Friday, January 30, 2009

A Tale of Four Kitties, Or How I Became a Cat Woman, Part One

Once upon a time, about ten years ago, Dr. Lobo and I were enjoying an empty nest. We liked being both child free and pet free.

Wild Child had a girlfriend from South Korea then. She decided he needed a cat, so they got a tuxedo cat kitten. He told her she could name the kitten, but that he had veto power. Since English was her second language, she wasn’t familiar with the word “veto.” But she liked the sound of it. (I think it sounded Korean to her.) She decided to name him Veto. Wild Child did not veto Veto’s name.

Not long after they got Veto, Girlfriend convinced Wild Child that he should move back in with us and resume his college studies. I didn’t mind Wild Child's return, but I wasn’t happy about gaining a cat. I insisted that Veto would be Wild Child’s responsibility. I would have nothing to do with him.

At first Veto stayed upstairs in Wild Child's room most of the time. I was writing at home while Dr. Lobo worked and Wild Child went to college. Gradually, during the hours that Veto and I were the only ones in the house, he started spending that time downstairs with me. Mostly he sat or slept on the bed next to me as I worked on the computer in our bedroom. After a while I found him to be a comforting presence. I began petting him and feeding him now and then. Then I started picking him up and loving on him. By the end of the first year, Veto had won my affection.

When Wild Child married The Blonde a few years later, he didn’t even try to take Veto off to live with them. He knew I wouldn’t let that precious cat go without a fight.

Since then, we've acquired other cats, but Veto is still first in my heart. And the feeling is mutual. When my car pulls into the driveway, Veto runs in front of the car and lies on his back so I’ll pet him. (I never said he was the smartest cat around.)

When I’m on the computer, he’s often lying between the keyboard and the monitor. Occasionally his paw makes contact with the keyboard, causing interesting or disastrous results, but I still let him help with my writing. (His spelling isn't too good, but his plotting is excellent.)

I once swore I'd never let an animal sleep with me, but Veto often sleeps between my head and our bed's headboard. Sick, I know, but I love to hear him purr and feel the warmth of his body against my head. He also snores—yes, snores—but I think it adds to his unique charm.

I am so grateful that Wild Child’s girlfriend decided he needed a cat! We’re living happily ever after.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Do Wii Or Don't Wii?

As unpleasantly plump people, The Singer and I constantly seek ways to shed at least part of our plumpness. (Yeah, yeah, we know. Eat right and exercise. But we keep looking for easier, more fun ways.)

The Singer and her husband, who shall be known as Tenor (he sings, too), got a Wii Fit for Christmas. (Wii is pronounced “we.”) It offers something like 40 different fitness activities that you can do in the comfort of your own home with your TV. They invited Dr. Lobo and me over to experience this new and wonderful thing.

Wii Fit looks like this. You stand on a pad and hold a do-hickey in your hand. (Don’t ask me to give the do-hickey a real name. I’m technologically challenged. Somehow it lets the TV know what you’re doing.)
The Wii weighs you, groaning when you step on the pad. The avatar immediately changes from cute little thing to swollen image (with the sound effect you’d hear if a cartoon character blew up a balloon). I was ready to discard the whole idea. I mean, I know I’m heavy, but does the dang machine have to groan? Does it have to have a realistic looking avatar? Then the Wii figures your BMI and labels you with words I’d rather not use. (See below.) At this point, I was not enthralled with Wii Fit.

Tenor demonstrated some of the activities, and it was entertaining to watch. The “people” on the screen look like the Playmobile people that I constantly stepped on while raising my kids. They applaud and cheer you on. I was beginning to like the Wii Fit. I need lots of encouragement to exercise.

I told Dr. Lobo we definitely needed a Wii Fit. Then Tenor and The Singer encouraged us to try it. Dr. Lobo wisely declined, but I was willing.

I am an incredible klutz. The only physical thing I’ve ever done well is birthing babies, but that’s a story for another time. Let’s just say that I was the kid who was always chosen last for teams, and my athletic abilities haven’t improved with age and increased weight. I decided to try the activity that looked the easiest—hitting a soccer ball with my head. How hard could that be?

In the soccer activity, you get points for the balls you hit. However, you must also dodge shoes being thrown at you (just like President Bush). Panda bear heads, which look a lot like soccer balls until they get closer, bombard you, too. If you’re hit by a shoe or panda head, you lose points. As you continue, the objects you must hit or dodge come faster and faster. Or at least it seems that way.
How hard could this be? Let me tell you, for me it was hard. Those flying objects clobbered me, quickly bringing my total score into the negatives. Tenor tried to give me pointers while laughing his fool head off. Dr. Lobo and The Singer were hysterical. I laughed harder than I’ve laughed in years, which of course made me lose even more points.

You know how your stomach hurts when you laugh really hard? Well, my stomach hurt big time. I stopped laughing, but my stomach still hurt. It felt like strong labor pains except that there were no breaks. Finally, the others realized that I was hurting and tried to help. Did I need heat? Ice? Did I need to lie down? I didn’t know. I hurt so much, I couldn’t even talk. Dr. Lobo maneuvered me over to the couch and had me lie down. While I moaned, the other three whispered about what they should do.

In a couple of minutes it was over. The pain disappeared as suddenly as it began. I was weak and sweaty from dealing with pain, but I was going to live.

Now Dr. Lobo tells people that his wife is so out of shape that she spent only two minutes on the Wii and he had to consider calling 911.

I don’t think I’ll buy a Wii Fit anytime soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yes, You Can!

I can't let this week end without writing something about the inauguration of Barak Obama. Normally I won't be writing much about politics. I'll just say up front that I am a "yellow dog Democrat." So of course I voted for Obama, and I'm thrilled and excited that he is our new president.

But what I'm thinking about this week is how far we've come as a nation since my youth.

I was fortunate to be raised without prejudice. I spent my childhood isolated in nearly all white communities, so I seldom interacted with people of color. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, though, of course I heard racist comments.

In the sixties, during high school, I got acquainted with black kids whenever I went to church activities sponsored by the region. I remember trying to imagine what it would be like to be black. We sang "We Shall Overcome" a lot.

In college, I tutored Native American and black kids. I student taught in an all black school under the supervision of a black teacher. Those experiences served me well, as I learned about cultural differences.

My first year of teaching was in 1969-70 in rural Virginia, not far from our nation's capital. Our school district had been ordered to integrate. Many small schools (as few as two rooms)were closed and a new school was built for first through seventh graders. I taught third grade, and my students had never attended school with children of another race. They were nervous, but I was young and idealistic, and I expected everything to go smoothly. And it did! Although there were tensions in other classrooms, my children adjusted well. I loved both my "vanilla" kids and my "chocolate" kids, and they all knew it.

During my teaching career, I taught more minority students than white children. I taught Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, blacks, and whites.

Along the way I formed friendships with minority teachers. My own children attended schools in which they interacted with all kinds of kids. In fact, in their high school, white kids were a minority. I got to know the parents of my children's friends.

Throughout the years, our society was changing, at least as I experienced it in Oklahoma City. I grew close to people of different races through association with them in different areas of my life. I spent six years as part of a small teaching staff that was largely black, and I thoroughly enjoyed that experience. My relationships with people unlike me grew more and more relaxed.

When Obama won, I thought of all the people of color that I have loved, and I rejoiced that a black man had gained that kind of acceptance in America. I thought of all my personal struggles as I learned about cultural differences. I thought about the many episodes in which I tried to guide children of different races as they clashed with each other. Obama's election validated my efforts. People like me--and my black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian friends who reached out to me--had indeed made a difference.

We haven't solved all the problems associated with race, of course. We haven't completely overcome racism. But Obama's election has shown us that we are overcoming, and I am so pleased.

Here's to all the minority students I've taught: Barak Obama has proven what I've told you. You can be anything you want to be, even the president of the United States of America. Yes, you can.

Friday, January 23, 2009


I am from black and white TV, Little Golden Books, and the song of the ice cream truck.

I am from a 1950s stucco house on Citrus Street in southern California, two houses from Nicolas Junior High, where buzzers marked the passage of time.

I am from the bougainvillea that served as background for photographs, Daddy’s roses lining the driveway, and tomatoes growing behind the garage.

I am from Lloyd and Maxine, schoolteachers who knew their children were the brightest, sweetest kids on earth, but who loved other people’s children, too, and sent money to a Korean orphanage for years.

I am from a father who was named “All Around Boy” in high school and had a little cup to prove it, won a Distinguished Flying Cross but seldom talked about his war experiences, and left school administration to return to the challenges and joys of a classroom. I am from a father who loved good meals, funny stories, and planning trips.

I am from a mother who listened more than she talked, sang while doing housework, wrote wonderful letters, and talked like Donald Duck upon request. I am from a mother who grew up in the red dirt of Oklahoma during the depression and never forgot what it was like to be poor and hungry. I am from beans and cornbread and “The man down the road doesn’t have this much.”

I am from Alfords and Powers, Harrells and Bonds, all people who valued family. I am from Crazy Great Aunt Mattie, who let her dog eat off her plate, and from Uncle Ken, who died in World War II but whose name lives on through a nephew and great nephew.

I am from holidays and Sunday afternoons with Aunt Wanda, Uncle Cope, and the cousins. I am from traveling along Old Route 66 in a station wagon to visit the Oklahoma relatives. I am from watching the switch engine in the train yard with Uncle Harlan, drinking Dr. Pepper in Aunt Zella’s kitchen, the smell of Uncle Charlie’s cigar, and Aunt Nita’s obsession with cleanliness. I am from Aunt Chris’s dining room table, tours of Uncle Roy’s school buildings, and playing Cootie with my cousins.

I am from Friday night take-out spaghetti from Giovanni’s, eating huge bowls of ice cream with Daddy while Mom wasn’t looking, See’s Chocolates at Christmas, TV dinners when Mom and Dad went to Old Country Club suppers, and chocolate fudge cooling on a Fiesta ware platter.

I am from nursery rhymes, “I Wish That I Had Duck Feet,” “There Was An Old Woman,” and “Babes in the Woods.” I am from camping trips, watching Disneyland’s fireworks from our back porch, piano lessons, and a beautiful table Daddy brought back from India. I am from slumber parties in the backyard tent, swimming in the Pacific, and watching airplane landings at the local airport with Daddy so Mom could clean house without kids underfoot. I am from a black cocker spaniel named Queenie, a cat named Bering Strait, and an old gray Packard named Obeeta.

I am from generations of Disciples of Christ, dimes for the Sunday School offering plate, Bible verses, communion every Sunday, and Christian Youth Fellowship. I am from “Don’t eat that. It’s for the church potluck dinner.”

I am from “Have a happy day” as I left for school each day and “Don’t forget to say your prayers” when I went to bed. I am from high expectations, thank you notes, good money management, and The Golden Rule.

I am from a cedar chest full of family treasures representing both joys and heartaches. I am from albums of black and white photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, recipes, old diaries, and home movies, now housed in three states. I am from memories and a childhood
that enables me to meet the challenges and opportunities of life with strength and enthusiasm.

These are my parents shortly before they married. I love this picture. They look so happy.

I was born on their first anniversary, which means that instead of going out on their anniversary, they spent the next eighteen years having birthday parties for me instead. I was quite spoiled.

After five years of being an only child, Baby Sister was added to the family.

In 1955, my sister and I got a baby brother for Christmas.

The first nine years of my life were spent in Oklahoma. For the rest of my childhood, this stucco house in southern California was my home. It's a little tract home that holds lots of memories.

Here's the family in about 1964.

And here are my parents in their later years. Strangely, I took this photo shortly before they left our home after a visit in 1981. At the time I had no idea that it would be within the last five minutes I ever saw my dad alive. He died unexpectedly three months later. My mother died on the same date 23 years later.

That's where I'm from. Lucky, aren't I?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blog Titles That Didn't Make the Cut

I thought of many possible titles for this blog before I settled on Okie Book Woman.

First, I wanted to call it "A Headful of Children." I figured that since I'm often thinking of my former students, characters in the kids' books I read, and characters I'm writing about, "A Headful of Children" would be appropriate.

Here are a few of the children that run around in my head. Aren't fourth graders wonderful? There are two teachers in the back of the group. I'm the old one.

And here are some more kids from my past. I think middle schoolers are wonderful, too. You just have to be as crazy as they are.

Dr. Lobo, however, had a question about "A Headful of Children." "Why would anyone want to read about a bunch of kids in a bathroom?" he asked. Hmmmm. I never thought of it that way.

Then I leaned toward "A Cluttered Mind." "Your readers would think you had dementia," Dr. Lobo said. Since I live in fear of dementia, which runs in my family, I quickly discarded that idea.

I contemplated "Recycled Teacher." Before I took my last teaching job, I spent a year at Mark Twain doing a little part time job coordinating tutors. So on my first day of teaching there, I explained to my children that although I had been the tutor coordinator the year before, I was now a teacher. Argenis piped up and said, "Oh, so you've been recycled." Now I think of myself as a teacher who has been recycled into a retired teacher. But again, Dr. Lobo reacted negatively.

I liked "Retired, Refreshed, and Remarkable" but I didn't even have to ask Dr. Lobo his opinion. Even I agree that it's way too awkward to catch on.

I also liked "Overgrown Fourth Grader" since I taught fourth grade for the last years of my teaching career and Dr. Lobo often accused me of teaching so that I could play with the kids. There's some truth to that. I'm definitely a kid at heart, and I often think I'm stuck socially and emotionally right around fourth grade. But "overgrown" sounds a bit negative, even if it's true, and I eventually decided I didn't need to call attention to my size, which is already--well--noticeable.

Here is a photo that proves I'm a kid at heart. It was taken at a wonderful children's museum, and I had as much fun as the students.

There were other ideas, mostly even worse than the above. Eventually I thought Book Woman summed up my current life, but since plain old Book Woman was already taken, I had to modify it. That's why you're now reading "Okie Book Woman."

Just thought you'd be interested. Or not.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cast of Characters

Here are the characters I'll be referring to in my blog.

Dr. Lobo: I’ve been married to Dr. Lobo since 1967, when I was too young to know better. Although he started out as a tall, very skinny guy, he’s now a tall, big man, and a big part of my life.

Sweet Girl: My daughter, who is all grown up and married, but still my little girl. She's way too much like me, but different in many ways, too. (She's the organized one in our family.)

The cat's name is Percival, or Percy. He's bigger now, and an excellent cat.

The Writer: My brilliant and funny son-in-law, who is, of course, a writer. He makes Sweet Girl very happy. Like everybody else in our family, he loves books. (The photo shows only a fraction of the books they own.) Wild Child: My older son, who was a wild child growing up, getting into everything and constantly testing the limits. However, he has turned out to be an amazing young man and a fine husband. Here he is all dressed up on his wedding day. He cleans up really well.

The Blonde: My wonderful daughter-in-law, who is smart enough and strong enough to enjoy being married to Wild Child. She's a good photographer, too.

Little Guy: My younger son. Okay, so he isn’t little anymore. In fact, he’s the tallest person in my family, at about 6’3” or 4.” He’s one of the kindest people I know, and certainly one of the most unusual. Usually his nose is buried in the type of book that only a very bright person can understand, but on this occasion he was enjoying a bit of light reading. (After years of reading to my children, I still enjoy having one of them read to me.)

The Singer: My best friend forever. We've been friends since our college days, a long, long time ago. She has a beautiful voice, and she sang for my wedding to Dr. Lobo, my daughter's wedding, and my mother's memorial service. Her heart is even more beautiful than her voice. This photo was taken about five years ago. I look older now, but The Singer still looks the same.

I hope you enjoy reading about these folks. I think they're all quite fascinating!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Does the blogosphere need another blog?

Probably not. But that’s not going to stop me from jumping in and joining the party.

I’d like to think I’m doing this for my family. I would love to have access to journals from my parents, grandparents, or other relatives. But my own young adult kids haven’t been interested in knowing what I think since they turned twelve or thirteen.

I’m doing this mostly for myself. I’ve been a writer my whole life, and I can’t keep from writing. I cherish my old journals, even though much of what I’ve written, especially during those angst-filled teenage years, is downright embarrassing.

I love reading blogs. I’ve always been an avid reader; reading satisfies my need to live more than one life. Blogs unfold day by day, providing the reader with an up to the minute view of a person’s life.

Will anyone be interested in reading about my life? I don’t know. A friend once told me I was the most creative person she knew, but that doesn’t say as much about me as about her. (She definitely needs to meet more creative types.) I’m mildly, but not wildly, creative. I’m smart, but not brilliant. I’m funny sometimes, but not hilarious. I’m rather ordinary, with touches of eccentricity, obsessions, and struggles.

What do I plan to write about? Whatever I’m thinking about at the moment. I suspect this blog will be mostly about family, friends, food, books, and things that tickle, anger or fascinate me. I probably won’t tackle the big questions of life; I’ll leave that to folks who like to dwell on that stuff. So far, the biggest mystery of my life is this: How could I have had a ten-pound baby and only lost eight pounds?

I’ll throw in some photos from time to time, even though I’m not much of a photographer. I hope to gain skill in that area as we go along.

I hope there’s someone out there reading whatever I have to say. I don’t promise to write every single day, but I’ll write as often as I can. I would love feedback, so don’t be shy about leaving comments.