The Library

I recently recommitted to staying up-to-date with the changing tech we use everyday. (Except for iTunes.) As I’ve said before, I want to remain current. There is a place that the fast pace of tech changes hasn’t made obsolete (a la public phones and supermarket cashiers). It’s the library. Fortunately for all of us, the U.S. public library system has kept up with change and has evolved to meet today’s needs. We can install library apps on our phones.  We can check online to see if a book is available at a local branch and hold it until we get there. We can borrow an e-book and download it to our e-reader without leaving home. Anyone can use the public desktops at any branch (albeit on unsecured networks). And we can check out hard copy books by using the self-service scanners. (These require a staff member nearby to help the tech challenged folks who still can’t quite get the hang of it, just like in the supermarket.) Yup, the library has kept up and it makes me happy because it’s been my solace for a long time.

Alaaeddin H/FreeImages

I remember the first time I went to a library.  I didn’t imagine the doors that would open once I reached the one leading to the front of the little branch in Medford Massachusetts. My mother dropped my sister and I off there on a Saturday morning in one of her attempts to find something “enriching” for us to do. She had papers to grade, so she needed to leave us somewhere that, in her mind, was more useful than the neighborhood playground. She had little discretionary cash so that fact it was free was a good thing. That was back in the days when parents could leave their kids in a place with strangers and not have a) the strangers call the cops or b) the strangers abduct the kids.

I remember the way the children’s room looked and smelled. The walls were bright primary colors with posters attached encouraging us to READ. Isn’t it funny, to this day I love the smell of books, the paper together with the ink. The first time I caught the scent it was better than that of the lilacs next to my house. My love of the library goes back to that day. I spent hours with my head inside books, close enough to read and inhale them.

I discovered a place that was more comfortable  than my home. My mother was a single parent who worked long hours so home was sometimes lonely, sometimes stressful. It was comfortable and comforting at the library. I was able to walk alone and undisturbed up and down the stacks, taking out any book that caught my fancy. I’d look at it, put it back or tuck it under my arm for later. I wonder what the adults thought who saw me, the little black girl in blue cat-eyed glasses talking to herself as she marched through the rows. I loved dropping my choices onto the little tables and chairs set out to enhance the pleasure of reading. And I appreciated the QUIET. It was unbelievable to me that everyone, even adults, had to shut up so everyone else could read.

I went to the library often after that first visit. As I still do now, back then I’d choose a secluded corner near the back, close to a window if possible. I sat at those little tables reading the variety of styles I’d delighted in trying. My interests ranged from juvenile biographies of Louis Armstrong and Sojourner Truth to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Although Charlie’s life was as mysterious to me as the factory.)  One of my favorites was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I loved books in which kids were stretching boundaries. My mother made sure we had books at home but I had to share with my younger sister. Those titles skewed younger. At the library I  stretched my own literary boundaries which made me feel more mature.

The library was the most civilized place my nine-year-old self ever experienced, and the library is still one of my favorite places. I wrote a blog post about using it as my writing office but I also still roam the aisles for comfort. Public libraries are wonderful resources for us and for many reasons. I hope we don’t decide we’re so advanced as to lose them.

 

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Please Don’t Call Me Grandma

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My daughter called me a few days ago laughing. A family friend welcomed her first grandchild last month. My daughter was laughing because the friend told her she wants to be known as Neena to the baby. My daughter said, “All you baby boomers have different grandmother monikers and none of them is Grandma.”

Damn right. I have three grandchildren and I  dare any of them to call me Grandma. My chosen grandmother name is Memu. I love it when the middle one sees me at her preschool and says in her little New York accent, “I’m going with my grrrranmaa…” but I don’t want her to introduce me that way. I cringe when her teachers call out, “Nyla, Grandma’s here.” Is it crazy that I correct them sometimes? Her teachers are young so I’m sure they think, “Whatev.”

Is my daughter is right?  Do you think it’s because we’re boomers? If it is, maybe it’s the second stage boomers, those of us who came of age during the nineteen sixties. Our frame of reference developed during an era of major changes like the Voter Rights Act and the Equal Rights Act. We were empowered by its ethos. We define ourselves by that time and we think we’re cool. You’re more likely to see most of us in jeans and T-shirts than in black pants and Alfred Dunner blouses. You probably won’t find us with glasses hanging from chains around our necks. We turn our Marvin Gaye and Van Morrison up loud in our cars and we rock it like we know how. I don’t dye my grey hair but I do wear it in long braids, thank you very much. Many of us use social media. Interestingly, I know a few women born at the end of WWII who, although they like Facebook, won’t do Twitter or Instagram. I both tweet and ‘gram, much to the chagrin of my grandkids’ parents. I was told explicitly by one of them NOT to get on Snapchat. (Truth be told, I tried to post my first Instagram story recently, but I sent it to a young acquaintance by mistake. I could almost hear her saying to herself, “Why is this old lady texting me a video of her car window?”)

That brings up another point. I’ve had conversations with other grandmothers my age about how our adult children don’t like our attitudes. They would prefer it if we “acted our age” which I guess means old. I was told I’d be selfish if I let my social life impede being a good grandmother. I don’t understand what that even means. It’s not that I don’t like being with my grandkids. I look at their faces and my heart sings. They are my best friends. Their presence enhances my life for real. In them I have love to the second power…I just don’t want them calling me Grandma.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny my age. In fact, I embrace it. I’m fortunate to still be here. Several of the folks dear to me are gone now. And often I feel my age. I feel it when my knee doesn’t want to get out of the car with me after a long ride, when I fill my weekly pill case, when I catch myself eating dinner at 4pm and I feel it when the grandkids ask me to push them on the swings for what seems like days. But maybe my daughter is right. Maybe it is my attitude.  No matter how achy or tired I feel I’m always in the mood to put on my suede booties and go out to see what else there is for me to discover and enjoy.

So like all the other Memus and Mimis, the Neenas and Nonas and Nikas, I’ll be there on the school playground to pick up the kids and push them on the swings like the good grandmother I am. But please don’t call me Grandma and watch out for me when I leave. I’ll be the one tearing out of the parking lot with my music turned up, bouncing to the boomer beat.

Why You Won’t Be Seeing Us Real Soon

 It’s been a little while since I posted.  I have a few pieces in the pipeline so I  hope to post more during the summer. But there’s been a lot going on around here, the best of which was finishing the first draft of my first novella, “Ties That Bind”. I ‘ll talk about that experience on my other blog,  BusyWritingLife.

The other stuff is mainly around family, some good, some bad which are the subjects I’ll be sharing this summer. And speaking of which;

 

Yeah, Disney, about that…..

Wikimedia

We’ve been thinking about doing a family vacation this summer. There are young’ens in our clan so, naturally, when I threw out the vacation idea, Disneyland was mentioned by their parents as a possibility. I grew up in the counter-culture days and tend to think of myself as a social reform type so at the Disney suggestion the only response that came to my mind was, as one of the other family members says, “hashtag, I can’t”. But I was pointedly reminded by one daughter that as I was bringing her up, I pushed Disney like a Oxycontin dealer.

I admit it’s true. I enjoyed a lot of Disney movies, both as a child and as an adult. When I became a mother, the memories of feelings I had as a child for Snow White and Cinderella overcame my supposed highly developed social sense. My emotional need was to share those memories with my kids. I wanted them to give them what I thought I’d gotten out of the films. It was a knee-jerk response to parenthood. And, truth be told, I continued to get with the Disney program. As a matter of fact, The Little Mermaid was a special bonding experience for me and that same daughter. Her favorite song was Part of That World and mine was Under the Sea. Some things never change…

…And some things do. So, I changed my mind. Sue me. (Oh that’s right, daughter can because she’s an attorney now. Take that Arial!)  It was right around the Aladdin years that I noticed a change in my attitude toward Disney films. I was starting to become bothered by the things like historical contexts and language. Why is a princess using an expression like, “at your service?” And why a princess? Why always a princess?! By the time Pocahontas was released I was suspicious of all the basic Disney themes. (Actually during one point in that movie, in a theater, my sister and I both stood and shouted, ‘Oh c’mon!”)  I started questioning what it was I actually did get from those old “classics” in terms of gender roles, class distinctions and cultural perspective. I realized that as an evolved, modern, African-American woman, I needed a new cartoon vision that matched my mood. (Haha.) That’s when I started boring my kids with “responsible” TV shows like Captain Planet. We stopped going to Disney movies and instead I brought home videos like Ferngully, The Last Rainforest”. The only Disney distributed movie I let into the house was The Brave Little Toaster. It scared the shit out of them and began the “reading era” of their childhood. As a result, when they criticize me about that time, as they still do, it’s in very literate terms.

Did I do the right thing by casting a jaundice eye on Disney and sharing my misgivings with my kids or was I the throw back hippie hypocrite they feel I was? I’m not sure but I’m still going to take a pass on dunking the grandkids in the Disney kool-aid as our summertime fun. Maybe I’ll suggest a hiking trip in the mountains instead. Now, please excuse me. We have a birthday party this afternoon and I have to go wrap an Elsa’s Frozen Palace play set.

Busy. Writing. Life.

I can’t believe it’s autumn again already. I was very busy over the summer and it passed by very quickly. I traveled quite a bit, I rooted around the area of the DMV for yet more insight into its history and I spent a lot of time outside. I’m in love with Rock Creek Park, Great Falls Park and Glen Carlyn Nature Preserve, having had the pleasure of hiking all three during the warm months.

Great Falls
Great Falls
Glen Carlyn
Glen Carlyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

I joined a second faith community to strengthen my practice and for service work. I’m also always trying to find work that PAYS. Oh, and I grew tomatoes!

Bumper Crop!
Bumper Crop!
I admit I had a lot going on last summer...
I admit I had a lot going on last summer…

 

But not as much as my neighbor did
But not as much as my neighbor did

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was especially busy writing. I spent more time writing during the summer than I ever have. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this blog as a result. Most of my writing energy was spent on other forms rather than blogging. So now, I find myself knee-deep in work on my first novel as well as poetry and short stories. I have a couple of pieces out for submission to literary magazines and contests. Nothing has been published yet but I’m happy with the work, which feels great. I also increased my involvement with three writers groups (both physical and online). All of this has left me with little time for the amount and type of writing I was used to doing for Stop Along the Way.

So what do you think I should do? Here are my choices as I see them right now;

  • Close Stop Along the Way after a wonderful four year ride.
  • Change it to a creative writing space and post my workshopped pieces here.
  • Narrow the scope of this blog to pieces that focus on spirituality, create a new blog for humor pieces and keep everything else for the groups.
  • Leave it as is, post when I can and hope for the best.

I’d love some advice from my fellow bloggers about the situation. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I don’t know which direction to go in. I try to write everyday but there’s also “life”. So, how do I blog, write the other stuff and still have time for things like family, health and paying the bills? Please weigh in!  

Summer Meditation: Notes From the Road

 

jeep-218956_640It’s sunrise and I’m on Route 95 headed toward Richmond. The early sunshine works its way through thick bands of pine and maple trees along the highway. Puffy clouds sit static behind the green backdrop. I’m glad to be on my way further down south from Virginia. This visit to my cousin in Raleigh means I get to explore what I’m told is the “real south” which is what I’ve been trying to do since I moved two years ago. Funny, when I lived in Boston I thought northern Virginia was the real south but apparently Richmond is a dividing line, it’s history as the Confederate capital still having significance.

I’ve been to Atlanta and Myrtle Beach but as I enter the city of Richmond it feels different. I can’t help wondering what this landscape looked like 150 years ago. Did the sun penetrate the foliage then as it does now when soldiers stood between the trees trying to detect the blue or the gray of the perceived enemy? Did any of my people run this route on their way from confederate North Carolina to the contraband camps in Alexandria where I live now? I see long swaths of grass between mighty trees. Were they part of battlefields? As I pass by I’m thinking about all those who might have been left lying out there. What a time that must have been! Were the issues of the Civil War clear-cut back then to the citizenry of both sides or did they seem as confused as the ones we wrestle with now; war, conflict, ideology?

I exit onto Route 85 and into North Carolina. The cops are less visible than on the Virginia roads. Are they waiting til they have a good breakfast of grits and eggs before starting their patrols? Old time asphalt reverberates and rattles my soul along with my wheels. I see a sign for Ace Hardware and Gun Store. Hills, valleys and pickup trucks. No helmets needed by the Harley riders here. Cigs three dollars a pack and a speed limit of whatever you can bear. Ghosts of tobacco plantations, dusty hills, slave-owning forefathers but license plates that only mention Kitty Hawk. Places like Creedmoor and Falls Lake; Ruin Creek, Nutbush Creek, and Bullsville inhabit this two lane stretch. I roll down the window a bit to smell the air. It’s hot and humid just the way I like and aromatic with bellflowers and jewelweed in full bloom. I know this place’s unsettling and violent history but like many folks, I still find the scenery beautiful and somehow peaceful.

I turn off the highway just outside Raleigh onto the Triangle Expressway. It’s a big, newly paved road dotted with the shiny office buildings of tech companies. I start looking for my cousin’s subdivision. There are so many of them here that have replaced old farms although, come to think of it, it’s the same in Virginia and Pennsylvania. I find the “Springwell” community and pull in. (All the subdivision around here are named.) I’m looking forward to the lilt in my cousin’s speech and his traditional southern hospitality. I hear there are only three Starbucks in these parts but that’s ok because I’m ready to try something else.

 

“One Of These Mornings You’re Gonna Rise Up Singing”*

 

WE ARE RACING TOWARD SUMMER, AREN’T WE?

It’s feels to me, after such a long and difficult winter, that spring lasted no time at all. April seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and incredibly, we will celebrate the unofficial start to summer this weekend with Memorial Day.

When I realized we were quickly coming to summer’s front door, I initially had an anxiety attack thinking of all the springtime activities and chores I haven’t yet gotten done. (As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a list maker.) But then I relaxed and allowed myself to think about the things I have enjoyed this spring, which is a more prudent exercise.

I was fortunate enough to watch the progression of buds to blooms to leaves on the trees and the pushing up of flowering plants

Goldenrod Wikipedia Commons

from inside the ground to up  toward the sun.  I put the first of this year’s tomato plants and herbs into the garden. While planting the herbs, I held some aside to make some air fresheners, teas and lotions. I naturally have more energy come spring so I’ve been walking in the nature preserve to bird watch and I got to see goslings make their initial appearance at the pond’s edge.  Also, after talking about it ALL winter, I finally got to take that little person to the playground for a rousing game of Hide ‘n Peek Seek. I engaged in each of those activities and enjoyed them completely in the moment as they happened. So if it seems that the springtime flew by, it is only in retrospect.

I hope you enjoyed your spring and that summer will be an equally wonderful set of precious moments for you. I hope you’ll find the recipes below useful. And lastly, I hope you have a great Memorial Day!

*Lyric from “Summertime” by DuBose Heyward from Porgy and Bess

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Baking Soda Air Fresheners

Mason jars
Baking soda
Essential oils, I use lavender, rosemary or lemon
Dried herbs (optional)
Fill the jars to 3/4 with baking soda, leaving a little room on top. Add about 5 or more drops essential oils and stir. Sprinkle on top about a tablespoon of matching herbs to whichever oil you’ve used. (Some people punch holes in the jar lids and screw them on. I never bother, preferring to leave the jars topless.) Shake gently occasionally to reactivate the oils. The lingering aroma will be subtle but fabulously fragrant.

 

DIY Lotion

2 oz Shea Butter
2 oz Vitamin E oil
1 oz Jojoba oil
1 oz Lanolin
1/2 tsp essential oil
All of these measurements are approximate. I find its good to play with the proportions so you get just the right mixture for your skin type. Also, I cut the amount of Lanolin from the original recipe because I don’t care for the smell.

NaNoWriMo….Nope.

There is only one week left of NaNoWriMo. Are you one of the brave writers taking on the challenge? I don’t do well under pressure so although I’ve known about the annual writing  contest held each November for a while, I haven’t thought to participate… until this year.

I started my first novel last June. I ‘d actually been kicking around the idea for a few years. Membership in my writer’s group helped immeasurably in giving me the confidence to tackle it. I was energized and organized but proceeding slowly so in October I brilliantly decided that I would take advantage of National Novel Writing Month to move the novel along. One of my biggest problems when writing is fine editing too early in the process. I’ll go back and rewrite the first paragraph three times before I complete a page. The result of this habit has been many unfinished pieces. I told myself that I wouldn’t hold strictly to the rules, that I just wanted to get as close to 50,000 words as possible without stress outside of my own standards of discipline. I figured if I concentrated on the word count I’d get down all the fabulous story ideas that have been sitting in my head (and outlined in my notes) without the impulse to perfect every word already on the page.

Do you want to know what happened? I hit a wall at 20,000 words, that’s what. All of a sudden I didn’t know what I was doing or what the story was about, no matter what my notes said. My characters stepped off the pages and said to me, “C’mon now, this is long but it isn’t good. We don’t believe what we’re saying because you’re not being real about what all of this means. Slow down, dig deep and tell the truth.” That really made me mad! I spent a whole week pouting (not writing) because my goal had been thwarted.  But I also spent the time thinking. And I started examining two very important truths about myself. First, that my novel isn’t really fiction. Like many other authors, by telling this tale I’m trying to exorcise a pain born from my own life experience. Second, that I have a unique voice that doesn’t sound like Proust or Morrison but its distinctive tone makes me a good writer anyway. Then I had to review basics like character development and plot lines. It was an unhurried process that was both a relief and a revelation.

And what is the outcome of all of this? A MUCH better draft of the novel, that’s what. Yeah, I had to throw out thousands of words and allot extra time to sit and really listen to that voice in my head but it was worth it. It turns out that trying to get as much of the story down as possible prompted me up to the next level of writing. Now the words that flow aren’t forced or stilted. The lives of my characters will be as layered as they need to be and the themes that are so important to me will be natural and honest. I’m sure there are writers who will end this month with cohesive works made up of the requisite number of well-crafted words. I won’t be one of them. I should reach 50,000 words by next June and that’s fine by me.

Super Moon Mania II

Photo from Wiki Commons

I was afraid I’d missed the Super moon tonight. I couldn’t imagine how I could have since I love the moon so much. I was all over last year’s Super moon like white on rice. I posted about it then too. (wordpress.com/2012/05/05/super-moon-mania-2) ) I was pissed at myself for letting other things distract me from watching it rise tonight.

Anyway, I took off my pajamas, put my clothes back on and ran outside. None of my neighbors were out walking the dogs so it was very quiet.  It was 9:30, 81 degrees and the air was perfectly still. There it was, the moon, shining gloriously. Small veils of clouds drifted past it but I could still make out the details of it. I stood on the sidewalk for a good long while staring up at its largeness and beauty. The wonder of the moon makes me feel connected to the essence of nature like very few other things can. Thanks Super moon!

How to Get 3 Million Blog Views

I found this after Corngoblin liked my last post. It was a great way to tell me to get over myself. LOL!

corngoblin

Dear readers,

I’ve recently been working with a team of researchers from Miskatonic University, whose main goal is the delve into the lost recesses of cyber space and uncover long forgotten blog posts from blogs that, for one reason or another, came offline.  We’ve made some astounding discoveries.  This following piece is a prime example of some of the lost treasures we’ve found.

-The Corngoblin

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Hi guys!  In case you’re new here, my name’s Peter, and I’ve got 3 MILLION VIEWS, and I’d like to show you how you can too.  You guys are obviously familiar with my work since, you know, you’re on the internet, so here we go!

HOW TO GET 3 MILLION VIEWS

I go on a lot of people’s blogs, normally just to post a spam comment so they come look at mine, sure, but it still counts, and there’s one thing I always…

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I’ve Fallen And….

I’ve had a tough time since the beginning of the month when I took a few emotional hits. I tried to get back on my feet but I wasn’t able to do it. That was until a reader unknown to me commented on a post I wrote a year ago. He reminded me to remember where I want to be. So, I’ve reblogged that post below this one and I’m going to start a new post with a mindful attitude tomorrow. Thank you again, Gerardo.