March 25, 2015

Senior citizens rock

My family lives in retirement central USA. Their town in FL is known for their retirement communities and the lifestyle that surrounds it. The equivalent of a red corvette is a fast golf cart. Indeed, there are folks who "soup up" their golf carts. It amuses me.

In one of the local retirement communities is a restaurant and lounge, and my folks go there at least once a week. When we were visiting, they were particularly excited because it was karaoke weekend as well as a band. We booked a table.

The dinner was delicious. It really was. I had expected mushy flavorless food, but was overjoyed when I enjoyed my meal. The company and entertainment even more-so. Dad owns a local business and he's quite well known in the community. When we go places, all sorts of folks come to say hello. Our first visitor was a lady named Shirley. Shirley's face was a road-map of life and wrinkles. She was delightful. She told us about her family and her book club. After Shirley left our table, Dad told me that Shirley's daughter is worried about the vodka she consumes and calls dad to ask. Dad's stock reply, "I saw her have two".

Personally, I think that if Shirley's daughter was that worried, she'd not phone a local business owner, but maybe come spend time with her mom. My brief glimpse? Shirley has it going on. She's sharp and funny. If she drinks too much, at her age? She's earned it.

Then there was Nadine. She is a retired bigwig from DC. She regaled stories of every president from Nixon on. She then told us that she is addicted to that show Alias. I may check it out.

The best visitor of the night was Rocco. Rocco, as his name indicates, is a feisty Italian guy. Rocco in all his mothball-scented studliness took a liking to our table. He was giving us play by play all night. At one point, Rocco took his lady friend out on the dance floor, but not without stopping by our table and stage whispering to my husband and myself, "This is my lady friend, she's Puerto Rican and she's hot."

We smiled at Rocco and his lady. The whole evening felt like I was a stunt double in the movie Cocoon.

Then it was my turn. I used to sing karaoke on a fairly regular basis. I have no delusions of grandeur. I've got a decent voice, but not consistent and rather weak. I hit the notes, but cannot hold them. I'd never make it on Idol, but in a retirement village karaoke bar, I hold my own. I got up and sang. I chose an oldie-styled song, The Shoop Shoop song by Cher. I rocked the house. They all danced and thanked me after. Perhaps their appreciation had more to do with the ability to turn off their hearing aids.

After I sang, we had even more table visits. Then came the surprise. My dad had requested Daddy's Little Girl for us, and we got up and danced. At nearly 48 years old, twirling on the dance floor with my dad was a highlight. I love him so much.

It was a night I'll never forget.

March 24, 2015

Eccentric is as eccentric does

Very few stories can make me long for my childhood days on an organic vegetable farm. It's hard work and sometimes the only thanks you get is an algae filled pond with fish biting your toes while you drift on an inner tube. Rarely am I inclined to long for that life, but I remember the last time I did. I wore a necklace the other night and received several comments on it, to which I replied, "There's a story behind it." (To which my friends replied that they were not surprised.)

Our family has spent many summers on the Outer Banks of NC. We fell in love with the area during Hurricane Dennis in 1999. How funny is that? The first time we visited, a hurricane did as well! For years we returned to those beaches, enchanted by the wild horses, the fresh fish, and the relaxed pace of life.

There is an area of beach that is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles. It's on the North Carolina/Virginia border. One summer, we went exploring. As we traveled further north, we would occasionally see signs for "Libba's Place" with the encouragement to come visit.

After seeing the hand-painted signs for mile upon mile, we decided to indeed go visit Libba's Place. Mr. Fresh was more skeptical than curious, but a bit of prodding helped us find Libba's Place.

We pulled up to a ramshackle beach house, with a chicken coop, a "beach museum" (as she called it) and other oddities. She also had a gift shop that appeared to not have been visited in years. She was an ageless sort of older, somewhere between 50 and 80, but impossible to say. Her weathered skin had not seen many days of sunscreen, as evidenced by her deep smile lines. Wearing an over-sized man's shirt, glasses on a chain around her neck and hair in a disheveled bun flying errantly about, framing her face like a white/grey halo, Libba came out to greet us.

"Welcome to my Place," she said in a smooth drawl with a voice that capitalized place, "I was just getting ready to feed my chickens, would you kids like to help?" She nodded to the minis.

The kids went with Libba to feed the chickens, and when they were finished she invited us to see her museum. Her museum was a lean-to filled with things she found on the beach. A naked Barbie doll missing a leg, an old buoy, a few shells, sea glass, driftwood, and a special collection of sea glass folks sent her from elsewhere, including my hometown, back at Lake Erie.

We wandered around Libba's Place, some of us enchanted, some of us befuddled. The enchanted person was the one who didn't have emotional baggage to this strange beach creature the way she did with her own upbringing. I suppose I could add a phony disclaimer how any resemblance to real or imagined characters is coincidence, but that's a crock and we know it. Libba is real. (The kids kept saying she reminded them of the woman in "Because of Winn-Dixie") If you're ever visiting the Outer Banks near the NC/VA border, you need to find out how real. Go visit Libba's Place and say hello.

Aquamarine supposedlyShe told us how she would sometimes row a boat across the sound to the mainland and that was quicker than driving. She showed us flower beds bordered with upside down wine bottles, quickly explaining that a lot of her visitors brought her empty wine bottles. I suspect she was a bit untruthful there, and perhaps they were full when they first arrived at her place. Nonetheless.

She invited us into her gift shop where an eclectic array of her projects awaited for our bidding. Nothing was priced. I'm fairly certain she priced her merchandise based on what she needed for that particular day. My minis got small bracelets for a dollar. I was intrigued by the piece shown in the photo, a big blue glass chunk on a charm. She insisted it was the gemstone aquamarine. It's irrelevant that I didn't believe her. She gave me enough of a story that morning that I didn't mind her thinking she conned me. I've never checked if the stone is real, I don't think it is at all, but who knows? She also told us that she gives people things and a card if they don't have money and just trusts they will mail her the money when they can.

Her card is still tucked in my wallet and I hope to visit her again another day. I will take a bottle of wine, but it won't be empty. I hope I can convince her to help me empty it.

March 18, 2015

Freezing time

The older I become and closer I approach that moment of my youngest child turning 18 (at the end of this year), the more I wish I could stop everything. I realize that I have defined myself as a "stay at home" mom since 1995. Twenty years. The last few years, I've not had to stay at home as much as I've needed to be accessible. The adjustment hasn't been seamless.

I'm at a crossroads. I don't know what is next as the nest is less full than in 2013, and approaching completely empty in 2016. I am raw.  I spent 12 years going to school, but finished, with a clearly defined "next", which was college. For me, it took 5 years, and then a small segue into the land of careers before realizing my career was closely tied to marriage and starting a family.

Nobody ever talks about what is next. I'm still a mom, but there is no need for my services on 24/7 basis. I don't abdicate my mom title, but I do reflect on all it's meant the past 20 years. My oldest is in her second year of college and my youngest in her 3rd year of high school. She is preparing for post high school the same way I am. But where are my standardized tests? Where can I be tested to see what I accomplished and what is recommended for me next?

That is a problem. There is no standardized protocol to follow after this milestone. 24/7 for 20 years and then, nothing. I find myself thinking more and more often about days past. Wishing I could freeze them. Wishing I could return. Especially the days when I didn't feel like paying attention. The days when I shooed them away so I could carve out time for myself. If only I could get those back.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a neighbor of mine. She has children who are about 5 years behind my own. Her oldest just started high school and we ran into each other at a concert. I did that "old grizzled wizened mom" thing where we talked about all the great things available for our children. I commented, "I love knowing where my kids are and what they are doing on a Friday or Saturday. I love that they are involved with XYZ."

Half a step off
photos courtesy of: www.markstahlphoto.com.
Wasn't expecting that!
 photos courtesy of: www.markstahlphoto.com.
Clearly, I was on a roll, so I continued. I said, "Think of it this way. This is the last time in their lives they will be able to run with a track team, or perform on a school stage. They aren't likely to audition for choir or band again, and the school dances will come to an end along with pep rallies. This is the time for them to enjoy that and for us to do what we can to make sure they take full advantage of it today. It doesn't come back."

We nodded knowingly reflecting on the own activities we did in high school and the infrequency of it since. I don't play clarinet these days and I'm not even sure I remember. I am not likely to march at halftime at a football game (although a few years ago, during our sneak peek show, the parents were invited to come out on the field with the kids and it was a hoot -- even if I was off a beat).  The point is, I've moved onto adult responsibilities and relaxations.

As tempted as I am to do over those days I wasn't engaged, I know that's horribly unfair. It would be like yelling at someone who slept when they took a vacation at Disney. Yes, everything is incredibly exciting. It's also exhausting. You must recharge.

I realized I cannot look back. I cannot freeze time. I can only remember it and cherish it. I can hold it close to my heart while I patiently await what is next.



January 5, 2015

[Giveaway] Win a Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

December 30, 2014

Choosing our words and also our reactions

Everyone has heard the cautionary tale about the little boy who cried wolf, or what happens if you yell FIRE! in a public place when there isn't one. At some point, we become desensitized to the language and when a real emergency happens, nobody reacts.

Elementary schools always have some sort of anti-bullying policy and children are taught to never-ever bully, but they don't always seem to be taught what exactly constitutes bullying. I see this phenomenon as a substitute teacher in the district where I work. Nearly every day, one child makes an unkind or unfiltered remark to another, something perhaps as innocuous as your hair looks weird today or I don't like the color of your sweater. Within moments, I have a child telling me they've been "bullied". I'm put in a position of mediation, but in a culture that is so hyper-vigilant, every utterance must be monitored. In fact, if I don't react properly, I could be responsible for not addressing the situation.

I'd like to teach our children instead to be ducks and let it roll off their backs. When did the teasing that is inherently part of children being children become a rallying cry for preventative measures in every exchange? In no way do I wish to diminish the very real and serious problem of bullying, especially with the lengths true bullying can go in today's cyber world. However, I believe that the culture reduces the problem to the level that when real bullying happens, it's often ignored, in a slew of ongoing offenses we commit against one another.

When I was in high school, our drama club did a very funny play called The Stuck Pot. Here is a synopsis from Dramatic Publishing:
Some boy is always getting stuck with an awful "lemon" for his date at the annual dance. The boys have decided to establish a consolation prize to be awarded to the boy who gets stuck. They call it The Stuck Pot. The girls retaliate by establishing a stuck pot of their own. So much money is collected for the two stuck pots that everyone (almost!) wants to win. Alice is particularly anxious to win. She's not much interested in boys and she'd like that "pot" in order to buy a microscope. Alice is a whiz at chemistry and she cooks up a unique new "perfume," the smell of which should send any boy running for the hills. Meanwhile, some of the other girls are vying to be the most unattractive, and it results in probably the most riotously funny dance scene your audience will ever see. The dance reaches a humorous climax and a delightful resolution. 

I remember laughing hysterically at this play 30 years ago. The same play this year was rejected by the administration as having too many undercurrents of "bullying".  When the reason was explained to me, I absolutely understood, but I couldn't help but wonder why nobody ever considered it a generation ago?

funny looking shoes
I've addressed my own issues with bullying as both the giver and the receiver, and have seen glimpses of it while raising my own children. However, we don't teach elementary school children that sometimes people just aren't always nice to each other, and that isn't the same thing as terrorizing, harassing, or bullying. It's about learning social skills to diffuse a situation instead of escalate it.

When I was about 10 years old, I had a pair of boots that my mom picked out for me. They were very stylish in her eyes, but they weren't at all like anything my classmates wore. I didn't want to wear them to school, because I knew what would happen. But of course, Mom made me wear them to school and sure enough, I got there and everyone made fun of my boots. They were strange looking for the style of the day. I recoiled, embarrassed that I had to spend the day in boots that I knew people would tease me about. I got home, barely able to conceal my anger, and refused to ever wear the boots again. I look at the boots today and think they are pretty cool. But to a 5th grader in the mid 70s, it just didn't work with the styles my peers were wearing.

What happened with the boot incident was not bullying but a series of life lessons. I learned that sometimes people tease you for something you cannot control. You either learn the confidence to manage it or you let it hurt you. Or you find a reason to stop being teased. In my case, I knew my boots were funny looking in elementary school eyes. I gained the confidence to stand up to my mom and grow into a more independent person. I didn't hate my classmates or internalize the teasing. They were making fun of the boots, not me.  But I wonder how such an incident would be repeated today. Would a little girl wearing the funny looking boots think she was bullied? How can we check that reaction and instill the coping skills to manage some uncomfortable moments?

I think that's what it really boils down to. We need to learn to manage moments of discomfort. Those moments we're either embarrassed or ashamed, and how we handle it. It's about how we're reacting to what someone is saying.

Being thoughtful isn't a one way street. It's not just about what we say, but also what we hear and how we react. A little more thoughtfulness would go a long way.





December 29, 2014

Goal for 2015

Many years ago, (at least seven), I started blogging under a pen name. I woke up every morning and wrote something. A lot of it was ridiculous, some of it was sublime, but the ritual was necessary. I wrote and shared and folks gave me feedback. Sometimes the feedback was "what in the world are you talking about" and sometimes it was "wow, you really nailed it". But feedback helped me grow. It helped me grow so much I stopped writing privately and brought it public. Then I stopped writing.

I started marketing and selling and making sure that what I said fit my intended audience. And it got tiresome. I started to drift. I stopped making sense.

Since my days of regular writing, I've found a lot more commercial success, but I've unfortunately, my writing skills have atrophied. I like to think it's like riding a bike, I just need to get back on it and it will all make sense. I'm training my fingers to do just that and hope my mind comes along for the ride.

As long as I'm talking about bike riding, I need to shout out another goal. I joined an exercise studio over a year ago, one that specializes in spinning. For those who don't know, spinning is an intense stationary bike workout. It's cool because unlike when you ride on the road, if you slow down, you don't get left behind, you simply slow down. I ride a little slower for several reasons. One is that I am overweight. I'm trying not to be. But I am. The other is a slight heart condition. I have been diagnosed with "mitral valve regurgitation". Basically what that means is that one of the valves that sends oxygen to my blood doesn't always close and the oxygen flows the wrong way. At least that's how I understand it based on my research following the diagnosis. But I get short of breath sometimes, with a legitimate reason. My heart doesn't always get the oxygen where it needs to be. My doctor is watching it. As am I. I just realize that if I'm having a hard time breathing, I need to slow down and catch my breath.

It ties into the theme of my decision to write again daily. I need the fresh air. I need to breathe. I need to try to write again, every day. I have a goal of writing a biography for someone and I need to get back on that bike and ride.

Here is my bike. The chain is oiled, the tires full, and the handles ready.

So am I.

To writing, breathing, riding and life.
L'Chaim!

December 22, 2014

I'm not racist (but) ... and other lies we tell ourselves

I'm a white woman living in a white world. My life is pristine and crisp. But I think I'm enlightened. I participate in discussions about race and keep an open mind. Heck, I even told one of my black friends (because all us enlightened folks have black friends we reference as proof we aren't racist), that I understood. I even went so far as to elaborate. I explained in great detail how big I was for understanding the need to even the playing field, as I continued about my own personal experience. I was in college and applied to be an RA in the dorm. My competition was a black girl. Or at least one of several competitors. But she was the one who got the job. I remember the shock and outrage that she was selected, and not I. Never mind that 14 were selected. She was the one I should have beaten.

I explained this very sincerely. Halfway through the explanation, I realized, I. Am. An. Asshole. This from a woman who doesn't curse on a regular basis. But it fit. I placed an incredibly arrogant myopic view on my experience. I told myself for 25 years that I lost to a black woman. I comforted myself with false magnanimous declarations that it evened things out. I never took a moment to consider that I had been competing for a job with 13 other candidates. Only that I lost the the black girl. So I again repeat, I. Am. An. Asshole.

You see? I have sold myself on the assumption that white people deserve jobs and if black people get them, it's about quotas, not quality. I was so myopic, that I didn't consider perhaps I wasn't as qualified, or didn't interview as well. I assumed the job was mine. Because I'm fabulous and I know it.

Ha.

I recoil in my assumptions but embrace the chance to learn. In a time when we are barely openly discussing race, I am not going to miss my chance. I had an epiphany last week. In the middle of explaining to my friend how "big" I was for understanding that I had to take the hit, I realized what a jerk I was. I realized that my WHITE PRIVILEGE never had me consider that maybe I just wasn't the best person for the job. I am embarrassed. As I discussed my experience with my friend, I recoiled in shame.

This is the crux... I live in a bubble. I don't know what I don't know. This doesn't make me a horrible person. This means I need to recognize that just because it isn't in my realm, it doesn't mean it isn't real.

This means that it took me over 25 years to realize that I wasn't the best person for the job. Period.

Thanks, Staci, for listening to me and being my friend. I love you.
P.S. Happy Birthday, friend.

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