Sometimes I feel like a delicate flower.  Sometimes I feel like tough survivor.  Sometimes I’m not sure, because the old patterns and skills have changed since the cancer.   Sometimes that throws me for a loop, and I have a meltdown.

This morning I was working on learning a fiddle part that was surprisingly hard, because the song it goes with is fairly simple and slow and very lovely.  But yesterday I had to listen to it on the CD, pause it, write the music out using the piano, listen, pause, write, etc.  Then I had to transpose it to the key our music group plays it in.  Then I found out that I transposed it to the wrong key, and basically had to memorize it in a different key in which I had to change octaves midway through so that I could play it (in tune) on my fiddle.  And there is one tricky part with timing that really confused me.  So I slept all night with the song in my head, or at least the half of the song that I could remember, and I woke up to practice it before I went to play with our group.  But I couldn’t quite get it.  In the old days, Susan Alexander could have worked it out simply by listening to it a couple of times.  But my ear is not as good as it used to be, and I have not really played the fiddle for 5 years, and am extremely rusty.  In other words, I don’t really know this Susan that exists right now, the one that had cancer and couldn’t hold an instrument because of my back, the one who doesn’t learn things as well by ear, the one who gets confused by timing, the one who takes a long time to figure things out, the one who can’t play for very long at a time because I have to lie down and rest my back.  I want to be able to do what I used to do just as easily as I used to do it.  I’ve finally found a venue for playing music without a lot of stress, yet I can’t even play up to my own standards.  Knowing that I am the only one who is holding myself to such rigid standards is not even helpful.  I’m frustrated.  So this morning I had a meltdown.

Luckily, I have an incredibly patient and kind partner, who has a really good ear. She helped me yesterday a lot in figuring out this particular fiddle break.  Then she practiced with me a lot, accompanying me on her banjo.  Yesterday I kept it together.  But today, when I just felt frustrated and started judging myself,  I took it out on her, as well as myself, and just raved and reacted rather foolishly.  She stuck with me, as she always does, thank goodness.  I have realized once again in the area of playing music that I am now confronting, that I am not the same as I used to be, and I’m going to have to get comfortable with that.  I have been able to adjust (after cancer) in my exercise, in my preferred posture, in my cooking and my eating, in my limitations physically, in the number of things I can handle in one day, in almost everything else.  But playing instruments with others, trying to learn something that someone else plays on a CD, this area is a new one for me since cancer.  It has to do with physical things, my arthritic fingers, my slow and clumsy picking, the difficulty of finding a comfortable position to play in, but it also has to do with my brain — catching more subtle things in the music and then translating them from my brain to my fingers.  My brain isn’t the same as it used to be, whether that’s age, chemo, being out of practice, whatever.  That’s scary, and makes me feel bad as well as worried and confused.  Who am I?

I’m determined to work on this by practicing more, by listening more, trying to build up some of those brain cells again.  And I will, but I also know that I may as well accept this different Susan and maybe even embrace her.  After all, I’m in the best place to do that.  The environment is friendly, the music group is casual, the performances are mostly background, and very low key, the audiences are positive.  Really, all works out the way it’s supposed to work out.  I couldn’t be more happy in my life, and in fact, haven’t been more happy in the rememberable past.

After the meltdown I was able to acknowledge that there are changes inside me in this particular area of my life.  Now I will do what I can or what I want to make some improvements, and accept the rest.   Although it made for a crummy start to the day, the good thing about a meltdown is that afterwards, I can move on with better self awareness, and perhaps even peace.


Surrounded by Art

mountain gate stormy skies

I have always believed that helping a child to enjoy art and want to create it, is one of the best things I could do as a teacher and as a parent.  That is why I always had art, including visual art, music, poetry, writing and cooking in my classrooms. (You can see that I have a broad definition of art, which includes “crafts” and anything where a person can express themselves deeply and creatively). I think that is why I was chosen to help start a wonderful school called Prairie Creek Community School in Minnesota.  That is why I chose to work for 13 years in a teacher collective that valued arts in its curriculum the same as academics.  That is why I ended up teaching in a public school called Malcolm X Arts and Academic Elementary School. And now, that is why I choose to live in New Mexico.

I’m not saying there isn’t plenty of art in California, because obviously, there is.  Both personally and professionally, I enjoyed the art around me.  I started out doing art projects with my children from when they were about one year old.  I did it for their enjoyment, but I also did it for the part of myself that was frustrated with not doing enough art in a busy life.   My oldest daughter went to one semester of high school at an amazing art school in Napa, and graduated Mills College with a studio arts major.  My youngest daughter is a wonderful dancer, choosing to dance in church, as well as help teach it in the collective where I used to work.  I have always surrounded myself at home with pictures, carvings, and needlework, that members of my family have made, and with quilts and dolls and carvings made by myself and my friends.  I get joy daily from all of these things.

At school, I was always fascinated by the art my students made, including amazing stories, sculptures, songs they wrote, and dances they danced.  Although we emphasized process versus product, both aspects were appreciated, and I believe the students learned ways to express themselves that they might not have had the chance to try otherwise.   They also had lots of free time to create adventures, plays, and explore ideas on their own.   We visited museums, read good literature, and learned to appreciate others’ art.

But it took work and money to go to museums, or even to go the coast or the redwoods in CA, and I got caught up in the mundane activities of life, and maybe even lazy, and did not get out to enjoy the art and beauty of the big city, nor of the landscape. Plus there were always lots of people around, and there was a lot of traffic to deal with in order to get where you were going. (And everything cost a lot of money.)  When I discovered this place in NM, I realized that the natural landscape is art which is around me 24/7, all I have to do is walk out onto my front porch and look at the mountain or the sunset, or sit in the back yard at night and look at the star pictures, or drive into the nearest town on a quiet highway and take in the desert and mountain scenery.  I am awed every day by the beauty around me, which is exemplified in photos taken by us or by neighbors and put on Facebook.

And then there is the art we feel inspired to make here — every morning I look out the window (from my bed) at the beautiful fence decoration that Sarita designed and painted, showing the mountains, quail and jackrabbit in our area.  A friend is making a gate for the front of our house, with the design of one of my tattoos (another way I used to cultivate art to have it with me at all times). Every time I sit on the front porch or come home from somewhere else, I will be able to enjoy that amazing gate.  I have pictures and weavings in the house made by local people and believe me, I can cover some walls!  I have a china cabinet with my precious dolls in it, and my family dishes, maybe only important to me, but beautiful for their history.  Many of my songs connect me to this desert, and I have noticed that almost everyone I know here does some kind of art for personal enjoyment.  It could be: knitting an alpaca cape, sewing baby quilts, making bronze sculptures, doing watercolor paintings of local landscapes and fauna,  soldering metal gates,  building and restoring an old adobe, taking pictures at a rodeo, making folk music with a group of musicians, writing newspaper columns, designing chicken coops or cooking with vegetables and fruit from a garden.  The area inspires all of us, the lack of nighttime activities in town gives us time and space, and the small community really knows how to appreciate all the wonderful art that comes into being.  Tomorrow night I am going to a reading of a self published book at the library by the daughter of a neighbor across the street.  Today I’m playing music with friends, getting ready for a couple of casual performances next month in appreciation of some of the community volunteers. Last weekend we participated in the nearby college’s fine arts performance, as well as a nearby town’s festival celebrating pies and piemakers, for which an up and coming documentary short was made (“Pie Lady of Pietown” directed by Jane Rosemont).  I’m looking forward to the sale along the highway downtown of my friend’s quilts, in which she used the pictures from the bluebird flour sacks.

I have never felt so surrounded by art, by artists, and by appreciators of art.  One doesn’t have to be an amazing artist to be noticed,  although there are many many amazing artists around here.  Much of the art (and crafts) help support the community organizations, which are highly valued here, and I am happy to learn about them as well as contribute to them.  I think there are many people to meet who will be informative and inspirational.   Already, Sarita has found a mentor to instruct her with spinning, a very deep love for her.  I can only be curious as to how I will be guided, changed, or inspired by the artists I encounter.  All I know, is that I’ve always considered art, and the process of making art, one of the most important things for my soul, and now I definitely feel that I have time and space, surroundings and a community that completely supports that.  Pretty good.

Getting a New Roof

dirt from attic

Yes, we truly are getting a new roof.  Last night we slept with a roof on only half of the house, and it’s the monsoon season!  Luckily, there was no rain, and at some point, I had to give up worrying about that and finally go to sleep. Today they started working around 7 a.m. I’m sure the neighbors aren’t thrilled, but that’s the way it goes around here.  Sometimes things just happen.

At some time after five, the rooster starts crowing up the street and that seems to wake the dogs up.  We let them out, feed the larger one, then usually go back to bed with everyone.  Today though, we made them stay in bed till 6, then life with noise in the driveway and on the roof began.  I’m hoping and praying that they finish today.  Kallie and I are both wrecks with the loud noises and the work.  I coped by making a gluten free cake at 7 a.m. that my niece gave me the recipe for.  Kallie coped by pacing, and eventually Sarita put the thunder shirt on her, which seems to help.

Taking off the old roof showed hidden problems.  Wood around part of the chimney where there should be asbestos or at least metal.  Smoky black on the underside of the tin from some unknown time in the past when there was a lot of smoke up in the attic.  Dirt piled high on the ceilings, apparently used for insulation in the old days (see picture).  It took an unexpected 6 hours to get that out of there.  Wow, they used to make strong ceilings.

The crew works hard, laughs a lot, seems to enjoy themselves, even though they had to get up so early on a weekend, and do such backbreaking work.  We are all lucky today, because more people showed up than did yesterday. We are lucky because we have a great handyman who cares about us and is willing to do what it takes to make sure we’re okay.  We are lucky to be living this dream of ours.

Since moving here, we have been going like firecrackers, trying to get everything done while we have money and while the weather is okay, so that we can relax a little in the winter and do our craft projects.  That means we’ve been a bit crazy, because the transition period that began last March when we decided to move here permanently and cut our ties with California, is still going on.  Transitions are about my least favorite thing.  But we have both noticed, you only know how tough you can be when you have to deal with tough things, things that are not always pleasant.  And apparently, through our lives, we have shown toughness, so I should be able to cope with the roof being fixed, and the many other things that are now in the works but not completed.

We have managed to buy ourselves a great truck, 4 wheel drive, camper top, over a hundred thousand miles, but everything’s in good working order, and a Tacoma to boot.  The worst part about it is the bumper sticker which has to go, as it is extremely Republican.  We have ordered ourselves a tiny little hot tub, doesn’t use much water or power, but will allow us to sit out under the amazing stars in our back yard, and more importantly, will give Sarita a chance to continue her baths (in a town with little water) — one of the important ways she relaxes. Of course we have to have a slab poured to put it on, and the electric work done to accommodate it.  We have also ordered a very small manufactured house to be put on our lots next door, the ones where we’re going to have 3 sheep.  It will provide a room for guests, and give us a studio for art and sewing, both are desperately needed, as we have such a tiny adobe, and no room for anyone to visit and stay.  Of course we have to have the structure that’s over there demolished first, and we have to have it bulldozed to make it level and turn under all the glass and other trash we haven’t been able to get rid of because it’s so prolific.  We’ve been meeting with all the utility people, and have to figure that all out, and a foundation has to be dug, and so on and so forth.   And then we have to build the sheep pen (and a chicken coop), and paint our garage, front porch and mud porch so they can make it through the winter.

This is only a tiny fraction of what we have to do, but it will keep us busy at least until the snow comes.  Sarita is probably going to work in October, one or two days a week, so that will influence the time line.  But meanwhile we are going to do what we can to be ready by Christmas for her daughter to visit, and for our chance to do the creative things we moved here to do.  We’ve spent a lot of time working in the yard, trying to grow a few flowers at the end of the season here, planting some greens, preparing some dirt for next year’s garden, where we hope to have corn and tomatoes, and start planting some fruit trees.  We’re learning to save our gray water from the sink, and to collect rainwater in the cistern to water things, so we can conserve the town’s well water, which seems so scarce.

We have a garage full of furniture that will go in the new house when it’s done, and several things that we’ve been looking for and can’t find for this house must be buried in there as well.  We feel fortunate to have a space to store it all though, and we are thrilled that we won’t have to buy anything for the house when it’s done.  So far we’ve stuck to our budget, and everything we buy we are planning to have until death do us part.

It’s just this transition stuff.  It’s already autumn, a time of year we’ve never been here and are thrilled about, and there are things happening in the area almost every weekend all the way through to December. Things I’ve been wanting to participate in ever since we first came.  I can’t believe summer is over however, and feel like it wasn’t really even here, since it was all taken up with packing, moving, and unpacking.  On the other hand, we still pinch ourselves about the fact that we’re living the dream we started 8 years ago when we met, still in other relationships that were not really working, writing in journals back and forth to each other about what we wanted.  We actually have much of it, and are working on getting the rest!  I may be 61, and my happy relationship didn’t start until my 50’s, but at least it started, and it’s still going on.  Dreaming is a good thing.  I’d never have believed how rich I could feel, rich in so many things other than money, but even in that.  I’ve shown some qualities that I never thought I had, good money management, good foresight, good overall view of things, good planning.  Nobody who ever knew me would have imagined that I could be good at these things.  Plus, I’m a nester from way back, and am having the chance to do that big time.

So when I hear the noise and feel the worries about the roof getting finished, etc. I just need to take that cake out of the oven and remember how incredibly lucky I am.  I’ve been through some versions of hell, and this certainly isn’t it.  I wish for everyone, the transition to such a good life.





Celebrations with Food

peaches and cream

Every state has its great food, but I am happy to be here to celebrate my birthdays every year.  For the last four years I tried to be in this area during birthday times, and last year I discovered this pie, the peaches and cream pie baked by Kathy at the Pie-O-Neer Cafe.  It is pretty unbelievable.  We haven’t gotten to celebrate the birthday here yet this year because of transitional challenges, but will do it later this month, with green chile stew and pie and playing music with Kathy and Stan and whoever else happens to be around.  I’m sure we’ll also bring a pie home to share with friends here.  Who needs birthday cake when there’s pie?  Especially when it comes with wonderful, friendly people.

Another adventure is going to get a green chile cheeseburger.  The first time we went, the owner decided he wanted to take a picture of Sarita and put it on the wall with his other famous stars and label it “Whoopie Goldberg.”  Hmmm, the only thing they really have in common is dreadlocks.  It was a good joke though, and he didn’t even recognize her the second time we went.  But the food was really good.

Frito pie has been one of Sarita’s favorites, but since the cafe closed that carries it, we’re going to have to make our own.   She also has a favorite of chicken fried steak, served at the Phillips 66 off the freeway not too far from here.  One breakfast of that gives us enough food for the whole day.  I’m not such a fan, but can find a (different) trucker’s breakfast quite satisfying now and then.

Then there are the other recipes that include some of the great vegetables we’ve been getting from the Bountiful Basket program, and our neighbor’s garden.  It is our goal to grow food as much as possible here, but since we’re kind of late in the year for that, it will mostly be a next year project.  I may be able to get some lettuce and herbs going, but am not counting on much more.

We don’t usually eat out much, but are looking forward to once a week at local places, and soon I’m getting a good stove/oven, so I’m anxious to get back to working on my gluten free baking.  I just have to learn about doing it at high altitudes, that will be my challenge, but I’m definitely up to it.

Sun tea, smoothies, and good old granola continue to be staples.  For some reason, I always have a big container of sun tea in the fridge here, but I’ve never really done that anywhere else.  It is unsweetened, and I get my chemistry thrill by combining different kinds of teabags. I find it is just essential to have on these hot days.

I’m never going to be a person who could take pictures of my dinners, or post what I’ve made anywhere, but I’m happy to post this picture of the great pies at Pietown.  Keep your eyes open for the CBS Sunday morning show with Bill Geist, and there will be a section of it on the Pie-O-Neer Cafe, with folks that were there today being interviewed.  Not us, but we make good background. Eating pie as our appetizer.  Celebrating this move.



I’ve Arrived! Walking in Town

susan walk

My path to trail’s end is completed in one sense.  I’ve moved (permanently!) and am no longer on that particular path of transition.  But now I feel I am on the next path, which is toward the real end of my trail, so I think I can keep this blog’s name and keep on writing!  I’m hoping for several more years on this new path.

One of my challenges here, is getting used to the altitude, and to the heat.  I really don’t mind dry heat, but it’s slightly more humid than usual with the monsoon season about to start, and the sun is very intense.  However, I am not in very good shape, and determined to improved that situation, so I am trying to walk at least 5-6 mornings a week.

I’m not a particularly early riser, so I get out around 8 or 9, when it’s already starting to get hot.  Lucky for me, the first part of my walk is downhill, the only trick is finding the streets that do not have loose dogs wandering on them.  I actually walk with two beautiful and sturdy walking sticks, made by a guy who sold them on the side of one of the roads between Bakersfield and Barstow.  These help exercise my arms, but really are my deterrents for dogs.  The street that I live on, and others parallel to it are mostly paved, the other ones in town are mostly gravel.  I have found several streets where I have not met dogs, so I tend to stick to those.  I do cause a lot of barking, however, with my walking.  Not a lot of people walk around here, and the animals notice everyone who does.

I am often accompanied by little rabbits…the population is at a peak right now.  They are unobtrusive and good companions, I like seeing them.  There is quite a lot of diversity with the houses I see, from neat (almost sterile) places, to those cluttered with tires and trailers and kids’ toys and junk and everything in between.  There are really old, abandoned adobe shacks, there are houses with comfortable porches, there are mobile homes, and places with goats or horses or donkeys.  Sometimes fences enclose everything, either metal or wood or stucco walls, and on Main street there are some cute houses with actual trees in front of them.  Other places have no greenery whatsoever.  I love looking at everyone’s choices, whether they show TLC or neglect, I have no judgement whatsoever.

I’m working my stamina up to get to the post office, which is on the other end of town.  I think I could probably get there now, but I’m not sure I could get back.  It’s all uphill coming back, and by the time I get home, I’m panting pretty hard.  Because I’m still not adjusted to the altitude, it feels like I just can’t get enough air.  So I’ll build up to walking that far.

I really enjoy how everyone who passes me waves, and I often see someone to talk with for a few minutes.  One day I went and introduced myself to the Marshall.  Another, I met an acquaintance who talked to me about the pool situation in the nearby bigger town.  And today I stopped in the Trading Post and talked with one of the owners, a wonderful jeweler, from whom I bought a turquoise bracelet the first year we were here.  They are selling vegetables from their garden as a fundraiser for him to help keep his old farmhouse where he lives with his wife.  Apparently, some relatives want it for a vacation spot.  I’m waiting for the tomatoes and corn, my two indicators of summer!

My goal eventually, is to walk mornings and evenings, but I’m happy to start slow.  I like the idea of being a benign presence in town, and apparently people have remembered seeing me other years when I did a little walking with my walking sticks.  I am thrilled that just as it was when I lived in the bay area, I can walk to the library, the senior center, the thrift store, the dollar store, two cafes, and the bank.  It’s a good life and I’m so thankful I made it here.



Reflections on my Family on Gay Pride Day (and Song, “Love is Love”))

My ex- partner and I originally came to the Bay Area because we thought it would be a great place to raise children.  We were right.  Especially in the East Bay.  Lots of lesbians who want and have kids, lots of support for gay families.  That was around 1986.  We came from Minneapolis, which was somewhat progressive with regard to lesbians, but definitely not in the pregnancy and child rearing domain.

This year as I watch the gay pride parade (on television) and see all the politicians involved, and think of all the states where gay marriage is legal,  I remember all the amazing things that I was able to participate in by being a lesbian with children in Berkeley, California and I feel very lucky to have lived here.

I met two of my best friends the first month I was here at a conference for educators about teaching in classrooms with gay families.  My partner and I found a group called “Maybe Baby” to talk with other lesbians about the all the ups and downs of having children.   We were able to find a place to provide us with sperm so that we could get pregnant (actually, my partner got pregnant, I was not able to several years later when I tried).  And then we found a group of pregnant lesbians to be in a birthing group with, and we remained close to them and their children for many years.

When our oldest daughter was a year or two old, we were invited to a dinner with another lesbian family that was being interviewed by Stone Phillips (was that Prime Time?) about what it was like to be a lesbian family.  It was very exciting, and although my family didn’t end up in the final cut, I swear I saw my daughter’s face in an ad for the upcoming show. It was a little scary however, because though I was always “out” in the schools where I worked, I certainly didn’t advertise the fact that we were gay to the world.  I was sort of relieved we didn’t end up on the show, because I didn’t want any crazies in the area threatening us or our daughter.

We were the first lesbian family to adopt from the organization which helped us find our second daughter.  That was exciting, unexpected, a miracle.  And even though I was often asked if I was the foster mother, and often given unsolicited advice about how to deal with my African American daughter’s hair, I was proud to have such a wonderful family.  At the playground, my daughter would say to other mothers, “I have two moms.”  I’d hold my breath, wondering what the response would be, but then I’d hear them say, “Well aren’t you lucky?”

We were one of the early families to go through Social Services and both become legal parents of our children.   For our oldest daughter, the social worker had to recommend that the adoption not go through, and then we went to the judge who overturned that and let me adopt her while her birth mom also remained her legal mom.  We have a photo with that judge.  Then about 6 months later when we went through the adoption process for our newborn second daughter, the state realized that it was losing money, and they changed it so that the social worker recommended that the adoption go through, and so it did, and we have another picture with the same judge. We have seen a lot of change happen since we’ve lived here.

We took the girls to the gay pride parade and march with the other parents, pushing our strollers proudly down the streets of San Francisco.  I remember trying to find a spot to watch from the sidewalk, and being excited once when there was actually a space.  We all got ourselves settled there, thrilled that we could actually see the parade, when the extreme religious fanatic whose corner it was, came back from a “break” and began saying horrible things about being gay.  We moved along quickly.

I can basically say that this really was a great place for my kids to grow up in such a family as ours — 2 moms, 3 races, deafness, adoption.  We never really encountered anything horrible that had to do with being a lesbian family (except the above occurrence), and my kids knew lots of people who had similar families. I think it seemed pretty normal and comfortable to them. I also always had children in my school who came from lesbian and gay families, and I taught with other gay teachers.  I could never have been closeted, so I’m grateful I never felt I had to be.

Now I’ve been able to legally get married to my present partner and have a celebration in a public place with all our children and our grandchild.  What more could I ask?  I know that the country has a long way to go to accept that “love is love.”  But I also know that it has come a long way since I was born, and even since I came out, which was when I was 28, and I am grateful.  My children can take certain things for granted, which never would have been the case for people in earlier generations.

My song for my marriage and for my gratitude towards all of the amazing people who’ve suffered and took and are still taking risks and giving energy to gay rights so that my children can be comfortable in the world is this:


So many books…

We are re-packing the boxes I already packed, because I do not have the ability to be very discriminating about what to keep and what to get rid of for this huge move, at least not when I’m all by myself.  As we open box after box we find…BOOKS and more books until I think I’m going crazy.  It makes me reflect on a lifetime of loving books, and the adventures they have taken me on.

Mom joined a children’s book club when we were young, so one or two books would come in the mail every month.  Oh, we loved it when they came, and we kept those books and re-read them again and again.  One was about a big ball of string, another about a moose and the little boy that loved it  (I still have that one).  Mom also had the collection of Wizard of Oz books from her childhood, which were my absolute favorites, and I believe I also read them several times.  The pictures were enchanting, particularly the one with Ozma, and I dreamed of looking like her some day.  My mother had another collection of Enchanted Fairytales, which were categorized into tales from other countries, tales for younger children, tales about knights, etc.  There were a couple of these volumes that I read constantly, even reading them as an adult when I went to visit.  Again, at least some of the pictures were exquisite color paintings, and the stories made you feel as if you’d travelled far away.

I don’t necessarily remember being read to a lot, although I’m sure my mother did, but I do remember my father reading On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine one time when I was sick.  My parents had bookshelves and bookshelves of old books that were fascinating and mysterious, because you could never tell what they were about from their old plain bindings.  They also had beautiful wooden bookcases to store the books, and I grew up believing that bookcases and books are some of the most valuable possessions a person could have.  At one point my dad made my sister and me bookcases for Christmas, and we treasured them and still have them.

I remember reading all the time when I was a kid, in the house, at school, on the bus, wherever.  In fact even now, I never go anywhere without a book, just in case there is some waiting time involved.  I loved reading stories about girls, and devoured the ones that were available.  Nancy Drew was kind of revolutionary, because at least she was a detective, and all the other ones were about girls/women as stewardesses, teachers, or nurses.  Women weren’t supposed to have much ambition in the 50’s and early 60’s.  Of course I read the Cherry Ames (nurse) and stewardess books anyway.

When I used to visit my Nana and Papa, one of the first things my sister and I did, was go across the street to borrow the huge stacks of comic books that the neighbors had.  It was the only time I remember reading comic books, but I read through that stack barely taking a breath, and loved every minute of it.  I’m always amazed by parents who worry that their children are not reading “good” books when they are young.  As a teacher, I’d say to let them read whatever they want, reading is different for all of us, and we like different things at different times, but the idea is to learn that it is fun and worthwhile.  They have plenty of time to get choosy.

In high school I discovered the book Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  I remember sitting on the bus coming home from school and reading it, completely transported by its murky story.  That set me off on a Du Maurier phase, and I read everything I could get my hands on.  That also remains true of me today, I love reading all the books I can by a certain author, or involving a certain character.  Then it feels like I’m with an old friend, instead of starting anew each time I pick up something to read. Of course this leads to my problems with box after box of books, now that I have certain collections:  Tony Hillerman, because I love them and because of where we’re moving;  Bill Pronzini, because of San Francisco and his character being one of the few men characters with humility;  J.A. Jance, with her southwestern mysteries;  Nevada Barr and Dana Stabenow because they are both such amazing writers.  And boxes of poetry (having been taught by a poet in high school who knew Donald Hall, so I got to meet him, and now have quite a bit by him as well as edited/collected by him).  I, of course, have tons of songbooks, and children’s books, books on how to write, how to make floor cloths, crazy quilts, weavings, books on how to make books, and so many others.

With the children’s book collection I have both chapter books, like Stone Fox, by John Gardiner, which always makes me cry when I read it, a signed book by Virginia Hamilton and one signed by Cynthia Rylant (The Van Gogh Cafe, one of the most magical books I’ve ever read), and I have the picture books that seem life changing, they are so good, such as The Other Side (I think by Eve Bunting), and Amigo by Garth Williams, the very first children’s book I bought when I knew I wanted to go into teaching.    I never fail to be amazed by how books with few or many words can so affect my feelings, my spirits and my mind, as well as inspire my awe.

I have big books, such as The Dreamtime, which I brought home from Australia, and has a whole different world in its pages,  and collections of stories that make me laugh out loud, such as the ones by Bailey White, who I heard on NPR once.  I have a little more trouble being faithful to reading entire non-fiction books, but I have many of those as well, such as Women of the West, and other biographies.  I have a collection of books by my dad, from his children’s stories to his scientific work, which will take up a good sized shelf in my new home.

The problem at this point is, there’s not much room for bookshelves in our house!   I have to figure out how to have my books around me, because they are very comforting.  Probably many will have to go in the new studio/guest apartment we will be building, but I will have to work out places for my favorites in our tiny rooms.   I just will have to do it.

My parents have a house full of books, they are in shelves that line one wall of their family room, they are in stacks in my dad’s study,  they are piled up in the attic, they are in every bedroom, and there is a stack of magazines in the bathroom.  I come from a family that gives a lot of value to books, and now I’m finding it’s hard to trim down my collection.  Sarita and I have decided to choose what to take based on the joy we feel with each item, and that helps.  I keep the ones that have special meanings to me, such as the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series that I read  after my transplant because they were so entertaining and gentle to read, or the book In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason, about the Vietnam War, that was part of my history of growing up, or Real Sisters, that helped Winona realize she wasn’t the only African American to grow up in a basically white family.

Even while I am culling my collection of books, I am constantly reading more.  I’ve gone through stages where I buy books,  others where I go to the library.  I have even read kindle books when I had a hole in my retina from throwing up after all my chemos, and needed something with big print.  Lately I’ve also found places in the bay area to get (and give) free books — the Recycling Depot and the little free libraries people are putting up in their front yards that often look like bird houses.    I read to distract myself from all the angst this move is causing, to allow myself to become tired enough to go to sleep, to entertain me when I’m in a boring situation. In my past,  I would be the one reading a book in the baseball stadium, because I wasn’t really into baseball, but wanted to hang out with friends there.

I read for escape primarily, but also to learn, and I have learned a lot!  Sometimes it is about history, sometimes about a culture or environment different from mine (such as Stabenow’s Alaska),  sometimes it is about a life event or characteristic of a character that I can relate to or want to understand (such as when I read Carole King’s memoir to get to know another songwriter). I have a wonderful collection of cook books, that give me pleasure to peruse while I learn about qualities of vegetables and interesting baked goods to make.   Sometimes what I learn from a book is a fact that is completely unexpected, such as when I was deep into a mystery recently, and was reading about this terrible “natural” poison in this seed from certain parts of the world. (It was compared to ricin, the poison that was identified in “Breaking Bad,” although this seed is quite a bit more potent).   As the seed was described, I realized that I had brought several of them back from Trinidad when I was in my early twenties, always intending to make jewelry out of them because they are so beautiful.  Well finally,  a good reason for procrastination,  because had I done so, I would be dead.  They are so poisonous that just a tiny pin prick of the inside of the seed would have killed me had it gotten in a cut or something.  I vaguely remember hearing that they were poison when I got them, but I thought that was only if I ate one.  Not so.   I went about searching for this little collection of vividly bright and beautiful seeds in my crafts stuff, found them, and disposed of them and everything they touched (safely, I hope). Whew, that was a close call.

One of the things that gave my daughters and me the most joy, was reading together at night.  While one daughter was always happy to hear a new story, the other wanted the same ones over and over.  And then when one was old enough for more complicated chapter books, I’d read the picture books first, and then the other for her.  Neither of my children have become the kind of reader I am, but I know they remember that special time with fondness, and will read to their children.  It was also my favorite time in the classroom to I read aloud to the kids.    Sarita and I still read out loud to each other, on car trips, during holidays, on vacation.  A friend is going in the hospital next week, and we’ve already decided what I can read to her while she’s there.

I know everyone isn’t a reader, and even though it’s hard to believe, I know that everyone doesn’t have books in their house.   I was once with a partner who was so jealous of my reading, that she used to throw things at the book so that I’d put it down.  I think that is just weird, but of course it had no effect on my reading, except perhaps to make me want to do it even more.

I feel more than lucky to have books and reading be such an important part of my life.  I used to love to give away books at the end of the school year, when I was cleaning my classroom out for the next year.  I was thrilled when Sarita had extra PTA money this year and was able to order books from Scholastic to give her children during the last week.  Everyone should have their own books that are meaningful to them, no matter for what reason.

So I’m proud of what I’ve been able to get rid of — books for my daughter’s garage sale, books for the recycling depot, books for my grandson — and I’m happy to have the ones I’ve kept.  Maybe I’ll have to do some kind of rotating of books on the shelves I have in the new place…well, I know I will work it out.  And I’ll be sure to be a regular patron of the two nearby libraries in our new community.  After all, who knows how much longer I have to read, and I know there are so many books I haven’t gotten to.  And perhaps I can even help others to make their own books, with their own stories.  Book making is one of my favorite crafts.  Well, that’s for another blog, another day.