Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ABC Wednesday: O is for Oliver Mill~

O is for Oliver Mill
Shared lives~

Oliver Mill, in Middleborough, Massachusetts, is the scene of an annual mating ritual, wild and free, a testimony to the strength of biological urges.

Come April, young and old line up on the bridges of this restored mill site to watch the herring swim against the current to the calm pond above the falls where the females will lay their eggs, and the males will broadcast their sperm.

(These fish are attempting to leap the higher falls, having missed the ladder route.)

Oliver Mill is one of many such herring runs where man has built a "ladder" in the stream to ease the arduous upstream journey of the river herring, in this locale either alewife or bluebacks.

Some of the eggs will be devoured by under water creatures, and some adult fish will feed the gulls that have left the McDonald's trash barrels, opting instead to try their wings as fisherman-- proper gull behavior.

Those fish that survive will reverse direction in autumn, letting the current pull them back to the Atlantic. Next spring when warmer water temperatures, and other mysterious biological signals prod, the fish will return to the same site.

And so will the people and gulls.

ABC Wednesday brought to you by: Mrs. Nesbit's blog

My first ABC post. I decided not to wait until A, but jump right in the middle of the alphabet.
Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement - and we will make the goal. ~Jerome Fleishman

Monday, April 28, 2008

The eternal optimist~

With fewer than forty school days left before my much-anticipated retirement, I called my former newspaper editor. I had a quick question to ask, just needed some info that a friend asked me to get.

Then after the chitchat, after the answer to the question, just at good-by, he said, "By the way, we have a position opening up in June. Full-time, forty-hours. Would you be interested?"


It seems an editor for a nearby town was leaving and the seat at her desk was going to need to be filled.


"Well, I'd have some questions." I was stalling.

How did I feel? A desk job. A desk with no students in front. A phone right there within reach. A computer. Local stories to cover . . . Interviews to do-- I love to ask questions.

"I remember you said to keep you in mind when you retired," he said.

But, the thing is, I haven't retired yet. I haven't had a chance to taste the freedom from routine that brings.

"One question: Would I have to get up early?"

"No, editors never do," he said.

"What about nap time?" I asked. He laughed now.

And then it clicked.


I told him the timing was off. That I needed to get a taste of retirement before I committed to something else. That I'd continue as a stringer, but for now it was too much too soon to take a full time job. A job that would probably start the minute my other one ended.

He understood.

But, God willing, I'll have time for another career, or a mini one anyway.

Do I want that?

Well, let's not call it a career. I want to develop a niche, something creative that will make some money. Fun money. There must be such a thing. I want the chance of a lifetime to fall into my lap, or rather; I want to create the chance of a lifetime.

High hopes? I'd like you to meet reality.

No one has crystal ball to view the future, but in this day of rising gas prices, falling house prices, and a roller coaster ride for other things as well . . . some things are out of my control.

Thirty-five years ago, I had no idea what my retirement year would have in store. And if I had, what difference would it have made? I couldn't have changed a thing.

So I'm poised. Where I'll land remains to be seen.

But I'm the eternal optimist.
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” ~Maria Robinson

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I will not whine~

Sun bathing~
A week of vacation comes to an end, and I refuse to whine.

It's been a week of beautiful spring weather and good friends, a week of time alone and time with others, a week of events, not all I'd hoped for, but I can live with it all: a good friend and candidate for Selectman lost the election last night, my son is scheduled for arthroscopic knee surgery on Thursday, a friend is moving out of town next month. But these are mere flecks of dust on the lens I peer through.

Spring's promise is being unwrapped daily and the warmth fills my heart. All is well. I can't complain. I won't.

This I know after this week of "glory devine," I will need structure when I retire, a schedule, something to anchor me in the day and make sure I get housework and other yuck stuff done along with the bike rides and the photography sprees that tug me out of the house.

This week I floated free for the most part . . . and loved it, but my "best laid plans" of cleaning closets, preparing meals ahead, cleaning the refrigerator, and washing the kitchen floor still remain on my "when I retire I'll get to it list." I will not criticize myself that I let all that ride. But damn!

Still, what are vacations for?

I'll set my alarm for 5:45 a.m. and be thankful to wake healthy, and if not entirely happy to get up so early, at least grateful I'm able. I will not say "shit" when the alarm goes off. Or at least not out loud.

All is well. I will not whine that it's back to work tomorrow.
No vacation goes unpunished. ~Karl Hakkarainen

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Karate Kid IV

This spring Bruce and I went to the Garden show in Boston. There were bonsai vendors amidst the floral art and beautiful themed displays.

When I said, "Lets look," he was as captivated by the tiny junipers as I was. We picked one out with the care we give to a Christmas tree, or maybe even to picking out a pet, and made plans to pick it up later after we finished with the garden show.

That's when we learned we might have, in fact, bought a "pet," or a reasonable facsimile.

"Listen to this," I said reading from the instructions we were given with the bonsai. "It says they provide boarding for trees. Who would board a tree?"

As it turns out, many. They require individualized attention; each has its own watering and temperature needs and many board their plants when vacationing.

It also turns out that juniper, the tree we'd chosen because it was among the least expensive, should live outside from late April until just before the frost. Like a junkyard dog, I thought. I wanted a "pet" that would sleep at the foot of my bed.

So the next day we drove north to another bonsai place and picked up a tropical plant that will live in our bay window year round.

I picture bonsai care as rather spiritual, ala Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, something done serenely in peaceful surroundings.

Only in the movies.

"That one needs to be clipped," says Bruce who bought some old pruning sheers at the bonsai center that he's already spruced up with WD-40.

"Not yet. Let it get settled," I say. "I don't want to nip off its growth right away."

"You're supposed to nip it off," he insists. "Otherwise they get too big."

"I want to see its shape first I say. Then I'll decide where to snip."

A day later he points out the new growth again. And the next.

Oh, damn, so I'll snip already. Serenely, breathing slowly.

Mr. Gadget has also gone and bought a probe that he sticks into the soil of each plant to monitor the moisture level. The juniper should never dry out, yet it doesn't like "wet feet" either. It seems a fussy line to walk. The tropical plant likes a good soaking after which it should become dry.

Bruce gives me daily reports of which plant needed watering. He handles it while I work, but on weekends we have little non-serene discussions about the virtue of monitoring moisture levels with a cold metallic probe versus a human finger in the soil.

"Why would you use your finger when the probe is accurate?" he asks.

"My finger certainly knows when the soil is moist," I say.

It reminds me of the baby days, discussing who needed a bottle instead of crying himself to sleep. The kids survived. I trust the bonsais will too.
...a bonsai truly represents the fusion of nature and human wisdom; it is an art that at once pursues the spirits of both nature and beauty. ~Amy Liang

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In His name~

Pope Benedict began his US visit today. Some of my fifth graders knew this. They described the Pope as "like a priest" and "a very religious man."

But other than that they had no concept of who he was, where he lives, and what his role is.

Mark knew he was "a Catholic." Mary said he lived in "England or something." But John knew he lived in Rome, although he didn't know that was in Italy. No one mentioned the Vatican City.

And then there were other confusions. Sue had told a friend that she was a Christian, and the friend replied, "Then you can't be a Catholic." Sue was not sure about this; no one was.

"Could you be both a Christian and a Catholic?" someone asked.

I put the word Christian on the board, underlined the word Christ in it. They understood that believers in Jesus as Lord call themselves Christians no matter what the denomination of their church.

But there is Sally who is Jewish and daily keeps me informed of upcoming holidays and the mitzvahs she is doing, what the Torah says, and other things she learns in Hebrew school.

Sally said she didn't believe in Jesus. Shocked Christian faces turned her way. She was one lone dissenter in a class of twenty-four.

"You don't?" one said.

Sally is a tough cookie. "No, I don't," she answered without hesitation, although she looked to me for approval.

"But Jesus was Jewish!" said another, confused at how she couldn't "believe" in someone who clearly existed.

We talked for a bit-- about Jesus' claims to be God, about some who believed and became his disciples, and others who thought his words were blasphemy. And how the Christian church sprang from these Jewish roots.

"Should we banish Sally?" I asked with a twinkle in my eye, knowing Sally would understand and not take offense at my use of a vocabulary word that applied to the period in history that we were studying.

No one wanted to banish her.

Wise Meg said, "We all just believe what our parents teach us anyway."

And then we talked about how maybe it was the same God we all believed in, but with different names. The Muslim's Allah, the Christian's God, Jehovah.

Sally struggled to come up with the name she used. The conversation continued while she scowled in frustration.

"Adonai!" she interrupted triumphantly, a big grin on her face.

Later these children will learn of all the blood shed in God's name. In all His names.

I won't have the answers for their questions. Or, maybe I will, but they won't make sense.
There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it. ~George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A pound of flesh~

Beef, Angus strip roast, is on sale for $8.99 per pound, chicken breasts, boneless, $4.99 a pound. My own flesh is worth far more, I found. (Not in the way you're thinking, Elliot Spitzer and all)

I responded to a junk mail ad for a place I'll call as "Shylock Fitness Center." It was a promo, I knew this, but I checked it out just to see. I'm a tough sell and I wasn't worried that I'd get pushed into anything. That never happens, hardly.

The place provides one-on-one fitness training-- a private hour and a half, three times a week with a personal trainer, a nutritional program, and body fat analysis. -I'd visited this place once four years ago to do a feature for a newspaper, so I knew how they operated-- and that they were pricy.

-But you never know. The economy is in a slump. Maybe they are desperate for clients.

The owner, who I'll call Mr. Pecs, showed me around. I wanted only the bottom line: the price. But he was intent on getting me firmly on the hook.

"We don't take everyone," Mr. Pecs said. "We only take people we think are a good fit."

He asked if my husband supported me.


If he knew I was there?


What I wanted to weigh?

-More that I did at my prime, but less than now

What I thought were the stumbling blocks to my weight loss efforts.

-Time, energy. Desire to eat.

What I ate.

-Good food mostly, but . . .

How often I ate.

-Three meals a day mostly, but . . .

When I last ate.

-Just a little snack in the car on the way over, but . . . (I was still picking pieces of popcorn out of my teeth. He looked grim.)

How much I thought this was worth.

-Well, I remember it was a lot four years ago, but . . .

How much?

-Oh, I don't know . . .

What would you say if I told you $2300 for three months?


So that would be $766 a month. About $64 a session if I went three times a week. Bottom line, about $150 a pound.

If I'm worth that much maybe I should start treating myself with more care.
"You can't really be strong until you see a funny side to things."
~Ken Kesey

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Magic medicine~

Before class, Mike approached me, red faced and nervous. "Mrs. D. Can I go to the nurse?"

"Why?" I always ask, performing my triage role. Paper cuts and week-old bruises get no one out of a math test.

"My arm feels numb, sort of tingly, and my leg is weak," he said rubbing his tingling right elbow with his left hand.

"What happened?" I asked, all the while noticing that he had good color, stood tall, spoke clearly.

"I poked my arm with my pencil," he said showing me his bicep on which there was the tiniest pink spot. He repeated, "My arm feels funny and the feeling's spreading down my leg. All on this side."

Some teachers in a situation like this say simply, "Go sit down. You're fine." Kids who make trips to the nurse for avoidance purposes are common and make teachers skeptical and impatient of complaints that come on the day of a test.

But I knew instinctively what his worry was. Despite the fact that pencil lead is not actually made from lead, kids think it is. Mike had no doubt heard many a TV account of the dangers of lead paint and the disastrous symptoms of lead poisoning. In fact he was suffering from lead poisoning at the moment in his own mind.

"Mike, pencils are not made of lead. You'll be fine." He still looked uncertain.

"But it was a mechanical pencil," he insisted. I assured him all pencils used graphite as their "lead" these days. "Lead hasn't been used for hundreds of years," I told him.

I started to explain that his symptoms were from worry, and would disappear soon, he should take a deep breath . . . but he interrupted, "I feel fine now. It went away, anyway." I'm not sure if he understood the mind/body connection.

I remember being around five and spending a Saturday morning with my father: a visit to the dump and Sylvester's Hardware store, then a stop at someone's house. I was given a cold drink and somehow swallowed an ice cube. It hurt going down and scared the daylights out of me. I figured I was doomed. I cried so hard-- gasping and inconsolable-- that my father took me home. My mother, though, understood the situation immediately.

"There's nothing to worry about," she told me. "The ice cube is probably already melted."

Calm informed logic is such magic medicine.

Today's kids don't see much of it. Consider the tease lines for the evening news:
  • What's under your kitchen sink that might be making your family sick?
  • What you don't know about your doctor can hurt you.
  • Is your pet endangering your health?
  • Are the lights in the classroom affecting your child's brain?
Stay tuned!
"So great a power is there of the soul upon the body, that whichever way the soul imagines and dreams, thither doth it lead the body."~ Agrippa, 1510