Monday, December 31, 2007

Airport musings~


Sitting in Houston's Airport-- Bush Intercontinental-- I face a sun setting over the fin of a grounded Continental jet. There's a football game on TV and Bruce has moved closer for a better view.

I'd rather watch people. An odd lot us humans, but interesting, and nice-- for the most part-- all with a tale, each a lead actors in a drama written only for him-- or so he thinks.

Nobody here looks ominous in anyway. All the random "beepers" were pulled aside and screened further. All water bottles have been confiscated from those who didn't know water was a liquid.

We're safe, those of us waiting for flight 686. It's the weather that may pull a cruel twist with the storm that is due to arrive in Boston while we're only half way there. Or an invisible virus someone harbors.

A mother-of-three adjusts her load. She's determined to stuff a pacifier in the baby hanging in a sack from her front. Her toddler tells her his tummy feels better now and they can go to Texas after all.

"That's good," she says wryly, "because we're in Texas."

I watch a depressed looking woman pull a carry-on slowly down the concourse. She pastes a phone to her cheek, expressionless.

A trio of flight attendants strides professionally by. Each is dressed the same, but the skirt on the bleached blonde-- orange lipstick and possibly botoxed lips-- is three inches higher than the other two wear theirs.

I watch an older couple with their granddaughter. Why do men age so much better than women? Older men-- grey, wrinkles, little paunches-- always come out ahead of women with the same features.

There's a couple with a carry-on bag that wouldn't hold much more than my son's basketball sneakers. In it their dog is curled like a cat and drugged into near oblivion for his flight.

"Can I take a picture," I ask. "She's adorable."

"She's a he," Mr. tells me.

"Sorry," I say as if I've offended a parent with a newborn. "The bow threw me off.

The dog's fur was combed off it's face and fastened with a bow.

"It's a masculine bow." The man smiles.

It's not, but I say, "Yes, like a bow tie," and smile back.

His wife, so fashionably thin she looks like she could curl up in a carry-on herself, doesn't make eye contact. I think the dog is hers. I decide she's a snob.

When we board, dog couple is in first-class where the dog has more room to dream his drugged doggy dreams than I do in my second-class seat where I scrunch for the journey home.

An uneventful landing in sleety snow, a cold dark ride home, and then bed-- four feet narrower than the one we slept in the night before, but the cat's curled between us purring in delight.

Home, sweet home.
~~~~~
James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death. ~ Ian Fleming

Friday, December 28, 2007

San Antonio and Boston~


I'm in Austin. Two days after Christmas we flew to Texas for another of Worcester State's basketball tournaments. Bruce's motto is, "I didn't miss any of David's games in high school-- and he played three sports-- why start now?"

My motto is, "I didn't make all of his games in high school-- nor did I try. The least I can do is go to the ones that require traveling to a place I've never been."

David spends his days with the team. When they are not playing or practicing, the coaches take the kids out to see the sights.

We have plenty of free time to see the sights and to relax, which is what I'm after, basketball aside. Today we headed 80 miles south to San Antonio and sauntered along the River Walk-- the much corralled and exploited, but nicely so, San Antonio River-- in sun and sixty plus temps. We visited the Alamo, and absorbed a bit of Texas's interesting history and culture.

Beautiful! Eye candy! Never ashamed to lug a camera and look impressed, I took lots of pictures.

Enjoyment of this unfamiliar city got me thinking about Boston. Having lived twenty miles south all my life, I've taken it for granted. It's chock full of beauty, history and culture. I've watched tourists as wide-eyed and appreciative about Boston as I was today in San Antonio.

I need to get myself into Boston again, soon, on a home-state appreciation trip.

How sad that so much of what is right under our noses is so little valued.

River Walk explained~
~~~~~
In Rome you long for the country; in the country - oh inconstant! - you praise the distant city to the stars. ~Horace, Satires

Monday, December 24, 2007

I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day~


These words written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War still resonate today . . . unfortunately. But where there is love there is the hope of peace. Let it begin. Merry Christmas!


I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And mild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
~~~~~
“The best Christmas of all is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up with one another.” ~Unknown

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Historical Note: This hymn was written during the American civil war, as reflected by the sense of despair in the next to last stanza of common presentation. The original stanzas 4 and 5 (below) speak of the battle, and are usually omit­ted from hymnals:

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Tis the season~

'Tis the season~
I'm never all that jolly at Christmas time. It's too commercial, too demanding. I hate demands. I hate to follow the sheep through the stores-- not that people mean to be sheep, but 'tis the season-- spending money I shouldn't, spending time wrapping gifts when I am tired, gifts that will only be ripped open, expensive paper burned in the woodstove or cluttering a landfill.

I don't know how to return Christmas to what I think it should be: peace and love. All is calm, all is bright.

It's hard to back up.

I don't like all the hype. But somewhere along the line, early on when my three kids were little, I succumbed and set a precedent that I want to end, but how?

Here's what I'd say to new parents:

Don't start off your Christmases by piling presents high under the tree. It's easy to do when a lot of little toys, relatively inexpensive, make a big pile to the eye-popping delight of the little ones. Their excitement makes it worth repeating next year, and the next, until suddenly the gifts aren't so inexpensive, and the pile must shrink or credit cards be used.

My kids have never whined and begged for things. Really. My Christmas angst is my own doing. I hate to disappoint.

But will it be the "kids" (my youngest is nineteen, but he's my baby) who are disappointed if the pile under the tree is small? Or me, who wants to see the sparkle in their eyes.

Me, I think.

Me, they tell me. "Mom, relax," they say.

And I have, a little. My husband has done the shopping so far. He's better at it than I am anyway. I'll wrap.

And this Christmas I hope to find the calm, the peace, the love . . . the reason for the season.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I.C.E Interrogation~

Framing Niagara~
Buffalo in the winter turned out to be not so bad at all. We spent the time between breakfast and David's game at Niagara Falls.

We wandered the American side of the river, me towing the camera and snapping way too many pictures, even though I know from experience that no photo ever does justice to the falls.

Crossing into Canada required no more than showing a driver's license and answering questions: where were from, where we were born, where were going, and why? No birth certificate required, and no physical check of the car.

The woman agent who quizzed us at Canada's crossing appeared to have a bit of the Niagara River flowing through her veins--no smile, no "Welcome to Canada, enjoy your visit"-- glaring suspiciously as she leaned slightly to look past my husband at me in the passenger's seat of the car.

"And where was she born?" she asked my husband, keeping her eyes locked on mine. Conscious of my tendency to make wisecracks at inopportune moments, I said nothing, and we were waved in with an impatient flick of her icy fingers.
Taking the plunge~
In the winter the park closes access to the "up close and get wet" viewing areas near the base of the falls, but the view is still spectacular from the higher vantage points, and the number of tourists competing for the view is greatly diminished compared to the summer time.

Reentering the US, the agent peered into the car and asked, "Only two?"

"Only two humans," I replied.

Bruce winced, but the agent laughed. "We don't care about the aliens," he said.

A little more small talk, the "W" questions, a few more chuckles, conversation about the basketball tournament we'd come to watch, and then he asked to see my license. I reached into my pocketbook with deft fingers and handed him the card.

Suddenly he bent down and peered more closely at me. "Why are you giving me your VISA card?" he asked, smile gone.

"Oh, darn!" I fiddled for my license. Bruce sat silently, just shaking his head slightly, probably trying to indicate to the agent that I could be ditzy, but wasn't in fact trying to bribe my way back in to the country with my ATM card.

"Just habit," I said. "That's the only card I ever pull out these days." I laughed, a genuine laugh at myself. "I've handed my VISA card to the librarian by mistake, too." I shook my own head to indicate that I was indeed a ditz.

He laughed then, and waved us in. "Wish your son good luck with his game," he said.
~~~~~
Many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall, yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea. ~Mikhail Lermontov

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shuffle off to Buffalo~


It's 7:11 p.m. and I'm on the bed leaning against three puffy pillows. The laptop rests across my thighs. My husband is on the other bed with the newspaper. The TV is on: Law and Order. He's watching; I'm not.

"You should get away, just the two of you," my friend tells me-- often. "It will revive your relationship."

We are in Buffalo, New York, after an eight hour ride that took ten today because of the snowstorm that swept into the northeast and dumped a quick six inches. Who goes to Buffalo in the winter? The city, home to Niagara Falls, is notorious for its snowfall.

Our mission was not planned as a relationship revival. We came to watch David's college basketball team--the Worcester State Lancers-- play a winter tournament. Bruce attended every one of David's high school games: football, basketball and baseball, and will go to the college games too. I went to the high school home games, most of the time. I think.

One other Boston area team bowed out of the tourney at the last minute fearful of traveling the Mass Pike and the New York Turnpike in snow the meteorologists had hyped for the past week. But for two days off from school, I happily rode ten hours through a snowstorm to Buffalo. That, and to watch David.

Here's the thing. I just drank three, maybe four, complementary glasses-- they were small - of Merlot, Holiday Inn's way of welcoming us. I don't have to cook. I have two week days that I don't have to set the alarm and beat the sun out of bed. Worth the drive, the last half through a snowstorm? Yup! Watching David's game? Priceless.
~~~~~
“Travel teaches toleration.” ~Benjamin Disraeli

Saturday, December 8, 2007

One winter morning~


I woke early this morning, way too early for Saturday, the day I plan to catch up on my weekly sleep deficit.

Monday through Friday I get up at 5:45. This time of year, the sun -- if it appears that day-- barely makes it to 20 degrees above the horizon by the time I get to work.

The early winter sky is always beautiful, my small consolation prize for being conscious--barely-- before my biorhythms want me to be.

But today, I figured I'd roll out after nine, at least, if I was lucky. I wasn't, as far as my sleep plans went.

I'd gone to the bathroom, and plopped back into bed. But the view I'd seen out the window nagged: perfect light, snow still on the branches, grasses bowed and beautiful under crystal blankets.
Humbled~
Go to sleep. It's only snow, I told myself.

But it's beautiful, and you can take a nap later. Get up! That was me, too.

When I argue with myself, I listen to the emotional side, not the logical. So I got up, grabbed the camera, and slipped out into the frosty beauty.

In reality I was blessed; that's better than lucky.Christmas sparrow~

I walked beside bunny and deer tracks. Grasses leaned into the trail like spectators anxious for a parade to begin. But there was only me, snapping pictures of what the sun put its finger on.

Unlike the students in my class, the grasses, vines, and trees were undemanding. No clamoring and clowning for me to take their pictures. They just stood proud, quiet and beautiful.

Worth waking early for.
Nature's gems~
~~~~~
In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. ~William Blake

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

But, merry Christmas~


I have a friend, Ross, who lives across the Atlantic in West Amble, a Dickensian sounding village in windswept Northern England.

To read his emails one would think it's always raining or blowing up a gale from the sea, or at this time of the year, sleeting. Maybe it is. Ross says, the past summer "lasted two days, and it was only warm enough for shorts one of those."

He's a truly funny man and I look forward to his common sense comments couched in humor. Make that humour.

In his latest missive he says, " Your last year teaching ... you'll be counting it in months by January, if not already ...

Actually, on the first day of school in September I started putting the "days left" count on my calendar. One hundred-twenty-something left! That's not saying I don't still enjoy the business of teaching a room full of ten and eleven year olds. I do. But I can look forward to the end at the same time, and I am.

He says, "I wonder if, in years past, you had an eye on the class below yours that would become yours "next year" when they moved up. Dreading certain little horrors. Do teachers warn each other: "Look out for that one!"?

Yes, we do. Judging from the whisperings and warnings, the class I will not be around to teach next year is . . . searching for a professional term . . . a doozy.

Classes have their personalities, as do the individuals that comprise them. The up-coming fifth graders are apparently . . . searching again . . . needy.

We also tell the next year's teachers when they can expect a gem of a class, too. They cycle, the doozies and the gems. I'm ending my career with a diamond in the rough class that will be a polished gem I'll set in my good memories come June.

Ross concluded his email with this: "Hoping this finds you well in the land of paper chains (kids still make them, yes?)"

Sadly, no. I'm not sure exactly when we stopped the fun, holiday art activities, but a combination of "tolerance" and "testing" drained the carefree freedom to celebrate the holidays right out of the public schools. And then there are the fire department inspections where the chief makes sure that no more than twenty percent of the wall is covered with flammable paper. The red and green chains would be pulled down anyway.

Each December the superintendent of schools sends teachers a letter telling us to refrain from the mention of Christmas lest we offend. Those who celebrate Chanukah apologize saying they don't care what we deck the halls with. Privately we say Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas in the same breath. Left alone, we don't tolerate; we embrace.

Then there are the tests. So that no child will be left behind, we follow a stringent list of state curriculum standards that must be taught at prescribed grade levels, then tested at the end of the year in a one size fits all state test.

Unfortunately making paper garlands is not in the curriculum, and we have no time to teach anything that isn't going to be tested. No time to relax and have fun. No time to let kids develop at their own pace. No time for real life.

But merry Christmas! And happy holidays of all sorts.
~~~~~
Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. - Hamilton Wright Mabie

Monday, December 3, 2007

Caffeine and a smile~

Coffee and books~
A couple of months ago I chose to stop writing for my town paper, feeling that something was going to snap-- maybe me-- if I didn't cut down on some of the things I was doing.

I was behind on my invoices, three months worth of stories had never been submitted for payment, so I sat down yesterday, finally, to make out an invoice. I'd kept records of my stories, but I decided to double-check my accuracy by looking at the online archive of the paper's online.

A bold headline caught my eye. I did a double-take, the way I'd react if I saw my boss in an unexpected place like a liquor store or church. My own name stood out in bold.

The story was a press release for the latest Chicken Soup For the Soul book in which I have a story. The CS people must have sent a press release; I vaguely remember signing an online form that gave them permission. It's part of their marketing plan.

I laughed when I read the summary the CS team wrote. It starts: "Douillette is late for work."

Okay, yeah, late, and notice I still stopped to get coffee. Little did I know when I wrote this piece that my boss would end up reading it.

One of my teacher friends showed the book at a teacher's meeting and read an excerpt.
My principal asked to read the rest of the piece. The topic of being late prompted the assistant principal to say, "Hey, you haven't been late this year!"

True, I haven't. It took an empty nest to clear my way in the morning. I only have myself to worry about, no last minute requests to iron something, no shuffling cars in the drive way, no chat about what the day holds . . . and no good bye hug either. But I'm on time for the first time in three kids and 34 years.
~~~~~
Douillette’s story featured in new 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' series
Wed Nov 21, 2007, 02:48 PM EST

BRIDGEWATER, MASS. - Ruth Douillette of Bridgewater, a former correspondent for The Bridgewater Independent wrote an original short story that has been published in the newly released “Chicken Soup for the Soul Delectable Series-Chocolate, Coffee, Tea and Wine,” the latest books in the New York Times best- selling “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series.

In “Caffeine and a Smile,” Douillette is late for work. Her patience and understanding is tested on a cold morning waiting in the drive-thru at her local coffee shop.

Each story was selected from thousands of submissions and was included in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul Delectable Series” because of the writer's ability to deliver clever, humorous insights and the important lessons learned through life experience.
~~~~~
“He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.” ~Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Battle scars~


The phone rang last night, a call for my husband, who wasn't home.

The caller, Al, said he'd been in Officer's Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia with Bruce in 1967, then Basic -- five months of training after OCS. They never saw each other again; these were Vietnam War years.

Al had been looking up former platoon members to notify them of an upcoming reunion at Quantico in May. I gave Al our address, and Bruce's email address.

Then, never being one to miss an opportunity to chat, I floated a thread. He grabbed it and we were off, two of the most unlikely people to be speaking so intimately: a Nam vet and the wife of a Nam vet.

The wives talk, we are desperate to talk-- we have battle scars of a different sort-- but the vets are closed like clams. But Al was not, anymore.

I said, "Actually I didn't know Bruce during those years. I'm his second wife. I know very little about that time. He doesn't talk much about it."

"I understand that. I don't either. Or I didn't," he said.

"Didn't? You do now, though?"

"I'm trying," Al said.

He went on to outline his life since he returned: jobs, kids, retirement. He, too, was in a second marriage. His wife is a decade younger than him, the gap between Bruce and me.

"I have PTSD," he said. "I'm getting treatment. It's a long tough climb out." He acknowledged that it was tough for his wife too.

"Sounds like my house," he said repeatedly after comments I made.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder used to be called shell shock or battle fatigue. Nobody studied it or listed symptoms or offered help back during WWII. Now they do.

But one has to reach for the hand.

Bruce won't. Or hasn't yet.

"Can you have PTSD and seem perfectly normal, have a good job, be productive, respected, and all that?" I asked Steve.

"Definitely," he said.

Through the years of my marriage to Bruce, I've occasionally looked up the symptoms of PTSD, searching for a reason, THE reason for Bruce being BRUCE, as David says.

"Mom, That's BRUCE," he'll say, when I get upset, frustrated or just plain damn angry at his way: closed, uncommunicative, irritable, easily angered.

"I'll talk to him," Al said.

He called back tonight and I heard them talking, laughing, catching up on the forty-one years since they'd seen each other. Neither could picture the face of the other, but that didn't matter. They understood a shared experience, and they understood what it did to them, how it made them who they are today. For better or worse. For better and worse.

Maybe the reunion will be good for Bruce. Maybe it will be good for me.
~~~~~
SYMPTOMS OF COMBAT STRESS REACTIONS AND PTSD

1. RE-EXPERIENCING
Continuing to think about combat or feeling as if one is still in combat

2. AVOIDANCE AND NUMBING OF EMOTION
Not wanting to discuss the traumatic event, feeling detached from others, feeling shut down emotionally

3. AROUSAL
Having a hard time relaxing or feeling “on guard,” feeling jumpy, unable to sleep, unable to concentrate, excessive concerns about security, getting angry easily.

(From the National Center for PTSD)
~~~~~
You can't say that civilizations don't advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way. ~Will Rogers

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving thanks for *you*~



Thanksgiving Day, USA, is over. Remains of the feast crowd the refrigerator and . . . my tummy. It is a much-loved holiday for many reasons, and all it requires is that I take a moment to count my blessings.

Around Thanksgiving, teachers often ask younger students to make a "thankful list." As a new teacher I remember feeling disappointed by their answers.

"I'm thankful for my family, my house, my pet, my friends." And here their lists stopped. All identical. All common things that everyone was thankful for.

I tried to elicit more, something different, something broader, more expansive. But they couldn't add more. Their world was what they could see from their front porches, and that's what they were thankful for.

The view from my front porch extends farther-- it's global-- and I have a long list of things to be thankful for, things I could never have imagined when I was young.

But when all is said and done, it is my family and friends I remain most thankful for, like I have since I was a little kid.

To my friends: work friends, school friends, neighbors, old friends and new, up-close friends, and cyber friends I've come to know through the Internet, and to my family, I'm thankful for all the pleasure you add to my life.
~~~~~
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. ~ Meister Eckhardt

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sleep stats~

Sweet dreams~
When you are deprived of it, sleep takes on monumental proportions. It becomes a goal, measured down to the minute, protected by earplugs and rules that warn friends and family not to call until ten on weekends.

Ten? Ha! I wish. But I hold to that rule just in case, because you never know: one morning I might wake, and instead of seeing the sun's horizontal rays creeping across the frosty grass, I'll see a golden noontime glow.

Time Magazine's November 26 issue has a section called: "One Day In America." It's devoted to the average American, who of course is a mirage. Still the article is interesting.

I'm above average in some ways. I have four tenths more of a child that the average family, and I'm 20 plus years above the average age.

I'm below average in the exercising department due to the over achievers who exercise for more than an hour every day and make my exercise stats look sick . . . maybe because they're nonexistent.

When it comes to sleep, I'm pretty average it turns out, which means I'm part of a large group of groggy women. We should call each other up at 3:17 a.m. and talk about it since we're awake anyway.

Average when it comes to sleep stats isn't a good thing, though. It means I'm going to bed at the average time women across the country do--11:02, but not getting the required sleep time. Time magazine says, " . . . only half of us will have a good night's sleep-- 8 hr. 38 min. on average." So sadly, I'm average.

Counting on my fingers, because I'm too groggy to do real math, I figure I sleep about two hours fewer than eight. And I'm only counting "in bed" time. If I subtract the two or three times a night I wake to kick the covers off (sweating) and wake to pull them back on (freezing), I'm in sad shape.

The article goes on to say 67 percent share our beds with another person or pet-- in my case, both, which probably makes me above average here too. Studies find that men sleep just fine in these conditions, but women don't.

Solutions? Go to bed earlier . . . alone. Or get older when sleep time is said to increase, maybe because of retirement. Hey! There's something else I can look forward to in 120 days, but who's counting?
~~~~~
Read To Sleep, Perchance to Dream. You'll see the pet I sleep with.
Read Time Magazine's article and find out how average you are.
~~~~~
O GENTLE SLEEP! do they belong to thee? These twinklings of oblivion? O gentle Creature! do not use me so, But once and deeply let me be beguiled. ~William Wordsworth

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Internet Review of Books" invites you . . .


Oh what a far-reaching web we weave when first we . . . join an Internet group.
~~~~~

When I realized that I was getting to the age when I needed to stop saying, "Someday I'm going to write" and actually put fingers to keyboard, I looked for an online writing community.

My usual good luck led me to the Internet Writing Workshop. With encouragement and help from this warm community of writers, I began getting my essays published.

Nice.

But even nicer-- the frosting on the cake-- were the friendships that developed. If you'd told me three years ago that I'd talk daily with people from all over the United States and Canada, not to mention, England, Australia, India, and Costa Rica . . . I'd never have thought it possible.

There's more.

Carter, a friend I share administrative duties with on the IWW, noticed a trend-- book review space in newspapers was being cut back. He figured he could pick up the slack, and he invited Bob, Gary and me to join him in a new publishing venture.

In less than six months from his initial inspiration, we published the first issue of the Internet Review of Books, and now the second. Please take a look, read the reviews, leave your comments and opinions. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions to help us grow in a way that will benefit our readers.

And I hope you'll be one of our readers. Maybe you'll be willing to review, or know someone who would.

In any event, thanks for letting me promote he Internet Review of Books. I find it very uncomfortable to blow my own horn, but this isn't mine. It's a group effort, editors and reviewers, and it's for you.
~~~~~
As with many good books, I found the ending disturbing and comforting at the same time. If you've seen the movie, you definitely need to see the book because the movie left a lot out. (unknown)

Monday, November 12, 2007

One Veteran's story~


My husband was twenty-four in the spring of 1967 when the Army drafted him during the Vietnam years.

Finished with grad school, he was teaching in Connecticut, and had plans to marry in three months. Not to me; I was a sophomore in high school then.

Deciding that he'd rather be the one giving the orders than taking them, he enlisted in the Marines and made plans to go to Officer Candidate School.

He told his fiancée what he'd done, and gave her the option of postponing the wedding, knowing he could be killed or maimed. They married as planned. Their son was born at Camp Le Jeune when his tour in Nam was complete.

The thirteen months he spent in the jungles are not something he's said much about. I've seen his medals. I've seen a Vietnam flag he pulled from somewhere. I've read letters from superiors praising the job he did.

But I know little. It was hot. He made sure his men were taken care of. He made decisions for the greater good. He gave orders that impacted lives. He saw his men get killed. He wrote letters to parents back home.

The rest he's buried deep inside somewhere. I don't know if he thinks of it much, but he winces at the whir of helicopters overhead, recoils sharply at the sound of gunfire and is moved to tears watching war movies.

"Did any of your men commit the atrocities we heard so much of," I asked once, naively and perhaps in retrospect, thoughtlessly.

"No." he says simply.

"How do you know?"

"Because I was with them," he tells me, the implication clear.

He didn't ask to fight in that war, but when he was drafted he gave more than was asked by enlisting and becoming an officer, pretty much insuring that he'd be in the thick of things. And he was.

As a veteran, what does he want? Absolutely nothing . . . except maybe acknowledgment that he did what he was trained to do to the best of his ability. He followed orders, and in turn gave them. He served his country as required.

He was spit on in San Francisco Air Port when he returned from Vietnam.

He cried at the memorial in Washington, DC.

It was war, and what was it good for? Absolutely nothing!
~~~~~
Memorial Day Tears

~~~~~
When the soldiers came home from Vietnam, there were no parades, no celebrations. So they built the Vietnam Memorial for themselves. ~William Westmoreland

Thursday, November 8, 2007

What me worry?


What me worry?

Maybe I should, especially after the scare I had when I found a LUMP in my right breast years ago, big enough to detect while innocently soaping up in the shower. The speed with which the doctor moved to do a biopsy was fear inducing in itself.

It proved benign, but I had to get frequent mammograms at first until I was cleared for the standard once-a-year protocol. I was faithful for a while, but after my physical this spring I ignored the doctor's instructions to schedule a mammogram along with my first ever bone density test. I guess I've reached the age, or is it the stage, where osteoporosis is a concern.

I remember thinking I'd never again let so much time go by that something could grow undetected inside my body until it could be too late. Still, I never do breast self-exams, even though my doctor patiently instructs me "how to" every year. I let her tell me again, and again. She must suspect.

But here I am, six months overdue for a mammogram, maybe more. I lose track of time.

Today when I got home the voice mail message was blinking on the kitchen phone.

It was Christine from the doctor's office telling me I needed to schedule a mammogram before the end of the year. She left a number for me to call.

But I didn't call. Or haven't yet.

I suppose I will. I should, anyway.

I have this secret thought that yearly mammograms are excessive despite what JAMA says. Some doctors say every two years is fine. And even though the radiologists always tell me, as they flatten my breasts and shoot x-rays through them, that the radiation is minimal, it's cumulative.

But radiation is not why I don't rush for my mammogram. I'm really not worried about that; I don't like the idea, but I don't worry about it.

The results of a survey by an international research firm showed interesting cultural differences in what adults fear about getting older. Germans worry about failing memory, the Dutch about gaining weight, and Thais about diminishing eyesight.

People in the USA worry about all of the above, and more, including loss of energy and trouble caring for one's self.

We are a people full of fears, worries, what ifs, and statistical data. We fear greatly what is not likely. The constant stream of pharmaceutical ads makes us believe we're doomed to be doddering, mental incompetents. We're not.

That said, I will schedule my mammogram, worried or not. It's about early detection; it makes sense.
~~~~~
Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which will never happen. ~James Russel Lowell

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Expectations~


I had a dream. Very weird.

I was wandering in a field when I realized that birds, small ones, were somehow snapping off the flower heads of Queen Ann's Lace and flying off with them. It took great effort to lift off with the flowers in their beaks. The higher they flew, the bigger the flowers became, dwarfing the birds that struggled on against the laws of aerodynamics. There was something eerie about this, and I knew it needed to be recorded, captured for others to see.

I didn't have my camera. And I was trying to decide if I had time to get it before the birds were gone. But in the optimistic way of dreams, I realized that I did have my old Sony point and shoot in my truck.

By the time I pulled the camera out of its case and turned it on, there were only two birds in sight, very high and rapidly growing too far to see. The flowers they had in their beaks had grown to the size of Frisbees.

I could hear the birds gasping, a chirping moan, and I knew they were struggling but determined. It was both inspiring and chillingly strange that they would do such a thing. I had no idea why they would.

I aimed the camera, but they were flying quickly and I had trouble finding them through the camera's eye. When I did sight them in the viewfinder, they were out of focus, but I snapped anyway, again and again just hoping to get a lucky shot.

Then I woke.

I believe in luck. Not so much the childish rabbit's foot luck, but the kind of good fortune that is visited upon those who expect it. I don't know what the birds' struggle symbolizes, but I know I got the photo of a lifetime-- in my dream.
According to Dream Moods,
"to dream of a chirping and/or flying birds, represents joy, harmony, ecstasy, balance, and love. It denotes a sunny outlook in life. You will experience spiritual freedom and psychological liberation. It is almost as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders." So how come my birds were biting off more than they could handle and gasping? Hmmmmm . . . I think I can guess.
~~~~~
Edgar Cayce wisely insisted that one should "interpret the dreamer" and not just the dream alone. Trying to understand a single isolated dream without any life context or a look at other dreams can be like trying to understand a weekly show from a single episode — not pointless, but quite often incomplete.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Me and my laptop~


I was reading Mridu Khullar's blog
yesterday when I saw that I'd been tagged. That means I have to write a meme (which I assume is pronounced mee mee) about my strengths as a writer.

I will do it, but my natural tendency is to chronicle my weaknesses. I am built that way, very hard on myself.

I stay out of the spotlight; if it finds me, I smile and bow, squinting into the glare, and shrug with that palms up gesture. Nice, thank you, but I really don't belong here.

So to document my strengths-- as I see them-- makes me uncomfortable. But I will do it, and I will not add any disclaimers, another of my tendencies.

I write from the heart. My essays, I've been told, resonate with readers who identify with the experience I've put on the page. My daughter tells me I have "no filter," meaning I share too much. I am comfortable sharing a fair amount, but what I don't share would make for some damn good reading-- a "steamah," as we say in Boston.

I have learned to cut out the crap. I write, and go back and "kill my babies"-- a writing term. I start out including all the important details, and then say, "Oh please. Who cares? Who needs to know?" Then I delete my intro, and bring readers right into my living room, bypassing the foyer. Actually, I don't kill my babies; I save them for another day. They are way too good to kill. If you only knew!

I love details. I am a close observer of people and nature. An eavesdropper extraordinaire! This helps me bring authentic details into my writing. I've been told that my dialogue rings true. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, or have had a glass of wine, I can add a touch of humor. And one friend tells me I have an "edge." He says that's a good thing.

My writing is a work in progress, and the fact that I can think of a couple more things to add to this list in the near future is encouraging. It's also good to be forced to say something positive about myself. I write from the heart. I cut the crap. I add authentic detail.

So I will give this opportunity to other writing friends of mine if they would like to take it.

Sarah M.

Bob S.

Gary P.

Read my essay at The Painted Door

If you'd like a writer's workshop check The Internet Writing Workshop

Friday, October 26, 2007

Welcome to my world~


My alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. and I pulled my black pants from the dryer. They looked weird, crumply and misshapen. The lining was hanging below the cuff. A peek at the tag-- "dry clean only." Oh, well. A little creative ironing and they were wearable thank goodness, because they were necessary for my Secret Service look.

Today was "Harvest Fest" at Hanover Middle School, an annual event that goes back probably as long as my career. It combines a Halloween theme with special activities for the kids to choose from. Each activity, be it face painting, shooting hockey puck at a goal, or throwing darts at pictures of teachers has a small fee. The proceeds go to the Visiting Nurse.

Students wear costumes, and so do teachers. This year the fifth grade teachers had a Secret Service theme. Miss McKenna was the first woman President. Of course all the kids thought her First Man was president; he didn't go out of his way to dispel the mistake.

It's not easy to keep a class full of ten year-olds focused on rounding decimals to the nearest thousandth under the best of circumstances, but when they're dressed in costume, and can't wait for the afternoon events to begin, it is next to impossible. Still, they did an admirable job of getting through the "business before pleasure" part of the day.

I told them that if they worked very hard to keep their self-control, I'd work just as hard to keep my patience. They understood. They weren't perfect; neither was I.

In math we worked with batting averages which involved decimals, division, averaging and percentages, and most importantly, the Red Sox our local team and strong contender for the second World Series win in three years.

In social studies we took a look at the geography of Denver, home of our rivals, the Colorado Rockies. A discussion of elevation and its effects upon people with lots of tie ins to how it could affect the game. There were minor distractions: the boy in the cheerleader outfit asked if I could fix the clip in his hair. Another was annoyed at being hit by the wings of the student next to him. We made it through.

It was the kind of fun day that I am always so glad to have end. I drove home yawning, and took a nap-- a long one-- on the couch.

TGIF!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tug of war~

Right now I'm living with one foot in the working world and one foot in retirement, caught in a tug of war. I'm the rope of course, feeling pretty stretched.

To use another metaphor, I feel like a butterfly that's nearly grown, but still compressed in its chrysalis-- cramped and squeezed. I want to fly, but it's not quite time.

I love my class the way a mother loves the baby she knows will be her last. This school year is one to cherish. And I'm not missing a beat when it comes to teaching-- powers and exponents right now.

But I also love writing, and photography and the other little irons I have in the fire, and I have several. (See below)

Doing what I must, and doing what I want make a hearty meal on my plate. It gives me heartburn, but I want to have my cake and eat it too.

I began writing for a local paper more than a year ago. Right now, I'm listening to the Town Fathers talk about Town Meeting warrant articles: zoning bylaws, 40-B housing requirements, business development. . . .I'm watching the meeting on cable TV tonight, not in person, as I should be where I could follow up with questions and get quotes.

But really, I put down my pen minutes ago, and started writing this.

The Selectmen are now discussing article #15, submitted by the water and sewer commission . . . something is in dire need of being painted and refurbished, some tower has rusty rivets, and I am going to quit stringing for the paper tomorrow. You heard it first.

All those in favor say aye.

Aye!

It's unanimous.

I forgot to second the motion that I quit. I second it, and I'm still in favor.

Aye aye!

Any other discussion?
~~~~~
Associate editor of the Internet Review of Books

Practice list administrator at Internet Writing Workshop

*Photo of me taken by Lisa Ruokis, a friend found on Flickr who turned out to live three miles from me. Another story for another day.
~~~~~
Words I am sick of hearing: statute, respectfully request, feasible, maintain, RFP, town counsel, interested party, best use, do a study, hold off, concrete plan of evidence, ducks in a row, initial concept, withdraw the article, (article 20! I do not want to go to a town meeting with more than ten articles on the warrant.) reiterate, bring the article forward for discussion, lessen the burden (this is sheer crap.)
~~~~~
Middle age is when work is a lot less fun and fun is a lot more work. ~Author Unknown

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Just a spot~


Yesterday was an A+ glowing autumn day. Instead of crashing on the couch after school, I decided to take my camera for a walk. But I wanted someplace different, so I hopped in the truck and headed for the nature trails at the college. Instead I followed the sunlight, and drove from one photo-op to another.

A sign caught my eye--Stiles and Hart Brick Company-- and I did one of those break-slamming, squealing, last minute right turns.

In the early 1900's, Stiles and Hart mined clay and produced bricks. Brick production stopped in 1938 when a hurricane damaged the buildings, but clay was mined until after WWII. That site is now a park. This sign led me to the new location of the business.

The building was in beautiful spot on the Taunton River, perfect for picture taking, but it had signs: No trespassing. Stop at this point.

I entered the office, camera hanging from my shoulder, and asked a man behind a desk if he'd allow me to take pictures on the property.

"For who?" he asked.


"Just for me."

"Of what?" he wanted to know.

Just . . . nature, autumn, the river, the beauty." I gestured out the window.

"No." He shook his head. "This is a private business."

"Okay. That's fine," I said. "But why would it be a problem?"

He sited safety reasons. I nodded, and turned to go.

"Wait," he said. "Since you're so passionate about it, I know a great spot to take pictures. You'll love it. I take my kids there."

He was transformed from stuffy businessman-- fourth-generation, he told me-- to director of photography.

He pulled out a Sharpie, and proceeded to draw a map. I could understand most of where he was describing, although I interrupted once to say, "I have a GPS. You could just give me the address."

But he couldn't, because this place didn't have an address, it was "just a spot."

Then he tossed down the marker and said, "I live right near there. I'm done for the day. I'll show you the way. Follow me."

He led me six or seven miles through two towns to "the spot," stopping now and then to jump out of his car and run back to tell me of another pretty place down a street we were passing.

His "spot" was beautiful. I shook his hand and thanked him for going out of his way for me.

"Not a problem," he said. "People do things for each other."

He made my day, and many other days as well, for I'll return to this spot of his.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fall frenzy~

When the people in the car next to me at the gas station asked me if I knew how to get to Smith Farm I said, "Yes. You go out the driveway and turn . . .," I pause and tap my right thigh, " . . . right."

I squint my eyes as I try to think beyond the right turn out of the gas station.

I stare at them blankly. They look expectant. "You know what? Follow me," I say. "I can get you there, but I can't explain how." The woman in the back seat nods understandingly.

I had my camera and was planning to take some fall photos. Smith Farm would be perfect.

Once there, I found myself in a throng of parents and grandparents lugging pumpkins and toddlers.

Unencumbered, I'm alone in the crowd, not part of the fall frenzy. I wander, mostly unobserved, like the hen that's scratching amidst the fading perennials for sale.

I used to bring my kids here. We'd spend an afternoon picking out perfect pumpkins to take home and carve. Things look different now that I'm not absorbed in my kids' delight.

This pumpkin fest is a business. And not even a very friendly one despite the samples of cider, and hayride to the pumpkin fields.

There are signs everywhere-- grouchy ones with sloppy handwriting and spelling mistakes. Words are underlined and exclamation points abound.

Don't. Don't! Don't!!!

I understand the owners are trying to make a living, capitalizing on the season before they shutter for the winter. But still.

"Don't feed the horses ANY thing, not even an apple or you will be fined $100.00!! (I checked the decimal point. They do mean one hundred.)

Don't walk to the pumpkin field. You MUST take the hayride. ($3.50 per person) No walking beyond this point!!

Do NOT TOUCH, clap or wave to activate the displays. Most items are for sale. Ask a farm employee if interested. Again, do not touch. Strictly enforced!!

And apparently all the signage still didn't do the trick. Another sign said: There are no excepted (sic) excuses for not reading all the signs and rules.

I got some great pictures, bought a jar of honey, and marveled that it didn't seem so contrived when the kids were young.
~~~~~
"It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life." P.D. James~

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Today is my someday~


Some days I get tired of myself, my thoughts. I just want to turn them off and drift in an empty headed haze, lie down with a book and get lost in someone else's thoughts for a change. Lately between writing and taking pictures, I've been living too closely to my own thoughts, too intensely involved.

I take a walk, and I see pictures everywhere-- in a wide-open scene of trees and sky, or a small spot of sunlit color in a hidden berries. I stop and snap and move on always seeing more, more, more.

I used to walk with no other purpose than to exercise-- fast-paced, sweaty and cathartic-- but I can't do that anymore for some reason. There is beauty everywhere. I want to capture it. Need to.

I used to go to bed with a book. I wandered in another world until I fell asleep, and the book slipped aside. Now I stay up later than I should, focused on my own inner world, writing down my thoughts and observations. For some reason, I need to do this, and I want to, but I miss the time away from myself I got from a book.

I took a walk on the college campus the other day. It's a beautiful campus, more expansive than when I attended. New buildings, new dorms, and a new wall-- more decorative than functional -- caught my eye.

Engraved in the concrete was a saying by Horace Mann, an early education reformer: "Coiled up in this institution as in a spring, there is a vigor whose uncoiling may wheel the spheres."

It struck a chord in me. I love the language, and the image-- a vigorous student body coiled together, ready to move the planets.

But it spoke to me in a different way. "There is a vigor within you, too," it said. "A spring is uncoiling and prodding from within, making you restless, keeping you awake, keeping you wired, when you'd rather drift.

I always had vigor. I didn't squander it; I merely used it to survive. Now I can use it for something else. For my "someday" plans: someday I'll write, someday I'll travel, someday I'll . . .

I stopped after school at the Better Bean, the family owned coffee shop in the center of town. There is a small back room where local artists display their work.

"Is there a schedule for the back room," I asked the owner.

"Are you an artist?" he asked.

"No," I said. "Well, I . . . I'm a photographer. That's an artist of sorts."

"It is," he said.

He'll schedule the back room for me next time I go in, when he has his book.

This is my "someday." When I let the spring uncoil, who knows what spheres I'll wheel.
~~~~~
"The future has a way of arriving unannounced." George Will

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Monarch magic~


If it weren't for the unseasonable warmth, I wouldn't have eaten my lunch on the patio. I wouldn't have spotted a monarch at the marigolds. I wouldn't have put down my sandwich and gone for my camera.

The monarch flew, but as I sat again, I saw that there were several fluttering around the yard: one at the butterfly bush, one on the nasturtiums, and others fluttering with no special destination that I could tell-- just following the whim of the wind.

Toward evening I walked on the college campus, camera in tow, waiting for the sun to point out pictures for me.

I don't ever remember ever seeing monarchs in October, but they were everywhere. They crossed my path, zigzagged high, fluttered low. They were harder to photograph than falling leaves. They flew high beside two swallows and a dragonfly. I didn't have the patience to sit and try for a shot so I walked on just happy to have seen them.

I rounded a corner and stopped short. There were monarchs at a nectar bar-- a gift from nature to them, and me-- and while they drank their fill of sweet aster juice, I snapped my fill of photos.

These monarchs must be making their fall migration to New Mexico. Thanks to summer weather, they found a nectar source and thanks to the warmth I was there to see it.

This beauty was right under the noses of the students who'd stayed on campus for the long weekend, but they were oblivious to it. Snatches of conversation told me they had other things on their minds. I think maybe most people do.
See more monarchs by clicking "My Flickr" icon in the left margin.
This is a great site on monarch migration: Journey North

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower” Albert Camus

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More questions than answers~


What sets teaching apart from most jobs, besides motherhood, is the amount of questions teachers get asked during the day. I can think of few jobs designed to be so question oriented. Kids are supposed to ask questions. Teachers encourage this.

"Are there any questions?" we prompt.

We tell students that there is no such thing as a stupid question.

"How are you going to learn if you don't ask?" we say.

And I love questions--both asking and answering them.

I encourage my students to be curious. "I hope you always have more questions, than answers," I say. "Being inquisitive is what leads to new discoveries."

Today after reading about natural resources, we discussed wind power. One boy asked about the turbines. How heavy were they? Did they have to be light so the wind would turn them?

This brought on a discussion of aerodynamics and force and airborne things. I ended up demonstrating Bernoulli's principle. Later the boy who posed the question asked if he could do some research on the computer. I love that kind of curiosity.

But then there are all the other questions. The ones I seem to answer over and over until I want to bang my head against my desk.

All of these questions have been addressed many times, answered in detail, explained as part of the class routine to be followed from day one. Why do they persist in asking again and again as if my answer will change?

Student: Do we have to write in cursive?
Me: What do I always say?

Student: I'm done. Where do I put my paper?"
Me: Where do you always put your papers?

Student: Can I use the other side of my paper if I need more space?
Me: (silence) I stare with raised eyebrows.

I get asked umpteen thousand nonsense questions every day. I answer with questions of my own. Kids need to be reminded to stop and think, to look around, to remember. To see that they can answer most of their own questions with a little common sense and thought.

I've taped a sign to my desk-- a rule. "Ask 3 before you ask me. I'm not the only human resource in this room I tell them. Ask others first."

Student: Mrs. D, where are the scissors? (This from a child who is sitting between two friends who are using scissors.)
Me: Who did you ask before you asked me?

Sometimes not answering is best. But woe to the poor kid who places the straw on my back with a question I've asked "ten thousand times already."
~~~~~
It is not every question that deserves an answer. Publius Syrus

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Alone in a crowd~


Today while Bruce is busy, I take my camera and drive to Blue Hills Reservation. Twenty minutes away, this reserve with miles of hiking trails makes a nice Saturday afternoon jaunt.

The beautiful weather drew crowds-- families, couples holding hands, friends, and the occasional loner like myself. I don't mind being alone. I thrive on it.

I watch people, I listen, I speculate, sometimes correctly, and sometimes not. Sometimes I start up a conversation.

I decide to climb Great Blue, a hill not much more than 600 feet, but high enough to have a weather observatory on its summit, and offer a panoramic view of the Boston skykline. I choose the red trail, rockier, steeper and more of a challenge than the green dots. I weave through the hikers and move ahead at my own pace. I'm not a meanderer.

Around a curve is a woman taking pictures of three boys. She's patient as she gets them to look at the camera. I wonder where her husband is, and think he may be just ahead. Often the men move quickly with a toddler on their shoulders while the mother herds the siblings at a slower pace.

I see her again at the summit, and later at the observatory. She's squatting in front of the boys. I'm impressed that she is taking such care with her pictures.

One of the boys makes rabbit ears behind his brother. "Oh, Tommy has such a nice smile. Why don't you smile too," she says and he drops his hand and smiles.

"So handsome," she says.

I remember how hard it was to get a picture of my three without the rabbit ears, or one with crossed eyes and his tongue stuck out, while the other two looked angelic.

Later I stand behind her as she encourages one of the boys to read information about the weather station. She's giving him all her attention.

"What grade is he in?" I ask. He looks too young to read such big words.

"Second," she says. "He's a good reader."

Then the rest of the story comes out. Two of the three boys are her neighbor's. Their father has just gone to Iraq. Her husband is also in Iraq. She is taking pictures to email to them. She has the boys for the day to give her friend a break. She plans to speak to her son's class about the war. She seems glad to talk. I'm happy to listen.

But I don't do what I want to do, which is give her a hug. I was by myself today, but she was alone in a different way. She will be alone until April, if all goes as she prays it will.
~~~~~
For more information about the Blue Hills Reservation click here:
Blue Hills Reservation
Wikipedia Information

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Betwixt and between~


I got some good news a couple of days ago. The Chicken Soup series is going to include an essay I wrote in their "Chicken Soup For the Empty Nester."

They asked for a brief bio-- no more than fifty words. Me in a nutshell-- the traditional paragraph written in third person where I tell about myself as if I weren't me.

Actually, I have five versions of me in my "brief bio" folder, because some publications allow more words, and each publication warrants a different style.

None of my bios would do, though. They all began: Ruth is a teacher, or, Ruth has been teaching for more than . . .

The book will be published in June 2008. I will be retired then. I need a new bio for the future. In the publishing world the future is always ahead of reality. The future is now.

I revised my bio to say: Ruth is a retired teacher . . .

No big deal. I liked the sound of it, but my subconscious had something to reveal.
~~~~~
I dreamt I had given birth to a baby girl. I was thrilled, but I wasn't taking care of her. I was going about my surreal dream business, leaving her in the care of others. No worries. I felt safe doing this, and thought about her often.

At some point, I asked that she be brought to me. Whoever had been taking care of her-- I don't even know-- carried her carelessly, nearly upside down, not protecting her head. She was tossed down in front of me looking nearly dead.

I began taking off layers of her clothing that were making her sweat. (It figures I'd get a baby who has hot flashes, too.) She perked right up, and became alert. I noticed how beautiful she was.
~~~~~
I think too much, analyze too much, my husband tells me. Just live, he says. Don't try to find a reason for everything. So I've been ignoring the odd feelings lately, the betwixt and between, neither here nor there sense. The feeling of metamorphosis, of being squeezed in a cocoon, but it's too soon to emerge. Asking the proverbial adolescent question tweaked for midlife: Not who am I? But who will I be next?

I am a teacher. I've said that for 34 years. Next year I will say, I am a retired teacher. But that's not enough. Who else will I be? My dream . . . am I pregnant with a new me?
~~~~~
I took a walk today, the first day of fall. Summer to fall transitions were everywhere. It was beautiful. I took comfort.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sick day~


Sick day~

I'm home from school today-- sick. I stayed home yesterday too.

I'm never sick. Hardly ever, anyway. I say that confidently, without knocking on wood. Years of teaching have given me a cast iron immune system.

While others manifest full-blown symptoms of the germ of the month, I get-- at most-- a day of feeling sluggish. I figure that's from my antibodies fighting, and winning. But barely a week into the school year, I've been hit by the prevailing virus.

Taking a sick day doesn't come easily to most teachers. For one thing, it's far more work preparing for a substitute than it is just to go in feeling lousy.

Plans and schedule need to be spelled out in detail. Extra work must be planned because kids tend to whip through their assignments under a sub's less demanding eye. There are loose ends to pick up when you return: work to correct, lessons to reteach because the kids say, "the sub didn't explain things good enough."

Teachers by nature tend to be a conscientious group. Getting sick isn't responsible. We're like parents; the show must go on. So when we feel the start of something, we discuss our symptoms around the copy machine.

"I have a tickle in my throat, and my stomach is kind of queasy."

"Oh, that's exactly what Ginny had last week. She was out for three days. Karen has it now."

"Really? Three days?"

"Yeah, the nurse sent home four kids from my class today. All stomach bug stuff."

"Really? I was thinking maybe I'm getting it too."

This is what we need-- the permission: "Stay home. It's better to nip it in the bud. Take care of yourself."

The call to the "substitute hot line" brings back memories of telling my mother in a croaky voice that I felt "wicked sick." Her response was to whip out the thermometer, shake it down, and slip it under my tongue.

No fever. I went to school.

The classroom is a caldron of germs. Kids fall like dominoes. Teachers aren't immune.

I'm thinking of moving the tissue box off my desk. I don't think it helps my cause any when students stand three feet away from where I sit, blowing their noses in my direction.

I told the students that they should blow their noses back at their own desks. "Please don't stand in front of me and blow in my face." I say it funny. I make a joke. I pantomime. They all laugh.

Later a sniffly little boy comes up for a Kleenex and . . . I end up staying home sick.
~~~~~
In the sick room, ten cents' worth of human understanding equals ten dollars' worth of medical science. ~Martin H. Fischer

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Thanks to him~


Welcome my son as my guest blogger. He wrote this for his freshman comp class recently. (He hates the picture.)
~~~~~~~
Thanks to Him
by David Douillette

Who does this guy think he is? I was six years old and my mom was taking me to my weekly soccer game one fall Saturday afternoon.I didn’t know anybody who lived on this side of Bridgewater, so when the man got out of the red Porsche parked on the side of the lot and started walking toward us, I had no idea who he was. Apparently my mom had told this man I had a game today and to stop by if he wanted to.

I came to see a lot of this guy I would eventually call Bruce over the next couple of weeks. I found out that my mother and he had met at the fitness center in Bridgewater and as you can probably guess, had become fond of one another. He started coming over every so often and my mother, sister, and I went over to his apartment sometimes too.

It was extremely hard on me every time I saw him and my mother do anything remotely affectionate toward one another. Whenever I saw them getting close, I would immediately leave the room. The sight of it was too much for me to handle at first.

My father had moved out of our house because of the divorce with my mother. Having another man around whom I did not trust at first was extremely difficult. This guy was a stranger to me, but the feeling of distance between us would not last very long.

If there’s one event that finally made me realize that he wasn’t “playing” father, it was one Saturday afternoon in the summer, not long after Bruce had moved in with us. My mother was out doing errands, he was mowing the lawn, and I was in the living room watching TV. Like any kid of that age, I had a vivid imagination. That Saturday afternoon, I was watching a movie that involved people climbing mountains.

I didn’t have any actual mountains in my living room to climb on. The closest thing to one was my sofa. I was climbing along the back like a cat trying not to fall down into the “valley” below, when I heard the door open. In walked Bruce who immediately saw me conquering the couch.

I didn’t have a chance. That was the first time he punished me. I got sent to my room for what seemed like forever. I was shocked when he first told me to go. He didn’t have the authority to punish me did he? I had to obey of course. I had been taught by my mother to respect my elders.

In my room I thought, I wouldn’t want my kid climbing all over the couch either. That’s when it hit me that he thought of me as his kid. Bruce could have come in and ignored me, thinking that I wasn’t his responsibility and just let my mother deal with me when she got home. He took charge and he did what he thought was right. That was the moment I knew he wasn’t “playing” father.

My mother is the strongest person I’ve ever met; and having her and Bruce in my life has molded me into the man I am today. Bruce hasn’t missed one of my sporting events since I met him. I played football, basketball, and baseball since I was ten, so to make every game isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. I’m going to be playing basketball in college and he vows to make everyone of those games as well. When we first met him he already had put his biological son through college. He was done being a father, and yet he chose to start all over again with two new kids. It’s impossible to convey how much that means to me.

There are times when a change in your lifestyle is all you need to accomplish your goals. Bruce gave me the tools that I needed. He didn’t move in with us thinking,
“I’m going to give this kid and his sister a better life.” He fell in love with a woman and just happened to get close to her two kids as well. In the process, her two kids grew fond of him too.

I will never stop loving my real father, but Bruce has made an impact on me that I will never forget. My stepfather has taught me discipline, hard work, and many other qualities that I probably don’t even realize yet. I appreciate everything he’s done for me and I thank my mother for meeting him in the first place. With him, my life changed for the better. Bruce changed the way I think; he and my mother are the most influential people in my life, and will be forever.

I hope you have someone in your life that you think of the same way.