Category Archives: musings

For the love of sixth grade

Can you find me?

When I was in sixth grade, I had the coolest teacher ever. I now suspect that Mr. Warbrick, the first male teacher I ever had, was fairly new to the field. Teachers who so enthusiastically do their own thing, I’ve come to learn, are either fresh and green or comfortable veterans.

The memories that stand out to me from that year of school are consistent for the way our activities made me feel – excited, interested, capable, respected and fun. Aren’t those the emotions school is supposed to inspire? Our classroom, the former library, was a suite of three rooms. We were tasked, as a class, to agree upon a theme (we chose jungle), sketch out a design and then paint our main classroom space. The smaller room on the right became the designated reading room, which we furnished with a couch we had fundraised to purchase. The smallest of rooms was a kitchen and, again, we worked together to raise the money needed to buy a secondhand refrigerator which we used to keep our lunchtime ice cream sandwiches frozen until class movie time.

I learned a lot that year. Things like how to do the hustle, what it feels like to be recognized as more than merely the girl who’s always reading and the possibilities of what can be achieved with collective effort. It was a fantastic academic year for me despite the fact that I recall nothing of what we studied during official class time. The lessons I learned were more about how to be a human being.

As I approach my twenty-fifth year in my profession, I find myself becoming more reflective of who I have been as an educator – and who I want to be. I’ve shared a library for the past fifteen years and, while collaboration can be stimulating, this year I am feeling compelled to break out a bit and do things a little differently. My way.

I want to create an atmosphere which allows children to grow, while also reflecting my experiences and viewpoint. I want the library to be welcoming and comfortable and I want to make connections – between myself and students, kids and books, and information and the world.

I got started last week with 15 orientation classes for 6th graders. It was a hectic three days, but I was exhilarated. We talked about areas of the library and dystopian literature and the amount of pressure – social, academic and athletic, students feel and I vowed to not add to that burden. That doesn’t mean we won’t tackle academic tasks, just that we both need to remember that these students are eleven years old.

My students were awesome and I’m filled with gratitude that my job is to work with all these kids. I’m so lucky – and my goal is to make as many students as possible feel exactly the same way. I think it’s going to be a very good year.

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Filed under Education, favorites, Librarians, Libraries, musings, Observations, Schools, stress

Why do the buildings keep falling down?

That was the question that 18 years later I can still clearly hear my 4 year-old son asking me. Nearly two decades later, I still don’t have a good answer.

It was my second week of school teaching in a new district. A vendor with whom I had a scheduled appointment was late and explained as he arrived that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I pictured some yahoo in a small private  plane somehow making a horrific mistake.

My library’s television wasn’t on, but I did have a computer. The sales rep and I sat down and watched as the second plane hit the tower. I initially thought it was a repeating loop of the first plane, not being able to conceive of two different planes hitting this symbol of New York City. It was unimaginable.

A teacher who taught Participation in Government brought his class down to watch the library’s television and for the first time I heard the name Osama bin Laden. I had no idea who that was, but that teacher became a dear friend from whom I’ve since learned many additional things.

School closed early and faculty and students filed out of the building in a remarkably quiet fashion. Under the bluest of blues skies I drove to pick up my children from their daycare, eager to have them in my arms.

In the days which followed the sky continued to shine inexplicably blue. I drove the NYS thruway west to work as tractor trailers headed south laden with huge generators to provide power to those seeking survivors and recovering bodies of those lost.

In the weeks that followed, people were kinder to one another, voices were softer. There was a sense of appreciation for the heroism displayed by the police and fire fighters who risked their lives. Our country, while broken, was whole. We were United States.

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Filed under musings, NYC, Observations, politics

Goals unmet – Serena Williams and I

There was a time when I had no interest in watching a tennis match. It was just so boring to me and the scoring made no sense with some points being worth 15 and others 10 and what the hell was advantage and deuce? No, thank you.

But, then I learned how to keep score and began to understand the rules, and there was Andre Agassi, and I was hooked. I no longer minded when big matches were on television and even attended the U.S. Open a number of times and just loved it. What a great game.

During most of my time appreciating tennis, the Williams sisters have been on the scene. I’ve seen both of them play a number of times and even met their Dad, Richard, one year at a match and found him to be approachable and pleasant. While Venus was always the more appealing player to me because of her quiet demeanor, Serena awed me. Her strength is remarkable and she plays, like all my favorite players, with her heart pinned to her catsuit sleeve. She can be confrontational and combative, but damn it, she is a warrior.

There’s been a lot of talk about the number (23) of Grand Slams which Serena has won and the record (24) being within her reach. I personally don’t know if it is Serena’s goal to match or beat Margaret Court’s achievement, but if it is and she’s feeling disappointed or frustrated after losing in last night’s final to a woman half her age, I’d like to offer her some advice.

Goals can be motivating and provide focus. It can certainly be positive to have a target for which to aim. Training and practice can be grueling and keeping an eye on the prize can provide the inspiration necessary to keep one going.

Earlier this year, I decided that I wanted to run 1,000 miles this year, a feat I accomplished a couple of years ago. I also declared that I’d like to run 25 half marathons before I turn 55 in 2021, feasible with a dozen under my belt already. Both of these goals were achievable, I thought.

But, then my body started to complain. My feet hurt and the first few days of my vacation were remarkable for the limp I had related to discomfort in my hips. It was painful to walk, which made running impossible, and I essentially took the entire summer off running a total of 8 miles in two months. I watched my goals get away and was left feeling badly about my perceived failure.

I’ve gained a little perspective, though and have come to appreciate that not every goal is meant to be achieved. Life, babies and physical limitations can get in the way and demand our attention at times. Honoring our bodies and treating them with respect is essential for our long term health and wellness and that’s the most important end result to me. When it comes to goals, sometimes, you’ve just got to let that shit go.

 

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Filed under aging, Exercise, family, moms, musings, Observations, Recommendations

When silver is golden

Twenty-five years ago today I got married. It was a beautiful day filled with special moments and memories I will never forget. The photographer complained  that the skies were too blue and lacking clouds, yet he still managed to capture images that illustrate what a great day it truly was.

I was 27, nearly 28, on that Labor Day weekend Sunday. I thought of myself as an “older bride.” Friends and family came from miles and miles away  to join my groom and me in Washington Park where it seemed that the flower beds had conspired to fit our color scheme, It was everything I had ever imagined my wedding day to be.

The reception was held in a historic Shaker meeting house where guests enjoyed a delicious meal catered by the only restaurant to say “We’re caterers. Tell us what you want and if it’s possible, we’ll do it” instead of “You must have three hot h’or d’oeuvres and three cold h’or d’oeuvres and 2 salads and…” People talked about the food for years. We had so much fun.

But, as you know, a wedding day does not make a marriage. A marriage is hard work under skies that are not always blindingly blue. Learning and growing together takes effort and sacrifice and communication and maybe I wasn’t really as old as I thought I was on that gorgeous summer day.

Somewhere along the way we got lost. Our marriage ended and, while I take no joy in that, I am so very proud of how we’ve together parented the children our love created. We have always been able to put our children and their well being first and avoid the ugliness I’ve seen in far too many divorces.

While I may no longer be in love with the father of my children, I’ll always love the years we shared and that part of my life. It was a really good chapter.

 

 

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Filed under aging, Albany, beauty, Boys, Events, family, love, marriage, musings, Observations, relationships, Summer

America is not the greatest country in the world

I’m first generation American, a position that gives me, I think, an interesting perspective on this country. I was bilingual until kindergarten when I came home from my half day of school and informed my mother that “this is America and we speak English here.” After that, I no longer was willing to speak German, a genuine loss when I visit my family in the Black Forest where most of them still reside.

Speaking a second language was not considered an asset in this country which arrogantly calls itself “America,” despite the fact that that is the name of two entire continents of which we are only one single country. In contrast, my mother spoke 3 languages while living in Europe, learning her fourth, English, upon arriving here in the mid-60s.

Growing up, we were encouraged to work hard in school because my mother saw education as the only means available to create a life better than the one into which we were born. My brother is a doctor and I hold an advanced degree. We own homes, have retirement accounts, travel, and generally have comfortable lives. In spite of childhoods consisting of a single parent home, Medicaid, and the shame of food stamps and free lunch, we made it.

Through hard work and social programs, my brother and I achieved what in many regards is considered the American Dream. So, why aren’t I more of a believer in the claim that America is the greatest country in the world? Well, it seems like there are quite a few reasons.

The income gap in the United States is outrageous. I don’t know about you, but I will never be convinced that a CEO is entitled to receive a salary that is on average 361 times the salary of the average worker. I’m not suggesting that the rest of the world is perfect, but America really excels in compensating executives at a more outrageous level than any where else in the world.

Do you have any idea how much our country spends on the military? How does the number $649 BILLION sound to you? It’s an amount comparable to the spending of the next eight countries – combined. Granted, this amount is less than what is budgeted for K-12 education,  but it remains an incredibly large number.

Speaking of education, when I was in Greece last month, I spoke with a couple from Scotland and asked them how college “worked” in their country. How much does it cost? Who pays for it? Their response – tuition is free and students are only responsible for related expenses such as room, board and books. The cost of those items can be met with loans, which essentially have an interest rate close to zero with repayment of the loans not beginning until the borrower reaches a certain level of income. Doesn’t that sound a lot more fair and reasonable than our government, which is the largest lender to students, earning interest off citizens trying to improve their lives?

During my travels I’ve been struck by the price of groceries (low) and the quality of public transportation (high) in the European countries which I’ve visited. Access to health care, while not perfect, does not seem to bankrupt families in the way I’ve observed it occurring in this country.

Solar and wind energy seem much more common in Europe and vehicles are more compact and fuel efficient than those found in America. Homes are smaller, not requiring the same resources to maintain, heat and cool. Vacation time is more generous, as are family leave policies when it comes to child rearing, with tax incentives available to soften the blow of losing an income while a parent stays home to raise a child.

America has been good to my family, but it is not the greatest country in the world and we need to recognize that. While it once may have been a true beacon of freedom and opportunity for all, that time has passed. A country which separates families seeking asylum, fails to provide preventative healthcare to the poor and the underemployed and has different justice and education systems for people depending upon the color of their skin really doesn’t sound all that great to me.

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Filed under Education, Europe, ideas, musings, Observations, politics, Rant, travel

(Not) Letting go

As of mid morning on Monday my hair still smelled like woodsmoke from Saturday night’s bonfire on Herring Cove beach. I washed it later in the day, but delaying the shampooing allowed the odor to linger in a lame attempt to cling to the week I had just spent at the Cape. It ended too soon.

After my adventures in Greece earlier this summer, I came to the realization that 2 weeks in Greece was essentially the same cost as the house I rent in Wellfleet. Hmmm. That was striking. Maybe it was time to let go of of this twenty year tradition for the sake of experiencing new destinations…

But, the magic of the Cape seems to get me every time, even when getting there is a clusterf*ck of traffic. Morning walks to the ocean, swimming with my dog in a pond that feels like our own and enjoying friends and low key entertaining…I just don’t know how to let it go.

Difficulty letting go has been a theme for me, it seems. This annual vacation, my Volvo wagon, lovers, specific articles of clothing…I hang on to things that have personal meaning that is sometimes irrational and beyond physical properties. I suspect it comes from unresolved childhood issues and a general lack of stability growing up. I mean, by the time I was in 6th grade I had attended three different school districts (and 5 separate buildings) and moved at least 8 times, which certainly didn’t lend much in terms of consistency to my life.

Perhaps all of that upheaval created a need for some constants in my life, beyond my brother and oldest of friends, and the annual trip to the Cape has simply grown into an event that is beyond a mere beach vacation. It’s a touchstone of my summer.

As I drove east and then south to Wellfleet, I did so with the mindset that this was it, end of an era, and I felt okay about it. Seven days later I knew that somehow I would find a way to continue this tradition, even with an anticipated return to Greece and a trip with my youngest son to Spain. At least for the next year. It’s just too important to my emotional and mental health, and my dog, to abandon.

What do you struggle to let go of?

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Filed under aging, beauty, Cape Cod, favorites, friends, Greece, love, musings, relationships, road trips, Spain, Summer, travel, vacation

The perfect Cape house

When I awoke from my afternoon nap to the sound of the wind in the trees, for a moment, I did not know where I was. I smiled that my response to that temporary state of being was excitement and not fear. Good. I prefer the unknown to be interesting instead of scary. I took a breath and, before opening my eyes, recalled where I was…the Cape, in the most perfect house I’ve ever stayed in the two decades since I began visiting this lovely area.

I’ve lost count of the number of other houses there have been over the years. The first few trips to Cape Cod were short getaways of just a couple of nights. My older boys were little guys and we were in the depths of daycare expenses hell which didn’t leave much of a vacation budget. We stayed in an adorable bed and breakfast/inn in Harwich Port and I fell in love with the adorable town and watching my babies enjoy the waves and sand. I was hooked.

We moved on to renting a tiny cottage for an entire week – a big leap forward. The lack of a dishwasher was a drag, but what really propelled us into getting a different house the following year was the need for a washing machine. Beaches + boys = laundry, and lots of it.

Our criteria for a rental now included the following: dishwasher, laundry facilities, dog friendly and an outdoor shower. We found a house a bit further out on the Cape that met each of these demands and rented the same place for the next few years, happily. I learned to immediately remove all the little throw rugs for the duration of our stay, thus avoiding the game of slide-around-the-oversized-kitchen, and somehow managed to sidestep any medical emergencies other than swimmer’s ear and the chicken pox.

During some exploratory drives beyond Chatham, I fell hard for Wellfleet and directed my attention to finding a rental there for the following summer. Fifteen or so years later, this remains my favorite spot on the Cape. The houses we’ve had have mostly been winners, but there were a couple of exceptions.

At this point a week on the Cape had become two weeks, sometimes divided between the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. For a number of years there was an awesome “upside-down” house that featured a second story kitchen, dining and living room which gave the place a tree house feel. The deck wrapped around two sides of the place and there were turkeys in the back yard and a hammock the boys would swing in until someone reliably got unceremoniously dumped.

We switched things up the next year for a house with newer furniture and a better yard for the kids to play in, but these perks came with unexpected consequences – ants and mice. After a week of storing all of our food in Rubbermaid containers, we knew it was a one and done kind of situation. There was no looking back.

Honing in on our happiness took us closer to the water, near Lieutenant’s Island. The first year was a fail in a house that failed to indicate that going from the upstairs to the downstairs required walking outdoors and down an external staircase, not great with still smallish children. The stone fireplace on the deck wasn’t enough to get us back the next year.

We made the leap over the bridge, (which is inaccessible during high tides), to a decent house within a 10 minute walk to a calm bay beach. During our stay that first year, the kids made friends with a boy in a nearby house and I took the chance to take a peek inside. It looked perfect for us and was in fact an ideal set up with bedrooms and baths scattered over three stories with awesome decks, including one outside of my bedroom that attracted hummingbirds from early morning through dusk. Despite the tight galley kitchen, I really loved that place and we returned to it for the next 3 or 4 years.

As the kids got older, though, the bay didn’t appeal to wave seekers and we shifted our eyes to the other side of Route 6 where we found what is now my ideal house. Hidden in the woods with a semi-private pond directly across the rutted dirt road, the place I’ve visited the past three years is as close to perfect as I can imagine. A 15 minute walk gets us to the ocean and Wellfleet Center is a drive just slightly longer.

The house itself is ideal with a small footprint, but three stories tall. The kitchen and dining area are spacious and open directly onto a large screened porch with a view of the gardens and “our” pond. The separate cabin was perfect as a “crib” for the boys and avoided a whole lot of arguing about wet towels and swim suits on the floor, because I just didn’t have to see it.

The “boys” are older now, though, and no longer interested, or able, to spend a week away from friends or jobs. Last year, for the first time ever I spent a week away from my children at the Cape and filled the house instead with friends. The small cabin became an oasis for a couple and the bedrooms on the second and third floors were occupied with a fluid array of grown ups.

We never ran out of milk. I didn’t drive for five days. We ate when we were hungry and drank when we were thirsty. There was a rager of a party, which we celebrated by taking a swim in the dark in the pond. It was dreamy.

This second year without my sons feels even more indulgent. I’m as infatuated with this house as ever, but I’m looking forward and thinking I’d like to explore some new beaches, maybe in Greece again. The price of the beautiful home I rent is about equal to the cost, I believe, of what I can instead spend putting together two weeks in Greece. It’s time to make a new tradition.

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Filed under beauty, Cape Cod, family, favorites, moms, musings, Observations, road trips, Summer, vacation