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Wednesday, May 30, 2012


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photo here
Mahwidge. Mahwidge is wot bwings us togevah tooday. 

What are my thoughts on marriage?  In a nutshell, it's pretty great.  I remember being single and feeling sorry for married people but what I have now I wouldn't trade for the single life.  Is married life perfect?  No.  But part of what creates a bond between Allen and I is the experiences, both good and bad, which we've shared over our almost 20 years together.  I like this picture I've seen floating around on the internet:

I feel like it offers some sound advice.

On Monday I went to visit my Dad's grave.  The cemetery here is amazing over Memorial Day weekend.  It is blanketed with a whole rainbow of colors as flowers are lovingly placed in remembrance of those who have left us.  As I made my way to my Dad's little spot of ground, I was almost immediately sad to see that his stone was bare.  No flowers had been left.  I don't know why it struck me as it did, but I had a difficult time keeping my composure as I set down my paper cup filled with flowers I had gathered from my front yard right next to his name.

I thought about how terribly painful it has been for me to have my father absent from my life over the past 11 years and realized how much more difficult it must be for my Mom who had shared so many years with him in marriage.

As kids my brothers and sister and I saw my parents go through some serious hard times.  I even legitimately wondered sometimes if things were going to work out between them - but they always did.  Do you think my Mom remembers those times?  I'm sure she does.  But the thing she remembers most is the happiness and good times.  Above all else, she remembers the love.  And I realized that love is a constant thing, not something only represented by flowers or the absence of them.  Love remains when the one you love is no longer physically there. 

Is marriage always easy?  Heck no.  It's about finding the time to show love and respect for your spouse.  Sometimes it's even a matter of being willing to make sacrifices in your own life, often difficult sacrifices, for your spouse's happiness.  It's about working together toward a common goal despite what the world throws at you. 

But in my opinion, it's all totally worth it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rotten Tomatoes

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How many of you have ever started dating because you were too lazy to commit suicide? – Judy Tenuta -

I have to agree with Lori that life…well, my life anyway, is just a series of embarrassing moments. Actually, there are degrees of embarrassment aren’t there?  There’s the “oops, wasn’t that cute or funny” kind of embarrassing. Those usually involve falling down, or ice cream in the face or the dreaded wardrobe malfunctions of life. Then, there are the really abject humiliations. These can occur when you insert your foot into your mouth so far you could bite your own kneecap, or when your own selfish behavior comes back to haunt you. And sometimes, humiliation and embarrassment can be heaped-upon-your-head by someone else.

I have had plenty of the first kind, some of which I’ve written about in the past few years here on 4P.  Like the time I fell off the treadmill at the gym (because it was dark). Or the time I fell off the trail while hiking on Y-Mountain (because I have feet). Or the time the woodland creatures at Girl’s Camp reminded me just how disenchanted and un-Disney-princess-like I am.  Then of course I’ve had plenty of the second kind too.  There was the time I realized I had been calling one of the dads from the ballroom team by the wrong name for like a whole year. Actually this same thing kind of happened again in my Sunday school class just last week.  I’d been calling a kid by the wrong name for like two months since he moved in.  In my defense though, it’s not like either of them said anything.  Which I suppose I can understand because there is a lady at work that I’ve known for about 3 years now who calls me by the wrong name all the time and I haven’t told her either.  And besides being simply clueless sometimes, there are lots of times that I have been just plain thoughtless in my behavior.  I look back of some of the things I have said or done …I’m embarrassed and I wish, I wish I could take it back.

But the one I’m thinking about today is actually one of the third kind.  The one where humiliation is heaped-upon you by someone else. Sometimes it’s because they are just plain being mean, but sometimes it’s because they’re trying to do something nice….something for your own good even and it just goes horribly wrong.

I had one of those happen to me only a few weeks ago...and it was pretty bad.

I have a friend, a relatively new friend who just finalized her divorce a few months ago and so, like myself, is now single.   I have been single for coming up on four years now and have only very recently started thinking that maybe being alone isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered…even though I’m pretty sure it probably is.  I am very different from my friend.  She has been officially single for about 4 months and is signing up for dating sites and basically putting herself out there to take another swing at wedded bliss.  It seems to have worked for her because she has found a new relationship that she seems to be enjoying and who knows where it could go?

I am happy for my friend if she is happy and I admire her courage. But my friend, on the other hand, is worried about me. I guess basking in the glow of new romance really makes her want to share the love and she has really been encouraging me to put myself out there too.  She has even coerced me into signing up for an online dating site.  You may be thinking “online dating site? Wow that is really embarrassing.” You’re right, it is (at least for me), but wait, there’s more.

After I signed up for the site she actually expected me to do something with it…you know…talk to men and even arrange to meet someone. This whole thing hooks directly into every awkward and inadequate feeling I’ve ever had about myself from the time I realized I’d probably grown into too much of a girl to play tackle football with the boys anymore. I don’t think I’m a troll or anything. I have, after-all, managed to get two men to marry me -  but it’s not like it was love at first sight.  I kind of had to grow on them….over long, long periods of time…you know, wear them down.   I’m just not the kind of girl a man is going to notice while picking out tomatoes at the grocery store and then follow around for her number.  On the other hand my friend is exactly the kind of girl a man would stalk up and down every isle in the grocery store for her number. But you see, my friend is a kind, kind soul who I genuinely don’t think really understands the difference between the kind of girl she is and the kind of girl I am.  She sees admirable qualities in me that she thinks men would respond to.  I appreciate that, I do.  But I've also spent enough nights sitting home without a date and missed enough proms to know that “admirable qualities” aren’t what get your foot in the door when it comes to dating. 

So after all of that, you may be wondering why, if I am so reticent about the whole “online” scene, I went along with all of this.  Good question.  I’m trying an experiment with my life lately.  I’m wondering if people aren’t brought into your life for a reason. You know, to help you grow.  No offense to the millions of online daters out there, I know it’s fun for some people, but I’ve never been very comfortable with the idea myself.  On the other hand, I’ve been single for almost four years now and there isn’t anyone in any facet of my life that I am remotely interested in romantically (or conversely, is interested in me). Nobody I even flirt with just for fun. So, if I am going to meet someone (even though I’m not completely sure I want to) maybe online is the wave of the future.  My friend certainly thought/thinks so and maybe that’s one of the reasons she’s come into my life – ‘cause I certainly wouldn’t have done it on my own.

This is where it gets bad.

So, after several weeks of lurking unobtrusively on the dating site I actually “talked” to a few prospective dates. Then after a few more weeks, I actually arranged to meet “a prospect” at a local restaurant.

I arrive at the restaurant first.
I am nervous.
I am embarrassed to be here,
I was embarrassed just getting dressed for the date.
But I am here.
I find myself wondering, while I’m waiting, about the etiquette for the online hook-up.  Does HE pay for dinner or do we each pay for our own?  And how am I going to know that going into the date?  Should I just ask right up front?

I kind of know what the prospect looks like from the fuzzy pictures on the computer, so I’m pretty sure I see him when he walks in.  He’s wearing cowboy boots.  I’m not saying that’s a deal-breaker for me, or anything, it’s just, you know, information. Because I had told the hostess my name and the name of the man I was waiting for, she directed him over to where I was sitting.  I stood up as he approached and we shook hands then sat down in the booth. 

I smile at him.  He seemed ok - nice looking –a bit older than me and pretty tall (though I’m sure the boots helped with that).  He was a little heavy-handed with the aftershave, but at least he smelled good.

He stares at me intently for a moment. Then he leans back in his seat, sighs deeply and  places both hands heavily on the edge of the table.

Then he spoke.

“You know, I’ve been doing this online dating thing for awhile now and I don’t believe in wasting anyone’s time.” He had a nice voice with a little bit of an indefinable drawl to it...but I can't help but wonder what's coming next.

“Okay.” I say cautiously.

“You seem really nice, but this…” he says kind of waving his hands to encompass the entire package that is me, “…isn’t what I’m looking for.

“Okay.” I say again.

“So, I’m going to wish you a good evening. Enjoy your dinner.” He then slides out of the booth, stands up, and out of the Red Robin he goes.

As he’s leaving he passes the approaching waitress who was coming over to take our drink order and who, of course, I happen to know from Ebay’s former ballroom team.

“Okay.” I say to her. “I guess I know who's paying for dinner.

See, I told you it was bad.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Embarrassment + Time = Comedy

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 cup here

Here's the thing - I don't get embarrassed very easily.  So when I do, it's usually something huge.  Like back when I was 18 and on the phone with a guy I liked and all of a sudden there was a strange sound in the background which he asked me about... but that's not the kind of story I would write about for all internetdom.  It's a little too personal.  Trust me on this one, you really don't want to know. *shudder*

There was also that one time, back when I was still sort of quiet and reserved, when I was sitting on the piano bench at a gathering and then... well, that story's not really funny-embarrassing.  It's more the kind of embarrassing where you feel sorry for the person it happened to.  The kind of story that ends with nervous laughter or, worse, silence.  Therefore, I'm not going to go there either.

So, what story do I tell when asked about my most embarrassing moment?  I guess it always goes back to The Cup Story.  So, for those of you who know me, I apologize, as you've likely already heard this story before.

It all started in my friend Holly's living room.

I had gone to her apartment to hang out, and there he was... her brother, Ted. He was laying on the couch, watching TV, as Holly and I went about our business. The fact is (and I am not proud of this), at the time I was pretty much infatuated with anyone who was male and paid any attention to me at all. I noticed Ted was watching us... and that was all the encouragement I needed.

In those awkward teenage years there was one thing I knew for certain: guys liked funny girls. And so I tried to think of something witty to say. Nothing was coming to me. Ted was still watching.

As Holly was talking to me I looked around and found a small, plastic object sitting on the counter. Its shape was such that it made me think of a walkie-talkie. I grabbed it and pulled it to my mouth, responding to Holly's dialogue with, "That's a big 10-4, good buddy." Holly laughed. I was clever! Hilarious! Witty!

I stole a sideways glance at Ted. He was still watching me, his eyes open wide. Yes, I thought. I have his attention. Before we know it, he'll be asking me to prom.

"Over and out!" I spoke into the plastic, holey walkie-talkie. Ted sat up. He was going to talk to me! Holly just kept laughing.

"Um, Gerb..." he started, obviously uncomfortable. "That's my cup."

"What? This thing?" I asked, inspecting it from all angles. "With all these holes, it must not hold much water!" I retorted, tipping the 'cup' to my mouth as I pretended to drink from it.

"No... I mean, it's my cup," he answered, looking slightly disgusted. "Not like a drinking kind of cup."

"There is no way this thing is a cup," I answered, smiling at him demurely as I batted my eyelashes in his direction.

Ted looked to Holly for assistance. She was trying hard not to wet herself. He continued, painfully. "You know how I play football? Well... that's my athletic cup," he explained, motioning toward his nether-region with a cupped hand.

Oh. His cup. That cup. I am sure I turned 37 shades of red. I quickly set it back down and tried to play it cool. But honestly, how do you recover from that kind of social suicide?

The answer?  You really can't.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Rip

Pin It “Tell us about one of your most embarrassing moments.”

It was my first year as a teacher. As most beginning educators (or teachers in general in any year they’ve taught), I had a very limited budget and looked for ways in which to save money. Because of this, many of my clothes were purchased at the local thrift industry store. I’m all about saving a few dollars here and there, and purchasing an entire ensemble for school for fewer than ten dollars was always a screaming deal.

One particular day found me purchasing a pair of pants that were awesome. They were just my size, and though a little worn in the seams, were a great deal for only four dollars. After all there were no stains, the legcuffs weren’t frayed at all, and the pockets didn’t have holes in them. I made my purchase and left the store. Over the next few weeks I wore my new acquisition, and I was relishing in the fact that I’d purchased them for such a great price.

I’m all about screaming deals.

One day, I was working the after-school program and had a group of students outside. I was explaining the rules to the game we’d be playing, and as I squatted down, I felt—as well as heard—the unmistakable sound; funny how you can ‘feel’ a sound isn’t it? I’m sure you know the sound I speak of when I add that the world got an awful lot breezier, too.

I quickly stood and talked even faster so that my students wouldn’t be aware of what had just happened (luckily, they had all been in front of me and none behind). I put my hands behind my back and could feel the rip—completely up the seam all along the backside.

My face reddened slightly as I wondered just how I could get out of this. I was out on the field with two dozen students left to my charge; there was no ready-made solution—I’d have to make it back to the building, unnoticed, and then go home to change.

Now the challenge was finding the way to get there without my rip—a gaping one at that—being observed.

I got the game going as quickly as I could, I put two responsible students in charge and then began backing the entire distance to the school building; I smiled, offered up encouragement, and pretended that everything was okay to the crowd of boys and girls who were playing. Occasionally I had to turn to one side or the other when another group’s student was in close proximity so as not to give them a show. In reality, I must have looked like a dancer twirling this direction and that before covering the distance to the building.

I had never noticed what a long walk it was from the field before…

I reached the building, walking sideways and making sure my backside was to the wall as I passed both teachers and students in the hallway. I breathed out a sign of relief as I reached my classroom sanctuary and began to look for something to cover the tear…there was nothing.

I finally opted for the only thing I could readily find: a girl’s jacket that had been hanging on one of the classroom racks for as long as I could remember. I tied it about my waist and headed to the hallway. In reality, it was pretty hot out and with a girl’s jacket I looked completely ridiculous, raising more than one pair of eyebrows as I walked down the hall.

Undaunted, I made my way to the program coordinator’s office and told her that an emergency had arisen and I’d need to go home.

She asked what was up.

I told her it was personal.

She asked why I had a girl’s jacket tied around my waist.

I had no choice but to explain what had happened.

My boss’ face showed concern. She told me that I was more than welcome to go home to change. She nodded appreciatively and didn’t say anything as I backed toward the door. Then her face split into a huge smile as she broke into uncontrollable laughter.

I guess it’s a good thing that I had a sense of humor, because instead of being even more embarrassed I laughed, too.

Since the horrendous day of the I-got-a-huge-rip-right-in-the-seat-of-the-you-know-where I decided to limit my purchases at said thrift store. After all, some deals just aren’t worth the possible costs of embarrassment in days of future passed.

However, the story I got in the end was totally worth it.

Let’s hear it for screaming deals.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Udder Humiliation

Pin It When I read the topic for today's post, my immediate thought was jeez...my entire life is a series of embarrassing moments. There was the time my mother conducted some heavy-handed flirting with the cute security guard at the White House, while I, a super-sensitive thirteen, stood by and cringed. There was the time I tripped and fell into the guy in front of me as we were walking in the Dell at Lynchburg College...which wouldn't, actually, have been a big deal--except it was during our graduation procession, and is now on film for all posterity.

Another time, I "won" a spelling bee...but not really--they just thought I had because my southern accent was too thick to distinguish between a's and o's. I genuinely thought I had spelled warlock correctly, and told the newspaper so. "Miss Wray, can you tell us how you spelled warlock?" "Oh, sure! I spelled it w-o-r-l-o-c-k!" You can just imagine how that was reported.

There was the time I decided I could ride bikes with the big boys, and sailed on down the hill at Westbrook Circle. I was doing great, pink streamers singing out from my handlebars, braids flying out behind me. I was Winning. And then the curb at the foot of the hill rose up in front of me, a monolith to instant destruction I hadn't prepared for. I had no brakes. I swung sharply to the side, and somehow careened over the curb sideways and upside down...it was amazing. And humiliating. I cried.

And oh--there was this one time, on the schoolbus. There was that boy in the fifth grade on whom I had a crush...he broke my little fourth grade heart. I stared at him in awe when he turned around in his seat to look at me, his perfectly coiffed blonde locks with their feathered formation a sharp contrast to my uneven bowl cut, his piercing baby blue eyes locked quizzically on mine. It was a moment. Eternity in a second. It was meant to be. I'd been dreaming of this forever. Jeremy, my heart sang. He was almost...my...boyfriend...he's going to ask to me to marry him... And then I did it. I stuck out my tongue at him. I have no idea, to this day, why I did it. Nervousness, I suppose, blended with a healthy dose of stupidity. Jeremy's quizzicism turned to scorn, and he turned back around in his seat without a word.

There is no real competition for my most embarrassing moment, though. So much so, in fact, that I contemplated ignoring it. After all, if I don't tell you, you'll never know.

But that would be cheating.

So here it is. The ultimate baring of my soul.

After I gave birth to Autumn at 23 years-old, I was still in incredible physical shape. (Not to be confused with now.) I lost all my baby weight within a few weeks (please don't hate me...I'm paying for it now, I promise), and was itching to get back out on the volleyball court. I was serving as assistant coach at the time of the JV high school team, and we had a scrimmage scheduled for adults versus girls, so I decided I would get out there and play in that game.

It was awesome. It was so nice to be out there serving, hitting, passing, and even doing a little diving--when strictly necessary, of course. The game concluded, and we began putting the equipment away. I was chatting with Nick, the Latin teacher whose classroom was next door to mine,when I noticed a look of consternation on his face.

"What is it?"

He pointed, and then doubled over, hands on his knees. "Aaaaaaah....sorry...can't help it. I'm pretty sure those are your what-a-ya-callits."

Those "what-a-ya-callits" were my nursing pads, which were scattered across the floor a short distance away. "Holy mammary glands!" I exploded, and swiftly grabbed them up. I guess they had fallen out while I was busy bouncing to and fro across the court, blithely unaware of the devastation to my mama's wardrobe. I forced myself--and Nick--to finish our conversation, until the restrained laughter did us both in, and we parted ways.

How. Udderly. Embarrassing.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Books I've Invited into My Heart

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Shawna is a photographer, graphic designer, and Jill of all trades. She is happily married and enjoys spending time curling up on the couch with a good book and a steaming cup of cocoa. She also enjoys creating macaroni art portraits. You can find more of her at Ramblings of an Otherwise Coherent Mind.

Topic: “Tell about your favorite childhood book and why it means so much to you.”

A hard task indeed. After all, a child is a work-in-progress; ever growing and learning and developing and in that process ones tastes change. But there is one truth that doesn’t change… certain books have a way of allowing us to open up, inviting them in where they twine themselves around our hearts.

For a girl constantly getting in trouble for having her nose in a book rather than playing outside in the fresh air or getting chores done in a timely manner, there was a lot of books that marched their way through my heart and imagination… I’ll wean my list down to just a few treasured favorites.

Ladybird put out a series of easy-read books in the 1960s. Among them was Cinderella, which came out in 1964. While I have always been a fan of fairy tales, I admit that I was more drawn to this rendition of Cinderella for its gorgeous artwork… but then, it can be forgiven, since I was in the second grade when I first discovered this book in my school library. I would wish on the first star I saw every night that Cinderella’s dress would be waiting under my bed for me when I woke in the morning.

It never was. Years later I was able to find a copy of this little gem for myself and its now sitting on my shelf of beloved books from my childhood.

I was ten when my grandmother gave me my first Trixie Belden book. It was # 18 in a series of 38 books and she had found it at a yard sale. It was my first experience with a mystery novel and my ten year-old self thrilled at the adventures that fourteen year-old Trixie and her friends found themselves in. Here was an average, everyday girl; slightly pudgy and bad at math who often got herself into awful jams, but still managed to figure the puzzle out in the end and save the day, and I desperately wanted her to be my best friend. When forced to play out of doors I often found myself sleuthing alongside Trixie and the gang hot on the trail of stolen social security checks and planning our next charitable function (for the Bob-Whites of the Glen were always doing charitable work in one form or another).

Trixie’s series never made it out of her teens (unless you read some of the online fan fiction) and for a girl who has been around for decades, she still has a strong fan following. I often find myself reaching for one of her adventures when I have a few hours of time to myself and am feeling nostalgic, and admit that I read the entire series from start to finish about once a year. “Mystery of the Phantom Grasshopper” (it was a weathervane) isn’t the most popular of the series amongst fans, but it will always hold a special place in my heart thanks to my grandmother.

In the fourth grade my teacher, Mrs. Blue pulled Season of Ponies by Zilpha Keatley Snyder from the shelves and assured me that I would enjoy it… and I did. Pamela is a lonely girl who is left with her two aunts on a farm surrounded by empty barns and no animals whatsoever except for a cranky old cat named Brother. It seems to Pamela that she has been stuck on the farm forever, and not even the odd amulet her father, a travelling salesman, gives her is enough to lift her spirits.

One day Pamela hears a flute playing a haunting melody and races to the window to see a herd of delicately beautiful in gold, pinks and blues dancing in the mist, lead by a boy who lives free and comes and goes as he pleases. As he and Pamela spend the summer playing and creating ever more fanciful games, Pamela has to make a decision that ultimately gives her the courage to have a say in how she lives her own life.

I am sure many people who knew me as a child/young adult would expect Season of Ponies to be my favorite book. Surprisingly enough it isn’t, however, my favorite was written by the same author.

The Velvet Room introduces us to Robin, who lives in a Model T with her family during the Great Depression. When the car breaks down one morning outside the gate of an old plantation, Robin wanders off and discovers a large abandoned hacienda. When her father returns with news that he has found work in a nearby orchard, Pamela finds opportunities to wander back to the home, wondering what lies inside. A local elderly woman gives her a key that opens a secret entrance to the home, and, once inside she finds a grand library, with velvet drapes and so many books that it would take her years to get through them all. Among the books is a diary of a young girl, Bonita, which soon fills Robin’s thoughts.

As Robin spends more and more time in her “Velvet Room,” dreaming of being Bonita, she begins to pull further away from her family and the harsh world she lives in. It isn’t until the near destruction of her beloved library, that Robin realizes just what she has by being herself and how much she is losing by spending so much time wishing to be someone else.

I could certainly go on and on, but I suppose I could just drop an “honorable mention” to a few other books that I still love and adore:

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban
One Monster After Another by Mercer Mayer
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Pinballs by Betsy Byars
Homecoming by Cynthia Voight
Piper at the Gate by Mary Stanton
The Maggie B by Irene Haas
Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Gateway

Pin It Like all of my fellow bloggers on Four Perspectives, choosing just one favorite book from my childhood is almost impossible. I was kind of a Matilda when I was a child (of course I'm talking about Matilda from Roald Dahl's book of the same name).  I was a Matilda not so much in that I was a super-impressive genius that could multiply large sums in my head, but that I spent a lot of time alone and I spent a lot of that time reading.  

I lived in what we call around here a "newly-wed/nearly-dead neighborhood.  That means there were a lot of young married people with babies or toddlers. And then there were a lot of older retired people whose children had grown and gone. 

Then there was me and my brother. 

Luckily for my brother a few blocks away, there was a family that had a couple of boys about his age and also luckily for him they really hit it off and ended up  life-long friends.  Big Brother was nice enough to me, but he was (still is) three years older than I am and the gulf between a 7 year-old girl and a 10 year-old boy is pretty wide. Also, we were latch-key kids as my mom worked and didn't get home until about 5:30 or so every evening.  So after school Big Bro would often go over to his buddy's house (after seeing me safely home from school) and so I was left to my own devices -  and a lot (well, most really) of those devices included reading. Sometimes I read at home and sometimes I would take myself to the Library to get new books and to read there.  We lived about 7 blocks away from the old Provo Public Library (and I mean the really old one over on West Center Street for anyone familiar with Provo), and while I could not imagine letting my own 6 or 7 year old child trek 7 blocks downtown a'la Matilda whenever the mood struck, that's certainly what I did.  But then it was the mid 1970's...a different time with different kinds of parents that didn't have the reasons yet to be so scared of letting children explore their world. You may be wondering though, if I was free to walk that far to the Library, why I didn't just walk to a friends house?  Unfortunately I lived on the Eastern edge of the school boundaries and my school friends all lived more on the Western edge.  It was  about 2 miles away or so and outside the "zone" that was considered ok for me to travel to on my own - and I didn't have a bike yet. Though, having said that, everything was walking distance for us at the time because my mom didn't start to drive until I was about 10 years old...but that's another story.

Anyway, off I would go with my big blue book bag which was actually an old Pan Am travel case that I begged my mom to buy for me at the local Deseret Industries Thrift Store.  Old Blue could hold a lot of books and could also get pretty heavy -  if I'd had a red wagon like Matilda I definitely would have used that instead. I wonder sometimes what I must have looked like lugging my big bag down the stairs to the children's section, unloading my spent books down the return slide then turning to the shelves to see what to explore next.  Like Matilda, the librarians came to recognize me and after awhile started directing me towards different selections and series. Unfortunately, I was so painfully shy that I didn't really get to know the librarians as much as I probably could have.  But they were really great actually about pointing out something I might like without forcing me to actually speak to them too much.  Smart gals really, if I'd had to have too much interaction with the scary adults, I might not have been willing to go to the library so often.

Like most kids I went though different phases with my readiing.  There was my Annie Oakley period where I read and re-read a lot of semi-fictional biographies of the famed female sharp-shooter. This led me to a lot of other biographies of famous women (Florence Nightingale, Dolley Madison, Amelia Earhart - I was sexist enough to like the girl stories better than the boy stories at that age). I also read a lot of Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew mystery stories there for awhile as well.  But I remember at about eight years old, one of the wise and discrete librarians directed me to the Narnia shelf. She told me there was a whole series and that I should start with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. 

I did...and I was hooked.

I loved the concept of a parallel universe - an alternate, magical place that you could get to through the most ordinary of activities. I loved the ordinariness of the Pevensie kids who, through their adventures, became extraordinary. I could go on all day about the genius of C.S. Lewis and the multiple layers and meanings in his work though I can't honestly say that I recognized the Christian allagory in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe until much later on. I only knew that Narnia was a lovely place to visit and I did visit it very often. 

The thing about the Narnia books and specifically The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was that it was a gateway for me.  They led me to other books with alternate realities and completely different worlds.  For some reason that would probably take a good therapist to unravel, the concept of a different world really appealed to me. Not just the once upon a time in a land far away of fairy tales (which I also liked)....but a whole other places and planets. Essentially The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe took me into the science fiction and fantasy realm. It wasn't space travel I was interested in per se, it was the imagination that it took to create a completely different society with different norms, rules, dress,foods, methods of travel, methods of communication and every other possible element that makes up society. Then how the heroes and heroines of the books had to think and work and plan to navigate through the changes always came.  Anne McCaffrey's  Dragonriders of Pern series for example, was a big favorite for me.  Anyone who has ever visited the complex social order of the planet Pern will understand how you can be sucked into the day to day lives of the Dragonriders and how that world can become as real to you as the one in which you eat your own breakfast every morning.

Anyone who is into Science Fiction and Fantasy can attest to the addictive nature of the genre. It is the basis after all for role playing games Like Dungeons and Dragons providing endless hours of social interaction (of a sort) for geeks of all kinds, and has certainly influenced the electronic role playing games that now unite players around the world via the Internet  - the triumph of Science Fact over Fiction.

I myself never got quite that deep into the Sci-Fi/Fantasy lifestyle - I didn't do the games or the costumes. But I did jump with both feet into dozens and dozens of books that opened the gate and carried me away. There were many times in my childhood that I would have felt it a blessing and relief to be able to hide in a wardrobe and find that it actually opened to another world. As it was, I had my books

I don't know how I would have survived without them.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Thank You, Mrs. Ruthenbeck

Pin It How could I possibly choose a favorite book from my childhood?  I could just as easily have been asked to choose a favorite friend from my childhood, as this is what books were for me back then - trusted friends.  As I revisited each of my dear book-friends in my mind and thought of the lessons they've taught me and the moments we've shared I was able to narrow my choice down to two that really stand out. Both of these books were introduced to me in kindergarten.

As a child of parents who are both Deaf, sign language was the main method of communication used in our home and the one I was always most comfortable with.  We had family gatherings with my Aunt Betty and Uncle Jack, who were also both Deaf, and their kids.  We went to church with a Deaf congregation and pastor, and played with other kids at the local Deaf club on weekends.  From my 5-year-old perspective, the world was as fluent in sign as my family was.  Then came my first day of kindergarten.

I was excited, but apprehensive about being there.  My mom left when the other parents did, and my teacher, Mrs. Ruthenbeck, had us introduce ourselves to everyone.   Because I didn't know any better and felt most comfortable with signing, I used my hands rather than my voice in stating my name and favorite color.  To make a long story short, I learned that day the terrible truth that most of the world was not fluent in ASL.  I went home early because I refused to speak.  I cried.

This was the beginning of the discovery that I was different.  I was someone who did not completely fit in to the world of the Deaf or the world of the hearing.  The other kids must have thought I was strange due to my behavior on that first day - no one ever talked to me.  I became so quiet at school that my teacher worried.  She would come sit next to me along the kindergarten wall at recess and try to encourage me to play with the other kids.  She eventually asked if I'd like to stay inside the classroom and color or read a book.  This was how I ended up spending a good part of my kindergarten play time - at a table near the window, reading one of the many books in Mrs. Ruthenbeck's little classroom library.  Oh, how I loved to read.

One day I noticed a book I hadn't seen before, Leo the Lop. 
Even now as I write this, I feel emotion welling up inside of me. The story is about a rabbit, Leo, who is different from the other rabbits because his long ears hang down to the ground.  Leo tries to fit in and be like the other rabbits whose ears stand straight up, but his ears don't cooperate.  He and the other rabbits then meet a possum who teaches them that normal is whatever you are.

Normal Is Whatever You Are.  Normal is talking with your hands or your voice.  Normal is living in the Deaf world or the hearing world.  Normal is playing outside at recess or quietly reading a book to yourself.  Normal Is Whatever You Are.

Oh, how I loved those words!  I continued to read every day but always started or ended my play time in kindergarten by reading Leo the Lop.  And I still own a copy of the book today.

My other favorite book came about during Nap Time, when Mrs. Ruthenbeck would read to us from Charlotte's Web as we lay on our nap mats. 
I loved hearing of how Charlotte, a spider, became friends with Wilbur, a pig, and how hard she worked to make his life better.  I would lay there each day, eyes open wide, excited to hear what would happen next in Wilbur's adventure.

One day, near the end of the story, Mrs. Ruthenbeck stopped reading.  She told us that a very sad part was coming up and that it always made her cry, so she just couldn't read it to us.  In the same moment that I was thinking, You can't stop reading!  I need to know what happens next! she turned to me and asked, "Gerberta, would you read this part to the class for me?  You are such a good reader and it would be a great favor to me."  I couldn't believe it.  That looked like a pretty big book to a kindergartener.  I was scared for the tiniest moment, but of course I couldn't say no.

I walked to the front of the class, sat in Mrs. Ruthenbeck's Reading Chair, quickly glanced out at the faces of my classmates (who seemed just as surprised as I) and started to read.  I was amazed by how easily the words came to me and my confidence grew with each one.  I remember thinking, if I can read this book then I must be smart!

What a gift my teacher had given me.  Something magical happened after that day.  Somehow, things started to get better for me in kindergarten.  I started to play outside sometimes.  Kids would ask me to help them with letters or words that they couldn't quite get.  I started to look forward to going to school.  And Charlotte and I have remained great friends over the years.

All thanks to an amazing, intuitive kindergarten teacher.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Magic of Books

Pin It “Tell about your favorite childhood book and why it means so much to you.”

To pick a single book from of all of those which have comprised my childhood is a daunting task. Finding that ‘one book’ that speaks to me is like asking which of my students has been my favorite since I commenced teaching.

Okay, I might have two or three.

However, there are so many wonderful stories that have pulled me into adventures—beyond the scope of my own imagination—and picking a single one proves to be far more difficult that I’d originally anticipated.

This morning, as I rifted through the foggy memories interconnected with these various books, I remembered the first time I discovered Watership Down. I was in the seventh grade and Richard Adams had me hooked…so much that I read his novel straight through 28 times in a row. Consequently, I was also banned from checking it out at the public library because I kept rechecking it out and no one else could read it when I did.

I thought of the first time I heard Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my fourth grade classroom—I found myself transported into a factory beyond my wildest dreams, right along with Charlie. I remember wishing that I could find a golden ticket that would allow me to embark on a similar undertaking.

I recalled Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and wishing that the characters were real. I recall that feeling of horror in wondering if one of the rats at the end was indeed Justin, but had that feeling eased when I learned of Robert C O’Brien’s daughter, Jane Leslie Colny, had since written two ensuing novels to answer so many of the questions I had at the end of the story.

These, and other titles, cavaulted about my head, nothing more than a jumble of stories and characters, and similes and metaphors. That’s when it came to me…that one book that seemed to stand just a little taller than all the rest. In fact, the first time I heard this story I was in Ms. Hushing’s fifth grade classroom. She read through the pages of book, and like a libretto floats unseen upon the winds, this book carried us on an journey in which I was to forever be captivated.

James and the Giant Peach.

For those of you who’ve never had the opportunity to read this fantastic, little book, it tells the story of a lonely, little, orphaned boy, James. He is sent to live with his two horrible aunts, and his once-happy life becomes something that would never be tolerated in today’s society. Nearly every day, James is beaten and is forced to work for these two hag-like women, until the day James meets a little, old man who gives him a bag of glowing, little crystals—with the warning to not lose them, or their magic would be loosed upon someone or something else. But alas, poor James, when running through the garden, he trips on a root of the old peach tree and loses each and every crystal. And just when it seems that nothing will ever work out, James sets out on an journey far more wonderful than anything he ever could have imagined.

One thing that makes me love this book so much is the beauty of the words Roald Dahl combines into a crockpot of tastes and smells, of images and moments. In fact, one of my favorite selections from the book is:

“The moonlight was shining and glinting on its great curving sides, turning them to crystal and silver. It looked like a tremendous silver ball lying there in the grass, silent, mysterious, and wonderful.

And then all at once, little shivers of excitement started running over the skin on James’s back.

Something else, he told himself, something stranger than ever this time, is about to happen to me again soon. He was sure of it. He could feel it coming.
He looked around him, wondering what on earth it was going to be. The garden lay soft and silver in the moonlight. The grass was wet with dew and a million dewdrops were sparkling and twinkling like diamonds around his feet. And now suddenly, the whole place, the whole garden seemed to be alive with magic."

As you can easily tell, James and the Giant Peach most certainly has won its place in my life…and into the lives of each and every class I’ve ever taught, as it’s the first book I read to them at the commencement of the school year.

There are books that have won a place of honor in my memory, but it is James and his friends who are most certainly my favorite.
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