Tuesday, March 31, 2015

All Tucked in on Galley Street

At night,
on Galley Street,
Granny buttoned up the house.
She locked both locks
and checked them twice
and pushed steel wool
in the crack under the basement door
to keep the mice away.
 
Then she checked on me.
"Warm enough?"
Always.
I slept on the couch,
tucked under the corduroy crazy quilt.
The grandfather clock stood guard.
Papaw and Granny slept in their room,
leaving the door open
in case I needed anything in the night.
 
I fell asleep to their synchronized snores,
his rumbling grumble and her whiffling snuffle.
Out back,
on the other side of the river,
a train whistle blew.
 
Just outside the glow of the porch light,
stories unfolded as I slept.
The next day,
I looked for them,
balancing on the cracked stone wall,
jumping over the drainage ditch.
 
I tasted stories in green apples
picked from my great grandfather's tree.
I read them
in the crisscrosses
of Granny's perfect embroidery stitches.
 
Galley Street was filled with stories,
and I collected them like shells, or stones, or feathers.
I kept them safe
until I was ready to share them
with the world.

Thanks to all of you who have visited Galley Street this month! If not for the Slice of Life Writing Challenge, I may not have taken the time to remember what a magical place Galley Street was for me as a child and is for me, now, as a writer. If not for Two Writing Teachers, I know I would not have had the opportunity to visit all the wonderful places in this neighborhood of readers and writers. I have learned so much, and I have had so much fun! Stop by Galley Street any time. You're always welcome.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring Break, Sons, Shopping, and Chocolate


My younger son and I took my older son to the airport today. Their grandmother, a retired flight attendant, is treating him to a belated birthday trip...four days in New York City. Jack has never flown alone before, and I was a little worried. Without boarding passes, we couldn't walk with him to the gate; so we had to say our good-byes at security.
Will and I waited and watched as Jack put his suitcase and backpack on the conveyor belt, walked through the scanner, and gathered his stuff up again.
"Did you see him put his wallet back in his pocket?" I asked.
Will said he did.
Jack turned and waved to us once more before climbing on the escalator. We watched until the escalator lifted him slowly out of our line of sight.
Jack likes to be on the go.
Jack will be fine. He was excited.
Will and I will be fine; but we were sad.
We turned around and headed for the exit. My shoulders slumped a little. This will be the first spring break ever that we all haven't been together...whether at home or on vacation. While that fact alone makes me sad, it makes me sadder to think that in only two years we'll be sending Jack off to college.
Will put his arm around my shoulders.
I put my sunglasses on.
"Are you crying a little?" he asked. I wasn't, but I was thinking about it.
Will, who normally hates to shop, suggested that the two of us go to the mall. He said he needed new shoes. It was a good distraction.
We spent the afternoon trying on tennis shoes, eating soft pretzels, and browsing through the lacrosse section at the sporting goods store.
I bought a few things on sale; but Will couldn't find the shoes he wanted.
We made our way to the car.
"I'm leaving here feeling a little incomplete," he said. I wasn't sure if he was just talking about the shoes.
"We'll order a pair for you," I told him.
"I'd also kind of like a fondue fountain," he said. I wasn't sure if he really had a sudden urge for free-flowing chocolate, or if he was just trying to think of something to keep my spirits up.
Either way, he made me smile.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I grew up in a small town, where everyone not only knew my name...but my parents' names and my grandparents' names and my great grandparents' names. As I grew older, it felt a little too small at times, like a hairband that keeps your bangs in place but pinches behind the ears. I loved every minute of growing up there, but I longed to be a little fish in a big pond instead of a goldfish in a glass bowl.
I decided on a big state university in a medium-sized city and, though I moved to another state for a year after graduation, I eventually settled in the same city where I'd earned my bachelor's and graduate degrees. I love the city where we live. It's big enough to get lost in; but small enough to have favorite places and shortcuts and run into people you know...on occasion.
Every once in a while, though, I get an urge to be a "regular" someplace...to go somewhere where they know me and how I like my coffee and exactly what I like on my sandwich, without me having to remind them. I want to be like Norm or Cliff from Cheers and trade fun-spirited, spunky remarks with a kind-hearted Coach and a snarky, but loveable, Carla. I guess this desire harkens back to the days when I sat at the big bench seat in Don's Restaurant and always had a grilled cheese sandwich with pickles on the side. Maybe it's a lingering memory of the dozens of times I walked up to the snack bar at Rexall's, and the lady behind the counter always knew I'd take either an Orangeade or a Lemon Sour.
Sometimes I just want to be recognized and understood and predictable and appreciated and known.
A couple years ago, my husband and sons and I discovered a barbecue place that we all loved. I announced that I'd like to become a regular there. Actually, I think I said that I was going to become a regular there. I decided, in order to do this, I would order the same thing, fixed the same way, every time I visited. I always ordered the baked potato topped with pulled pork...every time.
Every time, I was disappointed when I went to pick up the to-go order and someone different was at the counter. This was never going to work if I had to introduce myself to someone new every visit. Why did they have so many employees? Still, I kept at it. I placed my order and explained that I wanted the sour cream on the side...again.
They always asked how to pronounce my last name. I never became a regular.
After several visits, I gave up. My older son was with me when we went to pick up our call-in order for the last time.
I felt ridiculously sad.
"I just really wanted them to know me...you know...like a regular...like, even if they didn't know my actual name, they could at least call me by the name of my usual order when I walked in the door..."
My son glanced behind us at the overhead menu board and then at the bag of Styrofoam carry-out containers in my arms. He knew my usual...the loaded potato with the pulled pork on top. I got it every time.
"You know, Mom," he said, with wisdom beyond his years. "I don't think you would have liked it if you walked in the door and they called you 'Phat Spud.' That is the name of what you get, you know."
I'd never thought about that.
We had a good laugh. Maybe I was recognized and understood and predictable and appreciated and known after all. I definitely did not want to be called Phat Spud, even if it meant I was a regular.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

There's No Place Like Home

I'm not ashamed to admit that I loved playing with Barbie dolls. I never noticed the fact that Barbie and her friends were demeaning to women of all ages based solely on their unrealistic shapeliness and their flawless faces. It wasn't about Barbie's appearance. I didn't care if her hair got stiff and snarly or if she lost one of those teensy pink heels that were impossible to keep on her permanently tippy-toed feet. It was all about the stories. I had millions of stories sprouting and blooming in my head, and I was desperate to pluck them out...to give the characters a voice.
Barbie, Ken, Skipper, Midge, PJ (an updated version of Midge), and Scott (Skipper's friend) suited my purposes to a tee. I played with them every day...always immersing them in one drama or another. My parents and grandparents fed my addiction, branching out from Barbie and friends to buy other Barbie-sized dolls for me...Dolly Parton, The Captain and Tenille, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie Osmond. My characters had grown into an ensemble cast.
I could entertain myself for hours.
My sister, who was four years younger, was not aware of the intricate plot twists I had prepared for each Barbie session. She was more interested in dressing the dolls up and "coming to visit." While my Barbies were embroiled in the heat of an argument or the throes of despair, my sister would walk her doll over to my area of the playroom and make her give an awkward stiff-armed knock on the invisible door that separated my area from hers.
Irritated by this interruption, my Barbie whipped the invisible door open and stood there expectantly.
"Yes?!?" I made my doll say.
"Can I borrow some bread?" my sister's doll asked. Seriously. That was her only line.
While I am not ashamed of playing with Barbies, I am ashamed to say that my doll usually shouted, "I'm out of bread!" or "Buy your own bread!" or something equally harsh, turned on her little plastic heels, and slammed the invisible door on my sister's doll, barely missing her tiny chewed-up plastic fingers.
My sister would retreat to the other side of the playroom and watch as I acted out the scene where my one-armed Skipper brought everyone to tears with her brave gymnastics routine.
Then, one day, tragedy struck. I was playing outside in the fenced-in front yard. It was a sunny day, and my Barbies were spread out on the lawn, the front porch stoop, and the concrete walkway. I had multiple story lines playing out in my head, maneuvering from one scene to the next when I realized I needed to take a quick break to go inside and use the bathroom. I was only gone for a few minutes, thinking the whole time about the next chapter in one of the many ongoing sagas my dolls were acting out for me. I hurried back out to play some more only to find that my favorite doll, Dorothy, was missing. I knew exactly where I'd left her, and she wasn't there. I was stumped. I walked, then crawled, from one pile of dolls to the next, raking my hands through the short grass. Where was she? I found her tiny yellow woven basket with the little gray Toto still inside; but Dorothy was gone. I retraced my steps, looking carefully in the bathroom just in case I had carried her in with me...no sign of her. She was missing. No one in my family seemed to know anything about her disappearance. I gathered up my other dolls and put them away for the day. Dorothy was gone. The next few afternoons, my Barbie stories were devoted to mourning her loss. Barbie and friends moved on; but I always wondered what in the world had happened to Dorothy.
A few years ago, my sister and I were talking about toys we'd had as kids and how we wished we'd kept them in mint condition and wouldn't we make a fortune on eBay, and then I wistfully mentioned the day that Dorothy went missing. My sister was uncharacteristically quiet.
I stared at her.
"Do you know what happened to Dorothy?" I asked.
She looked a little sheepish.
"I thought you knew," she said.
"Knew what?" I asked.
"I thought you knew that I took Dorothy that day and hid her in the basement in a hole in that cinderblock wall."
I couldn't believe it. After all those years, I had discovered Dorothy's fate; and it was just as horrific as I'd imagined.
"Well you should go right back there and get her...at least see if she's still there!" I said.
"We haven't lived in that house in 29 years!" my sister exclaimed. "Those people will think I'm crazy if I ask to go into their basement and look for a doll I hid there three decades ago."
"I can't believe you did that," I said, my voice brimming with indignation. Then I remembered all the times I'd ignored her while my Barbies and I acted out one adventure after another. I knew, in my heart, that Dorothy's abduction had been partly my fault. My little sister had just wanted to play. I should have given her all that imaginary bread she'd asked to borrow and maybe Dorothy would have been spared. At least I finally knew what had happened to my favorite doll.
That Christmas, following my sister's confession, she seemed especially excited for me to open my gift from her. I unwrapped the box to find Dorothy, circa 1974, mint condition, the little woven basket with Toto included. Granted, it wasn't my Dorothy; but it was the thought that counted. Come to think of it, I should have given my sister a loaf of bread.

Friday, March 27, 2015

S'more Than Enough

1 field trip
3 weeks of planning
1 purchase order
98 permission slips
3 multiple receipt forms
2 bus orders
1 money bag
1, 568 dollars
5 dollars in change
1 box of band-aids
2 inhalers
1 EpiPen
98 kids
6 teachers
1 parent volunteer
2 bus drivers
30 minutes on the road
45 degree weather
8 challenge guides
2 get-to-know-you games
16 challenges
1 scraped shin
98 sack lunches
1 campfire
300 marshmallows
100 Hershey bars
600 graham crackers
25 roasting sticks
980 sticky fingers
98 sticky faces
1 final challenge
196 muddy tennis shoes
30 minutes on the road
5 thank you hugs
15 "Best field trip ever"s
98 smiling faces
S'more than enough for
1 tired teacher









Thursday, March 26, 2015

Library Fines

I love the library...always have, always will; but I am not in good standing at our local library right now. I have a fine. This is not the first time, and it is not fine with me.
When I was growing up, the librarian at our elementary school trusted me implicitly. Her name was Ms. H., and she had the tiniest little pair of round, frameless glasses that she actually peered over and around in order to look at us. She loved to read scary stories aloud, and actually read stories that were so scary that some parents complained to the principal. It didn't seem to faze Ms. H. When she wasn't reading us horror stories, she sat at her big oak desk and read books to herself while whole classes of little kids roamed around her library unsupervised. The teachers, assuming Ms. H. was in charge, always took a break during our library hour. Sometimes we had to say Ms. H.'s name a couple of times to get her attention. Even so, I thought she was wonderful.
Right away, she realized how much I loved books. When new boxes of books were delivered to school, she would let me carry the boxes from the office to the library where she entrusted me with a box cutter (still can't believe this) and left me to unpack the new books while she read. I was in heaven. I can still remember carefully slicing through the packing tape, worried lest I scratch up a book inside...never mind about slicing off my fingers. I would peel open the box lid and run my hands over the colorful covers. Then I would select a book, lift it out, and always, always open it and smell the pages. I still love the smell of a book...new, old, musty, hardcover, paperback.
No one who knew me then would have believed that I, mini assistant librarian at the age of 10, would ever...EVER, be in bad standing at any library; but I am.
Several years ago, I checked out a huge stack of folk tale collections to share with my class. When I returned the books to the library, in the same plastic milk crate I had carried them out in when I checked them out, the thin little book of Jack tales was gone. I traipsed back out to my car and searched under the seats and in the trunk as if I thought perhaps the book itself was as big a trickster as its main character. Of course, the book was not in the car. I promised the librarian I would check my classroom; and I did. I asked students to check their lockers and their backpacks. I emailed all the parents and asked them to look around their houses. We never found the book. I had to buy it...from the library. It was expensive; and, since the book had disappeared, I had nothing to show for my money. I consoled myself with the fact that at least my borrowing privileges were reinstated.
I took it on the chin and continued checking out.
Then, a couple of years ago, another book in my possession met an unfortunate end. Books are always traveling around in the car with me...tucked in the glove box, in the center console, in the side compartment of the driver's side door, in the stretchy pocket on the back of the passenger seat. Somehow, one of these special passengers ended up in the backseat floorboard...right next to the leaky water jug my son takes to soccer practice. It didn't turn out well. I had to buy the book...from the library. Apparently, water damage is the unpardonable sin. This time, I got to keep the book which was still completely legible, just a little wavy across the top. I put it on my shelf at school.
My borrowing privileges were reinstated; and I carried on...a little more cautiously then before.
Now, it has happened again. During our recent snowy winter, I checked out many, many books. I left them stacked neatly on the bench beneath my kitchen window. That window has never leaked...never. It was a very safe and responsible place to stack my books.
The window leaked.
A book got wet. I know the drill. I will now have to buy the book...from the library. The librarian does not know, nor would she ever believe, that I once was the MOST privileged little person in our elementary library...that I was the FIRST to welcome books into our school and unpack them and shelve them. I used the box cutter for heaven's sake and never had a single incident! Nothing bad happened to any book on my watch.
I can barely stand the thought of going in to the library to admit that I have damaged yet another book. In order to avoid the inevitable shame, I have let the fine add up for a couple of weeks. This weekend, it will all come to a head. I will have to build up the nerve to face the raised eyebrows and knowing glances of the librarian. Where is Ms. H. now...when I need her most? Where is that blissfully oblivious librarian who trusted me completely?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tacky Splendor


My students and I have had so much fun this year with Myra Cohn Livingston's book I Am Writing A Poem About...A Game of Poetry. In the book, Livingston explains how she challenged the students in her master poetry class and how they rose to the challenge. Livingston initiated the Game of Poetry by requiring her students to write a poem that included the word "rabbit." After the poems were written and shared, she amped it up a notch and asked each student to submit some words for the next round. This time, students were required to write a poem containing three seemingly unrelated words: ring, drum, and blanket. Spurred on by the success of their poetry, the students continued until they had six words to puzzle into poetry.
My students were fascinated by the poems featured in Livingston's book; and we discussed, at great length, the images and themes that emerged from the juxtaposition of the words. They marveled at how different the poems were and were impressed that the poetry students had not sacrificed meaning for rhyme. We investigated the various poetry forms: free verse, haiku, limerick... My students wanted to give it a try; so we did.
I carried around my little red bucket, and students tossed in nouns they'd scribbled on scraps of paper. I closed my eyes and chose a word, wrote it on the whiteboard, and we began. Their enthusiasm was infectious. We couldn't stop. Two weeks and four rounds later, I found myself faced with the words flamingo, turtle, marshmallows, and seahorse. These kids couldn't be serious! I was stumped. I worried and worked the words around in my head like marbles in a wooden maze. Finally, I came up with the following poem...about retirement. These children were making my brain hurt. After sharing my poem with the class and taking a quick bow at their polite applause, I couldn't help but wonder how in the world I could even think about retiring when I was having so much fun.
Tacky Splendor
One day I will retire
in tacky splendor...
where I will read books
in a yellow and white striped lawn chair,
with a faded pink flamingo
reading over my shoulder.
I will take salty morning walks
and sweep sand out the kitchen door...
and track sand in again.
I will hang a lighthouse painting
on the wall behind the couch
and worry over a nest of turtle eggs,
protected by a makeshift fence.

I will wake up early enough
to find unbroken shells washed ashore;
but I will collect the broken ones anyway.

I will roast marshmallows
on a driftwood fire,
and marvel at the dancing rainbow flames.
For now, I will settle for a herd of seahorse magnets,
corralled on the refrigerator door;

But one day...
I will call a beach house...
“Home.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dirty Laundry

I should be doing laundry. Anyone entering my house right now while I am writing my post for today would wisely advise me to do the laundry or would at least think to herself, "This woman should stop writing and start doing the laundry."
The problem with laundry is that it never, really, gets done. At no point in time will I be able to completely check laundry off my to do list. I have thought about this often while doing the laundry and also while doing anything else to avoid doing the laundry. Even if I had every stitch of clothes, towels, sheets, and blankets washed, dried, folded, and put away, I could not check laundry off my list because I, my husband, and my sons would be wearing more laundry that would need washing the moment we removed it from our bodies. Laundry will be with us always.
When my boys were about 4 and 6 years old, they invited a few other boys over to play. It was a rainy day; so they asked if they could play downstairs. At that time, we were living in a little Cape Cod with an unfinished basement. The boys kept some toys down there, scattered out on an old throw rug. We had several storage boxes lined around the walls, and my washer and dryer were hidden away down there as well. This setup came in handy more times than I care to remember. Unexpected company coming over? We all knew the drill.
"Everyone, quick! Grab an armful of dirty laundry from the bedroom/bathroom/hallway floor and throw it down the basement steps!"
Who cared where it landed?!? It was out of sight, and I could sort and pile it later. All the while, our unexpected, unsuspecting guests would assume we were a tidy family...our only dirty clothes - the ones we were wearing.
On that play date, 10 years ago, I knew I had quite a bit of laundry downstairs; but surely those little guests would pay no attention.
Before giving the go-ahead, I absently checked to make sure I didn't have a bra dangling from the side of the open staircase. Nope, I had recently gathered our scattered clothes from the last unexpected visit and had everything sorted into mountainous piles.
"Sure," I said. "You can play down there."
Several minutes later, I was drawn to the open basement door by the sound of excited laughter and the slap, slap of little bare feet running across the concrete floor. I crept down the stairs, expecting to find them playing a game of tag, but no. One of my boys had his hands over his eyes counting to 10 while his brother and their guests hid in, and behind, my giant piles of laundry.
My piles of laundry were big enough to conceal an entire child...in some cases, two whole children. They would burrow under and bounce out at each other like groundhogs or moles. I was embarrassed; but I decided I should play it off as intentional...as if I meant to leave huge piles of dirty clothes for the children's enjoyment.
I promised myself that day that I would get my laundry under control. I would get it done! I would DO the laundry. Children would never be able to hide in my laundry again!
Ten years later, I have broken that promise more times than I care to remember.
As I write, a pair of shorts, an odd sock, and two pairs of khakis are lounging on the leather recliner. A quilt that I washed, folded, and left on the loveseat until I had time to put it away has been unfolded and wallowed on by the dog.
The laundry is not done, but my post for today is...
At least I can check something off that to do list.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Home...Sick

My boys are sick today. Jack, 16, woke up with his eyes nearly swollen closed.
"Allergies," I was quick to diagnose, although he usually doesn't struggle with allergies.
My prescription: "Hop in the shower, and you might feel better." He nodded and wandered into his bathroom, squinting through his poor, puffy eyes.
Hoping for the best, I scurried back and forth from my room to the kitchen, checking on the canned biscuits I'd popped in the oven, transferring the boys' sandwiches from the fridge to their lunch bags, filling the dog's bowl. While hobbling through the hall, looking for a missing shoe the dog had carried off, I ran into Will, age 13. He had already showered and dressed; but his cheeks looked unnaturally pink, and when he spoke, his voice was scratchy.
"I don't feel so good," he said. I felt his forehead. No temp.
"Hmmm..." My diagnosis: "Could be drainage." My prescription: "Get a cold drink and move around a little. You might feel better."
By the time I had dried my hair, applied my makeup, and walked the dog, Jack (now showered and dressed) was clearly not feeling any better. He had fallen sound asleep on the couch.
Will was still upright, but he was fading fast.
He had followed my advice; but the cold drink hadn't cleared his throat at all. He had stopped moving around and was sitting at the kitchen table.
"My ears hurt, too," he said.
Dr. Mom was going to have to call for a consult.
I phoned a sub and headed out to school to set out lesson plans. On my way back home, I called our family doctor and made appointments for later this afternoon.
Now we are home...sick. Will is curled up on the loveseat, under the monster blanket he's had since he was much younger. He has control of the remote. Jack is asleep on the couch again, still wearing the red hoodie he'd picked out to wear to school today. I put a TV tray between them so they could have easy access to their ice-filled cups of Sierra Mist.
The dog is wound around Jack's feet, enjoying this unexpected turn of events.
Today, I will be Dr. Mom; and although my diagnoses are not always accurate and my prescriptions are rarely effective, I work hard to perfect my bedside manner. After all, I love my patients and realize it won't be too many years before they're out on their own...and Dr. Mom won't have the chance to help them feel better.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lunch Ladies

My Grandma was a cafeteria lady at my elementary school. Occasionally, I would sleep over at her house on a school night, and she and I would ride to school in the lunch lady carpool. My Grandma never learned how to drive. It was too far for her to walk to the elementary school, so everyday she rode with Mollie, the head cafeteria lady. Mollie lived near Grandma. Mollie wore glasses and had grayish-black hair that she wore straight on top and curly on the sides. She drove a big, boxy car. I believe it was tan, maybe with a dark brown top.
Grandma and I sat in the back on a bench seat. This was in the 1970s, so we didn't worry about seatbelts. I usually sat in Grandma's lap. Vicey, another lunch lady, sat in the front passenger seat; and Mollie's two grown daughters, Glenda and Linda, sat in the back with Grandma and me. They also worked in the cafeteria.
We arrived at school before most of the other teachers and children were awake. Mollie parked the car, and we all piled out. Mollie had a key to the back kitchen entrance. It was quiet except for the hum of the overhead lights. Mollie and Vicey and Glenda and Linda and Grandma got to work. They put on their smocks and hairnets; and Grandma made biscuits, rolling out the dough and cutting it with the little round biscuit cutter. She set the biscuits on the huge metal baking pans and fed the pans into the gaping mouth of the industrial-sized oven. Glenda and Linda set out the little milk cartons, red and white for whole milk, brown and white for chocolate, and sometimes pink and white for strawberry. Vicey sprayed out the sink with a faucet attached to a long winding hose while Mollie scrubbed and peeled potatoes.
I know it must have been noisy in that big school kitchen with pots and pans banging about and water bubbling to a boil and Grandma and Mollie chatting and Glenda and Linda laughing and Vicey commenting every once in a while. I know it must have been noisy; but I only remember the hum of the overhead lights and the faint squeak of their sensible soft-soled shoes as they bustled about making breakfast.

My Grandma
with freckled, floury fingers
that smelled of celery
and perfumed powder
was a cafeteria lady
at my elementary school.
 
She wore
a black hair net
on her red-brown curls
and handed me a carton of milk
everyday;
 
And on the Friday nights
when I slept over
she'd serve
pigs in a blanket,
peanut butter bars,
and salty popcorn in metal bowls;
 
and her hands
were always kneading...
needing
it seemed to me
to shape the dough for hundreds of strangers' children
to shape me.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Monkey Trouble

When my younger son, Will, was three years old, I caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye. He was getting ready to do something he was not supposed to do. Rather than allow him to go through with it, I decided to intervene.
"Will," I said, calmly and clearly, "if you do that, you are going to get in trouble."
He paused but did not turn toward me. After a moment, he turned around, walked up to me and looked up into my eyes.
"What kind of trouble?" he asked.
I explained to him that it didn't matter what kind of trouble, that it would be trouble with a capital T and he would not like it.
He thought for a moment, tilted his head to the side and decided that it wasn't worth the trouble...at least not that time.
I was a little rattled. It was obvious that my three-year-old actually considered going ahead with his misbehavior if the thrill of the crime outweighed whatever consequence he had to pay.
I began to wonder if my repertoire of consequences was sufficient.
A few years, and many misdeeds later, Will had pushed his limits once too often. He was in big trouble, capital T Trouble. I remember escorting him upstairs to his room.
"You are NOT to come out of this room until I say so," I said. He climbed onto his bed and looked at me.
"I mean it!" I said. I was angry, but he didn't seem fazed by it.
I looked around. Of course he wasn't worried. His room was filled with enough toys and games to keep him occupied all afternoon.
I stalked over to a large plastic bin filled with action figures and snapped on the lid, dragging it out the door of his room and into the hallway.
Then I scooped all his stuffed animals off the top of his bed and carried them out as well, piling them on the landing.
"No books either," I said, grabbing books off his shelf and carrying them out. I had to make several trips.
By the time I had all his stuff piled in the hallway, he was looking a little more humbled.
"There," I said. "You must sit here with nothing to do but think about your actions!"
I turned and stalked out of his room, leaving the door open so I could hear him if he started moving around. I had to stop stalking when I got to the hall and had to do a little sidling past his belongings. I had barely left a foot path. No fun was going to be had in that room that day! I was going to make sure of it.
Several minutes later, I was still hovering around the foot of the staircase, straining my ears for any noises...nothing.
Had he fallen asleep? That did not seem like an effective punishment... Was he crying silently into his pillow, feeling sorry for the way he had behaved? I didn't hear any sniffling.
I made my way quietly up the stairs and peeked through the crack in the door. My six year old was lying on top of the covers, his head propped on his elbow, looking out the window at the gabled roof. What was he looking at? It was a terrible view; all he could see was the roof line and the top of the garage. I pushed the door open slowly, but he did not turn around. I let myself in and sat on the edge of his bed.
"Well," I said, " I guess you're feeling pretty bad about what happened earlier." He nodded but did not look at me. He was still staring, fixedly, out the window.
"You know," I said, "Daddy and I love you very much and that's why we have to make you sure you understand right from wrong and how to behave." He nodded, still fascinated by something outside the window.
"It makes me very sad to have to punish you this afternoon," I said. "I don't like to have you up here by your...Will, WHAT are you looking at?"
He turned around to face me.
"Take a look." He waved his hand out the window.
I peered through the curtains.
"I don't see anything interesting," I said.
"Look...right there, that leaf in the gutter. He looks just like a tiny little monkey, and he does tricks when the wind blows."
I looked closer. Sure enough, one small, twisted leaf stood upright in the gutter. Parts of the blade had broken away; and other parts had curled around the stem, making it look for the world like a tiny dancing monkey. I was mesmerized.
"He's funny, isn't he?" Will asked. He had moved closer to me, and both our faces were practically pressed against the glass. That dancing leaf monkey WAS funny.
I closed the curtains.
"...and no more looking out the window!" I said, emphatically, trying to hold onto the indignation I had felt earlier.
"Sorry, mom," he said...and, for the first time that day, he seemed sincerely sad about all that had happened.
Of course, I forgave him; and we moved his stuff back into his room later that afternoon. I couldn't resist one last look at the monkey in the gutter, though. He was still out there, dancing merrily beneath the eaves.
Will is thirteen now, and he's a good boy. Both my boys are good boys; I'm proud of them. Now that they're teenagers, my husband and I continue to struggle with finding the perfect consequence for those times when they make poor choices. Sometimes we get it right; but more often than not, we simply hope to stumble upon the one unexpected thing we can say or do that will help them realize how to correct their behavior and step back on the right path. Parenting is tough; and it's not always possible to close the curtains on temptation. I'll never forget that little dancing monkey who seemed to be mocking me and my feeble attempts to correct my son; but I have to remind myself that that troublesome monkey blew away later that night.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Ladies Who Lunch

Today, Judy and I were ladies who lunch. Normally we eat lunch in our crowded school cafeteria. She eats with eighth graders; I eat with seventh. We have approximately 22 minutes for lunch, give or take a minute.
By the time I escort my 34 third-hour students to the cafeteria, then realize I have once again forgotten to turn off the overhead projector, run back to turn off the projector, sit down, unpack my lunch, and look for kids with raised hands ("Yes, you may get up to get a napkin," "No, it's not time to get in line for seconds,"), I only have a few minutes to eat. I joke with the kids when we get back to the classroom.
"Ignore the sandwich-shaped lump in my throat," I say. They also wish we had a longer lunch break.
Today, though, Judy and I attended an off-site professional development training. We enjoyed the presentation and participated enthusiastically in the hands-on strategy demonstrations. We conferred with teachers from seven different states and tried to arm ourselves with new approaches to old problems. We read, and laughed, and learned something new...and, maybe most importantly, we ate a really good lunch.
With 60 whole minutes to enjoy, we drove to a quaint little bistro and sat at a glass-topped table for two. We ordered creamy homemade tuna on whole wheat bread and cups of rich lobster bisque. I splurged on the crab cake appetizer for us to split; and, in turn, Judy ordered a slice of cheesecake which we divided right down the middle. Oh how we lunched! We had time to talk and laugh some more; share ideas and insights; and catch up on life outside of school. We were ladies who lunch; and we were reminded that sometimes, a long, leisurely lunch with a friend is more nourishing than the food itself.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Carpool, Age 9

Carpooling home from ballet
with the other girls
They are graceful
I am gangly
My brown curls
spring free from
the pins
Their sleek blonde strands
stay smooth as ever
Waiting for our ride
I fling my arms into second position
straight into a perfect nose
indignant gasps
angry tears
rolled eyes
our ride arrives
I climb in last
staring at my pink shoes
trying to make myself as small
as the ballerina
in a music box





Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lay Off of My Blue Cheese Shoe

The day did not start well. Some days don't. This one went particularly sour. In my hurry to get out the door, I poured creamer in my coffee, snapped the cap on the creamer, flung open the refrigerator to replace the creamer and accidentally knocked a glass jar of blue cheese dressing off the fridge shelf and onto the kitchen floor. The jar cracked and blue cheese shot out across the hardwood and onto the toe of my right shoe.
My favorite pair of grey suede flats was ruined. I didn't have time to change, so I scooped the broken jar into the sink. That's right, the sink; I didn't even have time to carry it to the trash can. The dog was trying to lick up some of the blue cheese which I was pretty sure was not a good idea. I grabbed about 10 paper towels off the roll and smudged up the cheese sludge as best I could. All the while, the time on the clock above the stove seemed to be racing ahead. My heart was pounding. I threw all the cheesy paper towels into the sink...that's right, the sink.
I grabbed a couple more paper towels, wet them under the faucet, and went to work on my shoes. The left one was unscathed; but the right one...no saving it. I had to wear it anyway.
I was on my way to work with a soaked suede shoe that smelled like blue cheese.
I didn't expect the day to get much better. It lived up to my expectations. It was exactly the kind of day I expected to have in my blue cheese shoe.
The students were restless. They knew I'd be out at a professional development training for the next couple of days, so I guess they were gearing up for two days with a sub.
While I was trying to copy field trip permission slips, the copy machine jammed and lit up like an ambulance, red lights flashing all over the display panel. I grabbed the original off the glass and ran to another copier, running back to the first to clear the jam. I worked for several minutes pulling accordion-shaped permission slips from every crevice of that horrible machine. Then, as I slammed the last panel on the unjammed copier, I heard the warning beep on the second machine. Hello! Red lights blinked everywhere...seriously. I thought I caught a whiff of blue cheese as I ran over to machine number two and started furiously digging around for pleated permission slips.
Grades had to be finalized for report cards, learning check results had to be uploaded, sub plans had to be prepared...the day wore on. The cheese smell grew stronger. I hoped it was just my imagination. I finally dragged myself out of my classroom and into the parking lot exactly 12 hours and 15 minutes after I had arrived.
I'd been knocked down,
I felt slapped in the face,
and I'd worn a blue cheese shoe all over the place.
As I headed across the pavement to my lone car, I couldn't help but think...
Elvis has left the building.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Art of Giving

Today is my mother's birthday. She and Dad were visiting yesterday; so I let her open her present last night.
I gave her what my sons and husband call a "self gift." Apparently, I am prone to buying gifts for others that I secretly (or not-so-secretly) would like to use myself. I have argued with them over the years, defending myself against this accusation. I certainly do not buy gifts for others with the intent of using the gifts myself. I would never do that...
I bought my mother some special markers...supposedly the best markers in the world!
Since both my mother and I enjoy drawing, I found it hard to believe we had gone so long without this Cadillac of coloring supplies. I could hardly wait for her to unzip the little art case and see the pens.
"You got those pens!" she exclaimed. "You shouldn't have done that!"
The markers may also be the most expensive markers in the world.
I leaned forward conspiratorially. "They were on sale," I confessed. "I bought some for myself, too." I pulled out the fistful of markers I had concealed under the table.
My mother was shocked. "How many of those did you buy?" she whispered.
"Nine for you. Six for me. You can't buy them right off the shelf. You have to ask a manager to unlock the case so you can pick out the colors." I proceeded to give my mom a step-by-step account of how I decided which colors to get and how I kept changing my mind so the manager had to keep switching pens in and out of the case.
My mother was baffled by this.
"We have to buy more...while they're on sale," I told her. Even though the website I had consulted emphasized the importance of slowly building the collection, I was already feeling desperate to own more of them...in all colors...taking out a small loan if necessary.
I urged Mom to open the sketchbook I bought her, uncap a pen, and draw something! No need for inspiration.
Now that I (I mean we) had the markers in my (I mean our) possession, I (I mean we) couldn't wait to try them. Mom began drawing an apple while I used the flesh-toned markers to draw a caricature of a little bald baby. Mom shaded in the apple; I blushed the cheeks. We oohed and ahhed over the performance of the pens.
Mom's apple looked good enough to eat.
She used the pale yellow pen to provide a base color, added some red and pink highlights, a brown stem...a green leaf.
I looked at my shorter row of markers. Perhaps I should have paid a little more attention to the colors when I transferred Mom's nine markers from the shopping bag to her gift bag.
I had two shades of orange, a pink, a flesh tone, and a bright gold. I could draw a pale-skinned, red-haired person; a goldfish; a sunset; and a pumpkin...without the stem. Hmmm...
"The best part is," I said, thinking fast and fanning out my six pens for mom to get a good look. "We can share. Go ahead," I offered (generously). "Pick any of my colors, and I will trade for any of yours."
I could see my sons rolling their eyes knowingly, "Yep...self gift."
I'd been caught in the act, guilty as charged. I was a self gifter. I bought myself expensive markers for my mother's birthday.
Fortunately, my mother understood. Although she kept the original nine markers I'd given her; she said she was going to buy more and that we'd definitely share. She was awfully forgiving. I wondered if she'd ever self-gifted over the years...
Happy birthday, Mom...and, um, I could really use that sky blue...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Make Room

When my sons were little, I planned their themed birthday parties weeks in advance. I tried to develop the themes around their interests...a dinosaur dig, pirate party with a plank to walk, medieval ball with costumes for the birthday boy AND all his guests...
When Jack, who is now 16, turned four-years-old, he loved the movie Spy Kids. Action figures had just been released, and he had them all. He wanted a Spy Kids party. Unfortunately, our party supply store did not carry Spy Kids paper plates and napkins; so I had to improvise. Staying true to the color scheme on the movie posters, I bought orange and black plates, cups, napkins, balloons, and streamers. For the top of the cake, we bought a brand new pack of Thumb Thumbs, action figure villains aptly named since they looked like walking thumbs wearing suits.
I dressed Jack in a tiny pair of black cargo pants, an orange shirt, and a little black jacket so he would look like the boy in Spy Kids. My husband, following my careful plans, set up a Spy Kids identification badge template on the computer. As each guest arrived, he snapped his or her picture with a digital camera, uploaded the picture, and created a Spy Kids badge to insert into the  lanyards I had purchased.
By the time everyone had arrived, we had at least 15 pre-school spies running through the house. I was getting ready to line them up and direct them to the sets of laminated construction paper footprints that I had taped to the hardwood floors. They were supposed to follow the footprints to find the treasure chest...which I had filled with party favors.
Then my sister arrived...with a special gift for Jack. He rushed to his room, clutching the wrapped package to his chest and shut the door. He knew Aunt Sissy would not let him down.
A few minutes later, as Jack's guests happily trooped around on the footprint trail, Jack came out of his room...dressed as the Incredible Hulk. My sister's gift was a homemade costume...bulging green muscles and ripped-up denim shorts. Jack paused at the top of the landing to strike a pose. He growled menacingly. His guests stopped what they were doing to watch the Hulk stomp angrily down the stairs.
"Jack...Jack...," I said, realizing that Jack was deviating from the theme,"where is your Spy Kids outfit? Remember, you are a Spy Kid today. Jack, please go back to your room and put on your black pants and your orange shirt. Where is your lanyard with your Spy Kids' badge? Jack, the Hulk is NOT in the Spy Kids movie..."
In full Hulk mode, Jack would not answer. Instead, he began chasing his Spy Kids guests around the living room.
My plans had been foiled...by the Incredible Hulk. Feeling a little defeated, I watched as the kids ran through the house. Led by Jack in his ripped-up shorts, they eventually found the treasure chest and filled their goodie bags with recovered loot...inadvertently solving the mystery I had hoped the Spy Kids would solve. The Incredible Hulk was the hero of the day.
I've thought about that party over the years. It has become a life lesson for someone like me who thrives on schedules and plans and order and themes. Not only have I remembered it frequently as a mom; but I found it also applies to me as a teacher. No matter how carefully I plan my lessons or how well-coordinated a unit seems to be, I always remind myself to make room for the Hulk...the kid who has a different idea of the way things should go. I have learned, over the years, that children can still get to the prize, and have fun along the way, even if they don't always follow the footprints that I have carefully laid out for them. I try to remember to make room for the Hulk, because you never know when he might crash the party.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Home Perm?

I still don't know why my mother and I ever thought it was a good idea for me to see a "perm specialist." I know that mom was worried about giving me a home  perm. My hair was just wavy enough to cause all kinds of problems. It was also unusually thick and puffy, like a brown frizzy cloud hovering over my round, full-moon face. In the early 1980s, we did not own a straightening iron; and I refused to lay my head on the ironing board so mom could try to smooth out the errant wrinkles. Straight and silky was not an option; so I guess we reasoned that curly was the way to go...but a controlled kind of curly, the kind that only a perm specialist could provide.
My mother set up the appointment in the nearest city two hours away. We decided to make a day of it, shopping at the mall there, eating at a nice restaurant...all the while showing off my new, controlled curly permed hair. I would look like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, or Elisabeth Shue in Karate Kid. My wild hair would finally be tamed. That was the plan. I would have an actual hair style when I started high school the following week.
We arrived at the salon a few minutes early, and I had some time to flip through the hairstyle magazines. My confidence was growing. I could almost imagine my own smiling face staring back at me from the glossy pages, head tilted slightly to show off my new perm.
The perm specialist greeted me, but she did not make eye contact. She was staring at my hair as if psyching herself up for a real challenge. She led me into a room literally surrounded with mirrors and strapped a cape around my neck. It took a long time for her to roll all my bushy hair onto the tiny perm rods. Once each wayward strand was secured, she squirted my head with perm solution and covered the whole mess with a plastic cap. The strong chemical smell was overwhelming. She left me to process and went to work on another client in an adjoining room.
Fifteen minutes passed. I remember wishing I had brought a book to read. Twenty minutes...was it normal for my scalp to feel hot and itchy? Half an hour ticked by before the perm specialist returned. She sniffed the air, forced a smile, and lifted the edge of the plastic cap, unwinding one of the perm rods. She looked a little startled; and I began to think that something had gone horribly wrong. She peeled the plastic cap off with one swish of her hand and quickly began unrolling the rods, tossing them in a little bucket on the tray table beside the chair. Unfortunately, I was staring in the mirror as each springy coil unwound. I did not look like Molly Ringwald. I did not even remotely resemble Elisabeth Shue. Although no scissors had come in contact with my hair since this whole process began, my hair was several inches shorter than when I had arrived. It smelled burned and it sprang from my head as if it were trying to get away. I couldn't think. I couldn't speak. I just began to cry. As my tears splattered on the cape, the stylist became more and more agitated. By now, she was down to the last few rods, and it was clear that my hair was ruined. It looked like rusted bedsprings. Some strands had already begun to stiffen into question marks while others just stood straight out, punctuating the air like an exclamation.
"I can't imagine what went wrong," the perm specialist said. "This has never happened before." Although the things she said seemed apologetic, she did not sound sorry at all. She sounded angry...as if I were to blame for this whole disaster.
My crying had picked up in intensity, my nose was running, and I was afraid I was going to start hiccupping sobs any second. The perm specialist ripped the cape off and stalked out to the reception area with me following behind her.
My mom stood up when we entered the room. She could not disguise her horror.
Needless to say, we did not go to the mall or have a nice lunch. We went straight back home. I cried the entire way, leaning my forehead against the passenger window lest I catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror.
I ended up getting a home perm after all. Our neighbor, Pat, who sold mobile homes, was also an amateur stylist. When mom, my hair, and I arrived on her doorstep, she didn't even ask. She just ushered us into her guest bathroom and pulled a perm kit from the medicine cabinet. Pat explained that we would apply the solution, but not use the rods. She would "comb it through" to relax the curl. It definitely needed relaxing. It looked as if it were in the throes of a full-blown nervous breakdown. After combing the solution through my hair and rinsing it in the sink, Pat decided we'd still need to cut off the burned and damaged pieces. I watched in silence as locks of scorched hair fell to the floor. I was all cried out.
About an hour later, she turned me around to face the bathroom mirror. My hair was shorter than I'd ever worn it. It would take some getting used to; but the perm specialist's damage had been undone. Not only had Pat confidently and efficiently corrected the perm problem, she had single-handedly vanquished the frizzy cloud that had followed me for the past few years. My face finally had a chance to shine. I learned that day that sometimes the most special "specialists" are those closest to home.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Corner Store

The 1970s was the decade when Gene Wilder invited us all into the wonderful world of Wonka's Chocolate Factory; and I was lucky enough to live diagonally across the street from a candy store. Our candy store was not owned and operated by a reclusive, eccentric, purple-coated, wild-haired candy magician, nor did a group of diminutive green-faced Oompah-Loompahs sing catchy songs as they stocked the shelves. Instead, the candy store in our neighborhood was owned by Mrs. Turner. She was in her 70s in the 1970s and pinned her long white hair in a low bun. She wore sensible shoes and plaid house dresses and usually kept a box of sticky-eyed newborn kittens behind the counter. Her grown cats lounged on top of the glass candy cases; and her two dogs, a German Shepherd and a Collie, kept watch from the sun-warmed concrete steps that led up to the store.
Mrs.Turner did not offer golden tickets; but I did not need one. My dad set up a charge account for me. He explained that, each time I shopped at the store after school, I could pick out my candy, and Mrs. Turner would write down my purchases. At the end of the month, my dad would go into the store and "settle up."
This seemed too good to be true. I no longer needed to worry about scrounging change from the bottom of my school satchel or remembering to ask mom in the morning for a few coins to use at Mrs. Turner's. I could hardly wait to let the charging begin.
The first month with the charge account was like a dream come true. I feasted on BB Bats, Fun Dip, and grape-flavored Tangy Taffy. Some days, when I craved a more savory snack, I asked Mrs. Turner to slice a hunk of pickled bologna for me. She kept a huge jar on the counter and pulled out the coiled bologna, slicing it with a knife that she wiped on her apron. She sold the bologna by the chunk and added a short sleeve of Saltine crackers for no extra charge. I fished a bottle of cold Peach Nehi out of the ice-filled Coke cooler and enjoyed my after-school snack while leaning against the railing outside the store and surveying the neighborhood.
I was only a few days into my charging spree, when some of my friends noticed I was not setting coins on the wooden counter. Mrs. Turner was penciling in my list of treats on the little carbon copy receipt book she kept. Feeling very grown up, I was signing my name at the bottom of each tab in loopy cursive that I had only recently mastered.
"I have a charge account," I explained. I was not trying to brag; but it did seem pretentious. I decided to share the wealth and bought a round of candy for all the kids in line. It wasn't long until I found myself generously footing the bill for everyone's daily candy fix. Boston Baked Beans, Necco Wafers, Nik LNips, Blow Pops...the list of candy I was buying was growing longer and longer; and I was beginning to worry that Mrs. Turner was going to have to start a second receipt book for me. Still, I continued to charge.
I bought packs of Kings cigarette bubble gum for myself and my best girlfriends. Before unwrapping the gum, we gave the fake cigarettes a puff  so we could see the powdery sugar waft into the air in a sinfully grown-up cloud. We "smoked" whole packs while  playing Monopoly and carried the realistic-looking Kings' packs snapped inside our purses.
The end of the month came much too soon; and my dad went to pay my bill. I was on too much of a sugar high to anticipate his reaction; but it wasn't good. With candy averaging only about 20 cents a piece, I had managed to spend more than $80 in my first, and last, month of charging.
While explaining to me that the charge account was for my personal use...not to be used to stock the entire neighborhood with candy, my dad looked about as frazzled as Willy Wonka in the scene where he accuses Charlie of sipping the fizzy lifting drink. Like Charlie, I humbly accepted the consequences, relinquishing my charge account, like Charlie let go of the Everlasting Gobstopper...without a fight. It was the right thing to do.
Unlike Charlie, I did not inherit the candy kingdom or fly away in a magical Wonkavator. Most days, though, my Dad generously gave me just enough money to buy a little something from Mrs. Turner. All was forgiven; my charge account was paid in full.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Boy Next Door

Most people who meet my older son Jack immediately think of him as the clean-cut, all-American, boy next door. With his wavy brown hair and freckles, his excellent manners, and his ability to make conversation with kids and adults alike, Jack has always exuded an old-fashioned friendliness...as if he were plucked from the 1950s, a modern Wally Cleaver.
Jack is the boy everyone trusts to shovel the snow from their driveways, weed their gardens, look out for the younger kids at the neighborhood pool, and pick up their mail when they're on vacation. Everyone loves him and trusts him, and they should; but they don't know Jack's secret.

When he was three-years-old, Jack told me, confidentially, that he thought he was the real Santa Claus. It was early December, and I remember I misunderstood him at first. I thought, initially, that he was asking me if Santa Claus was real. My heart sank. He was so little, and I had hoped he would always believe in the magic of Santa.

"What did you just say, Jack?" I asked.
He looked up at me and repeated, "I think I might me the real Santa Claus."
That's not what I had expected; and as stunned as I was by this revelation, I was relieved that he still believed. He more than believed...he believed he was the Big Guy, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas.
"Well," I said, stalling a little so I could gather my thoughts, "what makes you think you're Santa?"
"I love Christmas so much," he said, with a sincerity that wrung my heart, "and I love to give gifts to people. I think I AM the REAL Santa."
I wondered what this would mean for us on December 24th. The logistics of giving gifts from Santa to the real Santa suddenly seemed like it might get awfully complicated; but I knelt down in front of him and said, "You know what, Jack? You just might grow up to be the real Santa. You already act so much like him. Children will be so lucky if you turn out to be Santa Claus." He smiled. That's all he needed to hear.
Years later, he still loves Christmas. He has always been my biggest helper...shopping, icing cookies, decorating the tree, wrapping gifts late into the night. Several years ago, he encouraged me and his Grammy to start a Black Friday tradition; and the three of us head out before daylight the day after Thanksgiving, gift lists (checked twice) in hand. Jack saves birthday money and money earned from odd jobs throughout the year so that he can buy gifts for me, his dad, and his brother. He also buys gifts for his Papaw, both grandmothers, and his aunt. So much thought goes into each present, and he insists on wrapping everything he buys. While we wrap, we watch Christmas sitcom episodes on Netflix. In our town, a local radio station starts playing holiday songs on November 1st. Jack loves it. For two months, my car radio dial is set to 94.5; and we sing along with our favorites. He and his dad are exterior lighting experts, and he spends hours in the cold helping my husband light the giant pine in the front yard. Jack is the first one up on Christmas morning and the last one to bed most nights during the holidays. He likes to enjoy every moment of the season. The day after Christmas is one of the saddest days of the year for him.
Although Christmas is nine months away, today is another special day for Jack. It's Jack's 16th birthday...a day he receives gifts instead of gives them; but he has given those who know him, especially his mom, 16 years' worth of happy memories.
It's still too soon to know for sure if Jack is, in fact, the real Santa Claus; but I hope to see the day when some little brown-haired, freckle-faced children (who look a lot like Jack) wake up on Christmas morning to find that the real Santa knew exactly what they wanted and delivered it magically in the night while they slept.
I won't be one bit surprised if that happens.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

House Training

We were always a one-dog family until September, 2013, when our sweet Schnauzer, Jessie, died of kidney failure. She was such an easy dog. Jessie was not a chewer, so the boys' action figures, soccer balls, and sneakers were safe around her. She was fastidious. Her coarse hair did not shed, and she was most proud when she had just returned from the groomer. She was completely house-trained by the time she was 12 weeks old. In addition to her easygoing nature, Jessie was a listener. She listened to all our problems and was content to cuddle on the couch. When we lost her, we each felt the loss deeply. Our house seemed empty. Without a joyful reunion at the end of each school day, coming home had lost its appeal.

We struggled through that Fall; missing her was painful. When Christmas rolled around, it became unbearable. Jessie loved Christmas. She had always helped decorate by stretching out on the tree skirt and watching, in her wise and patient way, as we placed the ornaments. We even had an ornament that looked just like her.
After that somber holiday, although we questioned whether or not we were ready (would we ever be?), we decided to welcome a new puppy into our home. Perhaps by making room for another dog, we would be reminded of all the things we loved about living with a puppy instead of focusing on our loss. The boys had grown up with a canine companion; and I was convinced that our home would never be the same again without a dog to love.
Jersey moved in on the last day of December. She, like Jessie, was a Schnauzer; but similarities between Jersey and Jessie ended there. Jessie had spoiled us; and we had forgotten how much time and patience a new puppy required.
Since her arrival, Jersey has been a tiny, fuzzy, wrecking ball. Although she does not shed, everyday is a bad hair day. For several months, to my distress, she could not decide if she wanted her unclipped ears to stand or flop. She looked like a little gremlin. Occasionally, she wore one ear up and the other down. Despite her long ears, which finally flopped, she is not a listener; instead, she does a great deal of talking. Jersey is a bossy dog. For months, she was afraid to jump on the couch; so she made futile leaps and yelped until one of us lifted her up to join us. Then, she would promptly drop a toy from the couch to the floor and bark until one of us retrieved it for her. She, clearly, had a different view of fetching.

Jersey came to live with us during one of the coldest winters our state had experienced in years. Record low temperatures, many days below zero, became the norm. Jersey quickly rejected the idea of house training. We purchased a set of jingly bells, affixed to a ribbon, and attached them to the front door knob. Each time we took Jersey out to relieve herself, we were supposed to gently nudge her nose or paw against the bells. In this way, Jersey would learn to alert us when she needed to go outside. Jersey hated that idea. She refused to go near the bells, even when I smeared one with peanut butter. Jersey did not want to go out into the cold. We dressed her in a comfy coat and headed out. After several moments in the cold, with Jersey refusing to go to the bathroom, we headed back inside. Once we hit the warmth of the foyer, Jersey did her business. We cleaned it up and tried the whole process again and again and again. Months later, I had nearly given up.
"Why is she standing on the hearth, throwing such a fit?" my husband asked one evening while we were trying to watch a television show despite Jersey, who was barking hysterically at the fireplace.
"How should I know?" I said. I got up from my spot on the couch and tried to distract Jersey with a toy. Her high-pitched barking continued.
"Maybe she needs to go outside," my husband suggested.
It was worth a try. I put on my coat, attached her leash to her collar, and the two of us headed out the front door. As soon as we reached the front yard, Jersey used the bathroom. I was amazed. The two of us had a jumping, yelping, spinning-in-circles celebration in full view of curious neighbors. After months of bucking the system, Jersey had created her own house training method; and once her people caught on, accidents in the house were no longer an issue. My son worries, though, when we leave the note for the dog sitter, "Barking at fireplace means she needs to go outside," that Jersey will be judged.
"They're going to think she's crazy," he said.
Jersey has been part of our family now for nearly 15 months. We still struggle with understanding some of her quirks. She will only play fetch her way; and she is usually proud, instead of ashamed, when she's managed to chew up a roll of toilet tissue or shred the sports section of the paper before we've had a chance to read it.

In addition to teaching us to fetch and enlightening us on a new method of house training, Jersey has taught us a valuable lesson about the capacity of the human heart to heal and love again. Although we will always have a place in our hearts for our wise, patient Jessie; our hearts have grown large enough to include curious, enthusiastic Jersey. Thanks to our little bossy pup, coming home at the end of a long day, is once again, a time of celebration.
 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Home Goods

In the small town where I was raised, we did not have a Wal-Mart, Michael's, or Hobby Lobby; but, luckily for my family, we had Granny's spare room. She had it all...fabric, buttons, Styrofoam balls, pipe cleaners...you name it. My sister, cousins, and I never had to purchase any type of material for school projects. We just called Granny.
"Gran, do you have some burlap and twine...or shimmery fabric and embroidery thread...or a dress pattern, circa 1950...or some buttons shaped like lady bugs?"
Gran's standard response, "Is the Pope a Catholic?"
She didn't even have to check her inventory; she had it memorized.
We'd head over to her house, and she would unpack the box in which she had the necessary supplies tucked away just in case someone might one day need them; and low and behold, we did! Her spare room was filled with storage bins. When we stayed the night, we always slept on the couch in the living room, but we didn't mind. We didn't want to disturb Granny's cache of treasures. We knew how valuable they were.
I always knew I had inherited Granny's love of reading, her passion for the written word, her sense of humor; but I realized only recently that I also had inherited her "spare room."
"Mom, do you have something I can use to decorate this shoebox to look like a Mardi Gras float?" my younger son asked.
Would a bag filled with Mardi Gras beads suffice? What about some snazzy black speckled wrapping paper and die cut letters that could spell out just about any word you'd like to spell?
"Carson needs to dress like a lumberjack, any ideas?" my friend, Amy, asked.
Black knit cap, flannel shirt, fake beard...check, check, check...
Authentic Hawaiian shirt? Got it.
Miniature plastic animals indigenous to the Sahara Desert? Of course.
Realistic jockey goggles? Absolutely.
Wiggly eyes in a variety of sizes, multi-colored feathers, a Curious George hat? Yes, yes, and yes...
Chef's jacket? Red wig? Raffia? Felt squares?
Is the Pope a Catholic?



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Walking Distance

When I was in elementary school, I was a walker. The school was one block from my house, and I walked to school in the mornings and home in the afternoons. My Granny made me a denim satchel so I could carry my books. Although I often walked with friends (several kids lived in the neighborhood), I didn't mind walking alone.
Each day, I passed the red fire hydrant, whose name was Darlene. I remember I named her that because she was manufactured by American Darling Valve, and the name of the company was molded into the iron, just beneath her jaunty red bonnet. "Darling" seemed too informal; and she had an important job to do if called upon, so I decided her given name must be Darlene.
I also passed the weeping willow, whose long limbs swept the ground around the base of her trunk. On days I walked alone, I called out to her and gave a friendly wave. I imagined that my cheery hello helped her overcome, if only for a moment, whatever made her weep.
Between Darlene and the weeping willow, I made my way across a cracked sidewalk, so buckled in places that it was unwise to run across it even if it meant you might be late for class. Sometimes, though, I galloped, on an invisible horse. My satchel became a saddlebag filled with letters that must be delivered by Pony Express. Some days I leaned back as I walked, one arm in front of me, holding the leashes of my invisible Dobermans, Laurel and Hardy, who strained at their collars in their rush to get to the playground.
In warmer months, blue-tailed lizards darted from the cracks and over the high retaining wall, daring me to try and catch them. I'd been told their bite was poisonous; so I stopped to let them pass, watching as they disappeared over the edge, dare deviling their way on sticky feet, face first, toward the ground below.
A black iron rail was cemented into the crumbling sidewalk, preventing kids from falling over the retaining wall. Out of view of grown-ups, I used the rail as a gymnastics bar, stopping to hang upside down, the backs of my knees looped over the top, the ends of my long hair brushing against the sidewalk.
I loved walking to school and home again, with a story playing out in my head and my satchel, filled with library books, bouncing against my thigh. It was a short walk, but long on imagination and peopled with characters almost as real to me as the neighbors who lived in the houses I passed.
I was a cowgirl, a gymnast, a firefighter, a dog trainer, friend of trees and lizards. I was a walker, and the fantastic worlds I dared to dream were all within walking distance.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Time Zoned

I am not a fan of Daylight Saving Time. This is not to say that I don't enjoy daylight. I do! I just can't get over the fact that an hour has been lost...and will remain lost for months. I hate losing things.
For weeks after we spring forward, I will hold a grudge. I will arrive on time for work and church and the boys' various sporting events; but I will be thinking, "It's REALLY 7:00 AM. Why am I at work at 7:00 AM?"
My husband loves Eastern Daylight Time. Over the years, he has tried to win me over. He looks forward to the long, light-filled evenings. I dread the dark mornings, knowing I will walk the dog and drive to work bleary-eyed.
My husband goes to bed early...a full hour earlier now that we are on EDT. He yawns and stretches and heads to our room.
"Why are you going to bed?" I ask. "It's only 9:00 PM (even though the clocks say 10:00)."
"That time is over," he reminds me patiently.
I stay up, eating popcorn and watching the entire 11:00 news. After all, it is REALLY only 10:00. For a few nights, I even stay awake for part of Jimmy Kimmel.
When the alarm goes off at 5:45 AM (which is actually 4:45), I am unreasonably angry. Who, in their right mind, gets up at 4:45?
Eventually, I will adjust. While parked near the fields at my son's evening soccer practice, I will realize that I can clearly see to read the pages of my book without turning on the dome light. I will notice, reluctantly at first, that I am actually tired at 11:00, which is really 10:00. After a couple of weeks, it will be noticeably lighter outside in the mornings when I walk the dog; and it will be nice and bright in the evening when I take her out. Soon, I know, I will enjoy late evening walks through the trails in our neighborhood, and I will appreciate the fact that we can watch an entire lacrosse game before night falls. I will grudgingly forgive Daylight Saving Time, but I will look forward to falling gently back in November where I will find the hour I've been missing.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Homes for Christmas (Part Two)

I am a terrible decorator. I just can't make up my mind. Does our family have a style? Are we classic? Modern? Modern-classic? It doesn't help that interior design accessories are extremely expensive. In addition to being a terrible decorator, I am also terribly cheap.
A friend of mine, who is a wonderful decorator, told me that the secret of decorating is to purchase art and accessories, bring them home from the store and "live with them" for a while. She said to conceal the tags or REMOVE them (this seemed risky);but save them and save the receipts. After a day or two, or even a week (!), return the items if they don't prove to be a good fit for the space.
This idea actually baffled me. When would I squeeze in the time to visit the stores to purchase the items and then display the items and then return them? What would I tell the salesclerk after keeping the items for several days? Would I be able to replace the packaging exactly as it was when purchased? Would I need to make up a good excuse? Would the salesclerk be able to see through my lies? Would I need to explain to her that I had "lived with" the art and accessories for a few days but then broken up with them?
Consequently, our house is noticeably lacking in d├ęcor. The walls are painted tan or grey or a special blend of tan and grey that looks either/or depending on the lighting. We have a set of built-ins next to the fireplace where we have some framed pictures of our sons, a few antique knick-knacks that belonged to my grandfather and my husband's father, and a giant letter S that my husband bought on sale at Kroger's when they put all their home goods on clearance.
Other than that, we have three paintings on the walls. That's three paintings TOTAL; and we have a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house with a kitchen, dining room, family room, living room, and downstairs den. I like to think we are minimalists; but that is not true. We are simply indecisive.
That's why I never would have guessed the gift my husband purchased for me three Christmases ago. Unlike previous holiday seasons, he did not ask me for a list. He had been strangely close-lipped about his shopping, and he seemed unusually relaxed. I decided to call my mom and investigate, knowing that my husband and mom usually confer prior to shopping in order to avoid giving me the same presents.
"It's good," my mother said. "His gift to you is really good this year. I never would have thought of it. You will never guess it. You have never asked for it; but you are going to love it. I almost cried when he told me about it."
For Heaven's sakes?!?! What in the world could he have bought for me that would bring my mother to tears? I was stumped. My husband is good at giving gifts; but usually I give him a pretty solid list to work from. I was dying to know, and I was more than a little worried that my gift to him would pale in comparison. I snooped around some; but I was unable to uncover even a hint. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, my curiosity was killing me. I ripped into the paper and discovered that he had given me our homes for Christmas.
Months before the holidays, my husband had contacted the artist whom we had commissioned, years ago, to draw a pen and ink sketch of the church where we were married. He met with her and gave her a photograph of the little Cape Cod on Sunset Drive, where we had lived for 10 years, as well as a photo of the ranch-style house on Gondola Drive, where we currently live. My husband decided on watercolor for the medium. When I opened the wrapping paper and saw the paintings, I was overwhelmed...not just because I loved the paintings, but because there was no question whether or not they were a perfect fit. I didn't even have to "live with them" for awhile to figure that out.




Saturday, March 7, 2015

Homes for Christmas (Part One)

Almost three years ago, my parents moved from the home where they had lived since I was twelve. My husband, sons, and I traveled two hours to help them clean out the basement at the old house. Mom told me she'd saved back a couple of boxes of my old stuff if I wanted to sort through it. She said I might find a few other old toys or keepsakes in the downstairs back bedroom. Most of my things, though, had been ruined when the basement flooded years before. I made my way past half-packed boxes into the back bedroom. My dollhouse was still standing. The little pieces of furniture that had decorated the rooms were gone, and so was the family of dolls; but the house itself was still intact.

It was my favorite Christmas present. Dad and Papaw stayed up most of the night before my 8th Christmas, quietly assembling the pieces of the house. Mom set the furniture in the rooms and arranged the tiny plates, each no bigger than a fingernail, on the little wooden table. I imagined that the family, a mom, a dad, son, and daughter were surprised to see me peering in at them on Christmas morning.
I loved that dollhouse and spent hours for the next several years inventing stories for the family in the house. I moved the furniture from room to room, accommodating whatever drama or comedy I had cooked up in my imagination. I added chapters to their lives and introduced conflicts that were resolved, sometimes with tears. I can remember actually swallowing back sobs as the little doll people acted out the heart-wrenching stories I'd created.
Despite the hours spent playing with the dollhouse, I never actually decorated it. It never occurred to me to paper the walls with wallpaper samples or paint the outside of the house or add tiny shingles to the roof. I was interested in the stories that unfolded within the tiny plywood walls. I was never very good at decorating. Stories added color and texture to my world.
On my parents' moving day a few years ago, my husband and sons helped me pack the back of our car with a couple of boxes filled with high school yearbooks, some sketches I'd made, and various journals I'd written in over the years; my dad helped me pack up the dollhouse.
After relocating the little wooden house to my home, I thought about painting it or adding carpet squares. I visited some dollhouse sites online and even looked in the dollhouse section at the local craft store. Maybe one day, I thought; but it was enough, for now, that I had the house itself...the setting for so many stories.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Destiny Lane

My husband snapped this photo with his cell phone as we were driving away from my parents' house in Eastern Kentucky.

It was late last summer, and we noticed the owl as we were carefully navigating the narrow, winding road that leads back toward the main road. If we had not been driving at a snail's pace, we probably would not have seen him, perched there, his talon hooked pointedly above his message.
"Life moves too fast. Slow down. Your destiny awaits you."
Wise old fellow.
I was on the edge of the passenger seat.
"Stop! Please! We have to get a picture. You have to take a picture!" I exclaimed, twisting in my seat to get a better view, willing the owl to stay put for a minute.
I am notorious for my bad camera skills and for my overall nervous energy, which was sure to startle the owl. Aware of my limitations in this area, my husband stopped the car, rolled down the window, and patiently, quietly took the picture. He handed me his phone, and I checked to make sure we didn't need to get a second shot. The owl was still sitting there when we slowly drove away.
This was going to be the BEST writing prompt EVER, I thought. I couldn't wait until first period Monday.
When the kids arrived, I had the owl, and his words of wisdom, projected onto the screen at the front of the room. I was almost smug...no need for writing prompt web sites, forget the book of photo prompts, or the cute box of individual story prompts I had ordered from a teachers' catalog. I had, almost single-handedly, procured a prompt that was sure to inspire the BEST writing EVER.
"Is that a stuffed animal?" one kid asked. "It looks like a stuffed animal."
"It reminds me of Harry Potter," said another student.
"Did you notice the message?" I asked...long pause.
"Take a look at the sign he's sitting on," I encouraged...still nothing.
"Could one of you read the signs for me?" I asked. Of course they could read the signs. They are in seventh grade.
One of the kids read the signs.
"It's saying we need to slow down and not rush toward our destiny, right?" a student asked, rather flatly. "We get it."
"My husband actually took this picture," I said. "We actually saw an owl sitting on top of a Destiny Lane street sign, which was on top of a Slow sign...because we were on a curvy road...in the mountains..." Tough crowd.
I gave the kids a few more minutes to write; but none of them seemed inspired by my inspirational photo. The kid who thought it was a stuffed animal was still not convinced that it wasn't a staged shot.
Later that day, I wondered why the photo had not produced the BEST writing EVER...or very much writing at all for that matter. Maybe it was because it was Monday or because the lovely Barred Owl really did look like a stuffed animal. More likely, though, it was because I clearly already knew what I wanted them to write. I startled them away by smugly assuming they would take my lead and go...where?...straight to the obvious. I led them down a narrow, straight path directly to the answer. The prompt was too confining. Perhaps if all thirty of them had been with me that day, if they could have seen, firsthand, the wise old owl on the road sign; then they would have been inspired. Sometimes, I realized, it's the moment that prompts the writing, not the writing prompt.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Street Filled With Porridge

"Stop, Little Pot, stop!" I thought when I looked outside the window this morning. Fourteen inches of heavy, wet snow covered our yard that, for a couple of days, had briefly been a soggy brownish green after the last snow finally melted. Today and tomorrow would increase our snow day total to seven, and five of those seven days would rob us of the first week of June.


The view of the street took me back instantly to one of my favorite Grimm Tales, "Sweet Porridge," sometimes retold as "The Magic Porridge Pot." In the story, a little girl and her mother are saved from starvation by the gift of a little magic pot. When instructed to "Boil, Little Pot, boil," the pot bubbles over with delicious, stick-to-your-ribs, sweet porridge and will only stop when specifically directed to "Stop, Little Pot, stop!"
One day, while the girl is visiting a friend, her mother instructs the pot to boil but can't recall the exact words to make the magic pot stop producing porridge. The sweet, hot cereal boils over the rim of the pot, fills the cottage, seeps out the windows and beneath the crack in the door, eventually filling the yard and the street beyond. The entire neighborhood is filled with porridge!
In the picture book I loved as a child, the neighbors trooped into the streets, carrying spoons and bowls and buckets and ate their fill. In some versions, the villagers run away, frightened at first. When they return to their street, they must eat their way back into their homes. Fortunately, according to one retelling, the porridge is just as delicious cold as it is hot.
Staring out the window, grieving already over the lost June days, I remember the end of the story...when the little girl returns the magic pot to its owner. When asked if she has taken care of the little pot, the girl answers honestly, "No, but it took care of us."
Perhaps these two snow days, blanketing our street in pristine beauty, took care of me by giving me a gift I didn't know I needed...two days to slow down, catch my breath, and enjoy the sweet refreshment that quiet time provides.

If you would like to check out a retelling of "The Magic Porridge Pot," I found a fun video. http://www.cribscape.com/XW86VVnINHA/The-Magic-Porridge-Pot

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Morris Hill

During my fourth grade year, I broke my leg on the first day of spring break. It was a perfect day for a bike ride; and although reading was my favorite thing, riding my bike was a close second. I rode my purple bike past the weeping willow tree at the corner, around the curve behind my elementary school, past my piano teacher's house; and then, against my better judgment, I stood up above the seat, pushing the pedals, propelling myself halfway up Morris Hill.
I was not an adventurous girl, preferring to read about adventures; but on that day, I dared myself to ride down Morris Hill. I was afraid...too afraid to start at the top of the hill; but halfway up was still so steep. I climbed off the bike and turned it around by the handlebars, dragging the back tire sideways. I stood beside the bike, convincing myself that the thrill would be worth the threat.
I slung my right leg over the seat, my toes barely touching the pavement. I knew when I lifted my feet, I could not turn back.
I was too scared to count down or even take a deep breath. I just lifted my feet onto the pedals, and I was flying. It was glorious and fast and fun. My hair streamed behind me, my jacket clung to my chest, my eyes were slits against the wind; but I could still see everything whizzing by in a grey green blur of sidewalk and shrubs.
I don't remember my back tire bumping the curb. I don't remember the crash or bumping my head on the low concrete wall; but I do remember opening my eyes to see my right foot tangled in the spokes of the back tire of my ruined bike.
My femur was broken, a terrible break, leaving my thigh nearly as ruined as my bicycle. I would spend 28 days in traction and even longer in a cast. Fortunately, I was a reader; and the weeks passed more quickly than they would have for a more adventurous girl. I read so many books that year that I won the read-a-thon. My prize was a $100 gift certificate to Sears, which I used to buy a new bike.