Crossing To Safety, Thirty Years Later

There is little I can add to any discussion regarding Wallace Stegner’s Crossing To Safety. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers ever, and Crossing to Safety is one of his most beloved books. Count me as a fan of 27+ years, and a renewed lover of this particular book, having just finished it–– more than 28 years after my first time reading it.

I read this book for a book group, in early 1990. When I first read this book, I was a young (new) mother starting out a life with friends who were dear to me, and new babies that we all shared in the care of. The early lives of Sid, Charity, Sally and Larry seemed highly relatable and poignant. While I understood the later part of the story in the lives of these characters, I was wrapped up in my own place and time and anything to come was speculative and fictional. Having just finished this book, after a lifetime of raising three children, living within a marriage that is now 32 years old, and having seen friendships grow and strengthen, as well as fizzle or implode, I read this book with a very different understanding, through entirely different lenses, and with greater emotional depth.

It’s that much more amazing to me now, that Wallace Stegner understood and wrote about so many complexities and contextual nuances of love, time, aging, parenting, grief, ego/hubris, insecurity, commitment… and the vast list of issues this novel explores. I found myself re-reading whole paragraphs over and over, to delve fully into the philosophical and varied dimensions of a life fully lived. The use of art, literature, and philosophy are used to explore this topic, as well as movingly written exchanges between characters to display many of these life phases. Stegner’s brilliance is on every page; his words sing of life. I highlighted so many lines for their sheer beauty, and ability to make me think and feel about my own life. As a writer, I am that much more stunned by the brilliance with which Stegner weaves his words.

The passage of time has only made this book that much more relevant and powerful for me. The literary tapestry was that much more fulfilling. When I first read it, in my first book group, the Depression did not seem that far from memory. Some references were outdated, but not so much as to be strange. With today’s focus on technology and social media, I could not help but wonder how Stegner would see it all now. I was also feeling that much more moved to see the things that time does not change: we all love; we all struggle to find ourselves (whether actively or passively); we grieve; we hurt others and we give shelter to them; we live and we die, and aside from that last one, we do it all over and over again. It is all here in this book.

As a young mother, I saw it all through a unique filter informed by my age and hopes for the future. Reading it now, as the grandmother to a 3 year old boy, watching my own babies––each “grown and flown––” follow the pull of their life journeys, Crossing to Safety moved me and spoke to me in a language that is richer and clearer than it ever could have been so long ago. In no way does that suggest that this is a book for later, but for reading… and then reading again. Crossing to Safety is a book for all time, and it I believe it only grows better with time.

Note: Wallace Stegner published 14 novels and numerous articles, short stories, and works of non-fiction. Angle of Repose won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1971. The Spectator Bird won the National Book Award in 1976. Wallace Stegner died on April 13, 1993, a few days after a car accident. He is remembered with numerous academic scholarships and honors, and for his rich word and deep understanding of what makes us all human.

Have you read Crossing to Safety? Share your thoughts; we don’t have to agree… thought I might plug my ears to any criticism. No, really; I want to know. Leave a comment.

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2018  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

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Blink: A Mother’s Heart

 

THEN….                                    AND NOW!

In the past months I’ve written words and more words… in my head. I’ve written about the lengthening days and changing light. I’ve written about time with friends and laughs we’ve shared. I’ve written about travel, and aging, body image, depression, my grandson, (who I’m not allowed to write about), homelessness, and working with high school students. I’ve written countless posts. I’ve written them in my head, and there they’ve stayed… until my youngest child graduated from college last week.

Last week I re-posted a piece from four years ago when my son, Man Cub, graduated from high school. I meant every word when I wrote it, even though I knew it would all change when he finished college. Even as I watched him walk across the stage, the students around him young people I’d known forever. I kept thinking: I’ve seen these kids lose their teeth, learn to play soccer and soft ball and run around a track. I’ve watched them develop breasts and broad chests, and I’ve seen the look of first love on their faces. So many of the faces in that crowd felt dear to me, as I watched my own dear one get a diploma. I knew how fleeting the next four years would be… but here we are, and I am still blindsided.

I thought I got it, but when I arrived in Denver last week to get ready for graduation and spend time with my boy, I found myself taken aback by the strange sense that I had only just arrived to drop him off. There were his same roommates; there was the beautiful campus and the scurrying about to get papers signed and things done. There was the same coffee shop, and the food places we ate at. It all looked the same, though I could see the subtle changes on my son’s face. He had grown up, while time whizzed by for me. As my children have grown, my life has been one flash after another–– precious moments dissolving into a perpetual blur of time.

As mothers we are swept up in the crosshairs of time from the moment our children are born. In the hours and days after their birth, we are cocooned in their sweet newness and the enormous love we feel. It feels like they will always fit in the crook of our arms and smell like our wombs. Yet in a blink, they are turning over, crawling and then walking. As they enter elementary school, we are pulled into a cycle of award ceremonies, playmates and bullies, birthday parties, carpools, sports and dance and hobbies and moments that build upon each other. It can be dizzying. By the time they get to middle school, we begin to see the headlights that will keep us partly blinded for several years to come.

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TOO MANY BLINKS TO COUNT… ALL PRECIOUS

Our babies begin to run toward those lights, with changing bodies, sassy attitudes, and a desire to stomp down their own paths. The sweet new smell we thought we’d never forget, is replaced by smelly socks, dirty gym clothes, and the inkling of adulthood. The inevitable moment when they don’t want us to honk the horn and wave, or call out I love you. The moment when they flip us off with a look. If we’re lucky, they choose wisely and we can rest a little easier at night. But even the babes who choose wisely and let us sleep, run along a path that takes them away from us, and many of us spend wakeful hours trying to come to terms with the passing of time, and the trajectory of where we will land. The crosshairs of time hold us all, and time moves on with each blink.

The babies we nurse and clean and hold, and watch over through fevers and colic, coos and smiles, grow up and follow their own paths. The tighter we hold them, the further they are likely to run. The looser we hold, the more they may stumble. Finding the right balance between the two is exhausting, but it’s what every parent does, from the moment they become parents. We all want the best for our children, and hope to see them race along their own path, even as we want to hold them close.

Arriving for graduation last week, I saw my son’s excitement, his wide eyes and chiseled face, and another blip of time hit me between the eyes. My youngest, our “baby,” has spent four years getting a duel college degree, and letting his siblings and parents know that time has marked him as well. His dad and I felt so proud to see him graduating from the University of Denver with a duel major, excellent grades, wonderful friends, and a joie de vivre that inspires me all the time. I so admire (in the words of his incredible DU advisor) his “compassion, curiosity and presence.” Ready or not Mom, he has started along his own path and all we can do is watch him go, wish him blessings along the way, and provide the net that we began weaving the day we first held him. My faith in his choices, my belief in his strength of character and mind, comes with a net that will be there for the rest of my life.

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Arriving in Denver, seeing the world he lives in now, the passing of time and the years ahead held me like a deer in the headlights I first saw so long ago. I was reminded that his father and I will always provide a net, but he is leaping off his own cliffs now. There will be no more spring breaks, courses to choose, or things that require our signature. My baby went up to get another diploma, a token of his hard work and study, as his sister and brother did before him. As his father and I did a blip ago. This time I knew it was for real. This marks a whole new phase of our lives together. Now he begins to really move away from us.

All weekend the passage of time and the role that parenthood has played in my life was constantly before me, a reminder that my role in his life becomes more and more symbolic with each year, as has been true with his older siblings.  While once I was the person he came to with every coo and smile, every ache or pain, with every playmate and bully, and every major or small decision, now he fills me in on those decisions after he’s made them himself. My opinions still matter to him, but not the way they did when he was small. Just as it should be. Occasionally, he still brings me the choices and asks me what I think, but he’s walking his own path now, just as I continue on mine.

A piece of my heart will always be wherever my children are. Even as they become adults, march along their own paths, and perhaps have children their own, it’s the rare day when I don’t think about each of them. I can remember without pausing what each of them looked like as babies in my arms. I remember the sound of their voices when they were small (though that is fading), and the days we spent together as the hours and days and years passed, and they grew up and away. With each symbolic tick of the clock–– be they elementary school plays, middle school dances, high school and college graduations, marriages, births, jobs, successes and failures–– words have filled my head and asked to be written. While I’ll miss this time in our lives, when at least one of our children is still in school and we play an active role in his life, it’s exciting to look forward to the adventures ahead for Man Cub, and know that my net is strong and wide. Time marches on, but my net will always be wherever my children are.

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These boots will always sit by the door, and can never be filled by anyone other than my kids…

Are your kids graduating from college? Is time rushing by, or are you enjoying each moment. Share your thoughts in the comment. I read every one, and respond. It makes my day! 

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2018  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

 

 

 

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Reclaiming My Dad, On Father’s Day

Many of you read this when I first posted it (thanks for that!). I’m sharing it again for Father’s Day. I miss my Dad still, all the time, but on Father’s Day it’s hard not to wonder what he would be like today. I know he would love my children, and his only great-grand child. I believe he would be proud of me. I want to think we would be close. But it’s easy to fill in the blanks with the things I want to believe. On Father’s Day I know this: I’m grateful he loved me, and that love stayed with me. It has sustained me. Happy Father’s Day Dad, I love you!

TALES FROM THE MOTHERLAND

Also Featured on Huffington Post, read it here.

Dad, six months before he died Dad, six months before he died

When life throws you a 100 mph curve ball, that hits you in face… and then another, and another, there are lots of things you can do; if you’re a child, set on survival, you block it out, and move on.

My father was killed in a car accident when I was ten– 42 years ago, June 9th. I’ve said those first 12 words countless times in my life. It’s been a defining detail of my entire life, and something I wrestled with in endless scenarios in my head, since the morning we heard– on a cruel sunny day. I remember the tiniest details with Technicolor precision. And yet, I forgot some of the most important parts… until two months ago.

Life threw another curve ball ten weeks ago that brought all those…

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So Your Kid’s Graduating From High School… Listen Up!

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Man Cub graduating from high school, spring 2014… this boy’s graduating from college this Saturday!

 Note: I wrote this when my youngest son, Man Cub, was getting ready to graduate high school. I’d been there before; I thought I knew what I was in for. Now, two days before he graduates from college, the world feels upside down again. As he and I look for furniture for the apartment he’ll live in after college, my head can’t wrap itself around the fact that my youngest is done with his undergrad career. I can’t believe my boy is navigating life and doing fine, that he’s graduating with a double major and amazing grades (this boy who struggled so much in high school), that he’s excited and ready to navigate his life. This is what I wrote four years ago. What I’d say today is a little different, but I’ll write that later. For now, your child is graduating from high school?
So your child is graduating from High School? Mazel! Congratulations! Bravo! Way to go: parent and graduate! Graduation from High School is a big deal. It really is. But it’s taken me a few rounds to really appreciate that.

image: washingtonpost.com

I remember when my first two kids graduated from high school, and Smart Guy and I were told by extended family members that high school graduation “wasn’t really that big of a deal.” It wasn’t something that cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents fly in for, or really even celebrate.  There were no cards, no gifts sent. At first I was disappointed, but eventually I accepted that idea, and figured maybe it was just an immediate family only thing— something you celebrate at home, with friends who also have kids graduating, or who have spent a lot of time with you and your kids. At the time, that made sense.

My Mom lived here at the time, so she attended Principessa’s graduation from High School. Papa flew in for Middle Man’s graduation. Grandma had died jut a few months before, and it was his first visit to see us, on his own, and was perfect timing for Middle Man’s graduation. Other than that, it was pretty low-key. We had an open house for our girl, but the boy didn’t want one. His classmates were in Canada; it would have been hard to pull off. There were special dinners together, gifts from us to them, and we all felt excited and anticipatory about the next phase. But there was little hoo-ha from the rest of our clan, and I figured maybe it wasn’t really as big as it felt to me.

Two High School and one College graduation later, and I see things a little differently. High school is a much bigger deal than some people realize— until they’re in the moment. High School graduation is the end of a lot of things, and the start of so many others.

It’s the end of your child’s time in schools that you (the parent) know, that you have been a part of too. It’s the end of a time when you know their teachers and the place they go each day. It’s the end of a time when you are invited in, to volunteer and be included. You have probably walked the halls, and met most of the people your children spend their days with, and there’s comfort in that. You’ve had your fingers on the pulse of their lives; and, there’s also comfort in knowing that you are part of your children’s world, in an intrinsic and crucial way. When they graduate from high school, that phase of their lives, and your’s, changes, forever. That is the part I really didn’t get, when we were going through it the first time(s).

Kindergarten graduation

When their dreams were of first grade.

However, the next four years will bring changes so much bigger than the previous 12 years, that your head will spin! I thought I knew that going in, so will you. But, until you wake up four years later and face another graduation, it’s nearly impossible to understand just how different things will be. That may not seem to make sense: 12 years versus 4, but the four years after high school, the four years of college (if that’s the path your child takes) will take your child out into a world that you’re not really part of. You’ve raised your child (children) to go out there and set the world on fire, whatever that looks like to your child, but it’s hard to imagine that they really wont need to hold your hand anymore in that world. You wont be invited to roast marshmallows around that fire, and it isn’t your job to make sure the flames are tended, any more. It’s their fire.

They will, from time to time, reach for your hand, but they won’t rely on you the way they once did. They’ll be forging a new path, and you need to step aside a little and let them fly. As my daughter graduated, I was caught up in the fact that my first baby was finishing school here, and would be moving 4,000 miles across the country to start college. The idea that she would be so far away, not living in our home anymore, was what seemed central at the time. I hadn’t begun to imagine what was next, and I’ve since learned that the “next” is  what really matters. High School is the culmination of twelve years of schooling, again, where you are tied to your children on a daily basis. That phase started with walking hand in hand in to meet the teacher. The new phase will begin with watching them drive away, or taking them to their new dorm, and driving away from them. Even if you know you’ll see them, even if they’re going to school close by, that drive is one of the hardest rides of your life.

So how do you get through it? With a wish and a prayer. With lots of humor. With some distance: if you can’t step back from some things, you’ll be pulling your hair out. By taking a look inside—yourself. Yes, you raised your child to set the world on fire, but you don’t get to choose the fires. You don’t get to call the shots. If your child’s going to surf their own waves, you need to watch from the shore and cheer. You don’t get to surf too. You get through it by accepting that your lives have changed, and that you can’t go back. Doesn’t that all sound so practical? Doesn’t it seem like common sense? That doesn’t mean that it will feel easy or reasonable when you’re in it. If you’ve been a Mom for 18 years, none of it will feel easy or clear.

image: destinationsdreamsanddogs.com

For the first time in your child’s life, you wont know where they are each night. You will have to adjust to sleeping in your own bed, not sure if they are tucked in and safe in theirs. They are.  You will not know what they are eating each night, or if they had a good breakfast before class. You wont know if they went to class. No one will call you if they miss that class, or if they eat a cheeseburger for every meal. You wont know what’s happening, unless they tell you… and they may not tell you everything. It’s the first time in their lives that they get to try things on and figure things out, without running to Mom and Dad, and that feels good. Trust me, they will be having moments of uncertainty too. But they will be excited to figure it out on their own.

You have some things to figure out too… you just don’t know it yet. It will build and wiggle around in your brain, until your final bird flies… then you’ll know that there are indeed things to figure out, that are about you, not them…  Your face, looks back from the mirror, so differently than it did when this ride began.  It’s all tied up in a complex tangle of years of kindergarten to high school, and favorite waffles. Of trips to the zoo, first play dates, and first sleep overs. It’s tied up in careers you left, or careers you kept. Marriages that have aged while babies grew, or marriages that ended. It’s woven to first crushes, proms and Homecomings, broken hearts (yours, theirs). How handsome or beautiful they looked in countless moments along the way. It’s tied to their innocent promises to never grow up and your hope that that might be possible. Knotted up in their sweet smells and their big stinky sneakers. The stuff left here and there and all over your house, and now gone.

These boots were made for walking...

Graduation from High School is the shift from everything that you’ve known, to everything that will come after– for you and for your children. There’s no way to know what the years after High School will bring, but it’s the beginning of an entirely new phase of life. So, as you approach graduation day, and the blur of a summer that follows, savor it. Enjoy it. In the weeks before they leave, find— no carve out– sacred moments when you are all a family. Enjoy those simple, ordinary moments. Your kids will have one foot out the door; it’s what they do. They’ll make it look like their friends are more important, and that you are so in the way. They will likely you make you wish they were gone. Really; it happens. Let it slide; shake it off; but, find those moments. Cherish them, the moments and the kids. Both will be gone before you blink.

When summer ends, they will pack their things and leave your home, and they will never come back as the child you watch leave. They’ll come home and sleep in their room; they’ll call to share some of what’s happening in their lives (especially in the beginning), but they wont be the kid that walks up to get that diploma. They wont be the same kid who leaves in September. They’re on their way to being on their own… to growing up. Leaving High School, leaving your home, is their first step… and they’ve worked hard to get there. Smile, pat yourself on the back and know that you raised an independent young adult. You did your job. And then buckle your seat belt; the next four years will be an incredible ride.

Is your child graduating? Share your thoughts. Are you miles from this moment? Then file this away; you’ll need it later.

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2018  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

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B=C…One Blogger’s Seven Year Itch

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If you’re one of the 10,000 subscribers to this blog, and you thought I was gone for good, I wouldn’t blame you. Of course, that number–– TEN THOUSAND–– a number I worked so hard for and I coveted when I saw on other blogs; a number I thought was the grand prize for my hard work; a number I strived for, that 10,000 is a very deceptive figure. It’s another mosquito in my Seven Year Itch as a blogger.

But let me go back a bit; let me explain. B is for Blogger/blogging. When I started blogging on WordPress seven years ago this June, I was as naive and clueless as they come. I didn’t know how to add photos, quotes, colorful wording, links, or anything other than… my words. While I’ve gone back and gussied up those first posts, they were originally a black and white page. I visited other blogs and saw clever visuals and things that engaged readers, but I had no idea how to do any of it.

I started with WordPress tutorials. They are invaluable; use them. Then I followed the #1 blog advice: I read other blogs and left comments. I interacted with other bloggers, who in turn were willing to share advice. Admittedly, I took those folks for granted in the beginning. I was grateful, but I didn’t get it. I was passionate and motivated. I got past the inevitable initial hurdles of blogging, and started to find my own groove.

And it paid off. About six weeks into my WordPress blogging journey one of my posts was Freshly Pressed (now called Discover)for the first of what would eventually be three times. When it happened I blindsided. In fact, I missed it all together until a friends asked me why my blog was suddenly “blowing up.” Honestly, I was gobsmacked. When I wrote the post The Grass Is Always Greener On Someone Else’s Head, I figured it had a clever title and the subject might appeal to a few other readers. It received 287 comments and took off like wildfire. If you click the link, I urge you to read the comments. While the post itself is okay, I found the comments from readers to be the most dynamic element. (Mostly) Women had a lot to say about their hair, beauty, and self-identity. As a new blogger who had had only a few comments on posts up until then, it was a total game changer.

However, the reality is I didn’t start blogging to be a blogger. In fact, even the term blogger was nebulous. I began blogging as a means to an end. Blogging was a route to  getting a book published. I was working on a novel, and everything I read said I needed a “platform.” I needed to build a social media presence, so that when I tried to get published I could show I had clout as a writer. It was all a foreign idea at the time.

I used a name that had been in my head for a while and signed up with WordPress. I started putting out posts, and Tales From the Motherland was born. A new blogger was born. My initial posts were met with deafening silence. No one was reading them. No. One. No one hit like or left comments. I wrote; I posted; I checked daily, and nada. I sucked up my ego and wrote on, with no obvious rewards or accolades. And that is key. Blogging, I’ve come to believe, is about putting yourself out there. It’s about being authentic and finding your groove. It’s not about the numbers, or the rewards. Don’t get me wrong; all three Freshly Pressed (one, two, three), and the Discover, each of them was and still is a huge honor. Each brought in lots of new readers, and was a nice pat on the back for the writing I was so committed to. I’m overdue for another coveted disc, but I’ve learned: the rewards are not what it’s about.

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B is for Blogging, and the C is Community or Connection. As I enter my eighth year, and struggle with my ability to keep up a pace I once found easy, the most important thing I’ve learned about blogging is that B=C. It’s all about the community you build and the connections you make. It’s not about the numbers. Over these seven years I’ve been fortunate to have connected with some truly outstanding people. Some have been there each time I post. Others pop in and out. A few have become friends. We’ve met in person, or we’ve messaged, or we’ve just supported each other in this saturated world of blogging. Today there are 500 new sites on WordPress each month and approximately 87 million new posts monthly! Some days it feels like hitting publish is like whispering during Beyonce at Coachella, and expecting anyone to hear. But your community is everything. They hear the whisper.

 

I’ve been struggling for a year now. No awards. No more blogging on Huffington Post, where my ego was stroked weekly. No more hitting send after easily pounding out words and thoughts. The 10,000 subscribers are entirely nebulous. The reality is  there are about 20 people who consistently stop by. There are 20 people who leave comments, root for me, encourage me, or just have the kindness to say hi. But it only took one blogger, one person in my community, who sent a message recently saying she missed me. She reminded me that I blog to connect. I blog to build community. The platform, the awards, the goals I once set mean nothing compared to the voices who says you matter, I miss you. I would rather have 20 steady members of community, who are authentic and real, than 10,000 digits who never hear me whisper. B=C. Start there and the rest will come.

Are you new to blogging? Do you have wisdom to share? Leave a comment!

Stop here and watch the WordPress Live Activity map. It’s way cool!

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2018  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

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New Release! THE BONE CURSE, A Genre-Bending, Supernatural Medical Thriller

I may be a lame blogger these days, but not all of my writing friends are. Check out this exciting news from writer, blogger, novelist, and DR. Carrie Rubin; she’s a rock star! Her last novel, Eating Bull, is one of my favorite thrillers, ever. I plan to get back to my own writing, blogging, soon… really, but for now, check out what Carrie’s doing!

Carrie Rubin

Do you believe in the paranormal?

I wish I did. Life would be more fun. But in reality, a ghost could hit me upside the head with a copy of War and Peace and I’d still find a way to explain it. Thanks to my left-brain skepticism and years of science education, a believer in the paranormal I am not.

BUT…

That doesn’t mean I don’t find it fascinating, and it doesn’t mean I don’t want to write about it.

The Bone Curse, available today, takes a rational-minded man of science and tosses him into an otherworldly situation, one with curses, dark priests, and Haitian Vodou.

The Bone Curse by Carrie Rubin After getting cut by an old bone in the Paris catacombs, a skeptical med student must use the occult to stop a deadly curse and a vengeful priest.

The Hero:

Ben, the main character, is not a perfect guy. He’s a med student…

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Puzzled

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For many years I’ve enjoyed puzzles as a way to spend time with my family and friends,  as well as a quiet way to think things through and chill. It started more than fifteen years ago, always in summer. I’d put a big puzzle out on our dining room table, knowing the kids were home and we’d have hours to fill, and that there were no big holidays, so we wouldn’t need the larger table. Anyone who visited, or was here, could join in.

It’s a surprisingly great way to connect with people. Puzzles require that you sit (or stand) in one general place and concentrate, yet it’s easy to talk and as you search for pieces, as well. People tend to chat more with each other, and really listen, without outside distractions; with a puzzle, there’s no TV or screen to get lost in. It’s also a nice way to just sit with someone and be quiet. People can sink into their own thoughts, while working side by side with others. When my kids were teenagers, they didn’t particularly like doing puzzles, but occasionally I could lure them in. It often was a pathway into their world, when I most wanted and needed to connect with them. We’d sit quietly looking for missing pieces, and if I was patient and listened, I’d get to hear about their lives and what was happening in them.

I’ve generally invested in large puzzles (one was 5,000 pieces! A one-time thing; don’t try it at home!) which tended to last all summer, and sometimes into the holiday season. I never choose a puzzle that’s less than 1,000 pieces. Sometimes the whole family picked out our next project; other times I picked up a new puzzle on my own. Over time, I bought a few large pieces of Styrofoam to build them on. Styrofoam keeps pieces from moving around too much, and you can lift a puzzle and move it, if needed. In those rare years when summer puzzles became Thanksgiving puzzles, this solution was perfect.

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This is supposed to be one of “the hardest puzzles… in the world.” There’s a special hell for people who give this as a gift.

Forever an ocean person, many of the original puzzles I picked were underwater scenes, almost always by Ravensberger. Over time, however, I’ve branched out and chosen planets and galaxy, world maps, and now subjects vary completely. People know I enjoy them, so over the nearly eight weeks that I’ve been sick and healing, folks have delivered puzzles as get well gifts, and general items of torture. There’s a stack of puzzles waiting for me, including one that my nephew and his girlfriend nefariously sent for Christmas. He researched “hardest puzzles in the world,” and thought that would make my foggy-meningitis-brain feel better. Or, he was getting back at me for some horrible thing I must have done when he was little. Hardest puzzles in the world, really? I put it aside until I feel better, and then got blindsided by a seemingly sweet puzzle–– with the image of Harlequin dancers–– delivered by a friend, right after I got out of the hospital.

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This is what puzzle hell looks like. Each time I think I’ve figured something out, a piece goes somewhere else. Puzzle. Hell.

I’ve never spent so long on one puzzle, but this one is hell; I’ve been working on it since just before Christmas! Individual pieces work in more than one place, much of it is a dark blackish-blue color, and depending on the light, it’s hard to see the variations in tones–– but those shades and tones matter. I’ve never had a puzzle before, where the edge is one of the hardest parts to do. Though I finally thought I’d worked out the edge  (after completing large “easier” sections), we’re convinced that much of at least one side,  is all wrong. Serious mind-fuck. I can only wonder about the friend who gave it to me and her real intentions; she knows who she is.

Over the years so many people have joined me for puzzle time. My kids have joined in; my husband drops by intermittently–– usually to drop in pieces that I’ve carefully collected, and am waiting to connect. My three exchange student-kids (China, Denmark, and Germany) all joined in, for the year each of them was living here. At times they and my son, Man-Cub, would spend hours laughing, teasing, and arguing about life at school, things at home, and their own private issues. Some of my happiest times were listening to them debate issues over a puzzle in the other room. Friends and family visiting for summer vacations, sat at the table on rainy days, or over weekends. They all joined us in our dining room to do puzzles. Today, at Hospice House, where I regularly volunteer, puzzles are left out on a table in the “family room.” We have learned that families who are grieving find peaceful distraction in puzzles. They are able to step away from feeling overwhelmed, and quietly work on a puzzle, or process feelings and thoughts. All of those tiny pieces can provide peace.

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This past Thanksgiving, we did two puzzles. They were not “the hardest in the world,” but we had fun together! That might be the evil nephew.

People tend to find one area of the puzzle that resonates with them, and they work to solve that section. Side by side, you can work and visit. I started asking summer guests to sign a part of a puzzle, so I could remember who shared in the fun. I got it in my head that I’d glue the finished puzzles, have them framed and hang them in our game room; they’d be reminders of fun times, as well as decorative art for bare walls. Over time, however, that became a misadventure. Large puzzles don’t stay glued very well; frames that work for puzzles are hard to find, and over time, finished-mostly-glued puzzles began to pile up under beds and sofas, collecting dust and adding to my list of long-delayed projects.

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Puzzles from the past

The collection of dusty puzzles hidden under spaces, collectively forced me to accept that I’d probably never get them framed or hung. They became silent reminders of so many undone things, and I felt guilty about not following through in one more area of my life. Then recently, I pulled one out and found myself running my fingers over the uniquely finished-puzzle surface that I love so much. I traced the names of people I love, people who have shared special time with me and my family, and realized I’m not ready to give up entirely on this project. There are several that have no signatures, and no real meaning–– other than the hours spent on them. Those can go back into their boxes, and on to other homes. But the ones with with love and memories, evident by the names written in corners and on sea turtles and jellyfish, still matter to me. They are a time capsule of happy times; they can be dusted and rescued.

These three are next in line

The kids are gone; our house is generally very quiet now. I’ve spent nearly eight weeks in this quiet house getting my strength back, processing hard things, thinking about goals and the next phase of my life, and doing puzzles. I do them on our kitchen table now; we only need two seats, so there’s lots of extra space. This time has been challenging; it’s been hopeful, sad, scary, and peaceful, depending on the day. And as I come out of this phase, and my healing is finally progressing in ways that allow me to jump back into my life, I find that I’m grateful to puzzles. I needed to focus, as well as spend time quiet and distracted. I needed to spend time to let go of things that don’t fill me anymore, and to grab on to new things. These have been hard weeks, and they’ve been weeks of deeper meaning. This time has been sacred. I’m coming into a new place in my life, and while I can’t wait for the next puzzle, I’m no longer puzzled.

Sweet puzzle memories remain

Are puzzles your thing, or do they make you crazy? Or, do you figure they’re something only grandparents do? (Well, I got that one covered too). Leave a comment and share your thoughts! 

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