The circles that you find in the bookshelves of your mind.

“So… have you READ all these books?” Uttered in tones ranging from confusion to awe.

We get this question pretty often; almost every time someone who is not part of our immediate circle of friends or family comes over. Friends and family are for the most part similarly voracious readers who only take note of the booksheves to see if anything new and interesting has been added since the last visit.  I do the same thing when I go to their houses.

But “random” people- a neighbor, a pampered chef consultant, someone who is here to fix the linoleum in the kitchen- are usually pretty stunned at the sight of the bookshelves in the dining room. We aren’t talking “library” here, but the shelves are large and very full of an interesting (at least to us) mix of reference, science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, classics, novels, and so on. I’m not sure if it’s the quantity or the content that strikes visitors as surprising.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone reads anymore. Amazon seems to be doing quite well though, so I guess it’s just my neighbors and A/C repair people and Federal Investigators who no longer read for pleasure?

The Feds stand out in my mind. Very polite men who came to ask us questions about former relative who shall remain nameless that I hadn’t spoken to or thought much about in many years.  Apparently he’s added fraud and theft to his other irritating hobbies. I can’t say I was completely surprised, given that I never liked the guy that much. But there’s other people I’m not terribly fond of who aren’t felons, so it was definitely noteworthy. Plus the investigators had very impressive badges, which were fun to look at since they weren’t being aimed at us, so to speak. I’d never met real detectives before.

In the course of their inquiries, one of them suddenly turned to me and said, “I have to ask- have you actually READ all these books?” and I found myself momentarily sidetracked. “Um…yes.” I replied, but added meekly that I hadn’t actually read all the reference stuff cover to cover.

They shook their heads in wonderment. One volunteered that all he read these days was the newspaper, and then they went back to asking us questions about the aformentioned individual. And after a while they thanked us for our time and commented favorably on my husband’s collection of switchblades (NO, he wasn’t waving them around in a menacing fashion; they live in a case on the wall thank you very much) , remarked again on the large number of books, and departed.  I was left feeling as if I had briefly entered someone else’s story and then had to leave without getting to see the end.

We also wondered, after they had left, what conclusions these trained detectives had formed about us while they were in our home asking us questions. I mean, they sum people up for a living, right? Did they get a deeper insight into who we were by observing us in our natural habitat than say, the linoleum people did? Does our couch actually define us as people? What about  the “Buffy” DVDs and my wind-up green plastic snail?

And these books that left them and other visitors so thoroughly bemused… Do they really say anything about us other than that we read a lot? Maybe I need to rethink my whole bookshelf strategy. Up to now it’s been to put the books on the shelf wherever they fit, and roughly organize them by author/category.  But if I were more selective about what was on view, I could perhaps convince casual visitors that I am incredibly intellectual, or that we are really culturally sensitive and environmentally correct.

Or I could just go get a bunch of books about penguins. And then when someone asked what was up with all the penguin books I could look furtive and change the subject. If they pressed further I could allude briefly to time spent in Antarctica, and then say the memories were just too painful. Let’s see what they make of that.  😛


Sniffing glitter and other holiday traditions.

There’s glitter on my keyboard and down my shirt.

No- I haven’t gone completely bonkers with the holiday decor- I’ve just been addressing Christmas and Midwinter-Holiday-Of-Your-Choice cards. And a bunch of them had glitter stuck all over the fronts for that little thrill of added excitement. And a lot of it came off all over me and my surroundings ere the cards were safely stowed in their pristine white envelopes, and now I’m sparkling. Literally.     O_O

I was sending cards to friends, family, and a number of total strangers-  (These last were mostly military stationed overseas, plus a few online friends). “Online friends” is specified because I don’t REALLY know them- I have not ever met them and I probably never will. All I know about them is what they tell me and the rest of the world. That mom of 3 in Sussex might actually be a solitaty bearded hermaphrodite hoarder with a house full of antique lizard presses, for all I know.  Which would actually be pretty interesting. But you see my point. Anyway my online friends are pretty wonderful, and I get all excited when I hear from them.

Some of the cards were for kids who wanted to get mail of their own- others were for people who were just wishing for holiday cards from SOMEONE.

I remember the Christmas when I was 3. My parents were recently divorced, and I was living with my mother in a little rented house in a bad neighborhood in a strange town. We didn’t know many people there yet. We were extremely poor, had no car, and few possessions. Oh, and no Christmas stuff. No tree, no stockings, not even a strand of ratty tinsel. We aren’t talking Dickens type poverty, but it was pretty bleak.

We got one card in the mail- it was from my mom’s insurance agent. My mom cried when she looked at it. I was clueless as to why- to a 3 year old a card is a card. I wanted to hang it up somewhere- a garland of one card- because I wanted our house to look like other people’s did.

Hell, I wasn’t expecting presents and enchanted gingerbread houses to appear- I just wanted a little normalcy.

Mom did not go for the “garland of card” idea. As an adult I see why. How lonely she must have felt, far from everyone she knew, facing an uncertain future, and burdened with a young child. I think she threw the card away, seeing it  merely as an ironic reminder of her isolation.

As I stacked envelopes into a tidy pile and sneezed glitter on a passing cat, I remembered the lone card and my mother’s initial anger at my innocent suggestion, followed by her tears. It left me pondering the meaning and purpose of holiday cards.

For some, sending and recieving them is a way of keeping in touch. Perhaps a Christmas newsletter is enclosed.  Personally, I don’t do newsletters because I figure in my case the people who care already know and the ones who don’t know probably don’t care. My friends are awesome AND low-maintenance. But I do enjoy the sense of a job well done as I pop a tidy stack of cards in the mailbox and raise the little red flag.

Some people love to send and recieve them. For others, it’s one more blasted chore on the endless list of Christmas duties.

For military far from home, any mail is good mail- it’s partly about actually hearing your name at mail call, plus a reminder that home still exists. It gets awful damn lonely out in the black… I remember. So does my husband, who was out at sea EVERY single Christmas during his enlistment.

Some people dispay the cards like piles of glitter encrusted treasure, while others toss them in a corner and rediscover them in mid January.

Do you like sending and or recieving them? Why? Would you value a card sent by a total stranger? Or would it seem creepy? Would you examine the wording carefully looking for signs of a psycho stalker? What if it was a completely anonymous card with no return address from a state you’d never visited? “Ho, Ho, Ho, I know where you live…neener neener neener…”

Ok, I totally have to send some of those now. I shall be the postal stalker what stalks by midnight! BWAHAHAHA…

But seriously, I’d love to hear what YOU think about holiday cards.

And if you’re sending some out anyway, send one to a soldier. You’ll get tons of good karma.



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The wooden bowl…

There is a beautiful hand turned wooden bowl that sits on our coffee table. It was a Christmas gift from my son to my husband, Christmas 2008. The maker’s name is carefully woodburned into the bottom-” The Cranky Craftsman- walnut- 8/08″

Chris bought it for his dad at a craft show at which all 3 of us were selling our work. He used money he’d earned that evening, and added in one of his handmade chainmail bracelets to sweeten the deal. He was 12 at the time, and so proud of being able to buy such a finely made thing with his OWN money.

Mike was thrilled with the gift and gave it pride of place display, centered on the formerly bare wooden table. It’s been there ever since.

The wooden bowl

Not long ago, I was looking at the bowl with pleasure, and thinking about all the things it has held since it came into our home. It has been a temporary home for a number of small items… A few weeks ago I fished out the hammered silver bangles I’d placed in it when I was about to wash the dishes; the 3 unique bracelets had been made by 2 different jewelry artisans I know. The bowl has also held miniture dolls in progress, a few found stones and acorns, a ring my little sister gave me, and the watch Chris recieved in his stocking last Christmas ( a passdown from his father; the watch Mike wore 20 years ago in the Navy).

3 days ago our kitten, Echo, was carefully dropping a pink ponytail holder into the empty bowl, and then snatching it out again, over and over, with an expression of total concentration. It was enchanting to watch.

And at the moment, the bowl holds a tiny wooden puzzle- one of a set of 3 that I recently found at a thrift store and shared out among my friends.  Underneath, there’s a small stack of papers- exit paperwork from the company my husband has worked for for the last 3 years. The company is being sold and the doors are closing. (Just so you know, he signed with another company yesterday, so we are ok. But he’s going to miss the people he worked with. From the CEO on down, it was a good company filled with nice folks.)

That bowl, made with care and love, bought and given with pride, and cherished by the recipient, has become something of a symbol for me. It reminds me of the things we do together as a family, and of the many ways in which we enrich our own and eachother’s lives. We aren’t rich, but we have a number of splendid and unique things that we would probably not be able to afford if we did not make them ourselves or know the artists who made them. We are rich in beauty, rich in skill, and rich in love.

Chris gets to grow up, as I did, surrounded by artists and artisans and musicians.  The house is full of paper, paints, scripts and scraps. We tell eachother stories and exchange handmade gifts. Parties are wonderful; you may see anything from a cutthroat board game to an impromptu bellydance class, and there’s usually someone in a corner teaching someone a new embroidery or leatherworking technique. Plus a whole lot of “Geek Speak” since more than half of us work in IT one way or another. In the same evening, Chris is likely to pick up some info on corporate politics, a reccomendation on a show he might like to audition for, and get into a serious discussion on comic book vs. Hollywoood X-men. 

It’s a nice way to live. And it’s a very nice bowl.


What do children need?

Being a child at heart myself plus being a toymaker got me thinking about what every child SHOULD have. Starting with the basics- a safe home, food, clothing, school and whatever learning tools are needed for school (be it home school, public, private…) and of course, love and respect. But beyond that…

My list would start with:
Building toy like blocks or legos.
At least one good doll or action figure, preferably with lots of accessories.
A bike.
At least one outfit that makes him or her feel fabulous.
Drawing paper, pencils, and paints.
An animal to be friends with. (Not nececessarily their pet or even a pet, but an animal companion/aquaintance of some sort.)
Birthday cake.
The chance to stay up ridiculously late once in a while.
A box to keep small treasures in.