Friday, July 29, 2011

A Very Big Day!

Friday, July 29, 2011

No time for much writing;  my granddaughter Ingrid is with us, and we received the call earlier from her Papa that she has a new baby sister, Imogene.  At 5 pounds, 11 ounces & 18 inches, she must look like her mother, tall & slim.  We're happy all is well, in fact, we're ecstatic!  It's a lovely day when a baby arrives in this world.  We'll take Ingrid in to see her new baby sister this evening.  It will be interesting to see what she thinks.

Time to make some phone calls!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Baby's Coming!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

      Our third grandchild will be arriving soon.  I couldn't help but write about it.

The Baby’s Coming!

It almost is the day that
the baby’s coming!
I need to change the appointment,
because the baby’s coming!
I haven’t done the laundry either;
the baby’s coming!
Forget the dusting and the scrubbing;
the baby’s coming!
I’ll have to cook that chicken, but
the baby’s coming!
Maybe I’ll get up early to exercise;
did I tell you the baby’s coming?
I’d like to sit and rest to get ready for
the baby’s coming!
I want to tell my daughter that I’m thrilled
her baby’s coming!
And give my son-in-law a hug;
his baby’s coming.
We’ll play with older sister because
the baby’s coming!
It’s just the most wonderful thing that
the baby’s coming!
I’ll tell you more about it after I see
this baby coming!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Early Morning Gift

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

sunrise - July 26, 2011

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer taking photos of sunsets, here at home & with my grandson at the beach.  Whenever we’re going somewhere and it’s time for the sun to set, I take the camera. In the Rockies with the mountains to the west, the sunsets are indeed amazing. 
Yesterday morning I was up almost before the robins’ chirps, carried my coffee to the patio, and sat to watch the sky, light just arriving.   We live by a park and the backyard faces east, and there’s always a clear view that way, of sunrises, moonrises, etc. 
There is nothing like the gift of being alone for a while, contemplating so many ideas that roam around in my mind, taking them out one by one to examine them as with a magnifying glass, satisfying myself that each idea will be explored in its time, perhaps only a small chunk, until resolution.  As minutes rolled by, the sky grew lighter, a summer spread of clouds appeared in the east, flowing up above the horizon where the sun was to appear.  These clouds, like stretched cotton balls with a hint of lace at the edges, seemed only there to break the image of a clear sky. They were first gray with a hint of pink, and then the mixing colors turned the sky lavender.  The sun was on its way, I could tell.  Among the things on my mind, this moment carried me far back to people who greeted the sun with gratitude, appreciating that this precious thing had returned again. No longer do those in my culture celebrate the sun’s rising, but at this moment, I did send my own little message of thankfulness, for this beautiful sight at least, for the blessings of the day to come, the happy moments of my life and all that it encompasses.  The sky’s lavender faded, and the sun’s rays blew over the horizon, shooting up into the clouds, brightening now into gold.  The heat of the day began, and I turned into the house to start breakfast and call ‘good morning’ to my husband.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lots of People Write About Shoes

Slice of Life Tuesday, July 26, 2011

             One of the pleasures of teaching writing is finding satisfying lessons that give writers ideas to play around with in their writers notebooks.  In addition to the bone, heart or hand lesson that Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers and Ruth Ayres Writes have written about in different posts, some beginning lessons can be more specific.   In workshop, although I offer the ideas, they still remain a choice, but I do ask students to jot down some ideas about the topic that would help them return to it if desired.  The topics presented help students jumpstart their memories of things important in their pasts, like particular events connected to food, travel, siblings, birthdays, etc.  Sometimes in class, we just have conversations in order to share favorite memories, and then I might send students off to record what the talk helped them remember that was important.  And other times I’ve collected prose and poetry pieces to share about a topic that might spark an idea.  One of those topics I’ve found of continuing interest for students is shoes.  Through the years, I’ve managed to collect a few pieces about shoes, and students always seemed to have a personal story to tell about shoes in their lives.  

Here are some poems I’ve collected about shoes and the links or directions for finding:

“Shoes”  ~Cynthia Rylant  from Something Permanent by Rylant and Walker Evans
“Johnny Laces Up His Red Shoes” ~Cornelius Edy
“The Need for Shoes” ~Molly Bendall
“New Shoes” ~Linda Hogan  from Earth power coming : short fiction in native American
literature    Simon J. Ortiz, ed.
Bound Feet” ~Janet S. Wong, from Good Luck Gold and Other Poems

           And here is my own memory:

            There was a lovely pair of red shoes that I spied in a shop window, red flats that would make me a star to others, and let them know that I was a grown-up girl, ready to give up the socks and tie shoes I had worn almost all my grade school years.  We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, but every time we went into the big town near the little town where I lived, I managed to walk by this store for a peek in the window.  These weren’t the times when children begged and begged until their parents bought what they wanted.   Only three times during the year did I receive things:  Christmas, my birthday, and the beginning of school.  It was not even near the time for any of those days when I saw the red shoes.  I didn’t say anything to family about the shoes, but I kept a diary and a sketchbook as I grew up, and I wrote about them, along with sketching them.  When I sketched, I put them on a young girl and dressed her up quite well!  I sketched her with the shoes more than one time, and my mother must have seen the pictures.  One day, when I opened my closet, there, along with my pair of brown tie shoes, sat the red ones.  I turned around and there was my mother, watching.  I believe her smile was as big as mine.   The shoes were such a surprise because I hadn’t even realized that anyone had noticed how much I had wished for them.  I remember wearing them and wearing them.  They were just perfect, although I did get a few blisters from all the wearing, and parts of my feet turned red for a while from the dye.  I didn’t care; I had my grown-up red shoes! 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Old TVs and Teaching

Monday, July 25, 2011

        This past week we had a wonderful guest, a friend from college.  We keep in touch and see each other every few years.  She is from Boston, and along with visiting her in Boston with my husband, I’ve been lucky enough to see her also when I traveled there with students.  We spent the past four days visiting, catching up, sharing details about our own children and their spouses, and much about our grandchildren.  Her oldest is now in college while mine is just finishing elementary school.  It was great to re-connect and to have so many hours of talk, about old times we shared and some things I didn’t know she had accomplished in her career, about today’s times, and what is going on right now. 
One funny story my friend told  happened last year when she called a tech person to her house to help her connect the black box to her old TV so it could convert from analog to digital feeds.  She said that he kept turning her TV off and on, off and on, and finally said he thought it was broken.  She told him to just turn it on and wait a minute to give it time to warm up.  He looked at her quizzically, not sure what she meant. He’d never heard the term, warming up.  She did some quick calculations and realized that her TV was possibly older than this young man, and had never seen anything that wasn’t an immediate turn-on.  We laughed and talked about some other things where this might possibly apply.
Since then, I’ve been wondering if I use any words in the classroom when students have no idea what I’m referring to?  Could it be that connecting with certain old things metaphorically is so out of date that students today would have to do some quick research in order to understand, or need some quick explanation?   It may be important as a teacher to understand that if one is a generation or more older than students, or even some colleagues, conversation can grow to be awkward sometimes.   It’s like thinking about Clark Kent, and wondering where he might change into Superman when all the pay phone boxes have disappeared.  What in our world will he do?  Or, in the song “The Telephone Hour” from the musical “Bye, Bye Birdie” some of the lines wouldn’t make sense, except that because they are brief enough, I suppose today they could be sent in a text.  The song can be found here.  Does “pinning” still happen?  Does anyone “go steady” today?  I believe my middle school students just say “going with”.   One final example concerns another form of communication, slow mail.  From my earliest teen-age days, I remember a Pat Boone song, “Love Letters In The Sand”.  Has someone already written a song about heartache from a tweet?  I’m not sure, but when we teach about metaphor in our writing lessons, perhaps we should begin to find new connections for student lives today.  I hope readers will think of other examples.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Little Buzzing Bee-a poem

Friday, July 22, 2011
         If you look carefully, this little bee is in the bottom middle.  I worked in the flower beds, noticing so many insects going about their lives as I was, and couldn't help but begin a small poem in tribute to the bees, connecting to our lives too.  Here is the way I looked at them.

The little buzzing bee
understands the formality
of daily life.

She buzzes from flower to flower
questing for the gold
with little strife.

She realizes
the point of
all her activities:
a need to eat,
a need to rest,

a need to live.

With the buzzing
of this delicate fluttering,
she sends a message
to all children
gathered on
the summer sunlit
greenness of their lives-
to live for the beauty of the moment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beginning Lessons-This from our cabin

Slice of Life Tuesday, July 19, 2011

          I thought I’d begin to write some lessons for beginning the school year in writing workshop, and then write for the lesson, too.   

          This lesson concerns students creating a visual of something that inspires them, something that helps the words come together in a satisfying way because they care about the topic.  They can take their own photos, sketch something that invites a memory, or look at sites like Flickr for photos that motivate.      
          I recently spent time at our cabin in the Rockies, and took pictures that pleased me as I took a familiar walk near the cabin.  We’ve owned the cabin since our children were small, and I have so many memories of this place through the years.  Here are the photos, for which I wrote some haiku, a traditional form of poetry that is usually about nature; and 15 words or less poetry, an idea found on Laura Salas’ blog.   
The bridge carries us
    o’er the stream to the meadow’s
    blooms and butterflies.   

We anticipate
     Woodsy walks, and greenest sights
     Upon arriving.

Adventurous paths
    lead us on unplanned journeys
    to find new magic.

Imagine in this leafy green
the sweetest fairy, flute in hand
to accompany the wind.
My reading rock memory
shows Sarah with pillow and book
reading at her favorite place.
Softball laughter here-
memory of thwacking balls
Daisies were first base.

The brook flows down to splash
    on rocks and branches
    pushed in by winter’s thaw.

Visits here hold somber thoughts,
wondering what happiness is held
still buried in the foundation.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beginning of The Year Workshop-Why Do We Write?

Monday, July 18, 2011

       One early lesson in writer’s workshop will include the topic of why we’ll do lots of writing during the year.  It’s important to me to start with a list developed with the class to keep in front of me, to aid me in crafting lessons that touch the ideas along with all the writing parts inherent in the path to finished pieces.  The list particularly fits a middle school level of understanding, but the same things could be re-worded to fit younger students more appropriately.

       Here are some of the reasons I believe will give students a base from which to jump into writing.  In my first meetings with students, the list will aid a discussion where we’ll add to the list, share brief examples that illustrate each point, and begin with an exercise from one idea.  Other school’s expectations may be different from mine, so it doesn’t matter where one starts with writing, just that students will know that they will be writing, and in doing so, will discover so much about themselves. 

Reasons to write: 

*    Reflecting to figure out how one feels about something that one reads or observes
*    Responding to something with one of the senses
*    Messing about with explaining one’s opinion-becoming clearer about it
*    Discovering and capturing parts of one’s past
*    Communicating learning about a topic
*    Capturing the essence of some personal experience
*    Capturing the imagined—story, character, setting, etc.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Still Memories of My Family

Saturday, July 16, 2011

              My Uncle Morris

My mother’s oldest brother, Morris, was the only one in this side of the family who lived far away from all of us, in Chicago.  He usually came to visit on Thanksgiving and I remember being a bit frightened, (or intimidated) by him.  He was sharp with the question asking, and I was often unsure if I had answered correctly in his eyes.  All the rest of the year I felt loved and appreciated by all my relatives, and if you have read some of my other writing about different uncles, aunts, and grandparents, you would see what I mean.  I spent great time with them, learned from them, and did not feel judged. 
As I look back on the few moments I had with my uncle Morris, I think that my feelings were mixed because the time was so short, and I wanted to be noticed, to be approved.  I remember as a very young little girl, I show him that I can tie my shoes.  I remember reading to him, showing how I could read.  And, linked so much with him, I remember his wife, Dolores, who was purely a city girl who hated the little town where my grandparents lived, and was afraid of all things outdoors.  She mostly stayed in the bedroom upstairs when they visited, only appearing for meals, and eating very little.  She remained a curiosity to me most all my life.  In my early teen years, one visit, she took me aside and asked if I’d like her to show me about make-up.  She wore lots of make-up, a topic of talk among the family after their visit, and I of course loved the idea of trying to be more beautiful.  That visit remains a highlight in my memories of Uncle Morris and Aunt Dolores visiting.  My mother was kind enough to let the make-up adventure stand as that, an adventure.  She knew I’d return to my un-made-up self when the weekend was done. 
One other memory stands out for me and I wonder about it still.  Uncle Morris was a golden gloves boxer, and one visit he showed me and other older cousins several moves that could be used for self-defense.  These older cousins were boys, so maybe he included me just because we were a group, and I suspect the lesson was meant just for boys.  My mother had much love and told many good stories to me about her older brother, and the way he took care of her as his ‘little’ sis.  He was an intense, successful businessman in a place so foreign to us in rural Missouri.  I am interested in him because he was so loved by my mother, and he died in his early fifties from a heart attack, so I never really got to know him when I became an adult.   I think I missed something special.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Path To A New School Year

Friday, July 15, 2011

                                               Time To Start
       It’s time to wind my way through thoughts about the coming school year.  I have what could be called the same job, as literacy coach, but we have a new head of school starting this year and my conversations with him might change some of what I do, plus some of the teachers I will work with are going to have some new challenges because they’ve changed class ages.   One other thing that is different this time is that I’ll be teaching a class about blogging to a small group of middle-school-aged students.  Different years mean different challenges and different activities, yet the basic literacy ideas will remain, like supporting all the lessons teachers need to teach within their language arts programs. 

       I’ve been thinking about what ‘informs’ student learning in all the kinds of writing that is done at our school, and believe the priority is that writing is for communication (even to oneself), and different audiences demand different kinds of writing.  We discuss audiences and point of view quite a lot during workshop and when new assignments are given.   Following is a list of the types of writing that occur during the school year.  

Writer’s notebooks-includes many types of exploration, & students are encouraged to try new types of writing in this non-risky environment.  There is response to weekly written entries. 

Writing within the workshop, with brief lessons:  show/tell paragraphs (identifying what is simple telling, that needs showing for elaboration, as in “she is lonely”—give descriptions that ‘show’ the word, etc.); writing narrowly—using things like ‘windows’ cut into a piece of cardboard-to write only what is seen, not too broad;  introductory & concluding paragraphs,  etc.

Letter journals-a personal piece to the teacher, but once a week students comment on their current book choices, how the book is going, what they think of the author’s style, etc.

Workshop writing includes direct study of different genres—fiction (character descriptions, leads, endings, dialogue, setting descriptions), personal essays (memoir, opinions, nature writing, etc.), poetry, humor writing, plays, literature comparison, book reports and other reading responses

Unit writing where each student studies a personal topic.  This includes:  outlines & webbing, short paragraph descriptions, timelines, short & long research reports, magazine-type articles, mock newspapers and/or articles, booklets & brochures, poetry, picture books, map keys, captions, labels, advertisements, cartoon speech, lab reports, scientific observation descriptions, writing in the style of other writers, bibliographies (sometimes annotated), letter writing, thank you notes, directions for games & other devices, plays, narration for movies

Math writing includes:  descriptions of how math problems are solved and can be solved

Science writing includes:  lab reports, scientific observations, nature writing, single lab write-ups

Field journals include:  sketching, nature writing, scientific observation in conjunction with sketching, data collection

Misc. writing done in the past, often to support the class unit:  oral histories, discussion article responses, many of the pieces listed in the unit writing list, curriculum for a lesson that students teach

Personal work:  Portfolio Evaluations-letter and short answer, applications for various things in and out of school

       Doing so many kinds of writing gives everyone opportunities to practice as well as to find their voices in a variety of places.  Many experiences helps students feel comfortable writing and also helps them improve.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

        I'm still trying to write little pieces about different relatives, and some specific memories of being with them.  This one concerns my grandmother that I saw only in the summer, visiting a few weeks with her and my grandfather, the one I wrote of on July 2nd, his birthday.  


I sit among the green leaves,
on the warm earth, waiting
for my grandmother to finish
weeding, to finish choosing
the vegetables for dinner.
She moves along the rows,
looking and choosing ripe,
skinny green beans for her
basket.  Reaching down, she pulls
up a few onions, dropping those
fragrant white bulbs in, too.
She brings out a handkerchief
to wipe her face, and sits down to rest,
saying, “you should wear a hat.  You’ll
get a burn,” while removing her own hat
to fan herself.
  Then, then
she brings out her knife, reaches over
to grab one of the watermelons on the
vine near where I’d planted myself. 
One stroke and it splits open, revealing
the sweetness, the crunch, the pinky-red
of summer.  The smell is like no other, a
cooling breeze!  Grandmother reaches again
with the knife, carves out the heart, offering me
half.  In this way she shows her own heart to me,
sharing the bounty created by her tireless work.
Each year, she manages an acre, keeping all rewards
in jars and straw in the root cellar. 
There are rows and rows
showing off like high-kicking chorus lines.  
I take another bite, juice dripping down
my chin, and we laugh together over
the riches we share.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Connections With My Teaching

      Tuesday Slice of Life

        In an earlier post, I wrote about planning for a trip, and the three ingredients that seemed important to help the trip be successful.  In today’s writing, I’ve tried to connect those previous ideas to the classroom.  I’ve made several attempts to explain some concepts I value for the classroom, for achieving success with any group or activity.  At first, it was difficult for me to be specific without just diverging into examples of activities.  I’ve written several drafts, and never found a definite way to say what I wanted until last weekend, I saw the documentary Buck, the story of the man called ‘the horse whisperer’.    Some of his words can be found on his websiteI’ve started horses since I was 12 years old and have been bit, kicked, bucked off and run over.  I’ve tried every physical means to contain my horse in an effort to keep from getting myself killed.  I started to realize that things would come much easier for me once I learned why a horse does what it does.  This method works well for me because of the kinship that develops between horse and rider. 

As I read these words by Mr. Buck Brannaman, and the three points I made earlier in order to create success for any experience, all seemed so connected to one another that when I tried to write about one separately, the other kept popping up, too.  Here they are again:

1.       Trust within the group so that everyone feels fully open to a new experience.
2.      Allow everyone to anticipate what is needed and participate in the planning.
3.      Build in time for flexible thinking, in case something wonderful presents itself that supplants other plans.

         These connect to the expectation at my school that we work to help students take risks, to experiment with new ideas of learning.  The school offers much choice in both the learning as well as the communication of that learning.  For example, a student might do quite good research to answer a particular question of personal interest, but choose to stay with the (for him or her) comfortable communication device of a report.  Some of my students were able to dash these pages off with ease, yet became reluctant when asked to create some other kind of product to communicate the findings, like a newspaper, a video, or a multi-media presentation.  My responsibility for each, and for the whole class, was to create that atmosphere of trust within the group so that each felt safer trying on a new kind of learning, a new experience.  In the movie, Buck showed how he waved a flag on the end of a stick to tell the horse which way to move around him.  He waved it often, to show the horse that it was not scary, was a safe thing, and used only for communication.

            I could give numerous ideas for lessons in how to build that trust (and wave the flag), and I’m sure many of you have great ideas too, but I will focus on the basic philosophy instead.  In order to build trust (point number one), I have to do points two and three, consistently.  An underlying concept of this for a teacher is to “say what you mean, and do what you say”.   For example, on the first day, if I say that building a community means that everyone has a voice, not just the teachers, I must start by insuring that everyone is allowed to participate in any sharing that occurs.  And, considering Buck’s words, I must be attuned to why students act the way they do, this time, what might be reasons they become reluctant to share?  Is it fear of exclusion, fear of being wrong, and being embarrassed?  Are the behaviors learned in order to get attention, both good and bad?  Do they miss the comfort of the previous classroom?  I need to intuit the answers as well as I can, and fast.  In lieu of using old lessons that I know are helpful, I must be willing to accept new ideas for reaching our community goals.  I can be a part of the discussion, but not the only part.
            As for point number three, I must be patient, looking for an opportunity to invite or accept changes when serendipitous opportunities arise.  One example of this happened when we had a tornado warning one day.  We had been planning to write, and I had a lesson all ready, but the experience of staying in a safe part of our building, and inner hall, gave me an insight to my big, most-of-the-time brave, almost-adult middle-schoolers.  Many showed they were more than a little scared, so when it was over, we wrote about fears, what scared us, and maybe why, if we knew why.  It was a satisfying time for the group that brought us all together to some common ground.
        Building trust from the first minutes of the first day of school makes us teachers happy and the students happy.  As I watched the movie, Buck, I realized that the trust building in school is exactly like gentling a horse. 
       I wonder what everyone does to create trust in the classroom, or to help those you work with to create the trust?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Uncle Bill - More Memories

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Uncle Bill on the left, me, my stepfather, Norman

  I spent my early growing up years until I was 12 in a little town where most of my extended family lived.  One of the important people in my life there was my Uncle Bill.  He was the person who taught me much about one aspect of the outdoors; he was a fisherman, and until he died, he fished as much as possible, and was a mentor to others because of this expertise.  I didn’t become an expert with him, but in my earlier years loved getting up in the early mornings to go out with him in his bass boat, drinking up the quiet of a lake, and marveling at the sounds I heard as it woke up with the sun.  Before sunrise, there are small murmurings if you listen hard, of birds and frogs beginning to stir, readying for the day of food searching.  They rustle; yet don’t seem to fly or jump yet.  Birds chirp, but in lower tones than usual.   As the boat with the lowest motor sound cut through the water, sometimes I saw taller water birds at the edges of the lake stretching their necks up, perhaps to check out the scene, or to look for water bumps-fish, which meant dinner.  I don’t believe I learned much about fishing from my Uncle Bill, but I did learn patience for observation and a respect for the beauty of the outdoors. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ten Things - Trying Something Different at Another Blog

July 6, 2011

This blog is having a linky party: Go Fourth!  With Mrs. Owens.   Go  over to the site to see what she's doing, asking for others to tell ten things about themselves.

Top Ten  Things About Myself

10.  I've been married for 46 years.

9.  I have two grandchildren and one soon to be here.

8.  I have two terrific children who are married to two wonderful people.

7.  I taught first grade, then moved to middle school aged students.

6.  Now I'm a literacy coach, at the same school for 22 years.

5.  I love the ocean and go there as much as possible, but live in the Rockies.

4.  I've had many pets through the years, but a favorite is a dalmatian named Sophie.

3.  My favorite drink is iced chai from Starbucks.  (I try not to go too often.)

2.  I'm one of the few people in my extended family who don't live in the same place.

1.  I am an avid reader, like almost every teacher I know. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Tribute To My Aunts

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Aunt Carol and Aunt Barb

The two young women in the photo are my mother’s two younger sisters, strong female influences in my life.  I am grateful to them both for their time and wisdom.  I wrote about my Aunt Barb in an earlier post, and here is a brief memory of my Aunt Carol. 

         My mother’s youngest sibling, my Aunt Carol, was like an older sibling to me, only 12 years older.  In my teen years she lived across the street from me, and became a confidant when my mother and I weren’t so close.  I could run across to her house to tell her of the latest problem with friends, the recent boy I thought was cute, or to ask her opinion of an outfit I wanted to wear to a party.  She was young herself, yet already busy raising three children, one boy and twin girls, but was ever ready to listen to my wonderings about high school life, the angst of a teenaged girl.  She interceded for me sometimes when my parents said no to activities, giving wise advice to me to calm down and take the argument one step at a time instead of retreating to my room with door slammed.  She and I were also buddy readers.  She was most influential in my reading habits outside school, and a special memory is reading and discussing Gone With The Wind together.  I helped her by babysitting my cousins sometimes and she helped me in those ways described above, most helpful to a teenager.  Everyone needs an Aunt Carol nearby for extra support.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Remembering Past Independence Days

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Because I’ve been writing about memories, today I’ve thought about the ways we used to celebrate Independence Day.  I seem to have an onslaught of different memories from all different places, but much of it surrounds those picnic days of family gatherings. 
We have a quiet day today here at home.  We live by a park where teens appear, set off a pack of firecrackers, and then disappear.  The firecrackers flash into the air, the dogs along the park bark, then quiet moves in again.  I have food ready, because my son and family are coming in for the week, so we’ll have a good meal tonight, and decide what to cook tomorrow, and where to go to watch fireworks tomorrow night.  My daughter and her family will come out to visit, but that’s about all the family.  Others live too far away.
In the days of many family members living near, we prepared well ahead the picnic food for the big day.  Family members traveled on Independence Day morning to different homes, mostly those with some acreage, for the holiday.  They brought boxes of sandwiches-pre-made, like pimento cheese, ham and roast beef.  There was also fried chicken and potato salad, slaw, homemade pickles, watermelon and pies.  Sometimes, if lucky, one great-uncle came with his ice cream maker, ice and rock salt, and we cranked up several gallons of homemade ice cream, always vanilla, but berries and chocolate syrup came along too. 
During the day, we set up volleyball and badminton, and some of the men played horseshoes.  We kids were allowed the teeny firecrackers, with the punk smelling awful, but we were told to use it, not matches.  We also had a slew of sparklers ready for the early evening, and there were other kinds of fireworks that some of the older kids were allowed to set off, like fountains, and those that spun on the ground, sometimes chasing you around as you ran screaming. 
At the same time, some of the men made a big deal about the fireworks they brought for when it became full dark.  They had invested some good money for a few ‘big’ ones, they said, and were discussing them, putting them on a special table, and sharing what they had.   Looking back now, I think they only had about ten things, but it was a big deal to all of us then, anticipating the thrill of what we’d see in the sky after dark. 
When it was considered dark enough, we’d drag all our chairs together for the best viewing spot, and settle in to watch.  I can hear the murmurs of the women settling the kids, saying things like “Where’s Amy? Come over here to the quilt, John.  Did you pack up everything in the car already, Bill?”  Older kids sat on their own blankets.  The men hovered around near the table with the fireworks, deciding what was first.  And then, there it was, the stars and streams of color lighting up our sky, the ohs and ahs from hidden voices, and finally, the last one.  It was dark, a long and wonderful day ended.  We walked to the cars, calling goodbyes, making sure no fire had been started in the field.  I crawled in the back with my brother, falling asleep with my parents talking low in the front seat.  It had been a grand day visiting and playing and watching that magic in the sky.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

One Special Birthday

Saturday, July 2, 2011
         One of my grandfather’s birthdays is today.  He is long passed on, born on July 2, 1900.  I connect him sometimes to my grandson, who was born in 2001, 101 years later.  Someday he too might have someone writing about him as a grandpa born at the beginning of a century!

         My grandfather was not particularly bent to a warm relationship, I would say.  I saw him most of the time in the summers, because he and my grandmother didn’t live close to my home, and these were the parents of my father who was killed in World War Two.  I was lucky enough to know these grandparents every summer for a couple of weeks.  They ran a full working farm, with a huge garden, fields of corn and other crops, places where blackberries grew, a creek for wading, chickens, horses, a few milk cows, sheep and mules.  My grandfather’s outside work was that he was a mule trader, and when I visited, I got to meet a lot of men who dropped by to trade or buy or sell mules.  I was not afraid of these creatures, and Grandfather didn’t ride them, only bought or sold for others to use, mostly to pull wagons.  I also had the privilege of owning my own pony at this farm; a pinto named Silver, and I rode every day with my grandfather on his horse, Lady, down through the pasture to bring the cows home.  He helped me learn to ride in his quiet way, and our relationship was built on need.  He showed me how to catch, bridle and ride the pony, with gentle hands and gentle words; and how to shell corn for the chickens, because that helped with my grandmother’s chores.  He showed me how to start the windmill pumping so we could fill the water tank for the cattle, and how to toss hay for the horses' feed.  
        In the evenings, we three would sit and read, and sometimes listen to a big, brown, beautifully polished radio (I don’t remember what kind).  We might listen to music or a boxing match or a comedy show for just a little while.  Then I remember my grandfather saying, “that’s enough now, got to get back to the reading.”  Isn’t it interesting that however much they must have loved connecting up with others over the radio, they knew that reading was important to keep up with also?  I have so many memories of this time on that farm, but today, it’s time to remember a birthday.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Summer Memories - Again

Friday, July 1, 2011

     I was the oldest cousin in a rather large family, and often spent weeks in the summer with various grandparents and aunts and uncles.  One of those aunts was my Aunt Barb, who married a farmer, and when I was young, lived in two rooms on the second floor of her in-laws’ house.  During that time, there was no bathroom, only an outhouse, no running water, and she was raising three young girls in those rooms.  As I reflect on this part of her life, I am astounded that she let me visit for at least a week at a time, and we had such fun.  I had always had in-house plumbing in my own home, and my own bedroom, but I don’t remember being crowded, or missing a bathroom.  What I do remember is swimming in her pond, picnics down by the creek ending with servings of her yummy chocolate cake, and reading stories at night before bedtime.  She was a dramatic reader, and I loved hearing her read from the books available.   Taking care of her chores, both inside and outside; along with mothering her children that included sewing all their clothes, and cooking amazingly wonderful meals can’t have been accomplished easily in her circumstances, yet she made me know that I was a loved niece and welcome always in her home.   As a housewife who has griped about unloading the dishwasher, I wonder about her resilience, and about mine.  How did she accomplish so much with so little?  It’s a reflection to ponder.