Saturday, November 30, 2013

For Small Moments

The dog comes to greet us every morning before we get out of bed. We're retired now. This reminds us we can sleep in later than our daughter. We chuckle at the dog, watch her leave as Emma calls her from the door, and turn over to embrace each other before starting our day.

“Tell Grampa the joke, Lucien.” Two year old Lucien pokes his grampa in the nose and says, “EAR”, and giggles because he knows it's a nose. That's the joke.

A fat cheeked, dimpled baby Opal with wide eyes watches her brothers play with smiles turning her face into a round, joyfilled sun.

Dropping Patrick off to babysit the grandkids, I hear Mattheus yell from the dining room “UNCLE PATCHY!!” and Lucien just yelled.

Two ladies on the train in Chicago laugh and joke with us, telling me how I would look good with my hair in corn row braids. One of the ladies has stayed with us at Ronald McDonald House. I know what she's going through with her new grandson. We embrace and cry a little when Emma and I have to leave.

A homeless man sees us trying to figure out where we are going at the train station. He comes over and asks where we want to go, then he escorts us straight to the platform. Only after we are at the right place does he ask if we have some spare change to give him. When I admit I don't have any at all, he smiles and wishes us a safe trip.

We make it out to the passenger pick-up area just as Chris drives up. For two tired travelers, this is a wonderful moment.

On Thanksgiving morning, I receive a message from an out-of-town friend, expressing gratitude for our friendship. It means more to me than I can express. Today our family is getting together for a meal. The house will be wonderfully loud and crazy. 

Some times I find myself waiting for the big things to happen and forgetting that small moments make up most of our lives. This year, I want to try harder to appreciate all the small moments.

Today I get to practice this after I stepped in dog poop. It was a small moment too, and I'm really, really thankful it wasn't any bigger.

Friday, November 15, 2013

When Novel Characters Go on Holiday

It's November, which is also called National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, which is also called, How to Torture Yourself by Writing Fifty Thousand Words in Thirty Days or HoToYoWriFiThoWoThiDa. As a number of women in my author's group were joining in, I figured I would try it, too. It would be good practice for me and, who knows? Maybe I'll end up with one of those surprise successes and be the next J. K. Rowling.

First things first. I had to figure out what to write about. This didn't take too long. I went thirty-four years into my past and decided to write a novel based on my experiences working in a deaf/blind preschool. If nothing else, there were plenty of quirky characters involved. I remember the psychologist who came to the school to offer his advice and ended up talking mostly about the good old days when one could use electric shocks and other aversion techniques. It still makes me shudder.

Next? There wasn't really time to plan anything else. Suddenly it was November 1st and I had a word quota of approximately 1670 words per day over the next thirty days. I've learned a few things about writing in this way:

If you're working towards a word quota, always spell everything out. One thousand, six hundred and seventy counts as more words than 1,670. 

Don't go back and read what you wrote. You'll be tempted to delete something and that will take away from your word count.

Keep tea and chocolate on hand at all times.

Don't over think your writing. The characters sometimes just say what they are going to say. This is called, getting into the flow.

I was doing well with this until yesterday when one of my characters started to yawn. What's the matter, I thought, is my writing really so boring? He yawned again and I started yawning, too. It was contagious. I decided we all needed a day off. I announced this to my characters and let them know I would expect them back promptly the next morning. A couple of them cheered.

This isn't a new concept. I first learned of the secret lives of book characters when I read "The Eyre Affair" and "Lost in a Good Book", both by Jasper Fforde. The characters in these books travel around and generally do whatever they want to do at those times when they aren't needed for the story until page 178. 

If you haven't read these Thursday Next detectives stories, I would highly recommend them to anyone who enjoys intelligent literary humor and having your brain tied in knots while you try to figure out what's going on. Even if you read it just for the bookworms, who sometimes have digestive trouble and start farting apostrophes whi'ch make' eve'ry'one' tal'k li'ke thi's, you'll be glad you did.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the characters in my story. I decided they needed a break just as much as I did. It paid off. They were all back and ready to go to work today. Nobody yawned. I didn't ask them where they went or what they did. I figured it was their time and their business.

We're definitely back in the flow.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Neighborhood Library

Our family loves books. They can't help it. Our son, Patrick, has enough books to fill a small bookstore, all in his bedroom.. and the studio.. and the back kitchen. I think there's one in the bathroom, too.

Book collecting comes to our family naturally. Chris worked at the University Library for nearly 30 years and his mother, Natalie, was the librarian and reading teacher at Notre Dame Catholic School in Denver for almost that long. Patrick is now working for a company that sells used books online.

When Chris was growing up, their family read out loud every evening. It was a beautiful tradition which we continued with our own children. In fact, we used to read out loud to each other even before our children were born. P.G. Wodehouse and Pogo were my favorites.

There's only one problem when books are such a big part of one's life. They start to take over the house. We have fantasies and mysteries, gardening books and build-it-yourself manuals. We have whole sets of Dickens, Shakespeare, J.K. Rowling, Patrick O'Brian, Dorothy Gilman, Ellis Peters, and Agatha Christie. There are spiritual books and collections of Doonesbury cartoons. I doubt there is anywhere in our house where you couldn't find at least one book within arm's reach. I believe used bookstores have a magnetic pull on my family.

It's time to share. We've loved the idea of the Little Free Libraries and decided to create our own. The website ( says this: "In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share." If you go to their website, you'll see photos of some amazing Free Libraries, some looking like large birdhouses on fence posts or trees.

Ours has been created from an old metal cabinet which once held motor oil or transmission fluid, or something like that, in a gas station. We cleaned it up, painted it, and it is now filled with books, just waiting for some of you to come by.

A few titles to tempt you:  Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, The Jim Chee Mysteries by Tony Hillerman, several Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters, a number of old Oz books by Frank Baum, and lots, lots more.

Come by and visit!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Common Sense and Respect vs Blame and Shame

(Note - many people responded to the blog article which upset my daughter so much. Most bloggers responded within hours. It took me 5 days. I'd like to say it's because I think about things more before I respond, but it's mostly because I'm just slow. Emma encouraged me to post this anyway.)

When my daughter came out to talk to me the other day, she was angry. Not just a little perturbed, not miffed, she was so livid I instinctively reached for the fire extinguisher.

This is a young woman who rarely gets angry about anything. She has, after all, inherited her mother's calm demeanor. So what got her so upset? She had read a blog article about modesty and how girls are posting indecent photos of themselves on their Facebook pages. According to the article, this family goes through their son's Facebook page together. They talk about what is decent and what is not decent, and all those indecent girls are unfriended. No second chances.

A friend of mine is disgusted with the local Catholic newspaper. She says their focus seems to be on creating more and more rules to follow. Specifically, she pointed out an article which went into detail about how women should dress. This friend is also one who rarely gets angry at anything.

Neither of these women wear clothing I would ever consider to be inappropriate nor could I imagine either of them posting indecent photos on Facebook. They both use common sense when it comes to what they share on social media. I figured I'd better read these articles to see why they were so upset.

By the time I finished both articles, there was a knot in my stomach that wouldn't go away. Why? What bothered me?

These articles are directed towards females and only females.

I do understand the concern of parents regarding social media. The internet has opened up infinite possibilities for us and these possibilities include sexual photos, videos, chatrooms, and other activities which are not healthy for children. Heck, adults are struggling to figure out what the new normal might be in this regard. It's not only good, but important for parents and teens to have conversations about all sorts of issues surrounding sexuality.

I went online and looked for other sources of information about appropriate dress for women and men. On one of the few sites which list guidelines for men, there are only a fraction of the rules compared to those in place for women. Dressing appropriately makes sense, but when these suggestions, guidelines, and rules are focused so strongly towards women, other things start to come to my mind:

A Toronto policeman who said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” (link here)

In India, a woman is brutally beaten, raped, and murdered. Women are rising up in India and saying enough is enough. Sucharita Eashwar of WEConnect International states, "Politicians are saying that the women demonstrating are 'painted, dented women'. Women must wear traditional sarees and salwar kameez and be stopped from wearing skirts as their clothes attract rapists to them." (link here)

Dean Saxton in Tuscon, Arizon preaches christianity to his fellow students while holding a sign which says, “You deserve Rape”, suggesting that any girl wearing short shorts in 90 degree weather was asking to be raped. (link here)

Imam Shahid Mehdi has stated in a television interview that women who do not wear headscarves are asking for rape. “Women are not entitled to respect when they walk around without a Hijab. They are to blame for it when they are attacked.” (link here)

I understand the concern of parents when it comes to the internet. We all need to educate ourselves and decide how we will use this technology and when we will decide to limit its use. This is not just an issue for teenagers and their parents. It is not just a matter of scolding young girls for being “indecent”, however mildly and tactfully is it done.

My daughter said the article was condescending, not tactful. It was telling her to be ashamed of her body because if she's not careful, some boy might have impure thoughts and it would be her fault. It may be obvious, but what one person considers to be indecent may be very different from another.

I told her boys will have all sorts of thoughts, no matter what she wears and no matter what she posts on Facebook. Sexual arousal is a normal process. Sexual thoughts are normal. We do our sons no favor if we tell them otherwise. Shame is a strong force, a powerful and potentially destructive emotion.

So, Mrs. Hall, if you insist your son unfriend all his indecent friends, that's fine with me. It's your family decision. I have no argument with that. What I will argue is the appropriateness of addressing this subject with the girls in this way. Asking girls to be “decent” in order to keep your son's thoughts pure isn't terribly far from telling a young woman she is asking for rape by wearing a miniskirt.

Teach your son to respect and value women, regardless of what they are wearing.

Teach your son that sexual feelings are normal, natural feelings. There is nothing wrong or impure about them. Women and girls have sexual feelings, too. We all learn that we don't act on every feeling, no matter how strong they are. This is part of growing up.

Teach your son to consider the consequences of his actions, especially how they will effect others. Then trust him to do just that. Be a good example. When you mess up and hurt someone by your words or deeds, do what you need to do to make it right.

Know that, regardless of what might go through the minds of boys and men, the males of our species are much more noble, more protective of women, and more easily embarrassed than we women give them credit for. Most young men will rise up to our trust in them.

As for the article in the Catholic newspaper telling women how to dress properly, most women are quite capable of figuring this out for themselves.

I, on the other hand, need my daughter to supervise me when I dress, at least if I have to dress up to go somewhere. She's much better at style than I am.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Death by Watermelon

Okay, first the good news.  Josephine is back after an attempt to hatch eggs in our back shed.  She was hiding very well, but something found the eggs when she dashed off to get a bite to eat.  When I finally found her, she was looking sadly at a few small pieces of egg shell, the only evidence of her hard work.  She's safe and sound and now laying her eggs in the nesting boxes.

Now the bad news.  Earlier this evening, I was looking out the window and saw chicken legs pointing into the air.  That's not good.  Chickens will sometimes lie down in odd positions while they take a dirt bath, but I've never seen one sleep on its back.  I figured something had to be wrong and it was.  Our old white hen was dead, unmistakably dead.  The little x's on her eyes were a dead giveaway.  What could have happened?

My husband, Chris, had come out with me.  He said something about compost and food scraps and that he didn't think anything had hit the chickens.  When I figured out what he was talking about, I looked into the pen. There was a large piece of watermelon on the ground, which obviously had been in the food scrap bucket when Chris had tossed everything over the fence.  The watermelon must have bounced and turned lethal while no one was watching.

I briefly considered finishing the job and preparing the old hen for dinner. This was an old hen.  She was so old, she even laid wrinkled eggs. And she was scrawny.  If this had been one of our large hens, there would be no way I would have passed up the opportunity for good chicken soup, but this one?  Chris convinced me it wouldn't be worth the time and effort... not to mention the smell.

As we dug the hole and buried her, the other hens started cackling, much in the same way they do when they lay eggs.  Maybe they were worried.  The old white hen hadn't laid an egg in a few weeks.  The others must have decided not to take any chances.

We'll see how many eggs we get tomorrow.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Napoleon Meets His Waterloo

It had been a few days since we'd heard our bantam rooster, Napoleon, crow.  Not that we were worried.  Napoleon wasn't so loud and we knew he had taken to patrolling the area just behind our fence, which made him harder to hear.  No, Napoleon had been with us a long time.  He was a survivor.

The next day we started looking for him, without success.  I started to miss the little bugger. Without him, who would run up behind me and attack my feet and ankles?  

It had become a daily battle.  Every time I walked out of my studio, I had to be on the alert, for I knew Napoleon would be waiting for me... somewhere.  Sometimes I armed myself with a broom so I could get across the yard unscathed. Other time, I fooled myself into believing he wasn't around and I took off barehanded.

It never failed.  Before I had taken ten steps, I would hear his feet running toward me, and my heart would start to race.  I'd speed up and he'd run faster, too. At the best of times, I was never as fast as he was, so I finally braced myself for the inevitable.

I swore.  I threatened to turn him into rooster stew.  If I tried to brush him away with the broom, he was ecstatic!  Here was a battle with a new enemy!  He would charge at the broom repeatedly, occasionally making a quick dart at my feet, until I finally slipped into the back of the house and pulled the door closed.  My heart was pounding.

It was a game we both enjoyed, most of the time.

After a week and after seeing a fox in our yard a few times, we realized Napoleon wasn't coming back.  He had met his Waterloo at the drainage ditch behind the back fence.  No more crowing. No more attacks on my feet.  No, I didn't shed any tears, but I was a little sad.

A few days later, Chris came in and said he hadn't seen Josephine for awhile.  This time, I was ready to think the worst and I concluded we must have lost her to the foxes, too. The thought of losing Josephine was hard. She was nothing like Napoleon. Josephine, a Golden Seabright, was tiny, fast, fearless, and amazingly sociable.  She would follow me around the yard and let me pick her up and carry her.  She would be missed.

We'll hold out a little hope. She went missing once before and was eventually found sitting on a nest full of eggs under the rabbit cage.

We'll let you know!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Green is All

Cool wet grass
leading down the hill
to the river.
Rice in the meadow,
trees swaying,
mountains still
like paintings behind the mist.

Vivid green
into blind eyes seep,
at least when shades of gray disappear in sleep.

Green remains,
like memories of running, climbing,
being loved,
and Mama who calls...
rice and daal for dinner!"

All the rest
were washed away
till trickling streams 
of reds, golds, and blues
ran together,
falling into fever's flames
and lost forever.
Mama cried,
thinking I was lost, too,
trickling away with the colors.

But I came back to shades of gray
and memories of green
that still remain.

terri reinhart - fall 2012

I wrote this poem for Sita, who became blind at age 5 after having Typhoid fever.  Sita's daughter, Ishwori, is the subject of my short prose/poetry biography, Ishwori.  When I began writing this story, I found it very difficult to write in prose.  This poem is what got me started and helped me to find the proper storytelling voice for Ishwori.  
The profits from online sales go to help support Ishwori and her young cousin in Nepal.  Through the end of May, you can get a 25% discount on the paperback edition when you order directly from Createspace.  This is our way of thanking everyone for their support.

"Ishwori is a story of trials and challenges, of light and darkness, of love and perseverance - a story that needs to be told - a story that needs to be heard!"    Susan Perrow                 DISCOUNT CODE - MHVSK4YH

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Why I Write

One of my least favorite classes in high school was the required Essay Composition course. As our school was very large, these required courses were always full. There were somewhere between 100 and 120 students in my essay class. We sat in alphabetical order, which meant I sat right behind my sister. She was a year ahead of me and got A's and B's on each paper, while I had straight C's.

There wasn't anything personal in this class. The teacher lectured to the entire group, then assigned our work. She didn't even read the papers herself, but had professional paid graders reading them. If it hadn't been for an amazing poetry teacher, my writing may not have ever gone beyond grocery lists and notes to the parents in my kindergarten class.

I never planned to be a writer.

After I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2007, I began journaling to help process this new challenge in my life. At the same time, I had a friend who was helping me to see the humorous side of everything in life, especially our challenges. This led to a few crazy articles which another friend showed to my neurologist. Eventually, I put them altogether in a blog I was still self-conscious about my writing and so my blog, or journal, was hidden in the middle of my website about art, craft work, and teaching.

Though, to me, having a blog is mostly just a place to store my writing in case my computer crashes, I've had a few letters from other people with Parkinson's disease or other challenges write lovely letters to me, telling me how inspired they were by my articles.

Last summer, something else happened and this has sent me on a new path. A friend of mine does a lot of volunteer work in Nepal. Through him, a young woman contacted me and asked me to write her story. She is one of the many women who were forced into prostitution as a child. How could I say no? She sent audio recordings to me, telling me her story in her broken English. I listened and spent a lot of time researching her country. The result is a short biography in a simple prose/poetry style. The profits from the book, Ishwori, go directly to this lovely young woman in Nepal.

As soon as Ishwori was being printed, a young woman from Kazakhstan contacted me and asked for help telling her story. Then, a young man from Uganda contacted me, again, asking for help with his story. These two will do much of the writing themselves, but what a privilege it it to work with these young people and hear their stories!

The internet has given writers an opportunity to practice writing and share our work. This is a fascinating time to be a writer. Through the internet we can connect with people all over the world. I can have Facebook friends who live in a shack village in Kathmandu. Through the internet, one friend taught me to speak some Nepali.

My diagnosis of Parkinson's disease has not limited my life, it has given me the motivation to write and has stretched my world to include many more people than I ever imagined knowing. It was also challenged me to constantly improve my writing.

In the process, I've discovered something nice. I write because I really, truly enjoy it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Raising Lexus - where are we now?

Whatever it was, I didn't do it.
Let's see, Lexus is now 5 months old.  She's at a very busy time in her development, kind of like kindergarten children.  Most of the time, she knows what she should and shouldn't do, but she still can't help herself.  If there's something there to chew, she's on it.  When we catch her, she looks up at us with her beautiful and very innocent looking eyes, and pretends she not doing whatever she's doing.

Emma's mentor, Mitzie, brought over a number of toys, collected from other puppy raisers, to help keep Lexus happily occupied.  We are so grateful, not only for the toys, but for Mitzie's constant support and encouragement on this journey.

To sum up the last couple of months...

I'm becoming an expert at repairing gentle leaders and other dog halters after they've been chewed apart.

Silence is veeerrrryyy suspicious, crunchy noises even more so.

Housebroken is housebroken, until she grows faster than her bladder.

After Lexus eats, we now plan on spending time in some crazy puppy play.  Gotta help her find reasonable ways to burn off energy or she'll find a few unreasonable ways.

on the more positive side...

Lexus hasn't had an accident in the house in weeks.  When we go outside and tell her to "hurry", the command for "okay, either pee, poop, or both, before we go back inside, and do it now", she'll obey right away.

She has the sit and stay commands down.

She knows the commands here, let's go, wait, release, down, and shake.  She's not always consistent, but she's getting there.

She's learning to go get something and bring it back to us.  Occasionally, she'll even drop it on command. Once in a while, she'll even drop it in my lap.  Unfortunately, she sometimes accompanies the object and climbs or jumps into our laps, too.

She's learning what we mean when we say "DON'T!"  She just sometimes chooses to ignore us.  We know it's just a phase she's going through.  She's testing us to find out who's boss and finding out that when we say, "DON'T", we mean it.

The best part is Lexus seems to really enjoy getting out and around people.  We've gone into stores, a pizza restaurant, the ballet studio, and she accompanied me to school one day.  She's been great!  We're looking forward to getting her used to bus rides on the 16th St. Mall downtown and then, maybe, she can go to my  University classes with me now and then.  For sure, she'll attend community college with Emma in the fall.

It's a lot of work.  Like with children, it's not always easy to tell we're doing the right thing.  Are we too strict or not strict enough?  Do we balance the work with play?  Are we consistent?

I think she'll turn out just fine. Just like the kids.

Lexus meets Stormy the donkey

Monday, February 4, 2013

Raising Lexus - month 1

It's amazing how fast a puppy can grow.  Lexus was not quite 15 lbs when she first arrived and now she weighs 26 lbs!  It's also amazing how quickly she is learning.  Emma is a good trainer.  After one month, Lexus is housebroken, will sit and wait for Emma to give her permission to eat her food, will sit on command almost all the time, will run up to me and automatically sit down calmly so I can pet her, and she no longer barks when she wants to come out of the playpen or kennel.
There is a lot more Lexus will have to learn and she likes to remind us she is still a young puppy.  She knows she's not allowed past the kitchen.  If she is curious enough and feeling mischievous, she will make a sudden dash, running through the house like lightening, usually picking up a shoe on her way. If she's going to be scolded, might as well have a little fun first.
Mostly, it's just a lot of fun having a puppy around again!

Lexus - February 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

Raising Lexus

Our daughter, Emma, received her best gift a few days after Christmas when we drove out to the airport and picked up Lexus, an 8 week old yellow lab puppy.  Lexus is on loan, really.  She is a Canine Companions for Independence puppy. Emma has volunteered to raise her and begin the basic training over the next 16 months or so.  After that, Lexus will go back to the training program in California to continue learning how to be a service dog.

This is going to be exciting!  Of course, it's been a long time since we've had a puppy in the house.  

We've forgotten a lot.  Fortunately, Emma has a mentor who has raised 5 puppies for the program. Mitzi comes over regularly to check in and make sure Lexus is doing well and we are still sane.  

What we've learned so far....

Puppies are a lot like babies.  They wake up at night, cry, want to be held, get hungry, and have tantrums.  

It's a good idea to sleep when the puppy is sleeping.

One can accomplish anything: toenail trimming, ear cleaning, baths, etc, as long as there's a spoon with peanut butter to lick off.  (the puppy, not you)

Don't give the puppy attention while they are whining or barking.  If you do, the puppy learns to whine or bark when they want attention.  This is easier said than done, especially when the bark is ear piercing.  It is also difficult until you learn which whine means, "Let me out now or you'll spend the next hour cleaning my crate."

It's cold outside at 3 am when puppy has to go out and pee.  Especially in January.

Puppy needs exercise.  Play with the puppy and take them for walks, but at this young age, it doesn't take much to tire them.  Like all babies and toddlers, they need their naps or they get cranky.  A cranky puppy is not fun.  

A regular rhythm works wonders.  This takes awhile to establish, so be prepared to put up with puppy tantrums at first.  It's worth the work. 

Toys purchased at pet shops aren't nearly as exciting as shoes, slippers, the fringe on the carpet, and my sweater.

Klezmer music will calm Lexus down quicker than anything at nap time.  Maybe she's Jewish?

Cradling Lexus in my arms will calm me down quicker than anything... any time of the day.

The best news a puppy raiser can get, after they've turned in their dog and finished their hard work, is that their dog has made it through the advanced training and has been assigned to be a service dog for someone who has a disability and uses a wheelchair.  It's going to be hard to give up Lexus when the time comes, but knowing the goal makes it wonderfully worthwhile.  If she does graduate, hopefully Emma will be able to go to California for the graduation ceremony and to be the one to hand her over to her new owner.  

What a journey this will be!