Paper, Pens, and Post-Its

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Backpacks for a new school year

Book stores top my list of pleasant stores to visit. Office supply stores come in second. Yesterday I stopped into Office Depot to buy a medium spiral notebook, the size that fits in my purse. A helpful young man directed me to Aisle 13 where I found a 3-pack with red, blue, and black covers. Of course, I couldn’t check out yet. What if I’d forgotten something? Better to refresh my mind. So, I strolled other aisles, as I’m prone to do. Good thing. I soon recalled I hadn’t yet picked up my donations for Project 1649, Rock County’s organization that helps homeless youths. I kept roaming but with a new purpose. I wandered, analyzing, choosing.  Backpacks, pens, pencils, highlighters.

From an early age I’ve loved school and office supplies. I guess it’s how I roll. In first grade I had a box of Jumbo Crayons. In those days, the eight colors came in a heavy, flat cardboard box with a lift-off lid. I recall placing the colors in a special order. Purple and orange were always in the center. They were the royalty, the king and queen. Brown and green were on each side, the courtiers. And on. Not sure why I did this, except for my enchantment with stories my mom read from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. As I arranged the vibrant colors, I’d think of the stories. A daydreamer.

Vintage ad for Nifty Notebook

Vintage ad for Nifty Notebook, 1963

The appearance of the Nifty Notebook in about 5th grade awed me. It had a such a cool, sleek look with it’s two top holes, and magnetic pencil box. A vintage ad from Newspapers.com shows it on sale for $.98 with filler paper at $.69. It was a bit pricey for a large family in the early 1960’s. I knew if I wanted such a cool notebook, I’d have to buy it myself with earned money. And I did. I saved and bought a lovely green version. Although I only used it for a year or so, I held on to it for ages, buried in my bottom dresser drawer, then in a box. Memories.

August is the month to hunt for and buy school supplies. Shopping for them, or even just strolling through the stores brings back the excitement of Back-to-School. Backpacks, three-ring binders with fresh packages of notebook paper, colorful pocket folders, pencils and pens, erasers, rulers, scissors, index cards, composition books. And who can forget the fragrant smell of a new box of crayons?

IMG_4830 I recall shopping with my sons for their supplies when they were young. It was a fun time, bursting with anticipation for a new school year, a year to be filled with learning and creativity. Using their brand-new supplies, they learned printing, handwriting and telling stories. They painted and colored. They wrote spelling words and numbers. They made images from their growing minds.

I’ve been a student, a mom, a secretary, and a writer.  In the wonder and joy of each profession I’ve needed these supplies. They’re the tools used to communicate and to create. Of course, I haven’t touched on the technology that first came in my sons’ middle years. The wonder of that is for a different post.

Today’s Accomplishments

It’s been 5+ years since my last blog post. Much has happened since then but I won’t try to catch up now. Today, I…

… Cleaned the gutters. To be truthful, I hired a recommended pro to clean them. I just wrote the check. The growing forest of tiny maple trees that yesterday clogged the front expanse and back corners of my gutters is now gone. Cleared away. During thunderstorms I can rest easy, at least until fall.

… Met with my dietician to review what I have been eating, should be eating, how much of it, along with a few helpful tips to keep me on track. Good motivation for the coming months, if only I can stick to it. I also learned she’s retiring next month. Good news for her, not so much for me. I’ll miss our meetings.

… Answered a couple emails to friends. I keep vowing to surprise folks and start sending handwritten letters with ink on real stationery, mailed in envelopes with stamps, as we once did. Just haven’t gotten there yet. I love old-fashioned, penned letters. If enough of us sent them, perhaps we’d keep the U.S. Post Office in business.

… Pulled more weeds from my backyard jungle. Yesterday I weeded for a few hours, until my back began to ache. My gutter guy gave me the name of someone who specializes in garden weeds and lawn care. The thing is, I’d really like to do it myself. I feel better than I have in years and it’s good exercise. Still, it’s nice to have an alternative. I’ll keep the man’s name handy. When I tired of pulling weeds today I…

… Sat on my deck. I savored the sun, breezes, and perfection of blue skies and a 78 degree temperature. While sunning I read more chapters of John Grisham’s CAMINO ISLAND. It’s an interesting book about the world of literary and art thievery, different from Grisham’s usual thrillers about lawyers but still a quick read, a page-turner.

… Opened my laptop and typed “WordPress.com”.  Back in June 2008, when blogs were all the rage, I started this one — Stringing Beads. It began as a journal about me and the things I love — writing, family, love, life. The posts lessened after Tom’s death. My last post was around Valentines Day 2014, a re-hash of my last Valentine to him.  I stopped blogging.  Facebook became an outlet. Today when I opened WordPress, I found I needed to figure it all out again. I’d forgotten to renew my domain name. It was subsequently sold to a Texan.  I got a new one through WP and began refreshing my mind about how to blog.

Stringing Beads is now at debmaher.net.  Whether blogs are still “hot” or not, I hope you’ll follow my new posts, and perhaps skim back through a few of the old (in Archives tag, above). Comments are always welcome.

Listen to the Universe

That whisper you keep hearing is the universe trying to get your attention.    ~Oprah Winfrey

The past months have been crazy-busy.  While trying to keep current with day-to-day tasks at my office day job, I’ve had new projects and programs to learn.  At home I’ve been writing steadily, preparing my work for launching.  Through it all, I’ve been desperate to read and absorb all I can about the ever-changing world of Indie Publishing.

Still, this week I’ve had moments when I’ve heard the whisper of the universe.  They’ve jarred me from intense focus and opened my eyes to a sense of the world’s wonder.  None of the moments were huge. No weddings or childbirths.  No grand championships, or lottery wins.  Just everyday events that softly nudged my soul.

On Friday at work, a new mom brought her seven-week old son to the office to see his grandfather.  I was just coming back from lunch when I saw them walking toward me in the hall. We stopped and talked. Smiling, I watched mom hand the babe to her dad.  He lifted his grandson (his first), cradled him against his shoulder, and gently rubbed his back.  A few co-workers gathered round ooohing and ahhhing, as we women tend to do when we look on a new baby, especially a cutie like this little guy. And while I watched the proud grandfather hold his sweet, sweet grandson, I felt a tiny tingle as the universe whispered. This is life.

Friday night we attended our high school’s football game. Both teams were undefeated. In the chilly October air, hubby and I sat close on the metal bleachers, atop a red plaid stadium blanket that pre-dates our thirty-something sons.  From the booster clubs’ refreshment stands, the scent of hamburgers and fries drifted our way. The bands blared, crowds roared and feet stomped shaking the stands as plays were intercepted, players were tackled, and finally took the ball in for a touchdown, and then another.  Final score – 20 to 16.  We’re still undefeated. 🙂  We don’t go to games often, but when we do, I hear the universe whisper.

Saturday evening, four in our family went out for an early dinner to celebrate son #2’s birthday.  We sat at the table sipping coffee, munching simple food, licking our lips over ice cream desserts.  Throughout the meal we caught up on each others’ lives, and reminisced about earlier times.  They talked of the time son #2 cut his younger brother’s hair.  “You cut his hair?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “You wrote a column about it.”  Funny, I had no memory of the event, or my article.  “How old were you?” I asked.  “Young enough that I was using those little kid’s safety scissors.”  Still no memory, not even of the article.  He shrugged.  “Maybe I cut it up with the safety scissors.”  More talking, laughing, savoring our time together.   And as we parted with warm hugs outside the restaurant, the universe whispered again.

We drove home, passing broad farm fields filled with brittle cornstalks.  Off in the west the sun was setting in a brilliant yellow-red glow, radiating off the clouds.  I wanted to take a picture but was afraid we’d be too late to catch it at home.  My husband turned and drove up to the old Indian Tower on a hill high above our town so I could capture some of the fading brilliance.  And once more, the universe whispered.

It is easy to let precious moments slide by in a rush of daily routines – going to work, cleaning, laundry, shopping.  But as writers, and as humans, we must pay close attention.  Such little moments are gold to claim and commit to our stories, not only to make them real to the reader, but also to live on in our memories.  The velvet feel of a baby’s silken skin.  The proud love in a grandfather’s face.  The blare of a high school band after a touchdown.  Laughter at family stories.  Aroma of strong coffee. The fading brilliance of an October sunset.

I’ve read that the secret to good writing is to just write.  But in our writing we must also learn to pull raw emotion from our daily lives, to transfer those feelings to the written word.  No heightened soap-operaesque overkill, just simple human emotion.

We must listen to the universe.   Thank you, Oprah.  ♥

My Brother Tim

May is the month of warm breezes, blue skies, and fragrant lilacs. It is also the month Timmy was born. My big brother was seven and I was four when Tim burst into our lives, a blond bouncing wonder of a boy. Seventeen months later our baby sister appeared and our small house was filled. Just as my older brother and I were inseparable, so too were Tim and our baby sister.

From the beginning, Tim exuded a teasing, electric energy. It was readily apparent in how he laughed and in how he played. His laughs were wholehearted belly laughs. He loved grown-up things, donning dad’s work helmet and boots, racing his fire engine, riding his tricycle. For him, life was an exhilarating adventure filled with ever new possibilities. He never walked when he could run, as if he knew he had to reach and gather every ounce of enjoyment from each day.

Baby Tim

Family stories are almost legend…how he once climbed out on the porch roof when he was three…how he raced his tricycle into and up a sloping tree.  If he liked something, he wanted to touch and play with it whether it was playful puppies or swimming goldfish.

The morning of July 2nd was hot and promised to get hotter.  We had no air conditioning so doors and windows were open, in hopes of a catching an errant breeze.  Mom was working in the kitchen.  My older brother was eating a bowl of cereal when he happened to glance outside. Mom later told us that his face drained of color.  “The car,” he said.  It was rolling down the hill. They raced outside to see our twenty-one month old sister standing alone in the car’s front seat.

Paula and Tim

The driver’s door was open.  Timmy lay on the street.  He’d fallen, or jumped…no one knows exactly.  The car rolled over him.  Mom found him and lifted his crushed body.  A passing motorist raced them to the hospital. Our four-year old brother Tim died on the operating table.

Death changes life.  The death of a child changes life forever.

All people experience grief. It is part of being human, part of the price we pay for being sentient, for having a soul.

But we also live through true joy, such as my nephew Tim, my sister’s son, experienced three days ago when his son was born.  A new generation.  As he held his newborn son, I have to think that his Uncle Tim was looking down on both his namesake and on his newborn grand-nephew with a huge grin.

As writers we need to draw on life’s grief and on life’s joy and feed these raw emotions to our characters.  We need to make them a part of their lives.  It is how our fictional characters become real.  In this way, our stories become a gift we can pass to others.  

Worry-Wart

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” ~ Swedish Proverb

I’m a worrier. I guess I always have been but I don’t think I realized it until a few years ago.

On a visit to Wisconsin, my siblings and I sat talking around the kitchen table one evening when I said something, although just now I can’t quite recall what.  I do remember that, after the chuckles subsided, my older brother said “Well, Deb always has been a worry-wart.”

A hundred-watt bulb lit up over my head. He was right, of course.  (Big brother is nearly always right.) So strange that I never realized the truth of his words until then.  I guess I figured everyone worried about their kids staying out late, and about loved ones driving in bad weather.  Didn’t everyone wonder if they’d turned off the stove before leaving home?  Didn’t everyone fret whether they’d locked the door, and shut the upstairs window?  In the mall parking lot, did I lock the car, or not?  Did I remember to charge my cell phone before I left on a road trip?  Did I bring the car charger?

I’ve generally kept my worry-wart nature hidden.  Few people know about it, except those closest to me.  Oh, and maybe the neighbors who observe my frequent returns to re-check the front door.  And now, those of you who are reading this post.

In her book, HEROES & HEROINES: Sixteen Master Archetypes, author Tami Cowden describes sixteen basic characteristics for heroes and heroines.  There isn’t a worrier among them.  None of my heroines have been worriers either.  I guess worry just isn’t a very heroic quality.

Still, I think it is a trait that might work well with a Nurturer – a mother who worries unduly.  Or a Waif who might worry about how she will find her next meal, even after she wins the lottery.  Or a Crusader who might worry over whether the greedy nuclear plant builders have built in enough safeguards.

Our heroes and heroines must be heroic but they must be real, too. Perfection creates boredom.  Heroes and heroines are more real when they have some inborn less-than-desirable quality to overcome.  Jealous, intolerant, greedy, vengeful, or lacking faith.  And one who, occasionally, worries.

I believe the reverse is true for villains.  Even Hannibal Lecter, among the most chillingly evil of villains, cared for and, in his own way, looked after Clarice.  I’d love to read about a villain who, in addition to his despicable nature, is also honest, caring, generous, or tolerant.  And yes, even one who worries. 

Hylda’s Husband

A few days ago I wrote about Hylda Schmeling whose charming photos I’d discovered in a Goodwill store.  I relayed details of her life that I’d found in a quick online search.

The Crimson - 1916

Hylda so intrigued me that yesterday I spent an hour or so researching her husband.  It occurred to me that he’d probably graduated from her high school.  Sure enough that’s where I found him, in the pages of The Crimson, their 1916 high school yearbook.

Next to Paul Jenson’s picture, the caption read “A moral, sensible and well-bred man.” It went on to say that he’d entered as a Junior from Park Region Prep School in Minnesota.  In the two years he attended the high school, he was active.  Along with the class play and other activities, he played basketball and was assistant business manager of The Crimson.

The class prophecy jests that he would be President of the Hole-Proof Sock Factory. Another humorous entry jokes about his love of silk socks.  His nickname, like his future wife’s would be, was “Jens”.  His virtue was his good looks, and his favorite expression was “dammit”.   (A more innocent time. :smile:)  He was voted the “greatest doll” and, in a section called “Wouldn’t you like to see”…it reads “Paul Jenson not all dolled up.”  Vivid images.

Paul H. Jenson

Jody Allen, a WisRWA friend, suggested I search for Paul’s military records.  The only listing I found at Ancestry.com was a copy of his draft registration for World War I.   It was signed June 5, 1917, nine days before his marriage to Hylda Schmeling.  So it was a military wedding of sorts.  He was leaving for war; they wanted to marry before he left.  Can you imagine their emotions?

I took another look at census records and found him in the 1900 and 1910 records. His father was from Norway; he’s listed as a Bank Cashier. In 1920, I found Paul and Hylda Jenson living in Edgerton, Wisconsin.  So he did make it home from the war! As his father was, he too was a banker.

After that I can find nothing more of Paul and Hylda.  I’m not sure I want to.

From these raw tidbits of information, I feel I’ve come to know enough about the couple to create outlines.  From there my story will morph into the fun stuff of fiction.  She’s the musically gifted daughter of a well-off German immigrant.  He’s the son of a Norwegian banker who’s just returned from the horrors of fighting in WWI.  As I ponder these two personalities and their backgrounds, a conflict takes root.  A new story begins.

Hylda

I found her in a thrift store, framed in a shiny metal frame and covered with a sheet of thick glass.  She was young.  Pretty, too.  Garbed in a delicate white dress, she wore a broad bonnet, the type worn early in the twentieth century.  Edwardian, I believe.  Maybe 1905 or 1906.

Hylda Schmeling

The frame seemed in good condition but a strip of clear tape skimmed the top.  When I turned it over, I found another photo hinged to the back.  This one was in muted colors and portrayed a young woman.  Her short wavy hairdo captured the essence of the 1920’s. The girls sported similar smiles, similar eyes, and each had a partially hidden dimple in her chin, a subtle angel’s touch.  Given the time span of the two pictures, and the similarities, I knew they must be of the same girl.

Who was she?  How did her lovely images come to be on sale at Goodwill?

I lifted the colored photo taped to the frame’s back and was pleased to find writing.  Someone had scrawled the name “Aunt Hylda Schmeling” across the cardboard.  All doubts about buying the photos vanished.  Little chance Hylda’s lost relatives would venture into the GW and see her there.  For $2.99 I was eager to give her a home.

Later I made some online searches for more info about this charming girl. The unusual spelling of her first name, and the city where I found the photos helped. I learned more than I could have hoped.

Hylda Jenson

Born in October 1899, Hylda appears in both the 1900 and 1910 census.  Like her mother, Anna, she was born in Wisconsin.  Her father, Henry, was born in Germany.  One census lists Henry’s occupation as “own income.” So, she wasn’t poor.

In 1916, Hylda Schmeling sang soprano in a chorale at her high school.  In 1917, she married Paul Jenson in Winnebago County, Illinois, just across the state border.  In 1918 a write-up about the Junior-Senior banquet at her Wisconsin high school reads, “Music was furnished by…Hylda Jenson…and several other skilled pianists.”

The questions raced.  Why did she marry in Illinois instead of Wisconsin, where her family lived?  Did her German father object to her marriage to a Swedish Paul Jenson?  Was she happy in her marriage?  Hard to believe otherwise, given her glowing face and sparkling eyes.

Then, in a scanned copy of her 1918 yearbook, I stumbled across yet another entry for Hylda Jenson, nicknamed “Jens”. Her Senior class picture reveals the same sweet smile, the same dimpled chin.  Next to it reads:

“This little lassie is a wife
And sees no more of courting life;
Her hubby’s in France,
Awaiting the chance
To put an end to all this strife.”

So Paul went off to war.  Is that why they married so young?  Did he ever come home to her?  Or did she live out her years as a young war widow?  Sadly, Hylda herself died in 1934 at age 35.  Were there children?  If not, is that why her charming photographs ended up on the dusty shelf of the thrift store?  None left to mourn her now.

Whatever happened in her life, we know that someone once loved her.  She has a story to tell; I hope to tell it.  Maybe my words won’t reveal her true story, but given when she lived, I hope she would find it amusing.

I often find my inspiration in old photos such as Hylda’s.  Where do you find yours?