Snow day: an empty-nester’s lament

Today is my first snow day since leaving teaching a decade ago. Technically, yesterday was my first snow day, but it didn’t actually snow until late in the day because someone was caught sleeping with her pajamas right-side out.

A few years ago we went through Snowmaggedon, but those didn’t count as snow days because I worked from home and the few breaks I took were to shovel paths in the back yard long and wide enough for an arthritic, 115-pound Doberman to make his way out for exercise and bathroom breaks.  And there was a snow day last year when it didn’t actually snow.

This. This is the real deal.

It was still snowing when I went to bed last night after another marathon viewing of Breaking Bad. I knew this would be the view from the window beside my computer desk this morning:

I wonder if those tracks lead to a snowdeer.

I wonder if those tracks lead to a snowdeer.

Do you see what’s missing from that picture? Do you? Well, I do.

It needs a snowman. Desperately.

And here I am with no legitimate reason to make a snowman. No children in the house. No “festive holiday decor” clause (Oh, yes. I thought a snowman might add a little more holiday cheer!”). Plenty of chores and projects to tend to.

And yet, I’ve been sitting here all morning, shuffling around my to do list, waiting for the neighbors to finish shoveling so I can get out there and make a little snow magic happen without all the questions, the judgmental raised eyebrows, the offers to drop off their grandchildren for a couple of hours.

Sure, I could go out and  help, but this could lead to grown-up conversation, such as wind chill and polar vortex and climate change or how long it took to have the street plowed or last month’s skyrocketing electric bill.

It’ll be faster for all of us to avoid that. They have places to be and I have things to do, like making a snowman. These are thoughtful, kind people and I enjoy talking with them, but not today.

Today I want to make a snowman and then come in to some hot cocoa, a cozy fire,  and a good book.

In (happy, snow-filled) memory of the rockstar.

In (happy, snow-filled) memory of “Rock Star”

The smell of laminator in the morning.

Last Friday, after a two-hour, two-prosecco lunch, followed by a round of goodbye visits and emails, I signed off the computer in my brightly lit, well-equipped office in a shiny law firm building, across the hall from one of many conference rooms continually restocked with logo-emblazoned legal pads and crisply sharpened pencils, and took the final elevator trip to the parking garage.  As I handed my parking card and hang tag to a now-former colleague and reminded him again how much I’d enjoyed working with him, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry ’bout that, you’ll be back.” I smiled back and apologized for “yelling” at him for running in the building the day before, in a premature flash back to that hall-monitor mentality to which I was preparing to return. We shared a last laugh and wave goodbye and then I pulled out into the K Street traffic for my last long commute home.

This Friday I was back in the classroom, reminding seventh graders to turn in their homework and reminding myself about reverse operations in algebraic equations, with a 10-minute lunch break of turkey and swiss from an everyday Ziploc bag, accompanied by a full-bodied raspberry seltzer water.

My day was filled with the same directives: “Turn in your homework. . . .pick up the warm-up sheet. . . sit in your assigned seat . . .no gum. . . no bathroom passes in the first 10 minutes of class. . ..” Repeatedly I suggested that those who were out of notebook paper or didn’t have a pencil might borrow from a classmate, as the teacher’s classroom supply bin, no doubt stocked at her own expense, was empty.

Circulating the classroom, navigating my way through backpacks and binders, I counted the fluorescent ceiling lights, probably the originals in this building erected forty years ago, recently passed over (yet again) for renovation or new building because of prohibitive expense. Of 20 lights, only 12 were lit. I asked if students could see well enough to work through their problem sets. They said they were used to it; the lights have been out for as long as they can remember.

Yesterday I stayed behind with the kids who weren’t going on the field trip and we watched videos as part of the science teacher’s assignment. They strained to hear the only available audio, through the computer’s built-in speaker. The external speaker connection “hasn’t worked in a long time,” and the satisfaction I gained during lunch when I found that it was plugged into the wrong port and corrected it was short-lived when we tried again and the speaker wire proved fickle. Unless I was sitting next to the speaker holding the wire, audio was intermittent.

Earlier in the week, I walked into a high school where every “Good morning” I offered was returned by an equally enthusiastic “Good morning!”

Dozens of times.

By teachers, staff, the school policeman, and much to my happy surprise, by students.

Teenagers. Saying, “Good morning!”

I spent that morning operating the laminating machine, the secret envy of any teacher who’s ever been told that only the media specialist is allowed to operate the laminating machine.  I felt a kinship with every one of them who altered their path to draw in a big sniff of the hot plastic. I know that whiff.  It ranks up there with freshly baked bread or perfectly brewed coffee.

Later in that same morning, the Internet went down and stayed that way for the rest of the day, throwing off lesson plans and research projects and any number of important activities in support of the educational process. Everyone adjusted. No heads rolled. No jobs lost. I ate lunch in a faculty lounge furnished with old overstuffed couches and motivational posters from the 1970s, with teachers who were tired but still smiling and chugging along, offering me any help I might need, despite the fact that they didn’t know me and might or might not ever see me again. Because that’s who teachers are. Ok, maybe they were angling for a surreptitious spin at the controls of the laminator. Still.

I would totally laminate this. Totally.

I would totally laminate this. Totally.

This contrast has struck me so many times in this past week, the first in this interim period where I’m figuring out what I want to be now that I’ve decided being a grown up wasn’t for me. In “big law,” especially on K Street, burned out lighting is replaced within minutes. If the Internet is down for more than 10 minutes, heads roll and careers are on the line. (After all, we have to know what’s going on at Above the Law.) There has never been a time that paper and pencils, not to mention herbal tea and specialty coffees, aren’t within immediate reach — at no one’s personal expense — and restocked almost as quickly as they’re borrowed. The bathrooms are spotless — cleaned every hour on the hour. The buildings are new or newly renovated. Clients don’t want to visit dingy offices. And when you say “Good morning” to someone, they assess your standing in the food chain to decide whether or not to acknowledge your existence.

As this week has passed, with the Internet outage and the audio difficulties and a half-dark classroom, I’ve thought a lot about how students could benefit from the wealth that goes into just the infrastructure alone of a major law firm. A major new high school could be paid for by less than a year’s revenue of a mid-sized firm.

Then today I noticed some posters near the American flag, where students take them in, if only subliminally, in the daily ritual of the Pledge of Allegiance:  a bullying-awareness poster and a “fast cash/crime doesn’t pay” poster, meant to discourage an unethical mindset. If I ever do go back to the clean, well-lighted world of big law, I’d like to take those posters with me.

While I’ll miss the occasional fancy lunch and the clean bathrooms and the endless supply of sharp pencils, nothing can compare to hearing a teenager say, “Good morning!”

“Teenagers Kick Our Butts,” Dar Williams

Happy Holidays.

Wishing you and yours a merry Christmas and a hippie new year. Peace.

Wishing you and yours a merry Christmas and a hippie new year. Peace.

Hippie Santa courtesy of my dear friend, Ms. ThoughtsAppear. Thank you, Thoughtsy.

I’m not really an actress.

One of my Ally McBeal reveries involves sitting across from James Lipton, humbly relating poignant stories about my fascinating life, bemused by the fact that anyone would care to know.

James, on behalf of America’s enquiring minds, wants to know what makes me me.  I, on behalf of me, quietly share mysterious tidbits, demurely grinning at James’s curious probing.

Inside, though, I anticipate the questions that I know are coming — James Lipton’s Famous 10 Questions — with the enthusiasm of a high school senior the day yearbooks come out.  What will I say? How will I choose just the right words to convey the real me . . . for eternity? 

I know the questions, so you’d think I’d be prepared. But I also know myself.  Consistently inconsistent.

I tend to approach life the way John Gorka approaches a set list:  controlled chaos.  All the answers are there. It’s just a matter of how they arrange themselves in any particular moment.

As with most of my Ally McBeal reveries, there’s usually a That Would Never Happen clause that brings me back to the mundane reality of sitting in traffic at the intersection of workday and errands.  This particular scene comes to a close when I remember that to be seated across from James Lipton, one must be, you know, an actress.

Today I was greeted with the opportunity to answer Mr. Lipton’s questions without setting foot on a stage.

No auditions, no makeup and wardrobe. No step-and-repeats or red carpets.

No pretending that I’m not dating George Clooney just because we have a movie coming out in six months.

So, here it is. My controlled chaos approach to the ten questions James Lipton asks of his guests on Inside the Actor’s Studio.  I reserve the right to change my answers. In ten minutes.

1.What is your favorite word?  Grace. Big G, little g. Grace Kelly, Amazing Grace. As far as I know, there isn’t a sense of that word that I don’t love.

2.What is your least favorite word?  Goodbye, in any language.

3.What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?  Authenticity.  I don’t happen to believe, by the way, that everyone who puts it all out there in the name of “just being themselves” is necessarily being authentic. A lot of those who do that are just competing to be heard above a crowd of boorishness, which, granted, is an authentic endeavor. I think it takes a lot to figure out what is truly authentic about yourself and then allowing yourself to be that.

4.What turns you off?  Exactly the opposite of authenticity.  I’m a vibe-y person and sometimes I just feel it about someone. I worry about that making me a judgy kind of person, so I try to give the benefit of the doubt. Often, in fact, I’ve gone too far to give someone who didn’t deserve it the benefit of the doubt. Much of the time, my

Hell's Bells?  You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

Hell’s Bells? You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

first vibe turns out to be correct.  If you’re not for real, please don’t waste my time.

5.What is your favorite curse word?  Hell’s Bells.  Ok, that’s two, but when Richard Gere got this question, he declined because he’s a better person than I am.  So, I’m taking Richard’s word.  Both of my grandmothers were Southerners and the attic of my brain is cluttered with their expressions.  Hell’s Bells is one, but I hear it with my grandmother’s gentle frustration, not AC/DC’s screech.

6.What sound or noise do you love?  Laughter, especially children’s laughter. I loved Antonio Banderas’ answer to this question, but he already gave it.

7.What sound or noise do you hate?  That sound that styrofoam packing makes when two pieces of it rub together or when you break it. Anything to do with styrofoam packing.  *shudder*

8.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  I’m on record as wanting to be a tambourine/eggshaker girl and/or a bookstore/patisserie owner, but — and I swear I am not making this up — lately I’ve been thinking it would be interesting to be a WordPress editor, coming up with creative ideas and watching what other people do with them.  Reading all sorts of things, choosing good ones to highlight, making someone’s day.  And, in my Ally McBeal impression of that job, there’s no commute.

9.What profession would you not like to do?  Publicist, handler, spokesperson, personal manager. See “authenticity,” above.

10.If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  Well, Hell’s Bells, c’mon in. Your grandmother said you’d pull it out in the end, but I admit I had my doubts. See “grace,” above.

*****************************************

Daily Prompt: Inside the Actor’s Studio. On the interview show Inside the Actors’ Studio, host James Lipton asks each of his guests the same ten questions. What are your responses?

Sometimes good is good enough.

A couple of weeks ago when blueberries were plentiful and inexpensive, I set out to make some blueberry muffins.  I don’t do a lot of baking these days. I was happy to have a reason to spend a morning in the kitchen.

Since it had been so long, I had to search for a recipe through the many dog-eared recipe books and magazines from back in the days when I could whip up something for the heck of it (baking is therapeutic for me) and take the final product to the faculty lounge, where it would be gone before second period.

For the past five years I’ve worked with a nice enough bunch of people who’ve been together for many, many years.  When I would bring something in to share, they were kind enough in thanking me, but always made sure to give props to Nancy, because Nancy is the real baker in the group. Nancy’s so good at baking. Have you ever had her (insert name of whatever I’d made)?

Eventually I stopped taking things to share because I was getting the message that only Nancy was allowed to bake or to receive baking props.

Teachers aren’t nearly as loyal.  If it seems edible and you leave it in the faculty lounge, they are most appreciative, if evidenced only by the fact that it will be consumed immediately and with gusto, no matter who made it. If you do something nice for teachers, they make sure you know you are more than good enough.

I’ve recently changed to working with a new group of people. Same place, new department. Among the many things I like about my new colleagues is the fact that they are young.  They don’t yet have a Nancy or any loyalty thereto. And they are in that sweet spot of their lives where metabolism and freedom from life’s bigger responsibilities allows them to eat whatever they want because if they haven’t already run 10 miles or put in a couple of hours at the gym, they will be later.

Doughnuts, cookies, home-made PopTarts, bags of candy are in constant rotation. They go on daily milkshake or Slurpee runs. . . There’s a constant stream of sugary-goodness all day long and they are all fashion-model thin.

I would resent them if I didn’t remember my own sweet spot of life so fondly.  Being around them brings those days back to mind. Despite all the time I spend at the gym, and all my will-power in avoiding a high calorie lifestyle. I’m not that which I once was. But, I’m good enough and that will just have to do.

The simplest blueberry muffin recipe I could find had nutmeg in it.  I was surprised to learn that I didn’t have nutmeg on hand.  This was when I started to realize that, although I don’t think I pay much attention to the cooking and baking competition shows on television, they have started to affect my sense of baking self-worth in the same way that every facet of media has affected every other aspect of  my self-image.

There was a time, before repeatedly being told that I’d never be Nancy, that I felt good enough about my baking abilities. I made things. People ate them with gracious approval.  I felt good about baking things and sharing them.

In those days, I’d have probably just skipped the nutmeg. Now here I stood, frozen with indecision, contemplating the possibility that these muffins would not be good enough.

Should I make the effort to go to the store to buy nutmeg or should I try to find some other substitution?  Should I use cloves or allspice or cinnamon?  What kind of baker doesn’t know which one of these is an acceptable substitution for nutmeg?

Suddenly every batch of everything, every cake, every pie, any piece of lovin’ that had come from my oven had not been good enough. It had been created by someone without the proper baking credentials. I thought about all the cakes I’ve decorated, going all the way back to my first job in a bakery, and how they wouldn’t come close to what you see on television these days. I was not

Is the cinnamon obvious?

Is the cinnamon obvious?

good enough.

It occurred to me that I’d seen enough of these shows to know that creativity counts and I’ve been told I’m creative. Sure, that’s probably a euphemism for bat-dropping crazy, but whatever. I decided I wasn’t giving up!  I challenged myself to look through the cupboards for something different, something to make these reality-show worthy blueberry muffins.

It was when I stood there seriously considering whether to go with BOTH the lemon-pepper AND the chocolate syrup that I decided sometimes a blueberry muffin should be just a blueberry muffin and that should be good enough.

But I did toss in some cinnamon, just in case.

When the muffins came out of the oven, my new inner reality-show critic piped up:

Oh, they didn’t rise consistently. They don’t look uniform. I’m going to have to take off points for presentation.

When I tasted one, it wasn’t for the joy of biting into a warm, freshly baked blueberry muffin.  It was to check the sponge. I don’t even really know what “sponge” is, but it was a big deal on The American Baking Competition, one of the few shows where I’ve sat through an entire episode.

I carefully peeled away the baking cup, watching judgmentally for how much crumbiness there was.

You might be a good enough baker if Paul Hollywood likes your sponge.  -- photo from CBS, "American Baking Competition".

You might be a good enough baker if Paul Hollywood likes your sponge. — photo from CBS, “American Baking Competition”.

I’m not sure what the standard for crumbiness is, but I figured I’d know if they were sub-standard.  I took a bite of the muffin and — I am not making this up — waited in suspense . . .for my own decision.

How was the texture? Did I get it right? Too moist, too dry? More baking powder? Less? What? WHat? WHAT???

My inner reality-show critic is brutal. These muffins were just not good enough. There was no consistency in appearance. There was nothing special about them, nothing that made my taste buds pop.

They were just muffins.

I took them to work anyway and left them in the ever-rotating snack area.  An hour later they were gone.

Despite the fact that they weren’t uniform in height. They might or might not have had the proper sponge. They didn’t have nutmeg or lemon pepper or chocolate syrup or hot sauce. They weren’t good enough.

One of my new colleagues, the tall, graceful. swan-like one, turned to see me walking past and gushed, “Did you make those muffins?!? OMG! They were SOOO good!  Did they have cinnamon in them? I thought I tasted cinnamon.  That was brilliant!!!”

Hmm.Turns out sometimes a muffin is just a muffin and that is good enough.

Bonnie’s Blueberry Muffins

– from my dog-eared copy of the April / May 1994 issue of Taste of Home Magazine. I don’t know Bonnie, but her blueberry muffins are more than good enough.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries*
Additional butter or margarine, melted
Additional sugar 
 
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat eggs. Blend in milk, butter, nutmeg and vanilla; pour into dry ingredients and mix just until moistened. Fold in blueberries. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. (*If using frozen blueberries, rinse and pat dry before adding to batter.) Yield: 1 dozen.

Unity. Liberty. Charity.

Some,  most, or possibly all of these images evoke different thoughts, feelings, values, and beliefs. That’s my point in its simplistic entirety.

I was free to walk around, to take the pictures, to think what I wanted to think, to believe what I choose to believe, to feel what I honestly feel about each of the subjects.

I also was free to disagree with those who think, believe, feel, and value different things than I do.

The last photograph is of the plaque I found on one of my after-work White House walks. This time I was able to take the picture during the light of day without risk of frostbite.  I thought it was an appropriate sentiment for this day.


A couple of weeks ago, I took an overnight trip to New York City and took these photos on my way to my hotel.

Rebuilding.

Rebuilding.

trinity church nyc2

Trinity Church, near the towers

Street view.

Street view.

wall street nyc

???????????????????????????????

Flags at Vietnam Veterans Memorial, lower Manhattan


Last week I went for a walk after work.

White House (north side)

White House (north side)

You can hear at least half a dozen languages just walking around here for a few minutes, all of them happy to be here.  On this late summer evening, I passed a woman sitting on a bench facing the White House, just as her phone rang. She told the person on the other end, “I’m just sitting here in awe.”  I knew exactly what she meant by that. I feel that way all the time. Tourists snapping photos, tour groups getting the inside scoop, a wedding party posing for portraits, impromptu vigils ranging from one person to hundreds. Even when they completely oppose the current resident, they respect the building and its history and symbolism.

???????????????????????????????

I have no idea what this person’s protest message was, but he seemed lost in whatever he was writing and he clearly passionately believed in his purpose, whatever it was.  He didn’t stop, just kept writing, listening to loud Christian radio, oblivious to people stopping to stare at him.  These people fascinate me.

I understand the point of view that there should be more monuments to peace than to war . . . but

I understand the point of view that there should be more monuments to peace than to war . . . but

 . . . I also think Andrew Jackson and his horse look pretty impressive against a clear September sky.

. . . I also think Andrew Jackson and his horse look pretty impressive against a clear September sky.

Simple enough.

Simple enough.

Where it began, I can’t begin to knowin’.

Friday, September 6, 2013, approximately 0635 U.S. Eastern:

“So, I’m in a bar in Auckland and they’re playing “Sweet Caroline.” I don’t think you’d like it any better sung in a sexy Kiwi accent.”

Thus begins the text message exchange that finally brought about détente with the song that has been the bane of my existence for decades.

July 2013:

Marc Anthony sings an anemic “God Bless America” at Major League Baseball’s annual All-Star Game.

Seriously anemic. Someone give that man a sandwich.

And then . . .

Marc Anthony  is followed by Neil Diamond.  I know what is coming. I can’t take the moral ambiguity any longer.

I text, “AUGGHHHH!” to my friend, who replies, clearly understanding my anguish: “I thought you loved that song.”

April, 2013:

The nation and the world watch as a terrible, sad thing happens in the city of Boston.

“Sweet Caroline,” a favorite at Boston Red Sox games, rises again as a symbol of strength, perseverance, and Boston pride.

I find myself once again steeped in moral ambiguity. I want to share in the expressions of sympathy and support.  But. Augh.

September 2010 to present:

In the course of a certain friendship, it becomes apparent that the number of Neil Diamond songs on my friend’s iPod is  inconceivably incongruent with his Antonio Banderas-meets-LL Cool J swag.

In a temporary lapse of judgment, I tell him of my lifelong struggle with “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum).

Bad move. Bad, bad move.

One of the pillars of our friendship is the shared inside knowledge that if I ever find myself holed up in the Vatican embassy in Panama and he is sent on the mission to dislodge me, it will take no more than the first line of the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” to elicit my immediate surrender. Mission accomplished.

Summer of 1990-something:

On a sweltering hot summer day, I find myself serving valiantly as time-keeper at a swim-meet.

In the natural course of conversation between events,  the identity of the time-keeper in the adjacent lane is revealed to me.  While he seems to be a nice, fair-and-balanced time-keeper kind of guy, he is none other than the band teacher / director from my days in  junior/senior high school,  he of the “Sweet Caroline” obsession.

I spend the rest of the day wrestling with moral ambiguity.  On the outside, I remain a calm, cool, fair-and-balanced, you might even say “sweet” time-keeper. On the inside I am running all sorts of Ally McBeal / Walter Mitty scenarios to finally exact my “Sweet Caroline” revenge. Bum-bum-bum.

Do I tell him how much I detest that song because of him?

Do I ask him what the deal was?

Do I “accidentally” trip him when no one’s looking and then hold him underwater while he struggles and gasps for his final breath?  Hands, touchin’ hands . . .reachin’ out, touchin’ me, touchin’ you. . . .(glub-glub-glub)

No. I do not.

I don’t remember how the meet turned out. I don’t remember exactly how hot it was. I don’t remember how much my feet and back hurt from standing all day. All I remember is that I won a small moral victory over my own murderous impulses.  Good times never felt so good.

Friday, September 17, 1982:

Columbia Records releases Neil Diamond’s Heartlight album, with the title track inspired by the sweet alien’s heart (bum-bum-bum).

Diamond calls the song,  “A simple musical statement that we all felt very sincerely.”

I call the song Neil Diamond’s  diabolical attempt to get around my “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) embargo. I am not falling for it. No matter how cute that little alien is. Not even if you put him on a pony.

Friday, June 11, 1982:

Universal Studios releases Steven Spielberg’s E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, “. . .about a stranded alien and his loving relationship with a fatherless boy.”

The alien is adorable. He is sweet.

The boy is adorable. He is sweet.

Enter Neil Diamond.

Diamond, Carol Bayer Sager, and Burt Bacharach attend a screening of the film and are inspired by the story and by  the sweet little alien creature, whose heart glows a  warm, caring red.

November 1980, it ends:

The end of football season in my senior year of junior/senior high school. I vow never again to listen to “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum).

I move on.  I go to college. My roommate plays oboe but not when I’m around. If “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) is in her repertoire, I am blissfully unaware of the fact.

Life is good.

September 1976, it begins:

My sister, the newest Big Shot Seventh-Grader in our family, becomes a drummer in the marching band.  I have to wait for her to finish after-school practice before we walk home from school together. Every single day.

The band practices “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) over and over and over and over again. Every single day.

She walks around our house tapping out the rhythm over and over and over. Every. Single. Day.

She sings herself to sleep at night, in the bedroom we share: “Sweet Caroline (bum-bum-bum) . . . “.

I spend way too many sleepless nights plotting an unfortunate bunk-bed accident. Every single night.

I come to loathe the song “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) and to rue the day somebody put Caroline Kennedy up on that stupid pony, inspiring Neil Diamond, who in turn  inspired the junior/senior high school band director, whose apparent obsession with that song scarred me (musically) for life .

Some Friday Night, September 1975:

As a Big Shot Seventh-Grader at the junior/senior high school in my town, I attend my first high school football game. I only briefly wonder what “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) has to do with football, when the marching band plays it . . .several times.

For the record, I’ve never understood what “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” has to do with baseball or Baltimore, but it’s a seventh-inning stretch tradition that I don’t question out loud. It would be un-American.

There are some facts of life you just go with. So. somehow “Sweet Caroline” has something to do with leading our team to victory.  Ok, fine.

 

Tuesday, September 16, 1969:

Neil Diamond’s single,  “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum), inspired by sweet little Caroline Kennedy, is released.

Coincidentally, if you believe in such a thing as coincidence, this is about the same time, possibly even the very same day,  that a boy named Jeff chased me around the playground with a caterpillar, eventually slipping it down the back of my favorite maxi-dress and squishing it, forever changing the way I felt about maxi-dresses and caterpillars and Jeff.

I think it’s safe to say that September 1969 profoundly shaped my destiny, not in a happy way.  Caterpillars still haunt me. As does Caroline.

Friday, September 7, 1962:

LIFE magazine’s cover photo show adorable Caroline Kennedy riding a pony.

She is adorable.

She is sweet. She is Caroline.

Can you get any sweeter than a pony called Macaroni? (LIFE magazine, September 7, 1962)

Can you get any sweeter than a pony called Macaroni? (LIFE magazine, September 7, 1962)

Friday, September 6, 2013, approximately 0635 U.S. Eastern:

“So, I’m in a bar in Auckland and they’re playing “Sweet Caroline.” I don’t think you’d like it any better sung in a sexy Kiwi accent.”

We don’t see each other as often or have the chance to catch up as frequently as we used to, which makes me appreciate these random text exchanges from anywhere at any time all the more.

In the silly banter that follows, my world-traveling friend points out that as long as this song plays on in every corner of the world, he will think of me whenever and wherever he hears it  I fire back a silly response. I begin my day. Later I come to realize that whenever I hear the song, I think of him, too, and the times we’ve laughed about this song.

I have to admit to wondering what it sounds like in ‘sexy Kiwi.’ I’m grateful for the friendship that the song now brings to mind and for my new appreciation of the song.

And I suppose I’m grateful that I didn’t drown the band teacher. Bum-bum-bum.

The diamante final exam: a lesson worth remembering

I taught middle school early in my career, at the beginning of the movement to “mainstream” students receiving special education services, moving them from a self-contained classroom environment into the general classroom population.

Jeff was a sixth grader in one of the classes I team-taught with the Special Ed department chair.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get Jeff to participate in class assignments.  We couldn’t get him to pick up a pencil, much less the curriculum-required blue or black ink pen.

We couldn’t get him to dictate a story or a response to a question.  We tried modification after modification, parent conferences, team conferences.

We worked hard to get a computer so that he could use a word processor. Even bribery (yes, it’s in the teacher bag-o’-tricks).  Nothing.

He wasn’t a bad student, or a bad kid. He just didn’t want to do anything – seemingly because we wanted him to.  We sensed he was probably fairly bright, but we were locked into a “Do it. / I Won’t” cycle that had probably been a pattern for him for years. (Apparently there had been a BIG power struggle – not just for Jeff but also for many of his peers  — with their fifth grade teacher over writing in cursive. )

We could tell by watching him that he was taking things in and had some thoughts about it all.  He just was not going to share and we couldn’t find a way to make it worth his while to do so.

I  experienced many moments of feeling like an abject failure, and if it hadn’t been for the highly skilled, seasoned professional with whom I worked, I might have arrived at that conclusion early on and given up on both Jeff and  on myself.

Although she felt the same frustration, my co-teacher had been through many similar challenges, so we didn’t give up on him. We did come to accept that we weren’t going to get much, if anything from him, but still we tried, hoping that some day something would click, even if we weren’t there when it happened.

Traditional diamante template from www.readwritethink.org

The final unit of the year included figurative writing and formulaic poetry forms.  There had also been a year-long cross-curricular initiative in learning the eight basic parts of speech.

I combined these in one “take home” element of the final exam:  students were to prepare a self-descriptive “diamante,”  a form poem so named for its diamond shape.

For assessment purposes, the final exam diamante differed from the traditional form in that it had to include a metaphor, a simile, three verbs, and a summarizing statement of fact, all describing the writer.  To achieve the diamond shape, the diamante began with the writer’s first name on line one and ended with the writer’s last name on the final line.

Exam day came, and Jeff showed up without a pen or pencil, much less a diamante.  He sat through the entire session with the Scantron (“the bubble sheet”) in front of him.  I don’t recall whether he even bothered to write his name.

He turned in a sheet with a few random bubbles filled in, left the room, and that was the end of our time together.  There wasn’t much for my co-teacher and me to do or say about it. That was that.

Then, at the end of the day, I found a crumpled up piece of paper tossed on my desk at the back of the room.  I opened it to find this diamante, which I have kept ever since in a little frame on whatever desk where I find myself.

Although I’ve altered the names for privacy’s sake, it is written in ink and was signed…in cursive. . . by someone who taught me a lesson worth remembering:

You never really know what’s going on with a person and people will surprise you in the nicest ways.

diamante-final-exam

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Diamante links:

Read. Write. Think. (An interactive diamante generator).

University of Oregon

Wikipedia

A traditional diamante begins and ends with nouns that are opposites.  The poem can be used in two ways, either comparing and contrasting two different subjects, or naming synonyms and antonyms for another subject.

The subject is named in one word in the first line. The second line consists of two adjectives describing the subject, and the third line contains three verbs ending in the suffix -ing which are related to the subject. A fourth line then has four nouns, again related to the subject, but only the first two words are related the first subject. The other two words describe the opposite subject the lines then are put in reverse, leading to and relating to either a second subject or a synonym for the first.

                              Noun
                       Adjective-Adjective
                         Verb-Verb-Verb
                      Noun-Noun/Noun-Noun
                         Verb-Verb-Verb
                       Adjective-Adjective
                              Noun

The sinkhole detour: peace.friendship.sesame chicken.

As with most things that I can’t change in life, I have come to appreciate the positive things about commuting through Washington DC five or six days a week.  To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, life moves pretty fast, but traffic doesn’t, so you might as well look around while you’re sitting in it. There’s a lot going on out there.

The most interesting things happen when I’ve forgotten to put my camera on the passenger’s seat or when it’s not safe to use it, either because of traffic safety or because the subject of my fascination might be inclined to take retributory action.

I wouldn’t blame them.  A person should be free to do whatever they want in full public view, if only to entertain the commuter population.

The sinkhole that shifted my consciousness.

Several months ago I took a different route home because of a sinkhole that had closed off several streets on my usual route.  What a gift from the universe that sinkhole was for me. It hadn’t occurred to me to drive through DC’s Chinatown neighborhood on my way out of the city.

Or maybe it had and at that point I wasn’t ready yet to deal with the tourist element.  Tourists, jaywalkers, taxi drivers willing to U-turn from the far right lane to pick up a mini-skirt wearing fare, and Metro bus drivers with felony records are a driver’s worst nightmare.  But the sinkhole detour shifted my consciousness on that view.

The Chinatown neighborhood, which is teeming with tourists and all those other traffic hazards, is my favorite place to be stuck in gridlock.  There’s so much going on there. Plus, it smells like sesame chicken. You gotta love that.

So many people from all over the world meander the streets there, many of them stopping traffic to have their picture taken in front of the Friendship Arch.  I don’t mind stopping for this because some of them, usually after an extra long happy hour, strike some interesting poses.  Every once in a while I want to ask if I can look them up on Facebook.  But I don’t because I don’t need to find myself mentioned on Facebook as “. . .some crazy lady who tried to chat me up in DC.”

A couple of weeks ago, just for fun, those of you kind enough to subject yourself to these musings and to take action voted for my theme song, which turned out to be Cat Stevens’ Peace Train.

The sit-out, like a sit-in with a view.

The very next day was the beginning of the sit-out I’ve been staging. My sit-out is the opposite of a sit-in; instead of staying in place and refusing to leave,  to get my point across I tried for a few days to leave during daylight hours, refusing to stay chained to my desk.

On my commute home, feeling free as a hippie who’d only logged 7.5 hours that day, I found myself sitting in traffic near the Friendship Arch, basking in the aroma of sesame chicken, people-watching to my heart’s content, and enjoying life in the moment, when my theme song came on the radio.

As luck, or the universe, would have it,  I had remembered to have my camera riding shotgun. I took a picture to prove to you that it really happened, although I’m not sure why you wouldn’t believe me.  I admit to a certain amount of hyperbole, but I don’t make most of this stuff up.

I forgot about that until one night this past week when the universe treated me to a traffic jam in that same spot and when I looked to my left, I saw a group admiring this way groovy car.  This is now my favorite intersection, the intersection of peace and friendship and sesame chicken.

I wish you could smell what I smelled. Mmmm...sesame chicken.

I wish you could smell what I smelled. Mmmm…sesame chicken.

I am not making this up!

I am not making this up!

~

All I can say is groovy.

All I can say is groovy.

I’m not really a hoarder.

I am a proud member of a village that has successfully raised two village people.  Somehow they managed to survive  bandaged knees and chicken pox,  lost lunch money and forgotten field trip permission slips, losing seasons, winning seasons, stage fright, mean girls, puppy love, and broken hearts.

By now we’ve been through the stages of separation necessary for them to go off on their own to do the things that young villagers do. Still, one part of the child-rearing process lingers:

The village is starting to pile up with shoeboxes.

Every time I buy new shoes, I put them neatly on the shoe rack in the closet, and start to break down the box for recycling.

Free to a good home. No, wait. Someone might need these.

Free to a good home. No, wait. Someone might need these.

Then I freeze. And a slight panic sets in.

Someone might need this box. . .

You know how that always goes. . .

 As soon as you get rid of it, someone will need a shoebox.

After a lifetime — two lifetimes, actually — of looking at shoeboxes as vessels to hold sidewalk chalk, finger paints, scissors, glue, Barbie clothes, baseball cards, rocks (not the pretty ones — the dirtiest, grungiest ones he could find), Happy Meal toys, squirreled away allowance money (we’re certain my son is already well on his way to a secure retirement) and things I’m probably better off not knowing, I can’t look at a shoebox as just a shoebox.

Nor can I reason with my more altruistic self that cutting it down and putting it in the recycling will help the box find its way into serving some other village in some other helpful way.

No, not me.

I look at a shoe box and imagine that at just about 10:30 pm, someone’s going to call to tell me they just remembered that their Social Studies diorama project is due tomorrow morning. You never know.

Maybe they’ll want to paint them and turn them into colorful “bricks” to build a living room fort. You never know.

Or maybe this year they’ll start waxing nostalgic and will want to make a gingerbread village for Christmas. You never know.

And so the boxes pile up, because once you’ve been a responsible member of a village, you understand that it takes a lot of shoeboxes to raise a child.