Category Archives: Small Acts

Readers of Popular and Literary Fiction Can Get Along

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I have been away from this blog for a while.  I apologize.  I have a reason: I started a publishing company!  The company is called Hope Books, LLC and I am its manager.

For the past few months I have been juggling teaching with parenting with late-night publishing work.  I was thrilled to have received a summer class to help pay the bills.  I am excited to see all that Philip is learning and discovering.  And, it has to be said, I have had some fun sharing my love of Bruce’s book, Schism, and helping to make sure people know about it and, for those that can, buy it.  To leave no stone unturned, people who have the means can buy it via the following vendors:

amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Kobo.com

goodreads.com

For those who do not have the means, you can read it or listen to it online for free here:

Wattpad.com (read for free)

itunes (listen to podcast for free)

Smashwords.com (OK, for this one, you can only read the first 30% for free)

That said, I want to tell you what’s been on my mind today.  In the interest of that “better world” dream I persist in having, I would like to talk about readers of POPULAR fiction versus readers of LITERARY fiction.  There seems to be a long established tradition of enmity between those who read for fun and those who read for status, a mental workout, etc.  In my recent experience, I have seen friends and relations in the literary fiction camp frown on popular work as lacking in intellectual gravitas.  I have also witnessed independent bookstores rejecting popular fiction categorically because it is not literary fiction.  (Plus, there seems to be a high correlation [or reputation] between poor craftsmanship and self-published works, which is unfortunate.)

I will tell you, most unreservedly, that I am a fan of both.  That was not always the case.  As a young woman, I felt that Jane Austen and I were soul sisters.  Even in college, I had a hard time breaking the mold and venturing out into new genres.  I loved everything that rambled with a mellifluous bent.  If the characters were pathetic, miserable and had a horribly tragic end, all the better.

I have since changed my tune.  I think the transition occurred when Bruce and I started to read Harry Potter.  I remember it very clearly.  He had gone to our local bookstore and found Harry Potter #2 (The Chamber of Secrets) on a 20% off stack.  He brought it home, started reading it and loved it.  Then he said, “You should read this, too.”  I snootily replied that I was, in no way, going to read a CHILDREN’S BOOK.  He said, “OK.  Well, I’m going to go back to buy the first one.  I really think you’d like it, though.”  So, he bought it and two things happened.  First, I agreed to read it and started on the path of reading for entertainment and not just to prove my intelligence.  Second, we began our tradition of reading books aloud to each other.  We have, in fact, read ALL of the Harry Potter books this way (and we even reread the series from the start prior to each new release).  But, of course, we haven’t only read Harry Potter.  We discovered Suzanne Collins, Jim Butcher, Greg Rucka (Tara Chace and Atticus Kodiak–AWESOME), Alexander McCall Smith (charming Mma Ramotswe) and many others along the way.  We have also supported our love of Michael Chabon (however you pronounce his last name, we still think he’s BRILLIANT), Cormac McCarthy (house divided on this one) and others.

The point?  There is room, my friends, to love them all.  There is space out there in the universe for us all to enjoy the quirky and the sublime.  We do not need to fight.  We do not need to pose.  We do not need to disrespect each other.  And whether you prefer to get your knowledge in life from fact or fiction, pulp or parchment, via the library or bookseller, in-person or online, remember this quote from Dr. Peter Nazareth, one of my professors in college: “You can get something out of everything you read.”  So true.  You never know where that next book will come from that will change the way you think about things.  It’s worth the risk to cross the line.

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Accentuating the Positive

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Poor Philip.  Being 4 can be rough sometimes.  Lots of rules.  Lots of expectations.  Lots of emotions.

Sometimes, his emotions erupt like a volcano.  I understand.  I feel that way sometimes and I am still a work in progress on “turning the wheel” and keeping my emotions under control.  Today, in fact, I felt a rumbling of anger when he had drenched himself with the rainwater (irresistible!) while I walked the dog.  I had this big plan.  It was a cloudy day so we were going to relocate some of the 4′ x 4′ garden beds from the back garden and put them in the front garden.  But, a soaked child in cool, persistent wind is no good and I was not in the mood to dress him in fresh clothes, stick his feet in plastic bags to allow him to wear his sodden boots and layer him in a fleece and a windbreaker since his winter coat was dripping.  It was so disappointing.  We were going to be EXCAVATORS!  We were going to unearth these beds and haul them.  He was going to get wonderfully worn out and I was going to tackle a chore.  But, it drained me.  I lacked the reserve to be resilient about it.  We went in.  I removed all of the wet items, made sure he was warm and dry and relocated myself to make a bed while he listened to Poetry Speaks to Children in the kitchen and read along with the book.

As I made the bed, I argued with myself about whether or not this was a major big deal (not really) or just a learning opportunity (probably) and what I could do about it (get calm, move forward).

When I got downstairs, he was still listening to poetry, and I was still feeling pretty negative.  So, I grabbed a notebook and a pen and just started writing.  I sat on the chair near the window (trying not to think about all of the seeds that I have not yet planted) and I got my mood back in order after about 2 paragraphs (I wasn’t given much time for more).  He came up with some games to play, we had book-and-a-snack on the chair a bit later, then enjoyed reading the graphic novel version of The Little Prince over dinner.  Afterwards, he had a fabulous splash fest in the bath followed by a bedtime book, then lights out.

As I gave Philip his bedtime hugs and kisses, I told him how much he helped me get chores done (he helped me vacuum and he helped me clean dishes), how hard he worked on controlling his emotions (He and I worked on a list together.  For example, “When I get angry, I will stop and think quietly.”), how gentle he was with the dog (lots of pets and a reminder to brush the dog’s teeth) and so on.

He was grinning ear to ear.  He even said he was blushing.

As Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, lecturing, preaching and harping about mistakes are ineffective motivators for positive change.  When the situation has passed, when the milk has been spilled, when the brains (both the parents’ and the child’s) are back in normal mode, it’s time to talk about ways to do things differently.  It can be really hard.  Parenting is a selfless act, but not all parents are selfless (nor, I think, should they be).  But, having faith and trust, leaning on patience and collective plans really can help ease the burden on all in the family.

Pick me ups

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Yesterday was a rough day.  I can’t fully explain why.  Too little sleep.  Too many hormones.  Too much worry about my financial future.  I don’t know.

But, today was better thanks to some kind people as well as some entertainment.

1) Carol, Colton’s grandma, always sits next to me and talks with me when we’re at the Run and Read program in our town.  I always appreciate her friendliness and conversation.

2) I picked up David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls at the library and started reading it while Philip was with Ms. Jo.  Two of the mothers were there deep in conversation with each other and I sat in a nearby chair laughing at passages in the book.  The essay, “Dentists Without Borders” is wonderfully funny.  His commentary in “Easy, Tiger” about foreign language programs discusses comparisons of Pimsleur’s Japanese and German versions and highlights some amusing differences between conversations on the tapes.  I won’t spoil it for you; read it for yourself and enjoy it.

3) I went for a quick run (jog, really, let’s be honest) and had a great time.  I did my physical therapy exercises briefly before embarking.  Then, I just kept a nice, relaxed pace.  For all of you who feel the need to feel better at my expense, I may have been at a 12-minute mile pace today (See?  Not a run!).  But, my ankle didn’t hurt and I just felt good.

4) I danced around the house to Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” to distract Philip from his mood swing and had fun being silly.

5) Bruce made a fabulous dinner.  I didn’t have to do a thing except to show up, fill water glasses and toss some napkins on the table.  He made fresh gluten-free roti with hummus and a cashew ranch dip.  Then, there was a delicious array of fresh vegetables: cucumber, broccoli, tomatoes, green onions, and carrots.  Toss all of that into the roti, throw in some romaine and voila!  Taste heaven.

Getting our first thunderstorms.  I see grass peeking out of the earth.  Good news.

Gulliver’s Travels

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Philip and I are reading, bit by bit, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.  It is slow going.  Even though there is something inherently exciting about an average man landing on an island of little people and being restrained by them, the narrative gets a bit choppy when Mom (that’s me) gets to stop every few words and define the new word that’s been introduced.  Today, as we moved through chapter 2, here are a few I tried to explain as we read during lunch:

beeves: “that means cattle for beef”
fobs: “those are tiny pockets” (incidentally, I also learned that a fob can be a chain for a pocket watch.)
palisadoes: “that means…well, I don’t know what it means, but we’ll look it up” (turns out it means “palisade,” or high fences to protect an area)
impudence: “that means being kind of rude”
clemency: “or being kind to people that aren’t nice to you instead of punishing them or getting mad at them”
prodigious: “really big”
dispatched: “get rid of, like a villain or an enemy”
demesne: “someone’s area or territory”

I am considering NOT explaining the words until he asks, “what does ______ mean?”  But, the linguaphile in me may not be able to resist! We shall see.

Seedlings are all doing well.  The forecast says SNOW tomorrow, so I don’t think I will be out there planting anything hardy in the next day or so.  Will just have to wait until the weekend.  Patience.  Must have patience.

…I will add “have patience” to the list of ways to help change the world and then sign off.  Good night!

Bare Bones

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A poem for you (well, for me actually) to help me cope with the challenges of the day.

Bare Bones

When you see me
You will notice
That my face is not
A mask.

I am not an actor
A fabricator
Or a glowing showcase
On display.

I come from a place
(a foreign land)
Where the heart
Drives the lending hand.

Here, that hand is full
Of strings attached
And hidden fees
That I do not pay.

I do not befriend you
To net my network
Of anointed allies
For that maybe someday.

I befriend you, when I do
For the times we may spend
In pleasant talk
About sad, but hopeful days.

I am told today
That I am a fool,
That I need to know
the rules.

Don’t I know
The club is open
To everyone?
But only when I shine like jewels.

It takes a special paper
Written down in rare ink
Handed to you by the intelligentsia
When you dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

I am bare bones.
I am rolled-up sleeves.
I do not glitter.
I merely bleed.

Cousins and Cool-down Corners

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We had a wonderful time visiting cousins this afternoon.  First, we joined them in their hotel room and stuffed ourselves with falafel and hummus.  Then, Philip played with his cousins Kyra and Fiona by tossing around a ball they had given him as a gift.  After a while, we all went to the pool.  At first, Philip didn’t even want to go into the room.  But, after a while, we had him jumping into my arms in the water and tossing the ball around to his cousin.  Eventually, we were all cold and ready to get warm.  We returned to the hotel room, watched parts of Maid in Manhattan and laughed when Uncle Mike said, “She’s going to kiss Voldemort!”  Apparently, to him, Ralph Fiennes has been marked for life and will forever be the Harry Potter villain.

After saying our goodbyes and giving out many hugs, we headed home amid the blowing, gusting wind.  I was reminded of how winter is often reluctant to give up her domain to spring.  After we tackled chores and put Philip to bed, I briefly checked out the news when I found an intriguing blog post on the New York Times: “Teaching Children to Calm Themselves” by David Bornstein.  It is a post about a particular program that is helping traumatized children build constructive anger management skills.  Some of the approaches, such as the reminder bracelet and the “Calm-Down Corner” are worth noting even if your child doesn’t have trauma events in their past.  After all, feeling angry is a very human emotion.  We can’t escape it, no matter how replete our personalities are with equanimity.  The more everyone, including children, can learn how to navigate their anger, the more we will all benefit.

As a mother and a partner, I’ve had to confront my tendency toward volatility.  Having strategies, whether it’s breathing, going for a walk, or simply saying, “I need to take some time to think,” can be very beneficial.  Once, I had a friend tell me that people who suggest resisting the urge to yell are “living in La La Land,” but I don’t agree.  Yelling to warn someone that they’re about to be in danger is, of course, appropriate.  However, yelling in anger doesn’t help anything.  It does more damage than it purports to resolve.  Every term, I have students in my Human Relations class watch the 90/10 Principle according to the late Stephen Covey.  I think it illustrates my point without having to belabor it.

Bruce and I are still reading “The Storytelling Animal” by Jonathan Gotschall.  It is quickly becoming my new favorite book.  The latest tidbit we learned was about the art of confabulation, how we all unwittingly make up lies that we think are truths, and tell them to ourselves and others…and that it’s pretty unintentional and altogether human.  Fascinating.  Also, the whole section on conspiracy theories as “more compelling stories” than the truth was rather alarming and thought provoking.  When you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

On that note, we’re going to tackle some more of the book tonight.  Maybe we will go ALL OUT and have cereal for a snack while we read on the couch before heading to bed.  WOW.

…Have a good night.

Beautiful day

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This afternoon, Philip and I excavated a T. Rex dinosaur from a kit his grandma had sent him while enjoying the sunshine outside on our back porch.  The chisel in the kit and the other tool with the curved rubbery tip broke while we were hacking away at the material.  So, I pulled a hoof pick from the barn and it worked just fine.  Eventually, we eschewed all scientific caution and care and began dropping the clay brick of goodies on the concrete.  Worked like a charm.  After about twenty minutes with that approach, we were ready to assemble our dinosaur.  It led to Philip telling “The Amazing Dinosaur” story (his title) to me as he played.  It involved, among other things, a “rampaging robot,” “big rocks,” a “rocketship spaceship” and “a water slide.”  Fine entertainment.

After Bruce returned home from work, I went for a 30-minute run.  I admit that I could not have done much more.  I will need to work hard to regain my former fitness.  It is slow going so far.

Garden projects are underway.  Here are some tips in case you aren’t sure what to do this time of year:

1) Haul away all the detritus (dead leaves, grasses, etc.) and put the mounds/handfuls/cart fulls in your compost pile.

2) Turn over your compost pile if you’re able.  It may still be frozen.  If you don’t have a compost pile, pick a spot that’s in the shade and likely to be damp and build one.

3) Start setting up fencing for your beans, peas and squash if you’re planting any of those.

4) Plot out your garden(s) to determine where you will plant what.  Remember to rotate!

5) Clean out your old beds and, if you used containers, dump the dirt from those into your compost pile, too.  It’s important to freshen things up each year.

Here’s my personal favorite.  When you’re just feeling tired and the sun is just right, close your eyes, tilt your head back and take a deep breath.  Then, smile.  It’s a beautiful day.