My first book has been released!

My first book has been released!
Available on Amazon and Kindle

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Topsy Turvy Times

      One common issue among the wives in my Fl condominium community is finding projects to keep our retired husbands busy.  Whenever my hubby concludes that he’s exhausted his ideas for daily activities, he stands over my shoulder, rubbing his fuzzy belly against me while I write at my computer.  He’s often wearing only plaid boxers, when he asks, “Can we go to the pool yet?”  His tone takes me back to a time when my five year old son whined, “Can we, Ma? Can we, please? Ma, can we go to the pool, now?  Can we Ma? Ma?”
      Still, the whining and desire to go to the pool are better than doing nothing. There are other days, where my head pounds from the background noise of talking heads on a 24 hour news program.  Eventually, I pop-up from my office chair, march into the living room, hand on hip, and summon my most authoritative teacher voice to address my husband in his easy chair.
      “Oh no.  Uh,uh,” I wag my pointer finger. “Don’t think for one moment that you're sitting in that chair all day and doing nothing!  You better find something to do and fast!”
      “Hey, I worked for 37 years!  You have a long way to go to catch up to me.” 
      It’s true, he is thirteen years older and I saw how hard he worked as a Superintendent of Schools, when I was an English teacher.  Yet, I never thought the change from being in a leadership position to retirement would be so dramatic in just five years.  As a Superintendent of Schools, my husband dressed impeccably with a perfectly pressed suit, a starched white shirt, a yellow speckled power tie, polished shoes, an impressive Rolex watch, and a twinkling diamond pinky ring.
      Now, in retirement, when he does get dressed, his uniform is khaki shorts and a golf shirt with Birkenstock sandals. He looks like a supersized Osh Kosh B’Gosh catalog model. True, this is appropriate wear for Florida, but every time we step out of our dark condo into the sunlight, the warm rays illuminate caked spaghetti sauce stains dotting my husband’s shirt.  Shocked, I point them out and say, “You have stains all over your shirt!”
      “So,” he says as he picks at them like a scabbed knee.
      “So?  You’re not going out like that, Mister!  Get in there right now and change that shirt!”  With his head down in shame, he complies.
      To avoid having my husband looming over me all day, I usually dictate the most bizarre grocery list to require him to go both to Publix Grocery store and BJ’s to extend his time shopping.  Cream of Tartar, Anise seed, cuticle oil, basmati rice—heck even Eye of Newt are added to the list.
      Compiling his list on a piece of yellow legal pad paper makes him joyous.  He folds the yellow, lined paper in four and places it into his khaki pocket as if to say, “Once again, I am a man of purpose.”
      My good friend, Rosie, shared her experiences with keeping her husband occupied as well.  When she begins her story, it’s immediately clear she hails from Brooklyn, NY because she pronounces her, like Huh, and mother like motha, and whore, like whowhere.  This only adds to the fact that she is one of the funniest people on earth.  Her looks and personality are the perfect combination of hot-blooded Italian and light-hearted Irish.  Her hair is ebony black and worn in a bob. Her nearly 70 year-old face is speckled with adorable freckles and a white easy smile warms her listeners immediately.
      Here’s how her story unfolded:
      Henry and I were in Walmart’s and he decided that for a little hobby, he has to buy this Topsy Turvy Tomato. Henry said, “We’ll have tomatoes all summer for $14.99.  I can grow it right on the balcony.  See, you hang it. Perfect for condos.”  Rosie elevates her voice, “Do you know how many tomatoes I can buy for the price of that.”  When Henry turned sullen, she said, “Fine, get it.” She figured he would at least be out on the balcony instead of following her around with a dustpan.
      Since retiring as a union steam fitter in New York, Henry has made it his sole purpose in life to ensure the grout in the tile floor of their condo remained spotless. This has driven Rosie crazy.  She makes it a point each day to walk from the kitchen to the living room, carrying a ham and cheese sandwich, breaking off small chunks of the sandwich and purposely dropping them onto the floor as she goes.
      She chuckles, “I like to clock him to see how quickly it takes before he picks it up. He’s freaking crazy.” Like most of us as we age, Rosie has blossomed from being called Bony Paroni as a teen to a full figured woman. Now, in the midst of heated discussions, she screams at Henry, ‘My skinny friends are all divorced.  If I lose five pounds, will you get the hell out--for Chrissake?”
      Rosie continues... when we got it home, Henry and I stood side by side peeking down into the contraption to see the stuff inside the planter.  “Crap,” we realized that the Topsy Turvy doesn’t come with any tomato plants.
      We headed back to Walmart to spend $30.00 on tomato plants.

      Henry planted 15 pounds of tomatoes in the planter and then made his way to hang it on a hook on the balcony wall.  He stood back to admire his work and realized there was not enough sun there for the tomatoes.

      We went back to Walmart to buy a longer wrought iron plant hook for $10.00.

      Henry drilled the balcony wall and hung the Topsy Turvy tomato pot.  Done.  Later in the day, he realized that half the container would always be against the wall and wouldn’t get any sun.  He decided it would be better if he built a stand for it.

      He drove to Home Depot to buy $20.00 worth of wood and $12.00 worth of screws.

He built a plant stand in the exact shape of the stick stand you would draw on a piece of paper if you were starting to play the Hangman word game.  When Rosie arrived at the pool that day, she said, “If you see a body dangling from a hangman stand on my balcony, call the police.”          
After inviting my husband into his garage to show off his new plant stand, Henry was still unsatisfied.  He said, ‘You know, I can’t just keep this wood natural.  It don’t look right.’

      Henry ran to Home Depot to buy the best quart of white semi-gloss paint for $14.00.

      Once Henry painted his plant stand bright white, he put it onto the balcony, hung his Topsy Turvy tomato plant and stood back to admire a job well done.  But, all the next morning, while checking on his tomatoes every hour, Henry realized that his plant was only getting a few hours of sun a day.  His 3 bedroom condo, a coveted corner unit, allowed him to see the ocean, but was shaded for a major portion of the afternoon. 
     Henry got an idea.  He looked at Rosie’s beloved seven foot tall cactus that she kept since her granddaughter grafted two cacti for a science project in first grade, 20 years ago.  Henry took the wheels off that plant and added them to his tomato stand.  This way, he could wheel the stand around all day to catch the sun for his Topsy Turvy tomatoes in various locations on the balcony.
      After three days of peace, Henry called Rosie outside. He was red, sweaty and upset.  He noticed a round water stain on the floor of his balcony.  “Well, this ain’t no good,” he mumbled to himself.  Since he now defines himself based on the cleanliness of his floor, this rust color stain was completely intolerable.
      Henry headed to Home Depot to buy a few 2” x 2” and 1” x 12” pieces of wood for $16.00. 

He built a rectangular tray to catch the water that drips from the Topsy Turvy plant. Meanwhile, Rosie received a letter from the Condo association stating that there was far too much hammering, sawing and other noises coming from her condo and neighbors were complaining.  Yet, Henry was still unhappy because he didn’t want the new wooden tray, he just built, to get ruined by dripping water.  He ran into the kitchen pantry and grabbed one of Rosie’s favorite serving trays to put it onto the wooden tray he build to protect the wood from water stains.
      When Henry was finally satisfied and saw that it was good, he invited me over to see the Topsy Turvy tomato.  I’m a city girl, but my husband has grown many tomato plants in our yard in PA over the years.  After overtly admiring his monster plant stand, I had to pause and think about whether to hold my tongue or not.  Finally, I said, “Henry, I hate to even say this, but the leaves on your tomato plants look shriveled.”
      Henry’s shoulders sunk.  He ran his hand through his pure white hair and said, “You know, you’re right. I knew it too.”  He walked over to a small plastic tool cabinet and said, “I didn’t tell Rosie, but a few days ago, I went Walmart’s and bought this tomato food for $12.99.  I’ve been giving it to the tomatoes every other day.  I mix a ½ capful of food with a gallon of water.”
      “Henry, I’m no expert, but are you supposed to feed tomatoes every day.  Let me see that bottle.”  He passed me a yellow plastic bottle and after putting on my reading glasses, I read aloud, “Mix 1/3 cap of food with 2 gallons of water for 20 square feet of garden every 14 days.”  “Henry,” I added, “I think you’re killing your tomatoes with kindness.”
      Henry paused and stared, thinking hard. He walked around the plant stand once and said, “Rosie, get in the car.  I have to go to Walmart’s to get some new tomato plants.”
      “You’re not going anywhere!” Rosie erupted.  I’ll hang you on that Goddamn monstrosity. It is what it is.”

Stay tuned.  The saga continues.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

America's Greatest Reality Program

Amazing Race? Survivor?  Please. You call this adventure? You want to see danger? Yesterday, I benefitted from one of the greatest advantages of living in Cape Canaveral, Florida, a port town that lacks the beauty of other Florida locations.  Passing massive cruise ships, I walked to our private beach at 8:40AM to watch the final lift off of Space Shuttle Endeavor.  Even though I could only see that intense ball of fire for mere moments, the remarkable flame, moving at thousands of miles per hour, always ignites national pride within me that lasts for weeks. The Space Program was my generation’s reality television and today’s television programs cannot even come close to generating the same excitement.

Can you even begin to imagine the bravery required of the astronauts who suit up and climb aboard the space shuttle to sit atop those rocket boosters to be propelled into space? 

I’ll never forget the excitement in 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger was scheduled to carry the first American teacher into space.  We all turned on our televisions in our classrooms to watch the event with our students.  And I’ll never forget the devastation our nation felt when the dream exploded right before our very eyes on television.  Talk about reality TV.  I’ll always remember the emotion and pride I felt watching then President Regan tear-up as he spoke these sentiments to our nation.  He said:

“To the families of the Challenger, I want to say, your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, give me a challenge, and I'll meet it with joy.  They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.”  President Reagan added:

“We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and, perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers. And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's take-off. I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.”                        

And then in 2003, when the Space Shuttle was again lost and the footage was played over and over again on television, President Bush comforted and encouraged the nation with these words: “We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.  Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand.  In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth. These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage, and daring, and idealism, we will miss them all the more.”                                                                  

What we have in common, my senior Florida peers and I and today’s children of our nation is that we all still live in a country that thrives on courage and idealism and bravery.  We all carry that spirit within our very fiber—even if you were not born here because your family came here to seek it.  This was personified even more at yesterday’s launch by the participation of Representative Gabby Giffords, who is currently struggling to overcome the headshot wounds she suffered in January of 2010.  Regardless of her pain and trials, she was there to cheer on her husband and his crew, despite her own suffering.  Her news incident represented one of the worst times in our history.  Yesterday, she, once again, represented the best.

The news sometimes can get us down and there will always be good and evil.  Still, as our history unfolds, I hope our young people may be comforted by the words below that I have consolidated and reiterate from two American presidents from two different generations.  They may be even more meaningful now that our amazing Shuttle Program is coming to an end.  

Nothing ends here.  Our hopes and our journeys continue in you. You ,too, have a high and noble purpose.  The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. Be brave, stand strong and lead us beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and your longing to understand. It’s now your turn to take the chances that will greatly expand man's horizons. We cannot even imagine where you will take us, but we take great comfort in knowing that with you and in your hands, we will be safe.

Friday, May 13, 2011

You Never Know

Today I want to tell you a story about a guy.  He was a just a simple kid who grew up in a little town and spent his time playing sports, especially soccer, with his buddies in the school yard.  He also loved to ski, kayak, and swim in the river near his house.  He was passionate about all sports and had a lot of friends.  Unfortunately, his happy childhood was interrupted when his mother died when he was just nine years old.  This was devastating to him and his family.  Then, his older brother died when he was 12 and he was never the same.

He and his father, the only two left in his family, moved into a one-room apartment, where his father cooked for him and sewed clothes for him to wear.  His father wanted him to be tough, so he made him study in a bitter cold room with no heat in the middle of winter.  He believed this would increase his concentration and help him to do very well in school. 

His father also wanted him to still have fun too.  So, when he could not afford a soccer ball, his father made him one out of rags, so that his son could still run and play.  Eventually, the guy graduated from high school and was accepted to a university, where he looked forward to beginning his studies.
What do you think happened to this guy?  Do you think he made it?  Do you think he was successful?  Do you think he made his father proud?  Do you think he became an electrician? A doctor?  A teacher? A plumber?  A lawyer?  A millionaire? The funny thing about kids is that you just never know.  You really just never know.

This guy I’m telling you about went on to the university and loved studying languages, poetry, philosophy and religion.  He even started his own theatre company and was an actor for a while.  He’s pretty famous today, but he wasn’t on a sitcom or in the movies.  But he made it big.   He was having a lot of fun in college until Communism began to limit the type of poetry he could read, plays he could perform, and the religion he could practice.  So, his life took a different turn…he decided to do something about the pain and suffering he thought Communism was causing.  Yet, he wasn’t a soldier or a politician.

This guy loved sports, but he’s not a famous athlete.  He loved theatre, but wasn't an actor on Broadway or in the movies.  Yet, his influence has been felt by millions world- wide.  You all have heard of him. Because of his commitment to others, huge, adoring crowds met him wherever he went.  People stood out in sweltering heat or pouring rain just to get a slight glimpse of him. People traveled countless miles just to see him wave from a window.  And because he spoke eight languages fluently, he was able to communicate to so many and to bring peace and comfort to people all across the globe.

The guy, this soccer player, this son, this graduate I’m telling you about was named Karol Wojtyla.  Do you know him?  If you don’t recognize him by that name, maybe it would help if I told you that most people knew this guy as Pope John Paul II. 

It didn’t matter if his fans were Catholic, Muslim, Jewish or Atheist, American, Italian or Cuban, Pope John Paul II, was recognized as a universal symbol of strength, courage, and values for everyone. 

According to CNN News Correspondent John Allen, “You'd be hard pressed to name any global figure who has achieved 100 percent of the things they set out to achieve.   It is doubtful there has ever been a man who so successfully translated his strength, determination and faith into such widespread respect and goodwill.”

My reasons for writing about this distinguished man have absolutely nothing to do with religion because I no longer attend any church. It has 100% to do with the guy…the man he became.  I want to emphasize for all parents that no young boy finishes playing soccer, sits down, drinks his Gatorade, and turns to his buddies and says “You know, I think I will be the Pope when I grow up.”  It just doesn’t happen.  I’m sure he didn’t say it.  I’m sure your child has never said it.  But the wonderful truth is that we just never know.  We cannot predict what choices they will make or risks they’ll take and the results that will follow. 

In closing, I’d like to leave you with the words of Pope John Paul the II, who so deeply affected the world, “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.

As a parent, you never know what miracle you're growing.  That runny-nosed, grimy munchkin in your kitchen having a cookie, may one day, become a saint.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Teachers of the Year (Mother's and Father's Day Tribute)

Each year, in most schools across the nation, an important committee convenes to solicit nominations, collect votes, and announce the results to recognize an outstanding educator with the distinguished honor of “Teacher of the Year.” According to the standards established by Departments of Education, among the criteria for selecting candidates are the use of effective instructional techniques and methods and the development of feelings of self-worth and love of learning in students. The teachers I recognize today are those who have accomplished this by inspiring children on a daily basis.

Who are these amazing teachers?  At graduations, they are not all seated among the faculty and staff members as you might expect. They're not among the Board of Education members and local dignitaries.  They're not mingled in with the administrative team.  They're seated out there, somewhere, in the audience.

Every caring and nurturing parent or guardian should stand to be saluted as the Outstanding Teachers of the Year.  It is with great admiration that society pays tribute to you for your relentless dedication, your tireless work, and your unselfish partnership with schools.  You have nurtured exceptional young adults while facing overwhelming obstacles. You have done it all during this most challenging time in history.  Yet, most of you have kept your composure, humor, and compassion.

I honor you, the mothers and fathers and guardians of students because, you, America’s parents, are the first teachers. In our media driven society, our culture has really confused terms like victims and heroes, celebrities and role models. As a society, we are so enthralled with the stars of pop culture that we have come to care less and less about the "content of one's character."  Yet, stunning examples of fine character are walking up and down the streets of our own neighborhoods every day.  If we simply turn our heads, just a few inches from the television or computer, to the window, portraits of real heroes will be there, framed by the responsibilities of daily life. As a famous athlete once told his young admirers, "I am not your hero, kids; if you want a hero go home and talk with your parents."

Parents give their all, and often sacrifice their own dreams, in order to nurture the potential of their children. In our country, many parents have uprooted their lives, left their homelands, abandoning their relatives and support systems—not to pursue material riches, but in search of a better future for their children.  Thousands of Moms and Dads have given up their professional and personal aspirations to spend time preparing children for school, chauffeuring them to various activities, and carefully orchestrating each day.  They struggle to ensure that learning is fun, strengths are developed, and weaknesses overcome. Scores of parents are also volunteering in the classroom, chaperoning class trips, tutoring children who need assistance, organizing PTO activities—all the while monitoring their children’s health and well-being. 

Yet, you rarely find a moment to congratulate yourselves for all that you've done.  In fact, most spend a great deal of time mired in anguish about what you haven’t done.  No matter what, you always think you could or should do more. 

You probably don’t even realize how phenomenal you really are, and how lucky your children are to have your loving support. It’s time to do what you forget to do: pat yourself on the back and think about all of the incredible ways you’ve made a positive contribution to your child’s life. In fact, I want you to ask yourself, “Am I a hero?” A hero is defined as a prominent or a central person in any remarkable action or event.  You all have certainly played the prominent role in the remarkable events we celebrate during graduation season.  So I call you heroes.  A hero is also described as a person of distinguished valor or fortitude in suffering.  No one can deny the courage or valor you need every day to face the challenges of parenthood in this chaotic time.  So we call you heroes.  And amid the joyful moments, you have endured varying degrees of suffering.  And even as we attempt to celebrate you, there are mixed emotions. After you’ve nourished and protected your most treasured and prized possession, nature will now force you to part so that your child can makes his own way in this world. 

As each child’s name is called this graduation season, a face somewhere will stream with tears, because graduates are now the future’s children.  World-renowned poet, Kalil Gabran, summarized the bittersweet nature of the parent/child relationship in his book The Prophet.

"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

We can never predict just how far that arrow will go or where it will land. We cannot even know for certain if it will ever reach the destination that we would have chosen.  It's all totally out of our control.  But as it soars gracefully towards its destination, I ask you to please find some peace in knowing you have been and will continue to be the wind that speeds these children on their way to tomorrow.

Did your child ever tell you that you’re his hero?  Give him time because time is the only true ingredient that produces this glorious patina on your special work of art.  In the interim, please accept my congratulations and deep condolences, because I know firsthand, that the arrow soaring towards tomorrow cannot reach its destination without first piercing through your heart.

(This blog is dedicated to Stephen Trembley.)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The True Tests

Is dearth to paucity as hair is to baldness?  This was the first question on a sample Scholastic Aptitude Test when I taught English.  I wonder how many “successful” people could answer this analogy question correctly.  It’s funny, but twenty years have passed and I never felt the need or the desire to use either dearth or paucity in a sentence.  Yet, these words and many similar words are used on an annual basis to determine the success or failure of America’s schools.

If you pay close attention to the print and news media, you would think that because of dearth and paucity, our schools are failing dreadfully.  In fact, according to many reputable sources, we are graduating young adults who can barely tie their own shoes.  They can’t read.  They can’t write.  They can’t think and they will never survive in this dog eat dog world.  I beg to differ.

America’s young people were put to a far more stringent test than most teachers could ever create.  Whether we supported it or not, agreed with our president or strongly disagreed with him, the United States Armed Forces are enduring a high stakes test that puts the No Child Left Behind assessments and the SAT to shame.  With the average age of combat units at just 19 years old, young men and women, who probably were not the top students in their classes, and probably did not attend our best universities, or any university, traveled to an extremely dangerous part of the world on a very significant mission.  In their exceptional execution of their mission, they endure dramatic challenges as they demonstrate many of the educational standards defined by the state of New Jersey as Core Content Curriculum Standards or Workplace Readiness Standards by which we are supposed to measure student achievement:

They used technology, information and other tools.
They used critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
They demonstrated self-management skills.
They applied safety principles.
They acquired a geographical understanding of the relationship between language and culture.
They acquired historical understanding of economic forces, ideas, and institutions throughout the history of New Jersey, The United States, and The World.
And most importantly, this so-called struggling generation of children, who supposedly cannot read or write on grade level, effectively communicated a message so very loud and clear that it resonated throughout the world, for all to hear, in every language in the universe: America stands for freedom and we can accomplish anything!
For several weeks, television was alive with such bright young faces of American men and women of every color and nationality, who personally hand delivered—not a Dominos pizza, not a gang bustin rapper’s rhyme, not any of the stereotypical things attributed to their generation. No, instead they delivered freedom, big time, to a nation of people who were being brutalized.  Think about it.  They delivered freedom –life itself to a suffering people.
The toppling of a statue once, that we all witnessed, should signify the final toppling of the false notion that America’s youth are failing.  They have and will continue to succeed far beyond our wildest dreams and imagination. As I drive past school bus stops, I see beautiful young faces filled, not only with hope and promise, but determination, strength, intelligence, and vision.  I challenge America’s youth to categorically dismiss the nonsense reports that you are not up to standards and show the world.   Stand and deliver your own special brand of freedom—however you wish to define it.
My prayer is that young Americans never again have to reach for a gun, or drive a tank, or fly a fighter jet to deliver this freedom.  But, if they are challenged, they will answer their challenges in an exceptional way as all American generations have done before them. 
Meanwhile, if television airways were filled each night with the daily accomplishments of our youth in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, our national pride would explode.  Unfortunately, what we do have in our media is a dearth of images portraying the good in America and a severe paucity of reality on our reality television.

The Golden Years

After retiring as a Superintendent of Schools, my husband collected his loose change in a coffee can.  When the dull coins neared the top of the blue can, he decided to take it to the local grocery store to cash it for our upcoming trip to Las Vegas.  As we drove to the store, he said, “You take it and put it through the coin machine. I’m embarrassed.”  I agreed to do it, but the coffee can was way too heavy for me to carry into the store and lift high enough to pour the change into the CoinStar machine near the cash registers. So, my husband joined me after all. 

Together, we lifted the can and leaned over in amazement as the coin machine devoured the quarters, nickels and dimes.  The steady clanging of change was music to our ears as the digital counter totaling our stash climbed even higher.  Every now and then, there was silence as we reached in to take out a button or token that had accidentally been placed into the coffee can during the year.  We laughed and high-fived each other when it totaled $200.00 and was still counting.  We turned our attention back to the machine and our heads were nearly touching sides as we watched in delight with our backs towards the rest of the supermarket.  We were in our own little world when my husband was suddenly tapped on his shoulder.  We both turned to see the long time County Superintendent of Schools, who met with my husband for years at the county’s monthly Superintendent’s Round Table meetings.  His beige suit was in sharp contrast to my husband’s too-short blue gym shorts and too-tight Under Armor tee shirt.  The county superintendent’s face opened into a wide grin.  He pointed to our scratched Maxwell House Coffee can of change and chuckled, “Frank, is this what happens to you when you retire?” We all had a good laugh. 

What are the chances of this happening?  Just just one month later, I sent my husband to the next town to a Laundromat to dry a bulky comforter that didn’t fit in our dryer.  He first made a stop at the drug store and then parked his black Lincoln Continental in front of a pizza place next door to the Laundromat.  He felt out of place as he walked into the mildewy establishment to place the comforter in the dryer.  He didn’t appreciate the clientele lurking around the washers and dryers, so he decided to wait outside and clean the inside of his car while our comforter tumbled.  When the car interior was clean, he tossed the trash into the outside container, picked up the comforter and then headed for home.

As soon as he placed his keys on the kitchen table, he realized that he was missing the bag with his purchase from the drug store.  It dawned on him that while cleaning his car, he had accidentally thrown-out his very expensive diabetes test strips that he had on the front seat in a white plastic bag.  He rushed back to the pizza restaurant’s trash can and searched furiously for the pharmacy bag.  As he did, old soda cups splashed brown coke spots on his cream colored golf shirt.  Sweat rolled down his reddened face.   As he wiped it from his eyes, his filthy hands smeared trashcan dust across his cheeks. 

As he neared the bottom of the trashcan, his eye caught a glimpse of the white plastic pharmacy bag.  He leaned deeply into the can, stood on his tippy toes, and finally pulled it out, along with a paper plate that was glued to the bag by pizza cheese.  He stretched the two apart, smiling as he lifted the pharmacy bag in triumph.  In that exact moment of glory, the very same County Superintendent of Schools pulled up to the pizza place in his new silver Lexus. He exited the car and stopped in his tracks.   He took one look at my, sweaty, disheveled, husband and shook his head as if to clear it.  He said, “Man, I am never going to retire if this is what becomes of you!  Wait till I tell the guys at this month’s round table meeting!”  My husband started to explain, but instead just rushed to his car and drove away.

Lost in Translation

My husband and I are fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful neighbors, who are year-round residents, in our Florida condominium.  To our left, lives a remarkable couple, who just celebrated their 50th anniversary.  Like many successful seniors, they came to America from another land and worked tirelessly to secure the American Dream for their children.  Their three daughters have all earned college degrees and have been extremely successful.
However, with the economic downturn, one of their daughters was unemployed last year.  My neighbor, Maria, approached me while I was walking my dogs and asked if I would consider reviewing her daughter’s resume to see if it could be improved.  I work as a grant writer, but while teaching English for 12 years, I always included lesson plans on resume writing, so I had some experience.  Later in the day, Maria gave me a Post It size paper containing her daughter’s e-mail address, so that I could introduce myself and encourage her daughter to e-mail me a copy of her resume.  When I sat at my computer to write to Maria’s daughter, I struggled to read Maria’s printing.  The letters and numbers comprising the e-mail address were printed neatly, but they were so tiny.  Even with my most powerful reading glasses, purchased in bulk from BJ’s, I couldn't make out all of the characters in the handwritten e-mail address.  I struggled and came up with the best e-mail address I could manage.
The next day, when I was walking my dog again, I saw Maria.  Humbly and gratefully, she inquired about whether I was able to e-mail her daughter.  I stuttered a little as I explained that I tried to do so.  I said, “Maria, I’m so sorry, but your writing was so very tiny that I could hardly read the address.  I sent the e-mail anyway, but honestly, I’m not sure if I sent it to the correct address."
Maria, who would rather die than inconvenience anyone, reached for my hand and put the other to her head.  “I’m so sorry,” she said with a broken accent.  “My daughter, Katerina, told me, 'Momma, make sure when you give Katie the   e-mail address that you use only small letters.'  So I tried really, really hard to write it as tiny as possible.  I even did it two times.”
I burst into laughter.  I gave Maria a hug and said, “Maria, Katerina meant that you should not use capital letters in the e-mail address--not that you should write really small!”  We laughed so hard that my dogs thought we were crazy.  Fortunately, Maria's daughter did get a job and all is well.