Saturday, February 28, 2009

We Are Family--Not Many Crooks and Not Many Crazy

In the past week I have had several pieces of news from our far-flung family. During the Academy Awards ceremony my father’s cousin, screenwriter John Michael Hayes (known to our family as Buddy), was honored in the memorial video. It was the first that I had heard of his death. Next, I found out that my first cousin on my mother’s side of the family, the Reverend Charles Crabtree, had been named President of Zion College, a Pentecostal Bible school that had recently thumped itself down right in the midst of liberal New England.

Two cousins, two men, so different. The first had worked with Alfred Hitchcock to make the movies Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. He adapted and toned down big-budget melodramas like The Carpetbaggers and Peyton Place so that the movie scripts could pass by the censors. The second was a man of God whose college students are winning over their adopted town by doing the good works that they feel are their calling, working at the local homeless shelter and helping out in the soup kitchens of northern New England.
During the same week, the oldest member of Beez’s family, an Italian immigrant, single lady, and devoted auntie who is now 96 years old, was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and was later returned to her home to continue bossing around her caretaker through another spring cleaning. We are rooting for her, and hope to yet attend her 100th birthday celebration.
Beez and Bucksnort and I find ourselves out here on the High Plains, a tiny little family. Though our parents are gone and our children all far away, we were reminded this week that we are still part of a huge and diverse family. In honor of that extended family, I’d like to share this nice old fashioned poem, written about our relatives by Fern Gallup Kinney (click to enlarge it a bit). It appears in her hand-typed and self-published book, Kith and Kin of the Kinneys, which is the genealogical history of the descendants of Israel Kinney (1738-1791) and his wife Susannah Hood (1745-?), who together had 14 children. It is a remarkable piece of pre-Internet research. If you are a relative (and we are legion--Kinneys, Kenneys, Belyeas, Crabbs, Crabtrees, Gibersons, Kimballs, McGees, Gallups, etc.) you will be interested to know that the entire book is available in pdf format and may be downloaded from If you are interested in this document, I would recommend that you download it, as it seems to disappear from online every once in a while.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More Baby Blankets and a Question

Here is the latest batch of baby blankets that I will be donating to the local group that distributes them to new mothers in the community. All the blankets but one are crocheted, based on either individual granny squares or one big square. The last one is knitted in the Old Shale pattern.

Here is my question. If you don't crochet, just skip this odd little discussion. The middle of the blankets done in one big square is wonky--not squared up. I've checked the Internet and see that other blankets made this way have the same appearance. When I first started crocheting, I thought that this happened due to my own error--I didn't understand how to turn the corners on the square (missed reading that part of the directions!)--so my "squares" were actually spirals. Now that I have corrected that error, each round (actually square, in this case) is completed with squared corners before a new round (square) is started, so I don't understand why the center squares look so crooked.

If you have the answer, please leave it in the comments. I would love to solve this mystery!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Librarian as Herpetologist

I have one more "teaching" experience that I would like to share with you from my school librarian days.

Classes at my school were scheduled into the library for one session per week. Our time together went pretty quickly. The kids wrote in their reading logs--a journal of the books they read all year long--then they checked out books. There was often a lesson about finding or using information in a library or online, and then came our favorite part. I would always spend a few minutes reading aloud to the group, a custom they were loathe to part with even in the older grades. I found that there was absolutely nothing else I could do that modeled the value and enjoyment of reading better than these few moments spent sharing a book together.

Some books just seemed to call out for props and these were the ones my old students would come back and talk about years later. One of these was a fascinating one by Bianca Lavies, called A Gathering of Garter Snakes. It is a photo essay about the red-sided garter snakes that hibernate together by the thousands in communal dens in Manitoba, Canada. The subject matter is absolutely riveting, although not for the squeamish.

I would read the book while taking lots of time with the photos, which we would all exclaim over together. After a bit, I would get a sort of twitchy thing going, pretending to be distracted by something under my shirt. Eventually, while focused on the group--still reading and not missing a word, I would slide a hand in and pull out an apparently wiggling little snake. Continuing to read and ignoring all the reactions in the audience, I would casually place it in my lap. After a bit, another little (preplanted) rubber snake would follow, then another, and another. I never, ever lost the attention of a single child during this performance, and the book was always one of the most popular in the library.
Photos from Google Images

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Librarian as Travel Agent

Linda, over at the 7MSN Ranch (stands for seven miles south of nowhere), has a great post today about the wonders of Google Earth. She talks about the amazing way Google Earth lets you fly all around the world and swoop down for close up images of almost any place. I've noticed that more and more people are downloading their photos there so that you can feel as though you are driving or walking right through the neighborhood you are exploring. 

All of this reminded me of the first time I introduced Google Earth to the kids in my school library. For once, I was ahead of them in technology, thanks to our visionary Technology Director! I was lucky enough to have a big touch screen (an interactive whiteboard called a Smart Board) that was hooked up to the computer so that I could control the computer applications with a finger's touch on the board. No matter what I did with that Smart Board, they were my audience, always watching to see what magic would happen next. Everything I ever taught them using that equipment was hardwired into their brains and they could discuss it all with me months later. It was a great teaching tool. 

One week I was beginning a new read-aloud with the fourth grade classes. The book was called Hachiko Waits by Leslea Newman. It is about a loyal Japanese dog who waited daily at the train station for his dead master to return. How we loved that book! We branched out to talk about loyalty, friendship, World War II, Japan's history and its language and alphabet... there was no end of discussion and learning once we got into that book. 

You've probably heard that American students are notoriously weak in their knowledge of geography and maps. Before I introduced Hachiko, I decided to "fly" the class to Shibuya, Japan, where the events in the story take place. When they arrived at the library, they all sat down in their regular seats to write in their reading logs. I announced that we were going on a big field trip without leaving the library, which intrigued them, of course. Then, turning out the lights and telling them to fasten their seat belts, I started manipulating the board and the Google Earth application. 

They leaned forward in their seats as a bird's eye view of the main street of our own little Fremont, New Hampshire appeared on the screen. There was our school! Suddenly, our "plane" took off and up with breathtaking speed, flew over the ocean and around the world, then plummeted down to Japan, quickly zeroing in on Shibuya. They were stunned, they were excited, they were turned on by learning, and they never forgot the geography lesson. This was one class that would always be able to locate Japan on a map!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Going East on the Union Pacific

I was born in Maine. When I was just three months old, my adventurous parents put my bassinet between them on the front seat of the car and headed west to a promised postwar job in the shipyard at San Francisco. Three and a half years later, in 1948, my mother took me on a train trip back to Maine to visit the relatives. Many years later, when I had a three-year old of my own, I took him on a train trip from Washington state to northern California, a total of 18 hours. We had lots of fun, but I can only admire my own mother's fortitude in taking me on a multi-day train trip across the entire country.

All I can remember about my train trip with my mother was the new brown and pink plaid dress she had sewn for me to wear. It had a little "built-in" pink apron, and my mom and I decided that the apron would be perfect for gathering eggs when we got to Uncle Murray's farm.

Reality was quite different from my imaginings. Yes, I wore that little dress out to the hen house but, as a shy and urban child, I could not make my peace with those fierce hens. I do remember feeling extremely offended when Uncle Murray offered me some fresh milk out in the barn. I agreed that a serving of milk would be a good thing, but was shocked when he delivered it by aiming at me with the cow's teat. It was a little too fresh for my citified taste!
Luckily for me, my mother saved the children's menus from the train trip. A little research on the Internet has helped me to piece together a few facts. Two of my menus are marked with the date and I found the same menus on eBay, so now I know that we traveled part of the way on the Union Pacific Railroad. From what I can tell by looking at old railroad route maps, I am assuming that we went to Omaha, and then to Chicago, and then on to New England.

Here are the breakfast, luncheon, and dinner menus for the well-traveled child in the postwar United States. They are an interesting glimpse into our past.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Little Womanly Laughter

Take a few moments, and get ready for some out-of-control laughter.

Frogs in My Formula; I'm a new mom, I have no idea what I'm doing, and I live in Mulletville, CT

Sister Myotis on Thongs. Memphis character actor Steve Swift holds forth on Christian panties

Tales from Labor and Delivery: Stories from a delivery room nurse

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Here are some dishcloths that I just made up as gifts for fellow knitters. You can see how to make them in An Old-Fashioned Project for Frugal Times.

Friday, February 13, 2009


This photo was taken last night in front of my house. As much as I loved living in New Hampshire, I am so grateful to be here in New Mexico now enjoying the sunshine. Back in New Hampshire, my old friends won't be seeing spring flowers for another couple of months...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"An Out-of-Touch Luddite, or Worse, Old"

The title of this post is a quote from a piece on National Public Radio (The End of Offline in Flight? Say it Ain't So, by Eric Weiner, Feb. 11, 2009). Mr. Weiner was saying that he worries about some airlines allowing the use of electronic devices during flights. Weiner used to love his time in flight and offline--it gave him time to think without being plugged in.

That sent me off on a thought flight of my own, but I was thinking about that now old-hat, old- school communication device--the cell phone. Like Weiner, I prize my moments of disconnectivity. You see, I have a confession to make: I don't own a cell phone. 

There. I said it. Please clear the aisles so all four of my loyal readers can stampede toward the exits. 

I've tried to want to have a cell phone. I've tried to want to be able to multitask and talk about private issues in public places. I know that I should have one for safety's sake, but then I think about the fact that, in my town, every place is only about fifteen minutes away from any other place and if worse came to worse, I could walk home if the car broke down. Besides, we are surrounded by kind, church-attending Good Samaritan-wannabes who would no doubt stop to help me if they saw me stranded. 

I actually owned a cell phone for a year. My son called me on my land line and asked about it. 

Son: So, Mom, what's your cell phone number?
Me: I'm afraid I don't know. 
Son: How can you not know?
Me: I never use it. 
Son: How can you never use it?
Me: I don't turn it on. I just have it for emergencies. 
Son: Then how can I call you??????

I was awfully glad to have that emergency cell phone with me when my car slid off an icy rural New Hampshire road and went over a stone wall. The only problem was that, once I had managed to stop shaking, open the car door in the deep snow, and open up the cell phone---I had absolutely no idea how to use it. The nice man who stopped to help me kindly called the police, AAA, and my husband for me. After that, I gave up my cell phone. 

I know they are convenient, but don't you sometimes find them a little intrusive? I don't need to know every little detail and every little move that my friends and family are making. I have a relative who, during the course of a journey to visit me from a nearby state, kept me apprised of his/her every move--"I'm leaving right now." Next call: "I'm at the intersection of 12th and Atlantic." Next call: "I'm coming up to the toll gates." Yikes! In between calls, I was trying to get the house ready for company, and I wasn't making much progress because of all of our "communication."

So here's my question to you. I'm sure I'm practically the only one left in America without a cell phone, but on the off chance that you are also in that rapidly shrinking group, please let me know in the comments. Or, if you "carry," do you love your cell phone? Could you or couldn't you live without it? I'd like to know. 

I'd like to think that I am a reasonable person, not an anti-technology one (the very definition of Luddite, as I've come to understand). I'm a librarian, for heaven's sake, and if there is any group of people in America who has been thrust into the new technology with more gusto than librarians, I'd like to hear about that, too. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

The White House Agenda, and More

Photo is from

I hope that you have been visiting the newly revised White House website. I wish I could take a look at an archived copy of the site before President Obama took office so that I could compare the old and the new. They say that even before he had taken the oath of office on inauguration day the new version of the website went online.  

The site has several sections and you won't be there for long before you understand that this is truly an administration interested in communication and transparency, as promised. The sections are:

The Briefing Room (the weekly address, press releases, a blog that is updated several times a day, etc.).

The Agenda, which spells out the list of projects facing the government. I find this section fascinating, and have read every single word, from Civil Rights to Women's Issues. 

The Administration, where you can read about the President, the Executive Office of the President (Economic Council, Security Council, etc.), Michelle Obama, the Bidens, the White House staff, etc. 

The White House, which includes information on Camp David, Air Force One, and the Vice President's residence, in addition to all kinds of facts and the history of the White House itself.

Our Government--read about the three branches of government, elections, voting, the Constitution, etc. 

Contact information is also included. 

It's a great resource and I'm certainly enjoying having all this information in one place. 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Little More of That West Texas Talk

Here are a few more West Texas sayings that didn't fit into yesterday's post:
The chances are slim to none, and slim done got up and left
Tired of listening to a line, or tired of listening to a telephone solicitor: I've got a cow; I don't need your bull
If it wud'n for the flies, she'd have no friends at all
You're looking at me like a cow at a new fence 
Smiling like a jackass eating cactus
If dumb was dirt, he'd cover about an acre

Here are some handy words and phrases:
I might could do that
I was just fixin' to do that
Y’all, and its plural, ALL y’all

A little guide to some of the words you will hear: 
All = oil
Ass = ice, or iced (Note: When your waitress asks if you want ass-tea, don't be offended)
Far = fire 
Hah, h'ar yew = Hi, how are you?
Tard = tired

Last, but not least, here's a little West Texas jibe at Yankees:
Yankees are kinda like hemorrhoids, they're not too bad when they come down and go back up, but they're a real pain in the butt when they come down and stay.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Say What?

I've moved a lot in my life, mainly within the United States, except for several years in Canada. It seems like every time I get settled in a new place I have to learn a new language. As much as we often tend to talk like TV newscasters--that "neutral" or midwestern-ish accent--there are still lots of regional variations, thank goodness. Long may they continue!

Different accents are fairly easy to get your ear tuned to, especially when you are surrounded by a particular regional one. Think of a southern drawl, or a Boston "pahk the cah" kind of accent. It may be puzzling or even a little jarring at first, but you will eventually make the adjustment. For instance, when I lived in British Columbia, I was able to work out the word "Chewsday" from its context--as in, "I'll see you next Chewsday (Tuesday)." Believe me, the British Columbians were onto me right away. I would get just a couple of words out before they would nod and say knowingly, "So, you're a Yank, eh?"

But every region still has a number of sayings or expressions that you might not hear elsewhere. West Texas (and let me tell you, the plains of eastern New Mexico are considered a part of West Texas) has plenty of exceptionally delightful ones. I've been making a little collection, which I present to you here. Definitions are at the bottom of the page. A few of them might sound familiar, especially as our former President lived in West Texas.

1. Whopper-jawed

2. Out of pocket

3. Looks like she's been rode hard and put up wet

4. Gully washer

5. Root hog, or die!

6. Djeetyet?

7. This ain't my first rodeo

8. It's so dry the trees are bribin' the dogs

9. All hat and no cattle

10. They ate supper before they said grace

11. They're splittin' the sheets

12. We've howdied but we ain't shook yet

13. You can put your boots in the oven but that don't make them biscuits


1. Whopper-jawed: Crooked--or cattywampus, in some sections of the country

2. Out of pocket: Absent, can't be found--Keys, for instance, can be out of pocket (not necessarily lost, just not immediately findable); although I've heard a person say they've been "out of pocket" after a short absence

3. Looks like she's been rode hard and put up wet: This might describe a haggard-looking female

4. Gully washer: Hard rain

5. Root hog, or die!: Do it yourself, no one else is gonna

6. Djeetyet?: Did you eat yet?

7. This ain't my first rodeo: I've been around a while

8. It's so dry the trees are bribin' the dogs: We could really use some rain

9. All hat and no cattle: All talk and no action

10. They ate supper before they said grace: They are living in sin

11. They're splittin' the sheets: They are getting a divorce

12. We've howdied but we ain't shook yet: We've met briefly but haven't been formally introduced

13. You can put your boots in the oven but that don't make them biscuits: You can say whatever you want about something but that doesn't change what it is




DJ’s Texas State of Mind

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"A Door is Just an Idea"

I once took an undergraduate class in logic from a Catholic priest. I would think, I am learning about logic from a Catholic priest, and I would find that fact amazing and even amusing. However, I wasn't really learning anything, and it certainly wasn't the fault of the priest.

The class was in a very small lecture hall at a Catholic women's college. I always sat near the front, in the hope that proximity would help the learning process. I would lean forward in my chair, staring at the mouth of the lecturer. And this is what I saw, at least in my mind's eye.

Father Michael would speak. He would inform. He would elucidate. I would watch the words coming out of his mouth--wonderful words like quality, determinate, becoming, and dialectic. Lovely words like analysis, being, nothingness, syllogism, idealism, and rational. Even better ones like metaphysics and transcendental. All those amazing words coming toward me in a great arc and then--suddenly--crashing up against an invisible wall and sliding down in a great heap at the feet of the priest. I strained to receive those words, but they never got to my brain. I never understood a thing he said.

I would just watch the pile of words grow and grow, and I would feel more and more lost. Occasionally, Father Michael would stop and (very kindly) say, "Clair, are you getting any of this?" I would have to shake my head and say, once again, "No, Father." And he would invite me to stay after class once more for a bit of coaching that simply never helped. It was like a foreign language to me and I could not find the translation key.

That was all many years ago, but I never forgot that vision of the words sliding away from me and landing in a jumbled and inaccessible heap. A couple of weeks ago, I came across something in a book I was reading that, amazingly, almost replicated that vision, but went way beyond it. Let me share a couple of quotes with you--the first is the one about words, and I've put in the second quote because it is so memorable. I hope it will make you want to read the book, which was quite unforgettable. It has a smashing title, too.

From As Hot As it Was You Ought to Thank Me, by Nanci Kincaid

[When hearing a hard truth]:

Words are funny, the way they come at you full force, then just bounce right off you like bullets off the side of a steel barn. I saw those words coming, I saw the force of them, but they just slapped up against me and bounced away. Words need a place to enter. A lot of people think you got to let words in through your ears, but that’s not so. Words can get in other ways--harder ways. They can come in through your open eyes. You can breathe them in. They can work their way through your sweaty skin like ringworms do. They can enter a wound you are trying to heal up. They can just sit on you like a tick you didn’t know was there, attach themselves to you and sort of suck their way in.

Once words are spoken, then there they are. They don’t just vanish into thin air like some people think. They don’t just disappear. They are like parasites that become part of some larger organism, like a small idea that hooks into all your bigger ideas. Words are as real as anything, which is why speaking lies is so dangerous.


[When the hurricane was coming]:

The thunder was insistent, like door knocking that would not let up. It seemed about making us let something inside--and we didn’t want to. We refused. The early thunder was almost polite, distant and just as comfortable as hearing your name called at suppertime. But the later thunder had lost all patience, given up on convincing us and decided to threaten us, like a maniac who’d knock the door down by banging his head against it if he had to. It made me understand that we don’t always get to decide what we let in and what we keep out. A door is just an idea.