Story Wonders: What You Can Learn from Rummage

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I’ve learned priceless lessons from the transformation of a worship space into a gigantic place for trash that becomes treasures.

  1. Resist the ridiculous.We all have mountains of things like odd plastic mittens and pots that might be warmers but are not. The next time I see full price boot mitts for my Halloween costume, I will picture the teetering pile they will eventually perch upon.
  2. Hold out for the right amount. Full price is a crazy price. Most of what we buy will end up costing between 25 cents and ten dollars.
  3. It’s okay to give in to the sparkle now and then. Even though I have plenty already, a great bargain on a sparkly lamp has the power to tempt me. I reassure myself with the youth missions and women’s shelters my splurge will support.
  4. Hard work makes for time well spent. The monetary gifts from what might otherwise end up in a landfill make every moment with that roll of blue painter’s tape and a black sharpie worthwhile.
  5. Friends and family are better than the best deal. The true treasures I find at rummage sales come in the shape of smiles on the faces of workers who transmogrify chaos into a wonderland of bargains.

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Twice a year Puyallup United Methodist Church runs this sale, and here’s the basic blurb written by my friend and tireless neighbor, Donna McDonnell:

Huge rummage sale. Puyallup United Methodist Church at 1919 W Pioneer
in Puyallup, WA. Furniture, kitchen, bedding, clothing and lots more on Saturday March 26, 2017. 8am to 5pm. Great stuff. Reasonable prices.

Come by! You never know what you might find or learn.

Story Wonders: Why Turning the Other Cheek Doesn’t Mean Rolling Over and How It is So Freaking Hard

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Many years before crows feet landed under my eyes, I read a book about forgiveness.

I had long thought that forgiveness meant you just sucked it up, whatever someone did to you and then tried to move on. Over time, this became unsustainable. I could not keep walking away, biting my tongue, or taking the hits. My feet hurt, my tongue bled, and my arms bruised from the practice.

Then I found this book.

(I can’t find it now. I’m sure I gave it to someone, and I think it was my father, who worked so hard to let things go and not be angry.

A few minutes of scanning Amazon and the wide web did not find it. I’ll be sure to post it if I ever do come across it.)

The book said things that made me question what I thought I knew about Christianity.

It explained that turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and giving up your cloak–all things Jesus insisted we do–actually were forms of non-violent resistance.

If you turned the other cheek, for example, the Roman soldier hitting you would either have to punch you like an equal or give up slapping you as an inferior.

In other words, Jesus did not advise that we roll over and become doormats.

He did not advise that we turn away from injustice or the pain. Martin Luther King, Jr. also wrote of this third respond to violence-not returning the cruelty or passively accepting it but defying it in a way that values everyone involved.

At first I was sure my new understanding of turning my cheek was fabulous. Then I discovered how terrifying it is to creatively and compassionately stand up for what I believe is right while giving the other the chance to change.

It’s hardest, I discovered, when I want to protect my son or another loved one.

Last week, I listened to Rob Bell revisit these ideas about Jesus’ often misunderstood advice. Bell gives a much fuller picture of the historical context if you are thirsty for more.

And so I’m looking for more ways to do this and, because it works best, I am starting small.

How, for example, can I creatively address aggressive behavior in traffic?

How can I talk to people who disagree with me politically without shutting them down or withdrawing into my comfortable shell surrounded by people who only ever agree with me? (Okay. This is not small. Perhaps I’d better start with my son’s meltdowns over his brother’s teasing instead.)

When I am honest, doormat is my default. I’m grateful Martin Luther King pulls me up off the floor and chastises me for this, telling me that is only allowing violence to continue.

And so I keep at it in my small way, one act at a time, trusting that I’ll get better with wholehearted practice.

Do wish me luck, grace, peace, and all that jazz. I’ll need it.

Update! Beth the librarian extraordinaire found the book. She added ‘Jesus comics’ to the keywords. What didn’t I think of that? Here it is!

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Story Wonder: When that Thing You Hated Becomes Your Love

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I never meant to disappoint Mr. Zorro. Seriously, who could want to disappoint a teacher with a name like that?

He wasn’t as swashbuckling as the guy in black, but I liked Mr. Zorro. I agreed to do the solo contest under his guidance in college like I had done so many others before that–just because it was the thing to do. He chose Scherzo in C Minor by Paul Koepke and edited by H. Voxman.

The cadenza was the absolute worst. Every time I approached that string of notes in the score, my brain would start some sort of arooba noise, like a submarine dive alarm.

(Warning: This video is beyond annoying and way too long. I can’t be held responsible if you listen to the whole thing.)

This internal panic did not, as you might imagine, help my performance.

I think Mr. Zorro said something like: “Well, I thought this piece would bring out your tone but the notes held you back a bit.”

He was being kind. The contest left me numb, and it wasn’t long before I decided my part time job rolling tables, balancing beer bottles on trays, and folding napkins for the hotel banquets took too much of my time to continue with music.

I left the clarinet for a long time. So long, I almost forgot the sting until one day I started noodling on that old piece again with Mr. Zorro’s long ago notes telling me to memorize and use the H key for the trill.

Now, I love that cadenza if you can believe it. I love the roll of it and the way the notes pick up speed going downhill. I love that my fingers now find the notes like they would not when the judges sat trying not to shake their heads before.

For Mr. Zorro. I recorded my efforts last night. I won’t lie and tell you I got it all right. I didn’t. I do much better when I know I’m not recording with a demanding cell phone that insists on turning the screen to record my 1970s ceiling for you instead of the face down black screen I wanted.

It also helps when I’m not fearing the moment the 6-year-old barges in the pseudo-studio to ask a pressing question about whether he can have ice cream or not.

But the cadenza is better, I’m telling Mr. Zorro and you. Much better than it was in college. It’s better, I am sure, because I love it like I never did before.

Which just goes to show me once more.

I never know what joy might come around the corner even in things that used to freeze me in a panic.

Story Wonders: The First Snow Day

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The white flakes started falling on Sunday, and my teen wondered if the powers might, for once, cancel school on Monday. I had been burned too many times by the forecasters to get my hopes up yet again, but Quinton and I went for a walk in the woods to be sure we didn’t miss it.

We haven’t gone to the ravine much lately because it makes me ache for our dog. He would have flown around those trails and given that dusty white stuff a good shake up.

Still, I loved the way Q’s borrowed red jacket popped out of the scene like the girl with the riding hood.

After the flurry of school cancellations the next morning, we started in the warm living room with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Once the six-year-old figured out that wacky Gene Wilder was not going to go completely around the bend and that Charlie ends up with a life-time supply of chocolate, the movie with the Oompa Loompas became his all time favorite.

In case you’d like to hear a few of Gene Wilder’s snappy come backs made for the grown-ups:

Next we made the snowmen. (In Russia, they tell me, they always build a snow woman. I forgot to try this. Next time!)

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See the lean? This guy sadly did not last.

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After the teen left us for the his snowball fighting friends, Quinton and I searched for the perfect sledding hill. We never found it, but I did see a lamppost that reminded me of one of the best stories I know. The light in the snow wasn’t alone in the wood–I stretched my imagination to see it there without much trouble.

We finished the day with hot chocolate, cookies, and a craft with shaving cream. Thank goodness for snow and the little joys of life that add up to great big goodness.

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A bit more black and white beauty to close:

Story Wonders: Finding the Courage to March and Write

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I didn’t want to write about this because I am afraid. I am afraid that people I know and care about will think less of me because I went to the Women’s March last Saturday. I’m afraid they’ll be angry or disapprove.

But every time I started to think about what to write this week, the march is the only thing that wanted to be written.

I posted before about how crushed I felt after the election. It is beyond my understanding that a man so clearly abusive to women could defeat the first woman candidate for president.

I know. These are fighting words.

As Brene Brown said: “I don’t know Donald Trump so the most respectful thing I can do is take him at his word. And, when it comes to women, immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, and our Muslim sisters and brothers, his words have been threatening and dehumanizing. I march to say that’s not acceptable or American. That is not the heart of the country I love.”

While this, honestly, got me moving that morning, something about marching against someone doesn’t sit well for me. My friend Diane helped with this.

First, she listened as I tried to tell my six year old why we were marching. I started by saying that we were not happy with the man who had won the election has said and done. My friend reframed it for both my little guy and me.

She said, “I like to think of it more as standing up for what we do want.”

Another woman had this to say:

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I agree with Diane, Mother Theresa, and so many others. My best self did not go to protest Trump. I went to say what matters to me most. That was the spirit I felt in Olympia, Washington, and what I saw in the crowds of pink hats from around the world.

The feeling of being there at my smaller 10,000 person march full of peaceful men, women, and children reminded me of a step back into time. I saw folks I am sure were there in the sixties. I saw young people. I saw people in crazy outfits. I saw angry signs and ones fun of humor.

When I think on what I experienced there and what I saw in the pictures around the world, I couldn’t help but remember the Whos chanting with every once of sound they had to be heard so Sour Kangaroo would not throw them in a boiling vat.

We know the election is finished, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still here and paying attention. It doesn’t mean we don’t need each other more than ever.

Of course, I loved the marching band’s way of putting music to the words. (Didn’t the Whos have a tuba?) I would love to know who they are, so I could play next time!

Of everything I saw that day, I think my favorite was the Diane’s daughter Rena in her Captain America outfit with a a sign that said ‘Be a hero. Stand up for ALL Americans.” She even had a shield. Cars stopped to honk, smile and wave for her several times. (I wish you could see her better in my photo!)

Something about Captain America and what we tried to do with the march expressed that need to say what we meant.

I’m still scared to publish this, by the way, but maybe, Mr. Gaiman has a sliver of good news for me.

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Maybe, I’m stating to get it right because writing this sure feels more like ‘walking down the street naked, exposing too much.’ More exposing than even marching on a clear cold day for something I believe.

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Story Wonders: Who Remembers You?

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“Hi there!” the woman said, and I knew I remembered her. Or I knew I should remember her.

My son and I stood staring at her at the YMCA near those tiny lockers with the punch codes. I peered a little more closely, hoping I could pull something from the back of my brain, and then I shook my head.

“No. I can’t think of who you are. Where do I know you from?”

“Aikido! I’m Lorelei. My sister and I took it with you and my dad in Tacoma.”

The light, I am so happy to report, went off in my head then. I did know her and have a fuzzy memory of her face once more.

I asked how she recognized me after all this time.

“I never forget a face,” she said. So it would seem. I took my last Aikido class before my oldest son was born some time in 1998 which means that she recognized me almost twenty years later.

But after seeing Lorelei, I did give the ukemi another try in the secrecy of my own living room. I’m pleased to report that I can still go backwards and forwards on the right side. The left side is another story. I also cannot recommend trying a flourish with pointed toes. That, it turns out, wasn’t what the Aikido founders had in mind when rolling away from an attack.

At least I can recall some things.

In case you think I was turning gymnastic style somersaults, here’s instruction on how to get started with a roll. Learning these made me feel as uncoordinated as that Disney hippo on a balance beam. I spent a lot of time very close to the floor getting acquainted with every wrinkle in the mat.

And here is another guy who has his ukemi down. I was never built up to that mid-air flip, but I loved that feeling of falling and not getting hurt. Last night I remembered I still do.

 Extra note: Lorelei’s memory isn’t perfect, either. 

‘Killer with a K!’ she said. 

It was Karrie. My nickname was Karrie with a K. (Killer! Ha!)

Story Wonders: Japanese Thread Balls

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For this new year, I will be sharing the wonders I find when writing my stories. Even when my own words fall short, I find joy in my discoveries about the world around me. 

I am still shopping around for a new blog look, but, in the meantime, I wanted to get started with a colorful weaving I found.

Temari

Centuries ago, mothers in China and Japan began constructing balls for their children out of left over clothing. From strips of kimonos these balls evolved into today’s intricate Japanese thread patterns called Temari.

Check these out!

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Photograph by NanaAkua
Website | Facebook | Flickr

Often, the weaver places an object inside the ball to give it special meaning for the child. It might be a coin or some other small token that represents something special to the person.

I made my own simple ball a while back out of material I had in my crafting cupboard. Videos are all around and, once again, it’s amazing what you can do with YouTube. I am always impressed by people like Barbara Suess who take what they love and use the Internet to connect that love to others.

 

And here are more photos of those Temari. I found the photos below on Flickr taken by NanaAkua as well as an excellent article by Twisted Sifter on the the photographer’s amazing artist grandma. (These are only about a thousand times better than my first attempt.)

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Wishing you a joyful new year with your own story wonders,

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Wednesday Wonders:Mr. G the Gingerbread Man Goes to Japan Part 2

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When we last saw Mr. G on his trip, he discovered that people drive on the left in the island nation just before he enjoyed an apple–or rather he watched while the human ate the apple.

Today, I report on the rest of his adventures as told by tour guide Marci Kobayashi-Smith. These adventures took several days for our intrepid Mr. G.

Day 1

We went out for breakfast with the Gingerbread Man.

(They went to Denny’s in Japan!)

He looked over every page of the breakfast menu carefully.

Then we had fun taking pictures while we waited for the food to arrive.

He looked at both options first and then decided to share with Akira. You can see Akira is trying to teach him how to use chopsticks.

(Akira Kobayahi is tour guide Marci’s husband.)

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After breakfast Akira paid the bill and let the Gingerbread Man keep the change. He said he’s going to bring it back with him so Q can see how Japanese coins look.

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We took walk after breakfast and met someone very interesting but I’ll save that for later. Right now we’re driving to the nursing home to see Akira’s mom. Akira is helping the Gingerbread Man drive.

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Day 2

We have a lot to report today! First, I want to share some pics from yesterday. The Gingerbread Man (we’ve nicknamed him Mr. G) found some interesting things.

First, he found a big building just for karaoke. Inside there are many small rooms and people of all ages go in and rent the rooms and have fun singing. We told him it’s not so unusual. There are karaoke buildings like this all over Japan.

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Mr. G. also noticed there are a lot of poles and wires. You can see them here in this picture.

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In Japan, most of the telephone and electric wires are above ground. Mr. G said that in Puyallup most of the wires are underground. Is that true??

Even though there are many wires, there are still some beautiful streets. This street is lined with Gingko trees.

It was so pretty so we decided to take a walk. And we weren’t the only ones. Many people were out walking…

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We also found a flower shop, a grocery store with many bicycles parked out front and a Pizza Hut!!

Mr. G said he thinks there might be a Pizza Hut in Puyallup but he doesn’t eat pizza so he’s not sure. Have you seen delivery scooters like this in Puyallup?
Mr. G was really into the yellow leaves. He asked us to take many pictures…

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He saved a few leaves. You’ve probably seen Gingko trees before but just in case he’s going to bring back a couple of leaves to show you. Here is one.

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So you are probably getting tired of the yellow leaves, right? Well, on the way back home, we met someone really interesting. And, I’m not talking about the snowman. Take a look at this next picture. Can you guess what it is?

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Well how about this next picture? Look carefully and I bet you can figure it out!

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Did you figure it out? He is a police officer! The little corner office where he works is called a “koban” and in English everyone calls it a police box. It’s like a mini police station. Every neighborhood in Japan has one.

Usually there is only one or maybe two officers working at the Police Box. Sometimes you can see them out patrolling on their bicycles.
And one last view from our walk yesterday…

Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about the laundromat we visited. And, guess what? Mr. G. went out for sushi!

Day 3

Today Mr. G stayed home but I still haven’t shared some of the pics from yesterday…We went out for sushi. Instead of taking sushi that came around on the conveyor belt we ordered from the digital menu. A few minutes later it arrived on another conveyor belt right to our table. Then, Mr. G got really excited when we put the plates down the shoot. Every 5 plates we get a chance to win a prize and this time WE WON!!!

 

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But, after all that raw fish Mr. G wanted something different so we ordered grilled eel, tenpura and french fries! Yum!

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The french fries and plate prizes were a fantastic selling points for Quinton, too! He says he’d rather go on Mr.G’s trip than to Disneyland!

And that concludes the tour. Mr. G is somewhere on his way across the Pacific back to the Puyallup elementary school and Quinton’s class.

Wishing you peace and french fries for this holiday season,

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Wednesday Wonders: Mr. G the Gingerbread Man Goes to Japan Part 1

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Do you remember Flat Stanley? The cut out that kids sent to their friends and family around the world?

My son’s kindergarten teacher gave his class a gingerbread man to send instead of Stanley. Quinton’s cut out is making his way around Tokyo with my friend from high school who came to visit us this past summer.

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Summer fun in Sumner, WA

(Quinton loved Marci Kobayashi-Smith so much that he decided to go there as soon as possible. On a boat. I should drop him off and come back for him the next day.)

So today, I present to you the adventures of Mr. G as told by Marci with pictures and text. Enjoy!

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Mr. G leaves the U.S. from my kitchen table. 

For this first night, we are enjoying a quiet night at home watching TV. There is a show about a neighborhood police officer on TV right now. I’m sure you can see him in the background.

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First we took a walk along the bike path next to the river and saw some egrets. Sometimes we can see blue herons there, too but not today.

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The Gingerbread Man discovered that stop signs look different here in Japan. They are triangles!

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Then we came up to a very busy street and he noticed something else–people drive on the left side of the road!

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Now we are back home and having a snack. Even though many things are different, somethings are the same. For example, we are enjoying a big red apple for a snack.

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Actually, he let me eat most of it. 🙂

And that’s all for part one! Stay tuned to see what Mr. G gets up to next week. Meanwhile, you can find more about his tour guide Marci by going to her blog and website.

May you find great adventures of your own this week and maybe even eat an apple-

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Postscript: After I posted this, I remembered today is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. 

A part of me questions the wisdom of whimsy on such a day. 

The best part of me thinks a kindergarten gingerbread man free to travel to Japan somehow fits. I pray for more whimsy and far fewer moments of tragedy in all our lives. 

Wednesday Wonders: Finding Story in Dory

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Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen Finding Dory and still want to be surprised, don’t read this. 

I recently told my English class that I have two sons. One is 17 and the other is 6. This means, I told them, that I have been watching kid movies since 1999.

Many of the films numbed my senses. All the the Buddies flicks, for example, and most of the sweet Little Foot movies delighted my sons.

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While I see their value in cuteness and love to see my kids smile, the story lines make me want to bang my head against a sharp object, especially after the boys have seen them 20 or 30 times.

Sequels, I find, cause more trouble than most when it comes to head banging.

So the other night, when I was at my mother’s and we rented Finding Dory I expected to sit it out until about 7:00 pm and then tell my son we really needed to go.

An hour later, I still sat on the big blue couch, not wanting to move. The story had me completely hooked. I liked it even better than the original Finding Nemo. (I suppose I never got over the death of the poor mother at the beginning, and Marlin irritated me with his fussiness.)

We’ve since bought the Finding Dory DVD (because we have an outdated system), and I noticed a few things about the story as a writer.

I adored the main character.

I connected with Degeneres as Dory in the first movie, but this version opened with Dory as an adorable baby fish wandering the ocean looking for her parents. Her ‘short term memory loss’ kept her from even remembering Jenny and Charlie.

My sympathy for those great big eyes stabbed me clear through and made me root for that fish from the opening scenes.

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The story ties into the original movie

It felt as if the story writers had PLANNED a sequel. Maybe they did. Although the hero’s journey of Dory held up all on it’s own, learning why Dory could speak whale and why she sang ‘just keep swimming’ added bonus layers of complexity.

The old characters shifted position in importance

The movie successfully shifted from a story about Marlin and Nemo to the story of Dory with the clown fish as supporting characters.

The new characters made the movie fabulous

Hank the Septopus, Dory’s parents, Becky the loon, the two recuperating whales, and the rock possessive sea lions pulled me into the action even more.

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Finally, I noticed a technique that works with any good story. All the details moved the story forward. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t give much thought to the adorable otters. The second time through  I saw that they came on scene just before Kid Zone and Poker’s Cove. This set them up to later stop traffic for Dory when she rescued Marlin and Nemo from the transport truck.

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The writer Andrew Stanton, also known as the voice of Crush the turtle, engaged a mom with over 17 years worth of kid movie experience. I liked it so much I even saw his name in the credits after Sia sings a gorgeous rendition of ‘Unforgettable.’

Not bad, Mr. Stanton and crew. Not bad at all.