Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Not sure.

I found this embedded on a friend's blog, so I did what all good researchers do, I copped the URL. Yesterday was a good day for a melt down. I wasn't in school and I had the time to fully appreciate the pressure of having three books due by year's end. Today was a great day for a recovery -- a full day at my desk to put ideas in documents and chapters in folders. How long will my productive recovery period last? Not sure.

The book on vocabulary development, High Definition is the closest I ever want to get to a dissertation. Too close, as a matter of fact. Lots of research, lots of URLs, piles of books, three years of classroom student samples, even index cards. Yes, I come from that generation of small white cards sorted by topic. On a good day, I think like stacks of little index cards. On a bad day, the cards are all airborne and refuse to be corralled. This is a real image in my mind. Putting ideas in little stacks. What images come to the minds of kids whose hands guide controllers and keyboards instead of pens? Not sure.

Exchanged email with an old friend (we are of course not old, there have just been a lot of years since we met) who commented that my blog really put my life out there. Another friend once observed that for some people their life is an open book, mine (because of all the books of poetry) is like a billboard. Is that too much or just enough? Not sure.

I exchanged a couple of emails with an artist friend who is illustrating two of the new books and currently working on Zombies! Evacuate the School. I told her that my insecurities were barking yesterday. She told me that sometimes hers "meow and growl and beat on the door with fists." Producing art of the written or drawn kind is a constant struggle with the critical internal voices that push you to do better one minute and trip you up the next. Will I ever be able to quiet them? Seems like I should have mastered that by now, but at this point . . . not sure.

Then, I hit save on the poetry chapter of the vocab book and with a few spare minutes before bed, I found this little video which makes me wonder all over again if any of this has any practical value. Maybe I should be investing more of my time on facebook and less on writing? I'm not sure.

Time for bed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In search of Peace

If we're going to the beach, you have to put on shoes.

I don't want to wear shoes.
Here let me help you.
I can't find my shoes.
Here's one.
I don't want to wear those shoes.
These are fine.
I want my other shoes.
Start with putting on socks.
I don't want socks.
You need socks and shoes. It's November.
Where's my purse?
You don't need a purse.
Scotty has a purse.
That's a pouch for collecting things.
I want a pouch.
I gave you a pouch, where is it?
Sara took my pouch!
There. Everyone has shoes, socks and a pouch. Into the car.
Me! Me!
Scotty won't let me shut the door.
Sara is trying to shut my foot in the door.
Everyone in the car and buckle up.
I don't want to buckle up.

A trip to the beach with an almost 3 year old and a six-year-old is not necessarily a trip to the beach in the idiosycrinatic sense of the phrase. The fighting continued for the seven miles to the Mentor Headlands parking lot. As I turned off the engine, a continuation of complaints.
Can I leave my shoes in the car?
Can I leave my fleece in the car?
I'm hungry.
Where's the water?
We never went this way before.
Can we go swimming.

As we entered the opening of trees and took the path through the dunes, winding our way another half mile to the shore, gradually we began to hear the calming whispers of waves. Lake Erie was Sunday morning lazy, barely breathing. November 8. The shoes immediately came off, along with the socks and the fleeces. Pouches were filled with special rocks and beach glass. Scotty is an experienced beach comber and selectively collected smoothed glass. Sara took the three-year-old approach, scooped up a handful of rocks, filled the pouch in one scoop, and skipped away to walk logs like tight ropes and make sand angels.

It's been a crazy-busy couple of weeks. Rewarding. Tiring. Two days at Pierce Middle school in Milton, Mass and a warm and walking weekend with Christine and Larry Charbeneau.

We celebrated literacy and rich food, explored Boston's historical highlights. Christine's seventh graders dove into writing definition infomercials with the gusto of seasoned pitch people and the families were so fun to talk to on literacy night. I love a two day visit as there is time to really connect with folks.

Then we flew back to Cleveland, got in the car and immediately drove to a two day visit in Mason, OH. Mason is next to Montgomery, OH where I remember working at a GE plant typing freight tags the summer of 1971. The area was a cornfield back then. No more. The land has sprouted into neighborhoods and the MS/HS campus looks like a community college. Michael and I did three assemblies for the 7-8th graders, 600 kids at each show. They were very well prepped (thank you Jenny May) and enthusiastic about reading and writing poetry.

Saturday was the Buckeye Book Fair, seven full hours of signing and chatting and then I dropped Michael off at the airport for a gig in Chicago and picked up Scotty and Sara for a sleepover, all three of us in one bed.

The sound of waves smooths the spirit just like the lapping lake smooths glass shards. Setting aside the environmental anxiety over sixty-five degrees in Cleveland on the 8th of November, Scott, Sara and I walked, inhaled, and tossed rocks -- filling ourselves with peace. The achievable kind of peace. The peace you can hold in your belly.

Smiles all around.

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's Love/Hate

Watch CBS News Videos Online

The boy is right -- seems like everyone either loves or hates the president -- no middle ground. But unlike the way people either love or hate coconut, opinions swing wildly. I don't know if that reflects the fact the president is a moving target (unlike the flavor of coconut which remains pretty much the same and as long as you keep it away from my chocolate, I'm not going to pick up a sign and start marching on its hairy head). Or maybe it is more reflective of the fact that not only is the middle class evaporating, so is that wide swath that used to be called the middle ground. And that's not limited to politics.

No one is ever mildly annoyed. They are either jumping for joy or mad enough to rip someone's head off, blustering around like some kind of Tanzanian devil. It's like our whole society has plunged into into a perpetual state of adolescence, wildly mood swinging through events until manic has become the new normal. Too much TV? Too many shoot your way to conflict resolution video games? Have pumped up World Federation of Wrestling Neanderthals winning through prat falls and intimidation become our role models for building community?

Whatever. Drama queens (and kings) are no longer the isolated firecrackers they once were. Attention seeking behavior has become routine and any activity is justified, whether it is eating bugs or scaring the socks off of someone, if it brings you a little fame. Where do you go next when fame and infamous collide?

I would hope people talk about this fourth grader and his question to the president, but they probably won't. He didn't kick him in the shins, throw a tantrum, or threaten Obama in any way. He left that kind of behavior to the grown-ups. He just posed a question, politely asking. He waited for a response. He listened as if he really wanted to know instead of counting the seconds to a zinger comeback.

Good kid. Good question. But not such good T.V.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Austinburg Elementary School

Austinburg Elementary is old school. Literally. It is a very old school. Tall wooden windows, a gym with a real stage at one end, heavy wooden classroom doors. I couldn't find an age on the building on-line, but I'm guessing the old girl is pulling up hard on a centennial. The steps into the front door are well worn, the secretary's office is the size of my dining room and just about as cozy. I loved walking in there, it reminded me of my good ol' Berkley Elementary where I went to school (now a parking lot, I don't want to talk about it.)

The kids were primed and ready. We had a laughing good time through three assemblies and then I got to meet with the fourth grade for writing. I have a special connection with this school as my nephew Edison goes there. The kids were anxious to write, we included good visual details and talked about how poetry writing doesn't have to be hard because you don't have to get it right the first time (like say, sky diving). If you don't like the way you wrote it the first time, move the lines around like Legos. Which is exactly what Edison elected to do with his draft.

Great job Edison and thanks to all the teachers who worked to make the poetry day a success.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Poetry makes me less scared"

Two fantastic schools in two weeks -- Central Elementary in Edgewater, MD and
Garfield Middle School in Lakewood, OH.

Today in Lakewood I met with the seventh graders, first in writing workshops and then for an assembly. In the course of our writing, one student observation stood out, "Poetry makes me less scared." Shyly, she whispered the line. I asked her to read it and read it again. One more time. I love that line.

Teachers Leslie Eiben and Trish Csongei had done a careful and fun job of preparing the kids for a poetry day -- enlarging a few of my poems defining feelings -- annotating them for better understanding, and then using them as mentor text for kids to write their own poems about feelings. Everybody was excited to see their poems posted for others to read. Now, posting poems in a middle school hallway identifying feelings may seem a bit scary in itself -- but instead it had the opposite effect as students were excited to point out their poems to others. Maybe acknowledging feelings in print really does take some of the scared away. How cool is that?

Sometimes kids will ask which age group I like the best and I always tell them that what I like the best is mixing things up. And that's the truth. Last week my first school visit of the fall took me to Edgewater, Maryland where I met with pre-K through grades 5. We played our tummies and played our lips, making the sounds of poetry. We had great discussions and I not only met some very dedicated teachers, this school has a very active parent group. One of the mom's brought in a poetry book written by her cousin, an Iraq war vet. Very powerful writing, the images still haunting me a week later. I regret that I forgot my camera!

I've been closeted with my computer through the month of September working on new books and thinking about school, vocabulary, poetry, and zombies (another story). It felt good to get back to school.

Monday, September 28, 2009


While trying to stay within the lines and not tearing the the pictures of baby Moses in the weeds with my crayon in Sunday school, I remember hearing that if you talk up the fact that you did a good deed, points get deducted from your naughty or nice permanent record. So, I'm going to take a minute to talk up the artwork created by Debbi McCullough,
my artist and activist cousin who (among other good deeds) makes art from trash discarded by immigrants in the desert. The faces mounted in shoes and tuna fish cans which the travelers carry and drop along the way. Behind the faces in the cans are pages from the Spanish Bible. The sculpture on top is mounted on a section of cactus and in memory of the five people last month who received a death sentence for trying for a better life crossing the desert between Tucson and Nogales. Her work is beautiful and puts a human face on the tragedy of desperation.

I come from a family of do-gooders. It's true. That phrase has been tarnished of late by hateful folks who spit do-gooder out with scorn while stockpiling ammunition, but that's what we are. In order to do my small part in the world of inequities, in April 2008, (this is the part that's going to get me the point deduction) I checked a box to make a monthly donation to an organization Women for Women International, a flagrantly do-gooder group that is worth mentioning despite the fact that I'm a small contributor.

This organization provides an allowance for women in desperate situations to help get back on their feet. It connects each do-gooder with one woman, translates letters, and distributes the checks. The first woman I was connected to was and Afghan widow, I wrote to her and sent her a picture of my daughters and me in April 2008, but I never heard back. Monthly when I saw the $27 hit on my credit card, I'd wonder if she and her two children were even alive.

And then out of the blue (or out of the mailbox, as it were), I received a new partner abroad. Her name is Anastasie and she lives in D.R.Congo in a refugee camp where she has been since 1997. She is married and was born in 1969. She and her husband have two children ages 4 and 4 months. Under my cozy desk lamp, in my dry and warm house, compliments of the internet, I was able to search images of Mugunga Camp II. I studied Anastasie's letter and the translation. So, I looked up the phrase "jina lake" in Swahili to find that it means: name is (seems to work for my name is, her name is, his name is).

Somehow these images came together for me this weekend, voices from a wilderness of need and insecurity -- travelers who remind us to be grateful every time we turn on a water faucet or a light switch. Last week I also had to get my auto license tag renewed and had to stand in the inevitable line -- I even took a minute out to be thankful that I had a line to stand in, one that moved and ultimately worked. I didn't have to pay a bribe or a coyote to be legal.

We are all travelers looking for that place called home, that place where Frost reminds us "they have to take you in." But for too many, there is no one to take them in, no one left or never was. And that rather than building walls to keep those travelers out, isn't it safer for everybody if simply, in whatever way we can, we help one another along the way?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

First: Kill All the Teachers!

This past weekend provided a luxury of reading time as we visited with our friends Sarah Willis and Ron Antonucci in the vicinity of Chautauqua, NY. Hiking, naps, reading in the hammock – a restful way to welcome in the fall for three writer/teachers and a head librarian. Suzi even stretched her stick-fetching skills plunging Phelps-like into the pond, getting a paws-on education in how to gauge the shortest route from the edge and how not to leave shore before knowing where the stick has landed in order to avoid swimming endlessly in circles.

So, I had time to read Luong Ung’s book First They Killed my Father, about her childhood in Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge’s genocide that resulted in the deaths of 2 million of its citizens. It is a powerful story of survival including the author’s child’s eye view of the absolutes taught by the Khmer Rouge.

Their first dictate was to kill the teachers, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals – basically anyone who was educated was under suspicion. “Children in our society will not attend school just to have their brains cluttered with useless information.” (p.61)

Last week, Michael and I watched The Kite Runner, after both having read it. It was a stark reminder of the restrictive view that the Taliban takes regarding education (particularly of girls). Literature and daily news reports are constant reminders that teachers and students alike put their lives in jeopardy for even learning to read under Taliban rule.

One of the most vivid books I have read about the Cultural Revolution in China under Mao is a YA book, Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang. Guess who the revolutionaries picked first for public humiliation and execution? Teachers. Stalin, Lenin, Hitler -- similar mandates.

It's impossible not to draw parallels. I know the Khmer Rouge and Mao banned religion and the Taliban uses religion as a justification, but the results are the same – dictators using young zealots to help limit access to education as a means of controlling a populace – and the first thing you have to do to limit education is kill the teachers.

Teachers are a hard-headed lot. They taught kids in holding camps on their way to the gas chambers during the Holocaust. They teach in refugee camps. They teach drawing numbers in the dirt in Africa and Afghanistan. They teach in places right here in this country where many people would be afraid to traverse the parking lot.

So, whenever I read something like this account of college conservatives making a hit list of professors they (in their mature wisdom) think are liberal, it scares the la la la out of me. (you know the la la la, that’s what you do when you have your fingers in your ears and don’t want to listen to what’s being said). http://www.thefoxnation.com/college/2009/08/31/college-republicans-compiling-liberal-teaching-list

Or how about those creationist museums that seek to limit any study of what happened in this world if the hieroglyphic or rock is over 6000 years old? Teachers haven’t been killed for teaching evolution in this country – but they can lose their jobs.

Or how about the folks who constantly discredit teachers on the radio and television? The campaign against teachers has been one of the most focused and successful public relations campaigns on record. Ask the average person what the state of education is today and they’ll say it’s awful. Then ask the same person about how her kid’s teacher is and she’ll say, “Great.” It's not as if anyone is calling to kill teachers, but you kill all respect for the profession, if you kill the teachers' self esteem, if you marginalize teachers, shaming them publically and relentlessly, what does that say about our collective position on education?

I don’t know if this organized attack on teachers is designed primarily to break the unions or to privatize schools into profit centers for the crooks on Wall Street, but as in Mao vs. the Taliban, it really doesn’t matter what’s behind it. The net result is to straightjacket those who seek to educate through inquiry and wonder, those whose life’s work it is to help the next generation to not just jump in the pond and swim around in circles until you sink like a pooped out Papillion – but to think.

My wish for this school year is for every citizen. The next time you hear someone spouting off about wanting to limit education in any way, from banning books to underfunding schools to standardized tests designed to clutter up the curriculum with mandates that keep teachers from helping kids to think on their own, ask yourself: What is this person’s agenda and why doesn’t he/she want our kids to grow up to be independent thinkers?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Obama's Speech to Students

Obama is the leader of this country, homegrown like my vegetables, and elected by a clear majority. He is not a foreign power or running for office. A lot of kids look up to him, as they should. As I did to Eisenhower and Kennedy when I was growing up. I didn't know about the President's politics, I just knew he was an important guy and if he took time out to talk to us, that was special. Heck, when the towers fell on 911 Bush was in a classroom talking to kids. Nobody insisted on reviewing his words in advance.

And to those worried about a socialist agenda, guess what? You already live in a country with socialized fire departments, roadways, police departments, medicare, educational systems and we are protected by a socialized military. Socialized means society chips in to pay for common programs that benefit citizens and that are chosen by our elected representatives. It is the antithesis of being dominated by a culture of personality, which would be a dictatorship.

The only human services function that is NOT socialized in this country is medical care and that is sinking us both as individuals and corporations, which are struggling to compete in a world economy where the USA stands alone insisting that large companies bear the burden of health care expenses.

I can't imagine in my childhood being asked to support Kennedy or Eisenhower and people objecting. Supporting the president means to support the country. People need stop all this hate speak and suspicion before a lot of people get hurt.

You know that poem that begins: First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me." attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)?

I have not spoken up about all the hate email I've been copied on since Obama's inauguration. The whackjobs who call themselves birthers. I've not spoken about health care, as I have been one of those left out in the current system. I didn't say anything about the outrageous lies perpetuated by the media. I've not spoken about the mean-spiritedness and media's over coverage of the violent, ignorant few. And I meant to write about Obama's speech, but it took a conversation with Kelly and reading her blog to realize how upsetting all this hate talk and suspicion is.

So, let's start here. Here is a true health care story, not dramatic except to me. I am self-employed and too young for medicare and old enough that insurers don't want anything to do with me. I currently have a $5000 deductible for which I pay $4000 per annum. I have a pre-existing condition (who doesn't) so most companies legally can turn me down. Kaiser has one month of the year, mandated by the state, (unpublished, unadvertised, you have to know someone inside the company to find out that it is October, and that person will swear you to secrecy because they could lose their job if they tell) during which they would sign me up with the pre-existing condition, for better coverage (not great, but better) -- the price tag on that is $16,000 per year. My current coverage does not pay for mammograms or any other tests and I pay an amount for prescriptions and tests that is four times (4) what insured people pay since I do not qualify for the "insurance negotiated amount" until I satisfy my deductible. If I fall ill, Kaiser can cancel me at any time.

I know from when my mom was deathly ill, under insured, and almost but not quite broke at 61, that in order to qualify for medicaid, you have to have no resources for a period of three months before you can apply. Longer until it kicks in. That means if I ever got seriously ill, after I sold my house and all possessions, there would be a three month period before I would qualify for any assistance. This is the kind of thing that would keep me up every night if I thought about it, so I don't. I pay my premiums, eat healthy, exercise, and hope for the best.

And for me, the best would be a public option. For those who oppose or feel threatened by that, I say, what part of option do you not understand? We already pay for the very poor to get healthcare through taxes, it is just the middle class under-insured and uninsured who are vulnerable. Public option would mean that people like me who are willing and able to pay would be paying into the system.

As far as I'm concerned, Medicare is guilty of age discrimination. Fine for those over 65, but what about those who are 50+. Why can't we buy into medicare? That's what public option means to me, any of us being able to buy into medicare. As an option.

So, maybe the controversy over the Obama speech has a good side. Maybe it will motivate more people like me who have been trundling along, shaking our heads, to say something. So, there. I'm saying something. And the something is, ENOUGH.

Enough with the hate. We are all in this together. And kids, listen to your president. Stay in school. The previous generation is leaving you a big mess to clean up. You need all the skills you can garner.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Forty years ago?

What'd he say?
What'd he say?

We were in the student center, gathered around a black and white television, a jumble of summer school students. Some jocks there for football camp, the girl who was making up time for playing her french horn to victory as Miss Ohio, people who had transferred and needed extra credit, me who was trying to graduate early and avoiding summers at home. And odd, discordant collection of students and staff brought together because we wanted to watch the original moon walk. The transmission was scratchy, the picture vague, the television bulbous with pre-cable, pre-high def resolution.

No one had a television in their dorm rooms, let alone a microwave, electric toothbrush or electric charger (for anything). Dorm rooms where the only appliances I had was an electric typewriter and one of those heat sticks for making tea. There was one phone in the middle of the hall that we all shared, but it could only receive calls, there was no dialer on it. For that you had to go to the pay phone in the lobby or ask an operator to connect you for a collect call. I did have a hair dryer, one of those inflated bonnet things things that connected you to the fan with a springy life line. The typewriter of my dreams sat on a blond counter top, the Underwood writing machine that was going to last for the rest of my life -- and it wrote in script type. One font and I was so happy.

My grandfather was living in Florida at the time and watched the launch, a man who had traveled by horse and buggy and trains until he signed up for World War I. It was the year after Bobby Kennedy and MLKing were shot. The war in Vietnam, the war I learned later traveling to that country that the Vietnamese call The American War, was raging. We were six months away from the institution of the draft lottery, which I remember listening to on a staticy radio in the office of the student newspaper. The sports editor's birthday was drawn second.

For some reason, a lot of the jocks were for the war and the hippie, student newspaper types were against it. That spring we had listened to a radical priest come and lecture because in those days the Catholic Church was pro-life for the already born. "The pill" had been on the market for a couple of years which changed norms, AIDS was unheard of, hitchhiking was an acceptable form of transportation and people actually played sports in converse high tops. Smoke detectors were invented in 1969, but most of us still cranked our car windows and opened doors with a turn instead of a click.
My dad worked for Chrysler Defense Engineering, working to test flying Jeeps and hover craft for jungle warfare and was driving two lease cars ($35 per month), mod top cars, a yellow Barracuda (with a 383 engine) and yellow flowered top and a Dodge Satellite (same Woodward Ave. dragging worthy engine) with a blue flowered top.
My dad wore a flag pin and had a white belt and white loafers. Campus visits were scary, but family dinners could turn downright hostile. This was the summer of Woodstock, before the Kent State Shootings. Many of us were more innocent than we thought. We were a divided country, but we all came together to watch those first steps.

What have I learned in forty years? Maybe hope is always black and white, far away and somewhat sketchy. Hard to tune in and subject to conspiracy theories. But, when we can embrace it as a community, hope provides common goals, inspiration and occasional smiles among those otherwise on different sides of fences we never stop constructing. Technology progresses in giant leaps while the rest of us move along one small step at a time, and luck is always a lottery draw.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Does the Garden Grow?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

It stretches,
grabbing air,
the fence,
the stakes set for climbing.
Green tomato shoots,
a laughter of lettuce,
and one exuberant pumpkin vine.
The corn points,
broccoli flowers,
and peppers balloon in unison.
A party of blossoms ready to fruit.

And I've been in that place (places?) where words seem to have lost their importance. The just living place, wandering from task to task without taking time to reflect.

I'm amazed in novels that the protagonists are always so thoughtful about the whys of their behavior and conversation and wonder if I am the only one stumbling through life mostly guessing at the how-comes after the fact. A garden commands attention, but lacks the alternative motivations of people.

Michael says, taking close ups of the peppers only makes them feel self conscious.

Last night I realized that I have an extra week in July. A no travel week. Popped up on the calendar like a rogue seed. A week to watch the garden, walk the dogs and (maybe, if I can get my brain creaking) a week to put some words on paper. Turn the sunshine into something to chew on.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Stitch in Time

"Will this thread work with this fleece?" I asked the 50 something clerk standing confidently behind the counter at the fabric store. Unlike many retail outlets, fabric departments are not tended by teenagers. 99.999999% of teens can't thread a sewing machine, let alone set a sleeve, bind a button hole, or install a zipper. Girls only, home economics (sewing and cooking) were required subjects when I entered junior high. My first project was exactly the same as every other girl's. An apron. I could choose one yard of any color I liked as long as it was gingham. Woven gingham, not that flimsy printed on stuff. By the end of the semester, every mother of a seventh grade girl at Berkley Junior High was trying to figure out what to do with her customized apron. Since steering a jackhammering needle down a perfectly straight line, one foot on a lurching power pedal, WATCH OUT FOR YOUR FINGERS, is not a skill that comes that naturally to a 12-year-old, our final projects weren't exactly runway perfect. While having those gingham lines to follow was supposed to help, mostly we learned an important life lesson in class: Ripping out and starting over is part of the process. I liked having that one class period a day with just the girls.

Sewing was distinctively a girl thing and I liked it. My granny tutored me in the summers and with a few extra lessons in tailoring from the local Singer center, I actually got pretty good at making facings lie flat and crisp edges. And then in college, about the time Virginia Slims tried to convince women that we'd come a long way baby, long enough that we could die of lung cancer at the same rate as men, I bought my own sewing machine for the equivalent of 100 minimum wage hours (a little less than $135). Blackberries and laptops may have been glimmers in someone's eyes, but in mine, I was set. That zig zag machine and my new electric Underwood were the only two machines I'd ever need.

Like riding a bike, sewing skills stay with you for life. I could recreate that apron tomorrow. Over the years I've made drapes, curtains, pants, suits, kids nighties. Some projects to be worn, and others soon found their way to the back of the closet with that first apron. No matter. I just like doing it. But like finger painting and star gazing, I just don't do it that much anymore. But I love the new fabric smell, putting the pins in, taking them out, even ripping and starting over is okay. Part of the process. Sewing is a novelty now. I've outsourced my own craftsmanship.

Unfortunately somewhere between their T Ball games and pre-calculus, I forgot to pass this knowledge along to my daughters who have never learned to sew. So when Kelly wanted Thomas to have a new blanket with weights in it (new idea for making restless little sleepers less, well, restless) I welcomed the task. No gingham, but being a bit rusty, I did choose a fleece with a block pattern.

Along with the wagon full of mother-regrets I and every other mother drag around, I deeply regret this oversight. And it's not because every time they need a hem tacked up or a split re-seamed they come to me -- I like that part. Because somehow, treading water in the tsunami of self-doubt that was seventh grade, using an overworked checkered apron as a sail, I managed to gain some self confidence. Suddenly I not only knew how dresses and skirts worked from the inside out, I began to understand how tables and cabinets are made. How pieces can be notched and attached. How to make a pattern. To know what it means to have a vision and make it. The ability to sew is part of the fabric of me, being a constructionist is part of who I am and how I view the world -- in little pieces that just might work if put together right.

So, tonight while adding the binding to Thomas' blanket spread out on the dining room table, twirling thread between my fingers to make knots, I was listening to the misogynistic debate over Sotomayer. Does she think she's better than white guys? (doubtful, but has she had to work harder than white guys to get where she is?) Is she smart enough? (ivy league, summa cum laude, pahleeze) Limbaugh compared her to David Duke of the KKK despite her lack of hateful actions or rhetoric and G. Gordon Liddy even went so far as to say he hopes he doesn't have a case come before her while she is menstruating. How stupid can an white male convicted criminal be? She's 54 years old. In lawyer speak, we call that twisted point moot. (Maybe he was the white guy she was talking about having better judgment than. Eh?) Who are these people and why does the news media give them a platform? Honestly, this kind of rhetoric really tests a woman's opposition to gratuitous, blood spattering violence, especially one no longer in possession of a gingham apron.

Which is all to say, us fifty something women still need some girls only time with the young ones. Passing along such important wisdom such as "you can't go wrong with dual duty thread," teaching them how things are made from the inside out. How to be constructionists in their own lives. Clearly, we might have come a long way, but not long enough.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gather ye goosebumps as ye May

It is May, isn't it? Isn't it? May is a bit hard to reconcile with forty degree winds off Lake Erie and frozen fingertips. When we went down to pick up our race packets on Saturday, the weather was on every one's mind. Will it still be raining? Will it snow? Did you see the frost advisories? Kelly picked up the packets for herself and 13 of her friends who flew in from all around the east coast to attend the race. And then we all proceeded to Katie's for a pasta dinner prepared by chef Doug.

This morning, the alarm went off at 5AM. By 6:30 we were shivering on the steps of St. John's Cathedral, gathering Team Stephanie, some to run the half marathon, some the 10K, some walkers, some runners, us among thousands thronging the shoot, East Ninth Street.

Did I mention it was cold? If these pictures look blurry (they are) it is because my hands were shaking. First, the marathoners and half marathoners took off. Then the 10K walkers and runners assembled.
I was so proud of Ben (aged 9) who gamely set a swift pace for his Uncle Doug and me for the length of the race. As we strode down ninth toward the lake and made our turn east, I had to put on the sunglasses I had slipped in my pocket in the unlikely event that the sun decided to make an appearance, which it did. Bold and bright. Still cold, mind you. But sunny and clear.

What is it about these events? There are too few opportunities for communities to come together. Times when people actually leave their nests to gather in the streets. Fourth of July and some scattered rib cookoffs in the summer. That's about it. But now for two weekends in a row, last week the Mitrocondrial Run Wild for a Cure race at the zoo and this week's marathon, I have been swept up in happy, moving crowds. As we came past the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I couldn't help singing along to Cleveland Rocks.

Oh, and our team did have a first place finisher. It wasn't the ringer brought in to run the marathon. I understand he was unfortunately injured (ouch).
It was my neighbor and friend Judy Willour (pictured here with her husband Ron) who came in first in her age division in the 10K walk. We went to college together, which means I was in the same age division. Go Judy.

It was heart warming, if nose numbing and finger freezing, to come together for this race and in memory of our Stephie. Tonight, we put the garden to bed with freshly laundered sheets. Frost advisory. What month is it?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Cleveland Marathon and Team Stephanie

Here we go. This is the big weekend. Last count, over 150 people will be participating in the Cleveland Marathon as part of Team Stephanie to raise awareness for ITP. Michael has been training steadily and will attempt his first half marathon with his son Max. His other son Frank will be running with Kelly -- a 10K. I will be walking a 10K with other friends and family. Even last year's winner will be running as part of our team.

In many ways this past year has been reliving the year before -- remember last Christmas when Steph was with us? This race is a turning point in my mind. We are turning toward the future. Bringing her spirit with us as we run toward tomorrow. I suppose I should have been more active trying to find pledges for this event, but have been focused on the small faces looking up at me at poetry assemblies and keeping my balance. Oh, and walking in preparation. Hope I walked enough as to not embarrass myself. Glug.

Many thanks to Kelly Weist for pulling this all together. And to Chris at the ITP Foundation. I tell everyone I meet about ITP and its lethal potential. Every school I visit. But this one event will do more to raise awareness than years of school visits. Wish us luck!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole

Long about the time of year that only the most well-seasoned, irrationally hopeful Clevelander could identify as early spring -- when graying snow stashes cling to shady corners, puddles crunch, and the cats and dogs jockey for camp spaces by the register. Sometime after that new pair of Christmas gloves has gone missing and before any Ohioan is bold enough to exercise her right bare arms, I go down the rabbit hole of school visits. NJ, CO, CT, MD, PA, IN, GA, FL, AZ, TX, SC, NY, My family knows the route and that I will come out the other side – sometimes with more confidence than I have myself.

A construction paper bright and wondrous place of poetry talk, new insights, new voices, new friends, ideas and observations weaving into extraordinary tapestries of writing and kids finding their voices in gold fish bowls, bathtubs and thunderstorms, this rabbit hole can be hard on friendships, garden preparations, and any manner of writing or exercise routine. It is populated by criss cross applesauce first graders and just plain cross middle schoolers., teachers looking for a boost to get them through the last few weeks and administrators juggling zero tolerance policies with sky high goals – all counting the days until the great summer laze.

In between the expanse of freshly mopped school auditoriums, spindly-armed hugs, cheerful libraries and miles of blackboards, white boards and smart boards (can anyone legibly write on those things?) is a maze of airports, endless security checks (the chiffon scarf? really?) rental car surprises and hotel clerks who contentiously write the room number on the key card folder as if some other fool might be checking in after midnight and straining to hear the room number of the canvas bag laden poet pulling the suitcase with the mended handle. From plastic wrapped cups to stemmed glassware, school visits are a lesson in contrasts and in the absurd diversity of our schools.

This year, for no premeditated reason, I didn’t document all the visits here. I just lived them, eyes and heart wide open. If I were to guess why I unplugged, it is because I am balancing travel, working on a new book of poems on friendship, an expanded garden, and a new wave of grieving that came with the air-shattering power of a spring thundershower. The grieving has become brighter as the weather has warmed, as we count down the weeks now days until this first week in May. It makes the mental musings of blogging and social networking seem like stray lock of hair, something to mindlessly brush aside. To be honest, I haven’t been that good at returning phone calls and emails to friends either. Staying on course while being tossed around in emotional turbulence requires a self-centered focus. Looking for balance, I just unplugged.

Tomorrow I leave for IRA, which is where I was when I got the calls that Steph was in critical condition but going to be just fine and then the call that nothing would be just fine again. That meeting was in Atlanta and this one is in Minneapolis. Still, I have had had to wrestle with myself to make plane reservations, hotel plans (still no reservation for Sunday night) this year, maybe because I am not at all up to reliving the memory of that week with my heart being miles away from the rest of me. IRA, the meeting I look forward to every year (the real signal that spring has blossomed) to connect with friends and new ideas is now weighted down with a memory so much heavier than that bag of new books I usually bring home. But I will go there supported by all the poetry kids have shared with me this spring.

Focused on keeping me all together, I’ve swaddled myself in the generous love of teachers across the country, the love of my extended family, the persistent proddings of friends, and the poems and smiles of hopping, hopeful and even surly children. It’s been a wonderful spring and I’ve consciously enjoyed every minute, even the tearful ones. I think (hope) once we get through this first anniversary, I will be able to pull the curtain open and re-engage.
Thanks Eva.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

More Than Friends

Okay, this is exciting! More than Friends is featured in Scholastic's Scope Magazine for the month of February. Since I received the magazine as a forwarded forward, I got it a little late in the month -- as in March 1, but still. How cool is it to see our cover next to the heartthrob from Twilight -- and inside a two page spread?

Well, since my cool meter can sometimes go off at the wrong moment (as in I never fail to produce a school-wide assembly groan when asked what kinds of music I like and I am working from a long list, upon which none of the artists passes the cool test) I decided to consult my daughters, who assured me -- this is definitely cool.

The day people stop saying "cool," I am, like so sunk.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Love Song of Stephanie Lufkin

Maybe the sun was out that day. Or maybe Dennis Cox looked at me at lunch. Or maybe that was one of the 47 days I was dismissed early to have my braces adjusted. Probably it was a lesson that my teacher presented more than once, but drizzled out my ear after the quiz. Platelets. What are they? What do they do, exactly?

Given the fact that I managed to avoid science classes entirely after ninth grade biology (except for that astronomy class in college, an apocryphal amalgamation of math and science still capable of giving me night terrors), it is not surprising that a year ago if you had asked me what a platelet was I would have responded, "that's something in the blood, right?" I didn't connect platelets with clotting, the lack of platelets with brain bleeding or the true meaning of apocryphal.

Michael and I stayed with Debbie and Guy Cartwright in Phoenix last week while we attended IRA. Old friends of mine, new friends to Michael. Guy's daughter Margaret fought ITP in her childhood and like most kids, eventually outgrew its threat. He told us she got to a point that she could sense when her platelets were getting low, she'd be rushed to the hospital for an infusion. Because of other people's generous donations, platelet transfusions had been available for Margaret to help her out of crisis.

As Stephie faded from our midst last May, the hospital waiting room swelled with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors -- all of whom would have willingly opened their veins to help her, but by then, after three days in the hospital, it was too late. Today, Stephie's picture is on the front page of the ITP Foundation site and while we are all proud to see her there, we wish she were back here, singing along with Kelly Clarkston and Hanna Montana and cartwheeling across the living room.

I tagged along as my cousin Billie Holbrook donated blood last week and if you know anything about the blood suckers at the Red Cross, you know they didn't let me get away without giving a pint. I hadn't donated in years, I'm embarrassed to admit. And I had never given at a full service facility where they also take donations of platelets, a slightly more complicated procedure that takes 70 - 120 minutes. I had myself tested and it turns out I'm loaded with the things -- 273,000 per microliter. To put that in perspective, Stephie's level was 2,000 when she was admitted.

The Red Cross called me today to give me the good news that I am a viable candidate to donate platelets, which I will do for the first time next week because although it may be too late to help our Steph, it is not too late to help others.

We have all learned so much these past nine months. Learned about heartache, love, family -- and the blood that binds us together as human beings. We are continually and simultaneously propelled and stricken by the love song of Stephie. We want every person who ever zoned out in biology class to know and understand the importance of platelets.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Skano Elementary

Leave it to the first grade to sum it all up. People write books about the hows, whats, and whys of poetry. I know. I have. But here the first graders at Skano Elementary, Albany, NY summed it up and their teacher recorded the whole business about poetry on one sheet, in nice bold letters.

The fifth graders pulled out dictionaries, vocab sheets and social studies glossaries to draft their definition poems of geography terms. There was that moment when I introduced the concept to the kids, sitting with their writer's notebooks open and pens poised. Here's what, kids, I know you don't know me. I know you don't know these words very well. We're going to take these words you just met and you are going to turn them into poems and then present them to the class. No problem.

And then that moment. When they just looked at me. The "are you sure about this?" cloud briefly shadowed us all. Every teacher knows this moment. The lesson has been introduced, but in order for the lesson to fly, a slight suspension of disbelief is required. But then, poof. The cloud evaporated and the kids started writing, writing about the words and writing about their world. And then they took turns sharing.

Another poet/teacher admonished me a while ago, telling me it is never okay to ask everyone to share. I didn't argue (what's the use when someone is so sure), but I do that all the time. Share with a partner. Share aloud talking over top of one another. Take turns. Speak. Listen. Communicate. I mean, isn't that the entire point of writing? To share our ideas?

I'm not sure what happens to people between elementary school and adulthood, but I'll take the open-minded instincts of youth every time. I had a great time at Skano -- thanks to librarian Susan and all the teachers for prepping the kids so well and making the two days a learning experience for us all.


Teachers may indeed sometimes sing the blues, but when they are accompanied and led by teacher/musician Ted DeMille, the songs are bound to lift the spirit. Colorado Council of the IRA is one of the most happenin' state conferences of the year and I was lucky enough to be invited to present there last weekend. It was great to see the sun, the mountains, and connect with friends from all over the country. Many many thanks to Ruth Larson for the invite.

Monday, February 02, 2009

We're havin' a heat wave!

Thirty nine and sunny in Cleveland in January after how many days below freezing (?) is beautifully balmy. We were outside soaking up the vitamin D yesterday and I am still on the uplift from all that sunshine. I had just read a reminder in my cousin Debbie's 25 random facts on facebook and made extra effort to "stay in the moment" and it worked! Sometimes staying inside the boundaries is a very good thing.

Scotty is a real trooper on the sledding hill, up and down 30 times and the closest thing he said to a grumble was "here comes the hard part" as he headed up the hill. No whining. No carry me. Just up and down like it was his business and he was on the job.

Sara K. loved it. At the top of the hill, she'd get herself all situated "on tummy" and then after bouncing to the bottom of the hill she'd proclaim, "AGAIN!"

Lucky we had Frank there to pull the tube, which still had sand in the bottom from the beach two summers ago.

After sledding and while Sara K was sleeping the sunshine off during naptime, Frank, with a little help from Scott and his dad built the most amazing coi in the front yard. Not a simple snow man.

Thinking out of the boundaries, the box, out of the pond, out of the season, a giant pink fish appeared in the front yard. The pink cast was conceived and achieved by Michael spritzing a diluted red jello veneer. Meantime, our jovial right wing neighbor was out scraping every little piece of loosened slush off of his driveway, muttering "Artists!"