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. :):)

Summer School in the 'Boro 1971 - redux

First posted 6/08

One three-hour class a day. The rest of the time... watermelon seed spitting Olympics and beer. I'm in there somewhere, along with Buffy, Cyndee, Walt, Jan, the Ewing twins, Bradley, the Narc, Minotis and of course, Whale.

Snow Day - redux

First posted 1/09

A while ago I wrote about how much I love September and going back to school.

Kids, bands, football, fall colors, dry air. I love it all.

But, going back to school after winter break? Not so much. It's altogether different. It's cold or wet or rainy or snowy or all of the above in Western Pennsylvania in January. There are a handful of sunny days but the norm is overcast and dreary. And when the alarm goes off at 4:45AM, there's nothing good about that in the winter.

A hot cup of tea starts my cold dark mornings, followed by a trip on *slippy, bending, hilly roads, and ending with a pile of research papers and mid-term exams waiting for me when I arrive at my desk.

The only light at the end of this depressing tunnel is the possibility of a SNOW DAY! I love snow days! One good snow day and everything stops, the universe shifts and for twenty-four hours the dark depressing routine of the winter day lifts. One good snow day is all I need to get me through a winter. Two snow days and it's Christmas break again for a short while. More than two though and there's talk of make-up days in June. People start snapping at each other.

Yes, one good snow day is enough.

It usually starts like this. The day before a snow day someone hears a weather report and whispers of, "Did you hear about the storm moving in?" circulate around the building.

Timing is everything for a snow day. If it starts snowing too soon, 9PM ish, then the plows and salt trucks have time to get the roads cleared by the next morning. Not good. If it starts snowing too late, say 5AM then the roads aren't bad enough for the buses and everyone can get to school before it gets icy, deep and dangerous. The plows can clear the roads while school is in session and be ready to take students home safely. Not good.

The best time for the snow to start falling is 2AM, with a light dusting, escalating to a dense downward flow, (as opposed to that blowing in all directions stuff that never accumulates at all) and continuing with a hard, non-stop deluge of small but powerful little flakes with no end in sight. It should be very cold and there should be a good four to five inches on the ground so that by 5AM when a decision has to be made, administrators calling the bus garage will get the news that the roads are simply too dangerous to transport students! Hurray!

Back in the day before computers, emails and texts, the phone chain would be started. Oh....the phone chain. You gotta love the phone chain. A ringing phone at 5AM in the winter could only mean one thing in a teacher's home. Roll over and go back to sleep. But, not before stumbling around the house in the dark looking for your phone chain to call the next person on it. Heaven forbid someone breaks the chain and another teacher doesn't get the call and makes the treacherous drive to school only to find it dark and empty.

But, a snow day is the best. An unexpected, completely necessary, day off. A day to do anything or nothing. A day to thank the lucky stars you are a teacher.

*slippy = Pittsburghese for slippery

Rosie's Theater Kids - Redux

First posted 8/07

NOTE: I love watching talented kids on stage and I was very fortunate to be in the audience for the performance written about in this article by Roger Friedman of FOX News.
I stood applauding with the rest of the audience for the standing O at the end of the show with my heart in my throat.
Just think what might have become of these kids if Rosie hadn't stepped in to help them.


Roger Friedman- FOX NEWS

With all the feuds and public debates over “The View” and Donald Trump, we tend to forget about Rosie O’Donnell’s amazing work in charity and education.
If you’re in New York City on Friday at 3 p.m., you can see some of the results. That’s when her Broadway Kids program puts on a performance at the 42nd Street Studios of “This Joint Is Jumpin’,” a musicial revue that I caught on Thursday in dress rehearsal.
Dubbed “a collection of pieces inspired by the Harlem Renaissance,” this show is simply remarkable and a little breathtaking.
“Joint” features a cadre of kids ages 8 to 14 who put on a show more real and less “stagey” than “High School Musical.”
Rosie’s team — including Lori Klinger, Thecla Harris and Stanley Wayne Mathis, among others — has turned a bunch of underprivileged kids into the city’s most talented group of younger-age actors.
And this is just the beginning. In November, O’Donnell will unveil the Maravel Arts Center just west of the theater district. It’s named for Rosie’s teacher, Pat Maravel, and they’ve already raised over $5 million since O’Donnell bought the building and gutted it. Donations are still being accepted. The building will be dedicated in November at a gala. I’m told Paul Simon may be one of the big surprise talents.
Meanwhile, Rosie’s got her hands full with a group of kids not unlike The Little Rascals. I don’t want to name names, because so many of these kids could be snatched up by casting directors if they’re seen — and we don’t want to see them get jaded too fast!
But watch out for Daniel Estrella, who seems to be channeling the spirit of the late, wonderful Gregory Hines. And Kirra Silver could be Audra MacDonald’s missing “child.”
They say that several of the kids have already gotten into the “Fame” High School for Performing Arts just based on their work here. Bravo!
And here’s a little trivia: After the show, Rosie and pals, along with her remarkably cool 12-year-old son, Parker, stopped next door and stood in a long line at the Cold Stone Creamery in Times Square to get cones. Everyone told Rosie to move up front, but she had a ball just waiting her turn.

Three Months Off - Redux

First posted 7/07
NOTE: The idea for this piece came from an email chain letter I received about eight years ago. This is my version of that chain letter and I assure you all of the events here are true and happened to me during my teaching career.

Last winter it happened again. While having lunch with friends I mentioned grading a mountain of papers and tests over the weekend. In unison like a Greek chorus, they said, “Yeah, but you get three months off.” The chorus continued as they reminded me of Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter break.
Yes, I get a summer vacation, but not exactly three months. And yes, I get a few more days off at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter than they do. But, can I please tell you what I, and thousands like me, do for ten and a half months of the year?
I teach high school English and Journalism. I’m Head of the English department and sponsor of the school paper. (And, please put your red pens down now, there will be mistakes, I'm sure.) I’m a member of the Student Assistance Team that identifies, refers and counsels high-risk students. High risk is concerns about drugs, alcohol, depression, anger, eating disorders, phobias, gender identification, isolation and mental health issues to name a few. I’m in charge of the English department’s curriculum review process and yearly budget and I've served on the Library Evaluation Committee. I’m on the Middle States Evaluation team that prepares all aspects of our school for scrutiny by other educators across the state.
I’ve been sophomore class sponsor, junior class sponsor, forensics coach and play director. I absolutely love my job and I love all my students. I’m lucky to work in a school district with supportive administrators and a staff who feels the same as I do. I wake up everyday looking forward to nine periods of excitement. Each day is different and there’s never a dull moment. My students are smart and funny, passionate and challenging, and they keep me on my toes. They are my own little Alzheimer's prevention corps forcing me to use my brain to keep those electrical charges zapping across miles of synapses.
But, on a normal day, in a normal week, here’s what I do. This is all true. Pat Conroy and Stephen King couldn’t make up this stuff.
I arrive at 6:15 AM for a parent conference carrying the 150 essays and tests I spent four hours grading the night before. I review daily lessons for two general English classes, two honors English classes, and two Journalism classes while I make 100 copies of eleven handouts, and on the way back to the English office break up a scuffle in the hall wondering if I should get my latex gloves in case there's blood. I make sure my computer grade book is up to date by entering four classes of quiz grades so I can export for weekly sports eligibility, and fill out three Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for identified students, updating the Learning Support department on their mainstreamed students in my classes. I'll email or call three parents and leave messages that will be deleted when their kids come home and discover the English teacher’s voice on the answering machine or email address on the computer. I'll finish writing two college recommendations and figure out a way to teach the end of Romeo and Juliet without mentioning the word suicide.
I'll meet with the editors of the school paper, the students organizing the clothing drive for the homeless, the Junior Class officers and on the way to the English office have a chat with a student about her college entrance essay. I'll practice random acts of kindness, and try to figure out a way to make adverb clauses fun. I'll check out the girls' the lav for smokers or cell phone use and talk to the student wearing the “Big Johnson” t-shirt about violating the dress code.
Over the years I've called the office about the exploding furnace and geyser in room 40, the creative, anatomically correct, yet borderline pornographic pictures drawn on the lockers in the Juniors' hall, the "I can see my breath" arctic frost in room 218, the Sahara Desert heat in room 37, and the hundreds of live crickets in the girls’ restroom - don’t ask.
Just before I leave the office for first period I'll make a mental plan for a department meeting after school focusing on the new state standards for public education, send the day's lesson to my student in the detention room, send three weeks of lessons to my student receiving home bound instruction, make a note to remind students about field trip money, yearbook deadline, class ring orders, senior picture schedules, musical auditions, prom tickets, eye exams, sports physicals, the test tomorrow, homework tonight, and inform a starting lineman on the football team he will be ineligible for tonight’s game if he doesn't finish writing his Shakespearean sonnet. As I walk into my first period class I'll send a student to get the custodian to remove the dead mouse from the overhead light.
In my classroom I’m to maintain a warm and caring environment, be a paragon of virtue and a positive role model. No second chances for me if I get caught driving under the influence, having an affair, or dealing drugs. No signing bonus, no overtime, no stock options, no profit sharing, no travel allowance, no company car, no expense accounts or business lunches. I do, however, have a free pass to all athletic events, band and choral concerts, musicals, class plays, and graduations, which I am expected to attend.
During the day, I’m to check for signs of abuse, depression, drugs, and eating disorders, and to be on the lookout for weapons, bombs, harassment or antisocial behavior. If I fail to report any of these behaviors I could be arrested. I’m to instill in my students a love of learning, a desire to excel, a zest for life, positive self-esteem and respect for the law. I’m to prepare them for the 21st century but teach with a “back to basics” philosophy. I’m to add to my certification every five years with at least thirty credits in my field at my own expense and update the English curriculum on my own time. As a member of the Student Assistance Team I must continue my education on the drug culture and language, awareness of troubled teens, and laws pertaining to both. I must be computer literate keeping one step ahead of the young “Bill Gates” in my classes, integrating technology into my lessons, and checking all web-sites for offensive material. All my grades must be updated daily on my computer grade book so parents can check their child's grade from their computer at home making sure all homework has been turned in and there's an A on all tests. If something is amiss, I'll get an email or call immediately. Summers are spent taking classes, attending workshops on adolescent behavior and reviewing, updating and revising the curriculum.
And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love this stuff and I’m not alone. Thousands of other teachers do this and more everyday, some with a starting salary just above the poverty level.
I’m not holding a scalpel over someone’s heart, or guiding jumbo jets onto a runway, or researching a cure for AIDS, or negotiating world peace. But, one of my students may do one of these things someday. Don’t you want them taught by someone who is well-rested?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bad Country and Flying Mattresses Redux

First posted 9/10

My children seemed to have grown up too fast and suddenly I'm left with plenty of time to reflect on their childhood. A little Super 8 movie plays 24-7 in my brain about those years. Other little Super 8 movies play too, mostly my fantasy camp ones, where I can be whoever I want to be. :) But, the kids' movie is real and I can't manipulate that one.

Often I think about the things I could have done better and the times I blew it. I always hope they forget about those times and remember the good stuff. Right now two things that were not planned but created good memories have been dancing around in my head. One was Bad Country and the other was Mattress Trips.

We built our house in a big field on the edge of a wooded area. We cut down trees and moved dirt to carve out a space for our home. We left the field and the wooded areas that we didn't need for the house, alone.

In the wooded area and field we mowed what started out to be a path but the riding mower took on a mind of its own and with twists and turns the path became a labyrinth. We kept it mowed that way for many years and as the field grew the paths disappeared from view from the house. They were still there, but invisible to a cautious parent watching from the kitchen window.

The labyrinth came to be called, "Bad Country" for the same reason a blanket becomes a Bop, a pacifier becomes a Nuk and Grandfather becomes Pop-pop. Nobody remembers why or when the name was born, but Bad Country it was. Bad County became the natural playground for an imaginative boy and girl. Finding unusual plants and little animals plus holes formed by the underground springs kept the little boy's attention for many afternoons. A tiny shallow pond where it was easy to find minnows and snakes and gems in the water sat close by.

The mattress took flight on rainy days when the boy and girl were quite small. With nothing else to do before nap time but read a story, I began to invent an adventure that started right in the house.

The three of us would climb on the king sized mattress just as the roof opened up to reveal the vast blue sky. The mattress would lift from the frame and up we'd go high above the house floating safely toward the east coast and Atlantic Ocean. We'd be able to peak over the side and watch the ground pass beneath us as we soared down the coast naming each state as we passed over it, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and finally to Florida and beyond until we found our special island.

The flying mattress would land softly on the sand and we'd live on our island for as long as we wanted. Plenty of fresh fruit and easily caught fish plus fire wood and matches I'd always conveniently have in my pocket, helped us survive.

We'd play until our hair grew long and curly, and our jeans and t-shirts, torn and bleached white from the salt water and hot sun, were mere shreds of cloth covering our skin. I told them we'd be brown as toast as we built sand castles and collected shells.

Soon it would be time to climb on the mattress for the trip home and up we'd go again floating gently back up the coast, into the top of our house and gently down on the bed frame again.

They loved these stories and they began adding their own details to the trips. It was fun while it lasted, but you know kids, they make a habit of growing up, darn them, and Bad Country and Flying Mattress are now distant memories of good times.

Comfort Food Redux

First posted 9/09

I made this bread today after work. It's the best bread I've ever tasted and it was so easy. I've included the website where I found the recipe.

The Pioneer Woman

I took the picture this afternoon right after the bread came out of the oven, with no special settings on my camera. Just a Nikon Coolpix point and shoot. It was around 4 pm. But doesn't this look almost spiritual? It's been a rough couple of days here and you want to hear something funny? I found the recipe on The Pioneer Woman's site, but it was really from this site:

This is Reverb.

And you know what this guy does besides cook? He preaches. Yep, he's a preacher. :) He was visiting The Pioneer Woman's lodge when he made the bread.

Thanks, Reverb! :)

She Gets It Redux

First posted 10/09

It was a big day for Mrs. Obama in Pittsburgh, playing international hostess for an all female cast of 21 G20 spouses, taking them to the Andy Warhol Museum for lunch and a tour and a performance at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School. In her remarks, Mrs. Obama talked about the power of the arts as a uniting force that transcends different languages and cultures.

"You don't need to be a Van Gogh to paint a picture, or a Maya Angelou to write a poem," Mrs. Obama said. "You don't need a Grammy or an Oscar or an Emmy to make your work on the cultural life of your community or your country a valuable one. And to people who might not speak a single word of the same language, who might not have a single shared experience, might still be drawn together when their hearts are lifted by the notes of a song, or their souls are stirred by a vision on a canvas.''
Lynn Sweet

A Cautionary Tale - A Sad Ending Redux

First posted 5/10

If you have preteens or teenagers, go here and read the story of a mother and son:

But, be warned, it's not easy to read. The mom's writing is honest, poignant and gut-wretching. You can't turn away...

Role Reversal - Redux

First posted 10/09

About 27 years ago when my daughter was four and I was teaching Lamaze classes I would be invited to speak to nursing school classes when they went through their ObGyn rotation. Since her brother was in first grade, I would take my daughter with me to the gig. I would put her at a desk or table somewhere near me or in the back of the room with a coloring book and some crayons while I spoke. She never interrupted, or fussed and was content for the hour or so I had to work.

Fast forward to today. My flight arrived in NYC around 11 a.m. and I went directly to her office in Manhattan. We traveled to an elementary school to watch Rosie's Broadway Kids' teaching artists in action. RBKids organization sends professional musicians and dancers into under privileged schools in Manhattan and teaches song, dance and movement to 5th graders for a semester. Those little 5th graders sang and danced their way through 45 minutes of Shrek's, Let Your Freak Flag Fly.

Oh my goodness, I was in heaven. Kids on stage (and on a track) do that to me. I told Thecla, the instructor, "If you know anyone who needs cheering up, send these kids to them." My daughter and I left the school singing the song and laughing about the cute things the kids did.

We stopped for a quick lunch at "Five Napkin Burger" (we had salads:) and then went back to her office since there was still part of her work day left.

So what am I doing now as she finishes up her work day...sitting at a desk nearby hers, coloring. :) Ha! Not really coloring, but writing.

Is this how life is supposed to work?

Mother's Day 2010