Gone With the Stroke of a Pen

Monday, September 24, 2012

My mother sold her house last week. She accepted the offer several weeks ago, but the sale closed on Tuesday. Sixty years of property ownership gone with the stroke of a pen.

The house has been empty for a year and a half. Mama knew it didn't make sense to continue paying the insurance and maintaining the property when she wouldn't ever live there again. So selling it was the right thing to do.

But the house has a history in our family, and the sale reminds us that life is never static.

My parents bought the property in the early 1950s, while I was a toddler. As a minister who lived in church-owned housing, Daddy wanted a piece of real estate that he could call his own and where he could build his retirement home. So they purchased two lots, side by side, in an undeveloped area just outside the city boundaries of Holland, Michigan. The plans for the area showed a street running in front of our lots, but First Avenue didn't materialize until a number of years after my parents bought the land--and that was just fine with my father. When I was a child, we drove by the neighbors' house, which faced the cross street, and along a rough track to get to our property.

In 1954, my parents built a dual-purpose concrete block building. My father planned to use it as the garage for their retirement house. First, however, it was our summer cottage, with a working half bath and a well for water. One of my favorite features was the cement floor Daddy laid. He poured squares of concrete tinted with pastel dyes, creating a checker-board of yellow and pink and green and blue. I wish I had a picture of it.

By the time I had a family of my own, Daddy and Mama had built a real house and were using the garage for its intended purpose. My brothers and I were grown and away from home when Daddy retired, so we never lived in the main house. But we continued to make memories there.

Memories of summer visits and Christmases and time spent as an extended family. For my children, it is the house where their Grandpa and Grandma Page lived. The home where everyone was welcome.

The last picture shows the house as it looked when it was first built and for a number of years thereafter. (Yes, that is Roland, Caroline, John, and me.) Eventually my parents added the stone facade and enclosed breezeway you can see in the first picture.

It was a nice house, and now it's gone. Metaphorically speaking.

Still, it is only the house that's gone. Just a thing. Important to people's lives, yes, but only a thing. It isn't the house that makes a family strong, it's the love. The love and the memories, which continue to be very much a part of us.

During the past year and a half, the house didn't have a chance to create new memories.

Now it can.

Indiana Writers' Consortium Website

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I am an active member (and current president) of the Indiana Writers' Consortium and was involved in redesigning its website, which is located at www.indianawritersconsortium.org. I'd love to have you look at it and see what you think. If you have comments on the site, don't post them here. Well, you can, but if you make them through the contact page on the IWC website, you will be entered into a drawing for autographed books.

Discover who IWC is by reading the About page, then check out its author members, find a speaker for your next event, and browse through the bookstore. Visit the Events page or click on the link at the right of any page for information about IWC's upcoming banquet on October 2.

IWC is an IRS Section 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. You can support us by checking out the site and leaving your comments.


Wasting Money on Learning?

Monday, September 17, 2012

No, I'm not talking about the Chicago teachers' strike. In fact, this post isn't about formal education at all, so I guess the picture is a little misleading.

When we moved to the condo, I had to change my exercise routine, and it was no longer convenient to time my exercise by the length of a 30-minute TV show. Yes, I've heard about the old-fashioned invention called a "watch," and I wear one constantly. But if I have to keep looking at it to see how many minutes have passed, time seems to drag and my exercising becomes extra boring. ("I still have 15 minutes left?" Groan.)

I do have an I-Pod so I can listen to music or books or lectures while exercising, and that helps. But I still need to be able to time it. Listening to the same music gets repetitive after a while, and audio books have a different problem. They vary in length so I still have to look at my watch, and what if I am in the middle of a chapter or a short story when my time is up? I would probably stop exercising but continue listening, which would mess up my schedule.

So I purchased some of the Great Courses from The Teaching Company. Each course is a series of lectures that are either 30 minutes or 45 minutes long. The 30 minute lectures are perfect for timing my climb up and down the condo stairwell, and the 45 minute lectures keep me entertained on my morning walk. Since I started, I have listened to lectures about C.S. Lewis, the origin and development of the English language, and classical mythology. I am in the middle of a series on understanding and appreciating great music.

Audio books would be cheaper because I could borrow a digital copy from the library, but they wouldn't satisfy my timing needs. Besides, I'm learning a lot from listening to the Great Courses.

As with anything else, some teaching tools are more cost-effective than others, and your choices may depend on your resources. If money is an issue, the library is a good solution.

But money spent on learning is never wasted.

Let There Be Light

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's amazing what a little light can do.

Light was the first thing God created, and I'm sure there were plenty of reasons for that honor. Light=good. Dirt and cockroaches and evil can't hide in it. Light=knowledge and truth. Falsehood can't hide in it, either. Light=growth. Think plants and the illumination that comes from education (formal and informal). And there are plenty of scientific studies that show light=hope and cheer, overcoming the depression that darkness creates in the human spirit.

And, of course, light helps you see what you are doing.

Not that God needed it for that. I'm sure he can see perfectly in pitch darkness. But his creatures can't, and I'm one of them.

I like our condo, but I don't like the lack of direct light. In the four months since we moved in, I've been buying lamps and trying different ways to light up the living room, the master bedroom, and especially my office. Even with four strategically placed lamps, my office was still dark.

Until now.

Last Saturday I went to Lowe's and purchased the chandelier shown in the picture. There's no electrical box in the office ceiling, but there is a hook in the center. So I figured I'd just buy a chandelier-type light with a chain: one I could swag across the ceiling and plug into a wall socket. Simple, right?

Except they no longer sell chandeliers that plug into wall sockets. None of the ceiling lights at Lowe's would work.

Without the box or a conversion kit, that is. The conversion kit saved me. There must be a lesson in there somewhere, but I'll save it for another day.

Because right now I'm basking in the light.

Not What It Used to Be

Monday, September 3, 2012

The job market isn't what it used to be. And I, for one, am grateful.

I know there are many unemployed people who are desperately searching for any job at all, and I don't want to minimize their plight. But this post is aimed at those of us who are currently employed or are retired after a long career.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we honor all who work in factories, fields, offices, classrooms, or at other job sites. Hard work and dedicated workers abound in today's work environment. But as I look back at earlier times, I realize that workers used to have a much harder life.

Here is a description of laundry workers in 1939.

The clanging of metal as the pistons bang into the sockets, the hiss of steam, women wearily pushing twelve pound irons, women mechanically tending machines, one, button half of the shirt done, two, top finished, three, sleeves pressed and the shirt is ready for the finishers, that is the scene that greeted me as I stood in the Laundry's ironing department.

Shirts, thousands of white shirts that produce such a dazzling glare that the women who work in this department wear dark glasses to protect their eyes. The heat is almost unbearable; there seems to be gushes of damp heat pushed at you from some invisible force in the mechanism of the machine. The smooth shiny faced women work in silence, occasionally dropping a word here and there, slowly wiping away dripping persperation, then back to the machines, to the heavy irons without any outward show of emotion--no protest.
Yes, there are still some backbreaking and dangerous jobs and a lot of sweaty and monotonous ones. But most of us forget how good we have it.

Labor Day should be a time to remember.


NOTE: The quote is from a manuscript compiled as part of the Federal Writers' Project in 1936-1940. These manuscripts are government-created documents and are available on the Library of Congress' website. WPA Life Histories. The excerpt is from "Laundry Workers" by Vivian Morris and is Item 208 on the New York list of American Life History manuscripts.

The photograph is from an earlier time and a different place but was the best illustration I could find to go with the text. I got the photo from Wikimedia Commons, which describes it as a 1901 photograph of Charvet's model laundry in Paris, photographer unknown. The photograph is in the public domain because of its age.