Remedial Girl

Reading is the one  skill I can say comes naturally and easily for me.  I can’t even begin to list what reading has meant to me in my life, but for today suffice it to say there was no “low” reading group for me. From the beginning of school I regularly enjoyed a lofty position in the “high” reading group, grimacing as the other poor souls in my class struggled to sound out sight words.   My early success in reading led me to believe, falsely, that all other things would come easily to me as well.DownloadedFile-1

I’ve been  thinking about that because I  recently was  given one of those questionnaires you get when you join an organization. What are your accomplishments? List your other skills. And what would people be surprised to know about you?

The answer to all three questions was “Nothing.” I can’t do anything but read. I have no skills. Nope. Can’t do anything well. And nothing about me would surprise anyone. Needless to say I didn’t turn in the questionnaire.

I’m fairly new  to the whole “knowing how to do things” game. I grew up too late to be one of those little Southern girls who could embroider a hankie, converse in French, sketch my friends’ likenesses, dance the quadrille, and thrill my the menfolk after dinner with  my singing and  delicate playing of the pianoforte. Had I lived in those times, I still don’t know if I would have been very accomplished. I was an impatient child. I expected to learn and master skills without effort and persistence.  If a particular activity frustrated me,  I would just quit. Why did I need to learn to make a beanbag when I had Little Women right in the next room?

Also I was something of a klutz with a nice dose of performance anxiety. If I had chances to practice gross motor activities  repeatedly, such as roller skating, I would eventually catch on.  But fine motor activities were harder. Apparently I held my pencil in “lazy valley.” For years  every one of my school papers was returned with a big red “MESSY” written across the top, until  the fourth grade when, in a clever act of deceit, I  traced my classmate Claire’s perfect penmanship and inadvertently grew some new neural pathways. I just knew my fingers were way too big to handle a tiny needle and thread, and besides, one had to continually rethread the needle. Overwhelming, AND boring!

It was lonely sometimes down in Lazy Valley.

It was lonely sometimes down in Lazy Valley.

When I was older, my mother, who sewed beautifully, told me that if I could read I could sew. That was SO not true!  Do you hear me, Mother? Assuming one could lay out the pattern and cut the fabric, one had to be able to operate the machine without  fearing sewing one’s finger to the table.  Between choosing a pattern and the finished product there were just too many critical mess up points for me. In middle school a friend helped me sew a jumper, but my mother pronounced it unwearable. Ouch. Mothers don’t know their own power.

As a result I grew to be an adult who knew how to do one thing well: read. Since reading IS the one absolutely vital skill for a productive life, I am not complaining. But arriving on the scene of adulthood with few other skills  caused problems of its own.

I married and had children. I had neither decorative nor practical skills. If buttons fell off of our clothes we simply never wore them again. My stomach still hurts when I think of having to sew those thick Boy Scout achievement badges on my boys’ uniforms, before the meeting in one hour, before my husband came home, while something burned on the stove.  What was so challenging  was that when I was frustrated I didn’t have the option to just set the task aside; I had to move out of my comfort zone or else send naked children to school. I am sure the pressure made me a very cranky Mommy at times, and is no doubt  underlying cause of all my childrens’ neuroses!

As I became older I finally had the time, and seemingly out of nowhere, a deep undiscovered well of  patience to learn to do some things. My desire to do, to make, to create, finally won out against my poor self discipline, lack of skills and  self confidence. I dreamed of sewing bright, contemporary quilts, dyeing fabric, painting, knitting, making mosaics – everything in the world, really. I now have a  whole list of activities I enjoy doing badly. Right now I am mostly knitting. But whatever I may be doing at any given time the skill level is the same: remedial!

About eight years ago when my sister taught me to knit I envisioned being one of those people who give handmade knitted items as gifts.  After so many years as a hopeless klutz, I thought that learning these skills would be a nice boost for  my self esteem. But along the way I’ve learned that the object is not knowing how to do something. The object is knowing myself better.

Here are a few curriculum highlights in the “low group” of knitting:

1) My senses require that I have my hands in the tangible magic that is yarn and to delight in the endless ways to invent with it.

A feast for the eyes.

A feast for the eyes.

2) My spirit requires that I savor the sweet deliberate motions of knitting and enjoy its meditative qualities.

3) Each knitted object has a story and a process of its own. Within the finished object are all the memories of what was happening in my life at the time.The mistakes are part of the story. The mistakes are a vital part of the story.

This was to be a lovely afghan for my daughter. I learned the hard way that working on it while my Mother was having chemo was a BAD idea.  I had to felt it and turn it into a shawl for my daughter instead. When I remarked that ot looked so odd she probable couldn't wear or she said, "Don't worry Mom. I go to Berkeley!"

This was to be a lovely afghan for my daughter. I learned the hard way that working on it while my Mother was having chemo was a BAD idea. I had to felt it and turn it into a shawl for my daughter instead. When I remarked that ot looked so odd she probable couldn’t wear or she said, “Don’t worry Mom. I go to Berkeley!”

4) I must follow my own knitting path. I listen to what others may say about the benefits of double pointed needles or knitting two socks at a time, but only I can know which is best for me.

5) I must learn in my own way. If I must read instructions 400 times, so it is. If I must start over half as many times, I accept that also.

6) I  must remember not to take myself too seriously. If my knitted washcloths  look like pieces of fuschia colored naan,  and my scarves like snakes that went through the garbage disposal, that’s just part of the fun. After all, they are definitely original creations!

7) I  give myself permission to be lost, to need help and to ask for it. This may be my proudest achievement of all. Not knowing is not a reflection on me; it’s just part of the glorious process of creativity.

So far, so good on my latest project.

So far, so good on my latest project.

You may have realized that I am in no hurry to graduate from the Remedial Knitting Group. I am as serene as a bag on unspun wool at my Tuesday night knitting group, where the skill level of the other knitters ranges from brilliant to super extra brilliant. Unlike the first grade, there is no penalty for taking as long as I need to complete an item or to lovingly start the whole thing over again.

Will I one day knit up a pair of flawless socks? Present a baby afghan I designed myself? Follow the yarn process from shearing through spinning and dyeing? I’m sure I would be pleased if I could, but if I don’t, that is fine too. This Remedial Girl is learning plenty anyway.

How Did It Go?

Whoa! I haven’t partied like THAT in a long time! It’s nice to know I could fit so many  people in my house. Even now I pinch myself that they all found their way here.  But really, how did it go? You’ll have to tell me because when something is at my house I can never tell. I’m too busy with my hostess duties.

I’ll tell you what I DID notice.  The doorbell kept ringing and ringing and ringing!  I met so many people I can’t remember all their names, but they were all book lovers. And such a creative vibe! It doesn’t even seem real that I got to entertain so many readers, bloggers, writers, and artists.

Here's what got the party started!

Here’s what got the party started!

Did you see that knot of people at the top of the stairs? The hipsters  drinking out of the whiskey glasses? They met each other after they got here and sat up there for hours discussing everything from literary theory to the best discount travel sites.

They helped themselves to the glasses. Sorry everyone else had to use Solo cups!

They helped themselves to the glasses. Sorry everyone else had to use Solo cups!

And then there was the group that stayed over by the fireplace; I guess they were lucky, in that crush of people to have a place to sit down on the hearth. I overheard a lot there about literary fiction.  People were good natured about the crowd, though, and perched wherever they could.

In the sunroom there was lots of laughter, apparently connected to a disagreement over the best children’s literature. Everyone was advocating for their favorite childhood book characters. I merely smiled as I looked in, knowing quite well I had “Bread And Jam For Frances” upstairs  in a bedroom, literally above their heads.

People formed  groups organically, in a kind of human Dewey Decimal system. I met grandmothers, sci fi fans, hikers, librarians, poets, cooks, and doctoral students. Young mothers seemed clustered together, and the retirees stayed put on the upholstered chairs. People kept offering to help me but I really just wanted them to meet each other and have fun.

Mingling among the groups. I had little time to spend with each person. I did admit to someone that I don’t really know how to use twitter,and that the weekend I was trying to write my first blog post, I nearly burst into tears trying to crop the magpie picture on the header. I had hoped to get each person to just recommend to me ONE book, and I was going to keep them in a list  on my phone so I wouldn’t lose it. But I couldn’t even keep up with my red solo cup of wine, much less my phone. I guess that will have to be a future blog post.

I was glad for people to peruse my bookshelves. It would be the first thing I'd do in THEIR homes!

I was glad for people to peruse my bookshelves. It would be the first thing I’d do in THEIR homes!

I would say there were one hundred people in the back yard. Some seemed to recognize flowers I had photographed for the blog. Others were out there to smoke or to get some fresh air. The few times I checked out there, I got some good tips on growing tomatoes.

I don’t regret catering in the barbecue. That’s the easiest way I know to feed 500 people on short notice. Certainly my guests  had no great cuisine expectations, but there was no way I was entertaining without serving food. There is no banana pudding left, by the way.

I guess my social skills WERE needed for my impromptu party!

I guess my social skills WERE needed for my impromptu party!

Thanks to onecreativescientist, the ice chests were stocked with beer, soft drinks and ice. My few wine bottles were supplemented with donations from my gracious guests. Krugthethinker and thewaiting were absolute angels; they were two extra sets of hands to  greet guests, keep drinks flowing, and direct people to the facilities.

I'm thinking of some little hostess aprons for krugthethinker and thewaiting for all their help.

I’m thinking of some little hostess aprons for krugthethinker and thewaiting for all their help.

I won’t even try to count the languages and nationalities represented. But wasn’t it cool how many made friends, exchanged emails and made plans to visit one another in India, Wales, Chile, England? And to read one another’s work?

As soon as I get this place cleaned up, I’m going to sit down and write some thank you notes.

A lady always has stationery at the ready.

A lady always has stationery at the ready.

DSC_0719Because I really am thankful that so many people stopped by to read my post. It WAS like a party for 500 people, one I would love to experience over and over again. In fact, I would love to know more about those who stopped by, and to make a new friend, or 499 friends. Welcoming all of you into my life, however briefly, is the best Fresh Press of all!

Magnificent Obsession

It was Friday. I’d been looking forward to it, dreaming of it, actually, for days. I knew what I was going  to do.  No need to announce my intentions to others. I had an itch of a kind that must be scratched.

Let’s just say I was looking for  a companion with certain attributes. I wanted a solid, steadfast presence with some nurturing aspects. I tended to favor the company of a more mature companion, but I wouldn’t discriminate based on age.  Nor would I turn down an adventurous or mysterious spirit. In my mind’s eye I had seen myself, breathless and enthralled, hanging on to every word and moment with my future friend, marveling  at his (or her) genius. And ah, our imagined parting! What sorrow! I wanted to weep in advance, for as surely as I would cleave to the charms of my companion, so I would also seek to avoid our inevitable parting.

This insatiable need I am describing is not new. I don’t mean to be such a user, but if I am anywhere close to my type of friend  I can’t pay attention to anything else. In the end I will take everything the friend has to offer, turn away from it and seek a replacement. Friday was no exception. I was on the prowl.

But  I  couldn’t go just yet. I had to prepare. I showered, dressed, and fortified myself with a light lunch. I would need my wits about me for my journey.  I didn’t bring my camera; I didn’t know if this kind of intimacy was something best recorded on film. You know, the capturing of souls and all that.

In due time, I left the house. My heart was eager, and urged me to travel swiftly toward my rendezvous.  I reminded myself I need not be desperate, that the right companion, or companions, would await me. This was not a time to dwell on imaginary scarcities. There will be an ample supply, I murmured to myself to slow my heart’s acceleration.

When I arrived, I was welcomed into a pleasant chamber to view my prospects. Others  were there, no doubt to choose according to their desired types, but I barely registered them as I reconnoitered the room. Perhaps to prevent frenzied behaviors on the part of the lookers, our hosts had piped in some smooth jazz  recordings which sent an unspoken message,”This is a classy type of  meat market.”

Music helped to manage our obsessive tendencies.

Music helped to manage our obsessive tendencies.

But a meat market it was! Our hosts had scoured far and wide to provide us with a startling array of companions- new, old. short, substantial, local. practical, exotic. cultured, unrefined, alluring, erudite, nondescript. Helpers circulated among the lookers, encouraging them in their choices. No one would have to leave empty handed.

These autographed options stood on a bookcase by themselves.

These autographed options stood on a bookcase by themselves.


You can’t judge them by their covers.

I saw many familiar friends from the past, ones whose beauty and truth I would never forget. I ran my hands over them, willing the fond memories of our times together. I was glad they were available for others. I browsed. I  took my time, moving aside patiently for others, as they in turn did for me.  The atmosphere was so civilized that I risked taking a few  discreet pictures with my phone.IMG_1930


So I can soothe my savage beast at home.


Hello, handsome!

Hello, handsome!

More eye candy.

More eye candy.

I selected carefully, opting in the end for an eclectic  mix of potential friends, returning to the fold those which did not strike my fancy, just as I hoped others would do for me.  I had no idea how long I had been in there, oblivious to hunger, thirst, or any other human need. A glance around the area showed I was not the only one in an endorphin filled haze. Gladly I gave the nominal fee to take my choices home for further inspection.

To each his own.

To each his own.

This kind lady and other volunteers helped me replenish my supplies for the nonce.

This kind lady and other volunteers helped me replenish my supplies for the nonce.

It has been two days. and we are settling in together nicely. I need not hurry to choose a favorite; each one  will share its  treasures with me at my pleasure, as many times as I want. There will be other selections in the future, but these are fine for today. My itch has subsided for the time being, happy with the anticipation of the thrills to come. How about you? Met any fascinating new friends lately?

The Warmth of Another Sun

I couldn’t get warm at all yesterday. In the South may the fourth  should conjure pictures of sunny sidewalks and folks out in shorts and flip flops, but this year we were subjected to torrential rains and temperatures in the 40s. 40s!!!! I spent most of the day doing what I do in February – huddling under a blanket with the space heater on. As I occasionally covered my  icy  nose with my sleeve, I asked myself if it were true that just one week ago I had been basking in the sun in the Napa Valley?

Why yes, I promptly answered myself, because talking to myself helped my blood circulate to my extremities. Just last Saturday, I told myself,  you were luxuriating in golden sunshine at the Fremont Diner. And I reassured myself by looking at the pictures I had of that very day. One can’t be too careful; frozen people have been known to hallucinate.

A little background: I accompanied my husband on a business trip to the Bay area. We were fortunate that our daughter could fly up from Pasadena and spend the week with us. Maybe I should be writing my first post about the trip on how wonderful it was to get to see her for the first time since Christmas and how she warms my heart, but I’m just too cold. So let’s move on to the Fremont Diner. And by the way, all those corny expressions about being kissed by the sun, soaking up the sun’s rays, the sky washed clean? Those are all true. DSC_0586

On Saturday we drove to the Napa Valley. We had big plans for the night, but we’ll discuss those later. I sat in the passenger seat of the rental car, reading on my Ipad ,while my daughter and husband discussed the logistics of the trip. I was free to gaze upon some of the sights I had missed so much: the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County, and the surrounding countryside. Thanks to the GPS we were guided in due time to the Fremont Diner, where my daughter’s dear friend Steve had advised us to eat lunch.DSC_0585

We clambered out of the car in our short sleeves, sunglasses and cameras and found our way to the hostess stand. There would be a 45 minute wait but we were in no hurry. And we would be in good company, with the other 50 or so folks waiting for tables on the …… not a patio really, more of a gravel yard.

You could set a spell in the sun.

You could set a spell in the sun.

We got ourselves some drinks and sat under umbrellas. DSC_0594For me there was a somewhat surreal feeling. We were in California but I could have sworn I was in Alabama. The restaurant appeared to be in an old gas station. Drinks were served in mason jars.  Fried chicken was on the menu. And the place had a friendly Southern vibe. DSC_0605

We passed our forty five minutes visiting the chickens and watching the other waiting folks. Women in heels walked hesitantly across the gravel to picnic tables where chickens darted and scratched at the dirt. I suppose high heels on gravel could be considered an indication that one was not in fact in Alabama. Mothers attempted in vain to keep their children from chasing the chickens. Some waited in the grass rather then on the gravel.DSC_0580

A little privacy with her lemonade.

A little privacy with her lemonade.

This little Missy was determined to catch a chicken. her Mother thought otherwise.

This little Missy was determined to catch a chicken. Her Mother thought otherwise.

But her brother did score a reasonable rock collection. He presented one to my daughter  as a gift.

But her brother did score a reasonable rock collection. He presented one to my daughter as a gift.

Hmph. Humans everywhere!

Hmph. Humans everywhere!


Finally a brilliant turquoise picnic table opened up for us. DSC_0612And oh yes. The three of us knew this food: Southern, fresh, down home, plentiful.  Who knew we would come all the way from California to eat good ( and in the South we don’t use that term lightly) barbecue! Of course the trouble with this food is that one cannot stop eating until every last  glorious bite is gone.  My daughter and I had the barbecued chicken sandwich with a delectable side of fresh green beans, black  eyed peas and tarragon. My husband had the same, only with pork. My husband was thoroughly pleased but my daughter and I had pushed beyond the boundaries of our appetites.  What had Steve been thinking, sending us to a meat restaurant?? No dessert, please!DSC_0608

We paused for a few more pictures before we resumed our journey. I think we were all just too full to get back in the car.DSC_0613DSC_0599

Whatever killed the skeleton inside the truck.... it wasn't the cold!

Whatever killed the skeleton inside the truck…. it wasn’t the cold!

The sun and sky were endless that day.

The sun and sky were endless that day.

The next stop was, unbelievably to our stomachs, a wine tasting. There was no room for wine. but we would cross that bridge when we came to it. For now we had full stomachs, endless sunshine and no humidity. Aah! Memories really can keep you warm!