Sunday, January 23, 2011

To-do lists

(Picture courtesy of Charles Schultz's imagination and artistry)

Another weekend has flown by and my to-do list has nothing on it that I can check off as completed.  The weekends always starts out well enough - a tentative list of things I will accomplish in roughly 48 hours time that will make me feel that I have used my time wisely.  I don't know how things get away from me, but here is an example of what lurks above my head... there is a room in my house that I began painting at Thanksgiving time (it's not unfinished because it is so big... I just changed my mind about how I wanted it all to end up and lost focus), there are stacks of books all over my living room floor that need to be gone through and those books I no longer want discarded, dishes are sitting in the kitchen sink with old food particles petrifying on plates, bowls, forks, the monthly bills are waiting until that bitter end for me to pay them (not necessarily due to lack of funds but lack of ambition/motivation), my dog is in desperate need of a bath/brush and a mountain of paperwork that should have been done yesterday leans precariously on the edge of an ottoman.  And now it is Sunday evening and nothing of any substance got done. Well, that's not altogether true.  I did manage to start reading 3 or 4 books that have been on my list for quite a while, the mail-delivery-deterring iceberg that had parked on the front steps of my house after a recent, if brief , "warm up" has been tamed with ice-melt and removed, Marx Brothers movies in need of another viewing got viewed and visits to various family members, in person or by phone, occurred.  It seemed like a full and productive weekend until I looked around and saw all the things I didn't do.  Ah well.  Next weekend this weekend's tasks will be a little further down the list and a bit more likely to get accomplished.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I love you, Mrs. Green!

Sitting in the molded plastic chair in the new classroom at the start of a new academic year in a new school, the alarmingly skinny girl leaned forward in anticipation. Her delicate shoulders squared, her hands clasped together on top of the desk, her serious brown eyes surveyed the room. None of the other kids had talked to her yet.  The bell announcing the start of Frankie's third grade year pealed through the school - jarring. 
There were about twenty children in the class and some were obviously well acquainted with each other.  Frankie heard some of the girls giggling and sharing stories about summer camps and family vacations.  Some of the boys were goofing off and doing gross things that boys do - belching, picking at body parts (their own) and saying words they thought were "dirty" but really weren't.  The big round clock on the wall with the audibly moving hands clicked to 8:04 a.m.  The kids all started looking around the room, craning their necks to see the door.  Where was the teacher? It became unnaturally quiet for a room full of 8 and 9 year olds.
Then, with a whoosh and a squeaking of rubber-soled shoes on the floor, in walked a lovely woman with hair the color of straw, a light blue skirt and a blouse with so many flowers in the design it looked as if some of them might end up on the floor.  Her arms were full of boxes and she looked like her slender frame would break under the load.  She made her way carefully down a row of seats and plopped her burden on the floor next to the teacher's desk.  "Good morning!  I'm Mrs. Green and I'm the new third grade teacher." she said with a smile that would have lit up the entire room were a sudden and total solar eclipse to have occurred. 
Frankie and the other children just stared at her.  The previous third grade teacher, by all accounts, had been a sourpuss and all the kids, when they managed to think about school at all over the summer, had had varying degrees of anxiety about what third grade was going to be like. This smiling, pretty woman in front of the class left Frankie with the feeling you get when you think the M&M bag is empty and then suddenly realize there is still candy left inside.
Third grade was a swirl of joy, anxiety and revelation for Frankie.  Mrs. Green was a voracious reader and introduced the class to many new worlds compliments of E.B. White, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Madeline L'Engle, etc... When she wasn't reading to the class, she was encouraging them to explore the various characters brought to the world by these incredibly ingenious creators or to generate their own.  Mrs. Green acted as though each of the kids in her class was someone very special and the whole class seemed to meet her expectation - with a couple of exceptions.  She was funny, sweet, challenging, thoughtful and a fierce proponent of all the kids in her charge avoiding dullard status.  Frankie would sit in class and marvel at the energy and enthusiasm her teacher exhibited.  Even in the midst of flurries of idiocy among her pupils, she would forge ahead with her lesson plan and a disarming grin and get the class moving in the right direction.  Field trips, library visits, spelling bees and reading competitions peppered the year and inspired the children in her class to strive for and accomplish more than was expected. 
At the end of the year, Frankie's head was overfull of imaginings and possibilities.  She supposed that her peers were having  similar experiences.  Maybe not.  That was the year that she got up one morning a few days before school started and rode her bike through the quiet neighborhood before most of the neighbors or even her family were awake feeling  for all the world like Douglas Spaulding commanding the world to wake up/come alive in the opening chapter of Dandelion Wine. She had imagined that the new school year was going to be something special. And it was even more than that.

(For many years I've wanted to express my immense gratitude to Mrs. Green for making such a positive difference in my life.  I'm not sure that I have adequately expressed my appreciation, but it's a start.   I love you, Mrs. Green! Wherever you are, thanks!)


Thank you, Bill Watterson!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where's my dog?

This past Friday evening I was sitting in the living room enjoying the warmth of a new furnace and the good company of a friend when there was a knock at the door. Two rosy-cheeked young boys - maybe 12 or 13 years old - snowsuits on, shovels in hands offered to shovel my walk for $5 for each of them.  It had been snowing all day and, while I had gotten out earlier to sweep off the first few inches that fell, another several were now on the ground with no sign of the snow stopping.  My wonderful neighbors almost always include me on their snow blowing route and as I was trying to come up with an answer for the boys, I saw my neighbor making his way down the sidewalk behind his handy snow removal machine.  The boys looked crestfallen and said they were trying to earn money so they could go tubing tomorrow.  In spite of money not growing on trees (yet), I quickly realized that it would be helpful to have the walk to my garage and the alley-access driveway cleared off.  The smiles on their faces alone were probably worth the 10 bucks.  They made quick work of it and even shoveled off my front steps (which the neighbor's snow blower doesn't reach).  I paid them, thanked them and woke up Saturday morning to over 2 feet of new snow blanketing my walks and everything else in sight.  My sister called me to ask how I felt about my $10 investment from last evening and after thinking again of the smiling faces and the possibility of legendary tubing experiences for those kids, I responded that I felt pretty good about it. 
With that feeling, I peeled myself out of bed to let my dog out for her morning toilet.  I opened the door to the backyard, saw that the snow was even with the top step and then saw my dog disappear.... It was kind of shocking - one second she was leaning out the back door to see what all this white was about and the next second - POOF - no dog.  Then I saw her nose poke out from the snow and then a hearty "ARROOOO!?" as she voiced her question of what the heck was going on....   Her nose would appear in different spots close to the back door and she would let out another howl. It was probably funnier for me than it was for her. I ran to put on some jeans and get my boots on so that I could dig her out before I lost her 'til spring.  I had to do a fair bit of digging to clear a space for her and to just make some paths to be able to get out of the  house if I needed to.  She wandered up and down the walkway between the house and the garage trying to see over the walls of snow on either side.  Her normal routine is to exit the house, run to the very back of the lot and then start patrolling the yard and commenting loudly to any other audible dogs in the neighborhood.  She looked very caged in and didn't appear to be enjoying it.  She did make a courageous dive into one of the walls of snow only to pop out again a moment later drowned in snow and shaking her head in seeming confusion. Shoveling the yard or even part of it to accommodate my dog did leave me wondering a little bit at the wisdom of having a dog, but she seemed to appreciate it.  We got back in the house both covered with snow which continued to fall through most of the morning.  No dummy, she immediately walked to the heat vent in the living room, curled up in front of it and went to sleep.
Snowbound, I have spent the weekend being ridiculously lazy (with the exception of shoveling), watching movies and being very grateful for a home, good neighbors and a silly dog that makes me laugh a lot.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I got it at

This holiday season has been alternately so sweet and full of wonder and agonizing and full of ague.  Christmas was great - I hosted dinner for some of my very favorite people and had one of the best Christmases in recent memory.  What followed was a week of some kind flu that caused me to think I must not have been being the best person throughout the last year and was having to pay some sort of penance. I contacted my guests just to make sure I hadn't inadvertently poisoned the lot of them.  Nope. Just me. All systems were compromised and as I was lying on the bathroom floor watching a spider create an intricate web between the back of the toilet and the wall and sweating profusely while shivering my goosebumps off, for some reason I started thinking of all the things I've been able to get at  It might have been the fever...
I don't remember exactly when I became such an Amazon acolyte - perhaps it was when I finally found the elusive "Little Book of Cheer" sitting in the Amazon marketplace just waiting for me to purchase it and recreate the joy of receiving it from my mom and little sisters when I was about 8 years old. Not sure why I felt the need to buy it as I could recite the poem by heart and just had to scrunch my eyes a little bit to see all the cute pictures of puppies wiggling and little boys playing toe-tapping tunes.  I discovered that almost anything you could think of or need can be found at Amazon and shipped via Free Super Saver Shipping to your door with alarming rapidity.  Books, music, clothing, food, auto parts, textbooks, printer cartridges, furniture, gifts, vanishing creme (that didn't do what I thought it was going to do), etc...
In the midst of a midlife crisis/excruciating heartbreak this summer, in an effort to get some of my own back, I outfitted my three-season porch with patio furniture purchased from Amazon after squinting at pictures on their website and sending links to my sister with notes like "this looks nice, doesn't it" and "does this look like me?".  When it arrived, it didn't resemble the pics - everything was heavily wrapped in plastic and all flat.  Should have paid attention to the "some assembly required" part of the description. Not to be cowed by this I quickly located the directions for assembly - a page of inscrutable drawings with various arrows - no words.  I threw caution to the wind and relied on my memory of what tables, chairs and benches are supposed to look like.  Within 5 hours, following several heated discussions with a set of Allen wrenches and impossibly small screwdrivers, the entire ensemble was situated on the porch creating a cozy niche from which to nurse my wounded pride.  Over the summer I entertained quite a few people on that back porch. The furniture has held up fine so far. 
I seem to be on the mend. A good thing since my vacation is almost over and I need to return to work ready to greet families with a smile and preferably no communicable diseases. I'm off to search for ways to boost my immune system.