For a Bad Time, Invite Me

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 6.35.40 AMThey call it “The Curse.” Kids started begging me not to attend their games. Me! Their one fan. We didn’t get a lot of fans in those days because we’re regional and we didn’t win.

“Casey! You’re cursed. Don’t come, it’s a big game.” I began to test “The Curse” with baseball games. I’d pass by. Dropped ball. I’d stay home. Victory. I’d hide behind a tree. Triple play–other team. I’d stay away, home runs.

The Curse applied to basketball, too. Ever the skeptic, I tested it again. Sure enough, if I went, more turnovers than an Italian bakery. I collected more and more data–as anyone in education knows, the more data the better. Sadly, my scientific study proved The Curse real.

Little did I know The Curse extends to other things, like trips and events. Invite me–your event will be canceled, postponed or a disaster. The Curse controls weather, too. Hurricanes and snowstorms may seem like acts of God, but if I’m on your roster, they’re not. They’re The Curse. One event figured this out and said, “Sorry, stay home.” They’re lucky they caught it in time. Their event was global. If I’d gone for real, world peace would’ve been off the table for good.

Today I was supposed to participate in an awesome event, so the National Weather Service predicted several feet of snow in a radius of 1000 yards around my car. The event’s 35 minutes from me if I speed and seven days away if every Rhode Islander suddenly gets their bread, milk, and Dunkin Donuts coffee in the storm. Rhode Islanders can’t drive on a good day, let alone snow.

The event is called Choose2Matter. The point is this: Kids think school sucks. School sucks because it “doesn’t matter.” I surveyed about 50 of my students both before and after listening to parts of Seth Godin’s and Sir Ken Robinson’s TEDx. Exactly two told me “School’s awesome. Especially this class.” My future Yes Men. The rest wanted something more from their education. They wanted “it to connect–to matter.” They cited “Genius Hour” as the thing that “made it real.” Genius Hour’s based on Google’s concept that downtime makes for productive ideas. Creativity generates value. Employees get 20% of their time to work on whatever they want–provided it could potentially benefit Google. Gmail was created this way.

Good idea! I squashed five days of work into four and cleared the slate on Fridays. They’re actually doing 20% more work–not Google’s intent. But heck, I’m in education. I can bastardize anything I want as long as I mix in some math.

Kids love it. Much more than I thought. They work outside of class. “We can use this in real life!” Kids doing extra work? For no additional credit? Hmmm… Could be onto something here.

“Hey, Kid! Why wait four years before you make your ideas real?” Showing students they have the power to convert knowledge to action–that’s magic.

School matters when we make it matter. Choose2Matter asks this, “What breaks your heart?” Kids solve those problems. When kids matter, they’ll change the world.

Turns out, adults will, too. We want to feel we’re not replaceable cogs, easily retrofit with the next guy down the road. When we matter, we transform things, too.

“There aren’t many history jobs out there these days…You’re lucky to have one,” someone said to me.

I should’ve replied, “You’re wrong. There’s only one of me out there these days…They’re lucky to have me.” Maybe if I’d said stuff like that earlier in life, I could have converted “The Curse” into “Magic.”

That’s what I want for my kids.

Still, there’s no denying the weather. The event’s postponed. I’ll be teaching tomorrow, so I can’t go. I’m disappointed. Anytime kids stay up praying there won’t be a snow day, a snow day’s a sad thing. Don’t worry, guys, you still matter. You’ll matter tomorrow, the show must go on.

Here’s the secret–you’ll matter for the rest of your life, too. Maybe a little snow makes everyone all the more determined to make a difference when the work starts tomorrow? Maybe it’s not a curse after all.

Maybe–just maybe–it’s the start of magic.

 

[image: digitaltrends.com]

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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.

[image: barrington.patch.com]

The Death Smell of Compost in the Joy of a Warm Winter Day

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 6.55.46 AMSeed catalog season. They started coming last month. I really should be planning the garden. I can virtually smell it around me…

Wait, that’s compost. It’s been a couple weeks and a few feet of snow since I took out the compost. That little carbon filter in the top of the pail’s done its duty. Can’t smell it at all. I pick up the pail and collect the mountain of fruit peels on the cutting board in the kitchen. I trudge through the mud.

It’s beautiful outside–a break in the winter that tempts me to get out there and plant something I know will subsequently die. A January thaw–a break in Winter’s show. He got off the couch to get some snacks and a beer, letting Spring fill in for a bit. Still, I can’t plant now. The Farmer’s Almanac would be horrified. It predicts much more snow in February. Not long odds in Vegas. It’s New England.

I dump the compost in the bin. It smells like nothing I’ve ever experienced, having done most of its composting in the house. The death smell chases me half-way across the yard, laughing the moment I take off the lid. I can’t leave it like that. It smells worse than the time I left the chicken in my trunk for a week during summer. That one forgotten bag…

I stop breathing, reopen the bin, and stir the rotting compost into the fireplace ash. I toss a few oak leaves on top. Better. I sniff. The worms will rejoice just as soon as they thaw all the way.

I step into the garden. Mud. Enough to swallow me. I realize I haven’t been outside–really outside–in months. I stop. I listen to the birds who welcome me back. I think about walking around the garden. The mud plots to enshrine me. I sink. I take a step. I sink further. We come to an agreement. The mud releases its hostage. I’ll take my tour some other time.

The seeds will be calling soon. I’ll scatter them everywhere. Many will die as a result of my overzealousness and impatience. The laws of nature don’t bend for one good-weather day. Seeds in the garden–like in life–must be planted at the right time, then nurtured consistently to grow.

I take out the recycling and go to the farm. Eggs are in the red cooler out front on weekends.  Put in some money, take out some eggs. The cooler’s blown over. Scrambled eggs. I manage four dozen good ones. I toss in an extra buck–I was short last week. I still have eggs in the fridge. I stack these on top–always overbuy, over plant, overestimate when nature is involved. Plan well when you can and appreciate nature’s bounty always. It’s better to have just a little too much when it comes to growing, cooking, and eating. Dieters and zen masters have it all wrong.

I take off my muddy boots,  put the compost pail back onto the mantle, and sit back down to work. 

Spring will be here soon enough.

 

Watching People Not Suck: Moments of Kindness Pile Up Into a Movement for 2014

“We’re out of meat.”

That normally doesn’t affect me. It was the last day of the year. Vegetarians don’t ring in the new year with dead creatures, but meat makes the others happy. I like to make others happy. Being unable to wave my magic wand and procure meat, I got in the car and went to the store. I tucked the Visa gift card into the pocket with my phone. It was a gift from a friend whom we’d been blessed enough to help. I was touched by his letter reminding me that kindness is a continual circle. I’ve received so much–I am humbled to give what I can. In his case, I didn’t think we’d given enough. I guess that’s often the case with helping.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 7.53.05 AMUsually, on a day like New Year’s Eve, the store is crazy, carts crashing around like demolition derby. This time something seemed different. There were a million carts–it looked like the GW during rush hour, but the store was not the same. People were acting–nice. Like it was they’d all vacationed in Colorado and weren’t standing in Rhode Island. They were all smiling so pleasantly. I sniffed for incense. None.

“You first…” I’ve never heard that in the store. The air was ringing with “you firsts” as people picked up bags of kale and organic things I can’t pronounce. I got some kale, too. It reminded me I really should call my friend in Colorado. I haven’t seen her in a while.

I headed for the meat counter. There was a bit of a wait. I checked my email, dropping the Visa card to the ground.

“Excuse me. I think this is yours.” A smiling lady with bags of kale handed me a Visa gift card. Two Visa gift cards in one week. Fabulous! I realized it was mine. She’d rushed from the kale aisle to make sure I didn’t lose it. And she smiled. That never happens in a store. People find a spare twenty and it’s off to the races.

The meat guy smiled, people let people go first at the counter, and people waved me through the coffee. Was there a wine tasting going on? Everyone was so elated to be alive. Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 7.53.26 AMI passed the cheese samples, smiling at the Robustotasted normal. I looked around. No mushroom samples anywhere in sight.

Time to check out. The line was long but still smiling. Everyone put their kale and organic things I couldn’t pronounce on the belt in turn. They talked to each other instead of using the constipation face doing the old “New England ignore.”  It was a sight to behold–lines crowded with New Englanders on one of the busiest store days of the year and only kindness and love abounded. Not one single solitary person with constipation. And everyone intending to eat their vegetables. A tear rolled down my cheek. I put my stuff on the belt. I was ready to go.

Until I noticed the person behind me. She had one thing. “Sorry,” I said, I should have noticed you.”

“It’s okay.” It was a long wait for just piece of dead animal.

I took her roast off the belt. She looked surprised. I wanted to say, “Your roast is safe with me. I’m going after the kale.” Instead I joined in the spirit of communal love. “You have to go first. You only have one thing.” She smiled. Now we were all smiling, even though none of us vacationed in Colorado or ever found the mushroom samples near the cheese. I enjoyed paying forward the smallest act of consideration.

There’s plenty of kindness in the region, but it’s rare to see it coalesce into a bubble of human goodness so large it spills out into the parking lot. “You first,” people were waving. No one in Rhode Island does that unless they’re waving you through the outside lane of a four-lane road where the inside lane’s about to crush you. There were Rhode Islanders driving with respect even as I passed the parking lot to the Dunkin Donuts and the liquor store. That never happens. We’re the worst driving state in the union. Everyone knows if you’re going to get into an accident, it’s going to be in the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts. “Must get my coffee now…” But even there–people parked between the lines and waited for each other to go… I paused a moment to enjoy the perfection of the universe. Meanwhile, I let someone out of her space. Enjoy now–it won’t last forever. 

Or maybe it will if each and every one of us eats our kale and leaves the New England constipation face at home joining the “You First” moment, making it into a movement for 2014.

I don’t make resolutions. I’m getting old. I break them and the years whiz by so fast I hardly have time to break the first set before it’s time to make a new bunch to break. But if I did, I’d make 2014 the year of “You First,” because if everyone says that to everyone, at some point we’ll all be put to the front of the line. With love and kindness.

 

[images: shorpy.com and babyccinokids.com]

 

Bad Mom Ruins Elementary Christmas

I’m an urban secondary educator who’s moved out to the sticks. Although I grew up in a small town, Christmas changes from location to location. Things definitely aren’t the same in the city.

I got Christmas all wrong.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.42.05 PM

What I wanted to give as gifts…What they deserved…

I knew I must get something for Declan’s teacher, the saint who calligraphies two-paged notes prolifically, ending each with, “But I know tomorrow will be a better day.” I negligently missed the collection the parents organized, but no mere collection could equal the amount of hell Declan’s put that teacher through, so we made something with love and loaded as much caffeine as possible onto a nice coffee card. Everyone in Rhode Island has stock in a Dunkin Donuts, so I figured that’d raise the local economy.  This teacher really deserved a fifth of vodka, but I don’t know if you can get elementary teachers such things–high school teachers perhaps, and college professors, yes, but first grade’s a little early to start drinking. Even for a teacher.

I swung by the local Dunk again because it occurred to me that the bus monitors deserved something, too. From Day One, they had been “working with” Declan on bus manners–Day One being the day they advised him not to be inappropriate, through weeks later when he finally earned his way into Bus Jail, aka “the front seat,” with the monitor.  Since I didn’t think a monogrammed flask would be appropriate for a lady who drives and her partner who’s required to hold up traffic looking for children doing chin-ups on axles while my son Supermans on the top step threatening to fly–they got as much caffeine as is ethical too.

My colleague, who lives in the same town, said, “Did you get something for the reading specialist and the aids?”

No! Nobody told me that. I don’t know these things. We don’t do gifts at the high school. A friend suggested this morning, “We’re lucky not to get the middle finger on the way out!”

Most of my kids are happy customers. If everyone is, they say, I’m doing something wrong. We had a good day, surprise guest in my class, pizza in the cafeteria, and I found a bunch of thank you cards from students in my box on the way out. Made me smile–exactly what I would’ve asked for.

I rushed home to give the monitors their “I-wish-it-were-a-flask” gifts. Declan got off the bus, held up traffic one last time before vacation, and waddled to the door, backpack stuffed with…stuff.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.44.40 PMWhat my colleague didn’t tell me about Christmas in the Sticks is that EVERYONE does something for EVERYONE. Declan had gifts, cards, candy, and notes. And I had to go and mess this system up–I didn’t give a crumb too small for a mouse to even a single classmate.

There were a million candy canes each with a bite out of them then he struck gold. “Oh, look, Mom! A RING POP! How did she KNOW I love RING POPS?”

Um, because they’re sticky and make a mess? That equals awesome!

“That was very nice of her.” I wished I’d thought of Ring Pops. Next time.

For now, I’m letting him eat all the candy since I was a bad mom and didn’t send gifts. This way, he’ll only have to brush his teeth once. Later, I’ll plan my strategy so I can absolutely rock Valentine’s Day and really make the bus team earn that caffeine.

 

[images: homewetbar.com and loveitsomuch.com]

Storm Alert: The Rhode Island Bread and Milk Report

When a snowflake threatens to dangle in the air, Rhode Islanders go out in full force. Today, was no exception. Every single last Stewie and Vincenzo went out for bread and milk. Because it might never be available again…

I didn’t intend to go into the grocery store. I was at the craft store nearby, and my husband instructed me to get a Christmas turkey if I found one on sale. Being as though there weren’t any Christmas turkeys at the craft store and a good woman always obeys her husband, I went into the grocery store even though I knew that it was a very bad idea. In less than twenty-four hours the snow would be falling. A flake or two landed on my glasses in confirmation. Rhode Islanders would mob the scene at any moment.

I found the turkeys. I bought two. As a vegetarian wife, I go above and beyond. I know sometime this year, he’ll want another turkey, and off season they’re expensive. So expensive that I consider running over just one of the turkeys that play chicken with me during my morning commute. I’ll target the one who stares me down and laughs.

Rhode Islanders were out in full force–buying loaves of bread, gallons of milk and case upon case of water like they couldn’t pour it from their sink into a bucket in preparation for the power outage we are probably not going to have. I picked up some cranberries. I might make cranberry orange muffins for breakfast. What’s better than the smell of muffins in the morning? Besides, nobody is crowding the produce aisle before the snow. Bread and milk are more critical to long-term survival than broccoli and lettuce I guess.

The more I can’t find things, the more I realize I’ve spent a lot of time at farms, canning, growing things this past year and a half. I no longer know my way around the regular grocery store. I get in everyone’s way looking for the bacon, and for the life of me I can’t find the cream cheese. I’ll deal with that next week. I can make some cheese in the mean time if I need it, because I already have enough milk. I’ll get the Philadelphia for the Christmas cheesecake later, because I don’t want to mess with tradition.

The store gets more crowded. I notice a kid get nearly decapitated because he is curled up laying under the carriage, head occasionally protruding like a turtle from a shell. Rhode Islanders, whizzing around trying to get the last carton of eggs nearly slice his head clean off like Robespierre. Twice. His responsible party tells him twice to get up. He negotiates, “Only after you pay.” Sounds like my six-year old, who can out negotiate the G8. I check to make sure I’ve left him at home. Phew. I have.

I get in line. I reach for the store coupon card. I can’t find it because I never use it. Eventually, I locate the card which will tell the marketing team I’m the only moron who was in the broccoli aisle instead of buying bread, milk, and cases of water in advance of six inches of snow. They’ll know I’m native to Connecticut, not Rhode Island.

It’s New England. It’s winter.  It snows. I escape the grocery store with my life. I got two turkeys and didn’t even have to run one over.

But if you want bread or milk, you’d better get out there…fast.

Today, You’d Be a Sex Offender

I’m having a nice night with my husband. We’re sitting on the couch watching Grease, one Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 6.23.16 PMof the best movies of all time. Couch movie watching is the pinnacle of good nights when you have a mutant six-year old who doesn’t go to sleep.

“Mommy!”

“What!”

“I need a pen for my dinosaur activity book.” You need a swift kick in the….

“You need to be in BED!” And so it goes, until I resign myself to the fact that most fun nights will be spent watching various Discovery docudramas about gold mining or the Civil War Extravaganza on the History Channel until the boy turns 18. But tonight, we’re in for a treat. A good old Rated G wholesome family favorite. I remember when Grease first came out.

Turns out, Grease isn’t wholesome at all! I’m horrified.  I could never show this film in school today…There’s so much wrong…society would never stand for this!  First off,  the T-Birds mooned the camera during the dance. That’d get them a lifetime as a registered sex offenders in this day and age. The kid spiked school punch. That’s a hefty prison sentence Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 6.21.41 PMunder the Rhode Island social host law. The dance host hit on the girl–he’d be a guest of the state for statutory rape, and there are about a million cases of bullying, harassment, and conduct unbecoming.

If I take off my “sitting nicely with my husband” hat and put on my research hat, I’d estimate the majority of that town would be in some form of detention or incarceration. There’d be no one left to… drag race at the end! Another violation of the law! They’d lose their licenses. Not to mention the shop teacher who went to the drag race to support her students. Inconceivable today. She’d never teach again.

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 6.18.05 PMThat’s just the legal side of the movie. The moral side is worse. I spend my career trying to convince kids that being healthy, kind, and intellectual is cool, and our Grease protagonist Danny finally came around by the end of the movie–wearing his letterman’s sweater after working hard in track. It’s just the type of thing we want from out students. It’s hard to letter in track. I know. I have two letters earned by entering every race in which nobody else enrolled. That was a lot of mileage.

Instead of getting props for that letter, Sandy went bad and everyone celebrated. What kind of moral victory is that? How did I miss this? Where’s Tipper Gore when you need her? I’m not sure.

At least the boy fell asleep and I got to finish watching an old favorite without talking about dinosaurs anymore.

My, how times change. I wonder… are we better off in our zero tolerance society or should we be waxing nostalgic for these times?  They sure looked fun…

 

[image: ontheredcarpet.com, seeing-stars.com, Paramount Pictures]