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Meeting my first boy beta reader!

Friday, the Grandmother of my first boy “Beta Reader” brought both her grandsons to my house for lemonade and cookies. We sat and chatted about books on my screened-in porch. The boy on the left, age 9, read Henry From Now On and declared it “heartwarming,” and that he had to read it in just 2 days because it was so good. He was eager to see a portrait on my wall of the real “Betty” in the story, and some real life pictures of the main character Henkie later in life. It was a pleasure meeting both the boys!

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On decorating for Christmas…

Christmas, the day I used to wait for, counting down the days and hours, took place in the tall red house in New Jersey. Like many houses built around the turn of the last century, it was squeezed between neighbors, a driveway on one side, just barely wide enough for a car, and an alley on the other side. On that alley side, houses were so close, you could talk to someone from the side windows easily, and when there were times another girl lived in the bedroom opposite mine, we talked window to window.

All the houses on our street had porches across the front. Ours was closed in with 12 identical windows and overflow space for that extra chair no one knew where to put. A door with a long glass window led into a foyer, where my upright piano took up most of the space. The stairs with a nice chestnut railing emptied into the foyer, a railing which was fun to decorate for Christmas with a winding fake green garland, our stockings, and the sleigh and reindeer Dad had made that was just the right size covering the bannister.

The kitchen was straight ahead from the foyer, the living room to the right, and the dining room was behind the living room. Stairs in the kitchen went down to a side door in the alley, then continued into an unfinished cellar, where laundry got washed, hung to dry and ironed.  A paritioned area hid an extra toilet, and outside the partition an extra sink. The old gas range was also down there, smaller than the new copper colored Jenn-air one in our kitchen. A corner was partitioned with an old coal chute, and this little unfinished room, really the coal bin, had many identities over the years.

The long narrow kitchen went out to al hall, then another windowed porch looking out on a small yard, an old stable, and something that looked like a garage but was too small for the automobiles of the decade, as it was built before cars were, and actually housed a woagon. The table had been home to a single horse. Together, the house’s original owner had delivered ice to area homes for their iceboxes.

A pantry connected the kitchen to the dining room, and that extra space was a blessing because the refridgerator fit there, and I never knew where we’d have put it if it had to be inside the kitchen.  Dad had equipped the pantry with lots of extra cupboards for both groceries and seldom used kitchen items.

I think the dining room was my favorite. Compared to the other rooms, it felt generous in size, with room for a hutch, a small buffet, and a rock maple oval drop-leafed table that could, in a pinch, accomodate 17 people. Dad had removed old varnish from the chestnut plate railing around the room, the entry door from the kitchen and a splendid pair of sliding chestnut doors that could separate the dining room from the living room.

The living room had a three window bay that stuck out into the porch a bit, and where one the exterior ended. So, this was where the Christmas tree would be placed. But first, I decorated all the windows.

Mom bought me a set of poster paints each fall. Using old Christmas cards as models, I designed a picture for each of those three windows, the entry door to the foyer, the dining room windows, and one side window in the living room. I painted edges of holly with red berries. Some windows might have winter birds on snowy branches, Christmas ornamants, or, even one, part of a nativity scene.

The wide opening between the foyer and the living room was furnished with red string, on which I could place arriving cards, and there were many. Others went atop my piano, or on radiator covers.

Dad would unearth the outside lights from the attic a few weeks before Christmas. He’d made a frame he attached to the front door, and large outdoor lights went on that frame, the wires hidden by fake balsam boughs. He’d made a arched stand for the window to the right of the door, and in this stand, we slipped a strand of bubble lights one by one. Some gaudy lighted Santa face took up the window on the other side of the door.

The tree, tucked into the bay windows, stood in a metal stand. The family red star went at the top, after which lights wound around the tree. Tom and I had favorite ornaments of our own we enjoyed placing, and there were specialized non breakable ones for lower branches, because there were always cats in our house, and they were attracted to dangling ornaments. Our trees were well secured to the wall as well, because some cat, some year took a flying leap into the middle of the tree, toppling it over, and braeking some of the pretty ornaments.  Boxes of tinsel, some recycled from the prior year, were like the icing on the cake.  Sometimes I think a small fraction of Tom’s Lionel  trainset was installed around the tree, and maybe a few fake houses and trees from the train table in the attic.

Our house was full on Christmas Eve. Grandma and Grandpa, at least one Aunt, maybe an uncle, and then te four of us. Lots of people for a little living room. Christmas Eve was magical, the lights from the tree giving the room a dim glow, the dinner on the dining room table on a red table cloth, every seat full.

I loved decorating for Christmas. But, now I do not. And I wonder why something so spendid then feels burdensome now. This year, I put up just a few decorations. No tree. No fuss. Maybe part of it because there are no children now to see it. Decorating seems silly when no one sees it but the two of us.

But, more than that, I think it just reminds me that all the people in the story are gone now, except Tom (who is sedentary and overweight and less likely to make it to a ripe old age). And with these thoughts, I just cry. Because I miss them all so much. And Christmas brings back the grief. So, I’m okay with just getting through Christmas, and moving on to normal life again.

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On Keeping a Journal or Diary…

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On keeping a journal (or diary)

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I always liked this photo my brother took of me at 15.

When I was 15 years old, and a teenager, I felt strongly that grown-ups did not understand me. I resolved to make sure I understood teenagers, and some of the aches of growing up, so that I would be a good teacher and mother someday. So I decided to keep a journal  – to remember.

Journaling wasn’t so popular in 1967. It was difficult to find something other than a school notebook to write in. But, in a stationery store, there were blank black books called “records.” The paper was lined, they came in sizes, and so I used my allowance or babysitting money to buy one. We were vacationing in Vermont at the time at a home my parents and grandparents jointly owned. Here is exactly what I wrote back then.

August 24, 1967 (age 15) Stannard, Vermont

This book is my teenage journal. Let the purpose of this book be remembered as a memory of that “precious period of frustration” which we call adolescence. Here I shall record that which I learn as well as that which I treasure. This way, I hope, all that I learn may be permanent.

Today I realized it was important to record this period of my life so that I may never display ignorance to someone I love. Teenagers are a distinct breed. They are all occupied in finding themselves and their way of life. However peculiar this process may seem, it must never be disturbed without marring their future, breeding some resentment.

Too many parents try to live their children’s lives. If I can’t live my own life, and believe me I will, then it is hardly worthwhile. I don’t want to just survive or vegetate. I want to live. I want to fulfill my life with exciting things worth remembering. Parents often blindly deprive their children of learning by doing rather than teaching.

Odd. I wrote this in 1967. Now I am 67 years old. I hardly know the girl who was me. But, I can find her in the pages of the many journals I kept then, and throughout my life (so far).

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More about journaling…

More About Journaling!

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These are 50 years of my journals!

One summer project was cleaning out my desk. This one long drawer holds nearly all my journals, starting with the one in 1967. They are in many shapes and sizes. Some were gifts, others I bought myself. Smaller ones were well suited to traveling. And something about a pretty book with nice paper makes me want to write in it!

Journals come in handy. If the family is having an argument about what place they went on vacation in some year, or in what park we saw an eagle for the first time, then …..I can look it up in my journal and give a definitive answer!

I should explain that I don’t write everyday. Some people do. Me, I have never been good at anything that required that degree of regularity except brushing my teeth. Repetition isn’t my thing. If I had to do a job where you do the same thing over and over, I would be so miserable. Other people love repetition. Not me.

But the coolest thing now, is looking back on all the journals and visiting my earlier self. Who I was, what I was doing, what bothered me, what made me happy.  When I was a kid, I read about Ralph Waldo Emerson. He lived long ago, and spent time in Maine where I live. I saw where he wrote, “Whatever you write, preserve.” I took his advice seriously. So the journals have been one way. I also have file folders of other things I have written.

So, I hauled out all those journals, and read sections of each. Now, it’s time to put them away for a while.IMG_0379

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The Striped Dog

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The Striped Dog

My daughter Amanda joined my household near to her 9th birthday. Our house included one English Setter dog named Lady Sara Jane, and one cat named Cosette, and me (the Mom). Before this, Amanda had lived in about 13 foster homes. In all the places she had lived, there were other kids. So she always had someone to play with. In my house, there was just a dog and a cat.

Amanda had difficulty making friends, even though our neighborhood had lots of kids of all ages. So, lots of times, she played with Sara Jane.  Sara Jane was a medium sized dog, almost all-white, slim, athletic and comical.  This nutsy dog  loved to dive into mud puddles, chase shadows and flashlight beams, and blow bubbles in the toilet. A bucket of water could keep her busy for hours. Sara Jane was an interesting dog.

Amanda loved to play with art supplies more than dolls or other kinds of toys. So I got her sidewalk chalk for playing outside in our driveway.  She enjoyed drawing cats and dogs and houses and sunshine.

One day, however, Sara Jane arrived at the door alone, barking to come in. I opened the door, and she was covered in streaks of pink and green chalk! Oh my, I thought out loud. I have a pink and green striped dog.  Amanda came to the door next, a sheepish grin on her face. “Sorry, Mommy.” We both laughed.

I gave Sara Jane a bath. The pink chalk came out far easier than the green. We had a white dog with stripes of green for weeks.  Not everyone can say they have had a striped dog.

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On Journaling….

I always liked this photo my brother took of me at 15.  All my journals are displayed on my coffee table.

When I was 15 years old, and a teenager, I felt strongly that grown-ups did not understand me. I resolved to make sure I understood teenagers, and some of the aches of growing up, so that I would be a good teacher and mother someday. So I decided to keep a journal  – to remember.

Journaling wasn’t so popular in 1967. It was difficult to find something other than a school notebook to write in. But, in a stationery store, there were blank black books called “records.” The paper was lined, they came in sizes, and so I used my allowance or babysitting money to buy one. We were vacationing in Vermont at the time at a home my parents and grandparents jointly owned. Here is exactly what I wrote back then.

August 24, 1967 (age 15) Stannard, Vermont

This book is my teenage journal. Let the purpose of this book be remembered as a memory of that “precious period of frustration” which we call adolescence. Here I shall record that which I learn as well as that which I treasure. This way, I hope, all that I learn may be permanent.

Today I realized it was important to record this period of my life so that I may never display ignorance to someone I love. Teenagers are a distinct breed. They are all occupied in finding themselves and their way of life. However peculiar this process may seem, it must never be disturbed without marring their future, breeding some resentment.

Too many parents try to live their children’s lives. If I can’t live my own life, and believe me I will, then it is hardly worthwhile. I don’t want to just survive or vegetate. I want to live. I want to fulfill my life with exciting things worth remembering. Parents often blindly deprive their children of learning by doing rather than teaching.

Odd. I wrote this in 1967. Now I am 67 years old. I hardly know the girl who was me. But, I can find her in the pages of the many journals I kept then, and throughout my life (so far).

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Attic City by Wendy C. Kasten

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Residents of Attic City
Attic City 2 Comments / Blog / By admin The house Tom and I grew up in was tall and narrow, with two regular floors and then a basement and an attic. Our bedrooms were small so the attic became our place to play as younger kids. Mom put a linoleum rug on the floor to keep us from getting splinters in our feet, hands, and knees from the wooden planks of the floor.  The red flowered linoleum became Attic City. Between the two of us, we had quite a few dolls and stuffed animals. Dolls, all girl dolls, were then married off to various stuffed animals who we made all boys.  Bookshelves with the books removed were apartments for couples. We had a sort of real-sized wooden dog house that had been made in Dad’s shop at school, and this became the home of the mayor of Attic City. The mayor, named Happy, was a stuffed beagle toy with open and close eyes, and a toy Tom really liked.  A small child sized table became a home for my entire family of Ginny Dolls (before Barbie was invented).  I had sisters Mary and Muffy, three teen dolls named Sharon and Jill and Marian, and a baby doll named Ginette. They all had real wooden beds, with pillows and blankets. Marian was the Mom of this little family. Jill was nice. Sharon was always getting in trouble. On rainy days, we played Attic City. We would make up stories for the characters in the town. Tom always wanted there to be a robbery or a murder. I never wanted anything bad to happen. I preferred stories with weddings, or going to school, or playing games. On the other side of the attic, Tom had his Lionel Trains set up. Two big tables in the shape on an L, one table being the city with little houses and trees, and the other table being the country with barns, cows, and fences. The best part, in my opinion, was the train whistles. Tom had two. Sometimes we would blare both of them. We played Attic City for years. Our last game, we had made our town its biggest yet. We thought Attic City needed lights, so we got into the boxes of Christmas ornaments. Tom strung 6 strands of lights back and forth across the attic ceiling, then did something to make them all blink, and then added the blaring train whistles. Right about this time, probably responding to the noise, Mom came up the stairs.  She was not pleased. She made us take down the lights, put them away, and clean up Attic city. That was the end of it. But then Tom was getting too old to play with a little sister anyhow. Tom still has Happy, the mayor of Attic City on a bookshelf in his home.  I visit both of them at his house each year.