Monday, September 26, 2022

Musing about words

This made me laugh:  "Oh, you’re not religious.  Thank God."

Happily, we have other word choices.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Library loot ~ and writing that novel

Rick the Rock of Room 214 ~ by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Ruth Chan, 2022, children's picture book, 40 pages

Even rocks have big dreams in this sweet and wacky picture book about a display rock who longs to explore the great outdoors!  Rick is a rock.  For as long as he can remember, he’s lived on the Nature Finds shelf in Room 214 alongside an acorn, some moss, and a piece of bark.  One day, the teacher shows the class what rocks do outdoors, and Rick is captivated.  Exploding out of volcanos?  Plunging off cliffs?  Now Rick’s determined to get outside — after all, he’s a rock, and rocks are made for adventure.  When Rick does make his way into the great outdoors, he finds it’s not quite what he imagined and sometimes the greatest adventure of all is being a friend.

Thanks to Deb Nance, who mentioned this book on her blog.  I collected rocks when I was a child.  Once, my mother was quietly gathering up our clothes after we children were asleep.  BLAM!  A huge rock fell out of the pocket of my jeans onto the floor and startled my mother.  It didn't wake me, though; I was always a sound sleeper.

When I read this short children's book, I discovered it is dedicated to ME!  Yes, me!  The illustrator dedicated it to "all of us who love looking at, collecting, and treasuring rocks."  That's me, isn't it?  I collected rocks as a child.  I still pick up interesting pebbles I see, and I do look at the rocks between the covered walkway into my building and the wall of windows next to it.  If you ever collected pretty pebbles, this book is for you.  It made me smile.
Once again, my novel

Here's what I've come up with:  Betsy and Diane are a couple of book bloggers who go on a road trip together, after Betsy retired at 62.  The two had met in a group of people who discussed books online.  Their little group had started calling itself Book Buddies.  Driving to visit a few of their book friends in other states, they laughed at the idea that people once had that it's dangerous to meet with strangers you have only "met" online.  You know, that stranger could be an axe murderer!  At least, that's what people thought a quarter of a century ago.  (See illustration above.)  They laughed at the absurdity, since each of them thought the other seemed absolutely okay.  They'd known each other a couple of years online, but had just met in person yesterday, when Diane traveled to Betsy's town so they could go on this adventure together in one car.  The book's title could be:  Happenstance: The Case of the Axe Murderer.

What the two didn't notice as they drove along was that they were being followed by a man one was involved with, a man who was still very afraid of strangers met online.  When the man saw them pull off the road and get out of the car with one of them holding ... gasp! ... an axe, he pulled up behind the car, sprang into action, shoved the two apart, and wrestled the axe away from the "would-be murderer."  The other woman fell and hit her head on a rock.  Ironically, the one who fell was his girlfriend.  She wound up in a coma, in the hospital and totally unaware for most of the novel.  And that means, she was not able to say, "Wait a minute!  That's not the way it was at all!"  Now, which woman is in a coma, and who is on trial for attempted murder?  And why did one of them have an axe in the car in the first place?  I guess that means I need to decide whose car they were driving on this trip to visit their online friends.

That's the background, leading up to a trial for attempted murder.  The novel itself could be told through documents, like emails and instant messages and newspaper articles about the case.  Hmm, I'm not sure whether Clawdia will still fit in this novel or not.  Sorry, Clawdia, but you may have to stay at home for the whole novel.  Or were you in the car when all this happened?  And whose cat ARE you, anyway?  Betsy's or Diane's?

Saturday, September 24, 2022

National Hispanic Heritage Month

In the United States, National Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15th and lasts until October 15th.  During this month-long observance, we take time to honor the contributions, history, and culture of Americans whose ancestors are from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.  One way to celebrate is to read some books by Latine and Hispanic authors and illustrators.  Here are a few I plan to read from this list:

My Name Is Maria Isabel ~ by Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by K. Dyble Thompson, translated by Ana M. Cerro, 1993, children's fiction, 64 pages, 10/10

For María Isabel Salazar López, the hardest thing about being the new girl in school is that the teacher doesn't call her by her real name.  "We already have two Marías in this class," says her teacher.  "Why don't we call you Mary instead?"  But María Isabel has been named for her Papá's mother and for Chabela, her beloved Puerto Rican grandmother.  Can she find a way to make her teacher see that if she loses her name, she's lost the most important part of herself?
Xochitl and the Flowers ~ by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Carl Angel, 2003, children's, 32 pages, 8/10

When Xochitl’s family moves from El Salvador to the United States, she misses the garden and flower shop they left behind.  But as they start to grow and sell flowers in their new neighborhood, Xochitl and her family find a real sense of community and home in San Francisco by creating a beautiful plant nursery in place of the garbage heap behind their apartment.  This book is multicultural, with English on the left page and Spanish on the right.  The illustrations span both pages.
Tomás and the Library Lady ~ by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raul Colón, 1997, children's (Texas and Iowa), 40 pages, 9/10

Tomás, a son of migrant workers, loves the stories his grandfather tells.  Then, his grandfather introduces him to the library, where the “library lady” shows him a whole world of even more stories.  A true story of Mexican-American author and educator Tomás Rivera.  While helping his family in their work as migrant laborers far from their home, Tomas finds an entire world to explore in the books at the local public library.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Beginning ~ at the train station in 2010

Beginning

This happened back in March of 2010, when the Philadelphia train 
station still had the kind of information board that clickety-clacked 
the various gate assignments rolled up.  Serena Drew stood directly 
in front of it, gazing intently at the listing for the next train to Baltimore.

French Braid ~ by Anne Tyler, 2022, fiction (Maryland), 258 pages

The Garretts take their first and last family vacation in the summer of 1959.  They hardly ever venture beyond Baltimore, but in some ways they have never been farther apart.  Mercy has trouble resisting the siren call of her aspirations to be a painter, which means less time keeping house for her husband, Robin.  Their teenage daughters, steady Alice and boy-crazy Lily, could not have less in common.  The youngest, David, is already intent on escaping his family's orbit, for reasons none of them understands.  This novel illuminates the kindnesses and cruelties of our daily lives, the impossibility of breaking free from those who love us, and how close — yet unknowable — every family is to itself.

Anne Tyler, who has won a Pulitzer Prize, is one of my favorite authors.  So I've been waiting for my turn to read her new novel about "one Baltimore family’s foibles, from a boyfriend with a red Chevy in the 1950s up to a longed-for reunion with a grandchild in our pandemic present."  (Yeah, featuring the pandemic shows how new this book is.)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Impossible dreams? No, not at all

I'm Possible: A Story of Survival, a Tuba, and the Small Miracle of a Big Dream ~ by Richard Antoine White, 2021, memoir, 248 pages
A musician shares his remarkable story in this book, an inspiring memoir of both perseverance and possibility.  Young Richard Antoine White and his mother don't have a key to a room or a house.  Sometimes they have shelter, but they never have a place to call home.  Still, they have each other, and Richard believes he can look after her, even as his mother struggles with alcoholism and sometimes disappears, sending Richard into loops of visiting familiar spots until he finds her again.  And he always does — until one night, when he almost dies searching for her in the snow and is taken in by his adoptive grandparents.

Living with his grandparents is an adjustment with rules and routines, but when Richard joins a band for something to do, he unexpectedly discovers a talent and a sense of purpose.  Taking up the tuba feels like something he can do that belongs to him, and playing music is like a light going on in the dark. 
Soon Richard gains acceptance to the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts, and he continues thriving in his musical studies at the Peabody Conservatory and beyond, even as he navigates racial and socioeconomic disparities as one of few Black students in his programs.  He pushes forward with fierce determination, eventually securing a coveted spot in a symphony orchestra and becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate in music for tuba performance.  A professor, mentor, and motivational speaker, Richard now shares his extraordinary story — of dreaming big, impossible dreams and making them come true.
I put this book on reserve at my library when my friend Madge recommended it, and it came in today's library delivery.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Let's visit Ireland in a book

An Irish Country Doctor ~ by Patrick Taylor, 2004 (2007 under this title), fiction (Ireland), 356 pages

Barry Laverty, MB, can barely find the village of Ballybucklebo on a map when he first sets out to seek gainful employment there, but already he knows that there is nowhere he would rather live than in the emerald hills and dales of Northern Ireland.  The proud owner of a spanking-new medical degree and little else in the way of worldly possessions, Barry jumps at the chance to secure a position as an assistant in a small rural practice.

At least until he meets Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly.  The older physician, whose motto is to never let the patients get the upper hand, has his own way of doing things.  At first, Barry can't decide if the pugnacious O'Reilly is the biggest charlatan he has ever met, or the best teacher he could ever hope for.  Through O'Reilly, Barry soon gets to know all of the village's colorful and endearing residents, including:
  • a malingering Major and his equally hypochondriacal wife,
  • an unwed servant girl, who refuses to divulge the father of her upcoming baby,
  • a slightly daft old couple unable to marry for lack of a roof, and
  • a host of other eccentric characters who make every day an education for the inexperienced young doctor.
Ballybucklebo is long way from Belfast, and Barry is quick to discover that he still has a lot to learn about the quirks and traditions of country life.  But with pluck and compassion and only the slightest touch of blarney, he will find out more about life — and love — than he ever imagined back in medical school.
===================================================================
Word of the Day (is an abbreviation a "word"?) 

The MB degree, which stands for bachelor of medicine, is awarded for passing the medicine exam, thereby qualifying as a medical doctor.  This degree is equivalent to the MD in the United States.
===================================================================
Glossary

There's a glossary in the back (pages 345-351) to help readers understand the Ulster dialect:  from "acting the goat" to "bit my head off" to "finagle" to "hold your horses" to "knickers in a twist" to "youse."  Hmm, these all sound perfectly normal to me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Two more books I've found on Donna's Kindle

Turkey and the Armenian Ghost: On the Trail of the Genocide
~ by Laure Marchand and Guillaume Perrier, translated by Debbie Blythe, 2015 (English translation), history (Turkey), 254 pages

The first genocide of the twentieth century remains unrecognized and unpunished.  Turkey continues to deny the slaughter of over a million Ottoman Armenians in 1915 and the following years.  What sets the Armenian genocide apart from other mass atrocities is that the country responsible has never officially acknowledged its actions, and no individual has ever been brought to justice.  In this book, Laure Marchand and Guillaume Perrier visit historic sites and interview politicians, elderly survivors, descendants, authors, and activists in a quest for the hidden truth.  Taking the reader into remote mountain regions, tiny hamlets, and the homes of traumatized victims of a deadly persecution that continues to this day, they reveal little-known aspects of the history and culture of a people who have been rendered invisible in their ancient homeland.

Seeking to illuminate complex issues of blame and responsibility, guilt and innocence, the authors discuss the roles played in this drama by the "righteous Turks," the Kurds, the converts, the rebels, and the "leftovers of the sword."  They also describe the struggle to have the genocide officially recognized in Turkey, France, and the United States.  Arguing that this giant cover-up has had consequences for Turks as well as for Armenians, the authors point to a society sickened by a century of denial.  The face of Turkey is gradually changing, however, and a new generation of Turks is beginning to understand what happened and to realize that the ghost of the Armenian genocide must be recognized and laid to rest.

Trivia for Seniors ~ by Nancy MacQuilken, 2004, trivia, 92 pages, 1/10

The questions in this book have come from actual trivia programs with seniors in retirement homes and senior centers.  At the weekly programs many of the residents would suggest questions and topics to explore.  From this interaction came the material in this book.  Various levels of questions enables the group leader to choose questions based on the particular group, their interests, and their abilities.  (It's like taking a fifth grade exam.  It's totally worthless, and I rated it my lowest ever:  1/10.)

Monday, September 19, 2022

Looking at four generations

This family photo was taken in 2011.  I also posted it HERE.  I am standing next to my grandson; my daughter and my son (and his wife) are sitting in the chairs holding THEIR grandchildren.  My grandson's wife (mother of the youngest of my great-grandchildren at the time) is over there beside the Coke machine.  That's FOUR generations, and I'm the great-grandmother.  It's still hard to imagine myself the mother of grandparents.  I have seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren now.

This photo of me with my twin daughters was taken in 2016, when they visited me in St. Louis.  I also posted it HERE.  I enjoy sharing family photos with my friends, who also share pictures of their families.  We're proud grandparents and great-grandparents.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Reading, writing, viewing, and exercising

Hidden Figures ~ the movie

I went to the Theater room in my building on Friday to see this 2016 film on the big-screen TV.  It's about African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race.  It starts during World War II and moves through the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Space Race.  It's the interwoven story of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who were four African American women who participated in some of NASA's greatest successes.

A Novel Idea ~ Betsy, Diane, and a cat named Clawdia

What has ended, and what is beginning for our protagonist?  You readers suggested maybe one job ends and another begins.  However, I'm retired and can see possibilities in that direction.  So-o-o, here's my idea:  Betsy's boss plans to transfer her to another city.  Yes, it would be a promotion, but Betsy has a new grandchild here, in THIS town.  She wants to watch this child grow up.  What to do?  Betsy up and quits her job.  How?  By taking retirement at 62.  Yep, she just turned 62 a few weeks ago, so that's a possibility.  But think about the money, her friends suggest.  She could get more Social Security if she retires at a later age.  Is Diane one of those friends, or does she agree with Betsy?

What are Betsy's goals now, and what would she risk losing if she is unable to meet those goals?  For one thing, she must consider the money.  Is Social Security enough?  Or will she need to figure out another source of income?

Reading ~ eh, not so much

It seems I've been busier blogging and walking than reading this week.  Yes, I've been out there walking around the block, dodging the road work that's tearing up the street out my window by crossing the street and going around Walgreen's on the other sidewalk.  I've been taking Donna's old Rollator, even though it is not really tall enough for me.  Why?  Because it's uphill to the other end of the block I circle.  By having the Rollator with a seat, I can lock the brakes and rest before coming "down" the hill towards home.  I usually stop to rest near a green shady place where I can enjoy the plants and flowers at the condos there.  The good part is that my iPhone shows I've been getting in thousands of steps more when I walk around the long block, which is actually MORE than a single block as there are side roads when I'm going one direction and coming around and back.

Gone The Next ~ by Ben Rehder, 2012, mystery, 286 pages

Meet Roy Ballard, a freelance videographer with a knack for catching insurance cheats.  He's working a routine case, complete with hours of tedious surveillance, when he sees something that shakes him to the core.  There, with the subject, is a little blond girl wearing a pink top and denim shorts — the same outfit worn by Tracy Turner, a six-year-old abducted the day before.  When the police are skeptical of Ballard's report — and with his history, who can blame them? — it's the beginning of the most important case of his life.

I looked in Donna's Kindle and found she had given this book FIVE STARS, so maybe I'll read it next.  It is almost (but not quite) as good as being able to ask her if she liked a book.  It really is interesting to have her Kindle, as well as my own, to say the least.

Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Caturday ~ going to the vet

Here's Clawdia wanting to go visit Donna a few years ago.  She was showing me by sitting on the zippered "door" to her carrier.  I'm using this old photo to tell the world that Clawdia had a difficult day Thursday, when I grabbed her unexpectedly, put her IN that carrier, and took her to the vet for her regular checkup.  She's fine, even though she screamed in the elevator that she was being kidnapped — again — against her will.

Alyssa, a dog person, drove us there.  I unzipped Clawdia's carrier enough for her to poke her head out and enjoy the scenery along the way.  She saw people and cars and grass and trucks and trees and more green stuff growing.  She quietly gazed at the things we were passing.  Oh, how nice to get out of our apartment!  This, that, and the other were very interesting to look at.  It was ALL fascinating, so different from the view she usually has from our sixth floor windows.  I must admit, though, that she was quite happy to get home after visiting the vet.

Clawdia used to like sleeping inside her carrier, as in this 2015 photo.  Somewhere along the way, she realized how "dangerous" that could be, making it far too easy for Bonnie to zip it up and take her off to the vet.  Now the carrier mostly just gathers dust when not in use.  She occasionally sits on the door, still, but not on a regular basis.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Wisdom gained the hard way

Here's a STORY that I posted in early 2007 on another of my blogs, a blog I called Words from a Wordsmith.  It's a long story, so I'll understand if you skip through it.  However, there's another photo of cats in boxes near the bottom.

"Wisdom begins in wonder." — Socrates
"This is who I am, and I like who I am.  It has taken a lifetime for me to get here." — Note to myself, June 18, 2006
Who can I talk to?

When I was younger, I talked to young and old, men and women, boys and girls, and found no one interested in what I was curious about.  At some point most children quit asking "Why?  Why?  Why?" and get on with living, the same way everyone else does.  I am as curious now as I was as a child.

Some of the big questions I had were "Why are we here?" and "Why is there something instead of nothing?" and "Why are things the way they are?"  I have not found all the right answers yet, but I have figured out some of the right questions.  What I did not find was someone who wanted to talk about these fascinating ideas.

If I have no one to talk to, no one who is interested in the same questions, then where do I find answers?  In books, of course.  If I were a child now, perhaps my answer would be "on the internet, of course."  If I were the age of my children, perhaps my answer would have been "on television programs, of course."  I see today's internet as a natural extension of the books that gave me knowledge in the '40s and '50s and '60s and '70s.  Then I started getting degrees:  the bachelor's degree in 1975, the master's degree in 1987, the doctorate (almost) in 1998.  But it was all about "Who can I talk to?"

If nobody in my world wanted to talk about my interests, then I had to find authors who would talk to me.  I began reading where I had questions, going from one book to another whenever an author would kindly provide me with a bibliography.  I would find another book on the same subject or a similar subject and read that one.  My discussion partners may have lived many years ago or many countries or continents away, but we shared the same ideas.

Why not ask my parents?

Well, I did, but when I was still very young, I began to learn that adults were not always honest with me.  What, no Easter bunny?  No tooth fairy, either?  And no Santa?!!!  Being a precocious child, I began to see a pattern here.

I never saw the Easter bunny, who left me eggs when I was asleep.  (And why EGGS, anyway?  Chickens lay eggs.)

I never saw the tooth fairy, who left a coin in exchange for my tooth.  (And why would a fairy want a tooth?  My mother's explanation was that she used them like bricks to build fairy houses.  Okay, THAT made sense, based on her tiny size.)

I never saw Santa either, a jolly old elf who managed to leave gifts all over the world in the middle of one night.  (But how did he get all those toys on his small sleigh?)

I never saw the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, Santa Claus.  Yes, it's a pattern.  Hmm, what ELSE have they told me about that I've never seen?  God and Jesus, that's who!  So when will they tell me God isn't real either?

What do I want to know?

For starters, I always wanted to know WORDS.  That is at the heart of what a wordsmith is, one who loves words, collects words, wants to understand words.  My earliest full memory is about words, a story I've told many times, so you've probably already heard it.

I see my grandmother's chandelier beyond the head of my uncle (possibly Uncle Paul), who is looking down toward Nancy and me standing at his feet.  He asks Nancy, "What grade are you in?" and she says, "First grade."  That's all of the conversation I remember, but my perplexity rings clear in my memory.  What were they talking about?  How could she be in a "firstgrade" when I could clearly see she was in a room?  What's a "firstgrade," anyhow?  I didn't even understand our uncle's question, but Nancy knew and she answered him.  EVERYBODY knew what the words meant . . . except me!  I couldn't stand it!  I wanted to know what all the words mean, all of them, every word in the world.  Even Nancy, a little girl herself, knew what these words meant, and I didn't.  It was so frustrating.

As an adult I pondered my memory of confusion and perplexity, realizing I must have been very, very young if Nancy was in the first grade.  Nancy, after all, is four years older than I am.  Let's see, she would be six years old in the first grade, making me . . . two?!?  This means I struggled with words and trying to understand grown-up talk from the age of two?  Wow!  In later years I realized an uncle whose name I didn't know would probably be one who lived away from Chattanooga (my hometown).  Many people were milling around in Grandma Reynolds's living room that day, meaning an uncle (one of her sons) was there for something big.  A funeral?  Probably, since Grandma died in early May 1943, and I remembered that uncle was wearing a dark suit.  That means I had just turned three years old a week earlier, and Nancy was nearing the end of her first year in school.

What else did I want to know?

How about God-stuff?  I started learning words, exploring ideas, thinking big thoughts, and going to church every time the door was open, it seemed, because Mother was very faithful.  When I was little, she took me to HER Sunday school class because she was worried about leaving me in the nursery "alone," without her.  When I was about eighteen months old, she later told me, she decided it was time to help me settle in with other children.  So she explained to her Sunday school class that she would be in the nursery for the next few Sundays.  When she opened the door to the nursery, she was surprised when I exclaimed, "Oh, Mother, boys and girls!"  And I never looked back.  She didn't miss a single Sunday in her own class and I was, finally, happily in my own!

My parents went to different churches.  It was only after she married him that my mother found out Dad had been telling HIS mother he was going to dances when he was really going to church with my mother.  Grandma Setliffe would have been upset to find out he was attending another church, so apparently dancing was more acceptable.  Dad and his family went to Central Church of Christ when I was little, and Mother and her family went to East Lake Methodist Church.  We were a divided family, but it almost wasn't that way at all.

One Sunday morning Mother attended church with Daddy, thinking a family should worship together.  She had decided that, during the invitation, she would march down to the front and change her membership.  That morning's sermon was about the First Baptist Church and, Mother later told me, Dad's preacher "preached them into Hell and not back out again."  She said she could imagine it being the Methodists next week, and she just couldn't stand being in such a church.  Dad went to his grave not knowing how close Mother came to joining his church.  By then, he had joined HERS.

Anyway, I grew up attending two very different churches.  By the time I was eight, I was ready to join the Methodist church.  I don't remember what I made of their differences, but I had decided the Church of Christ was not for me.  Mother thought I was too young at eight, and even at nine and ten.  When I was ten-and-a-half, I told her one Sunday that I was going to go down front when the preacher gave the invitation, since she wouldn't talk to him about my desire to join.  She gave in and told "Brother King" (Rev. John King) that I insisted on joining.

I remember my baptism.  Methodists allow children to be baptized ("christened") as infants OR as a consenting believer, but my Daddy was firmly in the Church of Christ which insists on believer baptism by immersion only.  So I was not baptized as a baby.  Since Methodist churches rarely have baptismal pools for immersion, Brother King borrowed the one at the Baptist Church one afternoon.  I was a skinny little kid at ten and couldn't have weighed much, but when my bare foot slipped . . . oh, my!  I was sure I was going to drag poor, thin, elderly Brother King down with me!  But no, he held on and didn't lose me and I went under the water.

How do I love God and other people?

The main thing I learned from my mother was that I was loved by her, by my father, by my aunts and uncles and cousins, by God.  She sang "Jesus Loves Me" to us children, and I believed it because I felt loved.  If God loves us, then we are supposed to love God and each other.  That was clear to me.  The next logical step is to figure out how to do that.  How do I love God and other people?

When I was eleven, Mrs. Florine Morgan was my Sunday school teacher.  One Sunday she told us that there were only three doctors in the whole of the Belgian Congo.  Okay, so as an adult I can deduce what she REALLY said was there are only three Methodist missionary doctors in the Congo, but that's what I "heard" her say.  I decided from that day that I should be a medical missionary to Africa.

When I went to college, I was working on a degree in pre-med so I could become a doctor and go to the Congo.  Although I had a merit scholarship to Emory University, I chose to attend in my hometown (the University of Chattanooga, later the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) because Clyde said "if I love him" I wouldn't go so far away.  And he told me he would go to Africa with me as a missionary.  He even changed his major to facilitate his being accepted, he said.  He lied, and it was never changed.  After we were married, I asked why he lied to me and he said, "I figured you'd outgrow these childish ideas."

Now what?

I spent the first year of marriage in tears, wondering how I'd gotten myself into this mess.  After letting me use his car every workday while we were dating, Clyde refused to let me drive after we were married, not even on our honeymoon, saying, "Statistics show that wives are not good drivers."  What?!?  I tried to explain I was still the same person, to no avail.  No job ("not MY wife," he said), no college ("women don't need higher education," he said), no books to read, no money to buy them anyway (the money he earned was HIS money), no car to go anywhere, just staring at four walls after I'd made the bed, and then waiting for him to come home.

In high school I had been in concert band, orchestra, and marching band, becoming Band Captain in my senior year.  I got to go on all the band trips, including once to Washington, DC, where our band marched at half-time, seen on television across the nation.  I played in the Youth Symphony, taught bassoon to a younger student, and played in the college band while still in high school.  I was in the writer's club that met after school every week.  I wrote a short story for an English class that my teacher had me read before a meeting of English teachers.  I published poems and articles in school papers, took a required history class in summer school just so I could take all the electives I wanted to study during the year, and never saw the inside of our study hall until we were given an IQ test in my junior year in high school.  I was either president or secretary or some position in every club I joined, and I was elected to the National Honor Society.

I had been into everything I could manage to find time for, so sitting at home doing nothing was absolute torture.  It lasted less than two months.  After getting married on February 28, 1959, I had had enough of staring at four walls by mid-April and got a job at Sears.  My boss told me, months later, I had made the highest score ever recorded for Sears-Roebuck applications.  Huh, so I did have a mind, but a mind that had been suddenly deprived of any stimulation whatsoever.  The job lasted until the last day of that year because Sears (and most businesses, at that time) had a rule:  No woman could work past the mid-term of her pregnancy.  Yes, I made the classic mistake of thinking I could make the marriage better by having a baby.  I now know more than I knew at age 18 when I got married or at age 19 when I got pregnant, but I'm glad I had my children when I was in my early twenties.

Numbers are also words

It's sad to waste a mind or, for that matter, to mind a waist.  Oops!  Here I am again, playing with words.  Lest it appear I was all one-sided, I must say I have also loved numbers all my life.  When I sat on Mother's lap while she looked through a magazine, I wanted her to read me the long number in ads for, say, tire mileage.  When she read me nursery rhymes, I wanted her to read me the page numbers, too.  I would tell Sassy, my aunt Lillian, that I loved her to the end of the line and then some!  In other words, beyond how far I could count.

I remember I could count to twelve at age four because I learned to count the numbers around Mom's watch.  And that reminds me of a story.  In other words, this wordsmith also became a storyteller.

I needed a tonsillectomy, which Dr. Harold Starr would do in his office.  Since they would be using ether on me, Mother explained they would have me smell some "perfume" and I should count all the numbers around her watch when they did.  They started the procedure and put the ether mask over my face.  Mother asked me to count the numbers, but I didn't.  After a little bit, they removed the mask to see whether I was already asleep.  I wasn't.  They did it again, and I still refused to count.  When I woke up after my tonsils were gone, Mother asked me, "Why wouldn't you count?"  In great indignation I told her, "I didn't LIKE that ole PEW-fume!"

While taking a state exam during the sixth grade, I probably lowered my score because of my fascination about one particular question.  Using a symbol I had never seen before, with a 49 inside it, the test gave me four answer choices:
(a)  5
(b)  6
(c)  7
(d)  8
Well, that was easy.  The only one of those numbers that had anything to do with 49 would be a 7, of course.  Also, that funny looking symbol seemed to be telling me the answer; it was shaped like a division sign but had a little thing like a 7 attached to the bottom left of it.  I know now it was the "square root" sign.  I had the right answer without ever having studied square roots.

That was probably the most fun I ever had on a test!  But I devised other ways to have fun with boring tests.  When we were tested on our assigned spelling words, maybe ten in all, I would wait until the teacher had called out more than half of them before starting to write.  That way, I not only had to spell each word correctly, but I also had the challenge of getting the words in the right order!

In my ninth grade algebra class the teacher started explaining our homework, for the FIFTH time, because most of the students still didn't get it.  I had "gotten it" the night before when I did my homework and was bored to tears.  Miss Blackwell didn't change anything when telling them again, so why bother?  Being among the tallest in my class, I was seated on the back row, and beside me was a bookshelf.  Ah, yes, books.  I found an interesting title, probably also math, and slid it off the shelf.  Just as I started looking through the book, the teacher spotted me and called me down, even though nobody in the class was aware of what I was doing.  So I was chastised for knowing algebra too well.

As a mother of elementary school children, I went back to college.  So did a woman who lived about half a mile from me.  We carpooled, so our children knew each other and were playing in her yard while I tried to help her grasp the concept of algebra.
4x = 16
X is the unknown.
That means 4 times "something unknown" = 16
so 4 times WHAT = 16?

About then our children ran past her back deck and Barbara, having heard my question, yelled, "FOUR!" as she disappeared around the house.  I couldn't help but laugh because that's exactly what I would have done as a child.  I don't know if Jeanette ever did learn algebra.

During my stay-at-home time, when the only books available to read were my college textbooks and his, I took down his trigonometry book and started going through it, page by page.  In two days time I taught myself a third of his book.  It was such fun!  Clyde continued his college courses in night school.  One night he was stumped by a calculus problem, and I looked over his shoulder, curious about it.  I had never even had trigonometry, much less calculus, but after studying his figures and strange symbols I'd never seen before, I told him, "I can't explain HOW to fix your error, but it's right here in this section."  When he reworked that part, he was able to solve the problem.  I still don't know calculus, but I seem to have an affinity for numbers.

Most of my grandchildren could probably tell you "Grandma's favorite number" is nine.  It's a magic number!  Multiply 9 times anything, say 9x2.  The answer is 18; now add those two digits: 1+8=9.  Do it again: 9x4=36, and 3+6=9.  This is fun!  Again:  9x9=81, and 8+1=9.  One day in the car I kept Cali entertained with this "numbers game" while we rode along, with her in the backseat and me driving.  She wouldn't have been able to multiply this "big" number in her head, but it works as well:  106 x 9 = 954, and 9+5+4=18, and 1+8=9.  There are other games we could play with nines, like adding up all the single digit numbers:  1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+0=45, and 4+5=9.  Okay, I'll stop now.

Thinking outside the box

Do you know that feeling when you are working on a difficult problem and everything suddenly comes together?  That's what I call an "aha!" moment, a time when everything is wonderfully and completely clear.  The pieces have all fallen into place and you can see the big picture.

Writing is the process by which I synthesize what I am learning at the time.  (Then I added:  "to be continued" at the end.)

The famous "Dewey" left the first comment.  She was a blogger early on, but she died in 2008.  I miss her still.  This is what she said:  "I had that same line of thinking when my father told me Santa wasn't real.  I said, 'What about the Easter Bunny?'  Nope.  'Tooth fairy?'  Nope. 'God and Jesus?'  My dad said they actually were real, but I don't think I ever thought they were real again after that day."

Then Dewey added a comment about numbers:  "Nines are the most fun ever!  Do you know the hand game with nines?  If you hold up your hands, and put down one finger, then the answer to nine times that number will be the two numbers on either side of the finger you put down.  So if you put down the sixth finger, you'll have five fingers on one side and four on the other, so 54."  Wow!  No, I had never heard that.  It only works with the smaller (hand-sized) numbers, obviously.  But what fun!

I responded to her:  "Dewey, the more I learn about you, the more I realize how much we think alike.  I am so glad I'm getting to know you."

My friend Ginnie commented:  "Please do continue!  I was enjoying every word, until you hit the wall.  Please, keep going!"

=========================================================

*** NOTE:
  I wish I could tell Dewey and Ginnie that what I typed at the end (adding "to be continued") is actually a quote from Colleen's Loose Leaf Notes blog.  On the sidebar, Colleen says:
"From the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia I write to synthesize what I'm learning at the time, whether it be poetry, a political commentary, or a letter to my family in Hull, Massachusetts, where I'm originally from.  Whenever I don't know exactly what it is I'm doing and it borders on wasting my time, I call it research.   'Dear Abby, How can I get rid of freckles?' was my first published piece at the age of 11."

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Stop teaching young people to read

Avi shared "A Modest Proposal (With apologies to Jonathan Swift)" on Tuesday, saying:
We should just stop teaching young people to read.

Consider all the benefits that would bring.

Young people would only learn what their parents knew which would happily make them exact replicas of all their parent’s beliefs, education, and attitudes.  Think of it.  No clashes of opinions, arguments, or debates.  Calm family life. 

No English or reading teachers.  No librarians.  Think how much money would be saved.  Lower taxes! 
And he ends with . . . "Oh, then, how much simpler life would be for all.  Nothing would change."

Here's what Jonathan Swift proposed in 1729, using the title "A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick."  Click that long title to read about it in Wikipedia.  It's all tongue in cheek, folks, and I love it!

Basically, Swift proposed that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies.  Avi, who has written some of my favorite books, appeals to people wanting to take books off library shelves as "not suitable for children."  He appeals to those who want to ban books, in other words.

Phrase of the Day
tongue in cheek = phrase of tongue in an ironic, flippant, or insincere way.  Example:  "One suspects that he is writing with tongue in cheek."

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Similar words

I was reading the last essay in Oliver Sacks' 2015 memoir Gratitude when I encountered a word I've never used, though it was obvious to me what the word meant in context:
"We lived in a fairly Orthodox Jewish community in Cricklewood, in Northwest London — the butcher, the baker, the grocer, the greengrocer, the fishmonger, all closed their shops in good time for the Sabbath, and did not open their shutters till Sunday morning" (p. 34).
At first glance, the grocer and the greengrocer are the same in my mind, but then I thought, "Green, as in growing stuff."  Yes, that's pretty much what the dictionary says.

Word of the Day #1
green·gro·cer /ˈɡrēnˌɡrōsər / noun (British) = a retailer of fruits and vegetables.
Word of the Day #2
gro·cer /ˈɡrōsər / noun = a shopkeeper who sells foods such as meat, flour, sugar, canned goods, as well as fruits and vegetables.
There's the key to why the term "greengrocer" is not one I use — it's British.  My dad was a grocer.  He owned a small grocery store in the early 1940s, before he was drafted into the Army during the Second World War.  He was also a meat cutter (not a butcher, he insisted, who butchers the animals), so that means he had meats in his store as well as fruits and vegetables and other things.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Two books on my two Kindles

Final Chapter ~ by Pam Stucky, 2018, mystery, 207 pages

For Megan Montaigne, library director, living in the top floor of the mansion-turned-library is a dream come true.  At least it was, before the murders started. Megan has always secretly wanted to be a forensics investigator.  The small-town library director has just begun rebuilding her life after tragedy tore it apart less than a year ago and is happily settling into her new apartment on the top floor of the library by the river.  But when a local celebrity turns up dead, the time has come to put her sleuthing fantasies into action.  Has she unwittingly invited the murderer into her own home?  And will she be able to prove her innocence before she becomes a victim herself?

An Eye for an Eye: Detective Kate Young Book ~ by Carol Wyer, 2021, mystery, 430 pages

A killer is running rings around the police, and a detective is spiraling out of control.  DI Kate Young is on leave.  She's the force’s best detective, but her bosses know that she’s under pressure, on medication, and overcoming trauma.  So after her bad judgement call leads to a narrowly averted public disaster, they’re sure all she needs is a rest.

But when Staffordshire Police summon her back to work on a murder case, it’s a harder, more suspicious Kate Young who returns.  With a new ruthlessness, she sets about tracking down a clinical, calculating serial killer who is torturing victims and leaving clues to taunt the police.  Spurred on by her reporter husband, Young begins to suspect that the murderer might be closer than she ever imagined.

As she works to uncover the truth, Young unravels a network of secrets and lies, with even those closest to her having something to hide.  But with her own competence — and her grip on reality — called into question, can she unmask the killer before they strike again?

Monday, September 12, 2022

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Gratitude ~ by Oliver Sacks, 2015, memoir essays, 64 pages, 8/10

"My predominant feeling is one of gratitude.  I have loved and been loved.  I have been given much and I have given something in return.  Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure." — Oliver Sacks

No writer has succeeded in capturing the medical and human drama of illness as honestly and as eloquently as Oliver Sacks.  During the last few months of his life, he wrote a set of essays in which he movingly explored his feelings about completing a life and coming to terms with his own death.  "It is the fate of every human being," Sacks writes, "to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death."  Together, these four essays form an ode to the uniqueness of each human being and to gratitude for the gift of life.

"Oliver Sacks was like no other clinician, or writer.  He was drawn to the homes of the sick, the institutions of the most frail and disabled, the company of the unusual and the 'abnormal.'  He wanted to see humanity in its many variants and to do so in his own, almost anachronistic way — face to face, over time, away from our burgeoning apparatus of computers and algorithms.  And, through his writing, he showed us what he saw." — Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal, one of my favorite books ever.

Added Monday afternoon:  Here's a quote from the book:
"I have been increasingly conscious, for the last ten years to so, of deaths among my contemporaries.  My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself.  There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever.  When people die, they cannot be replaced" (p. 19).
This is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, who says, "Post the books completed, the books you are currently reading, and the books you hope to finish at some point."  Nah, it's Monday, and this is what I'm reading.  Since I post nearly every day, I don't need to repeat myself, so this one book is enough for today.  Tomorrow is another day, and I'm sure I'll discuss another book or two then.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

A novel idea, continued

What happened to our novel idea from last Sunday?  Four people commented:

Mark said:  "The biggest question I have is what genre is our character in.  That's going to determine who they are and what drives me.  I usually read mysteries, so the biggest driver there is wanting to make sure that justice is done.  Quite often that includes clearing a personal friend who is a suspect.

Deb said:  "I'd recommend choosing a character who is like you, but is a better or worse version of you.  Or I'd choose a character who is based on someone you have met in your life who you found intriguing."

Shelleyrae said:  "Hmm…revenge is always a good motivator, or perhaps atonement."

Helen said:  "The main character should have a cat who is almost a character in itself.  Perhaps the main character is animal-driven (think crime or murder at the local ASPCA)."

So Mark and Shelleyrae and Helen seem to lean toward making this a mystery or thriller, but after reading several of the cozy mysteries on my friend Donna's Kindle, that doesn't interest me.  If the main character is like me (as Deb suggested), she isn't into murder and mayhem.  My "problems" are more mundane, like how to get through this week.  Or even how to get through today!
  
I notice that Helen says that "the main character should have a cat."  She's been reading my blog so long that she probably remembers Kiki (on the right), the cat I had before my little black cat, Clawdia.  Excellent idea, Helen!

If every end is a new beginning, let's incorporate that into our novel.  What has ended, and what is beginning for our protagonist?  As you make suggestions, remember that what I want to compose is a literary novel — not a cozy mystery or thriller or romance novel.  So what is literary fiction?  It does not fit neatly into an established genre, but is character-driven rather than plot-driven.  It examines the human condition, someone said.  Let's do that.
So here's what I think so far.  The characters are BJ (that would be me, though "I" need a name in my novel) and her best friend DC (Donna also needs another name).  Let's call them Betsy and Diane.  Betsy has a cat; what shall we call her?  The cat, I mean.

Now let's decide this:  What are Betsy's goals, and what would she risk losing if she is unable to meet those goals?



The Cruelest Month
~ by Aaron Stander, 2012, thriller, 262 pages

This book I'm reading now has a dog in it named Roxy, but no cats that I know of.  I'm having a hard time getting into this book and have to keep starting over, because I forget what I read yesterday.  I may abandon it.  Maybe it's more fun to write a novel than to read one.  Yay!



By the way, that photo at the top shows A Novel Idea, a bookstore in North Chattanooga that sold used books.  I worked at A Novel Idea for a short time before Donna and I opened Book Buddies, a bookstore several miles north of there in Red Bank, Tennessee.


Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.