Thank you, Darby Conley!

Sunny is learning to read, and, like her sister before her, she likes to practice with comic strip collections.

This seems to bother those people who confuse literacy with literary and librarian with pretentious outdated stereotype.

Without getting too much into it, comic strips* are a great literacy tool.  They’re dialogue heavy, with interesting images to reinforce meaning.  They generally contain either a punch-line or a dramatic statement as a reward for reading.  And they’re short.

None of the collections we have in the house—or at least on the lower shelves—are particularly adult-oriented, so the hardest part is trying to explain the jokes, especially when they rely on sarcasm, irony, or  a solid knowledge of best (or worst) business practices and/or global socio-economics and political grabassery.**

Which isn’t to say that I don’t occasionally wish for a longer storyline and maybe more in the way of text.

So when Sunny presented her current favorite Get Fuzzy collection at bedtime, I sighed and asked her if there wasn’t anything else she could find in any of our bookcases before giving in to the awesome persuasive power of a small, stubborn child wrapped in a furry bathrobe with purple penguins on it.

I was skipping around, going for the quick funny so I wouldn’t have to put much effort into it,*** when Sunny put out a hand to stop me from turning the page.  “What’s this one, Mommy?”getfuzzyDMV

“Well,” I said, “They’re waiting in line at the DMV—”

“The what?”

“The Department of Motor Vehicles—it’s the place where you get your driver’s license renewed, and your new license plate stickers and  things like that.  And it’s usually a long wait in line and sometimes people get impatient, and Rob has Bucky in a baby carrier so . . .  Um, it’s not really a joke, more of a reminder about how it feels to—”

“Do you do that?”

“Put the cat in a baby carrier? No, Toby wouldn’t like that.”


“Actually, I don’t have to go to the DMV much, because driver’s licenses don’t need to be renewed for years and I can order a new sticker or my license plate online—OH, MY GOD, IS IT OCTOBER?!”

And I abandoned my startled child to tear apart any area in which I might have stashed the renewal notice that came last month and which has evidently evaporated off the face of this earth.

So, this morning before I clocked in, I called the Office of the Secretary of State, and threw myself on the mercy of a very nice lady,^ who gave me my registration and PIN number, without making me walk three blocks to look at my license plate number.  Thus armed, I went to the cyberdriveIllinois site and started to fill out the online form . . .


Turns out, the coverage date on my insurance card had lapsed a wee bit.

So I picked up the phone called my Insurance Agent and the very nice lady over there^^ faxed me a new temporary card and promised to get me the real ones in the mail ASAP.

Somewhat shaken and profoundly grateful that I hadn’t needed to produce a valid insurance card in the last two weeks, I managed to fill out the rest of the form and enter my credit card information without incident.

I’m now completely street legal—or will be by the time my current sticker expires.

I also owe Mr. Conley big time for drawing that particular strip, and for creating Bucky Katt, whom Sunny inexplicably adores.

Don’t knock comic strips, y’all.  They’re lifesavers.


*And comic books, too, of course

**Which is why we’ve asked her—and her sister—to hold off on Doonesbury for a while.

***Alert the Mommy of the Year Committee.  I’m sure they have a file on me by now.

^Seriously, Jess White, you have some great people working in your Public Inquiry Division.

^^State Farm, you have awesome people, too!

(Get Fuzzy is the work of the brilliant and hopefully non litigious Darby Conley, who owns the image above)


Poetry Wednesday: A Visit with Garrison Keillor

Garrison KeillorGarrison Keillor is a huge poetry lover and an accomplished poet himself.  His Writer’s Almanac is a treasure trove of verse,  versifiers, and thoughtful information, even if you inexplicably read it yourself instead of listening, mesmerized, as it’s all presented to you in that voice.

For weeks, I’ve been looking for text and/or a embeddable performance of his “Old Shower Stall,”, which I have on a Prairie Home Companion CD in my car and try to listen to whenever the road rage rears it’s evil head—so I’ve nearly memorized it by now.

It brings me to tears, y’all.  Hysterical, cackling tears.

Unfortunately, neither text nor ‘Tube is available, and  I’m too cheap to buy the WordPress audio upgrade.  But if you have a buck to spare, please give it a try—it’s available on Amazon and iTunes, or at your library on CD for free—it’s excellent.

But I did find his performance of “Thanks,” which I’m sharing because it’s fun and because I owe all of you thanks for continuing to drop by on Wednesdays—seriously, the stats around here on poetry days are remarkable, considering—even if many of you don’t comment much, or at least not where I can hear.  Come to think, I probably owe you thanks for that, too.

The full text can be found here, if you want to read along.

i was going to cover the rest of this post with links to various other poems by Mr. Keillor, but I found this, instead.

It’s a recital of the work of several fantastic American poets from different times and circumstances and viewpoint. Mr. Keillor is not among them, but he does share their poems in that voice, assisted by Meryl Streep, of whom you may have heard.

Full text of the poems follow, so you can follow.  Follow?

Riding Lesson
(Henry Taylor)

I learned two things
from an early riding teacher.
He held a nervous filly
in one hand and gestured
with the other, saying “Listen.
Keep one leg on one side,
the other leg on the other side,
and your mind in the middle.”

He turned and mounted.
She took two steps, then left
the ground, I thought for good.
But she came down hard, humped
her back, swallowed her neck,
and threw her rider as you’d
throw a rock. He rose, brushed
his pants and caught his breath,
and said, “See that’s the way
to do it When you see
they’re gonna throw you, get off.”

Mary Oliver

Wild Geese
(Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

James Wright

A Blessing
(James Wright)

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Robert Lax

The Alley Violinist
(Robert Lax)

if you were an alley violinist

and they threw you money
from three windows

and the first note contained
a nickel and said:
when you play, we dance and
sing, signed
a very poor family

and the second one contained
a dime and said:
I like your playing very much,
a sick old lady

and the last one contained
a dollar and said:
beat it,

would you:
stand there and play?

beat it?

walk away playing your fiddle?

John Updike

(John Updike)

I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
of the pleasures of hoeing;
there is no knowing

how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
moist-dark loam—
the pea-root’s home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
The blade chops the earth new.
Ignorant the wise boy who
has never performed this simple, stupid, and useful wonder.

Julia Kasdorf

What I Learned from my Mother
(Julia Kasdorf)

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

Langston Hughes

As Befits a Man
(Langston Hughes)

I don’t mind dying —
But I’d hate to die all alone!
I want a dozen pretty women
To holler, cry, and moan.

I don’t mind dying
But I want my funeral to be fine:
A row of long tall mamas
Fainting, fanning, and crying.

I want a fish-tail hearse
And sixteen fish-tail cars,
A big brass band
And a whole truck load of flowers.

When they let me down,
Down into the clay,
I want the women to holler:
Please don’t take him away!
Don’t take daddy away!

Wendell Berry

The Wish to Be Generous
(Wendell Berry)

All that I serve will die, all my delights,
the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,
the silent lilies standing in the woods,
the woods, the hill, the whole earth, all
will burn in man’s evil, or dwindle
in its own age. Let the world bring on me
the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may know
my little light taken from me into the seed
of the beginning and the end, so I may bow
to mystery, and take my stand on the earth
like a tree in a field, passing without haste
or regret toward what will be, my life
a patient willing descent into the grass.

HobNobbing with the Duchess

I dragged myself home today after work, schlepped  a cello, an A-minus diorama, and a damp bag full of swimming stuff into the kitchen . . . and saw a package on the kitchen table.  For me.

The moment I saw the Royal Mail sticker, I knew. One might say I went completely kookoopants:

HobNobs, for those of you who haven’t experienced them yet, are insanely good English biscuits that aren’t available in my neck of the woods, unless I want to take a verrrry long drive to the nearest import grocery.  I’m mentioned this once or twice—or perhaps at every possible opportunity—and Her Grace Downith sent me some completely out of the blue, accompanied by an absolutely perfect poem by John Betjeman:

She, such a very ordinary little woman;
He, such a thumping crook;
But both, for a moment, little lower than the angels
In the teashop’s ingle-nook.

The HobNobs are exactly as good as I remember—sweet and slightly nutty and crumbly and milk-chocolately and ummm . . .

But receiving a surprise from a friend is even better.

Thanks, Downith!

101th Post . . . Huh.

I rarely scroll down past the daily blog stats—which I check like a starving lab rat pushing the feeder bar—but I did yesterday and discovered that my brilliant and oh-so-original Tuesday post was my 100th on this blog.

Which was gratifying, as it gave me something to blog about today.*

But I don’t think that’s a shabby number for, what, just under five months—though part of me wants to figure out the total word count so I can obsess over how many pages of my WIP I could have completed in that time.

Probably for the best I don’t know how.

So I’ll just thank the real live human beings who’ve visited** and commented (hint, elbow, nudge) and especially the astonishing number who’ve apparently stuck around—unless there are actually  only a few of you checking in throughout the day just to mess with me.  I’ll forgive you if you promise not to stop.

And now, we celebrate this small milepebble with the traditional dance of my people!


*And now I’ll be humming “Circle of Life” all day.  Join in, won’t you?