Mid-week Wisdom

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Reading, like riding a bike, takes practice

This column first appeared in The Nevada Appeal, February 19, 2003 while I was still working as a literacy specialist at an elementary school.

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How is learning to read like learning to ride a bike? Recently my fellow literacy coaches and I pondered that question at a class on the importance of motivation in learning to read. I took lots of notes as my colleagues talked about what they know best: children and reading.

First, learning to read and learning to ride a bike can both be a little wobbly at first. You make mistakes; you lose your balance. You don’t go very fast. You stop and start a lot. There is a certain level of physical readiness and integration of systems necessary—eyes and ears and other body parts must work together. You must pay attention to things like left and right, forward and backward, up and down. Many actions are going on at once and none of them is automatic yet. Not every child learns to ride a bike (or read a book) at the same age. Some learn as early as five, some at ten. Or later.

Training wheels are necessary. Having a grown-up there to catch you really helps. Training wheels for young readers are things like repetitive patterns, rhymes and pictures that support the text and carry meaning. Or someone whispering in your ear as you point to the words.

Riding and reading are also cultural. There are probably neighborhoods or families where bicycles (or books) are rare. Perhaps you only ride a bike (or read) at your grandma’s house twice a year. If so, it may take you longer to learn. Consistent practice is important.

Nevertheless, one thing is for certain, when someone thinks it is time for you to ride a bike, he or she does not start out by giving you one piece at a time, a wheel, a seat, or flashcards naming the parts of the bike. They give you a whole bike and put your seat on the seat, your feet on the pedals, and your hands on the handlebars. And as you start off, they hold on to you, and give you little instructions and words of encouragement. Maybe they even give you a little push. Nevertheless, you are riding the bike. Likewise, beginning readers need to have their hands on books.

Understanding the physics of motion and balance is not critical to riding proficiently. After all, whether it’s balancing on two little wheels or making those little squiggles on a page tell stories, the whole idea is pretty incredible. Some things you learn by feel. You take them on faith.

In both reading and riding, you learn the rules of the road. You slow down or speed up depending on the conditions of the road or the purposes for reading. You watch for traffic, stop signs, bumps in the road. When the going gets tough, you slow down and concentrate. Good readers watch for punctuation, bold print, illustrations, and captions.

Riding a bike and reading can take you places. They give you freedom to investigate new places and new ideas. Some of them are off the main highway; they might even be dangerous. We all take a wrong turn now and then. We stop, look around and start again.

Furthermore, there is a wide range in our ability to, and our interest in, riding a bike. Most of us learn to ride a bike, but few of us ride like Lance Armstrong. We ride to the market or to work. Maybe we ride to be with friends. Some of us love the exertion of powering up a mountain trail and the thrill of roaring down the other side. Some of us only ride on level, paved streets. And some of us haven’t ridden in years. Similarly, we choose to read what we enjoy or what we find useful.

But what keeps you practicing? What makes you try again, even after skinned knees and stitches? Perhaps it is because—if you were lucky—someone gave you a ride when you were little, maybe on a baby seat behind a bicycling parent. Or you’ve seen your older brothers or sisters pedaling like the wind, laughing. You want to be like the other kids, wheeling around, having fun, escaping boundaries, exploring the world. Yes, it’s hard at first, but you keep at it. You know you can do this. The faster you go, the smoother the ride and the more pleasurable. It gets easier.

Finally, both reading and riding are best learned when you are young and once you’ve learned you never forget. Both stay with you forever.

So, how about a ride? Don’t forget to bring the kids.

Beginning my Indie Author Journey

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After much hemming and hawing I will stop querying and take charge of publishing my ten-year-old novel, now titled US, NOW & THEN. The prospect of spending more time querying and waiting for an agent to love my novel enough to take it on is daunting enough. But the waiting for them to try to convince a traditional publisher to love it—a timeline that extends to infinity—is simply unacceptable. I’ll turn seventy next month. I don’t have that kind of time. (Maybe I do, but who knows?)

And honestly? I’m not trying to build a career as a novelist. (Not what an agent wants to hear) I wanted to tell this story. And I wanted to learn how fiction works. With ten years of critiques and edits from my (kind, generous, brutally honest) cohorts at Lone Mountain Writers, I believe my story is finally both poignant and readable. It’s good enough. However, after all that work, I refuse to just leave it on my hard drive. I will publish with Kindle Direct Publishing this year. (She says confidently)

But just putting it out there on the web isn’t enough. I want people to find it and read it. A few people anyway. And ones who aren’t all related to me. But with the SIX MILLION (!) books available on Kindle, I know I need to help mine stand out, at least a little. Hence, I need to develop a marketing plan. Whoopee! Another skill set I don’t possess. BTW, any agent or publisher would want this too.

So, I’ve searched the internet and followed indie-authors and others who seem to know what they are doing and won’t make me dip too far into my retirement nest-egg for cash to pay them. I follow other indie authors and the #WritingCommunity on Twitter. I subscribed to their newsletters. I listen to podcasts over at Mark Dawson’s place. I took a one-night class on self-publishing at my local community college and will take another on marketing in the spring. Until then I’m learning about keywords and newsletters, author websites and advertising. I’m big on taking baby steps.

I’ve typed up the beginnings of my plan and know that at the very least I need a professionally designed cover and professional formatting—unless I want to learn yet another set of skills, which I don’t. This week I contacted a cover artist and sent her some initial ideas. Fingers crossed.

I’ll post what I learn and accomplish here as I climb this very steep learning curve. That’s where things stand right now. Watch this space as I stumble my way to my book launch. You may see some changes here too as I upgrade my site. Kindly share any advice or resources you’ve discovered from your own indie author journey.

I am water

A reminder from myself, for myself.

Lorie Schaefer

creekWell, 90% water anyway.

With that in mind, I began my New Year’s meditation with a babbling creek. This is the image I intend to focus on this year. Just as a stream flows gently, effortlessly around logs and boulders in its path, I will find my way around every obstacle in my path. I will grow neither angry nor frustrated. I am water. I always find a way through and past a boulder. Even a dammed creek can only be held back for so long until it flows over the top or creates a new path. Nothing can withstand the persistent force of water. And in time, water erodes obstacles, dissolving them, turning them to sand.

I am water.

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Scrapbooks turn the pages of our lives

This column appeared in The Nevada Appeal in 2002, when I was DEEP into scrapbooking. I am no longer. While I still have the huge kit of supplies, I haven’t made a book since the one documenting our granddaughter’s first year. She’s almost ten. I have pretty much decided to scan all the remaining photos. Then I’ll organize them into those lovely little photo books I can assemble from the computer and without the huge mess that actual scrapbooking entails. 

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“Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left of you.”  ~Simon & Garfunkel

My name is Lorie and I am a scrap-aholic. I admit my scrapbook hobby may be getting out of control. I’m also something of a pack-rat, although that’s another, oddly related topic.

The roots of my problem go deep. In the late fifties my mother gave me a large maroon scrapbook with fleur-de-lis adorning the cover. I filled its now crumbling and yellowed pages with black and white class photos of smiling schoolchildren. The names and numbers of some of those children are still in my address book nearly fifty years later. That book lives in the cedar chest with my wedding dress.

In college I made another scrapbook. It includes a photograph of me sitting in on the lawn at Fullerton College, protesting the invasion of Cambodia. It was in that book that I began writing little stream of consciousness notes so that I wouldn’t forget the people and moments that were so important at the time.

Around 1970 I started another kind of scrapbook. I bought one of the first little blank books and began copying quotes from favorite authors, poets, and songwriters. Walt Whitman, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry David Thoreau, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon. That red book is filled with handwritten entries in bright Flare pen colors. I also began entering bad little angst-filled poems and other pieces I’d written. It wasn’t exactly “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but you get the idea. A diary or journal might have contained a complete chronicle of every thought, every feeling. A scrapbook allows some perspective and perhaps a little editing. Maybe even other voices.

Later I included the poem and Bible verse from our wedding and a letter I wrote to our unborn child when I was pregnant. Nearly twenty-five years later that letter opened the scrapbook I made for Joanna. I also recorded a few stories about each girl so that I wouldn’t forget what funny, wondrous, insightful little beings they were.

I guess that is the point of a scrapbook—remembering. But like most people my memory needs a catalyst, a phrase, an object, an image, a fragrance, or a song that sparks a long-dormant memory. That’s probably why I save all the things I do—that pack-rat thing I mentioned before.

Furthermore, significant events need to be framed with words for me. And while spoken words are gone in a flash, writing makes the moment permanent. I try to hold on to the moment, so I can revisit it or share it across time and distance.

Both happy and sad memories are important. One gives perspective to the other. All those experiences and choices brought me to this place. So, if I ever question who I am or how I got here, I have my own personal database.

Evidently millions of others have joined me in this scrapbook obsession. There are support groups meeting all over the country under the guise of scrapbook parties and workshops. There are entire stores dedicated to its products. I admit I own the enormous suitcase full of materials and tools, affectionately known as the “my husband’s going to kill me kit.”  If you’ve been to a scrapbook party, you know what I mean. The kit is filled with an album, extra pages, decorative paper, page protectors, pens, cutting and mounting tools, and way too many stickers. All archival quality, of course, and acid free.

In the last two years I have completed Joanna’s album and the two identical family histories that I gave my father and brother last Christmas. I also compiled a book about my trip to visit New York City after September 11.

Now that I’m working on Katie’s graduation album, I’ve gone back to the little blank book to remind me of her stories. I spent some time rereading and remembering. Look what I found:

“All my life I’ve been a collector of things—theater tickets, wedding napkins, notes passed hand-to-hand in seventh grade English class. Love letters written but never sent. The last flower to bloom in the weed field before it became a parking lot. Things are saved for a special reason and, if you are a collector, you know that you save many things even when you’ve grown away from the reason you saved them. Like old corsages that have become faded and brittle.” 

I told you that the roots of my problem go deep. That paragraph came directly from that old blank book. I wrote it in 1970.

 

 

 

Book Report: Start with one grand old house and one evil step-mother

THEThe Dutch House by Ann Patchett DUTCH HOUSE

This is one of the best books I read this year by one of my favorite authors. As I settled in and began reading, Ann Patchett wrapped me up and carried me through decades of poignant family drama. She wove the past and present, not to mention the many characters’ perspectives into one cohesive narrative, told in one point of view. It’s simply masterful. I’m in awe.

The nature of memory, insights into the human heart, and the power of forgiveness are at the core of this story.

Here are a few quotes, just because she says everything better than I can.

“There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended, knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”

“But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.”

“We had made a fetish out of our misfortune, fallen in love with it. I was sickened to realize we’d kept it going for so long, not that we had decided to stop.”

“Thinking about the past impeded my efforts to be decent in the present.”

Patchett earns all the stars. Recommend.