The State Seal

nunst081Over the years, my daughter and I have engaged in several entertaining conversations about school and homework. However, a conversation took place this week that will be told around the dinner table for years to come. It went something like this:

My daughter: Now, I need to color the state flag.

Me: Wow, the flag will be difficult to draw. It has the state seal on it.

My daughter (coming to my chair with a copy of the state flag): No Mom. That’s a badger, not a seal. Wisconsin doesn’t have any seals.

She was so earnest. She was so polite, but there was just this little edge of “I can’t believe my mom doesn’t know the difference between a seal and a badger” in her voice. Just a touch of patronage.

She was right of course, the animal depicted on the state flag is a badger, and Wisconsin doesn’t have any seals.

She was also wrong, because she was unaware of a larger truth. Continue reading

A Year without Oranges

iStock_000003002073XSmallIt’s silly really, the tears I shed over the lack of oranges yesterday, because I don’t particularly care for oranges. But my mother did. She was a Florida girl, born and bred, and she grew up relishing tropical fruit—grapefruits, oranges. She loved mangoes too. One of her final acts before she died was to send me a case of oranges for my birthday, and I wrote about how I ate every last one, even as they lost their Florida luster and began to gain a little Wisconsin fungus on the outside—a bitter sweet treat.

My Dad read that article, and every year since he had sent me a case of premium oranges from a Florida orchard for my birthday.

This year, however, there are no oranges. Dad died on August 16, Mom and Dad’s anniversary. I miss those oranges.

Thinking about those oranges and how they had become a tradition in the 7 years since Mom died, made me think of other traditions—particularly Mom and Dad’s anniversaries.

Dad worked graveyard shifts as a pressman at the Atlanta Newspapers most of his life. So usually on the eve of their anniversary, Mom would give him an anniversary card before he left for work, and he would return home at 3:00 in the morning with a box of Krispie Kreme donuts from THE store on Ponce de Leon Avenue in downtown Atlanta. (At that time, there wasn’t a Krispie Kreme on every street corner, so a box of these donuts was a real treat.)

My mom loved the donuts (almost as much as she loved oranges), and the next morning she would sit at the kitchen table sipping on a cup of black coffee, with a donut on a small plate next to her. I can still see her sitting down her coffee cup with one hand, and gingerly picking up the donut with two fingers—one on either side as she leaned forward to take a bite.

When Daddy passed away in his sleep on August 16 around 3:00 am, he wasn’t early for their anniversary. He was on time—keeping up with tradition.
I thought about ordering some oranges from that same orchard in Florida for myself. However, I think this year it’s okay not to have oranges.
Maybe next year I’ll order some mangoes.

© 2015 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

Midlife Crisis?

A midlife crisis car.

A midlife crisis car.

Are we there yet? Could she possibly be having a midlife crisis already?[/caption]with much good company, great food , lots of laughter and great music provided by a Madison-based band called Midlife Crisis.

My husband talked about how the music was that of “our generation”…his actually. I’m two years younger, which makes me not a baby boomer (but not quite a Gen-Xer either—some would call me a “tweener”). I came up in the MTV generation: Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart Unplugged; I didn’t hear any Rod Stewart this weekend. We did get a little Clapton though.

The name of the band gave me pause. Midlife? Really? Are we there yet? Continue reading

Cook Something Fun Day

shortcakeSundays have become “Cook Something Fun Day” at our house, so as the Packers threw away a brilliantly played half + one opening defensive stand in the third quarter while facing the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship, we were able to console ourselves with pizza muffins. On previous Sundays we have made homemade Italian meatballs, or Nachos. We have baked banana bread, chocolate chip cookies or brownies.

My daughter has always been interested in kitchens and restaurants. When she was younger, one of her favorite activities was playing restaurant. She would make menus, seat guests, take orders and serve “meals” of grapes, carrots and saltine crackers. I once asked her if she was going to be a chef when she grew up. She replied, “No, I’m going to own a restaurant.

Well, alrighty then. Continue reading

Literal Power

Old Advice for a New AgeThere are few things in life that can truly give a person power. Learning to speak multiple languages is one of those things. Becoming comfortable with mathematics is another, and learning to read is another. And one more: being able to read. There is incredible power in being able to read. In this era of technology, screen media, and audio and visual stimuli, we often overlook the power of simple literacy.

However, ask the parents of the four-year-old who can suddenly read the signs on the vendor carts at the State Fair—how hard is it to redirect the little blossoming literary critic to the parents’ agenda now that she can read “ice cream”? Just that little bit of knowledge has given that child new power and her parents new headaches. Continue reading

A Few Observations on the Arrival of a Dog

snowdog_dBack in August, when my father became critically ill, we made arrangements to adopt his Australian Shepherd, Mariah, if anything happened to him. She has been with us a little while now, and I’ve made a few observations since the arrival of this delightful four-legged family member. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. The household cobwebs are no longer merely dusty; they are hairy. Quite the marvels, actually. And, I wonder if I could enter them as exhibits in my company’s upcoming employee art show to win some kind of prize for organic art creations…
  2. When I do manage to sweep the kitchen floor, I no longer find food crumbs in the corners under the cabinets—just dog hairs.
  3. I actually enjoy predawn walks—even in the cold. They get my day going briskly and add steps to my pedometer total. I love being the first to disturb the quiet, newly fallen snow—an experience I wouldn’t normally take advantage of in frigid temperatures, before the sun has risen.
  4. Did you know that grass, after a hard frost, actually crunches under foot? If the grass is long enough and the frost cold enough, the footprints you and your dog make after your early-morning romp through the yard remain visible all day long.
  5. I used to complain that there was never a free, uncluttered horizontal surface in my house. But I was mistaken. I have discovered dog hair on horizontal surfaces that had previously gone completely unnoticed by me.
  6. We are all getting a little more protein in our diets as well, because no matter how hard I try—every once in a while a Mariah hair just seems to make it onto somebody’s dinner plate.
  7. Dogs, unlike children, know how to acknowledge a speaker when they are spoken to. It is so refreshing to have someone hang on my every word and come when I call—especially if I am calling from the kitchen where there are dishes to be washed.
  8. Dogs are a little like toddlers. If you are the person who feeds them, walks them, gives them medicine and cleans up after them, they will occasionally follow you into the bathroom. Sometimes you will need to shut the door behind you, and you will hear crying and whimpering from the other side.
  9. It is wonderful to be greeted by an excited, smiling, paw tapping, tail wagging friend when you come home from a hard day’s work and long commute. Doggies really are our unconditional friends.

A Place of One’s Own

Moonlight nightMy daughter loves to build tents and forts. She has a reading chair underneath a canopy in her bed room. At her grandparent’s house she has a labyrinth of boxes that she has converted into a “castle”. These are all her special places.

When I was a little girl, I used to like to rearrange the furniture in my room creating little nooks and crannies where I could curl up with a journal or a good book. I had a writing desk that my sister finished for me which was where I wrote many a short story or poem of teenage angst. I still have that writing desk. I always will.
Recently, as I was going through some of the stories my Dad had written for me, and I happened across this one:

“I have always had some special place that was mine. When I was about four we moved to the house at 5009 Suwanee Ave. in Tampa, FL. There was only one other house on our side of the street, and it was on the far corner. Until well after I was grown, there were no houses from ours to the other corner. The spaces on the empty lots were always grown up with weeds, which were always higher than my head. The city only occasionally mowed the vacant lots, and so I could make tunnels and hidden paths in the high weeds. I would take the palm leaves that fell from the tall palm trees that lined our block and covered the sides and top of the huts that I built hidden in the weeds. I usually had and old junk radio in my hut with which I communicated with my make-believe world.”

My husband says that when he was growing up, they had a finished basement with two sofas on opposing sides. He would stretch a blanket, held in place by the sofa cushions and create his own special place.

Right now my place is more of a corner in the bedroom where I can sit in a rocker, with the bedroom door closed, my laptop or a good book in hand and a cup of tea beside me. I don’t require much space. This place of my own is as much about creating a boundary of time and quite as it is about creating a boundary of space.

In these days of modular classrooms, where students don’t have desks of their own, and cube farms and open offices where a place to call our own is increasingly scarce, it’s hard to find a retreat from the rest of the world where we can refill the well and find some peace. In this world of ridiculously busy schedules, “organized play”, and increased productivity, creating that boundary of time is even more difficult. We need to figure out how to create those boundaries and protect them—those boundaries where we can take deep breaths, think deep thoughts, play deeply and figure out where we are in this spinning orb.

There is something refreshingly innocent about what my dad writes about his place and in his statement that everyone should have a special place. Mostly because I know that he believed that all his life and practiced it. He always had a special place—his workshop and later his hangar—where he surrounded himself with the pictures of family, letters and newspaper clippings. It was his place where he went to recharge before setting about his work in the world.

Where is your place?

© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.