Three Waves

December 4, 2013

One of our guests was the one who’d told me the “trick.”  I’d been telling him about the 4th grader I’d been working with (around the corner at our local elementary school), and he said he’d been a teacher, too.  Since I’d explained that my young charge couldn’t read, our guest patted his own arm 3 times, beginning at the top, then in the middle and at the wrist, one pat at a time, at first slowly, then in quicker succession, then finally sort of sliding down all three spots into one smooth motion – to illustrate the trick of sounding out an unknown word for a beginning reader, then blending the sounds together to form the word.  When I’d shown it to Pete (name changed), he’d grasped the concept immediately and had begun using it.  He used it today during our 45 minutes together as he was reading me pp. 8 – 17 in The Cat in The Hat, and I was thrilled to see him do it.

A focused fiend in figuring out and finding new words, Pete’s attention and determination are unwavering as he both reads and listens to me explaining things during our sessions together.  I sit in awe and delight as I watch the lights in his eyes shine brighter as he reads line after line.

Today, we began with planning a paragraph.  (Our assignment by his teacher has been to tackle the theme of topic sentences as we ferret them out in pre-written paragraphs).  Because he’d been so excited the other day as he was telling me all about his sister’s upcoming birthday events, I thought he might want to use those experiences to write his own paragraph with his own topic sentence.  So today we began with Pete first taking notes about the birthday excursion.  When he told me about the laser tag, I said, “OK.  Write ‘tag.'”  He did.  For the bowling, I said, “Write ball,'” so he did that, too.  And so he continued punctuating his animated descriptions of the activities with his one-word notes.  In trying to steer him towards writing the topic sentence for the paragraph that we would write tomorrow, I asked him what each of those activities had in common, expecting him to say something like, “They were things that we did.”  But he said that each one involved speed.  Oh.  “Right,” I thought.  That certainly was a common theme.  My incorrect low expectation was duly noted and corrected mentally.  His astute answer will be the perfect jumping off point for his topic sentence when we pick it up again tomorrow.  He was excited about finishing it.

When he’d read today’s first page of The Cat in The Hat, I knew he was ready for me to say to him, “Now read it with expression.”  He took the bait and he re-read the sentence.  I grinned at him and said, “Do it with more,” so he took a deep breath and tackled it again, reading like the champ that he is – like he was onstage.  He read the whole page that way.  I pumped my fist up in the air and practically shouted.  He beamed, and continued reading.  Time was growing short but he finished 3 more pages.  At the end, and as the rest of his class was gathering their things together for recess, he finished his reading and I shot both of my hands in the air, declaring him the undisputed reading champ of that 4th grade table in the back of that room.  I signed his tiger paw sheet (the school’s redeemable reward system) and he got his own things and went into the line by the door.  After I’d gathered my things and stopped behind them in the hallway, he looked back at me, grinned and waved.  He did that 3 times:  three waves and three grins.  My heart was full and I left Garnett Elementary School for the day.

Thanksgiving Prayer

November 25, 2013

Standing there among the granite markers with a woman she’d barely known until today, Betty Jewel felt pieces of herself fly off and hover over them like blackbirds.  Until today she’d been sure of her own color and of her own place.  Now, with her heart opened wide by the kindness and unexpected possibilities of Cassie Malone, she saw herself in a different light, a woman with mercy and grace pouring over her like water, and hope spreading through her as fast as kudzu on a ditch bank.  In spite of the fact that her daughter was still missing, Betty Jewel sat down on a pink marble tombstone, her lips moving as she silently gave thanks.

p. 138, The Sweetest Hallelujah, Elaine Hussey

Holden and Hand-Holding

November 23, 2013

I’d never read Catcher in the Rye, so I borrowed it from our daughter’s bookshelf the other day and have been tucked away with it tonight for much of the evening.  I am enjoying Holden Caulfield’s commentaries on life but was getting a little weary of reading so many g__d__’s.  He has far too much sense to use such limited vocabulary, but one of his anecdotes made me stop reading to copy the passage down.

     …she was terrific to hold hands with.  Most girls if you hold hands with them, their…hand dies on you, or else they think they have to keep moving their hand all the time, as if they were afraid they’d bore you or something.  Jane was different.  We’d get into a…movie or something, and right away we’d start holding hands, and we wouldn’t quit till the movie was over.  And without changing the position or making a big deal out of it.  You never even worried, with Jane, whether your hand was sweaty or not.  All you knew was, you were happy.  You really were.

One other thing I just thought ofOne time, in this movie, Jane did something that just about knocked me out.  The newsreel was on or something, and all of a sudden I felt this hand on the back of my neck, and it was Jane’s.  It was a funny thing to do.  I mean she was quite young and all, and most girls if you see them putting their hand on the back of somebody’s neck, they’re around twenty-five or thirty and usually they’re doing it to their husband or their little kid–I do it to my kid sister Phoebe once in a while, for instance.  But if a girl’s quite young and all and she does it, it’s so pretty it just about kills you.  (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, pp. 79 – 80).

There you go:  some Saturday sweetness for you.









Turkey Neck Time

November 12, 2013

Barbara, (my high school friend who also lives locally with her husband), and I just returned from a 2 mile walk – where there was a crisp chill in the air (and even some snowflakes) and thoughts of Thanksgiving in our hearts.  She was reminiscing about her grandmother always reaching into the bottom of the Thanksgiving turkey pan to grab the turkey neck to have as her before-dinner snack, a memory she held from the time of her early childhood until that day when Barbara asked if she could try it, too.  Her grandmother told her she probably wouldn’t like it.  But she did try it and she did like it, and it became Barbara’s from that day forward….until recently when her own daughter asked about the turkey neck, tasted it, and the mantle passed again.  But not a problem; today we have everything.  So Barbara, before the next turkey time, stopped at the Centreville Food Lion on her way past one day and discovered an entire package of turkey necks!  Oh my!  The wonder of this modern age and country that we live in!  Maybe there’s not a chicken in every pot, (and that’s another story) but there are at least enough turkey necks for those who want them.

My memories are similar to Barbara’s, except that her grandmother prepared the necks differently from my mother.  As for our single turkey neck (before the days of multiple ones in the grocery store, and oops, sorry for the possessive spoiler alert, but my poor mother never had a chance with me salivating at her heels at every step), she boiled our’s on top of the stove, along with the giblets.  And quite frankly, I really don’t know how I would’ve survived holidays in our house if I couldn’t have eaten both the turkey neck in its entirety along with the gizzard and liver.  The heart was my sister’s because I had to share something. or I would’ve eaten that, too.)  And this was survival, since Sunday and holiday dinners were always at 2, when everyone else got there, and there was certainly not going to be any lunch offered when there was all of that food glory happening in the kitchen.  Good heavens, that would’ve been unthinkable, so you had to grab what you could, when you could.  Which was what I did.  🙂

Recently our British guests asked us what the traditional Thanksgiving foods were, so I described some of the tables of my childhood – although I forgot the turkey necks – but I doubt those reading this post need that same explanation.  Our’s was always wonderful, but it was standard fare.

As our kids have grown up, our traditions, of course, have changed, with the first major one being when my Aunt Sara didn’t host a holiday dinner that first time at Christmas.  The food was the same, but that year marked the beginning of the real changes.  This year we’ll have a noon time brunch at our daughter’s house in Philadelphia (easy and lovely).  The old memories shared and the new memories made will still be just as warm as my mother’s hot-just-out-of-the-oven-homemade-rolls and I can’t wait.  But I still need that turkey smell in our house…so hopefully I’ll get a free one at the Acme.  Oh, and Barbara’s going to pick me up a pack of turkey necks, too.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your’s.

Chocolate War-Gifts

October 27, 2013

Santi made room for them.  In the moonlight a bruise revealed itself on his cheek.  Yohan pretended not to notice.  Instead he unwrapped a chocolate bar and shared it with them.

…Yohan had tasted chocolate for the first time at the camp.  It had been sent from America. A nurse rested the bar on the damp operating table, then cut it with a surgeon’s knife.

She shared it with those in the field tent.  Pieces the size of fingernails.  He stood in the corner and placed a piece on his tongue and kept his lips pressed together, unused to the flavor, the sweetness.  Watching the men on the cots and the other nurses do the same. All of them silent as though they each held a secret.

The nurse had also given some to a boy who lived beyond the camp.  In the days that followed Yohan would see him through the fences, standing in the fields, looking down at his shirt where there was a chocolate stain, which he licked.  When the taste vanished he continued to lift the spot on his shirt and sniff. He did so long after the scent faded.  Each time he grinned.               –  Snow Hunters, Paul Yoon, pp.77-78.

Before the call and response section during the Percussion Party last night at Music Life, the music store downtown, Bill told us that rhythm is sound and silence – that the silence is just as important as the sound.  Yoon’s chocolate speaks for itself.





The Lone Ranger Volunteer

October 22, 2013

OK, so not exactly the Lone Ranger.  BUT as I left our great-nephew’s 4th grade classroom today, one of the boys at the back of the line, just before the last of them walked out their classroom door, said, “What was your name?”  And later, I couldn’t help but smile.  (I told him my real one.)

Up until today, I’d been an invisible volunteer.  Which I was happy to be.  I’d signed up because I’d wanted to help in whatever way I could.  Jack’s class was infamous in the county – a too-full class of unruly, troubled children who stretched the term “classroom management” to new levels.  This year, with a brand new school superintendent and a brand new, tough little teacher, even that classroom seemed full of promise.  And when Jack’s mom mentioned that she was volunteering, I’d thought, “Sheesh.  Why didn’t I think of that?”  So I signed up.  I’d emailed the teacher and said that I was a good trash-putter-outer, an especially bright capability of mine, and she’d emailed back, saying that had made her laugh.  But bottom line: she got the idea.  I was pretty much willing to do anything.

The first morning I was supposed to show up, I forgot.  Oops.  So much for trash-woman-of-the-year.  I’d emailed the teacher again, apologizing in CAPS, so she’d be sure to get the intensity of my repentance, and give me a second chance.  I managed to show up, on time, the next school day….which unfortunately was a Monday, so of course she hadn’t gotten my email over the weekend, where I’d asked her if that day was OK – (no, contrary to popular opinion, teachers do not live at the school) – so I waltzed in with a very bright, willing smile, ready for my instructions, but since she’d had no idea I was coming, it was a complete surprise to her.  Oops.  (Again.)  BUT there was a man there, who was also a volunteer, and after I’d sat silently for a bit, he gave me some instructions.  I’d happily followed them and when I’d completed my assignment and was again sitting like a compliant little mouse (unusual for me, but I had messed up twice and wanted to do my best to improve my standing on the 4th grade volunteer list of the world, I wanted to put my best foot forward), he suggested that I maybe work on the books on the shelves, their classroom “library.”  Wow – that was exactly what I wanted to do:  a project to put things in order!  I’d be sticking small color-coded stickers on the spines of the books indicating reading levels, and yoo boy, I knew I could do that!  So I began following the directions to the “t,” putting on yellow stickers for the earliest reading levels, red for the next, followed by blue and then green.  After that, there were no more colors that would work (purple, pink and teal just didn’t come in the primary color package), but after a couple of volunteer days (one / week), I simply began identifying them by location on the shelves, while determining to find some of those rare colors some place else.  I went in today, ready to continue work on the books and oops:  the teacher wasn’t there.  There was a substitute.  (And she was a nice one).

I cannot imagine being a substitute teacher.  I have to have all of my ducks in a row.  I can swing along in some settings, but when organization and structure are needed (at least in one’s head, even if it’s not in the physical space), I need to know what’s what.  So the idea of being a sub where one arrives two minutes before the kids, with exactly that many minutes to read over an entire day’s worth of the teacher’s lesson plans, while figuring out the lunch money routine, attendance chart, seating arrangement and who-knows-what-else, the scenario does not appeal to me.  I’d be lost.  I wouldn’t care how much they’d be paying me.  I’d have to have those lesson plans at least 24 hours in advance.  And that’s just not how it works.  So the first thing that struck me was that the sub looked pretty OK.  She looked comfortable and OK, and this was saying something in that particular class (even though it had been split in half with an extra teacher hired.  It was not an easy group.)  I walked over to “my” table, where the book project always happened, and kept my ears and eyes open.  I was a teacher for too many years not to have my ears and eyes open.  And as I said, she was OK, but I sensed she might be still OK if I offered to help.  I approached her quietly and asked if she would let me read to the group while she got a bit more organized.  She very graciously gave her permission.  So I began reading the paper aloud that the kids had in front of them about the “Woodland Native Americans” in our region.  And then, right away, I knew I was going to have fun.  I’d never been in front of a group of 4th graders before, but before I knew it, I was in a groove.  At one point, darned if I wasn’t telling them about my Daddy chopping the heads off of the chickens that he butchered for us to eat.  (I knew they’d love the part about where the headless hens continued hopping and jumping and I was not wrong about that.)  They began really thinking:  one wanted to know if that’s why fish sort of jumped after they were dead, and there was another example which I cannot now remember but I told them they had great questions, that I thought that the reason was the same, but that they should go to the library and ask the librarian to help them look up the answer.  They really looked like they might want to do that.  When they began talking more than they should, I did hand clapping games and silent hand motions that they needed to copy.  Land sakes, it worked.  I let them act stuff out.  They did.  Good grief, I was in my glory.  And the sub just let me go.  I was so grateful.  The time flew for me, and gosh, I think it did for them, too.  I didn’t get to point out Wyoming, which I’d intended to do (it was related), and I didn’t get to define all of the vocab words (and I would’ve loved that) but they did get “plaza” before the end, I think – we’d acted that out – and they seemed like it had been pretty good.  When our time was up, Jack (one of the best students who has found himself in that particular class – before the split – every year since kindergarten and who has tried to let most of the difficulties roll off his shoulders) came up to me quietly before they all left and said, “Thanks for coming.”  And then there was the one at the very end who asked, “What was your name?”  So yep.  As I said, not exactly the Lone Ranger Volunteer, but it was fun enough to feel like it – for me, anyway.  And if you have fun with something and others are there, too, it can’t be all bad, right?  Hehehe.  So that’s how I spent my Tuesday morning, from 10 – 12 on this gorgeous October day.  🙂


Time to Listen: Candy Voices

October 14, 2013

Chestertown hosts an annual book festival; the town was the site of the culminating event for the One Maryland / One Book program a few years back when James McBride spoke at the Fine Arts Center up the street; Washington College gives the largest literary prize in the country to a graduating senior each year and the local news frequently contains information about poets and authors giving lectures here.  So I think it’s safe to say that one can find books and book gatherings tucked away in lots of corners of our neck of the woods.  Recently (within the past year) I became a part of a local book group – a small group of high school friends and friends of friends and we’ve been reading whatever has struck our fancy.  Our most recent title is King Peggy, (another One MD / One Book selection), which I finished last night.  (At 2 A.M., I’m sorry to say, which is a problem with me and books – an especially significant problem when I have to get up at 6 to do breakfast, but here I sit at 3 P.M., and I haven’t konked out yet, so it’s going to work out just fine).  I love reading a book like there’s no tomorrow…

Friends and neighbors greeted one another cheerfully.  Peggy closed her eyes and listened.  The voices of Ghanaians had a different timbre entirely from Americans’.  Their voices were rich, deep, and reminded her of different kinds of candy–there was the bittersweet chocolate voice of an old man, the caramel and nut voice of a middle-aged woman, the mint chocolate voice of a middle-aged man, the butter cream voice of a young woman.

And Peggy’s voice?  Someone had once told her it was like hot chocolate, and that her laughter was like boulders of chocolate rolling down a mountain.  She had thought the remark was odd at the time but now, listening to the African voices all around her, she understood it.     (pp. 157-158, King Peggy, Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman, 2012). 

Candy voices:  do you have time to hear them?

Knot Joy and Jo Joy

August 20, 2013

Tonight at a neighbor’s, I was all ears listening to a young college professor talk about her field of pure mathematics. (Didn’t know there was such a thing, but I was interested and engaged because she was excited about her subject, and about knots – not the bowling, square or half-hitch kind, but the math kind. And gosh, did you even know – or care – that there was such a thing as math knots? But you would’ve, if you could have heard her talk!) It was her passion that pulled and persuaded and I wanted to hear more. Plus it made me really like her. (I did already, but hearing the way her heart came bursting out into math – of all places! – made me a believer and fan – a happy one, full of the joy of math-promises.)

It was in Kansas City in the 1930s that Jo* found the promised land. The music never stopped in Kansas City. Literally….’You never knew what time in the morning someone would knock on the door and say they were jamming down the street.’

And at work, ‘it wasn’t unusual for one number to go on for about an hour or an hour and a half. Nobody got tired. They didn’t tell me at the time that they used to change drummers [during the night], so I just sat there and played the whole time for pure joy.’

As he spread the joy, Jo often took you unawares. One night in Boston, he left the drums, left the stand, and with just his hands tapping a chair started to take his listeners out of ordinary time.

Moving around the room, playing with his fingers or with the palms of his hands or his knuckles, he drew rhythms and melodies from tables, chairs, the floor, the walls, the very air. Grinning fiercely, Jo mesmerized his listeners for nearly an hour without going back to the bandstand. For them, straight time had stopped; they were in his time. (p. 38, Listen to the Stories, Nat Hentoff On Jazz and Country Music, Hentoff

Spreading the joy. It’s what I want to do, too.

* Jo, or Jonathan David Samuel Jones, a jazz piano great, who, “along with Chick Webb, set the standards by which other drummers were measured during the heyday of the swing era.” (p. 17, The Encyclopedia of Jazz and Blues, Keith Shadwick.)

Aaugh! Sorry! Blog posts have morphed into FB posts!!

May 22, 2013

This is an invitation to check out our facebook Simply Bed & Bread facebook page: I realized that I’d been neglecting this blog while doing daily fb posts. Sorry! I do love stories – love living them, discovering them and re-telling them, but the new ones aren’t here; they’re on the facebook page. And this neglect has just sort of happened. I don’t really think I even realized it. So I’ll be catching up soon! I promise! Thanks for checking!


March 24, 2013

“‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to them….'” Isaiah 40:1

Comfort comes, like the poet’s fog sometimes, on little cat feet. It’s gentle, sometimes small and soft, and chords are struck inside of us that feel right and good. Often we don’t know that we need it; we weren’t searching for it. It just finds us. And that is a lovely thing.

In State of Wonder, Ann Patchett writes:

…Marina remembered a funeral her father had taken her to as a child, thousands of lights in paper cups
floating down the Ganges, the people crowded onto the banks, walking into the water, cutting through the night air filled with incense and smoke. She could smell the rot of the water beneath the blanket of flowers. At the time the spectacle had frightened her so badly she buried her face in her father’s shirt and kept it there for the rest of the night, but now she was grateful for the little she had seen. It didn’t explain what was spread out before her but it reminded her of all the things she didn’t understand… (p. 186)

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