Those Were The Days

Mamacita says:  Mary Hopkin was one of the few women signed to The Beatles’ “Apple” label, and I have always liked her “Those Were The Days.”  However, I liked it better when “those days” weren’t quite so far back.

I grew up in a tiny house about three blocks from a neighborhood grocery store.

 I shared a room with my two sisters, one of whom slept on a twin mattress that slid under the real bed by day.  We didn’t know it was weird; we thought it was cool to have a trundle bed like Laura and Mary.  My brother, of course, had his own room.
Laura and Mary made up their trundle bed and pushed it back under Ma and Pa's big bed every morning.

Laura and Mary made up their trundle bed and pushed it back under Ma and Pa’s big bed every morning.

Dad also bought him his own car when he was sixteen but we don’t dare go there.
I was in junior high before I realized that my friends who all had their own bedrooms weren’t necessarily ‘rich people.’  To me, anybody who lived in a house big enough for everybody to have his/her own room was rich.
I don’t remember Mom ever buying a lot of groceries at one time.  She just sent one of us kids down to the ‘store’ every fifteen minutes or so, year round, to get thises and thats.  When it was my turn, she often had to phone Jerry (the store owner, who was a super nice man) and ask him to tell me to stop reading the comic books and get home with the ketchup and onions.  We never took money with us to the store; we just told Jerry to “put it on the bill.”  There were four of us kids, and sometimes we passed each other going to and from the store.  Every payday,  Mom paid up.
My allowance was a quarter a week.  It was enough.
Candy bars were six for a quarter.  You could play six songs on the jukebox for a quarter.   Thirty cents would buy a hamburger, fries, and coke at Little Jerry’s, next door to the ‘store,’ and not to be confused with Big Jerry’s, the restaurant franchise on the other side of town.  I remember the teenagers in there playing “Sugar Shack” over and over.
You could get two comic books for a quarter, until they raised the price from twelve to fifteen cents.  I was so outraged I wrote DC Comics a letter of protest.  They answered, too.  I was thrilled, until Mom explained to me what a ‘form letter’ was.  I still have that form letter somewhere.  Bazooka Bubble Gum was a penny, and I saved the comics in a cigar box, intending to redeem them someday when I got enough.  I never did it, even though I had hundreds of Bazooka comics..
For 75 cents, you could bowl three games and have lunch at the counter.
A regular coke was a nickel.  The dime coke was just too huge for a little kid to handle, alone.
Mom took me to Indianapolis several times a year to the eye doctor.  In the fall, we would go to Block’s and Ayre’s to buy school clothes.  She had charge cards there; I loved to watch the saleswoman get out the little machine, put the card in the space, and swipe the handle back and forth till the raised letters in the card were printed on the carbon paper.  All the big department stores had tea rooms back then, and we’d have lunch up there where we could look over the balcony and see the store below.  There were toothpicks on all the sandwiches, toothpicks with frilled cellophane at the top.
I have never outgrown my fascination with and love for elevators and escalators, which had its beginning in the big Indianapolis department stores that no longer exist.  All elevators smelled the same: kind of like a doctor’s waiting room.  There were elevators even in this small town, but escalators were a wonder I could ride only in the big city.
Frilled toothpicks

Frilled toothpicks

Sometimes we rode the Greyhound bus.  It was on a bus that I saw my first drunk.  The vending machine at the local Greyhound station contained candy so old, it was too stale to eat and often there were those little white worms crawling in the whitish chocolate.  I was a little kid and I wanted to give the machine another chance every time.  The machine betrayed me every time.  I can only assume that my mom was using this lesson in futility as some kind of lesson.
I wore my skate key on a string around my neck wherever I went.
Mom had odd notions about shoes.  We were always the last kids to get sneakers because Mom believed that sneakers were for summer, not spring, and she really didn’t care that, and I kid you not, we were the last kids in the school to get sneakers.    She was also a believer in rain boots and those hideous rain bonnets worn and still worn only by old women.  We walked to school from K-12, and even when it was pouring rain or the snow was knee-deep, I would walk around the corner and ditch the boots and hideous rain bonnet in a stranger’s hedges.  We had school in weather that would keep kids today home for a week.  Everybody walked to school except the kids who lived on the outskirts of town.  In high school, the same rich kids who had their own bedroom were the only ones who drove to high school.
The penny candy at Brown’s grocery was kept behind a huge glass-covered case.  We stood in front of the glass, pointed to what we wanted, and Mr. Brown would put it in a little brown paper bag.  Usually, Mom gave us each a nickel for penny candy, but if Dad was home, we got a dime.  Each.  That’s a lot of candy lipstick, chalky candy cigarettes, paraffin lips, teeth, and moustaches, and, for me, the occasional lemon.
That’s “lemon.”  The fruit.  I’ve loved them since I was really little.
Sometimes I bought a lemon.  No, I didn't put sugar on it, but thank you for asking.

Sometimes I bought a lemon. No, I didn’t put sugar on it, but thank you for asking.

Our ice cream man drove a yellow pickup truck, and two high school girls made snow-cones and sold us popsicles from a freezer.  We could hear him coming near from clear across town; the yellow truck didn’t play music; the high school girls rang a large bell.  The popsicles were a nickel.  The snow cones were a dime.

 These experiences and prices seem so extreme now, even to me.  It’s almost like something we’d read in a novel about the olden days.
Oh, scheisse. . . . .

Poetry: Beauty and Truth

Absolute and beautiful truth.

Absolute and beautiful truth.

Mamacita says:  Poetry.  I first encountered Gerard Manley Hopkins’  Spring and Fall and Robert Burns’ John Anderson, My Jo in a college course.  Unfortunately, the professor was a jaded, bored, boring man who considered himself far too important to be teaching a group of eager undergrads, and who turned every selection into a joke.  Both poems, he taught us, were about old people who were about to die.  No biggie, that. Death.  Common theme.  Moving right along. . . .

A lot of treasure went undiscovered that semester, thanks to him.  He knew there was gold in that book and even more gold seated in the room, but he did not bestir himself to go a’digging for it.  Too much trouble.  He held the key to a treasure chest and did not bother to use it.  Never once did he tell us that poetry was awesome and fantastic and heartbreaking and thrilling and bloody and pathetic and sweet and sour and bitter and lusty and sexy and mind-boggling and dirty and just plain wonderful unless it wasn’t.

A few years later, I encountered this poem again, in Jean Kerr’s How I Got To Be Perfect.  Jean and her husband Walter, upon realizing – with horror – that while their kids seemed to know an

This is a must-read, my friends.

This is a must-read, my friends.

awful lot about sports and movies and fun, not one of their kids knew anything about poetry, instituted “Culture Night,” wherein each child had to memorize a poem and recite it to the family once a week.  It went over like a ton of bricks the first few times, and then took off like a rocket as the boys gradually gained an understanding and appreciation of form, rhyme, meter, patterns, theme, and inner meanings. (The Common Room has a fantastic post about Jean and Walter Kerr’s “Culture Hour.” I highly recommend that y’all go read it.)

One night, after Jean’s son Colin had finished his recitation of  John Anderson, My Jo,, Jean burst into tears. The boy said to her, “Mom, it is Margaret you mourn for.”  It was true.

I cannot think of either poem now, without tears.  The good kind.  I teach my students that both poems are, first and foremost, about love: the kind of love that lasts forever.

John Anderson, My Jo, by Robert Burns

JOHN ANDERSON, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonnie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snow;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo!

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill tegither;
And monie a canty day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
But hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.

Spring and Fall, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Thank you, Jean Kerr, for teaching me that poetry rocks. The university couldn’t be arsed to do it.

Heavenly Rays and Miracles

Mamacita says: When my children were little, they called these ‘heavenly rays,’ and for heavenly rays to appear, it meant that there were miracles afoot.

Heavenly rays

Heavenly rays

I spent the afternoon in court – I’m not in trouble; I’m a CASA – and it left me kind of depressed and sad.  On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store and had to count out change from the bottom of my purse to complete the transaction.  I’m sure all those people in line behind me didn’t mind a bit.

As I loaded my few bags of groceries into the trunk of my car, it started to rain.  By the time I finished, it was coming down pretty hard.

By the time I got home, it was barely sprinkling.  As I unloaded my car, the sun came back out.  I know there must have been a rainbow somewhere, because this kind of weather is rainbow fodder, but I couldn’t find one. Just knowing there might be one is still lovely, though, right?

But I did see heavenly rays.

Those sunburst things up there, those, In case you didn’t know, are heavenly rays.

Sometimes hope will appear in the midst of sadness, frustration, and even mundane activity. I had a difficult day and I was unloading my car and I looked up and saw heavenly rays. There are miracles afoot.

We are, of course, not allowed to choose our miracles, and even if we could, it would probably not be a good idea.  We would not choose wisely, even if we thought we were being wise.  Miracle selection is best left to the Expert.

Even if I did choose and got my wish, my problems would not be any better, but right now, my problems are the least of my worries.

Look up, everyone. Look up. Look at the heavenly rays. There are miracles afoot.

The Relevant Classroom

social networking, education, classroomMamacita says:  How updated and relevant do you want your doctor’s skills to be?  Would you be content with a dentist who graduated in 1985 and hasn’t updated a single skill since then?  Could you trust your children to a pediatrician who used mercury-filled thermometers and leeches?  Hey, those methods worked in the past.  Good enough then.  Etc.

Just as the best medical professionals continually update their skills and knowledge, so must our educators.  One thing that helps educators keep current is. . . . . . . . .. .

Technology.  Specifically, the social networking sites.  Yes, in school.  Yes, for education.  Social networking is a hands-on approach to learning, and if our students can put their hands on something, they’re likely to remember it.  It works for science, and it will work for everything else, too.

Using a Twitterwall in my classroom has made an amazing difference.  When we discuss a reading, for example, I hashtag it and project the conversation on the wall.  Anyone following our hashtag can follow our conversation, and participate.  Students sitting in the back of the room who would never in a million years contribute or participate, will join a Twitterwall conversation; with the wall, they can maintain their shyness or privacy and yet still speak out, without drawing attention to themselves.  Students at home can still participate, as can their parents.  Administration can participate.  Authors can participate.  Scientists can participate.  Astronauts.  Farmers.  Lawyers.  global education, social networkingGrandparents.  A savvy educator can Skype lectures, and combine classes with an educator in China, real-time.  To see people who aren’t even members of the class participate in a lesson can turn a lesson from ordinary to awesome.  And that’s just one aspect of social networking in education!

Tech will not make a mediocre teacher better – nothing will. Mediocrity is a personal choice, and today’s standardization obsession is a blessing only to the mediocre or worse. But a good teacher can become great if he/she understands that we must keep ourselves updated, relevant, and as cutting edge as possible if we are to keep our students motivated, engaged, and interested.

A doctor who chooses to maintain the status quo and not keep updated is dangerous. A teacher who chooses to maintain the status quo and not keep updated is equally dangerous. One can kill the body, and one can kill the spirit.

Sweet old Miz Jones, who hasn’t updated her skills since she graduated years ago, and who loves each kid as if it were her very own,  isn’t always the best teacher. Mean ol’ Miz Jones, who expects and requires each kid to do his/her best, behave properly, and utilizes any and every means possible to engage her students, might not be, either, but at least she’s trying harder.   A great teacher can accomplish great things with a stick and a patch of dirt, but this same teacher can accomplish even greater things if he/she is connected.

Perhaps it also depends on the context of the classroom, too – the age of the students, etc. I was never comfortable with a sweet, motherly teacher even as a small child; I wanted someone who challenged me and exposed me to the wonders of the universe and then stepped back, left me alone,  and let me explore. Then again, I was an avid reader, and that makes a world of difference.

All of education is about connections, and the social networking sites are (as of today) the ultimate connectors. Not to utilize them is to deny yourself and your students an awesome opportunity to connect the dots from one topic to another with amazing rapidity. In the old days it took a village to raise a child; in our time, the village has become a universe, and the child raised by the universe has far more advantages than a child raised by a lowly village.

Yes, there are good teachers who don’t use tech, but think how much better they might become if they would open their eyes and use the technology their students are already using.

Oh, educators, let’s all try our best to help our students understand that the electronics they use to connect themselves with others socially are also excellent means to connect themselves with learning opportunities.  To do this, we as educators must learn to use these means ourselves.

Not to move forward is to move backwards.  Or to stand still, which is much the same thing.

And we’ve all had Mr. Ditto, at least once in our school years:

Odors, Aromas, Fragrances, Stinks, and Stenches

Mamacita:  I am really sensitive to odors.  From pleasant aromas to soul-destroying stenches. . . I just can’t deal with strong odors.  I’m a mom, so I do, but I don’t like it.  However, I also deal with lots of people every day – classrooms full of students of all ages and from all kinds of backgrounds, and sensitivity to strong odors is something I have had to suppress for many years.  How many?  Ooh, look over there!

Okay, I’ll get to the point.  Farts.

I am not a fan of the public fart.  And by “public,” I mean doing it when others are present.  An awful lot of people seem to think farts are hilarious and that the resulting stenches are laughable.  I don’t, and I can’t.

I wish it were socially acceptable to wear one of these on my nose, especially on really hot days.

I wish it were socially acceptable to wear one of these on my nose, especially on really hot days.

I don’t mind a light fragrance.  I love flowers in the house.  I wear a light cologne, myself.

But getting into the elevator with women who are wearing the entire stock of Dollar Tree  cologne all at once is killing me.  Equally stinky are the people wearing too many spritzes of Chanel Grant Extrait.  It doesn’t matter how much you paid for your artificial scent – you stink.

Cheap or expensive:  Equally stinky.

Even worse?  People who spray themselves with scent to cover up the sad fact that they haven’t showered for a while.  The combination of cheap strong cologne and dirty, sweaty bodies is a killer for me.

When you add the distinctive stench of the nicotine-addicted body to this equation, we have a time bomb, because guess what – the professor is close to jumping out of the window to get away from the smell.

However, that is a problem that isn’t on my top ten list, so I just breathe shallowly, grin, and bear it.

Whenever a lot of people are in a room, there will be odors.  It’s really the way people are dealing with the odors that is the difference between class and classless.

But I digress.  The topic is farts. Stinky, smelly farts.  And people who think it’s okay, and even funny, to smell up a room with other people in it.  Adults, even, who lift a leg and let it rip and laugh and expect others to laugh, too, and who mock anyone who doesn’t like it.

Image result for oh, the horror

Inside my head every time someone farts where I am located.

Let me illustrate.

Differences between middle school students and college students, part 8,999:

One of my classrooms this semester has several chairs that make farty noises whenever someone shifts in the seat.  The teacher’s chair is loudest of all.  When I get up or sit down, the chair sounds like a drunk in a state park port-a-potty.  When the students are writing, the room is silent except for the sounds of shuffling papers, scratching pencils or pens, and keyboard clicks.

And the occasional little ‘farty’ sounds when someone moves even the slightest little bit.

Fart sounds in the classroom, and not one student turns a hair about it.  Imagine the reaction if my middle school students heard a farty sound, even one mild farty sound.  Yeah, that.  But at the college level?  Meh.

I’m sure they do their fair share of belching and farting and otherwise gassing up the universe, but they don’t do it in the classroom, where others are also present.  They don’t do these things in the presence of others.  I compare the classroom to the workplace, where it is also not cool to let your body produce anything that negatively affects anyone else, however hilarious you might think it is.  You leave and do it elsewhere, in an appropriate environment.


Here is where we do the stinky things our bodies need to do.

Here is where we do the stinky things our bodies need to do.

My college students understand this concept that seems to be so very difficult for others to comprehend.

I love my job.

But people who love to fart in public and expect everybody in the room to laugh?  Not so much. Go ahead.  Laugh.  My family does.

My college students?   In the classroom, at least, they gots class.

“It’s The Equinoctial Storm,” said Ma.

Mamacita says: This year, there was no equinoctial storm.  In fact, this year, we haven’t had enough rain for quite a while, but last year at this time, the rains poured down as though they would never stop.

Whenever we have a lot of rain in the fall, the words “equinoctial storm” cross my mind, and I think about Caroline Ingalls – she was Laura’s Ma, you know – because the rains came down hard and steady.  Torrential rain.  No thunder or lightning, just rain, but still.  In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, Chapter 3, page 27 (hardbound), she tells us that

       For three days and nights the rain fell steadily, slow, weepy rain, running down the            windowpanes and pattering on the roof.

      “Well, we must expect it,” Ma said.  “It’s the equinoctial storm.”

      “Yes,” Pa agreed, but uneasily.  “There’s a weather change, all right.  A fellow can feel it in  his bones.”

Now, an equinoctial storm is a storm of violent winds and rain, occurring at or near the time of an equinox, either spring or fall.  The 2016 Fall Equinox was on September 22, but, you know, close enough.

Laura’s storm occurred just before the Long Winter blizzards began, and if you remember (and of course you do!) that those blizzards that began in October didn’t let up until May, you’ll understand why severe autumnal storms of pretty much any kind really creep me out.

The forecast for the coming winter is harsh, according to all the woodland creatures and persimmon seeds, and those things know.

Persimmons. In Indiana, they're everywhere.

Persimmons. In Indiana, they’re everywhere.

I love the chapter, still in The Long Winter, where Pa explains to Laura about the wild things knowing what kind of weather is coming, and why humans don’t have the same instincts about such things as animals do.  It’s in Chapter One, if you’re curious, and on pages. 12 and 13 if you want to turn right to it.

Here in southern Indiana, we like to predict our winters with persimmon seeds.  Cut the seed of a ripe persimmon in half and look at the image on the inside: If the image is spoon-shaped, expect a lot of heavy snow; if the image inside the seed is fork-shaped, expect a mild winter; if the image is knife-shaped, expect icy, cutting winds.

So far, most reports have been spoons.

Uh oh . . I'm pretty sure that's a spoon.

Uh oh . . I’m pretty sure that’s a spoon.

Persimmons are good for pudding, too.  If you’ve never had persimmon pudding, you’re missing out big time.

But I digress, which is something I’m very good at.

I’m expecting a cold, snowy winter.  Or, as I prefer to think of it, a white Christmas. Continue reading