Tag Archives: work

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

Elton John in Albany – Seen and heard!

In recent months, once again, I’ve picked up some side gigs taking photos for the Times Union’s Seen galleries. I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures and it’s fun for me to make chit chat with people, even if I don’t always actually get to attend the concert or show that I’m shooting. I feel almost like an ambassador to Albany when I’m talking to folks, asking where they’re visiting from and offering suggestions for places to eat and drink. Once a hostess, always a hostess.

Last Friday night’s event, the Albany stop of Elton John’s farewell tour, promised to be a great crowd. The event was sold out months in advance and it seemed like a lot of people I knew were attending the show. I myself hadn’t purchased a ticket since I was fortunate enough to have seen Elton John before – in London’s Wembley Arena in the early 90s. With Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt. Backstage. Come on! How would this show possible top that?

I took up my position in the fairly recently enclosed lobby of the Times Union Arena and started grabbing my shots, beginning at about 6:30. The crowd was colorful and excited and I met people from all over the state, as well as New England, Canada and Florida – all in our fair city for the night. The concert was scheduled to begin at 8:00 and by 7:20 or so, I had my shots and was getting ready to head to my car. Until I ran into someone I knew, that is…

My friend, a retired teacher who was attending the show with his husband, and I took a few minutes to catch up and then he asked me if I was attending the show. I explained that I was just working pre-show and didn’t have a ticket. He asked if I wanted to go in…uh, yeah, that would be cool. It was my lucky night and a short time later, we were inside the TU Center waiting for the lights to go down and Elton to come out.

I have to say, Elton John 2019 was even better than he was circa 1992. Somehow I had forgotten what a terrific piano player he was and his performance was truly stellar. The setlist, which I checked out online once I was in the arena, was pretty much every song a fan might want to hear and his band was tight with the percussionist particularly standing out. He opened with “Bennie and the Jets” and forged ahead full steam rolling out some of my favorites including “Levon” and “Burn Down the Mission.”  It was a great night for Elton and his band, Albany and every person fortunate enough to catch the show.

How about you? Were you there? Were you Seen??

 

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Filed under Albany, concerts, Events, friends, Local, Music, SEEN, Uncategorized, upstate New York, winter

Choosing what’s best – Election Day and every day

Owning a restaurant was an experience I’ll never forget – nor ever want to live again. 

We’ve all had a relationship like that at least once, right?

Lark + Lily was open for about 20 months and I learned a lot during that time. Ultimately my biggest lesson was that I refused to remain committed to something that didn’t bring me joy.  Months after selling the restaurant, I still feel the effects of that time, but the damages are starting to fade. I’ve moved beyond the stress and disappointment to a place where I can smile again.

It wasn’t all bad. There are parts of that experience of which I’m really proud and the more time that passes, the more often I can focus my attention on those positive things.

Three things which truly stand out:

  • I don’t owe anyone anything. 

Any and all expenses were paid in full. If anyone ever says anything to the contrary, they’re lying.

  • I worked really hard and there’s virtue in that which is like no other. 

I truly don’t know how I managed a full time job, 3 half time kids, running 1000 miles a year and a restaurant, but, I did.

  • I was honest about what was important to me and didn’t compromise. 

Someone once made a comment that basically said they didn’t like my politics and chose to not support my business because of my liberal leanings. Well, I’ll never not believe in reproductive freedom, universal health care and equal rights for all and there are plenty of  places I won’t patronize because their corporate policies conflict with my beliefs. Hello, Hobby Lobby and Chick Fil A.

We all make choices. Today, and every day, try to make decisions that demonstrate your independence, provide evidence of your integrity, and display your commitment to honest and principled leadership. VOTE.

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Filed under Albany, Lark Street, Local, musings, Observations, politics, Restaurants, stress

The miseducation of Megyn Kelly

EA35741F-D438-4A06-BCD2-191A164884E8Last spring I ran a half marathon in NYC, kind of a bucket list item if I were to have such a thing. I originally registered for the race because a childhood friend brought it to my attention and it sounded fun. Anything to go to NYC, you know?

It wasn’t the cheapest half I’ve ever run, but I was ok with the entry fee because it was an all women race and I think there may have been some charity component to it. Until I saw that Megyn Kelly was the media sponsor for the event, that is. Then, in all honesty, I considered bailing because, yes, she bothers me that much.

195CD914-570A-4548-A772-0D5CFDE6FBE8Why? Because anyone willing to sit down with, provide a forum to, and pose for photos with, a man who denies that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School ever occurred, is despicable, in my opinion. I’m not going to even mention his name because I find him so reprehensible, but I’m sure you know about whom I’m speaking. I have some understanding about journalism and the fact that media professionals don’t necessarily endorse the beliefs of those they interview, but, this guy has deeply offended and caused pain to families who lost their children in a horrific way. He doesn’t get a pass, nor does she, in my book.

Yesterday, I hosted a Halloween related event in my library and I was a bit dismayed by the some of the behavior I observed. We had set out some snacks for the kids, like you do, but failed to stand guard at the table where the huge box of goldfish crackers, Oreo cookies, clementines and candy corn were being offered. Without direct adult supervision, the middle school kids were shockingly selfish about helping themselves to as much as they wanted to have without consideration of the fact that the kids behind them might end up with nothing. I was kind of appalled. I wanted and expected better.

Reflecting on it last night, I couldn’t help but see a parallel between the pattern of actions of Ms. Kelly, beginning with that controversial interview referenced above, and those of the children yesterday afternoon. There’s a sense of entitlement and lack of consideration for anyone but themselves that, quite honestly, repulses me on some level.  This failure to demonstrate empathy for parents who have lost their children, and, on a much smaller scale, those who may not enjoy the same treats we have due to our own greediness, distresses me.

What do we expect from our children? What should we expect from personalities who want to be in our homes via social and more traditional media? I want and expect better. How about you?

 

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Filed under Education, Libraries, Local, moms, musings, Observations, politics, Schools, television, upstate New York

When Pint-Sized is just enough

Saturday night dinner service can sometimes demand a period of winding down prior to heading home. An adult beverage, along with some conversation, can provide the ideal transition between work and rest, with a bonus if you can walk to a place that allows for both.  Lucky Center Square residents have the fairly new incarnation of Pint-Sized, which has evolved from a coffee/beer-to-go spot into a full-fledged beer and cider joint, that does a fairly good job of meeting both of those needs.

My friend and I rolled in sometime after 11:00 to find a hopping bar and selection of quality beverages. While I love a good beer (and plan to drink a few next month while in Europe), cider has been my jam in recent years. I just find it a bit lighter in my belly. As soon as I spied the beautiful can of Nine-Pin Cider Rosé, my decision was made. We grabbed two and headed to the less crowded area, down one step and 10 decibels.

We sipped our drinks directly from the can and caught up, enjoying the great view of Lark Street and the excellent playlist.  We were eventually joined by a pretty damn noisy group of folks, but they didn’t detract from the experience too much. I do wish, though, that people could moderate their volume a little better but, it was Saturday night and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. As did we.

I think I found my new summer sipping spot. Check it out.

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Filed under Albany, beer, drinking, friends, Lark Street, Local, Recommendations, Summer, Uncategorized

Hustle and Jive – or dancing for $$

Last week, as I emailed Matt Baumgartner an excel spreadsheet with my availability to work his World Cup Block Party, I thought to myself, “Silvia, you really hustle to pay your bills and afford to travel.” There’s the full-time school job, the night or two a week at the Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark, shooting photographs for the TU and their Seen galleries, consigning my clothing and the occasional chaperoning gig. My calendar is definitely pretty full, but I’m not complaining. My car is paid for and I’ve got no debt other than my mortgage which has less than 9 years left to go. I’m doing okay.

Talking about money is awkward. Unless you’re my brother or one of my closest friends, you’ll never hear me complain about being broke. I wish other people had the same impulse about finances and privacy because I really don’t know how to respond when someone says, “Oh, we can’t take a vacation because we can’t afford it.” Um…sorry? Am I supposed to feel guilty because I do have a trip or two planned?

We all have priorities.  We each make decisions about how to make and spend our money.  For me, being able to travel is paramount and I will pick up odd jobs to be able to afford 2 weeks at the beach, occasional weekends out-of-town and an annual “Mom and Me” trip with one of the guys.  It is important to me and I think of it as an educational investment.  Other people may choose to only work part-time in favor of remaining home with small children or perhaps give up a regular income to pursue artistic endeavors.  Whatever works, not my business or concern.

I respect an individual’s personal (and family’s) decision, but I refuse to be made to feel guilty because some folks may not have the funds to spend a couple of weeks frolicking in the ocean.  I work hard to make that happen.  It’s not my problem and I don’t appreciate anyone trying to bring me down because of their own life choices.  I’ll just keep paying my own way and dancing to my own tune.  It would be nice if others would do the same.

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Filed under Random, Rant