The Joy of Doodling

I’ve doodled all my life. Nearly all my school papers from grade school on up were seldom doodle-free. Any shopping list I make nearly always has some “doodle-age” on it.

Has anyone ever taken a “Zentangles” course? I know of them, but haven’t actually participated in a class, but it looks like fun. Basically, you learn different methods of doodling and design, and anyone can do it.

However, just plain doodling is relaxing and fun. I’m sure that there is some study somewhere that tells you what your particular doodles mean, but frankly, I don’t care. Doodling for me is just fun for fun’s sake.

But if you’re going to doodle, you have to have a great doodling instrument. Years ago I bought myself a gorgeous Mont Blanc pen. It’s a beautiful thing; well-made, impressive looking, and feels good in the hand. It even has its own leather case. Neat, huh? But it’s a crap doodling pen.

For me, a black Sharpie fine-point pen is the ultimate doodling instrument—it makes great cartoons, doodles, and it’s the only one I use for addressing packages and snail mail.

My mom once found what was touted as “the premiere doodling pen” from Japan; the Uni-ball Signo. It comes in black and blue of course, but also delicious colors such as purple and emerald green. Mom fell hard for them, so I ordered them for her.

Well, they were not the glittering success she thought they would be, so I inherited them all. While they are pretty nice pens and do make an acceptable doodle, I’ll take the Sharpie fine-point pen, thank you very much.

So once you have “the” pen that works for you, start doodling. Why? Why not? Doodling is fun, relaxing and, in its way, sort of meditative (hence, the “Zen” in Zentangles).

There are even coloring books for adults now; everything from mandalas to exotic fish, flowers and animals. I have one that I occasionally work on, and it’s surprisingly relaxing.

In fact, if I’m having a bad day, just a few minutes of doodling is good therapy. Before you know it, the “bad” seeps away, leaving only the adventure of creating swirls, leaves, scrolls, cones and bubbles, cat faces and Egyptian eyes.

And it’s far from a waste of time. Anything at all that can calm you, relax you, put you in a better frame of mind and allow you a few minutes of sheer unsupervised fun—that’s a good thing.

So here’s my free prescription today: one great doodling pen and a big pad of paper. Directions: put pen on paper and go nuts.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

I am pretty much a goody-two-shoes when it comes to signs; I obey them all. If a sign reads, ‘Don’t Park Here,” then I don’t park there. If there is a “STOP” sign in the middle of a parking lot, I stop. I am so used to doing it that I don’t even give it much thought.

However, the Crankee Yankee thinks differently about them. For one thing, he claims that ‘there are no driving rules in parking lots.’ Huh?! Which is probably why the following happened:

The other day we went to a Chinese restaurant we hadn’t tried before. There wasn’t a single car in the parking lot, so we parked close to the door—right under a “Take Out Only” sign. I pointed this out, and he said, “There’s no one in the parking lot; it doesn’t matter.” And refused to move the car.

The weird way my mind works is this way: all of a sudden there will be a great stampede to this very restaurant, including a couple of people who are picking up a huge amount of take-out food. Then it will soon be revealed that us, Mr. and Mrs. SelfishJerks, have parked where no none-take-out people should park and we will be forced to flee the restaurant while villagers with pitchforks and flaming torches chase us out of the restaurant……

Well, I could be carrying this a tad too far, but honestly, I was  constantly looking out of the window to be sure that a crowd wasn’t gathering….



Everybody Has Something

Someone recently reminded me that everybody has something; something going for them, and/or something going against them. We can’t see it because all we can see is what is in front of us. The most beautiful person in the world may have the outward appearance of someone who has the world by the tail, and we think (perhaps enviously), ‘they have nothing to worry about; they have it all.’

Well, maybe they don’t. They may be suffering from such low self-esteem that all they see in the mirror is a loser, a failure, an ugly person, a wash-out.

Then there is someone we might not even notice in our daily lives who has a brilliant mind and unbelievable talents; but never puts himself in the limelight. How many times have we been in awe of someone who, say, can pick up a guitar, put their hand on the strings and break your heart with the beauty of the music?

It’s funny how we can so easily discount our own gifts; we become so used to them that we think “well, anyone  can do that; it’s nothing special.” But to the person who can’t do that, it’s an amazing feat.

For me, words come easily. Ideas or thoughts or even one word someone says will spark an idea that turns into a blog post, poem or short story. It took me a long time to realize that this too is a gift; I am better with the written word than I am with actual speech. I stutter, I often don’t get the right words out, I stop in the middle of a sentence and then can’t remember what I was trying to say. Speaking is kind of an effort for me.

When I was in grade school, there were a few kids in my class who were mentally retarded (please excuse me if I’m not using the current ‘correct’ term). Everyone in class knew them, and we just worked with each other the best way we could.

One boy whose name I now forget could barely speak; he had a terrible speech impediment, and it was hard to understand him. However, he had a gift that no one else had. Any knot in any material; string, tape, cloth, etc.; he could unravel it. He would study the knot, humming lightly to himself, and then he would nod as if to say, ‘all right; that’s how to do it.’

Then he would go to work unraveling, and in very little time, the knot was gone. A simple thing perhaps, but definitely special. I think of him often and how that little gift of his set him apart from the rest of us in such a positive way. It wasn’t unusual for someone at recess playing cat’s cradle to inevitably get the string all tangled up, and would call for him to help. As he lumbered over with his shambling walk, he always had a big grin on his face because he knew he could help.

People are so much more than they appear to be. It’s hard not to judge people from what we see on the outside—that may be nothing like what is on the inside. I have learned over years and years of my own arrogance at assuming that some person was this, that, or the other thing. I was wrong so many times that I finally learned to say to myself, ‘don’t assume!’

The person who swerves in front of you on the road with no signal might be rushing to the hospital after finding out that their father just had a heart attack. The woman who pushed in front of you in line at the grocery store might have just gotten a bad diagnosis. We don’t know what’s going on in anyone else’s heart and mind; all we see is the outside.

I’ve mentioned this in another post a few years back but it bears repeating: a man got on the city bus with his four very rowdy children. He himself appeared to be in a trance of some sort while the kids ran amok. They chased each other up and down the isles screaming, they knocked over a lady’s cane and didn’t apologize; they were out of control.

One angry traveler spoke to the father saying, ‘can’t you control these kids? They are driving us all crazy!”

The man looked at him and said, “I’m so sorry. You see, their mother just died at the hospital and they don’t know what to do. Neither do I.” Needless to say, the annoyance changed quickly to compassion.

Everybody does have something; good or bad. It is not always apparent, but you can be sure it is there; we just have to look.


Happy Camper

When I was a little girl, Mom and Dad and I used to go camping together. At the time I was small enough to fit into the green leather wheel well of Dad’s ivory MG-TD. All of our canvas tents and camping gear were lashed to the running boards, and to this day the smell of damp canvas takes me back to those days. I don’t remember where we used to go, but as long as we went together, it was a lot of fun.

We had what I called “camp food” for supper; hot dogs roasted on forked sticks over the fire Dad made, followed by Mom’s baked beans and coleslaw. Dessert was marshmallows toasted on sticks; as many as you could eat. It was what we’d call today a “staycation,” meaning vacationing close to home. But for me it was adventure of the best kind; I was “out in the wild,” but safe and sound because I was with my parents.

When we camped during a full moon, it seemed extra exciting. In the glow of that gigantic silvery moon, all things seemed possible. Even now, decades later, the full moon seems mysterious and beautiful to me.

As a child, it was exciting to sleep in a tent and not in my bed at night! The twilight sounds of the birds and other creatures settling in for the night, as well as the haunting trill of loons on the lake; were soothing to my ears. In my imagination I thought of bears sneaking up in the dark to rummage through our supplies. It was scary but safe—my parents were with me, so what could possibly happen?

Often in the morning I was the first one up and awake. It was both mysterious and fun to emerge from our tent into the swirling morning mists. There was usually plenty of other tents in the area, and it was fun to imagine the people inside those tents.

For me, camping was a real walk on the wild side; imagine—sleeping outside where any monster or fiend could get you! But it always felt that our tent was a safe place against all scary things.

When we came back home, things always seemed sort of flat for a few days after risking life and limb sleeping out in the wild…..but now I understand truly what “happy camper” means!



Beauty is a Many-Splendored Thing

How do you define beauty? By this I mean, what makes a person beautiful?

When I look at our two granddaughters, Ava and Juliette (whom we all call “Juju B”), this is what I see: Ava at five years old, strong and sturdy, with her own *fashion sense, her dad’s deep dimples and her mother’s amazing smile.

Juju B at six months old, wide eyed and gummy-grinned, is happy about life in general and is trying to skip the whole crawling thing; she wants to walk first. To the Crankee Yankee and me, they are breathtakingly gorgeous and perfect in every way.

But for non-family people, how do we define beauty? Oh, it’s easy enough to pick up the latest glossy fashion magazine and view all the gorgeous people in them wearing fabulous clothes and jewelry. But how about the rest of us?

What exactly makes someone beautiful? Is it perfectly symmetrical features, perfect hair, smooth skin, a “triple zero” figure, the “right” clothes? Looking back over the different decades, my own standards of fashion and beauty have changed.

Fashion changes quickly, as do makeup trends. Somewhere along the way, we find our own look; we find what works for us.

At my age, I have to laugh to see “new trends” evolve; often they are just a rehash of fashions past. I have lived through platform shoes, “granny” gowns and square tinted glasses, the Carnaby look popular during the “British invasion,” mini skirts and midi skirts, fishnet stockings and knee socks, active wear and yoga pants, heavy jewelry and minimalist jewelry, and so much more.

Let me say at this point that being this age is amazing  in that I no longer slavishly follow fashion trends the way I used to. I’ve mentioned this incredible woman before; Iris Apfel, 93 year old fashion maven. I love this quote of hers:

“When you don’t dress like everyone else you don’t have to think like everyone else.”

Image result for iris apfel

Fashion is one thing, and beauty is another. I love it that commercials now feature “normal” people; that is, small size whatever to large size whatever. What a beautiful mix we all are; different skin tones, different hair types, individual fashion trends, and so on.

At this stage of the game, we ought not to be so hard on ourselves for not being “perfect.” Beauty comes in many ‘flavors;’ there isn’t one standard of beauty any longer, which is great.

We are who we are, and it’s high time we were glad about it.

*For Ava, the more colors, the better. A typical outfit for her is flowered leggings turned up an inch at the bottom, a striped top with the same sort of colors, light-up sneakers, at least two headbands, and her unicorn purse. She adores anything pink and purple, but she is kindly to yellow, blue and green as well.

Book Perfume

Anyone who has spent enough time at a library knows all about “*book perfume.” For me, the older books smell like a combination of dust, leather, paste, ink, and the ghosts of many fingers turning the pages. Sometimes some of the page edges have been nibbled to fine lace by whatever creatures ingest paper. Often there are ancient tea stains on some pages. Many of the books have had to be re-bound, and those too have their own unique scent.

Just about everyone I know now reads by Kindle, Nook, and all the other electronic devices that allow us to carry around thousands of books at a time. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, if you travel a lot, it’s very handy to have one with you. You can load up hundreds of books and read at your leisure.

When I used to travel, I always lugged several books with me. I was careful to only take paperbacks with me; even ten of those weighed quite a bit. The idea of running out of books gave me the cold sweats, so when I had to make another connection, I would dash into the terminal to buy a few more books “just in case.” More than once I had to ship my books home, but it was worth having a good selection with me.

Along with the book perfume, there is that comforting feel of a book in the hand. Solid as a Christmas gift and full of light, wisdom, horror, compassion, nobility, fearsome things, history, and all the visuals that come with being so involved in a book that you can actually see the characters in your mind. Often you can hear their voices, too.

I don’t pretend to have read Dante’s Inferno, Proust, all of Shakespeare’s plays, all of Dickens or Victor Hugo, and the great poets; I have read some but not all. I have to admit that as a reader, I mainly read for pleasure and entertainment. I did greatly enjoy English Literature in college, and many books I would not have chosen on my own introduced me to some truly wonderful works.

I have read hundreds of books so far in my lifetime, and some of my own “must reads” (should anyone ask me for suggestions) are authors such as Michener, Victor Hugo, Stephen King, Doug Preston and Lincoln Child (who have each written books together, and some on their own), Mary McGarry Morris, Alice Hoffman, Elizabeth Berg, Ann Rivers Siddons, Pat Conroy (read “Beach Music; it will change your life), Rose Franken, John Irving, J.K. Rowling, Ellen Gilchrist, Donald Harrington (read “With;” it will melt your heart), and oh, so many, many, many more. Even now I hear my book list shouting, “what about me? Me? and ME?”

Reading is a pure pleasure. I have a few hobbies I am passionate about, but reading is Number 1. When I was in grade school, I used to visit the town library just about every Saturday. I’d return last week’s stack, and choose another stack to enjoy over the next week.

One such Saturday I was walking out of the library, carrying several books under my arm. A girl about three grades above me was walking by and stopped me.

“Why are you carrying all those books? Don’t you remember that school’s out for summer?” she asked, looking fiercely down at me.

“I’m—well—reading them,” I replied.

The girl scowled at me and said, “Are you crazy? Why would you read books if you didn’t have to?”

I said, “um, because I like to read?”

“Well, you’re stupid then,” she said and stalked away.

Since everyone in my family read every chance they could get, I knew at that moment that I really was different. I knew I wasn’t stupid for reading books for fun, but it was the first time I felt somehow separated from a lot of people. For the first time in my life I also felt that what some cranky girl thought of me and my reading didn’t bother me—at all. I was the kind of kid who badly wanted others to like me, but I was also at the age where you begin to find your own “tribe.” My few but precious friends all read, and so did I. I remember that I walked home whistling that day.

I also realized that I had been overcome with the perfume of books forever.

*From The Daily Mail, here’s one explanation of ‘book smell:’

“Old book smell’ is generated by the breakdown of cellulose and lignin in paper, which produces organic compounds.

Benzaldehyde adds an almond-like scent, vanillin smells of vanilla and ethyl hexanol has a ‘slightly floral’ scent. Ethyl benzene and toluene, which are also produced give off impart odours.

These volatile organic compounds are created by reactions known as ‘acid hydrolysis’ and  together make up the smell of old books along with other alcohols produced by the reactions.

No one is sure of exactly which chemical compounds contribute to ‘new book smell’.

The scent differs from book to book as different chemicals are used in the making of different volumes.

It is thought the smell derives from three main sources: The paper, inks used to print the book and the adhesives used in book binding.”