Sunday, November 29, 2009

From the Archives: George Bailey Award

Something Wonderful

Remember George? He's the hero in It's a Wonderful Life. His life has gone awry and he decides to end it all by jumping off a bridge. Clarence, his guardian angel, dives in to save him and then tries to convince George that he has contributed something valuable to the world. As the angel relates his good deeds, George begins to see that his life has made a difference.

When our kids were still at home we had a Christmas tradition we called the George Bailey Award. Together we decided on someone who had made a big difference in our life during the year. There were always several nominations before we decided on the recipient. Each of us wrote a personal letter to the person, which we delivered along with a copy of the movie. Throughout the year we would comment on how so-and-so should get the award; it helped us recognize and appreciate the great people around us.

One of many people I could give a George Bailey Award to is LaMont Hunt. He was my Sunday School teacher when I was 14. We were an obnoxious, rowdy class, and we enjoyed the reputation of running our teachers out. I think Brother Hunt was our 4th teacher that year.

He came to class the first Sunday fully prepared with a lesson about Jesus. Paper airplanes and spit wads flew past his head as he tried to create a spiritual atmosphere. There was whispering in the front of the room, and shoving and snickering in the back.

Boys tipped back on their folding chairs, and girls reapplied turquoise eye shadow—none of us showed any respect or courtesy towards our new teacher. Halfway through his lesson, he stopped, and tried to get our attention, pleading with us to settle down. And then he started to cry!

It was horrible. He left for a minute and went to get the Sunday School superintendent, who came in and lectured us, and then they both walked out. I remember that much vividly, but I don't remember anything else, except that I could never look at Mr. Hunt again, and I felt ashamed to have been part of something so ugly.

Fast forward to Salzburg, 1969. If you've read any of my courtship posts, you know that I was in love and receiving daily letters from my parents at home, objecting to my romance. (In defense of my parents, they had known me when I was 14, and they weren't quite over it.) I was on a roller coaster of feeling exhilarated or devastated, depending on whether the mail had arrived yet. I was desperate for support and understanding from home but I was getting scoldings.

One Saturday the owner of the Steinlechner Hotel where we lived knocked on my door and said I had a phone call. When I answered, a voice said, "Marty, this is LaMont Hunt. We're here in Salzburg for the day, and we want to come by and say hello." I couldn't believe it.

A few minutes later he and his wife and son pulled up outside. When he got out of the car I flew into his arms and burst out crying. I was so thrilled to see someone from my real world. He was kind and friendly as I introduced them all to Dee. We talked about their trip, and our semester, they asked what our plans were, and congratulated us and we took pictures all around.

The day the Hunts came to visit me.

They went home, called my parents, and reported good things about Dee and me. There began to be a thaw in the icy reception I had received from my folks. Mr. Hunt said we were doing OK, and Mom and Dad started to trust my judgment a little bit more. He didn't seem to remember our former relationship at all. He was a friend from my neighborhood who loved me and wanted the best for me. (Now, there's a lesson about Jesus, no Sunday School classroom needed.)

Is there someone you would give a George Bailey Award to? If so, tell us who and why on your blog, or in my comment section, or write them a letter and thank them personally. If you're posting it here, don't write about anybody that you know reads my blog. This is an exercise in thinking of someone outside your immediate circle who has influenced your life for good. Maybe a guardian angel?

George, you're wonderful!

(It's fun to see the comments you wrote when I first posted this in April, 2007.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

A week of Thanksgiving with Oma and Opa:

~Chloe's baptism.

~Brunch with Munchkins.

~Bowling with Heroes.

~Tea Party.

~Root Beer Float Party.

~Swimming, games, stories and golf.

~Feast at La Caille with a berry good Bear Cub.

~Visit Benji.

~Miss these guys,

~Pine for these guys.

~Send hugs to everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Back to School

♫ School days, school days,
Good old golden rule days,
Readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic . . . ♫

I'm going back to school! Wanna come? I'm teaching a 12-week blog seminar, with a different class every day of the week, and you can join in. It's free public education!

Come by tomorrow for more details. (In the meantime, you might need to get a new first-day-of-school-outfit.) We start next Monday. Spread the news!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

School Days Seminar

What's Happening?

School Days
A unique, free, course of study offered each day of the week

with my website as the virtual campus.

Daily Classes:
Mondays: Write Away
Tuesdays: Travel Studies
Wednesdays: Book Shelf
Thursdays: Family Matters
Fridays: School of Thought

Where will the Seminar Happen?

Right here (at
A Post will be available by 8:am each morning

Your own blog, e-mail, a notebook, or daily life
is where you'll complete your home-work assignments.

When will School Days start? When will they end?

Monday, August 31st—Friday, November 20th

How Do I Sign Up?

1. Leave a comment on this post saying you're interested.

2. Read each daily post next week to see various class curriculum, goals and assignments.
Choose one or all as your course-work, and try to attend class
(by reading the post and doing the homework)
each day your class is offered.

3. You can do the assignments on your own,
or email them privately to TravelinOma,
but for the best results,
post your work on your blog,
and leave a comment and link on Oma's post
for others to see and comment on.

Homework assignments are totally adaptable to your own situation,
and not mandatory to be part of the courses. Your comments will still be welcome.

What's in it for me?

Fun, writing practice, ideas, some new ways of thinking, plus AWARDS!

4. Oma will randomly visit the blogs of those who leave a comment saying they completed an assignment. Participation points will be awarded, kept track of,
and a graduation certificate will be sent to those who finish a particular class.

Actual prizes will be awarded to anyone who participates and completes the assignments
for the entire 12 weeks in all 5 classes.

*Recruiting new students:
Feel free to forward this post to someone who might be interested.

(Click on the little letter icon at the bottom of the post.)

There will be 2 honorary degrees awarded for those who invite the most readers to try
the seminar. Just have them comment that they came to my blog from yours, and you'll be on the extra credit list!

The official graduation ceremonies will be posted Wednesday, November 25th.
Prizes and certificates will be sent then.

Grab your lunch-box, hoist your virtual backpack,
and come back to school the easy way.

See you Monday.
(You can sit next to the tall, tanned, blond!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Know Any Old Ladies?

"I know an old lady who swallowed a pie . . .
A Thanksgiving pie, which was really too dry.
Perhaps she'll die."

She swallowed some cider, a roll and a salad,
"she was looking quite pallid
after that salad . . . "

And then the old lady swallowed a turkey.

"Her future looked murky, after that turkey!
She swallowed the turkey to go with the salad . . .

She swallowed a roll to go with the cider,
That rumbled and mumbled and grumbled inside her.

She swallowed the cider to moisten the pie,
The Thanksgiving pie, which was really too dry.

Perhaps she'll die."

" I know an old lady who swallowed some bread.

"I'm full," she said.

Read the whole story before you start gobbling!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Talkin' Turkey

First Day of School/Becoming a Writer

First Day of School 1910

Somebody's crying for their mom. Somebody forgot their lunch. Oops . . . somebody wet their knickers. Sorry about that: the first day of school is scary for teachers!

But, now that you're here I'm feeling a little better. Since we're all new, let's go over some class rules before we get started:
  1. We have open enrollment. Everybody's welcome whenever they can come; you don't need to have a blog.
  2. Homework and class involvement are optional. But, there will be participation points for anybody who comments about an assignment. If you do an assignment on your blog, please give proper attribution and link it back to TravelinOma as part of our class discussion.
  3. You'll grade your own work. (A for Accomplishment, B for Basic Effort, C for Class Comments, D for thinking the assignment is Dumb, and F for Failure to Communicate.)
  4. Anyone who completes a written assignment for this class every week will receive an Associate Degree. If you finish the other School Days class assignments, too, you'll get an OMA degree and prize. Keep track and I'll let you know when to report in. (We're on the honor system.)
  5. Honorary Degrees and prizes go to the two people who recruit the most new students. (Have them mention your name or blog.)
  6. You're welcome to put the School Days button on your blog, and for easy access, don't forget to subscribe to TravelinOma.
Orientation's over. Are you ready for class?

Becoming a Writer: 101

"Writing comes more easily if you have something to say."
Sholem Asch

I've always had plenty to say. In fact, I learned early that writing is a way of talking without being interrupted. But it took me a long time to call myself a writer. It didn't make sense: people who ski are skiers; people who paint are painters; but it seemed almost sacrilegious to deem myself a writer. What if the other writers were insulted that I thought myself worthy of their title?

You may have known early on that you were a writer, but I thought I wouldn't be a real writer until I had a best-seller. So all the time I was writing 4 or 5 hours a day, I still thought of myself as a wannabe. Then I sold some articles to Woman's Day, Family Circle, The Ensign and Good Housekeeping. Do you remember them? Well, that's the thing. Nobody does. Even though I got paid a hundred dollars here and there for writing, I still felt like an impostor. The page looked just as blank the next time, and I always doubted that I could fill it up again.

It's scary to open your soul, show your innermost self to others with the possibility that they won't like what they see. I've always heard the stories of actors who dream they go on stage and realize they're naked. (Dave Letterman says, "I love that dream.") I'd never had dreams like that until I started blogging. Now, I dream that I'm at the grocery store, or at church, and I suddenly perceive that I forgot to get dressed.

That's how I know I'm a writer. My heart is coming out through my fingertips. I don't need a paycheck, or a bestseller to prove it to myself. Maybe this is what a runner experiences when she starts training for a marathon, or a quilter when she gathers up a bundle of fat quarters. It's a surge of anticipation and trepidation—I love the sensation of writing enough to put in the time and toil to try to outdo myself.

Sue Grafton, the author of the alphabet mystery series, said, "Writing is self-taught. Most of us learn to write well by writing badly for a long, long time."

Blogging is a great way to get writing practice and build habits of showing up at the computer to work regularly. Some writers wait for a mystical muse to show up and stimulate creativity (we'll talk about that next week) but I've found that if I make writing a priority, I will actually get something written. Maybe.

Homework Assignment: Do any or all, or be inspired.

~ Think of a writing project you want to do. Name it. Write down the ten steps to begin. Write each step on a day or week in your planner (give yourself enough time to make it fun) and follow through. For instance:

My Semester Abroad
  1. Get a new notebook and file folders.
  2. Make a monthly time-line in my notebook or on the computer.
  3. Find the letters I sent home.
  4. Put letters in chronological order.
  5. Read letters and stick post-its on good parts.
  6. Call friends who were there and jot down their memories.
  7. Look through photos and pick the best ones.
  8. Write down how I decided to go (this is the beginning.)
  9. Write down how the experience changed me (this is the end.)
  10. Start writing up the stories I've chosen (this is the middle.)
~ Write a page about you. Introduce yourself. Prompt: If you were a character in your own book, what would your name be? Describe your inner self and your outer self. Prompt: "He saw her sneak into the classroom. She was ____, but he could tell she was____. . ."

~Every memoir has a catchy title. What would the title of your memoir be? Use the title to write the opening paragraph. Would anyone guess the book was about you?

~Make a list of writing projects you'd like to do someday.

~Write a blog post about why you have a blog.

Now, write away!

"Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go."
—Natalie Goldberg

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Just Musing

Woman Writing by Henry O'Hara Clive

"Every writer I know has trouble writing."
—Joseph Heller

My muse showed up unannounced at 8:37 am. "I've been hoping you'd come!" I said as I rushed around, picking up pillows. "Just a minute . . . I'm almost ready." She sat on the couch, browsed my bookshelf, and then wandered into my office where she clicked impatiently on the computer keys.

I scrambled to do the dishes, dashed to the bathroom to make myself presentable, dropped in a load of laundry, and decided to fold the clothes in the dryer. The phone rang, and I answered with, "I can't talk right now," but then visited for a few minutes while I made the bed. "I'm coming! Are you still here?" I called to my muse as I scurried into the office. "Oh, my gosh! Let me find a place for you to sit!"

Straightening the books and papers, I quickly jotted some notes and filed a couple of bank statements. The telephone bill sat unpaid on my day-planner, so I got out my checkbook, rifled around for a stamp and envelope, and sent that worry to the mailbox. Finally I sat down at the computer (wow . . . eleven e-mails?) and announced, "OK. I'm ready."

No response. I looked around. She was gone! I stared from my blank mind out at the blank computer screen. "I have nothing," I realized. "It's happened again. Writer's block. Maybe if I read a few blogs I'll be inspired." And that's the story of the unwritten page.

Have you ever missed your muse? They are capricious little friends, I've noticed, unmoved by schedules and routines. Dismissive of children, errands, chores or TV favorites. My muse delights in whispering poetic lines when shampoo is bubbling in my eyes, or when I'm negotiating a left turn with a bus coming towards me. She's usually late for the appointments I set when we're scheduled to write. But, after years of experience, I've discovered ways to profit from her unpredictable visits.
  1. Notice when she comes and try to be available. She works me in about 11:00 pm many nights. If I'm awake, I get up and let her rouse me into writing something. When the clock strikes three and I'm still pounding away at the keys, I admit that this joyful expression of myself is why I love writing. I'll take it when I can get it.
  2. Have a notebook and pen handy. I have one in my purse, by my bed, on my side of the couch (Dee has one on his side, too, and one on the bathroom counter.) There's a little pad and pencil clipped to my visor in the car, and another in the glove compartment. When I feel her spark, I write down the actual words I'm thinking, not just the idea. ("Santa's stomach: jar of jam" doesn't inspire like "Santa's belly—bowlful of jelly.")
  3. Keep a file for jottings. I have a few files stacked next to my computer where I stash the blogs I've scribbled on napkins, and the Oma Books scrawled on restaurant receipts. When I clean out my purse every night I drop them in the folder just as they are, knowing I'll find them when I'm desperate for a brainstorm.
  4. Define my motivation. "The best cure for writer's block is alimony," said one writer. While I don't have to pay alimony, I know that an incentive or deadline stimulates my muse. I write goals on my calendar, and expect completion. The secret here is to give myself targets that fit my life at the moment. I can't burn myself out with a Christmas deadline for The Lundgren Family Since 1700 (which I haven't even started.) One goal I set for this summer was "Collect stories about mom for a biography." I outlined steps: Read mom's journals. Write a description of mom from memory. Interview mom's sisters. Take photos of the houses mom lived in. Bite-sized chunks motivate my muse to come along for the fun. After all, she doesn't have to stay all day.
  5. Schedule writing into my schedule. I read a children's book the other day which was totally dumb. It had no plot, no rhythm, no cute characters, and the illustrations were unappealing. "I could have written a much better book than this!" I thought. But I hadn't. My much better books are all sitting organized in their folders, waiting for my muse to come and finish them up. Maybe if she knew I would be working on my book at 11:00 am each morning for an hour, or for 15 minutes during the weather broadcast every night, or for 30 minutes every month while I wait for my hair to color, she'd fit herself into my schedule. We could set appointments. I'd start without her, and she'd promise to show up eventually.
My Inspiration Files

"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork."
—Peter DeVries

"You have the right to write," Karen E. Peterson wrote. "If you are a writer at heart, you need to express yourself to feel fully alive. If you don't write, then something might go unsaid—and you'll remain hidden. Hiding provides safety, of course, but it also keeps you from knowing yourself—which may be the point of writing."

I know myself. I want to be a creative writer, but I am at my most creative finding excuses not to write. Usually I just blame my muse. She's such a slacker.

Homework: Choose any of the assignments that apply, or design an exercise that will inspire your muse.
  1. Put a few manila folders somewhere handy, with labels like: Quotes, Characters For My Novel, Funny Things the Kids Said, Clippings That Made Me Think, Plots I'd Like to Thicken.
  2. Buy a package of ten small notebooks and pens (in the dollar aisle of Target) and stash them in places where you often get ideas.
  3. Every day for a week, write down and file three random thoughts, just to get you in the habit of using your notebooks and files.
  4. Place scissors and a red pen wherever you spend time reading. Clip or tear newspaper and magazine articles that provoke you, underline the passage you want to remember, and file them away.
  5. Written Work: List ten things that get in the way of your writing. (My life is boring; my mom would be shocked; I don't know where to start; I don't have time, I have seven kids.) Go back and write a sentence about how to deal with each issue. Idea: "I have seven kids. I'll sit down with them during homework time and write a paragraph using their spelling words." "My mom would be shocked. I'll write my love story as if it happened to someone else." Now, use your ten sentences to write a mission statement called "I'm Going to Write, and Here's How."
Go for it—Write Away!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Travel Studies: Plan a Trip

"Travel is intensified living---maximum thrills per minute,
and one of the last great sources of adventure.
Travel is freedom. It's recess, and we need it."
Rick Steves

How would you like to get three trips for the price of one? I do it all the time. The first trip is in my imagination as I pore over maps, research cities, locate hotels and plan scenic drives. The second is the trip we actually go on, with all it's wonders, bumps, and wake-up calls. The third is the trip we remember (which is often more fun than the trip we took!)

A freebie is a trip you plan and remember but don't actually take. I've had several of those, too.

Travel is one of our top priorities. Dee and I met on a semester abroad, so we started out traveling together. Over our forty years we've traveled rich and we've traveled poor; we've stayed at the George V in Paris, and a motel in Reno where we had to insert a quarter to get hot water (and both places are memorable.) Expensive can be dowdy, and cheap can be charming: the Daylite Donuts in Idaho Falls are as tasty as the Chocolate Soup at Max Brenner's in New York City—just different.

Here's how we plan a trip.

The TravelinOma Bookshelf

Yellow pad at the ready, we decide how many days we have available, and how much money we can spend. We divide the money into the days and set priorities—Cool hotel? Drive til we drop? Are we taking any kids? (Traveling with Kids is an upcoming class.) What kind of trip do we want?
  1. Got to Get Out of Here: $300 divided by 6 = Ghost towns near Reno.
  2. Have a Little Money: $1000 divided by 5 = drive somewhere far and stay on the outskirts of town, or drive to somewhere close and stay ritzy.
  3. Special Event Long Weekend: $2000 divided by 4 = fly far away, stay in an out-of-the-way romantic inn.
  4. We've Saved For This: $5000 divided by 5 = fly farway, stay posh, shop at Bloomingdale's.
  5. We've Researched This: $5000 divided by 10 = fly faraway, stay charming. (We'll plan Europe on a Budget next week.)
TravelinOma Desk

With a map handy for distances, list some places you'd like to go. Or go online to TripAdvisor and get inspiration. Do you want a leisurely destination vacation? Or an on-the-go journey?

When choosing a hotel I try to imagine how we'll feel after each day. Will we want a hotel in the center of the action, or will we want to be secluded in a lodge by the lake? Will we arrive early enough to explore, or will that be on the next morning's docket? Which hotels offer free parking? Is valet in-and-out parking available in a downtown location? Do they offer breakfast, or is a restaurant within walking distance? Should we stay in one hotel for several nights and make day trips, or do we want to tour a different village every afternoon and try new hotels?

Hotels matter to me. I want air-conditioning and elevators that work, so I research hotels online, and read comments by recent guests. I look up bookstores and restaurants, shopping streets and tourist attractions, and find a hotel that is close to what we like to do. Because I've been stung, I never book online. They take your money immediately, for the whole stay, and sometimes you can't get a refund if your plans change.

Call the hotel directly (google the name of the hotel and look for a local number, not the 1-800 reservation service) and ask for their best rate. Then say, "Do you have anything for less?" They always do! If that price is higher than what you saw online, tell them. They will lower it to the online price.

I've secured my rate, I ask about the room amenities, telling them I want a corner room (they are bigger), a good view, etc. and I usually get what I want for the same price. They hold the reservation with a credit card, but I'm not obligated and I can cancel within 24 hours with no charge.

Last week we went to Sun Valley, Idaho for a writer's conference. I called some hotels and asked for their best rate. (Busy weekend=$189.) Then I asked if that room was available at a discount price for AARP (or AAA, or student rate, or business rate, or whatever category you fit into.) The discount rate was $172. I asked if this was for 2 queens or a king. No matter what their answer was, I said, "Could I have a cheaper rate for the other room?" Suddenly it was available for $161. I said I'd call back after I'd checked around. When I called back I said, "I was told this room was $161. Do you have a cheaper rate?" Three out of five times they lowered it!

So, we were guaranteed a standard room with two queens for $152. When we checked in I noticed they had vacancies. I asked if they could upgrade us to a bigger room. We stayed in a gorgeous suite for $152! It doesn't always work, but I've found it's worth it to ask.

As fun preparation, I haunt the library and bookstores and read everything I can about where we're going. Reading novels and watching movies set in the location gets me in the mood, and I absorb enough history to arouse my interest. For example, Hemingway lived in Sun Valley, so we listened to The Immovable Feast while we drove, and then visited his grave in Ketchum, ate at the inn where he lived, and saw the deer he shot.

I leave time for serendipity, but I like to have a rough itinerary. We have often changed plans in the middle of a trip because of weather, or unexpected diversions, but having a general idea of where we're going and what we want to see eliminates stress. It helps to have a list of things to do if it rains, and the phone numbers of another hotel or two nearby, just in case.

After the planning part of the trip, the real travel begins. With the research propped behind us we are free to be flexible. We always anticipate the unexpected and savor the contrasts. Travel is addicting. Dee and I began our life together traveling, and I hope we never stop. In fact, our favorite activity while we're on a trip is to start planning our next one!

Homework: Do any or all of these assignments or be inspired.

~List ten places you'd like to go someday. Write a paragraph about your ideal type of trip. Prompt: "I don't like to ___when I'm on vacation. I go away so I can____."

~Blog about a trip that was a disaster. Ideas: "Our honeymoon should have been perfect, but" or "I woke up in Disneyland with chickenpox."

~Fantasize about arriving at your dream destination. Prompt: "I looked out the window of the taxi and saw the . . ."

~Write about someone famous you saw while on vacation. How did they look? What did you do? What do you wish you'd done?

~How has travel changed you? Prompt: "After I went to___, I felt differently about___."

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, link it back to TravelinOma. And please leave a comment here with a link to your blog as part of our class discussion. I'll be keeping track, and spot checking your work, giving points for participation. You can grade your own work, based on your individual progress. (A for Accomplishment, B for Basic Effort, C for Class Comments, D for thinking this post is Dumb, and F for Failure to Communicate.)

Here's the button for your blog.
I hope I did it right this time.

Several people have asked how to create a link to their homework assignment. I'm not too savvy. When I leave a comment on somebody's blog for the first time, there's a pop-up asking for my name (I say TravelinOma) my email, and my URL ( I check the remember me box and from then on my comments automatically link back to my blog without me doing anything.

The only other way I know is to type in your address and we can cut and paste it into our address bar at the top.

I was able to find everyone that commented about doing assignments today. I'm totally overwhelmed by the participation!! You are awesome, and I'm scared to death that I won't live up to my own hype. I've had comments or emails from 137 people, and I've visited every blog that was open to me so I could meet you all. (Which is why it is now 3:20 am and I'm just finishing up.)

I'm so impressed with your creativity and feel humbled that you're even reading my stuff. You have motivated me to improve. I encourage everyone to check out the comments and visit the links. Some of your writing had me in tears, and others of you had me laughing out loud. It's been a fun day!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Book Shelf: Soulmates

Mary Badham

I met Scout in the orthodontist's office when I was fifteen. She introduced me to her brother Jem, her neighbor Dill, and her father. Atticus. Maycomb was my first southern visit, but even though it was "a tired old town" I was instantly comfortable there; the people were authentic. If you haven't met them yet, you really should.

There is no mistaking a real book. Although I had devoured books since I was 6, this was one of my first real ones. It crawled into my conscience, and burrowed into my soul; it opened my mind to gaps in humanity I knew nothing of before. It described childhood through adult eyes, and parenthood through children's eyes. I am better because I've read it—not once, but over and over again.

Seeing it on my shelf is like running into an old friend on the street. I can jump in and browse any page, even though I have no intention of reading it that day, and be reminded that, like an old friend, this book has influenced who I am.

Each of my kids studied To Kill a Mockingbird in junior high. There was a ragged, dog-earred copy floating around our house (with red underlines and notes jotted during classroom discussions) that had been feasted on by several 9th graders. I took it with me on a trip to Maine and uncovered symbolism and character elements that were new to me, even after years of reflecting on the book.

Jem had just ditched his pants under the Radley's gate, when the washer in the hotel laundromat beeped for me to add the soap. Holding the book in one hand, I managed to measure the detergent and lift the lid with the other while I kept on reading. Suddenly this prized paperback was swirling around in the bubbly water. I grabbed it, and tried to salvage it with the hairdryer, but it was crispy and wrinkled the next morning, beyond repair. I replaced it immediately with a pristine copy that begged for a red pencil.

Turning to the last two pages, I underlined Scout's childhood memories, described with such tenderness: "It was daytime and the neighborhood was busy" . . . "It was summertime, and two children scampered down the sidewalk" . . . "Fall, and his children trotted to and fro" . . . "Winter, and his children shivered . . . silhouetted against a blazing house" . . . "Winter, and a man . . . walked into the street, dropped his glasses, and shot a dog." I could savor the whole book again in just a few sentences.

My childhood is a tender place to visit, too. I run barefoot down the burning, softened asphalt to catch the ice-cream truck; sit on the screened-in porch late at night, with the perfume of lilacs hovering in the air; smell the furnace on that first chilly morning; taste Grampa's sour green apples, sprinkled with salt; sprawl on a blanket in the backyard, and listen to my dad sing You Are My Sunshine while Aunt Marie strums her ukelele. It all seems as imaginary as Boo Radley's soap dolls in the tree. But it's inside me, as are Heck Tate and Aunt Maudie. I experienced it all.

Books help me recall chapters in my life. Characters' lives are entwined with mine. Being inside an author's mind is an intimate thing. It's like knowing their soul.

Homework: Pick one or the other, or be inspired.

~Read something on your book shelf for sheer pleasure.

~Blog about a book you've read over and over. Prompt: "I can rifle the pages of ____and easily find my favorite part about____."

"As the book finishes, I go as slow as I can.
I don't want to leave this book's world."
—Jill Robinson

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Family Matters: Love Being Green

♫ It's not easy being green. ♫

I'm a little like Kermit. I sometimes wish I was different—you know: tall, lithe, sensuous. I'd like an angelic voice, high cheekbones, narrow feet, long fingers. It's depressing to list all the things I'm not, and boring to list all the things I am. Have you ever felt this way?

Recently, I listened to a lovely woman run herself down. Pretty soon I was believing her about herself, and she didn't seem so lovely anymore. I could actually see what she meant! She was monotonous and uninteresting, and her smile seemed fake. There was nothing positive or compelling about her. Everything, from her flawless skin to her big brown eyes, seemed dull. She wore her insecurities like big diamond earrings—you couldn't miss them. She appeared to be proud of them, as if they labeled her as humble or modest.

It's not conceited for a person to like herself! Kermit's song has lots wisdom to it. Here are the lyrics (by Joe Rapposo) with the word green changed to me.

It's Not Easy Being Me

It's not that easy bein' me;
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves,
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold—
or something much more colorful like that.

It's not easy bein' me.
It seems I blend in with so many other ordinary things.
And people tend to pass me over 'cause I'm not standing out like flashy sparkles
in the water—or stars in the sky.

But I'm the color of Spring.
And I can be cool and friendly-like.
And I can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree.

When I am all there is to be
It could make me wonder why; but why wonder why? Wonder:
I am me, and it'll do fine, I'm beautiful!
And I think it's what I want to be.

Oh, Kermie! Is he cute or what? No wonder Miss Piggy loved him. Come to think of it, she became famous because she flaunted herself. It inspires me to embrace my inner green.

In my church, the first concept we teach little children is I am a child of God. Two-year-old babies can sing those words. Teenage girls recite a theme every Sunday that begins "We are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us." Although we believe it of everyone else, somehow we forget that it's a truth that applies to us as well.

Our example is louder than our words. No matter how often a little girl is told, "Your red hair is so pretty," she unconsciously copies her mom when she looks in the mirror, and says, "I hate my hair." It's not surprising that a pre-teen obsesses about her weight, when she's heard her mother say "I am so fat" to her reflection every day. The real lesson being taught is that we're supposed to dislike ourselves. Wrong!

In family matters, WE matter. How can we project unconditional love to those around us if we don't deem ourselves lovable? Our unique traits should be worn like emerald earrings: with dignity. To honor our divine heritage we need to recognize the nobility in being—well, green.

Homework: Do these assignments privately.

~List at least 25 of your unique abilities and qualities. Words that might apply: caring, aware, generous, hospitable, tactful, open, able to teach, good cook, listener, optimist, creative, etc.

~List at least 10 things you love about your body. Ideas: pretty eyes, good vision, strong nails, round behind, balance, bouncy boobs, freckles . . .
(Hey, I've got to tell you this story. In 4th grade my son wrote his autobiography. When describing one sister he said she had lots of freckles. Then he described another sister: "She doesn't have any freckles, but she has lots of moles." In doing this assignment, don't mention your moles.)

~Give yourself a compliment whenever you pass a mirror. Suggestions: "You look happy!" "Your lips look luscious." "That zit doesn't even show."

P.S. I am love, love, loving visiting your blogs and reading your assignments. I'm marking down comments and participation and spot checking the posted written work and I'm so impressed. You are blowing me away with your enthusiasm and I'm totally motivated because you are. It's like a bunch of wild bloggers are roaming the streets with sharpened pencils ready to attack if I don't write a decent post! You've totally revved me up and I'm hoping I come across better than I am. Thanks for contributing to the total excitement of my week. I've had 186 readers join in, and that thrills me to pieces. Thanks for being part of my experiment!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

School of Thought: Be Real

Not Me.

It's freeing to let it all hang out. An advantage of turning sixty is that I've almost accepted myself. I'm not so embarrassed to be me.

When I was a little girl I was little. My friends wore sizes 8 or 10 and I was still in a 6X. The 6X dresses had puffy sleeves and sashes that tied in the back, and I remember Karen and Jill making fun of my baby dress. I also wore red and white checkered reading glasses in 2nd grade. I stood out. It was humiliating, and already I felt the sting of self-consciousness. When we were 11, the friends got training bras. I still looked like a 5-year-old boy, but Mom realized how miserable I was and got me one, too. I stuffed it with kleenex and looked lumpy and lopsided. I was doomed to geekdom.

Junior High was miserable. I was too shy to tell my teachers my nickname and so I was called by my very old-fashioned real name. There wasn't anything cool about me. In 9th grade I took up swearing, hoping it would earn me some respect among the popular crowd. Nobody noticed except my brother, who told my dad, who was not impressed.

It took me decades to get beyond the Jr. High mentality. I thought I had to be accepted by everybody else to be acceptable. The huge secret I discovered was that once I had accepted myself, I became acceptable.

Whether I'm called Ma'am, or Miss, Mom or Oma, I know who I am. My age and rank don't matter. I can develop at my own pace; I don't need kleenex, or fame or fortune to pad the reality. I can decide what words represent the real me and I don't need to parrot others to be "in." It's been freeing to let myself go, and find out where I'm going.

I wish I could find some red and white checkered reading glasses; I wouldn't mind standing out now. I still envy girls who wear a size 8 or 10. I'm not a 6X anymore but, of course, you can see that for yourself. I'm letting it all hang out!

How do you find the real you? I'm like an overstuffed, jumbled up scrapbook drawer, crammed with images, photos, memories and scribbled messages. Until I dump it all out somewhere, I can't see what's in there. As I sift through, random bits and pieces fit together and the dust settles in my blog.

We have all collected wisdom throughout our lives and we can gain access to it through the act of writing. Cicero said, "Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself."

Homework: Do any or all, or be inspired. (If your real life is too real right now, be your own private tutor and do an assignment in your head.)

~Search through the drawer in your heart. Are there memories that shaped your self image? Write about a time when your feelings were hurt. Why do you think you still remember the incident? How does that help you understand yourself better?

~Describe yourself from a friend's point of view. Does she know the real you? Do you want her to?

~As a trusted mentor, write a letter advising yourself what to do about a current situation in your life. Prompt: "Dear Friend, I know you're worried about ____. Knowing you like I do, I'm sure you feel____, but I trust your instincts. You seem so____."

"At 20, we worry about what others think of us;
at 40, we don't care what they think of us;
at 60, we discover they haven't been thinking of us at all."
—Bob Hope

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, link it back to TravelinOma. And please leave a comment here with a link to your blog as part of our class discussion. I'll be keeping track, and spot checking your work, giving points for participation. You can grade your own work, based on your individual progress. (A for Accomplishment, B for Basic Effort, C for Class Comments, D for thinking this post is Dumb, and F for Failure to Communicate.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

School of Thought Seminar: Breakdown!

Art by W. S. Hutton

There was a big jolt, and then it got bumpy. I sensed it coming, but I was going too fast and it seemed impossible to slow down. As the air escaped from my tires, I veered out of control. Everything went flat. I was having a breakdown.

It all started in June, 1981. We were excited, expecting our 7th baby, but we didn't know where we'd put her. Our house was overflowing with kids and shoes and outgrown coats: we decided to remodel the basement. The contractor said it would take two months. Perfect. The kids could all live in the family room while the bedrooms were reconfigured into two big dorms.

Too much togetherness.

Four months later Marta was born. The painter was the one who took the call announcing her birth. Workmen had taken up permanent residence in our home—it was a nightmare. One thing had led to another and construction was taking place all over the house. What were we thinking?

One day, when the baby was less than a week old, I put her in an infant seat on the dining-room table, out of danger. Her sneezing siblings were smearing chocolate on the drapes, while I talked to the pediatrician on the phone. A lamp tipped over just as the doorbell rang. "We're here to see the baby" called my friend, herding her three kids around ladders and through stacks of lumber.

In the garage a saw whined. The carpenter had just removed some wooden slats that held the cathedral windows in place when suddenly a gust of wind blew the plate glass in. It shattered all over the room.

Our house back then.

Marta and the other kids were luckily protected from the tiny shards, but I was hit—not by glass, but by the enormity of my situation. These kids were out of control. I had way too many of them, and they were all living in the family room out of boxes, and there were strange men using my bathroom, watching me and my house fall apart.

A week later I was feeding the baby when the phone rang. Walking backwards to answer it, (so I wouldn't expose my bare boob to Ron, the carpenter in the hall) I clipped the end table. My knee went out from under me, and I fell down, throwing Marta in the air. She landed on the hard kitchen tile, and I landed in a twisted heap. Ron dashed in to rescue both of us. Again, the baby was fine, but I wasn't. After a few hours in the emergency room, I came home with a leg brace, crutches, and torn ligaments in my knee.

Fast forward another two weeks. Neighbors helped with my preschoolers; Marta spent her life on my bed, surrounded by diapers, because I couldn't carry her and walk on my crutches at the same time. Saturday morning Dee had a leg-ache and took a couple of aspirin. Within minutes he was turning blue, unable to breathe. When the paramedics arrived, they gave him a shot of epinephrine, and rushed him to the hospital. In the ambulance he went into respiratory arrest, and heard them yell "We're losing him! We're losing him."

When I got to the hospital, and asked how he was, the frazzled doctor said, "He damn near died!" So, now I was a single mom of seven under eleven, on crutches, trekking to visit my critically ill husband in the ICU every day for two weeks. He recovered, but the stress was taking a toll on me.

Back to normal.

Six months passed, the workmen were gone, the kids were installed in their cool new rooms, my crutches were stashed in the garage, and Dee was back in the pink. However, I was heading into the blues. Life was getting darker and darker, although nobody else seemed to notice.

I was all sunshine outside my house, but my own little world was dismal. I had periodic dizzy spells, double vision and random aches and pains; I was certain I had a fatal disease. I blew up at the slightest thing, and had tantrums right along with my kids. I used to call Dee and have him come home in the middle of the day, because of my frantic state of mind. I imagined all sorts of terrible things happening to me or my kids—I was full of fear, doubt and worry.

The hardest part was that I couldn't let anyone in my humiliating secret. I was breaking down, but I had to keep up my image.

On a Merry-Go-Round

The doctor couldn't find anything wrong with me and suggested anxiety or depression. I would not accept that as my diagnosis. I wasn't the depressed type—it sounded so depressing.

One day I was moping on the couch while my kids stared at the TV. I had been praying about my bleak situation when the thought came to call Shawna—a neighbor I did not know well. When she answered, I started sobbing uncontrollably, and told her how helpless and hopeless I felt. She sounded caring and calm as she assured me, "We'll get through this together. It will be all right." She said she knew what I was going through, because she'd felt this way herself. When I finally settled down, she said, "Now, Dear, first tell me: who is this?"

Shawna steered me towards a doctor who shared tools to help me with my breakdown. Depression is a chemical imbalance, and anti-depressants balance the brain's chemicals so it can function normally. He explained that for me to go without them would be as foolish as a diabetic going without insulin.

Stress, hormones, illness or trauma can trigger a bout of depression. Sometimes it goes away completely on it's own, other times it goes away but recurs. In my case, it is chronic, so I'll take anti-depressants the rest of my life. A friend referred to them as "happy pills," but that's not right. The medication doesn't make you happy—it makes you normal. Then you can make yourself happy.

Out on a limb

Life is full of crashes and surprise breakdowns. I can be philosophical about them when they're happening to somebody else.

Mrs. Organic wrote a post on her three weeks of solitary confinement:
"I was placed in a corner room on the top floor with the rooms next to me left vacant since radio waves are no respecter of walls (I always wondered about the poor soul in the room beneath me). A line was taped off around the door that I was not allowed to pass, a box of disposable blue booties and a chair sat waiting for any visitors, nurses, or doctors. No one was allowed to be in my presence for more than a total of 20 minutes per day. It was rather lonely." (Click on her name for the rest.)

Diane is one of my heroes. Her story begins with, "One misstep changed my life." Click on her name for her courageous tale (start with the bottom post and work up.) Diane is the example of how to deal with an unexpected breakdown.

"Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear,
for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you . . ."
—Doctrine & Covenants 68:6

Homework: Do any or all or be inspired.

~If you've had the blues for more than two weeks, talk to someone about it. Don't suffer in silence. If you've been in a funk for more than a couple of months, go to a doctor.

~Write about a person who saved the day for you.

~Do you have a friend who needs your brand of sparkle? Think and pray about who you should call. Then make her laugh.

*Get out your blue books. Final exams are 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.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Family Matters Seminar: Baby Shower

What: A Baby Shower of Advice
When: Right Now
Who: Everybody
Where: In the Comments Section
Why: Because we're all full of wisdom!

Aren't you dying to give some advice??

Sit over here and have some lemonade while we visit.

Heidi made the cheesecake,
with hot fudge and raspberries!

Think about what you'll's my turn first.
  1. Remember that YOU are the expert on your own baby.
  2. You will learn together how to nurse. He's new at it, too.
  3. Don't worry when he cries.
  4. Don't worry when he sleeps.
  5. He won't starve to death if he only gets a drop or two before falling asleep again.
  6. Everything will eventually fall into place, but give yourself six weeks.
  7. Decide that you're on an adventure in a different time zone. Sleep whenever he's asleep. He'll figure it out, and you'll return to normal in a few weeks.
  8. If you feel like crying, just let yourself go. You'll feel relieved and relaxed (after your headache and puffy eyes go away.)
  9. He brought his personality with him--it's eternal. You're not going to ruin him by your inexperience or little mistakes. He came to teach you the real facts of life!
  10. In today's world the greatest blessing a little child can have is parents who love each other.

Now, share your insight!
What have you learned or observed about new babies and new moms?

"Invest in a great crock-pot and recipes. It saves a lot of stress at dinner-time when babies are cranky to have dinner already done!"

" Recognize the post partum blues and forgive yourself the mommy moments. When you're sleep-deprived and your body is surging with hormones, it can be a confusing time, but you will get back to normal--in about eighteen years."

"Trust your mommy instincts. Don't feel dumb when you rush to the doctor and find out it's nothing. Better to be reassured than worried."

"Everybody warned me that adjusting to marriage is hard, but it wasn't. So, having a baby will be easy too, I figure. We don't wait very long to get pregnant. I am wrong about this adjustment. We bring Christian home from the hospital and I love him and fear him all at once. I take a drive with Ryan a few days later when my sister offers to babysit. 'I don't want you to think I'm a bad person,' I say, 'but WHAT HAVE WE DONE?' We figure it out together, day by day."
"My best advice is to relax -- it's not rocket science and you don't have to be perfect."

"Pick your battles, starting when they are really little."

"Parenthood (like pregnancy) will change YOUR life more than your husband's life. Don't expect parenting to be a 50/50 deal."

"Don't compare yourself to other mothers. Don't compare your baby to other babies."

(In case some of you are wondering when you gave this great advice, they were comments on a post I wrote August 18, 2008. I remember everything.)

Crissy has a class presentation on labor. (This is edited. Click on her name for more.)
"Not every birth is the same. You'll likely only hear about the awful ones, because they make better stories. My best advice in that arena is to avoid those stories like the plague, or swine flu. If someone tries to tell you a new one ask them not to, and if they don't listen walk away. Their experience will not be yours.

"Take a birthing class . . . There are a few different classes offered these days, you can pick from Lamaze, the Bradley method or HypnoBirthing. Personally, having tried it, I highly recommend HypnoBirthing.
"Be educated, but don't overdo it. You don't need to read every single pregnancy or parenting book or magazine. Find a few that share your hopes and ideas for how you want things to be, and stick with that.

"Make sure your OB or midwife is on board with what you want for the birth. If something your care provider says doesn't sit right with you, don't be afraid to find someone new who will be more accommodating.

"Be happy. Through sickness and overwhelming tiredness, aching joints and growing belly, you are carrying a life inside of you. A precious spirit, a gift from God. If you want it and will it to be good, pregnancy (and birth) can and will be good."

Misty wondered about becoming a mother. (Click on her name for the unedited version.)
"The first time Adam seriously brought up the idea of marriage, I'm sad to say I went a little berserk. I had been at college in Colorado for a semester, and my first summer home, he brings up that m-word. The horrible, stifling, old fashioned m-word. I was livid. I wanted to finish my education. I wanted to finish my softball eligibility. I wanted a career. And I definitely didn't want to be stuck "at home" doting over a husband and who knows how many children; completely forgetting my dreams, my ambitions, and ultimately myself. And I told him so. How could he be so selfish to ask me to give all of that up?

"That was the biggest fight we ever had in our two years of dating. He left, frustrated and a little bewildered, no doubt. I went to bed in a huff, rehashing the conversation and reassuring myself that I was right, and he was dead, dead, wrong. I even thought back to when I first started dating Adam and a guy I had been interested in told me 'if you keep dating that guy, you're going to end up married and pregnant with a bunch of kids and no life of your own.'

"I tossed and turned that night, unable to sleep. And something miraculous happened. I started thinking with my heart instead of my intellect and worldly desires. There were a few very special experiences I had over the next few hours, and by lunch time, I knew that I didn't want anything else but to marry Adam.

"I have never regretted my decision . . . In the last 7 years, I have come to treasure the expectations placed upon me as a woman, a wife, and a mother. I relish the interactions I get to have with my children, and the role I play in teaching and nurturing them. I can truly say I 'find nobility in motherhood . . .'"

Hey, you guys are wise!


~Leave some advice for a new mom.

(P.S. Sorry this is late. I guess I forgot to click publish!)

*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.