October 21, 2010


Sorting books is a wonderful, terrible job! Every one is either an old friend I plan to revisit some day, or a new friend I hope to enjoy. Yesterday I went over my collection of children’s books. I have narrowed it down somewhat over the years--I sent a huge box to my grandchildren some years ago—but they are gradually creeping back on my shelves. After all, encouraging children to enjoy reading was my career, and reading was a major part of my life. Reading fiction helped me get through the dark patches, and reading non-fiction helped me learn all the things I needed to know, from child raising to health to (ugh!) downsizing.

And picture books! How could anyone not love the wonderful picture books of today? The advances in color reproduction have made them truly works of art--but then, they always were. Framed prints and plates from picture books have graced the walls of countless children’s rooms. Discovering some of Berta and Elmer Hader’s original art, locked up in a windowless and doorless attic room for over half a century, gave me a new appreciation for their creative use of vibrant color. No, my picture book collection goes with me. They are lovely companions on days when I want only reading pleasure.

Recently I read a New York Times article saying picture books are dying. Parents don’t want children to waste their time on them--they want them to read chapter books instead. Another recent article suggested picture books should not be over 500 words because parents didn’t have time to read anything longer to their kids. It reminded me an argument I had with a principal about the cost of some picture books I was ordering for our library. I pointed out the art found in picture books might be the only art many kids would ever see. It needed to be good. Some illustrations we saw in our own childhood still influence us: can anyone think of Alice in Wonderland without the Tenniel illustrations? Good pictures blend and enhance the deceptively simple texts and take-away messages created by people who truly love children. (Well, I just read Dr. Seuss was terrified by them, but he certainly related to them through his whimsical and odd way of looking at the world.)

So the picture books get packed. All of them. Being able to read and reread them, even at my age, is a large sunny patch that will be there even in the gray days of winter.

September 24, 2010


Peace. Tranquility. Rocking chairs and chocolate. Those are some of the images that came to mind when--rarely--I once thought about being a “golden ager”. That isn’t exactly how it is turning out so far. As if writing two books isn’t enough to keep me busy, I’m adding more turmoil to my life by deciding to move nearer some of the family in Portland.

There are so many pluses! Portland is a lively, artistic city, long proud of its reputation as being a city of readers. It’s a nice size--the small blocks make it very walkable. When I was writing the first edition of Walking Portland some years ago, I was delighted to find out why. The canny settlers who were laying out the town found corner lots were more desirable, and thus worth more money. Ergo! Small blocks have more corners. Today the small downtown blocks offer more breaks for the eye, more chances for the sun to slant down the east-west streets, and more opportunities for wonderful downtown art.

My family points out there will be more places to go, and things to do. My windows will have views of the busy Willamette River and also of Mt. St. Helens. Ever since I saw a picture of Mount McKinley in junior high school, I have always wanted to live within sight of a snow-capped mountain. Now that long ago dream is coming true.

There are also a lot of minuses. I’ve lived here in this small city of Roseburg, surrounded by friendly and wonderful people, longer than anywhere else. I remember when we first came I was stunned to be offered help when I walked into the old Miller’s Department store. In the big suburban Chicago stores one usually had to hunt up a salesperson--they were too busy talking to one another to notice a customer.

Here people wait for you to pull out from a parking lot, sometimes wash the window when filling up my car, and generally take time to make the day a little brighter. Yesterday I lost a crown, drove two blocks to the dentist’s office, and had it replaced and reglued in under an hour. That immediate attention has never happened to me before.

Surprising as it is, there are more things to do here than time to do them. The local paper has a “What’s Happening” column every day, and even this dull non-holiday week has several events scheduled in the next couple of days--a lecture that sounds interesting, a wine walk at Wildlife Safari, an exhibit at a new gallery in town, the opening of a new play, The Curious Savages, and a concert by the Eugene Symphony in addition to the usual meetings and errands. And running errands is time-consuming fun--there’s no way to get out of any store without seeing at least one friend I haven’t seen for ages. It’s a great place for keeping up on a casual basis.

Downsizing still seems threatening, but it’s time. I come from a family that lived in the same house since the Civil War and never threw anything away. Furniture cycled up and down the attic stairs when a new generation took over. The biography I’m writing depends on the fact that the Haders saved everything too. I’m grateful they didn’t, but realistically no one is going to want old curriculum materials, recipes, and running t shirts. So I’ve straightened up my closet, filled up some boxes for the church rummage sale next week, and, after a few surprising discoveries in odd places, I now know where most of my possessions are located. There’s a realtor sign in the front yard and a lockbox on the door. It’s happening.

What’s next?

August 15, 2010

Slow Down and Enjoy the Roses

Ever since childhood the PICs (People in Charge) have been advising me to slow down, do one thing at a time, pay attention to what I am doing. Now I am slowing down--and not by choice. I can’t walk as fast as I used to, so I pay more attention to my surroundings. I appreciate the reflection of the sun on the North Umpqua River, the yellow California poppies and purple blackberries, the red-tailed hawks that live on the hill and constantly circle over their territory. I guess that’s a benefit.

But slowing down leaves less time to do the things I want to do, especially when it takes ten minutes to do something that used to take one. When I’m not watching what I’m doing, the household gremlins take over. They take things out of my hand and put them somewhere else so I can’t find them. They hide my shoes, and my cell phone, and are especially fond of disappearing with my glasses. Then I am forced to spend time searching instead of doing something fun. I remember an amusing article that appeared in a magazine some years ago: the author pointed out that those who do two things at once are doubly lucky—they get to do everything twice because they have to do them over. I can relate.

The other day when I was in Portland for the Willamette Writers Conference, I killed my computer. A whole cup of coffee landed on my laptop. I suddenly realized that instead of relying on my own cluttered memory, I’d outsourced much of it to my Mac. No notes on the conference (who did I see?), no up-to-date calendar (what was the plan for tomorrow?), and all the work I’d done on the Hader biography would have to be redone. All I could do was hope and pray that my home backup had done its job in backing up my files.

Fortunately, we weren’t too far from the Apple store in Portland. The guy behind the genius bar said there were only two things Apple wouldn’t warranty: using my Mac Air as a Frisbee and giving it a shower. Fortunately they thought they could recover the data. Unfortunately, the track pad, some keys, and other bits either thought they were on and wouldn’t go off, or wouldn’t start in the first place. So I gasped, ordered a new computer, drove back to Roseburg, and then had to make another round trip after everything was fixed. The computer geniuses did their magic and I’m back on track. But one loose gesture cost me three days of work plus money I hadn’t planned to spend. Should have listened to the P-I-Cs and paid attention.

Slow down and enjoy the roses.

You bet.

July 30, 2010

The Sunny Side.... 1

When did I reach the top of the hill? It certainly wasn’t at 40! These days the Big 4-0 ers are barely middle aged—they’re still climbing up through careers, kids, and self-improvement.

It wasn’t even at 50. Maybe 60, when I retired? Nah...they kept moving the hill. Like those bicycle rides where you strain to get around a corner; sure you have reached the top, only to realize that the road keeps going up.

And then, suddenly, you realize you must have reached the top because you are now zooming down and the miles fly by effortlessly. You are now on the easy side—the sunny side—of the hill. You can enjoy the scenery without straining to catch your breath. That’s where I am now. There are still bits of uphill, and potholes to avoid, and cars rushing past, but the ride is much more enjoyable than it was during the climb.

This downhill side is just another one of those transitions in life. Like going off to school for the first time, or getting married, or menopause. A little scary because you don’t know what to expect. Many of the books written about this age dwell on the potholes and shadows instead of the silliness and sun. Card and gift shops sell decorations for the Over the Hill parties with black banners and tombstones, so the party settings look like somber Halloweens. They should be using zinnias and campfires and the warm glow of autumn sunshine instead.

I hope there are other COGS (Cheerful Old Gals/Guys) who remember the song called Accentuate the Positive. Maybe we can network together to help us find the best--and easiest--route through this stage of life.