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Magnolia Trees at sunset in the Arboretum Longnecker Garden, Madison, WI.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Make a Memory

A few days ago I posted a poem titled Make a Memory and promised I would tell the story behind it. My sister-in-law, Tiz, asked me not to be too long about getting it up, especially after I told her that she and my brother, Mike are part of the story and Mike was a prime player in “the memory.”

Mike and Tiz live in Australia and last September, they visited us in Wisconsin for the very first time. I hadn’t seen my brother in far too many years and had never even met Tiz so this was a big occasion. A wonderful time was had by all but one incident stands out to me above all the others. It was a simple thing really but rich and very complex in meaning to me on several different levels.

We had gathered on the porch in the late afternoon just talking about this and that, enjoying each other’s company and my Gr-son Gabe was sort of lurking around the edges of the adults, listening to our conversation (I think we were discussing politics or something) and he had come up and leaned against me. I could see that he was trying to get closer but there was nowhere for him to sit so I invited him to sit on my lap.

Now Gabe had formed somewhat of a huge boy crush on my brother Mike and I had noticed he was trying to impress him so I wasn’t surprised when he informed me rather scornfully “I don’t sit on peoples’ laps anymore, Gramma.” To which I replied that I guessed he WAS getting a little too grown up for that but I sure wished I had known the last time he sat on my lap that it was going to be the last time. He asked me why and I said because I would have made a memory about it since I loved it so much when he sat on my lap when he was little.

At that point Mike chimed in with a comment about how important living in the present and being mindful of what is precious to you when you are with your loved ones is because you never know when the last time is going to be. We had a short discussion about that. That was probably the best–most meaningful–conversation Mike and I had that whole weekend. There was a whole lot that was left unspoken but was said nonetheless, in my opinion.

The conversation moved on and awhile later Gabe came up and nonchalantly sat on my lap. I didn’t say anything, just gave him a little hug but I knew what he was doing. After a few moments, he leaned in close and whispered in my ear “This is the last time, Gramma. Make a memory.” 

When they got home, Tiz sent me some pictures of their visit. One of them is the picture of Gabe and Daryn playing with some kangaroo boxer toys and there is Gabe, sitting on my lap. Occasionally I would look at that picture and think about sweet Gabe saying “This is the last time; make a memory” and think about writing a poem. Eventually that poem pretty much just wrote itself early one morning. I changed very little after the first draft. Mostly just line breaks and punctuation and one word.

So, Thanks Mike and Tiz.  You both helped make a special memory.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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If the English language made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur.   
~Doug Larson

map of KoreaYesterday’s meeting with Jeong Sun/Alice was interesting and fun. I think we will fit well together but that is for her to decide at this point. My impression of her was that she is very intelligent, not really shy but somewhat reserved by American standards, soft-spoken, thoughtful, kind, and a very beautiful young woman.

It was not at all hard to get a conversation with her started which was good. She asked me questions too. In the past, I have had a hard time getting a conversation started with WESLI students. I chalked that up to a variety of reasons but primarily I think it probably was the fact that we were not a particularly good match because we could not find any mutual interests. I think I went through meeting four students before I met Mari, the Japanese woman who essentially became part of my family while she was here. I don’t think that will be a problem in this case.

She has a pretty good command of the English language, in my opinion. Pronunciation was off in a few cases—for instance she was trying to tell me her impression of the food at a local Korean restaurant and I didn’t understand what she meant until I realized she was trying to say the word salty as in the food was too salty.  She has good inflection and tone which is nice because sometimes people who have learned English in a foreign country sound really wooden when they speak. I didn’t notice any glaring mistakes at all.  But that’s exactly why she wants an English conversation partner—to correct minor errors in grammar and pronunciation.

I got a chance to ask all of my questions and then some so here are the answers:

 

Why did she choose the English name Alice? Does it have any special significance for her?

 

A friend chose this name for her. She wanted to use Roadie (I don’t know if I am spelling that right) because she thought it sounded funny. <grin> The girl has a sense of humor!

She was pleased that I was able to pronounce Jeong Sun properly. YAY me! I left the issue of whether to call her Alice or use her Korean name to another time.

She likes my name, Barbara, because the brushes she used to buy for painting in Korea were the brand name Barbara. She showed me how to write both of our names using the Korean alphabet and explained a little bit about the Korean alphabet to me.

 

Why did she come to the US and Wisconsin, in particular, to study English?

 

She wanted to travel and study so decided to learn English first. She came to Wisconsin because she heard that Wisconsin speakers have the best pronunciation with the least accent in the USA! She also heard that Madison was safest amongst the major cities with ESL schools. Finally, WESLI gave her a 10% discount on their tuition fees to entice her to come here.

 

How long has she been here? When will she go back to Korea?

 

She has been in the USA six months and this is the first time she has lived away from home. She’s not really homesick but she has had to learn how to take care of herself for the first time because her Mom did everything at home such as the cooking, cleaning and laundry. She thinks American children are much more independent than Korean children and was shocked when I told her that my daughter had gone to Germany when she was barely 18 and lived there for almost three years.

She is learning to cook Korean foods since her experience with the Korean restaurant was dis-satisfactory. I asked her about Kim chi and expressed an interest in trying it. She said that making Kim chi was something that required the skills of an older more experienced woman and she did not know how to make it. I told her that I had seen it in the stores here and would like to try it with her and she seemed pleased by that. She told me that Kim chi was like yogurt and had a lot of health benefits.

She has no plans to return to Korea and hopes to stay in the USA and pursue a new career. She was an Art Teacher in Korea but wants to go to some kind of technical school to learn new skills she can use here.

 

What does she like most and least about Madison?

 

She likes: Shopping at West Towne! State Street! The diversity of people she comes into contact with.

She said there wasn’t anything she really dislikes but said that it is very different from her home.

 

Does she have brothers and sisters? Are they older or younger than she is?

 

She has an older sister and a younger brother. Her father owns a small to medium sized factory that produces things like screws. He grew up in the country but relocated to Inchon as a young man. (I think that is what she said–I couldn’t quite understand this part because I don’t know how to pronounce Korean place names but she told me there was a big airport there and Inchon has an International Airport.  I asked her if it was near Seoul and she said yes.  Her eyes widened at that question but I’m not sure why.)  Her mother is a housewife.

 

Does she enjoy Korean Television Dramas and comedies?

 

Yes, but she thinks that they exaggerate emotions (I figured as much.  Those dramas really manipulate your emotions!) and she sometimes does not like the way they focus on “hot button” social issues because she thinks they make things seem worse than they really are. She thinks this is true for the news media as well and talked about how all the Korean news sites online seemed concerned about was traffic statistics on their site so they only told the bad news.  I told her that was true for America too and told her the old axiom of Newspapers “If it bleeds, it leads.” and tried to explain what that meant.  She seemed to get it just fine.

All in all I think we both enjoyed ourselves and we planned to meet again next Thursday at the same time and place.

 

 

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn  

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I’m excited because today I am meeting a Korean student from WESLI to see if we will be a fit as English conversation partners. Her Korean name is Jeong Sun (first and middle) but when she replied to my contact Email, me she told me her English name is Alice. She’s 27 years old.

I wonder if she chose an English name to make it easy for us Wisconsinites to talk to her or if she really prefers to use that name. If it is the former, I hope we can just drop it soon and use her Korean name because it is very pretty and I THINK I can pronounce it OK. I found the meaning of the name online. Jeong  means “virtuous and chaste.”  Sun means “goodness”

We’re meeting at the Fair Trade Coffee House on State Street which is a short walk from my house. I can’t remember the last time I went out for coffee so this will be a treat.

I’ve written up a list of questions I hope will be good conversation starters for this initial meeting. I’m curious about:

Why did she choose the English name Alice? Does it have any special significance for her?

Why did she come to the US and Wisconsin, in particular, to study English?

How long has she been here? When will she go back to Korea?

What does she like most and least about Madison?

Does she have brothers and sisters? Are they older or younger than she is?

Does she enjoy Korean Television Dramas and comedies? (This one is important because I am absolutely hooked on them and would like very much to find someone to watch them with me who understands the language and can explain the nuances that I think are there but don’t understand. They are subtitled so she doesn’t have to translate them for me. I just want her to explain the cultural things that are happening.)

My interest in Korean Dramas is what prompted me to contact WESLI and become a volunteer English conversation partner. I think they are wonderful morality tales and probably a reflection, albeit imperfect, of Korean culture just like American television is an imperfect reflection of American culture. On the other hand, the Korean television dramas are far better than anything I have seen lately on free American television. I don’t have cable so I may be missing some really good stuff on American TV but I doubt it if what is being talked about in the forums online is any indication.

So that’s my big event of the day. The week actually. Oh, and my daughter and son are both coming to see me this evening. We’re having a BLT salad and I am going to make them some of my spiced coffee. Sunday we’re having a family get together with everyone for my nephew, Greg’s birthday. He requested fried chicken and everyone in the family is super excited because we usually only fry chicken on the 4th of July because we’re all calorie and saturated fat conscious the rest of the year.

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This is a photograph taken while observing an unusual class offered at the University of Wisconsn-Madison.  Can you guess what it is?  (To see a larger version click on the thumbnail.)  TASS Matthew Piepenbrok and Kristine Karlen doing their thing.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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One reason I don’t suffer Writer’s Block is that I don’t wait on the muse, I summon it at need.
Piers Anthony

I haven’t been meeting the post a day challenge very well. <hanging my head in shame> So…one of my excuses is that I’ve been having a hard time finding quality time to write which is ridiculous on the face of it. I don’t have a full time job because of a disability. My days are mostly my own to do with as I please. I volunteer at the Madison Senior Center every day but that takes up an hour to an hour and a half at most. Finding time is obviously not the problem.

Every day when I turn on my PC I open up my word processing program to a blank page or something that is already in the works with good intentions of filling it up with words but somehow my day just seems to get frittered away with this and that and everything else. At the end of the day there’s very little on that page and some days, most days, there is nothing at all. What’s up with that?

I know that I am capable of producing from 5-6 pages a day—not that I want to devote that much of my time to writing these days but I’ve done it before and have written two books. So what’s the problem here? Why can’t I write? Yesterday I paid attention to what I was doing with my day and reflected on the times when I was actively writing. I realized that I’m not making the writing a priority. I let myself get distracted by too many other things that claim my attention and help me dither away the day.

So I made a vow. Starting today I will not do anything but write (and the dishes for when I need some thinking time) for the first two hours of the day after I’ve made coffee, brushed my teeth, brushed the sleep snarls out of my hair and washed my face. Good intentions…

When I turned on the computer and open up my “homepage” on FireFox, four tabs popped up. The Wisconsin State Journal, my web based Email start page which is National and International news, WordPress Freshly Pressed, and FaceBook. All four of them are HUGE time sucks. This morning I glanced at the headlines on WSJ and right away I saw an article on State Medicaid Reform that I wanted to read; I have 9 new emails; there were three new alerts on FaceBook; and of course, WordPress has a whole new crop of interesting blogs just begging to be read. There is simply no end to the things that fill up my time on the internet. No wonder I “can’t find time” to write.

Old habits die hard. I caught myself clicking on the article about Medicaid that I really “need” to read in the WSJ but stopped, forced myself to open up the online dictionary and thesaurus I use as well as my personal blog on WordPress and to firmly close all four of the other tabs that will entice me away from the writing. It was painful. At this hour of the morning (4:30 am) my brain and my fingers are barely functioning and I’m too used to waking them up with fascinating but useless trivia along with copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes.

Well that WSJ article on Medicaid probably isn’t useless trivia. I use Medicaid. I want to stay informed about what the Republicans are up to when it comes to “reforming” (read dismantling) the social programs in this state but whatever… If I had allowed myself to read that article I would have been off on a chase of other articles pertaining to Wisconsin state politics, dithering away the day.  

And then there are the household chores. Not that it’s all that hard to entice me away from housework but I do make my bed and do the dishes and try to get to a few of the myriad of other chores that simply must be done for me to feel at home in my own apartment every day. I just took a short break to think and went out to the kitchen the dishes. On the way I noticed I had made the bed but hadn’t tucked my pillows into their shams and the laundry cart is sitting over there full of laundry that I intend to do this morning. The dog who is not as early a riser as I am (thank goodness) will need to be walked soon. The kitchen floor needs vacuuming and mopped. And by the way, when I was washing my face and brushing my teeth, I noticed that the bathroom sink is in desperate need of cleaning.

It’s all too easy to get pulled away to do those things when my brain has decided to go on strike and the writing comes hard. Staying on task has been a major problem for me lately as well. I am easily distracted by whatever crosses my path at the moment. Not so hard this morning because I am trying to stay aware of what lures me away from the writing but without that attention to the present I might have wandered away from the keyboard to fill a bucket with hot water and pine sol and not come back for an hour or so if at all.

But hey, here it is 5:20 am and I almost have two pages written about my tendency to procrastinate when it comes to writing and I’m left wondering: Is this just another form of procrastination?

 

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn  

 

 

 

 

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A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.
~Segal’s Law

Have a listen to The Steve Miller Band “Fly Like an Eagle”  One of the best songs of the 70s!

If you live in the USA have you set your clocks forward? Today is the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. (Or is it the end? I can’t ever remember.) Try not to think about that too hard. It’s a ridiculous concept on the face of it in my opinion. All it really does is force employers to start the work day one hour later to allow their employees to  have more daylight left after work for recreation in the summer.

I have seven (!) clocks in my house and they are all set to a different time. Is that absurd or what?  The only one I really trust is the one on my PC. It gets its information from the official Atomic Clock maintained by the USA government.

There are two in the kitchen, one of them is on the coffee pot and is too small to read unless I am standing directly in front of it. I usually screw the time up on it when I wipe down the coffee pot to get fingerprints off the stainless  (yeah right) steel. I may or may not reset it depending on my mood or whether or not I want the coffee ready to drink the moment I wake up in the morning. Usually I don’t.

The one on the wall in the kitchen (see above)  insists on being consistently 10 minutes late and only 10 minutes late no matter how often I set it to the correct time. I’ve even tried setting it 10 minutes ahead so when it loses time it will be exactly right. Nope, it lost time until it was 10 minutes late and then it was satisfied. I gave up up fighting that fight years ago. One has to choose their battles and I refuse to fight with a machine that refuses to cooperate and is so obstinate. Be late, see if I care. If I really need to know exactly what time it is I will look on my PC. For timing baked goods it’s close enough. So there.

That clock won’t get set ahead until my son comes over and once again he will tell me it is exactly one hour and 10 minutes slow.  Then he will tell me I should buy a new clock for God’s sake.  I’ll tell him I’m attached to my stupid clock because it is exactly the same shade of blue as in the photograph that hangs below it.  It’s a yearly ritual.

My answering machine is in the living room and it has a clock. If I’d set it, it would tell me the date and time someone left a message. Personally I don’t care what time someone left a message or even what day. I rarely get  messages that are that important. In fact, I only remember to check for messages when the machine starts picking up after two rings instead of four. Sometimes I’m not in the mood to deal with phone calls period and I let the machine pick up and listen to see if I want to talk to that person but usually the phone that sits on my desk is handy so I pick up.

The phone on my desk that I got for Xmas would tell me the time if I bothered to set it too. I just tried to figure out how to do that without looking at the instruction book. It wasn’t intuitive so I gave up. I’m too lazy to dig out the instructions and besides, I don’t care.  It does all kinds of other fancy stuff too but I don’t care.  All I really want it to do is let me talk to the people I call and those who call me.  The rest of that stuff is really just a PITA. 

I also have a cell phone that has a clock on it. It was already set to the correct time when I got it.  That was downright nice of LG Electronics since I probably would have said screw it if I had had to set it. That one is kind of handy since I cannot wear a watch. For some unknown reason I kill watches. Wind up watches or digital battery operated watches, it doesn’t matter. Within weeks of getting them they die. Plus I’m allergic to metals so they give me a rash. I haven’t owned a wrist watch for 20 years. For awhile I carried a pocket watch in my purse or my jeans pocket. Then I sent it through the washer and dryer. Dead. <meh>

The alarm clock beside my bed is one minute behind the one on my PC. Close enough. One minute is not going to make or break any schedule I have and I rarely use the alarm clock to get up. My life is so pathetically boring that I almost never have anywhere to go that early in the morning but it’s handy to know what time I wake up so I can decide if I should actually stay out of bed after I visit the bathroom or crawl back under the covers and go back to sleep.  It has big red numbers that I can read without my glasses.  I reset it because I don’t want to get confused and decide I have plenty of time when I’m getting ready to go somewhere.  I use that clock a lot even though it’s a minute slow.

I used to have a VCR that had a clock. Handy if I wanted to record a program, I suppose but I never ever did and I never set that clock correctly either.  I just pushed enough buttons to make it stop blinking.  That blinking was annoying as hell.

I also had a microwave that had a clock. That one was actually handy too because it had a timer function that kept me from burning stuff when I was cooking. I miss that microwave—I forgot and left a spoon in a bowl of leftovers and blew it up. That was a spectacular kitchen mishap!  The microwave I replaced it with was a cheap used one. I wish it would die so I would have an excuse to get one with a clock on it.

When did we as a society become so obsessed with time that every appliance in the house has to have a clock on it? It is such a PITA when thunderstorms cause the electricity to flicker and all those clocks have to be reset.  Of course I don’t do that.  I only reset the clock in the bedroom.  The PC resets itself.  The obstinate clock on the kitchen wall is battery operated.  The rest can go hang fire for all I care. I wonder how many households are like mine with clocks all over the place that have different times on them and only one is actually correct.

 

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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