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USA Election – The Graphic Novel

9 Nov

This is the United States of America:

 

This was the USA during the presidential campaign:

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This is the USA today:

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This is my dream for the USA:

To get there, this needs to happen:

And then we’ve got to stop doing this:

And start doing this:

The END

Summer Life Saving

17 Jun

I hadn’t planned on going to my niece’s wedding. She was getting married in Orlando last week and had planned a large party/reception for friends and family in Illinois in early July. In honor of her grandparents (my parents) who had been married 65 years, she had decided to get married on their wedding anniversary, June 10.

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But when I received my niece’s email, asking friends and family to send or bring a rock to the wedding, I knew I had to go. You see, my mom LOVED rocks. She once chased a Caterpillar D10

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working on road construction through a field on her little John Deere

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to ask the driver if he would push a mountain of a boulder onto the farm ground. He did.

My niece learned to love rocks—well, that might be a stretch—she learned to wash the landscape rocks that surrounded my parents’ house. My mother believed that the landscape should be washed every spring, and the grandchildren (once the kids were grown and gone) were just the people to help her do it. So my niece learned to LOVE washing rocks.

It was natural that she would want rocks for her wedding. They’re a symbol of a strong foundation, right?

I got the email and immediately knew I had to TAKE the rocks to Florida, not ship them. We boated over to Angel Island, scavenged one large 10-pounder, one fist-sized, and a handful of smaller green stones called serpentine. Perfect! I would skimp on clothes and carry these in my luggage.

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Yes, the TSA left their calling card in my suitcase. They must still be shaking their heads, wondering why anyone would cart around a bunch of rocks.

Anyway, I delivered those rocks and myself to Orlando four days later. The ceremony was quite moving, with my nephew telling his rock story during the ceremony. A few months earlier, he had been shopping for a First Communion gift for a family member and saw a pile of rocks at the store. One read something along the lines of “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The saying reminded him of his grandfather’s calmness and how he dealt with stress. The second rock he picked up read “This Too Shall Pass,” his grandmother’s favorite saying. He decided those two rocks were meant for him, and he bought them along with a communion gift.

Then a couple of months later, he gets this request from his sister to bring rocks to her wedding on a date that honors their grandparents. So instead of keeping those rocks for himself as mementos of his grandparents, he gave them to his sister. (Yes, he is a fantastic guy!)

Really, those two rocks were my parents’ way of sneaking into the wedding.

Now, fast forward a couple of hours after we all head out to the hotel pool complex.

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We’re settling in, when my sister-in-law passes by a couple of people shaking the arms of a little girl lying on the pool deck. They had just pulled her from the water, and she’s not responsive.

Sooo, my sister-in-law grabs my niece and nephew (her kids) who happen to be physician’s assistants. They find no pulse and begin lifesaving techniques that include an inverted heimlich with the girl’s head below her waist. My nephew tries to activate the little girl’s gag reflex by sticking his finger down her throat. (Someone calls 911. Concerned bystanders suggest laying her flat. NO! Don’t do that! They also suggest giving her a glass of water. REALLY??) Still no response, but the heimlich is pumping lots of water out of her. My nephew tries again and again until he gets a gag from her and she begins to vomit water and food. Another few seconds of heimlich with her head down and she’s still vomiting but begins to cry. Success!!

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In honor of the wonderful world of Disney

Paramedics arrive, give her oxygen, and prep her for heading to the hospital, where she will stay for observation.

Two days later, I leave for home and get a text with a photo of my niece and nephew “meeting” the little girl and her babydoll at the hotel after she was released from the hospital. I’m not going to show it here because I don’t have a release from her parents, but suffice to say, I cried when I saw all three of them together and smiling.

Soooo, everyone, it’s summer swimming pool season. Please be vigilant. This was one of two bright spots (wedding, too!) in a horrific week for Orlando. Watch those swimmers, and if they don’t know how to swim, keep them in floaties whenever they’re near the pool. The one shown below snaps behind the child’s back, so they can’t take it off themselves. 

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Remember, a child slips below the surface without making noise. Be watchful, and listen for silence.

Telling Details

24 Feb

I wrote this post a couple of days ago and accidentally hit the panic button. Sorry for the false alarm, but I didn’t want it to be published in the same day as my last post. Let me try this again…

Two days ago, I saw a woman get hit by a car, but I didn’t know that’s what I was seeing at the time. As I replay that moment again and again in my mind, I am shocked at how slowly I figured it out.

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The Intersection

I don’t remember seeing the car hit her. I just remember this:

Someone yelled. It was a rough, urgent, explosive bark. And then I saw a large pile of garbage lying in the street. Did you get that? Garbage. I’m still appalled that I thought a living, breathing human being looked like a pile of garbage.

It was dusk, just after sunset. I was on my way to pick up a pizza, and stopped at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. Then, the explosive yell, and there they were, black and white garbage bags flopping slightly, as if being blown by a puff of breeze, so gently. Two pedestrians raced toward the pile as it began to rock. They tried to help the garbage bags pick themselves up. But the best the pile could do was to droop to one side. One foot flopped. A hand pressed down against the street.

And then I figured out that the pile was a woman. With long, dark hair. She had been face down on the pavement, her hair pouring onto the street. She wore black pants and shoes and a cream-colored jacket, and she had been carrying a couple of black shopping bags. But her body parts weren’t arranged like a human walking across the street. They were upended, folded in on each other, crumpled and flopping without purpose. And the combination of black and white reinforced the image of garbage bags, litter that is so common in the city.

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I still tremble when I think of this, how quickly we can go from being human to being a pile of garbage. How our perceptions depend so much on context.

And since I’m a writer, I start thinking about how I can use this. The experience brings home how important it is to select the details of the stories we tell. Those details cement the belief that what’s being described has actually happened. Verisimilitude at its best. In this case, the accident did happen, and you believe me because of the details I’ve shared with you. I know that if I’m ever going to write a scene about someone who’s been hit by a car, I now have an inkling of how I will tell that part of the story.

But what disturbs me are two things: 1) that I can file this away so coldly to use in the future and 2) that I thought a human being was as pile of garbage. This is a horror from which I may never recover.

I am still shaking.

 

 

 

Umberto Eco – On Memory, Books, and Computers

22 Feb

Umberto Eco died on February 19, 2016. He was a brilliant man who wrote fascinating books. 

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He also had an encyclopedic memory. Here’s a brief interview filmed by David Ferrario. In the interview, Eco discusses memory, computers, and a terrifying future. 

For those of you with serious book envy that may trigger a Pavlovian response, have your drool cups ready at minute 5 of the interview (with English subtitles). 

Who will inherit that labyrinthian library?

One More Reason to Buy Books

6 Jan

In the spirit of improved public health,

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a librarian friend sent me a link from “Library Link of the Day” that contains an extremely high “ewwww” factor. 

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Body Fluid Alert!!!

My own take on this subject? I think library users

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have more robust immune systems than the average person.

However, I will support any argument that persuades people to buy more books.

May you all enjoy good health in the new year! 

Dental Hygiene Halloween – Halloweensie Story Contest

26 Oct

I stopped packing boxes long enough to write this teensy-weensy story for Susanna Leonard Hills’ Halloweensie story contest. Here are the rules:

Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words costumedark, and haunt.   Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!) Also, you may use the words in any form – e.g. haunt, haunts, haunted, darkness, darkening, costumed, whathaveyou 🙂  No illustration notes please!

Soooooooo here’s my entry:

 

Dental Hygiene Halloween

by Jilanne Hoffmann

 

Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy trick or treated in their usual costumes.

At one dark house, Santa’s knock went unanswered, so he dropped a present down the chimney.

 

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“That’s not how it works,” Easter Bunny scoffed.

At the next house, Easter Bunny rang the doorbell and hopped away, leaving an egg on the doorstep.

 

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“That’s not how it works,” Tooth Fairy fussed.

At the next house, Tooth Fairy rang the bell—and waited.

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The door opened.

“I’m a dentist in disguise!” Tooth Fairy exclaimed. She scooped up the candy, replaced it with coins, and skedaddled.

Haunting, isn’t it?

_______________________________________________________________

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!

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Now back to packing…..

Setting Fire to the Origami Crane – For Sarah Briggs Hoffmann

21 Sep

A little over a year ago, we gathered family and friends on an island in Muscongus Bay in Maine to celebrate Peter Hoffmann‘s (my father-in-law) life and bury his ashes in the island cemetery. It was a glorious day—sunny and warm—for a picnic, wine, and shared memories.

Sarah, my mother-in-law, asked the kids to craft parachutes with candy payloads and toss them from the treehouse to represent the Berlin airlift of Peter’s childhood.

Later, we lighted a bonfire, dined in the darkness, and listened to some of Peter’s favorite jazz recordings.

Then Sarah passed away around 3am that night, most likely from a heart failure brought on by a severe asthma attack. She had long struggled with diabetes and asthma.

There is no word for the emotion. Shock is far too tame. Disbelief, a limp noodle of a word. Nothing could be said.

So we said little, hugged a lot, and kept the family close because we were going to bury Sarah’s ashes four days later. This is the birch log one of her three sons hollowed out to hold Sarah’s ashes.

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Giotto, Sarah and Peter’s dog, kept vigil while we waited to bury her beside Peter.

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Throughout the days following her death, Giotto would suddenly stand, look out the window and howl silently.

This past August, family members gathered on the island to honor Sarah’s life. She loved children, always engaging them with stories and activities, like the parachute project for Peter’s memorial. Often times, sparklers were involved.

So we constructed a wooden origami crane. Our son and his cousins designed, nailed, nail-gunned, taped, and wired sparklers, roman candles, and fireworks waterfalls to the structure. Then at dusk, we set it floating on Muscungus Bay before lighting it on fire. We didn’t have a proper camera for the event, so phone shots will have to suffice.

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Construction completed:
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Setting the crane afloat on the old raft, The Rusty Blade:

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Waiting for darkness:

 

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Shimmering across the bay:

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Farewell, Sarah

Sarah also loved poetry. So when we returned, I donated to Tupelo Press’s 30/30 project, where selected poets write and publish a poem a day each month. I sponsored a poem from one of my favorite poets, and gave him only a title as starting point. Here’s Robert Okaji’s stunning and uncanny result:

Setting Fire to the Origami Crane (the one floating on Muscongus Bay) at Sunset / by Robert Okaji

 

Who is to say which comes first, the flaming crane

or the sunset’s burst just over the horizon

 

and under the clouds? There are causes and causations,

an illness named bad air and another attributed to wolf

 

bites, neither accurate. There is the paraffin to melt,

and the folded paper resting comfortably nearby, with

 

a small, unopened tin of shoe polish and the sound of

tears striking newsprint. You know the myth of the

 

Viking burial — the burning ship laden with treasure

and the deceased clothed in all his finery. But pyres

 

are lighted to make ash of bodies, to ease the soul’s

transition to the heavens. Think of how disturbing

 

it would be to come upon the charred lumps of your

loved one washed ashore. And other myths — various

 

versions of the afterlife created to bend wills and

foster hope where little exists — to which have you

 

departed? There are no returns in your future, no more

givings, and your ashes have dispersed among the clouds

 

and in the water. They’ve been consumed by earth and

sky, inhaled and swallowed, digested, coughed out but

 

never considered for what they were. So I’ve printed

your name a thousand times on this sheet, and will

 

fold and launch it, aflame, watching the letters that

comprise you, once again, rise and float, mingle

 

and interact, forming acquaintances, new words,

other names, partnerships, loves, ascending to the end.

 

 

Thank you, Robert. Sarah would have loved the poem you didn’t know you were writing for her.

 

Find more of Robert Okaji’s poems on his website: O at the Edges

or at the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project website under August poems. These will only be available until the end of September.

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