Things I Know My Kids Never Will

Sad TEddyOn winter afternoons my mind often wanders to the warmth of treasured memories, to places and things my kids never knew and for that I feel sad.

I feel sad they never had a Popeye doll. In my early years, I developed an intense crush on my spinach-eating hero.  I watched Popeye cartoons constantly, over and over and over again. I had a Popeye jack-in-the-box and I would coerce my dear friend Patty to being Olive Oil to my Popeye in pretend games. Sad but true, in their childhood, my children never had a cartoon hero that they actually wanted to marry when they grew up.

Hot summer days, sitting under the elm tree in our front yard, cutting out the latest fashions to dress my paper dolls in: I can almost smell the grass and hear the cicadas as I dreamily float through this memory.   Similar were Color-forms! I loved Color-forms. They entered my life as a sickbed diversion and exited my childhood as a dear diversion filled with imagined tales and stories.

Ah – Barbie! I adored my Barbie and her case-full of clothes. I was meticulous about hanging them using little plastic Barbie hangers and keeping track of all accompanying shoes and accessories. I had Barbie’s friends Ken, Midge and Skipper as well as the Barbie Dream House and pink Barbie sports car. I spent hours coming up with stories and dramas involving all the Barbie characters. It was a wonderful world to escape into. My daughter had a Barbie doll, but she never appreciated it like I did. In fact, she never really played with it and certainly never made up all the stories that I did when I lost myself in play. I feel sad for her.

Horses – my passion, my dream, my obsession even to this day. In my simple childhood world, everything was a horse: my bicycle, snowbanks where I so carefully crafted saddle with stirrups, and the best of all: gym horses with their leather coverings so like a saddle.  I drew horses all over my school notebook. But I was a lousy artist, so I mostly traced from one of my bookcase full of treasured horse books.  I never could understand why my parents wouldn’t give me a horse that we could keep in our little city backyard and garage. I now have a horse and I do not keep him in my little city backyard and garage.

There were so many magical things in my childhood filled with dreams and simple things. Perhaps my children feel they have also had childhoods filled with magical things, and I hope so, but I bet I have them beat .. and that makes me feel sad.

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You Are What You Write

100_0263I read this post in the Huffington Post today and it imparts many truisms about why our language is deteriorating into a cacophony of abbreviations, misspellings and complete ignorance of all things that show care for being precise and correct in written communication.  After all, we are in an age when “You are what you write” since face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication are relegated to the annals of history and it’s all about email, blogging, texting, Tweeting and more.

In her article, “10 Things I Learned as an Adjunct Teacher,”   Pauline Hawkins talks about 10 writing issues she found in her first year  teaching college comp classes. I have been teaching upper level college writing courses for 20 years and I find the same issues and they make me want to cry because of the evident and growing disregard for the language.

Here is what Pauline found in her first year:

  1. She knows she is a teacher because she cares that students get it right.
  2. Grammar has to make its way back into the high school curriculum.
  3. Writing teachers need to be writers.
  4. Standardized testing has ruined education.
  5. Some students need to take a year (at least) off before going to college.
  6. Vocational school needs to be a bigger and more respectable option for graduating high school students.
  7. Parents should encourage their kids who are not ready for a 4-year school to go to a community college for at least 1 year.
  8. Parents need to know when to help and when to let their kids learn it ‘the hard way.’
  9. People are dealing with a lot of crap in their lives.
  10. Learning to write well is one of the most rewarding skills we can acquire!

As I ponder my past and present experiences with students, and although I wholeheartedly agree with everything Pauline has said here, I particularly carry the flag for numbers 2 and 10. Students come to college without grammar skills. It starts with punctuation, or rather, lack-there-of. Comma usage causes immediate panic and either students place them all over the page—and I mean ALL over,  or they are nowhere to be found.  Forget colons and semicolons – students have not a clue what these are let alone how they should be used.  Sentence structure is also a major issue: fragments, run-ons and comma splices abound. I dare not use the technical terminology for fear of watching eyes glaze, so I constantly seek clever and simple ways to teach the concepts without the scary labels.

Second for me is the thrill of learning to write well. I was an English nerd dating back to elementary school. I loved diagramming sentences (my students today don’t even know what this is), writing essays and poems, and taking those grammar tests that my friends detested. As the nerd, I always got the A while many of my friends struggled  for a C. A or C, the thing about it back then was we cared about whether we could write. English as a subject was a big deal and perfection was realistically sought after – the nuns made sure of it.

All of what Pauline says is true. Not only do students come to college never having diagrammed a sentence, they know none of the terms that were drilled into us back when: participle, present perfect, compound complex sentence or even past, present and future verb tenses. Admittedly, I don’t think the terms are important, but what I do think is imperative is that students know how to place a comma, write a correct sentence and construct a decently written message.

After all, this is the age when it’s not who you see or speak with that counts (though I fully believe these should also count), it’s how you write that determines your image – good or bad. Imagine: if writing skills continue to deteriorate, then no one will be able to recognize or care about quality in the written word. Where will that then leave us as a civilization?

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My Mother’s Jewelry Box

IMG_0005As I was growing up, the most magical thing in my life was my mother’s jewelry box. Sometimes she would invite me into her bedroom and allow me free rein to look at all its treasures. It was full of beautiful pieces my father had given her. But my favorites was the sparkly, gaudy junk jewelry that came from the local drugstore or were hand-me-downs from my grandmother who was known for her glamour including a most fashionable side-ways-perched hat with a turkey feather extending a foot.  During those precious times going through her gems, I begged and cajoled her to give me this or that – all the junk stuff – and often she would relent, but just as often she would say, “Someday it will all be yours,” and I would leave her room with a tear in my eye.

It was Christmas Day and my family and I did what we always did – go to my parents for Christmas gift opening and Christmas feast, prepared by my father who always did all the cooking. That year it was roast beef – my favorite. Mom wasn’t feeling well that day, so after a sip or two of my wine, she took to her bed, dragging her oxygen cord behind her. We all devoured our meal and after, my kids went down to the basement for their annual ping pong tournament and my father and I sat under the twinkle of the Christmas tree finishing our wine.

“Let’s go check on your mother,” he said after a serene and meditative silence.

Together, wine glasses in hand, we entered the bedroom. The air was different. Like there wasn’t any. My mother’s oxygen thing had slipped out of her nose and her head was cocked off to the side. But most truly miraculous was the look on her face! After the pain and darkness that trapped her features earlier in the evening, now her face was bright and shining and a peaceful smile told us what her ending had been like.

After a whirlwind of 911 calls, and a houseful of police, ambulance EMS workers and firefighters, my mother’s body was taken to the hospital where she was officially pronounced dead. We went into the bare sterile room where they had put her body to say our goodbyes and were struck by how much different she looked. The beautiful peaceful face was gone and in its place was one dominated by a grimace and haunted look. We later learned that in their efforts to revive a person, EMS workers end up distorting the appearance as it was when the person’s soul left the body.

The day after my mother died, December 26th, my father appeared at my door and in his arms was my mother’s very hefty jewelry box. When I opened the door he reached out and handed me the box.

“She wanted you to have this,” he said, tears streaming down his face. He turned away and left. I cried , but I wasn’t really sure exactly why. Was it for  my father driving away, alone? My mother’s death? Or all the memories that were encapsulated within the box in my arms—memories of time with my mother as I begged and cajoled her to give me something of  the gold, the silver, the diamonds and other precious gems. But the things I valued most, and still do, are the things she also loved: the glittery, schmaltzy pieces of costume jewelry.

Merry Christmas Mom!

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103 Comma Kings

I am a member of several Linkedin groups. These groups are virtual ‘clubs’ where individuals gather based on professional or personal interests. Typically, one group member brings up a topic or asks a question and thus begins a discussion thread. At times the threads are interesting to their conclusion, but lately I am finding that too many deteriorate into sheer and utter nonsense where  loquacious individuals must comment on every single post and some even start fights with mean-spirited criticisms and replies. Then there are the never-ending story threads like the one that prompts me to write now.

Imagine: 103 mostly self-righteous comments on correct comma placement in a couple sentences presented by one poor soul who must rue the moment he asked this group for advice. What’s more, these 103 comments occurred in 2 days – significant both for LI groups and certainly for a topic such as this. As they comment on the commas, everyone speaks with great authority whether they think the example was correct or not. And these comments are punctuated by statements about credentials: “I am a certified high school English teacher,” “I am a professional editor,” “I have written 10-million books,” and on it goes. I am incredulous: how can these folks have the time (and energy) to create tomes on comma correctness?

Ergo, to assuage my growing agida, I think I will send everyone on the LI list a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

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Weekly Photo

Moon in Cloud Shroud

IMG_0005

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The Perils of Fountain Pens

003I love fountain pens. In fact, I have some obscene number of them as I continue my never-ending quest for the perfect one. Admittedly there are some issues related to fountain pens and I ran into every one during my second to last class of the semester this week. The last week of class is a typically manic time for both professors and students, and my classes are no exception. Even though I am in the audience this week while my students experience the angst of delivering  their final presentations, I am still stressed for many reasons, not the least of which is because they are stressed. (Stress breeds stress. Right?) Anyway, as I was making notes on the presentations,  I noticed that my hand was coated in purple ink, the color I especially love and often use in my pens. As I frantically looked for the source of the leak, a student asked me a question and would you believe – I stabbed myself with the nib!!  Of course it would have to be an ultrafine point pen. Then I noticed red mixing with the purple ink. Not only had I stabbed myself, but I drew blood! I was determined not to be a spectacle with this kaleidoscope of colors on my hand, and I succeeded in keeping my predicament under wraps. All I can say was thank God I had put some toilet paper (as Kleenex, of course), in my purse that morning.

As a result of my trauma, I’ve decided to relegate the fountain pens to journal-writing duty here at home, keeping them safely out of the classroom henceforth.

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Rendezvous with Chocolate at 3 a.m.

GhiradelliIt happened again. When will I learn? But it was only 60 percent cacao – much less than the 72 and 80 percents I had been eating.

Ugh – it goes like this. I get myself all nestled in bed, book in hand, surrounded by the doggies and as comfy as can be. In my night table drawer is hidden my Ghiradelli chocolate bar – I get the kind in the baking section – just as good (better) than the candy-aisle kinds – and with great delight I break it off into smaller pieces that lengthen the amount of time I have for my feast. Bite 1 – bliss. Bite 2 – ecstasy. Remaining bites – euphoria complete with closed eyes and broad smile. And so when done, I turn off the light and enter into sweet slumber …

Until…

3 a.m. roles around and I am uncontrollably bright eyed and not bushy tailed. My brain goes into fast-forward. SCREAM! This happens every darn time I have my beloved chocolate – the magical food that offers all these wonderful things including lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and providing beaucoup antioxidents. The magical food that I simply cannot eat unless I want to dance with my dreams at 3 a.m.

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