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Thursday, February 26, 2015

If You "Like" This, Please "Share"!

Still blogging away alongside three other talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, sometimes.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Moma Rock 

Froggie chose this week’s topic, and she said:  If someone you hardly knew took a look at your Facebook Timeline, what are the first three things they’d learn about you and talk about those three things. 

 Like many people, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.  Some days, I swear I will not spend one more minute reading/looking at one more mindless thing; other days, I am grateful that there is a single location where I can keep in touch with literally hundreds of friends spread across the world.  Some days, every post seems brilliant or at least entertaining; other days, the content of my News Feed makes me stabby and yelly.  At election time, I find I have to block a few people’s feeds, and yet, often, Facebook is where I glean chunks of my information as to current events.  Having said that, I am guilty of spending a great deal of time on Facebook, so I must not hate it too much.  Or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.  (Hmmm, look – I just learned that about myself!)

In regards to Froggie’s topic, I decided to do a Top Three list, starting from least obvious to most.  And here we go:
(3)        I love to bake.  Or eat.  Or look at pictures of baked goods and think about eating them. 

 Several months ago, thanks to Pinterest, I stumbled upon a number of websites with names like “Chocolate!  Chocolate!  Chocolate!” and “All Baked Goods All the Time!” and “Eat All This Stuff and You’ll Need New Pants!”  Of course, these sites all have Facebook pages, and I went hog wild with the “like” button, salivating all the while.  So each day, my News Feed is filled with images of gooey brownies, dense cheesecake, moist banana bread, and pie – lots and lots of pie.  I “share” the ones I’d like to try so I don’t lose the recipes, and this has led to a cavalcade of food porn on my Timeline.  The recipes have become a running joke with one FB friend (who has snagged a few of my choices and tried them herself) and a source of consternation for another friend who probably really likes the way her pants fit.  Someone taking a casual scroll down my Timeline would likely end up craving cake in seconds flat.

 I do love to bake (and to eat baked goods), so these FB posts offer an accurate peek into my personality.  (I am eating a sugar cookie as I type these words …). 

 (2)        I take stupid quizzes, I read goofy articles or, to sum up:  I have too much free time.

 I know which serial killer I am (Jack the Ripper), which member of the Golden Girls I most resemble (Stan!), and the state in which I am supposed to live (California).  Thank you, Buzzfeed quiz gods!  I also know which on-screen celebrity couples didn’t like each other off-screen and when the new Powerpuff Girls show is being released.  I’ve shared every Brian Williams-related meme I could find – along with dozens having to do with not-so-bright people because they remind me of someone I used to know and with whom I was forced to regularly interact.  I’m the first to admit that when I’m bored – really, really bored – I troll Facebook and snag memes and take quizzes.  Plus, Facebook is the perfect distraction when I’m stuck in a line or with time to kill and all that’s handy is my phone.  This free time leads to a Timeline full of inane quiz results and stupid-funny memes. 

 I’ve always had at least a passing interest in pop culture, and I’m always up for a chuckle, so these items are not misplaced on my Timeline.  Though after scrolling through today, I’m wondering whether I couldn’t perhaps find better ways to bide my time.  Hey, at least I’m not addicted to Candy Crush!

 (3)        I have somewhat of a social conscience (when I’m not taking stupid quizzes).

 As I looked through my own Timeline before writing this, I was struck by how many times I’ve shared stories about lost/found pets, missing/runaway kids and adults, and articles and memes about autism.  As to the former, I feel compelled to share photos and stories of lost or missing people and pets, as I know if the tables were turned, I’d beg others to do the same.  Who’s to say that someone won’t see a photo on FB and realize they just saw that dog running through their park, or that missing woman in a car at the gas station?  The Internet – and Facebook – have made the world a much smaller place, so even if the odds aren’t super great, I’ll take the half a second to hit “share” in hopes that someone will see something and make a connection. 

My reasons for sharing autism articles and memes are also personal.  These items hit close to my home and they deeply touch my heart.  But probably more than that, as an autism parent, I want to spread awareness and knowledge.  So few people know anything about autism, particularly Asperger’s Syndrome, the type of autism in our family.  And so many people don’t take the time to learn.  They are also afraid to ask questions.  So I post the articles and the memes in hopes of getting my FB world thinking, as a way of allowing them to understand should they so desire, as a way of making the world a more welcoming, understanding, and informed place for my child and others like her.  Will Facebook posts help?  Do they matter?  I don’t know.  But if one person reads one article they might not have otherwise read, then it was sure worth it.

For you, my Five Loyal Readers with whom I am Facebook friends, unless I finally break up with Facebook, I wouldn’t expect much to change on my Timeline.  You’ll still find cookie recipes, dumb quiz results, [what I think are] funny memes, photos of lost or missing people and pets, and autism articles.  Sprinkled in there will be pictures of my kids and stories about one of the cats and – when I’m on time – my weekly blog post.  I’ll throw in the occasional book review (am hoping to do more of those, perhaps on my own blog), occasional rants about bad airline service, or notes of gratitude for birthday wishes or the kindness of a friend.  At the end of the day, perhaps the biggest thing someone will learn from via my Timeline is that I like what I like, and I tend to stick with it, even if what I like is a bit silly or makes me go up a jeans size or two.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Smells Like Aqua Net

Still blogging away alongside three other talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, sometimes.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl chose this week’s topic, two simple words:  The Nineties.           

            My first thought:  Ah, that decade.

I’ve always considered the Nineties as a somewhat amorphous decade.  It’s never struck me as having the same depth of identity as its predecessors:  the Sixties, the Seventies, and, everyone’s fav decade, the Eighties.  Those earlier decades pulsed with life, they surged with color.  They had a feel.  Like, when someone says, “The Sixties,” certain images immediately come to mind, right?  Flowing-haired flower children.  Scads of illegal drugs.  Funky folk rock.  Charles Manson.  (No?  Just me, then?)  And the Eighties?  Same thing.  In your mind’s eye you see big, permed, Aqua-Netted hair.  Smudges of blue eye shadow.  Tight jeans.  Flashdance sweatshirts.  In your ear, you hear OMD, Bonnie Tyler and, of course, Bon Jovi.  But the Nineties give me pause.  Not much stands out.  Hmmm . . . did Beverly Hills 90210 start in the Nineties?  And maybe Blossom?  I think people wore shoulder pads?  Were pearls in fashion?  And big gold earrings?  Oh, yeah, I remember:  that’s the decade grunge came in and killed hair metal by smothering it in plaid flannel and stomping on it with waffle-soled boots.  Beyond that, I draw a bit of a blank.

            I realize that because I am the oldest member of the blogging group, my memories of the pre-Nineties decades are sharper.  I was old enough to dress the part – or to at least watch and remember as my slightly older family members did.  I don’t remember the Sixties, but I do recall my cousins and six-years-older-than-me sister wearing the bell bottom jeans and clogs of the Seventies.  I myself donned the Sergio Valentes, Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers, and feathered hair of the Eighties, as I was a ‘tween when the decade began and I was determined to fit in, dammit.  Good or bad, I came of age in the Eighties, and I have the amusing photos to prove it.  For that reason, I suppose, the Eighties left their indelible mark upon my psyche in a way the following decades simply did not and could not.  Yes,” I sigh deeply, “the Eighties . . . ”  Truly, after the Eighties, the decades began to blur, one right into the next. 

            Then, too, because I was “of age” in the Nineties, the decade’s effect was different on me than that of its predecessor.  I was struggling to find who I was as a person, and thus I was less game to just jump into whatever trend was in style, less eager to just go with the flow and follow.  Yes, I’m sure I owned a few shoulder-padded shirts and jackets, but I wore my hair long and big, as was the style of the Eighties, a decade I hadn’t yet voluntarily relinquished.  I’ve never really gotten over my love of blue jeans; even though some black leggings found their way into my closet, they never really had my heart.  (And the ZCavaricci’s of the Nineties made everyone look like we took steroids!)

            I suppose we hold on to those decades that define us, the ones where we begin to grow into who we are hoping to become.  The Nineties wasn’t that time for me, though I’m guessing it was for Merryland Girl, who was then in college.  The Nineties weren’t in any way bad, but they did bring tremendous change for me, developments that catapulted me into adulthood.  In that decade, I graduated college, moved to Los Angeles, moved back to Chicago, got married, had my first child, and enrolled in and attended law school.  Perhaps I was just too busy to notice what people were listening to or watching or doing or wearing.  Or maybe flannel just wasn’t my thing.

I used to cringe at the photos of my decade:  the wild hair, the electric make-up, the ubiquitous turned-up collars, the Cyndi Lauper glam.  But now I see those photos for what they are, reflections of a rite of passage, slices of time, mementos from the road that led me from adolescence to adulthood.  Is there a more fun, more self-centered, more change-filled period than those ‘tween and teen years?  Perhaps.  But, for me, none that came after were filled with so much vibrancy, so much learning, so much life.  Not really.  And so, today, those once mortifying pictures make me smile.  They remind me of an easier time, a time of discovery, of trial and error, of some pretty great music, some pretty bad hair, and some really good memories.

Sorry, Nineties, but I guess your shoulder-padded, pearl-draped, gold-plated fabulousness came just a little too late for me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

99 Red Balloons (Oh, Wait, Maybe it's 98 . . . or 100 . . . or Pi?)

Still blogging away alongside three other talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, sometimes.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

This week, Moma Rock asked us:  What is something you are really bad at?

            Although I could easily come up with an extensive list of things at which I fall short, the most obvious, the most pronounced, the first that came to mind was:  I am really bad at math.

            I’ve been saying it for years, many years, more years than I’d care to admit.  “I hate math,” I say.  Or, “I suck at math.”  Or, “Math is not my thing.”  Say it enough and you believe it.  It becomes your truth. 

            Over the past week or so, I’ve thought about that truth.  I’ve spent some time here and there contemplating my lack of math proficiency.  And in doing so, I arrived at a different truth:  I am not bad at all math, just the more complex math that includes things like letters (why?) and weird symbols (am good with the traditional ones, like -, +, =, and even /).  When I boil it down, I am aces at the following:  addition and subtraction, multiplication, division, long division, and even fractions.  I still remember my multiplication tables (and I still think the 9s are the most fun).  But start throwing in integers and “x” and “y” and – god forbid – angles and theorems and the symbol for Pi and suddenly I am a confused, anxious, bad-at-math mess.

            With some thought, I was able to pinpoint precisely when math moved from being easy to being really, really hard.  That would be sixth grade.  That was the year we introduced exponentials, but worse, that was the year of Sister Louise.

            I’ve mentioned before I attended Catholic grammar school ( . . . and high school . . . and Jesuit college . . . ).  My school – which I loved, by the way – included grades one through eight.  We were assigned homerooms, and for the first five years, we stayed in our homeroom for all instruction except gym and music and library.  Starting in sixth grade, we switched classrooms for about half our subjects, including math and English.  And that year, math was taught by Sister Louise.  (Our grammar school was affiliated with the Sisters of St. Francis, and many of the nuns were teachers or administrators.)

            There are a few things you need to know about Sister Louise.  First, Sister Louise was German; she had ein akzent and everything.  This fact is important to my failure as a math whiz.  As a German, Sister Louise hate hate hated the Russians.  She also wasn’t all that fond of kids, either (I think we ranked slightly above her Eastern European nemeses).  Nor was she particularly good at math, especially math with a lot of steps to it.  So it wasn’t unusual for the following scenario to occur in Sister Louise’s classroom on any given morning:  She’d stand at the board in all of her squat, black-cloaked glory and begin to map out a complex problem in dusty chalk while we kids furiously scribbled in our Composition notebooks.  About half or even three-quarters of the way through a problem, Sister Louise would become confused.  She’d stand back and stare at the board and mutter under her breath in what I assume was German, and then she’d vigorously erase the whole problem, blaming us for talking – which we weren’t, because we were too busy trying to make sense of her scribblings.  Sister Louise would then launch into a tirade about how the Russians were evil and planned to take over the world and how, soon, they would drop the atomic bomb on us and “we vill see a bright light and BOOM!  It vill all be over!”

            Picture in your mind a group of roughly thirty eleven- and twelve-year-olds clad in matching polyester uniforms, slack-jawed and terrified, pencils still clutched in our hands.  We’d look at each other with unmasked mortification in our eyes, silently realizing the under-the-desk emergency drill we were taught wasn’t going to get us too far should the evil Soviets start dropping nukes.  And then, without another word, Sister Louise would pull down her frock, straighten her wimple, pick up her chalk, and begin again as if nothing had happened, as if she hadn’t just warned us the end of the world was nigh and we were doomed.

            I guess I never really bounced back from my nuclear holocaust-colored math instruction.

            I don’t really blame Sister Louise for my lack of math skills, but I do wonder whether I would actually be good or at least better at math had I been properly taught back then, back when it mattered.  Since math is one of those subjects where each piece builds upon the previous piece, is the fact I have a shaky foundation to blame for the absolute mess of the upper levels of my math proficiency?

            The question is particularly poignant for me now that I am a parent and I see the different learning styles of my kids.  The eldest is gifted and truly loves math, and even when she hit some rough spots in her grammar school math lessons, traditional “drills” would pull her through.  The middle has Asperger’s and some of the accompanying processing issues, meaning that she needs to be instructed visually, particularly when something involves multiple steps – like long division and two-place multiplication.  Teachers at her old school did not teach this way.  Last year, after I discovered she was failing math, I tried talking to her fourth grade teacher about what she needed.  He heard me out – and then balked at teaching her any differently than anyone else.  That school district doesn’t have a math specialist (don’t even get me started), so the teacher’s solution was for me to teach her at home and to “just drill her.”  I knew better.  I didn’t even try.  We elicited some outside help from her occupational therapist and rode out the rest of fourth grade hoping some math would stick.  And as this past school year started, my husband and I held our breath.  After all, the going-into-fifth-grader had not really ever mastered the concepts of the prior year.  Luckily – thankfully – at her new school, she’s been working with a math specialist, a warm and caring woman who has created visual aids for my daughter and who has taken the time to teach my child in the manner in which she is wired to learn.  And, surprise!  Guess who is no longer failing math?

            And so I wonder:  had I been taught differently – more slowly, more visual aids, less Armageddon – would I have mastered Algebra and Geometry and Trig and beyond?  I’ll never know.  A few years ago, I got it in my head to go back to school (community college) and take a few classes and really learn math.  But I never did, and I know I won’t now.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve chosen career paths that don’t require me to be any better than I currently am at math and, going forward, I don’t see that changing.  I’d rather use those resources to take some writing classes or attend a workshop or even take some continuing legal education courses.  Of course, I can’t ever know whether I would have chosen to become a doctor or a pilot or some other kind of math-based professional had I better mastered math.  I guess I just assume that it no longer matters.  Maybe I just accept that I am really bad at math.

            Maybe Sister Louise did me a favor.  Maybe but for her apocalyptic instruction I’d never have been drawn to writing or worked as a journalist or a lawyer, or even begun this blog.  So, thank you, Sister Louise, for your heart-stopping math lessons of so long ago.  Obviously, they’ve really stayed with me through the years. 

            And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be under my desk, ducking and covering and reciting the rosary and maybe even my multiplication table.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

So We Beat On, Boats Against the Current . . .

Still blogging away alongside three other talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, sometimes.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

            A few weeks ago, I asked you, my five loyal readers, to suggest possible topics for upcoming blog posts.  You blew me away with your ideas, and this week, I am going to use one.  This idea was submitted by my friend Dana Marie, who gave a little story to accompany her suggestion.  She wrote:

When [my husband John] and I were in Covent Garden in London, there were people everywhere.  We were watching musicians, jugglers, street performers, and just the holiday revelers around us.  As we were watching the hustle and bustle around us, I just started crying.  Out of the blue.  John just looked at me and said, “What the heck?”  I didn’t really know why, I just knew I had an emotional reaction to the place (and we had been there three times before).  I always feel the need to visit there even though we’d been there before.  John then suggested that maybe I was part of the place in some capacity in another life.  Of course, I looked at him like he was nuts, but I’ve thought of it many times since.  So my suggestion is, “What place draws you to it for some unknown reason and maybe what are your feelings about a previous life?”

            I tweaked Dana’s suggestion, asking my fellow bloggers whether they have ever felt this way about a person, place, or thing.  I made the previous life portion optional.  Here’s my take:

            I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in Chicago – within the actual city limits, not in the ‘burbs.  Growing up in an urban environment comes with certain plusses and minuses, as does living anywhere, I guess.  Houses sit closer together than they might in a suburb or out in the country.  You’re more likely to walk or take a public bus to school than you are to take a yellow school bus.  A streetlight will invariably shine somewhere into your house:  the living room, the kitchen, your bedroom window.  I grew up this way, and to me, these things were normal.

            It was also normal for me to see displaced people on the city streets.  (I don’t know the politically correct term, so I will alternate “displaced” and “homeless” and hope I don’t offend).  As a child, I remember a woman – I think her name was Mary – wandering my neighborhood.  Her clothes were dirty and disheveled.  Her hair was matted.  Sometimes she wore make-up, but when she did, it was smudged and uneven and clownlike.  She pulled behind her a metal shopping basket filled with bags of what I assumed to be her belongings.  She smoked cigarettes; for a time, she appeared pregnant.   I noticed Mary, obviously.  I asked my Mom about her.  I don’t remember her response, though whatever she said must have appeased me.  I wouldn’t say I worried about Mary, or worried for her, and she certainly didn’t scare me, but I kept my distance, as she talked to herself and I wasn’t sure what to make of that.  Mary was as much a part of my neighborhood as Norm, the mailman, or the guy who came by with his cart to sharpen knives, a man whose name I never knew or can no longer recall but who belonged to my neighborhood just the same. 

            And so for that reason, as I continued moving further around the city, I wasn’t too fazed by the homeless people I’d encounter.  I grew up just blocks from a major public transit hub and I rode the city bus to high school, and then the “El” train to college downtown.  I took the Blue Line to the Red Line and exited at the Chicago Avenue stop.  At the top of the stairs regularly stood another displaced person, a small, crinkled woman who liked to randomly yell out at passersby.  Her name was also Mary:  Crazy Mary.  (I know, I know, but in my defense, someone told me that was her name.  And she yelled a lot.  And we weren’t very PC back then.)  Crazy Mary kept her spot the entire four years I attended Loyola, and she became a fixture to me, standing there in front of the equally ubiquitous McDonald’s, yelling and cursing as she approached people for money.  I noticed Crazy Mary – but then again, I really didn’t.

            I moved to Los Angeles in my twenties, where homeless people lie on sidewalks in the sun and stood at the bottom of freeway ramps.  Even Ann Arbor had a homeless contingency, a group which mostly stayed to itself in a small park in the heart of the shopping and restaurant area.  Today, back in Chicago, I pass an average of six or seven homeless people on my walk from work to the train – a whopping five blocks.  In my head, I’ve assigned them names:  Change Cup Shaker (not my favorite at 7:15am), Sign Woman, Mask Guy, Have a Good Evening Guy.  The names aren’t meant to belittle:  they are signs of familiarity, of me being completely used to seeing these people every day. 

            Over the years, I’ve given small handouts, usually in the form of a few dollars to someone selling Streetwise, the magazine organized to give homeless people an opportunity to work and earn some money.  But unfortunately, neither I nor anyone I know can afford to give money to every single displaced person every single day.  And many people would say it’s not a good idea, anyway.  I don’t know.  I don’t know why these people are on the street, whether they are scammers or they truly need help, whether they have a place to eat or sleep.  And so I’ve assumed the mien of the weary/wary urban dweller and learned to politely just keep walking.

            Well, that’s what I usually do, anyway.

            But a few months ago, I noticed a man who sits on a corner I pass every day as I walk to my train after work.  He is young so far as displaced people tend to go; I’d put him in his early 30s.  He sits cross-legged on the sidewalk leaning up against a light post, and he holds a sign about how he and his family have hit a rough time and he’d appreciate any help.  He’s neatly dressed if not a bit grimy, and his clothes are weather appropriate, though his boots have seen better days.  He tends to look down when we walk past, quietly holding his sign.  He doesn’t shake a cup or wish us a good night.  He just sits and waits.

            And for a reason I cannot explain, I have been drawn to him since the day I first saw him.

            For many weeks, I have tried to figure out why.  Does he remind me of someone?  He’s bearded, and I don’t know many men with beards.  Is it his age?  The look on his face?  I had – and have – no idea.

            As the holidays approached, I suddenly had this urge to help Young Bearded Guy.  I could not articulate why.  What made him any different than the guy with the change cup or the woman with the sign, or the guy who plays the drums?  For weeks, I waged an internal battle:  was it the right thing to do?  Why did it feel so important, so urgent? 

            Finally, a few weeks ago, I gave in.  Young Bearded Guy doesn’t have a cup or container, so I took out a small note card and threw in a few dollars and I walked toward the train.  I missed the cross light at the intersection where he sits, which gave me ample time to approach him.  I stood in front of him and said, “Hi.”  He looked up, and I handed him the card.  He looked at it and at me and he said, “Thank you.  Thank you.  God bless you.”  His voice was different than I’d expected:  higher, softer.  I said, “You’re welcome,” and I moved on.

            On the front of the card, I’d written, “Happy New Year.”  Inside, I’d jotted a small note.  I said that I knew what I was giving him wasn’t much, but I hoped it helped and that he could buy something he wanted or needed.  I also said that when things were better, I hoped he would pay it forward.  I signed it from “a friend.”  I didn’t stand and watch him open the card, though I did look back at one point and it appeared he was, indeed, opening it.

            As I crossed the street, I was surprised to find that instead of feeling better about giving him the card, I felt worse.  Not because I’d changed my mind or thought I’d made a mistake, but because I think I’d been hoping that by handing him the card, I’d connect with him and realize why, exactly, I was so drawn to him.  But of course we hadn’t connected, not really.  I took my seat on the train still unaware as to why Young Bearded Guy tugged at me in a way the other six displaced people on my path did not.

            I have a few theories, but none of them strikes me as right.  My eldest daughter’s boyfriend has a beard – did he remind me of him?  Was I merely treating this young man the way I’d want someone to treat her boyfriend should he fall on hard times?  Did the beard remind me of Jesus and my eleventy billion years of Catholic schooling and Jesus’ words long since drilled into my brain about whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers?  Or maybe, as John and Dana suggested, I’m somehow connected to this man from a former walk on this Earth, and something inside of me knows this and moves toward him.

            I don’t know, and I will never know, just as Dana will likely never know why she cries in Covent Garden.

            But aren’t such mysteries part of the beauty of life?  I mean, it is so easy to take everything for granted:  the streets we walk, the people we pass each day on those streets.  It’s amazing that, every now and then, someone, something, or even some place grabs our attention and really makes us look and think and feel.  The fact we cannot explain the draw takes nothing away from the experience – why must we explain everything, anyway?

            I hope someday I stumble up my own Covent Garden, a place that draws me toward it and shakes me up and even makes me cry.  I hope that, like Dana, I am open to it – that I respect its power and follow its pull, even if I know I might end up in tears by doing so, even if my own husband turns to me quizzically and asks, “What the heck?”  Even if I cannot answer because I simply do not know.