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 the lead actor 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.
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