Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sideways Spines

I admit to idling away hours in bookstores and libraries as often as I can. I eagerly ride the spines of books, seeking the enchanted scent of promise, until a book—at once a portal and a destination—calls my name and invites me in. I inhale the experience, reading with omnivorous hunger, everything hanging on the next word. I’ve always been a serious reader, but until I reached adulthood I didn’t know anyone else who read like that. It qualifies as an occupation for me.  

A longtime pet peeve of mine is the way book titles are printed horizontally on book spines, but stored vertically. Having to tilt my head to read book-spine titles sideways on the shelves invariably results in a crick in my neck. This raises some questions that bear consideration: Is there a connection between serious reading and spinal health? Is that sideways spinal alignment a kind of reader’s occupational hazard? I do know that while I’m enjoying leisurely time in bookstores and libraries, I can always discern a serious reader from an accidental browser by the crick in her neck.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hidden Story

"I prefer winter... when you feel the bone 
 structure of the landscape - the loneliness 
 of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something 
 waits beneath it; the whole story doesn't 
 show."                                     ~ Andrew Wyeth

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Satori

I felt like I was in a grueling Olympics of Patience this morning trying to get my nine-year-old out the door to school. Intensely focused with a mind of his own and living life at his own unique pace, some days prodding my slowpoke into action can be an agonizing experience. I’m often running to and fro in a flat-out rush while Corban dawdles. Once he’s focused on something, distracting or redirecting him is an exercise that, if not futile, at the very least requires a considerable investment of time and energy. Straightforward negotiation doesn’t work, and I’ve learned that the more I hurry, the worse it gets.

While Corban may be oblivious to my frustration, he’s very aware of precisely what he wants and when he wants it. He knows what brings him pleasure and happiness, as well as what comforts and soothes him, and he also has a very clear idea of how he wants to get it, regardless of the time. After I complained to a friend this morning, she told me her son has the opposite problem: it seems he cares so much about making other people happy, she worries he won’t assert himself to learn how to make himself happy.

Wham! I was shocked into truthfulness, and I saw my son in a new light. Corban is becoming all I’d ever wanted. What more could I ask for?

Friday, November 19, 2010


The house is now empty. There has been a whirlwind of activity within these walls over the past seven days, and although everyone has now departed and is heading back to lives put on 'pause', I keenly feel the weight of accumulated human presence left in their wake. In this early hour, I wander through impossibly and profoundly silent rooms, realizing again how meager my world would be without family and friends. They stand as proof that I'm blessed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


"Lights out!" For years, that was my cue to pull out the big, old, heavy flashlight filled with Ray-o-vac batteries from under my bed. Up past my bedtime, sneaking in a few more pages, huddled under the covers with my flashlight and my Nancy Drew books, everything was more exciting.

These were the good old days when a great book meant you stayed up all night secretly reading, knowing perfectly well that your tomorrow would be totally out of whack.

Do children do this anymore? If more did, maybe the state of readers in our schools and world wouldn't be so "in the dark." As parents and teachers who love to read, we need to share that enthusiasm for books with our students and children, remembering that what we make them love and desire is so much more important than what we make them learn.

Our sons' and daughters' childhoods are so short. Let's fill them with flashlight-worthy books and flashlights!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gone With The Wind

For three days our lakeshore was bullied by 50 mile-per-hour winds, all storm and no lull. Distracted by the pandemonium at the water's edge, I somehow missed the trees shedding the last of their bright autumnal cloaks. And just like that, the leaves are gone... Here I stand catching my breath and gathering my bearings.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Noun or Verb?

Jules Léotard was a French trapeze artist. His revolutionary performances—performed without a safety net—were so inspiring to George Leybourne that in 1867 he wrote a song about Léotard: "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze."

But Jules' more famous legacy is the one-piece exercise wear that now bears his name. Originally designed to allow for flexible, unrestricted movement on the trapeze, Léotard is, quite literally, a man who became a noun. And he hardly stands alone. Behind some of our most common words stand real-life namesakes. Where would be without Louis Braille, Etienne Silhouette, Joseph Guillotine, and the Earl of Sandwich?

What would I have to popularize or become known for to become a noun? To have a name that is so closely tied to something that it becomes interchangeable? Will "pulling a Peggy" ever be used beyond the scope of my own family to indicate my penchant for practical jokes? Will "Johnstone Scale" ever become a mainstream way to measure enthusiasm? I find it a little under-whelming to become a noun with the ever-present risk of genericide (think kleenex, bandaid, and google).

I prefer to lend my name to verbification—the act of activating a noun. Today, I will choose a new verb for myself, and it will be fun. Today, I will be a verb.

"I think I am a verb." ~Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, October 9, 2010

1,000 Marbles

This is one of those lessons that life seems to hand us from time to time. It's helped me to keep a good perspective on my own priorities.

An elderly Ham radio enthusiast tells that when he was 55 years old, he sat down one day, did a little arithmetic, and found the average person lives about 75 years. Multiplying 75 years times 52 weeks, he came up with 3,900, which is the number of Saturdays the average person has in his entire lifetime. At 55 years old, though, he had already lived through over 2,800 Saturdays. He began to think that if he lived to be 75, he only had about 1,000 Saturdays left to enjoy. So he went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had, visiting three toy stores to round up 1,000 marbles. He took them home and put them inside of a large clear container.

Every Saturday he took one marble out and threw it away. By watching the marbles diminish, he focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight.

One recent Saturday, at 75 years old, he took the very last marble out of the container. He figured if he made it until the next Saturday, he'd been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time. What did I do with my precious time today? I did some volunteer work this morning, and then I went to a toy store and bought some marbles.

My wish for all you, my friends? May all of your Saturdays be special!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


For those of us who love words, entertainment is everywhere.

After reading Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" earlier this week, I've been on the lookout for examples of portmanteaux (chortle and snowmageddon), malapropisms (historical versus hysterical), colloquialisms (hootenanny), and accidental word coinage (refudiate and misunderestimate).

This morning, with my coffee in hand, it all came together for me in a comic strip. There is perhaps nothing that consistently serves up an abundant helping of wordplay--what The Washington Post calls 'an unraveling coil of malapropism and accidental word coinage'--than "Get Fuzzy," one of my all-time favorite comics.

I've heard it said that you can tell a lot about a person by seeing what makes him laugh. I'm not sure what this says about me, but a day that begins with laughter can't be so bad!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Blue Jays

There was a group of raucous Blue Jays in the woods behind my house this morning. I was instantly transported to the home of my Aunt Marge and Uncle Erv in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I spent a lot of time during the summers growing up. The woods behind their house was filled with Blue Jays who trumpeted their quarrelsome cry all summer long, providing a noisy backdrop to all our activities.

I have the strongest and fondest memories of spending time with them in their home on Dartmouth Avenue. So I sat and thought of my cousins, of the pool in their backyard, and of the screened-in porch where we children ate during the summer. I remember the books spilling from shelves in every room, my aunt's zucchini bread, the laughter, and the exotic treasures collected on their travels, especially the Russian nesting dolls. I thought of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop down the street, Daiquiri Ice sherbet, and Silly String fights.

When I heard the Blue Jays this morning, it brought all this back in an instant warm rush of nostalgia. Did my aunt and uncle ever imagine they were collecting things and building a life so full and rich that I now long to remember? And did they ever imagine the unlikely role Blue Jays would play in reminding me? Aunt Marge and Uncle Erv are no longer with us, but the Blue Jays bring all this home for me, and I find myself awash in early morning memories.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sticklers Unite!

It's National Punctuation Day today. This is a big day on my calendar!

Throughout the year, I collect examples of badly punctuated signage (my favorite is posted below), and read books with pencil in hand to correct punctuation errors in print. Call it my 'zero tolerance approach to punctuation'.

Today, I'm going to celebrate the day by curling up with one of my favorite books, Eats, Shoots & Leaves (see below), a manifesto for those of us punctilious about punctuation. I'm also going to make a point of using my favorite punctuation--the serial comma--boldly, frequently, and without apology as many times as possible today.

For those who agree that standards of punctuation in our world are abysmal, please share what you'll do to mark this great day. Share your bad signage! Spread the word! Sticklers Unite!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nobody But Myself

"All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone had tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization that everyone else appears to have been born with: I am nobody but myself."

~ Ralph Ellison

Saturday, May 1, 2010

April Magic

April passed quickly in my world. Today, on the first of May, I feel reflective, wanting to acknowledge this lovely month when Spring bursts forth and I am again allowed to witness the magic in this yearly performance. It's always surprising and inspiring to watch.

One year ago, during this magic month of April, three remarkable and unexpected things happened, and they left a profound mark on me that still has me looking for magic and wonder in the everyday.

Mine That Bird came from nowhere to win the Kentucky Derby against 50 to 1 odds, creating the second-biggest upset in Derby history. He won not by a nose, but by a mile. He came, quite literally, from out of the blue.

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, the beloved Detroit Tiger pitcher from the 1970s, died of a tragic accident. Only allowed to start a game in 1976 because the starting pitcher was sick, he astounded everyone by throwing seven no-hit innings that game. No one saw it coming. He captured imaginations and entertained with his onfield antics, and overnight became a national celebrity. He went on to win the American Rookie of the Year Award in '76. Every time he pitched in Tiger Stadium, he filled the seats with "Bird Watchers."

Susan Boyle, the unlikely Scottish superstar, delivered a stunning performance on Britain's Got Talent and surprised the world with her tremendous voice and incredible performance of "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Miserables. From the seventh note, she had the audience and judges flabbergasted and on their feet cheering.

What is it about surprise performances? About someone/thing coming from seemingly nowhere to wow and inspire us? Is it about feeling shaken out of commonplace and mundane experiences by those who take us quickly and unexpectedly to a new level? Is it seeing someone who has truly made a difference and has the passion to share that gift freely with others? Is it seeing those who aspire to so much more than the mundane and ordinary around us?

I love to be surprised. I love the experience of receiving more than I expect. The magic is in the surprise, in the unexpected. It's that catch in the throat, that small intake of air as you realize you're witnessing something truly wonderful, unexpected and rare. That's true of Nature's performance each April, too. How lucky I am to get a front-row seat to that performance each year. Adieu, magic month. And 'Thank You' to two Birds and a Boyle, who in unexpected ways gave me a magical year.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wet Paint

"Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can."
~Danny Kaye

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Last Great Race on Earth

It can't be compared to any other competitive event in the world! A race over 1,000 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer. Add to that subzero temperatures, harsh weather conditions, the distance, as well as the indomitable mushers and dogsled teams, and you have the Iditarod. A race extraordinaire; a race possible only in Alaska.
Beginning today, March 6, the Iditarod pits man and animal against nature in wild Alaska at her best. Created to coincide with the Iditarod is the Idita-Walk, a physical fitness / walking event. As I hit the halfway mark of the 1,049 required minutes earlier this week, I was thankful for the differences between my walking and the amazing race from Anchorage to Nome.
However, there are similarities between the two events, as well. Both offer the potential for tales of adventure, feelings of accomplishment, and redefining personal limits. And just like each musher goes the distance to accomplish a feat few dare to attempt and establishes a place for himself and his team in the annals of Iditarod lore, I too go the distance through snow and subzero temperatures and find a little bit of hero inside.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Favorite word of the day: Susurrus

A great onomatopoeia I'm going to use at least once today.
"Of its aerial roof,
arose the chant of their vespers,
Mingling its notes
with the soft susurrus
and sighs of the branches."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Kindness Class

The director of a school in Washington has created an inspiring online social innovation. He calls it "Kindness Class." Andy Smallman came up with this ingenious concept after practicing a weekly activity in his school involving random acts of kindness. He thought bringing it online would provide structure for people all over the world to make a difference in a tangible way by considering and practicing kindness.

Each week students in the online course get an assignment. In week one, they do something kind for themselves. In week two, they do something kind for someone they love, and so on. Along the way, participatnts do something kind for a neighbor, provide something wonderful for someone to find, let everyone go ahead of them for a week, and do something kind anonymously.

Andy envisions this as a sort of kindness alliance, which will start ripples of kindness that will be felt in faraway places, touching others and creating even more kind acts. Infecting the world with kindness and optimism sounds like a wonderful goal. And in a world that's becoming more troubled and pessimistic by the day, Kindness Class is an idea whose time has come.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mrs. Discombobulous

When I was in Kindergarten, my parents bought me a book called Mrs. Discombobulous. It was not only the greatest title I'd ever seen, but it was filled with delicious words like vixen, virago, tyrant and tartar.

So the word 'discombobulate' is a word it seems like I've always known to refer to someone who is emotionally perplexed and who can't think clearly.

Those who know me know I'm not a great traveler. Discombobulated is how I feel when I travel, especially by airplane. Maybe it's the space limitation, the air quality, and the noise that wear away at me. Maybe it's the whiff of peril I always feel upon takeoff, when an enormous metal machine pretends to have feathers. It could just be the whole airport security protocol travelers are run through today.

Regardless, this picture was taken at the airport in Milwaukee, and I thought it was a smashing acknowledgement to the effect traveling through airports can have on a person. Workers there have given the post-security area, where passengers can lace up their shoes and reassemble their carryons, a new name. How fitting is that?

I'm working on creating my own Recombobulation space for 2010.

Monday, January 25, 2010

No Limit For Better

Last week's Parade magazine featured an interview with Harrison Ford. And I learned a few things about him that I hadn't known before. For instance, before he made it as an actor, he was a carpenter, and that experience forever influenced his perspective of life.

At one point in the article he says, "When I was a carpenter, I once worked with this Russian lady architect. I would tell her, 'Look, I'm terribly sorry, but I want to change that a half-inch,' and she would say, 'No limit for better.' I think that is a worthy credo. You keep on going until you get it as close to being right as the time and patience of others will allow."

No limit for better. Now that's good advice for a Monday.