True Story …

True story #1

[End of the hour, kids are packing up–the next day is Reading for Enjoyment in my high school junior English class.]

Me: If you guys want to look at my book cart and check out a book for tomorrow, now’s a good time.

50-Shades-of-GreyGirl: Do you have 50 Shades of Gray?

Me: (calmly) Noooooo, but even if I did have it, you know you couldn’t check it out, right?

Girl: Because of the content? (her nose scrunched up and head tilted)

Me: Yeppers.

OF COURSE BECAUSE OF THE CONTENT, silly girl. What in heaven’s name was she even thinking?! Now. Did I read racy books in high school?  Absolutely. But would I ever have even  considered asking a teacher to borrow one? Nah-uh. Part of the thrill is that (we think!) the adults don’t know that we’ve pulled one over on ’em.

True story #2

[I am dog-tired. It’s Friday, the dead of winter, I haven’t slept well in ages, and it was the first week of the new semester. I greet my students at the door each hour, so I’m standing in the hall right outside my room. It’s 10 AM.]

Me: Good morning, Katy!

Katy: Hi, Ms. L.

[She continues on into the room, I greet another couple students, and Katy walks back out to the hall with a frown on her face.]

Manuel Martin@Flickr

Katy: Are you okay? You look sad.

Me: I do?! No, honey, I’m fine. Thanks for asking.

I fret a bit during the hour, thinking I’d better take a couple naps this weekend.  At lunch, I stop at the rest room first thing and check out the mirror. Man, I do look tired! And … well, rather plain come to think of it … I bend closer to the mirror. Unbelievable. I somehow neglected mascara and eye liner this morning. How did  that even happen?! Even on a day I go makeupless, nine times out of ten I still use mascara. At 5:45 AM I must have started my makeup, went to let a dog back in, and just la-di-dahed back to my coffee and lunch packing. Maybe I do need those naps, after all.

Or Spring would be nice, too.

A novel scrapbook: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt (review)

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt
Caroline Preston
Harper Collins

One of my most precious possessions is a “School Friendship Book” I found at a flea market several years ago. It is the real deal. None of this photos cropped, matted, and embellished with stickers stuff that we do today.  No, this is a leather journal-sized wonder with dusty manilla paper pages, warped with age and crammed with mementos. It belonged to one Avis B. from Elkhart, Indiana, Class of 1923. Pages are filled with handwritten notes, poems, and remembrances from teachers and students at Elkhart High School. But the fun starts about halfway where Avis taped and glued the following:
An invitation to Bea’s party (“Oh boy, oh joy, did we have fun!)
cut-out construction paper hearts (“Valentine’s party had a swell time”)
Elkhart High Athletic Association membership tickets
cut-out EHS cheers from the school newspaper (“Hit ’em on the elbow/hit ’em on the jaw/Cemetery, Cemetery/Rah! Rah! Rah!)
newspaper articles about sporting events, Jollies, and plays
curly lock of gorgeous auburn hair
Camel cigarette (“Lavon Holdeman June 1923”)
fabric shamrock (another “swell time–why? Oh that would be telling!”)
lock of her own “golden locks”
Christmas card
Halloween paper cupcake topper/favor
and a dozen or more circa 1921-23 photos of girls, and one photo of a saxaphone-playing young man. See why it’s so precious?

FrankieSo imagine my incredible delight when I found Caroline Preston’s The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt recently at my local bookstore–used, in great Frankie3condition, and only nine dollars! (It was also curiously mis-filed because it was in the Book Club section, not in the used books, which in my mind, means it was meant to be mine.) I’m often late to the party, so this is my first encounter with Frankie which was published in 2011. Oh. My-lanta. I might have even gasped aloud softly when I saw it. I bought it for the novelty, assuming I’d just look at the pretty pictures and layouts one afternoon and be done with it. Except it’s a novel. Really–the scrapbook actually reads like one. And of course I can’t help but connect Frankie Pratt to my Avis.

It’s not high literature. There’s no complex plot twists or turns. But if you’re looking for something to read just for sheer fun of it?  You’ll love Frankie Pratt, I’m sure.

Taking the Joy Dare with Jane Austen

I adore Jane Austen. I mean, I am so there. The countryside, all hedgerows and lanes; the homes—Northanger Abbey, Norland Park–gracious with their breakfast dishes and card rooms. And those Georgian manners, “high spirits and good humor” all around at a carriage ride after breakfast; or, letters hastily set aside with colourless faces.  Where new ribbons can make any bonnet both stylish and flattering. Oh, to spend my leisure time with the piano forte or my petit point and drawing (well, maybe not so much).

joy dareSo I was thrilled when I visited my local independent bookstore to choose a new journal and found this little gem: Jane Austen Novel Journal by Chronicle Books. Oh my goodness. (If you can’t find it locally, the journal is available at Gone Reading, a site with bookish gifts to die for—but more on that in another post!) The pages are sprinkled with quotes from her books; the layouts varied–some ruled, some pin-wheeled, some divided.

Now–me, a journal? Quite uncharacteristic. But I’m using Ann Voss’s Joy Dare this year to count up to one thousand gifts and graces. (You can print your own list of dares from her blog A Holy Experience.)  Because I’m stuck. I’ve had countless experiences of grace recently, worked through some incredibly difficult situations last year, and still I find myself restless. Heart-weary. How can that be in the face of so much that is good in my life? I’ve managed to successfully avoid that whole gratitude journal idea—too often (at least in the posts I read) I find it a kind of maudlin here’s-my-life-I’m-pretty-holy exhibition. Harsh, I know, but that’s how I read ’em. But I know I have to do something to rock myself out of this rut.

Enter the Joy Dare which I found via A Holy Experience via Mundane Faithfulness, evangelical Christian bloggers both. Now that’s not my spiritual bent, but I can sure appreciate that the list offers some guidelines without being proscriptive. It’s fresh. So Sunday I wrote down three “yellow gifts of fresh mercy”. Yesterday was “something above, below, beside” and today, “three startling graces of God”. Now this is something I can do (joyfully, I might add!), right along with Jane, because I think she just might understand: “It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible” (Northanger Abbey).

Which I intend to do.

Lollipop Moments: lead with love

Every January when we return from winter break, I show my kids at school a TED Talk about what the speaker calls “lollipop moments”—those time when our kindness makes someone else’s life fundamentally better, but we don’t even know we’ve made a difference. It’s that time of year when we all resolve to be a little nicer, a little more loving, and the students nine-week project is to create and carry out a campaign to promote some character trait they feel our world is lacking: confidence, selflessness, independence. So it fits like a charm. Drew Dudley is a motivational speaker whose focus is ostensibly leadership—but really is about so much more.

lollipop momentsDudley’s vitae is chockablock with accomplishments: he has coordinated one of the largest leadership development programs in Canada, founded charities, and advised multinational companies. But it’s encouraging others to recognize those lollipop moments that might be his most profound achievement.  Seems that years ago he met a nervous college freshman during orientation, talked her up a bit, lightened the moment, handed her a lollipop, and went on his way. No biggie. Except it was—at least to that coed. She had all but decided she didn’t belong in university, that she would drop out before she even began. But she didn’t. Because Dudley reached out and touched her (he would say he led with love), fundamentally changing her life without even knowing it. It’s a message that teenagers, who often feel so powerless, need to hear.

But as I get older, I sometimes wonder about how I’ve made a difference and what I’ll leave behind. For most of my life I’ve been too busy—three kids, single parenthood, non-traditional college student, later-in-life career—to worry about anything quite so philosophical. And besides, I’ve always had plenty of time ahead of me. Now don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of years left, but (and no one can argue with me here), I have decidedly fewer than before.  I haven’t written a symphony or the great American novel, nor have I legislated or discovered or endowed. And I think it’s pretty safe to say I never will.

But one thing I can do is to brush up against another soul else every day and touch them in some small way—even if only to smile or meet their eye with love. Lollipop moments, Drew Dudley would say.  I can, with a full and open heart, offer up small acts kindness.

You can, too.

Deck the Halls, or It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without …

Of course it’s the Christmas tree that is the centerpiece of any holiday decorating.  I’ve always been partial to Douglas or Frasier firs, with their dusty green, waxy boughs. And since we live near a local green grocer that has a gorgeous selection of trees, we’ve always done it the Christmas Story way, not the Christmas Vacation way. Unfortunately, with our pet menagerie, I fought needle drop every time the lab walked by the tree and wagged her tail or one of the cats swatted at some pretty bulb that caught her eye. Seriously– I’d keep the vacuum out so I could easily sweep up pine needles from the carpet three times a day. This year we took the plunge and bought a gorgeous artificial tree—Christmas heresy to some, I know, but I’m decidedly less Grinchy about the tree this year. In addition to the tree, nothing says “Deck the halls” with Christmas memories  than these lovelies.

  1. Crèche. I have the same crèche we had when I was growing up. (We called it a manger scene back
    then, though.) It isn’t a fancy imported olive wood nativity from the Holy Land or a trendy Willow Tree crèche—nope, I can remember when my mom drove to Montgomery Wards catalogue department in Akron to pick it up. The figures are plaster, some with facial features slightly askew (“hand painted in Italy” says the box). The human cast of characters is pretty standard, but it’s the dog with ears and tail standing at attention and the 3-legged lambs (those spindly little plaster legs don’t stand up to any dropping or mis-packing) I love most. When I was little I’d spend hours rearranging what was a kind of Christmas dollhouse to me.
  1. Garland. Nothing says celebration to me like a droopy, loopy garlands and I’ve loved them even before the pennant craze I see on Etsy and Pinterest. I have a felt and burlap “Merry Christmas” across the sliding door to the deck, a wooden “Let it snow” with snowmen, hearts, and snowflakes over the kitchen sink, and a pine cone garland draped on the bookcase. Our house is small, but that’s okay since I can deck each room on the main floor with a garland.
  1. Snowmen. They’re kind of my thing. Of course we have some snowmen ornaments on the tree, but it’s my snowman collection that is dear to me—and even better, since they’re not just for Christmas, I can leave them out through January. A few tin snowmen, a wooden snowman or two, a soft little fleece guy—those tiny mittens and carrot noses and twig arms and neck scarves make me smile every time.
  1. Train. Two months ago my dad died. In his salad days he was a model railroader and his O-gauge railroad ran along the entire wall of the basement with hills and tunnels and turnarounds. The countryside and cityscapes were populated with billboards, stores, and cars remembered from his childhood. Dad even wore an engineer’s cap sometimes when he was out and about. But since neither my brother or I had the time, space, or expertise to carry on Dad’s hobby, my step-mom sold most of the collectibles to a dealer. But not before I took a Lionel locomotive, green boxcar, and red caboose for under my Christmas tree. And there it runs, much to the chagrin of our beagle dog who thinks it’s a mad marauder from the hinterland, come to pillage our hearth and home.
  1. Books. Most of you know when my children were young (before my life as a teacher), I worked in a children’s book store. Each year I’d buy a new Christmas book and add it to the pile in a gold wicker basket. Each year I’d haul out that basket and I think even as teens the kids would page through their favorites. Now it’s waiting for grandbabies to be old enough to love those stories.
  1. Sled. When I was five we moved to a small little white ranch at the top of a hill. That Christmas there was a sled under the tree—a beautifully restored Flexible Flyer that had been my dad’s as a boy, now repainted red and white, with re-varnished side rails, stenciled with L A U R I E. I’m not about to take it for a slide anymore, but I do attach some greens and a big red bow and that old girl decks my front stoop each year.

So there you have it–when it’s Christmas in our house, you can be sure I’ll deck the halls with these Christmas memories. What can’t your home be without during the holidays?