Come on over to my house!

One of the most interesting things to do is watch the faces of children. They are so transparent. And, being kids once ourselves, we can empathize with whatever they are feeling.

At a family gathering last year, I think something happened that favored Charlotte for some reason, and my daughter-in-law, Sarah, started laughing because she was watching Caroline’s expression at that moment. Sarah, who grew up with a younger brother, said she knew that face, and knew that she herself had sported that expression many times growing up.

At another time a few days ago, I didn’t see Caroline’s expression because I wasn’t there, but I wish I could have seen it. She had a good friend from school over to her house. It sounds like they had a great time, playing, dressing up, making pizza, etc. When the girl’s father came to pick her up, the girl didn’t want to leave. Here is how 5-year-old Caroline described it in her blog:
Once upon a time when I was five, my best friend Judy came over. The first thing we did was go into my closet and wear some costumes. I wore Big Bird, and Judy, my best friend, wore the bear costume - Bear in the Big Blue House. I loved that. We danced around and soon I wore Bear in the Big Blue House and Judy didn't wear any other costume.

Judy and I had lots of fun after that, Then we made pizzas. Then when the pizzas were finished, my mom put them in the oven. While we were waiting, we jumped in the bouncy house. Then Mama said, "Lunch time! Lunch is ready!" And Judy and I went up to have our pizzas. They were certainly yummy! And I loved them! And Judy did, too.

Then after lunch, we went sledding. After a few sleds, I was on my belly holding onto the handle bars of one sled. When I was almost to the bottom of the hill, my face slammed down onto the sled. One of my top teeth came very loose, and my gum was bleeding. It hurt really bad.

Then I went inside and had a popsicle. Judy did, too. Judy made me feel a lot better since she's my best friend. When Judy finished her popsicle, she wanted to go back outside again.

I said, "Okay, but I'm not going outside, but I'm not going outside, because I don't feel well enough to go outside."

Then Daddy said, "Why don't you go outside and watch?"

I said, "Okay, but I'm not sledding."

I went outside and watched for a while. Then my Daddy came outside and tried sleds on two way bigger hills. There were branches, and my Daddy almost got blind.

Just then, Judy's dad came in his truck. When the truck pulled in, Judy faced backward away from the truck and folded her arms across her chest.

Then when her Daddy said, "Come on, Judy!", Judy said, "I'm not leaving," still with her arms folded across her chest, but she had turned back facing her Daddy now.

"Yes you are," said Judy's dad, and they went on arguing back and forth, back and forth, until Judy went away. But Judy forgot her shoes. My Daddy waved went out and waved them at the truck. He brought them to the truck, and Judy was happy.

I imagine Caroline was so proud - proud of her mom, who helped them make pizza, proud of her dad, who went out sledding with them (even if the branches were out to get him), proud of her sister, proud of her house and her toys, and especially I can imagine a satisfied smile on her face when her friend didn’t want to go home.

There’s a certain vulnerability in having a friend visit your home, especially when you are younger. My sister Joy and I grew up in a very small ranch house, all four of us using one tiny bathroom, Joy and I shared a bedroom, and the kitchen was so small that it was crowded with two people in it. Our toys were limited. We realized that a lot of our friends’ families were financially a lot more well off than we were. One of my friends named Debbie lived in a very fancy house in a neighborhood built around a beautiful lake (with ducks!), and when she showed me her attic, it was full of board games - just like a toy store - all the games I’d seen advertised on TV but never owned. She had two sisters and each child had her own room. It was so much fun spending time at her house!

But do you know what? I had an ever greater time when she came over to my house. I was never embarrassed that most of my toys weren't brand-name, or that I shared a room with my sister. I was always proud of my parents, too. I always considered them to be interesting and entertaining in their own right, just different enough from other parents to make them special. Our home movies (which is another thing none of my friends had) show Debbie and me at the Mid South Fair, just two friends, no distinctions, having a blast with my sister and my parents.

Yes, it’s vulnerable when as a kid you invite someone into the most personal of all spaces, your home. You are giving them an opportunity to judge your taste in decoration, your fight against clutter, the size of your living area, your financial status, your neighborhood, the kind of food you eat and how it is prepared, and especially your parents and siblings. I still thank my parents today for the fact that I was always excited to have a friend come visit - because I thought I lived in the most awesome family in the world. If I had any part in creating that same atmosphere for our kids as they grew up, I am content. (You’ll have to understand I’m in a reminiscent mood, as my “baby” Matthew turns 26 years old today! Happy birthday, Matt!)

We Are There

If you had asked me any day in the last 2 weeks what my evening plans were, I would have said, “I hope they finally drop The Bomb.” Before you send me to the mental hospital for a long overdue checkup, I must explain: Ed and I are in the middle of the book Truman by David McCullough.

I am a great lover of history, and know more American history than world history, but still I knew precious few things about Truman before we started the book. The main thing I knew, of course, was that he made the decision to drop the first atomic bomb. Events in the book are escalating toward that end, but we’re not quite there yet. For some reason, I want to get that part over and get on with it. It was an event of such magnitude, a decision of “no turning back,” a tragedy of enormous proportions, a military decision over which some people agonized and about which some people never thought twice. It is uncomfortable to read about over half a century later.

McCullough is an award-winning writer, and his talents have drawn us into the story. We are right there when Truman campaigns, when his opponents denigrate his naivete and humble beginnings, when he marries his childhood sweetheart, when he is elected to the Senate, then the Vice Presidency, and finally “inherits” the top office when Franklin D. Roosevelt dies. We are right there in the room when he is talking to Churchill and Stalin. And we will be right there when The Bomb is dropped.

One of the reasons some people hate history (and I love it) is that the reader already knows what is going to happen. That takes the fun out of reading for a lot of folks. It’s similar to the year we had no TV and had our daughter tape the Super Bowl for us, and we watched it a week later, all the time knowing who had won - that was indeed not as exciting as watching it in real time. So what if we know that Truman will take over when Roosevelt dies? There are still questions - how did he find out? What was his reaction? How did he deal with the transition? How did it change his family life? How did he cope with being suddenly thrust on the world stage at a pivotal moment in history?

I approach history differently than some. I like the fact that the word “story” is included in the word history, because that is exactly what it is - Lincoln’s story, Truman’s story, your story, my story. So far, science has not unraveled the possibilities of time travel, so this is the closest we will come, it appears. If you can find a good story - and a good storyteller to impart it - well, that’s one of life’s pleasures.

I just want them to drop The Bomb soon, so I can get over this horrible feeling of knowing something dreadful is about to happen. It’s one thing to read in textbooks the dry scenario of facts; it’s another to be right in the middle of everything as it unfolds minute by minute, with all the accompanying angst and foreboding that a good writer can muster.

The main thing I learned from reading history aloud to Ed is that all of our personal life stories have meaning and are worth telling - not just those of famous people. The other thing I learned is that my being in the medical field does strange things to reading aloud - and it’s frustrating when Truman is in important secret communication with Roosevelt and “statin.”

Soap Nuts

I have recently discovered a unique, and super-cool way to wash clothes.. SOAP NUTS! I had read about them a few times, but I just could not conceive of them actually working. Well I was wrong, they DO! I had been reading about them again on Debra's List and decided to give it a whirl. I ordered my Soap Nuts from Milkweed Mercantile, and they arrived at my door 3 days later. It made me giggle when I read that the Nuts were distributed by a business only 20 miles from my house!

Soap nuts are the shells from the fruit of Sapindus mukorossi, "The Soap Tree", grown in Northern India and Nepal. When the shells are added to water, the natural saponins (that's the stuff in soap) are released.

So GO NUTS! Try them for yourself!

Edited to add: There are several trees out there in the big old world that have berries with saponins. As such, there are other brands that will clean your laundry. This blog is my own personal experience. Please don't comment on my blog with an advertisement.

More technical information can be found here: Soap Nuts Information Page

A Different World

I was once asked if I ever had my grandchildren in mind when I blogged, sort of creating a legacy for them into Grammy’s mind that they can enjoy as they get older. Yes, I do think that’s a part of this endeavor. And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how my world as a child differed from their world as children - and how the journey to simplicity will in some ways be easier for them and in some ways much, much harder.

To Caroline (5) and Charlotte (3):

When I was a little girl, things were different than the lives you are living now. Take the telephone, for instance. We only had one telephone, and it was hooked by a cord to the wall. I had to stand by the phone and talk. I couldn’t move around, I couldn’t talk from the bedroom or bathroom, or talk sitting on the couch, relaxing. I had to stay right by the wall, and could go only as far as that cord would reach. There was no way to go in another room and talk privately. Everyone could hear the conversation. The telephone had what’s called a rotary dial instead of a keypad. This meant that instead of punching the number buttons, I had to stick my finger in a little hole, hold it down in the hole, and turn the circle dial until it turned all the way, then release my finger from the hole and let the circle dial rotate back around again. I had to do that for every single number!

Oh, and we didn’t have cell phones either. I couldn’t call anybody from the car, the grocery store, or the restaurant. There was nothing like a phone with a camera built in, and there was certainly no text messaging. On top of that, we had no answering machine! Can you imagine that? If someone called and we weren’t home, they would just have to call back later!

We had TV, but it was not in color; it was black and white. There was no such thing as cable or satellite, so we could only get 4 channels. Guess what - there was no remote, either! To change the channel or volume, I had to actually get up from the chair, walk to the TV, and turn another dial, then go sit back down.

We couldn’t record a TV show if we were going to miss it or wanted to see it again. There were no such things as VCRs or DVDs. To see a movie, we had to go to the movie theater, which is something we couldn’t afford to do very often. Occasionally the TV stations would play a movie, but they weren’t new ones. To see The Wizard of Oz, for instance, we had to wait all year until the TV station decided to play it. Can you imagine having to wait a whole year to see your favorite DVD?

We didn’t have a clothes dryer, either. We had a washing machine, but how do you think we dried our clothes after they were washed? Have you ever heard of a clothesline? It consisted of two poles several feet apart, and in between the poles were a few wires stretched all the way from one pole to the other, and it stood in the backyard. We would take the wet clothes in a basket and stand at the clothesline and use things called “clothespins” to attach each piece of clothing (or towels, sheets, etc.) to the wires. Depending on the weather, the clothes would be dry in a couple of hours or maybe longer, and we’d take the empty basket into the backyard and remove the items from the clothesline and take them back in the house. The clothesline was directly under some trees, so guess what we found on some of the clothes? Bird poop! Yuck!

The microwave hadn’t been invented yet for average people. We couldn’t heat up lunch or make some popcorn without some planning, for all that had to be done on the stove. We had no dishwasher and no bread machine.

We did have a refrigerator and freezer, but the freezer part was not like it is now. An ice layer would build up on the walls of the freezer, and get thicker and thicker, until Mama had to take everything out, “defrost” it and start over. Ice was made in trays. We couldn’t get ice or water from a hole in the refrigerator door.

Cameras were different, too. They used something called “film,” and after we took a few pictures, we had to take the film out of the camera and take it to the store to get it “developed,” which means the store would take the photographs off the film and print them off, just like you can do on your printer. If we took a bad picture, we couldn’t delete it from the film, unfortunately. I didn’t take as many pictures as I do now, because film costs money and I had to use it wisely. It was a very special thing to have a camera when I was young. Our dad took "video," but back then, there was no sound, only pictures.

There was no such thing as a CD. If we wanted to listen to music, we used record players. The record was round and flat like a CD, but it was a lot bigger, and we put the record on what was called a turntable, which turned the record around and around at a certain speed, then we took what was called an “arm” with a “needle” on it, placed the needle on the record, and music came out as the needle went around the grooves. By the way, we had a radio in the car, but, of course, no CD player and no iPod.

I saved the most terrifying thing for last. We had no computer and no Internet. Yes, that’s right. Can you believe it? If we wanted to find something out for homework, let’s say, what year a famous person was born, or the names of different kinds of clouds, we had to go to a set of books called encyclopedias. There, everything was listed in alphabetical order. Sometimes a set of encyclopedias consisted of 30 books, so as you can imagine, they were very expensive. If a family was lucky enough to own a set of encyclopedias, those books were probably old, because most families couldn’t afford to get a new set after the first set was out of date. This is why we used the library a lot - their encyclopedias were newer than ours.

I couldn’t blog, couldn’t play computer games, and there was no such thing as “e-mail.” If you wanted to mail someone, you had to send it through the post office with a stamp on it. There was no computer to store pictures digitally, so people just put their photographs in scrapbooks or shoe boxes. There was no computer, so there was no iTunes from which to download music. If I wanted to type something, I had to use something called a “typewriter,” which was kind of like a keyboard and printer in one machine. I had to hit the keys with my fingers, just like on a keyboard, but then little metal letters would hit a piece of paper in the typewriter through a ribbon that had ink on it, and the letters would appear on the paper. If I made a mistake, though, there was no delete key, and I had to fix it another way. It was a real pain.

So see, the things you take for granted are things that, as young girls, Aunt Joy and I didn’t have. There are some things, though, that still are the same. We used pencils that look the same as most pencils do now - a stick of wood with a point of lead and an eraser on top. We had spiral-bound notebooks for school, crayons, toothbrushes, Kleenex, and toilet paper. We had board games and bikes, cereal and ice cream, and cartoons on TV. On the other hand, we still had to do our homework, clean up our room, set the table, eat foods we didn’t like, and learn how to share. Some things just never change!