Book ‘em, Danno

About twenty Christmas’ ago I was working in a Waldenbooks at the mall.  A grandmother, her children, and her approximately ten-year-old grandchild came in told me they were looking for a book as a gift to a family friend.

I got a rough idea of what they needed and showed them the correct area.

Then I turned to the little girl and said to her, “Let me take you to the kids’ area, and you can look around while the grownups shop.”With a keening howl that sounded like it was violently flayed from her very soul, she responded, “But I haaaate booooks!”

In response to that, Gentle Reader; I had nothing.

At first, it was kind of funny. In retrospect it was one of the saddest moments I’ve ever experienced.  In this child’s entire life, no one, not family member nor teacher had helped her discover how magical books could be.

With a book, a child will never lack for entertainment or friends.  They can learn in the least painful, most enjoyable way possible.  Reading grows imaginations and shrinks ignorance. I believe that not exposing a child to books and encouraging them to read is a form of child abuse.  It will handicap them for life.

If there’s a child in your life, buy them lots of books.  If you have funds but no children to buy for, donate books to homeless shelters, hospitals, or become Johnny Bookyseed and leave books in random places where children will find them.  Put a little post-it note on the cover telling kids that their found book now belongs to them.And, if children’s literature is terra incognita for you, I have some reading level-based suggestions.

Birth-3: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw.  It is biologically impossible to read this book without choking up, so bring a hanky.

Wait! Maybe that’s why I love bears so much…

The Mitten by Jan Brett.  This was a favorite of mine as a child.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Early Readers: Dr. Seuss was the master of helping kids learn to read.  You can’t go wrong with anything by him.The Sesame Street Dictionary by Linda Heyward.  This is a terrific tool for learning to read.  All the words are charmingly illustrated.  Kids will spend hours teaching themselves to read by accident.

First chapter books: Billy and Blaze books by C.W. Anderson, stories of a boy and his horse.It’s crazy old school, but the Bobbsey Twins, by Laura Lee Hope.

Childhood of Famous Americans (COFA), from George Washington to Wilma Rudolph (various authors), reading one of these always made me want to know more.Experienced Child readers: The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald: From the point of view of his little brother, the Brain’s an adolescent confidence man living in the late 1880’s.

For horse crazy kids, any book by Marguerite Henry.  Also, the My Friend Flicka trilogy by Mary O’Hara.

And Elizabeth Enright’s series about the Melendy family beginning with The Saturdays.The Betsy series, by Maud Hart Lovelace span all reading levels.  They start with Betsy as a very young girl told in a simple picture book, and progress in age and level until Betsy is a married woman.  She’s one of my most treasured childhood friends.A childhood deprived of books is a tragedy.  To help instill the love of the printed word is a huge, heroic act that will forever change a child’s life.To become a hero, Hercules had to kill a bunch of stuff, clean the stables of 1000 cows, and steal fashion accessories from an Amazonian princess.

Lucky you.

All you have to do is buy a book.Thanks for your time.

A Word of Advice

The Kid likes to project a certain image.  Being raised in the city has convinced the child of possessing colossal amounts of “street cred” accumulated from years of living on the mean streets.

Never mind the meanest street with which my baby ever interacted was one particularly ornery avenue that caused a skinned knee during bike-riding lessons.

The Kid is a fraud.Don’t get me wrong; there’s a certain amount of the aforementioned street cred.  My spawn is afraid to go nowhere and is in no way gullible or a soft touch.

But contrary to the vigorously maintained misanthropy, my funny little offspring is full of care and concern toward fellow men.  And corn nuts too—the child is often quite full of corn nuts.I have seen this “misanthrope” walk out of restaurant carrying takeout, only to give it away to someone who needs it.  I also have seen, on more than one occasion, the effort to make things right when we’re in an establishment and another customer is being an arrogant butthead.  Whether it’s doubling the tip or giving the put-upon employee an opportunity to vent, The Kid tries to make it better.

Around the age of four, we were at the grocery store.  The check-out girl and my child were chatting as we were rung up.  The conversation was going well, and The Kid decided the young woman was a new friend.  And had a very important question to ask her.“Do you have somebody that loves you?”

I was only about 20% mortified.  Because I knew what The Kid meant.

The Kid was trying to make sure that this shiny new grocery store friend had people who looked after her and had her back.  Friends and family who made her world a safe, happy place.

And the young worker understood, as well.  “I sure do, Shug.  And aren’t you sweet to ask?”So, that’s The Kid—a stealth altruist.

But promise you won’t let on…there’s that image to protect.

And this secretly sweet child made a New Year’s resolution last year that has taken hold and only brings good things in return.If, Gentle Reader, you’ve read more than a few of these published psychological exsanguinations of mine, then you probably wouldn’t be very surprised to discover that most of what I think is either spontaneously spoken to all present or written down for public consumption.

To some people, the shock is that I actually do censor myself.  I normally only share about 75% of what I think.  To share more would most likely remove that last vestige of doubt that I ain’t right and see me enjoying an extended stay at any one of our state’s many lovely and accredited mental health facilities.This means that I’m constantly striking up conversations with strangers.  And through this I meet awesome people every single day.

If somebody’s rocking an amazing pair of shoes, I tell them.  Is that exhausted-looking mom heroically holding it all together?  I congratulate her doing an impossible job in an exemplary manner.  Is the kid behind the counter efficient and sweet?  I thank the worker, and usually find their supervisor and tell them what a gem they have.What my kind, but uber-reticent child resolved to do is when observing something that deserves praise, gives it.  If speaking up can brighten someone’s day, why stay silent?

So now, my traditionally taciturn tadpole takes the time to talk (too much with the alliteration?).And, inspired by my bambino, I’ve worked hard to overcome my innate bashfulness and attempt sharing as well.

So, now the total’s approximately 78.375%.  Look out World!

Thanks for your time.

Open letter to me at age 25

Hey Debbie,

So! How’s 1989 going?  I know that you think there’s nothing left to learn, but I’m writing to you from 2015 to stop you from making the same mistakes that this Debbie made.

First the bad news: There are no flying cars, and they still haven’t invented comfortable high heels.

They don’t call ’em killer heels for nothing…

But the good news is they’re done making “Police Academy” movies.

Never again will a child go to the movies and be at risk of seeing this.

Now take a deep breath, because I have a shocker.  In a few years you’ll have a baby.  And stranger still, it won’t be an accident, it’ll be on purpose.

katey duke grdns

Is this kid awesome or what?

The baby will turn out to be awesome.  Known as The Kid, this child will give you constant boatloads of joy, and only infrequent, fleeting moments of aggravation.

Becoming a mother will deepen your interest in cooking.  You’ll become pretty good at it.  In fact, your fascination with food and love of writing will result in your own culinary column in The Herald-Sun.  Don’t laugh — it’s true, I promise.

Now for the advice.

Pre-packaged and fast foods may seem convenient and a good idea right now, but don’t do it.  The Kid will possess a well-rounded palate, be curious about new flavors, and open to experimentation.  Take advantage of this.  Serve real food.

Just say no.

Petey will develop mild high blood pressure.  You will be tempted to cut salt from his diet.  It’s unnecessary.  Your husband’s sodium intake will be drastically slashed by doing one simple thing: ruthlessly limit processed food.

Seasoning food while cooking, and using the salt shaker with restraint is only about 10 percent of one’s sodium intake.  All the rest comes from pre-fab foods, like soda, canned soup, and even jarred spaghetti sauce.


This stuff will happily see you dead.

So cut it out!

You’ve now been overweight for half your life.  And having a baby only makes the problem worse.  At one point you will weigh almost 250 pounds.

But as I write this, we’ve been at a healthy weight for 3 years now.  Believe it or not, we go down to 122 pounds, and wear a size 4.  Feel free to do your happy dance here.

It doesn’t come from a trendy diet or exercising like a maniac.  And there was no surgery involved.

You’ll finally crack the code and figure out what will work for you for the rest of your life.  Crazy diets may get you there, but are of no help once the goal is reached.  You need something you can live with.  Eliminating potato salad, pasta, cake, and other faves only creates a gut-busting time bomb.

You can eat this and still fit into your jeans.

Mindfulness, moderation, and consistency are the keys.  Eat healthfully whenever you can.  If the more nutritious alternative is just as tasty, then eat that.  Don’t ban treats; just be cognizant of everything that goes into your mouth.  Never take the whole bag of chips into the living room and stuff your face, zombie-like.

Balm for the soul.

The forest behind your house is beautiful and has miles of trails; get your hands on some rubber boots, grab the dog, put on some music, and go.  Don’t wait a quarter of a century before exploring.  No matter what’s going on, it’s impossible to be stressed out back there.  Before you know it, you’ll be going three miles at a stretch, and loving every step.  Besides, regular exercise works off the occasional Milky Way.

Stop wasting food.  You’re only cooking for two, so a 4-pound meatloaf doesn’t make sense.  Keep your fridge cleaned out and well-organized.  It will be easier to see what you have and eat it before it goes wonky.

Use your freezer for something other than Eskimo Pies and batteries.  Instead of tossing that one serving left from supper, freeze it, and have Petey take it to work for lunch.  If you don’t use an entire bag of frozen veg, put what’s left in a zip-top bag and add subsequent extras to it.  Soon you’ll have enough for a meal.  But please, always label and date the bags.  You may think you’ll remember what it is, but frozen, all food looks alike.

Pick the brains of all the good cooks you know, and one day people will ask you for advice.

Oh yeah, and Debbie?  About that mullet.

Ditch it.

But everybody was doing it.

Thanks for your time.