Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Julien Lavigne and I met for coffee last week. I drank regular; he had decaf. It was a clear sunny day, and we sat on his back porch as he toured me through his sketchbook.

In many ways 9 year old Julien is like any other 4th grader. He plays soccer on Saturday mornings and kicks the ball around the house long after his mother requests that he stop. He's fascinated by lizards, frogs, and bugs, and hopes to be voted in as student council president so that he can pass a motion for in-classroom lunches on Fridays.

In many other ways, Julien is extraordinarily unique. He is fluent in French and English, keeps his room neater than mine, and aspires to be an architect. He tends an herb garden and has created a website that reflects his passion for the environment. He can also spend hours on end drawing…and doing it well.

Julien's mom started saving her son’s artwork when he was three. They were living in Paris back then, visiting all the museums, and freely absorbing the artfulness of the city. She showed me a scan of Julien’s “Giraffe.” I couldn’t really see the spotted animal per se, but I did notice a thoughtful sense of artistic control and color that some people don’t ever attain.

These days, Julien totes around a not-so-little black book, and he’s been filling it up with sketches he’s done since August.

Julien draws from his imagination and also from pictures.

He has a knack for portraiture and also for cartoons. He tells me that it takes about 30 minutes or so to draw a face, like Young Abe Lincoln’s. About Albert Einstein, Julien says, “The hair was the most fun part and that went pretty quickly.”

I am not the only adult, besides mom, to recognize his ability. He was awarded a scholarship to art camp at Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale’s Creative Summer Art Academy. Initially, after completing a four hour challenge, he earned a two week scholarship. Then it was extended, and then extended some more. Julien spent the entire summer there on a full scholarship, and exhibited more work, than any other camper, in the final show.

I planned on staying just an hour, but I stayed for two. Beyond the art, Julien revealed his plan for a car that can recycle gasoline, and demonstrated a pulley system he had rigged in the garage enabling him to open the door from many feet away. He pulled out a piece “300 year old petrified wood that I found at the root level of his garden,” and he granted me access to detailed spying maps he uses to startle his mother. And then after all that, he beat me in Foosball.

I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Business That's Sticking

Entrepreneurship is a turn on. It combines all good things -- creativity, ambition, skill, and yes...MONEY. When this business sense is discovered in a particularly young person, it is fascinating and of course ridiculously cute.

I have my eye on entrepreneur Benjamin Posner. Ben, an eleven year old sixth grader, was given a duct tape wallet as a present. He thought it was so cool that he made it his business to find out how it was constructed. He went no farther than You Tube, and Ben is a fast learner.

He bought a stash of tape at Walgreens and replenishes rolls as needed. His well-edited collections of tape includes zebra, a dreamy tie dye, red, turquoise, and of course classic black and white. He manufactures by hand at the dining room table. Jeremie, his nine year old bro, can apprentice as needed.

If Ben works uninterrupted, he can make a billfold in under an hour. There are 4 basic styles in his line and prices range from $1-$4. One dollar gets you a solid coin purse and $4 gets a 3 color, 4 pocket billfold. Shipping is extra.

I found that the $3 three-pocket style suited my needs. Slim enough to fit into a pants pocket and sleek enough to tuck into an evening clutch, Ben's duct tape wallets are as sporty as they are chic. And speaking of sports, once Ben gets his hands on some more neon orange tape, he'll be cranking out wallets in that killa Miami Dolphins color combo in no time.

Like any responsible entrepreneur, Ben is tracking his expenses and earnings. He keeps records on a computerized spreadsheet and also in a pink composition book. To date he has spent $43 on duct tape. He has filled many orders and has 12 waiting. Ben's first goal is to net $50.

He is intent on reaching that goal by the end of the year. On a recent phone interview Ben confided that lots of people frame their goals in yearly units, so it seems like a good idea. Ben has a five year plan which includes a car. And if his business takes off, he'd like to start banking some funds for college too.

Da buck don't stop there! "I'm a big guy on helping," Ben adds, disclosing the charitable component to his plan. "I have a soft spot for oceans, animals, the sky -- earth charities." Ben has always shown great compassion where it is needed. On his recent launch, the places he is aiming for, and on who he has always been,his mom puts it simply. "Beyond proud!"

Interested shoppers can inquire through me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Me Time

I've been on a vacation from parenting for two weeks and one day. I refuse to round it down to two weeks, because every day has counted momentously. My vacation lasts another 2 hours.

I am beyond grateful for this time. I have been exceedingly joyous through this time. I love my kids but I also love myself and know what I need. First and foremost, I want to thank the people who orchestrated this vacation. You know who you are. Thank you. Thank you.

I wanted it and needed it. Anyone who is in a day in and day out relationship needs alone time. It was nice to get back to the source of Me free of guilt, worry, and boundaries of time and appropriateness. I was free to discover my own rhythms (i do like getting up early!) and what I want for dinner.

I balanced the time between ventures outside the house and work inside the house. I spent a relaxing day thrifting along Dixie Highway, befriending antique dealers in MiMo, a section of Miami I had never visited. I went to Ikea and did some political volunteering. I took up walking (and talking) with a friend. I visited a friend who recently lost her mom. I went to an afternoon showing of "The Kids are All Right." I enjoyed a leisurely dinner with friends and did not have to answer the "When are you coming home?" phone call.

I spent relatively little money, saving bucks on those daily romps through supermarkets, Wal-Marts, and Targets. Apparently when my kids are around there's never anything good to eat. I discovered that I could exist of some simple food basics such as arugula, cheese, wine, ice cream).

I thought i would write and write and get really poetic and search deep inside during this solitary time, but I was wrong. A started a new writing gig which kept my mind engrossed. I also decided that I needed to organize all the tear sheets that I've ripped from inspiring magazines into binders. That was a huge project as piles of images covered the floor waiting to be sorted. I made some crafts.I sifted through a giant bin of shells and marveled at each one's individual design and then I took photos. I baked biscotti. I watched whatever TV I wanted without consideration. I've seen "The Invention of Lying" about 8 times. It's very funny.

For two thirds of my vacation the front end of my living room looked like I was moving in or out. It was congested with boxes and paintings lined up against the wall. I was serious about cleaning and clearing out. I rented the Rug Doctor and steam-cleaned the carpets. I was grossed out, yet wildly satisfied at all the dirt that came up. I washed every sheet, mattress pad, bath mat and towel. I took the silverware out of the cutlery tray and washed it. I rearranged cabinets and threw out fancy gifted vinegars that were still sealed.

I asked my sister why I was so insistent on cleaning my surroundings just so. So matter of fact she said, "Jane, it's like taking a big shit!" Getting rid of all this stuff, getting order back was a physical and emotional cleanse. I've been bragging to friends about the hundreds of pounds i must have thrown out in paper alone.

On Sunday I finally put the girls' rooms back in order. I made the beds and fluffed their pillows nicely. The amazing thing is that each time I walk down the hallway and check on their rooms, everything is just as I left it. Time spent cleaning feels well-spent because it lasts. Cleaning for one is really, really rewarding and lasts pretty long.

Alas...time marches on and in another hour and a half I turn back into the driving, doting, rushing, yelling, negotiating, shopping mom that I left behind on July 26th. I know how good it will feel to hug my kids and to bury my nose in their thick hair. Sam will crawl into bed with me tonight and ask for the night after and the night after. Dylan will roll her beautiful brown eyes at me any chance she gets. And we will be a mostly happy reunited family.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Clinical Conspiracy

“The Today Show,” just like all the news, sometimes offers TMI as I sit and sip my morning joe. However now and again, I can find topics to sink my teeth into that I consider relevant and blogworthy.

During the 8 o’clock hour I listened in on a discussion that gave me impetus to finish writing a blog that I had started more than two weeks ago. Spurred by a WSJ article Matt Lauer led a discussion about the pronounced increase in dodging the doctor. Joined by medical expert Dr. Nancy Snyderman and finance editor Jean Chatsky, this group confirmed that making fewer routine doctor visits or being more discerning in general was tied to unemployment, loss of health care benefits, and health care plans with high deductibles.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman said people are making their own healthcare choices. For example, elective surgeries are being put off. Manageable health problems, however, are dismissed until they snowball into a more serious and therefore more expensive problem. She urged viewers to not skimp on child immunizations, dental hygienist visits, and blood pressure and cholesterol screening. Jean Chatsky said that health fairs can be a great place to sign up for some free basic screenings.

And this hot topic brought me back to the clinical conspiracy which I discovered about two weeks ago while sauntering through the personal care aisles at Target. Maybe I was late to the wave, but I was struck by the abundance of over the counter formulas that are labeled “clinical.” Toothpaste, deodorant, and face serums took on a stronger prescribed health care twist rather than being simply cosmetically unique, arousingly aromatic, or just plain new. When wetness starts to look like wellness, I am interested.

So not only are people being more discerning about what ailments are appropriate to bring to a doctor’s attention, they are self-medicating with products that are touted as one step below prescription strength. Someone who has an excessive perspiration problem can now go out and attempt to tame the sweat with a super strength clinical antiperspirant. He may spend precious time masking a more serious health lurker or stress related occurrence that can have more serious ramifications.

Is clinical really new or is it just the marketing of it that seems spanking? Haven’t clinical trials always been helpful in pumping out formulas for the general public. Aren’t over the counter products tested in labs and by doctors. I grew up, afterall, in the 4-out-of-5-dentists-surveyed generation.

And’s my ad pitch for clinical deodorant:
Played to the tune of Olivia Newton John’s breakaway 1981 hit "Physical," a Newton John look-alike appears in her work out wear, legwarmers, and headband singing “Let’s get clinical. I wanna get clinical.” In one version she is alone dancing with the energy of a Flashdancer, fade out, silence and then we just see the bottle with a simple tag line. In another version our deodorant mascot dances and sings her way through a series of Jack-and-Jill bathrooms dropping off the gift of clinical deodorant to unsuspecting people in need.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Noah's Ark Movie Theater

This evening I took my daughters and two of their friends to see "Eclipse" at the recently renovated Sunrise Cinemas in Deerfield. The last time I was there, the lobby had just been completed, and the beer and wine bar was officially open. This evening I was excited to see how the individual theaters had been updated. My daughter mentioned something about the cool love seats.

We walked in. She was right, it did look pretty swanky. Big boxy leatheresque armchairs were paired up in twos with a movable arm rest in between. Couples can easily raise the arm rest and get cozy. Non-couples can raise the arm rest and spread out if no one requested the other half. Three small people cat fit on the double seater, but someone inevitable gets the crack.

I like change. I like a new comfy theater too. But I don't like walking into a theater and all of a sudden being hyper-aware that I am the fifth wheel, the one without a buddy, the single girl.

I imagined, had the theater been full, that a lovey-dovey couple would walk in just as the movie was starting, and seek me out from the available light, and whisper, "Would you mind moving to one of those single seats over there?" I would mind out of principle, but knowing me, I would move if one of the two single chairs in the theater -- 3 rows up and to the side -- was available.

I get the concept of the renovation, like when an airline goes upscale, gets a slick new brand identity, and then offers more leg room. But If I had been in charge of the renovation, I would have provided alternative seating. According to the Miami Herald, "80,000 people in Florida divorce every year." I would have, therefore, mixed doubles in with singles, perhaps positioning the love seats around the periphery and filling the center of the theater with rows of singles. I have drawn this on a napkin.

OK. I'm off it now. I was caught a bit off guard, and was irked. But now I am inspired. I shall learn a lesson from the glass. The next time I go to that movie theater solo, I'm going to delight in all that space, and look at the love seat not as half empty, but as half full.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Passion in the Pages

I went to the Deerfield Thrift Shop in search of a particular book. I was there two weeks prior and delved through a box that had yet to be unpacked. In it, I found "Theater World."

It was a book that anybody might have donated, but it was intensely personalized. Pages were dogeared. Newspaper clippings were folded between the pages causing the binding to bulge. Even though I love a Broadway show, but I do not live for the theater, so i let it go. But not before I took some pictures.

The book wasn't there today. I looked carefully. In its place, I found four other winners: "Gene Rhodes:Cowboy", a Children's Weekly Reader from 1954, "All About Dogs" written in 1962, and a BH&G "Sewing Book" from 1972 -- and then "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*...but were afraid to ask", as explained by Dr. David Reuben, M.D. in 1969.

I thought about buying it for a gift. Really! I am serious. I have a dear friend who is a therapist and might love to add that to her bookshelf. Then I shrugged the idea off. But then I entertained it again. I am all too familiar with the "should I/shouldn't I" buy dance.

I opened the book again. All of a sudden, rather than being just any old copy of a classic, it had a story. First, tucked in between pages 208 and 209, I discovered a 1970 Bradley University Homecoming brochure addressed to 1969 alumnus Michael Glick of Chicago. Then, I found a torn corner of a 1970 New York Magazine. What sealed the deal, however, was the B'nai Brith bookmark holding place on a particular page which I shall call (ahem) "Page 69."

Some dots are easier to connect than others. Michael Glick and B'nai Brith didn't seem to fit snugly together. I had to come up with a story that would make sense, even if it was a little far-fetched. And so here's what I came up with:

Michael Glick married his high school sweetheart, Charlene Rosenfeld, shortly after graduation. They had attended separate universities, and though still committed, had been realistic, and agreed that they could casually explore other relationships. They vowed to let the other know if anything got too serious.

Michael and Charlene both fooled around sampling the collegiate buffet, but they always came back to one another. Every winter holiday they found themselves wrapped in each others' arms making future plans. Though Michael had a few fits of jealousy and Charlene occasionally turned green with envy, those emotions did not sour the big picture. Their love was strong.

They married in October 1969. It was a beautiful fall wedding. They did not take a honeymoon because Michael had enrolled in accounting school, and could not afford, in money nor time, to travel. They delayed the immediate celebration and said that their first anniversary would simply be a bigger one. Charlene was actually relieved to stay home in Chicago. Unbeknownst to the wedding guests, she was already two months pregnant and feeling rather sluggish.

On June 10, 1970, Baby Henry arrived. Charlene and Michael were unprepared for the upheaval that came with the glory of parenthood. Their former carefree lives were unrecognizable. Charlotte could barely find time to brush her teeth. She wasn't sleeping. She took on the bulk of babycare so that Michael would be rested for school. She was a supportive wife, and an extremely tired mother. She looked like hell. Her mother even told her so, gently warning her to clean up her act.

The Homecoming announcement arrived late August. Michael was excited to go and see the gang. Charlene would accompany him of course. He had asked his parents to come from Michigan, and stay with Henry for a few days.

Charlene had mixed emotions. On the one hand, she longed to go away with her husband so that they might be able to rekindle a little bit of the "them" that got lost under dirty diapers. On the other hand, she was nervous about how she looked -- thin, pale, unkempt. There was no way she could show up looking this way. There would surely be some of Michael's old girlfriends present, and she wanted...NO, she needed to pull herself together.

She was determined to become a member of the outside world again. So Charlene scrapped together some of her own money, hired a nanny two days a week, and started taking brisk walks along the lake. She was reading the newspaper again, so that she was up on current events and could form an opinion about them. She was a smart girl, afterall. She signed up to volunteer at B'nai Brith, and then went to Lord & Taylor and picked out some new clothes. She was down a size since Henry was born. For the first time in several months she gazed at her reflection and was not terribly disappointed. Then she cried.

Emotionally, Charlene was all over the map. Hormones, didn't matter. She was totally doubting her sexuality and whether or not Michael still found "the babymaker" attractive. She pulled herself together and knew what to do. She went to the bookstore, and without asking for help, finally found the book she wanted. She had read about it in Good Housekeeping. She plunked $6.95 down, and took home her very own copy of "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex..." -- the book that would guide her through her insecurities.

Charlene was determined to become a most adept and easy lover. She read the book voraciously, often re-reading certain pages. She hid it from Michael at first; she wanted to surprise him with her latest project. And that she did.

One evening, after Henry had fallen asleep, and after a day of pampering herself with a bubble bath and hour long nap, she slipped on a blazing pink Vanity Fair dressing gown, dabbed on some Tabu, and coated her lips in a Revlon shade to match. She greeted Michael at the door, told him to take a seat, and then shared her new wisdom with him. Later in bed that night, she told him about the book.

The Homecoming gathering, September 30 - October 3, made for a fantastic weekend. Charlene felt confident. She loved being paraded around. She knew that other women were looking her over. Michael was on the road to success, and she was his chosen roadie. He held onto her hand tightly. Apparently not tight enough. For in the course of an evening, Miss Penelope Ford managed to tuck her phone number into his palm.

In November, Michael Glick was in New York for a special accounting class. He called up Ms. Penelope Ford and took her to dinner. Before he left, he managed to swipe the copy of the book from the bedside table.

(to be continued...maybe)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gladys Busse Did Not Like Spice Cake

Gladys Busse did not like spice cake, or should I say "she did not like that spice cake." In fact, out of the more than 100 handwritten recipes collected in her cookbook, there was just one cake that did not bake up to par. Gladys, a woman who seemed well-organized in print, made a note of it, writing "rotten" over a series of bold ink strokes. Two other sponge cake recipes appeared in the pages that followed.

Pouring through Gladys' unassuming burgundy notepad, I found myself designing her life. I created it partially on what I actually read in the book, and then expanded upon that. I may be making up a bit of Gladys' story, but truth be told, I feel privileged to be holding a piece of her past.

Gladys was well-educated. She finished high school and went on to an all girls college for two years. Her penmanship is neat and her spelling is very good. I am certain that she enjoyed cooking, and took pride in it as this was a key opportunity to nurture her family and friends. She had great patience to write 45 pages front and back. She was also apt to punctuate -- "Candies!" -- with exclamation points.

Gladys was in her prime in the 20's. Just above the butter cookie recipe is written "Sept. 29, 1927." From my rather rapid googling, I discovered that in the 20's gas ovens were powered on and then simply got hotter. Gladys' baking directions specify timing but they do not specify a baking temperature. She uses "moderate" to describe the necessary heat. Other good old-fashioned signs of the times include her preference for lard, "4 good cups of flour," and "a pinch of salt."

Gladys wasn't all about the food though. She had in interest in skin care, and copied down Aunt Jen's Cream of Roses face cream recipe. Not only did Gladys use this every morning and every night, but she also spooned it into small tins at the holidays. One recipe yielded 3 quarts, so she could give to all the ladies in her cooking club, the ones with whom she swapped recipes.

As i flipped through the book I wondered about Gladys' dreams. Perhaps she was looking for financing to open up Gladys' Grill, a neighborhood eatery serving up authentic home cooking and tasty desserts. Perhaps Estee Lauder had got wind of the face cream. I wondered about Gladys' significant other and also about the small child who probably grabbed Gladys' notebook on more than one occasion and decided to scribble just a bit in it before being caught.

One of these days, I am going to try one of Gladys' recipes. I have already nixed the Salmon Wiggle dish. Sounds a bit too gelatinous. And I won't make anything that calls for lard. The Molasses Cake is a possibility because next to it in parenthesis Gladys had written "Never Fail." Why, then I wonder, hadn't she used "!"?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tales of A Substitute Teacher: BOY NOT

Last Thursday, I was certain that my virgin tour of the faculty lounge would be a high point of my day. I wasn’t expecting massaging recliners or a complimentary espresso bar. I was just planning on being inspired by a place about which I had always wondered and never had the offical right to use.

This virgin visit, however, was upstaged by an episode that happened a bit earlier in the classroom. Plain and simple -- I made a big mistake and dwelled on it the whole day long... and then some.

I thought that a girl was actually a boy and I referred to her as “He.” Some of the kids corrected me. “He? She!” they said, but in that moment it didn't register. I repeated “He.” They repeated, “He? She!”

Then I got it.

And in that split second I found clues that I had overlooked... or had never looked for in the first place. I spied a pink bag strap peering out from behind her stocky frame. I noticed breasts which could have easily been mistaken for a few extra pounds of flesh.

My body was heating up, filling with embarrassment. I looked at her and apologized, attempting to recover. I offered a few excuses. The girl seemed more resilient than me. She let me know that I was not the first to be mistaken. This was her way of forgiving me, and, though I was thankful for that, my carelessness weighed heavily for the rest of the day.

I learned that it is better to address an individual by name rather than by a pronoun. Actually, that is something my mother has reiterated through the years and I finally got it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mean Mommy

It is 9:40 pm. She is 9, and I have kindly or foolishly allowed her to watch the end of Ice Age...again.
"Sammi please brush up now."
(1 minute later)
"Sammi, brush up now!"
(3o secs later)
"Sam. Brush. NOW!!"
(she pretends to be stuck in the chair lolling her feet, tells me she can't get up)
"Sam UP! NOW!!!"
("I can't" she is laughing. Unfortunately for her...I am not.)

First she freezes.
I usually don't go this distance.
She is bawling in the chair and squirms her way out of it.
"Leave me alone," she says crying her way into the bathroom.
I am in the living room, crawling around, whisk brooming tiny relics from the day,then wetting a cloth and erasing the mass of black scuffs here and there. I am channeling my irritation toward sanitation. That usually works for me.

She stomps down the hall to her room, turns out the light and gets in bed. She returns, grabbing her iTouch which she uses for an alarm. I do not follow her. I know what's coming. If i wait a few minutes she will ask for me. If i go in there now, she will say "leave me alone", all the while meaning "come, i need you."

She asks for me. It is dark, but i can see her pained face.
"You hate me," she wails.
This is possibly one of the most difficult things to hear from one's child if she really means it. With Sam, sometimes yes, sometimes no.
"You don't like me. You yelled at me. You think I'm a pain."
I think she means it tonight.
But no matter how many times i tell her that I love her, she won't hear it or accept it until she is ready to let me back in.
"I love you, Sam, but I do not like the way you were acting. I understand why you would think that, but it simply isn't true. Even when I yell,I never stop loving you."

She has emotionally exhausted all the petals in her love daisy -- loves me, loves me not -- and has finally let me put my arms around her and stroke her hair. After a few moments, my eyes start to fill. She is so small and dependent on me.

I turn her toward me, "Sam, I've never stopped loving you for a minute." She looks right into me with those puppy dog deep dark eyes and we just hold each others' gaze for a few seconds before returning to snuggling. .. actually spooning. "Mom," she says, " don't go till I'm asleep."

I don't like it to get to this point. And it doesn't happen very often, but I have to say that making up with my daughter is better than any make up sex I've ever had. Yeah, OK. Maybe I just haven't ever had the end-all-be-all MUS.
Nevertheless, when we are lying there, and my arms are around her making her feel safe again, and I hear her breathing return to a calm rate... this is my personal heaven. I think I could lie like this forever, that there's this completeness that is so powerfully beautiful and also sad.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Silly Bandz -- The Cool and Collected

"I have 117!!" one kid flaunts, wagging her personalized plastic Silly Bandz case right in front of my face. "That's great," I say sounding enthused, then adding, still smiling, "but honestly, honey... I really don't care." I am straining to keep my voice of judgment neutral. I think of how a child in Haiti would be thrilled with just one or two.

We are casually invested. By that, I mean my daughter Sam has begged and bartered for them too, and gotten some. She is not, however, obsessed. I bought 2 or 3 packs for her, and she has spent her own money on a few. This past weekend her daddy bought her a "Sammi's Silly Bandz" box. If i was the present parent, I would have said, "Let's make one instead."

I do enjoy observing this trend. From a business perspective, I commend the inventor and marketers on creating an affordable amusing craze and topping it off with the suggestion that each juvenile collector needs a silly-specific receptacle for safekeeping. From a substitute teacher's vantage point, I understand why certain schools have "banned the band" during school hours. From a mother's perspective, I was impressed with how these stalwart bands retained their shape after countless cycles of washing and drying.

But what's gonna happen when the next tween craze comes along, and knocks the Silly Band from favor? I have a few ideas:

- Sling over wine stems next time my fave cowboy or dog trainer comes for happy hour

- Use them to communicate when my throat is sore. Here I'm saying that I'd love an apple."

- Make art. This fashio-political work is called "High Heel Hell."

- Start "Band Aid" fundraiser. Sell bands and give money to fave charity.
- Add to pile of regular rubber bands and use them similarly in my office, kitchen, etc.

(NOTE:If you have no contact with a person 12 and younger, you may not have heard of or seen Silly Bandz. Closely related to the classic rubber band, a Silly Band is a colorful shape-themed silicone stretchy band bracelet collected and worn by girls and boys.There are 47 pages worth of Bandz for sale on eBay.)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hello, My Name is Mrs. Dagmi and I'll Be Your Sub

It’s been driving me crazy – my inability to blog about my substitute teacher debut. I mean, I am rarely at a deficit for material. Every little thing usually inspires me. And taking on another part-time career was not just another little thing.

As the magazine world continues to readjust itself, I wanted to look outside my job zone. Substitute teaching made sense. It combined my genuine love of learning with the need to be creative and make a difference. With two kids in the Broward Public School system, I also wanted to get to know the system from the inside.

I was registered in Sub Central at noon last Tuesday. At 4 pm I confirmed a 3-day fifth grade assignment. I dove right into it which was unlike me, and I liked that.

So, here I am chomping at the bit with excitement over this new addition to my life. I want to write all about it, and yet… I’ve had a touch of blogstipation. Drats! Some of it’s no doubt from the sheer exhaustion of the job. I was not expecting to be totally wiped. But I think the blogstipation comes mostly from not being able to think about anything but teaching in the moment of teaching.

Usually when something occurs to me as “blogworthy” I have the luxury of turning thoughts over in my head, and maybe even jotting a few down. When I was in the classroom, however, I was on every minute and then anticipating the next. Downtime doesn’t exist. There are two half hour breaks. I filled mine with eating, peeing, brushing my teeth, checking email, checking in with the other 5th grade team teachers, organizing my desk, and writing notes for the real teacher.

I had a couple of tests to administer on Friday. Dylan said I’d be bored and that I should bring stuff to do. I packed a newspaper and a book and, of course, a journal. I never read the paper nor opened a book nor wrote a note. Instead I gave tests, walked around the classroom monitoring chatter and wandering eyes over and over again, and then graded tests.

On the first day of the new job, it was all so new. I was just amazed I got through the day without a hitch. I had 63 names to learn, 63 faces to remember, minutes to watch, equipment to work, and a slew of behavioral issues to quell. Day 2 was similar but I felt more comfortable and confident because we were already acquainted. On Day 3, I was referring to the class as “my kids.”

Sammi is excited that I am a sub. Teaching’s been at the top of her career list for a while. This weekend when I was making dinner and fantasizing about a nap, Sammi was in the living room playing school. “Rolling your eyes won’t get you anywhere!” she warned the class. I think I’ll have to try that line.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The No Cheating Chip

It's late at night. i slip into the pantry for a little salty snack. i am the only one awake......until i go for the Sun Chips.

This new compostable chip bag, " louder because it is compostable," makes the most gratingly annoying crumply noise i have ever heard.

If you are on a diet, have little or no willpower, yet have asked others (and really meant it) to help you stick to it...let the Sun Chip be your default cheat.
By merely picking the bag up, you will sound off the "I'm breaking my diet" alarm and your saviors will come running.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Selective Attention

When I took this picture a year ago in Waynesville, NC I was taken with the pick up truck and acid green colonial den decorations. Now when i look at this picture, I am distracted by the price of gas and then somewhat irked.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Virginia Revisited

I have met few girls named Virginia. And I have not interviewed a one. However, I have a certain feeling that sometime in the pre-teen/teenage years, girls named "Virginia" are stalked by snickering hormonal name tweakers who alter the spelling in a way that causes embarassment for the Virginias of the world.


Several years ago, I was privy to an unexpected twist on this oh-so-hilarious word play. I was at the gynecologist for my yearly exam, looking swell in a dressing gown and stirrups. The doctor walked in. After a morsel of small talk, he got down to business. Then his cell phone rang.

"Can't talk now," he said. "I'm in Virginia."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Old Ads/New Meanings

I pick and arrange things for a living. I choose words, furnishings, and pictures and put them together in an attractive, inspirational, and sometimes button-pushing kind of way.
Since it is what I love to do, I tend to automatically hone my skills at editing and composing even when I'm not working. Last night, for example, I was thumbing through a few vintage magazines and books, and came upon this ad for the State of Virginia.

By blacking out a few words and letters, I gave an entirely different meaning to the headline.

I have always found yesteryear's advertising lingo to be particularly inspiring for good old-fashioned wordplay. I once ripped out a page from a 1960's Sears catalog. It pictured a teenage boy wearing sports-logoed pajamas. His hair was puffy and his smile overdone. The banner at the top read, "FLAME RETARDANT." I blacked out the "F" and the "ant."

Here's another ad with some room for play. What do you see?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

FLICK PICK: "Watermelon Man" -- Racier Than I Thought

Last night I finally made it to the end of "Watermelon Man." This 1970's flick is about a 30-something bigoted obnoxious white guy who wakes up in the middle of the night to discover he is now black. This is by far not one of my favorite movies, but it does has some good socially provokative moments, and I was delighted that it did not have a neatly-tied-with-a-bow Hollywood ending.

Mr. Gerber, played by Godfrey Cambridge, never goes back to being white (which is a relief because he looks totally weird made up to look white and is a much better looking black man).

His initial shock, leads to denial, which leads to dispair, which leads to a sort of acceptance, rebirth and strength. His white family practitioner confirms, "Jeff you are a Negro," and then suggests he consult with a doctor of his own race from here on out. Though Mr. Gerber loses his family, job, and house, he gains humility, dignity, a new community after his neighbors tell him, "We feel your presence can undermine the value of our homes." Mr. Gerber, in fact plays it smart, and drives up a $100,000 buyout that enables him to start over and open up his own business.

Women reacted to his blackness differently. His wife, who once begged for Wednesday night nookie, suddenly stops asking. She offers some sympathy, suggesting that his sunlamp malfunctioned and everything will be alright. When she realizes that he will remain black forever, she withdraws completely. "I'm liberal to a point," she explains, adding, "I never thought marriage was going to be interracial."

A sexy secretary with a German accent, however, has become newly curious about her transformed office mate. She comes onto him, and finally after, getting rejected repeatedly from his wife, Mr. Gerber makes the call. We know what she's thinking even though Mr. Gerber, after looking down his pajama pants, lets the viewer know that "It's just an old wives tale." There is a brief scene with some nudity. The girl is apparently insatiable. When he gets out of bed to go home she gets angry, goes to the open window, and screams "Rape." Nice!

If you haven't seen this strange, comedic, sometimes painful cringe-worthy fictional depiction of racial issues, and like to glimpse sets staged with mediocre vintage suburban decor, then you might like "Watermelon Man." Not for the kids however. Besides a super close up of bare buttocks and a few minutes of boobs (i think they were fake), there are too many politically and socially incorrect slurs that you don't want your kids repeating.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Newspaper

I get the paper everyday. I read it about once a week. It piles up on the chair and eventually I weed through it. The Sports section gets tossed, as do most of the advertisements, and am left with the headlines, the local features, the special weekly sections, and the entertainment.

I used to get the Sun Sentinel. I used to write for them too. Hmmmm. Now I subscribe to the Miami Herald. Not because I have a grudge. Simply because they offered me a $11/month deal.

When I read it, I remember how much I like it. Reading the actual paper is a luxury. The information is a mental treat. I get inspired, pissed, and educated. I am moved, and I take notes and clip articles.

Sammi, who is 9, has been upset lately over the underwhelming response to the Chilean earthquake. She said it wasn't fair. She was saddened by the Haiti disaster, assisted in a shoe collection drive, and witnessed the world and familiar faces from her world -- Justin Bieber, Nick Jonas, and Lady Gaga -- coming together to help. She asked, "Why are we ignoring Chile?"

I didn't answer her question, but just kind of put on a pouty face that let her know I felt a little sad about it too. But then I read Tuesday's paper, and I found out why the world wasn't all over Chile like we were Haiti. I was empowered, and I was excited to educate her with fact rather than just pure feeling.

Keeping it simple for both of our benefits, I told her that though the Chilean quake was stronger, so is Chile. And since the damage occurred outside of the big city, Santiago, fewer lives were lost. I told her that the roads and buildings were built stronger and that the government had saved enough money to fix them back up. And that Chile can make money again by selling things like wine, copper, steel, and paper.

She asked me several times if Florida would have an earthquake. I said, "probably not." My response is close to the answer she wanted to hear which was "No, never ever ever," and i hope not that far from the truth. I didn't find that answer in the newspaper. It was just in my heart.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pleasing Mom

I am 46 and still worry about pleasing my mother. I know deep inside that she loves me unconditionally, and wants to be a help, but yet, her motherly advice and remarks often come off as criticism, and sometimes I just don't feel like dealing.

Today my mother and I were at the mall. We made a date so that she could hand deliver my official license plate. Four weeks ago, my parents bought me a Santa Fe Hyundai. They insited that I stop driving my 12 year old Jeep Cherokee and get a safe, reliable car. My mother and I had lunch followed by a little shopping.

After walking around for a while, I thought she might be tired. It has been 2 1/2 months since hip replacement surgery and this was her first time gallavanting around town without my dad. I offered to pick her up at the mall entrance and drive her to her car. She accepted the ride.

As I approached the black SUV, I noticed a small white spot on the passenger side door. I rubbed it with a little bit of saliva. It did not go away. I rubbed it again. Hmmmm. I noticed another spot. I wasn't happy. I hadn't noticed these dings before.

The car was almost a month old. My parents bought it for me. This Santa Fe was my first brand new car. I practically ran my blazing red '98 Jeep Cherokee into the ground. I owned it for seven years.

As a first time new car owner, I was doing my best to take care of it without being obsessive. But now, noticing these dings, I felt a nervous rush of "Oh Shit" wash over me. My mom would be upset. I did not want to hear the disappointment in her voice as she might say: "Oh honey, you've got to park it far away from all the other cars" or "Lord, you're gonna ruin this car before its paid for" or "YOU really have to be more careful. If you keep going at this rate..."

I walked around to the driver's side. I kept pressing on the key switch. The locks did not make a sound. I looked in the window and saw a McDonald's cup and stack of library books on the seat...PHEWWWWWW, this was not my car. I had mistaken a Lexus for my car.

I laughed out loud. I got this image of me practically licking the car to avoid a confrontation, and it was quite ridiculous. When I got to my car just a bit further down the lane, I was happy to see that besides a little bit of dirt, there were no dings.

I picked my mother up, and she told me how delighted she was to see how nice I was keeping the car. She turned to me, "Do you like your seat that far back? You might want to put your seat more upright. I find it's less stressful on the back."