Sunday, June 21, 2020

Z is for Zamperini

My sister and I presented our father with a new piece of technology today. Before he opened the package completely, my sister offered some advice: "Don't freak out over it. We'll show you what to do."

The Amazon Echo Show is a small monitor that connects to everyone's favorite nosy houseguest, "Alexa". Yes, there's a lot Alexa can do-besides all that creepy eavesdropping. Jeen and I bought it for only one function- the ability to hear audiobooks.

At 85 my dad has a hard time reading much. Even with bigger fonts for the elders he still has difficulty tracking the words. It's a shame because up until a few years ago he was an avid reader. Retirement gave him the opportunity to catch up on quite a few books that he never got to with a big deal office job taking up most of his time.

It didn't take too long to set up the device and before long I had created an Amazon account for my dad so I could download a book to his device. We wanted to make sure Dad's first audiobook was a good one- the kind that would definitely keep him interested. There was only one story I could think of that fit the bill. It was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini- the Olympic track star and World War II hero who survived a plane crash in the Pacific, floated around for 47 days only to be captured by the Japanese. Louis spent over two and a half years in Japanese POW camps at the hands of some rather brutal captors.

I listened to the book a few years ago and was transfixed with the story from the beginning. I'm sure my dad will find the story as interesting as I did and look forward to talking to him about the story.

As I was leaving I confessed to my sister that I was a little jealous that he gets to enjoy Louis and his story for the first time. Who knows, maybe I'll listen to it again this summer. Certainly being reminded of everything Louis went through might give me a little needed perspective as I continue living my own life during a pandemic.

Life Lesson: Some stories are worth hearing more than once.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Y is for Year 27

Well, it's a wrap on year 27 of teaching...sort of. The kids are done so that means no more daily posting of assignments and assessing of work. This teacher is left with just a few days of professional development designed to help me get ready for the possibility of a continuation of distance learning in the fall.

The end of the year has been pretty anti-climatic. There were no end-of-year field trips, no assemblies, or student-led lessons. There was no bet between myself and my colleague Alex predicting which girls would be sobbing at the end of the day. (Obviously Shayla)

There was one last online meeting between myself and 19 of the 98 students I teach. We played Bingo and congratulated ourselves on going the distance through the crazy end of the school year.
As we said goodbye we were sure to include, "See you next year!"

Boy, do I hope we do.

Life Lesson- Connecting is so much better in person.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

X is for an X-tra Special Day!

My mom turned 85 today. I've seen her a few times since the quarantine started and don't worry too much about sending sickness her way. She lives with my immunocompromised sister so I know everyone up in Bel Air is on their best game in the daily fight against Covid-19.

So, this morning, right after I wrapped up my last online conference of the school year I jumped in my car and head 90 miles north to get in on the celebration. I was not a surprise guest- I was more of a decoy. Both of my parents have taken to sleeping late...real past noon. My sister and I knew if we didn't tell them I was coming up for the afternoon they could still be asleep when the bigger surprise arrived.

The real surprise was the arrival of my two older brothers from Upstate New York. They drove separately because older brother insisted they'd have to wear masks in the car and younger brother said no way- he couldn't deal with that for the 4.5-hour drive. The boys have been following strict quarantine guidelines with each of them looking out for their own family members at risk.

So, there we were- the original 6- enjoying an afternoon of chatter, grilled foods, and ice cream cake.

My mom seemed pleased to have us all together and my dad, the romantic of the couple, was obviously touched.

After my mom went inside my dad told us about the gift he had presented her with earlier that day.

"I gave her the letter she wrote to me just three weeks after we started dating," he said.

"Wow!" my sister replied, "You know where that is?"

"Of course he does!" I chimed in. "He's the romantic in the relationship."

Three hours after everyone arrived we all started to make the motions for leaving. My brothers had a long drive ahead of them. I checked the traffic for my own drive and hung around for another hour or so waiting for the roads to clear up a bit before heading south again.

Life Lesson: Family time shouldn't be taken for granted.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

W is for Wheels on a Gravel Road

The C&O Canal towpath is one of my favorite biking destinations in the DC area. During the hot, summer months the trees along the path provide shade. Once autumn rolls around those same trees show off some spectacular colors that often reflect in the still waters of the canal.

Whenever I go for a ride I can count on seeing a variety of animals. It's common to see Great Blue Herons standing still as they prepare to strike for food. The turtles are always out to great me as well- usually stretched out on a log with one leg lifted as they warm up in the sunlight. Every once in a while, I'll even catch glimpse of a deer or two. Today I was greeted by a snake- not exactly my favorite but I forgot about that once I saw a Bluebird flutter through the trees ahead of me.

I've spent many a weekend biking along the canal. A few years ago, I was surprised to run into a good friend there. She was completely unexpected as she lives about an hour away from where we met up.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, "What are you doing at my church?"

I replayed that conversation today as I peddled along considering the beauty and peacefulness of the ride. The ride provided a great deal of space and time to consider the last few months and the last few weeks. It's been a stressful time, one full of emotional ups and downs. Fortunately, there's something about that ride, about that setting that recenters me. And so I pumped my legs, looking around at all there was to see, listening to my fat bike tires roll along the gravel path, feeling my leg muscles working all while the whole of me felt so much better.

Life Lesson: Remember to enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

V is for Vintage

Today's office hours with my students started with a little show and tell. (Thanks to my friend Tracey for the idea.) Of course, I was scrambling ten minutes before the meeting looking for something to share. I have a piece of the Canadian Shield that I got years ago on an educational trip through Canada. I know it's something that my sixth graders learned about this year so I thought for a minute a few students may find it interesting. But really, probably not- so I reconsidered.

The top shelf of the bookcase in my living room holds one of my most prized possessions- a small red dress that my grandmother sewed for me when I was just a baby. My grandmother, who's been dead for over 18 years, is very special to me. Just about any great childhood memory includes her- including the way she always called me Buttons.

Once my students shared their possessions- a turtle, a 4-year-old helium balloon that continues to stay inflated, a stuffed animal, and a tour of a newly built in-bedroom home gym- I shared my little red dress.

"My grandmother who worked in a sewing factory, made this dress for me when I was just a baby," I said as I held the dress up to my laptop camera. I then showed the embroidery that reads, "Button, Button- who's got the button?"

"She always called me that," I continued, "because she thought I was as cute as a button."

Aaaawwws were heard from the small group-certainly because what's cuter than a little girl's dress and maybe, just a little, because they pictured what their teacher looked like 57 years ago.

Life Lesson: Connections bring us all together.

Monday, June 1, 2020

U is for Under the Stars

I grew up in Harford County, Maryland. It was a rural kind of place that started to get developed in the 70s so people like my parents could move farther out from the city in search of more home for less money.

Fifty years after that first development started, parts of the area are hardly recognizable to a person like me who hasn't lived there for quite some time. Fortunately, even with all the development, there are still glimpses of the small town, rural area I knew.

For example, Main St. in Bel Air looks pretty much the same even though some of the storefronts are different. Whenever I find myself there I can picture a much younger me helping a friend sell lemons with peppermint sticks at the town's Tom Sawyer Days festival. I can look down the street to where the movie theater used to be and picture the ticket booth and main lobby, as well as the theater where I saw such classics as Young Frankenstein.

Then there are the places that are no longer in business. For me, the biggest loss is the Bel Air Drive-In. I've always been a fan of drive-in movie theaters. Before moving to Bel Air my parents would take us out on a Saturday night in our pajamas. We head to the local drive-in and spend the night sitting on the hood of the car watching whatever family-type movie was playing.

With the recent state of the world, there's been some interest in drive-ins. I don't see myself sitting in a theater anytime soon but if there was a drive-in nearby I'd certainly spend a night in my car with a big screen in front of me.

Saturday night, we had our own drive-in of sorts. My brother-in-law's new phone comes with a projector attachment. So, after dinner we got ourselves set up for a backyard movie. First came the lighting of the firepit. Then came the chairs in a formation that allowed everyone to stay warm and see the screen my nephew had brought outside. A short time later the popcorn was done and the movie of the night, "Stand By Me," was rolling.

It was a perfect night for a movie under the stars- a little like the old nights at the drive-in, but this time dogs were welcome to join in on the movie on the lawn.

Life Lesson: “Simple pleasures are best.”
― Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie