A Rare Day

This morning I got to wake up without the aid of an alarm clock or kids. The children finally know that they’ll have to ask their daddy for help with the Xbox – mommy has remained deliberately ignorant of this technology.

I spent a good hour reading various blogs. It was nice to catch up on some of this reading I don’t always have the time to do on a week day. In my short experience in the blogging world, I’ve come across some great writers and I wish I had more time to spend reading.

Then, I got to sit down with a cup of coffee and actually consume the entire thing without interruption before it went cold. This is a rare treat, and I took full advantage. I read my book and very nearly finished it.

My big errand for the day was taking my youngest son to pick out his backpack. He starts preschool this week. He was pretty excited about the backpack and wanted to put it on right away.

To finish my day, I joined some fellow writers for our twice-monthly writing group. We meet at a coffee shop and just write. We’re working on various projects from personal blogs to novels of nearly all genres. It’s a great, productive atmosphere where I can usually accomplish a fairly decent amount of work.

This was a good day. A rare day in which I was able to be quite lazy. A chance to recharge and take a step back from all the daily responsibilities of being a mom. I may regret it tomorrow when I have to do all the laundry I didn’t do today, but for now, I will enjoy the moment.

Miniature Love

My grandmother was a pretty amazing lady. And famous within her circles for some things, like cinnamon rolls, amazing pie crusts and peanut brittle. Her home was always filled with yummy smells from the kitchen.

I didn’t manage to get half her skills with cooking or baking. I can’t make cinnamon rolls or a pie crust to save my life, and my house never has that crazy delicious smell of a roast in the oven. But I can make a decent cheesecake.

She also kept a beautiful and tidy flower bed filled with happy colors, and houseplants thrived under her care. I on the other hand, couldn’t keep a cactus alive in a desert. And my yard? Well, let’s just say I’m happy to be able to keep the dandelions trimmed.

There is one thing, however, that I do share with my grandmother. I like to think I inherited my love of teddy bears from my grandmother. She had a remarkable collection of the cuddly little critters. She would shift them around throughout the year, something for every season and every occasion.

I’ve collected teddy bears as well for many years, nearly as long as I can remember. I’d venture to say my collection might even rival my grandmother’s. I have some bears that once belonged to her, and I cherish them especially.

One other thing I think I shared with my grandmother. She had a love for hand crafts. Quilting, sewing, fun little crafty projects. She gave me my first embroidery and cross-stitch kits, sparking a lifelong love for needle crafts.

MiniBear1Several years ago these two interests merged when I discovered a book on how to make miniature teddy bears. I began collecting plush fabrics – velvets, felts, scraps in all colors. I went into a bit of a frenzy creating these adorable little minis.

I haven’t created any new teddy bears in the last several years, not since I got married, moved to a new city and started a family. I still have a rather extensive collection of fuzzy fabric, and I do hope to one day begin turning it again into tiny teddy bears.

American Privilege and the Global Experience

As Americans we are not encouraged to be globally minded. We are taught in school how America is such an important nation in the world, and how great we are as a country because of our unique democratic government. But are we truly as great as we claim?

I had the privilege during my university years of becoming friends with a woman from India. Having attended a British boarding school in India during her early years, her English was probably better than mine. Besides English, she could speak at least two Indian languages and perhaps others as well. The same age as me, she had already traveled to a number of countries before coming to the United States to attend university.

My own experience to that point was so vastly different. Born and raised an American citizen, fifth generation born in my home state, I was taught to believe I was privileged beyond that of other people living in other countries. I had never once stepped foot outside my own country before I went to college. Not for lack of interest necessarily, but certainly a lack of means. And I had experienced only a tiny fraction of my own country even, having been to only four of the fifty states.

I spoke only English. In my small home town, I had the opportunity to learn to speak French, and I chose not to do so. In college I started to learn Spanish, though I never came near to reaching fluency.

I remember there being a number of foreign exchange students in my high school, though regrettably, I never got to know any of them very well. It seems to me also, that this program was presented as a great opportunity for foreign students to come and experience the greatness of America. I don’t remember it being presented as an opportunity for country-bound citizens like myself to experience the richness of other cultures.

During my university years I did manage to step across the border once into Canada, and on another occasion into Mexico. I visited another three western states, broadening my domestic experience to an entire tenth of my nation. I had the privilege to travel to Nicaragua with some of my peers on a mission trip where I was just another ignorant white American who believed I was there to make life better for those less fortunate.

Curious now as to whether my experience was unique due to my self-imposed “shyness” as a child? Or was it a result of being part of the American middle-class, having the means to get by, but not enough for things like international travel? Or is it that the American people are actively discouraged from traveling abroad? I decided a little investigating was in order.

I learned that the United States lands second on the Top 10 Countries That Travel The Most. And not just once, but on this list as well. However, Americans are far more likely to travel within our own country than travel abroad, preferring “to explore their own country more than understanding the world outside.”

Our employment practices discourage travel. I found that “the United States is the only nation among advanced economies that does not provide a legal guarantee of paid leave.” Passports are expensive to obtain. Travel abroad is considered dangerous. We are cautioned against theft, bad water, violence and disease.

Then I ran across this great article on why Americans don’t travel internationally, by Natasha Alden, which seemed to confirm much of what I was already thinking. The one reason given by the author I find the most tragic is that Americans are “just plain old ignorant.” She goes on to say:

There is a serious lack of information about the world affairs in the United States. We seem to be in an isolated bubble, where Americans are afraid of the unknown, or even worse, just don’t care.

We claim greatness for our nation. But the only ones listening to our claims are other Americans. How great can our country be if we never encourage our children to leave it? To go and experience the realities of other world views?

I believe the United States is a great country. But not the only great country. I regret my own lack of global experiences, and I hope to encourage more curiosity about the world beyond our borders in my own children.

What is your global experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Summertime, Ghosts, Campfires & Stories

Today’s word prompt, ghost, was a timely one for me for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve been trying to write up a couple of ghost stories to be included in my middle grade novel, The Curse of the Anne Venture. And secondly, I’m preparing for a summer adventure that could involve some ghost stories.

Ghost Stories

My novel, The Curse of the Anne Venture begins with my three adventurers exchanging ghost stories with three girls. It becomes a sort of boy vs. girl contest as they each try to out do the other. I’ve struggled with writing these stories because I’ve never been one to listen to or tell ghost stories. Today, however, I made a little progress.

Because of the nature of the overall story, one of the ghost stories involves a ghost ship. I’ve based this story on the “Flying Dutchman” tale. I’ve done a little research trying to learn more about this story and the characters involved. I learned that there are two real life ship captains from the Dutch East India Company, Bernard Fokke and Hendrik Van der Decken, either of whom could have been the original inspiration for this ghostly legend.

The Flying Dutchman is a fascinating little tale filled with mysterious references to, and sightings of, the ghost ship. My task now is to retell this story as an eleven year old boy might tell it.

My second ghost story is to be told by an eleven year old girl. I went looking for a story she might tell and I decided to try and find one with a local attachment. My adventure novels are based out of a small town not far from where I live, so I began my search there. And I found bits of a story centering around an old, historical building which is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of an old man. I’m still looking into the particulars of this story, but I’m hoping to turn it into something interesting.

Summertime Campfires

The second reason this ghost prompt feels so relevant to me is that I’m preparing at this moment to take my family on a summer adventure. My boys are all excited to go camping, sleep in a tent, swim in a lake, and roast marshmallows over a campfire.

Ghost stories are a campfire tradition for many people, though I suspect there might be more singing around ours than storytelling. But idea of a little spookiness before snuggling into the sleeping bag is a fun one. My children are still quite young, therefore any ghost stories would need to be mild indeed.

I had hoped this morning when I learned of the daily prompt, to be able to actually share my completed ghost stories. I didn’t get them finished, nor did I get much done in the way of preparing for my own family adventure.

However, I did have some fun researching the stories, and I finally feel like I have a real sense of what to write.

Do you have a favorite ghost story? How about a favorite childhood memory of campfire stories? I’d love to hear about it!

Blackberry Pie

Each summer there is a blackberry bramble that climbs over our back fence from the neighbor’s. This summer the bramble has been more prolific than in years past, and my children have been enjoying the fruit immensely.

My oldest got it into his head that he didn’t just want to eat the blackberries. No. He wanted a pie. This little man of mine is about as bullheaded as they come. And when he gets an idea to do something, he does it. Immediately.

As a result, I have had apple trees, cherry trees, watermelons, sunflowers and pumpkins planted randomly across my backyard. These endeavors are usually forgotten once completed, and nothing has ever come of my strange backyard garden.

Not so the pie. My son has laboriously collected berries from the backyard bramble. Despite my best efforts to keep him grounded, he has stacked wagons and toys precariously in an effort to reach those glorious berries tantalizingly out of reach. He has refrained from eating them, carefully saving them up until he has enough to make a pie.

Tonight, then, with a few extra berries from a local farm store and a couple of frozen pie crusts my son and I baked our first ever blackberry pies.

Craving

Blackberries

Sexism & The Muse

The idea of the “muse” comes to us from the ancient Greeks and Romans who liked to assign to everything in their world a god or goddess. In this way, they established a sort of order in a chaotic environment of which they had little understanding, and less control. They assigned power to these deities that helped them explain the human existence.

The muse survives today as a largely female entity that serves as a source of inspiration to the creative individual. She is often described as fickle and capricious, undependable and flighty.

Until fairly recently, artists and writers who achieve any level of recognition were predominantly men. Women have often had to pretend to be men in order for their work to be taken seriously. Even in our own time, an author such as Joanne Rowling’s name was changed at the recommendation of her publisher.

Why is the muse a woman?

Men have historically been in the habit of shifting blame for their weaknesses off of themselves and on to women. Women have historically accepted this. We have accepted our inferiority, our weakness. And in so doing, we also have shifted the blame of our own failings off of ourselves.

To be fair, I don’t believe this is a “man” problem, or a “woman” problem. Rather, it is a human problem. And the creative arts are only one area where women have been historically undervalued.

Dove has recently released an ad campaign on Twitter, #MyBeautyMySay, attempting to redefine female beauty by looking at the way we speak to and about women athletes. This is only one part of the same cultural bias that exists against women and girls. It is deeply rooted in our history and only a truly honest, soul-searching evaluation of our inner thoughts can ever produce any significant change.

What should we do instead? I think what’s required is a complete shift in our thinking, a serious consideration of our thoughts and the words we speak.

Rather than shift blame, we need to own our own failings and weaknesses. They are a part of our identity. Whenever possible, we should work to improve and overcome those failings. When it isn’t, we should use our strengths to compensate for our weakness.

My “muse” is a part of myself, and as such, she is decidedly female. Yes, I can be flighty and capricious. Sometimes I lack self-discipline. But I can also work hard and aggressively pursue my ambitions. I will own my failings. I won’t blame my weakness on someone else, or some outside force.

When I sat down to write this post, this isn’t what I’d intended to write at all. But it seems, my fickle muse had other ideas.

Boys

My nephews are here. They came over the mountains for a brief stay, to attend my son’s birthday party. My house is full of boy noise. Between my sons and my nephews, there are six of them, ages four through ten. The toys around here haven’t seen so much action in months.

So far this morning, they are getting along, playing together in twos, threes, sometimes more. This makes all the noise fun to listen to. Brothers aren’t arguing with brothers. Cousins aren’t fighting cousins. Just regular, monster truck, Lego, building blocks, imaginary play sort of noise. And I love it.

Later, it will likely devolve into angry words, drama and tears. But for now, I will enjoy it.