Banning Books

This week is the American Library Association’s (ALA) Banned Books Week (BBW). Libraries all over the county are celebrating by putting out these banned books and telling the world to triumph over the closed minded and READ THESE books. These long-suffering, sorely abused books.

If you’ve been to a library this week, you’ve probably seen evidence of this.

I am a book lover, a reader, a librarian, a teacher, a writer, and more. I love books. I do not believe in censorship. But I also do not believe in BBW. The thing of it is, none of these books have been, well, banned. Sure, for many of them, small minded parents in a school district complained to the board of education and got them removed from the school, the reading lists, the library.

But is that banning? Not in my view. Those kids could still go to the local library and get them. Or maybe they couldn’t because they were banned at the public library as well. But is that banning? Again, I say no. Maybe in that area, in that town, you couldn’t get the book, but other towns still had it, other schools, other libraries. The book was and still is available. Never in my lifetime have I been unable to read any of the books on ALA’s list of banned books. And don’t kid yourselves. Look at the list. Many of them were written and banned in my lifetime.

It happens year after year, any time a book is published that people don’t like for any reason. Do I agree with this? I do not. I don’t think any person has the right to decide what others read, unless you are a parent of a child. But that only gives the right to decide for YOUR child, not to complain to the school and get it banned for all the children. You don’t get to decide what MY child reads. So, yeah, I support anti-censorship.

But, my issue is this. We live in a world with serious problems. We have 10% of our population who cannot read. Illiteracy is a serious problem. Not liking the sorcery in Harry Potter is not a serious problem. Thinking 50 Shades of Grey is smut, is not a serious problem. Worrying about the overuse of the word fuck in Eleanor and Park is not a serious problem.

Overall, though, what we see are small areas affected by the actions of a smaller-still section of the population. It sucks, it surely does, for those affected by it. But in this day and age, go online and buy the book at Amazon. Or download it to your smartphone from the public library. Heck, go ahead and read that classic for free at Project Gutenberg. Books are more prevalent than ever in our society and our access to them is nearly unlimited. Sure, some people will disagree with the content and not want you to read it, but at the end of the day, even if those people are your parents, what you read is up to you. It is your choice. No one can take that from you. If your school or your public library or the bookstore in your town will not carry the book, that makes it tougher to get your hands on a copy, no doubt. But it does not make it impossible.

Our government is not standing up and recalling all the books it doesn’t agree with and holding nationwide censorship bonfires, because we don’t live in a society like that. We have freedom to write what we want and think what we want and read what we want. And no one gets to stop us. Some people will try, people will always try. Those people, they will always exist and always fight. Same as there will always be people who will give in, who will cave to the pressure, who will fold to the fanaticism of their every opponent, but this does not mean your world is limited.

Your world, my world, the world, is exactly what we each choose to make of it. I don’t agree with a celebration of Banned Books. I don’t believe in the cause. Instead, I choose to be a reader and a lover of books. I read what I want and don’t worry about what anyone else says.

That is how I celebrate. That is my contribution. It is how I make my corner of the world a better place to be. I just keep on reading.

Wouldn’t time be out to charm you?

When I was about 12 years old, my aunt and uncle and my cousin Sara moved to Alabama. I remember it being so hard because Sara and I were the same age and we grew up together. We were very close. So, about a year later, my parents made the decision to fly me to Alabama to spend time with my cousin.

I was 13 years old. Just a baby. I was flying for the first time by myself. I had a brief layover in Memphis, TN, then my aunt and cousin would pick me up in Birmingham, AL.

Then my plane had mechanical troubles here. We sat on the plane, at the gate, for over an hour. This was in the days that you could go anywhere in an airport, you just couldn’t get on a plane without a ticket. So my mom was standing in the lounge, staring out the window at my plane, wanting to know why we didn’t take off. Eventually, they fixed the problem and away we went, without ever disembarking.

However, when we landed in Memphis, we had missed the connecting flight and we had to wait for the next flight, which was six hours away.

For six solid hours, I sat by myself in the Memphis airport. I called my mom, from a payphone, every hour to talk to her. My aunt and cousin had arrived in Birmingham and I wasn’t there. They called my mom and got the scoop, then they had to wait six hours for me to get there. Or maybe they went home? I don’t remember. It was about a two hour drive to their house from the airport, so I don’t think they went home.

I had my walkman with me, I listened to my cassettes, probably Paula Abdul and New Kids on the Block, I was pretty into them in 1992. I probably had three or four books with me, I did sit in the terminal and read for the bulk of the time. I found a restaurant and ate dinner by myself. I remember being worried about it. I didn’t know if I was allowed. Seriously. I had never been in a restaurant by myself and I didn’t know if I was allowed to go in without an adult because they served alcohol there. There were no fast food restaurants in the area where I was waiting and I was afraid to wander too far by myself.

I remember I ordered a kiddie cocktail to drink and felt very grown up.

I remember being scared when I had to pay. I didn’t have a ton of money with me. I was 13! and I wasn’t sure how to do it. But I figured it out. I hope I left a tip. I have no idea if I even knew you were supposed to tip back then.

Eventually, they called my plane and I got on board. The first one, I think. They knew I was flying alone and, of course, I had been sitting at the gate for HOURS, so I think they let me on first.

Then, in a blink, it was over and I was in Alabama. When I got off the plane, my Aunt Kate hugged me so hard and said, “we were so worried about you!” And Sara wanted to know everything I did. I told them the whole story as we drove to their house where my Uncle Frank was waiting for us. It was late, well after dark when we arrived, so they showed me around their house and then shooed us off to bed.

Sara’s room was upstairs and I remembered thinking it was so cool, with it’s sloped ceilings and tiny window that opened onto the street. Plus, it was HUGE.

Except, it wasn’t. It was probably a pretty small room, but it seemed huge to me because it was hers, all to herself. I shared my room at home with my sister and it always felt smaller than it really was.

Their town, Fayette, was so small, there wasn’t a lot for us to do. A highlight of the trip was going to Wal-mart, which they called Wally World, and I was confused. I didn’t know where we were going until we got there and I saw it was Wal-mart. I had no idea why they called it that, and I didn’t ask.

Sara and I wandered around, up and down the aisles. We took a toy ball out of one of those big bins and bounced it around the store, tossing it to each other. Aunt Kate was actually shopping, but we were free. Loose in the store and able to look at whatever we wanted. It was freedom at its most elemental level. At home I never got to do that. When we went to the store, it was for a purpose and mom never let us just wander around by ourselves.

This was different. This was our entertainment, how we had fun. Eventually, as teenage girls were wont to do, we found ourselves in the music area. We browsed through cassettes and singles, talking about who we loved and who was cute and our favorite songs. We talked about the new song by Guns-N-Roses that had just been released. She said she loved it. I had heard it, but I wasn’t that familiar with it. But I still think I said I loved it, too.

We found it. A cassette single of GNR’s “November Rain”. (The b-side was “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, how awesome is that?). I think it cost $1.99 and, boy, that seemed like so much money to me then. Now, I’ll drop that on iTunes for a song and consider it cheap.

When we got back to her house, we went up to her room, put my new cassette in her boombox, clicked it on repeat, and sprawled on her bed, just talking.

For hours we laid up there, talking and giggling and listening to that song over and over. The soft piano intro, the sound of rain in the background, Axl’s gritty vocals, the orchestral climax, then, just when you think it is over; the music creeps back in for  a couple minutes more and Axl whispers “Don’t you think that you need somebody, don’t you think that you need someone, everybody needs somebody, you’re not the only one.” Over and over, louder and more intense until it reaches a crescendo, then softly fades out.

I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how many times we listened to this song. Hundreds, at least.

For me, it was the first time I can recall having a physical reaction to music. My heart would thump harder at my favorite parts, I got a feeling in the pit of my stomach at the intro. I reacted to this song. There had been other songs I liked, many that I even loved, but the feelings evoked by a song were new to me. Or, if not new, I was at least newly aware; I finally recognized it.

At night, when it was cooler (this was August in Alabama–it was never cool), we’d go outside with my Uncle Frank, who used to sit on a bench in the backyard and just be outside. We’d run around, barefoot in the cool grass and jump and twirl and spin and laugh and fall, breathlessly to the ground. Then we’d stand up and do it again.

One night, he brought two mason jars outside and told us we should catch fireflies. I’d caught them in my hands, held them, cupped gently inside, while holding my hands up to my eye and peering through the tiniest of cracks to see that light blinking on and off, but this was different. The air was thick with fireflies, flashing and glowing, lighting up the muggy nights; so thick you could swipe your hand through the night and swat a half a dozen without even trying. We took our mason jars and ran through the yard, leaping to catch more and more. Of course, many we caught would escape, as we never put the lid on right away, always trying to catch just another one.

Eventually, we tired ourselves and screwed on the lids. Then we sat in the grass at his feet as he talked to us, his slow, soft drawl seeming like the night itself. He talked of his boyhood and stories to make us giggle. We each held up a jar filled with tiny blinking lights. His face, and ours, would blink, on and off, an eerie neon yellow.

When it was time, he let us take our jars up to our room and we placed them by the bed, used as nightlights. We fell asleep to the blinking strobe of the bugs as the soft strains of Axl Rose whispered to us, just an echo in that room.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if, after 20 years that is still my favorite song. There are songs I’ve fallen in love with since that I’d be tempted to list as my favorites. Does the ghost of my childhood still get to decide what is my favorite song?

This morning, whilst blog hopping, I stumbled across a blog with a link to the original 1992 live performance of GNR debuting that song at the MTV music awards, with Sir Elton John (who wasn’t even a knight back then) accompanying them on the piano. I remember watching that live on television. I was in awe of it then. I’ve heard it countless times in the intervening years, but it’s been a long while since I listened. Stopped everything else and just listened to the music.

Today, 20 years later, as I listened to it, I could feel those same emotions rippling through me. I felt the heat on my skin as we laid in Sara’s room flopped out on her bed, the song on repeat. I can smell the night air and hear Uncle Frank’s voice. I feel my body jumping through space to catch an elusive firefly. I remember being scared in that restaurant and how grown up I was to be traveling alone.

Every moment, every memory of that time of my life is embedded in that song.  It doesn’t matter if it isn’t the best song in the world or even my favorite song to listen to. It holds a piece of the girl I used to be and reminds me of family and of friendship and of love.

If you’ve ever wondered why that song, now you know. If you’ve never wondered, then I hope you enjoyed this retelling. Stumbling across it by chance today, it stirred up those memories and I wanted to put them down; to make sure I never forget. Of course, I’ll always have the song to remind me if things get hazy.

Scaring the Weather

I mentioned, in an offhand manner, something about the nice weather, to Elena. She said, “Sssh! You’ll scare it away.” Aside from that being funny, it makes me wonder.

Is this weather permanent this winter? Or is this just a weird prelude and we’re about to get smacked in the face with a “real” Minnesota winter?

I don’t know. Honestly, how could I, but I refuse to pussyfoot about. It is what it is. If the weather gets cold and snowy, then it does, it isn’t like that would be unexpected. However, for those who don’t know, we have almost zero snow on the ground. It’s snowed twice. The first time was about 0.5″ and it was melted in a matter of days. This last time (New Year’s Eve) it snowed about 1.5″ and though much of it has melted there are mini-snow drifts left to admire.

The temps have been so mild that I’ve only worn a coat twice this winter. (We had a two day span where the high was in the teens). So far, in 2012, I’ve yet to wear a coat. Today, January 9th, it is 41°. The average high for this day? 24°. Our overnight low tonight is predicted at 28°. That is higher than the average temp!

As an example, Thursday night is the night my recycling goes out. I showered that evening and I had bare feet. It was so warm it sounded like it was raining outside, but it was just snow melting of the roof. I went to take out the garbage and recycling in bare feet and flip flops. (I was also wearing pants and a t-shirt). Since it was so nice out I decided to scrape at some of the ice clumped at the end of my driveway.

So, in flip-flops, I grabbed a shovel and started scraping. That has never happened before. I doubt I’ve ever worn flip-flops in January in my entire life, much less outside, while shoveling snow! What a strange and wonderful winter this has been. I’m glad my Alabama relatives didn’t pick this year to come up in winter, can you imagine how disappointed the children would have been? No snow or cold at all. Just a shade colder than their daily lives. (Right now, it is 64° in Tuscaloosa–we are shooting for a high of 46. Granted that is 18° of difference, but that is not much, considering what it should be!)

Speaking of 64–on Friday, when I came to work, I parked in the sun. When I got done, four hours later I got in my car and it was so warm in there. I turned it on and the temperature gauge said:

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(I’m tickled that this is also the current temp in Alabama. How fortuitous!)

Granted it was only 38° outside, but the sun was so warm it made the car think it was almost 30°warmer! It’s wonderful and I am sure enjoying this anomalous weather. Also, it makes other things spectacular as well. There has been sunshine every single day, so no January depression or doldrums, and the other night, driving home, I saw this.
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Rarely do we ever even see sunsets in January, the gray, heavy, leaden clouds are usually blocking it, and in my recollection, it is never that gorgeous. Sometimes, Mother Nature is kind to us in her blessings. I’m very grateful. Hopefully, she’ll appreciate that and not allow me to scare away this goodness. (It is supposed to get down to highs in the teens by the end of the week–and snow–so I am blogging this now, in case I need to remember)

Happy January!

Mystery Package

Do you shop online?

I do. More than I shop in stores. I LOVE online shopping.

I get many packages sent to me (thanks mom, for passing along THAT gene).

Every so often, I can’t remember what is in them. It’s rare, because they come pretty quick, but it does happen. Then, it is exactly like someone sending you a present. There’s interest and excitement when you open up the package.

A couple days ago, I got an email that StuffHut shipped my package.

I have no idea what that is. Never even heard of it. However, I know from my vast online shopping experience that smaller companies often send packages through an intermediary. So StuffHut could be one of those.

But I can’t remember ordering anything that might fit the bill…?

I really have no idea what is coming.

I could do some research and find out, but that would take ALL the fun out of it for me. Right now it is a mystery. A complete and total surprise. I’m guessing whatever is in the package won’t be nearly as good as the anticipation I feel waiting for it.

And can we talk about how much I love package tracking? What a great invention! I know that at 7:27 am this morning, my mystery package from StuffHut was loaded onto a plane in Memphis, TN. Next stop: St. Paul, MN. How cool is that?

Did you know I was once stranded for 6 hours in the Memphis airport all by myself? Completely and utterly alone? The interesting part of that story is, I was 13.

I was on my way to visit my cousin Sara in Alabama. She had just moved there. My parents sent me by myself, my first time on a plane, alone. We were delayed leaving MN and missed our connection in Memphis. The next connection to Birmingham was six hours later. My mom was worried about me and made me call her every hour to tell her I was okay. I also kept calling my Aunt Kate who had made the drive from their house to Birmingham and then just had to sit there and wait. (How far is it from Fayette to Birmingham anyway? It felt like hours on the drive to that house, in the dark….)

Anyway, that was one of the best trips of my life. My favorite song had just come out, “November Rain” by GNR. Sara and I went to Wal-Mart (there wasn’t much to do in that town when you’re 13) and I bought the SINGLE on  CASSETTE. I still have it. I was going to get rid of it, but it has so many memories. We sat up in her room and listened to it over and over and over while we talked and giggled like the teenage girls we were. I think those memories are half the reason that is my favorite song. We also caught fireflies in her backyard. I had never done that before. Her dad, Uncle Frank, got mason jars for us and sat outside talking to us while we ran around catching them. Then we got to put them in her room next to the bed, to use as nightlights that night. And we went to Leah’s house and spent the night, but while we were there we got to ride a four-wheeler which was also the first time I had done that.

Wow. This blog sure took a turn. I was just going to go back and edit it, because it is so weird, the randomness, but I think I’ll leave it. I kind of like how it is just a capture of the thoughts I was thinking as I typed.

I’ll let you know once my mystery package arrives.

Roll Tide!

This one is going to be long. I’m just warning you up front.

My dad’s sister, my Aunt Kate, and her daughter Sara, along with Sara’s husband Mike, and their adorable children, Hunter (4) and Hadley (2.5) visited us for the holidays. They arrived on 12/26 and left on 1/3.

It was really an amazing visit. We don’t get to see them that often, usually every couple of years and it always feels way too short. This time, we felt like we had all the time in the world. It was really a great way to end 2010.

The day they arrived, everyone converged on my parents’ house. It was madness and chaos, all in one tiny package. Hugs, kisses, stories, laughter, getting to know the kids (who were TINY when we last saw them and don’t remember us), eating, and fun.

The kids really wanted to play out in the snow (well, obviously, that was the whole point!) and Simon was there that day, so we all got dressed in our snow clothes and went outside–sledding.

I haven’t been sledding in AGES. I honestly can’t tell you the last time. I think we did some sledding with Simon a couple years ago, but he isn’t that into it and I can’t even remember if I went, or just my mom. This time, with three kids, ages 2,3,4, sledding was so much fun. Also, Mike and Sara were out there with me and the kids and watching Mike repeatedly lift Sara and throw her into snowbanks was fun. Especially when she got stuck. Literally. It was so deep she could not move. Mike had to go back over and lift her OUT of the snowbank. I wish I had pictures of her stuck…..

We played out there for much longer than anyone expected. Sara was worried they’d only play for 5 minutes after she spent 20 getting them into snowsuits. We were out there for more than a half hour. (And it was NOT warm that day. If I remember right, the high was 15.)

We also did presents later in the day. And craziness ensued…

I helped the kids makes places for everyone…and that was the last time I think anyone knew what was happening. Paper was flying, people were asking “is this for me?”, kids were running everywhere, there was screaming, there was laughter, it was fun. I received a beautiful, wool, houndstooth scarf, to help me represent. (Alabama for those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.)

The next day, we had planned a lunch for the extended family. My uncle Ralph and Aunt Nancy were down from Perham, Judy came, and all the rest of us–and Grandma. We all met at Sgt. Pepper’s in Oakdale. I think my favorite part was that my Aunt Kate saved a chair for Zack, mistakenly believing there was a chance he’d wake up and get out in public by noon. She’s so cute!

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That’s our group. The only member you can’t see is Simon. He fell sound asleep at the table and his little head is in my dad’s arms. (Look close, you can see him!)

Simon actually ordered his food, then he started slumping against my mom, and the next thing they knew…out like a light. He slept on the table through the entire lunch, just like this:

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(I sure do love that picture!)

Monday night, I took Mike and Sara to downtown Stillwater to play Bags and hang out with their cousins. It was fun to be out and kid free. I was driving so they took full advantage.

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That’s them, debating Alabama football.

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And then one of them trying really hard NOT to look drunk….

Most of the rest time we just ate lots of food, drank tons of beer, and hung out in the garage.

Take a look.

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Me with the kids

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Junior Mint Smile

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Aunt Kate and “Zacky” (she calls him that so often that her grandkids refer to him as Zacky)

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Mike shotgunning a beer…we made him go outside and he got a kick of doing a shotgun in the snow.

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Hunter.

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Hadley

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Visiting my house.

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Hunter

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Hadley

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Michael Jordan (see the tongue?)  playing Bags with the grownups.

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Me and Miss Hadley. She was my little buddy during this trip.

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It finally snowed one night, we let the kids go out in their jammies to see actual snow falling. It kept going down Hunter’s shirt, but otherwise, they loved it!

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Playing Candyland with Aunt Kaye (I’m playing, too, but I had to take the picture!)

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We played an adult game and the kids were supposed to be napping. I got to draw on Mike’s face with makeup during the game and one of the kids saw me. That was the end of the nap as they kept asking “why is Olivia coloring on Daddy?” so when I was done, we got a picture!

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This picture of Hunter was taken by Simon. Hunter had just said “I don’t want you to take my picture.”

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Simon also took this picture of the “old” people hanging out. None of “kids” were present, which is weird.

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One night we took them down to Phalen to see the lights display, which was fun…but would have been more so if we weren’t in two cars!

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We went to Em and Chad’s so they could see their house.

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Hunter and Hadley sitting with their Grandma…watching Uncle John and Daddy throw bags.

***Their daddy, by the way, owes me! He promised me, in front of witnesses, that if Alabama beat Michigan State (they did) he’d get naked and roll around in the snow. Nice people we are, we even agreed to let him keep his boxers on. As of right now, he has NOT PAID.***

And, after that whole time, playing games, laughing, talking, playing more games, eating food, drinking beer, playing more games, playing with the kids, and just being together, being family, what could possibly be left to say?

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