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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Candy Man

The first time I met Sam, I was in the midst of my strength training routine. As I strained and sweated to lift the weights just a few more times, he came around the corner and – extending an old-fashioned doctor’s bag toward me – said brightly, “Would you like a piece of candy?”

I stopped what I was doing and peered into the open pouch on the side of his bag to find a multihued assortment of hard candies. I smiled and asked, "Are there butterscotch discs in there?”

“Oh, yes … I’ve got those,” he said with confidence as he dug his hand into the bag and plucked out a golden disc.

“Thank you!” I said, with the giddiness of a child surveying her haul on Halloween night.

He turned to leave, then stopped and glanced at the weights I was using, “You know those come in lighter versions.”

I laughed.

I soon learned his very appropriate nickname - Sam the Candy Man. I also learned what a treat it is to watch him work the room of fellow ‘Silver Sneakers’ exercise classmates, offering them candy and bringing joy to their faces.

Outgoing and jovial, his response to the question “How are you, Sam?” is – with 99.9 percent certainty – always a hearty “Super Darn Whoppin’!” And, as if he has planned it because he knows I love them, there is always a butterscotch disc sitting atop the array of sweets when he extends his bag to me.

I do realize there are a couple rules being broken with this story. The first time I was approached by Sam, I did – in fact – take candy from a stranger. The very opposite of the rule we drill into our children’s brains.

Second, the candy is being distributed and accepted at a fitness club where, it seems, most people would be working to thwart the effects of such sweet temptations.

But, these broken rules are countered by the simple happiness and feeling of camaraderie his smile, his kind greeting, and his sharing of a small piece of candy bring to my day.

Today, Sam was wearing a shirt with the caption “SAM-tastic!” splashed across the front. I wholeheartedly agree. And, to that I would add “Sweet”.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Wish I'd Thought of That!

Clever, that Jon J. Muth. I'll admit, I have yet to read the Caldecott Honor-winning Zen Shorts, which came before Zen Ties. But, I suspect it's just as brilliant.

Mr. Muth subtly introduces young children to haiku in this engaging tale. The main character, Stillwater (a rather large talking panda) has a nephew named, Koo. When he meets him at the train station, he says (you can all say it with me if you see where this is going!), "Hi, Koo!" So, so clever. And, Koo only speaks in haiku ... yep, he's got 17 syllables to say his peace. And, I have to say ... he is very artful with those 17 syllables!

Not all may agree with me, given that there is a lot of dialogue in this children's book ... but, I tend to write that way too, and love how well the dialogue works in this book.

Not only does it introduce the concept of haiku in such a clever way, but it has a beautiful message of compassion and respect ... without being overtly didactic.

And the watercolor illustrations ... well, they are simply mesmerizing. Vivid, yet sweet, with a nostalgic feel. They captivated and entertained my almost-4-year old even while I was explaining the Hi Koo / haiku wordplay to her! :-)

I highly recommend Zen Ties ... and am now looking forward to reading Zen Shorts!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Picture in Perseverance

per⋅se⋅ver⋅ance  [pur-suh-veer-uhns]
–noun
1.steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
2.Theology - continuance in a state of grace to the end, leading to eternal salvation.

Perseverance has, in many ways, become my personal motto. When people ask me how things are progressing with regard to my writing career and what it is like compared to what I used to do in the corporate world, I often respond that I have been learning the art of perseverance and patience.

Not long ago, I wrote about some significant changes that took place in the green space behind our house and backyard. In order to add power lines, the electric company first had to eliminate all the blackberries, bushes, and wild plants; then, piece by piece, they took down two incredibly large maple trees.

After the hard labor was complete, what remained was trampled ground, primarily consisting of wood chips.

But, two weeks ago, I was standing at the kitchen sink when a burst of color caught my eye. Just beyond our fence, a beautiful, bright sunflower had bloomed amidst the wreckage.

Now that's perseverance, I thought. It's not the grandest of sunflowers, but it survived nonetheless and blossomed at just the right time.

A great reminder for me that - with hard work and perseverance - good things will bloom.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Herman ... A Fish Tale

Last week, hubby and I took the kids to the stunning Bonneville Fish Hatchery in the equally-impressive Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Before actually going there, I would have never guessed I would be referring to a fish hatchery as 'stunning'. But, it is. The grounds are simply gorgeous. I walked around clicking pictures and commenting continuously on how beautiful everything looked.

The main attraction, however, is not the landscaping. It is Herman the Sturgeon. I couldn't help but think how perfect a character Herman would be for a children's picture book.

While myths abound, the true facts about Herman are limited in number, but staggering to the mind:
  1. Herman the Sturgeon is over 10 feet long.
  2. He weighs in at over 450 pounds.
  3. He is over 70 years old.

My son and daughter thought he was a riot. As he nonchalantly swam by, my son waved; while my daughter excitedly showed him her Pet Shop pups ... ya know, just in case he was in to that kind of thing.

As for me ... I'm still wondering about the picture book possibility. Looks like I've got some research in my future!

Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers - Part 2

** Story continued from previous post **

My bike pack didn’t fit correctly on the new bike, so I rigged it as best I could to the front frame and set off.

It was exhilarating. The towering pines. The still-cool, fresh air. I had been biking for only 10 minutes, not realizing that my bike pack was working its way loose from the frame.

Without warning, the pavement was approaching at warp speed. I put both hands out to meet it, attempting to break the fall and protect my head. Seconds later, I was flat on the ground, the bicycle partially perched on top of me.

I attempted to get a sense of what had happened. The bike pack was lying on the ground under the front wheel. It had fallen into the front spokes as I whizzed down the path, stopping the bike in an instant and hurtling me to the ground.

A man and his son biked by slowly. The young boy looked concerned and I heard him quietly ask his dad if I was okay. “Are you alright?” the father asked.

“Sure, yes … I’ll be fine,” I automatically responded.

I caught him glancing back at me, apparently not convinced. But, he continued on.

There was a hole in my favorite Nike workout jacket. And, the pavement had clearly won the fight in multiple places along my arms and hands.

I picked up the bike pack, then the bike – it had apparently escaped injury by landing on me. Something wasn’t right. I noticed a horrible pain searing through my wrist and up my arm as I lifted the bike. I put it back down, and attempted to lift it with the other hand. Same result.

I attempted to stay calm, but couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that I had, apparently, injured both of my arms in the fall, was bleeding, and still needed to get home.

No problem. A few turns and I would be back to the house in no time.

The homes of Sun River are laid out in a repeated Circle 8 kind of design. You can easily end up looping around the same neighborhood if you don’t know exactly where to turn. But, I knew where I was going. I wasn’t terribly worried.

Until I realized that I was looping around the same neighborhood … unfortunately not the one occupied by the house I was staying in.

By this time, I wasn’t feeling well. I was steering with the hand and arm that hurt the least. The other, which I couldn’t move at all, was holding the wretched bike pack.

I was feeling light-headed. I noticed two men, maybe 7 houses ahead of me, on their bikes. It looked like they were slowing down, heading for one of the houses at the end of the cul-de-sac.

I stashed away my pride, prayed that they weren’t crazed lunatics, and yelled, “Help … please!”

It came out as a squeak.

I yelled again and kept pedaling. Still not loud enough.

I yelled a third time. They had heard me. They got off their bikes and came toward me. “Are you hurt?” one of them asked, an obvious look of concern on his face as his eyes quickly scanned over torn clothing and bloody patches of skin.

The other simply said, “You need to get to a doctor. Are you staying around here?”

They placed my bike in the trunk of their car as I told them the address. Within a few minutes, we were there. Unfortunately, my friend and her aunt were not.

They decided to try the small, local medical office in Sun River. Our shoulders slumped as we read a sign taped to the door, explaining that the office was closed for Memorial Day weekend. They offered to take me to the hospital in Bend.

I convinced them that my friend and her aunt would be returning from their walk soon. An 8-month pregnant woman couldn’t get too terribly far!

Sure enough, as we drove up the driveway, they walked up to the house – looks of question and concern plastered across their faces as they watched me exit this unfamiliar car as the bike was removed from the trunk.

I shared a measly, but heartfelt, “Thank you so very much” with these two men who had been so kind, so concerned for the well-being of a complete stranger. Did they miss out on exciting plans while shuttling me around? Hard to say … they never uttered one word about their missed opportunities, only words of concern that I find the care I needed.

My friend and her aunt drove me to the hospital in Bend; then proceeded to spend their precious vacation time waiting with me in the emergency room. It was a long day of x-rays and exams, and my very pregnant friend endured hard plastic chairs as she waited. She uttered not a single word of complaint (though, I’m certain she was dreaming of the oh-so-soft and supportive chairs she could be sitting in back at the house!). She helped me with hospital paperwork (my wrists/hands were useless!) and – upon arriving at home – even washed and dried my hair (again with the useless hands).

In the weeks that followed, my husband got to experience washing and drying my hair while my wrists healed to the point of being usable again. I remember no words of complaint from him either (though I do remember a few complaints being uttered by yours truly about hair styling … poor guy!).

An unfortunate turn of events became a personal experience in true kindheartedness, with no strings attached … from strangers, from friends, from family. And for that, I am thankful.