Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wanting It

"I want to be a painter," she said, the day I met her. She sat huddled in a chair, her large bag next to her and a stack of books on the table. I didn't understand why'd she brought all that she did with her, but now, after knowing her for several years, it was clear to me the purpose of her stuff: comfort. She clung to the things she carried as if they had the power to keep harm away. Maybe in her head, they did have that power. Who knows.

"If you want to be a painter," I said, "then you shall be a painter." I tried to emphasize the word want so that she knew what I meant: she needed to want it enough to do something about making her dream a reality. She needed to align her actions with her mouth, and pick up the brushes and the paint and the canvas.


Here we are, several years later with little to show for her efforts. And I think it's because those efforts have been slim. "I need to sit down and paint," she says, and then sends me a text as she heads to the bar for drinks with the girls. "I have too much grading to do tonight. The picture that's in my head can wait." And then, that picture never appears. Her brushes collect dust and her paints dry out. I collect more excuses from her than I ever do anything else. If excuses were paintings, she'd be considered very prolific.

Her behavior saddens me. As I look at her across the table, I wonder what goes through her head as she stares at my painting. It's not a wonderful portrait, but I took time to find the exact colors I wanted and I tried to make the creation jump from the page. It's done, I say to myself, and not just an image that lives and jumps inside my head. I reach out a brush to her, watching as the thin wood hangs in the air between us. What will she do? Will she take the brush and dip it into the paint or shake her head no. She mouths a quick, "Thanks, but no," and I use what she does as a reminder of what not to do. I hope her dreams come to fruition eventually, but I really don't know how they will.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Supper

After almost 16 years of marriage, over 14 of those with children, I'm pretty tired of cooking. I'm tired of the act of cooking, the decisions that go into cooking, and the list of recipes I have in my repertoire. Yes, I could ask the kids to cook--one child for each day of the week--and that would help cut down my responsibility in some ways. But in other ways, it would make more work for myself. So, I'm at an impasse.

While I decide what I want to do about cooking in this family, I'm trying quick and easy recipes on nights when we have leftovers in the fridge in the event the kids don't like what I'm making. (Yes, sometimes I cater to my kids. Other times, I don't give them a choice about what they're eating.)

The other night, I decided to throw some ravioli in the pot for Tim and me since the kids had pizza and veggies to eat. As I boiled the water, I decided that regular red sauce was too mundane, so I looked for a creamy garlic sauce. Now, I'm not a fan of heavy, creamy, cheesy sauces, so I had to be careful that any recipe I looked at wasn't laden with cream or cheese. I spent all of 30 seconds looking, and this is what I found.

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (Or more...I always add more.)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 34 cup broth (veggie, chicken, or beef)
  • 34 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons parsley flakes (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 13 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (I used only about 1/4 cup)
What to do:
  1. Melt butter in a medium sauce pan and add garlic.
  2. Cook over medium heat for 1 minute.
  3. Add flour and cook 1 minute, making sure to stir constantly.
  4. Stir in broth and milk and cook until sauce boils and thickens. Stir frequently.
  5. Add parsley (if desired), salt, pepper and cheese.
  6. Stir until the cheese melts.
  7. Toss hot pasta with sauce and serve immediately.

The original recipe can be found here.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Gold Star

On Monday morning, I met a friend for coffee at the local coffee joint--the place where I can buy a flavored milk drink for more than the price of a gallon of milk. We chose the spot because it was close, and both of us would likely have children at home, all alone. If anyone needed help, we could be there in five minutes.

We'd come together to discuss many subjects, one of them being homeschooling. I'd entertained the idea in the past, and she had plans to pull one of her three kids out of school. I wasn't there to give her my approval; we simply conversed about what we thought the schools did well, or didn't do well, and what our experiences had been like.

We've been rather lucky, I think, to live in a school district with great teachers and administrators, and for the most part, we're happy. But I often think of what my kids' education could be like if I taught them myself. I'm not bragging, but I know a lot of different subjects and how to research those topics that I don't, and I think I could do a great job with the kids. But I also know that I need time away from my family, and that three out of four of our children benefit socially from the schools.

My friend understands my stance. One of her children said no to homeschooling because she only has three years left to go. I get it. When I mentioned homeschooling to the twins, they said, "Uh, no. We like our friends and want to see them."

But part of the challenge I see with the schools is making sure that each child gets what they need. My kids are not brainiacs, but they do very well, and could be enriched more than they are. Some years, they get that enrichment, depending on the teacher. At home, I could make that enrichment happen more than on just the weekend, when we normally build and create and learn by play. Just to be clear, we're not consciously seeking out enrichment and pushing it at the kids on their days off, but our kids (especially Aaron and Melina) are at the age where they question everything and like to put together projects and work with hands-on experiments.

Sadly, enrichment for our district doesn't always happen, and sometimes it depends on entrance to the gifted program. Why should the "gifted" only benefit from some of those resources? And furthermore, why is "giftedness" dependent upon a number that measures cognitive ability?  I know a whole cadre of people with a "gift" that involves reading, writing, and/or an aptitude to remember historical facts, among other talents, but whose cognitive ability score doesn't say they're "gifted." When tested, they fall just a bit short of the number required to get into the "gifted" program, and yet, these children excel at school and have an enthusiasm for learning and knowledge. In my mind, those kids should be enriched, too, along with their "gifted" peers.

The whole concept of the "gifted" program is also complicated by the fact that many parents see it as a gold star. "My kid is in the gifted program," a woman once said to me as a smile spread across her face. She stood there then, as if I should respond in some way. I had no response. I don't care that her child is in that program. I only care if the child treats mine with respect and kindness.

I've also encountered the parent who goes on and on about how talented his child is and how "he better be in the gifted and talented program" because it "would be wrong if he wasn't." Why would it be wrong? And who is the program for? The parent or the child? Both of these parents wanted that gold star on their foreheads. A seal of approval, if you will. Or the seal that told everyone else just how great they and their children are. (I have to be upfront and tell you that my friend referred to it as the gold star, but I agree with her.)


For me, that program--regardless of whether or not my child is in it--has nothing to do with a gold star. I had my time to do well in school, and if I've learned anything over the last 30 years, it's that your IQ and your academic record have no bearing on your success in life.

Be kind. Be patient. Be a generous teacher with the knowledge that you have. If you do those things, you might get a gold star from me.



Monday, May 23, 2016

She Used To

She used to chop the onions for tuna salad into tiny pieces.
She used to read any book she could get her hands on.
She used to make popsicles out of grape juice.
She used to drown the popcorn in butter.
She used to curl her hair each morning.


She used to be able to fix a faucet.
She used to call me every week.
She used to play softball.
She used to pay bills.
She used to...

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Inspiration, IV

Summer has started here, so I'll need all the writing inspiration I can find. Because I will no doubt have enough fodder for good stories, but not enough time to do anything with that fodder...




Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Into the Pensieve, V

One of my mother's favorite authors is Erma Bombeck. I find it coincidental that I ended up living where she lived for many years. Thanks to Mom's influence, I've quoted Erma for a long time. In fact, one of her quotes sits below my signature line of my personal email:
There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, "Yes, I've got dreams, of course I've got dreams." Then they put the box away and bring it out once in awhile to look in it, and yep, they're still there.
I've been doing a lot of reflecting on Bombeck's quote lately because for a long time, I said to myself, Mom had dreams. I know she did. But she stuck them in that box and never did anything with them. I'd fault her for not having the courage to follow her dreams, all while spouting that we were to follow ours. And with each step I took, with each decision I made, I'd say to myself, I'm doing what my mother didn't. That has to mean something, right? And no matter what happened, I tried my best to make those dreams come alive.

Am I living the dream? In many ways, yes and in other ways, not yet. But that's not my point here. My point is that along the way to making sure my dreams didn't stay locked in a box, I realized quite a bit about my mother and her so-called box of dreams.

What I realized is that most mothers, including mine, make sacrifices. Those sacrifices can vary depending on the circumstances. Some moms might never get the last strawberries in the bowl while another mom might not eat anything that night so her child can. A mother might forgo her favorite latte so that she can buy her child a treat. Another mom might not purchase a new dress so her child can buy a favorite pair of shoes. The list goes on and can encompass a variety of sacrifices, something I think I knew already.

But what I didn't think to stop and consider is that some moms might sacrifice their dreams for their children.

Is my mom in that boat? Did she have dreams that never came to fruition because her three girls came along first? I'll probably never know. But I'd like to think that Mom never just tucked her dreams away because she didn't know how to accomplish them or she didn't have the support system to do so. That thought is too plain sad to dwell on.

Perhaps the next time I see her, I'll ask her about her list of dreams. Maybe we can try to tackle a few of them before it's too late.

Image: Your dreams can take you anywhere (Paula Danielse, Getty Images)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Artist in the Classroom

Talia brought home a sketchbook from her art class yesterday. One of the assignments was to draw about social issues--an assignment that Talia admitted was broad in scope. The picture below is what she came up with:


What Talia drew brought up a whole discussion on the issues she raised in the picture. I'm not only astounded at all the things middle school kids have to think about these days, but also at Talia's interpretation of them.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ch-ch-changes

I don't know about anyone else, but as much as I love lilacs--and I do! I have a story called Hunting for Lilacs for goodness sakes!--that redesign with the lilacs got to me. Each time I looked at it, I felt old for some reason. Maybe it has to do with the fact that lilacs are purple and purple reminds me of the poem with the line, "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple."

Whatever the reason, I needed another change in this forum. And here we are with a background picture from the blogger choices. How long will this background last? No clue.

But I'm breathing easier already. Which means I hope that my writing will flow easier, too. Only time will tell, of course.

*Squirrel!*

Friday, May 13, 2016

Someone Needs You

Wherever you turn, you can find someone who needs you. Even if it is a little thing, do something for which there is no pay but the privilege of doing it. Remember, you don’t live in the world all of your own.
~Albert Schweitzer

Dear Southdale Family,

My husband, children, and I have been a part of the Southdale Elementary School community since August, 2007, when our oldest children, the twins, started kindergarten. I remember those first days, thinking how big the school was, and wondering how we'd fit into what seemed like such a large community. I quickly discovered that the way to become familiar with the building and the people, the way to make myself a part of the family, per se, was to volunteer at the school during some of my spare time.

My volunteering started off slowly: I helped if the teacher needed some copying done or served as a parent chaperone for a field trip. I signed up to monitor the halls at the Spaghetti Dinner (now called Southdale Family Fun Night) for an hour or two, or headed a shift for Kindergarten Registration. I eventually found myself volunteering in the library, coming in to help with math centers, and working multiple shifts at several book fairs, among other tasks. The more I made myself present around Southdale, the more I wanted to be there. I always left the building feeling fulfilled...like I'd just done something fantastic for someone.

Now before you go and say to yourself, I don't have any spare time, I'd like to tell those of you who don't know me a little bit about myself. I have four children, I'm an adjunct instructor at Sinclair Community College, and I serve as Profiles Editor for the online magazine, Literary Mama. I'm also a novel writer (who has yet to be published), a runner, and a wife. I have a household to run, children to get places, and animals to take care of. Quite frankly, I don't have much spare time, either.

And I'm not the only one. I know Moms who sneak in on their lunch hours to help out and Dads who come over after their shifts at the hospital are over. Grandmas and Grandpas are sent to spend time in classrooms and aunts and uncles, too. A whole cadre of Southdale's family members is working toward making sure our children get the best education they can, and that they are exposed to as many opportunities as possible.

You see, in my mind (and probably these other folks as well), an education isn't accomplished just inside the classroom. Children learn and grow when they are exposed to sports, libraries, music, new ideas, community events, and the like. And while the faculty and staff of Southdale are doing a fabulous job of holding down the fort and making sure the day-to-day classroom experiences for our children are rewarding and enriching, they can't be held accountable for taking care of everything. We, as parents, need to be involved, too.

In short, Southdale Elementary School needs help. To take it one step farther, Southdale Elementary School needs YOUR help.

Now, just so we're clear, I'm not asking for a lot. You don't have to sign up for a year's worth of library shifts or read to kindergartners on a weekly basis. You don't have to work the entire week of the used book sale or work multiple hours at the Sock Hop or come to every meeting on the Southdale Strong schedule. Pick something you think you'd like to do, and sign up to be there. If you don't like that task, then try something else. With all of the opportunities for volunteering over at Southdale, I'm guessing you'll find at least one event to which you're drawn.

I have three years left at Southdale Elementary (which will give me a grand total of twelve!) and I'd love to see some new names and faces gracing the building. I fear that if we don't, we won't be able to build on the mission you've seen so often at the bottom of the Southdale Week at a Glance emails: to GROW ALL LEARNERS THROUGH COMMUNITY, INNOVATION, AND S.P.I.R.I.T.!

This summer, please consider what you might be able to give us come the start of the 2016-2017 academic year. Even if it is a little thing...

Sincerely,

Chris C,
Southdale Mom and Volunteer

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Kettering City Schools or Southdale Elementary School. However, feel free to share this post if you agree with me.)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Small Changes

Back in 2003, when we moved into our home, we left the window treatments in the living room alone. I didn't hate the blinds; I didn't love the blinds. But cash was short and the littles were small. Since that time, we've accumulated more children and more animals and truth be told, I didn't care what was on the windows, just that something covered them up at night. (You know, when the lurkers could peer into the window and see all on-goings of the family.)

But soon enough, due to the animals and the children, the blinds began to break. I tried as hard as I could to mend or replace each one, but to no avail. And a few months ago, I asked my friend to come over and give us an estimate for something casual and clean to hang in the windows.

"No curtains?" he said.

"The windows are in the corners, and while I think curtains are okay...selecting them involves too many decisions. Plus, the cats will hang on them."

"Blinds then?" he asked.

"Yep, I think so."

"With color or white?"

"We have white upstairs, so let's be consistent." I remember nodding my head, as if the gesture ended the sentence and implied, No further discussion!

I didn't particularly care what type of blind he installed, but we had to think of the cats and their claws. So putting up a lovely cordless honeycomb was just as much out of the picture as the curtains. We settled on faux wood 2 inch blinds, in white. (I just said that, didn't I?)

You might wonder why I'm bothering to tell you this very ordinary, mundane story. Here's why.

As soon as Tom installed the blinds, the room  took on a very different feel to me. The new blinds let in so much more light than the old blinds, and, the white "faux wood" reflected that light back into the room. My spirit lifted and my mind began to think in the manner it used to: in terms of anecdotes I can gather and stories I can tell.

Don't you just love the pigeon? I told you that lurkers are out there!
It's not obvious from the picture above (I'm a writer and not a photographer) how much brighter my living and dining areas are. And while the change might seem small to all of you, it might be all I needed to get back on track here. Only time will tell...

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Short Reflection

With my busier schedule as of late, I've not been a regular Facebook cruiser. I still hop on for Literary Mama and The Plot Sisters business (I think I've said this before) as well as to help spread the word about friends' ventures (and some personal blog posts), but I don't have the time to play there anymore.

Yet on Mother's Day, I took a quick break from my grades to put together a Book of the Week post for the Plot Sister page, and I happened to see this post from a friend:
I have three (too many) friends who each witnessed the end of a life cycle over the past several months and find themselves on this day reaching out to their mothers only in their hearts. Peace to each of you.
His words, while only that, are heartfelt and sincere, a touching tribute to his friends and their losses. I thought about what he had to say for the majority of the evening because I had just spent some time with my own mother, someone I haven't physically lost yet. But mentally and emotionally, thanks to her diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease, we're on the way to losing her, and being with her is a reminder, every minute, of what we no longer have.


I no longer have a mother to call on the phone when I'm troubled or have a life question. I no longer have someone to show me the ins and outs and secrets to family recipes. I no longer have a quiet shoulder upon which to cry or a person to call on when I need to mend a pair of shorts. My kids have lost a grandmother, my husband has lost a mother-in-law, and my father no longer has a wife.

To dwell on those thoughts would be futile. But I find myself reaching out to her only in my heart, because it's becoming increasingly difficult to speak with her, even when she's in my own home. This is mostly because of her inability to articulate what she's trying to say. She doesn't tell me much besides what the weather is like or that I have beautiful children (thank you, I think so, too.) She will try to answer a question that I ask her, but I'm not even sure what questions to ask anymore because I don't want to make her feel uncomfortable. And that fact scares me because if we don't keep speaking, we'll lose her even more quickly than we already are.

I wonder sometimes which is harder: losing your mother suddenly, or watching her become a shell of who she once was. But then I think that you can't really compare and contrast the two situations. A loss is a loss, and all of us who have lost or are in the process of losing a mother feel it in some way on Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Inspiration, I

She is friends only with those who serve a greater purpose...to her.





Friday, May 6, 2016

Compromise

Last year I spoke about clarity, a word that can mean different things to different people. It's imperative to write with clarity so that you're understood. But in another sense, clarity means having peace of mind and body. Many days exist where I struggle to find that clarity, and usually, something or someone helps me recapture it.

I think perhaps my problem right now is finding that elusive clarity such that my mind is open to writing again. I'm not talking about having a block, per se. I can write if I sit down and do it. But do I want to write? Not so much. (Although I had a fantastic time with the most recent Dear Student letter.)

And what I fear is that if I give up writing in this forum, it will be too easy to never go back. Plus, I'm continually amazed at what comes out of my head sometimes.

So here's what I propose for a little while: I'm going to post a picture (my own or that of others) each day or maybe every other day or maybe it'll be just a few words. Maybe I'll find a link to a music video that recalls good times. I can't be sure right now. But my goal for those words and images is to inspire me (and you) and bring back to me that clarity I'm so lacking right now.

I think this compromise will be my way of hanging onto a hobby that I love, all while trying to remain in contact with the people I love.


(A friend said, "I dare you to wear the slippers out to Starbucks tonight." I said, "Oh wait. Let me just find some socks." Rainbows and fluffy slippers have always provided such joy and contentment to me. This first image makes me smile. Maybe I'm on way way to finding that clarity...)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dear Student, VIII

Dear Student,

It's been just about a month since I wrote the last letter to you. (Which reminds me...I wonder if you remember what goblet cells do. No, actually, I don't want to know if you know. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.) And here we are, on the day of the comprehensive exam, and I find myself writing again. Did you know that in just over seven hours, you will be done with me? That's provided you pass the class. Which I hope you do, because I think I've had enough of student behavior to get me through the summer and then some.

(Ah, summer. I can't wait because guess what? I don't teach in the summer!)

What has caused me to put thoughts on paper this time? No, it's not your lack of knowledge per se or your inability to pay attention. It's not even the fact that you might walk into class a bit late each day. (I got used to that action a long time ago.) No, it's a little fact that I stated at the beginning of the semester. A fact that you, apparently, have forgotten.

Here. Let me remind you of what happened in January...

On the first day of class we spoke about the syllabus and all the details of the course. I know, I know, I'm asking a lot here: for you to go back in your memory almost 17 weeks, when in reality, you probably don't remember what you had for breakfast yesterday morning. But yes, go back if you can. Or better yet, pull that syllabus out of your binder and look at it. Because I gave you a hard copy of the syllabus and on it is written: There will be an opportunity for extra credit (25 points maximum).

Yes, I am required by the department to offer extra credit, and so I do. At the time, I explained that I would most likely offer five opportunities at five points each for our maximum number of points (5 x 5 = 25, in case you needed a math refresher). I also explained that doing and handing in the extra credit was very important. (Notice the lack of big words there, because I want you to understand everything I say the first time. As if.)

I even went so far as to give you an example of a student (unnamed, of course) who missed his goal grade by a few points, simply because he didn't turn in the extra credit. Yes, I remember stating clearly how those extra credit points could make a difference to a grade. In fact, I said the same thing at least the first two times I announced that the extra credit opportunities were available and their due dates.

Are you still with me, Student? Do you know where this letter is going? I'm sure anyone else reading this letter does, but you...you might be chatting with the wisenheimer next to you right about now (don't know what a wisenheimer is, go look it up!), or even more likely, you're texting your friend about the new nail color polish from OPI. (I like California Raspberry, by the way.)

So let me provide you with a little information that might not be obvious to you.

Once the class is effectively over--as is this one, considering this is exam week after all--you cannot ask to turn in extra credit that you never bothered to do in the first place. In fact, after the turn-in date for each extra credit assignment, you cannot ask to turn it in. If I grant you permission to turn the assignment(s) in after any due date, I'd have to offer the same option to everyone else who didn't turn the work in.

You see, there's a reason the assignment is termed extra credit. It requires extra work and the people who take it upon themselves to do the work within the allotted time frame will be granted extra points. So by allowing you to turn your assignments in whenever you want would be penalizing the students who did as I asked and took the opportunities when they were given.

I'm sorry you're sitting ten points away from a B, and I'm sorry that you have to try to make those ten points up with a good grade on the comprehensive. But if you can find the time to do the extra credit now, you could have found the time to do the extra credit when it was assigned. (Okay, let's be honest. I'm not sorry at all.)

I do wish you the best of luck with any of your future endeavors, but I hope you've learned at least two things from this class: 1. What a goblet cell does, and 2. That you, and only you, are responsible for yourself, your actions, your grade, and your life.

Sincerely,

Your Teacher

P.S. I know how much people of your generation like memes. So here you go:

Monday, May 2, 2016

Is This It?

As I sit at the table in the corner of our dining area, furiously typing as I try to catch the last of the evening sun, I have to ask myself: is this it? Is this the end of the blog?

You see, over the last several months (five to be precise), I've watched as my drive to write has dwindled. The enjoyment I get from posting each day no longer gets me through that day and into the next, and I find myself drawn toward wanting to make my current pieces better rather than spend the time updating you on what's happening.

Why is that?

I don't have an answer.

So until I have an answer, I'm thinking that I'll take some time to figure out what I need and what this blog needs, and whether or not I can sustain this relationship any more. Because no relationship should be a strain on any of the parties. I can't say that's not the case here.

Stay tuned...