Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mind Your I's and O's!: A Lesson in Humility and Humor

Late the other night after a long day at school and a magnificent church service that left me both energized and exhausted, I was checking my email at about 10 pm in the car on the way home. I received an email that concerned me so I shot off a quick reply before any serious damage from that email could be done. Most of you know that quick replies to unnerving emails are never a good idea. In this case, it was not my sharp tongue that got me in trouble; it was my fat fingers on my iPhone keyboard. I meant to say, “Please don’t go swapping things around.” But, like in the song “Old McDonald Had A Farm”, the i and the o on the keyboard are right next to each other and I actually typed, “Please don’t go swapping thongs around.” This has a little different connotation!

Oh, did I mention that this email was to a group of Franciscans? People who follow St. Francis. People who pledge to live a life based on humility, love and joy. People who vow to make our Lord known and loved everywhere. People who pray – a lot. People who are very religious! I suspected that I was going to have to go to Confession and say lots of “Hail Mary’s” for this one. Oh, wait. We are Episcopalians. We don’t have to go to Confession. Since there will be no priest charged with hearing this story, I’ll share the chain of email responses here.. (The names have been omitted to protect the . . . I’m not sure what the best word is to use there. You can decide after you have read the thread.

Here goes:

“Please don’t go swapping thongs around.”
“I promise not to swap any thongs”
“You may swap all the thongs you want just don't swap THINGS , , ,?
“I'll bring my own thongthing along. (Will there be a thingalong?)”
“I told Kris yesterday that we should have a thingalong. Bring your music and guitar. Thongs optional-- and preferably covered.”
“XXX says if we are wearing thongs, she's coming!!! She’s just got to see that! If we are doing a "thingalong" can you bring your guitar XXX???”
“Everyone should have at least one opportunity to see the heavenly thongs of angels!”
? The JOY already begins!!!!”
“O. K. I'm getting my combat boots on folks. XXX says we should invite Scott Brown (R) Mass in his Cosmo outfit.”
“Thank God I can't be there. What a way to lose your lunch - seeing me in a thong. I shudder thinking about it.”
“A ThingThong Song

Buy a thong with sixpence
you'll get a surprise
just some cheap elastic
'round your upper thigh

If you try to wear them
You'll get lots of laughs
"what in all the world
is it that's running up your ___"

“And cause blisters, too!”
“Beware where you wear your wittle thongy. Leslie wore his to 6th and Congress and got busted in his wittle bottom.”
“Kris, Remember the thong thing in Assisi!!!! LOL Thongs seem to be a theme!!!!"
“Would that be a "theme thong"?”
“OK guys and gals, I am getting "out" of this "thingy" XXX says, I don't look that cute in it!”
“Thongs could become a bad habit.”
“Tho it theems. Blame it on Vatican II. (...he said blithely, a thong in his heart.)”
“It is my personal opinion that Franciscan brown is a crappy choice for a thing color.”
“I'm printing out this whole conversation for my St. Francis class so they can see what Franciscans are really like.”
“You're gonna have some 'splainin' to do :-)”
“We are thinking about using it in this week’s disciple class under the title "what does a Christian look like?"
“I agree: how about Pope Benedict Purple. Would that make a statement?
“Gee, I did not know he wore a purple thong?”
“Ah for those teachable moments!”

So there you have it. Aren’t you all feeling the love of God? Aren’t you glad that we have dedicated our lives to praying for you? And more importantly, aren’t you glad that the mystery as to what monks and nuns wear under those habits has finally been solved once and for all?

Ah for those teachable moments.

One last thing:

What did the thong say to the Franciscan?

Make me a channel of your piece.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Get Real

Wow! Spring break has come and gone. As is the case with most school breaks, I had a list of things that I had planned to accomplish. Sunday night as I pondered that list I was first struck with all the things that I never even thought about during the very short week of spring break; then I saw the last item, "Get real!" I skipped ten or twelve things that comprised the bulk of my list and decided that I could muster the energy to do this one last thing before starting the work grind again and I got real. This list was unrealistic. No human being could have possibly accomplished all that had made its way onto the spring break to-do list. But, I could get real. I realized that what I did get done was an accomplishment and what I didn't will wait. This realization made going back to school yesterday a little more palatable.

The first day back was much better than I had anticipated. I didn't expect much because I wasn't ready to go back - not ready emotionally and, frankly, not ready literally. I had done no class preparation during my week off. Fortunately during my first class at 8 am I had some material that we had not gotten through before the break so we were good to go. One down, three to go. In the next class, my syllabus said that I was going to lecture on a new topic. Whew! That's easy. Lecturing is a piece of cake. As it turned out, we had a great discussion. We started with the topic of the day but quickly migrated to the past and the future and dreams and fears and favorite music and life stories and alarm clocks that had not been used (or reset) since before the time changed last weekend. I was energized. My students were energized. Learning happened. It may not have been about the advertised subject, but nonetheless, minds were expanded. Isn't that what education is all about?

In my next class we analyzed Bela Bartok. We also compared his works to some of the poetry of William Blake. Again, minds were expanded . . .as were correlations and what "get real" truly means.

My teaching day ended with a composition student. She is a non-traditional student who has set some lofty goals for herself. Last year when she first embarked on the composition challenge that she set for herself, my advice to her could have easily been "get real". Now it is "you go girl!" We have worked together to complete a piece to be entered in a contest whose deadline is fast approaching. In fact, it is approaching so quickly that I should probably be putting the final touches on the score rather than writing this. Oh well . . .It will get it done.

In appreciation for the work that I have done for her, she gave me a ceramic candle holder that she made, complete with a battery operated tea light. Included was a wonderful card expressing her gratitude. Oh, and a piece of chocolate.

Yesterday, a day that I had little hope for when the alarm went off at 5 am turned out to be a great day. Perhaps the moral of this story is when your list of expectations goes unmet, jump to the end of the list and "get real". When we look at the real rather than the ideal, there are always glimpses of beauty and grace to be seen.

Don't get mad - or frustrated, or angry, or depressed - get real!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I Can Too Live On Bread Alone!

We have all known a child who can't sleep on Christmas Eve because he or she is waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus and his eight tiny reindeer. For that child, the night is endless - lying in bed wide awake for what seems like hours to discover that only nine and a half minutes have passed; tip-toeing down the hall to find mom and dad still awake and wondering when they will go to bed so that Santa will come; being sent back to bed at two am and three am and four am by parents who have had equally little sleep because they were putting together the tricycle with seven hundred and fourteen parts and trying to remember where they hid Grandpa's Christmas gift.

Thankfully, neither of my children ever spent a Christmas Eve like this. Erin thinks that Santa Claus in a creepy pedophile and goes out of her way to avoid him from August or October or whenever it is now that the Christmas season starts in our consumer world. Brooke, even from a young age, valued sleep too much to give up even a minute of it to spy on the antics of Jolly Ol' St. Nick. Her philosophy was that either he would come or he wouldn't. She'd deal with it in the morning. And as long as he, or someone, left her a book under the Christmas tree, all would be well in the world.

Though Erin never exerted any energy on the anxiety and anticipation with regard to Christmas morning, she does manifest that same level of anxiety and impatience when it comes to waiting for other things.

Family dinners are an important part of our daily routine. They do not always happen the same way, but they always happen. Sometimes we eat at five and other times it is eight. It just depends on the day. Regardless of when we eat or what we are having, we all agree that every meal should be accompanied by bread. I don't mean to sound snobby, but I don't mean just bread, like store bought sandwich bread, I mean good, homemade bread - the kind that should be kneaded and left to rise a couple of times before it is baked and then eaten. This process can take several hours. As you might imagine, when we get home from school at six, starting the bread making process would yield a warm loaf of bread about midnight. Even with our flexible eating schedule, that doesn't work.

Problem solved! Weber found a book that claims that you can have a fresh loaf of bread every day in just five minutes a day. As you might expect, with most things that sound too good to be true, there is a catch. This bread-making process involves about five minutes to mix the dough. It DOES NOT require kneading. After sitting for about two hours, it is ready to bake. That takes thirty five minutes. I know, you are thinking that we have already spent close to three hours on this bread. Here is where the five minute part comes in. When the dough is mixed, there is enough for four or five loaves. The assumption by the book's author is that you will make a loaf a day. The unused dough made on the first day is refrigerated. When you are ready for the next day's loaf, you pull out a hunk (Yes, that is a technical term.) shape it into a ball, and place it on a bread stone. This part takes five minutes - or maybe less. Then, the bread must bake - for thirty five minutes. So, the five minutes a day is a little misleading. Yes, you probably are only touching it for five minutes a day; however, it does take about forty minutes from start to finish. All in all, that really is not an unrealistic investment of time considering that the yeild is a piping hot loaf of fresh bread.

Unless, you are a starving teenager. Then, the minutes tick away like hours. You feel like in the time it takes for those thirty five minutes to pass you will age such that when the bread is done you will be eligible for Social Security. (Yeah right, but that is another story.) You are forced to stand in front of the over and try to exert mind over matter. You chant your wishes as if casting a magic spell. "Rise. Rise. Rise. Bake. Bake. Bake. Brown. Brown. Brown." You ponder questions like, "If God created the whole universe in only six days, why does it take Him so long to make a loaf of bread?"

"Thirty three minutes and counting . . . .very slowly."
The sound of the oven's timer chiming as the display reads "0" is a moment of ecstasy.
And when I mentioned earlier that you only touch this bread for five minutes a day, that includes the eating of it too. Once it comes out of the oven, the five minutes that it took to shape it and get it in the oven is an eternity compared to the time that it takes a starving and impatient teenager and her boyfriend to devour this long awaited loaf of bread, including the time it takes to spread the butter.

Friday, March 5, 2010

All In A Day

Three and half years ago I decided that I was going to start writing a blog. I’ don’t really remember why I made that decision since, as is evidenced by the title of my first post, I thought that bloggers were kind of egocentric. Who wants to read all of the drivel of my daily life. Despite those feelings, I started writing and posting anyway. I have fun writing and I know that there are a few of you out there who enjoy reading what I write. (You guys need to get a life!) Another thing I don’t remember from this blog’s beginnings is how I settled on its title. That would have been a great topic for one of those early posts. I missed the mark back there. Today, however, I know why it is aptly named, “All In A Day.”

I had a day off from school yesterday. I did not play hooky; it was District Conference Day and I was not required to participate, so I didn’t. There were plenty of those never ending household chores that could be done; I could get a head start on next week’s lesson plans (It is already midterm and I have tests to write!); or, I could enjoy the day off, view it as a gift and enjoy it as such.

I spent the morning in my pajamas, reading. When I finally decided to get dressed, I took an extra long shower and actually shaved my legs. Spring is coming and I don’t need that extra layer of warmth anymore. And, Weber wasn’t sure whether he was touching me or the dog! By lunchtime I was dressed and had fully committed to the day.

I have a composition student who is working on a piece to enter in a competition whose submission deadline is April 1st. I am doing some heavy editing and entering her score into a music notation program on the computer. She wanted to give a group to which she belongs a preview of her work this morning. I sat down at the computer yesterday afternoon with several hours to give to the project, more than enough time to finish what needed to be done before today.

I was plugging along though admittedly ideas for a composition of my own that I have been half-heartedly working on kept floating into my conscience. I was able to push them aside and continue working on the task at hand. I had a few transitions between verses and an ending to write – two of the most difficult things to compose, in my opinion. By mid-afternoon I was on a roll. Until . . .

I got a call from Offspring No. 2, the one who is about to leave for college and be on her own, saying that her phone had been stolen out of her backpack in the midst of a mob during a passing period at school. This child has a tentative relationship with her phone at best. (See my post from April 12, 2009.)) If I had been this child and my parents had been me, I would have gotten the, “if you can’t be anymore responsible than that then you can just learn to live without the phone!”

Times have changed. Lots of people steal things. Kids steal things. Kids steal things from each other at school. And times have changed for parents too. When I was a teenager and away from home, I was also away from my mother’s constant nagging, I mean motherly love. She could not call me whenever she had the whim to do so. I can. I can call Offspring No. 1 in Chicago to make sure that she is wearing her mittens, and getting enough sleep and staying sober . . .And I can call Offspring No. 2 and make sure she is on her way home, or that she has her lunch. I can talk to her just about any time I have one of those motherly urges – except, of course, when she is at school. The truth is, I miss her phone almost as much as she does! So, what to do?

We all know how the cell phone companies work. You have to have an upgrade available or a new phone costs the equivalent of year’s worth of groceries or a semester of college tuition. They are not big on a barter system either - no trading loving Labrador Retrievers or homemade chocolate chip cookies for a new phone. Our afternoon was spent figuring out a solution to the day’s crisis.

Weber spent the afternoon trying to hack into Erin’s MobilMe account because she could not remember her log-in ID and password. He was successful, only to discover that she had not completed the registration process so there was no hope of finding her phone that way. Erin’s boyfriend sent her phone a text message offering a reward if whoever had it would call and return it. I called it several times hoping that some teacher who had a zero tolerance for cell phones in class would hear it vibrate and confiscate it with the hope of earning $15, the cost to students to buy back a phone that is in use during school hours. None of us were successful. So we did what all creative and intelligent people do in the face of a dilemma. We ate dinner.

Because I had a day off, I made a “real” dinner, the kind that involves no boxes and lots of ingredients. Erin wanted Au Gratin potatoes. This was a good thing because potatoes of any kind are her comfort food of choice. After the brief diversion of a meal together, we were back to solving the problem of the kid with no phone.

Weber and I went to the ATT&T store. A very nice woman, the woman who bailed us out, or is that, “provided us with exceptional customer service”, over the summer when Erin was in a similar situation again came to our rescue. Through another rather humorous series of events unrelated to the situation here, Weber was eligible for an upgrade on his phone. Though Erin is not on our account, he was able to use his upgrade and buy her a new phone. We left the phone store a little poorer than when we went in and headed to school to give Offspring No. 2 her new phone so that I did not have to worry about her driving home late without a phone. Weber got a big “Thank You” and a big hug.

When we got home, I still had the student composition that I had intended to finish before dinner to complete. I had lost my concentration and felt like I was not producing my best work. I played with it until about 11:15. At that point I sent her an email and said that life had gotten in the way of my creative process and I promised that I would get her a complete draft of the score this morning. And I did. I got up at our normal 5:30. After breakfast I made satisfactory progress on the composition and sent the files on. Within minutes, I got a “Thank You” email from my student. That was much appreciated. But more impressive to me was that she signed her email “your student and your friend.”

Sometimes in the midst of what seem like major obstacles, the little things make the biggest difference – sincere thank-yous. a hug, au gratin potatoes, knowing that someone values your friendship. The ups and downs of life, the joys, and sorrows, smiles and tears, hugs and laughter, happen all in a day. That is how this blog’s title was born.