Friday, June 29, 2007

Fun Friday

In a previous post, I recalled summertime fun I had as a teen. Well, today I recreated the old swimming hole, only it is now a lovely pool and some neighborhood kids.

Every so often, in the summer, I invite neighbor kids to come by for a swim. We have always tried to be careful with our pool, keeping the gates locked at all times, using a thermal cover to keep the water out of view, and reminding kids "no swimming" unless they have been invited. Fortunately, we have had wonderful kids around us, and they are most cooperative.

In the pool today were two little brothers--Ty and Tanner; their sister Taylor with her friends Leah and Rachel, and another girl Gloria. I note that boys were rowdier (and younger) and the girls much more relational. The girls spent time trying to find out who has a crush on whom and then TELLING. The boys were content to splash, dive, horse-play and just have fun.

The old swimming hole may be updated, but the fun is old-fashioned!

Calm before the kids arrive!


Girl talk!

Lessons learned today--Stay cool, enjoy these lazy days of summer.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Class of 1962

This year, my high school class celebrated its 45th anniversary. We were the class of 1962. We were those babies born just before the boomer generation. Living through the 1960s we saw much. See The 1960s for details.

As someone who lived in “the boonies” I was always mildly envious of the town kids who had all grown up together. They had attended grade school together, played at each other’s homes, gone to the same slumber parties. They all knew each other and they were the in-crowd.

I had transferred into the school in 11th grade. With gusto, I threw myself into activities. I tried out for a sport I had played in Africa—field hockey—but did not make the team. So I redirected my energies—I ran for student council secretary—putting up creative posters. I came close but didn’t get elected.

Redirected again—by now I had joined chorus. So at least I was in something. I didn’t play an instrument you could play in the marching band, so that was out. Then came play tryouts—I made it, cast as the mother (!) in the junior class play.

By the end of my senior year, I had been elected to National Honor Society, was on yearbook staff, and in several special interest clubs. I wasn’t popular but at least I wasn’t a total reject.

Fast forward 45 years to our high school reunion. Over the years, I have kept in touch with no one from high school—until very recently. One of our class, moved by the news that one of our classmates had died several years, and no one in the class knew it, began gathering all our names. She sent out monthly breezy email newsletters. One by one, all of the 127 member of the class were found, except for the 9 who are “lost” and the 8 who have died.

Many people are nostalgic about their high school graduation class. I am no different. Oh I was consumed with curiosity. What would we be like after 45 years?

And now I know. Some people resembled magnificent architecture that has crumbled—you can still see the outlines of the building and know it was a magnificent structure, but it really is a ruin.

Ruined faces
Ruined voices
Ruined dreams
Ruined lives

But there were also people there who had succeeded in ways we would not have thought as high school seniors. We became business owners, we became teachers, we became attorneys, and we became doctors.

Yes, I saw the prom queen at the reunion—she is now a matronly woman. The head cheerleader who was always so pert and perky now looks care-worn. The star athletes, men and women, have aching bones, carry too much weight, have had knee replacements. The dream couple—well, they are still together. And the class bad boys? Well, they straightened up—one, who despised education in high school, had earned a master’s degree; another who claimed to be drunk all through high school now works as Santa Claus in his hometown.

My curiosity has been assuaged. Before the reunion, I was full of wonder—what had we all done, where had we gone. Now I am caught up on news of deaths, divorces, misfortunes. And also news of accomplishment, joys shared.

Will I return in 5 years for the next big reunion? Who knows?

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I have written several posts with the label of TERRIFIC READS. And I always list what I am currently reading in the side column of my blog. I have just finished a book that I would call a terrific but difficult read.

Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things is a marvelously crafted novel. It won the Booker Prize several years ago and I have decided that if a book wins the Booker Prize, I will no doubt love the work. I have yet to read a Booker Prize winner that I didn't like, though I would be quick to add I have not read them all.

The God of Small Things is not, however, an easy read. Roy sets this novel in relatively contemporary India. The pivotal event of the novel is the accidental drowning of a little girl whose English mother has brought her to India to visit with her Indian father, from whom the mother is divorced. There, she meets her Indian twin cousins, a boy and a girl, who are throughout the novel referred to as the two-egg twins. They are, however, a blended personality.

The novel follows the family fortunes, moving back and forth in time. The time sequence can be a bit confusing because the reader is not always sure if this is the present or the past.

What is so elegantly exquisite about this novel is Roy's command of the English language and her sheer descriptiveness. The book shimmers with descriptions. Settings are described, people's appearances, motivations of characters--every detail is both essential and ephemeral. Here's one marvelous description of futility--"It was like polishing firewood." I thought about that description for a while. What better way to describe something as being futile than to say it is like polishing firewood.

If you want a breezy summer read, don't try this novel. If you want something to sink your mental teeth into, and you want something that will stay with you a long while, then DO try this novel.

I am now re-reading Drowning Ruth. I read this novel several years ago, and decided I wanted to read something to refresh my recollection. I loved this work when it first came out. It ended up being an Oprah book club pick (remember--don't tell me what Oprah is reading?). BUT when I bought this in a local book store, that pick had not been announced. The store clerk said to me--oh, good choice. Tomorrow Oprah is announcing this as her next pick.

Well, I bought it anyway. Here's a the description from the Barnes and Noble website:

Deftly written and emotionally powerful, Drowning Ruth is a stunning portrait of the ties that bind sisters together and the forces that tear them apart, of the dangers of keeping secrets and the explosive repercussions when they are exposed. A mesmerizing and achingly beautiful debut.

Winter, 1919. Amanda Starkey spends her days nursing soldiers wounded in the Great War. Finding herself suddenly overwhelmed, she flees Milwaukee and retreats to her family's farm on Nagawaukee Lake, seeking comfort with her younger sister, Mathilda, and three-year-old niece, Ruth. But very soon, Amanda comes to see that her old home is no refuge--she has carried her troubles with her. On one terrible night almost a year later, Amanda loses nearly everything that is dearest to her when her sister mysteriously disappears and is later found drowned beneath the ice that covers the lake. When Mathilda's husband comes home from the war, wounded and troubled himself, he finds that Amanda has taken charge of Ruth and the farm, assuming her responsibility with a frightening intensity. Wry and guarded, Amanda tells the story of her family in careful doses, as anxious to hide from herself as from us the secrets of her own past and of that night.

Ruth, haunted by her own memory of that fateful night, grows up under the watchful eye of her prickly and possessive aunt and gradually becomes aware of the odd events of her childhood. As she tells her own story with increasing clarity, she reveals the mounting toll that her aunt's secrets exact from her family and everyone around her, until the heartrending truth is uncovered.

All set now with your summer reads? You could tell me what you are reading this summer?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What’s Wrong with People?

Fair Warning: this post will sound a lot like a rant.

A couple of days ago, my husband and I were returning home. As we drove toward our neighborhood, my husband said—look at that! What he had seen was a shopping cart abandoned along a sidewalk. The nearest store was about a half mile away, so obviously someone had commandeered a cart, then abandoned it. My husband knows this is a particular gripe of mine—people who just leave shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot. Sometimes, I go up to someone who appears to be about ready to just leave a cart, and say (sweetly) –can I take your cart back for you? This usually startles her enough to prompt her to say—why, thank you.

All of which got me to thinking—what’s wrong with people (or for ease of writing WWWP)?

Have you ever had the experience of stepping on a wad of gooey chewing gum? Several years ago, as I was leaving the grocery store, I saw a young woman coming toward me. Not more than 3 feet from a trash can, she spit out a wad of gum right on the ground. I stopped and glared at her, then said—excuse me, you just spit out your gum and right over there is a trash can. I handed her a piece of scrap paper and said—pick it up. She did.

Why do people spit gum on the sidewalk? WWWP?

Have your ever been some place where quiet is desired? And then someone’s cell phone starts jangling and, worse yet, she starts talking? There was a time we sat in church when suddenly a cell phone began ringing (in the middle of the pastor’s sermon!). The woman fumbled around in her purse and FINALLY found the jangling phone and turned it off. Thankfully, she didn’t answer it.

Why do people insist on leaving their cell phones on ring (or in talking on them) in some quiet place? WWWP?

Occasionally, I drive through my local city, Harrisburg, and invariably encounter a car double-parked in the middle of the street. There is room for the drivers of these cars to pull off, but—NO—they park in the middle of the street. WWWP?

Oh, I could go on—but it would make me sound much more curmudgeonly than I really am. The common thread in these examples is a lack of courteous regard for other people. I hope I am not guilty of the very thing I decry here.

So, what’s your WWWP pet peeve?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Father's Instruction

Proverbs 4:1--4:1
"Listen, children, to a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight."

I don't want to write a long sloshy post in honor of my father, but I do want to acknowledge this wonderful man.

First, it is a privilege and a wonder that I still have him in my life. He just celebrated his 88th birthday on June 14. I do not take lightly his longevity. It is a marvel and a blessing.

Second, it bears mentioning that he (and my mother ) are the wellsprings of my life (naturally) and of my values and my faith. There are so many aspects of my life that derive directly from the father that I have.

Here are some of the things I remember that I know shaped my life as a child growing up.

My dad taught me how to ride a bicycle. Of course, many dads do that, but mine taught me by walking along behind me, holding the bike (in the absence of training wheels), urging me to peddle, steadying the bike. Then when I got the bike going nicely along, he let go. Of course, I didn't know it, but I was peddling on my own. When I looked back, I wobbled and crashed, but a couple repeats--and I had learned to ride.

My dad always had time for me to crawl up on his lap. And he always had hugs for me (and my brother and sister, too).

When I was a small girl, my dad let me play with his hair. When he was tired in the evenings, he would sit down, and lean back. His eyes shut, he let me (perhaps even encouraged me) to comb his hair every which way. I had lots of fun, and I suspect he enjoyed the relaxation.

My dad let me play his 45 rpm records of classical recordings. He had a set of Beethoven's string quartets, and I asked to play them. My dad said--go ahead. That experience, along with some others, encouraged my love of classical music. My dad could have said--no, those records are too valuable. But he said--go ahead, and encouraged a musical taste in me.

My dad allowed me to make my own way. I remember a specific episode--we were on board ship crossing back to America, and the entertainment was a kind of gambling. Another passenger offered to let me play with $5--I asked my dad what to do. My dad said "you know what your mother and I think, but you decide for yourself." The message was--we don't approve of gambling, but you decide. Well, I did decide to use the money to play. And I didn't feel any regret, but the important thing was that my dad said--you decide.

My dad continues to love me even though as I have grown, I have continued to go my own way. We differ on many things--views in politics, for example--but he still loves me and respects me.

So, Happy Father's Day--Daddy!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Donna Quilt

I have very few items in my possession that would count as family heirlooms. But one item that might fit that definition is a quilt.

I say "might" because this quilt was not handed down through generations but rather made expressly for me. The seamstress was my mother. She decided to make a quilt for each of her children. While my father was bishop (in the church they belonged to) he had to travel. He oversaw a number of states including Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky--and getting around to churches required some travel. When my mother accompanied him, she took along quilting squares and stitched them.

When the whole quilt was finished, she and her two sisters, Ada and Kathryn, got together and assembled the quilt. They attached the backing and the batting, then rolled the quilt on a frame and set about the actual quilting process.

I love that image--three sisters on in years, communally sewing. I bet they reminisced about family, about growing up together, about their lives, their children. I imagine they laughed and maybe cried. Perhaps they even sang.

I have come to see this quilt as a metaphor for me--stitched together of fabric from the snippets of my family.

Here are some of the pieces that go into the Donna quilt:

*my red hair--from uncles Arthur, Mark, and aunts Kathryn, Katherine.
*my being an alto--from my paternal grandmother Climenhaga
*my love of singing four part harmony--from my paternal grandfather Climenhaga
*my ability at art (modest)--from my paternal grandmother Climenhaga
*my being always hotter than anyone else in the room--from my maternal grandmother Slagenweit
*my playing jokes on people--from my maternal Pappap Slagenweit
*my expansive vocabulary--from my father and my uncle Arthur
*my keen interest in politics--from my aunt Leoda
*my love of classical music--from my father and my aunt Leoda
*my skill at baking--from my mother
*my toughness--from my mother
*my being organized--from my father and my mother
*my overall body shape--from the Slagenweits
*my intellect--from the Climenhagas.

Enough pieces! Thankfully, I feel pretty well stitched together. And very grateful to all the people in my family who have contributed to the complex fabric of which I am made.

While I was taking photos of the quilt, my cat Allie climbed on it, and settled in! So she gets her picture in the blog!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Now--weave through this obstacle. . .

Mary entertained her readers with a recent post; well, she always does but this time she treated us to a litany of cars she has owned. That got me to thinking about cars, which of course led to thinking about driving.

Then Beth recently wrote about a time-honored
rite of passage--you got it! Learning to drive. This is one experience that almost everyone in North America has had. With our long-time fascination with and dependence on cars, we all have had to learn to drive at some point.

This rite of passage is a terrifying moment for parents. When your child learns to drive, you experience new woes of parenting. It is almost tempting to urge your child to wait to learn to drive. When our elder child, our son, turned 16 in January, we were a little reluctant to push him to learn to drive in the dread dead of winter. But, our pediatrician (who was wise and had weathered being a father to 12 children) pointed out that learning to drive is one thing a child must do entirely on his own. You can't take the tests for him; this is one accomplishment that is the child's alone. Our son, and then our daughter, learned to drive and we as parents survived.

Now, zip back however many decades and recall your own learning to drive experience. I have been recalling my own rite of passage and it has a few more wrinkles than some. When I turned 16, I was living with my uncle and aunt. I wrote a little about these adventures in a
previous post. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of living with them (and they with me) was that they had never had children. So, when I asked to be taught to drive, my uncle balked. No, he flat out refused to teach me. He had a new Buick which he was reluctant to sacrifice to my pursuit of mobility. So, I had to wait until my parents came home.

As a result, I was 20 before I learned to drive. My dad taught me, and the car I learned on was a little Renault with a stick shift ON THE FLOOR. It was a fun car, but a bit of a challenge to learn driving on. I dutifully got my learner's permit, passing the written exam on the "book" aspects of driving with no trouble.

NOW CAME THE BIG TEST. Passing the actual driving exam. My dad and I went to the State Police driving center near Harrisburg. The car I would be testing in was the family car (not the Renault) which also had stick-shift, but the conventional kind then--on the steering column. The state policeman put me through the paces. Everything was going fine until. . .the serpentine.

This part of the exam required the would-be driver to weave through a series of traffic cones while shifting into 2nd gear before the second cone. I began weaving, trying to keep all the steps in mind, and could not get into 2nd gear in time. The car sputtered, and I failed. First time; second time; third time. Since the learner's permit allowed one to take the driving test for only three times, I now had to renew my learner's permit.

When I had rebuilt enough confidence to try again, I went to Carlisle where the driving test was conducted on the city streets. And I passed.

For a long time, I reflected on that experience. And since I have now been driving for more than 40 years, I often wonder what was the point of that serpentine test? In these 40 plus years, I have NEVER encountered strategically placed traffic cones through which I must weave. Nor have I encountered road conditions that remotely imitate that. And now I drive an automatic car, so being able to shift into 2nd gear isn't a requisite part of driving.

I suspect the serpentine was designed to cause a certain number of people to fail. It shook my confidence, for a bit. But, confidence restored, driving test passed at last, I made my rite of passage.

How did you make yours?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

How Does Your Garden Grow?

A little more than a month ago, I complained about my aching back. I had overdone flower planting, and was regretting the effort. Well, now we are enjoying the results of all that work. The flowers are blooming!
Just thought I'd share some of the summer's beauty.

And you didn't even have to weed or water!
So, how does your garden grow?

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Long Hot Summer

The summer of 1966 may not have been the hottest summer on record in Pennsylvania as far as weather records are concerned, but for me it was the long hot summer. I graduated from college in 1966 and since I had no idea what I wanted to do, I decided to continue my education by going to graduate school.

I was accepted at a couple of universities, but chose to attend Lehigh University. Since my undergraduate education had mostly been paid by scholarships, I found myself in the unique position of having to fund my graduate education. What to do? What to do? My parents were living just outside of Lebanon, PA, where my father was the minister of a church. Since I was living with them (also a unique experience since most of my teen years were spent away from them), I began hunting for a local job.

I put in an application at Indiantown Gap, a nearby military institution. I went to local factories, I tried stores. But for whatever reasons, none of these places had a job for me. Finally, I turned to that time-honored work for young people—I would work in a restaurant waiting on tables. I was immediately hired by a place called the Lincoln Diner, on the eastern edge of Lebanon. The diner was across from a thriving Bethlehem Steel plant, and since I pulled the night shift as a waitress, I looked forward to lots of customers.

And they came. Many of the guys who worked at the steel plant stopped in at the end of their shifts. I was serving breakfasts as fast as I could. The diner also got the late night theater going customers. And we got the drunks. I recall one man who came in so inebriated he literally could not stay upright on the counter stool. He sat down, and soon began listing like the leaning Tower of Pisa. Over he went with a loud CLUNK landing smack on the floor. The thing that amazed me was that the fall never even disturbed his alcohol induced sleep.

Since I was the lone server on the night shift, I had to seek the cook’s help to set the man back up. When he fell a second time, the cook called the police who hauled the drunk off presumably to the jail to sleep off his hangover.

The sounds of that summer were the top 100 songs of the year. The diner had a juke box, and over and over customers would play the hits. The Beatles’ “Yesterday” was embedded in my brain, along with Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” Over and over and over. It didn’t take long for two perfectly wonderful songs to get ruined for me. I filled sugar containers, salt shakes, and catsup bottles to endless repetitions of these songs. If some other songs were popular, I certainly don’t recall them.

What really made this the long hot summer for me was sleeping during the day. For all those of you who have ever worked the night shift, you know what a challenge it is to sleep during the day. My parents lived in the parsonage next to the church. For whatever reasons, the whole lot of land had almost been completely cleared of trees. There were just a few around the parsonage itself, but not enough to really provide cooling shade. And, of course, air-conditioning was not as ubiquitous as it is now. So, I would drive home, take off my restaurant smelling, catsup stained uniforms and tumble into my bed.

I slept with the windows open, and a fan whirring away. The church was located right next to a busy highway, and even though the parsonage was behind the church, the road sounds were a constant backdrop to my sleeping. I recall sleeping fitfully most days, tossing, sweating, trying to keep the bright sunlight out of my eyes.

Of course, I made it through the summer. I earned enough money with salary and tips to pay for most of my graduate school. (There is no way I or anyone could do that now, given the incredible rise in college tuition.) I never returned to waiting tables, but I have a permanent deep seated respect for the people who do wait tables. Like most everyone I know who has ever waited on tables, I tend to tip generously. I know how hard wait staff work. And, who knows, maybe they have to go home to try to sleep in over-heated rooms.

For me, well, yesterday—all my troubles seemed so far away when I was serving strangers in the night, exchanging glances—during the long hot summer.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

It's A Generational Thing. . .

Yesterday, I wrote about the coming of age passage for my generation--the moment when we learned JFK had been assassinated. I was interested in the few comments that either resonated with the experience, recalling along with me the impact of that news, or the acknowledgement that this event was a bit of history, awareness but not really experience.

Of course, JFK's death was a generational thing--a moment in time when those of us who experienced it can recall exactly where we were, what we were doing. For my father's generation, an equivalent event would have been the attack on Pearl Harbor. For my children's generation, it would be the airplanes on September 11 flying into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Events such as these are so singular that they really seem to define a part of what that generation thinks and feels.

I learned just how fleeting and fragile generational things are. When I begin teaching a course at my community college, I always spend some time going over plagiarism. Clearly, plagiarizing is a major problem in academic settings, but it is a deadly subject. So, I found a wonderful article by Anna Quindlen which with a light touch deals with the subject. Titled "Danke Schoen, Mr. Las Vegas" she wrote about the time she discovered that an article she had written was pretty much wholesale appropriated by Wayne Newton. I would have the students read the essay, and then wait for discussion.

We first had to get past the title--the non-German aware students would want to know what danke schoen meant. And that Wayne Newton's signature song was "Danke Schoen." Then, invariably, some student would say "Who's Wayne Newton?" Talk about a deflating moment for me. It never occurred to me that the students wouldn't know who Wayne Newton is. I mean, I never found him particularly entertaining, but I certainly knew who he was.

By the time I explained who he was, the whole point of the essay--plagiarism--had been lost. One time, during this discussion, I jokingly said--when were you guys born? And for most of my students now, they were born in the late 1980s. That means Ronald Reagan was ENDING his presidency when these kids were born. WOW!

I have now learned to temper my examples, or to preface some of them with "this is my generation's. . ." For them, JFK is someone they read about in almost ancient history. Vietnam has as much clarity for them as World War II did for me--sure, I knew about it, I just hadn't experienced it.

So, what is your generational thing. . .?