Janet & Marian: A Tale of Two Houses

My writer friend Janet Givens and I have both said Goodbye to houses this summer. She, to a vacation house on a canal in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and me to our family homestead 12 miles from the beach in Jacksonville, Florida, geographically about 750 miles apart as the crow flies.

JanetMarian

Our meeting in 2014 was also geographical – and digital. I responded to Janet’s post about her Peace Corps experience in Kazakhstan, linking her experience to my trip to Ukraine, both countries with a Soviet-era history. From there the connection continued on each other’s blogs. That was until I, along with 5-6 other writers, were invited to her cozy log house on the Island. You can view the view memories of that magical first trip here.

ForsythiaLogHouse

I know many of the nooks and crannies of Janet’s special place and feel I’m such a lucky duck to accept her invitation not once but twice to the spacious log house for a writers’ retreat. I can understand her bittersweet sentiments as she lets go of it now.

On both trips, we spent time writing, eating healthy food, talking and laughing in the sunroom, and gazing at the sparkly bay, which leads out to the Atlantic.

WriterComputerHealthyFood

Susan Weidener, Janet, and Merril Smith sharing photos
Susan Weidener, Janet, and Merril Smith sharing photos

Ah, and seeing the ponies, personal and close up:

poniesjanet


A Vermonter, Janet is bidding farewell to her second home after 22 years. We’ve lived in our house, our primary residence, for 37 years. Pencil marks on the kitchen door record our kids heights from ages 8 and 9 ½ until they were teens. Photos of our long history there fill family albums.

KillarneyHouse2016

Of course it’s a cliché, but life really is all about trade-offs and feeling gratitude for what is now. I think Janet would agree with the J. R. R. Tolkien quote below. I know I do!

TolkienQuote

Maybe you have had attachments to a house in your past, perhaps a childhood home or one you used to own or visit.

Golly, it could be the one you live it right now.  Grab a cup of something cool or warm and let’s have a chat!    🙂

Above all, do check out Janet’s own thoughts about her love affair with the Chincoteague house here on her blog. You can also find a link to her memoir there: At Home on the Kazakh Steppe.

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My Day of CHANGE @ a Middle School

“Mom, would you like to volunteer for Challenge Day at Mandarin Middle School in a few weeks?” Joel asked.

“I probably would but I would need to know more about it,” I answered.

Then my son proceeded to tell me about an initiative at the school he helps sponsor, “Be the Change,” a movement to help students break down walls of isolation and loneliness and replace them with compassion, understanding and love.

My day of change came on a Tuesday, when student ambassadors greeted me at the door and pointed me to the gym, where I found my daughter Crista, also a volunteer.

Challenge Day Ambassadors
Challenge Day Ambassadors

CristaMeVol

Seventh and eighth grade students filed in under an arch of welcome, volunteers forming a path of entry with our bridge of arms. Later, we found out students thought doing this was hokey.

There were rules:

NormsChallenge

ChallengeValidations

The facilitators, Chris (a guy) and Trish began with games: “Find 10 people you never met before and give them a high five.” All the students were strangers to me, so that was easy. The day proceeded with other forms of friendly physical contact: fist bumps and eventually hugs.

“Now, with your partners, slap the ball to the other side,” students stabbed at a super-sized beach ball to earn points. Music and dance underscored many of the day’s activities: Soul Train, Wildest Dream, Where are You Now? Time of Our Lives . . . .

Then the facilitators turned more serious, referring to parallel lines of blue tape they had previously attached to the gym floor.

“Cross the line if . . .”

  • you have ever been hurt by what someone said about your skin color, religion, or how you dressed.
  • you have been hit, beaten or abused in another way by a parent or other authority figure in your life.
  • someone you know hurts the family because of alcohol or drugs.
  • you have lost someone you loved recently or a long time ago.

Emotion was palpable as students and volunteers alike crossed blue lines. Viewing their somber faces, I intuitively felt students’ dawning awareness of similarities in the lives of their friends and classmates. One of the facilitators shared her challenging life story of abuse and neglect. Students sat agape, eyes transfixed as her startling story unfolded.

Before lunchtime we were assigned to family groups of 4 or 5, two boys and two girls. With guidance, each was ready to share something heartfelt in my group.

  • My parents fight all the time and I think they might get divorced.
  • I don’t know who my dad is and my mother left. I live with my aunt and cousins.
  • My mom died last summer and then we had to put my dog to sleep.

Tears flowed. Each group leader doled out Kleenex tissues.

There was share time, with scenes similar to this photo clip from a Challenge Day video in Michigan, which appeared on Oprah’s website.

ChallengeDayVideoOprah

Most of the students who grabbed the microphone at Mandarin Middle confessed to prejudice or bullying and then publicly asked for forgiveness. More hugs and tears.

The day closed with students writing a thank you note to express gratitude to a special person in their lives. Most chose their mothers. One girl in my group wrote two notes!

* * *

Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John are co-founders of the innovative Challenge Day program and the Be the Change Movement. Rich is a former high school teacher and championship wrestling coach. Yvonne is a gifted speaker, educator, and program designer.

Mark Twain joked, “When a child turns twelve you should put him in a barrel, nail down the lid and feed him through a knothole.” I’m suspicious of the quote because I couldn’t find the attribution on http://www.bartleby.com, a website I trust. Yet, these lines survive in pop culture as does its sequel: “When he turns sixteen, seal up the knothole.”

The leadership at Mandarin Middle School, including my son, doesn’t believe this quip. And neither do I.

 

  • Have you heard of this program or one similar to it?
  • How have you made a change, major or minor, in your life?

 

Coming next: Are You Too Big for Your Pot?

Snow Falling on Anchor Road

Every single memory of snow in my childhood is pleasant. Sparkling flakes in luminous free-fall as I look out the kitchen window. Snow festooning evergreen boughs. Then bundling up in snowsuits, knitted caps, mittens. Getting out the sleds.

After more than one snowstorm, Aunt Ruthie grabbed her movie camera and trained her sharp eye on some big, tall sledders who went coasting down the hill from our house to Grandma Longenecker’s.

Then she captured our anticipation of trumping through nearly hip-high snow and finally (my favorite) Mother pulling my sister Janice and I on the Flexible Flyer sled along Anchor Road.


Another parent and daughter are observing the snow in The First Snowfall by American poet James Russell Lowell, a poem I remember Mother reciting.

FirstSnowfall1

Mabel marvels at the beauty of the snow and inquires of its origin . . .

First Snowfall2

. . . but as the father’s replies to Mabel, he remembers the snow which hides the scar of another child’s burial plot.

FirstSnowfall3

Then Mabel feels her father’s gentle kiss, a kiss she will never know was intended for the daughter beyond his touch. The last stanza leaves Mabel in child-like wonder, her father in pensive grief.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.03.34 PM


This post began with snapshots of fun in the snow and ended with a reflection on loss. But snow can be the setting for other memorable events: a frolic with friends, a car accident, a marriage proposal (I’ll save that for another post!)

You probably have memories of snow, recent or long ago. Here’s your chance to share them.

Hallowe’en: the Village, Valdemort, and a Video

Ten years ago grandsons Patrick and Curtis were one-year-olds at Hallowe’en. In October 2004 they lived far away from us in Chicago. Fortunately, their parents captured snapshots of them in costume, Curtis a pumpkin and Patrick, Tigger, both in store-bought outfits, unlike my own get-ups, which were always homemade as shown in my Hallowe’en post last year.

Curtis as pumpkin_2004_1000

Patrick_Halloween Tigger_2004_1031

Last weekend, among the children dressed as Muggles, Dumbledores, or Valdemort, Patrick and Curtis  chose to attend the “Harry Potter” Sunday Symphony sans costume. Only Curtis wielded a wand, which caused a wee bit of trouble amidst the spider webs.

 PatCurtPotterSymphony

*  *  *

Students at Rheems Elementary School grades 1 – 8, though familiar with Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Ichabod Crane” and perhaps Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” could not have anticipated J. R. R. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series.

Though Rheems was no School for Hogwarts, our village school had its own version of The Sorcerer’s Stone and the Goblet of Fire in the Deathly Hallows of the school’s basement, made ghoulish by the upper grades who created scary events with “eye” grapes in bowls, ghostly recorded voices among the hay-bales, and an illuminated skeleton.

Students raided closets and attics to conjure up costumes for the Hallowe’en parade, the culmination of visits to the House of Horrors in the basement of the school. My Mennonite aunt, also my teacher Miss Longenecker, initiated much of the fanfare that marked all the holidays, both the sacred and the secular. Here she has recorded our annual Hallowe’en parade, including the stumbles and falls!

Quote of the week by Erma Bombeck:

A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.

Your Hallowe’en memories — a scary tale? a memorable outfit? The conversation starts here.

Coming next: What’s for Dinner: Dried Beef Gravy and . . .

Just for Fun: Signs Around Town

Signs . . . they’re everywhere . . . billboards in the city, stickers on cars, comments on Facebook. I found some wise ones in a novelty shop, on a car, on a piece of paper, on a writer’s sweat shirt. Some you’ve seen before. Others, I hope, are new. Silly video at the end!

SignHappy Childhood

Quotation now thoroughly engrained in pop culture from the Tom Robbins’ novel Still Life with Woodpecker, an un-fairy tale with princess Leigh-Cheri and outlaw Bernard.

WAIT_Do Not Throw Away_sign_5x3_150

“Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” a popular NPR broadcast on Saturday mornings . . . what we do at traffic signals, the post office, a doctor’s office. . . counsel from the Lord we resist hearing:

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Psalm 27:14

DriveTextSign

“I won’t fix my car until YOU learn your lesson,” this driver insists.

SignLifeKnocksFlat

Easy to say — until it actually happens to you!

pigsFly

Favorite come-back of my colleague, Dr. Laura, when students plead for a better grade.

Yes, pigs actually DO fly at the Ole Country Buffet in Valdosta, Georgia (Cliff on the road)

SignCarefulNovel

Her sweat shirt warning vengeance, I watch my step around Jennifer, a writer friend.

 

 

Question Mark w border1_1x1_300

What quotes on plaques or signage have you seen around your town? Somewhere else?

Inquiring minds have to know!

 

 

WaitingForSign

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Killarney Shamrock_modified_02    This post first appeared March 15, 2013 now published again to celebrate the wearing of the green!

It’s a long way from Lancaster county, PA to Jacksonville, FL, but years ago our family moved into a neighborhood called Killarney Shores with street names like Emerald Isle Circle, Leprechaun Court, and St. Patrick Lane. On the day of Ireland’s famous saint, I give you my story of keeping it green:

The lurid orange zoning sign meant something, stuck ominously at the edge of the woods where our children used to roam freely up and down the deep ravines and along a serpentine creek bordering the neighborhood. I have always loved natural beauty, so it is no surprise that one of the items on the wish list for our next address was “a house on a hill with tall trees.”  A hill with tall trees–a laughable request especially since most of Jacksonville is flat with palm trees bordered by the beach. But our prayer was answered–a huge corner lot with 17 magnificent laurel oak and live oak trees, romantic symbols of the Deep South, nestled in a secret cove just blocks off a busy boulevard.

Yet there was much to fear that November day when I spotted the land use / zoning sign: The memory of the terrorist attack on our nation on September 11, 2001 still overwhelming our minds, our community had to address an encroaching menace much closer to home: Our rural, residential zoning status was being challenged by big box Wal-Mart, who wanted to build a  Super Center (gasp!) in the woods 200-feet from our homes. This would threaten the woods our children had played in, close to the burial site of our family dog, and near a lake by which we moored our canoe, Killarney Queen.

First, we had to find out what was going on. There were trips to the Planning and Development Department downtown with my good buddy Ann. If we are going to fight Goliath, the behemoth of retailers, our tiny neighborhood of 65 homes had to be educated. When we weighed in as opposition during the first City Hall hearing, dozens of residents responded to my hastily printed green fliers, some out of curiosity, some with animosity, but all with concern for the preservation of the quality of life in our secluded neighborhood. I, along with my neighbors, became familiar with a strange new vocabulary:  Land Use Amendment Application, Planned Unit Development, Rezoning Ordinance.

Neighbors opened their doors to strategy-planning meetings, furnishing refreshments and dishing up good-will. Residents from up-the-hill met those from around-the-circle . . . . as we joined hands in consensus. Even our councilwoman joined in, assuring us she would have a decision to develop the rural residential area into commercial uses deferred and deferred and deferred. We hired a City Planner for big bucks to “give us credibility.” On April 11, 2002 we had a showdown with the Walmart bigwigs, their cool, professional presentation countered by our-best-we-could-do foam-core display. Residents packed a school auditorium, wearing shamrock buttons that read “Keep it Green.” My neighbor Richy recently diagnosed with kidney cancer came to show his support. We all listened to Wal-Mart’s company staff show-and-tell session, which extolled the merits of the store to the community, implying the layout would make their 215,000 square-foot presence virtually unobtrusive. However, when our council-woman took the stand, we were in for the biggest let-down of all:  “Really, you’d be better off if you let Walmart develop the land. The company has big bucks and can make loads of concessions to you. Why they’ll even make a big retaining pond with a lovely fountain to enjoy as you drive by. What if an adult entertainment facility buys the land later? Or a huge liquor store?  Then where would you be?” To rub it in, the Wal-Mart people asked for some of our shamrocks, “to show solidarity in pursuing the green,” they said.  Green? Green like money?

images-4_as is    In the end, the journey toward a resolution was a zig-zaggy path of uncertainty fraught with the unexpected. It was truly Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. But we were bound together to face our common foe. The St. Johns River-keeper became a new friend, a neighborhood advocate from a nearby community coached us to anticipate possible next “moves” from City Hall and Wa-Mart. The Florida Times-Union ran progress reports, the local TV station featured us on an evening newscast. The process proceeded with fits and starts: rapid action following by long waits. At the final meeting at City Hall, for example, we signed in at 5:30 p.m. and were heard by the formal City Council at 12:45 a.m.  Though the decision for land use was ruled in favor of Wal-Mart, our community gained thirteen concessions, including 4.7 acres of conservation easement to compensate partially for the additional impact on traffic and loss of wetlands. And the fountain!

images-8_2x2in

Of course, there is more concrete and asphalt next to our beloved woodlands, but our community will never be the same. We have learned the importance of team-work to meet an outside challenge, and in the process have become true neighbors.

Yes, Kermit the Frog, is right:

“It’s not that easy being green;

But green’s the color Spring.

And green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain,

Or tall like a tree.

When green is all there is to be

It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why?

Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful!

And I think it’s what I want to be.”

     When we moved in years ago, Killarney Shores was very WASP-y, with the origin of many residents reflective of the street names. Now we share care, concern, and meals with Burmese, Bosnian, African-Americans – folks of all colors, a lovely palette of skin tones; white mingles with tan and mahogany. Symphony member, handyman, business owner, retirees live side by side. And if an outside threat strikes again, I have no doubt we will present a united front.

Rainbow_as is

Yes, green is important — very important. And in these times of awareness of our earth’s fragility, it is important to preserve, to recycle, even to restore our resources. But even more important is learning to value of community that can exist in all neighborhoods, all citizens of our planet and residents of a close-knit community with families from around the world.

Do you live in a neighborhood where there you have noticed changes recently? In the last few years?  How have these changes affected you?

Tell us your story.

KermitFrogDreams

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Killarney Shamrock_modified_02    It’s a long way from Lancaster county, PA to Jacksonville, FL, but years ago our family moved into a neighborhood called Killarney Shores with street names like Emerald Isle Circle, Leprechaun Court, and St. Patrick Lane. On the day of Ireland’s famous saint, I give you my story of keeping it green:

The lurid orange zoning sign meant something, stuck ominously at the edge of the woods where our children used to roam freely up and down the deep ravines and along a serpentine creek bordering the neighborhood. I have always loved natural beauty, so it is no surprise that one of the items on the wish list for our next address was “a house on a hill with tall trees.”  A hill with tall trees–a laughable request especially since most of Jacksonville is flat with palm trees bordered by the beach. But our prayer was answered —  a huge corner lot with 17 magnificent water oak and live oak trees nestled in a secret cove just blocks off a busy boulevard.

Yet there was much to fear that November day when I spotted the land use / zoning sign: The memory of the terrorist attack on our nation on September 11, 2001 still overwhelming our minds, our community had to address an encroaching menace much closer to home: Our rural, residential zoning status was being challenged by big box Wal-Mart, who wanted to build a  Super Center (gasp!) in the woods 200-feet from our homes. This would threaten the woods our children had played in, close to the burial site of our family dog, and near a lake by which we moored our canoe, Killarney Queen.

First, we had to find out what was going on. There were trips to the Planning and Development Department downtown with my good buddy Ann. If we are going to fight Goliath, the behemoth of retailers, our tiny neighborhood of 68 homes had to be educated. When we weighed in as opposition during the first City Hall hearing, dozens of residents responded to the hastily printed green fliers, some out of curiosity, some with animosity, but all with concern for the preservation of the quality of life in our secluded neighborhood. I. along with my neighbors, became familiar with a strange vocabulary:  Land Use Amendment Application, Planned Unit Development, Rezoning Ordinance.

Neighbors opened their doors to strategy-planning meetings, furnishing refreshments and dishing up good-will. Residents from up-the-hill met those from around-the-circle . . . . as we joined hands in consensus. Even our councilwoman joined in, assuring us she would have a decision to develop the rural residential area into commercial uses deferred and deferred and deferred. We hired a City Planner for big bucks to “give us credibility.” On April 11, 2002 we had a showdown with the Walmart bigwigs, their cool, professional presentation countered by our-best-we-could-do foam-core display. Residents packed a school auditorium, wearing shamrock buttons that read “Keep it Green.” My neighbor Richy, recently diagnosed with kidney cancer came to show his support. We all listened to Walmart’s company staff show-and-tell session, which extolled the merits of the store to the community, implying the layout would make their 215,000 square-foot presence virtually unobtrusive. However, when our council-person took the stand, we were in for the biggest let-down of all:  “Really, you’d be better off if you let Walmart develop the land. The company has big bucks and can make loads of concessions to you. Why they’ll even make a big retaining pond with a lovely fountain to enjoy as you drive by. What if an adult entertainment facility buys the land later? Or a huge liquor store?  Then where would you be?” To rub it in, the Walmart people asked for shamrocks, “to show solidarity in pursuing the ‘green’,” they said.  Green? Green like money?

images-4_as is    In the end, the journey toward a resolution was a zig-zaggy path of uncertainty fraught with the unexpected. It was truly Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. But we were bound together to face our common foe. The St. Johns River-keeper became a new friend, a neighborhood advocate from  a nearby community coached us to anticipate possible next “moves” from City Hall and Walmart. The Florida Times-Union ran progress reports, the local TV station featured us on an evening newscast. The process proceeded with fits and starts: rapid action following by long waits. At the final meeting at City Hall, for example, we signed in at 5:30 p.m. and were heard by the formal City Council at 12:45 a.m.  Though the decision for land use was ruled in favor of Wal-Mart, our community gained thirteen concessions, including 4.7 acres of conservation easement to compensate partially for the additional impact on traffic and loss of wetlands.

images-8_2x2in

Of course, there is more concrete and asphalt next to our beloved woodlands, but our community will never be the same. We have learned the importance of team-work to meet an outside challenge, and in the process have become true neighbors.

Yes, Kermit the Frog, is right:

“It’s not that easy being green;

But green’s the color Spring.

And green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain,

Or tall like a tree.

When green is all there is to be

It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why?

Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful!

And I think it’s what I want to be.”

     When we moved in years ago, Killarney Shores was very WASP-y, with the origin of many residents reflective of the street names. Now we share care, concern, and meals with Burmese, Bosnian, African-Americans – folks of all colors, a lovely palette of skin tones; white mingles with tan and mahogany. Symphony member – handyman –business owner–retiree live side by side. And if an outside threat strikes again, I have no doubt we will present a united front.

Rainbow_as is

Yes, green is important — very important. And in these times of awareness of our earth’s fragility, it is important to preserve, to recycle, even to restore our resources. But even more important is learning to value the brotherhood that can exist in all neighborhoods, — all citizens of our planet and residents of a close-knit community with families from around the world.

Do you live in a neighborhood where there you have noticed changes recently? in the last few years?  How have these changes affected you?

Tell us your story.

KermitFrogDreams