The Liebster Award

I was truly surprised and honored when my blogger friend at Bohemian Geeky Girl…a friend of a friend who encountered my blog even though we’ve never met…selected me for The Liebster Award. I’ve enjoyed following her blog, which explores topics that range from feminist theory to pop culture to reviews, always in an accessible style that doesn’t intimidate. I actually went to every single blog that geekyg1rl had included in her own list, and I had fun encountering even more writers out there. A blog by a woman named Jen whose husband has a brain tumor especially spoke to me. Playing the “cancer card” is not far removed from the “I’m sorry officer I didn’t see that stop sign I’m on my way home from the hospital where I was visiting my mother who is on a ventilator would you like to see a picture of her trach?” (finally take a breath) card.

The Liebster Award is a way of recognizing bloggers who don’t have huge followings and major platforms, as we attempt to put our thoughts out there into the blogosphere. When I first started this blog, I really didn’t expect many people to encounter it, but given that I plan to write a book eventually, I figured that I should start writing publicly on a more regular basis. I had tried blogging quite a few years ago, but because I wasn’t ready to share my thoughts with the world, it was password-protected with only a handful of friends who could view it. Times have changed, though, and I think more of us are starting to see the value in sharing our musings with the world.

The coolest part about this award is that I now get to select 5 recipients and tell you a little about why I follow them. I tried to select a variety of folks to highlight the diversity of perspectives that I encounter on a regular basis.

1. My first pick is my friend Sue, whom I met last summer through a mutual friend. Sue’s posts at Sueprises are always contemplative, especially when she is focused on her spirituality, yet her anecdotes about her mother who has Alzheimer’s are both poignant and humorous. Sue has a quiet wisdom about her while seeming to marvel at the unexpected in life.

2. Natalie is a friend from graduate school–and a fellow flutist–who went back to school for her BSN. Her blog Flutist2Nurse explores her transition from Army musician to Army nurse. Her adventures in nursing school, especially when she started doing more advanced tasks in her clinicals, resonated with my experiences as a caregiver for my mother. I’m looking forward to reading about what’s next for Natalie as she rediscovers her love of yoga and all things active and outdoorsy now that she’s finished with school.

3.  My old college friend Joe Hinojosa writes a lot about writing, especially related to a novel that he is working on. Anyone who has ever worked on a creative project will relate to Joe’s enthusiasm and occasional frustrations. He’s the one male on my list, which made me realize that most of the bloggers I follow are female. I do have a couple of other male friends who blog, but their writings are less frequent, more focused on work or professional development, and tend to be for a larger forum (one of the guidelines for the Liebster Award is that the author have 200 or fewer subscribers). Be sure to check out Joe’s poetry as well, which is linked on his blog site.

4. Starr is a former colleague who went on to become a librarian and is now living abroad where her husband is on an extended work assignment. She blogs at Geeky Artist Librarian about her expat and travel adventures, general quirky-artistic-geeky topics, and her Ph.D. dissertation progress. If you ever encounter Starr in person, you’ll immediately detect her über-coolness, but even online, you’ll get a sense of what a breath of fresh air she is.

5. I decided to give a shout-out to a friend who writes a different sort of blog because it’s one that I follow religiously. It’s a CaringBridge page maintained by Tracey, another friend I met in grad school. Tracey’s sweet, funny daughter Julie has leukemia, and like other CaringBridge pages, the blog shares news about Julie’s progress. When Mom was ill, I chose not to maintain a blog about her because Mom was pretty private, and I was often too exhausted to post updates. The remarkable thing about Julie’s CaringBridge page is that I’ve watched Tracey step into her nurturing power as a mother and become increasingly assertive about her daughter’s needs (not to mention remaining attuned to her younger daughter as well). Tracey is an inspiration, and I’m proud to call her my friend.

Bonus blog: I wrote this late last night, but in reading over it now, I realized that I left out one of the most influential blogs that I follow. I’m not sure how many subscribers Ben at Web of Enlightenment has, especially because he blogs regularly at Elephant Journal, but I strongly believe that more people should read his writings. He is a profound thinker…in fact, I’d venture to say one of the most (if not the absolute most) profound people I’ve ever met in my life. We had been communicating online for several months when I had the opportunity to meet him for tea while passing through Shreveport on the way to my family farm last Thanksgiving. That conversation still pops up in my mind quite frequently because I was blown away by how this incredibly tall man with a Southern accent could sound like the Buddha incarnate. Truly one of the greatest minds I’ve been blessed to encounter, and so incredibly humble as well.

Well, there ya have it. There are many more blog sites that I could have listed here, but I do think this cross-section provides a nice variety. Happy reading, and if you’ve been thinking about starting a blog…just do it already!

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Memories…like the corner of my mind…

Today I drove through my hometown–the place where I lived from the time I was 2 until I moved away for college at the age of 18. I hadn’t been back there since Mom’s memorial service last summer, and the time before that was way back in 2008 when I sold the house where I grew up.

Other than some major road construction (which has been the source of much annoyance according to friends who still live there), Brenham hasn’t changed much in the past year. There has definitely been growth and development since I stopped visiting regularly (when Mom moved to live with me in 2007), but most of the town remains the same. The Blue Bell factory is still standing, which is probably the biggest concern for ice cream fans.

As I was on my way out of town, I realized that most of the memories that flooded into my mind today were from high school and college. I actually felt a bit overwhelmed by the volume and quickness of memories and almost couldn’t process it all.

But my mind still focused on a specific time period, with few recollections of childhood. It’s not that I never think of childhood–those who know me well would tell you that my memory is frighteningly deep and detailed–at times, far more than I would prefer. Those younger experiences just didn’t seem to be in the forefront of my mind today.

It occurred to me that the reason I seemed to conjure up memories of high school and college is because of the way I drove into town. I had spent the past two days in Houston and had made a point of driving by my grandmother’s old house on my way to Brenham. I think that’s where it all started. The sight of my grandmother’s house triggered memories of the last few times I visited her and the night that she passed away. So perhaps I was already in “adult mode” when it came to what I was thinking about.

Then in Brenham, I drove past my childhood home, and I thought of all the times I had pulled up in the driveway. I was in a new car–the first time I’d driven it there–and considering that this is only the third vehicle that I’ve owned, maybe the car affected how I perceived and related to the house. It’s undergone such a transformation since I sold it to the man who lived next door (an old classmate), and I was able to visit with him for a few minutes today. I also checked in on some other old familiar haunts, again recalling experiences mainly from high school and later.

In addition to the possibility that my car impacted how I related to my hometown environment, I think that something else shaped my perspective. Brenham no longer feels like “home” to me. Even a decade ago, I would have said that Brenham was my home. Sure, I moved away in 1993, but I still visited several times a year, usually staying in the house where I grew up. That house was my reference point, and the town extended out from that familiar hub.

So, why memories from my teenage years and early adulthood? Those were years when I was gradually detaching from my childhood and the comfort of home as I individuated and increasingly became my own person. I’m in another phase where I’m “finding myself,” so to speak. My identity is no longer wrapped up in my role as caregiver, which is both liberating and daunting. This is another time of transition in my life.

Brenham will always have a special place in my heart. The town has its flaws, as all places do, but it’s also full of wonderful memories of friends, family, and experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m glad that I don’t live there anymore. I’m excited about continuing on my path, wherever it might lead. And I know that my relationship with my childhood home will continue to evolve as I step out more into the world, with fewer and fewer returns to the stability of that familiar past.

Everything I needed to know about preservation I learned from the UNT Music Library

Acid causes paper deterioration. Store important family documents in acid-free and lignin-free folders.

Scan photos at a high resolution if you think you’ll want to print out copies later on, but a lower resolution is fine if you’re just going to view them on a computer.

Black-and-white documents can be scanned as TIFF files. LZW compression makes the files smaller without losing quality.

Back up everything. Frequently, and in multiple places.

Make lists of items that are stored in archival boxes.

Label the boxes.

Organize things in a way that makes sense. Don’t try to force a system that doesn’t suit the collection.

Online preservation sites have a far wider selection and more reasonable prices than places like The Container Store.

Invest in high-quality tape. And for the vast majority of things, stay away from glue.

Consider digitizing your audio and video collection.

Make sure that any recordings are in a format that’s not obsolete.

Think very carefully about what you want to hold onto. 40 years from now, a total stranger could be digging through your possessions and come across dusty cat-hair covered pantyhose that belonged to your fourth wife. Sure, you’ll be dead and not have to defend yourself, but out of consideration for the person who will be tasked with this responsibility, for the love of God throw out the pantyhose.

Take a picture. It will last longer. Then donate the objects to a non-profit that will actually use them.

OK, so I learned a lot more than that, and academic libraries tend to hold on to a lot more than what we at home need to store indefinitely…but these tips have been going through my head quite a bit lately as I organize my mother’s and grandparents’ stuff. Ultimately, I’ve concluded that less is more. Most things aren’t worth saving, and digital copies of papers and photos are usually sufficient except for very important items like birth and marriage certificates. Old letters can also be fun, but store them compactly. And don’t think that you need to save every single picture, especially ones that are blurry or feature random, unidentified people your grandparents sat at dinner with on a cruise.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I loved working at the library? Happy Organizing!

Living in a Hallmark World

I had wondered how I would feel about the first Mother’s Day since Mom died last year, and honestly, it doesn’t make me miss her any more than I normally do. Of course, that may have something to do with her decline toward the end of her life–it almost felt like she wasn’t here in those last few months.

More than that, I’ve been hyper-aware of the way that Mother’s Day and other holidays are marketed as consumer-driven events. It used to seem that Hallmark had a card for every occasion, but merchants far beyond stationary stores have figured out a way to make us feel that we must spend, spend, spend in order to express our love and gratitude for those who shape our lives. Even non-profits have jumped on the bandwagon, as my email inbox was filled with “Show your mother that you love her by giving [fill-in-the-blank] $50.”

The assumption is that we all want to celebrate this date–that it has a sentimental value for everyone–and that we are better people if we spend money showing our appreciation. But what about those who don’t want to be reminded of Mother’s Day? What about those who are members of “The Dead Mothers Club”? When is our holiday?

Mother’s Day affects people in different ways. The vast majority of my friends experience it as a joyous occasion. Those who are mothers might get to sleep late, have breakfast in bed, be treated to lunch, receive flowers and chocolate, plus the handmade (or store-bought) cards and gifts from their children. This is a fun day to recognize the value of mothers who give so much to their families all year long. Then there are the sons and daughters who call home…or text…or Skype…to say “Thanks for putting up with me all these years and not kicking me out when I dyed my hair purple, totaled your car, and dated that guy/girl who almost convinced me to quit college and join a commune.” Ah, yes, mothers have a lot of patience when it comes to rebellious kiddos.

That’s the standard narrative for mothers on this annual date. It doesn’t tell the full story, though, or even acknowledge the political origins of Mother’s Day. There are plenty of alternative experiences that aren’t included in the pre-Mother’s Day commercials. Hallmark never reminds us of the mothers who have abused their kids or abandoned their families. Politicians don’t seem to want to talk about homelessness among gay teens who are kicked out of the house by mothers (and fathers) who refuse to accept the child’s sexuality. But these women are out there, and some of my friends have been directly impacted by such mothers. Then there are the mothers serving time in prison. This beautifully moving photo collage reminds us that mothers in prison are humans who are capable of loving their children.

I also think of those mothers who have had to say goodbye to a child too soon. Employees who worked with Trayvon Martin’s mother collectively donated vacation time to give her what she needs: time to grieve the murder of her son. A friend of mine suffered a miscarriage this past week and is grieving in her own way about a loss that not everyone understands. And then there are those women who dream of becoming mothers but are infertile, including some who were forcibly sterilized.

The common thread among these various scenarios is the difference between “inside” and “outside.” Mother’s Day (as well as most other holidays) call attention to those who have shared identities and experiences while marginalizing those whose stories don’t fit neatly onto a greeting card. I would like to invite you all to engage in a discussion here about your own observations on this issue, especially:

What does it feel like not to fit in?

Even if you feel like you might not “belong” anywhere else today, please know that you are welcome here. Your truth matters.

I’d like to give a shout-out to my own mother, who more than anyone made me the person I am today. There is not enough space on the internet to convey the unconditional love that she showed for my sister and me. She was a warm, gentle spirit who touched countless lives. To know her was to love her. But I’ve also had other mother-figures in my life, and they deserve some recognition as well. Back in college, I dubbed my flute teacher Sally Turk as my “mom away from mom,” and she continues to inspire me to this day. I also think of my good friend Sadie Emery’s mother Donna (whom I also count as a friend), a woman who welcomed me into her home when a family crisis required my mother to be away from home for an extended period of time. And, of course, there are my grandmothers as well as my aunts who have taught me so much.

Finally, I dedicated today to another mother, a woman I met in Haiti whose greatest hope is that she can provide enough food for her children that they won’t continue to starve. I’ve thought as I’ve gone about my day and tried to imagine what it’s like to be an abjectly impoverished mother in a developing country. I’m pleased that her situation has improved since I met her in March, but she also stands as a symbol for the countless others who watch their children die of malnutrition, malaria, cholera, landmine explosions, genocide, and so many other atrocities. Let’s do what we can to honor all the mothers in this world, not just by boosting the sales performance of greeting card companies but by raising awareness of the diversity of experiences that contribute to this notion of “motherhood.”