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Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

Thank You too.

I have long been a fan of Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door series. He is like EveryBrother, a tall amiable American, who loves the world and everyone in it. Steves advocates traveling the world on a budget, becoming “temporary locals” and seeing the out-of-the-way places. His philosophy makes a lot of sense and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t take a platinum credit card. It takes a smile and common sense. Therefore, he says when traveling abroad to learn the “polite words.” Please and thank you and good day. The words your mother made you learn very early on. He’s absolutely right. I’ve traveled to France by myself and I don’t speak French. But, I got around, ate, slept and saw things and had a good time. I always initiated any conversation with “Bon Jour!” and a smile. Right off the bat, people are predisposed to help you — since you’re polite. It works.

Recently when we were in Italy, I always started with “Buon Giorno!” and a smile. However, for some reason this trip I had a terrible time getting my responses in sync. Someone would say “Grazie” and I’d answer “De nada.”or “You’re welcome”. I heard myself thank someone with a “Merci” — oops, wrong country. Over and over, I just couldn’t get it right. Once I thought — this time I’m going to get it correct. When someone said “Grazie” I was going to respond “Prego”. The moment came and I almost said “spaghetti sauce”. Yikes! that threw me off so much, I was scared to open my mouth for an entire day!

Recently, I started helping a friend, a retired Spanish teacher, help a new (legal) family of Mexican immigrants learn English. My Spanish is so rusty, flakes of reddish brown oxidation come out of my mouth. It’s been 30 years since I’ve used/studied it . A few polite worlds come automatically. A few more basic words come when I get home and check my English/Spanish dictionary. It’s getting better. However, the other day, as I was leaving, one member of the family called out in English, “Thank you very much!” It was wonderful. I was so delighted to be thanked in my own language I drove home with a huge smile on my face. Now I know why Rick Steves insists we respond appropriately. A wise man.

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We’re back from the North Georgia Mountains — and yes, it was cold, especially the first night, but not horribly so. However, MacKathy, earlier in the week, made flannel pillowcases for our camping pillows. I found an old flannel sheet that had too many holes to mend, but too much material to toss. Those warm pillows felt extra nice as we snuggled in. The showers had lots of hot water and the bath houses were even well-heated. Between that and our own electrical hook-up and water faucet, we were set. We get better, and faster, each time we set up. We can set up camp in an hour and break down and load up in two.

The second night we had a nice campfire in the fire ring. We even sang the first line from all the camp songs we could remember, ending with “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”. (Good place to stop. . . ) No marshmallows to toast and no chocolate bars, hence, no some-mores. although we did have graham crackers. Next time we’ll remember all the ingredients. However, the Irish coffee was delicious . . . .

Cloudland Canyon State Park is lovely — mountains and forests, and yellow, orange, and red leaves this time of year. I watched a documentary last summer about Georgia’s state parks and CCSP came highly recommended. It is located about a 30 minute drive west from the Chickamauga Battlefield. One year, when I was still teaching American Literature, my classes did such a thorough job of studying Red Badge of Courage and Ambrose Bierce’s short stories about the Civil War, the American History teacher whizzed right through that period in her class. The students did projects and led discussions over Bierce’s stories. It was great stuff! Chickamauga was one of the battles in those works.

The gift shop had all kinds of potential material for a bulletin board. (Sorry — old habits die hard — Aunt Wanda said she had trouble breaking the lesson-plan-gathering-habit after she retired from teaching. She gave away all her accummulated stuff, as did I. If someone could use those things, good; if not, I wouldn’t know if they tossed it!) We’re going back up later in November to visit nearby Lookout Mountain Battlefield for a day of living history programs about the Civil War.

Even though we had to drive through Atlanta, the drive was relatively painless — as painless as that ordeal in traffic hell can be — thus an easy 4 hour trip plus an hour stop at a Cracker Barrel, both going and coming. We’ve now had our CB fix for awhile. We’re getting good at running the gift shop gauntlet. Don’t look right or left; just head for the hostess’ podium. My fried catfish was tasty; Bruce’s meatloaf was cold.

The new memory foam pad?  It was wonderful!  Our sleeping bags stayed in place without sliding around.  And let’s face it — there is no such thing as too much cushion for the ol’ bones.  We slept like logs.

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Voice From the Past

Recently I heard from a former student from Hill City High School in Kansas. John Foster managed to track me down 24 years after I last saw him. We moved from Kansas in late May of 1984. That was a looong time ago. John reminded me that he is now older than I was when I taught him. Gee, thanks, John.

John and his fraternal twin, Jim, were in my sophomore English class, my speech class, forensics team and drama group. Poor guys got their fill of me, I’m sure. That’s what happens in a small high school of 158 students. Teachers wear lots of hats — active students are in everything!

It was the forensics team who got me hooked on “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest”. Our meets were on Saturday mornings, which meant we had to leave very early in the day to drive 30 or 60 or 90 minutes to other towns.  I remember once I had to get up at 4 AM in order to drive the 30 miles from Norton, where we lived, to Hill City to get the Suburban from the bus barn, pick up the students, and head off to somewhere in order to be at the meet by 8:30.  Long day . . . .

Anyway, we had lots of time to talk on the drive. That group was hooked on the Friday night soaps.  I missed out on the juicey conversation, so I had to start watching in order to keep up with the latest dirt!  Man, those shows were addictive!  However, there was always plenty of junk to discuss regarding the characters or the most recent plot line or a prediction on what would happen next. Those chats filled many a mile.

It was good to hear from John and think of those first years of my teaching career.  Bruce and I plan to make trip back there one of these days.  I can think of a lots of places in the Midwest that I want him to see.  I was telling son, James, and daughter-in-law, Marilyn about the proposed trip when Marilyn wondered how long the trip would be — two weeks she asked?   James’ reply was, “No, seeing Norton will take about ten minutes.”

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Good for the Soul

It started with the book shelves in the study, moved on to the book shelves in the back hallway, into the back bedroom and returned to the study in the file cabinets. It was a purge. Thin ’em out, toss ’em out, clean ’em out!

We whittled down the whole shelf of Holy Bibles we own. Bruce had many Bibles; so did I. We have purchased even more since our marriage. Multiple translations are necessary for good Bible study, however, we still had way too many. Some we had to keep. Ones belonging to our respective mothers, or with special significance. But the duplicates and extras had to go. What to do? Bruce recalled seeing a collection bin at the local Christian bookstore so he gave them a call. They donate them to the local rescue mission downtown they said, so Bruce phoned them. The mission director was delighted! Bruce even took them some religious books he had. He left the mission one big box lighter to the comment — “Bless you, brother!”

Three boxes went to the Salvation Army store, one to the church’s library, and even one box for my dear friend, Betty, another voracious reader. We found three copies of Alice in Wonderland. One is more than enough, don’t you think? We kept those books we couldn’t part with, for whatever reason, plus those we hadn’t yet read. When we lived in the Midwest, part of my “storm preparation package” was plenty to read, just in case we got snow bound for a week — or three. Though that is unlikely here, Augusta did have a three day ice storm in January 2004. I spent a lot of time on the sofa, which was pulled half way between the big window, for light, and the fireplace, for warmth. I even dug out the kerosene lamps so I could read at night. Without TV, the radio and the pets and my books were all the company I had then. I kept a kettle of hot water at the edge of the fire. Books and hot tea go together, especially when ice is hanging from tree branches. But I digress.

We even weeded out the shelves with videos. I found several ones from my teaching days. I had forgotten about the times I had to be videotaped in my classes. Heavens — I was so young and energetic. One was from my days at Laney, the other one from Davidson. It was fun to watch and see my students.

We dug through files and tossed old stuff. We decided the tax files belonged next to the copies of death certificates I have for Dad, Mom, Christine and Dale.

So the trash can is full. The shelves are cleaner. Perhaps it’s time for a trip to Barnes and Noble.

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If I blogged as often as I think about blogging, I’d do little else. I started this blog because, most of my life, I’ve chided myself for not keeping a journal. I always felt somewhat deficient. I was an English major, for heavens sake. English majors are supposed to read and write. A lot. And I have — just not as much as I think I’m capable of doing. Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion even has a “sponsor” called POEM — the Professional Organization of English Majors. I should be a dues paying member. (smile.) In the early 90s I wrote poetry rather regularly. Then I went back to graduate school for my specialist degree and that seemed to stifle any creative energies. That degree was in education, not English. (gag . . . gag) At least my BA and MA required me to read a great deal. It was legitimate. State sponsored, if you will.

I still don’t think I read enough. Somehow I think I should read a book a week. I could — if I spent half of my days with a book under my nose. Reading still seems like a wonderful luxury to me and my Puritan work ethic says anything you enjoy that much is probably not nice. Maybe even illegal. As a child I used to sneak books after “lights out.” Just hide the flashlight I’d take from the kitchen drawer. Stash it under the pillow. Make the sheets into a tent and I was all set. Mother will never find the flashlight when she makes the bed the next morning, I hoped. Dad will never notice the glow of light under the bedroom door. I also went through a phase when I snuck candy into my illicit late night reading sessions. Boy, Mother did notice the chocolate stains on the sheets, and I got into trouble. (This is the woman who kept a bag of chocolate stars next to her murder mysteries which were all stashed in her bedside table. Years later when I would borrow a book from her, I’d often find a chocolate stain on the corner of a page.) Finally, though, I wised up and switched to Maple Nut Goodies and Circus Peanuts. They didn’t melt. However, Dad often complained about the flashlight. The batteries always seemed to be dead.

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A rose by any other name smells just as sweet, says Shakespeare. Names identify significant attributes we need to know. I suspect they may help shape character too.

Our tuxedo cat is named Booger. He has two black spots on his otherwise white nose. The name was an easy choice. However, I just couldn’t bear to put “Booger” on his vet records. So when we go to the vet, I have to remember to respond to “Buddy” when they call his name. I just couldn’t make some poor vet tech have to call “Booger” to a crowded waiting room. He is fourteen pounds worth of onery feline fur. A real Alpha Cat. At times he is sweet and cuddly and cute. He “talks” — grumps and growls with a cross between a meow and a throaty quasi-purr. In addition, he has a comment on everything. He sounds just like a grumpy old man, fussing under his breath about his daily annoyances, from his canned food being late to the other cats getting his favorite nap spot to rainy day door decisions. Although, education classes explain “self actualization” — the process of becoming what we’re told we are, I do wonder if that applies to animals. Booger was a feisty little runt of the litter from the beginning. I got him from a friend from church. All it took was “We might have to have him euthanized if we can’t find him a home” for me to scoop him up. He rode home that day in the car sitting on my shoulder, purring in my ear like a furry parrot. However, the older he gets, the more “boogerish” he becomes.

One of my favorite Monty Python skits is when they make fun of the pronunciation of names. John Cleese says, “My name is Throat Warbler Mangrove, but you can call me Luxury Yacht.” Our family thought that was hilarious, so whenever we were unsure of someone’s name he/she was referred to as “Luxury Yacht”.

The last year I taught I had a student named Thania. First day of school, I called her name. “No,” she said, “it’s pronounced ‘Tonya.'” “T-H-A-N-I-A?” I asked, looking at my list, thinking someone had misspelled it. “Yes, It’s pronounced Tonya.” “But T-H-A-N should rhyme with Stan,” I said, drawing on everything I ever knew about the phonology of the English language. “Well, my mother says it is pronounced “Tonya.” Well, I’m thinking, your mother needs a spelling lesson — “Tonya” or even “Tonia” would do. Why would any mother do that? I called her “Miss Jones” throughout the year. It had to be that or “Luxury Yacht.”

Years ago I found several bricks in the yard with the name “Stevens” imprinted on them. I used one as a door stop, even using others to lift up the grate in the fireplace. Little did I know, that years later, I would marry a “Stephens.” Prophetic, huh?

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Editor Kathy

When I first announced my plans to retire, some of my colleagues said to me, “What will you do? Or you going to substitute? Get another job?” I guess they didn’t understand the concept of retire. They just couldn’t yet imagine going day to day without a job. Truth is I have a job: living my life by doing what I want, not what I have to do. I worked for 40 years, 25 as a teacher, 15 doing a variety of other jobs, the most important one as a mother of two sons. What some don’t get is that retired people are busy and active still, just in a different way. When Bruce finished college his first instinct was to go get a job. He looked actively for some months, however, nothing really turned him on. We had both “punched the time clock” for many years. He didn’t need to do that anymore. Now he volunteers as a coach for soccer and baseball. This is important contribution. He has lots of experience and loves doing it. He also loves yard work. His riding lawn mower is his friend, and, indirectly, mine too. We help out down at our church in a variety of ways. My garden club volunteers to plant and care for the gardens at St. Helena’s Episcopal Convent. There is plenty of work to do in the community.

Anyway — one of the mental games I still play is — what would I do if I wanted to go back to work, i.e. get paid for a prescribed activity? I used to tell my students my dream job would be to write poetry, read poetry, and write about poetry. That always got some strange looks. (“I thought she was nuts, now I’m sure of it.”) And still, that is my dream job. The wave-the-magic-wand kind. However, lately I identified a need. One I could fill: menu editor.

Recently we were in North Carolina for a few days visiting my brother and sister-in-law. We ate in restaurants in small towns, the ones wth delicious and simple food. The down-home type, not the fancy uppy-yuppy type with cutesy names for their dishes. One morning “Famous Louise’s Rockhouse Restaurant”, located across the road from our lodge, was closed. This is the place that advertised “Homemade Pie’s” for sale. I would have preferred “Homemade Pies”. And, trust me, the Strawberry Rhubarb was delicious! Anyway, on that day, we headed off to the next town. In Newland we found “Fabio’s” — a mainstreet cafe run by — guess who? — Fabio! It was simple, with vinyl tablecloths and artificial flowers in the vases on the tables, grab your own menu and seat yourself. Fabio is owner, cook, waiter and cashier, and father to a darling 4 year old girl. The little one was at the computer working on her alphabet. She would yell, “Papa!” “Bella!” her father would reply. “What’s an up, down, up?” “That’s an N.” “Papa!” “Bella!” “What’s a up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down?” Mm, we thought. Papa had to go look at the screen. The next trip by our table, he said, “It was a W.”

This is a hard working man who had plenty of work ethic; however, he needed some serious menu help. I didn’t know whether to order “sagage”, “sasuage” or “sausage” with my eggs. Did I want “T’ony Pizza”? Or a “Rueben sandwitch”? He could pay me in meals to revise his menu. We’d both be happy.

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