Best Wednesday Gift, Ever.

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That’s my grandfather. When I was growing up, he and my grandmother lived fairly close to us, dropping in each day for coffee and a chat. When I was very small, before Grandpa retired, they lived outside of town, on a dirt road. Every day, Grandpa got dropped off at the corner, some 3-ish miles from his house, by his carpool buddies. And every day, rain or shine, or three feet of Michigan snow, he walked home in it.

One of my earliest memories is of waiting for him at the edge of their yard. He was a whistler–beautifully skilled, with a little tremor to his tune. Just thinking about it, now, makes me well up. But back then, that whistle crested the hill before he did, and I can still remember the giddiness, knowing that he was almost home. He’d come over the top of the hill, swinging his metal lunchbox, and I’d squeal with delight. When he reached me, he’d pick me up and toss me in the air. Call me a “Dutchman.” Then he’d pick up that silver lunchbox and open it up. No matter what, there was always something in there for me. A half a brownie, or a Twinkie. A sandwich bag with potato chips inside.

That lunchbox carried within it the smell of overripe bananas and bologna, which is a pretty odd scent for me to associate with love, but there it is–as strong in my memory as if it happened, yesterday.

When I was in seventh grade, I wrote a poem (one of my first) about that lunchbox, and I gave it to my grandparents. When I graduated from High School, they gave me the lunchbox. It is maybe one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

 

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About a dozen years ago, the lunchbox (“dinner pail” as Grandpa called it) was lost in a move. I was heartbroken, but of course, sometimes you can’t go back. This was one of those times, and it wasn’t until cancer was eating away at my Grandpa that it really hit me, how much that dinner pail had meant to me. When he died, I lay in bed that night and dreamed of the smell of bananas and bologna. Losing that dinner pail is one of my greatest regrets, in all my life.

It’s strange, the things that mean the most to you, once someone is gone. When my Great-Grandmother died, the only thing that I wanted from her was the round, cardboard cheese box that she kept crayons in, for when we came to visit. I was 23, when she died, but all of my memories of her are tied up with those broken crayons in that beautiful, ancient cheese box. (I have it, and it still has the wonderful bits of crayons inside, some 35 years after I first used them.)

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When my grandmother passed away, the only thing that I could even think of asking for was the plastic wigs that my sisters and I had played with, as children. (You can see how thrilled my young man is at modeling the “lady hair.)

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And when my grandfather died, the only thing that I wanted in the whole world, to keep of his, was that old dinner pail. Which I had lost. Which I could never have. Which brings me to the reason that I write this, today, and why I found myself sobbing in the grocery store parking lot, this afternoon. I received a text from my sister, who confessed that she has been looking for a dinner pail, just like Grandpa’s for the last twelve years. Today, she found one, bought it for me, and she sent me this picture.

 

 

 

 

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My sister and my cousins are all younger than I am. Most of them hardly remember Grandpa going to work, so this particular talisman is all mine. I realized, when I saw that picture, that while I loved the dinner pail, and while seeing the one that was so like the one I had lost made me so, utterly happy–that wasn’t the whole of it. 

I can still smell the inside of Grandpa’s dinner pail. That’s what love smells like. And today, that’s what my sister smells like. I cannot put it any plainer than that. This is the second greatest gift I have ever been given, in my life.

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Week in Recap — Happy Super Bowl and some fun, word related stuff

What I am reading to myself: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie — Dark, gritty fantasy with engaging, flawed characters. I’m not too far in, but it is keeping me up past my bedtime, so that speaks highly.

What I am reading to my kids:  Pippi Longstocking and Charlotte’s Web (see below for anecdotal awesomeness)

What I just finished: The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence — I wrote up a review on Goodreads, which you can see below. This book is in my head. It’s hanging around, poking at the cerebral cortex. Jorg likes to stab things, and I think he’s checking out my hypothalamus. This is not a book for the faint of heart, BUT it is a really, excellent read.

Where I am at, writing-wise:  Finished a read-through and minor edit on A Sown Wind, this week, as well as churning out about 12,000 new words on Whirlwind. I’m feeling the end creeping closer, but those pesky knights keep spoiling the cream. See below for more on this, too.

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So, lately I haven’t been so faithful with the blogging, and I apologize. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve gotten a lot of writing done on Whirlwind. If not, well… screw you. 😉

So I thought I would just do a recap of what’s been going on at Casa Filak, what is coming up, and that sort of jazz.

Firstly, I have to say, “Go Broncos!” I love the gladiatorial feel of football season, and I am usually sad to see it come to an end, but I am really happy for Peyton Manning. He isn’t a spring chicken, anymore (although, I am loathe to admit that he is only 3 and a half months older than I), and at this stage in his career, this may be his last dance. I think there is a pretty solid argument that he is the greatest quarterback to ever play in the league, and to be the first QB to ever win rings with two different teams would be a fitting swan song.

Second, I have to give a shout out to Worldbuilders. If you haven’t heard of them, they are the fantastic charity started by fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss. This year, so far, in their annual fundraising drive, they have pulled in over $500,000 dollars in donations for Heifer International, from geeks, all over the world. They are giving away some pretty fantastic prizes to those who donate, in a lottery-type format, and there are still two days to donate. Check out Pat’s blog for more information, or to just feel the love, because… wow. It is pretty awe inspiring to see so many geeks doing good for the world.

Book-wise, I have gotten a lot written this week, and for the most part, I am feeling pretty good. CAVEAT –  I have these characters–a group of knights. They’re good men. Loyal, headstrong, opinionated men. AND THEY KEEP BUGGERING UP MY STORY! I kind of want to hold up a little sign that says, “Zephyrs, I am not your b*$#@!” Except, well, I am. Because without them, my story has a broken backbone. And, as I’ve said previously, I sort of enjoy the way that characters highjack the story line, on occasion, but seriously, boys, this is becoming an epidemic.

As everyone in the whole country knows, the weather has been a bit horrific, as of late. We had three snow days in a row, where we live, and even my hubby took a day off, because our road was impassable. But something cool happened, while the kids were off.

My five-year-old son LOVES to read and be read to, which is awesome, but until this week, we had stuck to picture books. He enjoys a trip to the library, where we stock up on good reads, and we read two, or three, or four, each night. His nine-year-old sister gets in on the act, too, although we are usually reading a chapter book aloud to her at bedtime, too, and she is always reading one to herself, as well. (The big kids read, too, but they’re way to cool for mom to read to them, these days.)

Anyway, so the little man wants to watch Charlotte’s Web on one of the snow days. After it was over, and we were talking about it, I said, “Did you know that Charlotte’s Web was a book, first?”

He gave me this amazed-stunned look and asked if we owned the book. We did, and I found it on the shelf. He flipped through it for a few minutes and said, “It only has a few pictures.”

I agreed, and I said that we could read it out loud, a chapter at a time, if he wanted, instead of the picture books that we usually read. He was hesitant, but his love of Wilbur got the best of him.

After the required argument between siblings (Big Sister: “I’ve already read Charlotte’s Web, can’t we read something else?” Little Brother: “Shut up! You stink like Templeton’s rotten egg!”), we decided to read BOTH Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking. So we read a chapter of each a night, and it is awesome.

But that isn’t the best part. The best part is watching Little Man find words that he knows on the page. It is watching him absorb the story and beg for more (I’m not going to lie, we’re up to two chapters of Charlotte’s Web, most nights). It is having him beg for more story, as he gets out of bed in the morning. It is recognizing that he is changing from an observer, to a reader.

This is the last time I will watch this transformation in one of my children. This is the last of my brood to move from mundane, to literate. This is monumental, and heart-rending. This is as good as it gets.

*sob* I have a book to write, just after I finish looking through baby albums and eating therapeutic chocolate. Have a great weekend, and “Go Bronco!”

Giving Books – The Gift that Gives Whole Worlds

So, yesterday, I read this.

And if you clicked the link, you can imagine why this moved me. One book for every 300 children! That is abysmal. That is astounding. That is, perhaps, the single saddest statistic I have heard this holiday season.

We are a bookish family.

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See? And that is just the shelf closest to my desk.

My kids know that they will receive many books for Christmas, and honestly, pretty much any time of year. I have a hard time saying “no” to books. So, when I read those stats to my kids, looking for that coveted moment of realization that they live a privileged life, I was incredibly proud to actually see it. They stared at me, dumbfounded. They were speechless for a moment.

Then my nine year old said, “What do they do when it is bedtime?” and my heart swelled. My five year old said, “That makes me feel sad.” And then, in a moment that parents wait years for, sometimes forever for, my fifteen year old said, “We should donate books, instead of buying each other presents, this year.”

I waited for a dissenting voice. I waited for a riot. But there was nothing but unanimous agreement. My kids just stared at each other, then me, and agreed that rather than drawing names and buying gifts amongst themselves this year, they would donate the money we would usually spend on that, to First Book.

I honestly don’t know if I could be prouder, and thanks to generous matching donations from Random House Children’s Books and Patrick Rothfuss (who is quite honestly one of the greatest fantasy authors of our time. You should check out The Name of the Wind. Seriously.), my kids’ donation will go even further.

So, I am curious. What books are you looking forward to getting, or giving, this holiday season?

For me, I am excited to read Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman and Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which will both be under my tree, but shhhhh… don’t tell the kids.