Thursday, December 20, 2012

Grandmother's Wrapping Paper

I'm taking special care to wrap my mother's Christmas presents in what she and I would both call 'Grandma's wrapping paper'.  What is that, you ask?  What is Grandma's wrapping paper?  It's difficult to explain, to describe, but you would know it if you saw it.  It's Christmas wrapping paper that could double as wallpaper--a repetitive pattern of wreathes, or presents, or Santa faces--printed on a thin paper:  sometimes red, sometimes green, sometimes on a beige background.  Nowadays, it's the kind of stuff that you'd pick up at Big Lots and the Dollar Store, but there were no Big Lots or Dollar Stores back when my grandmother was wrapping gifts.  Over the forty+plus years, I unwrapped gifts given to me by my grandmother, her style in wrapping paper was unwavering.  One would almost think that she had two or three never-ending rolls of the stuff; for sure it was easy to pick out which gifts under the tree came from Grandma.

I know when I present the gifts to my mother, she'll comment on the wrapping paper.  She'll take them and say, "Ooooh...that looks like the kind of wrapping paper Mother used to buy."  She'll notice.  I know she will.  And I will say, "I know.  That's what I thought of, too."

I smile to think that something as silly and disposable as wrapping paper can bring forth such warm and gentle memories.  And I ponder that the wrapping paper that reminds me of MY family's grandmother came from another family's grandmother, who no longer needs wrapping paper and whose gifts, also, are now of the memory kind.  I suspect there must be a grandmother code--all grandmothers must use rose-scented soap, hang plaster casts of fruit in the kitchen and buy the same kind of wrapping paper.

And all grandmothers, both present and not, are remembered at Christmas.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rethinking Education, Part I (Decision Made)

So we decided to enroll Ben in an online school.

The think-through of the decision went like this:  we got a postcard in the mail about the Indiana Connections Academy.  Hmmm.  Never heard of it.  So I registered for and attended an online information session.  Within two minutes of logging on and starting into the slide show presentation, a communication window opened up and a Connections Academy teacher was live and online to answer ANY questions I might have.  I conversed with her throughout the slide show and the longer we talked, the more impressed I was.

I talked with John about it and we signed up to attend a live info session at a local hotel.  I was bound determined that if we decided to sign Ben up for the Indiana Connections Academy, the 'blame' wouldn't be entirely on my shoulders.  ;-)

We were among the first to arrive.  As we sat waiting for the presentation to begin, more and more people began to show up.  Before long, the room was full.  Before long, they brought in more chairs, and finally opened to folding wall behind us.

As this was quite awhile ago, many of the fascinating and impressive things we learned have escaped me, but one thing that has stuck with me was this:  enrollment for the Indiana Connections Academy jumped 600% last year.  WOW.


Over the years of trying and failing, trying and failing to be a successful inner-city teacher, my compatriots and I have long discussed what might be the Solution. What is the solution to the kids who don't want to be there, who literally destroy the classroom environment, disrupt the learning, and demand attention for behavior--keeping the teacher from teaching and the ones who care from learning?  How do we solve that problem?  My radical idea then was to discontinue mandatory school attendance.  Yes, we would lose a generation or two, but those who wanted to be there, who wanted to learn would learn and those who didn't, oh, well.  My thought was that little-by-little, society would come around again to valuing education, like our parents and grandparents--valuing it the way it isn't valued now.

My introduction to the Indiana Connections Academy changed my thinking on this.  Sitting in that room, I felt I was looking at the future.  Online education--no behavior problems, no disruptions, individualized instruction--is the future.


When the meeting was over, and all our questions answered, John and I looked at each other and nodded.  Yep.  This would solve so many of our problems--mainly, never really knowing what Ben was doing at school.  He never brought home homework, never studied, we never knew about tests.  He claimed to have no idea what happened to papers, why he got certain grades.  With this, we would know everything.  We could see what was happening, what his strengths were, what his weaknesses were.

Of course there would be trade-offs.  We knew that.  School-at-home (NOT home-schooling) would create an entirely NEW set of problems, but our most pressing ones would be taken care of.

Decision made.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Husband Home

My husband, the IPS teacher soon to be retired, was late in realizing that he had TWO whole weeks off for Spring Break this year.  He learned this just the week before and commented that it was "like Christmas and birthday all wrapped up into one!"

At first, I was a little apprehensive.  Being a 'self-employed, non-routine worker', I was a little nervous as to whether or not I would be able to get anything done in the two weeks he was home.  When the family is on break, I always feel a certain amount of pressure to stay home with them, and sometimes, I put off things that need to be done.  Last week, Ben was home, and he and I drove up to my mom's for three days--just the two of us.  We had a nice visit with my mom and lunch with my dad.  [We had planned to go to the zoo in Fort Wayne, but it was CLOSED!!!]  It was a nice week.  This week, Ben went back, but John stayed home.

I talked with him a little about his impending retirement, and shared with him my sense that I needed to stay home when he was home.  He countered with, "Well, I'm going to have my own schedule.  I'm going to set aside specific times for writing, painting...."  I was relieved to hear that.

However, it's been a really nice week.  I'm at a bit of a lull right now in Theatre World, so we've had some nice times.  We took Ben to a doctor's appointment on Tuesday and had lunch with Rachelle on the north side.  Yesterday, he agreed to be on my TV show with his writing-buddy Tom, to talk about the writer's group at the library.  He's done some stuff around the house; he's worked on a model; we've done the grocery shopping together, been to the library, watched a couple movies and cleaned a little house.  He's relaxed, calm.  He mowed, raked the leaves up in the long-neglected garden, and we talked about painting the trim on the house a different color--and suddenly, I see a very clear vision of his retirement.  It's a good vision.

I'm no longer nervous that we're going to drive each other crazy.  I'm not worried that I'll feel like I need to hang around the house just because he's home.  And I'm feeling increasingly sad that he has to return to school for...another ten (?) weeks--when previously, I've been glad for him to get back so I could 'get something done!'  I've long thought that we both had enough interests, enough outside projects going, that neither of us would ever be bored in retirement, and I believe that's going to be true.

It's going to be different, for sure, and I can't wait to have him home for good.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

My Horcruxes

A young friend of mine is trying to get over her first real love.  

She wrote:  "What sucks, and is really rather ludicrous, is that I feel like I owe him something, even after everything, how he desperately didn't want to lose me as a friend and how sweet he was to me, I've loved a few men in my life but he was the only one who ever loved me back, and for those reasons, I feel like I owe him something..."

I thought to myself, "I recognize that feeling."  

And I proceeded to think it through, in writing of course.  

There have been many people in my life who have meant a great deal to me.  Many are still there.  Some are not.  I’ve had people in my life that passed through and moved on.  Some, I've been sorry to see go, others....that I never want to interact with again.  Nevertheless, all of these people who were in my life were, at the time, very important to me.  They were there through important events and happenings; they were instrumental in the events that changed my life and/or in teaching me something about life.  I realize that, but for their presence, such events and such lessons may never have arisen. 

Do I owe them?

These people, for better or for worse, were important in my life.  In essence, they have a piece of my life, of me.  For that reason, I guess I owe them.  I owe them a debt of gratitude for the path my life took because of their presence there, for the life lesson(s) I learned because of them.  A part of them is in me, and they have with them, a part of me.  They horcruxes, I guess. 

And because they carry a part of me with them, it is hard to let them go.  For good lessons, and the harder ones, I carry their memory with me...and wonder where they are, what they're doing, how their lives are going.  For better or for worse, for good lessons or the ones that hurt, I owe them for making me into the person I am.

Yes, yes, like the song...

I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led to those who help us most to grow
If we let them and we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today because I knew you

My horcruxes...I think of you sometimes, and I thank you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Time Capsule--2.15.12

A letter to my son in college:

Good morning--

Hope all is going well for you this week.

For some reason, I seem to miss you more now that I did when you first left and can't wait to have you home.  I'd really like it if you could hold out until your Spring Break.  That would be best.  This Friday, I'm subbing at the high school, and then going with the KidsPlayers to see "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe".  The poor kids have had two weeks of tech.  Dennis  told me last night that they're all sick. 

And the following weekend, I'm scrapbooking. 

A little heads-up for Friday the 3rd--Dad, Corey, and I have tickets to see "God of Carnage" at IRT.  Corey got them free from a friend he knows who works at IRT.  If you would stay home with Ben that night, that would be great.  It'll be a late night for us and I know Ben stays home a lot, but we'll be all the way in Indy and I'd just feel better if you were there.

Hope all is going well for you at school.  I think of you a lot.  You know, your dad had a thought that made sense to me.  I hope it doesn't make you mad, but if you think about it, it really is true.  He said, "He is so smart, but unless you have the ______________  (fill the blank:  grades, high school diploma, college degree), there's no concrete evidence of that."  He's right, you know.  You can be as smart as you want, but unless you have the grades, etc., there's no proof of that.  Just something to think about.

On the family side of things, Dad's definitely going to retire.  You might read my blog, if you have a chance.  It really says it all.  It was really a scary decision, but ultimately the right one.  For the last year, I really worried about your dad.  It just seems to get worse and worse.  He talked about a girl yesterday--a first grader--who just went OFF in his class.  Crazy.  Crazy in a way that middle-class white folk can't begin to comprehend, you know?

Also, do you remember me talking about how Grampie added Linda's name to the deed for the cottage?  Maybe you don't or maybe I didn't bring it up.  In any case, that was not what we four sibs (me, Diane, Andy, Daniel) decided, and he went against our decision.  Everyone was upset about it (except Andy, who just said 'oh, well') and Daniel and I both wrote Grampie letters about it.  I sent a copy of mine to everyone and Aunt Diane called me crying and crying because she was so glad I sent it.  She said she had a letter, too, but was still working on it.  Well, apparently Dad let Linda read our letters, so yesterday I got a letter from Linda telling me how 'she felt about our decision and the letters we wrote.  Sigh.  Haven't dealt with that yet and I don't know that I'm going to.  I forwarded a copy of it to Andy, Diane, and Daniel.  And Grammie.  If you want to read it, I'll send it to you, too.

Greenfield Idol is coming along.  Had a long email discussion with Joe Urban about emceeing.  He had promised from the beginning that he'd be home weekends and be able to emcee all three Saturdays.  Then, all of a sudden, he's saying, "I'll do it if my schedule doesn't change".  Well, that's when I started looking for more emcees.  I've got emcees now for the first two, but not the last one.  Joe said, "It won't work if you have a different emcee every time."  That's proven to be a difficult task.   In any case, I'm pretty set for judges.  Still need one emcee and one entertainer.  We'll just hold our breath now to see what kind of auditioners we get.  Hopefully more than 20!

The KidsPlay show is really going gangbusters.  I've set up a nice schedule for myself of working in the Dungeon during the day on sewing (I've moved my machine and most of the sewing stuff there) and then coming home in the evenings (when I don't have rehearsal) to do the computer work at night.  It's working out well.  The costumes are coming along; the playbill is mostly done.  In addition to that, the set is up and painted AND, I've cut rehearsal back to 8:30 until we start doing full-run throughs.  We're running through all the scenes twice and then some and I'm afraid the kids will get bored with it!  Got some funny stuff.  Caymen (as one of the orphans) is hilarious.  Ariel Urban is great.  Maggie Brown is great.  Ben doesn't have that big a part this time (he didn't want to be in it originally).  It's going to be funny as long as they can keep it fresh.

I guess that's about it.  This is a nice time capsule of how things are going around here.  There's probably more, but it's 9:00 and I need to get up to the Dungeon. 

Take care, good son.  Give enough time and attention to your studies.  Be MORE than ready for tests and quizzes.  Be an over-achiever on projects.

Love you very much.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Lightness of Being

That's the phrase that comes into my head--the title of that movie:  "The Unbearable Lightness of Being".  Except that it isn't unbearable.  It's VERY bearable.

I want to write about this before I go to bed tonight so I can capture this feeling, the atmosphere that's in our house this evening.

My husband, a 25-year-veteran of the Indianapolis Public Schools, put in his papers for retirement today.  It wasn't a rash decision.  Or maybe it was.  It's something that's....been there...lurking for the past year or so.

Things have gotten worse and worse in the school system:  tighter and tighter requirements on attendance, documentation, curriculum.  The behavior of the students more unmanageable every year; every year, more and more not a place for a gentle, artistic man who values literacy, art, culture, decency to other human beings.  The school system, not as it was when we started, but as it is now--no place for him.  Dealing with the students, the administration, the impossible expectations, the no-win situations--have made him tense, disillusioned, constantly on edge, cynical, yelling at the kids, the dog; distraught over small things.  Jumping at the slightest sound; he wakens from nightmares of being trapped, in danger, lost, with a lingering sense of hopeless despair.

What to do? What to do?  Still so many financial obligations.

This year, this week, it came to a head.  IPS put out that it would put $20,000 towards a health insurance program to the first 150 eligible applicants to put in papers for retirement.  We talked about it over the weekend, read the paperwork together when it came through on Monday, and decided against it.  A hard decision that left us feeling weighted down and discouraged, so that when I departed from his school after our discussion, I drove around for awhile, just...absorbing the situation, preparing myself, steeling myself, for more of the same.

Then he had an encounter with his principal which belied the writing on the wall.  It was time.  He went down over lunch today and put in his papers.  He was 109 out of the 150.

So now, come what may.  There are part-time hourly jobs in our future, to be sure, penny-saving, cutting back measures on the horizon.  But the lightness of being that envelopes our house tonight is undeniable, almost tangible.  A great weight, an oppressive gloom, years of worries and concerns have been lifted from us.  We are no longer waiting for some nameless administrator to indiscriminately dismiss my husband.  We have acted on our own without waiting for the other shoe to fall.  It's almost as if, here in our 50s and 60s, we're starting over.  The world suddenly seems fresh and new and has opened itself up to us.  What is around the corner?  What is ahead?  Who knows?  But my husband, the one I married, the one I know during the summers, is back.  Chatty, talking, laughing.  I sat on his lap while we watched TV this evening.  The world is our oyster, and come what may, we're in it for the long run, and we're in it together.

Emergency Off son called my attention to the Emergency Off button located on the wall of the Wendy's restaurant in Huntington, Indiana.

"What do you think it stops?" he asked me.
"I don't know," I said.  We continued to discuss it for several more moments.  What did it stop?  And who pushed it?  Did it stop an order that was about to be mis-made?  Did it stop the cash register drawer from opening?  Did it turn off the lights, the grill, the sign?

We asked the girl who took our order.  "What does that button do?"
"I have no idea," she said.
"But don't you think you SHOULD know?" I asked?  "I mean, what if the manager is off, say, 'getting change for a hundred dollar bill' [which in fact, she was because that's what I had handed the girl, but that's what some doofus at the indoor garage sale decided to use to pay for John's double-cassette deck which was priced at $25....what kind of idiot goes to a garage sale with a hundred dollar bill???] and there's some kind of emergency that might have been prevented by pushing that button, and you don't know what it does?"
"That's a good point," she said.  "I'm going to ask my manager right now."

We sat down with our food and saw the girl asking someone who appeared to be on the cooking staff.  He shrugged his shoulders and turned to ask someone else, who apparently ALSO didn't know.  Soon there were five people standing around discussing the shiny, and attractive button.

Our waitress came out to clean off the tables and I gestured her over to us.   I asked her, "Did you ask your manager?"
"Not yet," she said.
"And now that you've noticed that button, don't you...want to push it?  I mean, there it is, all red and shiny...."
"No," she said, quite adamantly, "but I AM thinking about it...and wondering."

Charlie and I continued to discuss it.  "If only the manager knows what that button does, that could be a problem.  Maybe," he suggested, "it shuts off the ice machine.  Which could be a problem if the manager falls into the ice machine.  Someone would need to push that button immediately to shut off the machine before it starts serving cube-sized pieces of the manager."

We speculated some more and then I thought of something.  "Do you think it shuts down all the garbage mashers in the detention level?"
Charlie added, "Yes.  It shuts them ALL down."
The girl reappeared at our table.  "I asked her," she said.  "It turns off EVERYTHING in case there's a fire or something."  She seemed very proud of herself.
"That's great," I said, "and it's good that you know because now you can push it and be the hero."  She smiled.

But--here's my NEW question.  If it shuts off everything, does it also shut off the sprinklers?  The phones?  The alarm system?  It seems that there may be holes in this plan somewhere....

We also decided that an 'Emergency Off' button would be a perfect topic for the play we had just seen "Everthing I Need to Know About Life, I Learned in Kindergarten".  LIFE should have an 'emergency off' button, we decided.  And someone should wax poetic about it for another skit for that play....

In the meantime, I'll be checking the Wendy's in this area to see if they, too, have 'Emergency Off' buttons.  Emergency Off.  What a concept.