Category Archives: Memoir

Creative Juice #258

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Creative Juice #258

All sorts of info to inspire your artistic brain.

  • I know the common green mantises; I didn’t know they have diverse cousins.
  • Flip through Nathalie’s art journal.
  • How things get done in Mozambique.
  • Lovely photographs of ordinary objects.
  • Funny and amazing animal videos.
  • Natural poses to suggest when you’re taking photographs of groups of people.
  • Teeny tiny paintings.
  • This artist’s quilted portraits celebrate Black life. Be sure to click on the link at the end of the article to see more. (Actually, you have to click on the little box that appears when you click the link.)
  • For the writers: mining memories for your memoir.
  • Incredible photographs of endangered species.
  • For the artists: open calls, grants, residencies, and fellowships.
  • The Presto from the Summer concerto from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons played on a big honkin’ organ.

Creative Juice #255

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Creative Juice #255

Hey, if you’re a writer, there are THREE articles here for you. And nine for everybody else.

  • Design so beautiful you’ll want to live here.
  • Like dogs and horses? Then you’ll love this Instagram account.
  • For the fiction writers: tips from Margie Lawson.
  • Sculptures made from zip-ties.
  • An artist celebrates her pregnancy.
  • Does your writing routine (or any creative practice) need a refresh? Go outside.
  • Do you like sunflowers? Here’s a bunch of ‘em.
  • Interesting street art.
  • Why writers should just do it and get it over with. (Sensitivity alert: there is a metaphor in this article that may be offensive to some people and may be an anxiety trigger for others. It made me laugh. Full disclosure: I’ve never had this procedure; back in the Stone Age, when I was dating, it wasn’t yet a “thing.”)
  • Do you ever think about writing your memoir?
  • I’m glad I read this. The pandemic, which I thought was almost over, is back again with a vengeance, and I have been longing for the good old days like nobody’s business. I needed a reminder that our lives before weren’t necessarily great, and I don’t have to look at the present like it’s oppressive.
  • Chimneys used to be a much bigger deal than they are today.

Creative Juice #251

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Creative Juice #251

A lot of beauty in today’s articles, curated especially for you.

  • Do you like Irish step dancing?
  • If you read my post about the Sirens, you know I love to sleep.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe on the art of seeing. And lots of links, if you enjoy going down rabbit holes.
  • I may have included these father of the bride photos in a previous edition of Creative Juice. You know what? They’re so beautiful, you should see them again.
  • Beautiful fruit photography.
  • Read your children some books about kindness and talk about how to make a difference in the lives of the people around you.
  • I’d never heard of Sonny Curtis, even though I’m familiar with two of his most famous songs; but I love his daughter’s essay about him.
  • Would you believe there are 800 pairs of herons living in Amsterdam? Maybe because of the canals. . .
  • Ingenious and useful creations from toilet paper rolls.
  • A mom’s June sketchbook pages.
  • I love this Instagrammer’s ICAD cards.
  • How a quilter pieced a 60-piece block perfectly!

Schlesien Family History Mystery

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I am the daughter of German immigrants. Whenever my parents were asked what part of Germany they were from, my father answered, Bavaria; my mother, Schlesien. (The English word for Schlesien is Silesia, as Bavaria is the English word for the German Bayern.) Bavaria was recognized by most people; no one knew what Schlesien was. My mother simply explained that after World War II, it became part of Poland, and she could never return home again.

All my life I had the same experience when people asked me where my parents were from—no one had ever heard of Schlesien.

Until about ten years ago. A woman who worked in the office of the school where I taught told me her father was from Schlesien. I was the first person she’d ever met who had heard of it. We experienced an immediate kinship, like twins separated at birth who had finally been reunited.

Mom circa 1940
Mom, circa 1940. She was proud that the photographer chose to display this photo in his shop window.

My mother’s life before I knew her seems like a fairy tale to me. She was born in 1920 in Namslau, near Breslau (present day Wroclaw). She had a brother and a sister. Her mother was a homemaker; her father was a train engineer. She was proud of him; his social status was comparable to a 1960’s airline pilot.

The family’s surname was Stodolka, but my grandfather felt it didn’t sound German enough, so he legally changed it to Stold.

At one point in Mom’s childhood, her mother experienced a severe illness and could not take care of the kids, so they went to stay with their maternal grandparents for a few months on their farm. Some of their cousins were there, too, and they were all expected to help with the chores. One day the older cousins were tasked with splitting firewood. They told Mom’s brother, Joachim, to hold a log upright. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Yes. They swung the ax and cut off Joachim’s thumb.

Joachim picked up his thumb and went crying to Oma (Grandma). As he put pressure on his wound, Oma boiled an egg, picked off the shell, and carefully peeled the membrane surrounding the egg. She then lined up Joachim’s thumb with the stump, wrapped it with the egg membrane, wound spider web around it, and securely bandaged it. The thumb healed so well that in his teens, Joachim became a masterful violinist and pianist and earned a scholarship to a conservatory of music. I swear, this is what my mother told me. But when I repeat the story to other people, they tell me I’m nuts.

During my mother’s youth, Roma wagon caravans regularly stopped in her neighborhood. One of the Roma women told my grandmother that my mother had “second sight” (clairvoyance). My grandmother didn’t believe it, but my mother did. (I don’t.)

It’s fun to remember old family stories. I’ve posted some other more recent family stories too.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a quirky family story? I dare you to share it in the comments below.

Oops.

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Photo by Candace McDaniel

My oldest daughter, Carly, entered kindergarten with seriously advanced reading skills. She was working her way through the Little House on the Prairie series. In school, she was being taught the letters of the alphabet, numbers, counting, and colors. They did have a gifted program, but not for kindergarteners. I fought hard to have her spend part of her day in a first-grade classroom. I was considered a difficult parent.

We lived outside of Trenton, New Jersey, and I began exploring private schools. In nearby Princeton there were schools that catered to advanced students and actively sought them out. I found one that had the resources and experience to work with students like Carly. They offered us a substantial scholarship, and my parents offered to pay most of the rest of her tuition, and that was where she spent the next three years of her education, until we moved to Arizona.

Many of the people who live in the Princeton area are quite wealthy. We are not. It was as though we lived in different worlds.

Parents at the school sometimes threw events at their homes for the parents and/or children in their kids’ classes. You could film an episode of The Crown in their homes. Generations of ancestors looked down on you from the oil portraits on the walls. Birthday parties were elaborate extravaganzas: carnivals, candy hunts, craft parties.

One time I was invited to an “informal reception” in connection with a fundraising drive. Silly me—I saw the word informal and thought it meant casual.

That’s not what informal means in Princeton. At least, not in the late 1980s.

I sewed myself a skirt out of a Hawaiian floral print. I was so happy with the way it turned out. It was bright and colorful—magenta and yellow and green. I paired it with a shocking pink shell and a turquoise over-shirt.

I took three steps into the reception and realized I’d made a horrible mistake.

Everyone was dressed in black, or in black-and-white.

In Princeton, informal is a short step down from formal. So, not ballgowns and tuxedos, but definitely not casual.

And there I was, sticking out like the proverbial neon sore thumb.

I thought about leaving. I thought about bursting into tears. But instead I took a deep breath, smiled, stood up straight, and tried to fit in as best as I could. No one said an unkind word to me. Nobody mentioned my homemade skirt.

For today’s post, I selected an online blogging prompt: Write about a time you were inappropriately dressed for the occasion. This was the first incident that came to mind.

Now it’s your turn. Did you ever show up to an event either over- or under-dressed? Share in the comments below.

Memories of Childhood

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I have a clock that produces bird songs on the hour, and the bird for 7:00 is the robin. I just love that song. It sends me home to my childhood in New Jersey. (The clock also devours batteries, so it’s often silent for months at a time until I feel like feeding it.)

Next to robins and my brother, the thing I miss most about New Jersey is the ocean. We lived about six miles from the Atlantic, and I rarely saw it until I was in seventh grade and was old enough to walk or take the bus to the beach.

When I was very little, we would go to a park with a little beach on the river, and we would swim there. I have a memory of my dad swimming with me on his back while I held on with my arms around his neck. There was a little pier people fished off of (I had a bamboo pole, but I hardly ever caught anything), and sometimes we’d jump into to the water from there.

There was slimy seaweed in the river, and also horseshoe crabs, with a rigid tail which we kids called “stingers.” They creeped me out, and I lived in fear of stepping on one. It was said that if you stepped on a “stinger,” it would go right through your foot.

Photo by Chosovi; used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

We lived around the corner from the public elementary school. (I attended the Catholic school five miles away.) The campus property was part of a former farm. There was a pond there called The Cow Pond because supposedly one of the farmer’s cows drowned in it. During the winter, when it froze, we’d ice skate there. One summer I found a plank of wood and thought it would make a good raft, so I threw it in the pond and hopped on.

It did not make a good raft. I went home in wet clothes and had to explain to my mother why I would do something so stupid as jump onto a piece of wood in the pond.

There was a small wooded area on the school property that we called “the woods.” I spent many hours of my childhood in there. A huge tree stood in the middle of it with thick branches that we all loved to climb. Eventually the woods were cut down and a primary school was built there. I mourned the loss of my climbing tree.

The elementary school had an incredibly smooth sidewalk at the front of the building. That was my favorite place to roller skate. This was in the old days, when you attached your skates to the bottom of your shoes and tightened them into place with a skate key.

Photo by Black Market; used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

It’s funny how listening to the video of the robin brought all these little scenes back to mind. At the time, I thought my town and my life were boring; but now my childhood seems magical.

My First Job

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My parents were immigrants from Germany. My mother’s sister married an American G.I. after World War II, and she and her husband sponsored my parents’ entry into the United States. I was conceived in Germany but born in the United States.

After my parents became American citizens, they sponsored my mother’s cousin’s family to come over from Germany. I knew her as Aunt Lizi and her husband as Onkel Willi. Their three children were Volkmar, Claus, and Gudrun. My dad helped Onkel Willi (a professional baker) get a job in the bakery where he worked. The family lived with us for a short time. I don’t remember that because I was so young, but Claus told me years later he remembered watching Hopalong Cassidy on television with me.

My mother and Aunt Lizi had many fallings out. Some years they wouldn’t even speak. But then they’d forgive each other and start visiting each other again. I have memories of fun times together at their house or ours.

greta-punch-62508Toward the end of junior year in high school, I wanted a real job to save money for college, something other than babysitting (although I continued to babysit through college). My dad talked to Uncle Willi, who now owned a bakery two towns away. He hired me to work in his store. I wore a white uniform and waited on customers. I sliced bread, filled jelly donuts and eclairs, and eventually frosted and decorated cakes.

My school let out early enough that, even with taking the bus to the bakery, I got there before the nearby Catholic high school released for the day. Many of the students (some of whom had been my classmates in elementary school) stopped in to buy a brownie or a giant cookie before they returned home—the after-school rush. (I enjoyed a certain status by working at a place that was popular with teenagers.) I also worked on the weekends. Sunday morning was another busy time, with parishioners buying crumb buns, cinnamon raisin buns, and hard rolls for breakfast after Mass.ramiro-mendes-371663One of Onkel Willi’s little quirks was that he left the drawer of the cash register open when he closed the store for the night. He wanted to be sure that if a burglar broke in, he wouldn’t destroy the cash register trying to get into it. (Cash registers were expensive.) He left about forty dollars in the machine, reasoning that any less, and the burglar might vandalize the store. He figured forty dollars was the threshold at which the burglar would just take the money and leave. (We’re talking 1969. Forty bucks was a fair chunk of change in those days.)

I worked at the bakery until I left for college. When I came home the first summer, I found a new job at a local dry cleaner, because I wanted a position won completely on my own merits, without my dad’s help.

But I always remember with fondness my very first job at the bakery, where the fragrances of vanilla, butter, yeast, and cinnamon greeted me as I passed through the portal.

Now it’s your turn. What was your first job? Was it a good experience? Share in the comments below.

This article first appeared on Doing Life Together.

Creative Juice #197

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Creative Juice #197

ABC: Art. Beauty. Creativity.

Creative Juice #195

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Creative Juice #195

Lots of beauty this week.

D is for Dachshund

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My Father’s Day present to my husband in 2011 was a dachshund, something he had been begging me for. He and my daughter Erin went to an adoption event at a pet store. He selected a rescued dachshund who had been found in the state forest.

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We don’t really know her back story. The rescue outfit called her Precious. She was about five years old. Greg renamed her Rudi, the same name as the dog his father had owned.

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Rudi’s eyes eventually grew cloudy due to a buildup of cholesterol in her corneas. She lost a lot of her vision. She sometimes scratched her eyes, and had to wear the cone of shame joy.

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She loved to go for walks and would pull you along for the ride.

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She liked to be outside and sit in the sun.

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She was a good companion.

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As she aged, she slowed down. One day, about two years ago, she had several seizures. We took her to the vet right before closing time. The vet ran some tests and kept her overnight. The next morning, she was dead. The vet thinks she had a brain tumor.

It’s hard losing your dear friend, your furry baby. We only had her for seven years. For months, I said “No more dogs.”

But Greg wanted to try again. Before Christmas, we searched the pound for another dachshund. But most of the dogs were pit bulls. Then Greg noticed a little chihuahua trembling in a corner. He needed us.

That’s a whole other story.

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