Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Study In Contrasts

Erin has had a terrible cold this week. Last night when she went to bed, she said that she would probably not go to school today, but she would decide for sure in the morning. I set the alarm for my typical 6:15. As expected, she did not feel well enough to go to school. She rolled over and went back to sleep. In fact, we could all go back to bed for an extra hour or so. The dogs wanted to go outside first. Because I did not have to immediately begin the morning routine, I had a few minutes to walk outside with the dogs and enjoy the morning sky. I was so taken by what I saw that I went for my camera.

The following pictures were taken standing in exactly the same spot on my front porch - first facing west and then making a 180 degree turn to face east.

To the west, a bright full moon still lit the morning sky while to the east the first light of the sun was beginning to emerge.

Regardless of the direction, the way the clouds reflected the light was awesome.

At this moment, I had the option of following the sun and rising to meet the new day or, setting like the moon. I have always been one who prefers to live in the reflected light of others rather than in light that I create. I chose to follow the moon and set myself back in bed for an extra hour and a half. It felt good!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Today Is Not My Birthday

Today is September 26th. It is not my birthday, anniversary, or anything. According to my calendar, it is just an ordinary day - nothing special. Wait! My calendar must have lied to me; today was a special day!

A friend sent an email saying that he wanted to meet with BK and me because he had something for us. Hmm . . .I wonder what it could be? Usually when someone wants to see me it is because they have a job for me to do. I realize this sounds a bit on the pessimistic side, but it is the truth. Under normal circumstances, I would have been more skeptical, but the person who wanted to see us is not someone I would expect to have an ulterior motive.

We agreed to meet at church tonight before choir rehearsal. We all pulled in to the parking lot about the same time. After a brief "hello", he pulled something from his pocket and said, "I made these for you." BK and I were each given a beautiful Anglican rosary that our friend had made for us. Hers is made with primarily green beads, her favorite color, and mine is blue, my personal favorite.

Though the bead color and the crosses are different on each of our rosaries, they have the same cruciform beads; though it is difficult to see in this mediocre picture, they are hearts. The use of the hearts on both sets of beads is meaningful to both of us. Ten years ago when we BK and I wrote our book on the Anglican rosary, it was truly a labor of love. That writing project was our first together, and the impetus for many that have come since.

The forethought, as well as the time and patience, that went in to the making of these beads touches me deeply. In these attributes, I am reminded fondly of our early work with the rosary.

I don't think that before tonight I even owned an Anglican rosary any more. I have had several over the years, but I always seem to give them away to someone who wants or needs the one I have. Because I haven't had a rosary, I have not been participating in this prayer practice recently. - a practice that was a big part of my daily discipline a few years ago. Being given this gift offers me the opportunity to make praying with the rosary a regular part of my prayer practice. As I sit here holding my new rosary, I am grateful for all that the rosary has meant to me in the past and I am thankful for all that this rosary holds (no pun intended).

Most of us expect gifts on our birthdays, or Christmas, or an anniversary. Often these gifts are chosen from a list that we have prepared personally and passed on to those who are buying the gifts. Though this kind of gift giving usually results in us receiving exactly what we want, it lacks any element of surprise or creativity on the part of the giver. Receiving these beads today, a day that was not particularly special when I got up this morning, made September 26th an extraordinary day. To be given an unexpected gift just because someone was thinking of me is the best kind of present.

I am having a hard time putting all of this into coherent words. Maybe all I should say is:

Thank you, Weber

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Value Of Time

Erin is in the midst of rehearsals for Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. Rather than spending the evening taking her to rehearsal, going home, and driving back to get her, BK and I have been making the rounds of the local coffee shops. Surprisingly, there are quite a few in Denton. We figure that the time we would spend traversing the country roads is better used for knitting or reading and drinking coffee.

Tonight we went to Starbucks. I am not a big supporter of the monster chains, but we have spent so many nights at the local shop around the corner from the theater that I think the staff there is probably convinced that we are homeless. Tonight I finished reading the script for Draculai, for which I am the prop mistress, and knit on a pair of socks. BK was also working on socks. Our two socks caught the attention of a young college student. She told us how she loves socks and how she thought the ones we were making were "so cool". She then asked if we ever sold them. BK and I looked at each and said in unison, "No." The girl looked a little surprised. She said that she bet we could sell lots of pairs.

I am sure that based on appeal, we probably could sell lots. The reality, however, is that not many people can afford to buy hand knit socks for what they are really worth. Good sock yarn is at least $15 for a pair of socks. It takes me about eight hours to complete a pair of basic socks. Even at $5 an hour, that makes the cost of the socks a minimum of $55, and that is with no "profit". Who would pay that? Nobody. The girl at Starbucks was actually respectful of the fact that the socks were hand made. She did realize that there was value in the time it takes to make them. She parted by saying, "If I ever become rich, I will pay you to make my socks."

This incident has made me think about time and the value we place on it. We all measure time by the same 60 second minute, 60 minute hour, 24 hour day. Why is it that some people's time is worth more than others? Not long ago I paid an electrician $200 an hour to fix a short in an electrical outlet. I paid the refrigerator repairman $80 an hour to fix our ice maker. It costs $60 dollars for five minutes with a doctor. And most of the people who facilitate our daily lives make minimum wage. Where would we be without the grocery store clerks, the servers in our favorite restaurants, daycare workers, . . .Why is it that we are willing to pay our manicurist more per hour for her time than we are the person who cares for our child? There is something fundamentally wrong here.

I realize that most people can not afford a $55 pair of socks, but does that mean that my time is not worth $55? The funny thing about the whole sock issue is that with 2-3 hours I could probably teach the girl to make her own socks. At $20 an hour, the cost of an average knitting lesson,, she could make an endless number of socks for the same price I would charge to make her one pair. So, my time to make the sock is not worth as much as my time to teach her to make the sock herself. How does this make sense? My time is my time. Does this mean I am worth more as a teacher than I am a knitter? Realistically speaking, if I make the socks myself then I know that she would have at least one finished pair of socks. Even if I spend several hours with this girl, there is no guarantee that she will even finish a pair of socks herself. So the money paid to me to teach her to knit could potentially be a waste whereas the money spent to have the socks made at least has a tangible outcome.

Maybe the solution here is to not let others place the value on our time. Perhaps the value of our time must be measured in something other than dollars. I find myself often saying, "That is not worth my time." As I think about the occasions where i have said this, what I am really saying is that my time is valuable to me and I don't gain any pleasure in doing that so I am not going to do it )whatever "it" is.)."

As I sat tonight contemplating the bizarre props necessary for the DCT production of Dracula, it became quite clear that I am going to dedicate much time to the process of gathering and making props - time that is not compensated monetarily, i.e. it is all volunteer. Why am I willing to give this time away but not give away the time to make socks? Maybe I should have offered to make her some socks for free. But, I didn't. I guess I am willing to give all the time to the theater because working props can be fun, challenging, and creative. Wait, so too can making socks. Hmmm . . .Really, no accurate dollar value can be placed on these things. How much does personal satisfaction or joy or fun or creativity cost per hour? Also, how much would you charge someone to make a realistic looking live rat that, when bitten into on stage, spurts real looking blood? Or, a crucifix that spontaneously bursts into flames? Like they say in the credit card commercial . . .these things are priceless!

Thanks for reading this. I know that your time is valuable!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tell Me About Yourself

As a teacher, I feel that it is important to do all that I can to really know my students. I can get their vital statistics from school records, but that is not the information that helps me to build a relationship that fosters maximum teaching and learning. English teachers have it easy. They can assign all of those "What I did On My Summer Vacation" essays that allow them to learn about their students (I do realize that often English teachers learn more than the really want to know!). If you don't teach English, and therefore don't assign weekly essays, it is hard to get to know the real student. I have attempted to circumvent this problem by having one question on each of my semester tests that gives the students an opportunity to tell me something about themselves.

Our first test of the semester was last week. "The 'Last Question", as they are affectionately called, was this:

You have been sent to the proverbial desert island. You are permitted to take one kind of food, one book, and one CD. What would you take, and why.

Here are my students' answers.
  • apples - they are healthy and hopefully, because they have seeds, I could grow a continuous food supply
  • soybeans - they are healthy and I could mix them with plants and fruits on the island for some variety
  • chicken - I could eat chicken forever and never get tired of it
  • french fries - They are my favorite and if that was all I had to eat, I probably would not have to worry too much about getting fat.
  • brown rice (no reason given and no full credit given for the question on the test)
  • sandwich - I am not sure that this constitutes a single food item unless it is an air sandwich. Obviously this is a student who wants to push the limits!
  • Fruit was also an answer. This falls into the same category as sandwich - only one type of fruit would be allowed.


  • The Bible had three votes (in a class of 10). The reasons for taking The Bible were as you might expect: It is full of inspiration and wisdom. It is a big book so I would have much to read. It is fresh even if you read it over and over.
  • Something of Dante's. The exact title would be determined at the point of departure for the island. This student said he had not read anything by Dante and thought that he should.
  • Fake Book - This is a music class so a Fake Book is a smart move.
  • The Odyssey - This would keep anyone busy for a long time.

And my favorite book answer

  • Some really big book - I have no intention of reading it because I really don't like to read, but if I get cold, I can burn it. The bigger and fatter the book, the better!

And finally, the CD choices. One would think that since this is a class of musicians, this would be the most interesting of the three choices. You be the judge.


  • A CD by A Perfect Circle
  • "La Scala "by Keith Jarret
  • Jimi Hendricks "Are You Experienced?"
  • "Kiss My Axe" (No artist was given. I guess I was supposed to know this CD. I don't.)
  • Spiritual music (That is specific. Some people find Mozart spiritual. Others find spirituality in The Beatles. This is another case where full credit was not given for the answer.)
  • Gospel music. Again I say, "Like who?"

The most interesting answer to this part of the question was:

  • No CD - I prefer to listen to the sounds of nature. (I suppose I can get behind that as long as it is not barking dogs. I have had enough of that today. I am possibly preferring heavy metal to my personal sounds of nature right now.)

Knowing that I have these answers to read at the end of each test gives me something to look forward to after grading all of the analysis. Despite some of the incomplete answers to "The Last Question", I do feel like I know this semester's class a little better. And, I will learn a little more after Test #2.

Reading the students answers does help me to know them a little better, but I hope too that doing so offers the students some personal insight as well. I know it did for me.

My responses are:

Food: peanut butter - Just like the student who answered that soybeans could be mixed with many things to create variety, so too with peanut butter. Most things are made better by slathering on a little peanut butter. And, if things get really bad on the consumable front, a heavy slathering of peanut butter can hide a multitude of sins.

Book: The Anthology of Spiritual Poetry - This volume includes poetry from many cultures and periods of history. Like the Bible, a poem can be read fresh each time. Because of the variety of pieces in this book, I think there would be something that I would find both inspirational or entertaining in all circumstances that may arise on the island.

CD: John Michael Talbot's Meditations On The Spirit. Choosing a CD is the hardest part of the question for me. I feel like my answer should have been some monumental art piece. The truth is, when I listen to "art music", the theorist in me kicks in and I find myself analyzing the piece until I am not really hearing it any more. If I can only listen to one CD for the rest of my days, I don't want to spend my time dissecting it. This particular John Michael Talbot CD has always spoken to me. I particularly the song, "Veni Sanctus Spiritus".

How would you answer this question? Comments welcome if you would like to share.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Who Needs Those Elves Anyway

There are days when no matter how hard you try, acting like an adult is really hard. Today was one of those rare days that with the exception of taking Erin to school this morning and to rehearsal this evening, I had nothing specific that had to be done. There was plenty that could be done - mowing four acres of grass that is nearly up to my knees, vacuum the fur balls that are about to take on life, tackle a growing pile of laundry, grade some papers, finish reading the script for the show I am working props, write the center essay for the next issue of Spirit of Knitting, finish knitting the sweater I am teaching a class on in a few weeks. This is depressing! I was wrong. There were many things I should have been doing. There is always tomorrow . . .

I did manage to clean the kitchen, do a load of laundry, and pay a few bills. Then it was time for lunch. I was hungry, but nothing sounded good except . . .a peanut butter and jelly, or maybe banana, sandwich. How first grade is that? I am happy to be in first grade today. I had my PB&J, some pretzels, and a glass of tea. I must say that this hit the spot - with the exception of one little thing. I needed a cookie! Every good sandwich and chips lunch should come with a cookie. We did not have any. I had two choices; I could throw a first grader's tantrum over no cookies or, lacking a personal relationship with the Keebler elves, I could do the adult thing and make some. I did not have enough energy for a respectable tantrum, so my decision was to make the cookies.

What kind of cookies to make? I decided to make my all-time favorite cookies, No Bake Oatmeal Chocolate Cookies. Craving these cookies is definitely a sign that today was a first grade day because they have been my favorite since I was in the first grade. If you are counting, that is forty years.

I was five years old and we lived in Newport, Rhode Island. When mom would go out on Friday nights to play bridge with the other Navy wives whose husbands were deployed, Kathy the babysitter was given the dubious honor of entertaining me. She took this 25 cent an hour job quite seriously. After feeding me the regulation babysitter dinner that mom left (Salisbury steak TV dinner with tater tots) we would make cookies - No Bake Oatmeal Chocolate Cookies. I loved Friday nights! I am sure that Kathy;s memories of me are not nearly as positive as mine are of her and her cookies.

As I got older and no longer needed a babysitter, mom still went to play bridge on Friday nights. I thought that was my sign that it was time to make cookies. I did have quite a philosophical debate with myself over this issue, however. My mom's rule was that I was not allowed to "cook" while she was away from home. The TV dinners, which required cooking in the oven because this was before microwaves, were out and sandwiches were in. This was fine with me as long as there were cookies. These cookies said they were "no-bake". Is that close enough to "no cooking"? This is only a little misleading. They do require just a little melting of sugar, butter, and chocolate and bringing this to the soft ball stage, but they are called "no-bake". I figured that was close enough so I went with that. And with no babysitter, I did not have to share the cookies. I still loved Friday nights.

And I still love these cookies. Even though it was Thursday afternoon and not Friday night, I made some. I also ate too many. I did, however, share with BK and Erin. Sharing was today's conceit to being grown-up.

I am not sure what it is about these cookies that makes them so awesome. I guess it is that they contain the three ingredients that rock my world - chocolate, peanut butter, and oatmeal. Any one of these things makes me blissfully happy; when you put them all together life is perfect! Though the taste is out of this world, these are not the most attractive cookies. We all know, however, that you should not judge a book by its cover. if you decide that don't look good, I'll be glad to take care of your share.

It is nearly midnight and there are still some left. Assuming I go to bed soon, Erin will get a couple in her lunch tomorrow.

Don't they look good! Because I am in a sharing mood, here is the recipe.

No Bake Oatmeal Chocolate Cookies

  • 2 C sugar
  • 1/4 C butter
  • 2 T cocoa
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 3/4 C peanut butter
  • 2 1/2 C quick oats
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t vanilla

Heat sugar, butter, cocoa, and milk in sauce pan. Once all is melted, add peanut butter. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in oatmeal, vanilla, and salt. Drop by teaspoon onto wax paper.

Tomorrow is Friday. If you find yourself home alone tomorrow night, try these cookies. If you have date, cancel and stay home and make these cookies. You won't regret it!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thick Head, Thin Ice

I am skeptical of any occasion than requires me to think about what I am going to say in advance. I like spontaneity, creativity, and freedom. Who wants to live a scripted life? However, I did think a little bit about what I would say to Brooke as we parted ways in Chicago.

I could have burdened her with the "You are being given such a wonderful opportunity here. I hope you understand the sacrifices that are being made on your behalf. I expect you to take this seriously and study hard." You get the drift. Had I said this to her, she would have rolled her eyes at me and given me that look that means nothing other than stop with the bullshit. She would never respond positively to such a plea on my part.

I could have given her the "We love you and we are proud of you. Anything that you want to do is fine with me; just be happy." This is a nice thought on the surface, but it is way to mushy for Brooke, and for me too.

So, we began our walk behind the bagpipes with me resorting to the tried and true spontaneous moment. As I gave her a hug, the words that came out of my mouth were, "Try to learn to be a team player." This sounds a little stupid since this kid has been a part of many sports TEAMS since she was four. She was the soccer team captain last year, a position that she did not want but that the coaches wanted her to have. She was perfectly happy taking her place in the goal box and waiting for someone to either slam a ball into her face or body slam her into the ground. Enduring the physical abuse that a goalie takes was much more appealing to Brooke than having to be caught up in the drama of the field players.

In class, she always does her best, but she is not one to engage in dialogue or discussion. She believes that everyone is entitled to their opinion. If she disagrees with you it really doesn't matter and she will not put forth any energy to discuss it. She thinks what she thinks and that is all that really matters.

Although, maybe my advice wasn't so bad after all. She is in an environment where there is much to be gained by joining the team, a team that will allow you to push your personal limits and the limits of academia. Perhaps she will realize that. There are places where nonconformity is beneficial, but there are also many places where it is not.

After we left her and I was pondering my last minute advice, we passed this sign while walking through campus. On a campus that has been home to 78 Nobel Prize winners, the need for such a warning made me laugh. On the literal level, it may be good advice for the girl from Texas who thinks that she does not need a heavy coat (though the coat she finally ordered has arrived). On the metaphorical level, however, thin ice may be the best place for her - testing the strength of her ideas and her potential to save herself if she should fall through and find herself floundering in the icy cold water.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

One Flew Out Of The Cuckoo Nest!

Offspring No. 1 is now in Chicago. She has officially begun her college career. U Chicago has it together in terms of making the incoming first year's feel comfortable. From the moment she was accepted to the university, they have done all in their power to make these kids feel like they are part of a community. It was no different when we arrived on campus Saturday morning. The day began with the students getting their schedules for orientation week. The week is divided between taking placement tests and getting to know the campus and the city of Chicago. In addition to calculus tests and physical fitness tests, they also have the opportunity to partake in a coffee shop crawl, service projects in the city, movies with their class and the other members of their house, and a trip to Target for those items that did not make it into the suitcases.

After receiving a schedule, the next thing on the agenda was to get a UChicago ID. This was done in the library. Smart move on the university's part - teach them where the library is early in the process! In the quad outside the library was a gathering of student organizations and technology information. I was amazed at the level of organization evidenced by it all. I was also pleased to learn that the university has in place a program called UCalert. This is a program that requires all students to register an email and a cell phone number capable of receiving text messages in the event that there is an incident such as that which happened at Virginia Tech last spring.

Here are the girls as we entered the quad. In several insatnces, people were not sure which one of them was the enrolling student.

Next we helped Brooke unpack her stuff in her dorm room. She has a single room - good for her her and better for the person who might have been unfortunate enough to be her roommate! Every room in her house is a single room. She is lucky to be right around the corner from an awesome community kitchen. I was not worried about her missing any of us, but the kitchen is a whole different story! The four ovens, four sinks, and personal kitchen lockers for all who want them is a great feature of this particular residence hall. SHe won't miss home at all.

Brooke took a few of the comforts of home - her Care Bears, some posters, a Justice League jigsaw puzzle, enough tea to prepare high tea for the masses every afternoon throughout the year, and her Batman blanket.

What more could a girl want?

"This place is pretty cool, especially if they keep giving me toys!"
She got a free yo-yo at the earlier activities.

The process of leaving the kids is quite an ordeal. At 3 pm there was a Convocation for the class of 2011 that lasted about an hour. At its conclusion, the students and their families formed a procession led by bagpipes. The procession worked its way from Rockefeller Chapel to this gate.
If you notice the small print on the sign, at this point the students continue through the gate where they are met by other students from their respective houses. Once all the students have said their good-byes, the entire class makes their way to the football stadium for a class picture. The families took a right turn and headed for a wonderful reception complete with a large amount of food, beer and wine - a little something to ease the pain.
Before we left Brooke, her sister bullied her into promising to stay in touch. Brooke is not the best at communication
She promised to give us a call every now and then. I hope for the price of tuition that they will teach her how to use a phone!
All of the day's activities were staffed exclusively by students and they all took their jobs seriously. This guy may have had the most important job of all - making Kleenex available as parents and kids went their separate ways.
Even though I was leaving Brooke in Chicago and won't see her until Thanksgiving, it was a nice day. It is obvious from her demeanor that she feels comfortable there; that is no simple thing. I trust that she will have an amazing experience while at UC.
Though Brooke has not actually picked up the phone and called, she did text message Erin after having been away from us only an hour and a half to say that she had met a friend. That too is no small feat. At 10:30 last night she was helping her new friend, a drag queen (his description) decorate his dorm room. That's my girl!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

You're Blowing Hot Air

Tonight is Brooke's last night at home. Tomorrow we leave to take her to Chicago to begin her a college career, a time that should be both challenging and fun. This is the moment that on one hand every parent looks forward to and on the other, dreads. At the moment of conception, and sometimes even before, parents start to wonder what their children will grow up to be. In what will they be interested? Will they be athletic? Will they do well in school? Where will they go to college? In less time than you think, the answers to these questions are answered. So, here I sit proud of Brooke for being successful in life thus far, being accepted to the eighth ranked university in the world and realizing that, except for paying her bills, my work with her is essentially done. No longer will I be the primary adult influence in her life. (I know there are those of you reading this that are thinking, "Thank God! Maybe there is hope for that kid after all!") She is ready to move on and I am ready to let her.

For a brief moment, I said to myself that if I had not allowed her to skip a grade in school, I would have her home for another year. In all honesty, that would not have been good for her. In fact, it probably would have been disastrous. She needs to make her way in a challenging academic world. Another year of high school would have bored her to tears. I am sure that the teachers are also glad to see her move on.

For the last month or so, she has been halfheartedly gathering the things she wants to take with her. It is amazing how different the presumed needs of a college freshman and the presumed needs of a college freshman;s mother are.

The biggest point of contention is over cold weather clothing. This child, born and raised entirely in Texas, has NO IDEA how cold it will be during a Chicago winter. She refused to buy a winter coat because "They are all ugly." I'm thinking that when you are freezing your butt off at 7:30 some morning when the temperature us -10, ugly is the least of your problems.

And then there are socks. Being the mother, I felt that it was my duty to say that she needed warm socks. "But I hate long socks!" I then think, how do you feel about frozen feet, and ankles and and legs? You may learn that socks are your friends.

What about boots? "Boots are dumb! I am not going skiing or hiking." Let's see if that -10 morning with a few inches of snow and her 15 minute walk to campus doesn't feel like a hike.

She did actually purchase yarn while we were in Taos to make herself a hat and a scarf. If she makes it, at least there is a good chance that she will actually wear it. (No cold ears to go with cold feet, ankles and legs.)

I did finally convince her to order a heavy coat, which should be delivered to her next week, and buy some long socks that she says that she will wear. But, no boots or winter shoes. She does, however, have two pairs of soccer shoes - cleats for outdoors and turf shoes for indoors. She said her cleats kept her feet warm during the 32 degree soccer games. We'll see how they do in snow. Then there are the knee high combat boots. Considering how heavy they are, she should be warm. A possibility . . .

All I can hope for is that when she gets cold, she will hear my nagging voice saying, "You need a heavy coat and some boots. Maybe you should also add an extra layer. Do you think maybe you should wear your hat and your hood? Mittens are actually warmer than gloves. I love you." Perhaps all of the perceived hot air that I have wasted on this subject will relieve some of the cold air that she is sure to encounter.

We leave tomorrow with whatever she has packed. In the age of Internet ordering, shopping in the city and mommy mailing things from home, I am sure she will have all that she needs.

Maternal ranting aside, I hope most that she learns during these next four years who she is what ignites a true passion in her.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, 2007

By the time any of us has reached adulthood, there has been at least one historical event for which there will be a lifelong discussion of "Do you remember where you were when . . " In my lifetime such events have included:
  • the assassination of John F. Kennedy- I was not even two years old and I have no idea what I was doing
  • the end of the Vietnam War - I was about ten and lived in Hawaii. Each of the planes carrying returning POW's landed in Honolulu, the first U.S. soil that these men stepped on. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet every one of these planes. Though at the time I was too young to understand all of the ramifications of this war, it did touch me on a personal level because my dad had been to Vietnam. Fortunately, he returned home safely. For several years during that time, I wore a POW bracelet bearing the name of a U.S. prisoner of war. On the second night of meeting these planes, the man whose name I had carried with me walked off the plane and I was able to give to him that bracelet.
  • the release of the hostages in Iran - I was in college. We were supposed to be having a wind ensemble rehearsal. The director felt that watching this moment in history was more important to our education than rehearsing Sousa marches so he rolled a TV cart into the band hall and we all sat and watched.
  • the Challenger explosion - I, like most involved in education, watched the launch of the shuttle carrying the first civilian teacher at school. I was in graduate school at the time.
  • September 11, 2001

On that Tuesday morning six years ago, BK and I took the girls to school and stopped at Cracker Barrel for breakfast on the way home. While were doing the New York Times crossword puzzle over coffee, BK got a frantic call from her sister asking where John, BK's husband, was. BK said that he was in Chicago. MH starting telling us all of the sketchy details of the first attacks on the World Trade Center. In the first moments of the morning's events, there was talk of possible attacks in several big cities. Like I said, John was on the ground at a conference in Chicago and Mike was supposed to be in the air on his way to New York. Thankfully as it turned out, he was on a plane that was grounded in Atlanta. We left our unfinished puzzle on the table at Cracker Barrel and headed home to watch the news. It was several hours before I was able to reach Mike and know that he was safely on the ground. We reached John almost immediately. Throughout the day, several friends called to talk about how upset they were. Like people all over this country, we did our best to console one another.

It was interesting to me that though BK and I both had husbands traveling, few people asked how we were and if they were OK. We were to be the consolers, not the consolees. And, we were. During the four days following 9/11, we served forty dinners to various people. This community was what made these days bearable. I sometimes wonder, looking back, how I managed to be so hospitable at that time. I now know that that was all I could do. Somehow, I believe it was an extension of my faith.

Both John and Mike arrived home on Friday of that week - John after renting a car and driving and Mike on one of the first planes back in the air. At the point he flew home, the TSA had not even decided what could be carried on by passengers. Mike may have been one of the first people to test whether or not we can fly with knitting needles. Security pulled his metal sock needles from his bag. The officers had a discussion about whether or not they should be permitted on board. Mike, not being the patient type, offered to take them to the Admirals Club and have them mailed home. They too arrived home safely a few days later. I am amazed at how vivid the details of this day and those following still are to me.

I turned on CNN this morning to hear a debate over whether or not we should continue to have public commemorations of 9/11. In a viewer call in poll, the two sides were tied at 50/50. Those against continuing to hold these public "spectacles", as one person called them, said that we need to let the families who lost loved ones and this country move on. Those in favor argue that the events of that day will be forever ingrained in us and we need these ceremonies to acknowledge that which we all carry deep within.

No matter how many more years the names of those lost are read in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, commemorations will continue to happen. If you are old enough to remember September 11, 2001, I don't think that it is possible to meet this day each year and not stop for a moment and remember where you were then . . .and be thankful for where you are now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Goats and Dreams

A couple of weeks ago I was strolling through our local Barnes and Noble bookstore. As I recall, I was not looking for anything in particular. For some reason, I found myself in the nature section. Though I enjoy reading on this topic, it is not one that I frequent when wandering aimlessly through the bookstore.. Not shelved such that only the spine was visible, but facing full front like it was placed there just for me, was a book titled The Year of the Goat by Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz. It caught my attention because I have this not so secret fantasy of having a goat or two. I picked it up, read the jacket notes, and was immediately drawn in.

The book chronicles the year-long travels of the authors as they sought to escape the hectic lifestyle of New York City and find meaning in a simpler place where they could live closer to the land. In New York, Margaret worked in an upscale bakery in the city and Karl was a photographer for a major publisher. Both enjoyed fine food, especially cheeses, in particular goat cheese. After serious but not abundant research, they came to the notion that maybe they could find the life that they yearned for by raising goats for cheese making.

They set out to traverse the country visiting goat and cheese conventions, farms across the country, and anyone else who would talk to them about their dream to become goat farmers. Margaret and Karl left New York with a few personal belongings, their dog, Godfrey, and a dream - not a real plan, just a dream. Their travels took them across the country from coast to coast and south to north from Texas to Minnesota. The purpose of this year on the road was to gain practical insight into the life of goat farmers. Margaret and Karl did indeed find these insights, but they also found so much more. It is the "much more" that made this book a great read for me.

I was most struck by the fact that these two people had a dream and set out to make it come true. Though they had some basic ideas of what they would do during their year on the road, Margaret and Karl trusted that they would be lead in the right direction. And, they were. I wish I had this kind of courage - the courage to dream this big and then go for it. For someone who is not a risk taker, it is almost impossible to comprehend such a decision. This book is affirmation that all of us can make our dreams come true if we allow the magic to happen.

Dreams often come true in fiction; it is nice to see them realized also in non-fiction.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bite Me!

Nothing else need be said.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ode To The Kitchen Table

Because of new school schedules and rehearsal schedules, it seems that we have not eaten a real meal (i.e. a meal that involves a full place setting of silverware and must be eaten from a plate rather than a paper towel) at home all week. Tonight, the pattern was broken. We had chicken and corn on the cob, both grilled. As we got ready to put the meal on the table, it became obvious to me that we had a little problem. The table was covered with s. . . .stuff. Except for a cookbook and a dirty glass, none of it had anything to do with food or eating. As I began to clear things, I was amazed at the things I removed:
  • the new Mac Powerbook belonging to the kid about to leave for school
  • a stack of miscellaneous papers from the University of Chicago that are touting the university life
  • a French dictionary
  • a ball or two of yarn
  • knitting needles, which have nothing to do with the yarn on the table
  • a stack of mail needing attention
  • magazines ranging from Back Home to Yoga Journal
  • a couple of books ranging from a CSI novel to What The Best College Teachers Do
  • a few writing implements that may or may not actually write
  • a cat

We have a 7 foot pine table that was made by Erin's fifth grade teacher's husband; so, there is plenty of room for all of this stuff. For me, the question of how do all of these things fit on the table is not nearly as intriguing as why the heck is all of this stuff here in the first place. We have a huge house - a house in which every one of us has our own space and there is a place, other than the kitchen table, for everything.

The reality is that the table is the center of our family life together. It sits between the kitchen and the family room - i.e. in close proximity to both food and television, the basic staples of any teenager's life. So, this is where we congregate to talk, to play, to watch TV, to do homework and grade papers, and to eat a home cooked meal, though not so much lately. I realized that in the things on the table, there is a piece of every one of us. The table is a monument to all that goes on here. Though the dogs did not have a contribution ON the table, they did have quite a collection of polyfil from gutted toys and plastic pieces from a chewed Frisbee under the table. We all had fair representation. As I continued to move things, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Erin when she about six.

For some reason we were talking about inherited things. Brooke said that all we had was a couple of looms, a spinning wheel, a bunch of yarn, and way too many books. She said she had no interest in the fiber related things (which has since changed) and she would have already read all the books she wanted to read before inheriting them would be an issue so there was nothing that she really wanted. Erin announced that she wanted the kitchen table. (She was not speaking of the table we have now.) When I asked her why she wanted the kitchen table, she told me it was because it was full of stories and memories. She started pointing to the drip of fingernail polish from Christmas Eve, the streak of marker from where she colored a birthday card for a friend, the glitter from various art projects, the globs of hot melt glue from making Halloween costumes, the dings from pounding play-doh with a real hammer.

Tonight, as I look at our table with its mound of "stories and memories", I am thankful for all that our kitchen table represents. Though it would be nice not to have to engage in an archaeological dig every time we sit down for a meal, as long as the table continues to be our favorite gathering spot, I suspect the nightly digs will continue. As long as this is so, stories and memories will continue to be made. And that is what family life is all about.