Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!


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Blindness

What do singer Bree Noble, radio announcer Marty Lancer, and resource teacher Ron Freitas have in common? All three are blind.  I read their stories, and the stories of fourteen other blind people in “The Little House That Cares”.  I was stunned and inspired by their courage and fortitude.  They were honest about their struggles and jubilant about their victories. I read that book in humble admiration.  I’m always griping about my 20/400 eyesight, and bemoaning the fact that I’m “blind”.

I’m not a complete stranger to real blindness though. For some years now, my mom has been legally blind due to macular degeneration. I travel to visit her once or twice a year, and I’m amazed at how well she does with very limited eyesight. And I’m grateful for the resources available to her through the “Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired”  She is always showing me some little helpful gadget she got from the “VIPS”

Catchy name – VIPS. I was thinking about my mom one day when I was out for a walk. I was making a mental note to call the Arizona Talking Book Library, and put some books on mom’s list. Suddenly I noticed the cutest little house set back from the street. It had a nicely landscaped yard, wheelchair access, and a big sign on the front near the peaked roof: VIPS: Visually Impaired Persons Support.  Right here in my own neighborhood.

I made up my mind to pop in one day and just chat with the people there; maybe get some tips for mom, or how ideas of how I can support her.  But time got away from me…

Then one day my friend, Ruth McKinsey, came to my house and showed me the book she had helped edit for the VIPS.  What a surprise! I’ve known Ruth for years, and I knew her daughter was blind. But somehow I had never really put it together, or thought about her possible involvement with VIPS.  The main thing I know about Ruth’s daughter, Bree, is that she’s an amazing singer.

I eagerly bought a copy of “The Little House That Cares”.  Some of the accounts are better written that others, but every one of them had a story that held my interest. I read straight through the book.

What would it be like to be completely blind?  The question haunted me.  How do you suddenly learn to read Braille or walk with a cane if blindness overtakes you quickly, as it did with a couple of the people in the book?  I stood up from reading and closed my eyes and tried to walk into the kitchen to get a drink of water.  But I couldn’t do it.  I immediately got disoriented and nervous.

It gave me an idea though. I would buy some of those eye patches and make myself blind for a day – or an afternoon.  I really wanted to see what it would be like.  I decided that I’d stop by the VIP house, and see if I could get some tips or ideas from one of the people who had written stories in the book.

I told John about my upcoming experiment and he urged me to wait till he was home so he could help me.  Most of the people in the book have faithful helpers or caregivers.

I was really excited. We went to Wal Mart and got the patches. John’s vacation was coming up.  But I still needed to talk to a blind person and get some tips.

Then the phone rang one Friday afternoon.  “Hello, Andrena? My name is Ron Freitas. I got your name from Ruth McKinsey…”

“Oh my gosh, I know who you are!  It’s so nice to talk with you! I loved the story you wrote in the VIPS book.”

Ron told me he’s considering a more in-depth book, and he wanted to talk to me about editing and publishing help.

I told him I’d be glad to look at his manuscript, and I told him about my planned day of blindness. A former resource teacher for the city schools, Ron was almost as enthusiastic as I was.  “Come over to my house for a couple of hours,” he offered, “and I’ll give you some tips.”

I was nearly dancing around the kitchen in excitement.  A completely unsolicited offer of just the kind of help I had been wanting!  John had been listening to my side of the conversation from his office, and he stuck his head out the door with the most flabbergasted grin on his face.

So Ron and I made plans to meet the following Monday…

To be continued

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Travels With Charley

In 1939 John Steinbeck won The National Book Award for The Grapes of Wrath, a truly American novel.  But about two decades later he felt that he had lost touch with his country.  He wrote “I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir… I had not felt the country for twenty five years…So it was that I determined to look again, to try to rediscover this monster land.”

It was 1960, a time before the elaborate campers and motor homes we have today, but Steinbeck had an idea. He wrote to the head of a truck manufacturing company and specified his needs. He wanted a sturdy three-quarter-ton pick-up truck with a “little house” built on the back.

And in this “rig” he would take to the road, in search of America.

On the side of the camper, in sixteenth century Spanish script, Steinbeck painted the name, Rocinante.  This was the name of Don Quixote’s horse, which he rode on his great quest. And so John Steinbeck set out on his own great quest.

And just as Don Quixote took faithful Sancho Panza as his traveling companion, John Steinbeck chose his own traveling companion with care. He would travel with “an old French gentleman poodle known as Charley…He is a very big poodle, of a color called bleu, and he is blue when he is clean…If he occurs at length in this account, it is because he contributed much to the trip. A dog, particularly an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers. Many conversations en route began with ‘What degree of a dog is that?’ ”  

And Charley was indeed the ice-breaker in many conversations with people they met over the next three months, as the exotic dog and his master traveled more than ten thousand miles through thirty-four states.

Our family read this book for the first time about 15 years ago, and it gave us the dream of taking our own Rocinante Trip some day. Steinbeck talks about this; the longing he saw on the faces of so many people he met on his journey. So many people with a desire to get up and go. Somewhere. Anywhere.  The Paladini Rocinante trip is still being planned, and still far in the future, but in the meantime it has been fun to travel again with Steinbeck and Charley, through the pages of their journey across America.

From their home in Long Island they headed north just after Labor Day, traveling through the beautiful New England fall colors. Then, avoiding major freeways, they drove across the northern states towards Oregon, and turned south to follow the coast down to Salinas, where Steinbeck grew up.  John and I listened to the audio book recently, and John said he felt sad when finally, leaving California, Steinbeck turned east and headed homeward across the southern states. My husband had been so involved with the story that he personally felt the journey was coming to a close.

It would be hard for me to say what part of the book was my favourite. The last time I read it I put at least twenty pink stickies on pages to mark passages I like. But there were even more than that.

The book is filled with really lovely stories about the people Steinbeck met along the way, and although not all of the people were lovely, every story has a point.

But not only does Steinbeck share personal experiences related to the people he met, but the book is full of thought-provoking essays about intangible things, both serious and funny.

Describing the various states, their nicknames, and their highway signs, Steinbeck writes: “We know, of course, that each of our states is an individual and proud of it. Not content with their names, they take descriptive titles also – The Empire State, the Garden State, the Granite State – titles proudly born and little given to understatement. But now for the first time I became aware that each state has also its individual prose style, made sharply evident in its highway signs. Crossing state lines one is aware of this change of language. The New England states use a terse form of instruction, a tight-lipped, laconic style sheet, wasting no words and few letters. New York State shouts at you the whole time. Do this. Do that. Squeeze left. Squeeze right. Every few feet an imperious command. In Ohio the signs are more benign. They offer friendly advice, and are more like suggestions. Some states use a turgid style which can get you lost with the greatest ease…Nearly all have abandoned the adverb for the adjective. Drive Slow. Drive Safe.”

There’s also a wonderful monologue – I guess it was actually a dialogue since he was probably having a discussion with Charley.  He took some pages wondering about what people think about when they drive?  I’ve never really thought about what I think about when I drive. But it made me think.

He talks about immigration, taxes, labor unions, politics, and law-enforcement. To name a few. In the South he meets head on, the issue of civil rights; which was red hot when this book was written.

Throughout the book he does quite a bit of lamenting about the so-called “progress” of super-highways, automation, and all the plastic-wrapped self-service that had come on the scene in the last twenty five years. I had to laugh at that. Since the book was published 50 years ago some of his commentary was, shall we say, dated.  Here in 2012 I find myself thinking, “I wonder what Steinbeck would say if he could see the way it is today?”

But whether his comments were dated or timeless, the book itself is timeless and classic. Steinbeck went “in search of America” and he captured it!

 


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Summer at Tiffany

It was the summer of 1945. Cashing in soda bottles, and saving every nickel they could get their hands on, Marjorie and Marty scraped together $40 for their round-trip train fare toNew York City. They were leaving Iowa, in search of a summer job and adventure!

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart was Michelle’s choice for the June book club read. In the past I’ve talked about our Ladies’ Literary League (Lalas).  This month was our 17th anniversary.  Over those years members have come and gone, but a couple of us have been in the group the whole time. Recently, to our delight, some of our daughters and daughters-in-law have joined us. The little girls who watched their mommies head off to book group are now reading mommies themselves.

It’s been interesting to see the difference in taste between our two generations.  The older women didn’t appreciate The Maze and the younger women were bored with Sea Glass. We all pretty much enjoyed Hunger Games, but the daughters liked it more than the moms. With those lines drawn, I was happily surprised when Summer at Tiffany got enthusiastic thumbs up from everyone.

“I just love that time of history,” Michelle gushed,  prompting a discussion about how individual and national values have changed in the last half century.  We were meeting at Michelle’s house, and she had decorated with Tiffany boxes and teal plates. She had sprinkled wedding confetti all over the counter, and strings of pearls decorated the coffee table. The pearls were our keepsake gift from the meeting, but, she told us,  unfortunately they were not real.

Summer at Tiffany is a straightforward memoir.  In simple, girlish language – “omygosh!” “HolyToledo!” – Marjorie Hart reminisces about that eventful summer. Some parts made us laugh so hard.

She talks about the frustration and disappointment of searching for a job, and hoping against hope that they would be able to find an affordable place to live. She talks about the thrill of being the first girls ever hired to work the floor at Tiffany’s; and the excitement of waiting on very famous customers who came in to buy china and jewelry. She tells about the morning an airplane crashed into the Empire State Building, something none of us even knew about.

The nation was at war. She writes about the moral quandary she experienced, knowing that so many Americans were making sacrifices for “the war effort” while she had opportunities to go “out on the town.” She writes about falling in love with a handsome sailor, and the heartbreak of losing loved ones killed in battle. One of the most exciting parts was the partying and pandemonium of Times Square on the day the war ended.

The book didn’t require very much of the reader. It was like a lovely, slightly thought-provoking, walk in the park.  It has some wonderful drawings and pictures of New York scenes and memorabilia.  We all cracked up at the picture of Marjorie’s W2 from her summer of work at Tiffany & Co.  She earned $220.00 and paid $24 in federal income tax.

My only complaint was that the author sometimes brought new people into the story, or referred to events that had no background.  It kind of left the reader hanging briefly, but as the story picked up again nothing was lost.  I was impressed that an eighty-three old woman could remember so many details and pull them together so charmingly. Definitely thumbs up all the way!


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Writing in a Book: a love story

I was leafing through a used book to sell in my online bookstore. It had a lot of underlining and notes in the margin. Hmmm…that meant I would have to describe this otherwise beautiful book only as “good”, rather than “very good”.

Sometimes messy writing and underlining completely destroys a good book. But sometimes intelligent, thought-provoking notes can make a good book even better.

I almost always make notes in my own books, but I hardly ever get rid of a book I have enjoyed enough to write in.

This train of thought took me to one of my favourite stories about writing in a book. I heard it years ago and I don’t know if it’s a true story. But I love it.  I hope you will too.

It was sometime during the days of the Second World War and Lieutenant John Jeffries was going to be shipped overseas for a long tour of duty. A few days before his departure he went to a used book store to pick up a few books to take with him. As he browsed the shelves, his choices were random and eclectic.

Several months later, thousands of miles from home and feeling very forlorn, John opened one of the books. It immediately captured his attention.  But what captured his attention even more, were the notes and underlines in the book. It seemed that the previous owner had been fascinated and interested in all the same parts as John himself. It was uncanny!  Reading on, John kept wishing he could have a conversation with the person who had marked in the book.

He flipped to the front of the book, and looked at the name and address carefully penned on a bookplate:  Catherine Abernathy, of such and such a street in Raleigh, New Jersey.

After some consideration, and feeling kind of silly and awkward, John wrote a letter to Catherine Abernathy in New Jersey. He explained that he had purchased the used book, and asked if she had written all the notes and underlined the passages in this book which bore her nameplate.

(Nothing ventured, nothing gained.)

Catherine wrote back in the affirmative. And so began a wonderful pen pal friendship.

For John, the dark days of the war were lightened with every letter from Catherine.  They talked deeply and thoroughly about every subject.  They agreed about most things, and had interesting, stimulating discussions about the things they did not.

John could hardly wait for his leave when hopefully he would have an opportunity to meet this amazing woman in person.

So far Catherine had refused to send him a photograph, saying she didn’t want looks to interfere with what seemed to be a very real and honest friendship.

Sometimes John considered Catherine’s point with instinctive nervousness. But he always pushed his discomfort aside, reminding himself that there are more important things than looks. Didn’t their letters prove how compatible they were in all the ways that really count? Did it really matter what Catherine looked like?

Finally, in May of 1945 John would be coming home! He and Catherine made arrangements to meet in Times Square. On such and such a day, she told him, she would be at the corner of Broadway and 7th Avenue. She would be there at noon, and he would know her because she would be carrying a book.

Lieutenant John Jeffries was only one of many handsome young servicemen basking in the glow of victory and bright sunshine that Sunday afternoon in late May. And wherever he looked, there were lots of pretty girls, ready to flirt with their heroes!

John was a little bewildered as he looked around, trying to catch sight of a girl or woman with a book. (He didn’t even know how old Catherine was!)

No books in sight – but plenty of smiles.

One of the cutest girls John had ever seen brushed up close to him and gave him a wink, and a smile.  “Hey soldier, goin’ my way?”

“Sorry,” John managed, “I’m meeting a friend.”  With some regret he watched the pretty blond flounce away with a swish of her sea green sundress, and a tap of dainty white sandals.

A few moments later he noticed a rather plain looking, middle aged woman sitting on a bench holding a book.  She had a nice face, but she was…well, rather squarish, and wearing what they call “sensible shoes”.

Reminding himself that looks are only skin deep, and reinforcing in his mind all the wonderful conversations they had shared in letters, John approached her. “Hello. Are you Catherine Abernathy?”  He held out his hand.

Squinting in the sunlight, the woman looked up at John through her wire-rimmed glasses. “I don’t exactly know what this is all about,” she giggled, holding the book out toward John, “but that blond woman in the green dress asked me to hold onto this book. She said if you come over and talk to me I should give you the book and ask you to meet her at that coffee shop there across the street.”


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Golden Memories of The Golden Book Encyclopedia

“The ink in the period at the end of this sentence has more atoms in it than there are people in the whole world.”

 The words opened up concepts I had never even imagined. I read on.

 “In a thimbleful of air there are more atoms than you could count if you lived to be a million years old.”  (I was currently eleven years old.)

I’d been snuggled up in the corner of the couch, reading, but I was so astonished by this new information that I got up and wandered around the house reading the sentences to anyone who would listen.

I was like Belle, walking around with my nose stuck in a book. That in itself wasn’t unusual, but said nose was usually stuck in a Nancy Drew or Judy Bolton book. In the summer of 1963 I broadened my world in every direction. I set out to read straight through all sixteen volumes of The Golden Book Encyclopedia.  And I did.

I read all the time and everywhere, but the memory that stands out most clearly in my mind, is taking my book and climbing up to the little tree house my dad had built for us in the cherry tree. It was a roofless structure with four-foot-high walls, and a couple of little windows. A fair distance up the hill from our house. I would lie on the floor of the tree house and read, and then look up through the branches and ponder. And eat cherries.

The books are long gone. But for some reason I’ve always remembered those exact words describing atoms. They sort of make the caption on my mental picture of the summer of the encyclopedia.

A few weeks ago John and I were at a library sale shopping for books for One More Chapter. Imagine my delight when I caught sight of the first volume of The Golden Book Encyclopedia! As I stood there and  thumbed through the book every picture brought back a shining clear memory. 

Sehnsucht.

From time to time I get an e-mail from someone asking about a particular book, trying to replicate a memory from their childhood. (“Does your book have a picture of such and such on the cover?”) Nostalgia.  I love it when I can send them the very book they describe.

As I reached the end of my new encyclopedia I realized that Volume One only covered Aardvark to Army.  I would need to find the next volume if I wanted to read about Atoms again. 

Now I was one of those people sending e-mails to booksellers, asking specific questions about a book from my childhood.

Volume two arrived a few days ago.  Arthur to Blood.  And there was the entry about atoms – word for word as I remembered.

And here I am again talking about it to anyone who will listen.

Post a comment and tell us your favourite book memory from your childhood.


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Reading Ramble

I have to stand on the file cabinet in my office to reach the top of my overflowing book shelves. There are at least a thousand books in this room and I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to organize them. They stay orderly  for about a week. John says it’s the second law of thermodynamics.

Every room of our house has filled, and fairly neat bookshelves; but my office has my own personal favourites — and books I think will someday become favourites. That’s part of the problem. I have the books arranged more or less in sections according to authors’ last names.  Daphne DuMaurier books are followed by Alexander Dumas. And Dorothy Sayers stands by John Steinbeck and Mary Stewart. Easy enough…

But one of these days I want to read  She Said Yes by Misty Bernal, so I have that book on a shelf.  But I probably won’t remember Misty’s last name, so I have it placed horizontally across the top of some books in the “S” section so I can see the title. 

Then I have a few extra copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Glass Castle and other of such good books. When I find extra copies at library sales or somewhere, I want to hold on to them to give to friends. I can’t afford the shelf room though, so they’re piled sidewise on top of other books in the general area of Smith and Walls.

 Someday I’ll solve this problem when I allocate a shelf for favourite give-away books – my sharing shelf.  It will probably be the same time I set up my TBR shelf of books To Be Read. (Probably about the time we add a new wing to the house.)  It seems to me that those would be two important shelves for a book lover’s library – a sharing shelf and a TBR shelf – since one of the best things about reading is talking about books with friends.

 I have a several long-distance reading relationships: my sister Monica, and friends Jennifer, Geigy, and Laura. They are all so dear to me and when we talk on the phone the conversations always include “What are you reading?”  I frantically scribble their suggestions in my little TBR notebook.

 I go hiking with Emily every week, and that woman is a reading machine! (She also thinks I use too many exclamation points in my writing.)  I can keep up with her hiking, but I can’t keep up with her reading. Every week she is reading some fascinating new book that is definitely destined for my TBR shelf.

And then there are The Lalas, my Ladies’ Literary League book  group.  That introduces a must-read book a month – and always well worth the read. And most recently I have joined The Janes, devotees of classic old literature. Which I love.

So many books, so little time. No wonder I don’t have time to organize the shelves. There are way too many books to read!


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Who Is Jane Jardscg?

Who is Jane Jardscg? A few years ago our Lala Book Group decided to combine our various writing talents and embark on a novel enterprise! We spent the better part of one of our meetings making plans for writing a book. The Great Lala Novel!

We would need a nom de plume, of course, and the obvious choice was Jane. (Jane Eyre…Jane Austen…Jane Doe…)

We combined the initials of each of our first names to give Jane her surname: Jardscg – Jennifer, Andrena, Robyn, Denise, Sally, Colleen, Geigy. .

At this point I should officially introduce you to the Lalas. (In the picture we’re each holding one of our very favorite books.)

We’re all happily married with mostly grown children. In the back row you see Robyn on the far left. Robyn is a church secretary. And she is, without a doubt, the record keeper, mind and memory of our Lala group! Jennifer, probably the most intelligent woman I know, is next to Robyn. When her sons went off to college Jennifer herself returned to get her degree, and is now an RN. I am beside Jennifer. Next to me is Colleen, who is an elementary school teacher. (And by the way, was my son Matthew’s first grade teacher.) In the front row, Denise is on the far left. Denise works with finances in an office. Sally is beside Denise. She may be our busiest Lala, juggling her own college classes and a job at an elemantary school. Next is Geigy. She and her husband are missionaries in Tokyo, where their children go to Japanese public school.

We decided our novel would take seven months to write, and coincidentally enough, there were seven women in the group at that time! We would write our chapters anonymously. We put seven slips of paper in a basket that night, and drew lots to decide our month and order of writing.

The first author began chapter one that very month.

Our method of passing the manuscript was very cloak and dagger! At our next meeting, writer number one covertly placed a manila envelope on the kitchen counter of the house where we were meeting. It contained a copy of the Chapter One manuscript for each of us, including herself.

Then Author Number Two wrote her chapter, moving the story along. She brought seven copies in a manilla envelope to the home where we were meeting, and sneakily placed it on the counter.

And so it continued for seven months.

And then we had our unveiling meeting. We sat around the kitchen table and each of us tried to guess, and finally admitted, who had written which chapter.

We laughed at the plot holes and time warps, and agreed that Jane Jardscg has multiple personality disorders!

So now I invite you, dear reader, to follow me into the world of Jane Jardscg. In the coming days and weeks her novel will be serialized on this very blog!

You too will have the opportunity to guess which of the Lalas wrote which chapter.