Tennisball

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Tennisball

When I was in the womb, I’m told, I attended a few Dodger games a Chavez-Ravine.  A few years later, a picture of me indicates that someone encouraged me to wear a Yankees shirt.  When I was six, the St. Louis Cardinals played the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series.  Mom and I watched those games in Indiana, and I became not only hooked on the Redbirds but also an immense fan of the game.  I played in an organized league of some sort from age five through fifteen.  The tail end of my career is not worth discussing, but being on the field during a game was always the highlight of my day.

Throughout my childhood, my friends and I typically got together and played at either the nearby elementary schoolyard or the empty space between my house and my friend Mike’s house. It became a rectangular baseball field—or perhaps, baseball played on a football field.  I’ve never measured the lot’s size, but it seems to me that it was about fifty yards of fairly even terrain.  Conveniently, there were two bushes placed against each house, which served as our first- and third bases.  Home plate was usually signified by an unused glove or extra hat.  The pitcher threw north, and batters tried to hit a ball south past the alleyway and over my elderly neighbor Mr. Brines’ fence.

By about the time I was seven and my brother was on the brink of teenage-dom, we were instructed not to use a regular baseball during our games.  While we hadn’t broken any windows, we had to use a tennis ball as a substitute.  Obviously, this felt inauthentic—that is, until the first one of us connected on a softly tossed pitch and sent that green Penn Number 1 sailing high above the trees several yards beyond Mr. Brines’ fence line.  The tops of those trees must have been thirty or forty feet in the air.  The summer wind would make them dance left and right, creating a moving target for my black Louisville Slugger aluminum bat.

At ten years old, I stood at the north end over my makeshift home plate and faced one of my best friends, a freckled red-haired kid named Jason.  With no helmet on and batting gloves completely unnecessary, I urged him to send one to me that I could launch.  Our rules for home run derby allowed ten swings or five outs, whichever came first. Any ball hit that didn’t make it over the garage and beyond the alley was considered an out.

Very distinctly, I can recall squeezing that bat and awaiting the frayed tennis ball.  I focused on Jason’s freckled countenance and mimicked the batting stance repertoire of some Major Leaguer, daring Jason to toss it into my wheelhouse—a term our coach had ingrained in our heads during every practice and game that summer.  I wanted to hit one out so badly.  I shifted my eyes from his pasty grin to the ball he held.  I didn’t miss that first pitch and sent a towering ball over those dancing leaves.  That afternoon, at ten years old, I felt I conquered summer.

Creative Writing Class – Assignment #1

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I’m taking an online creative writing course through Ivy Tech to fulfill a course requirement to keep my teaching license active.  I’m very excited to be a student again!

Our first assignment was to post three short stories that introduce us to the class.  The caveat is that only one of the three may be factual.  Here are my three short stories.  Feel free to guess which one is real!

1.  As a kid, I was not much of a troublemaker.  If anything, I avoided pretty much all conflicts whatsoever.  My first real act of rebellion as a teenager, however, got me in some serious hot water with my mom.  I went to my junior prom with a sophomore girl I had been dating for a few months.  We had an okay time, but the event did not pan out as I had pictured it would.  The time came for us to leave, and I assumed I was just going to take her back to her parents’ house.  She, however, had a different plan.  Evidently, everyone else in the school knew about this enormous party one of the seniors was having out in the country.  She led me to it, which turned out to be quite simple due to the large bonfire that served as both a signal and warming device.  In short, we stayed way too long and I got home at 3:15–over three hours past my curfew.  I didn’t drink at the party, but I was in severe trouble for being out without permission.

2.  I never owned pets as a child; that is, unless you count goldfish (and you shouldn’t, honestly).  When I was in my twenties, however, I got my first dog–unless you don’t count Shih-Tzus as dogs (but you should!).  We named her Kenzie (short for Mrs. Kensington, a character from the Austin Powers movies), and I really became quite fond of her.  One morning, however, an outside observer might have assumed otherwise.  My in-laws at that time had a long driveway, so one chilly Sunday morning, I offered to drive down to get the paper.  My wife had let the dog go outside while I was on my brief excursion.  As I pulled back toward the house, I saw that the dog was yelping and jumping around near the car.  Even though I slowed down, I ended up running over her tail!  We had to have the tail amputated, and I think it’s fair to say I was no longer Kenzie’s favorite parent.

3.  Years ago, roller skating was wildly popular.  Once in a while, our elementary principal–of all people–would organize a Friday evening trip to the old Wigwam on the north side of Terre Haute.  While parents were encouraged to accompany their children, they were not required to do so.  My older brother had found some rather taboo print tee-shirts during a recent vacation with friends, and I took one to wear to that night’s skating night.  I arrived well before the required time and was very excited.  That is, until my principal suggested I take off my jacket.  As I unzipped, I revealed the risque shirt–a cartoon duck with the words SHIT HAPPENS emblazoned above his head.  Needless to say, my mother was called and I was not allowed to attend that night’s skating party.

NCTE Day 3 (Saturday) Notes/Reflections

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After a short sleep, I woke up this morning at probably 5:50 to another roommate’s trash-can lid sound emitting from his iPhone.  It might have been a gong.  Either way, it did the trick…for me.  I wasn’t upset about being up because I had wanted to get to the convention as early as possible.  A friend had a poster session that began at 8.  With a bagel in my belly, I hit the road with my Chestnut Praline Latte and got there around 8:20.  It was good to see my colleague, and I was inspired by her work and our brief catch-up chat.  More on that in a moment.

Let me speak to the exhibit hall of my convention.  I know thousands of English teachers under one roof sounds, perhaps, like a raucous group of activists who bleed red ink, but the people I spoke to while in lines or at tables were some of the most genuine and funny people I’ve ever met.  They love books; they love teaching; they love sharing stories.

I caught the end of a session on blogging for teachers, and I learned about two pretty well known sites:

twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

and

writerswhocare.wordpress.com

Everyone I spoke to at these sessions felt these blogs were among the best going for teacher-writers.  I had not considered writing about my profession; I have decided that will be coming soon.

This leads me to my day’s highlight!

Just after the session with the bloggers, the same room was used for a session entitled “Meet the Editors.”  These editors were from NCTE’s journals.  In short, attendees had a chance to learn submission guidelines and pitch ideas for upcoming issues.  I was able to speak to a column editor for English Journal, who gave me very positive feedback about an idea I have for a column.  At the same table were the chief editors, and I spoke with one of them who identified with my concept and also encouraged me to write it!  I’m going to start on it soon and submit it.  I might have a real shot, folks!

Anyway, it was a great day overall.  I met a few more authors (including Cory Doctorow, above) picked up about 8-10 more books for my classroom, and left the conference feeling rejuvenated and excited about my profession!  While I may not be able to attend each year, I do hope to attend again in the coming years.  Who knows…maybe I’ll be one of the authors this time!

For Tom

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Recently, I found NPR on my cassette-playing radio device in my truck.  I will probably not change the channel until baseball season begins.  I was so sad to hear about the passing of Tom Magliozzi yesterday morning.  For the uninformed, Tom and his younger brother Ray hosted an absolutely wonderful program on NPR for about twenty-five years–CarTalk.  If you never listened, be grateful that all of those have been recorded and that you can probably obtain access at a minimal cost.  Tom had one of the best laughs you could ever hear.  The brothers’ on-air relationship reminds me so much of my own with my brother Rob.  In fact, when we were much younger, a friend of his taped episodes for us.  Regularly, I would pop one in before I went to sleep.  Hysterical and informative.  It was such a brilliant show.  When i was a little older, I got a job at a independent bookstore.  Among my first purchases was the brothers’ first book.  I still have it, and I look forward to sharing it with my children someday.  I didn’t listen a whole lot, but Tom Magliozzi ended up being a large part of my childhood.  Thanks, Tom, for the knowledge.  More importantly, though, thank you for all the laughs.

Day 10 – 1000 Words – Summary of TV Show

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I chose to write about Married…With Children because it’s been about a quarter-century since I watched it regularly but I realized how much of it I recall.  Unlike Seinfeld, which I have all but memorized, MWC is formulaic, which could explain why I remember so much.  As I kept typing, the words and images kept falling out.

Kelly (Christina Applegate) and Peg (Katy Sagal).

Married…With Children

 

Someone today is probably still cashing checks for approving the production of what became a cult classic sitcom in the late 1980s.  Shown then on little-known Fox, Al Bundy and his hysterically funny and dysfunctional family, friends, and neighbors, presented a new voice of Americana.  Sure, there was nothing knew about a white family whose house had been cut open for the viewers to peek inside.  Furthermore, the fact that only one adult within the home had a regular (paying) job while the other stayed home was not shocking.

But it pretty much stops there.

Peggy Bundy, Al’s cigarette-laden wife, regularly dressed in skin-tight leggings and/or high-waisted pants.  She epitomized the ‘anti-wife” of American television, much in the same vein as a rival TV mom played by comedian Roseanne Barr.  The younger sibling, Bud, was an adolescent boy whose wit outweighed his “game” with girls his age.  He was, in short, an Al in the making.  Lastly, perhaps topping Al as the most sought-after character (my own bias notwithstanding) was Kelly Bundy.  Kelly, played by Christina Applegate, fulfilled more cliches than a single sentence can possibly contain.  However, looking back on the show some twenty-five years after watching it each week, I have found a new, enlightened perspective on its value to 1980s and 90s American culture.

While any one individual episode is too difficult for me to remember, I’ll be speaking from here on out on a general level.  The images I’ve retained should suffice.

The formula for the show was similar to other sitcoms from the past, present, and future (nowadays).  Usually, Al found himself saying or doing something that, to him, exemplified his discontent with his family, other citizens, or the Washington beauracrats.  His rallying cries stirred up a live audience that was not discouraged to catcall any time any attractive woman hit the set.  He confided a lot with his son–teaching him the morals he’d learned and exemplified.  A running joke in the show referenced Al’s long-ago success on the high school gridiron.  Many of his buddies played with him and they all seemed disgruntled with adulthood and enamored by their memories.  As a ladies shoe salesman, Al had the misfortune to spend his working hours surrounded by women’s sour attitudes toward male clerks and their sour feet.  The typical customer he dealt with was either unattractive, rude, overweight, or simply just bitchy.  Upon arriving at home, where he longed each day to be a place of sanctuary, Al found himself never getting the chance to unwind for a long period.  Anytime he turned on a favorite program or a sporting event, his life was rudely impeded upon by his son’s desire to have a man-to-man talk, his daughter’s dates trapsing in and representing disaster (and typically a toss out the door), or his wife’s pleading to “come upstairs.”  While Peg had a more mature sex appeal, Al was rarely if ever anxious to storm upstairs to be with his wife.  In fact, their relationship was perhaps the most uncouth on the show.

Peg and Al made a habit of meticulously poring over each others’ flaws and mistakes.  While Al typically felt proud that he was the breadwinner, thus entitling him to certain freedoms, Peggy equally felt her household maintenance went unnoticed, which led her to feel unappreciated.

The character who became the mystery was the son, Bud.  Bud was at times, for me, the most relateable.  He vehemently tried to get laid, fit in, and had no qualms about calling out his sister for her poor choice in boyfriends or dates.  An obvious Al-in-training, Bud snuck swings of warm, cheap domestic beers, had fairly intelligent chats with his father, but also had a rather embarrassing collection of pornographic magazines in his bedroom.  Standing probably five-six at best, he was inherently socially awkward with girls who agreed to date him.  Bud was on course to become a hapless romantic who may or may not sell women’s shoes one day.

The final member of the Bundy clan is Al’s daughter Kelly.  Kelly Bundy covers the spectrum as a functional character in a sitcom.  Kelly Bundy was a teen hearthrob.  The amount of clothing she wore in any given episode would rival that of a pillowcase.  Since almost each episode of the show dealt with Al dealing with something that bothered him, the stress was balanced by the free-spirited, dingy daughter.  While he was either getting screwed by the government, sports, people at work, or his own family, his daughter, as scantily clad as she was, was always his sweetheart.  He cherished her.  He never said anything too deroggatory about her.

In short, he was the worst parent she could have had.

Even though she may be remembered for her sex appeal, Kelly Bundy was one of the most significant overall characters from the 1980s.  She used her body more than her brain at times, but she ended up usually playing an integral part of the moral to the story.  That is, when the episode had a moral.

This is where the cliches begin.  Sure.  I think Married…With Children changed television.  Many shows have done that.  Groundbreaking?  Perhaps.  While I don’t believe the spouse-bashing began with the show, they certainly worked their way to the apex of that list.  As a kid, I also loved shows whose teenage girls varied in attractiveness, but none came close to Kelly.  I don’t need to close my eyes right now to remember the Christina Applegate poster that hung in my room throughout my teens.  Curled hair with one hand pushing part of that blonde hair back.  Deep red-lipped smile.  Black floral top.  High-waisted denim shorts.  Printed signature with, I believe, a heart beneath.

This truly American family made its mark twenty-five years ago.  It should be eternally available in syndication.  It will be shown one day on an Oldies-style television channel.  My two-year-old son will someday discover it.

But will I watch it with him?

700+ Words (autobio of parent)

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**Again, the prompt was interesting at first, but then it took a turn as I continued…***

I grew up in the United States.  It’s hard to say which location to call the home of my childhood because I spent time in Indiana and Texas, two states with much different lifestyles–at least back then they were.  In Texas, I grew up believing that God had not only invented football, but He had set up HQ in the western part of the state.  That’s great if you want to love the sport, but I preferred my pencils and canvases.

I was born over a dozen years after my lone sibling.  I made friends, of course, but those friendships back then did not have the sustainability after leaving town that young people have today.  I finished high school in the late 50s in the South.  I had always thought that equality for all was a no-brainer, but who really cared what a middle-class white girl thought back then?  I trumped off to school to study art–specifically interior design–but couldn’t finish my degree.

That’s when I made the leap to the west coast.  I lived with a friend outside of Los Angeles for some time before I met someone.  That relationship damaged my opinion of men in those days.  We were together arguably way longer than we should have been, but we did produce two sons.  When our relationship became, in my eyes, the environment my boys were not going to live in, we left.  Three of us.  On a plane.  And we joined my mother in Indiana.  Those boys were about 6 and nearly 2 at the time.

The closest their father ever got to them from then on was in the form of support checks that arrived rather infrequently before they completely stopped around eight years after moving.

But my boys flourished in Indiana.  With the help of their “Gram” we four figured things out.  I missed a lot of concerts and games, but I also had a steady job for the rest of my working days.

I became a grandmother for the first time in 1994, a second time in 1996; more recently, my other son has become a father to two as well (2012 and 2014).  My mother passed in 2003 at the ripe age of 95.  I’ve lived in the same house I did since we moved here in 1978.  Upon my retirement, I found a lot of opportunities to return to my love of the arts, but recently my budget won’t allow those niceties.

I’m a reader.  I’ve loved books as long as I can remember and have spent way too much money on first editions of contemporary authors such as Maeve Binchy, John Grisham, Danielle Steele (years ago), and Sue Grafton.  I raised two boys who share so many personality traits, but only one is a reader.  My older son has always been a numbers and technology person.

One of my regrets as a younger mother was the period when I smoked.  I used to smoke Salems, and I never did it in front of my boys.  The house has a basement, and when I was needing it most, I simply smoked down there–usually after they were asleep.  When my work shift changed in the 90s, I smoked less and less and eventually decided to quit.  Like everyone else who quits, I replaced those cigarettes with snacks, which of course was just as unhealthy but more accepted by society for some reason.  I smoked for the same reasons other people smoke, snack, run, drink, paint, or destroy—because it was my outlet of tension.  I rarely even finished most of the cigarettes I lit.

As a mother, I found the most effective tool to curtail bad behavior was a combination of stern dissatisfaction and squelching episodes of frustration.  I spanked when it seemed that nothing else would get my point across.  I preferred laughing with them most of the time.  Like a lot of parents, I probably let them both get away with more than I should.  But during that, I instilled in them respect for all–women especially–and that hard work can pay off.  Both my boys, ironically, are procrastinators more often than I’d wished they’d be.  I love that they both do whatever they can for me.  I must have done a few things right over the years.

Day 6 – 600 Words (about a bad book…but more junk came out)

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Poor writing at its best.  I’m still not done with my first cup of coffee, so pardon the wacky stream-of-consciousness…

Today’s prompt might be the toughest for me all month.  I love books.  Like, seriously.  This was not always the case.  As a kid, reading was boring and I think a challenge for which I was not prepared.  My early memories of reading recall images of those old Garfield collections (I distinctly remember being obsessed with having all of them placed in numeric order on my bookshelf) and Judy Blume’s Superfudge.  Unfortunately, I cannot recall absolutely anything about the plot, characters, situation, conflict, resolution, theme, motifs of that latter title.

This was also the case for me when, a few years ago, I reluctantly closed a book and privately announced I would never pick it up again.  The book was Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.  I picked up this book on reputation alone–one of my typical techniques; I rarely even read the flap/back cover if someone or something I trust talks up a specific book.

Looking back, I may have allowed other factors affect my inability to read/comprehend this book.  In those days, our school had a portion (twenty glorious minutes) of the day devoted to a schoolwide Silent Sustained Reading program.  The program evolved in the spirit of encouraging reading by offering books to our students and modeling for them that reading is a wonderful activity.  It met with resilience from some students (and a handful of adults in the building), but overall I believe the students liked the program.  However, if memory serves, I was trying to read EII while supervising a very reluctant group of high school juniors.

What I do recall are confusing sentence structures, bizarre and forgettable character names, and dialogue that appeared nonsensical.  I was not under any physician’s care nor was I consuming regular hallucinogens, so perhaps my straight-laced approach was the problem.

I vow to try again…someday.  I like funky books.  I might have just been in the wrong frame of mind at that moment.  I read and loved his other huge hit Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so there’s no way it’s an author-reader issue.  In fact, I think I’ll add it to my to-read Goodreads list.

For the second half of this essay, I’m going to write about why I think young people become so reluctant to read.  In my sixteen years as a teacher, I’ve encountered a number of possibilities.  By the way, much of what I think I’m about to write applies to writing as well.

It absolutely has to start at home.  Kids need to see books as an enjoyable form of entertainment.  Reading to young children before bed, throughout the afternoon, anytime, really, is so essential to develop interested readers.  Taking kids to the library or bookstore and making seeking out books as an adventure would have incredible ramifications.  Our theory as a school applies here.  Kids who see adults they (somewhat) respect reading are going to be at least a little more interested in the craft.

Think about how kids get interested in anything.  They are introduced to it (be it fishing, hunting, car repair, needlepoint) by someone older than they are (typically).  That interest is fostered over time and the adult’s enthusiasm shines through and gets into the younger person’s bloodstream.

What I see, however, are students who have simply not been given the access or students whose view of reading has been pushed down by other adults in their life.

Part of me also thinks it’s a vision problem.  Students actually say things to me such as “It’s hard to read” and they don’t mean the vocabulary.

I began love reading (slowly at first but now at full speed) because the words seemed much easier to absorb once I was wearing glasses.  Can you believe there is still a stigma about wearing glasses at school?  Jesus…it’s insane.

Please encourage and model reading in the home.  I’ll do what I can in the classroom.

500+ Words on a Significant Place

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For the uninitiated visitor to Indiana, I recommend waiting until late September or early October to see the Hoosier state at its most serene.  In the southern part of the state, winding roads will take you through a series of hamlets as well as the occasional metropolis.  In the heart of the heartland is a city known for its rich history of academic and athletic achievements.  In other parts of Bloomington, however, the visitor might see alongside a divided highway, a vineyard.  That vineyard–split by State Road 37 a few miles north of State Road 46, though, is just the beginning.

Oliver Winery has been in operation for, well, I’ll just say a while.  This isn’t an article to be published by a reputable outlet any time soon, so I can get away with avoiding research or “work.”  Before I met my wife, I’d been to the winery a couple times–once, we even took the 45-minute distillery tour.  The gift shop and tasting area are, for lack of a better word, quaint and appealing.  Cheeses, breads, snacks, decor, and of course wine aplenty fills the room, and if the newbie were to arrive on a blissful mid-autumn Saturday afternoon, he or she would be greeted by the coziest welcoming committee north of the Ohio.  And that’s just the indoors.

I began this brief description planning, however, to describe the gorgeous acreage of the winery’s boundaries.  In what my presumptuous mind must ascertain as an architect’s dream, the hilly landscape, flush with various trees and a subtle pond, provide for the visitor a taste of what Thoreau must have sought and loved during his two years away from society.

Several years ago, In the early spring–another extraordinary time to be surrounded by Indiana’s nature offerings–my wife (before we were married) and I stopped at the winery prior to seeing a concert on the square of Bloomington.  The sun’s brightness combatted the slight chilled breeze.  We wore thin coats.  The perimeter of the pond held a smattering of other guests–some families, some friends, and some children–yet the only noise was our own.  In a church-like setting, people just understood that nature was at work here and that it ought not be impeded by human sound.

We’d bought some wine, cheese, bread, and crackers and had created an impromptu picnic minus the basket or even a blanket, and the facility offered plastic wine glasses and napkins.  We discussed how beautiful a wedding would be down there–there, on the dock–a wedding whose guest list would not top twenty-five.  Immediately, I envisioned a single string musician playing in the distance, perhaps along the border of trees to the west of the pond.  The entire property, one would assume, would not need to be closed for such a small event since the land rolls eastward for hundreds of yards.  Our fictious, spontaneous wedding we were creating did not become our own reality a few years later.  But that didn’t matter then or now.

Because that afternoon, during our brief visit, I fell in love.