The “B” Word

Today after one of my classes, a student approached me to ask when I was going to make a new seating chart because the boys in her group talk too much.  After dropping this tidbit that I was already aware of, she lowered her voice and said, “And they call you the b-word.”  If she was shocked by their behavior, she was equally shocked by my response, which boiled down to, “Hm. Really?”.  Her eyes widened, “I would cry if someone called me the b-word.  I’m a cry-baby.  Aren’t you upset?”

Six years ago I would have been upset, or if it came from a great student whose opinion I particularly valued, I would have been upset.  Except it’s never those students who call their teacher a bitch; it’s the student like the one today. It’s the one who does the bare minimum and that minimum could be classified as crappy.  It’s the one who tries to text in class and gets mad when he gets caught.It’s the one who tries to sleep, cop attitude, and toe the line.  The fact that he calls his teacher a bitch is rather par for the course (I’m not trying to stereotype students, but the ones who have called me a bitch or said “Fuck you” to me were consistent problems in all of their classes).

One thing that teaching has taught me is that when students do this, it’s not about me.  If I were a mean, unaccommodating teacher that strived to make students feel bad, then I would deserve the title, but I don’t.  It’s about them, and the fact that on some level they’re not getting what they want.  One kid called me a bitch after I helped him on a LATE project (I bent my rules so he could turn it in to pass the class), and he basically wanted me to do it for him.  He was upset when I wouldn’t.  Another told me “Fuck you” on the same day I threw celebration for the class for doing well on the high school exit exam.  What offensive thing did I say?  “Remember, your homework tonight is read pages….”  In both those cases I took disciplinary action.  In this case, I only have student hearsay.  Instead, as I create my new seating chart, I will put the ring-leader right in front of me.  He’s not going to like it very much, and there’s a chance I won’t like it very much either.

However, he and other students like him are the ones I need to work with on building a connection, and I can’t do that if he’s in the back with his back toward me.  Right now he’s fairly isolated in the room and far away, and it’s only because of my concerned student that I know the full extent of his behaviors.  If he’s in front of me, I can see everything he’s doing.  I can ask him more questions or engage him in conversation– he’s a Steeler’s fan and football season is starting soon; he will be a good resource as I pick my fantasy team.  He is currently building a wall against me, and since I have him for the rest of the term, it’s my responsibility to try and break it down.  It’s often the students who rebel who need us the most, and I’ve seen “bad” students turn good, or at least tolerable.  It’s possible. On the flip side, if he calls me a bitch again, he’s right where I can hear him.

Teachers: What strategies do you use with students who are defiant or have poor attitudes?

When Creativity Speaks

A recent episode of PBS’s History Detectives featured a woman who wanted to know about the man who drew a picture of her father Bill when he was in a Nazi POW camp during WWII.  She wondered who he was, if he survived, and if he went on to become an artist.  What emerged was an interesting glimpse into wartime suffering, community, and humanity.  Many of the American soldiers held in this camp, located in Austria, had been shot down over France and Germany and were cut off from everyone they knew and all ties back home.  As one can imagine, life was tough there, and it was only through the Geneva Conventions and assistance of the Red Cross, that these soldiers received the little they did.  There were over two hundred men to a barrack, and these were reminiscent of the barracks used in concentrations camps: close quarters, no privacy and wooden pallets for sleeping.  The food was chopped rutabaga, gruel, and bread made mostly of sawdust.  The survivors of the camp recalled how easy it was to forget who they were there.

To combat the forgetting, the men turned to creativity and to each other.  Most were strangers, but they created a community for survival.  They wrote poems and stories.  They put on a Christmas review full of carols, an reenactment of The Christmas Carol, and skits.  They put on other performances, and, of course, they drew.  Bill had traded cigarettes for two onions and a potato with a Russian POW when he met “Gil” Rhoden.  Rhoden offered to draw his picture in exchange for the food.  Bill thought, “I can eat these, but still be hungry.  Or I can give them to him and have something to show for it.”  The result was an excellent pencil sketch of Bill looking healthy, clean, and handsome– an image of the way he was before entering the camp.  Bill looked at the picture throughout his captivity as a reminder to who he was and could be again.

Rhoden, it turns out, survived the camp, too, and went on to become very successful.  He passed away in a plane crash in 1989, but the history detective was able to locate his son and show him the picture.  The son was overcome with emotion as he looked at the sketch. “It’s like shaking my father’s hand again,” he said.  He and Bill had the chance to meet and share stories about Rhoden and life since the camps.

This story of two men and survival is simply beyond words.  Rhoden drew for sustenance and his drawing gave Bill hope.  Bill’s sharing of his picture with Rhoden’s son, allowed the son to reconnect to his father.  This episode serves as a reminder how we never know the impact that we have on others.  Our smallest or most routine actions can mean so much to someone else.  It also shows that even though we can be in the most dire of situations and cruelest of fates, we can seek solace and strength in our humanity.  The men turned to things that were personal and could be shared or created a shared experience.  They sought that which was good.

This story coincided with some thoughts that have been swirling around in my brain of late– the community of bloggers.  Granted, bloggers are not POWs in a Nazi prison camp.  But we do seek connections to others and give each other hope.  We come from all walks of life as there are many blogs about teaching, books, writing, reading, music, motherhood, parenting, poetry, photography, art, mental illness, food, travel, gay rights, community issues, saving historical landmarks, and the list goes on.  Some commonalities that bloggers share is that they are all intelligent and highly educated; all have something to share.  Even though we are all different, we are all doing the best we can.  Together we share our stories and work and offer support and encouragement and new ideas.  By reading about other’s lives and thoughts, we gain wider empathy and insight into other perspectives, even if we do not agree.  In this time when so many things are uncertain, this is a nice community to be a part of.

Please Read This Post Before You “Like” It

I have a blogging bone to pick.  Recently I have had a rash of other bloggers liking my posts without reading them.  It’s pretty easy to spot them– I hit “publish” and within minutes I have 3 views and 5 likes– two did not read what I actually wrote, but hit the “Like” button on the reader page.  There are only three reasons bloggers do this:

1. They want to increase their readership through their “likes”.  It is common courtesy to check out someone’s blog after they “like” it and hopefully find something in their blog that is funny, inspiring, provoking, or strange to “like” back.  However, when it’s just rampant liking without reading– that’s just blatant attention-getting self-promotion.

2. Same as #1, but they have their ebook to sell.  More self-promotion.

3. They have no life and sit in front of the computer scanning the reader page and liking everything.

Why am I so annoyed?  I mean, really, having a bunch of likes on your post is impressive to other bloggers to see when they stop by.  It’s also really nice to get a “like”.  I am annoyed because it is empty, meaningless praise given for the sake of self-promotion.  I am annoyed because I spend a lot of time writing, as I’m sure you do, too, and someone is passing judgement on my work without even knowing, or taking the time to consider, what I wrote.   I am annoyed because when I go check out the “liker’s” blog, it is selling something.  I am annoyed because it is inauthentic and degrades the sense of community and sharing among bloggers.  I prefer an honest empty like space at the bottom of my post over a space full of “empty likes”.  If you like it, “like” it, but only then.

Whew!  I had to get that off my chest.  Those of you who honestly like my work, I know who you are and your support keeps me writing.  Thank you.

On the homefront: I had a good first day of school today.  My students seem nice, if a bit squirrely.  I think I am going to have a good term.


Can You Hear Me Now?

I’m a special needs teacher– not that I teach kids with special needs– I, myself, have special needs.  I’m hard of hearing with little hearing in my left ear and about 65% in my right.  I wear a hearing aid in my right ear, and most of the time everything sounds like it’s coming from that side.  It makes life interesting. Especially when I spend the majority of my day with teenagers.  Who. Can. Be. Oblivious.

My first group of students didn’t get it.  I told them about my hearing and what I needed them to do, and it literally fell on deaf ears.  Kids mumbled.  They spoke without raising their hands, so I didn’t know who spoke.  They got frustrated with me.  One kid refused to repeat himself, and when I told him that I was interested in what he had to say, he responded, “I don’t like to say things twice” (hint, then don’t go into the teaching profession).  If I asked for things to be repeated they rolled their eyes snidely retorting, “never mind.”  My level of frustration was through the roof.  After another “never mind”, I let loose.

“Look guys, I can’t hear.” I pulled out my hearing-aid. “See, I’m not kidding.  I can’t hear.  It’s not my choice to not hear you.  I’m not joking.  This isn’t fun.  I need your help.  I’ve told you I need your help. What do you do?  You roll your eyes.  Refuse to repeat yourself.  Cover your mouths so I can’t see what you’re saying.  Mumble.  Say “never mind”.  Look I need your help.  I takes a lot of energy to hear what you are saying.  What if I treated you the way you treat me? What if you asked me for help and I rolled my eyes at you?  If I knew exactly what you needed, but refused to give it to you because I didn’t feel like it?  Have I ever done that to you?  NO.  I’m sorry that I can’t hear.  I’m sorry that you have to deal with it, but I have to deal with all of the time.  The least you could do is help me.”

I stopped when one of my students began to cry.  Life got better after that.  It wasn’t perfect, but my louder students repeated what the soft-spoken ones said. Students pointed to the student who spoke, so I had a frame of reference.  When I asked, “who said that?”, the speaker happily raised his or her hand.  There were still some challenges in other classes.  I caught one kid making fun of my hearing and I skewered him: “Do you think you’re the first person who’s ever made fun of me?  You’re not.  The others who have made fun of me?  I don’t even think about them.  They mean nothing to me.  Do you want to be in that group?”  I joke about my hearing with my students so I can laugh at myself, but one student took the joking too far and wouldn’t stop until I asked him if he wanted a referral that said he was making fun of the hard-of-hearing teacher.  He got the picture.   I’m not this harsh or direct in every instance. I know the kids who will respond to it, and then there are others who I ask to stay after class to discuss their behavior.

After my first term I needed a way to get my kids to understand what I needed from them.  Just telling them the first day didn’t work.  They didn’t pay attention. I needed a more formal means of communication and decided on writing them a letter to give them on the first day of school.  In it I wrote about my life, my hobbies, my education, and my hearing. I clearly laid out how much hearing I have, what I do to hear them, and what I need them to do for me.  On the first day of class we read the letter together.  They all absorb the information, and I think seeing it in print makes it more real to them.  Afterwards they can ask questions if they want to.  Then I ask them to write me a letter all about themselves and their challenges.  Their letters are candid and many of them share their struggles and what they need help with.  It is their moment to tell me about their quirks.

The letter hasn’t been a fool-proof solution– nothing in high school ever is, but it’s helped a lot.  When a student doesn’t help me, the others are quick to admonish him or her.  They have even said, “Dude, remember the letter?”.  There are other benefits from reading their letters: I learn all kinds of stuff about them. They share some of the most amazing experiences to the most trivial of details (“I like purple shoes!”).  Some tell me who they have problems with in class, so I know not to seat them together.  The best part is knowing what their interests are, so when I explain things in class I can compare the concept to their interest.  I often will talk to them about their interests as they come into class. Letters help build those teacher-student connections that are so vital for classroom success. After reading each letter I write a couple of comments, so the students know I read it, and then hand them back.

On my desk is a new letter to be read with the class on Monday, and I await to see what my student’s responses bring.

Readers: What do you do to help build connections with others?  Or Teachers: What effective strategies do you have to build connections with students?  What classroom challenges have you had to overcome?

Two Nuts At The Nut Tree: A Tale Of A Teacher And Her Mentor

Sometimes life answers the questions to your problems, and sometimes it’s a more helpful answer than, “Suck-ah!”.  Sometimes the answer comes just at the right time, and sometimes the answer becomes a good friend.  Take for example, July 2007.  I was sitting at our district office’s New Teacher Orientation.  There were cute beach buckets on the tables full of candy, and little toy shovels rested next to them among the colorful post-it notes and high-lighters. It’s designed to make teachers feel welcome, but it really scared the shit out of me.  Around me sat other new teachers who actually had high school teaching experience whether it be as a sub, student teaching, or other capacities.  I, on the other hand, had been selling furniture up to two weeks prior to this meeting.  My teaching experience was limited to college, and that was a while ago and a different beast all together. Frankly, I knew nothing about the public school system.  I was so nervous that I couldn’t keep food down and lost five pounds (and I didn’t really have five pounds to lose).  The beach buckets made me feel like I was in the ocean and in need of a life preserver.

My life preserver happened to be the next presenter: Lynda from the Peer Assistance Resource (PAR).  Her very presence jolted me from my panicked stupor: she looked, sounded, and had the same mannerisms and name as my favorite professor in grad school.  It took me awhile to realize that she was not the same person.  She spoke about her program’s goal to assist new teachers during their first year, and I hurriedly wrote down all of the needed information. Afterwards I called, scheduled a meeting, and for the first time felt a ray of hope.

Lynda helped me survive my first year.  Like all new teachers, I faced many challenges from curriculum planning, classroom management, difficult students, and just finding a place within the school.  Lynda guided me through all of these rough patches with practical advice and a pragmatic approach.  She shares her own challenges as a teacher and let me know that I was not alone.  She also never stops learning, supports all of my ideas, and shows me how those ideas could be tweaked to get more from my students.  It also helped that we shared many of the same interests, and our meetings would ultimately lead to lively discussions about our lives.  Later on when I had to go through the BTSA training, she was my BTSA leader, and I can honestly say that I and my peers who also had her as a leader felt very lucky to have her.  She allowed us to investigate different aspects of teaching in a meaningful way.

So it’s July 2012.  Next Monday I will begin my sixth year of teaching.  Lynda and I met today at The Nut Tree Plaza in Vacaville– a good halfway point between our homes.  We did not meet as teacher/mentor, but as friends. We discussed our lives and travels, but as it often happens among teachers, we talked shop. I shared my ideas, and she explained how I could take them to next to level and jokingly instructed me to write a post about the Nut Tree.  I laughed.  The Nut Tree is just a shopping area with an Old Navy, Home Goods Store, Panera, and other stores that are often found in those types of places.  We walked around the plaza and then went off the beaten path.  There we saw a massive jackrabbit, and  later on we saw this:

I didn’t expect to find this behind a shopping plaza. This just stirs my imagination.

Once I saw this covered-bridge I knew I would do my “homework” and write a post about our afternoon.  Having Lynda as a mentor and friend makes me feel so fortunate.  She makes me realize how important it is to share each other’s experiences and ideas because we can all help each other.  One of my goals for my career is to become a resource for new teachers and be able to provide them support for success just as Lynda did/does for me.

Lynda and I going for the wind-blown look.

Readers: Who was a mentor who had an impact on you?

What Does “It All” Mean, Anyway?

With the conflux of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in the July/August issue of The Atlantic and Marissa Mayer’s announcement of being named Yahoo’s new CEO and her pregnancy on the same day, women are agog about whether or not they can have “it all”.  But what does that mean?  What does “it all” imply?  And is a woman less of a woman if she don’t want “it all”?

When Mayer left her previous job at Google, she was worth $300 million dollars, and her salary at Yahoo won’t be pithy either.  She is married to a supportive man who is an entrepreneur, so he probably does okay in the cash department,too.  Now they are going to complete the picture and have a baby, but everyone seems up in arms– will this 37 year old be able to have it all?  Will she be able to handle the problems of motherhood and Yahoo– especially with her plans to work through her maternity leave?  There are many who wonder how she will accomplish this feat.  They seem to think that it’s just going to be Mayer and her son alone in their big house looking at a lap top together– the light from the screen casting an eerie glow over their faces.  Mayer is the CEO, and most likely has a cotillion of staffers who will be near her ready to do her bidding, or at least hold the baby.  Yes, she faces great challenges, but she’s not going to do it alone; her world is not the world of the regular working woman.  When she returns to work as CEO, I doubt she will have to bow to other people’s schedules very often, mostly they will revolve around hers.  As CEO, she can also shape the culture of motherhood at work through her attitude toward working mothers and any changes she implements for their benefits (for example, at my work many of my colleagues have recently had children and they would really like a comfortable and private place to pump).  On the home front, she can probably hire a nanny or two, give her husband the freedom to be a stay-at-home dad, and have plenty of help.  She can afford the best private schools and already has her son’s college tuition, not to mention the health care benefits for a CEO are probably pretty good.  She and her family are well set, and fit the realm of having “it all”.

Slaughter quit her high profile job in the State Department working under Hillary Clinton to spend more time with her devoted husband and two sons, but she is still a professor at Princeton who still writes articles, teaches a full course load, gives speeches, appears on TV, and is working on a book.  Yet, because State Department job didn’t work out with the needs of her family, she can’t have “it all”.   But really, what more does she need?  While she is not incredibly wealthy as Mayer, she can still provide her family with a very nice life and still work in a field that is rewarding.

As much as I appreciate Slaughter wiping away the facade of having “it all”, because it’s really hard to get in this imperfect world that only provides 24 hours a day to do it all in, I think it would be beneficial for women to redefine “it all”. Slaughter wrote her article for highly educated women on the fast track to the top, so their definition includes a loving husband, kids, and a high-powered job. Considering that there is a finite number of those jobs, and a lot of women, not every women is going to pursue that career path.  Most women are like me: they have a job they enjoy but do not wield lots of power nor bring in anything close to Mayer’s salary.  For those of us in this bracket, the expectation is still the same. Women my age should have strong, committed relationships with their husbands that include great sex, adorable children who are signed up for a myriad of after school activities, a good job that they excel at, and still have the energy to look like their “best self” and throw spectacular birthdays parties complete with Elmo and gourmet cupcakes (made from scratch).  Women aren’t expected to be women, they’re expected to be a multi-tasking super-hero.  But what we’re really left with is a bunch of tired mommies.

This model of having it all leaves out many women.  My sister-in-law opted to not get married or have kids, and she lives on her own and travels.  Whose to say that she doesn’t have “it all”?  She has the life she wants.  There are stay-at-home moms who chose their children over their careers.  Then there are women like me who are married with no kids.  Women like me know that they would throw Elmo into the neighbor’s pool and hand the other kids the goody bags  and push them out a half an hour the party started out of sheer boredom. Not to mention, many women are unable to have kids.  Are sippy-cups part of having it all?   Slaughter points out the divide between women her age who fought to shatter the glass ceiling versus the newer generation of women today who are reluctant to fill their shoes.  In order to have a high-powered job– or mostly any job– there are sacrifices that need to be made.  Such jobs demand polygamy of both male and female employees– they have to be married to their work and married to their spouse.  It seems like most women are glad those types of jobs are there for the getting, but they also see the challenges they would face if they pursued them.

Women are still in the fight for equality in the workplace and on the pay scale; they are also still fighting for their reproductive rights.  The battles are far from over.  But I don’t think the goal of the Feminist Movement was to mandate that women marry, have kids, and work all at the same time.  The Movement was started to give women a voice and a choice– the choice to break away from the domestic role of wife and mother, to create new identities for themselves.  One result is the choice to have “it all”, but more importantly, it gave women the choice to have the life they want.  It all boils down the the ability to make one’s choices in life.

I Am Not What I Seem, And Most Likely, You Aren’t Either

He called out to me amongst all of the cars, “Are you looking for something new?”.  I shook my head, “No, just waiting for my car to serviced.”  He ambled toward me asking me about the make and model of my car and complimenting my choice.  He was in his mid-sixties with blond thinning hair, a stocky build, and sported a mustache and goatee; he could have easily passed as a construction worker had he been wearing a hard hat.  I shared with him that I purchased the Sonata because it was an attractive gas-efficient car.  He made a face, “Not like the Prius!”.  He stuck his finger down his throat and gagged.  I shared my disdain of the Prius, mostly because their owners drive the speed limit in the left-hand lane.  “See that Genesis Coupe over there?” he pointed to a sporty two-door model, “That’s what I have.  I don’t have to worry about who sits in the backseat, because it’s just me.”  He looked directly at me and cocked an eyebrow.  It became apparent that if he couldn’t close a deal on a car, he would try to close the deal on me.

“So you’re a teacher,” he continued.  I looked at him questioningly; I hadn’t mentioned anything about my job. “Jonathan (my service tech) told me that you’re a teacher.  What grade do you teach?”  He obviously did his research. When I told him that I taught juniors and seniors, he mocked falling over.  In the span of a few minutes he divulged that he had been a straight-A student in high school even though he ditched most of it to surf.  He’s from Southern California, has two sons (who turned out to be my age, but I don’t think he realized that), and has been a hard-worker all of his life.  His eyes brightened when he found out that I teach English and History, “I really enjoy History.  As a matter of fact, I’ve been doing a lot of research.  And I’ve learned that much of history is incorrect and misrepresented.”  I raised my eyebrows. When anyone mentions with authority history, research, incorrect and misrepresented, it’s usually not going to be good.  It is often the Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly versions of history. Normally when someone says they like history, they mention a specific book they enjoyed or clearly state what they’re researching.  I was afraid he would reveal his true colors, and I could tell it would not be pretty.

He continued, “For example, the way African-Americans present history– it’s incorrect.”  I paused.  Exactly what were they saying that was incorrect?  Slavery? Jim Crow?  Emmitt Till?  Birmingham?  So I countered and obliquely replied, “Well, white people have a done a pretty good job at presenting history how they see fit.”  He nodded, seeing that I wasn’t going to take the bait.  “Have you read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States?” I asked.  If someone wants to know how history has been misrepresented, Zinn is a good place to start. But he’d never heard of it, so I recommended it heartily.  Not understanding the meaning of my book reference, he leaned in conspiratorially, “I have a joke.  I normally don’t tell people this, but I’m going to share it with you.”  He proceeded to tell me a joke that disparaged Blacks, Hispanics, and the Vietnamese in one fell swoop.  I tried to think of a tactful way to explain that he just insulted my entire student body (if you replace Vietnamese with Asians)– most of whom work really hard to seek a better life for themselves.  He reminded me, “You know, we’re the minority now,” and continued on by discussing our country’s descent into socialism and entitlement. “Kids today are all about entitlement.  Everyone owes them something.  Even my kids expect everything to be handed to them!”.  I saw my moment, “Don’t you think it’s because their parents teach them to be entitled?  They learn entitlement somewhere.”  Fortunately, my finished car saved us from further discussion, and I could escape his vitriol.

While it was humorous to watch him strut his stuff, I think he realized from my unenthusiastic responses to his beliefs that he would not be taking me for a ride in his coupe any time soon (glancing at my left hand could have saved him the effort).  The overall situation of his politics and his racism made me uncomfortable: what do I do in that situation?  My gut tells me that I should tell him that his joke is offensive and that he should read some real history rather than the fringe stuff he’s reading.  Logic tells me that whatever I say, he will most likely disagree with, so I shouldn’t say anything.  In this case I straddled the divide by questioning what he said without stating what I really think.  I didn’t think it was worth getting into a political debate with a stranger at a car lot.  Recently, when I visited my uncle, he shared a racist joke about our president.  He followed it with, “I hope you didn’t find that offensive.”  If a joke has to be prefaced or followed by the word “offensive”, it’s guaranteed to be offensive.  I clearly stated my beliefs and then we talked about other things.  No harm, no foul.

But the salesman didn’t only just make assumptions and stereotypes about other races, he did the same to me.  The dealership is located in a very conservative area, I’m white, blonde, and blue-eyed, look wholesome, and I teach history (which I guess means that I’m conservative?), the very fact of my being there lead to his assumption.  According to him, we’re both part of the “dying breed” that’s outnumbered by people with a darker complexion, and therefore we must be in the same boat.  He just automatically assumed my political stance and that I would agree with his view of history.  That’s a lot to ascribe to someone.  It reminds me of the time when an acquaintance of mine upon learning my husband was in a band asked eagerly, “Does he play in a Christian band?”  She didn’t quite know how to respond when I replied, “No. He’s in a punk band.”  I often feel like the opposite of the “gangster” kid that people scoff at and avoid, when in reality the kid is super nice, smart, articulate, and will help with you bring in the groceries.  In my case, I look like a goody-two shoes.  When people learn that I teach, a common response is, “Do you teach elementary school?”.   Oftentimes people are taken aback by my opinions, mouth of a sailor, and sarcasm.  It doesn’t jive with my outward appearance.  I often catch myself making assumptions about others, but try to remind myself what I really know about that person versus what I see or how things appear.  Sometimes my belief about how things should be are so entrenched that I don’t catch my assumptions until after the fact. But it is important for me to remember that we all carry assumptions– those we are and are not aware of– and they shape our interactions with others.

Readers: What assumptions do others commonly make about you?  How do you handle them?

On Giving In And Not Giving Up

This morning at approxiamitely 1:14, something unusual happened, something that was not thought possible:  I finished a book.  This sounds innocent and routine enough, I know.  But a closer look at the circumstances will reveal a deep shift– a sea change if you will– in my habits.  The book?  The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  The medium?  My Kindle app on my iPad.

Walls’s memoir of her childhood was released during a time when everyone and his brother published the “my childhood was really messed up” story.  I had read a couple and was tired of the navel-gazing pity parties, sardonic wit, and bitterness.  They had worn out their welcome on my bookshelves. When Walls’s book came out with critical acclaim, I didn’t care;  all I heard was “troubled youth with crazy parents”.  It didn’t help that my co-worker at the time, who thought J.D. Salinger only wrote one book, tried to persuade me to read it.  Her memoir was doomed.

It remained that way until one of my book clubs decided to read her other book, Half-Broke Horses.  The honesty with which she wrote that “true-life” novel persuaded me to read The Glass Castle. Of all of the “crappy childhood” memoirs I’ve read,  her work is the best.  She pieces together vignettes that unsparingly shows what it was like to be a child of Rex and Rose Mary Walls, two larger than life people who loved the idea of LIFE.  In their pursuit of life, they were by many standards, awful parents.  Neither could hold down a job for long, not for a  lack of skill, but for a disdain of authority and “punching the clock”.  They and their four kids lived in dire poverty and moved shiftlessly from town to town.  Jeannette and her brother had to sift through garbage cans at school for food.  When they did have money, it went to Rex’s drinking problem or Rose Mary’s art supplies.

What Walls does really well, and the reason why I enjoyed her story so much, is show how her parents gave her an interesting perspective on life and she comes to terms with who her parents are.  While she has every reason to hold a grudge against them, she doesn’t.  Because of and in spite of them, she learned to not give up on herself and her dreams to become the person she is today.   She also chronicles her changing view of her father; she believed he could do anything when she was young, but as she gained a better understanding of her life versus the lives of others, she struggled with the fact that his dreams were just that, dreams.  After she escapes her parents’ house, she struggles with revealing to others who she is and where she came from.  This is a memoir of true understanding and development.

The Glass Castle is also the first book I read on my iPad.  I have been ferociously anti-Kindle, but the first thing Steve did to my iPad was download the Kindle app and Pride and Prejudice.  Before I left for Europe, he implored me to please, download a book.  To make him be quiet, I did. After catching me reading the book from my iPad, he asked in wonder, “Are you going to read the whole thing?”.  I sighed, “If I plan on finishing it, yes.”

My verdict?  I still like books and my post-it notes.  I still love book smell and the freedom to look at the cover and reviews.  I like watching the progression of my bookmark, and I can read during the take-off and landing on at plane.   The benefit of my iPad is that I can read in bed at night without the light on, and Steve will not be disturbed.  In three weeks when school starts, this will be a moot point as I will be the one going to sleep earlier.  The percentage bar at the bottom of the screen in a cool feature, but a bookmark can do the same thing.  All in all, if I need to use it, I have it.

If You Want Something Done, Give It To A Busy Person

This busy person, at the moment, is not me.  Summer vacation has me firmly in its grip, and I’ve become the most slothful of sloths.  Yesterday I mustered up the little energy I had to clean the bathroom and pay the credit card bill.  On a typical day, all bets are off after my morning walk.  My husband suggested that Sex and the City might be on Netflix; this way I wouldn’t have to even get up to put the DVDs in, I could control everything from the couch.  Four o’clock in the afternoon seems like a good time to take a shower.  I have a book to finish for book club.  I stare at it a lot.  It stares back. I’ve even let more than 24 hours pass before posting a new post.

Like other stuff in my life that is meaningful and put on the back burner, there are a few blogging awards that have gone unacknowledged.  I’d like to take this time to recognize those awards and the kind bloggers who have given them to me. I am always honored when other bloggers think that my blog is worth recognition; there are many excellent blogs out there (many I wish I had thought of), and I know they don’t have to choose mine.

The  One Lovely Blog Award comes from Good Old Girl, who always fills her blog with compassion and humor.

This award requires sharing 7 facts about yourself and nominating 15 co-bloggers. Since I have been fortunate enough to have received 3 awards, I will nominate 5 each. All of the bloggers I nominate bring something different to the table and all are interesting, thoughtful, and teach us something new.

My 7 facts:

1.  The sight in my left eye is pretty bad, but the sight in my right is almost perfect.

2.  The hearing in my left ear is pretty bad (10%), but I have 65% hearing in my right.

3.  I have mild scoliosis.  Which direction does my spine veer?  Yes, to the right.

4.  This causes my right shoulder muscle (my trapezius?) to be bunched up and over-developed.  It is clearly noticeable and makes tops fit strangely.  I could see this bulge in my shadow, and this prompted my husband to call me his “little hunchback”.  He’s lucky I didn’t make him a hunchback, if you get my drift.

5.  I am right-handed.

6.  When I get a cold, my right nostril gets plugged up (this is ridiculous, I know).

7.  When I run into poles, which side of my face hits it?  The left.  I’m too busy listening to the person on my right (hence, reading their lips) to notice it’s there.  So, please, if you and I happen to be walking and talking, alert me about the pole.

My 5 nominees:



Books, Tea & Me


Gen Y Girl

Iamrahulashok nominated me for the Thanks For Writing award.  He is constantly looking at life in new and different perspectives.

Criteria for the nomination of this award:

1) Nominate 6 to 7 (or you pick the no.) bloggers, who influenced or inspired you.

2)Pay the love forward: Provide your nominee’s link in your post and comment on their blog to let them know they have been included and invited to participate.

3. Pay the love back with gratitude and a link to the blogger(s) who nominated you.

My nominees:


Nomadic Noesis


Blurb My Enthusiasm


Lastly, truthlets & thought bits nominated me for the Illuminating blogger award. Her blog is positive and inspiring, and she delves into what it means to be human.

Share 1 Random Thing: I think I may know all of the lines to When Harry Met Sally, Bull Durham, Mermaids and Dirty Dancing.  Sally Albright, Annie Savoy, Rachel and Charlotte Flax, and Frances “Baby” Houseman were characters I looked up to growing up. I ended up most like Sally.

Nominate 5 Bloggers:

In My Opinion…

Summer Solstice Musings

Shut Up Dad

Jilanne Hoffmann

Robin Coyle

Again, thank you Good Old Girl, Iamrahulashok, and Truthletsandthoughtbits for the nominations!  They mean a lot to me and encourage me to keep writing.

Lunch With Gramps

The elevator doors opened to reveal a large room with art deco decor, linens and silver, servers smartly dressed in white shirts and black suits.  The maitre’d warmly greeted my gramps, “Good afternoon, Mr. Lundeberg.  What can we do for you today?”  Gramps’s arm linked through mine as he replied in his gravelly voice, “My lady and I would like the best seats in the house.”  The maitre’d nodded, shot a glance my way and probably wondered the same thing I did, “lady” was a misnomer.

Unlike my impeccably dressed Gramps who wore a suit everyday of his life, I stood there as a 17-year old wearing American flag boxer shorts, a Miss Michigan t-shirt, and old Keds with no socks.  Mascara maybe graced my lashes and my hair had air-dried.  Since Gramps always looked like he was going to a business meeting and had often taken me to lunch at places like D.B. Sweeney’s, a casual place that served 244 different types of sandwiches (and where his “usual” was a hot dog and vanilla milkshake), it was really hard to discern that he planned to take me to the upscale Signature Room, where we now stood on the 95th floor of Chicago’s Hancock building.

My mortification did not end there as I looked out the windows to see nothing but sky.  I clutched Gramps and tried to not to hug the furnishings or run back into the elevator to return to the safety of the first floor.  The maitre’d told us our table was ready and led us to a table perched by the window; an interrupted view of the skyline and lakeshore greeted us.  I shifted my chair away from the window while Gramps commented on the beauty of the view.  Sharing my opinion was not an option.

With Gramps everything was an experience.  He never settled for the mundane and expected everything to be done well.  This is why when he took me to the Museum of Science and Industry when I was twelve and tried out the driving simulator, he taught me to not over-correct my steering.  Or during the week I spent with him at the family cottage at Clear Lake in Indiana when I was 10 (and he was 80 and there was no TV!), he showed me the proper way to swim by cupping my hands and breathing properly.  Afterwards, we sat on the dock and he made funny designs with my hair and asked, “Is this a hair-do or a hair-don’t?”. His catch-phrase for the two of us was “You’re unique and I’m antique.”  He took me to Greek restaurants where I ate Garbage salad and made me eat duck at a Chinese restaurant.  In the evenings he spoke to me about how to treat business clients and what my goals should be in school.

So it was no shock when at lunch that day he suggested that I have the shrimp salad in the avocado cup; to him it looked interesting and like something I couldn’t get just anywhere.  Little did he know that I loathe avocados.  I decided to keep it a secret, too, for if I told him how much I hated them, my lunch fate would be sealed.  There was no way I was going to look like a slob on the 95th floor and eat avocado.  Making a noncommittal nod, I scanned the menu quickly for something else that I could “sell” to him as interesting, and found the smoked chicken fettuccine.   “I’ve never had smoked chicken before,” I stated smiling brightly, “and what a different way to eat fettuccine!”  It worked.  I was spared the avocado.

I didn’t know then, and it’s hard to know these things, that that would be my last lunch with him.  The next time I saw him, he was debilitated by illness and was not sure who anyone was.  He remembered me and sang me “St. Louis Blues” and recited lines from Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat.  But that day at lunch, with him in his suit standing proudly and stating, “My lady and I would like the best seat in the house” is how I like to remember him.