The Reward

One of those times when you know you married the right person

This is the dinner my wonderful husband had waiting for me when I came home from school on the very last day after working until 9 p.m. to wrap all the loose ends of the year and finish packing away my room for the summer.

I decided to try a challenge a blogger put out a couple months ago, Debbie, I think it was you. I went into my photos randomly and decided to write about the photo that showed up on my phone. Actually, this one is perfect as it follows the porch sequence with ease, since this is on my screened porch. Dinner is sitting on the tile table I bought from a Moroccan merchant off the back of a truck in an alley. I came home from school exhausted but effusive as all the memories and logistics of the last year wrapped themselves around my tired framework

Without me asking, without me knowing, my husband decided I needed a steak dinner, no matter when I got home. So when I arrived, there it was….. steak, green beans, and a glass of Cabernet, a teacher’s refuge after the end of the year storm. As delicious as the dinner was, I was even more delighted by the fact that my hubby took the time to make it for me. This is another one of the moments in marriage where you know what your partner needs and it means more to them, because they didn’t have to say so. This quiet understanding permeates the cool evening air on a perfect night as we linger on the porch and anticipate the many nights to be spent together on the porch this summer Today in the torrential downpour, we have the perfect vantage point to participate in the energy of the storm. It rained a month’s worth of rain in just one hour and there are flash floods everywhere. Yet, we sit here safe and sound, while the storm rages around us. The porch enhances our experience of nature in storm and drang and in the stillness of the rainbows that follow.

One of my colleagues said that the evening of the day we finish school is the best day of summer. Maybe it is, the whole summer lies before you, filled with possibilities. You can easily imagine yourself organizing your whole house, playing with your grandchildren all day, seeing all of your friends, going to the beach, the mountains, and the Shenandoah. In one breath you see it all before you, and everything is possible. I sometimes think I wouldn’t have friends if it were not for the summer. During the year, school takes over my life. But now, as summer begins, I am a free agent, with time for it all My life is my own again. Funny that you can love your job but still cherish the freedom of not having to do it for a while.

the porch by day

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Porch

Responding to Sally’s challenge, I selected a noun and wrote about it.

I pour my coffee and wander out in my nightgown to my own private slice of the outdoors.  The sun warms my face and the breeze teases me as it ruffles the small leaves of the plants in the corner of my porch.  I sit on the glider and take in the lush green all around me.  The azaleas brush up against the screens  Children come to play on the swing that hangs from the tree just beyond the steps.  My neighbor’s house completes the storybook scenery.  Their fachwerk  brick and stucco home looks like part of a Disney set, the perfect once up on a time cottage.

I am joined on the porch by my husband of almost 40 years.  Our day begins here with a simple slow and soothing rhythm    Our morning coffee sipped together slowly with numerous refills  is a summer tradition.  We soak up the heat of the day, before it becomes overbearing, and we talk about family, about our plans for the day, and what is happening in the world.  Sometimes we add the morning paper  to the mix. We also sit in silence at times, those may be the best.  This is a bonding silence where we experience our own worlds and share them without effort or words.   Breakfast on a screened in porch may be a good metaphor for 40 years of marriage.  It is comfortable, beautiful, invigorating, and fresh in its own way each day.  You can feel the love that is understood beckoning you onto the porch.   It is equally enjoyable on a balmy spring or summer day as it is in a dynamic rainstorm or a blizzard- a place you can go to view the world around you and always be home.

The porch is also an extension of home for Bingo, our cockapoo.  He stretches out belly up, waiting for some love and glancing out through the screens.  From the perch, Bingo keeps watch on the house and defends us from intruders such as the postman and delivery people.  He greets neighbors and friends enthusiastically.  He keeps watch for other dogs who may try to infringe on his territory, and squirrels who would like to bold through the screen to chase.  He thinks this is his porch, I guess we all think this porch is our special place. He allows us to share it with him.

The latest member of the porch fan club is Oliver.  When he comes over he points to the fan overhead on the porch.  He is mesmerized by fans , all fans… but he is especially fond of this one.  A long ribbon dangles from it to make it easier to pull and put on and off.  From the time he was an infant, he has stretched out on the glider, kicking his feet, gurgling with laughter and gazing longingly at the ceiling fan overhead.   Now in his second summer of life, he still gravitates to that fan, pointing to it and talking in a language only he understands. “ Gabybe gbye” With big smiles, a single finger is held upward under the fan.   He holds onto the glider as he wobbles about, and he climbs on my lap, standing to get a better view of the neighborhood. 

We added this porch to the house about 15 years ago.  After having enclosed a large screen porch on the front of the house to make office space, we realized that we had cut off the air flow to our favorite part of the house- architectural  gentrification ( a term I just invented) , where the actual fabric of the house is altered by the changes it endures.   So, we built this small square space with wooden floors and beams, to reunite nature and our living space.  The porch continues to breathe life into our home.  It is inside, outside, and a place of its own for all seasons, having imprinted each of us in its own way.

Tone

The tone of discourse, political and otherwise has become increasingly crude and belligerent.  I am right, and you are an idiot!  We struggle to survive these every day brutal exchanges as adults.  How do we protect children and train our young people to listen with an open heart and mind, evaluate critically what they hear, and put themselves in someone else’s, perhaps less comfortable, shoes.

I don’t generally post political thoughts on my FB page, I keep it more a means of staying in touch with family, friends far away, and former students who are no longer in our school system.  However I broke that rule in our current local election.  It is not even a full blown election.  It is a primary .  So both candidates are in the same party, but you wouldn’t think it to hear the bombs being thrown. The office in question is Commonwealth’s Attorney.  This is a real job with serious consequences for our district.  (Not going to use names here..)

The current D.A. has worked with me and other educators  to help young people  She has come up with creative and compassionate ways to address criminal charges against young people who have made mistakes and who have responded to the chance to rehabilitate.  The police force in our county has gang prevention programs, and a very active and effective community outreach program.  I am watching a lot of what works in our county be thrown under a political bus,

So, I am trying to stay with my original orientation on not writing about politics.  What this blog is about is actually something else, basic human communication with dignity and respect.  I had to give some background first as to why my feelings are so strong.  The D.A. did not vote in favor of a bill our governor was promoting on the house floor, and now I see this as political payback time.  Not everyone would agree, but I find it hard to see why party regulars would jump ship on a well-liked and effective incumbent, against whom no objections were previously voiced, after she failed to tow the party line on the governor’s bill.  Fortunately, another prominent democratic representative, well known in our district, has written a letter on behalf of the D.A.  Even her opponent in a previous election has come out in favor of her.  There are multiple postings on FB about this election.  One of them had a very negative attack on my candidate under a release/political ad.  So, I took the plunge and responded.  I simply spoke of the positive things I have seen her do.  I did not address in any negative way her opponent.  Nevertheless, I was bracing myself for hate mail, which is what usually follows FB political posts, and this election has become very contentious. .  I was even expecting to be cursed out.  Instead, I received a reply from someone who started with “I don’t walk in your shoes,but..” She presented her views and her own experiences in a reasonable way.  She hasn’t changed my mind, but I welcomed the response.  We exchanged a few more thoughts with one another, neither of us budging, each becoming more sure that we were supporting the correct person, but we agreed on certain policy directions, maybe just not who would best take us there.  The exchange was civil, even friendly 

Today is Sunday and after church I stopped along Columbia Pike to go to the outdoor farmer’s market.  It was my first time there.  I wandered about to see what was available.  I bought a baguette, and next to that table, was a table for my candidate’s opponent.  I walked by glancing at the literature.  Most of what I have received by mail from her has been distorted and hostile.  These brochures  looked a little less hostile from the outer flap.  As I looked, the woman behind the table began to talk to me.  She said she was a defense attorney and then she started saying a lot of the things that my newly found FB correspondent had said.  Suddenly she looked at me, and said my name.  “Wait, how do you know who I am?”  “Because I recognize your profile picture, and these are some of the same things we talked about….” Wow!”  I was meeting my new found FB exchange partner in person, purely by chance.  And, she was as decent in person as she was online.  We shared a lot of values, but saw this election completely differently,  I walked away from our conversation, no less committed to my candidate, but bolstered by the fact that it is still possible to share goals and have a civil disagreement about how to get there, in which both parties learn something

 I still cannot wrap my head around someone who has never been a prosecutor, or tried a case in our county’s courts herself, becoming the D.A. and supervising others doing a job she has never done, especially when the current person does it so well.  That said, I enjoyed my farmer’s market meeting, and left if feeling hopeful.  Tone is key to conveying content. 

Rolling Thunder 2019

Memorial Day Weekend

You could hear the Harleys roaring.  Oh yeah, Rolling Thunder must be back, it will soon be Memorial Day weekend.  The hum of excitement, the drumbeat of history was pounding in my ear.  I heard on the radio that this would be the last trip.  This would be the last official Rolling Thunder visit to D.C. on Memorial Day.  Another end of an era event…. The older you get, the more of these you experience. 

We stayed home for the weekend, no elaborate trips out of town to the beach, or the Shenandoah- just planned on a quiet weekend at home and some spring clean ng.  The basement project led to the uncovering of all kinds of treasures… the makings of a future blog. The whole time I was sorting through mystery boxes, Rolling Thunder continued to be on my mind.

Saturday afternoon I took my bike (not a motorbike, but rather a bike with no speeds that I bought at a yard sale years ago for $10.00) from the garage and set out to follow that Harley sound, like a call from beyond, that magnetically pulled me over to the Highlander.  This motel is straight out of film noir or a Hitchcock thriller on Turner Classics.  It has been only minimally renovated since the 1950s and it has a large wrap around porch on two levels, encircling an inviting square shaped parking lot.  For one week every year, this is not a parking lot for cars at all, but rather a mecca for motorbikes.  For a large contingent of Rolling Thunder guys, this is a second home, a hang out, turned happening encampment. Tables are set up side by side in the parking lot with food and drinks that keep the party going well into the night.  There are occasional items or memorabilia strewn about as well, badges, medallions, etc.  A shiny royal blue bike catches my eye, among a sea of big black Harley Davidsons.The black shield in front of my very blue bike has “Boozefighters  MC  tn” written across it in Gothic print, bold and stylized, a bit like the riders.  Then I noticed that a lot of the guys had this on the back of their leather jackets.  It was a connector, maybe a bike club they all belong to, I don’t know, like so much I do not know about these bikers.

The “scene” in the evenings, when everyone comes back from the day’s activities, is a little like a mini biker’s Woodstock- very sixties.  Loud rock music plays in the background.  Guys and gals parade about with cans of beer and laughter from the gut, along with some tired and drawn faces clustered in groups, engaged in conversation, reliving the past and trying to live the present   I can’t help but think how much adjustment these guys have had to go through between the Vietnam war itself and then their return to the US., at a time when their service was often not appreciated, as in no other war.

You get the feeling that there is a lot of bonding going on here that nobody else will ever be a part of or understand.  In many cases, younger family members accompany the riders, many riding themselves.

There is most likely a whole different recovery culture for the different wars and conflicts that those who serve experience.  Vietnam is a world onto itself.  I watch these guys and the “happening” from my perch on my bike across the street from the parking lot.  I want to talk to some of the riders, hear their stories, but I cannot bring myself to interrupt the party.  It is their time, their day, their world.  I am an outsider, an observer, maybe I would even be an intruder.  I have heard that this is the last year because they are tired of being harassed and disrespected.  I hope that report was wrong.  I also heard that the finances and logistics were too much to handle as the members of Rolling Thunder age That seems believable to me.  I didn’t know that they have to pay 200,000 dollars to use the Pentagon parking lot to assemble there .  This was the biggest gathering ever, with bikes in the thousands down on the mall, since it is purported to be the last  Clearly they needed to meet at the Pentagon first, to enter the city and file past the Lincoln Memorial and the Marine guard who salutes them, as a unit. 

Part of me wonders, why aren’t we as a nation picking up this expense?  Look what they gave for their country… Would it not be possible for them to use the Pentagon parking lot as a military benefit of sorts.  As a taxpayer, I am willing to contribute.  For the government to do this once a year would not break the bank.  That said, driving a thousand miles or more to get here becomes a bigger challenge for bikers in their 70s and 80s. 

So, as I watch these guys leave town, I remember the distant chatter in high school, when you found out that someone you knew had been drafted.  One number, by chance, places you on the other side of the world in camouflage, hoping to survive a raid or attack, you never envisioned. Meanwhile back home, the country is erupting with protest and everything is being questioned.  Even though I didn’t like the war, I found myself liking Jane Fonda less….These guys are risking their lives, and you are giving cover to the enemy while there are troops on the ground   really?  She now says she regrets it, that was a long time coming…..Funny how age gives you perspective.

As this community reinforces each other’s memories and dreams on the pavement of the Highlander, I wish them well.  And to anyone reading this who has served this country, especially in times of war,  we are in your debt.  This weekend belongs to you!

Rolling Thunder, you will be missed in the quiet absence of your massive bikes and memories.

King of Koshary

Unexpected  Guests, the King of Koshary

We are driving home when I see the sign.  “Wait! We have to stop, it’s a grand opening”  “Oh, that will be going on all week, it’s just another restaurant.”  “Can we at least look? The décor looks interesting and opening night only comes around once. “  “Do we have to?” “Maybe we could just get appetizers and then go home…Let me just look in the window.  It looks Middle Eastern and you know how much I love middle eastern food.” “okay fine, “ he says with the kind of resignation that only a husband who has been down this road before and knows how it will turn out, can have.  I feel a little guilty dragging him into this, but in the window it says the restaurant is Egyptian, and I just cannot help myself. The dye is cast

Looking through the window, I see Isis, not the terrorist organization, but the Egyptian goddess. The total opposite of ISIS, the goddess Isis protected children, healed the sick, and was married to Osiris, the ancient Egyptian God of the afterlife .  They were all right there, their images were on the tables and spread throughout the restaurant along with the centuries old symbols for upper and lower Egypt The pharaoh wore a crown bearing both symbols, because in his power he united both upper and lower Egypt.  All these thoughts and images rushed my brain like water breaking through a flood gate as I gazed at the bright stark images, and felt myself getting sucked into the world of Tutankhamun, the Valley of the Dead, the pyramids, all the ancient wonders of Egypt And they are all on the other side of the glass window beckoning us in…. Scott sees the gleam in my eye, and he knows that I am already transported somewhere far beyond this storefront. There is no turning back now…

“There aren’t any Egyptian restaurants in Arlington,” I say with  fanatic enthusiasm. “In fact I don’t’ know of any Egyptian restaurants even in D.C., Moroccan, Turkish, Lebanese, yes, but Egyptian, no way!’ We are in for the whole nine yards.  I throw open the door and we saunter into El Kahira (Arabic for Cairo.) We take a table and I start to throw around the little bit of Arabic I know from my days of working with the Kuwaitis.  It doesn’t take long before I have used up all the vocabulary I know, since it is schwaya, schwaya, very little. The waiter brings us menus, and now we are both all in. The first course is an appetizer, baba ganoush, best ever  As we use our naan to scoop it up, I look at the 1,001 Arabian nights décor and I am swept into another time and place. Even the name.. King of Koshary

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When we finish our meal, we congratulate the owner  “Mabrouk! Congratulations on your opening day.” As we get ready to leave, we pass another table, where Scott stops to admire their food.  “That looks pretty good” “Oh, it is. this is what the peasants eat in Egypt. With pasta and chick peas to recommend it, the dish looks very filling.  A wave of nostalgia seems to wash over both of them as they devour this comfort food. “We made an hour long drive here just for the opening.” Now I don’t feel so bad insisting we stop on the way home   “I had to bring A here for his birthday. You can never find Egyptian food- exactly what I thought.

Scott breaks out into a loud rendition of happy birthday and S joins in, telling us that she needed to get A out to cheer him up. He said, “she always laughs at me for having a French accent when I speak Arabic.”   Then I find out that he had a restaurant in Paris for 40 years and that they just moved to the States . She wanted him to have Egyptian food.and then she says, the other part of her ream for him to celebrate his birthday would have been the chance to speak French with someone.  He misses it so much. Say no more. “ Mon ami, le francais te manque?. Je comprends bien”. And I am off on a tear. We speak French for a long time and notice that they are mopping the floor They wanted to order coffee but it is too late Closing time crept up on us. So we acknowledge that it is time to leave and then we realize that they need that coffee before making the long drive back to the Shenandoah countryside and we invite them over.  So our evening went from just going home, to the opening and now, unexpected guests.

Our guests were delightful  Each person brings his or her own energy and gifts into your life, and our world got a little bigger tonight.  It was an opening of more than a restaurant. Now we have someone to visit in Middleburg and something tells me they will be back to the King of Koshary, where upper and lower Egypt meet, and so do we!

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Using A and S, rather than full names for privacy, a grand birthday celebration!

A Day of Wonder

Our school was holding its annual market day simulation where students set up shop with foods, crafts, whatever they can create and sell for a profit, as they learn about capitalism and how a market economy works.  Booths were set up outside and the seventh grade become merchants as the whole 6th grade comes out to shop  I got my hair braided, bought some home-made honey soap, and a yarn doll for my grandbaby. 

Suddenly a counselor came running across the field and said he needs me.  He asked me to follow him  He moved so quickly, I could not keep up with him.  I followed him into the building wondering how much trouble one of my students must be in for him to come running after me.

As I enter the door to the cafeteria stairs, I see another counselor on the stairs staring at me. I look to my right, and there they are….. my angel squad!  Four students, whom I dearly love, are standing on the landing arms laden with flowers and chocolates strawberries, hearts laden with love.  They were my class family when I last taught them 5 years ago.  One of them was with me for all three years of middle school, going back 8 years.  At first, I just stare taking in the overwhelming connectedness and joy I feel seeing them again.  Such a surprise and I am so intensely happy that it feels like my heart will burst. Happy dance and group hug time!  Tears begin to coat my eyes like a fine veil of pre dawn mist, as a flood of emotions washes over me, and I feel myself melting.

We go to the office and sign in.  Meanwhile they take in their old middle school, where suddenly everything looks small to them. “Were the lockers always that small?”  “I don’t remember us being small, were we?”  “Yes you were, in sixth grade.” They all laugh contagiously, reliving the middle school years at a safe distance.  “We need to sign in”  Two of them take out driver’s licenses as ID.s.  Whoa, you all grew up so fast….Three of them are in college and the fourth is working and taking a gap year, before beginning school next year.  They once sat in my class, as ESL students, working hard to get into regular classes and prepare for high school. Now, they are well on their way on life’s journey.  I always enjoy my students, but their year was extra special.  It is not every year that I sob on the last day of school  They were a really special group.  One of their defining features as a class was how they looked out for one another. Compassion, dedication, resilience, and joy were hallmarks of that class  They set off sparks of joy when they were students in my class, over the years, and  during yesterday’s visit they continued to do so.

We went outside to market day and collected my students  On the way to do so, I arranged  the girls  around the Swanson sign in front of the school, to recreate the picture we had in our HILT middle school yearbook.  When we arrived upstairs, my current class and the girls introduced themselves to each other.  One boy started with “I hate reading at home” and another announced, “I hate games.”  Sophia, the Queen of optimism, says “Why are you so negative?  Talk about what you do like.”  This is the same positive energy she brought to my class years ago.   Her bigger than life personality with her smile the size of a half moon, and her booming voice bellowing out greetings in English with a thick Italian accent, fill the room.  My current students sit mesmerized as I retrieve some of my former students’ work from my google Drive and print out speeches and essays they wrote in another middle school life time. Keity begins to read. Her speech is a reflection of who she is.  It is humorous, unpredictable and light on the outside, but filled with purpose and serious content within.  She begins talking about her own relationship with food in sentences brimming with self deprecating humor and hyperbole  “   “  This is followed by serious questions about world hunger and our responsibilities. Her essay is a thoughtful insightful package inside engaging and  playful wrapping, just like the writer. 

The bell rings and I look for writing by the others to share with my afternoon class. We go to geography, where we find Mr T.  The girls hit the room with me helping current students with their geography projects, they once did this class too….Then they go off to explore their old school.  We get together for lunch with some of their other former teachers, laugh, tell stories, and savor the moment.  Next they meet my afternoon class, the 8th graders.  I find copies of their 8th grade oratory presentations in my Google Drive and pull them up.  They deliver their speeches to my current class, who sit there spellbound.  “They use really important words… you wrote THAT in 8th grade.”  They are wonderful role models as former middle schoolers and as the young adults they have become

One of the girls got choked up reading her speech.  She spoke about bad decisions she had made and what she had learned from them and for a moment she was an uncertain 8th grader, looking for answers she has already found.  There were tears in her eyes.  I remember some of the struggles from those days.  My students were really moved.  It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about the role of writing.  “You were revisiting your 14 year old self in the raw”  You will never again write like that 14 year old girl.  You may write now about challenges you faced at 14, but you will do so as a 19 year old, who has already overcome them, and that is different  There is something very authentic about capturing the moment while you are in it.”  We all talked a little about writing and the revisiting of our emotional selves at given points in time.  It was a powerful experience.

The girls all noticed how in 5 short years, cell phones prevailed.  Five minutes in the hall and they were asking questions…Oddly enough it sounded like more than 5 years between their leaving and the present.  “Could it have changed that much since we left?”  I don’t know, could it?

What I do know is that seeing these young ladies blossom even more in their lives was a coup de grace beyond anything I could have imagined.  They continue to be my inspiration and my joy, and reminder that no other profession can give a person this kind of fulfillment.

The Following Day

The conversion has begun.  One of the students asks me for a synonym for skill.  This is the same student who mocked the thesaurus yesterday as useless.  So, I laugh and hand her a thesaurus.  Her first response is “No!” and laughter.  “Not that dinosaur,” but then she takes one and looks.  I pass out books to other tables, just for the pure fun of it. .  Lesley says “ I love this.  It is better than Google.”  “Lesley, you are my hero!….Listen to this people, Lesley likes the thesaurus, she even thinks it’s better.”  “What? No way!”  Now everyone is asking for thesauri and looking words up.  Julia is sitting on a desk reading aloud from her copy.  My strongest holdout yesterday admits that it helped him a lot.  Another student says, “With google you have to choose one word, but here you can find everything and it is quicker than having to go on the internet.”  I am amazed. Total reversal, maybe our time is not yet over. The dinosaur has had new life breathed into him, all by one comment.

 In homeroom, three of my students ask if they can make a poster about the thesaurus.  This is an all or nothing crowd.  Either they are all in, or they want nothing to do with it.  They are now “all in.”  So the poster advances.  They decide that the thesaurus needs an origin story.  How did it begin.  “Once upon a time a dinosaur met a unicorn….” He may be getting a new name “Thesaurus Rex” is under consideration.

I may need to teach some spelling rules, but at least everyone is on board now with the thesaurus. This lesson is from my morning class, who are at the intermediate stage of acquiring English as a second language. My afternoon classes, who read People of Sparks, are at a more advanced level.