Tuesday, December 17, 2019

SantaLand Diaries: David Sedaris

This is one of my all time favorite holiday pieces. Enjoy!!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Another semester in the book!

One of my students, Karlee, wanted a photo after class!

The semester is over, and I look back at the first day as I always do. They sit in their seats with anticipation, maybe fear (?), and certainly with much curiosity. They have heard rumors of my class. I don’t know them…not their names or where they are from or their dreams. I take roll call and phonetically write out their names if it is difficult, and some are difficult! At the end of the first day, I go home on my bike, sit out in the garden and ponder the situation. I will never get them to where I want them to be. The magic just will not happen, no, not this semester.

The golden days of autumn fly by as quickly as the geese take to the skies. One day at a time, one student at a time, we make our way. Before long, there is magic and we have come to know one another, and yes, I fall in love. When that happens, teaching becomes as common as drinking a glass of water or picking the last summer roses. 

I think of a few of my teachers who brought the magic to me. June Gregory was my high school English teacher, yearbook and newspaper advisor of which I was on the staff of both! She had red hair, which she wore piled on top of her head, and she was young. She must have been very young for me to remember her as such. I knew nothing of her personal life, yet she was my favorite teacher of all times. In those days, the paper was printed on a printing press in the town of New Haven where I went to school. On printing day, she issued passes to me and Dick Hoagland to spend the day helping with the printing making sure the typeset was perfect. I loved those days. Leaving school with passes in our hand, we headed out to do our job. We arrived back at school with the newspapers hot off the presses. On those days, we stayed to visit with Miss Gregory in the classroom. I do not remember too much about the room except that the windows faced south so the late hot summer sun or the early cold winter darkness would fill the room with shadows and images. We spent those hours discussing how to make the yearbook or the paper better. 

Little did we know that years later, Dick would become Ambassador Hoagland spending a decade in South and Central Asia. Whereas my life was not quite so eventful, it led me here to this town I love. I know Dick credits Miss Gregory for some of his successes. I know I do. Miss Gregory helped me get a high school job writing for the News Sentinel and later my journalism scholarship. She was also the one who knew I was not the reporting type. My love of words and language (and sunsets?) kept me on the essay page. She knew long before I did.

I think I always wanted to be that teacher. You know the one the kids will remember. I want them to remember how the sun came in the windows or the story I told, or the way I listened to their heartfelt stories.
Therefore, we come to the end of the semester, I have to let them go, and I find it difficult. One student asks me, “Do you always fall in love?” I think about it for a moment, and say, “Yes, I do.” She promptly asks another question, “What happens when you don’t?” I smile at that one. “Time to quit teaching,” I answer.
On the last day, we head out to the courtyard for my ritual of “Dead Poets Society.” I have all the pieces in a folder…Shelley, Keats, Whitman, Thomas, and Shakespeare. This year I add a piece by Mary Oliver. She became one of the dead poets last April. On one of these days, it is snowing hard in the courtyard…just one of those quick passing snow squalls, but just enough to make the students complain. I face the falling snow with laughter as they gather round. As in Frost, “The only other sound’s the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.” 

I read all the pieces. Close the book. Give them my last bit of advice as I fiercely hold back the tears. They scatter like leaves or snow or dandelion seeds.

I pack up and go home.

Monday, December 02, 2019


Last night I attended a "Hygge" party hosted by my friends, Bill and Annie Eyster. I loved the name, the concept, and the great party. I have always lived by these ideas, but didn't know the name of it.

Here is the definition of hygge: a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).

It definitely was a cozy and fun party with music and games...candles and soft lighting. Here are a few photos from the night!!

Traditional Danish cake.

Candlelight set the tone for the evening.

Simple, Christmas decorations.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Violins of Hope

The book is tattered and held together with heavy-duty tape. The pages are marked with coffee and tea stains. Passages are highlighted, written around and under. It goes everywhere I go…in the satchel, in the briefcase, in the hobo bag. When there are twenty minutes or so of time, I pull it out and let my heart mourn. Twenty minutes is probably enough. I mark the pages, put it back in the bag, and go on about my day. The book is “Violins of Hope” by James A. Grymes. The subtitle is “Violins of the Holocaust-Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour.”

I became aware of the book because of the extraordinary exhibit and events of the Violins of Hope Fort Wayne. For two full weeks, there are events every day…some days have multiple events. I ask myself, how can I do all of these? I cannot, but I want to.

This exhibit is a collection of instruments that survived the Holocaust and the extraordinary folks who played them. As I read the book, I feel I have been illiterate on my knowledge, and, even though my heart can hardly take it, I cannot get enough of this.

With events strung through the month, I make a list of those I can attend. The first one is November 14 “Stories of Defiance, Resilience, and Legacy” at the Allen County Courthouse. Most events are free, and this is one of them. I order four tickets and share the bounty with four friends…Carolyn and the two Jans.
I clean out Lola for the trip to Fort Wayne, and we all gather in the Jeep. I have my book with me and pass it around in the car. I tell some of the stories I have read to prepare them for what is to come. I park the Jeep in the garage and we walk the short distance to the courthouse. The night is crisp, clean, and we join others as we walk into the rotunda. It is set up for the concert in a circle around the rotunda. There are other friends to greet before the two-hour concert. We chat. We mingle. Finally a hush comes over the gathered crowd as the first violinist comes out to warm up the orchestra. My favorite conductor, Caleb Young, comes out, takes his bow and begins, and we are gone.

Narrator, Michael Rush, joins the Fort Wayne Philharmonic telling the stories of the violins between selections. The concert continues with the Children’s Choir singing from the balcony. We sit in silence with hands folded, eyes and ears watching, listening. I am good. I hold it all together until the Ft. Wayne Ballet comes out to dance an extraordinary piece to Samuel Barber’s, “Adagio for Strings, Op. 11.” Barber wrote it in Europe in the summer of 1936. It is known as a funeral piece as it was played for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The National Symphony Orchestra played it in the great hall after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
I swallow hard to keep from crying, but it does no good. A short intermission follows which gives time to pull myself together. The conversation flows among the guests as quickly as tears. It is through the arts this time; this book comes to life for us. Dance. Stories. Music. How can we live without them?

The second half is just as moving with more dancing, another piece by the children’s choir and music as it was played within the concentration camps. There are no dry eyes as we give a standing ovation to all those involved.

I am numb as we leave, but the brilliant night sky brings it all home to me. I think how lucky I am to be alive and to experience this type of event. We drive home in the late night hour chatting all the way. After saying “farewell,” I come on in through the garden gate, make tea and pull out my book, as there are still a few chapters to read. I am so glad there are more events on my calendar for this wonderful program in Fort Wayne.

Tonight Nobel Peace Prize winner and writer, Elie Wiesel was quoted. He was in the concentration camps and heard the music of the violin.
He says, “Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.”

Yes, I think into the holy darkness, he is right. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

NaNoWriMo....or how to write a novel in 30 days!!!

Contemplating my novel!!

Perhaps November is my favorite month after all. I thought it was October, but now I have changed my mind. I think it has something to do with the way the sun slants into my windows through the prisms as they dance upon the wall. Or, maybe how the garden looks after the first hard frost and snow, forlorn yet very much alive with birds clamoring for the last bits of berries. Or, could it be the solitary work of writing on that novel with NaNowrite? Maybe it is a combination of everything. With the lawn mower tucked neatly inside the garage along with the kayak, it is time to think of winter projects. There are so many that I worry winter will be over too soon!

I have been a strong supporter of NaNowrite for several years. Let us just chat about it on this first Saturday of November. NaNowrite began in 1999 with just 21 participants. The idea was (and still is) to produce a writing piece of 50,000 words in just thirty days. Let us break that down. To produce that kind of writing, it means you need to write 1,667 words per day. If you did not start yesterday, that means you need to write 3,334 words today. Do not despair! It can be done.
I think this is good advice for anything we want to do and learning to do it in small steps, not just writing. But for now, it is writing I am talking about. Now perhaps you do not want to write the American novel. Right. Perhaps you want to leave a memoir for your kids. Now we are talking, yes?

The best practices for NaNowrite the following tips. Write fast! Yes, do not ponder, dillydally, ruminate or noodle around, just write. Do not do any editing. None. Zero. Nada. That is hard to do and I have trouble with that one, of course our laptops have autocorrect so that is good, but nonetheless, you will want to edit. Do not. Do not research while you are writing. Make notes on a separate piece of paper if you need to, but do not take time away from the actual writing. My last bit of advice to is to set a timer. I use this for everything artistic that I do. I set a timer for writing, for rehearsing, and even for playing music. It is good to stop and stretch…make tea…take a walk…and then get back to work. 

If this all sounds good, then please keep reading. I think getting your thoughts on paper is important while writing a novel or your memoirs…all the same. In the past few years, I have held writing sessions at Trine in Wells Gallery on Sunday afternoons. I have loved meeting you there, but honestly, the group could be larger. This year I have three write-ins around town in two-hour blocks. I have secured these locations so we can meet, chat a bit, and then get to work. All three are different, and the rules remain the same, you can come to one or all three if that works for you.

The first write in will be at Caleo CafĂ©’ on Friday, November 8 from 2-4. (Oh lucky us, we can order coffee!) I will secure the table up front so come on in. If we are not friends yet, we soon will be! On November 13, we will write at the Angola Carnegie Library. Karen Holman has offered us the large table in the basement where it will be quiet and we can work. Our last write-in will be in Wells Gallery in Taylor Hall on the Trine Campus. This event will be from 2-4 on Sunday, November 24. That space is so beautiful the words will just flow.

Bringing your laptop is the easiest way to write when you want to count words, but I have written many stories by hand also. Bring pencils, pens, paper, laptop, and a sparkle in your eye. If you have questions, I can answer those for you, but most of all we will hear the sound of the keyboard or the scratch of the pencil on your paper. Maybe there will be wind or rain outside the window. We will not even notice. 

Sylvia Plath once wrote, “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Halloween in my Small Town...

My friend, Janet, and I are waiting for the goblins!!

The warm cider simmers on the back burner while the pot of gypsy soup slowly bubbles on the front burner. Candles of orange and black, sweets scents of autumn, fill the other crevices of this old house. I look at the calendar in disbelief that this is my last column for October…the golden month and one of my favorite months. I want to pinch myself with the flowing of time to slow it down a bit, but that won’t do it!

My house probably looks a lot like your house. Pumpkins on the stoop, mums in the garden, and decorations around the house including the ones that are voice activated. My stuffed raven sits atop my Edgar Allan Poe book along with spider web-woven gloves. There is more, of course, as I am a Halloween girl and will lament the ending of this day at midnight on Day of the Dead!

Until then, there is much to do…shows to perform (yes, I am back at Pokagon this year!), Poe Night at Trine, treats to hand out (please bring your children to my house), and a costume contest to run on Halloween night at 7:00 on the square.
I still see my dad lurking in the shadows while we scurried up and down our streets as a kid. As spooky as it was (and we went after dark), it was at least comforting to know he was there all along waiting for us. Scuffing in the leaves was almost as good as getting candy and then later on knowing those leaves would be burning on the curbs. Everyone did it then. Now, of course, we compost them ourselves or send them off to leaf paradise in the hands of our street department. But, oh that smell of leaves burning in the street!

The celebration of Halloween is ancient. In 1,000 A.D., the church designated November 2 as All Saints Day to honor the dead. The custom began as the peasants visited the homes of the wealthy families. The peasants were given “soul cakes” as gifts in exchange for prayers for the dead. Later on children were sent 
out to collect these cakes and/or money on All Hallows Eve which is October 31st. The tradition of trick-or-treating came to the United States with the Irish immigrants in the 1840’s following the potato famine. In Ireland and other European countries, a turnip was carved for All Hallows Eve, but when the immigrants arrived in America, there was not a huge amount of turnips to be found. But pumpkins? Well, there you have it! These pumpkins were set outside on stoops and by garden gates to help guide lost spirits home. 

We have many superstitions associated with Halloween such as beware of black cats. The black cat at one time symbolized the arrival of witchcraft by (yes, I must say this) elderly, solitary women. Yep. The pagan goddess of Samhain (the name of this ancient day) was also an elderly, solitary woman known as the crone. And yet even more (sorry about this) the broomstick was once again brought in by the elderly, solitary woman because she usually couldn’t afford a horse so used a walking stick, or a broom, as she maneuvered her pathways in the woods.
The colors of orange and black symbolized the colors of autumn and the death of summer.

Now here is some good news for all of us elderly, solitary crones. Bobbing for apples was an activity by communities across America. It still is lots of fun, but it was believed the first person who got an apple without using their hands would be the first to marry. 

My candlelight flickers, the wind blows, the leaves scatter across my yard. The soup is ready, and I let my bowl of soup cool as I pull out my book of Poe. I read aloud between the sips of tea, and keep the spirit of Halloween alive in this old house. How many trick-or-treaters have crossed this doorstep? 

So, my friends I leave you with a little bit of Poe. (Be sure to read it aloud!)
Happy Halloween! See you on my doorstep!

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”