Sunday, October 29, 2006


Gemütlichkeit is my favorite German word.

It does not have a one-word equivalent in English.

In fact, it will probably take this entire posting to convey even part of the meaning, which, in the end, can only truly be appreciated by experiencing it for yourself.

And, probably, most likely, you have experienced Gemütlichkeit for yourself at some point – or many! – during your life.

It has to do with satisfaction, contentment, and enjoyment. In the moment. And it usually revolves around a combination of good food, good drink, and good company.

I experienced it last night with my younger son when we went out to get a bit of dinner and celebrate following the end of his football season. We had been outside all day long – enduring the elements: cold, rain, wind, and hail – for his last football game, and we were in need of warm shelter and sustenance.

We decided to try a new eatery in our small little town. It touts itself as a “bistro.” My 12 year old asked me what “bistro” meant. Personally, I find it a rather pretentious word for café, which is already a pretty pretentious word, unless you live in France. Basically, it is a restaurant with a bar. It is not just a bar, and it is not just a bar “that serves food.” It is a family style eatery that appreciates parental need for a nice cold one or a glass of wine, although I think the alcohol element is kind of the theme as they feature all of these Belgian brews on tap, as well as beers from around the world. But most of the tables at the time we were there were filled with families.

The atmosphere was warm and relaxing. We languished over the menu, once we had put our drink orders in – a Belgian wheat beer for me and a Sprite for Manchild. The choices were daunting, as they tend to be in 21st century America, but in the end we opted for a mutually agreed upon shared appetizer and a shared pizza. The appetizer was called “Buffalo Bites,” which I was afraid was going to be a pretentious, trendy name for chicken nuggets, a favorite staple of my kids when they were toddlers – you know, ranked right up there with hotdogs and the dreaded fish sticks. But a good friend of mine had recommended them, and I knew my son was partial to chicken wings and hot sauce. We decided on the hot style Buffalo Bites, which came with a side of ranch dressing and some celery sticks. This ended up being a wise choice. The bites were made from real chicken breast, and the breading was very, VERY light. Not at all like McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. They were not oozing with grease or lard or anything even remotely disgusting. They were divine. And the hot sauce they used was to… die… for. Seriously, these were some awesome chicken thingies!

They went well with the Wittekerke, a very light Belgian wheat beer into which I had squeezed a nice little slice of lemon. They went well with the Sprite, too.

Next we shared a Margherita Pizza, which was again to… die… for. The crust was very thin and light and seemed to be made from whole wheat. It was topped with ripe tomato slices, fresh mozzarella that was melted perfectly, fresh basil, roasted garlic cloves, and a drizzle of olive oil. My son was in taste heaven. As was I.

We were not in a hurry. We were enjoying each other’s company after a long hard day outside in the cold. And we were enjoying a totally awesome meal with totally awesome beverages. We had plenty of time to talk and catch up. Nobody was rushing us. The service was slow, but in a leisurely way, not an incompetent one.

And we had a really good time together.

The warm feeling of well being that you get under such circumstances would be… you guessed it!... Gemütlichkeit.

I first encountered the word as an exchange student in Munich (München), which is touted as the City of Gemütlichkeit. And I have loved it ever since.

I treasure the occasions in my life where good food, good drink, and good company have overlapped to create a warm, enjoyable, satisfying atmosphere.

I wish you LOTS of Gemütlichkeit.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

First kiss

“It was a stepping stone landmark in my life,” my younger son sighed once we were alone in the car, having dropped his best friend off at home following the big Middle School Fall Dance.

“What?” I asked hesitantly.

“Well, you know… my first kiss and all.”

“WHAT!?” I almost wrecked the car. “I thought I told you to be a responsible gentleman.”

“Yeah, Mom. I was. It was just a kiss.”

“I hope that was with just, you know,… lips. Very briefly. No… err… tongues involved or anything.”

(My son is 12.)

“Ewww! Gross!!! Of course, it was just lips. Kinda like this.” He slapped his hands together very briefly and lightly.

“Well, thank goodness.” (I had never seen a graphic representation of a first kiss.) “I mean, I wouldn’t want your girlfriend’s father knocking on the door at 3 am all pissed off because you had, well, you know….”

“Get real, Mom! I just felt ready, that’s all. It felt… right.”

Oooooooh. Was I going to be having this same conversation about… something else… like WAY earlier than I had ever anticipated???

The horror, the horror!

I changed the topic.

“I though you kissed S (one of his previous “girlfriends”).”

“Just on the cheek. This was a real kiss. You know, a stepping stone. A landmark in my life. What word am I looking for?”

“A milestone?”

“Yeah! A milestone! That’s it. This was a milestone event in my life.”

“Mmmm.” I tried to sound supportive and enthusiastic.

“So, what about you?” he asked. He was all pumped up and ready to chat.

“Excuse me?”

What about me? I had been at home alone eating a Stouffer’s French bread pizza and watching the movie Prime where Meryl Streep plays a therapist to newly divorced Uma Thurman. Uma meets this wonderful new guy, only he’s just 23 and she’s 37. Streep thinks it’s great and encourages Uma. Until she realizes the guy is her son. Ouch.

Well, at least it doesn’t matter to me if D marries a Jewish woman, I thought to myself. (The Meryl Streep character had been Jewish, and it was very important to her that her son marry a Jewish girl.) I am not Jewish.

“Your first kiss,” he persisted. “When did you get your first kiss?”

“Uhhh… seventh grade, I guess.” I was trying to relate, so I figured I should give the same year. Not that I was lying. I just wasn’t actually sure. I knew I had had my first date in seventh grade. We sent to see The Towering Inferno at the local movie theater. My friend’s mom had driven us there. I am pretty certain there was absolutely NO kissing involved. Disaster movies kind of do that to you.

I realized that I couldn’t actually remember my first kiss.

Well, I could remember my first French kiss, but I didn’t want to get into tongues with my 12 year old. Plus, I had been a lot older than 12. At least fourteen or fifteen. Maybe sixteen. And way more mature.

I could remember a boy’s attempt to French kiss me backstage after play practice in 9th grade. I remember it because I had found it positively revolting and disgusting. First of all, he was all sweaty and had gross boy BO. Second of all, I wasn’t the least bit attracted to him, and that whole tongue thing was just too much for me at the time.

Now, I do remember my first “real” French kiss. With a much older “college man.” I was probably a sophomore in high school by then, so maybe sixteen. That was a rather pleasant, albeit awkward, encounter. In retrospect, I suspect it may have been his first real French kiss as well. But maybe not. Who knows? It was a pleasant memory, at any rate.

“Who was it with?” my son asked.


“Your first kiss?”

“Uhh…” I bit my lip. “I really don’t remember.”

“How can you not remember your first kiss?!”

“I dunno. It was a long time ago?” I said.

I was actually surprised that D was so talkative and effusive about the dance and his first kiss. I mean, he is naturally talkative and tells me pretty much everything, especially if it has to deal with his older brother. (An in house informant, if you will.) But I was surprised that he wanted to share so many… details… with his mother. Of course, he hasn’t turned 13 yet, so maybe that will all change. I certainly don’t remember telling my parents details about my school dances or kissing experiences. Ewwwwww.

I think it’s good that he feels so comfortable being open. He will – and does – talk to me about pretty much everything.

I worry about him because a) I am his mother and it’s my job to worry about him (I stole that line from Meryl Streep) and b) because he is so cute, girls are always flocking around him. I am not sure he knows how to handle all of this attention, especially when so many of the young girls today seem so forward and aggressive. They think nothing of calling him up on the phone – I doubt I would have ever called up boys on the phone at that age. But they also can be rather demanding and, quite frankly, rude. I have intercepted voice mail messages from irate pubescent girls along the lines of: “D, you need to call me back RIGHT NOW!” My reaction, of course, is “Whoa, missy!”

Many of these young girls seem incredibly bossy to me. It is one thing to be assertive, another to be a bossy cow. D finds this trait to be a turn off – thank God! -- but he is confused because all of these girls are paying so much attention to him. He is interested in girls, in theory, but I think he is still a bit young and immature. Not ready for the serious world of dating. These girls all seem ready to reproduce! Which is a VERY scary thought.

OK, yeah, I am exaggerating a bit. We all know girls tend to mature earlier than boys, and when older girls are interested in D, it makes me even more nervous. Even the ones his own age seem to pressure him into “dating” or “going together.” I fear they are getting their ideas from The OC or Melrose Place or whatever the current übersex teenybopper show is.

Personally, I like mature, adult shows. Like, say… Grey’s Anatomy. OK, well, never mind.

But at least they are all of legal age.

I have confidence that my son has a good head on his shoulders. I worry that he is too naïve and trusting at times. And that some of these femme fatales are… pushy, for lack of a better word. I have taught him to be a gentleman and to respect girls. Which basically means he is not allowed to do anything beyond the kiss that is represented by two hands slapping briefly, lightly until he is way past the age of, say,… thirty.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cake face

I keep seeing this image of my son at age 5….

I had just finished icing a cake for someone’s birthday, probably my son’s, and I was out on the front porch watching the neighborhood kids play in the front yard.

M had gone into the house to fetch a toy, and when he came back outside, looking as innocent as could be, I had to keep myself from laughing.

“Did you touch the cake?” I asked.

“Me?” He looked stricken, and then added for good measure, “What cake?”

My eyes narrowed. “Are you sure?”


“Then why is your face all covered with chocolate frosting?”

“I dunno.” He shrugged.

He had walked through the kitchen on his way to wherever and couldn’t resist the newly frosted cake. He had stuck his finger in the frosting, at the bottom -- “where you wouldn’t notice it” -- and taken a lick. The brown frosting smeared above his lip and halfway across his cheek was more than condemning. And pretty freaking funny.

M scuffed the toe of his Power Ranger shoe on the cement. “Sorry, Mom.” His playmates were beckoning for him to hurry up.

“It tasted really good, though,” he added. And then he patted me on the arm. “You did a great job!”

Fast forward to last Friday when I got a call at work from my son’s assistant principal. My son, now six feet tall and a freshman in high school, was being suspended from school for a day for violating the school’s computer/technology policy.

All of the students in his high school are issued laptop computers as part of a special state grant project. My son, the total computer/video game freak, was practically beside himself with glee the day he brought his computer home. He had to show me each and every feature of his new laptop, and then he asked me if I wanted to watch a DVD with him.

He said they had told them in assembly that one of the features of the new laptops was the ability to watch DVDs.

My initial reaction as the killjoy parent was: “Why on earth do they need to watch DVDs in school?”

But then I thought, Chill out. Whether kids watch DVDs at home on their laptops or not is a parental issue, not a school one. I could always step in and say, “No, you can’t watch a DVD now. You need to do your homework first.”

Plus, when your fourteen year old son asks you if you want to watch a movie with him, you say yes. Because the offer doesn’t come very often. And usually what he wants to watch is not at all what you want to watch. I told him, “Sure!” And he said I could pick the movie; did I have something from Netflix?

He put the DVD into his laptop. Nothing happened. The DVD would not play. He fooled around with the DVD player for a few seconds and then decided the video wouldn’t play because the Region Code wasn’t set and he couldn’t set it. You had to have admin permission to set it, he said. He was very disappointed.

I told him to ask the IT people at school the next day why it wasn’t working and what he needed to do to get it fixed. He did this, and came home saying they said there was a “glitch” with the computers, which they would try to fix.

So, I thought nothing of it when a week or so later my son came home saying he could now watch DVDs on his laptop. I just figured the school had fixed the glitch.

Well… it ends up that my son and his friends had “fixed” the glitch on their own. One kid had searched the Internet for how to set up admin accounts on a Macintosh computer. They had then gone in and created their own admin accounts and set the Region Code so they could watch DVDs.

Of course, setting up their own admin accounts was in blatant violation of the school’s policy on computer usage – a policy to which they had all signed their names before being issued their computers. Never mind that all they had wanted to do was watch DVDs on their laptops, a privilege they were told they should have anyway.

Never mind that they could have watched DVDs on any number of other devices – DVD players, Playstation 2s, other computers, etc. They were determined to get DVDs to play on their laptops.

M was very up front with me about having his computer confiscated in school.

When I threatened at dinner to take his laptop away if he didn’t start turning in his homework on time, he said the IT guy had beaten me to it. He had come into M’s 6th period class that very day and taken his and another kid’s laptops. When I asked him why, he shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Did you download anything onto your computer?” I took my prosecutorial tone.

Downloading games or software from the Internet was a big no-no and something I had strongly – and repeatedly! -- counseled my son against doing before he had received his computer.

“No!” he said, egregiously offended. “Of course not.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah…. Don’t you trust me?”

“Well, what could you have done then to get your computer taken away?”

He shrugged. “It might have something to do with the DVD player.”

“What do you mean? I thought you said they fixed the DVD player.”

“Well, I said the DVD player was fixed.”

He then told me how he had seen his one friend watching a DVD during study hall one day – a vision that made me frown as I thought people should be studying in study hall, but whatever – and had asked him how he had gotten it to work. His friend had showed him how he had done it on his computer, and then his other friend, the one who had gone online to find out about setting or changing admin accounts, walked him through, step-by-step, how to set up his own admin account on his laptop and then set the Region Code.

“But you’re not allowed to mess with the admin accounts!”

My son was unperturbed. “We were only fixing the computers so we could watch DVDs. We weren’t doing anything wrong. They told us we were allowed to watch DVDs.”

“But you’re not allowed to set up your own admin account. Period.”

“Yeah, I get that,” he said, frustrated with my obvious stupidity.

I fail to understand why schools think suspension is an effective form of punishment. A day’s suspension is a day off from school. To M, then, this would be like a vacation day. To me as a concerned parent it meant he would be missing yet another day of school; he had missed far too many already due to a football injury and subsequent doctors’ appointments and tests.

“Oh, we’ll make sure he gets all his assignments from his teachers,” the assistant principal reassured me. “He won’t be missing anything.” Oh, no, just a whole day’s worth of teaching and hands on exposure to learning. Clearly, he could do all this on his own!

“I hope you know,” I told my son’s guidance counselor on the morning of M’s suspension – because I had had to stay home from work to supervise M and make sure he was actively engaged in doing all those school assignments and homework and had requested an appointment with my son’s guidance counselor since I wasn’t at work, anyway – “that I could make M scrub toilets with a toothbrush, and he would still view this as a day off from school. As a vacation day.”

The counselor actually laughed. He seemed to find this an amusing concept, like I should think of even harder punishments so my son would rue his day away from the hallowed halls of learning, even though, according to the assistant principal, a day away really would have no impact on his learning since he could simply teach himself and do all of the work at home.

My younger son had pitched a fit that very morning before I sent him off to school. “It’s not fair!” he wailed. “M gets to stay home. He gets a day off. I want a day off from school, too! I deserve a day off.”

The guidance counselor grinned at me from amongst all of his inspirational posters. “Well, you can tell M that this suspension will go into his permanent record. When he applies to colleges, they will see that he was suspended for a day when he was a freshman.”

I stared at the guidance counselor.

Like that was going to motivate a fourteen year old who didn’t really think he had done anything terrible? Like he was even thinking about college as a ninth grader?

Whenever I mention the topic of college, my son usually responds with, “What makes you think I even want to go to college?”

“And what makes you think you wouldn’t be going to college?” I ignore his use of the word “want.”

“Because,” he tosses his long bangs out of his eyes, “I am going to create my own country, and in my country, I won’t have to go to college.”


While I think my son “gets” that he violated the very computer policy he had signed his name to and was being punished for that violation, I also think he sees it as being more about “his getting caught.” I probably shouldn’t have told him that when asked by the guidance counselor how he knew the boys had set up their own admin accounts, the IT guy had said simply, “Informants.” As the sole person responsible for randomly checking over 600 laptop computers, there was no way he was going to find all computer policy violators. Apparently, he relied heavily on word of mouth and “informants.”

The other morning when the topic of his suspension came up at the breakfast table, my son said, “Well, it wasn’t my fault I got suspended.”

“Oh, really?” I asked. “And whose fault was it?”

M shrugged. “Whoever turned me in.”

I was not sure whether he was being serious, or just pushing my buttons (something he likes to do quite regularly, it seems). Since it was about 7:15 in the morning and I was only on my first cup of coffee, it was not a wise time to test me. I proceeded to go into a lengthy diatribe about being responsible for one’s actions and taking responsibility for one’s mistakes. This diatribe would have gone on much longer and lasted all the way until I dropped him off at the bus stop, but we passed two of his schoolmates along the way.

I rolled down the window. “Would you guys like a ride?” I asked sweetly, in a tone of voice 180 degrees different from the one I had just been using with my son. Luckily for my son, they said yes. Thus, he was spared even more emphatic, four letter word-laden lecturing on the concept of doing the right thing and being a responsible person.

“You guys have a great day!” I announced cheerily as my three occupants disembarked at their bus stop.

“You, too!” they all chanted back cheerily.

Oh, and did I mention that the IT guy told me that, yes, they were supposed to be able to play DVDs on their laptops but that the Region Code thing was a glitch? They just hadn’t figured out yet how to fix the problem on everyone’s laptops all at the same time. And if M had simply come to him with a DVD – because a DVD needed to be in the laptop in order to adjust the settings – he would have gone in and fixed it for him?

I want to start my own country, too.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Statistically speaking....

I saw a statistic today that absolutely horrified me and stopped me dead in my tracks. Or vice versa.

It said that 42% of college graduates will not read another book after graduation.

I have no idea where this statistic comes from, or how reliable it is. It was in an OCLC newsletter.

It seems so egregiously outrageous to me, I simply cannot take it seriously.

So, I asked one of my colleagues at work what he thought. His response: “I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘books.’”

Say what???

I know he was trying to be amusing.

I am distressed by this statistic. I, who majored in the social sciences and know, firsthand, that there is nothing scientific about the social sciences and that you can get statistics to say just about whatever you want them to say, am rather at a loss. Am scared even.

How can people go through life – I don’t care whether they have gone to college or not! – without reading books??? Not reading. How is this possible? How can you be a thoughtful person – and I don’t care if you have a PhD! – if you don’t read???

I don’t think you can be.

And in this day and age, there is no excuse. There are books on CD, audiobooks, computer download books. You are not limited to just books in print. You can LISTEN to a book, have it read to you by someone else for criminey’s sake, just like a giant story time on the highway, as you drive to and from work. I do it. I listen to books on CD during my commute – whenever NPR news is not on – and this has probably doubled the number of books I can “read” in a given year.

I still read books the old fashioned way. It takes me longer now, as I usually only get to read in bed at the end of a very long day and, invariably, fall asleep after only a few moments. But I DO read. And I do read many, many books per year, as well as countless magazines and newspapers.

I cannot imagine life without these things. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri purportedly said: “I read to understand life; I write to understand life.”

That just makes so much sense to me.

If you are not reading, are you thinking, stewing, weighing, considering, pondering, or contemplating?

What are you doing?

Hey, really, like ... get real!

Are you even, like, a human being?

Saturday, October 21, 2006


People with whom I reconnect – at reunions, on the street, via email, on the phone – invariably ask me the same question:

“Are you still writing?”

The question always catches me off guard.

These are not always people I grew up with, they can be people I have met and known at any point in my life. Why? Because at any -- and all -- points in my life I have always been writing in one way or another.

All of these people, who obviously have way more faith and confidence in me and my writing abilities than I do, are always sure that I must have published a book by now. Or that I am going to publish a book. Any time soon. Or just in general.

They all tell me how they are waiting for my book, how they want to read it.

And I think they are genuinely sincere. I mean, why would you ever tell someone that unless you actually meant it?

It leaves me rather flummoxed.

Once again, I have disappointed someone.

For I have no book for them to read.

At the same time, yes, of course, I am still writing.

I don’t know how to “not write.” I write all the time, sometimes on paper, sometimes on the computer, sometimes just in my head. I don’t think I am ever “not writing.” To me it is the same as breathing. Although I think I would give up breathing before I gave up writing.

I don’t know why I don’t have a book for all of these kind, supportive, inquisitive people to read.

I write stories. I write essays. I write poems even, sometimes. On occasion. Especially when I am particularly inspired or compelled to. I have written at least one novel. I never did anything with it, them. In fact, I don’t really like it, them. I have written many, many short stories. Some of which I particularly like. Some of which make me cringe when I stumble upon them and start to re-read them.

I honest to god think I could write all day every day and I would be perfectly happy. Content. Alive. Doing what I was meant to do. Unfortunately, I am not independently wealthy, and I have two kids to support. I love being a mom. I love my job as a librarian. But still, all I ever really want to do is… write.

And I do write. As time allows. As I allow myself time. But I always put myself and my writing last in the grand scheme of things.

This is wrong. This is bad. I am consciously doing this.

This is my life, and it is more than half over. What is my problem?

I love words. I love putting words together to convey thoughts, ideas, feelings. I love the physical act of writing with a pen, preferably a simple black Bic pen. I love the physical act of typing. I love seeing words on the page, be they in my illegible scrawl or on the computer screen. I love tinkering with them, toying with them, changing them, rearranging them, reading over them. Again and again. I love trying to express myself with words.

I love reading words, writing words, using words in a sentence, listening to words, and looking words up. I just really love words. Any way you slice them. Words, words, words.

I love translating life into words.

I love translating thoughts and feelings into words.

I love sharing these words with other people.

So, what exactly is my problem?

I don’t know.

Lack of confidence.

Lack of self-esteem.

An inability to seize the day. To take advantage of my true love and passion in life.

I don’t know. Any of the above. All of the above.

Quite frankly, the only response that makes any sense to me at all is the one I learned at West Point as a scared, naïve, new Plebe twenty-five years ago:

“No excuse, sir!”

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Letter to my English teacher

Dear Mrs. C,

We visited your classroom today. Both of your classrooms, actually. There was the one that we knew and loved, which is now a third or fourth grade classroom, and then there was the one you use now, in a building that did not exist when we were your students thirty years ago.

Your presence is in both classrooms. In the first room, you were there in the memories we brought with us, while in the second your presence was palpable in how you had arranged the room, in the posters you had tacked to the walls, in that strangely relaxed cursive scrawl you had up on the chalkboard reminding students about some imminent task at hand.

Our fifteen year old tour guide did not know the current Lower School classroom had once been yours, ours. She does now.

“This isn’t right. Mrs. C’s desk was in the front of the classroom.”

“Right. Up by the blackboards, not back by the windows.”

(Like who in their right mind would EVER set up the classroom differently?)

“The Shakespeare poster was on this wall.”

“My desk was right… HERE!”

“Oh, and there’s the ledge where she set her V-8 juice to keep it cold!”

We were ebullient, enraptured, lost in time.

We were getting our tour guide way off schedule, but we didn’t care one eency, weency little bit.

Your classroom, the old classroom, the “real” classroom, was, as I am sure you well remember, a corner room on the top floor of the school. There were windows on two sides, which made the room seem larger and brighter. The windows overlooked the Lower Field. On any given afternoon you could look out to see children at recess or girls playing field hockey or lacrosse.

We all had you for 8th grade English, and some of us for 8th grade Reading as well. Maybe it was called Literature by that point in time. My children have a more amorphous course called Language Arts, where English and Reading/Literature are lumped all together. I’m not sure which approach is better from a pedagogical point, but with English and Literature separate we could have you twice in one day, as opposed to only once, and that in itself would merit the split.

We read A Tale of Two Cities in your classroom. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I was always going to make that the opening line for my roman a clef on West Point, only I would write: “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.”

“We are going to study ‘poy’try’ now,” you announced one day to the class. I had no idea what poy’try was, but it sounded mysterious and alluring. And hard. Clearly, it was something you held near and dear to your heart, just by the way you said it. Poy’try was something far superior to Dickens or Hawthorne or even -- dare I say it? – Shakespeare, whom you so adored. “We are going to read some ‘poy’ms,’” you said. “And then you are going to write one of your own.” I didn’t know what a poy’m was. Maybe it was the Greek word for some exotic form of literature. We were always learning words like onomatopoeia and hyperbole and denouement. Poy’m was just one more to add to the list.

It was another ten minutes or so before I realized that you were talking about poetry. And that a “poy’m” was really a poem. Your Southern accent was strange and foreign to our provincial ears, and somehow, when you said it, “poetry” became a two and a half syllable word and “poem” only had one and a half syllables.

As the light went on in our heads, a feeling of dismay descended upon us. Oh, no. Not poetry!

Poetry was hard. It never made sense. It had confusing rhymes and rhythms and meters and all sorts of strange features we found alarming and disconcerting. We weren’t really going to read poems, were we?

Yes. Yes, we were.

You loved poetry. Especially the poems of Emily Dickinson. We did not much like poetry. But if you were teaching it, we would at least pay attention. And then learn to love it.

You taught us grammar and punctuation and marked up our papers with your trademark red pen. I have heard that you no longer use a red pen, because it might traumatize the students. Psshaw! It was character building. We would hold our breaths as you passed back papers and then, bracing ourselves, nonchalantly flip the papers over on our way out of the classroom to catch a peek at how much red there might be. To this day, I love grammar and punctuation. As an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, the attention to detail that grammar and punctuation require thrills me to the bone. My friends and family call me Conan the Grammarian, but whenever they have a question, they always come to me.

I have a hard time writing to you because I am always afraid I am going to make a grammatical error. Or spell something wrong. Or misuse a word. Or leave out a comma. Or, worse yet, put one in where it doesn’t belong. One time in eighth grade I was irritated with you because you marked something on one of my papers as a fragment. Well, of course, it was a fragment. I had done it on purpose. For effect. Didn’t you know I knew the difference between a fragment and a sentence? Afterall, wasn’t it you who had so carefully taught me the difference?

I worshipped the ground you walked on. Your perfume filled the classroom with a distinctive scent, even when you weren’t in it. You were everything I wanted to be but knew I never could be: beautiful, smart, funny, poised, kind, and wise. I find it somehow ironic that when you taught me English you were younger than I am now. How could you have been so wise, and I am still so dumb? You exuded a calm sense of wisdom. And a love for language and literature. You were demanding but enticing. You made us want to reach, to stretch, to do more than we thought we could do. I would have done anything for you. Even read poetry.

You encouraged us to be thoughtful, creative, to take risks. You ingrained the beauty of the English language within us. You made us strive to write the best that we could write.

Frequently, while in Senior School, I would make the long trip back across campus to the Middle School, and up to your corner classroom, where I would hang out and talk with you. Probably bothering you. I was intensely attracted to someone who had a love for language and literature and who understood my desire to write, to put words on paper, to make people laugh and cry or sigh with the flick of a pen. There was the beauty of the story or the poem, and then there was the beauty of the language itself. It was like a secret club, and I wanted to be part of it.

As we, returning alumni, wound our ways through the halls and buildings of a much expanded campus, we came upon a display case with “Teacher Sayings.” Mrs. H, our former Latin teacher, probably had the most accurate saying for our twenty-fifth high school reunion: “Tempus fugit!” But it was your saying that proved familiar and profound: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

While on the surface, this bidding sounds simple and obvious and commonsensical, in reality it has proven very difficult for many of us on our journeys through life. It has taken me over forty years to be able to understand and accept Hamlet’s directive. I had to end an eighteen year marriage; acknowledge my sexuality; step away from the religion in which I was raised; change political party affiliations; go back to school; and begin a totally new career path in order to even begin to be the person I really am. Forget the road less traveled! I had been on a four lane freeway that everyone else seemed to think was the truth and the light and the way, when in reality, I needed to go off road and cut a swath through the vines and thorn bushes and underbrush that leave burrs all over my pants and in my hair.

As the mother of two children, as someone who wants to guide and nurture and set an example, I had to embrace the real, hard truth: If we cannot be who we are, then who can we be?

Mrs. C, we wanted to crowd into your “new” classroom in the new Middle School building and breathe in, soak in, revel in all that was you. But your door was locked. We had to peek in the darkened window and discern your trademark touches. We went into a neighboring classroom to find a pen and a piece of paper, which someone ripped out of some poor student’s notebook. (“Oh, they won’t mind. It’s for a good cause!”) We wrote you a message, a brief Kilroy type missive in two colors of ink as our first pen died midway through the first part of our greeting. “We love you!” we wrote in plain and simple English and signed our names, much as the forefathers must have signed the Declaration of Independence, if you can suspend disbelief and pretend they all signed it one after the other, passing the pen from signer to signer. We folded up the note, and one person wrote: “To Mrs. C. From your beloved students.” We immediately realized our mistake. Oops! While you may well hold affection for all of your students past and present, it is clearly you who is the beloved one. We amended the message with “Actually, it is we who belove you.” Very bad English indeed! But somehow, oh, so perfect.

With much love and eternal thanks,
One of your former students

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

You and me both

I am still recuperating from my high school reunion weekend. At the drugstore checkout counter today (Wednesday), the cashier cheerily ended our transaction with “Have a nice weekend!”

“Thank you,” I replied without hesitation.

As soon as she realized what she had said, she apologized. “Oh, no,” I assured her, “I am READY for the weekend!”

“You and me both,” she said. “You and me both.”

I regaled some of my co-workers with details of the overwhelming reunion weekend and confided that I had led a rather dissipated life from Friday through Sunday, staying up until 3 am two nights in a row. It amused me that they took this to mean something “untoward” must have happened -- I mean, if one was middle-aged and was voluntarily staying up until 3 am, SOMETHING must have happened.

My definition of dissipation was much tamer and involved staying up FAR too late talking, drinking lots of red wine, and eating red meat two nights in a row. I feel like I have gout and that I must look like Teddy Kennedy.

Middle-aged people are definitely NOT meant to stay up until 3 am. While you can reminisce about the things you did in high school, you cannot DO the same things and function the next day in a productive manner. Stay up until 3 am two nights in a row, and you are REALLY asking for trouble. Stay up until midnight the third night, and well….

I would pay money to be able to take a nice long nap right now.

My mind is still whirling from the conversations and images and interactions of the weekend. I need to process it all, but I don’t have time in my regular life to do so. Life goes on, kids have homework and quizzes and after school sports and activities and orthodontist appointments. And they keep eating all the food in the house and generating tons of dirty laundry. And then they do things like get injured in football practice and scare the bejesus out of you and you have to take off work, which you really are not supposed to do, to take them to the doctor’s to make sure they haven’t broken their back or their hip or their pelvis and then you have to go to the drugstore to pick up their painkillers and muscle relaxants. And listen to frazzled cashiers wish you a nice weekend when it is only Wednesday but you appreciate their sentiment because you actually wish it already was the weekend so maybe you could catch your breath before you have to do still more laundry, go grocery shopping yet again, and attend even more football games.

Rah, rah, ray!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Twenty-five years

Twenty-five years.


Twenty-five years seems like a long time.

At the same time, it seems like… nothing.

Summer vacation used to seem like an ETERNITY. But I liked it that way. Now I can hardly wait for school to start up again so my chilluns can start their proper learnin’ again. And get some structure and routine back in their lives.

And I don’t even get a summer vacation. Pooh! What’s up with that?

Advent – err, waiting for Santa’s arrival -- used to seem never-ending, too. That Advent Calendar took FOREVER to get through. Sometimes we would even peek ahead and carefully open a door and close it again. But my mother could always tell.

Now by the time I even contemplate getting an advent calendar it is already Easter.

And my kids wouldn’t want to do an advent calendar now anyway. I would be the one opening the doors to see the doofy picture behind door number whatever. And no one would care if I opened doors early and then made a feeble attempt to shut them again.

OK. My point….

It was my 25th high school reunion this past weekend.

I have NEVER gone to a high school reunion before. And it is unlikely I would ever go to one if I lived elsewhere. But I happen to be living back in the town where I grew up - (NEVER, EVER in a million years did I ever think THAT would happen!) And a bunch of my close friends who now live in California, Washington state, New York, DC – all over this great big nation! – were coming back for our reunion. Some of them I hadn’t seen since graduation!


All together again.

I grew up in a small town and went to the same school from Nursery School through 12th grade. As did several others. And many started in Kindergarten or First grade. So we have known each other pretty much our whole lives. Or at least had spent most of our growing up years together. So, we knew each other pretty darn well. And it was a small school. My graduating class had 81 people in it, the largest class the school had ever seen.

I don’t think it’s really all that often you know people from the beginning of school all the way through. Or that you go to the same school all the way through. Or that you live in the same place all the way through school.

Not only were we reminiscing about high school. We were remembering episodes from Middle School. And Elementary School. And even Kindergarten and Nursery School. Different people remembered different things, and they would trigger memories and more memories. And laughter. And horror. And nostalgia. Or all three.

Depending on the memory, of course.

I am so glad I went. I reconnected with so many classmates from my past this weekend. Some, a sparse few, I see fairly frequently, whether I like them or not, because we live in the same town and it is small. Some I email with and talk to regularly and see occasionally, whenever they happen to come home to visit family. Some I have only seen sporadically. Some I have not seen – AT ALL – since we walked across that stage and received our diplomas 25 years ago.

There is a big difference between 17 or 18 and 42 or 43. At the same time, there is no difference between them. We are now middle-aged. Many have teenagers, even college-aged students. While some have toddlers or were even expecting. Some were heavier, balder, taller, smaller, sexier, grayer, more wrinkled. Some seemed just the same.

None were kids anymore. All had professions, identities, family photos, and stories. LOTS of stories.

The weekend went by in a flash. Chock full of memories, images, catching up, laughter, tears, glasses of wine, cups of coffee, hugs, and lots of food. In some ways it was overwhelming, too much to process in such a short period of time. In other ways it was not enough.

To see someone once every twenty-five years is indeed a strange proposition. To see people with whom you grew up and who know you backwards and forwards, inside and out, after so many years is even stranger. In some ways, it is like you never left. In others, it is like you have gone too far.

Twenty-five years is an eternity. And it is nothing. All at the same time.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Land of the lost

I wrote a blog entry the other night.

It was very long and very nice.

On advice from a more experienced blogger, I usually tupe my blog entries up in Word first and then copy and paste them into my blog. I also usually SAVE my Word documents as soon as I create them, so they are not lost to the stratosphere, as they are sometimes wont to do if one doesn’t save until the end.

This time I used Word, but I did not remember to save.

I wrote at length and in glorious detail about fall, my favorite season. I captured the sights, the smells, and my general euphoria at this incredibly blessed season of the year. I waxed poetically about taking the time to savor the changing colors of the leaves and the golden afternoons that only fall sunshine brings. I was hugely content and satisfied with my entry and just about ready to post it when…


A strange image flashed across my screen and Word disappeared. Not only did Word disappear, but my wonderful essay with it.

I tried document recovery. Twice. But to no avail.

My tribute to fall was lost. Forever.


I was sad, I was disappointed, but more than anything I was TIRED. It was late at night, and I had to get up early the next morning for work. I didn’t even WANT to try to re-create my work. The thought of it just made me feel even more tired. So, I rationalized that my type-written words must have disappeared for a “reason.” And that I should just go to bed. Which I did.

So, I cannot really tell you about the glories of fall right now.

Maybe I was learning a hard lesson about hubris.

Maybe my essay really sucked and is better off lost somewhere in the electronic abyss.

Or maybe it is just that… shit happens.

Whatever the case, I saved THIS entry as soon as I opened up Word.

Aren’t you lucky?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A little bit faster now

Saturday, 30 September 2006

While my day-to-day life might be moving too fast for my introverted tastes, my Internet connection, alas, was not moving fast enough.

So…, I switched to DSL today.

Yes, I finally succumbed to peer pressure, mass mailings, never-ending TV commercials, and the whining complaints of my children. (You can guess which one was the most wearing.)

I have now entered the 21st century as far as being online is concerned. While I have broadband at work and see on a daily basis how fast the Internet can move, I am basically cheap and did not want to fork out an unseemly amount of money for Internet. But then I slowly came to realize that because the Internet is now increasingly geared for DSL and cable connections, it was taking even longer for stuff to load via my anachronistic dial up than it had before. Plus, all of my techno hip friends and family were sending me video clips and massive photos files which I often ended up deleting because they took so long to download. The clincher, though, was when I found out I could get DSL for the same monthly rate I currently pay for dial up! Frankly, I am not sure how dial up companies can stay in business for very much longer.

Ordering was simple. A few clicks on my super slow dial up connection, and I was set. Then I had to wait two or three days for my “installation kit” to arrive in the mail and for the company to contact me either by phone or email (they actually did both!) with the news that my “service was ready.”

I eagerly opened my installation kit, but as soon as I saw all the wires and pieces and the little black box, I immediately called my teenaged son to come help me set up the DSL. It didn’t take much coaxing to get him to leave his attic lair as he was dying to get online and download new video games and check out YouTube with our new high-speed Internet connection.

Still, I was not amused at his whole NextGen approach to helping me set up DSL. While I was sitting at my computer, surrounded by all of these wires and boxes and unknown computer components, he was idly messing around with GarageBand on his school-issued laptop computer. He assured me that GarageBand “came” with his issued computer, but I have grave doubts and concerns. I pointed to my monitor, which now displayed the start screen for DSL installation. I had inserted the installation CD and was informed that I would have animated, step-by-step directions.

“See this happy African-American couple?” I pointed to the staged, cheery models on my “Let’s get started!” screen. “It takes TWO people to install DSL. You need to turn off that laptop and pay attention!”

He was non-plused. Didn’t I realize he could do about eight different things at the same time?

I, meanwhile, felt like we were a crack surgical team performing an elaborate operation. I was Doctor Kildare, my son the trusty nurse assistant who passed me all the scalpels and separators and surgical thingies.

The screen displayed the step-by-step instructions, and a passionless computer voice would then read them off. Plus, there was closed captioning, lest we were deaf or couldn’t read the installation directions higher up on the screen. I then would read aloud the directions again, step by step, and demand that my son pass me whichever wire or piece of equipment was being required. He seemed to be able to do this without even looking up from composing and editing the action/adventure/suspense theme music he was composing for a video game he said he was going to design.

Once you completed the directions on one screen, you were prompted to click on the “Next” button. When I complained that the computer was taking a looong time to move to the next screen, my son told me to relax.

“Don’t push the buttons over and over again,” he said. “The computer is thinking.”

“I’m not pushing them over and over. And computers can’t think,” I said.

He merely rolled his eyes and gave me that “what an incredibly simple woman!” look. (I get that a lot, and not always does it have to do with computers.)

We unplugged phone jacks and inserted two-pronged thingies and DSL filters. And then we set up the power cord and hooked up the DSL modem (a Model 6100, in case you were wondering) and installed a USB driver and oh, my! I was flush with my technological skills. I have no idea what ANY of these devices or cords does, with the exception of the power cord, but we seemed to be moving right along.

Once the hardware was installed, my son lost interest with both setting up the DSL and composing his alternative rock video game theme. He went off to watch TV, talk to his friend on the phone about video games, and play his Nintendo DS. I, meanwhile, was left with our patient in Post-Surgery.

It said DSL installation would only take “about an hour,” but it pretty much took all day. I did get several loads of laundry and a trip to the grocery store in during all of this, but the whole process, albeit not hard, was a lot more involved than “about an hour.” I mean, yeah, OK, the actual hardware set up and installation only took about an hour, but the rest of the day I was trying to figure out how everything worked: how to do email; how to transfer all of my old email account addresses over to my new email account; how to set up my “homepage” (the choices were dizzying and involved not only content choices but layout ones as well); how to listen to music (the choices were even more dizzying); how to set up security and run security updates and scans; how to notify everyone I have a new email address, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

It’s exhausting to be so high tech and hip.

But now, I am ready to face the world with my new and improved high speed Internet hook up.

I feel... empowered.