Thursday, February 26, 2015

There are always Signs!

April 2009

A tragedy occurred last weekend in Pittsburgh. A woman placed a 911 called asking for help with her 22 year-old son. He came home drunk again and his dog left a mess on the floor. She'd had it and wanted him out of the house. Police arrived. They entered the house and two were shot in the head. A third was shot as he came to their rescue. 

All three police officers died. Two others were injured. So, so, sad.... 

According to the first report from a high school acquaintance this was a nice, quiet, smart kid. Soon the public learned he was kicked out of high school and later enlisted in the Marines. He lasted a few months and was thrown out when he got mad and hurled food at his Sargent. 

Back at home he began to stock pile weapons and post messages on hate websites. His looks changed drastically as he posted pictures of himself...head shaved, tattoos representing all sorts of evil things. There are many more pieces to this puzzle unfolding as the sad week strains on. 

There are always signs. This didn't happen over night. There are always signs. 

As a high school teacher I see kids who struggle to fit in all the time. They come in many shapes and sizes....the signs and the kids. 

The signs are there in middle school and even elementary school. 

I'll bet you think I know the signs.....and I'm going to list them here. Well, no. If I knew the signs, so would the Columbine teachers. 

What I feel compelled to write about is what I've observed and learned about what works with [some] kids. 

1.  Kindness Sadly some kids rarely hear a kind word, or a compliment, a real genuine compliment. It doesn't have to be elaborate or fancy. Good job ... You look nice today ...  You did that? Wow! ... In my opinion. 

2.  Consistency Kids need some consistency. Some of the same things will happen everyday. Someone will be home everyday after school. There will be a dinner of some kind every night. There will be an alarm every morning to get up to and go to school. Stuff like that. Not knowing make kids nervous. ... In my opinion. 

3.  Consequences Kids need to know there will be appropriate consequences for their actions. And when the consequences are closed, a new day. If you smack your little brother after we told you not to, you will be in time out. When time out is over you will sincerely apologize, hug and then go play. If you come in at 12:30 and your curfew is 12, (and I've been sitting here for half an hour waiting for you) you will not go out for two weekends. ... In my opinion. 

4. Listen I'm big on being a good listener. It's so easy and so many adults don't it. Just shut your mouth and listen. Then watch what happens. Silence (and eye contact) speaks volumes. It says, I care about you and what you are saying. I do not have to comment on every little thing. I don't have to hear my own voice. Look them in the eye when they start to tell you something. Don't rush them. Just look at them with your best, I'm listening look. Add when necessary...And then what happened? ... or... really? they know you are listening. I found if they ask me what they should do, or for advice, I say, "hmmmmm" and wait a second or two....because they already know the answer. If this starts in elementary school it creates a safe secure place for kids to go and share at home. ... In my opinion. 

5. And...Snoop. Yep, I said snoop. I know, I know, respect their privacy. But until they are 18 they are your responsibility. You are responsible for turning out a decent human being. How are you ever going to know what they're up to if you don't fold the laundry and put it away in their drawers? Or, suddenly lose your favorite shoes and wander into their room looking for them. Or have a question about tomorrow's lunch menu, etc. ... In my opinion. 
BUT, if you snoop you have to be ready to deal with what you find. If, say, you find a note to your kid from another kid saying another kid doesn't like your kid, put it back. Or, if you find a drawer filled with Hershey Bar wrappers, leave them alone. There are many things much worse than these that still fall between the normal bars on the, Is My Kid Normal, chart. Be careful to freak out about the right things.

Starting early in elementary school become aware of what kids are/or should be into. Know their friends and their friends parents. Make sure those parents' values and rules are similar to yours. Invite their friends over after school. Ask them to stay for dinner on occasion.

Finally, if you find drugs, drug paraphernalia, suspicious magazines, or weapons of any kind do not walk away thinking you must respect their privacy. Do not! Privacy goes out the window in this situation. Tell your kid you love him/her with all your heart as you pull out the incriminating material and listen a bit.  Then you start talking. It's your house, your rules, and your love.....above all your love, which is never, never negotiable. It's always there. 
So, child of mine, here's what's going to happen.  The consequences are.......

Oh and while I'm on my high horse, pleeeeeeeeeese don't be the "cool" parent who lets the kids drink at your house because you've taken all the car keys and will let them sleep it off in your basement/family room. First of all, it's I.L.L.E.G.A.L. to serve alcohol to minors EVEN IF IT'S IN YOUR OWN HOUSE. YES IT IS! You could (and should) be arrested. And second, those pre-pubescent, pubescent, post-pubescent bodies cannot handle the alcohol the way you can. They could die or suffer irreversible brain damage after four, five or six beers. 

I have no idea what happened in the childhood of the young man who shot the Pittsburgh Police officers. He is so young to be so angry. It just made me wonder.

I'm not an expert and I know many wonderful parents who have done all the stuff I've mentioned here and more and still have problems with their kids.And from teaching high school for 28 years I know that are crappy parents out there who great kids.  Who really knows....this is just me and my thoughts from what I've seen as a teacher.  

Stuffed Artichokes

First posted July 2009

Many years ago when I was fresh out of college and a newlywed, I had a friend of Italian heritage. She was born and raised in New Orleans and we became friends as our new circle of young married couples formed. She had married a good friend of ours who joined the Navy fresh out of college. (I like to say "fresh out of college":) He was trained to fly F-4 jets and during his time in the Navy our vacations centered around wherever they were stationed.

One of the things I remember most about our visits with them in Virginia Beach, Pensacola and New Orleans was the food. Between her Cajun influences and her Italian upbringing, she would make wonderful meals that I still think about today.

Here's just one. If I had never met her I never would have made...

Stuffed Artichokes

The ingredients are simple and making them is a bit time consuming, but the result is worth it. Here's what you'll need:

Artichokes, olive oil, Italian breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, celery, green onions, flat leaf parsley, garlic, salt and pepper.

Chop off the top of the artichoke.

Using sissors snip off the sharp tips on each leaf.

Add a tablespoon of salt to a pot of boiling water.

Drop the artichokes in the boiling water and boil them for about 10 minutes. They should brighten up and turn a nice shade of green.

When the artichokes are done put them upside down to drain. Prepare the rest of the ingredients for the food processor. I don't know the exact amounts of each vegetable, she never got around to giving me a written recipe. I guess it's about 10 green onions, 7 stalks of celery, a half of a cup of flat leaf parsley, 3 gloves of garlic, salt and pepper.

Don't process it to a liquid, just process it enough to make it looked chopped really well.

In a large bowl prepare the dry ingredients. I use equal parts Italian bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. I add salt and pepper as I mix the two together.

I combine the wet ingredients with the dry.

I put the wet and dry in a large bowl so that I can put the artichoke in the middle and stuff them in the bowl. This makes the stuffing easy and much less messy. My friend taught be to pull back every leaf and gently stuff each one with the mixture.

By stuffing each leaf, every serving (leaf) has the tasty mixture as well and the tender bite at the end of the leaf.

Now this is the part that just amazed me. She put the stuffed artichokes in a pan with a bit of water and then......she poured an entire 32 oz. bottle olive oil over the artichokes and let them simmer on low all day. (I've found that putting the artichokes on a rack in the pan keeps them from burning on the botton.)

I was speechless and awestruck at the same time. In all my 28 years I had never used olive oil and I had never seen anybody pour an entire bottle of anything over food. It's the Scotch/Irish in me I guess. Cooking was never a big part of my day to day life growing up.

Well, needless to say I was hooked and wanted to know more. Over the next few years she taught me how to make gumbo, shrimp creole, bread pudding with rum butter sauce, red beans and rice, lasagna, hot tamales from scratch, and meatballs, to name a few. Sadly, our friendship didn't last and I haven't heard from her in years. Still, her cooking tips and recipes remain and I use them often.

Here's to my Italian friends, old and new. :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Marshall Girls

First posted 08/08

The only sibling I have is my sister. She’s two and a half years older than me and she's beautiful, strong and smart. We are similar because we were raised in the same home, but we were vastly different as teenagers and young adults. Her life’s journey has had more twists and turns than mine. I’ve had a simpler journey with small bends, gradual curves, and a few slow rough road ahead signs here and there.

She’s adventurous, earthy, and a dog person. She camps, hikes and white water rafts; she once rode on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle from Pennsylvania to Montana and back. She can go without make-up for weeks, and she can travel without her blow dryer. I put on make-up to walk to the end of the driveway for the mail.

She talks to her dogs like she’s talking to a child. “Stay out of the family room, I just ran the sweeper in there.” “No, you can’t ride in the back seat of the car.” And she had her Minister present when she buried one of her beloved dogs.

When she vacations she goes to places with seminars and lectures on things like Women’s Health Issues, Democrats in the White House, and Global Warming. She stays in B&Bs where everyone shops at Whole Foods markets and makes meals together. I go on vacation where the sand is white, the water is blue, and dinner is placed on the table in front of me. My seminars are Broadway shows.

She has her undergrad degree in business and her graduate degree in counseling. She's the Human Resource director for a big company. For a while she was a music major and she plays the Steinway Baby Grand in her living room beautifully. I can play both parts of the Chopsticks duet at the same time and Heart and Soul.

We resemble each other, although I'm the tall one now. I married my college sweetheart while I was still in college and we had two children in the first five years of our marriage. She was single for longer than those five years establishing her career and riding motorcycles.

While I was having babies and she was working and having fun we didn't talk much. Months would go by when we hardly spoke, not because we were fighting, but because there wasn't much to say. Our lives were different, being pulled in different directions and it was hard to find some common ground on which to start a conversation.

Then she married and had a child. She called me from the hospital the night my niece was born. I answered the phone and heard gulps and whimpers on the other end. Finally she whispered, “What am I supposed to do now?”

We began talking a lot again and where there was once a rent in the cloth of our sisterhood, we began weaving the fabric of our lives together again.

For many years after her divorce she was a single mom raising my beautiful niece, who is now a college grad, independent and employed, with a sense of humor that makes me laugh so hard, I snort.

My sister and I grew much closer as our children grew up. She met a wonderful man and married again and settled into a good routine.

Our parents were getting older and our father developed Alzheimer’s. He had begun to show signs of the disease before they retired and moved to Boca Raton, Florida. After five years in Boca it was clear to us that they both needed some help. So, they moved back to PA and it was my sister who moved all the furniture out of her dining room so that they could live with her on her first floor and not have to climb stairs. After a few months they moved into an apartment near us both and we visited them daily.

Mom’s health was declining as she cared for Dad and after about a year at home, Mom couldn't care for Dad by herself so we placed him in nice facility within walking distance of Mom's apartment. As good as it was, it wasn't home for him and he'd spend his nights calling out our Mom’s name. He didn't really know Mom or me and my sister by then but occasionally a small window would open in his memory for just a few minutes. The last thing he said to me was, "Do you have enough gas in your car?"

After only six months there, he died. Three weeks later Mom was admitted to Intensive Care for ailments she kept hidden from us while she cared for Dad. We followed her there and since the grief from losing our Dad was still practically palpable, we stayed in the waiting room of the ICU clinging to our surviving parent. We'd watch the clock for our 15 minute visit three times a day and we'd remind the nurses to tell her we were near. We didn't want her to feel alone or abandoned. We camped out in that waiting room for five days, never going home. Our spouses would bring us necessities and the caring staff brought us pillows and blankets each night which we spread on the waiting room furniture to sleep.

Fifty-six days after Dad died, Mom died.

So, there we were ... The Marshall girls ... orphans.

If there was ever a bonding moment for us, having both parents die within fifty-six days of each other, was it. That, and sleeping in a hospital waiting room for 5 days.

Suddenly we were a team ... the same ... joined together by birth and the untimely deaths of our parents. The similarities that seemed to have been hiding for many years rose to the surface smothering the differences and like glue, joined us to face the rest of our lives together.

My big sister and I walked through two funerals arm in arm lifting each other up and holding on to each other when we’d succumb to the enormity of it all.

While settling the estate we saw each other three or four days a week. We’d meet with the attorneys then go out for coffee together. It was during these coffee trips that we began to re-tell the stories of our childhood and we refreshed each other's memory of those years. The many snapshots I had in my brain of events of our youth were sharpened and drawn into focus as I listened to my sister re-tell them.

-The time we called country western star Gene Autry long distance in California. He was my sister’s hero (when she was ten) and because I was the little sister I made the call at her insistence.
-The time Mom made us write letters to Trisha and Julie Nixon because she learned we were about the same age as the President daughters.

-The time in Canada when she and I and a few friends were allowed to take the fishing boat out by ourselves for the first time and we accidentally let our Dad’s prized rod and reel slip into the lake.

-I reminded her of the day of her break-up with the love of her life...the same day I got the lead in the senior class play, two equally momentous occasions. I didn't tell her my news because she was suffering so in the aftermath of the lost love. That night at a football game she found me with my friends. She pulled me from the group and put her arms around me and asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"

These endless hours of talking went on and on and on as we worked through our grief together. That waiting room saga and those coffee chats were the best times of my life with my sister.

Now in our 50s, we make a point to have breakfast together once a month at least. And email is great. We're never out of touch. We’re still very different, she’s got two dogs at the moment and I’m planning my next beach vacation.

She’s been going to a gym regularly for years and I go sporadically. But, this morning she took me on a tour of her new gym and tomorrow I’ll sign up so I can spend some more time with her. I don't know what I'd do without her.

California or Bust

First posted 07/07

Years ago I watched a Keith Olbermann editorial and was moved to respond with an email to the show filled with BRAVOS as he called for Bush and Cheney to resign. It's not a horrible thing, if the president resigns. What's horrible is 3,586 young men and women dying in this senseless war with more casualties each day.

I remember exactly where I was when Richard Nixon resigned, Reno, Nevada, August 9, 1974. My husband and I were on a month-long odyssey across the US in a renovated GMC van...from sea to shining sea. Practically newlyweds, we were on an adventure to find ourselves, define ourselves, and see the country. We lived in the back of the van with two sleeping bags, a regulation footlocker purchased at the Army Navy Surplus store for our clothes, a Coleman stove and cooler, a three foot tall canteen for water, and various pillows, blankets, first aid kits, books, magazines, maps and a 35 mm Minolta camera.

We left our apartment in Pittsburgh on August 1 and headed west with no particular path in mind...California or bust and back. Listening to the top hits of the 60's and early 70's on the radio, we motored through the Badlands of North Dakota, Mr. Rushmore, the Black Hills of Wyoming and Flagg Ranch; the Big Horn National Forest, the Rocky Mountains, Shoshone National Park and Yellowstone, where we witnessed the force of Old Faithful as it exploded from the ground, felt the heat of natural steaming pools bubbling like a pot on the stove among the giant evergreens, and stood in quiet acquiescence as a bear ambled across the road a mere 50 feet in front of us.

In Salt Lake City and Temple Square on a warm, clear Tuesday evening we listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse, a sublime moment to remember, and we swam, but mostly floated in the Great Salt Lake the next day. We were part of a cable car accident on Fisherman's Wharf and drove down Big Sur to Los Angeles with the majesty of the Pacific Ocean as our guide.

We visited Disneyland and Hollywood, and camped in Victorville, CA. In Las Vegas we saw a young Bill Cosby and The (original) Temptations. We hiked around the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam in 115 degree heat. We took the Cog Railroad up to Pike's Peak, where it was a chilly 45 degrees and visited the Garden of the Gods outside of Grand Junction, Colorado. We were in awe as we toured the Air Force Academy and Royal Gorge. We paid the most for gas on Big Sur at 75 cents/gallon, but 45 cents/gallon was the norm.

Dinners at the campgrounds were a wide variety of spam and cheese sandwiches, or canned chili on hot dogs, or just hot dogs, or burgers, fried potatoes and onions, chocolate pudding, nectarines, peaches and 7-Up. Once, Dairy Queen hot fudge sundae's were dinner and twice we treated ourselves to a night in a hotel and gourmet meal.

The best nights were at the campgrounds when we'd swim under the stars of the western sky where millions of twinkling orbs filled the galaxy and felt so close you could put a name on each and every one. Or, if it was too cold to swim, we'd get cozy, snuggling in our sleeping bags and play gin rummy.
Occasionally we'd hear snippets of news but mostly our radio was tuned to local farm reports or top 20 tunes. No Satellite or Sirius radio, no cell phones, Internet, email, texts, twitters or Instagrams.

When I think back on this trip, Nixon's resignation is not the first, second or even the third thing that comes to my mind. I knew it was a big deal and I'm sure for a few moments as we learned the news we wondered what was about to happen. But, I remember thinking that the country could get back on course with the business at hand and not be distracted by the stubborn, elitist attitude of those in charge.

Matt, Ben and Me!

First posted 9/09

That's Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and me! :)

Wait. What?

Ah-huh that's right, I made a movie with those boys.

Okay "made" is a little exaggeration...I was an extra in a movie starring Matt and Ben.

One time the fantasy camp in my mind became a reality when I answered an ad in a Pittsburgh paper for "extras" in a movie being filmed in the 'burgh. The movie starred Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who I've loved ever since they won the Oscar for writing  Good Will Hunting and took their MOMs to the Academy Awards that year. What sweet boys, their moms raised them right.

Anyway, I saw the ad and called the number. I left a message at the beep and they called back. Yes, they could use me and would I be at the Pittsburgh Airport at 4 AM with three different outfits?

Would I? Heck, I'd go a day early and sit in the parking lot all night if they asked.

On the big day I arrived on time only to see about 100 extras had arrived before me. Man, some people will do anything for an extra role. Things immediately got better though when they gave me a secret badge I was to wear on the inside of my jacket that said, BEAR CLAW, the secret code word for the movie title and all those associated with it.

Suddenly I felt like I was in high school sitting at the cool kids' table.

My (extra) part was as a passenger arriving in the airport after deplaning. I was in a group of thirty or so who came into the airport as if we had just gotten off a plane. A minuscule part for sure but I put my heart and soul into it. :) I had my raincoat (with my secret badge) over my arm and my carry-on (with the three outfits they told me to bring) over my shoulder. A huge mistake, I would later learn.

Matt and Ben were seated in the waiting area doing their scene in front of us as we all walked past them and out of the shot. I got a good look at them. As a matter of fact, I had to force myself to stay in the scene and not stare. :) They reminded me of all my son's friends. Just normal guys.

A young girl who played my daughter met me and we were to greet each other like mother and daughter and continue walking out of the shot. Out of the shot...I love saying that.

Easy enough...I got it on the first try...a mom getting off a plane being met by her daughter. How hard was that? Not much of a stretch for me. This acting stuff....piece o'cake!

But wait! The director, Kevin Smith don'tcha know, wanted to do it again. So back behind the wall we went, all thirty of us. There was a make-up guy with some make-up brushes who touched some noses with them until someone said, "ACTION!"

Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action! Action!

Geez, looeeze, how many times did we have to do this? By 4pm my arms were aching, my shoulder was stiff and I was sweating. My nose was shiny and nobody cared. Silly me, I thought I was so cool with my "mom" look. Once I had been filmed in one shot with the coat and carry on, I couldn't change the look all day.

In the middle of the shoot, Gwyneth Paltrow came to see Ben, they were dating.....shooting stopped....they kissed and kissed and the middle of the airport. We waited and they kissed.

Finally, after the kissing stopped, we finished the scene and the boys disappeared. We had been told not to speak to them while they were working and I was hoping for a chance to say hello, and maybe a picture, but they were gone. I was just as happy, I had wilted and felt awful.

So, that's my story. When the movie came out two years later, where was I in it? Sadly, on the cutting room floor. The actual scene we took all day to shoot lasted about five minutes in the movie and only about fifteen of the thirty of us were actually on film.

Still, it was exciting and fun. I made minimum wage with five hours of overtime, and got a free breakfast and lunch. I had to take a day off without pay, but it was definitely worth it. It made a great story to tell my students, my friends, my family, my hair stylist, my UPS guy, strangers in the grocery story, anyone who would listen.

And, I still have my BEAR CLAW badge ... 15 years later. :)

Mouse In The House

First posted 10/07

About six years ago we had a deluge of mice in our house over a twelve hour period. I think it was because we were having our windows replaced and something was stirred up, a nest perhaps, or the window spaces were empty for long periods of time during the day as the installers prepped and then set the new windows in place. We live in the woods where there are lots of critters and we do our best to keep everyone in their natural habitat. But, for whatever reason there were mice on this particular fall day...lots of them. And by lots, I mean any number greater than zero.

I saw the first one while I was getting ready for work at 5 AM when it ran in front of me into the closet. I yelled a few bad words because I'm not a screaming, helpless, jump on a chair, kinda gal. I say bad words, stomp my feet and say more bad words, until I get somebody’s attention and a discussion begins on how we will get rid of the rodent. It usually goes like this:

Me: THERE’S A %$#$@ MOUSE IN THE HOUSE! GET the &%$#ing thing OUTTA HERE NOW!
Him: Okay! I'm on it! Where are the traps? Do we have traps? Where’s the peanut butter? What did you do with my gloves? Did you put them in this drawer? Oh! Here’s the receipt I’ve been looking for from my new watch. I hope it's not too late for the rebate. And scotch tape! I needed scotch tape yesterday. Did we always keep it here? And look, the menu from the pizza place I like. Do you want to get a pizza tonight for dinner?
Me: HEY! The mouse?
Him: Oh yeah.

That evening we set one trap in the bathroom to catch the little shit (LS) and went to bed. Peanut butter is our favorite bait but since someone's allergic, I set all the traps. This one was set and put in its place on the floor near where the LS had disappeared earlier that day. We got into bed, turned out the lights and settled in for the night.

All was quiet for about 5 minutes and then.......SNAP!
Did we hear SNAP?
We leaped from the bed, turned on the light and ...HOORAY!...SUCCESS!...we got him...the the trap (I'll spare you the details.) less than five minutes! WE were heroes! WE did it! WE caught and destroyed the intruder; our home was safe and free of mice. No more furry things scurrying across the floor squeezing into spaces no wider than the space between the tines on a fork.
We did a little dead-mouse-happy-dance and basked for a moment in our superiority over the rodent world.
The trap with mouse was placed in a paper sack, the sack was carted down two flights of stairs to the garage, tossed in the garbage and the problem was solved. Bravo us!

But, just in case, I baited another trap with peanut butter, he set it on the bathroom floor and we went to bed. (Just to be sure.)
Lights off, covers on ... silence...then...
Another SNAP?!
Well, okay then, we got the other one! Good for us, we out-smarted them both. They thought they'd lose only one comrade, but we got them both. Yeah, we're good. We did another little happy dance.
Mouse was placed in a paper sack; the sack was carted down two flights of stairs to the garage, tossed in the garbage and the problem-was-solved. End-of-story.

But, just in case, I baited another trap, he set it on the bathroom floor and we went to bed. Lights off, covers on....silence...drifting off to sleep and......SNAP! Oh... well...hmmmm...another mouse.
That's good.
Okay, there were three and we got them all.
Me: (from bed under the covers) “Good job Honey,"
Him: Thanks.
No dancing.
Mouse was placed in a paper sack; the sack was carted down two flights of stairs to the garage, tossed in the garbage and the problem-was-solved. Case closed.

But, just to be on the safe side, he baited (with gloves on) another trap set it on the bathroom floor and came to bed. Silence....holding our breath we tried to go to sleep ... until ... another ... snap.
Sh@#$%, Da$%#$, S^%-%$-B^%$#!!!. Lights back on...dead mouse, big freakin' deal. In the sack, two flights of stairs down to the garage, in the garbage.
This wasn't fun anymore. Our house was de-moused enough now. I just wanted to get some sleep! I wanted to sleep without the trap-snap-garage crap. I had used up all my bad words.

But, three more times that night we heard the SNAP! and there were three more trips to the garage until finally all was quiet and we fell asleep.
In the garbage the next morning were seven paper sacks, with seven sprung traps, holding seven dead mice. Quite an eventful night.

The Driveway

First posted 06/06

Our driveway is 625 feet long from the front door to the road we live on. That’s the equivalent two football fields. It’s not paved, but it’s covered every other year with 20 tons of coarse limestone and fine gravel that’s painstakingly spread from the back of an enormous tractor trailer truck.

The gravel has to be replaced because over the course of a year or two, it disappears. I don’t know where it goes, but for the past 25 years, about 250 tons of gravel has been spread on it, yet it’s still just one long driveway with a layer of gravel.

I don’t begrudge one single piece of disappearing gravel because that driveway represents the comings and goings of our life. The last leg of our newborn son Mike’s journey home from the hospital was on the driveway. The guests to the christening party, birthday parties, holidays and sleepovers came down the driveway to our house. From the stroller, to the little red wagon, to the tricycle, to the training wheels on the big bike, the driveway was a playground, a basketball court, a soccer arena, and a safe place for a little boy to discover the wonders of nature.

With every trip down the driveway I’m reminded of these times of new beginnings and first steps. The first trip down the driveway with Mike for kindergarten found me gripping his hand as hard as he was gripping mine. The driveway led him to the huge yellow bus and exciting experiences that lay ahead for him in school. Each new school year brought a level of independence to Mike’s walk down the driveway-from holding my hand, to tolerating my accompaniment, and finally, to solo trips while I watched from the front steps.

From that vantage point I had a bird’s eye view of a blossoming athlete and outdoorsman. The walk to the bus became the jog to the bus and then, the sprint to the bus. In elementary school, no trip to the bus was complete without a stop at the creek that flowed under the bridge halfway down the driveway to check for nests, birds’ eggs, paw prints or feathers.

Soon, we were buying tents, camping gear and flashlights so Mike could explore these outdoor wonders at night. Then, hiking gear and mountain bikes were added to the mix and summer camps in the mountains replaced lifeguarding at local pool. The driver’s license brought a new independence, and suddenly, the driveway became the first leg of many eventful journeys past the bus stop. The gravel was my friend, as the crunching sound at midnight told me he was home and safe from a camping trip, football game, or a night out with friends.

College came all too suddenly and once again Mike was on his way down the driveway to yet another adventure. We were with him that time as the van inched it’s way over the gravel, filled to capacity with gym bags, athletic shoes, extra long sheets, lamps, towels, and of course, camping and hiking gear. We paused for just a moment as Mike took a long look at the creek and then continued on, looking straight ahead, watching the road through tear filled eyes.

Four years passed quickly, and the Environmental Science degree and desk job followed in short succession. A new Jeep clipped up and down the driveway. The Jeep was perfect for camping and hiking gear on weekends and was a respectable vehicle for the workweek. But, it wasn’t long before Mike explained to us that the desk job was not for him, and frankly, we were not surprised. He yearned to be outdoors and had applied for a job as a track and field coach at a small Division III college in California. He was hired sight unseen and was to be in California within a week. A flurry of activities followed, culminating on the driveway at sunrise the following Monday. The Jeep was replaced with a used Cherokee, and a trailer hitch pulled the Uhaul filled with Mike’s worldly possessions.

The driveway and the world awaited him as we gave him last minute advice. I handed him a small package with instructions to open it later and hugged him too hard. With a hug, a handshake and a pat on the back from his Dad, he was off. We watched as the Cherokee crept down the driveway and, we were not surprised to see the red glow of the break lights come on over the creek… the Cherokee paused for just a few seconds and then picked up speed as it rolled up the driveway, past the bus stop and out of sight.
The package? Homemade chocolate chip cookies, a turkey feather, and a GPS compass…so Mike can always find his way to the driveway and home.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Back to School Redux

Don't you love New York in the
fall? It makes me want to buy school
supplies. I would send you a bouquet of
newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your
name and address."
You've Got Mail

I love You've Got Mail and this quote from the movie was one of my favorites.

It's back to school time around these parts and for me it's the best time of year. Of course, I don't like seeing the end of my summer, but September, I love September.

Here, let me count the ways:

1. High School Football! Pom-Poms, majorettes, confetti, Friday nights, hot dogs, cokes, marching bands, dance teams, cheerleaders. The enthusiasm is contagious and even though I'm well, well, well, (okay enough!!) past those years, I still get emotional with the first drum cadence of the season.
One time we had a Superintendent who said, a winning football team can carry you all the way through the first semester. Clearly this guy had his priorities in the right place.:)

2. Dry Air! Yes, I said dry air. For a few frizz free weeks in the fall the humidity goes down and the temperature stays warm. Naturally curly unruly hair becomes manageable and darn near straight, a dream I've had since I was fourteen. In the summer humidity after a day at the beach, or just outside in the humidity, I looked like a Carmen Miranda impersonator. You know the picture, a woman with the fruit on her head as an adornment? In the '60s and '70s I longed for Joan Baez hair or hair like Mary Allin Travers from Peter, Paul and Mary. Parted in the middle and long and straight, no matter the weather. I also yearned for their vocal talent, another gift nature didn't bless me with. What I got instead was hair so unpredictable that I never went on a swimming date. A long walk in the moonlight was misery for me because when the walk was over and the lights of the dorm lobby hit me I had gone from Mary Travers, (a look I'd achieved after hours of work under a hairdryer bonnet with juice cans for rollers. Then a straightening iron that had absolutely no high heat monitor or automatic off switch. You could get 3rd degree burns on the side of your face and burn your dorm to the ground if you weren't careful) to Angela Davis in less than an hour. Dry air is my friend.

3. Colors! Red, Orange, Yellow, Apricot, Asparagus, Bittersweet, Brick Red, Burnt Orange, Burnt Sienna, Atomic Tangerine, Copper, Gold, Golden Rod, Indian Red, Mahogany, Dandelion, Neon Carrot, Olive Green, Vivid Tangerine, Radical Red, Raw Sienna, Razzmatazz Red, Sun Glow, Sunset Orange, Torch Red, Scarlett, Outrageous Orange, Laser Lemon, Unmellow Yellow, Sunset Orange, Torch Red, Scarlett.
If a trip to Maine or other parts north are out of the question, come to Western PA during the first two weeks of October. The Allegheny Mountains are awash with the colors of fall and splash against the sky an artist's palate of reds, oranges and yellows...and variations of those colors as mentioned above from the 64 count box of crayola crayons. :)

4. Pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, and corns stalks. Who doesn't like to hike through the pumpkin patch and find the perfect one on which to carve a scary face and frighten the beejeebers out of the little kids who come to the door?

5. Apples and Apple Cider. Simmer a pot of cider on the stove with a few sticks of cinnamon and guests will think they've walked onto Walton's Mountain in the fall.

6. Did I mention dry air and straight hair. :)

7. Fall clothes! Love, love, love fall clothes. Just enough coverage to hide troublesome spots, yet still light enough to be comfortable and fashionable.

8. Chrysanthemums....pots of these fall beauties all over the porch and deck. And do you know you can smell the seasons? Another reason to love the fall.

9. New students. Teaching was a great profession and I loved it. Kids were funny and nice and each year I got a whole bunch of new ones. Oh sure, there were a few here and there who could curl my hair... Ha!... as if. But for the most part, they were wonderful.

The first day of school and September and Fall were like New Years' day for me. I started fresh and reinvented myself when September rolled around. All the missteps of the previous year were forgotten, and promises were made to myself to do an even better job in the new year.

I'm retired now but when fall comes and I hear the cadence of the drums in the marching band, my eyes fill with tears and my heart is full of love.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Southwest Airline ROCKS!

I was going to write about my experiences at BlogHer'12 last weekend.  But it's Olympic week and I thought this was more relevant.  I'll get back to BlogHer'12 later. 

Southwest Airlines gets the Gold for this one.

Our son Mike is a Track and Field Coach at the University of Illinois in Champaign.  Last month one of his athletes qualified to compete in Eugene, Oregon for a spot on the Olympic Pole Vault team. 

On the plane to Oregon sitting in a window seat Mike watched the luggage arrive on the carts.  He noticed the cylinders that held the poles moving down the conveyor belt.  All this disappeared under the plane as the baggage handlers loaded the luggage.

The flight attendants began securing the cabin making sure everyone was buckled in and they locked the cabin doors.  The plane began to back away from the gate and turn so that Mike and the plane were parallel to the gate they had just pulled away from.

Mike looked out the window again and saw the cylinders with the poles still on the conveyor.  Disaster!

He was heart sick and motioned quietly to the flight attendant.  He didn't want to make a scene because his athlete was across the aisle and he didn't want to alarm her. He said he also didn't want to get himself thrown off the plane and onto some "watch" list. :)

He told the attendant his situation and what he just saw. He told her they might as well get off the plane if the poles weren't on it. Poles are very an equestrian and his horse. This was a chance of a lifetime for his athlete and all he could was watch from the window as the plane moved away.
The attendant said what you might expect.  They could not go back to the gate at this point. The doors were locked and they were third in line for take off.  She said she'd call the pilot just in case. He watched her go to the front of the cabin and make the call.  

She came back to Mike and said she was sorry, but it was impossible to turn around.  

(Putting the poles on another flight was not an option because they wouldn't arrive in time for her event. It's a long story but through no fault of Mike's or his athlete they were already late for the meet.)

So, Mike sat as the plane inched forward for take-off knowing there were no pole vault poles on board. 

Suddenly, Mike and the passengers felt the plane begin to make a sharp left turn and circle back to the gate.  The pilot came on and apologized to the passengers saying they had a baggage issue and would be delayed about 30 minutes.  Mike watched from his window as the the conveyor belt with the poles appeared again and heard the baggage compartment open as the poles were loaded onto the plane. 

Cool huh?  But wait, there's more.....

Nearing their destination, the pilot came on the intercom to inform passengers they were beginning their descent to the Eugene airport. He apologized for the delay saying,

"We have an Olympic Pole Vault hopeful on board and we forgot her poles.  We had to go back and get them."   

The entire plane erupted in applause. (Most of the passengers were going to Eugene to watch the trials.) The pilot continued, asking the athlete and her coach to remain on the plane for a few minutes when they landed so he could meet them and personally apologize.  Mike told us he was thinking, "Apologize to us? I want to thank them!"  

Not only did the pilot and co-pilot apologize, but they gave his athlete a $100 voucher for Southwest Airlines.

Nice, right?

But wait, there's still more....

As Mike talked to the pilot and co-pilot he learned that on this flight the co-pilot actually out-ranked the pilot.  The co-pilot filled in at the last minute so he could get to Eugene, OR to watch the trials.  

Apparently the co-pilot overheard the pilot's end of the phone conversation with the flight attendant and a small argument ensued in the cockpit resulting in the plane going back for the poles.  

Why was this co-pilot so adamant about turning the plane around and getting the poles, you might ask? 

Hold on to your hats, folks.....besides just being the right thing to do,  this co-pilot's daughter was also a pole vaulter competing in the same event as Mike's athlete! :)

Heads probably rolled and money was probably lost.....but hearts were saved! :)

Way to Go, Southwest Airlines, YOU ROCK!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Long Break

I took a break from blogging after I retired from teaching......two years ago!  I was convinced I'd lost my muses.  My students, my friends and one particular muse was gone and I thought, so was my blogging life.

It seemed nothing came to me as interesting, or funny, or charming as the anecdotes I cultivated from being around my students and friends all day, everyday. 

I was convinced my creative thoughts were gone.   Nothing inspired me.  Nothing made me laugh like the witty bantor and funny quips I could contribute to during a day of office conversation or the back and forth sharing of info with students. 

Convinced I had used all the good stories of my life, I felt I had nothing else to say.  So, I'm going to the Blogher Conference in NYC in August to find my place again in the blogging world.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Labrador Retriever tale-redux

First posted 12/08

These are my sister's dogs. I've chosen not to show you their faces, this being a public blog and all. :)

In an earlier post I said she talks to her dogs as if they were human. Well, she does and it works.

Case in point: Last summer she was having her house painted. The painter squatted by his tools to put something back and the chocolate lab, the younger more energetic, the "I never stop moving from one thing to another all day long, nope, nope, nope never stop moving" chocolate lab, came rushing up behind him, grabbed the red bandanna handkerchief from his back pocket and in a flash took off up the hill and into the woods.
My sister screamed, "Lilly, bring that back!" Nothing. She yelled again, "Lilly bring that back!" Nothing. The painter continued painting and about fifteen minutes later Brady, the older, wiser, "I wish that kid would leave things alone and why do I always have to pick up after her" yellow lab, came sauntering down the hill with the red bandanna in his mouth and dropped it at the painter's feet.


The Best Gift of All - Redux

First posted 12/08

So, it's the night before the night before Christmas. Our adult children are home from NYC and Champaign, Ill. We just finished dinner and soon we'll light a fire in the fireplace and get out Trivial Pursuit, the Pop Culture DVD edition. It's the quiet time before the rush of relatives and food and gift exchange begins tomorrow.

And, it's time for the last gift idea. Here it is.
Yes, it's listen.

Set aside one hour, grab a can of tea, or an Amaryllis in a crock, snap on your pedometer and walk to someone's home in your neighborhood, preferably a senior citizen. Sit down with them and ask then how they are doing. Comment on something nice you see around their home, and then ........ask them what their Christmas's were like when they were young. Stop talking and just......listen.

Let them talk, let them reminisce, let them walk down memory lane. Be a good listener, encourage them to tell you about their life. Say, things like, "And then what happened? or "Really, you did that, tell me more." Be an active listener, ask for details, for thoughts, "What were you thinking when that happened?" "How did that make you feel?' "What was it like when you were
18 or 25 or 30?"

This could be the greatest gift of all for someone this year. Take the time to listen and you might not only give the greatest gift, you will probably get the greatest gift too. :)

Merry Christmas to all!

This Little Guy - Redux

First posted 11/08

...would jump for hours in his swing from the time he was nine months old.

Is it any wonder he became this guy....

And then this guy...

And then this guy...

And then this guy...

And then this guy (on the right) NCAC Decathlon Champs

And finally, this coach (second from right) with his assistant coach (left) and his three National Champions.

Big East Outdoor Track and Field Championships - redux

First posted 5/08

If you think this generation of kids are just a bunch of couch-slouching, video game-playing, text-messaging, Internet-surfing slugs, go to the Big East Track and Field Indoor or Outdoor Championships sometime.

Funny Kids - Redux

First posted 10/07
Art Linkletter was right. For those who never heard that name, Art Linkletter had what one might call the first reality show. In the 50's he hosted a show called, "Kids Say the Darndest Things" He'd have a half dozen three, four and five year olds sitting side-by-side on kindergarten chairs on a slightly raised platform. Then he'd walk down the row and ask each one ordinary questions and listen (without interrupting them) to their answers. That was it. That was the show. Such a simple idea, such great results. The show was a hit because there was no script and no network censors. What the kids said got on the air. Most of the time it was a outrageously funny. Occasionally there were embarrassing moments, or poignant, tear-jerking moments, but all this added to the success of the show. Millions tuned in each week just to see what those little sweethearts would say next. Their parents, I'm sure were holding their collective breath backstage as Linkletter talked with each one.

I've been teaching for 20+ years and kids indeed say the darndest things no matter how old they are. I wish I had written down all the funny things kids have said in my presence so I could write a book. Here are just two that I'm thinking about today.

For a few of those 20 years I taught the English class in the alternative school, housed in our high school. These students are a very eclectic bunch and although they have a myriad of social issues and are prone to extreme attention-seeking behaviors, they are smart, fascinating and often very funny.
Once, right in the middle of a very serious discussion of Greek Mythology one boy came to me and said quietly, "Mrs. E., Matt shaved off his eyebrows. Look at him over there, no eyebrows."
This was completely out of the blue, we were discussing the epic hero and his reoccurring role in literature. For whatever reason, Jack felt the need to tell me about Matt's eyebrows at that moment.
So I whispered, "Jack, it's not nice to talk about other students in the room. Matt may have been born like that."
Jack replied, "No way, Mrs. E. He had `em yesterday!"

Often I see my students in the neighborhood where I live. It's always good to run into them and I try to remember something nice about them that happened while they were in my class and comment on it.
One time I was in the checkout line at the grocery store and the boy packing my groceries was a former alternative school student I had a few years before. He was a challenge then but by the looks of him in his white shirt, black pants and grocery store name badge he seemed to have gotten his act together. I began racing through my brain to get something nice to say to him. When nothing immediately came I resorted to the generic.
With a smile I said, "Hi Mark, my goodness you've gotten older and even better looking."
He smiled and with a knowing nod (or smirk?) said, "So have you, Mrs. E. :):)