I Have a Library

Some dreams shine brightly right in front of our eyes. They are the big shiny possibilities which pull us forward and cause us to despair because they are so far beyond our reach. Other dreams are quiet. They exist in the backs of our brains and we pay them no attention until that moment when they either come true and bring us unexpected joy or become forever unavailable and bring us unforeseen grief. Quiet dreams matter. They are the difference between a joyful life and one spent in hollow pursuit of the shiny, unreachable dreams. This past year I’ve been working to identify and fulfill some of my quiet dreams. I started by giving myself permission to want things, even things I knew I’d never have. Then to my surprise, I found that many of the wants which emerged were very easy to fill, and once they were, they significantly added to my daily happiness. One of the quiet dreams that emerged was a desire for a library.

I’ve always had books in my life, lots of books. They lived more-or-less on shelves, though most of them spent significant amounts of time in stacks or piles. Some of the piles became semi-permanent installations in various corners of the house. They were like flotsam in the eddy of a flowing stream, places where books gathered because people set them down there. I made periodic attempts to clear out the piles as they became messy. I’d stack books on shelves two deep, because there weren’t enough shelves. Occasionally I would sigh to myself and wish for more shelves. Sometimes I would get desperate enough to buy an additional small book case and find a corner where I could shove it. Then it too would become home to stacks of books. Thus books accumulated in all the corners of our house and our lives.

When I stood in my office and pictured knocking out a wall, the world opened up with new possibilities. I could have guest space, a craft desk, and finally enough shelves to house all the books. It was the fulfillment of half a dozen quiet dreams, things I’d been doing with out for a very long time. The office was completed last May. I finally installed the shelves this week. I pulled the books from their boxes and placed them on the shelves. The shelves began to fill and something magic happened. I didn’t just have shelves of books, they transformed into a library. There was space to sort by size and type. I could put all the kid friendly books in easy child reach, while placing other books up high. All the anthologies could go together. This type of sorting was not possible with books stacked and piled all over the house. Then I remembered, I used to do this. As a child, I sorted my books. I’d learned about the dewey decimal system in school and tried to create a numbering system of my own. Some of my childhood favorites still have giant numbers scrawled inside the front covers or taped to the spines. For a while I used unicorn book plates.

The numbers were for the checkout system I had devised to track who had borrowed my books. I revised my system multiple times over the years as various systems fell apart. I’m not sure that anyone ever checked out a book from me, but the organizing and planning made me happy. Much of my discretionary money went into book purchases. I wanted to own every Black Stallion book. Even as a teenager I made list of books I wanted to own someday. I’ve been an amateur librarian all my life without realizing it. And now I have a library.

This makes me incredibly happy. Our book purchasing habits have changed. More of our books will be electronic than mass market paperback, but the hardbacks are going to continue to accumulate. My kids are acquiring manga at a frightening rate. Some of these books will be passed along to make space for new ones. But even though the contents of the library will evolve, I find it wonderful that we are able to set aside this small corner of my house and put books there first. The existence of this space declares that stories matter, that they deserve a space of their own. And there is a comfy couch right there so that people can sit down to read. It is a beautiful thing.

Remnant Population, Hearths, Transformation, and Travel

Last week I re-read Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. It is a book I’ve loved for years. This was the first book that taught me being old could be interesting and wonderful in some ways. The book examines the ways that the elderly are de-valued and why they should not be. It also has fascinating things to say about the responsibility to nurture regardless of race, creed, or species. Nurturing is what I do. I spend three quarters of my energy on tasks which are for the benefit of those residing inside my home. I work at house cleaning, earning money, managing homework, being a chauffeur, and dozens of other things, all in an effort to create a space in which growth is maximized. In the parlance of Remnant Population, I do my best to be a Nest Guardian for my family and friends. The role of Nest Guardian is separate from the role of Mother. The Mother feeds and tends the bodies. The Nest Guardian is post-mother, a grandmother or aunt whose responsibility is to feed and tend the minds. Children have one Mother, but many Nest Guardians. I first read this book when I was in the midst of the diaper and toddler stage of parenting. I think it seeped into my consciousness and helped me to see that feeding one end and cleaning up the other was not the point.

This week brought me an article in our church magazine which spoke of being Guardians of the Hearth. The phrase immediately brought Remnant Population to mind, particularly since I’d just finished my re-read. I like the idea of a hearth as a central gathering place of heat and light. People gather round the hearth and a closeness is created out of the shared experience of gathering. My home is a hearth. I try to make it a place where people can be safe, laugh, eat, and learn. Howard shares the hearth keeping responsibilities with me. Now that the kids are older they are also participating in tending the hearth. Thus our home becomes a mutual creation.

When I was a senior in high school I went on a week-long trip to Washington D.C. It was very different from my home in California. I tromped with a group of peers through the capitol building, saw the Vietnam Memorial, looked up into the giant stone face of Lincoln, spoke with demonstrators outside the white house, participated in debates, and wandered through the Museum of Art. The week was transformative for me. I came home with my horizons broadened and everything was new. I promised myself I would go back one day. I went to college, got married, and had kids. I wanted to take my kids to Washington D.C. I wanted to show them all the things I had seen, tell them what I had learned.

When the possibility was raised that I might go to the Nebula Weekend with my sister, one of the deciding factors was that it takes place in Arlington, Virginia right outside Washington D.C. In fact the Nebula programming includes options to tour the Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I’m going back to Washington D.C. Not for as long, nor as thoroughly, but still I am going. Without my kids. I had to think about that. I’d always meant to take them. But the truth is that they will have their own transformative experiences. I can’t give them mine. Even if I hauled them to every location where I went as a teen, I can’t guarantee they’ll gain what I gained. Part of my transformation was being nearly-adult, out on my own, away from my parents. I pondered this and realized that my intention to take my kids to Washington D.C. was a smoke screen. The core truth is that I want to go back. I want to see those things again, to see what else those places have to teach me. The only way I could justify it in my mind was to make the trip be for the education of the children.

A hearth exists not just for the children. Adults are not beyond the need for nurturing. We are all of us growing and becoming. Or we should be. If I want to be a good Nest Guardian, a good Guardian of the Hearth, I have to nurture my own growth as well as the growth of those around me. Taking a trip so that I can learn and grow is just as valid as taking a trip for the purpose of teaching the children. Fascinating that I did not see it before. I have my tickets and I’ll fly in May.

A Morning of Good News

My sister, Nancy Fulda, has been nominated for a Nebula award. I’m so glad because Nancy works really hard and the nominated story is exceptionally beautiful. I hope that Nancy has a lovely time at the Nebula awards weekend and really wish I could be there with her. However I know she’ll be just fine because that Nebula nominee list is full of amazing people who will welcome her warmly. Besides, I get to have Nancy come to my house later in the summer, so I’ll not feel jealous of a single weekend.

In separate news, my story “The Road Not Taken” is featured today on the Mormon Lit Blitz at One way to really understand a culture is to study the stories they tell to each other. Over the past week and through the end of February, Mormon Artist will be featuring new stories, essays, and poems written by Mormons to a Mormon audience. Feel free to stop by, either to study or to participate in the community. Once all the stories have been posted, there will be voting for a prize. I know the good folks at the Mormon Lit Blitz would love to have as many voting participants as possible. Participation is why they’ve spent so much effort putting this literature blitz together. I am grateful for their hard work.

Thinking About French Parenting and My Parenting

The other day I followed a link to an article entitled “Why French Parents Are Superior.” The article was written by an American who lived in France. I had noticed the same thing that she did, American kids are generally demanding and undisciplined. My own kids are often demanding and undisciplined. On the whole the article was mildly interesting, but one segment gave me words for feelings I had about the structure of parenting. To quote from the article:

When I asked French parents how they disciplined their children, it took them a few beats just to understand what I meant. “Ah, you mean how do we educate them?” they asked.

I love this distinction. In my language talking to and about my kids I try not to use the word “punishment” instead focusing on consequences for decisions. This concept of education takes that idea one step further.

the French ideal of the cadre, or frame, that French parents often talk about. Cadre means that kids have very firm limits about certain things—that’s the frame—and that the parents strictly enforce these. But inside the cadre, French parents entrust their kids with quite a lot of freedom and autonomy.

It is not my job as a parent to make sure my children are always happy. My job is to help them grow. Sometimes this means nurturing and smoothing the way for them. Other times it means that I must make their lives harder. No matter which I am doing, the objective is growth.

The bulk of the article discusses how French parents consciously teach patience and delayed gratification to their children. A young French child is bought a treat at a store, but instead of gobbling it down on the way through the parking lot, the treat is saved until snack time that afternoon. The same is true when French children want to make requests, they are required to wait until their parents have time to attend to them. Thus the French mothers are able to finish sentences, or even entire conversations, uninterrupted.

I was fascinated to see that some of the behaviors I’d been feeling guilty about are actually part of conscious education for a French parent. I tell my kids “Just a minute” all the time, but then later feel bad for neglecting them. Then I am too lenient in another area because I feel guilty for this perceived neglect. Thus my parental frame is crooked and sagging in places instead of being a sturdy structure on which the kids depend.

I’ve long been enamored of having three meals a day plus a snack at regular times. In between the kitchen would be closed (and spotlessly clean, naturally.) In theory this would teach all of us a healthy relationship toward food. Instead of responding to immediate hunger and grabbing what ever is most convenient, our food choices would be carefully planned. I love the idea, yet I doubt this will ever happen in my home. Life is about choices and I choose to be a mother, business manager, writer, and a dozen other things before I choose Cook and Meal Planner. On the other hand, my parenting frame for homework is rock solid this year. I’m also pleased that in the past couple of weeks we’ve been fitting daily chores back into the lives of the kids. It feels like a miracle that chores are fitting with homework. So when I notice that once again they’ve foraged themselves a meal of tortilla chips and cream cheese, perhaps I can be pleased with their self sufficiency and trust that we’ll find time to focus on healthy eating again soon.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to pay attention to how often I teach my kids that waiting a little bit will not kill them. I’m also going to notice the times when my kids wear me down with negotiation. I think the negotiating skills are valuable, but sometimes I need to be better about sticking to my “no.” Most importantly I’ll remember that while American kids are nuisances in restaurants and French kids are not, both French adults and American adults handle restaurants just fine. There may not be a “right” path and a “wrong” path through conscientious parenting. Many paths can lead to well adjusted adulthood.

How things are going and cool stuff you should look at.

I have a blog post about anxiety that I’ve been trying to write for two days. It is still a multiple-draft mess. The only solution is to put it down and move on. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back to it in a few days and pull the things I want to say into some better shape. This past week I’ve been carrying anxiety levels which I’d hoped not to experience again. The good news is that this is directly linked to me tinkering with my thyroid dosage. I’ve learned my lesson and now merely need to hang in there while the re-lowered dosages take effect again. Should be better by this weekend and normalized by next week. Also good news is that I spent enough time over the past several months in a non-anxious state that I’m able to recognize my anxiety this past week as Not Normal. This is a huge improvement over thinking that a racing heartbeat and shaky hands were just part of my life. Even more good news: exercise makes things better. Exercise is something which is in my control. So expect to find me dancing to exercise videos later this afternoon. BUT first I have to ship a lot of things, go shopping for supplies to make school treats, and shop for a few last Christmas gifts. (Am I ready for Christmas? The answer to that is still complicated and still wants a blog entry of it’s very own. I’ll add that to the bottom of the to-do list.)

In the meantime, here are three cool things which I’ve been meaning to tell you about:

Last February I was out to lunch with my friends Jessica Day George and Julie Wright.
Jessica was really excited because she had just received a cover image for her latest book, Tuesdays at the Castle. She pulled the image up on on her phone and we admired it on the tiny screen. “I just want to hug it!” Jess said. Both Julie and I agreed that the cover was huggable. That book came out last month. My pre-ordered copy arrived and I read the whole thing. My oldest daughter read it too. We both agree that the whole book is just as huggable as the cover. I love Princess Celie and hope that you will all go out and buy copies of this book so that she can have more adventures.

Last summer I got to read this story which my sister Nancy wrote. It moved me to tears and resonated very strongly with lots of emotional themes which have come up in my parenting. I suppose it makes sense that Nancy’s story speaks so strongly to me, we grew up in the same house, our kids face similar challenges, and we have similar approaches to tackling those challenges. But if you enjoy reading this blog, you will almost certainly enjoy reading Nancy’s story. It is fairly short, but well worth $3. Additionally, if you buy Movement in the month of December, Nancy will donate her profit to a charity supporting Autism research. If you happen to be a Hugo or Nebula voter, you may want to nominate this story. I’m certainly going to.

Most of my blog readers know that my husband Howard is an amazing and funny guy. So is Howard’s brother Randy. Of late I’ve had the opportunity to be in a writer’s group with Randy and so I got to read a draft of this book before it went live. It was already funny before Randy made it better. Mugging Leprechauns is a tweet-book. It contains bite-sized bits of funny which remind me of those Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy books. Even better, Randy’s book is less than $1. It’s almost like getting funny for free. Of course if you want an advance look at the jokes which will feature in Randy’s next book, you could just follow him on Twitter (@randytayler). That’s what I do and it regularly makes my day have laughter in it.

Kindle Update: Why I Still Buy Paper Books

I have had a Kindle since January. My husband has had an iPad for about the same length of time. Having an e-reading device has revitalized his love for reading. He buys books and reads them often. The only reason he will buy paper any more is if he is at the book signing of a friend and wants to show support. He’ll bring home the paper book and then buy an e-version for reading. We buy all the books on one account, so when he buys an e-book I can also read it. It is kind of nice to not have to negotiate over first turn. I really liked reading the Hugo voter samples on my Kindle. However we’ve noticed some troubles.

Howard bought the latest Pratchett book and began to read it. I then downloaded it to my Kindle, which helpfully assumed that I’d want to start in the same place where Howard had been reading. I began reading on chapter three without realizing I was doing it. Another problem also manifested with this particular book. Pratchett loves to do footnotes. I love to read his footnotes. On an iPad you tap, read the footnote, tap, and are back to your place. On the Kindle I have to push up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-up-over-over-over–over-over-over-over-over-select to get to the footnote. Then I push back to return to reading. It is a significant disruption to the flow of reading. Between these two frustrations, I am currently reading some paper books I got from the library instead of reading the new Pratchett book. I’ll eventually read it on Howard’s iPad, but am waiting until there is a period of time when I can have unfettered access to the device. Or perhaps I’ll just buy the book on paper.

I still find reading on an electronic device to be a touch distracting. It takes awhile for my brain to settle into the story because I associate electronic devices with internet and work. When I am stressed and need to disengage, I pick paper over electronic unless there happens to be a book that Howard bought electronically that I really want to read. Most of my reading is still on paper.

I know it is possible to borrow e-books from my local library. I don’t want to learn how. I want to read, not learn a new electronic-based skill. I certainly do not want to have to troubleshoot a loaning system. Electronic devices invariably have snags, errors, crashes, and annoyances. All of these can be recovered from, but all of them can steal my small space of relaxation and kill my good mood. About the only frustration a paper book can supply is being lost.

I regularly loan books to a long-time out-of-work neighbor. He has no money for cable television or to buy an expensive e-reader. Getting to the public library costs him money either in gas or bus fees, but he can come raid my library easily. If all my books were electronic he would be out of luck.

We are still buying kids books on paper only. I do so for the following reasons:

I can hand a child a $7 paper back and not have to police the treatment of the book. Books end up in bathrooms, spattered with snack food, left on floors, buried under piles of clothing, stepped on, shelved, stacked, and read. I could not do the same with a device costing over $100. I would have to keep track of it and spend time training my kids to treat it correctly. This is not just a kid problem either. I constantly have to remind myself not to leave my Kindle laying where it could get knocked off, stepped on, or other wise smashed. That little bit of extra required attention can be wearisome when I’m stressed or tired.

I have four kids. I want them all to be reading, sometimes simultaneously. I don’t want to spend $400-$700 to get enough reading devices for everyone to read at the same time. Additionally we have a house policy that a child can have an electronic device when they care enough to buy it with their own money. This way they have an emotional stake in taking care of the device. If my kids save up $150, they’ll buy an iPod or a 3DS, not an e-reader. They regularly spend $3-$15 buying books for themselves.

One of the best ways to get kids to choose reading is to have books laying around where the covers can catch their interest. Many moments of boredom have resulted in hours of reading because book was laying nearby. This does not happen if all the books are neatly filed on my Kindle.

Physically taking my kids to the library addresses reading in a new way. The kids are able to speak with a librarian and really think about what they are looking for in a book. Then sometimes their favorite books are ones that happen to be shelved near the one that the librarian was showing them. Involving a librarian in the book selection process means a new perspective and opens up new possibilities for the kids.

Owning a physical book and shelving it with their possessions is one of the ways my kids begin to form their identity. Different kids will latch on to different books or series of books. Then they loan them to each other. There is power in being the one who loans or recommends a book. If all the books are organized in the same electronic library my kids will not feel the same sense of ownership.

My children spend a lot of time playing computer and video games. Sitting down with a paper book gives their brains a break from the flicker of screens. It encourages them to switch over into a relaxed way of thinking. I’ve had them read things on my Kindle or Howard’s iPad, they read for shorter lengths of time because the presence of the electronic device is a constant reminder that there are video games in the world and that those video games might be more fun than reading.

When my Kindle was new, I had three children taking turns with it reading the same book. The process for bookmarking and unbookmarking was button-press intensive. As a result, they only book marked, never unmarking. This meant that we always spent at least a minute, sometimes as much as five, trying to figure out which of the bookmarks belonged to the child whose turn it was to read.

In summary: Paper books are still useful to me in ways that e-books have not yet managed to replicate.