Monday, August 27, 2012

A book beckons

Are you a reader? 

If so, how often do you read? What do you read? What determines what you read?

For me, it has varied by the seasons in my life. 

When I was very young, my mother read to me—classic children’s stories and poems found in thick Whitman volumes and thin Wonder and Little Golden books. Once I could read, it was Dick and Jane, Dr. Seuss, and whatever I found of interest in my school’s library.

Later, when paperbacks were offered for sale though the school “book club,” I took great delight in making my own choices, and it was then that I started what has become a lifelong hobby—creating my own library. Those first grade school acquisitions, which I still have, though tattered and musty, include books like “Double Trouble for Rupert,” “Toby Tyler or 10 Weeks With a Circus,” “The Trolley Car Family,” “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” and more. 

The high school additions include such things as “The Catcher in the Rye,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “The Sea Around Us.” 

It was toward the end of my teen years that I discovered a book that moves me deeply and an author whose work still touches me and inspires my career today. Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” flew into my life and he still hovers nearby, pushing me toward my goals. 

If my library were cataloged chronologically according to the timeline of my life instead of by the Dewey Decimal System, which helps me find what I need in an instant, the next books on the shelf would be my college textbooks, as for a few years they were all I found time to read. 

Okay, you’re right. It’s all I made time to read.

Later, as I was raising a family, I added things that I could read in short spurts, authors like Erma Bombeck and Robert Fulghum, and books on parenting or inspirational and self-help volumes. A good dose of laughter and motivation is healthy for any parent, I think—don’t you?

As my kids grew older, I returned to college and rediscovered a buried passion for the history of my home state, Illinois, its authors and stories. When the last fledgling left the nest and I had time for pleasure reading, I read some novels here and there, and started reading books on writing—and practicing myself the craft that had held me mesmerized since I first saw letters on a page. 

Along the way, I began my studies of my hometown author, Carl Sandburg, and home state president, Abraham Lincoln. 

Works about Sandburg and Lincoln were almost all I read for a few years, until Bach’s work came back into my life and consumed it until I’d read all of his books through yet another time. 

These days, though, with all of my books finally out of boxes and on their shelves after renovations and a move that had my treasured volumes out of reach for almost two years, my reading is more diversified than ever in my life. 

I’ve joined a book club, which meets at a nearby winery once a month and has me reading books I’d never read otherwise—novels mostly.

But, in the past year, I’ve also read a couple of young adult novels. (Check out Richard Paul Evans’ Michael Vey series, if you haven’t already.) I’m reading classics I always meant to, such as “The Great Gatsby” and “Siddhartha.” I’m re-reading books about the craft of writing and reading some new books on social media and customer service.  

Recently, one of my book club friends got me hooked on a great little volume, “The Noticer,” which gave me a good shot of perspective and has me itching to read as many biographies as I can. 

How much do I read? That, too, varies. It’s the first thing I do each morning and the last thing I do each night—at least an hour most days, not counting the news stories and blog posts I read for my work as an editor.

What do I read? Almost anything these days—and as I sit in my reading chair looking at the wall of books in front of me, I wish I could figure out how to read several at once, like one of those split-screen televisions that lets you watch more than one sporting event at the same time. 

So many words just waiting to touch and to teach …


Gotta go. 

A book beckons.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

No more first-day jitters

We all had a good laugh this morning—my husband and I and the friends who were here for a visit. 

Hubby, a new retiree, recently filled out applications, submitted documentation and underwent the appropriate checks for his next career—as a substitute teacher in a nearby school district. 

The school board was to meet this week to place its seal of approval on the new subs, so it wasn’t a surprise this morning when my hubby received a call asking him if he could teach today.

What was a bit of a surprise was the phone number, which began with our old area code. Before he answered the caller’s “Can you come in today?” question, he asked, “What school district is this for?”

It turned out the caller was from a district not far from our old home in Illinois. My husband lives and is licensed to teach in Missouri. He laughed and answered, “I am registered to substitute teach, but I live in Missouri now. “

And we all got a chuckle when we learned of the caller’s response, as she joined in his laughter, “I guess you probably can’t make it in time, then, can you?” 

She’d misdialed the number she meant to enter.

The good thing for Hubby is that the first-time anxiety has passed. If he never gets a call from the local district to help in one of its classrooms, at least he can always look back and remember the day he got called to sub almost a school day’s drive away.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Oh, deer—not another one

About twenty years ago, I spent many an evening traveling a stretch of highway from Galesburg, Illinois to Arsenal Island in the Quad Cities—and back again. 

The first half of the trip was never much trouble. I’d leave my job in a supermarket in the ‘Burg while it was still daylight, swing through a nearby fast food restaurant, eat as I drove, and wind down from a hectic day on the way to class.

Coming home was different, though. 

It was dark. Work, school and studying had caught up with me, and I was tired. The radio helped to keep me awake and—after one eventful evening—watching for deer helped to keep me alert.

It happened that one of my great-aunts passed away during my time as a Western Illinois University extended degree student, and her visitation was at a Quad Cities-area funeral home. I met my parents after class that evening, paid my respects, and traveled with them to a cousin’s home. When it was time to leave, my mother rode with me, my aunt and uncle followed in their car, and my dad rounded out the caravan in his. 

About 15 minutes out of the Cities, I noticed that my uncle’s lights had gone out and he was pulling to the side of the road. I pulled over. My dad did, too.

We learned a large deer had crossed in front of my uncle, pushing the front of his car nearly to the windshield and rendering the vehicle unusable. Fortunately, no one was hurt that evening. Even the car was later made operable again by some body shop magicians.

My husband and I have had our share of deer mishaps, too. 

Once, returning from an Illini game in a nearly new 1976 Grand Prix, a deer decided to dance with our vehicle as my husband and his buddy neared the Knox County line on Interstate 74. 

Another time, driving to a meeting with a customer somewhere in West Central Illinois, hubby took to the ditch to avoid a doe out on an early morning jaunt. 

And, just a few years ago at dusk, only a couple miles from where we lived in McLean County, a doe ran across the road so quickly we could not miss her. We lost a headlight in that mishap.

But, if we thought we’d seen deer in Illinois, we soon learn we “hadn’t seen nuttin’” like we were going to see in Missouri. We’ve been vacationing at the Lake of the Ozarks area in Central Missouri since about the time I was making those jaunts to that Quad Cities island and, through the years, we’ve seen our share of deer. 

But, since I moved full-time to my current Missouri home a few months ago, I’ve seen more deer than I saw in Illinois my entire life. They seem to be everywhere. 

It’s not the same, though. These deer are different. Illinois deer get big—real big. They run fast—real fast. They’re sneaky—real sneaky. You never know when they’re going to play a game of hide and seek or chicken with you. 

Missouri deer are like nothing I’ve seen before. Because they’re not corn-fed, like their Illinois cousins, they’re smaller—a lot smaller, especially this year, when the drought has left them foraging for food, including in the flower pots around my house. They’re slow—much slower than Illinois deer. It’s nothing for one to just saunter across the road, as if saying, “You can wait. I’ve got the right of way.” And, sneaky they’re not. 

These deer are predictable. It’s a pretty sure thing that you’ll see them at dusk, you’ll see several traveling together, and they’ll just stop, look you in the eye, and dare you to let them have the road. 

Because of this, I’ve learned to drive slower on the road to my home, travel in the evening only when I really have to, and to be even more diligent about watching for the four-legged creatures than I was on those Illinois evenings two decades ago. 

The other night, I tarried too long at my computer and had to make an evening trip to the grocery store—something I avoid these days as much as I do those deer in my headlights. 

Coming home, just as the sun was about to leave the sky, on the hard road a couple miles from my home, I saw a deer. I looked for her companion, but didn’t see it. Then, in the oncoming lane, I saw an SUV, almost at a stop, as I was. Right in front of it was deer number two. 

“Yep, I though. There’s the other one.” 

That deer stood in place while I passed. Hopefully, it eventually moved to let the SUV by.
A few yards later, I took the fork in the road, drove less than a quarter mile, and saw in the field off to the right four more deer grazing on what little grass was left. 

I looked from right to left as I continued down the road, got about another half mile, and saw two more off to the side of the road. 

That made eight deer at about 8 p.m. on a stretch of road less than a mile long. 

These days, I don’t watch for that one big deer that might cross my path. 

Instead, I’m diligent always, eyes darting side to side, especially at dusk, and if I see one deer, I think to myself, “Oh, dear, there must be another one.”

Or more... 

There almost always are.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Because of you, I am

Did you ever stop to think of all the people who make you who you are— the ones who touch your life in ways small and large, across time and distance?

As my husband and I settled in our new-to-us home this summer —the one where we plan to grow old together, we continued to see touches of our parents, grandparents, daughters and grandkids throughout the house. Things like a quilt, an old typewriter and crock, an often-played game connected us across generations.

There are bits, too, of each of us— things that celebrate who we are, both separately and together, but that’s a post for another day. 

Just this evening, I put all but the last few items in place in my home office. As a writer and editor working full-time from home, it’s important for me to have a space where I can think, create, and wrangle with words, both mine and others. Just as a carpenter needs a good level, I need tools of my trade—a computer, a comfortable desk and chair, and a couple of style guides. 

And, for my passion, the study of regional literature and history and of Abraham Lincoln, I need more than a few book shelves and a pretty substantial library—organized so that I can put my hands on any volume in minutes. 

Yes, my library is cataloged, by the Dewey Decimal system, within each collection. Uh-huh, I know they have a word for that.

The books have been in place for more than a week now, as have the desk, the computer and a floor lamp shaped like a pencil. As I’ve sifted through boxes from the old house over the past few days, I continued to find things that made my office feel a little more mine each day. 

Some of the things I put in place were essentials—a cup full of pens, pencils and markers, a desk tray filled with paper clips and the like, notepads and sticky notes, and a coaster for my beverages—coffee in the morning, water in the afternoon, an adult beverage from time to time in the evening.

Others were those special touches that say, “This is Ann’s space.” Some things, like the pencil sharpener shaped like a cash register, a lace potpourri satchel and a pencil cup from friends who have passed away, and the white board of inspirational quotes I kept handy as I wrote my first manuscript, were only packed  up for a short time. 

Finally, this week, I added to my office many treasures that I haven’t seen for more than a year. 

A little more than 16 months ago, I left a corporate job where I worked from a cubicle each day. Within that space were things that were special to me, most of them because of other people—photos of my kids and grandkids, an apple-shaped clock and a candy bowl from friends I once worked with at a grocery store, a crocheted coaster from one customer and a counted cross-stitch saying about a hug from another, a leadership award from a fellow Toastmasters officer—and a whole lot of things about Abraham Lincoln.  

It’s amazing how, when people learn that you have a passion, they have a tendency to fuel it. On my office shelves are prints and statues of Lincoln, handwritten and hand-stitched quotations, a page about Lincoln from a devotional booklet, Lincoln trivia from a Cracker Jack box, and special Lincoln gifts in commemoration of my retirement. 

Each of this gifts or pieces of memorabilia defines, in some way, the person I was along the way and the one I am today. But, even more than that, almost without exception, the things surrounding me in my office connect me to the people I’ve met along my path, people whose lives have touched mine and made me “me.” 

Because of them, I am. 

In the same way, as I sit down at this keyboard each day, the words I put on paper—virtual or real, are because of you. 

It seems to me there are two things that motivate all writers—having an insatiable need to work with words and hoping that someone else will read what we write. 

It’s why I do what I do.

Because of you, dear reader, I am.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012 
 (Image via)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I can see clearly now

I can’t imagine not …

My worst fear is …

When I was a young teenager, I stumbled across an insurance application. On the app were listed the values policyholders would receive if they lost or no longer had the use of certain body parts or functions. Some losses were compensated more highly than others, based, I suppose on the value the insurance company actuarial staff had determined they were worth.

The gears in my young mind started turning and I began to imagine the scenarios spelled out on paper. What would my life be like without a finger or foot, a leg or an arm, hearing or sight? I thought of the people I knew or had seen who amazed me with the way they seemed to live perfectly normal lives in spite of disabilities—incredible people. If they could do it, I could, I guessed.

But, as I got to the end of the list, and thought about the value of my sight, this last scenario suddenly became much more frightening. Now, looking back, with no paper in front of me to jog my memory, I can’t remember the value the insurer placed on sight, but I knew that moment that no amount of money could compensate me for the loss of that sense.

Without my sight, I couldn’t read. From the moment I first saw my mother turn the pages of an old, well-loved copy of “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” words on paper and the way they played together on a page were among my greatest joys. Once I was old enough to read books myself, I was more content nestled in the branches of our big willow tree with a bucket of books than I was doing anything else. And, as I began to write, I liked how I could sometimes make the words dance together. 

Last month, I went to the eye doctor for an exam. I’d been feeling a little eye strain. I went through all the tests—“tell me when you see the light,” “read the smallest row of letters you can see,” “is this better or this?”, “1 or 2?” “3 or 4?” 

Two weeks later, my new glasses arrived. I looked at the chart the technician handed me. Everything was blurry.  I could not read it at all. When I expressed my concern, she assured me that sometimes the change in prescription was difficult to get used to and that I should wait a couple weeks. 

So, for two weeks, from the time I awoke and donned my glasses in the morning until I took them off at night, I tried “to get used to” them. 

In the meantime, my eyes, much more strained than they’d been before I went to the eye doctor, hurt every single hour of every single day. I read what I had to so that I could do my work as a writer and editor. I tried to read the newspaper, online news sources and a novel at bedtime, but for the entire two weeks, using my eyes was so difficult, so painful that I began to wonder if I’d ever be able to read or write again without pain. I began to not want to use my eyes—so not me.

I, the one who is rarely without a computer, a book or reading something from a smartphone, could not wait to finish my work and lower the lash-fringed shades over my sockets.

There’s one thing I need to do my job, to do what I love, to read and to write—my eyesight. 

“What if they can’t fix it?” I wondered. “What if they can’t make it better? What if I can’t see?”

Right then and there, I knew that for me, that imaginary checklist I’d run through as a young teen was spot-on. Of all my limbs and senses, I do think I’d adapt, even now, losing all but one—my eyes.

I can’t imagine not being able to sit down and read a good story. 

My worst fear is not being able to see to put words onto a page. 

Fortunately, when I returned to the eye doctor’s office at the end of two weeks, it turned out my prescription was wrong. It was missing the bifocal I needed to read lines of text. 

My sight was going to be okay after all. 

I heaved a big sigh of relief, put my old spectacles back on while I waited for the new glasses to go back to the lab for corrected lenses, and did what readers and writers do—read again from my smartphone in the morning, scanned news feeds, wrote and published stories during the daytime, and sat down with a book before I went to sleep at night.

Even better, I sat down at my computer and began to blog again. I also heaved a sigh of thanks for the sense that for me is reminiscent of those over-imitated credit card commercials—priceless. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)

Monday, August 6, 2012

I’m staying put

A few years ago, some friends of ours – people like us, who are youth of the sixties now in their sixties – moved from one home to another. As a recent move was for my husband and me, it wasn’t their only relocation in the past couple decades, and as we did, they moved about 40 years accumulation of ‘life stuff.’

They, too, completed a number of renovations to make the home their own.

As they had their home almost in order, I remember one of them saying something like, “This isn’t as easy as it was when we were younger. We’re not moving again until we have to move to the retirement home.”

At the time, I thought, “Aw, c’mon. You’re not old. Don’t start talking retirement home already.” 

Over the past two years, my husband and I, with lots of help from family, friends, moving muscle, and renovation guys, have rehabbed two homes, sold one and moved to the other. 

I am sure that in the past four decades, my husband and I were much less diligent about sorting through and letting go of things we accumulated than our friends were – though as the time to move got closer the letting go got easier. 

We closed on our “old” home at the end of April and I moved to our new one. Because my husband wasn’t retiring until the end of June, he stayed behind in a small apartment for a couple months. As soon as we received the offer on our former home, we began moving things bit-by-bit to the new one. I put what I could away as I could, but was held back on doing all I needed to do because of the not-then-finished renovations. 

I bought and assembled shelves for our storage areas, even sorting nuts and bolts by size into their little transparent plastic drawers. 

But my not-so-small library, the books I use to study my passions and practice my trade, stood boxed on the bedroom floor, teetering a bit where one box was larger than the one upon which it set.

Within the past two months, I’ve painted, we’ve had flooring and carpet replaced and bookshelves put in place, and I’ve unpacked more boxes that I care to admit. My blogging, unfortunately, took a back seat to pulling our home together. 

Finally, I can put words on paper again instead of paint on a wall. I’m looking forward to that.

I suspect we’ll never truly be “done” with all the things that make a house a home and give order to the chaos and clutter accumulated over a lifetime, but the crucial and cosmetic interior changes are completed. The bulk of the boxes are unpacked. The majority of the paintings hang on their new walls. 

And, I feel as if making this next declaration  is saying “I’m not as young as I used to be,” but I think I do agree with our friends. 

They’re right. This moving stuff – it’s not so easy any more. 

I may just stay put until I’m ready for the “young folk’s” home. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

(Image via)