Thursday, August 27, 2009


One of the good things my parents did for their family of four small children was to withhold getting a TV even when it was readily available. They wanted us to learn to read for recreation.

Now, withholding a television does not in itself create good readers. The real blessing in what they did was sitting with us lined up on the sofa every evening before bed, reading to us. Long before we were school age and could read for ourselves, we knew all about Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner, Junket, Dr. Doolittle (the real one, not the movie versions) and we knew how Mary Poppins dusted the stars at night.

The chapter books had some pictures but not a lot, yet we saw with our minds and imaginations. We knew when Dad and Mom laughed and looked at each other that there was more to it than what met the eye. “What's so funny?”, we would ask, and set them off again. Jip the dog and the Push-Me-Pull-You became our friends. “It's a blustery day”, we would say like Pooh. “Oh, bother.”

Besides books, we listened to the radio on Saturday mornings. There was "The Howdy Doody Show", and "Les Paul and Mary Ford". One children's story had a line that was oft repeated at our house, “Woe betide you, Molly Woppy”. I still say every once in a while going up the stairs, “Fee, fie, fo, fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread,” from Jack and the Beanstalk. The chant fits perfectly with the stair climb and is very useful for getting little children into bed and under the covers!

We played records and had most of The Court Jester (Danny Kaye) memorized. We laughed and laughed over his vessel with the pestle and the palace with the chalice and the brew that is true. We also inadvertently memorized the sound track from the Broadway play, Music Man. “Oh, we've got trouble, big, big trouble. Right here in River City.” Marian set the standard for a well-behaved young woman who wouldn't fall for “a common masher. Now, really, Mama, I have my standards where men are concerned.” “I know all about your standards”, says Mama, “and if you don't mind me sayin' so, there's not a man alive who can hope to measure up to that blend of Paul Bunyan, Saint Pat, and Noah Webster and with your Irish imagination you are as stubborn as any library full of books!” One of us could start a line and the rest of us would pick it up and go with it indefinitely, even before we knew what some of it meant.

From our Childcraft series (14 volumes, published by the Quarrie Corporation, Chicago, 1947) Mom and Dad read a wide variety of literature: The Pied Piper (rather frightening, really), Hiawatha (my little brother could recite it), Paul Revere's Ride, and of course nature stories, animal stories, and tales from other lands. My elder sister was given the Childcraft books but when she moved across country recently she gave them to me. Opening them, the strangely familiar borders and drawings whisks me back in time.

These books on our shelves were the staple, but every week or two we went to our neighborhood library to load up on our bedtime story books. I remember one Saturday morning when the books were due back and we hadn't finished the chapter book we all piled on Mom and Dad's bed and read until it was done. I remember when my sister was deemed old enough to read Caddie Woodlawn; it became a rite of passage to me.

I believe my world view was partly formed at an early age by hearing stories of other lands and customs, children who lived in sampans in China or huts in India. Along with the Bible stories we knew we learned, “Red and yellow, black and white: all are precious in His sight.”

It's not that we never saw TV. It was not verboten; we just didn't have one. At our friends' homes we could watch The Lone Ranger and learned to love Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and Nellie Belle. One night our whole family drove to a friends' to see the Billy Graham Crusade on TV. And, when we visited at our grandparents in the summertime we could see “Art Linkletter” with Grandma or “Perry Mason” with Mom.

But none of us can win at Trivial Pursuit if it asks about television in the 50's or 60's.

My parents got a TV for themselves the Christmas I was 21.

I have a tendency to be addicted to TV nowdays. (I wish I weren't: I do try to be disciplined.)

I have heard that you don't want what you grow up without, that going without something makes one disciplined later in its use. I have also heard that absence makes the heart grow fonder, that we crave what we "missed". I don't know which is true or how the absence of TV in our childhood affects us now as adults, if we would be more or less interested in TV viewing. All I am saying is that I think the family time it gave us together reading, learning to love words and cadence and expression and good humor was a lifelong blessing.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Books of My Life

Books of My Life

Pre-school:Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
Peter Pan and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
Patsy books
Bible story books
Childcraft books
Little Golden Books
Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling C. Holling

Early grade school:
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Loisa May Alcott books
Beverly Cleary books
Carolyn Haywood books

6th grade: Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
7th grade:
8th grade: Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
Agatha Christie novels
Gone with the Wind
High School:Gwen Bristow's historical fiction
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost,
Emily Dickinson
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
Helen MacInnes mysteries
College years:
A Place for You by Paul Tournier
Francis Schaeffer
The Hobbit by Tolkien
Tolkien trilogy- The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers The Return of the King
C.S. Lewis-The Weight of Glory
-Perelandra, Out of the Silent Planet, That Hideous Strength
-The Chronicles of Narnia
L.M. Montgomery-Anne of Avonlea series and Emily series
Madeleine L'Engle--young adult series,
Meet the Austins
A Wrinkle in Time, Wind in the Door, Swiftly Tilting Planet
The Bible

Adult recreational reading:
mysteries: after collecting all the Agatha Christies, I read Dorothy Sayer's mysteries, Josephine Tey, Helen MacInnes', Dick Francis, John Grisham, P.D. James, some Patricia Cornwell, Marcia Grimes, Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton

Maeve Binchy
Rosamund Pilcher
Jan Karon-The Mitford Series
David Gunderson, Snow Falling on Cedars

The Bible
Elisabeth Elliot, Walter Trobisch,

also love: design and illustration books (Mary Englebreit, Susan Branch)
children's illustrated books

newest discovery: Keri Smith journals: How to be an Explorer of the World of the World, Living Out Loud, Wreck This Journal

Latest read:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
(loved it)

Next read:
Stubborn Twig
The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Daughter Amanda came home from Tennessee and brought Bekah from Texas for a week of fun

Went to 4 bridal showers and 1 anniversary reception and 4 weddings and 1 college graduation party.

Painted two sides of our house.

Daughter Lindsay and fiance Arthur arrived from Tunis for 8 weeks-and their wedding!

Friend Sarah arrives for week's visit from Minneapolis.

Writing group met at my house on Wednesday nights.

Watched 3 of my kids run a half-marathon together.

Sorted and cleaned and painted the basement into guest rooms.

My Mom went into hospice--so much grief in her decline!

Friends on the beautiful Columbia River have us for a barbecue.

Sister Gretchen and her family arrive from Denver.

Family picnic with about 40 of the Howatt side gathering.

Niece Heather arrives from Washington, DC.

Maxime & Celine, Valentine arrive from Paris; Roselyne from Dubai; Aimee from Anchorage; William from Tunis; Mike from Oklahoma, Rachel from Texas

Went camping for 3 days at coast.

Had big African Rehearsal Dinner

Had big American wedding for daughter

Went on 3 day outing with my Dad and his travel group.


Monday, August 10, 2009

The Refrigerator

Camping to escape the refrigerator

When the kids are little, dinner is easy. You make spaghetti and salad and say they can't leave the table until they've eaten 17 peas.

But when they come home from college they are much harder to deal with.

Actually, the trouble starts in middle school when the health teacher tells them about growth hormones in chicken but doesn't tell them what to eat instead. The process is downhill from there, undoing the mother's best attempts to keep her family healthy and agreeable. Instead, her efforts to feed them become fraught with disputes, long sighs as they look into the pantry, and irritated grunts as they slam the full refrigerator door saying, “There's nothing to eat around here.”

When they come home as adult houseguests (that's the way YOU think of them, expecting all the manners a houseguest would have, but they see themselves as the rightful heirs to the contents of the refrigerator) it is complicated. Take this summer for instance: a daughter and her fiance from Africa are visiting before the wedding, and another daughter is home from her college position for the vacation. Two married sons and wives and a married daughter and hubby come and go, adding joy to the mix but palpitations for the cook.

The first week was the hardest. One daughter was fasting , trying to find the cause of her tummy ills. I had planned a week of feasting for the newly arrived African couple...But then the bridal pair were jet lagged and ate during the night. They were never hungry for the 6 PM dinner because they had eaten bowls of cereal at 5:30 PM.

One of the kids is a vegetarian. One eats enormous quantities of fruit and drinks 24 ounces of juice at a time (I remember when the standard of vitamin sufficiency and economics was 6 oz.). One doesn't want to eat after 4 PM for proper digestion, but Dad gets home from work hungry at 6 PM. One won't have any kind of potatoes: mashed, boiled, baked, fried, or scalloped because they are soft and mushy and he's “all about texture.” (Personally, I never met a potato I didn't like). Fruit is also preferred crunchy, not soft, even if the flavor and sweetness is lost. One doesn't like sweet things mixed into a main dish, such as chicken teriyaki, ham with glaze, chicken and apple sausage, syrup on waffles...

At the moment my refrigerator is crammed with non-fat milk, mostly empty pitchers of orange juice, apple juice, and ice tea, soy milk, about 6 kinds of pickles, salsas, hummus and pesto, leftover boxes of Chinese food, bags of fresh spinach, European blends of lettuce and greens, and about 12 different kinds of salad dressing. Oh yeah, and yakisoba noodles for the stirfry (hold the meat, hold the sweet-and-sour, and serve before 4 PM).

Which is partly why I am at the beach camping in a misty place cooking my hot dog on a stick over a fire.

“I forgot the ketchup and mustard”, I say to my husband as I pull his hotdog off the stick into a bun.
“Condiments are overrated”, he says, contentedly chewing his uncomplicated dog.

I love that man.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What a girl needs

I was meant to drive a way better car. That's what the greeting card said and I knew it to be true. I didn't care about the curly-haired dog sitting in the front seat, ears flying back. I didn't care about the fins on the back of the car. No.

But it was a convertible. And that's just what a girl like me needs, the wind blowing my hair back and the scented air swirling around me.

I need to feel the sky come down to touch my shoulders. I need to raise my eyes to the distant hills unfettered by metal and chrome. I need to hear the music of the land as I roll past. I need to sing as big as all the earth.A girl like me needs a convertible.

So my cool brother Steve comes and takes me for a convertible ride.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Howatt Family Picnic—July 18, 2009

It was all you could wish for on a summer's day: the sky shone clear and blue, the shade trees dappled the lawn, the lake sparkled as the breeze ruffled its surface.

At eleven o'clock the family began to gather by twos and threes and then by carloads with kids. The Howatt clan was having a first-of -its-kind picnic, a reunion brought about by the convergence of Ron and Gretchen Lundquist''s 40th anniversary and the pre-nuptial celebrations for Lindsay Chandler and Arthur Mandjek's wedding in one week. Ron and Gretchen had timed their own family's reunion to include the West Coast wedding, and July 18 was the only sliver of an opening to get together between their clan arriving and heading to the coast. The following weekend would be too late: Lindsay and Arthur would be honeymooning and Andrew and Renee would be heading to Winnipeg for her family's gathering. But it was one opportunity, and we grabbed it, Gretchen and I, as we talked on the phone before they came.

The 4 children of Frank and Margaret Howatt were all there: Gretchen, Holly, Steven, and Duncan. Gretchen had her whole clan together: Ron, Andrew and Renee with their 5: Bennah, Reayah, Zachariyah, Jaiden, and Joy Shalom; Elizabeth and Jeff Calhoun with Hannah and John Ryan; and Jonathan. Holly's group included Ron, Emily and John Lawler, Amanda, Brett and Nichole, Lindsay and Arthur Mandjek and his mother from Cameroon, Francoise Indouine. (Evan and Lisa were busy with their day campers on 2 floats in the Troutdale Parade that day.) Steven came with Courtney and Pam after Megan had arrived with the newest member of the family: Joshua David Kochendorfer, one month old. (Nathan was recouping from a week at JR HI Camp.) Alison came later in the afternoon when she got off work. Duncan and Kris and their girls Abbi and Cheyenne (just home from a week at camp that morning) were joined by their exchange student from Spain, Nieves.

Les and Nina's son Clarke didn't arrive until later in the week for the wedding, but Drenda came (Don being on a men's retreat), and Janis and Bill Mildenberg came with Marcus and Lilly. We noted how tall Marcus has grown, the summer freckles—he's an all-American Huck Finn.

Clarke and Janelle hoped to be in Portland the following week, but weren't in time for the picnic. Their Lisa and Michael sent regrets but they were spending a week in Hawaii with Matthew, Andrew, and Ryann.

A few at a time we gathered at a site staked out when the park first opened by Ron and Holly. Orange and yellow and green and hot pink and luau florals reserved our spot. We were situated near the lake but not dangerously so for toddlers, near the swings and playground and not far from the “splash park”. Trees surrounded our circle of 5 tables. We had a small shelter with barbecue and running water.

As folks arrived carrying coolers and camp chairs and hats we made a circle of lawn chairs and gave hugs all around. Introductions were made to Francoise and Arthur, and cousins Elizabeth, Andrew, and Jonathan were happily greeted with remembrances of past holidays as kids. The cousins' spouses met their “new” relatives in person, but many of the younger folk had already become “friends” on FaceBook. The circle grew bigger and bigger and cries of enthusiasm rang out as newcomers arrived. Andrew's kids and Elizabeth's kids were particularly happy to be together since Andrew and Renee had moved away from the East Coast several months earlier, where the two families had spent much time together.

Francoise sat and watched the family, and one by one people came and sat with her and talked. She and Duncan visited, then she and Dad—noting their “Frank” and “Francoise”similarity, then she and Les. At the end of the day Francoise told Holly family stories and legends that had been told to her by the brothers, Frank and Les. Astonishing!

The grills got heated up and we had hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, bison, and turkeyburgers. Folks had brought potato salad, pasta salad, veggies, chips, dips, red velvet cake, Key Lime pie, blueberry tarts, and brownies. It was picnic heaven, just like the old Sunday School picnics where everyone shared their offerings on a common food table. Soda pop was a special treat for the youngsters who are on a restricted diet by their careful parents. Little fingers were noticed creeping frequently into the chips bag.

After appetites were satisfied, the youngest set went back and forth to the splash park with a parent or auntie while others dozed with the napping toddlers stretched out on blankets. Chatting went on and chairs were pulled into the shade as the sun swung out from behind the trees. Amanda, Brett, Nichole, Courtney, Emily , Lindsay and Arthur played Frisbee and croquet as the older folks regrouped periodically in conversations. The afternoon wore on but time stood still in its perfect summer day way. Little by little, couples packed up the baskets and said their goodbyes with promises to “see you at the wedding”. But some lingered into the evening having good talks and just enjoying the peace and pleasure of the moment. As the park was closing, we gathered up the chairs and blankets and packed the remains of the food, saying our thank yous and good-byes with hugs and kisses all around. A very satisfying family day!