Saturday, April 30, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
I gotta say, it was pretty exciting.
It was during a bar mitzvah and the rabbi was talking about prayer. His point was that often when we pray we tend to babble on incessantly, asking for this, questioning that, generally being impatient and filling up the airwaves with a lot of the personal pronoun “I.” The rabbi suggested that right then and there, we all basically shut up (my words, not his) and instead just listen.
Now, it takes quite a bit of effort to shut down the beehive that is Betty’s brain, even for a few minutes, but because everyone else was doing it and I am easily coerced by peer pressure, I went along, bowed my head and waited.
Within seconds the message came through clearly. It was as though I had a Holy Bluetooth in my ear. I heard these words, “I Made You Strong.” I immediately looked at HOB. Perhaps this pointed arrow of four words had been aimed for him, but had hit his borrowed yarmulke, bouncing into my ear instead.
His face and the expressions of those around revealed to me that, apparently, I had been the only one receiving this mystical equivalent of the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Prize.
I tried very hard not to make a scene and bowed my head again, briefly considering that perhaps when this higher power said “I made you strong” it was referring to my personality, which, let’s face it, can act like a gallon-sized tea bag in a very small tea cup with extremely hot water.
A second, more disturbing thought came to me. Perhaps the message had been “I made you strange.”
I asked for clarification and the message came again. “I Made You Strong.”
Whew…that was close.
There in the synagogue, I sat, just a little giddy and marveling at the message given to me. It was almost enough to make this Methodist girl consider the jump to Judaism.
It’s been years since that experience, and yet the message still comes to me when I need it.
Without going into too much detail, let’s just say I am trying out some metaphorical new muscles in my job and there has been some subsequent metaphorical bruising. I’ve been challenged to go places and take on roles I haven’t taken on before. I’ve discovered I can handle it, even though the path has been rough. Yesterday as I made a difficult but necessary decision, I remembered the message.
Last week, my neighbor, friend, and book club buddy suffered from an aneurism and hovered in a coma before she passed away two days ago. I would have liked to have crumpled and withdrawn from the world for a few days, but I remembered the message and went in to teach instead, honoring her bright spirit as I did.
I see people around me face far greater challenges than the ones I face, and am in awe of how they carry on with such dignity and grace. In the weight room of life, I know I am lifting relatively light loads compared to the burdens some must take on.
Will I be able to handle the heavy loads that will, inevitably, come to me?
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The diet of the owl is not
For delicate digestions.
He goes out on a limb to hoot
And just because he winks like men
Who utter sage advice,
We think him full of wisdom when
He's only full of mice.
--X. J. Kennedy
Monday, April 25, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Betty loves words. They tend to dance around in my head all day, and, as a sign of respect I attempt to spell them correctly whenever I can.
However, are certain words, though, that have refused to willing join Betty’s spelling posse and come into the corral peacefully. These are the words I have to stop and think about nearly every time I spell them. Them rascally rebels are words like “vacuum,” “personnel,” “definitely” and “restaurants.”
On the computer we have that suave and oh-so-seductive spell-check at our beck and call.
Spell-check has many correlations with a partner in a romantic relationship. It means well, and most of the time it is helpful but it can also be annoying as heck. (And I hate that it is right most of the time. However, sometimes I KNOW I am right and it still wants to have its say. Sometimes it just wants to change me and that ain’t right.)
(I threw that “ain’t” in there just to irritate it. It worked! It’s seeing red!)
As in most relationships, I want to avoid conflict, so I do my best to spell correctly the first time around. Sometimes, however, I just get lazy and let spell-check pick up after me.
Because of the way my brain works, I have developed various methods to help me with troublesome words and the words that a lot of my students have trouble with. For instance:
Separate has A RAT in the middle of it.
The Principal at the high school is a PAL. (As opposed to the other kind of principle.)
When I think of the word “vacuum,” I think of a married couple standing with the cleaning tool between them and pointing fingers. “You (U) do it.” “No, you (U) do it.”
I used to work at a place where I had two complete nut-jobs for bosses. I mean they were REALLY crazy nutty, so I remember that “Personnel” has two n’s (nuts) in honor of them.
I envision a bull reading his horoscope, strolling through Denny’s when I need to remember how to spell resTAURant.
See how Betty’s Brain works? Fascinating, aint’t it? (Got it again!)
I am still working on “definitely” and really have no idea why it gives me such fits. I always want to spell it with an –ately on the end.
As a teacher, here is what I tell my students: “Of course, use spell-check, but remember, it’s not always right. After you print it out, go back over it and check your work."
Here is what they hear: “Blah. Blah, Blah. Old Teacher Talk. Blah.”
As a result I often get papers, still warm from the printer with these kinds of sentences:
“For breakfast I had a delicious toasted beagle with cream cheese.”
“Human clowning is a serious issue in our society. Science and technology have advanced to the point that a woman can now have a clown of her own.”
“Then, after a few drinks, you can go sin on the pier.”
And here’s my favorite, from an essay written by a girl describing when she first met her boyfriend:
“As he walked by, I could smell his fragrant colon.”
Tell me, Betty Fans, what words give you fits when it comes to spelling? (You dun't evan hav two speell theem currectly en urr responce!)
*Extra Bonus Points for those who caught the Hamlet reference in the title of the post! You are my kind of nerds.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
(Yes, it's a long post. It was a Five-Act play.)
There is something incredibly earnest and honorable about Community Theater.
I like the fact that community theater gives local people a chance to act. The young high school student, aspiring to become an actor dedicates himself to becoming Hamlet while his friends are busy on the soccer field The teacher during the week plays the harlot in red lipstick on the weekend. The older gentleman finds his niche playing Father Christmas.
There is also something honest and homespun about the atmosphere of the humble theater, often found in a small building in an airport or the like. Sure, maybe the seats are worn and frayed, but they are comfortable and cozy. The ticket taker may be the same person who sells snacks and restocks the toilet paper in the bathroom. And yes, maybe the acting is sometimes a little over-the-top and slightly confusing. Maybe the actor that was just killed as the king comes back, filling in as a miscellaneous soldier in the next act, but all of this is evened out by the sincerity of the endeavor. Someone’s grandma crochets the helmets. Someone’s husband builds the sets. No one is out to make a lot of money. No one expects to become a star, and most of the time, the people coming to see the play are generous with their applause and patience.
The theater had decent number of people in the audience and we settled down in our assigned seats. Now, we are both teachers who deal with 18 and 19 year olds on a daily basis, so we were cool with the inane banter of the two young ladies behind us before the play started. However, soon after the action began, it was clear they had not read the little notation “tragedy” in the program and decided that some action in the play was very, very funny.
Soon it was intermission. We stood in the back of the theater, stretching our legs and discussing how we would like to reenacted the strangling scene with the girls taking the place of Duncan when I saw the one who was directly behind my seat take off her shoes and extend her sweaty feet over the back of my seat.
As though my eyes were two laser pointers, my vision zoomed in on these feet. Each toenail was painted a dark blue and each toe seemed to be an independent creature—each writhing its way toward the overhead lights—worms of various lengths awakening after a long winter.
After about two minutes of granting the worms free reign, the girl then took the opportunity to use the back of the seat, my seat, as a scratching post for her giant, boney feet. Back and forth across where my head would soon rest, she rubbed her grubby five-toed hooves.
I turned to my friend and said, “I don’t think I can ever sit in that seat again. I really don’t.” My friend agreed. She is even more sensitive to things like this than I am. I’m like a lumberjack willing to eat mold for lunch compared to her.
We moved up one row and the girls were more subdued during acts four and five. Apparently their giant packs of Red Vines and Raisinettes were sedating them somewhat.
Though we had only moved up one row, apparently we had crossed over some invisible, elusive and fine line delineating obnoxiousness and fanaticism. I looked at the back of the man’s head in front of me and realized he had been the same man I had seen earlier and had assumed was one of the actors in the play, based on the fact that he was wearing a long, vest that bespoke (very loudly, I might add) the Elizabethan period.
Just as I was finished staring at the back of his very grey, bushy head, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the man to the left of me. He was totally engrossed in the action of the play and had the glassy-eyes of a badger on amphetamines. He was sucking down a Coke and chomping on popcorn occasionally, his eyes never leaving the action on the stage.
It was clear he knew the play very well and so, anticipating each and every movement on stage was ready to react about five seconds before everyone else. I watched the action on the stage, but also found myself glancing over at him for the pre-action reaction. It was some sort of weird reverse delayed reaction situation. As McDuff’s family is threatened on stage, I wondered if they would be killed. I quickly looked over and saw his advanced reaction and knew they were, indeed, goners. A human Cliff’s Notes to my right AND a free pre-reaction to my left? I was so prepared for anything Shakespeare tried to throw at me!
For now though, I’ll just be content to gather the office wing gang around me and act out my extensive hunt for the string cheese, or the apple that was hiding in the door of the refrigerator. My eyes will grow wide as I describe the mustard bottle that I captured and squeezed hard over my sandwich. “Out, Out, of the Damn Spout!” I shall cry…to thunderous applause.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
The sparrows tritter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.
Yet the back-yards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree--
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Saturday, April 9, 2011
An essential building block of Betty’s fascinating personality was her early reading habits. Let’s face it: reading when the brain is young and pliable allows for the building of the essential support towers for bridges that make the life of the mind an interesting journey for the rest of your life.
There was one book around our house that my four sisters and I loved. It was a thick book titled Story and Verse for Children edited by Miriam Blanton Huber, published in 1940. My mom had used in her early teaching career. It was a book geared toward teachers, but was chock full of all sorts of stories, poems, and excerpts from longer works, all meant to entice children to learn to love to read.
This book had a special place on one of the bookshelves in the dining room. In the wintertime, in order to save heat, we shut off all the rooms but that room and the kitchen. There we sat while the long Kansas winter did its thing. Cramped quarters? Oh yes. However, as long as I could reach for this book with its poems and stories, I had the space and the transportation to another realm that I desperately needed. I read poem after poem, fable after fable, and excerpts from books like Tom Sawyer and Swiss Family Robinson.
Because I was a voracious reader and because I was going straight through the book, I read not only the verses and stories, but also the background information on the different types of literature. In one section, there is a discussion of Puritan-influenced writings for children and describes a lovely woodcut that was included in a primer for children that shows the martyrism of John Rogers, a minister of London who was burned at the stake in 1554. I remember my eyes growing wide when I read: In the picture his wife and ten children look on at his execution. There follow six pages of rhymed advice left by Rogers to his which, of which the following is an example:
My lovely niece inherited the book. She is a mom, a reader, a writer, and a lover of all things literary, so it is fitting that the book has a place in her house. Last summer, my four sisters and I visited her house and saw the book there. Just the sight of the cover sent us all swimming in a warm pool of memories. We started quoting from our favorite poems and stories. One of my sisters started to recite the poem “Mice” which was one my mom loved and recited to us quite often. It starts:
We all got stuck at that point and one of my sisters picked up the book to find the poem. Another one said, “It’s on page 94.” We looked at her in amazement. We flipped open the book and there the poem was on page 94. It had to have been at least 40 years since she had looked at the book and yet she had remembered the page number.
When I got home from that trip, I got on Amazon and E-Bay and tracked down five copies of the book. It had been reprinted many times, but I wanted ones that had the same covers as the one we had grown up with. I found them and had them sent to my sisters and one to myself. Mine had the added bonus of notations of a teacher who had used the book in her classes. I love looking at her notes in that familiar teacher writing we all remember from childhood.
Betty gets all misty-eyed when talking about books she knows and loves. This one is no exception. Fellow readers, drop the name of a book that influenced you as a child in your comment and join me my little moment of reminiscing. It will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside and it will make Betty very happy and I think that’s what we all want. Isn’t it?
Your Faithful Servant,
Friday, April 8, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I like it.
I come by my talent honestly. My grandparents had a day bed before day beds were cool. Come to think of it, it was actually just a twin-sized bed that was about three feet from their double bed. They called it a day bed because when one felt the need to take a nap during the day (which was often) that’s where one would collapse but only until about 4:00pm.
That’s when the large easy chairs in the living room essentially became the day beds--or, I guess, early evening beds.
The good thing about coming from a sleeping/napping family is the understanding within that family of the essential nature of the nap. When we have family reunions, there is the unspoken agreement of the need for gaps of time between events. When someone stands up and says, “I’m going to take a nap,” there are no cries of protest. There are nods of understanding along with looks of admiration and a weird sense of excited shared expectancy.
I love to travel with my sister because she and I have the same time clocks and we look forward to bedtime in the same way. There is sense of anticipation that sets in around 6:00pm as we begin Bedtime Countdown.
We talk about bedtime the way other people talk about the circus coming to town. “Can you believe we have to wait so long?” “It’s going to be great!” “I can’t wait!” “Is it time yet?” We eagerly await the sacred hour and at 9:00 we settle into our hotel beds and shut off the lights.
Families who share the same sleeping habits are happy families.. The trouble comes when non-sleepers infiltrate the family unit. These invaders can come in the form of spouses and/or c-h-i-l-d-r-e-n. These rouge individuals start trouble when they actually suggest/begin activities that begin after 9:00pm.
My children learned early on that if Mummy doesn’t get her sleep, it is not pretty.
HOB (Husband of Betty) is not a sleeper. He is a wild man who stays up until the wee hours of the morning. He gets by on four or five hours of sleep a night. This came in handy during the child-rearing years except that his idea of supervision was life-support only.
Somehow we got by. Now, I go to bed at my time, assigned by nature and ordained by God and HOB stays up to do his thing.
Come to think of it, what does he do after I go to bed?
I don’t ask. He doesn’t tell.
And, best of all, he doesn’t wake me up when he comes to bed.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
So much I've forgotten
the close insects
the shoot—the drip—
the spray of the sprinkler
the heat of the Sun
the flush of your face
the high noon
the high grass
the patio ice cubes
the buzz of them—
the weeds—the dear
like alien life forms—
all Dr. Suessy and odd—
here we go again¬—
we are turning around
again—this will all
happen over again—
and again—it will—