Monday, August 31, 2009

It's Memories of Me Monday!

The Memory Jogger as posted yesterday: "What memories do you have of your two grandfathers? Talk about each of them."

Until just recently, when my mom informed me otherwise, I had always thought the above photo was of me on my dad's shoulders. Turns out it's me on my step-grandpa John's shoulders.

My mom didn't like Grandpa John. He had married my dad's mother, Lois, who died when I was three, so I don't remember her, unless she is (and quite possibly could be) the woman in a very vague memory I have of a large woman sitting in an overstuffed chair. I'm told she was quite heavy. She must have been relatively young when she died since my dad was only in his early 20's then. I really don't remember John either since, after my grandmother died he didn't bother to stay in contact with my dad. Anyway, my mom says John always gave her a creepy feeling, and she didn't trust him with me. She kept an eagle eye on him whenever he was around.

My dad's dad {the "real" one} was definitely in our lives. His name was Dee Hansen and he lived in the country part of Marysville, California. He had a sprawling old farmhouse with a camper parked in its gravel driveway, a porch all the way across the front, a bathroom that very well may have been added on since the house was originally built, a great big "den" with cowhide-covered sofas, pool table, and a buffalo head mounted on the wall (and gave me the creeps when I slept in there), and a large kitchen that his wife, my dad's stepmom, Bertha, ruled over with an iron hand.

Grandma Bert, as we called her, was no-nonsense and a teetotaler, so my grandpa had to go out to the shed in back of the house for a pull from one of the bottles he stashed out there. They had a huge garden and when we visited in the summer my grandpa would pick ripe canteloupes, cut them in half and scoop out the innards, then drop a big ol' blob of vanilla ice cream in the centers. Ohhhh, that was good!

My brothers and sisters and I were city kids, growing up in the suburbs of L.A., so to us those summertime visits to my grandpa's house were like entering a different world. He had a huge red barn out back and, although I don't remember any animals besides a few chickens, there was still lots of hay in there, old rusty farm equipment, and hidey-holes where the chickens laid their eggs. One summer we found an abandoned nest of eggs. For some crazy reason my brothers and I thought it would be a good idea to throw the eggs against the wall of the shed just behind the house.

Rotten eggs STINK! My grandpa was hopping mad! He made us get the garden hose and clean off that smelly mess. Of course, my parents were angry, too, and we got a good scolding. Looking back it's hard to believe I would do something like that. I'm sure it must have been my brother, Mike's, idea!

Before he retired my grandpa had worked as a foreman at a slaughterhouse. He also had a portable slaughterhouse on wheels which he hitched to a truck and hauled to his customer's farms for on-the-spot custom butchering. When I was a kid that big metal trailer, no longer in use, was parked among hip-high weeds in a sideyard at my grandpa's house. It was locked but we kids could cup our hands around our eyes, clamber up to stand on the long-flat tires and peer into the windows at a jumble of strange metal machinery inside. We tried to imagine what exactly went on in there, how the animals were killed, which machines cut up the carcasses, and where did all the blood go? We had gruesome conversations, but they were also thrilling in a very creepy way, and gave me the same shivery chills I'd get watching a scary movie.

Most fascinating, to me anyway, were the meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. That particular summer (I think I was probably 9 or so) a particular type of riddle was very popular among kids: Dead Baby Jokes. One comes immediately to mind. "What is pink and white and red all over?" Answer: "A dead baby hanging from a meat hook." No wonder my morbid curiosity and fascination with that old portable slaughterhouse trailer!

I was lucky to have my Grandpa Dee all through my childhood and into adulthood, though we did lose Grandma Bert in the late 1980's. My grandpa was in his 80's and still going strong, even planning to marry again, when he was killed outright in a car accident. It was a huge shock to us all. I know it hit my dad hard. He said to me over the phone shortly after we found out, "I no longer have any parents living."

I hope I'm light-years away from that!

I've talked about two grandfathers already, but I did have a third. My mom's dad, Bill Ware. I know very little about him except a few things that my mom has told me. He deserted my grandmother Ware when she was pregnant with her 4th daughter. My mom was about six at that time. Since my grandmother was pregnant she couldn't get a job. She had to take in washing to earn money, and I think she also helped take care of an elderly lady in the neighborhood. My grandfather simply disappeared.

Mom remembers the last time she saw her dad. It was about a year after he left. He'd returned broke and on foot, asking to come back. Mom was outside, rollerskating. I think my grandfather said "Hi" to her, and my mom replied back, "hi." But that was all. My mom didn't go to him, or follow him into the house. That says a lot. And my grandmother refused to take Bill back. He left and was never heard from again.

Years later my grandmother heard through friends that Bill had married again. Well, there'd never been a divorce so now he was also a bigamist. Not a lot of pride to be had with regard to that relative! It wasn't until the early 90's that my grandmother found out Bill had died in 1975. It's weird to think that he lived his life, and then died, while his first wife, four daughters, and then eighteen or so grandkids lived and thrived and rarely gave him a thought.

I do hope he at least had an inkling of what he was missing. One thing I know for sure; he surely got an earful when my grandmother died in 2000 and caught up with him in the hereafter!

And one thing I'm very grateful for. I know the experience affected my mom deeply, one result being that she very carefully (I believe) chose a good, trustworthy, and faithful man to be her husband and father of her children.

And who also happens to be an awesome grandfather!

....and now.....

NEXT MONDAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "What kind of a teenager were you? Nice, rebellious, etc.?" {uh oh!}

Monday, August 24, 2009

Memories of Me Monday Part Three

Ok, to recap, here's the Memory Jogger from The Jar: "If you could visit any country overseas, where would you go, and why?"

As I've mentioned, I'm limiting myself (for awhile at least, probably a year) to writing about memories of my childhood only. I remember having only the vaguest interest in visiting a country overseas; I probably didn't know much about any of them yet. I think I may have wanted to go to Ireland because I had some notion that everyone there owned horses, and I had the usual schoolgirl crush on those handsome animals. Other than that, I don't remember any desire to leave the country. I think I may have been too scared. My older brother, Mike, travelled to Japan with his Boy Scout troop when he was twelve. I remember being totally in awe of him, that he was brave enough to go to such an exotic place without our parents! And, if I remember correctly, the boys were parcelled out among host Japanese families so he stayed in the home of complete strangers!

No way would I have had the nerve to do something like that.

However, I did have an ongoing fantasy of being shipwrecked on a deserted island.


It was most likely fueled by the books I read, like "Robinson Crusoe," "The Swiss Family Robinson," "Baby Island," and one of my all-time favorite books, "Island of the Blue Dolphins." All of these books were about people stranded on deserted islands. The last two books were my favorites because the main characters were young girls who used their wits and cunning to survive and thrive. Just the kind of girl I wanted to be, and wasn't.

At that time my family was living in Redondo Beach, California. The summer I was 11 my mom took us five kids, plus several friends and including my best friend, Judy, to the beach almost every weekday while my dad worked. We all got as brown as Indians, rubbed our stomachs raw riding the waves on our canvas surfmats, burned our bare feet on the hot sand, ate tuna sandwiches made with Miracle Whip and my Mom's homemade wheat bread, grapes, red plums, and cookies, and went home every afternoon with sand in our suits, ears, and hair. It was heaven!

Judy and I spent those summer days pretending we were sisters shipwrecked on a deserted island. We stood knee-deep in the waves for hours and made up stories about our adventures. We began writing the stories in notebooks that we bought at the Five and Dime. My stories evolved into my first novel. It was called "Two Girls on an Island," and I illustrated it myself. I can't remember for sure if Judy wrote a novel, too (did you, Judy?), but she probably did.

Writing at our kitchen table, about 1970

That summer marks the beginning my writing life. Over the next 5 or 6 years I filled several notebooks with stories, journal entries, and poems, and I wrote another novel called "Cabin 13." Then when I was 18 and packing to move out of my parent's house, I casually tossed them all in the trash. My mom, who was watching me pack, looked at me with surprise and said, "You may regret that someday."

I was sure then that I wouldn't; that was childish stuff and I was done with it.

She was right.

Although I've filled many a notebook and journal since then, and I expect I'll fill many more, but I'd give a lot to have those first efforts back again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Me and the Warm Up America Foundation

I discovered Warm Up America a few years back. This awesome foundation provides knitted and/or crocheted afghan blankets, clothing, and accessories to people in hospices, shelters, hospitals, and nursing homes. The cool thing is that, to help out, all you or I have to do is knit or crochet one 7" x 9" rectangle and send it to them. That's it, to make a difference in someone's lfe. How cool is that?

Of course, if you want, you can knit or crochet an entire afghan. Or you could make 49 of the 7" x 9" rectangles and sew them all together into a complete blanket. Or, if you aren't that ambitious, or don't have a lot of time, you could just make one the next time you have to spend some time sitting in the car, doctor's office, or DMV, or when you are watching t.v. Slip it into an envelope and mail it to the good people at Warm Up America. The volunteers there collect them, organize them together in groups of 49, sew them together, and then donate them to wherever they are needed most.

The photos show my growing pile of rectangles. I've been going through a lot of leftover yarn that's just been sitting around in my closet. So nice to be putting it to good use! I can make about one-and-a-half rectangles while watching a couple of hours of t.v. in the evening. My goal is to make and/or gather together 49 rectangles AND sew them together so that I can send out a complete blanket this fall.

If you'd like to help me reach my goal, go to the Warm Up America website, download the simple knitting and crochet guidelines, break out your needles, hooks, and yarn, and get stitching! Be sure to read & follow the guidelines carefully. Check your gauge early on, to make sure your piece will end up the correct size. They must be as close to 7" x 9" as possible or they can't be used, and you wouldn't want all your hard work to go for naught.

Send me your pieces and when I have enough, I'll assemble them and, of course, take photos for the blog.

You can also send your pieces directly to Warm Up America, to the address on their website.

Questions? E-me!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Memory Jogger for Monday!

Here is the Memory Jogger from The Jar for this coming Monday:

"If you could visit any country overseas, where would you go, and why?"

It's worded more in the present tense, but use it any way you want -- maybe you only want to use one word of the sentence? Or cast your mind back to your childhood and try to remember what country you fantasized about visiting. How about: what weird idea did you have as a child about a foreign country, that turned out not to be true at all?

Have fun with it!


Monday, August 17, 2009

Memories of Me Monday

If you saw yesterdays brief post you know that the memory jogger for today is: "What is your personal secret for happiness?"

Interesting question because one of my goals as an adult has been to be happy, purposely, by enjoying and treating each moment as precious, no matter how ordinary.

As a child, naturally, I didn't do that. At that time in my life, with so much of my life ahead of me, my happiness came from anticipation. I looked forward to 1st grade so I could play on the "big kid's playground" and not in the "baby yard," I anticipated the fun of Christmas, birthdays, and family vacations, I couldn't wait to be 12 and go to junior high school, 16 couldn't come soon enough because then I could date. Looking forward to these Big Events was exciting, and it seemed there was always a milestone ahead to look forward to.

I do remember, though, having a little trick -- and I suppose you could call it a secret -- that I used to help me through sad or scary times, but it still drew upon the concept of anticipation.

Although I loved school, there were a few things at school that were decidedly NOT fun for me; in fact, they were traumatic. Giving an oral report, for example, or doing a math problem on the board, reading aloud in front of my class, even my turn for Sharing Time in the early grades was an occasion for heart-pounding fear.

As I mentioned last week, I was very shy as a child. I much preferred sitting quietly in my seat to doing anything -- and I mean, anything -- that would cause my classmates to focus their attention on me. I can well remember that dry-mouthed fear, clammy hands, and fluttering stomach, when it was time for me to perform.

I also clearly remember that, once I was on my feet and had begun to speak, thoughts of home would float through my head and help calm me. The rational part of my brain would send me images of the front door of my house opening to welcome me. Inside my mom would be in the kitchen baking bread or cookies and the smell would fill the house. Through the kitchen window I'd be able to see our clothesline with a double row of snow-white cloth diapers snapping in the breeze.

In reality I was still in front of the class with knocking knees and trembling hands clutching my book report carefully printed in pencil but, as I paused to lick my lips and try to get a deep breath, I'd think to myself, soon this will be over and I can go Home.

I got through a lot of scary situations this way, by looking past it to the refuge of home. I saw my home as a sanctuary and, truly, it was the one place where I was completely protected, loved unconditionally, and accepted for just who I was. I wasn't shy around my family, I felt important, and I was surrounded by the people and things I loved best.

A lot of the things that frightened me as a child, still do. I still don't like speaking in public or being the center of attention. I much prefer to be in the audience than on the stage. But when it's necessary for me to do something that scares me I still use that same trick -- I cast my mind ahead and imagine myself at home, perhaps curled on the couch with a book and a cat, and I still feel that little lifting of my spirits as I think to myself, this will soon be over and i can go home.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Memory Jogger for tomorrow (Monday)

For those who want to play along, here is tomorrow's memory jogger from The Jar:

"What is your personal secret to happiness?"

Remember, you can write a memory based on the entire question, part of the sentence, or just a single word, totally up to you. I'm concentrating at present just on memories from my childhood, but you can use any part of your life that you want.

Share your memories, or not! Feel free to post a link to your blogged memory in the comments section. Have fun, and get those memories written!

I'll be posting mine tomorrow!


Monday, August 10, 2009

Memories of Me Monday

I'm going to TRY and do this each Monday. Write a memory of my childhood. Perhaps eventually I will have somewhat of a life history written!

To make it fun, and kinda random, I'm going to draw a slip of paper each Monday from a jar that my BFF, Judy, gave me some years back (thx, Judy!). It's got hundreds of slips of paper in it, and each one has a question on it, designed to jog my memory and assist in writing my life history. But I'm not going to limit myself to the exact question if I don't want to. In fact, sometimes I may take just one word out of the sentence, if that one word is what jogs a memory.

Want to play along?

Then here's today's memory jogger: "Describe the teacher you hated most in high school. Why was he/she your least favorite?"

For me, the first memory that came to mind was of a teacher in elementary school, not high school, but I'm going to go with it because the important thing is not to block myself by trying to adhere to the exact question....but to get those memories written!

Here goes:

In the third grade I went to Eden Prairie Elementary School in Hopkins, Minnesota. Well, it might not have been in Hopkins, maybe it was a town nearby, because we had to ride a bus to get there. We lived in a housing development where all the houses had about a half acre of land so it was more like living in the country than the suburbs.

My third grade teacher was Mrs. Olsen. She was an older woman, plump with grey hair, and she was no-nonsense. When we took tests she patrolled the classroom the entire time, passing slowly up and down the aisles between our desks, posture ramrod straight, her head turning side to side while she looked down her nose at each student. You could practically feel those eyes boring into you. I bet there was no cheating going on in that classroom! We didn't dare take our eyes off our own papers.

I would certainly not say that I hated Mrs. Olsen, but I was afraid of her. I was scared that I'd unknowingly step out of line (she had a lot of rules and it was hard to remember them all) and be scolded and that would bring the attention of the entire class on me. I was very shy and preferred to go unnoticed.

I was also petrified of her disapproval - she gave you the impression that if you were not up to her standards in any area you were hopeless and would never amount to anything. I doubt she ever said anything of the sort to us, but in my 9 year old mind I was sure that was her opinion.

What I remember most about third grade, and Mrs. Olsen, is learning to write cursive, and fractions.

That was the year I learned to hate math. Cursive writing? That came easy. But fractions! I was absolutely tortured by them.

Math tests were horrendous for me. I just didn't understand fractions. I did terrible on the tests. And on the days that Mrs. Olsen walked about the room handing back our tests with the big red number at the top indicating how many we got right, and our letter grade, were some of the worst days of my life. I can still remember how hard my heart would pound in my chest, s hard it hurt, and I could barely breathe. I knew my test results would be bad, and I'd get the "look" from Mrs. Olsen, and the sigh, and the briefly closed eyes, as though she were wishing herself anywhere but in that classroom where she was saddled with such a dunderhead as me for a student.

I took my math test results very hard -- too hard -- and very personally. And, yep, I usually did poorly. Then one Friday we were taking our weekly spelling test. Since I was an avid, and had been an early, reader, spelling came very easily to me. I nearly always got 100%.

On that particular Friday I could hear sniffling behind me. It seemed more than the usual sniffle from a cold and so I glanced back over my shoulder. In the row next to mine, about 3 desks back, was the boy who was doing the sniffling. And he was crying!

I stared down at my paper, with half of the day's words neatly printed (and spelled correctly), my pencil poised as I waited for Mrs. Olsen to give the next word. Taking another quick peek back I watched the boy swipe at his eyes, rub furiously at his paper with his eraser, then rewrite his answer. A tear splashed onto his paper. I turned back and stared straight ahead. I almost missed writing the next word as I tried to come to terms wiith someone who couldn't spell. Couldn't spell? The easiest thing in the world!

I was filled with empathy for that boy, whose name I don't remember, nor do I remember what he looked like except that he was dark-haired. I do remember that he was given no sympathy whatever from Mrs. Olsen; in fact, I don't think she even noticed that he was crying, at least she gave no indication of it.

It was then that I realized that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and that we all have different ones. What comes easily to one person may be very difficult for another. That boy probably had no trouble with math. I sure did, but then spelling was a breeze.

I think I may have eased up on myself just a bit after that, with regard to my math scores. It was still my worst subject, and I still dreaded math test days, but at least I did try to remind myself that I was good at lots of other subjects.

I'm still plagued by what I think of as a "chronic math weakness." I can do only the simplest of calculations in my head. I still don't know the entire multiplication table (I get stumped by 7's, 8's, 11, and 12's). When I was writing computer programs, anytime I needed to include a calculation routine, I would call Mike and have him write it out for me. Then I could translate it into code. Word problems, of course, are the worst. I love puzzles, but if it's of the word problem variety my mind immediately goes blank.

I keep trying to improve, though; in fact, just a few days ago at the library book sale I picked up a workbook called "Mastery Drills in Arithmetic" in the children's section. I'm going to work through that book, especially the section on fractions. I'm determined to understand them better.

Mrs. Olsen will be so proud.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Newlywed Duet

Since a lot of my family and friends are not on Facebook (yet, lol) I thought I'd post this short video here, on my blog, as well. This is my sister, Kristen, and her new hubby, John, at their Open House on August 2. The Open House was at my parent's home in Simi Valley, CA., and was attended by a TON of Kristen's family and friends PLUS John's mom, Lyn, who came all the way from Australia! It was really great to see her again, and to get to know her a little bit more.

After talking a little bit about how they met Kristen and John sang an Aussie song, which was VERY entertaining, and I'm just kicking myself that I didn't think to record it until they were near the end. Still, I think you'll enjoy it.

Here it is, especially for you, Mom!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Do My Cats Have Nicknames for Me?

Strangely, that was my first thought this morning when I woke up. What DO my cats call me? Do they think of me by name? Or does a mental picture of me appear in their little walnut-sized brains? Do they have nicknames for me, like I do for them? I kinda hate to think what they might call me in revenge for all the silly, and sometimes decidedly unflattering, names Mike and I have given them!

Even though Jack and Scout are now five years old I've only just barely stopped calling them The Kittens. Recently it's morphed into The "Smittens" and, individually, "Smack," and "Smout."



I've even made up little rhymes for them: "Jack, Jack, poop and stack," and "Scout, Scout, sulk and pout." Not exactly flattering! I wonder if they've got one for me?? Scary thought!

I've always thought that babies must "think" in pictures, not words, at least until they learn language. Are animals the same? It's pretty obvious animals know at least some words. "Walk" and "treat" are usually a dog's favorite words, and cats, mine anyway, definitely know the words that represent their names -- they will come when called. Scout also knows "kiss" and "High Five." Jack is partial to "outside." They will both "sit," especially if they know that a meal will follow the plunking of their butts onto the kitchen floor.

Maybe, in their minds, Jack and Scout think of Mike and I as "Mike" and "Deb" since that is what we call each other. But I doubt it. I'm not sure they would know we were referring to each other, but who knows. Cats are usually smarter than we give them credit for, that I do know. After all, look at how they manipulate us!

All Scout has to do is sit next to her food bowl and give me that "pleeeeeze" look she's so good at and I usually cave in and give her a little treat. Or Jack, when he jumps up on the cabinet just inside our front door and noses the basket where we keep his collar and leash. It's nearly impossible to ignore the unspoken demand to take him for a leisurely circuit of the backyard.

Still, I doubt that cats {or dogs, or any of the animals we keep as pets} make up words or rhymes like humans do; animals just don't use language in the same way. So do they instead use nickpictures? Maybe instead of a goofy name like "Scoutie-patoutie-patootie-pie" or "Jackely-Jackster-boy-o" when they're feeling affectionate, they imagine me as a lovely patch of sunshine, or Mike as their favorite furry toy. Is that how they are "seeing" us when they squeeze their eyes at us?

I'd really like to know the answer to this question -- so I can make sure their nicknames, or nickpictures, are at least complimentary.

But then I guess it doesn't really matter, as long as the tone is nice.