Friday, September 11, 2009

A few thoughts on life . . .

Ever since my sister and I had identical accidents--we were both stopped on the road, waiting to start again, when we were driven into from behind--I am afraid of other cars. They glide through stop signs; dart out of parking lots, stopping just short of the white line that separates me from them; and if they're good enough to stop, they start pulling onto the road before I've passed them. They go through yellow lights and red lights with more force than green. They scare me.

I have a solution. An optical illusion that makes the back of my car look three feet longer. That way when people slam on their brakes because I have decided to stop at a red light, they won't hit me. They'll hit the illusion. The illusion will be bright yellow or red. And maybe flashing. It will be tall. And possibly fierce looking. It will also make my car look wider--like one of those RVs with maps of the US on the side, pulling a Jeep behind it--so that those pesky cars that usually pull out of lots before I've passed, will stop. (And more importantly, I'll be 99% sure of it, bringing me 99% peace of mind.) That's my solution.

* * *

I've been thinking about relationships, and the invisible grid that underlays each. When we really like someone--spouse, boy/girlfriend, family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor--we enjoy idiosyncrasy (or overlook it), we enjoy difference (or ignore it), and we appreciate the fact that this person is an individual, with all the richness individuality brings. When the relationship shifts to the other side of the grid, idiosyncrasy annoys, difference frustrates, and we'd rather not be around this particular individual.

Sometimes the relationship shifts, because someone changes--becomes more self-absorbed, more devoted to a particular cause, or interested in appearing/being different that what he/she once was. Sometimes, it is because there is hurt, most often caused unintentionally, that festers. In all cases, it is a choice, deliberately made or more subtle and imperceptible in its building.

And building is what it does. It grows into something, because no one took the time to notice it, identify it, call it out for what it was. They didn't use the tools--communication and forgiveness and love--to get rid of it, because they didn't have the time, the awareness, or the interest to spend on this side of the grid, the side where the relationship no longer matters.

I understand what happens with the grid, but still, I like to think that all relationships matter.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

One word . . . awesome!

MMS 100 days mobile

Created by the talented animator, illustrator, novelist, blogger, dibber, friend, Strudelcookies for our current writing challenge.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Golden birthdays . . .

Once, I've heard, no one celebrated birthdays. But then someone invented the celebration, and since then we've been looking for more ways to make ourselves special.

When my sister was in college, we had to mail her half birthday presents on the six month anniversary of her birthday. I say had to because she reminded us, quite frequently, of the upcoming event. One year, we halved everything (one sock, half a cupcake) before sending it to her.

People enjoy golden birthdays nowadays (that word sounds so country) too. And they don't even have to endure 50 or 60 or more years to earn the right. If you were born on the twenty-third day of the month, then your golden birthday is when you're 23. Of course, by following this day-of-the-month method, everyone has his/her golden birthday before turning 32.

Another way of figuring golden birthdays is even more random--which I find appealing. If you were born April 7th, your golden birthday is when you turn 47. This method favors people born in the earlier months of the year (if you're born in October, for example, you wouldn't celebrate your golden birthday until you were over a century old) and earlier, single-digit days of the month (there's little use being born in February if it was on the 12th, as no one lives to be 212 years).

I'm sure that if I thought long enough and made a table or figured out an algorithm (I don't even know if that's the correct word), I could tell you which birth dates will give you the most opportunities for golden celebrations.

Instead of doing that, I'm going to throw something new into the mix. We should celebrate a golden birthday by the letters of our name. For example, my first name, Olive, has 5 letters in it, and my last name, Kite, has 4 letters in it. So, my literary golden birthday will be when I turn 54. This seems like a fairer way of establishing golden birthdays, anyway, for two reasons: 1) most people's first and last names are each fewer than nine letters, giving everyone a shot at a golden birthday, and 2) we have more control over what we name a child than on what day he/she is born.

Another reason to celebrate . . .

Friday, July 10, 2009

A tribute to my grandma . . .

I was asked to give a tribute to my grandma, recently, at an event where they were honoring several women, age 80 and older. Here is what I said:

My grandma became the grandma that she had always hoped for as a child. I realized this, while chatting with my grandma a few weeks ago. We were sitting in her living room, me sinking next to my sister in the comfy leather couch, my grandma perched in her usual chair, and my mom across the room in an armchair.

My grandma mentioned spending time with some of my cousins, and how they had told her that they had always called her the NICE grandma. She seemed a bit surprised by this, and, in her characteristic way, didn’t focus on it, instead moving on to a snippet of story about how, growing up, she had always wanted a grandma. She had always pictured a grandma as being grey-haired, a little plump, and nice. And when she got to high school, she had an English teacher that fit this description.

When I heard this story, two pieces of my grandma’s life snapped into place in my mind, making my sense of Grandma more complete. First of all, I saw this English teacher, who my grandma had always described as encouraging her to learn and love literature, as more than a teacher; I saw her as a grandma. And then I understood that my grandma had deliberately chosen to become the grandma she had always wanted in her own life.

It was a choice. A choice that influenced not only her five children’s lives, her 24 grandchildren’s lives, and her more than 44 great-grand children’s lives, but which also influenced those in her ward, in the places she worked, the hospitals she volunteered in, her friends at dialysis, and those who knew her as Mom H--, because she cooked the food in the RV kitchen for everyone (and “everyone” is no exaggeration) at the dog shows she and my aunt traveled to.

My Aunt J-- says that my grandma has all of the attributes of the ideal job candidate: she’s dependable, loyal, and dedicated. She’s one of those rare people that goes above and beyond, without drawing attention to the fact that she’s doing it. For the many years that my Grandma volunteered at L-- and A-- hospitals she earned award after award for volunteering the most hours. When they asked for 4 hours of service, my grandma gave at least 8.

I know that for years my grandma always signed up to make food for ward functions or to deliver to someone who had had a baby or wasn’t well. And, like in all aspects of my grandma’s life, she offered quiet service in her various church callings, including the nursery, where she worked alongside my grandpa, for so many years that when my grandparents were released, President K-- said that they had taught all of his children, up to that point.

My Aunt J-- is a lot like my grandma in that she can cook a mean meal, full of flavor that makes you wish she were your personal chef. Don’t try to make any of my grandma’s famous recipes like chicken and noodles from the recipe card itself. It won’t work. You have to watch my grandma add in the extra amounts of the best tasting stuff like butter and cheese.

When my sister, J--, had to write a college essay about her experience with learning, she wrote about Grandma. My grandma has always loved to read, and the rows of books that lined the built in bookshelves in the kitchen, showed us kids how important books were. Often we would walk across the street and borrow encyclopedias or books on Ancient Egypt to complete our elementary school reports. That was until we got our own encyclopedia set, which was never as exciting as borrowing from Grandma. And grandma shared with us whatever she was learning, too. Like the time she learned that it was important to hug people, so she started hugging us every time we left from a visit.

For me, my grandma is a woman of immense generosity. Generosity of goods and of spirit—those qualities to an eleven-year-old kid meant the world. When I needed someone to talk to, I would visit my grandma. I’d sit on one of the red bar stools at the kitchen counter, with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream in front of me. The ice cream was usually served in a heavy brown wide-rimmed mug, and the serving was always generous. My grandma would listen to me, without offering advice or trying to fix things. She’d just hear me, and talk to me. She’d let me be me.

My family sometimes jokes that it’s my sister’s 13 year old tiny toy poodle, Z--, that takes the most after my grandma—in that even though she’s lost most of her eye sight, she continues to live as someone who sees everything; in that she loves everybody, individually, and wants them to just be themselves; and in that she has this amazing zest for life, this joy for living, that makes her wear happy ladybug shoes and fun socks to her various doctor’s appointments, that makes her care about those around her, even through the pain, the dialysis, the days.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand how a person can be that strong. When life gets difficult, and I think that maybe I’m not going to make it this time, I think about my grandma.

She’s made it through over 91 years in a most beautiful way, and so maybe I can too.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thoughts on snake grass . . .

Do they call it snake grass--those hollow, pull-apart reeds that you can section off, pinch the more rigid ends free and then flatten the softer ends to whistle through? The grasses used to grow along the ditch banks, and we would make whistles of different sizes and pitches, blowing them until they wore out or we did.

Now they grow in a small clump in my aunt's front yard, where she planted them. I picked a stem yesterday and made a sharp sounding whistle, which I blew until I reached the front door, only then reluctantly discarding my treasure to the earth.

Today, I found the rest of the grass stem--seven sections long of decreasing lengths and widths up to the minuscule tip. I separated off one of the sections, tore the thick end free, and compressed the other end in preparation for whistling. But the barrel collapsed into a flat green thing, having lost too much water to hold its walls rigid and make the sound I so wanted to hear.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Through their eyes . . .

We've finished the personal essay section of the creative writing course I am teaching and have plunged into plot and character and story, but I keep thinking I need to rewind. I need to tell my students to think about posting some of their shorter personal essays to their blogs--their essays being more carefully thought out and layered than blog entries usually have the luxury of being. Wouldn't it be great if some blog-hopper found a kernel of philosophical truth, related through specific details and story, and structured so that somewhere in the essay's ending the blog-hopper had a true aha! moment.

(This blog isn't going to be such a read. Sorry.)

In Shadowlands, one of C.S. Lewis's students tells his teacher that his father used to say, "We read to know that we are not alone." I think that's true. We read for connection and validation. But we also read because we want to be taken through the landscape of a different mind, we want to experience connections that we never would have made on our own, and we want moments of epiphany or utter delight that help us better understand the world we live in, the people we associate with (and maybe those we don't associate with), and even aspects of the universe.

I guess that's the real reason I want my students to post their essays to their blogs. I want others to see what they see, understand what they understand, feel, if only for a moment, what they have felt. We all have something to contribute to someone else's understanding of the universe. My students have each contributed to mine.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lessons on Biscuit-Making . . .

I thought I had made the perfect biscuits. I had mixed all of the dry ingredients--flour, salt, and baking powder together--before adding the shortening and milk. And then, I blended it all, just enough, so that it held together. (You don't want to over-mix biscuit or pie dough, or it becomes tough.)

I announced that I had made the perfect biscuits. And I had, from my vantage point. (My biscuit dough was wrapped around little sausages; the dough puffed up just enough that the sausages appeared to be wearing pillow collared down coats. They were lovely. And the layers of the dough, created by the shortening, was lovely too.)

The only problem was that I rolled the dough out to the perfect thickness for my sausages in a blanket. And I used that same thickness to make my vegetarian brunch-mate ordinary biscuits, cut round with a silver one cup measuring cup. Her verdict? They couldn't be called the perfect biscuits, because they were too thin. The flakey layers, in my brunch-mate's biscuits were practically nonexistent, since there wasn't much distance between the crunchy bottom and top crusts.

Conclusion: Next time I make biscuits, I am going to roll them out to the approximate thickness that I want the final baked biscuits to be. Maybe then, I will find perfection. :-)

(I would like to try this recipe sometime. It's probably more buttery tasting than my family recipe, which I'll list below.)


Biscuits, from the Family's Favorites Recipe Book

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup milk

Bake at 450 degrees.

Since my sister, who put together the family favorites, never uses a timer for baking, there is no bake for ___ minutes line. I discovered, today, that you'll likely bake them for 12 - 14 minutes, or until the biscuits are a lovely, golden brown.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sensical nosense starts here . . .

Meal sell, riddle hello.

Set hum test.

Ewe-barrow Q hill real letter.


Writing is metallic

readings are too

tin can be dented

text already has dings

who knew?

(this is not a poem--it's more of an obvious riddle (yes, that's a contradiction))


Megapixel-lexicon-nocturne (and this is where this word-train ends)


Faint Q tour seeding!

Could become . . .

When a person has a foot amputated, I've heard that the mind continues to think that the appendage is there. It's so used to what was that it keeps mistaking it as being there. Eventually, I suspect, like any loss, the mind slowly accepts that what once was is now gone. Although, I'm not sure, the mind ever heals completely.

I understand loss, a little.

What I don't understand, though, is absence (for lack of a better term): how is it that we can mourn for things we never had? Loss hurts because there was once a gain. But absence (absence that we're aware of and feel so palpably by some mysterious force) has no prerequisite, unless the missing of something one never had is inculcated in us by society, or, perhaps, there is force--call it desire, call it knowledge, call it perspective--that resides in us from a time long before we came to earth. Maybe absence is a form of loss, after all; a loss of climbing the peaks we knew we needed to climb, swimming the oceans we needed to swim, and becoming strong like we saw--if only in a vision viewed before mortality--we could become.