Saturday, January 24, 2015

A big lesson for a little girl

It wasn’t as if I needed the money, and later in the afternoon I thought twice about what I had done and returned the quarters and dimes when no one was looking. At least that’s what I thought.

My conscience got the better of me, and from then on, stealing wasn’t on my radar. It wasn’t a choice I would ever make again, and one childish incident at six-years old tempting the fates proved the lesson well.

My first grade teacher diligently taught the basics and there was no doubt about it that she maintained strict order in the classroom like the tight bun she wound her black hair into parted in the middle. 

She had her students sitting at tables of four, and she would call us up to the front of the room – bird labels was the buzzword of the era - for a Dick and Jane reading lesson. I was a “bluebird” and how I hated being singled out to sit under my teacher’s nose with several others that I thought were way smarter than me. She would drill and drill us with sight words in her sharp piercing voice totally lacking any expression on her face. If she enjoyed teaching children, I missed it.

It was during one of the times when we “bluebirds” were sitting at our seats doing seatwork while she worked with “robins” or “buzzards” that I spied loose change on one of the desks. Somehow I was not intimidated enough and tried my hand at stealing lunch money from another student.

I left school and went home thinking nothing more about it until my father came home from work with a sober look on his face. I knew something was not right when he summoned me into the living room to sit on the couch. He informed me that my teacher had stopped into the store after school and said that she had noticed me taking someone’s money early in the morning, and after having second thoughts, I returned it before school was over.

I was furious that she would tell my father every little thing about me, especially something that I had solved on my own without her so much as talking to me and hearing what I had to say back. That was worse than the punishment I received from dad. I felt betrayed, and it put me on guard for the rest of the year, and the next year, when she became my second grade teacher.

Years later when I started teaching, I made a promise to myself that if a small incident happened and was corrected by a student under my guidance, it was left in the classroom between us. That developed a sense of trust and pride because we all make tiny mistakes growing up and learning to work through wrongs is a necessary part of maturation.

I am not sure that today’s parenting generation would go along with my theory. They are very much more prone to questioning a teacher’s handling of any situation.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Waiting for Takeoff

One man exclaims aloud that he has time to write his entire legal brief, send it to his law partners and have it returned amended before the plane takes off. The woman across the aisle offers to edit the document. The motherly lady behind them contributes candy bars to keep their blood sugar levels up. 

The flight attendant comes around with snack packages and drinks for sale, and more than the normal numbers of people purchase for fear that it may be a long time before they see food again. 

The kids in the middle row start a battle using the magazines in the seat pocket as weapons. The college student nearby drowns out the fight with music from his iPhone, texting all on his contact list and plays a game of poker on his laptop simultaneously.

Nobody may get up or the plane will loose its place in the take off lineup announces the pilot in his all American voice.
Just another day in a transportation hub.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Breaking a bad habit for the new year

     I hear the glossy print media police summoning me. The magazines on my coffee table are stacked perilously high, and a major disaster is looming.

     The postal carrier brings more periodicals each day, and I am embarrassed to admit that the time has come where they deserve a little TLC to avoid a tumbling accident of huge proportions scaring both man and beast. The resident cat is timid enough without sudden noise interrupting his naps.
     From the magazine pile’s point of view, they are tipsy like a good scotch in the cabinet that gets poured on a special occasion.
     “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” You recognize the quote from the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, and it comes from Emma Lazarus' sonnet, “New Colossus.”
      Perhaps, that’s all a magazine is begging. “Pick me up in your hands for a casual perusal, if nothing else.”
      A new year is here, and I can’t let intimidation get the best of me. Who’s in control – the stack of magazines, or me?
     The truth of the matter is that the humongous pile has turned into two. Actually, three, if I count the one in the guest bathroom I rationalize away as helpful for guests in a new environment needing a brief moment of solitude. Besides, glancing at a travel magazine takes curious eyes off the dust in the corners, or a shower curtain in need of replacement.

     I know of folks that hoard years of National Geographic magazines in their attics. They have a collector’s trove of the world higher than the Empire State Building.
     It is valid point that looking through the pictures and articles in magazines from previous decades teaches us a lot about how society lived. It can be fascinating reading and reminiscing, or used as a learning tool with children.
     Life, Post and Ladies Home Journal were staples when I grew up. “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” was a column in the Journal that I faithfully followed as an innocent, impressionable kid searching for clues on marital intimacy, and it just might have been one of the sparks in my writing career, although I never could get the hang of plotting romance novels.

     Then there’s the domino effect, too. Once the table is cleared off, the dust will be ever more prominent on a sunny day, and that’s a chore that isn’t high on my list.
     Funny thing, I am one of those people that come and go with my infatuation for magazines. I get over zealous and subscribe when I know better.
     Like seeing the perfect pair of shoes in the store knowing full well I have enough at home to serve me into my next lifetime.
     Or taking out more library books in a moment of exhilaration when I find the latest and best right on the shelf?

     I rationalize that a writer needs to be a reader above all else. Excellent short stories, essays and features are examples to scrutinize and pick up what tips I am able to use in my own work.

     There is a magazine for every possible hobby, age group and lifestyle. If you don’t believe me, check the magazine rack at the supermarket.
     Take this fall when I had a terrible cough and cold that held me hostage. I lie on the couch and read about the Hollywood buzz and TV entertainment more so than I should own up, too. I couldn’t wrap my head around a book, and I was too busy blowing my nose to hear the TV’s news. Even binge watching had no appeal. My life was in a daze, and there was no other way to look at it.
     On glancing through the great vertical collection on my coffee table this morning, I found a variety of topics. I will break down my reading into four categories.
Interested in and will read carefully:
Kitty-tested and approved toys
Wines of the year
The Amazon publishing dispute of the year
Tips for taking fabulous winter pictures
Best brunch places in Rochester
Shouts and Murmurs in the New Yorker
The rise of Andrea Merkel, Germany
Not interested in:
Incredible gifts from $7 and up, and up and up
Ravishing evening gowns
The history of the panda in China
The smartest kids in the world
Glance over quickly:
Sexiest man alive - well, maybe I’ll stay longer in this case
Reviews of Christopher Walken’s dancing in Peter Pan
Hydroponic farming in the Finger Lakes
Recipe makeovers
Review of The Hobbit - I will make up my own mind
Always interested in:
A book review
Travel tales from exotic lands
Eli Manning, Angelina Jolie and Jimmy Fallon
     My goal for 2015 is not to take on any more subscriptions than I can possibly deal with on a weekly basis.
     I will phase out old favorites that no longer contain fresh topics and colorful visuals.
     All those frequent flyer miles that were getting ready to expire will not be put towards frivolous magazines that I would never spend the money on in the first place.
     I adore my young high school friends, but from now on, I will make a donation to their senior fund instead.
    I will recycle magazines where they will get a second chance at an appreciative home.
     Lastly, I will try digital editions.
     Well, I best get to it. Reading magazines, of course.



Saturday, January 10, 2015

5 Positive reasons for shoveling snow in your driveway

1. It’s a super cardio-workout, and beats hanging out at the gym waiting for machines. 

2. Your choice for a guilt free glass of wine at dinner.

3. You can take your frustrations out on the snow.

4. Or mindlessly let everything go.

5. Your husband will offer free advice from the doorway about working smarter, and for once, you can claim not to hear him due to the blowing wind.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wintry day ramblings

It is frigid outside, that slap in your face arctic air kind. I have chores to attend to in town. 

If I wait until tomorrow, there will be no harm done except it might be a wise plan to start my car, let it warm up just in case I need to leave in a hurry for some unexpected reason. I have no idea what that might be, and I suppose that’s why you don’t plan for interruptions. 

The sidewalk must be shoveled for package and mail delivery along with anyone else that comes to my door. I don’t want someone to think that I am too lazy to keep the house up properly on the outside. 

It might be good just to face the music and do my chores today. A little fresh air and biting cold are not going to hurt me. The stuffiness of indoor air is drying out my nostrils and I have a cough from allergies. 

Staying indoors today means that I don’t have to get dressed and I can slop around in my old clothes without a care in the world. I bet I won’t accomplish all that much, though. 

Then again, a little conversation in town, as brief as it might be, is good for what the ails me. I can do idle talk as well as the next person. It would make me feel connected, and besides, I might find out a little interesting gossip. 

Best to get to it, take my shower and head out into wintry conditions. I’ll keep a positive frame of mind and won’t talk myself out of it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


I took the plastic placemats from the shelf and arranged two flatware settings each with a knife, dinner fork and spoon on the table. I placed two clear water glasses of the multi-purpose variety bought in a four-boxed set at any discount store near the Corelle white square dinner plates with black squiggly lines. Paper napkins left over from the holidays were folded. I moved the assorted pile of bills, new appliance directions and books out of the way to be cleared tomorrow. 

There. Dinner is served before watching Downton Abbey, and seeing how the Edwardians did it up grand. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A little quirk of mine

The day after Christmas is when the peeps come out during a lull in holiday festivities to start the drill all over again: stocking up for next year. Cards. Wrapping paper. You name it. Only 364 days until the next one. 
As much it makes sense to me, and I do love to save a buck like the rest of you, the voice of my mother in my head speaks out. 
“I may not be alive next year to use them," said my mom. It came with a big sigh every time, and that was disturbing to little me.
What a downer. I heard that all my life from a woman that remained in excellent health until near the end. She certainly was not a spend thrift, nor was she a hoarder.
Just a couple days ago I saw a woman scurrying down an aisle at the bargain bin store arms loaded with goodies, and I got that feeling my mother was closing in on me once again. I took a deep breath, picked up a couple extra holiday candles almost as if in defiance and headed to the checkout line.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The power of a single person

All it takes is one rotten apple in the barrel. Or one naughty kid in a roomful of others.

That’s the truth. I’ve been there and done that in a variety of parenting and teaching settings. 

The scene is playing out in front of you in world news encouraged and escalated by a group mentality. Look at local coverage, and it is the headline of the evening news more times than you feel comfortable acknowledging.

That’s such a negative viewpoint when you consider how you really feel about the value of human beings on a whole. Above all, that rotten apple theory is a self-fulling prophecy. You assume the worst of someone and he, or she, will live up to it every single time.

Wouldn’t it be better to pay attention to the special gift of one small warm-hearted individual poking up his or her head performing a kindness that can brighten the lives of others? Like throwing a stone into the water and watching the ripples growing bigger and bigger, so can the power and boldness of one person set the stage for others to model positive behaviors.

Gandhi. Martin Luther King, Jr. Susuan B. Anthony. All were ordinary people that did extraordinary feats.

“A single ear of corn can produce a whole shed full of corn. –Ghanaian proverb

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy new year

If you dream of moving mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting small stones today. -Mauritania proverb

Leave a young child to his own play along a shallow creek, and notice how he inevitably gathers the smallest pebbles and stones into a pile examining each one in turn like he has found a precious gift. Whatever his thoughts at the moment, no doubt they have no parameters and all things are possible. 

May your NEW YEAR 2015 be full of moving mountains and forging streams. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bouncing back from spills teaches resilience

     An area woman is recovering from a serious motorcycle accident that has taken her leg. It’s an uphill battle. I can’t fathom how she will deal with this life-altering situation, yet she comes from a family that possesses a remarkable strength, and together they will make it.
     I preface my piece with those sobering remarks, and continue on with lighter, related ones for 2015.  
     Getting knocked down to your knees every once in a while is an all right thing. Believe me, the world looks a lot different from the ground up.
     As painful as it is to even think about, we’ve all looked back at those experiences, and hopefully, they have been watersheds. We moved forward with a clearer understanding of ourselves, and embarked on a fresh path.

     Take the kid safety issue with Red Rover and Wiffle ball banned from certain school playgrounds. It has been blown way out of proportion. I am amazed that parents are not looking at the advantages of outside play and casual connections with other children. Instead, they are dwelling on the slightest potential for danger. There’s enough legitimate trouble in the world to concentrate on avoiding entanglement.
      “Let kids be kids” is valid. There’s always a possibility for serious injury in just about every active game, but you can’t let that dictate your choices. That’s simply not a healthy attitude.
     Then again, what parent hasn’t been to the ER at some point in child rearing with a kid’s broken bone? Most of those arms, legs and collarbone injuries have occurred because of taking on challenges. I don’t know of a child that wouldn’t go back up to climb another tree, and even higher, the next time.
      It’s nail biting sitting on the sideline of a football game and watching your teenager tumble to the ground and not get right back up. A huddle of coaches surrounding your “baby” brings an uneasy few moments.
      Growing up on the block I was no star athlete, and always one of the younger ones tagging along, but I did get out there and participate with the neighborhood kids in the traditional games. I don’t recall any permanent scars, although my knees were scraped to the bone regularly, and I am sure that once in awhile my ego was bruised, too, when I made a complete fool of myself.
     Perhaps a little falling down and taking risks early in life make it a heck of a lot easier when things get tough later on. All this micro managing in the name of fulfilling the parental role might need to be reevaluated. Has it gone overboard, or has the world become so fearful that kids can’t be kids?
     There’s always a “helicopter mom” orbiting, and my advice to parents is to back off and leave children room to figure things out.
     I love to watch a baby on the verge of taking his first steps. The focused look on his determined face is centered on this one and only task. As much as his folks want to reach out to grab him, basically it is up to the wee one to do the hard work.
     And there will be a lot of falling down, too, while he experiments with what his wobbly legs will and will not do. It’s the beginning of his ups and downs on his journey in life, and risk and failure may be used for improvement if they are approached positively.
     That bottom up, or floor level perspective, tells me to appreciate life in a simplistic way.
     Life sure looks different from the carpet. Playing on the floor with a child cues me that I should spend more time seeing the world from a little one’s point of view. It helps me sort the valuable and cherished from the superfluous and temporary.
     Yoga practice does that for me, too. Sitting on my mat, breathing in easily, aligning my body and practicing quietness removes me away from the lofty whirlwind of the daily grind, and places me in a state of contemplative peacefulness.
      In my estimation the best learning that I have ever done was after a huge effort that took a lot of roundabout ways to achieve my goal. I always appreciate those insights, and am grateful that I learned a lesson when I reflect back on the ordeal. Most of the trauma was self-imposed, too.

     At some point into my teaching career I grew weary, or so I believed, with the Upstate area, and I was convinced that moving and starting fresh was the solution. It’s that “grass is always greener somewhere else” notion that was rearing its ugly head.
     In fact, there was a position in a different part of the state that I could have obtained, but pieces of the puzzle did not fit together, even though I insisted on jamming unmatched wedges at each other to no avail. Finally, I took a careful assessment, and I started noticing what I could improve right here.
     Things can get messy and upended, too, but that’s part of the game. When the waters get murky, the comfortable thing is to bail out, but a good old-fashioned dunking might be what the doctor orders.

     If I could count on two hands all the times that I picked up the pieces of my life, and moved on a little wiser for the wear, then I would be amazed at my resilience.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas eve

The jolly man in the sleigh is lifting off tonight. 

His load is heavy. 

Or not. 

It depends on what you value in life. 

Up, up and away. 

Stay the course, Mr. Claus.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A family heirloom tells a story

Elves come in and out of holiday decorating fashion. They’re back.
The younger generation believes that they have made a brand new discovery. Not so.

 Far into the distant past (I'll leave you to guess), my mother introduced me to the red elves and each Christmas the trio would be placed on the fireplace mantle with their arms and legs stretched in tricky bends outdoing the best of yoga moves. They were part of the magic of mistletoe and fir trees strung with popcorn and tinsel.

The elves were passed on to me, and I let my young daughter arrange them in different locations in the house. As she got older and only would come home occasionally, the last thing that she would do after her suitcase was packed, would be to move the elves like a Christmas prank. When I returned from the airport and I glanced around the house, a smile would come over my face when I spotted the elves in another spot. "Up to new tricks, huh?" That’s where the elves resided until I tucked them away for the next holiday season.

When I close the box in January, the three elves will have impish grins on their faces. May their year a head be as bright as my wish for you.