Making Bookmarks

Every once in a while I get this overwhelming desire to be creative. Mostly when that happens, I sit quietly until the urge passes. The older I get, the more I feel the need to conserve my energy. But on this day, my artistic muse would give me no peace, so I decided to borrow a wonderful idea from some of my fellow little free library stewards and make some bookmarks to give away.

I had several children’s books in my inventory that were all but falling apart, so they weren’t suitable for putting in my library. But I find it really hard to throw out books, even when they are past their prime. It seems sacrilegious to me. So these books had been sitting forlornly in a corner for several months, no doubt contemplating their fate with dread.

The artwork in most children’s books is amazing, so rather than recycle those pages, I chose to upcycle them. Making bookmarks is really easy.

  • Simply cut out a page, positioning the art in question to show it off to its best advantage, and allow extra paper to fold over for added thickness. Bonus points if you can get cool imagery on both sides of your bookmark! (If you’re like me, cutting a book up will make you cringe. I find it almost as distasteful as throwing one out. I had to keep reminding myself that these books were too tattered to read, so it is better to make them into bookmarks than it is to let them fade completely away.)

  • Bookmarks don’t have to be a uniform size. It’s not like most of them hang out together, standing at attention like little soldiers. They are meant to be used. I do try my best to keep them at 90 degree angles, though, because otherwise they look strange, at least to my eyes. So I found it helpful to use a cutting board that has a grid on it.

  • Once you have the bookmark cut and folded, I use a glue stick to glue it together. Glue sticks are a lot less messy than liquid glue is.

  • Then I lay them flat under something heavy to ensure that they dry flat.

  • Once dry, I use a hole punch to make a hole in one end, and reinforce that on both sides with hole reinforcements that you can get at any office supply store.

  • Then I add a ribbon tassel to the end. (I bought a variety of colors on sale so I had a multitude of choices to compliment or contrast the art.) Done.

Now, some of my fellow library stewards laminate theirs, or use clear contact paper on them. I haven’t done this yet, but it is a good idea if you want the bookmark to last and stay clean. However, I know my history with bookmarks. They usually get lost sooner than that type of longevity requires. (That sounds much better than saying I was too lazy to laminate, doesn’t it?)

The best part about this project is that you can do it while watching PBS, or the channel of your choice. Call it multitasking if you must. I just call it twice the fun.

Here are pictures of some of the bookmarks that I made. It’s going to be hard to part with many of these, because I think they’re beautiful. But part with them I will, because I will do anything, anything at all, to increase someone’s joy of reading. I think that’s the most important gift you can give.

These bookmarks will be placed, a few at a time, inside my little free library’s gift cubby, in the hope that they’ll make some patrons smile.

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Children as Commodities

I’m always perversely drawn to stories about exploited children, in the same way I tend to slow down to look at traffic accidents. I have this need to learn how something that terrible could have happened. I want to figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future, even as I know I’ll be all but powerless to do so.

I just finished reading an article entitled “The Dionne quintuplets: The exploitation of five girls raised in a ‘baby zoo’”.

It’s a heartbreaking story. It started in depression-era rural Canada, before most people knew that these types of mega-multiple births were even possible. And in no time flat these girls were taken away from their parents and raised in a facility where the general public could observe their play times. For a while there, they drew more tourists than Niagara Falls. Souvenir shops and food stands were built. They were also used to endorse products.

They were not the first children used as commodities, and they won’t be the last. It’s horrifying how often people are willing to rob children of their childhood. The lifelong damage by adults, especially professionals who ought to know better, boggles the mind.

This abuse comes in many forms. Wild children who are then raised by scientists. Child brides. Indigenous children ripped from their families and sent off to schools that are designed to rob them of their culture. Sex trafficking and child pornography. Abductions. Girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Child soldiers in Africa. Those kids who are subject to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of any kind. Children who don’t know any better who participate in family reality shows in America. Baby beauty pageants. Child actors and singers who never see their own money. Children ripped from the arms of their parents at the US border to prove a political point. Young athletes who are raised by their coaches. Children born of slavery. Children kept by the worst kind of foster parents who are only in it for the money. Children forced to beg, steal, or sell things in the streets instead of going to school. Children used as pawns in nasty divorces.

The fact that so many of us survive to adulthood with even a modicum of sanity is a miracle. We’d like to think we are above the animals in this world, but good luck finding any other animals that would treat their offspring the way many humans do. It’s sickening.

If you are one of the parents who are doing your best to provide a safe, loving, and functional childhood for your child, or one of the people, like me, who chose to be child free, then thank you.

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Reading Your Way to Success

Recently, I blogged about the Little Free Library that I put out in front of my house. It’s been an amazing experience so far. I love seeing the books disappear. I love the positive feedback. I love knowing that people get as excited about reading as I do, and I really love making that possible for them.

The most unexpected thing about the whole experience is that I’ve been struggling to keep children’s books on the shelves. They vanish almost as quickly as I put them out there, and they rarely if ever come back. But to me, that’s good. Kids love to read books over and over and over again. The whole point of this library is to encourage reading, not for me to become the book police. It’s not about the inventory. It’s about the adventure.

Fortunately, I know how to ask for help when I’m struggling. I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church near me one Sunday, and during a period when people are allowed to make announcements, I mentioned my library and my need of children’s books.

The minute the service was over, I was approached by an elementary school teacher, and since then he has provided me with a huge box full of books, and he says there will be plenty more where that came from. Yay! Elementary classroom teachers, and their school libraries, are always rotating out their inventories. He’s now my children’s book source. He was even more enthusiastic about it when he realized my little library probably services students from his school, as we’re only about a mile and a half apart.

He and I are definitely on the same page about this: Reading is the most important skill a person can have. According to this article,

The benefits of leisure reading are enormous:

  • Readers do better in all subjects including science, math, history and civics

  • Provides higher verbal ability and better college readiness and success

  • School work is easier for readers–readers are more likely to stay in school

  • Stronger civic and cultural engagement including volunteering and voting

  • Leads to better workplace readiness and performance

  • Reading is a deep source of joy and curiosity

  • It increases our imagination, creativity, empathy and understanding

As Dana Gioia, former-Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, put it a few years ago, “If I could only know one number about a kid at 18 that would predict how successful he’d be in life, it would be his reading proficiency.”

So I’m very grateful to have found this teacher, and I’m thrilled to assist him in his goal to help children experience the joy of reading.

He heard my plea and came to my aid, so it’s only fair that I spread the word about his plea as well. His school, and all elementary schools, need volunteers who are willing to listen to children read. That sort of thing may not seem like a big deal to you or me, but lending an encouraging ear to a child can do wonders for his or her self-esteem, and it can create enthusiasm for reading.

This kind of volunteerism can be tedious, but it’s so important. You have to be willing to make it a positive, enjoyable experience, not a pressure-inducing disciplinary tool. (This could be the perfect job for a lonely, yet sharp-minded senior!)

Check out this article if you’re interested in learning more about it, and then reach out to a school near you. They sure could use your time, and the child involved would be getting the chance to read his or her way to success. What a gift!

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The Teddy Bear Boy

About a decade and a half ago, one of my coworkers, Don, asked me if I would be willing to rent a room to his 17-year-old son, Lee. He wanted to continue attending my neighborhood high school with his friends, and my coworker was moving to the neighboring county. I said yes, albeit reluctantly.

I don’t “do” kids. I have no children of my own, by choice. I didn’t even hang out with kids that much when I was one myself.

But this young man seemed nice enough. I was assured that he was pretty self-sufficient. He’d buy and prepare his own food, Don said. He was very quiet, and seemed a little sad.

I felt sorry for Lee. Don said that his mother had died when he was very young. He and his brother had been raised by a single parent who worked the graveyard shift for as long as I had known him, so I can’t imagine their lives were particularly conventional.

Little did I know.

Lee would often sleep with his bedroom door open. I’d see him hugging a teddy bear as I walked past at night on my way to work. I thought that was rather unusual for a boy his age, but to each his own.

My next intel about Lee was that his father treated him horribly. I could hear the man scream at him over the phone from the other side of the house. His other son could do no wrong.

I came to realize that Lee was gay, and I already knew that his father was a homophobe, so I thought that explained it all. It made me feel even more sorry for Lee, because it must be awful to be rejected by the only parent you have.

Then one night I had to rush Lee to the hospital with extreme stomach pains. It turned out that he had been existing for years on a basic diet of chocolate donuts and coca cola, and that hadn’t done his intestines much good. This broke my heart.

My heartbreak turned to fury, though, when I discovered that his father had let Lee’s health insurance lapse. Rather than thanking me for bringing his son to the hospital, Don was outraged, because now he’d be stuck with a medical bill. He viewed his son as a massive inconvenience.

Don was so angry that he decided to yank his son out of my house. Before he left, I learned many truths about Lee.

First of all, his mother wasn’t dead, as far as he knew. She had abandoned him and his brother at a rest stop when they were very little. The police had given them each a teddy bear, and he had kept his ever since.

It was doubtful that Don was even his father. Apparently his wife had been rather promiscuous. (I had thought he and his brother didn’t look very much alike.) Don had had to drive several hundred miles to pick the boys up, and he had resented Lee, in particular, from that day to this.

After Don entered my house in a rage and grabbed all his stuff and yanked a protesting, pleading Lee out the door, I never saw them again. Don quit working with me, pulled Lee out of school, and left no valid forwarding address.

I often wonder how Lee turned out. I tried looking for him on Facebook, but his name is way too common. I will forever wonder if I could have done more for that lonely, neglected 17-year-old boy who only had a stuffed animal for comfort for most of his life. It’s one of my biggest regrets.

I’m glad that at least once in his life, a kind stranger had the decency to give him a teddy bear to hug. I hope he was able to rise above his circumstances. He deserved much more from his childhood than he got.

I also hope that karma has rolled over his father like a crosstown bus.

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12 Things to Discuss before Getting Married

I’m getting married for the first time at age 53, so I’m hardly an expert on the subject. But I’d like to think that my age is a plus. I’m not impulsive. I believe in doing my homework. I am all about looking before I leap.

Lord knows I’ve seen enough marriages fail to get a strong sense of what kills them off. It’s really important to have all the hard conversations beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It also helps to know the other person’s hopes, dreams, and expectations in advance, and decide whether you’d be willing to help them achieve them.

Here are a few things you may wish to consider talking about ahead of your big day:

Money. This one is huge. Is one partner bringing a mountain of debt into the union? It’s only fair to bring this out in the open. How will you handle finances? How much credit card debt can you tolerate? What level of discretionary spending are you comfortable with? What are your plans, if any, for retirement? What are your expenses? How will you cope with financial emergencies? What are your long term financial goals, and how do you plan to reach them?

Children. Do you both want them? How many? Do you already have some? Who has custody? What is your philosophy regarding discipline, and child-rearing in general?

What goals do you have for your future? Do they align? If you want to travel and your partner simply wants to retire and watch Jerry Springer all day long, that’s a problem. What do you consider to be a successful life? What is most important to you in terms of a future? Where do you want to live? What kind of home do you want to have? What types of vacations do you like to take? What are your priorities? What are your expectations?

Sex, Intimacy and Fidelity. It’s okay to be who you are. But it’s only fair that you spell it out. If one person is asexual, and the other expects a high degree of intimacy, that’s a problem waiting to happen. If your philosophies regarding fidelity don’t align, it’s a recipe for disaster. If one person hates public displays of affection, and the other feels rejected if her partner won’t hold her hand, this is the tip of a much larger iceberg. Is pornography a big part of your life or do you have any sexual habits that your partner might find unusual? Discuss what you need to feel loved and sexually satisfied now, or your marital ship will sink like a stone.

Individuality. You don’t have to be joined at the hip. You don’t always have to like all the same things that your partner likes. You don’t even have to have all of the same friends. Becoming a football widow isn’t a big deal if you have interests of your own. Are you both comfortable doing things alone? If you have different expectations in terms of togetherness and attention, it’s best to work that out now.

Vices. If you smoke and your partner does not, you should find out if that will become a deal-breaker. If you have a drug addiction, your partner has a right to know. How much do you drink alcohol? How much is too much? You should even put your quirky habits out there. One person’s quirk might be another person’s intolerable oddity.

Health. Does your partner take health as seriously as you do? Are there any ticking time bombs with regard to family health history that you need to be aware of? How will you cope with a medical catastrophe?

Religion. What are your spiritual philosophies? Atheists and Fundamentalists can marry, of course, but they’d have to be extremely tolerant of their differences. If one is expecting the other to make a dramatic, very basic shift, and the other person isn’t willing to do so, then that will be a problem. Also, what holidays are important to you, and how do you celebrate them?

Politics. I’ve seen couples thrive in spite of political differences, but if politics is a huge part of your life, it rapidly becomes a definer of the content of one’s character. And in this current atmosphere of division, it’s not like you can ignore the elephant (or donkey) in the room. Will you be willing to agree to disagree on the issues? It’s never a good idea to go into a relationship with expectations that your partner will change and come to his or her senses.

Family. Unfortunately (or luckily, as the case may be), when you marry someone, you marry that person’s family, too. Everyone has a few nuts in the family tree. Having insane in-laws is not necessarily a problem unless you discover, to your horror, that your spouse expects said crazy relative to live with you in his or her dotage. Will you be okay with that? What does family obligation mean to you? Best to figure that out in advance.

Communication and Conflict Resolution. How do your resolve disagreements? If one is a shouter and the other tends to withdraw, you’ll never be able to meet in the middle. It’s all about respect. Talk about issues before they get out of control. Listen to what your partner is saying. Nip things in the bud as often as you can. Don’t stuff things. Don’t get hostile. Don’t just hope things will go away on their own. Take the initiative. How do you plan to talk things out?

Cleanliness. Can you tolerate your partner’s level of clutter? Can your partner stand your obsessive compulsive need for a spotless home? And how will the cleaning tasks be divided? This is 2018. You can’t assume that both of you are on the same page regarding basic chores. Talk about it.

Communication about all of the above is key. It’s important to know as much as possible about the foundation on which you are building your relationship. A solid foundation leads to a long-lasting home.

Are there any other topics that I’ve overlooked? Please share them in the comments below!

marriage

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I’ll Take Love with Conditions

I think unconditional love is an absurd construct. Even my dog has his limits. If I stopped feeding him or started torturing him, how much do you think he would love me then?

While it’s comforting to think that there is love that you can count on, I believe that the responsibility for maintaining that bond goes both ways. Frankly, I’d find it rather creepy if someone loved me so unconditionally that I could become a monster and that person would be okay with that. I do not want someone loving me even if I decide to be a serial killer. I expect to be held accountable for my actions.

I was once in a 16-year relationship with someone who enjoyed saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I knew he was attempting to be reassuring, but in truth that always made me inwardly shudder. I don’t want blind adoration. I actually kind of feel better when there are well-defined boundaries. When I know where I stand, I can do so with confidence. That, and there’s a great deal of pressure to maintain your center of decency when, literally, anything goes. (I admit I didn’t handle it well.)

Parents are expected to love their children unconditionally. I can’t really speak from experience, as I chose not to have kids, but I suspect that “unconditional” condition is the very source of a great deal of dysfunction. If “unconditional” were taken off the table, more parents would be invested in instilling values in their children that would encourage them to be decent human beings, because it’s safe to assume that most parents really do want to love their children.

If we stopped looking at love as if it were a possession, as if, once obtained, you get to keep it, a lot of things would change. If people genuinely believed that one must be loving and lovable in order to receive love, this would be a kinder, gentler planet. If we knew that love must be earned, fewer people would remain with their abusers. If we set the bar ever-so-slightly higher when choosing a mate, it would make for much healthier family units. And if we looked at love as something that must constantly be nurtured in order to thrive, we wouldn’t be so shocked and devastated when it withers on the vine due to our own neglect.

It might also allow us to exercise critical thinking. This whole blind loyalty thing that is becoming the cultural norm is actually rather terrifying. If you vote for someone whose behavior becomes more despicable over time, your FIRST instinct should be a withdrawal of political love for that person. Your standards should be high, and your tolerance for outrage should be short-lived. Our leaders should be kept in check, as their powers allow for rather more destruction than most of us can endure.

So, dear reader, be loving. Be kind. And remember that it’s okay to set boundaries.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Inherited Wealth

Recently, on my online newsfeed, I saw an article that asked the readers if it is ethical to pass your wealth on to your children. I confess, I didn’t read it. Why would I? It’s not a problem that I’ll ever have. My parents didn’t have much money to pass on to me, and I don’t have any children. Problem solved.

But I did think about the issue from a philosophical standpoint during my next long commute. Naturally, Donald Trump sprang to mind. I’m convinced that the only reason he has money today is because daddy gave him obscene amounts of money to begin with. Donald Trump is barely literate and has no people skills whatsoever, and how many times has he declared bankruptcy? There’s no way he’d have been a self-made millionaire. The world would be a much safer and healthier place if his father hadn’t given him that leg up.

But on the other hand, it’s the average parent’s instinct to try to make his or her children’s lives better than the preceding generation’s. Who are we to deny them that? It’s their wealth. (Well… it is and it isn’t. I’ll save that particular rant for another day.) They can do with it whatever they choose.

Having said that, though, I feel the need to point out that with wealth comes power. If you’re giving your child power that that child hasn’t earned, then you bear a responsibility to make sure your kid is worthy of that power. (Trump’s father never did that, and now we are all paying the price. Lucky us.)

It’s every parent’s duty to instill a strong moral compass in children. They need to grasp laws and ethics and morals. They should understand the need for, and frequently practice, philanthropy. They must possess a certain level of compassion and kindness. Above all, they should have respect for others. With such an unequal balance of power being presented to them on a silver platter, they must be taught to avoid the impulse to grab things (or people) that don’t belong to them.

If little rich kids don’t have these qualities (and unfortunately many do not), then giving them an enormous nest egg on which to lounge is a disservice to the human race. Sheltering them from the real world, and coddling them from life, only produces cruel, dangerous, psychopathic individuals. The last thing these warped individuals need is for you to throw power, in the form of big sweaty wads of cash, into the mix. It creates a toxic stew.

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