Flight or Invisibility

By Diane Hughes

The NPR program about the special powers of superheros bored me. I’m not a fan of superheroes but just as I was thinking of searching for the classic rock station, the guy says “So I started asking people which would you rather have, if you could choose a superpower, Flight or Invisibility?” I almost instantly yelled out loud “Flight!”

It turns out, according to this program, almost everyone has an instant response of one or the other, and they will continue to defend their initial response even after they have time to reflect and ask questions to define more carefully what the superpower entalls. How fast can you fly? Will my clothes also become invisible? Can I turn it on and off at will? All very good questions but none of the answers seem to sway a person from their initial response.

By this time I’d pulled into the Lake Kegonsa State Park parking lot near the trailhead of one of my favorite paths that would take me past the restored prairie and down to the lake’s edge. When the program ended, I walked along the prairie’s edge trying to imagine flying over the prairie and out over the lake. One of the most exciting experiences in my life was piloting a glider, feeling the rise of the small plane as we crossed over a lake, using Earth’s natural thermal heat to rise up and prolong our ride. Each time we found a heat source, we could use it to rise higher again but eventually we glided down and lined up with the runway of the small airport. Landing required carefully counteracting the rise caused by the heat of the paved runway so  I reluctantly turned the controls back over to the instructor.

I recalled another a day on a different prairie, one of those first days in the spring warm enough to enjoy the breeze. I saw a young red-tailed hawk high above and paused by the side of the road to watch him as he slowly descended, making use of the thermal rise to lift again and then come closer to the prairie floor with never even a flutter of wing. He saw me watching and showed off his dive, pulling up just before hitting ground. I knew he would but still my heart stopped as he got within two feet of the ground.

He saw that I watched, and knew I was delighted. So he did it again, this time coming straight down from an even higher start. I clapped, not sure if Hawk culture would understand the noise as joy, perhaps it would scare him off, but my response of applause sprang from a  deep place within me that needed to express my joy. Fortunately for me, the Hawk, now affectionally named “Red,” seemed to understand my response as a form of admiration and continued to perform his aerial stunts.


He turned in tight spirals, flew down as though to pounce on a mouse, and then high up turning in wide spirals. He circled around me from time to time, making a perfect circle with me as the center point, each time coming closer. At times his shadow brushed over me and I could FEEL his shadow as its coolness crossed my face. I felt embraced by this wild being and, even though I know you might say “anthropomorphizing,” I say no. This guy knew I was watching and took pride in showing off his skills. He enjoyed my adoration and returned the favor by letting me know he was glad for my presence.  After about fifteen minutes, he left after circling one more time in a wide arc at the exact height of my head. I think he might have said “Excuse me, I need to go hunt for dinner now” but that would be anthropomorphizing.

I then recalled a dream I once had in which a number of large birds were running,  getting ready for take off. At the last moment, one bird (the one that really looked a little like BIG BIRD now that I think of it,) suddenly couldn’t take off with the others. She clung to the tree sobbing in the most heartbreaking voice “Why can’t I fly?” I didn’t need a therapist to know that one represented me and demanded some life adjustments to awaken my flying abilities. For awhile “the Bird That Can’t Fly” was a theme, showing up in my paintings and my jewelry collection as I learned that many birds don’t fly, but use wings as a way to glide down from trees and help them propel up small inclines. Another NPR program included the theory that this is why wings developed and only after a long evolution in wing design was flight possible.

So on this day, asked to choose between being invisible or flying, FLYING was the only possible choice. I imagined scenes of the Grand Canyon properly explored, or in Washington DC flying around the Washington Monument. I would drop water balloons on duck hunters and take kids on rides just for fun. I’d jump off of Yosemitie’s Half Dome and enjoy the amazing thermal updrafts of  Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. Games in my mind to help pass the day.

Posted in Guest writer | Leave a comment

News from “Mountain Girl” Stephanie Kadel Taras

I received this email from my APH colleague Stephanie Kadel Taras, author of Mountain Girls, this morning. I posted an interview and excerpt from her book earlier this year. I’m pleased to share her news! -Sarah White

Hello friends!

I’m excited to share that I’m the guest blogger today on the excellent blog and podcast, AppalachianHistory.net, curated by fellow West Virginia ex-pat Dave Tabler: http://bit.ly/1mYg79k.

mt girls coverThe blog post includes a new short piece about one of the stops on my West Virginia book tour this past May and why I wrote Mountain Girls, plus an excerpt from the book. This guest blog is a real privilege, as Dave’s website is a rich trove of quality work from Appalachian writers and historians. I’m humbled to be in such company and honored that Dave included me.

In addition, I have made an audio recording of the first chapter of Mountain Girls—just me reading my story. If you wanna hear it, the free audio is now available on my website: http://www.timepiecesbios.com/mountaingirls.htm.

Hope this message finds you well and relishing summer,

Stephanie Kadel Taras, Ph.D.
TimePieces Personal Biographies

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Local memoir writers: help me decide!

Help me make a decision! I’m trying to choose between two different  time slots at the Sequoya Library for a 6-week memoir workshop starting in late September 2014.

Would you be more likely to come at the same time as my previous Sequoya workshops –11am-1pm Mondays — or the new time slot, 4-6pm Thursdays?

Let me know!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My “Writer in Residency” at Costco

This spring I got an email from the publisher of my oral history book, Madison Women Remember Growing Up in Wisconsin’s Capital. They were planning a book signing for Father’s Day for their local authors. Would I be interested in participating?

“But it’s a women’s book,” I said. “Why not Mother’s Day?”

“Too late for that,” was the reply. “Will you do it?” It was a dull day in late winter; committing seemed easy. I agreed to give up two hours on June 14 to sit in a Costco warehouse signing books. I have never been in a Costco.


June 14 arrived. I drove 45 minutes from my eastside home to the west edge of Madison. I entered through a canyon lined with giant inflatable watercraft and coolers and approached a draped table topped with two stacks of Madison Women Remember. Nearby stood a placard on an easel with an image of the book, announcing “Local Author Signing 12-2pm.” A staff person greeted me and seated me with some of those shorty water bottles and some black Sharpies.


Somehow I thought they’d be more of us—a group of people with Wisconsin history books of interest to Fathers, things like Baseball, Fire Departments, Cars. But there was only me.

Only me, in the middle of a stream of consumer America flowing as gently as goldfish in a bowl. I tried good posture and friendly eye contact. Some people, mostly older women, stopped to talk. During lulls I felt the dark pull of my smartphone. Checked some email, followed some links, surfed a little. Then I reprimanded myself. That’s no way for a Local Author to behave!

That’s when it hit me: this is a Writer in Residency. It may be brief and it may be an unusual setting but if Amtrak can have a Writer in Residence, so can Costco. And right now, for the next two hours, that lucky writer is me. So I pulled out a steno pad I always carry with me, and began doing writing exercises.*

Sure enough, as soon as I was publicly writing, more people wanted to talk to me. I sold some books. I had a very intriguing conversation with an older couple from southern India about the difference between religion and spirituality. The husband wants to write a book.

What had felt like penalty for a poor decision months before (I gave up a BEAUTIFUL Saturday for this?) became a relaxed, focused, immersion in an environment that is to me, exotic. I may live in Middle America but I rarely go there. Wisconsin’s capital really can be “77 square miles surrounded by reality” if you play it right.

Arcadia Publishing sent me a satisfaction survey form about the author signing yesterday. I answered it “Satisfied” but suggested next year, they invite me for Mother’s Day. I look forward to my next Writer in Residency at Costco.

- Sarah White


*What I wrote:

5 Sense Survey

SOUND: Cash registers beeping beepingbeepingbeeping. Muffled hum of machines–air conditioning? Crackling walkie-talkies of staff. Murmuring people. Rattle of shopping carts. Slap of shoes on polished concrete floor.

SIGHT: Stream of people with giant empty carts coming in the door. Inflateable rafts, pool toys, coolers. World Cup soccer on flat screen TV $479.99. Bose Bluetooth speakers, ad running on loop. People avoiding eye contact with me except little children and women of a certain age. Every 10 minutes or so one buys a book and I sign it.

SMELL: Just a hint of food—warm nuts? Bread? There’s a food court behind me.

TOUCH: Cycling air-conditioning. It gets just warm enough I dampen with sweat, then it kicks in and I feel a breeze of cool air. Coarse black fabric on the table my elbows rest on. Seersucker pants course against my thighs.

TASTE: Bottled water. An Altoid mint, just to have something to report.

Posted in Sarah's memoir | Leave a comment

A Boy with a Hammer Does His Part

By  Lawrence Landwehr 

Ever since my mother and I had come to live with her parents on their farm and ranch, I had access to small hand tools such as hand saws, pliers, wrenches, etc. As a boy, the tool I liked most was a hammer. Once taken in hand, the hammer multiplied my arm’s force tenfold and bestowed in me a palatable feeling of power.  And here’s the best part: Everything—Everything needed pounding.

Landwher boy with hammer

One summer day my empowered right arm and I were patrolling for objects needing our attention.   I settled on a bullet from the family’s small arsenal, placed it on a concrete step and pounded on it—BAM, BAM, BAM. The bullet fired, and I heard it strike the concrete and zinggggg into the distance as its tone dropped. At age five I knew that Death had just granted me a second chance.

One might wonder why a small boy would be unsupervised and free to be so creative. My mother was no longer around; she had taken a job out of state. My grandparents were very much present, but were working long and hard raising wheat crops and beef cattle to build their small enterprise into a much larger one.   My contribution to the effort was to entertain myself and not interrupt the adults when they were working. That left me to find ways to pass the day, especially during harvest or roundup times.

What was I to do? No Cat in the Hat would be stopping by. Television could not come to the rescue. If radio had children’s programs, no one told me (but I did hear FDR giving a “Fireside Chat”). Climbing trees was out because our only tree was not shaped for climbing. Going out to play in the neighborhood was not an option because, well, because there was no neighborhood. The nearest neighbor, the Simon family, was five miles away.

One of the Simon children, Jerry, was my age, and on rare occasion, an adult would drive one of us to the other’s home so that he and I could have playtime together.

My most reliable time filler was being outdoors watching the hired hands working and observing my grandfather as he organized the work and solved problems throughout the day. I watched the crop planting and harvesting, care and use of horses, branding and care of livestock, milking a few cows, butchering, sheering of sheep, repairs to equipment, erection of new buildings, etc.

Other ways in which I at age five through eight did my part included

  • churning butter
  • building things from scraps of lumber,
  • dousing hills of large red ants with gasoline and then igniting them
  • helping my grandmother with her small brewery in the basement
  • being alert for rattle snakes
  • reading comic books
  • and, of course, watching paint dry.

At any rate, by adapting well to being alone and finding ways to entertain myself, I did my part building the family financially. The enterprise grew—ultimately into a farming and ranching operation of 10,000 acres. I was so proud of my grandparents! Incidentally, I got my work ethic from seeing their work rewarded. But I have yet to hammer on another bullet, although I’m sure plenty of them need it.


  1. The notion that a small boy with a hammer will think that everything needs pounding has been previously noted by others. Psychologist Abraham Maslow saw applicability of this behavioral pattern beyond childhood and wrote that if you only own a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
  2.  In 2013 I was in contact with my old friend, Jerry.
  3.  On the decline in the amount of children’s unsupervised time outdoors , see Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, The Nature of Childhood: Growing up in America Since 1865.

Lawrence J. Landwehr resides in Middleton, Wisconsin and is retired.

Posted in Guest writer | 2 Comments

My Lost Cursive (and so much more)

Recalling last spring’s “from cursive to computer” writing prompt caused me to recall my own rocky history with cursive writing–and so much more. -Sarah White

I was born in October of 1956. For first grade, my parents chose for me St. Richard’s Academy on Indianapolis’ near north side, even though we lived 15 miles north in Carmel. I think this was because at about that time my mother began working for a publishing company near that school—and because they would take me while I was still 5, which Carmel’s public school would not.

I loved St. Richards from the moment I entered its gothic pointy-roofed garden gate at age 5 and 11/12ths, wearing my little plaid kilt and a green wool blazer with a heraldic crest embroidered on its chest pocket.

St. Richards gate 2007_07_09

St. Richard’s Acadamy, photographed in July 2007.

The thing about St. Richard’s is that it was Episcopalian and Anglophile in every conceivable way. We had teachers imported from England who taught from textbooks imported from England. From these I learned that “We live on a small island next to a large continent.”

Our teachers had high expectations of 1st graders and we rose to meet them. Our math lessons involved working on times tables and long division as well as addition and subtraction, aided by graph paper to keep our columns neat. We learned French with readings and exercises about “deux soldats du bois.” We learned to write longhand using fountain pens we filled ourselves from small glass bottles. We colored maps of Europe in careful horizontal strokes, long wooden colored pencils gripped in our tiny fists.

1961_St. Richards Totor et Tristan

And then the year was over, and the next year my parents transferred me to the public school in Carmel for second grade. Here the students only printed their alphabets, using stubby pencils. The teacher took away my fountain pen and forbade me to write longhand. No elegant colored pencils here, only crayons. No long division, no times tables, no French.

And so I went into my vivid imagination, and I didn’t come out until sometime in the fourth grade, when I realized with terror that I had forgotten everything I’d learned in the first grade, and failed to take in any new information since.

A mental habit of absent-mindedness and a fear of math are the permanent scars of my early education. (And a love of calligraphy and fine fountain pens.)

Posted in Sarah's memoir | Tagged | Leave a comment

From Cursive to Computer

There has been a lot of handwringing  about the demise of cursive writing this year. An NPR piece about it aired as I drove to teach the first session of a memoir writing workshop back in March. It inspired me with a topic for our first in-class exercise. I gave my students the prompt, “from cursive to computer” and then challenged them to write facts (1 minute), memories (3 minutes), and meaning (1 minute). – Sarah White

From Cursive to Computer

By Bonnie Berens

I am around six or seven years old. I am crouching in my wooden, two-piece desk afraid to raise my hand for help from “the penguin.”

My transfer from Lincoln Avenue School to St. Cyril & Methodius Catholic School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was highly traumatic for me. I could not remember how to spell my last, long—14 letter—Polish name. Niedzialkowski. I did raise my hand, and Sister Mary Eulogia came to my side and kindly printed my name, then wrote it in cursive for me.

I felt proud that I was so brave to have raised my hand in fear, and have such a positive response. I face my adversaries straight on now—a little scary still, to “youngsters” who are my bosses.

Bonnie Ann (Niedzialkowski) Berens

Berense From Curvsive to Computer-cr

“Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.” –New York Times, June 2, 2014.


Posted in Guest writer, Writing prompt | Leave a comment