go to church in the morning, and arrive home three hours later with seven tired, hungry kids. I'd frantically start mashing potatoes and making gravy while the whole gang whined and argued, waiting for food. I felt picked on. It was anything but lovely. One Sunday, while I changed clothes, Dee whipped up grilled cheese sandwiches. It was quick and easy and a total hit. Soon our tradition became grilled cheese, served on napkins instead of plates. Sundays became pleasant. Letting my mom's lovely dinner become a memory freed me to create a new tradition that worked for us.

I decided to make a tradition of making memories. I hate having events set in stone. One year we declared we'd go out to dinner for everybody's birthday. It worked well in March. But we couldn't afford it in June. Memorial Day had always meant a weekend vacation, but that year a baseball game at the playground was all we could manage. Making memories became the tradition. The Sunday night sing-a-long on Grama's back lawn is a memory, but a love of music is a tradition.

Illustration by Stephen Gammell

Monday night before Thanksgiving we had a tradition: plan that season's holiday activities. Everybody in the family could make suggestions: caroling, gingerbread houses, sugar cookies, etc. Then we'd choose from the list of traditions, and calendar the ones that would work that year. Caroling wasn't fun with a new baby—stringing popcorn would be better. It was too overwhelming to cram every fun thing we'd ever done into one season. It took the joy out of it.

Traditions are guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe and aren't even aware of. My childhood Christmas Eve party is a treasured memory, but the lasting tradition is a family who loves each other. That's what I want to pass on.

Homework: Do any or all. (Comment anonymously this time if you don't want to hurt feelings.)

~List five traditions you love. List another five that are past their prime, but are part of your life just because they're traditional. Idea:" I love making Valentine suckers, but the family sleepover is past its prime."

Illustration by Stephen Gammell

~Do you ever question or resent the way your family/in-law family handles holiday traditions? Have you ever said anything? What happened? Any tactful suggestions?

~Write about a tradition that has influenced your life in a positive way. Idea: "Our family always had family prayer before we opened the Christmas presents; my mom always wrote a letter to us on our birthdays; my grandpa always told us he loved us at Thanksgiving Dinner."

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Book Shelf Seminar: War Heroes

I'm an unlikely war correspondent, but I've gotten well-acquainted with many heroes over the years. In fact, I've met them in cafes, trains, airplanes, even in bed, and listened to their tales breathlessly. Just today Helen Kirkpatrick shared her experience during the London Blitz:

"London still stood the next morning, which was the greatest surprise to me as I cycled home in the light of early dawn, after the most frightening night I have ever spent. But not all of London was still there, and some of the things I saw would scare the wits out of anyone.

"When the sirens first shrieked on Saturday, it was evident we were in for something . . . the first screaming bomb started on its downward track . . . punctuated by guns near and far. The smoke brought tears to my eyes, and the glow around the horizon looked as though the entire city would be in flames any minute."—9 September 1940, Chicago Daily News

Woman Writing in Cafe

Helen was a writer, and though she never knew me, she's one of my war correspondents. I can sit on this side of World War II and pore over the adventures of heroes and heroines both real and imagined by authors like her. Recently I read four very different novels about that intriguing time:
  1. The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink
  2. Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec
  3. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosenay
  4. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The situations in each book are true. Defiance is true to the last detail, with quotes by descendants of the characters talking about the realities. The movie is fascinating, too, but with violent war scenes.

The Reader
is provocative. It has several descriptive love scenes at the first of the book. You don't have to read every word to get the important story line. Two thirds of the book takes place after the love affair is over. The movie follows the book almost word for word, but the love scenes are pretty vivid during the first half hour. If that is not your cup of cocoa, you might enjoy the book more, or use your ff remote button.

Sarah's Key
would be a great book-club selection, and even has discussion questions at the end. It's about 4,000 Jewish children who were rounded up in Paris by French police, and separated from their parents in 1942. I was unfamiliar with this story from history. The book is poignant, heart-breaking and sweet. I love the way it was written—back and forth between two characters in 1942 and 2002.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
is a collection of letters from a journalist to people who lived through the war on an occupied island in the English Channel. We watched a beautifully filmed British mini-series a few years ago called Island at War, which tells a similar story.

Photograph by Doisneau

The atmosphere, secrecy, daring—the locations and history of the era fascinate me. In the World War II book genre I have dozens of recommendations, but I'll limit myself to just a dozen more. All of these books are historical fiction with the exception of The Hiding Place, which is a true story. Expect mystery, spies, thrills and romance.
    1. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
    2. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
    3. A Princess in Berlin by Arthur R. G. Solmssen
    4. The Odessa File by Frederick Forsythe
    5. Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
    6. Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes
    7. The Shellseekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
    8. Night Sky by Clare Frances
    9. Winds of War by Herman Wouk
    10. Enigma by Robert Harris
    11. The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva
    12. Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow

Read all of Alan Furst's books

As I drag myself out of a bookstore my thought is always, "So much to read, so little time." I am exhilarated by so many subjects. One interest leads to another, and so it goes, until I'm off on another tangent that's entertaining and new.
    "What we learn depends on what we read after all the professors have finished with us.
    The greatest university of all is the collection of books."
    —Thomas Carlyle.

Homework: Choose any or all, or be inspired.

~Write about a hero you met in a book as if you actually know them. Idea: "I was in 5th grade when I met Helen Keller. She was about my age, but_____"

~Google or check Amazon for a novel that takes place in a time that fascinates you. Ideas: San Francisco in 1900; Shanghai in 1930; New Orleans in 1820.

~What books or movies about World War II would you recommend?

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Travel Studies: Camping With Kids

I wrote a story about our family reunion
as a souvenir for the grandkids.
This is an edited version.

If you sat around our campfire you'd hear some wild tales. One year Opa set a lantern on fire, tripped over a stump, and rolled down the hill with a flaming duffel bag. The next year we were pelleted with hail stones while the ground beneath us shuddered in a thunder storm. The annual Gathering of Heroes has become a cherished tradition.

Some babes in the woods.

Our family camp-out is sponsored each year by Heidi and Jac. This summer their four little girls were 5, 4, and the twins barely 2. In an interview for Marta's blog Heidi gave these expert tips:


My advice for camping with kids is that you can never be too prepared.

I believe in outfitting little ones in rugged jeans or pants that I don't care about, so that I don't care if they sit on the ground and get completely filthy. I like to bring a place for them to sit, like a highchair or saucer, even the car seat carrier is handy for the tiniest ones. A highchair (the ones from IKEA are cheap, and perfect for hosing down afterwards) makes it is easier for them to eat, be up out of the way and it was great to let them sit and color for awhile.

Watered down cocoa is great in a sippy cup. I prefer uncooked s'mores for 2 year olds! I bring books and all of their nighttime paraphernalia for tent sleeping. I bring their winter jammies with feeties, and make a bed out of an unzipped sleeping bag and blankets. The twins are still in cribs at home, so I wasn't sure what they'd be like sleeping. (I discovered the first night that they didn't like to be inside the sleeping bag, so I did it different the next night. Creativity is key!)

Getting them to bed is always an adventure. I make sure every kid has a flashlight and then turn them all off at the same time to listen to tent-time Dora Adventures by mom. Once they are all settled and snoozing, I don't freak out to leave them in the tent alone. The adults are always very close, the campfire is just a few steps away and I check on them often. It's great for us to enjoy some fun time around the fire sans kids. I try to have everything ready before dark so I can get right in my sleeping bag after zipping down the tents for the night.

Another tip: Kids noses get stuffy while camping... maybe campfire smoke or something. This year I brought those cool Triaminic Vaporized Patches. We cut them in half and stuck them on their jammies and they slept soundly.

I look back on pictures and realize my kids get really dirty. We try to brush teeth, but we don't do hair too cute. The clothes they wear are grungy and I always bring washable shoes. This year since I knew it would rain we brought galoshes to roam in. They were perfect! With their pants tucked inside, the pants are clean enough to wear another day.

We scout out perfect campsites and reserve them early. Even if we're booking our site in winter, we try to get a feel for what it's going to be like by driving to where we're going. We know just what we like about the sites we want; shade only, no one wants to bake while making lunch! It's lousy being hot and kids get grumpy. (The typical group sites are great, but are usually cement without tons of shade.) We like to invite others, because it's just easier that way.

My husband is awesome enough to set everything up and take it down as long as I take care of scrubbing down the kids. It's a perfect trade off. We only camp 15 minutes away from home, so it's easy to pack our whole house! We make it worth it by staying a few nights (it is definitely not worth all the packing when you go for just one dinner and one night). May as well make a whole vacation out of it! My kids remember the fun times with their cousins and have come to love our family camp outs.

We always have yummy food, because the best part of camping is the meals and snacks for me. Opa & Oma introduced Jac and I to their GINORMOUS sleeping pads, not so easy for lugging along but they are soft and cushy and make sleeping in a tent totally do-able. I like to take a stroller for walks around the campground, or you can always drive the canyon to get kids to take naps. Most of all, you and your husband can't have huge expectations. Jac gives me breaks so I can enjoy and read my book and I try to give him time to sleep and unwind too. We can't wait for the years when the kids are old enough to do long hikes and we can all sleep in, etc. But until then, we'll just deal with it. Plus we have to make the most of it! We can make them go now while they're little. What happens when they're all saying, "Camping?!! Gross mom... can't we just go to Disneyland?"

We only do this once or twice a year. But, every time we come home we say, "We gotta go again." I feel anxious to just set up the tent to sleep in the backyard this week!

Aunt Marta and her followers

Marta had tips, too. She said:

camping with kids checklist.

i've received a few emails inquiring about camping w/ kids, so here goes. i am a novice about camping with small ones, but i've learned a thing or two from my older sister. heidi and her husband have camped with their - oh so darling - 4 kids (in tents, mind you) every year since their family began. this year included her two year old twins. if they can do it, so can you. here are some ideas i picked up.

details. let loose and be flexible. give the kids each a place to sit. heidi brought her itty bitty princess camp chairs; perfect for the girls to roast marshmallows and minimized quarrels over where to sit. i brought up our small portable high chair for benji (it was perfect for keeping him from swallowing sticks). use off wipes to keep bugs away from li'l ones. bring sunscreen and lots of it. set up your tent in daylight and put the rainfly on, just in case. put a port-a-crib inside your tent for the baby (keeping him off the ground means he feels warmer and is lot more like home). pack all the baby food / spoons / bibs together in a separate ziplock gallon size baggie, it will be no nonsense to fix up when he gets hungry and anxious. oh and there are even coleman battery-operated fans available to attach inside your tent, perfect for hot afternoon naps. what will they think of next.

Visit my Gathering of Heroes post for some Oma Tent suggestions. Oh, there's the bell.

No homework today! Instead we're having a Meet and Greet. Get yourself a snack and meet back in the comments section to share tips or experiences you've had in the great outdoors. Do you go to the beach? The mountains? The backyard? Sit down and chat.

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Write Away Seminar: Surprise!

Art by Ronald Anderson

You'll remember I turned 60 a couple of weeks ago. There was a barbecue, fireworks, presents, phone calls from across the nation, the whole shebang. My family memorialized the occasion and I felt properly celebrated and feted. Birthday over, I assumed.

Friday night our daughter Amy invited us out to dinner, which was special but not suspicious. At the restaurant we were guided upstairs, and while I looked for the hostess to seat us, Dee turned me a bit and I saw a big table of people. One guy looked like my son-in-law (they live in Philly) and another resembled my son from Denver. Suddenly they were all standing up, singing Happy Birthday. To me!! I looked around and they were ALL there—our seven kids, plus in-law kids (from 5 different states)—we hadn't all been together at the same time for four years, before Anna even joined the family.

Wait . . . where was Anna? Amidst all the hugging, Pete said, "Anna's in labor. I just came for the surprise—I've got to get back to the hospital." (Doesn't this sound like the finale of It's a Wonderful Life, where, to top off the huge, loving reunion, the war-hero brother flies in through a blizzard to make his appearance?) Peter rushed back to help Anna deliver our 20th grandchild. PJ arrived in tip-top shape the next night, after 30 hours of labor (not part of the birth plan!) while the rest of us partied all weekend.

P & PJ

I'm not often surprised, but I have been rendered speechless this month. OK, OK. You, of all people, know I'm not speechless; but I am amazed. Take my School Days Seminar. TravelinOma has been my hobby for three years, with regular daily posts and encouraging comments, but most nights I wonder if there's anybody on the other side of the computer. Still, I type away because I'm passionate about writing, and The Blogosphere is my writing group.

The last Thursday of August I was brainstorming for a gimmick to jazz up my blog and School Days: A 12-Week Seminar was born. No thirty-hour labor for me—in fact, in that blazing moment I knew my new predetermined topics would dissolve writer's block. Posts would flow out of my finger-tips forever. Besides, who would know? Who reads my blog anyway?

The next morning I had 128 comments! Over the next two days I got two dozen more, plus 155 emails from readers wanting to sign up. People thought I was for real! What had I been thinking? Sixty thought provoking, daily posts? On what?

But I was committed to my birth plan. After the panic passed, it began to seem like an opportunity to challenge myself. All summer my son-in-law had been training for a one-day, 210-mile bike ride. Just because. People hike mountains, swim Channels. School Days could be my marathon. (I'm no runner but I'm good with a dash—)

Natalie Goldberg wrote this when she finished a book: "It might not be the greatest novel, but it was my greatest effort. Maybe that's my talent. Tremendous determination. In this one area: writing. Not in other areas. For instance, I run around the block once—uh, I don't want to do it anymore. I stop. Skiing: I fell, oh I don't like skiing; I take off my skis. But in writing I have that determination." So do I.

If I had labored over this seminar idea for a few more hours, I would never have suggested it. It's hard! But then I wouldn't have discovered your blogs, or read your creative, funny, moving, heartbreaking stories. Reading your work is motivation for doing mine.

I'm putting in my labor hours as we go, and I'm surprised that every day I get a bunch of ideas. Creativity generates creativity. There are lists laying all over my desk, tucked in my folders, waiting to be noticed. You and I have nine more weeks to polish our pens, and share our skills. Just write away, and don't be surprised by your progress.

Homework: Do any or all or be inspired.

~Has a surprise party ever worked out for you? Were you the surpriser or the surprised? Record the memory in your blog or journal, with as many details as possible.

~List 8 ways you've surprised yourself lately. Ideas: "I'm a better cook than my mother-in-law." "I was too nervous to get out of the car."

~Use the Natalie Goldberg quote as inspiration. Write a page that starts, "I have tremendous determination in this one area:_______. Not in other areas. For instance:_________."

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.

End of the 1st Quarter Announcements:

Class Statistics:

159 different people have done homework assignments.
Sherbet Blossom and Formerly Phread are tied for the most recruits (21 each.)
These students have completed 10-15 written assignments:
  1. Audrey
  2. Allison
  3. Alana
  4. Beck
  5. Crissy
  6. Diane
  7. Diane L
  8. Dalene
  9. Heather
  10. Jordan
  11. ~J
  12. Jessica
  13. Sassy Piggy
  14. Kiasa
  15. ~Kristina
  16. Marissa Marie
  17. Michelle
  18. Soybean Living
  19. Miranda
  20. Mrs Organic
  21. Queen Scarlett
  22. Rebekah Writes
  23. Sassy Lewis
  24. Sarah N
  25. Sara
  26. Tiffany
My numbers may be a little off because in a comment I can't tell if all five Rebeka's (Amanda's, Dianes, etc.) are the same person; or I may have you under amyatyahoo, The Kitchen Table and The Jordan's and think you're three different people. Plus new recruits will say, "I came from Tiff's blog" and I know it as "MonkeyBusiness." So don't list these honors on your resume. But you all deserve extra credit!

Friday, September 18, 2009

School of Thought Seminar: Quiz Time

Final Exam!
What's your school of thought?
(Analyze yourself through your answers.)

Are You A Fascinating Person?

  1. Are you updated on current affairs? Do you follow the latest news?
  2. In a one-one conversation, do you talk more or do you listen more?
  3. Do you like trying out new things like visiting a new restaurant, trying out a new sport, etc?
  4. Do you devote time to your dress and appearance before you go out?
  5. Are there any secrets about you that you haven't shared with even close friends?
  6. Are you game for adventurous stuff?
  7. Do you manage to get introduced to new people in parties and indulge in long conversations?
  8. Are you a well-read person?
  9. Are you a well-traveled person?
  10. Can you make people laugh?

Are you a confident person?

  1. Can you choose a new outfit alone?
  2. You walk into a room full of people. Suddenly you find everybody watching you. Do you become terribly self-conscious?
  3. You reach the airport to find that your flight got canceled in the last minute. What would you do?
  4. You enter a posh restaurant to find everybody else in formal clothes. You are wearing casuals. Would it ruin your evening?
  5. You are at a job interview in a big corporation. Suddenly you find out that the CEO himself is conducting the interview. Do you panic?
  6. You are attending a seminar. Suddenly the speaker wants you to come on the stage to give your views. Will you get jittery?
  7. You are enjoying a party with your new date. Suddenly your ex walks in. What do you do?
  8. Are you afraid of visiting families that have suffered a death?
  9. Would you go and visit a dying person?
  10. If someone embarrassed you in public, you would you react?

Are you a crafty person?

  1. What do you call the art of folding paper?
  2. What is the name of the fabric commonly used for cross stitch?
  3. What is papier-mache?
  4. Is acrylic yarn natural or man-made?
  5. Where does mohair come from?
  6. With which piece of crafting equipment would you use a shuttle?
  7. How many threads are twisted together in a typical skein of embroidery floss?
  8. What do pinking shears do?
  9. Old sewing machines were powered by using your feet. What was the foot pedal called?
  10. Is a Spinning Jenny used for making pots or making yarn?
  11. What is Kumihimo?
  12. Which craft would you be doing if you were making a plant hanger by knotting long lengths of rope?
  13. In which craft would you use the stippling technique?
  14. What are lazy daisy, french knot, stem and blanket?
  15. Which craft tool cuts out a shape from paper or card when you press on it?
  16. What is a highly scented purple/blue flower often used in scented sachets?
  17. What is gutta used for?
  18. What is repoussage?
  19. Is whittling a wood craft or a wool craft?
  20. What do you call the hole in a needle where you push the thread through?
Craft Trivia Answers 01. Origami / 02. Aida / 03. The art of modeling with torn or shredded paper stuck together with glue / 04. Man-made / 05. Angora goats / 06. Weaving loom / 07. (6) / 08. Scissors which cut a zig-zag line / 09. Treadle / 10. Making yarn / 11. The art of Japanese braid making / 12. Macrame / 13. Stenciling / 14. Types of embroidery stitches / 15. Punch / 16. Lavender / 17. Outlining designs on silk for painting / 18. The art of forming a raised impression on metal from the reverse side / 19. Wood craft / 20. Eye

You made it!

(Class Reviews next week.)

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.

School of Thought: What's Your Style?

Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada

How to Have Style

Hara Estroff Marano

It's clear to me from the many people I talk to that there is a great misunderstanding about style. Style is not a price. It is not an age. It is not a size. And it can be learned.

Style is one part self-knowledge and one part self-confidence. In other words, it's an attitude. It is a life-affirming expression of your character and spirit, a conviction that you are worth knowing, worth looking at and can present yourself well. It is knowing your strengths and weaknesses so that you can accentuate your strengths, not hide real or imagined shortcomings. Feeling good about yourself is a sine qua non of looking good.

There is one more element of style, and that is clothes, but style should never be confused with fashion. Fashion is synonymous with clothes, but style is merely expressed through clothes. Fashion is IN the clothes. Style is IN the wearer.

Style is nothing if not a celebration of individuality. It glorifies the fact that we are all different. It exposes as preposterous the notion that there is an ideal body, an ideal woman—that there is only one perfect way to look, that any one way is perfect for all women. Style always delights because it is a revelation that the possibilities for originality are limitless.

Style rejects ideals. It goes its own way. In fact, style is nothing if not a triumph of the fresh and unusual.

Style is intelligent, because it requires self-knowledge. Style is optimistic. Style presumes that you are a person of interest, that the world is a place of interest, that life is worth making the effort for.

Style is a way of avoiding the clutter of stuff. It is a way of sorting through the crowded marketplaces, a way of selecting, making choices influenced not so much by pressures such as advertising but by internal considerations. This kind of style no more requires change from season to season than does your character. But neither is it completely static. Ideally it should evolve over time, as character does.

"You have a personal style. You have specific and unique tastes. You have your own sensibilities, values, passions, and dislikes, as well as your own sense of what image you would like to project. But self-doubt, conditioning, and the desire to please others often combine to prevent authentic self-expression. Being concerned about other people's opinions of us becomes a habit, so much a part of ourselves that we lose our true identity. " —Kate Mayfield

What's your style? I'd taken all the magazine quizzes to find out if I was a Classic, or a Romantic, an Apple or a Pear, an Autumn or a Summer—a loser or a winner. Since I didn't fit any one category, I thought I had no style. Nobody had written a quiz that matched me, the real me. It wasn't all about fashion and figure, either. I was trying to fashion myself—figure myself out. That's when I got this book:

10 Steps to Fashion Freedom

I read, "Each and every day we have to present ourselves to the world, and like it or not, other people judge us based on the way we look . . . Ideally your identity, your uniqueness, is something that you project in your image. It's the visual presentation of your inner and outer self. It is the manifestation of your personal style."

How do you feel when you get ready every morning? Do you feel confident that you send the right message in business, social and casual settings? Do you worry about the way you look, never quite satisfied with your appearance? Do you send the right message?

"Your socks should never be funnier than you are."
—Hal Rubenstein

My book said: "Many of you are projecting a style that is not your own personal style but a composite of other's interpretations of you. Your desire to look a certain way—cute, sexy, strong, younger, fill in the blank—has camouflaged the most interesting aspect of your image—you. That's right, the real you is so much more interesting than the 'you' that you attempt to project.

"We have been conditioned to believe that caring about the way we look is vain, self-indulgent, shallow, and in the grand scheme of things, unimportant. But image is a serious matter, because it affects how we live, our self-confidence, and the way we feel about ourselves in the world. You may be thinking, 'If people are going to judge me by my appearance, then those are the wrong people for me.' Of course we don't want to be judged by our appearance, but the fact remains we are and will continue to be. You cannot avoid being judged, but you can encourage people to make judgments that are correct.

"You are not a category. You are an individual. Your image reflects your inner style: your attitudes, your behavior, and the way you communicate. True makeovers are not the dramatic before and after stories we see on TV. They are journeys of discovery. The journey is a comforting progression toward discovering and revealing your true self."

An exercise in the book is to create a Personal Style Statement: a goal-oriented statement of what you desire for your image and how you would like to be perceived. I chose three qualities I want to project: Gracious, Intelligent, Genuine. These words have deeper meanings to me.

kind, thoughtful, grateful, polite,
stylish, loving, appropriate, chic

educated, insightful, knowledgeable,
polished, creative, discerning, funny

authentic, natural, open, pleasant,
spontaneous, approachable, enthusiastic

Instead of asking if this dress makes me look fat, or if this color makes me look sallow, I ask myself, "Do I seem approachable? Am I appropriate? Do I look polished?" It's just a new way of thinking. I want to look like the person I really am. Our own personal style is the 3-second resume we hand to everybody we meet. What does yours say?

"I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn't itch."
—Gilda Radner

Homework: Do any or all or be inspired.

~Come up with ten words that describe you and your image. Ideas: current, attractive, confident, casual, unique, elegant. Look your words up in the dictionary and let the definitions inspire you. Write a Personal Style Statement such as, "I project a sophisticated, unique presence," or I present an image of confidence, elegance and quality."

~Are there clothes in your closet that send the wrong message? A stiff jacket you never wear because your style is more laid-back? A T-shirt with words you won't let your kids say? Give yourself 15 minutes to load a garbage bag to take to Deseret Industries. (Increased style and a clean closet in a jiffy!)

~List three style words that are important to you: Sophisticated, Modest, Vintage, Glamorous, Funky, etc. Now introduce a character in your novel using those three words. Prompt: "Jack wondered what his brother would think of her. She was . . . "

Think about it: What's Your Style?

"Her only flair was in her nostrils."
—Pauline Kael

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.