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CaféCasey has migrated over to  Please visit!

Also, take a look at my new book, Don’t Sniff the Glue: A Teacher’s Misadventures in Education Reform.  It’s available on Amazon now, priced so even a teacher can afford to read–or listen.  There’s an audiobook, too!

Don'tSniff0201 copy

I Don’t Do Lines

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 9.16.47 AMI’ve come to the conclusion that life is about lines. There are so many lines in this world. Grocery lines, bank lines, lines of cocaine. Even virtual lines—printer cues, website holds, and “You’re next in line for customer service” on chat. “Next” always seems the longest place in line.

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 9.29.49 AMLines define people. In foreign countries you can pay people to wait in lines for you. Here, if you pay a little extra, you can skip lines entirely or they’ll create an “elite” line just for you. If you make way too much money you can snort lines, and if you’re just a normal person like me, you wait in lines. And wait again. And when you are done waiting, you find another line to wait in.

Sometimes I pick the longest line, just because I know it’s my station in life.

Now, I am waiting in line at the airline kiosk. My boarding pass won’t come up.

“Um, I don’t know,” says the girl at the counter. The person at the end of the line is supposed to know. It’s why we wait in lines.

“Can you wait in that line, please?” The big line. I don’t want to go. If I complain, she’ll send me to the Really Big Line way over there. I have a flight to catch.

Never piss off someone who’s whole function in life is processing lines. I look at my watch. I don’t mind a line when I know the end result’s something cool–groceries, a cup of coffee. I connect with people around me in the line. But now, the only thing I want to connect with is a plane. Airport lines are a mystery. No guarantees. Will they let me on the plane? Or will there be some “problem.”

Cancelled. Delayed. Out to lunch. On vacation.

Interesting, isn’t it, that airlines can change everything, but if I do, “That’ll be five hundred dollars, please.” or “Would you like to pay an extra $31 to skip the line?”

I wait in three lines and discover that my airline isn’t my airline at all. They’re merging. I must wait in another airline’s line. Three terminals away. “Not far,” says the linemaster. She must be a distance runner. I run, hike, and roll luggage the mile to the other terminal. Quickly, because I fear that line will send me to another line.

I wait in line for my boarding pass and get directed to the next line.

The line that for looks through my computer and my shoes. The line for the proctology exam and pat down. The line with the lady who looks at my boarding pass and asks me my name to make sure I memorized it correctly. And the line with the guy that tries to get my stuff off the belt as it topples on me while I get dressed in public.

Finally the coffee line. It’s the only one I wanted.

Last of all, the line at the gate, behind the “elite” people who paid $31 extra to skip the line. I smile. I get on the plane last.

It takes off. Waiting to bring me to the next airport. Which, no doubt, will be full of lines.

[images: and]

Ageless: Lessons from the Horror of Pep Rally

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Pep rally day at school. Screaming teens with faces painted for war, and someone’s got a fog horn I just can’t catch. All day…The type of day teachers dread. Earplugs for everyone.

I think this day keeps me young.

“What are you WEARING, Miss?” My shirt’s not the required yellow. Standing near the Black and Golds, it’s clearly neon green. Students forgive, adults laugh. The kind of laugh you laugh when you meet a truly stupid person and you’re trying to keep it all in. One spits coffee on his shoes and asks If I’m color blind. No. Just stupid. Or perhaps I’m just getting old.

The signs are there. I take pills out of jars and rearrange them so I don’t forget, yet still find myself asking, “Did I take that?” I set an alarm. The alarm interrupts something uninterruptable, I don’t stop what I’m doing. I forget.

“Maybe you should get one of those things that say ‘Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday…” said my husband and next-door teaching neighbor.

“The one in the senior citizen section?” Nope.

There are other signs I may be getting old. When I pull my hair back there are five silver threads. Not exactly a streak. Five individuals standing out in the crowd. An allegory, perhaps.

“Miss, want me to paint your face?” Most  have chosen against doing their work in favor of pep rally prep–facepainting brushes with black, gold, and glitter. What moron actually assigns work three classes before pep rally? Teachers who are getting old, that’s who. I used to put work aside and make peppy signs with them.

“Sure…Paint my class year…” There are a lot of “’17’s” on faces. Fitting in with the crowd keeps me young.

“What’s your class year?”

“’89.” I sing our chant, “We’re so great, we’re so fine, we’re the Class of ’89.”

“I889?” She looks at me. She’s serious. Students do this every year. “Were you alive when…”

“No. 1989.” She paints me a nice 19-89 on two cheeks with black paint and gold glitter. I’m ready to pep.

I hand out earplugs to my colleagues and go downstairs.

One looks at my face. “That was the year I was born.” This starts a conversation where I realize I’m a generation older than my coworkers. Ancient. That much closer to death. I’ve never really felt my age. Time simply passed. Birthdays arrived. I got a new cake.

There are people in life who seem old and people who don’t. I posted a picture on social media. A friend chimed in. “Hey, that was the year I was born.”  Now, she’ll start to discuss things like knitting and quilting with me.

When I go home, I look in the mirror and scrub off the indictment of old. Glitter goes down the drain, I see my face and smile. Ageless. More than just a number. A few decades earned–the type of decades that give me the experience to be less dumb and to make better decisions, not the type of decades where I my reflection grumbles I’ve led a hard life.

I’ve lived well, I’ve done good things, I’ve helped others, eaten freakishly healthy food, and tried to make the universe a better place. I like myself just fine.

Even though I’m old, and for a brief moment confess I watched the pep rally line dance and thought, “Oh my God, what’s gotten into kids these days…”  But I caught myself doing it, clapped, smiled, and gave my students a thumbs up. They’re young and having fun. Best to let them do so, because before they know it, they’ll be a generation older than everyone around them, looking into the mirror, wondering if they are old.

Hopefully, they’ll have lived a good life and be young at heart, too.




Intercar Communication Tames Rhode Island

According to Time Tech, the federal government is deciding whether new cars can be equipped with transponders which will tell other cars their position. They may do things like alert other drivers or possibly even interact with the breaking systems of fellow drivers causing them to slow or stop to avoid accidents. Experts estimate that these advanced systems may reduce accidents by up to 8%.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 7.22.53 PMThis may be a good thing for Rhode Islanders, who have long-held the honor of being the worst drivers in the nation. Imagine, every time we swerve toward another car in traffic or cut across two lanes with no spaces, all the other cars could automatically jack up and leave us the room we need.

Also, when another car comes dangerously close, loud alarms would be helpful. I’d learn to obey alarms such as Amber Alerts without spilling my coffee–the only thing Rhode Islanders are permitted to drink and drive–all over the upholstery. I need to be impervious to distraction to hone in on my Rhode Island driving skills because I’m not from these parts. You can tell the true Rhode Islanders because they drink Dunkin Donuts iced coffee even when it’s 20 below. My coffee–you’ll see upon investigation–is always hot, and often homebrew. An outsider. I digress.

This technology can do more. Even more than simple transponders, it could be effective as an advanced intercar communicator. I’d call the upgrade the FU model. This would interface with the dashboard video screens, sending thank you texts to courteous drivers, and have a built-in button for the Rhode Island salute just like Waze has for police and obstructions. I could send Rhode Island’s favorite finger to indicate “You’re an idiot,” to those who park six inches from my driver’s door in a perfectly empty lot, and could compliment the politicians and important people who all keep the really low license plate numbers–just like their offices–for generations at a time.

I’d want an automatic warning for things like “Teen driver,” or “Driver over 80,” or “Driver doing makeup.” You might think Rhode Island doesn’t need car-to-car communication. After all, the state’s not that big–usually opening up a window will do. But I think these things would be helpful. I’m tired of Nader bars and child restraints I can’t buckle without the right combination of swears. Give me something I can use.

I’d be grateful.


One Inspiration at a Time

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Silence is a source of great strength  –Lao Tsu

I write at 4AM. The moments before the birds sing bring me the most peace. My mind clears. Silence reveals the thoughts that drown in the clatters, jangles, and noise of the day. The fire glows, coffee sits to my left, and I think. I am inspired. As I start, I look for one inspiration each day. A quote. A blessing. A thought. Something to think about during the day. Sometimes I share them with a friend.

Today, caffeine is my daily inspiration. Hear me out on this one… After receiving “The List of No” from the doctor, he said “sure” on some caffeine. His colleague had taken it away. I suffered. I suffered a lot–not because I need the drug. I don’t need caffeine to live any more than I need crack or heroin. It’s just that decaf coffee tastes like a cup full of butt and I can’t find one that reminds me of coffee. I love coffee. It starts my thinking each day.

“There’s only so much I can make you suffer,” he said. “You can have some caffeine.”

I forgot to define “some” because my mind, celebrating the victory, was already onto the next negotiation. “I’d like to start running again.”

He gave me the look. He had been clear about the “no activity” mandate. I’ve obeyed, except I do forget things downstairs so I can run up and down the stairs to get them. The smallest exercise protest. Other than that, I obey.I negotiated. I begged.  I said, “You don’t understand. I’ve gone from 7-10 miles to couch instantly. I’m stir crazy. All my friends want your card so they can avoid exercise too.”

“You can go walking.”

“I hate walking. It bores me. I lack focus. I need to run. How about jogging? I’m not that fast anyway.” My jogging reminds people of walking. Semantics.

Hesitation. Slight opening of the mouth. Pause. “No………I don’t think so.” He’s Southern. Bound by law to be polite. “Nothing that gets your heart rate up. You could do stairmaster or elliptical a little if you take it slow.” I hate both of those things. And slow’s never been in my repertory. If exercise doesn’t beat me up, it’s not effective. I’ve run, played basketball, boxed, thrown, fought, done competition weightlifting (never competed–too scrawny) and played all the fast sports. Not well. That’s not the point.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 4.56.13 AMThe one activity that slowed me down–Japanese sword. It was good for me, meditation and inner peace combined with the ability to cut someone’s head off if I trained hard enough–a good combination. Then yoga. But I was highly, highly suspicious of yoga—what good could it do without pain? My friend of Indian lineage made me go on a yoga retreat. How could anyone of Indian lineage steer me wrong on yoga? He said “Experiences are everything,” and that I needed “to get rid of [my] monkey mind.” He was right on both accounts. Yoga centers me.

Yoga doesn’t really raise my heart rate. “How about yoga?” This was turning into a fierce negotiation. I felt the tone. I’d spent years in Career One negotiating with attorneys and body shops. Surely I could defeat one doctor on the issue of physical fitness despite the fact he had more degrees than me.

“Hmmmm…” He’d said a definite no to yoga the first time. But I obeyed his orders not to drop dead for an entire month, taken drug upon drug, and listened to his every command. Surely that gets a reward? “No, I don’t think so. Too much with the neck.” Defeated. Again. That’s when I asked him about caffeine.

He said yes.

Inspiration: Even when the list of “no’s” gets long, if we keep looking, we get one yes. Sometimes we have to look hard for it, not abandon the search. And when we find it, it’s golden;)

My coffee smiles in the mug my friend Kristen made. And it tastes very good.

[Images: Sarah Steenland and Kristen Runvik. Check out their stuff. Their art makes me smile]

An Idiot Avoids the Genius Bar

I didn’t really want to go to the Genius Bar. Not that there’s anything wrong with geniuses. Technically, I am one. I know this because they made me take a test in second grade. Naturally, I won’t retest. That would just be stupid. My IQ can only go down, and most likely probably has. I’d rather walk around with a superiority complex than find out I’ve been reduced to the “far below average” category where I so richly belong–if they tested for common sense in there, I’d need a category lower still.

For this reason, I need a genius to help me fix my computer. I try to do it myself by Googling and getting deep into the Mac forums, but sometimes I need someone to walk me through it like I’m five. Of course, when I was five, none of this would have been invented. The the local genius would’ve handed me a pencil, troubleshot it by putting it in the sharpener, and walked away.

My computer’s slow and freezing. I have the Cadillac of iMacs in addition to the laptop, but I also have a six-year old who’d commandeered it for Netflix. I kicked him off in favor of work. It took me an hour the other day to clean the screen.

“Buddy,” I said, “Remember, this one isn’t a touch screen like the iPod or Kindle.” That’s me pretending to be tech support.

“And the iPhone?” he said. He knows his devices.

“Yes, like the iPhone. This one you don’t touch. It took Mommy a really long time to clean it so we can see.” He looked at me and blinked two times.

“I didn’t touch it with my finger,” he said, “I touched it with my wax. And put gum on it.” Some kid at school gave him a ball of wax constructed from mini-cheeses. I’d like them to find a better use for it than coloring my iMac display.

We can’t share computers forever. The only thing to do is to go to the Genius Bar, where real geniuses reside. Except it’s Christmas shopping season. The fear of God strikes me down. Not that I’ll be tempted to buy, but it’s crazy in there. Everyone in the world needs an iPad Mini NOW. I’m scared. I take a deep breath and start to make my appointment.

But when I look, there is another option. I can chat with a genius now and avoid all that.

I spoke with Adela the Awesome. She didn’t make me feel like the idiot I probably am. Even when she made me empty the trash to the tune of 33K items, she waited with me, like I was actually intelligent. I was taking notes. I want to be smart like Adela one day. I promise myself I’ll empty the garbage more in the future. And clean out caches. And do whatever I did to reset the PRAM which involved using twenty fingers and a combination of key pressing that only a gamer or six-year old could actually do. Adela made me feel competent as I tried six times to get it right.

I think, in fact, this whole thing was another IQ test disguised, so that I can actually see how much I’ve declined. I’m waiting for Apple to email me or post my score. But as long as laptop works, I’m okay with the fact that the world is smarter than me. That means there’s someone to lift me up when I need it.

And I didn’t have to go to the mall during Christmas.

Yes, Starbucks Has Decaf

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 6.07.45 AMIt’s been about a month since they took my coffee away.

“Decaf. Drink decaf.” I’ve been in denial. I’m not old enough for decaf. I look in the mirror regularly to confirm this fact, noting that I do have four grey hairs hiding in my head. I can find them if I tousle my hair around a bit. I would have five, but when I showed off the first one–a marker of my age, wisdom, and experience, it got viciously plucked from my head as if the assailant was doing me a favor. Four more sprung up in its place. I should be glad. Four times the wisdom, I guess.

All in all, I’ve aged very well, I think to myself. People are generally surprised to discover I’m entering the realm of middle-aged or ancient, depending on whether they hold the perspective of a normal person or one of my students for whom anything after 30 is as dead as it would have been in the Middle Ages. I’m still in denial. I’m certainly not old enough for decaf. 

At any rate, I went to Starbucks for the first time since they stripped me of my caffeine. I always get beverages that are dark roasted, full of caffeine, and inspiring. I was paralyzed. But that, I thought, is why the world gives us baristas–to help guide us on our way.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 6.01.34 AM“Can you make me something that doesn’t suck in decaf?” Not a classy order by any stretch. She looked at me. She blinked. Here it comes, I thought. This is where I get kicked out of line. But she had a look of kindness. She was simply waiting for me to finish my order. “…Oh, grande.” She nodded. She unfroze, looking for a solution to my #firstworldproblem.

“Sure,” she said. “I can do that.” She began to throw lots of words at me I barely understood because I generally get the same thing over and over again. It has pretty small words, like “big-ass” and “coffee.” Not too complex. I don’t want to subcontract a Ph.D to order for me. I know there’s a system. My friend Stephanie worked her way through college as a barista and can shoot off a forty-two word coffee order in order. It has to be in order. I just want to say “a lot of caffeine,” and “Sure, I’ll mortgage my house for this.”

Ordering decaf in public is embarrassing–like when I had to go into the liquor store and buy cheap beer in a can for a friend. I feel like I have to offer up a reason. “It’s not for me.” Sure, it’s not for you. That’s what they all say.

I tell her it’s my doctor, he ordered the decaf. He just makes me drink it, that’s all. She looks at me compassionately. She makes me a drink. It’s a decaf cafe mocha with more sugar than I’ve had in the past month, but I appreciate it. She smiles with a unique combination of customer service and pity, as if I might collapse at any minute–like I am on my way from bingo or knitting to the great beyond, and if I don’t have much time left on this planet, she wants this to be the best coffee I’ve ever had.

I thank her, hand her my phone. It contains an app which automatically taps into the equity in my house to pay for the drink, and walk away, trusting her expertise.

Truthfully, it tastes like what I imagine a cafe mocha would taste like after I just brushed my teeth. But I’m grateful. She put a lot of thought and effort into this, and was just the type of smiling person I love to see when I go out. She made my day brighter. I sip through the extra whipped cream and send her good wishes, because Black Friday is coming, and her little Starbucks is located in the corner of a major store.

Don’t worry, I think in her direction, I won’t bother you on Black Friday. I won’t be the cause of you missing sleep, or your turkey or family. I will be grateful at home. For people like you who smile in the face of customers with odd requests, and who take extra time to make someone’s day as good as you can. For my friends and family, for the wood stove in the corner of the room casting a beautiful glow on my writing, and for all the blessings in my life. Including the little cup of coffee on the table to my right. Which is, again, decaf. 


[images: and “Japanese Barista Makes 3D Latte Art”]