Reading for Change

29. Good Vibes: What makes you smile? What makes you happy?

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

You all know I’m a knitter. I’ve written about the joys of being a process knitter, and how much pleasure knitting brings me.

Right now, in these times of isolation, stress and turmoil, I’ve turned to knitting more than ever.

Reading to Escape

Reading is also one of my favorite activities. Mostly I read novels, but I also enjoy biographies and histories.

For me, reading is a way to escape. I’ve read challenging books, books that take me out of my comfort zone.

But, especially now, I’m reaching for more escapist literature, or comfort reading. Jane Austen, Alexander McCall Smith, lighter fiction, mystery novels…

Time for a New Reading List?

As the country seems to be coming apart around us, we’re all feeling anxious, stressed, angry and frightened. I feel helpless and powerless to make change.

Now is the time to take one of those activities that makes me happy (reading) and use it to become more informed.

Many people have published lists of recommended reading to learn about racism, white privilege, and how to become an ally. What has struck me, however, have been the lists of books for children.

Reading With the Kids

Reading is also one of our boys’ favorite activities, and seeing them read is one of my greatest sources of joy. Author Christine Taylor-Butler tweeted earlier this month that for every one book about racism you read to a child, please “provide 20 joyful books.”

But not just any joyful books. Books in which children of color are featured as the main characters, doing the same things that white children do, because all children do them.

One book like this that I grew up with was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Another that we recently listened to on the Julie’s Library podcast was Tía Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina and illustrated by Claudio Munoz.

Some Resources

Here’s an article from the New York Times that lists some great books for kids—not just books on racism, but also books in which children of color are the protagonists.

On the Julie’s Library website there is also a link to a list of books to read to kids to help support conversations about race, racism and resistance.

Learning Together

While I delve into a new and challenging reading list, I can introduce more diverse literature to my children and help them grow into anti-racists.

We can learn together as a family. That makes me feel empowered.

That, and donating to organizations I believe in.

Fear, or Worse

26. Fear: What scares you a little? What do you feel when scared? How do you react?

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

I fear being paralyzed by fear. I also fear my own cluelessness.

For example. The other day, I was expecting a package. It was after dark, but I saw movement through the window next to our front door. I naturally assumed it was the delivery.

I opened the door to find myself looking at a black man. He was holding up his phone, getting ready to take a photo. At my feet on the doorstep was my package. As soon as I opened the door, I knew what was happening. The deliveryman had placed the package and was taking the photo that would show up in my delivery notification.

I understood that. I knew that that was the situation. I smiled, and I said, “What have you got for me?”

For an instant as I looked into his face, I saw fear in the man’s eyes. It took him just a split second longer to grasp that I had understood the situation correctly, and was smiling in a friendly way at him.

He apologized for delivering so late, said he was running behind. I said, “It’s no problem, it’s nothing urgent. I’m just excited it’s here. Good night, and take care!”

He said, “You, too,” gave me a smile and a wave as he walked off. I saw relief in his eyes.

What does this have to do my fear?

In the wake of the brutal killing of George Floyd last week, what has struck me most (other than the barbarous killing of a man over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill), was that the other police officers either participated, or stood aside.

They stood aside as their colleagues choked the life out of a man. Over a twenty dollar bill. Was the man’s life not worth more than twenty dollars?

Apparently not.

Fear at Play

I don’t know what kept them silent. Why they stood aside and watched (and by watching, condoned) what was happening.

I can only assume it was fear. Fear of the bully who was the lead perpetrator of the violence. Fear of the man they were crushing. Fear of losing their jobs. Fear of losing control over a population of black Americans they’ve been accustomed to subjugating.

My Fear

I fear finding myself in their situation, and doing as they did.

Either not speaking out to stop the violence out of fear, or tacitly condoning the crime by remaining silent.

We all like to think we’d be courageous enough to speak out in a situation like that. But I honestly don’t know that I would be. My own fear might paralyze me.

Fear, or Worse

Worse, my blindness to injustice might keep me silent.

I like to think that if I were witnessing a man being choked to death, I would say something. But what if the aggression isn’t so blatant? What if it’s a non-violent micro aggression against a person of color? Would I be brave enough to point it out?

Would I even realize it was happening?

I don’t know.

I must inform myself. I must pray for empathy. Pray that in whatever situation, I am able to put myself in the other person’s shoes and feel what it is like to be them. And then act accordingly.

Because what everyone needs to remember (or learn for God’s sake) is that

Black
Lives
Matter.

End of the Nap

25. Dread: Write about doing something you don’t want to do.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

Suddenly, I realize I had been
Asleep.

I can tell the light is dim
Behind my shut eyelids.

What time is it?
I’m disoriented.

My eyes are still shut
But I feel a presence
In the room.

Awareness creeps in.
I remember
I’d been napping.

The presence is coming closer.
I screw my eyes shut tighter.
Move the sheets up over my head.

“Mama?”
I grunt.
“Mama, nap time’s over.”

I groan.
Just because you’re up
Do I have to get up, too?

What Comes in Threes?

24. Numbers: Write a poem or journal entry about numbers that have special meaning to you.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

Bad things always happen in threes.

That’s the old line, at least. But three is also a lucky number. The Holy Trinity. One, two, three, go! Third time’s the charm. Third time lucky.

But then again, three is a crowd. And deaths come in threes.

GOOD LORD. Number three! Make up your mind! Are you GOOD? Or are you BAD?

One of Three

I’m one of three. The third, actually (and in my case, yes, it was third time lucky because they’d hoped for a girl).

And here I am. The mother of two. Two boys, to be precise.

I always thought I’d have three. On an early date with my Chico, we talked about family expectations. I said I’d always pictured myself with three kids. He said, “Where there’s three there’s four.” (For context: he’s the youngest of four.)

“You’re not the one squeezing them out,” I muttered. Four seemed excessive.

What About a Third?

But now that we have two… Now that we have two wild and wonderful boys who fill our days with exasperation and joy, I’m just not sure.

I’m not sure I want a third.

I don’t feel anyone is missing. Our family feels complete and happy as it is.

Also, I don’t know if I want to put myself through the physical trial that is pregnancy and childbirth again. Granted, I managed both like a boss in my previous pregnancies and deliveries, but I’m nearly 35 now. My body has taken a long time to recover after the birth of our second son, and it will never be the same.

It sounds selfish, but there it is. I don’t know if I have the stamina and energy needed to carry another child, birth another child and then raise another child.

(Just the thought of going through potty training and the terrible twos again gives me great pause.)

Two’s Good, Too.

So maybe it won’t be three. Maybe we’ll leave it at two. For now, we are deciding not to decide. And if that goes on much longer, the decision will have to be no.

Tick tock, you know.

So I may have to start mourning the idea of three. Give up on the idea of a girl (though, Lord knows with my luck if I got pregnant again it’d be with twin boys).

But then again… They do say that third time is the charm.

Sugar High!

23. Sugar: Write something so sweet, it makes your teeth hurt.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

Here’s a list of some of my very favorite sweet treats the boys and I have been enjoying during lockdown. I have resolved not to eat any sweets not of my own making, so because I have a terrible sweet tooth, we’ve been doing a lot of baking.

New Zealand afghan biscuits (AKA chocolate corn flake cookies). A wonderful combination of chewy and crispy, with chocolate frosting on top. Here’s the recipe I use. (Slight modification: I add a scant 1/2 tsp salt to the cookie recipe and I put 1 tbsp melted butter and 1 tbsp milk in the frosting instead of water.)

Fudgy cocoa brownies. I can never be bothered to melt the chocolate down in the bain marie, blah blah blah… This recipe is fudgy and delicious and is made with cocoa powder. Easy.

Banana bread. Bananas keep going brown, no matter how many we devour. When I get four good ripe ones, I freeze them until I have time to make banana bread. I always put in walnuts.

Cranberry upside-downer. My très chère cousine sent me Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking as a housewarming gift. I bless and curse her every day. My taste buds bless her, my waistline curses her. This cranberry upside-downer is my favorite recipe from the book so far. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and tart, and can be served with ice cream for dessert or enjoyed as an indulgent breakfast coffee cake.

Big crumb coffee cake. ‘Nuff said.

Apple (or plum, or rhubarb, or blueberry…) pie. I decided to learn how to make pie in 2018. I am both glad and angry I did. Glad because I love pie. Angry because my waistline has yet another reason to curse. I used to use an apple pie recipe from the NYT, but since life is too short to pre-cook the apples, I now use Dorie Greenspan’s recipe. (Bonus: here is my favorite all-butter pie crust.)

The boys love to help me bake. The afghan biscuits above are great because the recipe doesn’t include eggs, meaning I’m less worried about their licking the dough. Here’s another egg-free recipe that my mom got somewhere (not sure where so I can’t give proper credit, sorry).

Oatmeal Raisin Bread

1 cup oatmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ cup plain yogurt (I use Greek or whole fat)
¼ cup molasses
1 cup raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Grease and flour a bread pan.
  2. Combine the oatmeal, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together well.
  3. In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure out the yogurt. Pour in the molasses until you have 1 ½ cups of liquid. You can either stir it together, or I like to use my immersion blender to really mix the molasses into the yogurt. Add to the dry ingredients. Stir in the raisins.
  4. Pour (or spread, because it will be thick) into the prepared bread pan and bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This bread isn’t too sweet, so we love to have it for breakfast and spread all kinds of delicious things on it. Nutella, jam, marmalade, honey… And always, always butter.

Baking as a Family

Baking is fun and relaxing, and it’s the only way to get the boys interested in the kitchen. They morph into my little sous-chefs and usually end up with sticky faces. I will break with blog precedent to include a photo of them after our latest batch of brownies had gone into the oven.

There’s trouble for you.

Warning: I’m on a Rant

Many of the posts in this writing challenge series have been either fiction, or ficitonalized reality. Today’s prompt set me off on a rant about our actual current situation. It’s grumpy. It’s griping. It’s how I feel right now. The GIF of the naked dancing gnomes made me feel better.

22. Smoke, Fog, and Haze: Write about not being able to see ahead of you.

How can anyone see ahead of herself in the fog of this pandemic?

Our current living arrangement was supposed to be temporary. By this time, we were supposed to be house hunting and preparing to settle into our own home. It’s the first time as a family that we want to settle somewhere longer term, and here we are, unable to do so!

I must preface my rant by saying that we are extremely lucky. My Chico just so happened to be here in the States (legally!) when things started shutting down, and he has been able to remain here (also legally!) this whole time. We are together. We are healthy. We are lucky.

And yet…

Even before the pandemic, the United States (the country of which I am a citizen, just in case that wasn’t clear), made it damnably difficult to get my spouse into the country.

As anyone who has experience with these things will know, the U.S. immigration process is one of the most opaque and exasperating in the world. It is really, really hard to come to the States. The pandemic has made it worse.

This is not our first move. We’ve moved to Canada, to Germany, and to Spain before this. The process to bring our family to the U.S. has been hands down the most stressful, the most complicated and the most convoluted immigration process of all.

The process of moving the spouse of a U.S. citizen to the United States (I emphasize this so the absurdity of it can really sink in) has taken us more than one year. And we’re still not done. We’re not even sure if we’re half-way done.

Talk about fog!

Each time we think we’re a step closer, we learn of another step we have to complete.

We are constantly anxious about what the next phase is, as it’s never quite clear how we have to move forward. Not to mention further barriers thrown up in the meantime by He of the orange face and fake hair Who Shall Not be Named.

And also thanks to He Who Shall Not be Named, I now have to prove that I can support my immigrant husband financially. I have to demonstrate that I have at least $100,000 in assets and must undertake to REIMBURSE THE GOVERNMENT should he ever require government assistance (unemployment, Medicaid, etc.).

I’m a homemaker. My assets are my husband’s assets—we share everything. But can shared assets count? We don’t know. We may have to take another step to ensure they do.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment, shall we? If you can’t see how deeply disturbing that is, then you need an empathy transplant, stat.

What about the U.S. citizens who cannot be financial sponsors for their immigrant spouses? How are they supposed to live here?

The downright xenophobic nature of the immigration process makes me feel unwelcome in my own country. And frankly? This pandemic is showing such huge cracks in the laughable social support system that compared to other places we’ve lived, THIS looks like the “shithole country.”

Doubts and Questions

It makes our future hazy. It fills my dreams with smoke and fog. It makes me wonder, do I really want us to move our family here? We can go other places. Why put ourselves through the stress and pain of moving here?

I cannot see clearly the path ahead. I am stumbling through the murk, trying to move forward.

But I am so thankful that I am not alone. The best man I know is stumbling forward with me.

Foreclosure

Back to the writing prompts for Day 21. After writing this I realized it’s not so much about someone who has lost their home as it is about a fictional version of me.

21. Foreclosure: Write a poem or short story about someone who has lost or is about to lose their home.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

“I thought the state had put a stop on mortgage payments and foreclosures during the pandemic?”

“I thought so, too.”

We stood at the curb, looking at the house. It looked like any number of the houses in the surrounding neighborhood. Probably four bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms. It was set into a hill, so like the nearby houses it had a walk-out basement. The front was brick, but we knew it to be decorative. All these houses are made of wood. A little portico covered the front step and a walkway led from the front door to a two-car garage, attached to the house. If I had to guess, I’d think it probably cost about $650,000. I’d seen other houses in the area for sale on Zillow.

Unlike the houses around it, a sign was sticking out of the front lawn. FOR SALE. Nothing unusual about that.

What was heartbreaking was the smaller sign dangling from the large one, with one very telling word: FORECLOSURE.

We often walked through this neighborhood. We would leave our development where we rented a townhouse and walk the leafy streets lined with single family homes.

This was the first time we’d seen a sign like that.

As we waited for our kids to catch up, we wondered about what was going on behind that front door, on the other side of those curtains. Just visible around the side of the house was a play set—slide, swing, seesaw. A glance at an upstairs window showed pink curtains, the back of a teddy bear’s head propped against the pane. One garage door was open, and we could see two children’s bikes inside. They were about the same size as the ones our children were riding on.

It was terrifying to see how very much like us this family was.

Maybe we’d passed them on one of our walks. Had we nodded politely, each family stepping off the path on either side to let the other pass? Had we intervened to stop the children from getting too close to each other?

I looked at that horrible word: FORECLOSURE. Are they legally obliged to put that on the sign? Why else would they hang it there like a badge of shame? Broadcasting your misery to all your neighbors. It seemed to me like adding insult to injury.

We walked on. I put my hand in my husband’s and gave it a squeeze. “There but for the grace of God go we,” I whispered.

He gave my hand what I thought was supposed to be a reassuring squeeze.

Great Minds

Day 19 in my daily writing challenge. Feeling pretty good about how quickly I’ve made writing daily a habit.

19. Great Minds: Write  about someone you admire and you thought to have had a beautiful mind.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

There are few people who combine greatness of mind and greatness of heart.

An intelligent, discerning person who is also kind and caring is a rare person indeed.

The Dinner Party

You know that game, where you’re allowed to choose four people (alive or dead) to share a dinner party with you? The dead are miraculously brought back to life in the present time and you can have them all over to dinner.

Who would you choose?

I have thought of this game before, and thought of historical figures I’d like to meet. Jane Austen is usually my first pick.

But the more I think about Austen’s sharp commentary about the people around her, I wonder if I wouldn’t be disappointed to find her heart to be a little less soft than her mind is sharp.

Sharp Wit, Hard Heart

It has been my experience that sometimes the wittiest, funniest, smartest people can also be the cruelest. I don’t like cruelty and unkindness. I always feel bad whenever I find myself laughing at the expense of other people.

Why is it that great capacity of thought is often paired with a reduced capacity for empathy?

To me, the presence of both is what truly makes a mind great.

The Great Mind I Knew

I knew a person like that. She was interesting and interested. She had a lot to say, but also listened a lot. She had great superiority of mind, but was humble, caring and kind. She could speak with information on a wide variety of topics, but she also loved to learn and would absorb new ideas with delight.

Long-time readers and family members may have guessed by now who I mean.

She had her flaws, this is true.

But the greatest gift my mother gave me was to model both intellectual curiosity and compassion.

A Role Model Still

This is probably why, nearly three years after her death, her influence on me remains strong. Her death has allowed me to see some of the flaws in her character, and some of the less healthy aspects to our (rather co-dependent) relationship.

As I slowly take apart the stones of the pedestal on which she stands, I am delighted to meet her eye-to-eye.

And I am most delighted to learn that despite her flaws and despite her shortcomings, she is still a person worthy of admiration.

A person who had a heart as great as her mind.

The Housework Lament

18. Cleaning: Hey, even writers and creative artists have to do housework sometimes. Write about doing laundry, dishes, and other cleaning activities.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

Even writers and creative artists have to do housework sometimes? Oh, please. Give me a break. I spend so much of my time doing housework that I’d really rather not spend the time I have to write even thinking about it.

Damn it, I’ve spent so much of today on housework that I’d nearly forgotten to do today’s writing challenge. I was sitting, folding laundry when I realized I hadn’t written today!

I’ll tell you about housework.

The worst part about housework, is that whether I am actually executing the work or not, I am responsible for it. What is so exhausting is not how much of it I actually do (a lot) but how much I have to think about it.

With some exceptions, if I do not ask someone to do a piece of housework, it will not get done.

I could elaborate. In fact, I had written nearly a page griping on about it.

But I’m tired. Any homemaker knows what I mean. The person who carries the family’s entire schedule and inventory of home supplies in their head is going to be exhausted.

A Vicious Cycle

The conversation that my husband and I have over and over again is how hard it is, what a weight it is, to be the one harping on everyone to do their chores.

But perhaps it’s a vicious cycle. Perhaps because I remind everyone of their chores, they figure they don’t have to remember because I will tell them. And I know that if I don’t tell them, the chores won’t get done.

How do I break the cycle? Can anyone tell me?