Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Stress-Tidying into the New Year

Whelp, the whirlwind of holiday company is gone, the grown kids back safely in their homes, and after doing my day's writing, I find myself wandering around the quiet, empty house stress-tidying.

This is not the same thing as straightening or cleaning. This is haul-every-item-out-of-every-closet-and-drawer and pile-all-of-the-clothing-you-own-on-the-bed and ask-if-it-gives-you-joy tidying.

Yes. I am currently binge-watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix and while I admit that I am not quite ready to kneel on my dusty floor and say a prayer of thanks to my house, I have been rolling up my socks and tucking miscellaneous items into shoe boxes. It is strangely soothing.

Something I (and apparently a lot of other Americans) need lately.

As every day the news from Washington gets darker and crazier and no end in sight, who does't want to shut themselves into a closet?

The alternative is to blindfold yourself.

Yes. I am talking about Bird Box, another show I recently watched. If you haven't seen it, the premise is that terrible monsters are whirling around us and even just one glimpse causes people to violently kill themselves. The only solution is to close your eyes.

This is strangely soothing too. And is probably why I have stopped watching and reading the news. But just as the blindfold sometimes slip off the Bird Box people, the crap news of the day often slithers into me.

So it's back to folding.

Marie Kondo is obsessed with folding. Entire segments of the show are dedicated to demonstrating her folding techniques. You can also find her instructions online. 

This sounds like it might be boring, by Marie is so lovely you'll find yourself immediately wanting to fold a fitted sheet. In the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up she comes off like an obsessed drill sergeant. On the show she's darling, speaking through her translator, prancing around people's cluttered houses and squealing about how much she loves messes so she can teach everyone how to tidy them. She doesn't bat an eye at the woman who has an entire room full of piled up Christmas ornaments or at the man who's saved every item of paper from his childhood.

Our goal is to touch each thing we own and ask if it gives us a spark of joy. If not, we thank it sincerely and into the trash it goes.

To bad we can't do that with all of our monsters.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

One day,

one night really,

tucked between our visiting Christmas and New Year's guests, we found ourselves in the house alone, the four of us, my husband and I and our two home-for-the-holidays grown-up kids,

just like old times,

except, not exactly like old times because in old times we were the harried parents, and they were the babies, and then they were the non-stop talking children, and then they were the retreat-to-their-rooms teenagers.

We used to play a game at dinner called High/Low where each person said what the high point of their day was and the low point, but it got a little stale over the years because each person always said similar things about their days, stuff about what was going on at work, at school,

stuff I can't quite remember now, but back then was apparently repeating itself after a while, because one night my son suggested that we say each other's High/Lows, since we knew them so well, and we did that, thinking it was hilarious, and then the game petered out and somewhere along the way we stopped playing it.

The other night when we ate dinner together, we didn't play High/Low, but we did catch each other up on what's going on in our lives. We had a surprising amount to share.

This year will be a year of big changes. Graduation. New jobs and new residences. Not just for the kids but for us too.

It occurs to me that next year at this time, when we eat dinner just the four of us, if we eat a dinner just the four of us, (we might have some new additions at the table, wink wink), we will likely be sitting at a table in an unknown-to-us now place, sharing unknown-to-us-now news.  

This is kind of scary. 

Much easier to curl up on the couch together and watch old home movies. Because it was so lovely back then, when everyone was young and the kids were portable and living under our roof and we knew so well what everyone's day was like that we could recite it to each other. 

News flash: Only old people like this game. The kids think it is boring and silly. 

Did you ever notice that one of the signs of a stale, possibly dying friendship is how all you can do when you get together is reminisce about the fun times you had with each other in the past?

So, let's stop doing that, people.

Okay, okay. Wallow in the home movies one more time, linger on each other's young darling faces, remember the smell of your baby's hair after a bath and hum the lullabies you used to sing to him at bedtime.

But then, let that old game peter out.

Enjoy each other's company in the present and make new memories, such good ones that some day, far far into the future, even the grown-up kids will want to curl up on the couch together and linger there for a while.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Best Gifts

There was the typewriter, of course, the Christmas, I was thirteen.

This was a manual one, with ribbon you had to change and keys that stuck together if you typed too fast, but I loved it immediately, typing out stories and books and even my daily diary, two-fingered, until I took a typing class in high school and learned the proper method.

A stereo and albums I had my heart set on. Don't tell anyone but I was a huge Van Halen fan, once skipping school with a friend to stand out all night in line outside the Hartford, Connecticut Civic Center, a night so cold the radio DJs over the radio were making fun of us and joking about sending us hot chocolate so we wouldn't freeze to death. Side note: the concert was awesome, although I was mostly slack-jawed, watching the lead singer prance around in leather pants with the butt cheeks cut out. (google "David Lee Roth butt cheek pants" if you want a good laugh)

But I digress.

Mostly, I can't remember gifts, things I once longed for, the packages I tore into. What I always liked when I was a kid was the lead-up to Christmas, the anticipation, when time seemed to crawl and practically freeze, those first steps down the stairs and the peek into the room with the tree, the floor bare the night before, now magically piled with presents,

and then a seemingly endless day playing and eating and visiting relatives while Sing-Along-with-Mitch blasted from the record player.

This year my husband has been converting old home movies--the ones originally on videotape cassettes and then converted to dvds-- to computer files. A good 25 hours+ of movies, some we have never watched before, many of Christmases past,

our own children stepping downstairs and peeking into the room with the tree, the first surprised glimpse of the mound of presents. And then the obligatory million shots of unwrapping packages, the holding up of new clothes, the demonstration of longed for toys. A parade of Legoes and American girl dolls, motorized cars and Barbies, plastic food kitchens and sports equipment.

Here's something funny: my husband and I have been fast-forwarding through those bits and instead have found ourselves lingering over the smaller moments

our four-year-old son dancing through the kitchen while I baste the turkey, his baby sister toddling around eating cheerios. They were so little and darling and I want to believe that we saw it, we knew it at the time, but there I am in the videos, a blur at the edge of the screen, scooping up crumpled tossed wrapping paper because I was annoyed by the mess, my husband not shown at all (he was holding the video camera)

while our very best gifts were growing up fast right in front of us.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Holiday Book Giving Guide for the Kids in Your Life (and You)

Everyone who knows me knows that I am the lady who gives books. It's kind of a joke in my family. Hmm, I wonder what Auntie Jody will give us this year...

I read once (in a book) that we give the gifts we most like to receive. News flash: I like to receive books!!

Here are some of my favorites from the past year:

For a baby (or new parent): You can't go wrong with Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers. This was my go-to baby shower gift idea when I worked at the bookstore. Basically, a welcome to the planet earth written and illustrated by a new dad. This book is gorgeous with a kind message. And bonus points for being a fun read-aloud for kids nearer-to-age-three.

Pre-school: What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers. (The NY Times calls it "obligatory reading for future concerned citizens.") Also by the same author, my all-time favorite Her Right Foot, which tells the story of why the Statue of Liberty's foot is raised.

Early readers: Forget Dr. Seuss (okay, don't forget him, but if you are ready to branch out a little, try anything by Mo Willems in the Elephant & Piggie series. My favorite, of course, is We are in a Book. 

Early chapter books: ready to move beyond Ramona or Junie B. Jones? Try Jasmine Toguchi. She's sassy and smart, and delicious bonus, in the first book there's a recipe for mochi balls.

Middle Grade (8-12): Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Eye-opening, thought-provoking and ultimately inspiring story about a girl living in a small village in Pakistan, sent to work (against her will) as a servant in the home of a powerful, corrupt family.

Upper middle grade (10-up): Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (and anything else written by this brilliant, beautiful human). This book is a gut punch-- one 60-second elevator ride down in the life of a boy intent on revenge.

Graphic novel: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. Russian immigrant kid in the suburbs, longing to fit in with her American friends, turns to summer camp as the solution. Unfortunately, this camp is not what she had envisioned. An absorbing mix of horrifying and hilarious.

Young Adult: Sadie by Courtney Summers. Riveting and viscerally moving story of Sadie, a girl on a quest to find her sister's killer, told in alternating segments with a podcast that's trying figure out why Sadie herself has gone missing.

Adult: Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott. Like all of Lamott's books this one is a surprising blend of funny, religious, outraged, amused and painfully human.

Spoiler alert: I am buying it for every woman I love this year.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

How to Write a Natalie D. Richards Book (part two)

The book is called What You Hide, but for me it will always be called The Library Book. Because it takes place in a library; specifically, the library where Natalie works as an executive assistant, but SHHHHH, don't tell anyone. Let's pretend it's any small-town library.

But the library is only one piece of this puzzle.

There's a thing that the author Sid Fleischman said-- that just as it takes two sticks to build a fire, it takes two ideas to spark a story. The other idea for Natalie was a poor girl who runs away from home and starts hanging out at her town's library. 

Add a rich boy who's sentenced to community service at the same library. 

And because this is a Natalie D. Richards' book, there's going to be a creepy, thriller twist:

There's someone (something?) else hiding out in that library... 

Side note: Let me tell you it is a fascinating thing to watch a person create a book in real time-- 

from the brainstorming ideas part (ooh, what if the girl hides in the restroom when the library closes? What if the boy finds a dead body in the stacks?) 

to the first-draft/narrative-crafting part (okay, I'm thinking that the boy has a secret he's hiding too, but I can't figure out what it is yet...)

to the revision/plot-hole-filling stage (ugh! the timeline's totally off! How am I going to get everyone back inside the library for the climax??!!)

to the cover reveal:

A lot of this is worked through during daily phone calls (did I mention that Natalie and I are critique partners?) and she calls me every morning on her way to work at the library so we can discuss things like 

character motivation 
and homelessness 
and upper middle class towns 
and the opioid epidemic 
and privileged teenagers 
and spousal abuse 
and libraries as sanctuaries 
and psychopaths 
and techniques for climbing the outside of a building. 

And now after more than a year, the book is out and on the bookstore shelves and IN THE LIBRARY!

Want to know more about the lovely Natalie D. Richards and her books?

Follow her on Facebook Author Natalie D. Richards
On Twitter: @NatdRichards 
On Instagram (where she shares fun pics of her enormous dogs)
Barnes & Noble
Cover to Cover-- For signed copies (and to support an awesome local bookstore)

Friday, November 30, 2018

It's quiet in the stacks

At least it is first thing in the morning. I'm here an hour before the library opens, searching for books that have been requested by customers. Every day at my branch there are several hundred of these, and the goal is to pull them all before noon.

Only a few weeks working at this library and I already have a pattern-- where I park the cart and how I stack the books so I can pull as many as I can in one load. I know the more popular, requested books by sight. The cookbooks and books on knitting, the testing prep books for the ACT or GRE, the latest bestsellers.

But every day there are a couple of oddball books that end up on my cart.

Like this one:

The title-- Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone-- sealed the deal and I pulled a second copy and creeped myself out over the next few days reading it on break. (side note: it's a kind of horror fairy tale about a group of kids growing up in a weird village somewhere in Germany. The story was unsettling, to say the least.)

Also, unsettling, was this one:

The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America is not fiction but a collection of thought-provoking and disturbing essays written by Sarah Kendzior, an expert on authoritarianism who lives in St. Louis. Each essay, which Kendzior wrote over the past several years and leading up to the 2016 election, centers around topics such as poverty and class and race.  

I have been thinking about some of these issues after my library training, which turns out, covered more than simply how to pull requested books and how to shelve them after they're returned. For example, I learned about how public libraries are pretty much the only places in our country open and welcoming to everyone.

Sometimes that means people checking out cookbooks and books on knitting and sometimes that means young children hanging out without a parent and sometimes that means a homeless person coming inside from the cold and sitting in a comfy chair to read the newspaper. 

It's not often that all of us are in the same room together.  

I pull books on baking Christmas cookies and how to start a new business and how to take care of your autistic child. Books of poems and books on dinosaurs and yoga and computer languages. I ponder baking bread and learning Japanese and worry about climate change. I stop to help a man log on to the library internet. I lead a woman to the books on grammar. I recommend a picture book on unicorns. 

I shelve books and pull books and organize books. I pass the teen section where I see my own book and think about how it is just another book, waiting for someone to check it out and return it so I can shelve it again. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

This is the earliest we have ever put up our tree

We always get a freshly cut one and I don't like the needles falling off and ending up all over the floor. Plus, there's a rule I have of One Holiday at a Time. For example, I can't stand hearing Christmas music while I am shopping for my turkey and cranberries.

I can take this idea to the extreme. Last year, we didn't put the tree up until the weekend before Christmas. The needles fell of the branches and ended up on the floor anyway. Because none of the trees are freshly cut, my husband says. They probably cut them months ago, so who cares if we buy the thing in November.

He's right, I know. But it was weird last night tromping around the Christmas tree lot. It's been rainy lately. Warm. The ground was muddy. The place where we always go is run by a Boy Scout troop and the little boys helping us were wearing mud-spattered boots. Usually we spend more time choosing. Circling trees to examine them from every angle. Last night, our daughter, home from college for a few days, pointed at one, and we called it a night.

She teased me about not having any Christmas spirit. It's November, I tell her. Our fridge is full of Thanksgiving leftovers. We still need to rake the yard.

Mom, she says, rolling her eyes.

We haul the tubs of decorations up from the basement. Is it just me or was it only a few weeks ago I was packing up these tubs, putting them away? Where did the time go?

My grouchiness gives way to nostalgia. Picking out the tree with one child in our arms. And then with two. The years we drove out to a tree farm and cut our own tree. The homemade decorations, beaded gluey things and dried macaroni. The family pictures taken in front of the tree with someone inevitably breaking down and/or having a silly fit. The obligatory annual watching of It's a Wonderful Life.

But I don't want to spiral down that nostalgia tunnel. For one more day we've got our daughter home. It's sunny outside and the leaves need raking, but we'll worry about them next weekend.

Today, we're eating Thanksgiving leftovers and decorating the tree.