Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A "Stand" for Reading

Yesterday, as part of World Book Night, I handed out 20 copies of "The Stand" by Stephen King.  It's one of my favorite books.  I have great memories of reading it aloud - yes, all 1000+ pages - to my future husband as we completed our graduate research in Venezuela.  We hung from hammocks during the heat of the day, arms and legs lazily swaying, when little else could be done and entered the world that King created.

So I was the perfect person to present this book to people who maybe didn't consider themselves big readers.  Who might be kinda intimidated by the sheer size of the book.  It's big, no doubt about it.  When I attended the reception last week to pick up my box of books at A Real Bookstore, my box was bigger than everyone else's.  By a lot.  And heavier.  I made one of my strapping young sons carry it to the car.

I anticipated having to convince people to take the book, or having people reject my offer because they didn't believe anything to actually be free.  My experience was quite the opposite.

I hauled the box to the back of my car in the morning before I tackled a long list of errands.  First on my list was getting the air conditioning on my car checked.  It took about an hour and, during that time, I worked up the nerve to ask the guy behind the desk if he was a reader while I was paying.  "No, not really," he admitted.  "Mostly just magazines and stuff."

"Well," I said.  "Tonight is World Book Night and I'm a Book Giver and I have 20 copies of one of my favorite books.  Would you want one?"

He paused.

"It's Stephen King," I added.

"Oh!  Well, sure.  I'll take one.  I've been wanting to read more," he admitted.

"Great!"  And I raced out to the car to get not one, but two copies.

"Don't be scared by how long it is," I told him as I came back inside.  "It's really, really good."

He laughed as he accepted the copy I handed him.

"Is there anyone else here that you think might want one?" I asked him.  At that moment, another employee emerged from behind the counter.

"Let's both read it," the one said to the other.

I smiled.  "I hope you like it as much as I did," I said as I walked back outside to my car.

Stopping by the bank, I momentarily confused the manager who wanted to know how he could help me.  "By taking one of these books," I explained.  "You guys were so nice to us when we opened our account, I thought of you when I had these books to give out."

His face was flushed.  "That is so nice of you!"  His coworker listened from a nearby desk.  "Can I have one, too?" he asked.  I happily passed out three more copies before making my way to the unemployment office in the same strip mall.  This was the place that I said I would go when I applied to be a book giver.  Recently unemployed a few months back, I was thinking about how much more time I had to read when I didn't have a job.  And how everyone's in the same situation when they lose a job.  I wasn't sure how it would be received, but I was going to stand by what I said I'd do.

I approached the office receptionist who asked, "How may I help you?"

"You guys help people all day long," I began.  "So I wanted to stop by here today because I'm giving away free copies of one of my favorite books, Stephen King's 'The Stand' for World Book Night.  It's just to encourage people to read.  Would you like a copy?"

She took the book I handed her.  "Sure!  I've been trying to find something for my teenage daughter to read - I want her to read more.  Would this be good?"  I told her my 13-year-old had just started it and loved it, that it was about good and evil, and that I thought any teenager would love it.  At that moment, a couple who had been filling out paperwork approached the desk and I offered them copies as well.  They were thrilled.  I continued to make my way around the room, quietly handing out copies of the book and explaining the purpose of World Book Night to folks as they sat at computers, job searching.  That can be a pretty discouraging process, so I like to think I brightened it up just a little bit.

This is how my day went.  It was like passing out candy or Christmas cookies.  I grinned at the grocery store when two young men who bag groceries all day gladly took copies and began arguing about who could finish it faster.   The girl at the cash register when I paid for my lunch acted like it was the best tip she'd gotten all week.

It was a great day.  I got to share a book I love with absolute strangers.  I like to think that they're all folding back the cover now, beginning that journey that begins every time we open a new book - a journey that is full of possibilities and worlds we might never imagine on our own.  And I helped that happen.

The authors and publishers who agreed to be part of World Book Night are an amazing group who truly appreciate the power of reading.  The 30 books that were selected to be given away this year are listed here.  I've read quite a few, but I'm going to work my way down the list until I've read them all.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Aquaman returns

Henceforth in this blog I will refer to Husband as "Aquaman".  It is more appropriate than simply "Husband" after all, given that he is a marine biologist and loves all things ocean.

Aquaman has been gone on a 10 day trip offshore, taking data for NOAA that will be used in fisheries management.  I love NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  They are the ones that warn us of bad weather, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis...you name it.  If it's bad, NOAA's on it.  As if the atmosphere weren't enough, there's also the ocean to contend with.  Yep, they do that, too.  But most of all, I love this government agency because it is the perfect niche for Aquaman.  He doesn't have to wear a tie to work.  He doesn't have to sit behind a desk in an office.  He is out on the water doing what he loves to do.

So Aquaman spends a lot of time on boats.  When he's gone, I miss him.  This trip was probably the perfect length, not like the 56-day one he had a few months back.  That one was hard (I wrote about it here).  This one was do-able.  And I think I've come to believe that absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  I've even been reading about it in this book, Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.  She makes a good argument that distance is necessary in a marriage and our culture's equality, togetherness and honesty may not always be good things for (ahem) the bedroom.  I think she's on to something.  But what do I know?  I'm also reading 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James.  I knew nothing about this book when my book club selected it.  It's getting a lot of, shall we say, *heated* discussion (read one review here).  Wow.  That's all I've got to say about it.  Wow.

And I'm real glad Aquaman's coming home.              

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Teenager - Unplugged

We've had an interesting turn of events at our house, thanks to an extra credit Social Studies project that Hawkins was assigned.  Yes.  That's right.  Extra credit.  But he still did it.  No doubt partly because it's his favorite teacher, Coach Branch.  But wait til you hear what it involved.  Then, you'll really be impressed.

They've been learning about the Frontier Era of Texas in his 7th grade Social Studies class.  This involves the Native Americans after the Civil War and the clashing of cultures between them and white settlers moving west.  The tribes were forced from their land and onto reservations.  The extra credit project, one the teacher does every year, is called the "Satanta Challenge".  Named after the Kiowa Chief Satanta (read more about him here), it's an exercise in empathy.  The students are to give up their way of life, just as Native Americans had to during this time period.  For one week, the students are to go without "electronics for social value".  No radio, TV, iPod, video games, computer, or cell phone.  Right.  More impressed now?


Coach really didn't have any delusions about who might participate - but he hoped every student would try it for just one day.  If they chose to take on the week, they were to keep a daily diary explaining what they did and how it influenced them, with parents signing off on the journal.

So our red-head (with quite a bit of Creek Indian blood in him, by the way) took on the challenge.  For the whole week.  Little by little, this amazing boy emerged.

The first day, he actually came home from school, got a snack and sat down in front of the TV out of habit.  A few minutes in to watching, someone on the screen said the word "challenge".  He snapped to and remembered he wasn't supposed to be watching.  And - get this - he turned it off immediately and walked away.  He went out to the back yard and started working on his garden that we'd begun the previous weekend.  It consisted of some containers, half full of dirt, that he'd moved from the neighbor's yard.  He shoveled more dirt and transported it to the containers with the wheel barrow.  He planted a tomato plant, some peas and a few herbs.  Then he read his library book on the front porch swing.  The second day, he did some more gardening - this time consulting with the neighbor about okra, spinach, carrots and glorious cilantro.  I took him out to dinner for Pho (his favorite - the dish of Vietnam) and he made a point to sit with his back facing the flat screen TVs mounted on the wall broadcasting "American Idol".

As the week unfolded, he finished reading several books and knitted a whole bunch.  Yes, a 13-year-old boy who knits.  A skill learned from his uncle, he has taught his younger brothers as well.  They have a little business going - called "WearWOOF" and they sell colorful, knitted dog collars to a local dog boutique in historic downtown, The Canine Cookie Company.  

But more than the gardening and reading and knitting was the talking and interacting.  The neighbor made a point to tell me how much she enjoyed the talks she was having with her new gardening buddy.  Because he couldn't take a picture of his garden (that would be social electronic use), he drew one in his daily diary to be turned in.

I was not bound by the same restrictions, so here are the pictures I took of his garden.  

He had a big time with his grandparents over the weekend - getting more gardening tips from Nana, enjoying some pie at a restaurant while he showed them the downtown - all things he probably wouldn't have done had he been glued to his xBox.The owner of the dog boutique stopped Hawkins as he walked on the street with his Nana to tell her that her grandson was a mature and responsible young man.  

Every time I turned around, there was Hawkins - talking to me.  When Husband left for his boat trip, I was bombarded with even more conversation, now that one of his willing listeners was gone.  I had no idea the boy could talk so much.  He spent the night at a neighbor's house and they jumped on the trampoline most of the time, intentionally avoiding the video games.  He practiced his clarinet on the porch, serenading neighbors - willing or not.  Because he couldn't play the video game "Little Big Planet", he designed contraptions for the game with pencil and paper and was happy to explain the schematics in detail to anyone.  In detail.  To anyone.

It was a delightful week, really.  The tension that typically pervades the house because of arguments over the xBox was gone.  There were no fights over whose turn it was at the computer, no cell phone going off.  His daily spoken word count must have gone up 300%.  He was calmer.  More helpful.  More interested in people.

So I was a bit nervous for the challenge to come to an end yesterday.  I anticipated coming home and finding him drooling, mouth agape, in front of the TV or Wii or xBox with his eyes glazed over, barely responsive.  But he was tending his garden.  I asked him how many students had completed the challenge and turned in their daily diary in school that day.  "Just me," he reported.  "I was the only one in my class."

I could delve into the deeper implications of this challenge - what are we, as parents, allowing our children to be exposed to every day?  How overstimulated are they on a daily basis?  What will the world be when we are all plugged in all the time and no longer reach out to one another to communicate in person?  What will be lost?  I could make myself sick with worry.    

But I have nothing to worry about, really,  This teenager of ours is a good egg.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Big girl panties

I am not a small person.  Not no how, not no way.  I am 5'10" tall, first off.  I do have memories of going to Sears as a young girl and heading straight for the big overhead sign that read "Size 6x".  We did that for a long time, my mom and I.  Then I kind of remember wearing a size 9 in Juniors for a while.  Then it's a blur of Misses sizes - from 12 to 18 mostly, with a few glimpses into 10 and all the way up to 22 for a short time that I consider dark and depressing.

I periodically make peace with my fluctuating weight.  I mean most people fluctuate in their weight, right?  I just happen to fluctuate a good 50 to 75 pounds instead of a mere 10.  A few years ago I thought I had accepted this.  It helps to have a husband who tells me I'm beautiful, that he relishes my curves, and not only doesn't mind my big ol' booty but kinda likes it.  But sometimes I don't believe it.

Like this week when I finally broke down and realized that almost all of my underwear were frayed and worn and really looked like something I'd be embarrassed about if I was in the ever possible car accident that requires the cutting off of my clothes and the reveal of scraggly-ass undies.  So I went to Lane Bryant, where all big girls shop, to get me some big girl panties.

I did this after sucking down the rest of a pint of ice cream that Husband had brought home from the store.  He said it didn't taste quite right.  It tasted fine to me.  However, I don't think it was too smart for my self-esteem to eat ice cream before going underwear shopping.  

But there I was, sifting through the "5 for $30" tables of panties.  I was mesmerized by the bright spring colors and patterns.  I picked out six.  Well, that wouldn't do.  I upped it to ten.  They looked big to me, these panties.  But I was buying my pants size.  Seemed reasonable.  I wasn't going to try them on.  I've been buying my underwear at Lane Bryant for years.  Surely I could do this without trying them on.

So I spent $60.00 on underwear and went home to the disaster that is fixing dinner and homework and dog getting fed and I mentioned to Husband, "So. . .you wanna see my new panties?"

He seemed less than enthusiastic in his response, but dutifully looked at each pair and only said, "You really needed ten pairs?"

I was a little hurt.  I kept fixing dinner with chaos going on around me.  I decided I had gone overboard and would return five of the pairs - making Husband pick out the keepers.  I pulled out my bin where I keep all my underwear to see just how many pairs I had that were still wearable and that's when I saw the tag on my old underwear.

They were a size smaller.  I bought panties that were too big.  Or that I hoped were too big.  I reported this to Husband and do you know what he replied?  "I thought they looked big."

Wow.  Really?

"I knew you were too quiet!  Why didn't you say something?" I squeaked.

"Because sometimes that gets me into trouble."  True enough.

"Maybe you should try them on before you return them," he suggested.  I did, over my old ones.  "They look like they fit," he said.  And they did.  But I knew the smaller ones would fit just as well because that was the size I'd been wearing, comfortably enough.  And it was the principle of the thing.  

I followed through on making him pick out the keepers, although I returned them all and exchanged the top picks for the smaller size.  I did it immediately.  That night after dinner.  I wanted those big underwear out of my life.  It signaled something I didn't want to accept.  I was NOT going up in underwear size.  I REFUSE.

So maybe I haven't made peace with my Rubenesque body because this is what happens periodically:  I feel self-conscious and dissatisfied with the weight that I am.  I get a look at myself in one too many pictures where I see a double chin or sausage arms and I get pissed.  Sometimes I join Weight Watchers.  Sometimes I try Atkins or the Dukan Diet or South Beach.  I went vegetarian for three years.  But you know what?  I'm really good at maintaining my weight at just about the same spot in between these dieting fits.  It's just about 50 pounds heavier than what I'd like it to be so that I could wear cute little dresses and tuck in my pants and not be too horrified to wear a sleeveless top or shorts.  How vain am I?  But clearly I need to make peace with the fact that I'm not a skinny strap and Daisy Dukes girl.  And I need to be okay with that.

Why am I not okay with that?