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The cost of Free Lunch

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Monday, YALSA, the young adult librarian services arm of the American Library Association, awarded the 2020 nonfiction award to Rex Ogle’s Free Lunch a small book that left a huge impact on this reader. The memoir tells the story of Rex’s first semester of sixth grade in Texas. He’s just entered middle school, a milestone for which he was very excited. He’s a hardworking and bright student who loves to read and values the routine of school. In addition to his schoolwork, Rex shoulders a tremendous amount of responsibility at home caring for his 2 1/2 year old brother and preparing meals since his mother “doesn’t cook.”

 

And, he’s poor. Really, really poor.

 

Rex lives with his mother, her boyfriend, and their child, in a two bedroom apartment in which all of the furniture items can be counted on one hand. Rex sleeps on the floor in a sleeping bag, storing his meager wardrobe of ill fitting, but clean, clothing in cardboard boxes left over from the family’s most recent move. They move a lot.

 

There is never enough food in their home, but the threat of physical, emotional and verbal abuse fills the otherwise empty rooms. Grocery and school supply shopping expeditions are balancing acts between getting what is needed and not angering a mother who rages against every perceived societal injustice with a loud and confrontational voice.

 

Reading Rex’s words on the page prompted memories and strong feelings for me. We were poor, too. While my mother never was abusive, she also was not particularly interested in the emotional needs of her own children or sensitive to the pressures of fitting in socially. I just don’t think she had the resources to explore either of those avenues.

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I shared Free Lunch, along with Hey, Kiddo, Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s National Book Award Finalist graphic novel memoir, last week with my 7th grade students. The theme of the presentation, and the books I pulled, was families. I talked a little about the infinite number of household compositions that can be encompassed by the word Family. I told the kids about the embarrassment Ogle felt about his home situation and poverty and explained that I knew what he was talking about because of my own experiences growing up in a single parent household, being dependent upon welfare, and receiving free lunch.

 

When I was a kid, there were times when we had to devise ways to heat up food (pre-microwaves) when there was no gas for the stove. Hot water wasn’t always available and sometimes in the winter there was no water whatsoever because we had neglected to leave the water dripping on cold nights and the pipes had frozen. Most of the time, in home laundry was a luxury we didn’t have and I have memories of clothing drying near the wood burning stove upon which we were dependent for heat. 


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Hours of my childhood were spent in the overheated offices of the county social services building waiting as my mother reapplied for assistance. I learned at an early age that toilet paper, soap and aspirin were all considered nonessential and thus not able to be purchased with food stamps. And the embarrassment of free lunch? I’m very familiar with the shame of having to publicly admit that my family did not have the means to provide me with a midday meal.

 

My lesson finished with a “blind” book selection activity in which I asked students to close their eyes, reach into a bin filled with assorted books and withdraw one. As they lined up to perform the task, I explained that none of us get to pick the family that we’re born into and I requested that they sit down for 5-7 minutes with their randomly selected book and just read. Following their quiet reading, they had the option to borrow the book or opt for an alternative title. The choice, just like what might come next in their own lives, was theirs to make.

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Filed under aging, Books, Education, girlhood, News, Observations, Recommendations

Three current crushes…November edition

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Bliss in a glass.

The Manhattan at New World Bistro Bar. I’ve been lucky enough to have the same bartender on my last two visits to NWBB, and she makes a dynamite Makers Mark Manhattan that is exactly how I like and order it – up and teeny bit sweet. I’ve been too captivated by my companion(s) to get her name, but she was there on a Sunday and Wednesday and is not Sara Jane…

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A bed with a mix of crisp cotton, soft flannel and the comforting weight of down. Heaven.

The foliage was slow to come this ear, but the reds really kicked in these last few days and it was worth the wait. Stunning. What a marvel nature is!

Care to share what you’re crushing on?

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Filed under Albany, beauty, drinking, favorites, house, Local, Observations, Recommendations, Restaurants, Uncategorized, upstate New York

Stormy weather

I recommend this version of Stormy Weather, if you want to go multi sensory with this.

4F4D2B59-31F4-44E2-97AF-ADDC1F667062While I’ve been relishing the languid pace of this hot summer, with the added bonus drama of a spate of recent storms, sh*t has gotten real to folks in my immediate and extended neighborhoods. Last Friday, the rain came down in a textbook example of “deluge” and the infrastructure in our aging city just can’t bear it. Numerous homes on my block, and the neighboring streets, experienced a pretty gross example of that when their basements filled with inches of disgusting water from the overtaxed system. Nasty stuff that they’re still cleaning up nearly a week later. Ick.

Yesterday’s round of afternoon storms was wildly intense with pelting rain, fierce winds and chunks of hail pinging against my house. After it passed, I walked to our farmers market and was shocked by the destruction I saw. There were trees down and streets closed and Delaware Avenue, during rush hour, was very slow moving. The most shocking sight on my walk was the enormous tree down on Delaware and the resulting damage to at least two homes. The roots had just pulled out from the sodden ground and down it went.

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Omg – what are my open tabs communicating? 😊

This morning, Jeter and I took a walk to see how the clean up was going. It was obvious that a lot of work had been done overnight to cut up and cart away limbs and entire trees, but what was even more obvious was how much destruction had actually occurred. We walked Delaware to Beekman to Southern Blvd and I couldn’t get over how many times we had to walk in the street because there was a pile of branches monopolizing the entire sidewalk. Traffic was weird because streets were still closed and news trucks were setting up for their broadcasts. Pretty crazy.

AB05F5ED-10F3-4CBC-B7B6-7991693802A9I hope you all made it through unscathed and, for those that didn’t, I wish you well and hope you receive a fair insurance settlement. And, if you’re a renter, make sure you spring for renter’s insurance. You just never know.

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Take some inspiration from this ray of sunshine – just about broken in half, yet still blooming.

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Filed under Albany, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Flowers, house, Local, Observations, Summer, upstate New York

Lush life

There’s something about dense humidity that takes over my body. All I want to do is meander at my very own pace. I can almost understand the concept of a summer romance when the weather is like this – who wants to commit their attention beyond the current heat spell? Who can?

At the halfway+ part of summer, it seems like time to begin taking care of some of the tasks you’d swore you’d get to during break…dusting and cleaning the ceiling fan paddles, cabinet fronts and all those book shelves for starters. It always feels good this time of year to lighten my load – weed out possessions no longer serving a purpose. I like to also stock up on white T-shirt’s and tops for next summer. This year’s always look a little dull by August.

But, when the outdoor air is swampy and everything in your house feels sticky, it is really hard to get motivated to do much of anything other than sit on the deck that feels like a secret treehouse and flit between writing and reading for an indulgent amount of time. It’s summer.

While I’m feeling mostly lazy, all of my plants are currently going crazy. There’s so much energy and growth coming off of them that it’s practically palpable. Leaves are glossy, tendrils are gripping, and they each seem to have their own relationship with the sun. The rain may have drenched them, but they keep reaching for the sky, undiscouraged.

Sitting around, watching for a visit from the cardinal who always brings me peace, surrounded by plants on another relaxed summer day, is an exceptional reward for doing some routine chores. Lush. Life. Lucky.

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Filed under Albany, beauty, DelSo, favorites, musings, Observations, Random, Summer, upstate New York, vacation

Honestly

1c3d5d14-6ab0-4ae5-8dde-c2cc8c589765-40021-00000afb6a0bf1f3I recently said that the characteristic I most needed in a companion was happiness – someone who simply was happy. While that’s still an important part of the whole package (and I’m not settling for less than the whole package), I’ve come to realize that the very most important thing that must be present is honesty. Hiding the truth only causes pain and wastes time – two things I’m committed to avoiding in my life. Eventually, the truth will be revealed and the hurt from the lies leaves far more damage than honesty, and way more heartache than deserved. Lies just might be the favorite instrument of people who aren’t capable of playing fairly.

I read something that has me thinking:

Three things can not hide for long: the moon, the sun, and the truth.

Yesterday the sun was blazing and my deck, complete with new cushions and plants, beckoned.  I have a complicated relationship with the sun (go figure) and spend a lot of time and money protecting myself from its damaging rays, but it had been a really hard day and I just needed the comfort of home and the warmth of the sun to help get me into a better place. An hour spent lounging on chaise with a book can be a good investment in mental health.

Rather than taking a run, as I had planned, I changed things up and took a bike ride with a friend instead. It was a good choice. The company was welcome and the weather could not have been better. We rode along the river, where the air was wonderfully fragrant, in a positive way, and stopped by Nine-Pin for some tasty cider. As we rode back up the hill towards Center Square, with the half moon hanging in the sky, my calves burned but I felt better, more capable of looking forward, than I had before the ride. Again, getting outside improved my mood and helped me to feel more positive.

Not attempting to hide from the moon, the sun, and the truth but instead learning to live with each of them, is on the top of my list of goals for Summer 2018. I think it’s going to be a good one.

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Filed under aging, biking, musings, Observations, relationships, Uncategorized

Mother’s Day moments, 2018

My posse

We’re not really big on Hallmark holidays, but I do indulge in playing the Mother’s Day card once a year. This year I was informed that I could say “but, it’s Mother’s Day” a total of only ten times before the phrase would lose its power to motivate my sons to do something for me. I think I got to number 8 on that before calling it a night. It was a good day weekend. Some highlights:

  • Arriving at home, after walking from work on Lark Street, to find one of my sons beginning to tackle the sink full of dishes left by his brothers.
  • Leisurely reading the NYT and TU at the dining room table while listening to the Spotify station of my choice.
  • Pancakes with strawberries, even if I had to make them myself.
  • A lovely gift. 
  • A few chores crossed off the list.
  • Throwing the ball around with my dog-son.
  • Catnapping on my deck in the sun.
  • Running 7+ miles with my Luna B*tch, Chrissy.
  • A little time spent in Washington Park with the tulips and lilacs.
  • Dinner with all 3 of my sons (sort of, one was working) at one of my favorite Albany spots, Cafe Capriccio.

    Of course I got the eggplant. 

  • Wrapping up the weekend by extending it to Monday with some satisfying yard work and a long phone call to one of my favorite moms.

    Isn’t mulch like magic?

I hope all you other Moms enjoyed your weekends as well.

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Filed under Albany, beauty, Boys, Dinner, family, favorites, Flowers, Gardens, holidays, Local, moms, Restaurants, running, Spring, sunday, Uncategorized

What’s new

As a person who considers the first day of the month or week as a clean slate waiting to be filled with my best intentions, you’d think that I’d be all over New Year’s resolutions, but you’d be wrong. Maybe it’s my basic lack of interest in doing what everyone else does. I really don’t like being a cliché, you know? Of course, I do consider how I might improve my navigation through life and a new year certainly provides an excellent opportunity to implement changes. Here’s what I’ve come up with for 2018:

  • Amex for groceries. I know people who pay all their bills with credit cards for the purpose of earning rewards and I’m going to dip my big toe into that pool of potential points. I always pay my balance in full, but have to admit that it feels weird to purchase necessities with a credit card. I’m curious to see how much more quickly I can earn rewards and think it makes sense to try this for a full year as an experiment.
  • I’ve got some new cities in my sights for 2018 and I really couldn’t be more excited. What can you share with me about Rome, Salzburg, Vienna and Prague?
  • Decluttering and simplifying my living space. Do I really need all of the clothing I own? If I’m not using it, do I really need to keep? It seems like life would be more pleasant without as much stuff – contrary to what many believe but an idea I’m hoping to embrace. Maybe this book will help? (Thanks, Lori!)14014A1A-874A-45AD-AE62-CFEE34BD58F4
  • Increasing contributions to my 403B. As a teacher, I’m fortunate to have a clearly defined salary schedule and I appreciate that. Since I’m in the last 10 years of my career it’s time to start upping my contributions to my retirement account. I don’t imagine myself completely giving up working before I’m 60, but I need to make hay while the sun shines and that means socking away as much as I can while I’m still earning a good income.
  • Yoga at least once a week. Mentally, physically and spiritually I need it. And really – how often can one address all of those areas in one place in 75 minutes?

What’s on your list for the new year?

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Filed under aging, Europe, house, ideas, travel, Uncategorized