Saturday, October 31, 2009

Annie Bananie

There are no words that can describe how you feel about the first child you placed at your breast. After 24 hours of labor, Annie and I got a rough start. She was due on October 8th and born on October 31st. That should have been my clue she would grow up to be independent, strong willed and sometimes scary.

She follows “first child” descriptions pretty close. She is an over achiever, analytical and likes to compete. Whatever she does she does very well.

Some of my favorite memories are times when Annie surprised us. We refer to them as meltdowns now. Some children have a melt down daily, but Annie was selective. Her first was not with me. I had a night class at college and it was exam week when Annie had to do a speaking part at school. She was only in kindergarten and they wanted her to do an introduction at an evening event. Fred described it to me later. It was just like the Brady Bunch episode when Cindy got stage fright. The guilt I felt was gut wrenching because I was not there to console her.

Later, when she was in the fifth grade, it was the spelling bee competition. She forgot to capitalize Junior. (I could be wrong on this one) She ran off to the ladies room where I tried in vain to make her roll it off.

She got over her fear of microphones and audiences because she often emceed shows in middle school and high school. One time we went to a chorus concert and to our surprise she sang several solos and wowed the audience. We almost fell off the chair.

But the single surprise that caught us totally off guard was when she was home a weekend from college and wanted to get highlights in her hair. I had a hairdresser come to the house and when he was finished she looked a bit like Madonna. Her highlights were white frosting… a lot of frosting. She cried hysterically for 24 hours. I am not even sure it is something we laugh about yet. This was a bad hair event like no other.

Annie survived her childhood and adolescence. She has grown into a strong adult woman, loving wife, devoted mom who values love, relationship and friendship. Annie is the “gentle listener” like her father. She lets things roll off her back now and says no big deal. We are proud of all she has accomplished and especially the way she tackles all of the challenges of being a stay at home mom. Happy Birthday Annie, I did not forget this year.

Friday, October 30, 2009

My Love and My Life

The early sit com of the 50’s and 60’s often portrayed, what I would call a “picket fence” marriage. The father went off nine to five, came home and mom was in her housedress and apron and the kids were manicured sitting around a dinner table. What a bunch of crap…

Anyway, when I visualized what my romantic life might be like, I got some things right. Fred did come in like a white knight and rescue me from Bridgeton. We made life choices that required that we were the sole support for one another like living away from home. This was the cement that kept our marriage strong year after year. Any mistakes we made we could not blame anyone else.

Fred was steadfast when I nursed our babies when it was not the norm. He diapered, bathed them and was the guy with a baby on his back at theme parks. Fred was the go to guy when the girls had colic as infants. We had the “family bed” before they had psych books written about it and our girls turned out just fine, thank you very much.

Fred never flinched in our early years of marriage when I sold our bedroom furniture because we needed money for tires on the car and he came home to an empty bedroom. He did get a little mad when I called the radio station and gave away his brother’s dog though. He is a quiet man, a thinker. There were so many times he could have exploded like “Ricky Ricardo” but he did not. He was the perfect role model to teach our children to make “Decisions to Love”.

His love has always been unconditional. He loved me through my own “Lucy” moments. He has come home to holes in the floor where the toilet was, walls knocked down, and spontaneous visitors. He is used to my rearranging furniture at a blink of the eye. When our food bills tripled when Annie and Jaime were in high school, not a problem, he seemed to enjoy the extra boyfriends at the table.

Fred stopped the car in front of a college and pushed me out and said go in and sign up, “You can do it”. His encouragement and devotion helped me achieve my goal to be a teacher.

He is the rock in our family. Today is our 38th wedding anniversary and I could go on and on about his love and devotion. I adore you Fred. You are my love and my life. Happy Anniversary and Happy Birthday (one way to make sure they never forget your anniversary, marry them on their birthday)

How can you not love a man who sits down ten minutes every day and writes you a love letter?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Maybe it is because I am a non-conformist, or maybe it is because the nuns stifled my creativity in catholic school for so many years, but some mandates make me want to SCREAM. It is the little things I am sure that send us over the edge.

For the most part I embrace change, I learned how to use technology in the classroom. I learned how to do my plans on the computer and email them to the administration. I learned how to document on the computer, do referrals, use my text – book etc at mandated workshops. These were all positive things and this old dog was proud of herself when I mastered some programs like I photo, Inspiration, Comic Life and I know my students reap the rewards.

However, at present it is not enough we wear the same shirts, must follow the same lessons, same scope, same focus calendar but now we are suppose to use the exact vocabulary on the board.

For twenty-five years I have put a Reason to Read or RR on the board. I train the children what it means. Now, I must call it an ESSENTIAL QUESTION

My in-class plan is now called the AGENDA

My section formerly called class work now says OBJECTIVE

My Quiet time is now WARM UP

Thank goodness something stayed the same homework is still freakin’ homework.

Today, I PAINTED these words on the white board. I refuse to use their cards.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Dog's New Age

This week I was listening to the morning news show when they had one of their human-interest stories. It seems the way we calculated our dog’s age in the past is now out and there is a new dog age calculator. You remember, multiply the human years by seven. Cappy would be 42.
For those of you who are math challenged, you can just “Google” dog age calculator and it will pop up. You just plug in the age of your pet and ta da….

For the rest of you, it is really simple. The first year of life is 15 human years. The second year is 9 human years. Every year after this equal 4 human years. Of course, I quickly calculated Cappy’s human age and found out he is really 40. Wow, just like that with the new calculator he lost two years. When he is 13, he will not be 91 but 68.

Wish we had a new age calculator.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Hi Grammy"

How do I feel when I here a little voice say “Hi Grammy, Hi Grammy”? It is better than any tonic or vitamin. Ellerie is our youngest granddaughter. She will be two on Halloween and recently has started to say Grammy. She says it better than any of the other kids when they were little.

With Ab, I was Gammy for a long while. My grandsons Ethan and Luke took their good ole time until they could say Grammy and called me a variety of things in the meantime. The “R” sound is really hard for the little ones.

Ellerie seemed as excited as I am when she says it. Last night, she said Hi Grammy no less than a dozen times before she finally relinquished the phone to Annie. It was fun to visualize my daughter trying to catch her as she ran around with the phone.

El called again tonight and I heard her little voice say "Hi Grammy". The main reason this is such a huge deal is for the past nine years whenever any grandchild had anything to say to me on the phone it was one thing and one thing only….

"Where’s Pap Pap?"

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Each year the fall is a time when I look back at fond memories. This first installment of People Who Make a Difference can only be dedicated to my father who passed away in 1976.

Daddy was a gentle man who made a difference in many people’s lives. He was a consummate teacher. He invented teachable moments. He would have been proud of me. My very last conversation with him the day he died was daddy telling me to go back to college. That conversation kept me going when I struggled years later while I juggled college full time, two young children and two night jobs bartending and working as a waitress (or as they politically say now, server).

Because my father had a business that took him away many nights, he made sure every moment counted. Monday nights were the best. From the time I was twelve until I married Fred the family went out to dinner at a favorite restaurant, the Centerton Inn. What you said mattered and he listened and mom would be on her best behavior, no yelling where people could see you so we looked forward to these family connections.

On the days when we were off school, we went to work with him. I would sit on the bar stool behind the bar and listen and laugh. The atmosphere was very “Cheers” like because the diehard regulars were there when the place opened at 7:00 am. It was where I learned to be a master storyteller.

When the afternoon help came in to work, dad would take me on adventures. We would go to “Cowtown” on Tuesdays (the ORIGINAL flea market in the United States) other days we went to used furniture and junking. We were way before our time, this was the 60’s and the furniture style was very “Brady Bunch” and shag carpets (ugh). Dad loved the down home country style. He would pick up antiques that he would hang up in the bar. I cannot go into a Cracker Barrel without thinking of our bar.

Later, when I got married and bought a big old Victorian money pit, Daddy would come to breakfast several times a week and do fix it jobs. When we had Annie his visits were daily. He adored her.

In the fall we would track deer in the deer hunting woods. Another favorite excursion was the “Indian Grave Yard” where we looked for arrowheads and the history on the grave markers. All the while, daddy gave you his undivided attention. Ironically, he had his heart attack chasing hunters off his property where he had been tracking a deer. Just two days before the attack, he and I were in the woods tracking. He died two weeks later.

Dad smoked a pipe with Half and Half tobacco, I long for that smell now. I visualize him in heaven puffing looking down at me. When I am having a bad day, somehow something comes up that tells me he is with me and he is proud of me and he is encouraging me to keep dreaming no matter what obstacles I face.
I love and miss you daddy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just Another Glitch

Each year I pride myself on some of the in-class projects I do with my students. Some parents love me and some hate me. No one can work on a project at home. It must be done in class in front of me. This year I actually got applause when I told the parents at open house.

Many years ago, I taught at risk children and came to the conclusion that so many had no one at home to help them, it would be better to do most work in school. To my surprise, behavior problems decreased. I came to the conclusion, when I have the art station to hold over their head the work gets done. I took this to another level and said no one could take class work home to finish. If they do this, they lose twenty points.

I still use this plan and stand by my plan because it works. Each Friday the children who are on target with work can work on the unit art project. It is usually made with minimal supplies. The up side is Friday is a day when children who work at a slower pace can catch up. It is the day the kids make up missed work if they are absent too. The best part is the slackers have to sit in the room and do the work while the other children paint, Mummify Barbie dolls, make Greek vases or Roman Mosaics, marionettes. If I have a reward that goes with the contract like a Twilight Zone critical thinking lesson or a video, they have to leave the room, and do the work they did not do in the first place. I actually add back the points to improve their score. Eventually they get the message I may as well do it the first go round because I will have to do it anyway.

Since I developed the system twenty-three years ago, for the first time I am having major glitches. The first is class size. My mandated class of 22 is around 30 children. I do have two smaller gifted classes but since our school does class size by averages my other three are larger. This means I have not one inch of space. I have five more trap tables than previous years, so there is not an art station. Tools like hammers, nails, saws are too dangerous to have in a large class so no more building marionettes. I remember saying when the vote for a smaller class size was on a ballot they would give us smaller classrooms (square footage) and they did. They built our box without one closet or bookshelf for teacher’s stuff. It is a shame because the children lose out and feel slighted when I do the bigger projects with gifted only.

Next glitch, the swine flu, I have baskets of crayons, markers, colored pencils in back and access to scissors, stapler etc. With so many children out sick it is easy to see the problem is compounded with my projects. Our mornings start off with a wipe down of all tables, scissors, markers, stapler and other items shared by children. Today, I had to stop and tell the children it was time to bring in their own crayons, pencils and such. We had the talk about not lending pencils and pens. Next week is Red Ribbon Week and we may as well skip the lesson on Hugs not Drugs. This flu is scary.

Consequently, I see a difference in my students. So many are not completing work and this means they learn less and do poorly on tests. The third glitch, the fast pace of the focus calendar and the additional required worksheets they want us to cover. The poor kids have three times the homework. Every innovative course I have ever taken says worksheets are killers yet it is part of a mandate with frequent administrative visits with a check off list. I love my kids, I love to sit and color with them, I love to watch their wheels turn when they build or draw blueprints for a stage or research an historical figure and make the puppet. Those Freaky Fridays are my mental health days. I have a few ideas of how to “play the game” yet beat the system. Stay tune for next installment of the way we were to get an update.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Put Me in the Home when....

…. I carry a straw purse bigger than me and it becomes a bottomless pit.
…. I blast EWTN at three o’clock in the morning.
…. I put BBQ sauce on my pancakes.
…. I never smile at anything.
…. I have no favorite song.
…. I am not ticklish.
…. I think I am going to hell for doing work on Sunday.
…. I have no less than twenty religious statues and plaques.
…. I wear a large scapular because if I die wearing it, I will go straight to heaven.
…. I put three scoops of Benefiber in my coffee and wonder why I have diarrhea.
…. I become obsessed with whether I have a bowel movement DAILY.
…. I put dirty dishes away in the cupboard.
…. I break my dentures and refuse to go out in public.
…. I put dirty clothes in the dryer.
…. I iron the same piece of clothing for twenty minutes and wonder why it scorched.
…. I leave the water on in bathroom for entire afternoon.
…. I swing open the car door and slam into the adjacent parked car’s door.
…. I try to take something from the dog’s mouth and wonder why he bit me.

You Gotta Laugh

Monday, October 12, 2009

Life is About Choices

I learned this the hard way when I left NJ. I made the choice to have a different life. Fred and I wanted to venture out on our own and make our own mistakes. When the opportunity came to move somewhere where I could go back to school and Fred could make a better living we left and did not look back.

But we did have to live with our choice. For the next 30 years our family vacations consisted of three days in NJ (my family) three days in Pennsylvania (Fred’s family) with a mini three-day vacation in between to places like N.Y. Williamsburg or a shore area. This would set off a mini rivalry between the families. Fred’s mom said we would leave and would go to NJ and my mom had the grandkids longer. My mom complained and said we put her last and did not care about her. We tried to rent a few times in N.J. hoping to combine visits and vacation but that did not always work out because we were in conflict with other people’s plans.

The saddest part of our choice is that only one side of our family stayed connected. We were able to continue to build relationship with Fred’s side. His family had wonderful yearly reunions that really did build new memories for everyone. They also visited us when we lived in Ohio and also here in Florida. Our children grew up knowing aunts, uncles and their Martin cousins. The Martin’s are more than wedding and funeral relatives and now Facebook helps keep them connected.

It was such a short time, I was twenty when I was married. I did live in Bridgeton a few years but my brothers were in college by then. So consequently, we have no new memories. My kids do not know my side of the family, their aunt, uncles, cousins etc. My immediate family thinks they know me but they do not. They know a teenage girl who worked, ran a house and babysat 24/7. She abandoned them to go off to college. They don’t know ME now, how I think, what I teach, my politics, my dreams and hopes or what I want to be when I grow up. They do not know how I feel. I will continue to try to build relationship across the miles but know that each year it will become harder until what I want is not reachable. But I have to live with the inevitable choice to let some people and things go. However, I hope it is not too late for some connections and today’s modern technology is helping somewhat.

But the wonderful thing is that there are people who are close to me, they do know all about me. They laugh at my jokes and lift me up when I am down. I saw a sign once that I keep in my heart. “Friends are chosen family”. These are the people who have been a part of my Cleveland and Florida family for many years and I thank God for all of them. They are the beloved “aunts and uncles” to our children who were at band events, plays, or award programs. They are co-workers who have become surrogate sisters, nieces, even daughters.

I cannot forget another special chosen family. Although, I did not chose them our daughters did. I also thank God for both of my son in laws. They KNOW me well. I treasure them.

Life is about choices. I don’t regret our first choice. Fred and I have one of the strongest vital relationships I know. We have this because we were forced to make our own mistakes, live with them and then go on. Our chosen family are like the rocks that lead you across the rapids, they help us navigate through the troubled waters and they represent some of our best choices. I pray that Annie and Jaime find their own “chosen families”.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It was like a first drink....

I am not sure when it happened, maybe it was when our girls went off to college, some of you can relate to an empty nest syndrome but anyhow it happened. I became addicted. The first few times it was weekends, while I ironed. Later, it became an all day Saturday thing, and then I became hooked and needed a daily fix.

Fred used to blame Christopher Lowell but me I know that my problem started long before with the show “This Old House”. That simple show was shoved aside for the likes of “Trading Spaces”, “Design on a Dime”, “Decorating Cents” or “Room by Room”. Then came a long string of copycats. You only have to watch BBC and see almost every hit design show on our side of the ocean was just a renamed and revamped idea from the Brits. It is no wonder they have an air of superiority around Americans.

The summer is the worst because there is time to actually put the ideas I see into place. With my out of the box mentality it is often lethal to Fred. I am slowing pulling him to my side. He has come to the point where he just does what I ask. There are telltale signs still that he wanes, like a rolling of his eyeballs when I explain what I want. My favorite thing is when he sees something in a magazine a year or two later and says “Wow! You were way ahead of your time”.

Of course my ideas give way to stories that come back to haunt me. These are the kind of tales that someday friends and family will be talking about when I am gone. Like when I painted a wall Kelly green in our master bedroom (we moved our master across hall after that one) or when I took apart the toilet and had it sitting in the hall when Fred came home (our toilet was like a rocking chair until the day we moved) and then there was the infamous time I took out an entire wall while Fred was at work. Fred was in shock for a week. All of the above happened before that first sweet taste of a home improvement program when I was ahead of my time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What if........

I swear my kids might put this on my grave stone one day. I have always been a what if person. In many cases, sadly s_________ happens.

What if I gain 50 pounds when I am old?
What if I can’t pay my bills?
What if my kids move away?
Annie/Ohio Jaime/NJ
What if I have to get glasses?
Happened at 45
What if I wreck the car?
August 2009
What if I get another boss?
About every three years
What if the dog gets fleas?
First long trip
What if I go gray?
Hello… I am 58
What if I lose my keys?
What if someone steals our identity?
What if the air conditioner breaks?
Current drama
What if I lose my phone and someone runs up our bill?
What if a hurricane hits?
About 8 in last 20 years
What if I go north and a blizzard hits.
Three times
What if I lose a kid on a field trip?
What if I lose my grades?
What if they cut my hair too short?
You look like Petunia Pig
What if the paint color is wrong?
Time to repaint
What if they order the wrong floor?
Happened twice
What if they charge me twice?
What if I get high cholesterol?
Topped out at 591
What if the bus breaks down?
At least 5 times in 25 years of teaching
What if the students throw up on bus?
Try chain reaction throw up, my favorite
What if I get lost at the Park?
Too many times to mention
What if the dog chokes on a bone?
$3000 vet bill
What if my bike gets stolen?
Happened three times
What if my car gets stolen?
Happened while we were on our honeymoon?
What if I my mom needs to live with us?
You Gotta Laugh

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thank God for AAA

Even though the cost of this service has gone up considerably over the years, I find I have always gotten my money’s worth. When we first left our hometown to venture into unknown territory and the blizzard weather conditions of Cleveland AAA saved us many times with towing and battery charge ups. When you live without family near to help you out, these kinds of services are a must.

When we would travel we would call ahead for trip tickets and the books and maps of places we would visit. I remember the long lines around the holiday times to get the directions and tips for our getaways. The most amazing thing to me was the little eye dropper they would use on the maps to erase the magic marker if they made a mistake. As a teacher, I wondered many times just what was in that little dropper. I could have used it over the years. ( it is not nail polish remover, tried that) I digress.

Today, after a month of no car, I was excited because I had planned a special outing with my mom. I was going to bring her to attend an all Latin Mass complete with communion kneelers and tall gold candles. I went out in the driveway and alas, my car would not turn over. I thought maybe it was gas but after putting in a few gallons (Floridians always have this on hand) no luck.

AAA came to my rescue. My battery was dead. This makes sense to me after my car sat in the dealership for one month with the engine removed. We didn’t make the Latin Mass, maybe we can make it to the Vietnamese?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mom, It’s Just a Dog

When we were a young married couple we had a cat before we had children. He was the king. I adored him but after a year I found out I was pregnant and when the baby came… our beloved “Shokey” was somehow transformed into “just the cat”.

We continued to have cats throughout the next 30 years of marriage and though I loved them all, they were just cats. But about seven years ago, our last cat died and because of Fred’s asthma we did not replace the cat this time. We decided to get a dog.

I found my little Shih Tzu’s mug shot on the Internet. He looked sad and forlorn and was just an hour’s drive south. We hopped in the car and the rest is history. We named him Cappy after my deceased father in law. Cappy much to the chagrin of my two daughters, is not just a dog. He is one of the few things that make me happy in Florida. When I come home after a stressful day of work, he is there greeting me with his unconditional love.

At night he cuddles with me and rests his head on my chest. When I am upset or sick he senses it somehow and makes me feel better. He has a great personality and I have never once minded walking him, staying up with him when he is sick, or even the money and added expense of vet bills. I just love him.

He travels well and I like to have him with me when I drive north alone. He has several carriers, one is purse like, but the one that I like and just irk the girls is my front carrier. Someone recently gave me a stroller but I know I better not go there.

I am sure there is some psychological transference explanation. I miss my children and my grandbabies so Cappy fills the void when I am alone here in Florida. He just had a birthday, I hate thinking he will get old and I will lose him. I try to visualize me with my grey hair, a cane and Cappy in his front carrier, blind and like my daughter Annie says with a “Popeye” look. He is not just a dog, he is my baby.