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.

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.

There’s no place like home for the holidays

This column originally appeared in the Nevada Appeal on December 5, 2001, almost twenty years ago. September 11 was still fresh in our minds.

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“We’re not going anywhere for Christmas. We’re staying home,” our younger daughter Katie asserts as she submits her Christmas list.

You may think this is a response to the events of September 2001, some fear or trepidation about airplanes falling from the sky. Actually, it’s a response to December 2000. Her list details holiday menus and how many lights should be put up outside, the Advent calendar and my almond butter cookies. At twenty-one she’s our baby, but has always been very clear about what she wants. She’s being especially clear this year.

You see, last year I made up my mind that I’d had enough of the Christmas craziness, the expectations, the stress, the shopping, the cooking, and decorating. I wanted to escape for Christmas and maybe even escape from Christmas. I wanted to discard all Schaefer traditions and go someplace warm and fun with the girls. Our older daughter Joanna would soon be graduating from college and any future Christmas vacation—or any vacation—with the four of us would likely be next to impossible. I also considered the notion that if we had one Christmas devoid of tradition, we could then add back in the ones that meant the most to us. Hence Katie’s list.

After searching the Internet for sunny winter getaways with something for everyone, we decided to spend a week doing the Disney thing in Orlando, Florida. None of us had been to Disney World, but Don and I had grown up with Disneyland practically in our backyards. We knew that no one does entertainment better than Disney. In addition, I got a great deal on a hotel and airfare package and booked it months in advance.

The trip was the gift, so the under-the-tree, hung-by-the-chimney stuff would be minimal. There would be no tree. The girls would exchange gifts. My husband and I would exchange gifts. Strict spending and size limits were enforced; after all, it had to fit in a suitcase. But remember, we were getting a great trip to Disney World.

What began however, as a way of escaping the holiday hassles will live in infamy as part of our family mythology. Eight-hour delays will grow to two days in the retelling. Being rerouted to Minneapolis will become an interminable trek to Siberia. Moreover, I will forever be remembered as the Grinch who stole Christmas.

You see, our dream trip turned into a nightmare shortly after 5 AM on December 23rd when we arrived at the Reno-Tahoe Airport an hour before our flight. Our Delta flight had been cancelled.  Wasn’t Delta the symbol for change in my high school math classes? You know, change in the x or y-axis? This time it was a change in departure times, change in airlines and change in airports. Connections were delayed because of heaven knows what. Perhaps the crew hadn’t arrived. Maybe they were traveling on Delta too. Our vacation started many hours later, in the wee small hours of December 24th.

At least we were able to make all of our connections. The family behind us missed their cruise—a family reunion/grandpa’s birthday/Christmas cruise—because of the cancellation. Yikes. We actually felt lucky for a moment. Then boarding the flight from Minneapolis to Orlando was delayed by an hour because of smoke in the cabin. What next?

The trip back home was equally fraught with problems requiring that our family be split up and that we spend an unexpected night in Salt Lake City.

I will never forget the look of utter hopelessness and resignation, the smell of defeat, the great unwashed, unshaven and unpressed masses at the numerous airports at which we waited. And waited. And waited.

And this all happened before the events of September 11 increased travel snags.

We will therefore be home for Christmas. Nevertheless, we feel torn by conflicting desires at this time of year. Our parents and other family members are still in Southern California. Don’t ask me why, but they are. Our older daughter is still in New York City. Don’t ask me why, but she is. So, we feel the tug to travel, to be with our large and much-loved family. This year, however, we have decided to stay home rather than go home for the holidays. Or go anywhere for that matter. We’ll have a merry little Christmas right here.

This year I’ll hang stockings by my own chimney and deck my own halls. Then I’ll bake my almond butter cookies while listening to Bing and Nat and Garth on my own stereo.

Yup. There’s no place like home for the holidays. My home. Sweet.ed51bcccf1469a1b3324e44dc90c1ea7