Reading is a gift

My sister and I weren’t particularly close growing up, but she gave me the best gift I’ve ever received when I was four years old.

She taught me how to read.

My grandmother had already laid the foundation by teaching me the alphabet. One sunny August day I helped Grandma decorate her grade school classroom in a small Minnesota town. I was assigned the job of neatly taping each of the brightly colored letters to the walls while sounding them out.

A few weeks later, my bored eight year old sister Nancy peered at me through her blue rhinestone glasses and decided to lead me to the basement for my first reading lesson.

It was a rainy afternoon and the room smelled musty and of heavy spray starch.

Mom was ironing Dad’s shirts nearby while watching her favorite soap, “As the Word Turns” on our black and white console TV.

But she abruptly rushed over and turned down the volume when she saw us. Mom sensed something important was about to transpire.

“Now sit down, and pay attention,” Nancy instructed me as I slid into one of Grandma’s old cast iron and walnut desks saved from a prairie one room school house where Grandma had taught previously.

My sister then placed a dog eared copy of her favorite ‘Dick and Jane’ book into my hands.

We read the book together, with me slowly sounding out each syllable and every word on the pages.

In just an hour, Nancy deemed me a reader. Just like her!

And I still am a reader today.

My sister now lives in Colorado Springs, but we communicate frequently. Our calls and emails are often full of book recommendations.

And on her visits back home to Minnesota, we always visit bookstores as unfortunately there are none left in her town.

On my recent birthday, I realized it’s been more than five decades since I received that special gift of reading from Nancy.

I just opened the gift she sent.

It’s a chain, with a tiny turquoise bound book hanging from it just waiting to be read.

It seems our love, and a mutual love for reading is a gift that still binds us today.

If I could talk to the animals

I’m no expert, but sometimes I think animals were put on earth to send us messages.

Take Floyd here, for example. I don’t know his real name but that’s how I greet him every time I walk past the bookstore window. He lives inside along with a couple of roosters and an occasional chinchilla.

Floyd looked quite disgusted at me early this morning and directed me over towards the gardening book display and a message.

“Dig in!” the sign proclaimed.

My friend Floyd’s right as usual. After our recent rains, my weeds are totally out of control.

Yet I dismissed his advice and continued walking towards the lake and through the park’s gardens.

That is until I noticed the ornate statute in front of me, with thick clouds behind as a backdrop.

Right atop the statute was another sign just for me from the animal kingdom.

This time from the noisy resident blackbird.

I call him Billy.

So Billy, perched on that old masterpiece, kept bobbing his head up and down. First, towards the ominous cloud, then down towards the exact location of my cottage.

I got the message and traveled home to pull my weeds before more raindrops give birth to the first mosquito.

I surely don’t need that tenacious creature bugging me with his biting comments.

Ooh la la!

In my quest to learn more about aging with joy, I’ve been known to pick up a book or two.

Though never before from the children’s section.

Yet one morning a photo of a children’s bookshelf appeared in my newsfeed. It was taken at Battenkill Books in Cambridge, NY.

One sweet book cover immediately caught my eye because of the little white dog and older French woman shown running beneath the Eiffel Tower.

I picked up the phone and ordered a copy of the book, “Madame Martine” by Sarah S. Brannen.

With my own little white dog Rex on my lap this chilly morning, we read it cover to cover.

I was hooked as soon as I read the very first words in the jacket, “Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes to help you see things differently…”

“Thank you, Rex,” I whispered as I scratched my newly adopted boy’s hungry belly.

The book tells the tale of how the French woman was stuck into a rigid routine before meeting up with her new pup, Max.

But now with their partnership, “Every Saturday they tried something new.”

I looked down again at Rex. He looked up at me.

“Hey buddy, did you know it’s Saturday?” I asked. “How about a road trip?”

Perceiving a nod, we trotted off to the best French bakery in the city to share a buttery baguette.

I’ve been meaning to stop in the place for years.

“Ooh la la!” I barked as we pushed open the door, and I finally realized all that I ‘d been missing.

What’s a wrinkle anyway?

I looked at my dry skin and growing wrinkles in the mirror last Saturday.

And then the cruel temp on my thermometer, hovering around zero.

I felt old.

I didn’t want to go anywhere.

But my conscience got in the way.

I’d signed up to hear a local author and publisher speak at the local library.

With the nasty weather, I figured few would show up. Yet I was sure the librarian would be happy if any warm bodies would make the drive.

So I put on my winter uniform of mismatched scarves, mittens, and boots for the trek.

When I arrived, I found the talk was being held in the senior center of the library.

And it was packed, in spite of the weather.

Luckily, I found a seat way in back.

Surveying the group, I noticed I looked different than the rest.

Not because most were older, but the members of this crowd were more vibrant than me. All elegantly dressed in smiles, make up, and brightly colored sweaters.

I sank lower in my chair wearing faded jeans and a salt stained black sweatshirt as the crowd members warmly greeted each other.

The first speaker soon stood up to address the crowd: A publisher (and author) who’d retired from a distinguished career with an independent literary press.

At seventy the woman, Emilie Buchwald, started an encore career publishing beautifully illustrated children’s books focusing on the human-animal bond.

And now at age eighty, the woman still reigns as publisher of the press.

The publishing icon then introduced her good friend, a writer she has worked
with closely with over the years.

Her 81 year old friend, Faith Sullivan, has a new book “Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse” that’s been listed as one on the top ten fiction books of 2015 by the Wall Street Journal. And she’s currently working on a few more.

Chatting briefly with the publisher and author afterwards, I was in awe of their wisdom, exuberance, and collective creative minds.

And also their finesse in aging gracefully.

I have so much to learn.

After arriving back home, I loaded up on face cream, and looked again at my wrinkles.

But this time I smiled at what I saw.

I’d been reminded that getting older can be an incredible gift after all.

Little Miss Corgi

I’ve been thinking my corgi, Maddie, needed a sweet treat.

She’s been a trooper this fall, buzzing around the yard in spite of the lameness of her back legs.

“Hey girl, I’ve got something special for you,” I proudly announced.

I placed a dog eared copy of the late Tash Tudor’s book “Corgiville Fair” in front of her.

I’d just picked it up at the used book store thinking we’d read it together to my dog crazy 3 year old grandson. I’d lost my first corgi’s copy several years before.

Maddie sniffed each colorful page I turned and looked very excited.

At least initially.

But her smile disappeared as I closed the book and continued to do yard work.

It seems Maddie really thought we were going to a fair where corgis rule the county.

I felt guilty as I kept raking the falling maple leaves with Maddie looking so downtrodden.

After a while, I went into the kitchen to check on my baking in the oven.

I then walked out to the backyard with a slice of warm apple pie for Maddie.

Her sweet smile returned, wider than before, as she licked her bowl clean.

Including that deliciously fragrant dollop of cinnamon ice cream I’d added.

Maddie now knows, even if she’s never named Miss Corgi at a fair, she’ll always be the reigning queen of this household.

Dreaming of EEEs and ZZZs

I believe many of the best things in life are free.

Or at least pretty close.

I woke up this morning knowing I should drive into the city and catch up on a few projects at work.

But I’d already reserved a spot in a e-publishing class at the library.

I knew it was my one big chance, and there was no cost involved.

Organizing my posts into a book about family members with memory loss has been on my bucket list all year. I’m hoping my experiences may help a few others.

Once I arrived in the classroom, it didn’t take me long to realize I’d made the right choice.

A dozen of us sat in a half circle eagerly listening to a former publishing house editor and self published writer. My fellow classmates were as energetic as the instructor, each with their own unique story.

One was a tanned golf instructor who’d like to share her technical expertise in a book for her clientele.

Another, a gentle gray haired woman anxious to tell tales of family members serving in the military.

And finally a savvy senior who has several books in print, but is now ready to jump bravely into the new e-world.

I left with many learnings and websites to study from our teacher’s shared wisdom and rich group discussions.

And also with more confidence than I carried in hours before.

Our library even bestowed each of us with the parting gift of a brand new hardcover.

It’s titled, “A Reader’s Journal,” where I can record recommended books.

I do plan on reading some tonight, then turning in early knowing I’ll now be working Sunday.

But I’m hopeful for pleasant dreams, with me writing that last book chapter.

And perhaps even one day seeing a few readers recommend my book in their own journals.

Beauty in the books

I admit I’m a little cranky.

The last couple of days have been full of notaries, fax machines, broken copiers and phone calls with conflicting information.

And I’ve just made my fifth trip to the UPS stores in three days trying to finish up small estate paperwork for my husband’s and parents’ accounts.

Humidity and storm clouds overhead aren’t helping my mood any either.

I decide to seek temporary refuge at a garage sale on a quiet street lined with maples and mature oaks after spotting a sign.

I pull up to a small house.

I recognize the cottage next door as a 100 year old doll house my husband and I’d looked at 23 years ago.

Now remodeled and expanded, the host of the sale’s telling me the value’s now six times what it was two decades before.

Times do change.

But I smile.

They did a nice job that took a lot more than sweat equity to accomplish.

Entering the sale, I’m looking for winter jackets for my grandkids but soon I discover this sweet home belonged to an older woman who’d recently passed away.

I’m about to leave, but I’m correctly pegged by the woman’s daughter as a reader.

“My mom was a librarian and there are plenty of books downstairs”.

I try to be strong. My bookshelves are sagging already.

But I admit, I am weak.

Especially when lured by the mantra of, “Only 5 for $1.00!”

As soon as I glance at the shelves I see the late owner of these works and I are kindred spirits.

The first book I spot is a touching tale about a husband and his wife with Alzheimer’s.
I think of my parents’ relationship. And mine with my late husband.

I pick it up.

I add to it a European memoir I started a few years ago but gave to my sister for her book club before I had a chance to finish it.

Then I grab an old book from the top shell.

It’s a dusty volume of Robert Frost poems.

My English teacher mom would have loved that one.

Though heavy, I add it to my stack.

It’ll be perfect with a cup of hot chocolate on a chilly winter’s night in the months ahead.

I next grab a different memoir written by an author and college professor my dad so loved. I’d meant to keep the copy once kept in my parent’s house, but neglected to grab it in the rush to sell the place once he passed away.

Turning the corner I notice when glancing at one special shelf that the librarian loved animals, particularly cats and dogs.

I spot several books offering special stories of relationships between dogs and their owners.

Reflecting briefly on the dogs that have come and gone in my own life, I decide to grab two.

I also see cat poetry, cat photo books, and short stories with kittens as the main characters.

And one intriguing book about a feline named Dewey who lived in an library in Iowa.

I add it to my stack in honor of the librarian and move over to the travel books.

Paging through them’s like revisiting my own memories of favorite family trips taken to Cape Cod, England and France.

But soon I’m distracted again as I uncover yet another treasure.

It’s “The Travels of Babar,” an old children’s classic about a French elephant written and illustrated by Jean de Brunhoff.

I smile thinking of my once 12 year old daughter and I laughing hysterically as we washed off ‘gifts’ from pigeons flying overhead after our first Central Park carriage ride together. We wanted to look ‘presentable’ as we entered a fancy midtown art gallery.

My daughter had joined our family from Russia three months before and was excited as we were to enter a show displaying the elephant illustrations created by de Brunnhoff.

But my daughter was even more excited as she was presented with her very first Babar book by the gallery owner.

I pick up the Babar book before me now to give to my own seven year old granddaughter.

I hope she is just as excited.

Finally, I navigate up the stairs with my heavy stack of books to pay the librarian’s daughter.

I thank her for the great memories and thank her for the great books.

Walking back to my car I notice my mood has lifted as have the clouds.

I smile again, knowing It’s going to be a beautiful day after all.

Barnyard in a bookstore

Thinking I needed to step up on my ’50 by 60′ bucket list, the first thing I did today was trip over a chicken.

A live one.

The big bird was dancing on the carpet of a bookstore, right by the front door.

Just like your local Walmart greeter.

This special shop is designed for the very young.

And the young at heart.

I guess that would be me.

I’m stopping by each of the independent bookstores within an hour radius that I’ve never entered before.

And in this particular bookstore I found the chicken had plenty of company.

I spotted cats, a couple of cooing doves, hairless mice, ferrets, and one big litter of kids in overstuffed chairs.


There may have been even more critters, children’s books and kids downstairs.

But I was just too chicken to go there.

Amazingly the store was spotless except for the mud I tracked in from my pink flip flops.

I became very excited when I encountered several of my favorite authors’ books, and I pulled down an extra special one from the shelf.

The chicken greeter walked right up to me, also excited as the book’s about a farm with animals.

Even though this is one big city bird.

But I still thought we’d be fast friends, and he’d surely want to sit right up on my lap.

Maybe even have me tell him the story.

That is, until he saw my camera.

And then read me the riot act with a round of cantankerous clucking.

Turns out this foul mouth bird prefers little kids to big, aging chicks.

But when I looked over my shoulder while exiting, I believe I caught him reading.

And he seemed to be really be enjoying the book.

Along with a young boy.

I smiled, happy the chicken had a new friend.

Even if it wasn’t me.