One Foot

One Foot

Friday, August 5, 2016

Reading Children's Classics as an Adult

                I attended a Kansas rural school in the era just before such schools were closed and consolidated with larger districts.   Out of that education was born a girl who learned to love books and learned that the way into and upward in the world was through books and education.

              Even from a child’s eyes, I could see resources were limited in our classroom.  We had dictionaries and encyclopedias in the bookcase.  We had textbooks for all grades, but I don’t remember having any books or magazines to go along with the textbooks.
                Our library was a library trunk that the teacher checked out from the larger library system in the county seat, and although I didn’t need an incentive to read, there was a reading achievement reward for reading a certain number of books during the year.  No problem. I read them all, regardless of level.  I’m sure I enjoyed each one.
Then, a few years ago, after making friends with my neighbor, a children’s’ librarian, I was introduced to the “Recommended Children’s Book List” made up of children’s literature that is now considered “classic.” How disappointed I was to find I hadn’t read the great majority of those books.  And so, last year I began checking out children’s books for me.  I discovered a world of imagination that I am so sorry I missed as a child; and a world of writing skill that I wish I’d found earlier.
I have been consistently impressed with the sophistication of language in these books.  It is both an example of language used in the authors’ time, as well as a model of use for large and varied words.  Sometimes we try to control these factors, supposing they contribute to high grade level readability, but given rich content, kids willingly tackle them.  A good example is the series of Harry Potter books that are quite high in readability, but has an interest level that hooks even very young children.  
As an added bonus, nearly every book I’ve read has a great story.  Just this week I found a collection of classics in audio-book form.  “Anne of Green Gables” is in the car today and a wonderful read – reminding me of all the books Miss Holte, our rural school teacher, read to us right after the noon recess and just before mathematics.  
For someone who loves to read, as I do, there are two lists that merit regular attention.  One is the list of books that all students that are going to college should be reading or have read.  The second is the list of the books that make up children’s classic literature.  
I may not ever write a great American novel, but if I don’t, you can bet I have been reading one.  Chances are it was written for children!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Working the Scrap Basket

I am an avid quilter and produce many small projects a year.  I love to read and the books read and unread line up across the wall.  I always seem to have something to do and a place to go, but when a cold winter day comes along, my body senses that this is a time to take a break.  Perhaps it is a left over genetic trait related to hibernation, for I yearn for a task that will rest my body and brain and relieve me of self-imposed demands.
           It is on such a winter day that I do what generations of farm women have done  – they “work the scrap basket.”  Doesn’t every woman have a scrap basket?  This is the disorganized heap of fabric created from sewing projects or disassembly of donated clothing with the idea that “someday” one will organize it all and make an heirloom quilt or a rag rug. 
            I imagine I am typical of others who let that scrap basket get to near overwhelming size, but this winter I have tackled it for the third time in my sewing history.  One year I had worked with batiks for gift quilts and the remaining miscellaneous scraps were too valuable to toss.  That pile became a lovely square-in-a-square quilt.  Another year I had basic cottons that became a tessellated pineapple quilt. This year, I am attempting a strip quilt and am determined that I will keep making pieces for that quilt until the scrap basket is empty.  I am beginning to wonder if that will be in my lifetime, and I am certain that the quilt size will exceed king-size.
               Why would a modern woman, perfectly capable of buying fabric endlessly, mess with scraps of fabric?  The answer for me is that working the scrap basket calms me.  There is something pleasing and quiet about the near mindless task of touching the fabric, fitting it into a simple pattern, and seeing scrappy beauty come about.   I can play with the pieces for hours.
          I might also admit that when I play with my scraps, I don’t watch television.  I might have some quiet music on the stereo, but I play without the environment pounding on me.  It is similar to taking a good long walk in the woods – you walk for a while; you think, you sing, and before you know it, you’ve come up with something creative.  So it is with my scraps.  My mind is seemingly grateful that there are no quilting rules to follow.  There are no color specifications.  The pattern is simply mindless once selected.  And actually, I don’t even care if there is a “finished” quilt resulting. 
           I am convinced we ought to work a lot more scraps in our lives than we do.  I know others who find their scraps in the garden.  Others find their scraps in puzzles, car repair, painting, fishing, etc.  For a few hours, we enjoy simplicity, not complexity. 
          My grandmothers worked their scraps because they lived on isolated farms, but now Grandma is more apt to be at the senior center playing bridge (or pool).  Whatever the lifestyle, we need a few quiet and peaceful moments in a day.  My mind is one that needs to do a little resting and healing and benefits from those moments.
           On days when I don’t feel like working the scrap basket, there is always the possibility of writing a little rambling piece like this.  I can always end it with…..”now, where was I going with this?” 
           Just like the process of sewing those scraps together into a whole, one just never knows.  It’s the process that brings peace.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gifting is an Act of Grace

          I enjoy pets and find personable cats to be good company in my home.  The very habit of rising in the morning to their pleas for food, resting beside them in a favorite chair, or talking with them as we work are all within a contented and ordinary day.
          That is not to say that my cats have no annoying habits.  My Siamese, although sweet in disposition, annoys me no end by nagging for food.  I always feed a small bowl of wet food in the morning and her dry food bowl always has a portion in it.  But she apparently perceives this as a half empty bowl, which is unacceptable to her.  So she meows incessantly, rubs my legs repeatedly, nibbles my ankles and pleads.  Of course this puts cat hair all over my lower half clothing and irritates me so I fill her bowl to stop it.  I am compliant for sure.
          I’ve learned that this behavior has nothing to do with hunger.  It has to do with the act of giving to her and this I believe is my lesson this season. Gifting is not an obligation to be fulfilled.  It is an act of grace.
          While we are taught to believe that it is better to give than receive, there is a  message delivered with receiving.  Someone thought of you, loved you enough to take the time to find some small token or gift and gave it to you.  Or perhaps a person did something thoughtful for you.  This too is a gift.  And when this happens, you feel as if you belong to them; you connect with them in this huge world. When you are not thought of in some small way, you feel disconnected and at least slightly alienated.
          The value of the exchange falls equally to the giver and receiver, for both must learn to know and care for each other. You are blessed both as a giver AND a receiver.
           Too often we stretch too far for the big gifts in life, when the small treasure would do well.  It is far too easy, even with the people we live with, not to voice recognition of the acts we appreciate or fail to validate responses.  Gosh, if we could only purr it would be easier.  Love, and the act of giving and receiving it, is given to us by the grace of God, and without it we waste away, or “like flowers, whither...”
          This year I will try to do a better job of validating my relationships and showing my love of others.  The result would be better relationships for sure, and lead to a deeper appreciation of those I love.  Loving one another is our earthly challenge.  God surely knew his people would grow only through relationships.
          This morning as my cat and I went through our routine, I grimaced as she rubbed her face against my ankles.  Just as an experiment, I reached into the bag and laid a single cat food nugget in front of her.  She ate it daintily and looked up to me with loving eyes.  I knelt to give her a good rub and her purr rumbled toward me.  “Thanks for the lesson,” I thought, and reached for the fur grabber.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Needed: Good People Skills and a Good Home

Got food?

I live on a quiet cul-de-sac with only a few houses, so neighbors get to know each other here.  When we can, we help each other out and that gives a friendly feel to the neighborhood.
          My neighbor, Mary, is a cat lover and has a very soft heart when it comes to strays.  She adopted the two I am introducing here and by feeding and paying attention to them has given them a home.  The female is a big white piebald with gold eyes.  I am guessing that she is about ten years old.  Because of her coloration, Mary’s son calls this one “cow cat,” but her official name is “Kittzie.” Her outstanding characteristic is her amazing shedding capacity, exhibited when picked up. 
          The second cat is a very old rakish fellow with a crotchety personality.  He has a tattered ear and is missing a canine tooth.  I would consider him unadoptable due to age, but he has proven to be a charmer, even if he appears to have come from skid-row.  I call him "Scruffy," or "rakish old fellow," based on the historical use of the term "rake" that refers to a man who is habituated to immoral conduct, particularly womanizing.
Maybe just a little rub?
 I think Scruffy, indeed, has had his day.  His outstanding characteristic is his wire-brush coat.
        Mary is away right now getting some health care, leaving the care of her cats to her son and me.  He works an odd shift, and often isn’t able to come the lengthy distance to feed, and these two smart cats have figured out where their food comes from in that event.  They simply come and get me and let me know they’re hungry. 
          Now if Tim and I had tried to train them in this procedure, they would never have cooperated.  They simply figured it out themselves.  Often I look out the French door to see a little black and white face that gives me a silent meow and I know I need to go open the cat food.  Out the door I go and the two of us walk companionably back to Mary’s house for breakfast.  There Scruffy waits for his plate to be served as well.
          I can’t help but think that my two cat friends have responded much as humans do when they are feeling needy and could use a hug.    Scruffy was frightened of me at first and avoided my contact. When I would appear he would hiss and it was not until I earned his trust that he would even allow me to feed him.  I often feel the same way about people – just back off and let me trust before you try to fix my problem.
         Once Scruffy saw I was not going to hurt him, he became my friend.  At first he only accepted food, later a touch on the back, but now he throws himself into a good leg rub and puts his front paws up on my knee for a rub.  Again, just like people isn’t it?  Once we allow a little closeness, we do like a friendly touch and a hug.  In fact, I think us older folks are sometimes touch deprived unless our family is nearby, often going weeks without a hug or even a touch on the arm. 
Did you say come for tea?
          Just like some of my other friends, Kittzie is a talker.  She does enjoy having a good meal before conversation, but I bet if I spoke cat talk, she would be telling me some amazing stories.  How is it an animal of another kind would even bother to communicate?  Does she think I understand?  Or is it just that I take the time to listen?
          My friends are going to a new home next week and I will miss them.  I just hope their new owners have good people skills, because they are sure going to need them with Kittzie and Scruffy. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Peonies by the Bucket - Memories on the Side

      We have had an unusually cool and very wet spring in southcentral Kansas.  This follows a three-year drought and loss of crops, so it is quite a contrast.  A friend said today she thought everyone must have been praying at the same time for the end of the drought, as we surely are drenched.

     At my city house, the rain has brought on excessive growth in the beds and the cooler temperatures have allowed iris and peonies to bloom longer than usual.  I decided today that between showers I would make an attempt to clear the abundant weeds and grasses from the beds and see if I could get some management to the growth.

     I probably should have been armed with an electric hedge trimmer, but being a purist, I tacked the overgrowth using hand tools.  I took off two feet of yarrow (height, width and depth), pulled the random thistle and made it tidy.  My last job was to bring in the remaining iris and the peonies that were so loaded with bloom they were on the ground.

     And so I picked, and chopped and brought in to arrange – not in vases, but in buckets.   And as I arranged, I recalled the lectures of my grandmothers about Memorial Day customs of decorating the graves.  (Oh, that would be tomorrow wouldn’t it!)

     My grandmothers were dedicated grave decorators and it could be quite a battle at our house to harangue someone into driving them to the various cemeteries.  It was an all-day event, and normally in the middle of wheat harvest, so as soon as my sister or I could drive, we were assigned.  We always heard the peony lecture.

     “We used to save all the peonies for Memorial Day,” it was repeated by both grandmothers, “and if one of us so much as touched a petal, we’d be a dead duck.”  I believe there was some chuckling of fond memory there.  “And when the day came, we would gather our very best fruit jars for vases and load them in the car, and put peonies on all the graves……..” This was usually followed by the philosophical comments of how important the remembrance of the deceased was.

     My mother sometimes repeated that same lecture, but more often she was of a practical nature.  If the harvest was on, we didn’t decorate.  If we could squeeze it in, we did.  
     Now I am the grave decorator – or not.  I have found beliefs about the practice can sure depend on who it is we’re decorating.  As a general rule, yes, I decorate graves.  But for my mother, the person always closest to my heart, that doesn’t hold true. 

     First, she didn’t much like the artificial flowers for graves, and second, she was just such a practical person that she always said she would prefer someone remember her in something more sincerely and she didn’t really care about the grave.  When she did pass away, I found that the last place I found her in my heart was at the cemetery.

     I found her at the corner where her car went off the road, and so I placed a cross there.  And I found her in her flower garden, where she loved to be.  And there, I placed statuary of a young girl, sitting on a log communing with flowers and nature.  And then I realized that I also found her in my own garden, where I had planted the peonies she shared, and the iris she gave me.  And darn if I didn’t find her in the memories of gathering peonies by the bucket on the eve of Memorial Day as I smelled the brisket cooking in the oven for tomorrow’s picnic.

     I am not sad as I plan for tomorrow.  My loved ones were a joy and I remember them with such happiness.  I know they are in a good place and are always a part of me.  

      I had a good afternoon in my garden.  I don’t particularly like so much rain, but I surely do like the buckets full of flowers that await their Bell jar vases.