TRAVELS

Anyone who knows me, knows I like to travel.

The very first trip I ever took was home from the hospital. Back when I was born, women were encouraged to feed their babies Carnation milk. Authorities thought it was safer and better for the baby. Mothers were kept in the hospital for a full week. The hospital bill is in my baby book. Can you believe they only charged $48 for mom’s and my hospital stay and use of the delivery room. The doctor charged $10.

On our the third day in the hospital the physician came into my mother’s room.

We have a problem,“ he said.

Is there something wrong with the baby?” my mom asked.

No, she is as healthy as a horse, and that is the problem—she is eating all our profits. Please take her home.”

They sent me home early. Actually, I think it was Mom who was most happy. She hadn’t been be able to get a decent cup of coffee in the hospital. If you have ever had hospital coffee you know what I mean.

Mom and Dad brought me home. This was before the days of car seats so it was pretty easy.

Just out of curiosity, did you come home from the hospital in a car seat? If you did, you may not know what I’m talking about.

This was before the National Commission on Child Safety, OSHA, air quality commissions, poison control, child social services, food stamps, or low income housing—all that stuff.

They brought me into the house, put me on the couch, pulled the coffee table over and put pillows around me so I wouldn’t slide off the couch. Mom told my 2 year-old sister to watch me.

Then Mom went to the kitchen to have her cup of coffee with my father.

All of the sudden she heard me crying—a blood curdling yell, and she comes running. When she gets to the living room couch, she sees my foot is in my sister’s mouth. My sister has bitten my toe.

Would you call that my introduction to sibling rivalry?

With that kind of reception, is it any wonder I wanted to leave home-to travel?

The next “trip” I remember was when I was three. My mom and I got into an argument.

As arguments frequently do, this one spiraled out of control, at least for me.

I told my mom she was a meanie and I was going to run away from home.

Where will you go?” Mom asked.

I was young. I hadn’t thought that far.

I’ll go to Mrs. Gales, my babysitter. She loves me. “

She wouldn’t want a you. I pay her to babysit.”

I didn’t have an answer for that, but it did get me thinking.

My Mom found a little suitcase.

Here, let me help you pack.“

We put some shorts , t shirts, socks and underwear in the suitcase.

We put in a clean pair of pajamas , my toothbrush and my teddy bear Mr. Woolybear.

Would you like me to make you a sandwich before you go?” Mom asked.

No!” I said.

I was a delightful child.

Mom pushed me out the door, handed me my suitcase and told me to let her know where I bounced.

By this time, I’m starting to cry, but I’m not about to give up and I’m not about to let my mom see my tears.

I take the suitcase, march down the steps, walk to the sidewalk and then turn to walk to the end of the block.

When I get there, I sit down on the curb and finally cry my eyes out.

Not because my mom doesn’t love me, not because nobody loves me, but because I can’t go any farther. I’m not allowed to cross the street without an adult.

Obviously, after I cried myself out I had to go home and ask my mom if I could stay—and I had to say I was sorry.

I’ve had lots of trips and travels since that day. On each one I’ve learned valuable information and lessons. I hope I ’ll be able to share some of those stories with you in the future.

Until that time let me leave you with this first piece of travel advice. It is always best and easiest to end problems by saying, I’m sorry.

Ceramics

I’m taking a ceramics class through the junior college. We started by making pinch pots, then coil pots.  Next we moved on to making slab pottery.  Each student  made four little tapas plates to use to practice glazing.  We explored dipping, wax resist, scruffito, and painting glazes onto the plates.

Then we were to make a box, something with a lid. I really got into this.  While my classmates were making little trinket boxes, I made a large casserole.  First I had to get the shape of the thing.  My instructor advised against making an oval shape for my box because it would be difficult to get the shape duplicated on each end of the pot.  I solved this problem by cutting a paper form exactly the shape I wanted for the base. I took the instructor’s advice and over came the difficulty.

Next, the instructor advised against making a flat lid.  “The span the lid has to cover is so big, it is likely to cave or dip down toward the center of the pot,” in the firing.  I solved that problem by making the lid a dome shape using newspapers underneath it to make a dome shape.

I needed to devise a way to keep the lid on the pot, so it didn’t slip off and it needed a handle on the lid to remove the lid and and handles on the sides of the base to take the casserole from oven to table.  All of these difficulties I overcame.

It seemed every time I turned around, there was a new problem that needed to be solved. Each addition of a part, each joining of the clay, was a potential spot where the clay could blow up in firing. This happens when small pockets of air get trapped inside the clay and when the clay is bisque fired (the first firing before glazing,) the air expands and shatters or cracks the now dry clay.

By the time I was ready to bisque fire my casserole, I felt pretty certain is wasn’t going to make it through that first firing.  I know this is a defeatist attitude, but there were so many potential problems–so many places where there were clay joinings in which air could get trapped.  I kicked myself for doing such a big project.  Why didn’t I stick to the safe project of a little trinket box.  I counted the number of places where I had jointed the clay, my total was over 23.  So many places with the potential for failure.

I said prayers when I put my piece on the shelf with the other green ware ready for the bisque firing. I said prayers as I watched the instructor load the kiln for the firing.  I again said prayers as the lid of the kiln was raised after the firing.  Did my pot survive the heat?

I’m happy to share that I now have a bisque fired casserole. In the next few days, I will apply glaze to the lid and the base. Even in the glazing I will be trying something different.  I want to use real leaves from fern plants to make stamped patterns on the casserole.  And I need to learn all the potential hazards that can happen between the bisque firing and the glazing. My instructor has already shown me examples of boxes where the lid has been permanently closed in the glaze firing.  What good would a casserole be if I can’t get the lid off.  This has caused me to think carefully about the glazing of my pot.  I’m sure, knowing me there must be about 23 more and different things that can go wrong.

I’m going crazy thinking of all the potential hazards.  Keep your fingers crossed for me and my casserole. I view this pot as a metaphor for my life. I never want to follow. I like to think outside the box.  I want to do things in a bigger way.  I never hear NO. I put potential hazards into my life.  I take on challenges.  And it is all ready to blow up, at any moment I can be shattered.

 

There is only now

I swim at an outdoor community pool.  The pool is open year round. I know winter is coming because the water temperature has dropped to 76 degrees and I know it is going to be cold when I hit the water.  This week as I stand at the edge of the pool ready to dive in and begin my laps, I’ve had to give myself a pep talk to  leap into the bracing water.

Yesterday, as I hesitated at the edge of the pool, I prevaricated. It was 7:33 AM.  The pool had just opened. No one was in the water, and the surface was glassy smooth.  I was going to have the privilege of being the first person in the pool.  I knew it was going to be chilly and that it was going to feel so much better once I started swimming.  I finally just told myself, “You’re going to do this anyway, so you might just as well get to it.”

A lot of life is like this.  I know I’m going to do something– make my bed, take out the trash, write those reports, make that phone call, write that email–so I might as well just get to it and get the job done.  This is where I find a to-do list helpful.  I make a list of all the things I need and want to do and then I prioritize.  Somethings get put off for a more convenient time.  For instance, if I need to drive into town to get an item taken care of, (drop books at the library, mail a package, pick up drugs at the drugstore, get a haircut, buy groceries, etc.) it works best to lump several things into one trip.

Somethings for my to-do list are just too big, and I need to figure out how to break the task into smaller pieces. (Do I need to find some help complete a task?)  I do this so I can make some progress, but also so that instead of putting a project off, I can at least begin. It is like the swimming.  The hardest part is getting into the pool. For me the hardest part is getting items on to the to-do list.

Once I dive in and start swimming, I feel great.  I love the feel of stretching my body out and having the water support me as I stroke to the other end of the pool.  I enjoy the feel and my amazement at how far my body can travel in the water with each swing of my arm and the kicking of my feet. It does feel good.  And anyway, while I’m swimming I can think about all those things I need to add to my to-do list.

There is a similarity between how I feel when I’m done swimming my laps and the joy and satisfaction I get from checking an item off my to-do list.  Now, I must get to it.

How are you spending your now?

Toastmasters

This last weekend I attended Area Directors training for Toastmasters District 49, part of Toastmasters International. The meeting took place at the University of Phoenix in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu.

This was quite an adventure for me because in the three years I have lived on Kauai, I have never taken a day-trip to visit another island.

It seems a different mind-set to me to think of flying to another island to meet with people.  I guess it isn’t too different from driving from Tucson to Phoenix, or Los Angeles to San Diego  for the day, but I’d never done it before by plane, and of course, one can’t just drive from one island to the next.

I think I’m the most blessed person on my island because when I emailed the person putting together the meeting with questions about how to get from the airport (distance, possible cab or bus fares, and car pooling opportunities,)  John Coleman offered to pick me up and shuttle me back to the airport when the meeting was over.  How good is that?  I had the ear of the Program Quality Director for the ride to the meeting.  I could ask him all the (what I thought were probably stupid) questions about the meeting and the people I would meet for the first time.  John is such a calm, steady person; my nerves and fears were quickly dispelled.  And, oh was he good at introducing me to all the folks helping him to organize the meeting.

About half-way through the morning, I had to smile.  It felt good.  I remembered teaching poetry workshops to 4th through 6th graders at a summer day camp for young writers.  Each summer I’d see kids blossom and thrill to be with their friends who spoke the same language.  Who understood what it is like to be a little bit nerdy.  Those kids felt welcomed–like they had found their tribe.

I looked around the training room.  I was impressed with the people I met.  They were effective speakers and effective leaders providing a valuable service to others.

I felt like I had found my tribe, a place where I can grow, learn new skills and be of service to others.

Stay tuned, while I try to keep up with all the things I’m learning and doing.

 

Meanderings

It is three o’clock in the afternoon and heavy, dark clouds are blowing in from the eastern shore.  I’m watching the cows in the pasture out my studio window and I see them slowly meander back down the hill toward the shelter of the trees and the barn.  Every morning I watch the cows go up the hill and then in the afternoon they mosey back.  The egrets hop along in the long grass with them, or some hitch a ride on the back of the cows.  It is all a very pastoral scene.  I think how much richer my life is for these cows.  Their daily routine has me pondering my own routines and how I’m constantly putting myself out there and then coming back to my place of security.  What routines do you have, if any?  What have you done recently to put yourself out there?  What is your place of safety and comfort?

It is spring a time of renewal, what will you be doing to renew yourself?

Whatever it is, enjoy and read some poetry.

It Doesn’t Work

I recently read a blog post that suggested if you needed to remember your creative ideas that come in the night while you are sleeping, just make up a song about the idea and since song lyrics are stored in a different part of the brain, your idea will stay safely stored there until morning when you can get back to you writing.  This sounded like a great idea.  The next time I’m having trouble sleeping because in my head I’m working out the next plot device, I can just start writing a little song, a sonetta, or a ditty.  It certainly sounds easy enough.  I love the idea of all my creative thoughts packing up their suitcase to move to a new and different part of my brain.  Just like finding a clean and relaxing hotel room.

BUT, wait!  I’m a children’s poet.  I’ve tried writing poems at night in bed while I’m trying to sleep.  Wouldn’t my creative projects be stored in the same place as that song?  Wouldn’t the rhythm of the song be the same as the rhythm of my poem? I already know this doesn’t work.  There are thousands of nights when I’ve had an idea for a poem and spent time in my dream state working out the rhyme and meter–a strong marching cadence.  I’ve even congratulated myself on the elegant rhymes, the excellent word choice, the stunning verbs, the fantastic images I’ve been able to pack into a few short lines.  I chuckle at the funny twist I’ve been able to roll into the last line.  I feel so good about what I’ve been able to accomplish in the tight little verse, that I’m able to lull myself back to sleep.  When I awake, I remember the good time I had putting together my children’s poem.  I might even remember what the topic of the poem was, but I’m usually not able to retrieve my end rhymes, or the funny twist at the end.  This drives me crazy.  In fact, in the light of day, my little poem doesn’t sound so funny at all and the twelve lines I had in my sleep, now only comes out as four or eight.

This is why I have a handy little device by my bed–a note pad with a built in pen.  The pad lights up when I remove the pen.  This lets me jot down my ideas in the night.  It doesn’t make my rhymes better, but it does store the thought until I can get up and work on the verses.  It gives me peace of mind so I can go back to sleep until I’m ready to get up and play with the words and poetic lines.  Of course this might be part of the reason my best working time is between 3 and 5 in the middle of the night.  When the words want to come out to play, I want to be there to party with them.

Ah, the life of a children’s poet is a very strange lot.

Sounds of Life

It is 3 AM and I’m awake again.  This time the noise that woke me was the garden cart blowing away from the house.  At first I thought someone was trying to steal the cart from all the racket the wheels made rolling over the concrete patio.  But when I turned on a light in the garden and saw the cart in the flower bed, I knew the culprit for all the noise must be the wind.

There has been the constant tingy music from the wind chime and I remember the weather announcer saying we were having 17 mile-an-hour winds for the next three days–trade winds.  Or did he predict the wind in knots?  No, it must have been miles.  The ocean waves surrounding this island have been cresting in white foam.

My mind is wandering, as minds will late at night.  All of the sudden it seems very important to remember the sound of the creek that ran, burbled behind the house I lived in in Chapel Hill.  I can picture it.  The sunlight glistening off the ripples, like diamonds tossed in the current.  I can remember the green of the moss that grew on the wet rocks and the way I’d leap from boulder to boulder as I tried to cross the creek following the old path the deer have tromped out for centuries.

Yes, I can see the creek clearly in my mind’s eye.  I can feel the cooling chill of its wet water. I remember it all so well.  So why can my ear hear that burble of the water tumbling over the rocks?  Why can’t I hear that sound, the white noise which will lull me back to sleep?

I trust…

I recently received a weekly post from Poets & Writers.  It included a poetry prompt and a book recommendation.

It also included this:

WRITERS RECOMMEND
 

If you’re looking for more inspiration, visit Writers Recommend, our online feature in which writers reveal the habits that keep them writing. This week’s installment comes from Bao Phi, author of Thousand Star Hotel (Coffee House Press, 2017).

“That blank page is there waiting for me to jump in, to sink or swim. I end up flailing about and not knowing what I’m doing. But I trust it’s all part of the process. I trust that…”
It was that repetition of “I trust,” that got me to thinking, do I really trust my writing?
What do I trust about it?
Do I trust when I sit down with a blank page and begin to write that something interesting is going to happen?  Do I trust that my words are going to be significant?  That they will be worth the time or in a little way important?  The only thing I trust is that whatever I write, it will need re-writing, revision,and a great lot of editing.
These days, I can’t even trust that the pen I pick up to write with is going to work.
I guess you could say I have trust issues because when I sit down to write, I never know where I’m going to end up. I never know where my writing is going to take me.  That is where the fun resides for me.
My writing is goulash, a mesh-mash of flavors and textures.  It requires a lot of refining to achieve something edible or sustainable.  My only hope is that with practice, I will get better.
What about you?  Do you have trust issues too?

YOU’RE OK

I do believe in karma, fate, and serendipity. Recently I had a book jump off of my too crowded bookshelf begging to be re-read. A convenient sized little paperback, “Zen and the Art of Writing,” by Ray Bradbury. ©1999.

It has been so long since I first read this book, it is like a whole new adventure and coming home at the same time. The first two words of the book are “Zest. Gusto.” Who doesn’t need a little more of that in their life? In their writing?

In his essay on How to Keep and Feed a Muse, Bradbury advises, “Read poetry every day of your life.” As a children’s poet, how can I not love a man with such understanding of the benefits of poetry?

In the essay Drunk, and in Charge of a Bicycle, Bradbury talks about a fan letter he received at 33 years of age. “I had my way of seeing, writing and living approved of by a man who became a second father to me.

I needed that approval. We all need someone higher, wiser, older to tell us we are not crazy after all, that what we are doing is all right. All right, hell, fine!” (p. 54)

Reading those words, it hit me. Yes, there was and there still are many times in my life when I need someone to tell me, it’s OK. I’m doing all right.

Looking back, I think the first time I heard those words, they came from Bee Cullinan at one of the Chautauqua Summer Writers Workshops. She encouraged me to write children’s poetry. Then, every workshop I have attended since, I have had other voices of encouragement. (David Harrison, Eileen Spinelli, Alice Schertle) That is what the Highlights writers workshops are all about–offering encouragement to one another.

Each time I come home from a Highlights event, I fall crazy, madly in love, all over again with the act of writing poetry for children. For me, life doesn’t get much better.

Who are the people in your life who tell you it is all right, you’re doing fine? Who makes you feel you’re OK?

No, No Words

Growing up, I’m sure you had a list of words you weren’t supposed to use, or at least say out loud.             What is on your list?

I think I was six when some teenager had soaped the F#$* word on our car window on Halloween night.  The next morning on the ride to school, I tried to figure it out. I was learning to read phonetically.  I knew the word duck so I could sound out this new word. As I said the word aloud several times in the car, Mom became upset.  I didn’t know I had done something wrong.  I don’t think Mom defined the word for me, except she did say  it wasn’t a nice word and I should never, never say that word out loud, especially at school.

When I worked as a substitute teacher, I frequently would have elementary students tattle on each other, “Freddy said a bad word.”  The students were testing me to see how I’d react.  My list of no-no words grew longer.

“We don’t call anyone stupid.” And bullying isn’t allowed.  “Let’s try kindness instead.”

As a poet, when I read the words of a poem, I often see words that just shouldn’t be in the poem.  These aren’t cuss words.  Just words with sounds that don’t fit in a line, or words with too many syllables to fit nicely. (The words in a poem do have to play nicely with each other.)

When I participated in March Madness Poetry fest where each poet was given a word to write a poem with, my word was disencumberment I was supposed to write a children’s poem with this word. I kept arguing with myself that disencumberment would not be , or rather should not be in a children’s poem.  It is like trying to fit a six syllable word into a five syllable line of haiku.  It just shouldn’t be done.

I was reading a poem about rain today and the poet mentioned the deluge.  In the next line were two alliterative “d” words.  But that deluge just seemed to grate on my ears.  It has a harsh sound to me.  To my delight, it did provide a challenge.  Can I write a poem using that word? Otherwise this poor little word is going to end up on my list of words that shouldn’t be in poems for children.  And with our rich tapestry of language, deluge is a great word to have in your vocabulary.  Especially since we have been having blowing rain all night.  It has been coming in interrupted bursts of down pour.  Yes, a deluge.  Enough to wake one from sleeping.

Do you have your own list of no, no words?  What are some of them?  Or is this just a plain stupid idea?