Shakespeare: tragedy, comedy…and whatever it is my students do with it

April 24, 2016

william-shakespeareWhile getting my sophomore English classes ready to tackle Julius Caesar, we spend time wrapping up our unit on poetry with some Shakespearean sonnets, and then dive into a two-day crash-course in Elizabethan English, in part using a series of Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English ‘cheat sheets’. It makes for a nice segue from unit to unit and I have discovered that a few days focused on learning the language is worth the effort from a comprehension standpoint.

Some classes really get into it, some don’t – but there is one particular phrase that we always have some issues with: ho.

From one of our Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English glossaries:
ho—hey (roughly equivalent). “Lucius, ho!” [Brutus calling his servant]

There is, of course, some tittering the first couple of times this is said, but it is a very common phrase in Shakespearean language, and very soon the snickering becomes a natural, more comfortable, street-inflected ‘Hoe’ as opposed to the Elizabethan ‘Ho’!

juliuscaesar1953“Lucius, ho!”
“Lucius! Hoe! Come hither”!

The distinction is not very subtle, and adds a whole different layer of linguistic oddity to my sojourn through the Bard, as there is a vast difference between summoning someone and calling someone…

something like that.

Thou hast noooooo idea.

I always end our pre-Caesar or Macbeth week by having my students rewrite one of their daily start-of-class journal entries into a Shakespearean epic. The prompt I use is imagining or remembering a weekend outing with a friend, including a lot of dialogue. After the writing, we then share some of the results out loud – usually to a mixture of laughter and bewilderment, whether they read what they have written or have me do it.

Here are some of my favorite dagger-stabs at Shakespearean ignominy and glory – verbatim from student papers.


“I stood wall-eyed, “Whence did thee get that zany idea” I said, lapsed. “Thou art mad” I informed him. He discourses. “Thou shouldntst hark. I woo her”. I cursed him. I shook my head. “What are thee going to dost? Thee have a foe”’.

Heavy, he said “I know, come hither. Thou art verily something”. Balked and mated, he didn’t have the addiction of discourses words such as these”.

I am quite sure of that, actually. I think.

edwinbooth“Today, Friday the 13, my friends and I heard tidings that we had to go appoint to the mall for some hours”.

“My best friend hark me Friday, doth thee went to hie eat out”.
“Perchance, an I doth not have anything to doth”.

For which we can all be grateful, I suppose.

This next one from a kid who rarely writes more than a sentence or two…again verbatim:

“It’s Friday e’en, methinks perchance I should call my friend to see an thee wants to skate. Methinks also about thee girlfriend.  An thee hie hither, thee nots going to have a ride back home. I should privy the mom for a ride back home, but that’s too much. Adieu that idea, so thee calls my friend to come over. Soft, I left thee board in thee mom’s car”.

Hopefully, she’ll find it and give it back to the kid.

Some stray entries from our you-have-to-admire-the-honesty (HATH) department:

HATH #1 “Oft my morrow I am alone and maybe retired because I am an introvert. But were to I discourse and visit with my friends, we off hie to World Market and Barnes and Noble”.

HATH #2 “Today I shall couch. I fancy some chicken for today. Perchance even some tacos. Were I for my dad wrought me the money. I don’t want to woo a job with my friend”.

HATH #3 “Twas a quaint morrow and methinks of a cunning idea. The idea was to mate with a friend”.

The writer of HATH #3 and I had to have a little, um, sidebar conversation.

Moving on, as many of my New Orleans students and colleagues frequently say: “We were conversating”:

We couldn’t think of anything to do. So finally something came to me.

Hitting a bowling strikeCarla: Natalie, I thought of something
Natalie: Aye
Carla: Hark, the bowling alley.
Natalie: Perchance.
Carla: Okay because I couldn’t think of anything.

 Later that e’en we got dressed and my mom brought us.

Natalie: I bet I can rap a strike before thee
Carla: Methinks not.

Hair is always a popular topic with my students. ‘Going Shakespeare’ changes that not.

hair“It’s like this every Saturday night. Addiction hath I curl my hair. We go out after about two hours of unpregnant babbling”.

“This Friday I’m going to doth my best friend hair
It’s going to take all day but I don’t care
Thee will hie to the movies
whence everything is groovy”.

 

Stupendous efforts, all. But nobody else went quite in this direction:

One young woman, a recent transfer into my class and a very good, prolific writer, allowed me to read her lengthy and detailed entry, which centered on her mother, who suffered from a long-term illness,  giving her and her friends money to drive to a neighboring community to run an errand.

“Speaketh to Mary, Liz, Kenny and Jame” I told her as we got onto the bus. Charlene nodded, pulling out her cellphone and texting all the names listed. I called mother telling her we’ll clean the home, also that we made plans for the morrow. Mother insisted we’d deliver money to Sir Bradley for some of his homemade brownies”.

She went on, making good use of ‘forsooth’ and ‘hither’ among others in describing their nervousness in being followed (innocently and coincidentally, it seems) by a police officer as they returned home with the purchased baked goods from a neighboring suburb.

I read the entire piece, looked at the girl, asked if the story was true. She nodded. “Really? YC&Cfiberonebrowniiesou drove that far for brownies? Those kind of brownies”?

“You knew what I meant”?

“I grew up in the sixties and seventies. I know exactly what kind of brownies you meant.”

“Cool”.

Verily. Shakespeare with my students always is.

To dye for

March 26, 2016

Easter eggs always make me chuckle. Not the inside-joke or special treat hidden inside a movie or video game ‘Easter egg’ – not the trinket filled, plastic variety, but real, from a chicken, dyed-with-food-coloring-tablets-and-vinegar Easter eggs, in all their splendor.

Some years ago I lived in Marshalltown, Iowa, and was a member of the local Jaycees chapter. We hosted an annual Easter egg hunt on the grounds of the Iowa Veterans Home; a sprawling, hilly landscape dotted with Civil war cannon2cannons and statues of various ilk – ideal hiding places for eggs.

And man, did we hide eggs.

The egg boiling and dying took the better part of the week, as did the stuffing of plastic eggs with candy and trinkets. On the appointed Saturday before Easter, we showed up early in the morning, two hours before the start of the event. Taking care to avoid places rabid egg hunters might trample, we avoided neatly manicured flower beds, but pretty much everything else was in play. We used every nook and cranny of statue bases, shrubs, antique cannons, trees…you get the idea. We had two pickup trucks filed with eggs, and we used the bulk of those two hours making sure things were distributed over a wide area.

When we looked back over the scene from the high ground where the hunt would begin, we could see a smattering of eastereggs3color here-and-there, but for the most part we knew we had concealed the bounty well. Then the kids arrived, roughly one hundred of them, none older than nine. They had their baskets and bags clenched tightly in their hands, the starter got ready with a countdown to let them loose, and long-term Jaycees suddenly flipped their wrists to check their watches, and the starter yelled “GO!”

It was over in forty-seven seconds; an impressive Biblical-in-scope-locust-swarm-in-OshKosh-B’gosh had stripped the grounds of anything pastel in color and/or plastic in nature. Over. Done. Clean as a whistle Kids were wandering aimlessly, finding nothing else, carrying looks of everything from utter joy to bewilderment: ‘YESSSSS!” to “I got nothing.”grasss3

In less than a minute.

There were other activities for the kids to partake in elsewhere on the grounds, and as the kids departed, baskets of goodies in hand, some of the Jaycee vets of egg hunts past started strolling the various cannons and statuary, and I overheard multiple variations on a theme.

“How did they find THAT one?!”eastereggs4

“They found the one in the cannon fuse hole.”

“Didn’t think they’d find the one I hid THERE!”

“Yep, they plucked us clean again.”

I have not seen anything like it in the thirty-plus years since.

Since my muse is egging me on…

When my daughter Lindsay was two, we helped her dye Easter eggs, and to her delight but eventual boredom, we whipped up an extra dozen to give to our staff at the small town radio station I managed.

eastereggsThe Thursday morning before Easter, I stuck a whimsically decorated egg into each staff person’s mailbox, including a bright, purple egg into the slot labeled ‘Don Thomas’. In reality, ‘Don’ was Tom Shumacher, a middle-aged, part-time announcer at the station. Uncle Tommy (as we sometimes called him) was a quirky guy with deep bass radio voice and a hearty laugh that got ample use, as his sense of humor and inability to keep a straight face were both easily triggered.

I made the plain, bright purple egg special for Uncle Tommy, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t get his egg confused with one of the eggs for the other staff.

Because Tom’s egg was the one of the batch that was not hard-boiled.

I had learned that Tom liked hard-boiled eggs, during a conversation about our respective family Easter plans. I figured giving Tom and only Tom an egg would have seemed suspicious, so I came up with the plan to color eggs for all to basically legitimize my prank.

As I envisioned the gag, there were three, highly possible outcomes:
1. He decides to eat the egg at work, cracks it open, makes a mess, we all have a good laugh
2. He takes the egg home, gives it to his (then) wife to make egg salad with, she cracks it open and, as a woman with a droll sense of humor would find her annoyance overridden by the amusement
3. Tom takes the raw egg home, and somehow his teenaged son Patrick gets a hold of it, cracks it open, and responds with confusion

You know what they say about the best-laid-eggs. I mean, plans.

I had not considered option number four: that Tom, finding the egg to be quite colorful, would bring it to his sister, a resident of a local long-term care facility, to brighten up her room during the holiday season. To top things off, he had also taken with him the little die-cut cardboard chicken to hold the egg (I had put some of those in the mailboxes, too) so the egg could stand on the table in her room for all to see.

Eggsactly what happened.

One of the staff nurses came in later that afternoon, complimented Tom’s sister on how lovely the egg was, to which she replied, “Well, it will just go to waste here, why don’t you take it home for your little girl?” The nurse, very
appreciative, did just that.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Tom returned to the station the next afternoon to help record some commercials. There were still a number of eggs sitting in mailboxes, which prompted Tom to thank me for the nice purple egg. Keeping a straight face I said, “Oh you’re welcome….” I paused, as comedic timing is everything, before adding, “How was it?”purple-easter-egg-38169082
“I don’t know. I gave it to my sister. Thought her room could use some holiday cheer.”
“Are you headed back over there today?” I asked, hopefully.
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
“Do you think she’ll eat it?”
“No, she doesn’t like eggs and it’s been sitting out.”

I figured I needed to spill the beans (or, in this case, let him in on the intended yoke) to which Tom responded with gut-busting laughter. Once he caught his breath, he calmly said, “’ll just call over there and make sure the nurses tell her not to eat it.” He was still laughing.

He made the call, explaining to the nurse that there was a purple egg in his sister’s room he wanted to make sure she didn’t try to eat. There was a pause, Tom waited. A minute later the conversation began anew. “It’s not? Oh, realllllllly…” he started chuckling. “O.K., thanks a lot.” He returned the phone receiver to its cradle and, between guttural chortles explained that his sister no longer had the egg, that she had given it to a nurse to bring home to her daughter, and that the nurse in question was off all weekend, not returning until Monday.

By the end of relating his phone call with the care center, he had tears in his eyes from laughing. I was laughing as well, but figured there would be some eventual blowback on this – and there was, but nothing bad. As the story eastereggs5eventually made its way back to us, the nurse brought the egg and holder home, her daughter displayed it on the counter, as mom suggested she not eat it since it hadn’t been refrigerated. The girl agreed, but somewhere along the line, the girl grabbed the egg to show to someone, dropped it, and it went ‘splat’. Child and mother cleaned up minor mess, the mom simply figuring somebody goofed, and colored a raw egg by accident.

By the Tuesday after Easter, the story of the wayward egg had made the rounds of the care center, Tom’s family, and the WYRQ staff, all of whom seemingly found the story more odd/dumb than amusing, causing Tom to find it even MORE amusing with every retelling, especially when he related the dialogue, starting with his sister and the nurse.

“That egg you gave me was raw.”
Broken-egg-on-the-floor“I know. I’m sorry. My brother called and told me it wasn’t cooked, but you had gone home already.”
“Why did your brother give you a raw egg?”
“He didn’t know it was raw. It was a gift from his boss.”
“Why would his boss give him a raw egg?”
“I think it was supposed to be a joke.”
“Oh.”

Although, I could have laid a gigantic egg with this gag, Uncle Tommy and I at least amused ourselves (and occasionally, others) with the story for many years after.

And as far as Easter egg stories go, “Ebbeddaebbedaebbedda! That’s albumin, folks.”

raw-eggs

 

 

Baseball Hymnal

March 20, 2016

For true baseball fans, the months of February and March are equivalent in their intensity and anticipation as an eight-year-old wakes up the morning after Thanksgiving and begins awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning.

The move from winter doldrums to the idea of spring training sites coming to life all across Florida and Arizona is the transition from the gluttony-to-couch-hibernation of Thanksgiving to the rest of the holiday season – a joyous, springtraining1anticipatory harbinger of the great thing to come: a fresh baseball season.

And much like the end-of-the-calendar-year excitement, spring training starts with thoughts of thanks being given, ends with an opening day.

Ahh, spring.

A few Sundays back, I was driving with my wife Amy, and seventeen-year-old son Sam. My cheery mood was noted and I replied that it was based, in large part, on it being the day that it was pitchers and catchers spring reporting day for my hometown Minnesota Twins. This came on the heels of a chat the three of us had been having about something that occurred at Christmas. And since I had both baseball and Christmas on my mind…my family was spontaneously feted with song:

“‘Fill my mind with thoughts of baseball! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!”

This got me a ‘don’t-quit-your-day-job’ glance from my wife, and a verbal “Please don’t” from my son. Then, stopped at a red light, I asked for some assistance to complete this ditty:

“Out to the shortstop, skip, skip, skip…”

Silence. There were no takers or baseball lyricists in our van. Yet.

But, try as she might, my fellow baseball aficionado and spouse of twenty-three plus years could not avoid adding her
meshbagmusical change-up. A pause at a stoplight and the conversation was suddenly enlivened by Amy’s quick-thinking ‘carol of the balls’:

“Throw red stitched balls!
Hit red stitched balls!
Baseball is here!
Baseball is here!”

She ended with a deep sigh, then an apology to Sam – with the rueful disclaimer that after many years together, couples oddly but unwittingly begin to often think alike. By then, however, the damage was done. (Did I mention my wife and I had a baseball-themed wedding back in ’92 after having met during the Twins World Series run in ‘91?)

As the drive and the day continued, it occurred to me that baseball and Christmas have a lot in common: both are celebrated by a large portion of the populace – many with a certain, near obsessive vehemence – and both baseball and Christmas have components that are deeply ritualistic and spiritual in nature, and aspects that are purely secular. Each is celebrated with prescribed formalities and habits, each brings joy to many (and corresponding disappointment to some) hope to most all who partake. Each pursuit requires ample faith that is tested regularly.

The symmetrical intertwining of Christmas and baseball is as tight as the one-hundred-eight red stitches that hold together a regulation sphere of horsehide.

catchingballAnd speaking of horses (like your team’s best starting pitcher)

“Just hear those baseballs thwacking
and gloves-a-smacking anew!
No matter the weather
its baseball, and we are renewed!”

Until writing this piece, I never realized that two of my favorite Christmas songs (Oh, Christmas Tree and Oh, Holy Night) have some eerie similarities in rhythm:

“Oh baseball time,springtraining2
oh baseball time
your stars are
brightly shining…”

or

“Ohhhhhh, baseball tiiiiime….
…your stars are brightly shiiiiiiining….”

Oh-kay. Moving up a base, because that was a hit-and-run.

springtraining3“It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year!
With no cellar-dwelling, the coaches all yelling,

in get-in-shape cheeeeer…
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Admit it: you heard that sung by Andy Williams.

CurrierandIvesThough not historically accurate, this one is Currier and Ives all the way

“God rest ye merry baseball fans!
Let nothing you dismay!
Remember that in Cooperstown
was born our glorious game!”

Of course, while spring brings tidings of good baseball cheer and a new sense of optimism for the season ahead, there is always the powerful factor of longing and nostalgia to account for.

“I’m dreaming of an old baseballVintage-Baseballcrosby
just like the ones we used to throw
We played like our heroes, 
threw shutout zeroes
made all the catches when we dreamed.
I’m dreaming of an old baseball
just like the ones I used to throw…”

Fact: Bing Crosby was a huge baseball fan, and once owned a majority share of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Coincidence? I think not.

In closing, I offer a joyous wish all baseball fans can appreciate this time of year.

“We wish you a series season! We wish you a series season!
We wish you a series season, and a World Series win!
We hope you hoist the trophy! We hope you hoist the trophy!
We hope you hoist the trophy, while being sprayed with beer!
We wish you a year of home runs! We wish you a summer of fun!
We wish you lots of baseball….It’s time to playyyyyyyy balllllll!”vintagekids

So, in the memorable words of Twins pitcher Jack Morris, prior to his unforgettable, eleven-inning masterpiece, game seven of the ’91 series: “In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye…let’s get it on!”

Batter up!

Middle-aged, and sticking it

February 18, 2016

calf-strainIt has been a while since I have feted you with a pogo update.

The last two weeks have been shorter workouts due to weather issues and a pulled left-calf. Fine for the most part, mid-pogoing, it tightens up once done. It is also a bit twingy on the dismounts – but improving. Not debilitating enough to keep me on the pogo sideline.

There have been some more interesting street encounters while on the stick. (Keep in mind I always stop pogoing and stand to the side when traffic is on the block.)

One day last week, a young police officer pulled up, rolled down the passenger window, said to me quite sternly, “That thing looks very dangerous!”

The SuperPogo 2 was leaning up against my chest, so with outstretched hands, I pleaded my case: “Ahh, but not in the hands of a pogo6qualified, with-it user!”

The cop laughed and we chatted for a few minutes; I ran through the Reader’s Digest version of the story – always wanted one, got it for Christmas, longest stretch I’ve stuck with an exercise routine in decades, etc. He seemed mildly impressed.

“I tried a friend’s pogo stick out when I was a kid. Hit some gravel, wiped out. Hit a hole, fell on my face in a puddle. That was it for me.” He shook his head, smiling ruefully.

“Again” I stated, arms outstretched, palms up, pointer fingers aimed back. “Skilled, responsible practitioner.” He laughed heartily, told me to keep it up, and to be safe, I wished him the same good fortune.

Two nights ago, longest workout in a while, breaking a nice sweat and had a strong rhythm – except for the traffic interruptions: a young couple walking a schnauzer that I apparently scared the hell out of, and two young moms pushing toddlers in baby strollers. One child was fascinated enough to stop sucking on her bottle, the other one…not so much; he kept working his pacifier. The moms glanced at me awkwardly, looking up from their texting briefly enough to do so.

pogo2A middle-aged guy on a pogo-stick may strike some as odd, but moms pushing kids in strollers down the middle of a street, talking to each other while also texting on smartphones balanced on the trays of their strollers, brings a whole new twist to ‘distracted driving.’

Just sayin’.

I was just winding down my workout when the guy across the street came home from work. I don’t know him, but he is usually pretty amiable, waving and saying hello and such. He is about my age and works out fairly regularly – or is just in really great shape. I think he hits the gym on a regular basis, while his wife, Mary, is an avid runner.

Per street-pogo protocol, I hopped off, stood to the side as he pulled up. He got out, waved and said, “Now THAT looks like quite the workout!” in a tone that suggested ‘impressive stuff, dude’!

“Is that something new?” He, too, then got the Reader’s Digest version of Mark’s Pogo Saga.

“Well, that’s great!” (same, ‘impressive, dude’ tone) “Keep it up and have a good one!”

With that, he waved, went inside his house, I worked a couple more med-range runs of 30-40 in and called it a night.

(Sidebar, here: at the start of the new year, I took a teaching job at the same school my wife has been teaching at for the last five years, so we now get to commute together, which is pretty cool, but was very funny the morning following my encounter with the guy across the street.)

pogo1

The next morning, Amy and I are headed out to go to work at the same time that Mary, our neighbor across the street is doing the same.

The next morning, Amy and I are headed out to go to work at the same time that Mary, our neighbor across the street is doing the same. The three of us greet each other with waves, and then Mary (the avid runner) says, “My husband said you were out here last night jumping on a pogo stick!”

“I was indeed. It’s my new workout regimen.”

“That’s awesome!” I could hear my wife sigh.

I gave Mary the R-D version of the story, adding, “And it works! Dropped two pounds and two belt notches since I started!”

“Oh, wow. That’s great! Be careful and keep at it!”

“Oh, I will. “

With that, she got into her car; I climbed into the driver’s seat of the van. Amy had already taken up residence in the passenger seat. She was shaking her head, and then, with a rueful smile, she sighed. “Yeah….” We started driving away. “The neighborhood must all think we’re nuts.”

“Funny how they all express concern about my safety.”

“Yeah, well, you probably look a little…wild out there. They ARE entertained by you. “She shook her head.

The situation reminded me of a previous street pogo-encounter. “I’m guessing their conversation was something like that jogging-guy who was staying with his parents I met a few weeks ago; ‘Hey, mom! Some old kid down the block let me use his new pogo stick!’”

“Yeahhhhhh, I’mmmmm sure it was something like that.” We had turned two corners, were heading for work. Amy was still shaking her head. “You. Are. Something.”

“What can I tell you?”

“Pogo on, I guess?” she offered, with another sigh.

“Pogo on!” I confirmed.

What more is there to say?

pogo13

 

In the bag

February 11, 2016

A true tale of romance.

I spent the bulk of my thirties working at the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis. The 260-room hotel was a very nice, well run property right off the edge of downtown, and along with the usual array of business travelers and sports fans, its setting in a vibrant theatre and restaurant hub made us a prime locale for many a romantic getaway roses6for locals.

Ahh, romance.

As a top-notch schmoozer, I had mastered the art of making myself indispensable to my hotel guests. As a bellman, van driver and concierge rolled-into-one, I would greet guests, get them settled in, all while providing as much assistance as I could for needs logistical and practical: dinner suggestions and reservations combined with transportation to-and-from via one of our hotel vans were easy ways to make a special impression.

My most memorable tale of hotel romance began one Friday afternoon right after Labor Day.

I had just come on duty for my three-to-eleven shift when a middle-aged guy pulls up at the front door. I greet him warmly, he returns the pleasantries, we introduce ourselves and I walk-and-talk him to the front desk. There is only one desk clerk on duty, and she is with another guest – my ideal scenario for getting to know guests quickly. I ask him the purpose of his visit, which turns out to be a surprise weekend getaway for him and his wife, commemorating both their twentieth wedding anniversary, and his wife’s recent promotion at work.

Noting that he was there by himself, he explained that his wife was working until five, and that he wanted to get checked in and get everything ready in the room so he could pick her up at work, then bring her right to the hotel instead of home – a big part of the surprise, as she was under the impression that they were simply going out for dinner with friends. He had gone to great lengths to set up the whole ruse and hoped she would share his excitement.

He was delighted to hear about our personalized van service. He already had dinner reservations made, so I quickly firmed up transportation to and from dinner. I also offered to drive him to pick his wife up at work downtown, but he roses9 wanted to pick her up himself and play out his scenario; she wondering all the while why they were driving a route that was not sending them toward their south Minneapolis home.

I liked this guy’s style.

We went out to the man’s car and unloaded their luggage; one suitcase for each of them, the man commenting that he had his sister-in-law pack his wife’s bag, so everything she should need for a romantic weekend getaway would be in place, and would actually go together appropriately. He had obviously done his homework and seemed quite confident about it.

Along with the suitcases, I took charge of a gift-wrapped box of chocolates and a cooler filled with ice and beverages. As I loaded the last of the items on the luggage cart, the man carefully reached into the front seat and pulled out a brown shopping bag, the top rolled over neatly, and creased tightly. Handing it to me, he said simply, “Here, Mark, roses7please put this on the top – and be very careful with it. Don’t squish it!”

It was very light and I couldn’t imagine what was in it, but I held it carefully in my right hand while steadily guiding my loaded luggage cart through the lobby, onto the elevator, and up to the fourteenth floor and room 1429 – one of our two ‘honeymoon suites’ complete with whirlpool for two, elevated bed and panoramic view of the Minneapolis skyline.

I gently placed the brown paper bag on the bed, set the cooler on the floor in the corner, and the suitcases on luggage stands while he proceeded to case the joint. He was very pleased with the room and the view, and when I asked him if there was anything else I could assist him with, he looked at me sheepishly and made one of the more unique requests on record:

“Yeah, do you have a few minutes…” he paused, adding, cryptically, “…are you very artistic”?

Assuring him that, as an artist and writer, I had the expertise – though I could not imagine what I would be using it for. With an excited smile, he grabbed the bag off the bed and thrust it back into my hands. “I need your help spreading these around the room!”  I opened the bag, peered inside.roses10

It was a shopping bag full of red rose petals, harvested from his wife’s backyard garden.

The next few minutes involved some impromptu interior decorating teamwork, as we brainstormed how to scatter the rose petals for maximum visual effect. We agreed a path of petals leading from the door to the raised-bed area and a branch off path toward the hot tub was a must. The bed itself would, of course, need a liberal upholstering of red, but that clashed garishly with the teal and rust colored bedspread. My solution was to do a nice turndown of the bedspread; the fleecy beige blanket underneath made a much less cluttered, more neutral canvas for our rose petal artistry.

It started looking pretty sharp.

roses1He then realized to his dismay that we were out of rose petals. He had wanted to save some for sprinkling in the hot tub and for…something else he had in mind but would not divulge. With disappointment he asked if we could pick up some of what we had already scattered and redistribute them, but I had another thought: there was a florist nearby that could probably accommodate our extra-petal needs fairly cheaply. I also offered a half-joking suggestion that maybe he could even get his wife a corsage for the evening out. He liked that idea – a lot.

So off we went.

Hearing my telling of the guy’s story, the staff at Riverside Floral was all over this one. Ten minutes later we were on our way back to the hotel with a prom-like wrist corsage, a plastic bag full of red rose petals, and some sound advice I have kept on hand to this day: don’t put the rose petals in the hot tub until after the water had cooled a bit.

Warm water, so we were told, would just make the petals shrivel up.

(That information came in handy not just that night, but a few other times with other hotel guests. Plus, I have been roses8able to casually drop the advice into few random conversations throughout the years with people looking for that little something extra in the romance department. Good information is always useful.)

We returned to the hotel, I double checked with room service to make sure the champagne the guy had arranged for with his reservation would be on ice in the room by five; already done. We then said our goodbyes, and he graciously thanked me both verbally and monetarily. I then made sure I was the driver for their six-forty-five van run to the restaurant.

As curious as I had been about the bag, I was even more interested the love interest in our story.

I saw them get off the elevator, and got my first glimpse at his wife. She, too was middle-aged, svelte, shoulder-length roses3blonde hair, wearing a stylish, basic black dress, hip, black pumps…and a wrist corsage she kept glancing at quizzically. The dress was simple and stylish, appropriate and definitely not in high-school-homecoming dance way, which made the corsage seem a bit whimsical. Her sister had pulled together a very nice, stylish ensemble.

The corsage drew some curious looks.

Her husband and I exchanged waves as he stopped by the desk to take care of something, and she walked over to the bell stand. She looked at me, graciously held out her hand while shaking her head and barely suppressing a smile. “And you must be Mark, the guy who helped with all of…this.” She held up her flower-bedecked left wrist, twisting it around to see it from all angles.

“Yes, ma’am. I guess I am.” I said with a smile. “And how are you this evening?”  Her husband walked by, said “It’ll be just a minute” and disappeared into the gift shop.

“Well” she said, a bit incredulously, leaning casually on the bell stand counter. “I feel a bit like I’m going to the prom. And I haven’t been to a prom in over thirty years.”  She held up her left arm again, twisting it back and forth a few times, perplexed. “I understand this part was all your idea”?

“Umm, yes, ma’am…I guess it was.” I replied with a slightly embarrassed chuckle.

She shook her head, smiling. “Let’s seeeeee. You, my sister…I wonder who else is in on this?” I could only shrug in roses2honest ignorance.

To my relief, her husband emerged from the gift shop, said “I see you’ve met Mark!”

“I have” she responded, with a chuckle. I got the impression that she was finding the whole situation a bit ridiculous, and didn’t want to hurt his feelings or ego. We got into the van, had an uneventful drive to the restaurant and I picked them up after dinner and returned them to the hotel. They were both very gracious, and he was a very generous tipper.

At evening’s end, she had not yet mentioned the rose petals.

The next day I was standing in the lobby and the wife walked up to me, greeting me warmly, and extending her hand. She seemed far more at ease than in our first meeting. She confirmed that I was scheduled to drive them downtown for shopping and sightseeing, then she thanked me for roses11helping her husband set up her surprise weekend. I asked her if everything was okay with the room and with her stay over all, if there was anything else I could do to make their stay better.

It was all I could do to not hint at anything concerning roses.

“Oh, everything is just fine” she replied, cheerfully, adding, “Last night…was… just…just…” she trailed off, seeming a bit sheepish, and at a loss for…more genteel words. “It was all wonderful. Last night was…wonderful. Everything was….”
She paused, looking at the floor, seeming a bit embarrassed, then adding with a chuckle “The wrist corsage was a bit much. And the roses in the hot tub…”

She shook her head and smiled, then sighed deeply. “And I understand you helped with sprinkling the roses, and even getting some of them”?

“Yes, ma’am. Your husband’s idea. I just helped him get some extra petals. He brought most of them with him.”

Her eyes opened wide, she shook her head ruefully and chuckled “Ohhhh, yeah. He told me all about THAT! Those rose petals were from MY garden, did he tell you that? I work hard on that garden!”

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure where this was going. But at least she was still smiling, still shaking her head in disbelief.

“You know, I was going to deadhead those roses for fall this weekend, anyway” She paused, looked at me with mock seriousness. “If this had been in June…you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. The only flowers here would be for his funeral!”  She laughed heartily.

“So it’s okay, then”? I asked.

“Oh, Its fine. I’m sure he deadheaded them properly”. She stood there for a moment, shaking her head again and laughing to herself. “This was just so not ‘him’ – getting my sister involved, planning a surprise weekend…rose petals…corsages…” her voice trailed off. “Crazy.”

I could not disagree.

“It’s been a really great weekend. Thank you, Mark”. She grabbed my hand gently and shook it –vigorously, warmly.

“You’re welcome. And congratulations on the promotion”.

“He told you about that, too?”

“He said it was part of the reason for the celebration along with your anniversary”.

“Wow.” Was all she could muster at that point. She seemed more than a little surprised that I had that information. She just stared at me.  “Wow” she repeated.

Her husband came off the elevator, waved, walked up to us. “Ready to head downtown”? I asked jauntily. We got in roses12the van. The whole drive there I couldn’t help from glancing at them in my rearview mirror: when they sat down, she pulled him close to her side, her arm intertwined with his, her head on his shoulder. Sitting side-by-side on the bench seat of that garish green Ford Econoline van, you may have thought I was driving a couple of Hollywood hot shots to a red carpet somewhere in a shiny black stretch.

Looking in the mirror, I knew the shoe was now on the other foot: he was the one now who seemed genuinely surprised.

I, for one, was not.

Leaps and bounds

January 31, 2016

This past year, gift wise, I got the Christmas I should have had when I was twelve: a pogo stick, and a guitar.

I am fifty-six years old.

The guitar has gotten little use as yet – I am awaiting getting a friend to get it tuned properly, and the book/CD set I ordered on ‘how to teach yourself to play the guitar’ turns out to no longer be available.

Groucho1There is, however, I similar book available via Kindle that references YouTube videos. We’ll see how THAT goes.

The pogo stick, on the other hand, has become my sticking-with-it-in-spades workout regimen.

And pogoing has turned into a real head turner in my New Orleans neighborhood.

Full disclosure: the SuperPogo 2 that my wife and son got me for Christmas is the first pogo stick I have ever owned – only the second, maybe third I have ever been one; this is NOT Citizen Lucker’s ‘Rosebud’.

I have just always wanted a pogo stick.

When I first started out, I figured it would take me a while to get the balance part down, but figured since I still ride a bike from time to time, there should be nothing vertigo-inducing – so far, so good on that count.  I also figured that since I was going to feature pogoing (pogo sticking? pogo-stick-jumping seems redundant, but I can find no grammatical consensus, so I stick with pogoing) I was going to have to work into getting my legs – specifically hamstrings, calves and knees – back into more functional order.

I never considered my thighs to be the most pogo-abused part of my anatomy.

For the most part, no issues with the legs themselves. Being a teacher, and spending all day on my feet in front of a classroom, I think is a huge plus in that area.  But the thighs – oh man. As my workouts have intensified in length POGOand rigor, the old upper legs have had to get up to speed.

On the plus side, the old gluteous has fared pretty well. Aside from one big spill on day two, and one a few weeks later, I have mostly avoided major spills. In fact, the clean, land-on-feet dismount was the first thing I mastered. Though I have yet to get anything above a 6.1 from the East German judges.

Oh, and I have discovered that pogo is great DIY-chiro: after a stressful day in class, nothing loosens up the neck, shoulders and lower back better.  Who knew?

Sitting here on the verge of February, I have stuck with this exercise regimen farther into the new year than any other attempt I can remember. In fact, I think I have developed a bit of an addiction. There are times at school where I have made note of how long it was til the end of the day, and mentally started plotting out in my head the schedule for picking my son p at school, getting home…and should I start dinner, then go pogo, or pogo and then start dinner.

I am hooked.  And getting much better – regularly stringing together sixty, and seventy pogo sequences. I can break a good sweat and get the old ticker rate up there with a solid fifteen minute workout.  Which brings me to that ‘head turning’ bit I mentioned earlier.

By the time we get home, and I get changed and get out to the street in front of my house, it is usually around four-thirty in the afternoon.  We live on a nice residential street that doesn’t see a ton of traffic – until my neighbors start arriving home from work.  There have been some rather, eh, interesting encounters to date.

One afternoon, just as I got started, our thirtyish neighbor arrived home with her daughter. They are always friendly, she waved ‘hi’ and hollered from a house away, “So – you got a new toy?”
“Always wanted one. First workout regimen I’ve stuck with this far into the new year!”
She nodded. “My father loves to pogo. My cousin got a pogo stick for Christmas and my father basically stole it from him. You can’t get him off the thing.”
“If I may ask, how old is your father?”
“Oh, I want to say…sixty six.”
“He’s got ten years on me!” Catching my breath, I added, “If I do say, your father is a great man!”
She laughed. Her kindergartenish daughter looked perplexed. They waved, went inside. I went back to work.

A week or so later, I had a rather intense, broke-a-decent-sweat, multicultural twenty minutes of neighborly encounters.

Well, fifteen or so, anyway. I must have killed five minutes chatting with…

A white guy in his late twenties, maybe thirty, named Ben who had been jogging through the neighborhood stopped by on his third lap, said “hey, man – that is cool. Is that one of those that they do backflips and stuff with?” I laughed and said, “No, I don’t think so. This is one of the stripped down, basic models.”

Admiringly he said, “It’s cool. Do you have a record set yet?”
“Yeah, eleven.”
SP2-1“Why pogo?”
“I’ve always wanted a pogo stick, so for Christmas, my wife and son sprung for one.”  You want to give it a try?”

“Sure!”

He did, and ripped off a couple of fairly high five-pogo runs, then handed me the stick. “Nice workout plan.” We exchanged pleasantries about where I really feel the burn (the thighs more than hamstrings thing he found of interest. Fellow health nut) he said “Oh, I get that. Thanks again!” I asked him if he lived in the area and he told me that he was ‘staying with his parents, up the street’ for a while.

As Ben started to jog away, our Hispanic, twenty-something, neighbors drove up, started getting stuff out of their car. The husband says “Hey, Friday afternoon workout! Great!” and gives me a big thumbs up.

Pogotracker MON 01 18 16

Imagine if a FitBit could track pogo…

Then our mail carrier, great guy, African-American, early sixties, drives up, delivers to the house across the street, then starts walking to the next house, stops. He looks at me, peers over the top of his glasses and dryly offers my favorite pogo observation to date: “The minute I see YOU on one of those hoverboards . . . I’m HEADIN’ for the hills!”

Building middle-aged street cred, I am.

What I didn’t think about until long after y workout was young Ben returning to his parent’s house, and what the conversation might have been like:

MOM: “Hi, Ben. How was your jog?”
BEN: ‘Oh, nice. I met a new old kid down the street who let me try out his new pogo stick!”
MOM: “Oh. Well that’s, um….nice? I guess, dear….?”

Five bucks says there was some variation on that conversation at Ben’s temporary domicile.

But my favorite encounter (from afar) was just this past week. I have gotten pretty consistent, and have also begun IMG_20151229_222000actually pogoing in the direction I wish to go, instead of just random hopping around. This past week, I was out on the stick, pogoing toward the end of our block. The cross street, Filmore Avenue, is fairly busy, and also has a lot of pedestrian traffic. As I am boing-boing-boinging up the block, I catch a glimpse of a boy, seven, maybe eight, from a local elementary school (recognized the uniform) with a backpack that was at least the size of his diminutive torso. He was running at a fast clip, eager to get home, when he caught a glimpse of me bounding his way…

About two strides into the street, he slows, but his overloaded backpack weighs him down, forcing him into a bit of a crouch, and he slowly covers the rest of the street bent-over, looking like some demented, walking upright turtle, until he reaches the opposite curb, which he almost stumbles over. He then straightens up, keeps on walking out of my line of vision, headed for home, probably with a story to tell HIS mom.

I’m just waiting for the day when I am not out there, and someone comes to our door and asks “Can the pogo stick guy come out and play?” If that does not happen before April first, I’ll owe my wife twenty-bucks.

my dog has fleasNow that I am getting more proficient (and addicted) to my daily pogo routine, I will have to be more creative in working the guitar into the mix: MY dog HAS…has..FLEAS. Fleaaas.

This one may take a little more time.

Pogo on.

Resolved

January 1, 2016

A new year. New opportunity. Fresh starts.

January is the elephant graveyard of motivational clichés and good intentions to better one’s self. By February, the carcasses in various stages of resolution decay will litter the place, and by March, the clattering of dried bones will greet visitors – new arrivals, mostly. They will have instinctively come to take their place with their broken-promises-elephant bonesto-self brethren. Like the elephants of myth, changes to how and why we live instinctively know where to go when they die, and die they do.

There will never be a eulogy uttered.

Human beings are a fatalist bunch, especially when it comes to new years and supposed fresh starts. With New Year’s resolutions, you know the end result before you start – they become self-unfulfilling prophecies. Starting over doing things differently trying to better yourself? There are entire industries built on helping you crash and burn every year, and January first is like Black Friday is to the retail community. Ahh, but they will be there again, in force, next December and January, when you can run through the entire exercise again.

Not the exercise regimen you promise to do this year, but…you get the point.

Instead of setting yourself up for certain failure by looking at the new year (and your life, really) as some sort of cosmic Etch-a-Sketch to simply be picked up and shaken heartily, erasing everything you just did so you can ‘draw anew’ try a different, less adamant, etch-it-stone approach.

Treat your life like your laptop or tablet.

Laptop-MistakesYour laptop or tablet is always there, ready at your beck-and-call, calmly waiting for you to put it into use, OS running smoothly in the background.

Much like life in general you really don’t give that much thought until you need to put the thing into action, at which point you simply log on and jump in. You can communicate, catch up, do basic life stuff like pay bills, shop, make appointments, check on things at work, at home, with family, the weather – all without giving the electronic marvel in your hands a second thought. Everything hums along smoothly, does what it is supposed to do…

Until it doesn’t. Kind of like life.

Any computer technician will tell you how to keep your device working smoothly, running without issue, by taking some simple, preventative maintenance steps on a regular basis. The same basic rules apply to life.
Think of this as an addendum to your owner’s manual; you can print it, keep on refrigerator or bulletin board for a periodic reminder throughout 2016.

Do a periodic disc clean up on yourself? Things will run much more quickly and error-free if you free up disk space discclnupon your hard drive; like your laptop, your brain needs space to think. The disc/self-utility first searches and analyzes your hard drive for files that are no longer of any use, and then removes the unnecessary files. Presto less clutter, more room to compute!

There are a number of different file categories that Disk Cleanup targets when performing the initial disk analysis:

• Compression of old files (memories you tend to dwell on rather than savor)

• Temporary Internet files (trivial stuff, mostly, but does NOT include sports statistics; these do not slow down system operation)

• Temporary Windows files (these are usually extraneous pieces of information that at one time had a purpose such as explaining a situation, but are no longer have much validity)

• Downloaded program files (all the stuff you have planned, ideas you intended to try, and things you have seen on Pinterest or some other DIY site, and said “I want to try that”!)

• Recycle Bin (dump the junk)

• Removal of unused applications or optional Windows components (these are, often as not, toxic people and situations you should be avoiding anyway)

• Offline web pages (cached information: things remembered the way you think they should be, not as they really are – sometimes referred to in delusional terms)

While a cleanup of your personal hard drive will help, you need to go a bit deeper into your utility tool bag and run a defrag. Self-defragmentation is the process of consolidating fragmented data so it will be easier to find, allowing you to work more efficiently. Get organized. Use a journal, electronic or bound-paper. Fragmentation happens to a volume over time as you save, change, or delete files, and running period defrags will put everything back in order.

This may be the most crucial point of all: no matter your spiritual bent, update and then run your anti-virus on a antivirusregular basis. Prayer, meditation, self-reflection will all clear out the cobwebs and will overcome the hard drive-slowing qualities of doubt and insecurities, helping your OS run more smoothly and efficiently.

From time to time, you may also want to download separate malware software. How you get infected with such things that’s all on you.

Sure, you can set all of these things to run automatically, but sometimes default settings aren’t all they are cracked up to be: “Yeah, I’ll get to that…later…” is probably not going to cut it. You need to be proactive, run your own diagnostics, take care of what you need to do.

While chucking most everything and starting over might seem to be the thing to do this time of year, don’t give into the self-defeating hype. You may need just a New Year disc clean up and quick reboot.

And while you’re at it, maybe get a few new upgrades for your browser. But skip the damn emoticon downloads.

Happy New Year.
emoticons

The photograph of Christmas past

December 23, 2015

Some  years ago, I decided to pick up a few extra holiday dollars by taking a part-time job as a shopping mall Santa in suburban Minneapolis. As I was neither the natural size, age nor hirsute enough for the role, I wore a roll of foam rubber beneath my suit, silver nylon beard on my chin, and ended up working mostly the mall’s lower-traffic hours – late morning, midday.

On a very quiet Wednesday afternoon in early December, I was sitting there in my big Santa chair chatting with my college-student, elf-for-the-day Susie, and grad-school photographer, Jen. They, like me, were simply making some extra holiday cash, we were rookies, all. This particular day, we hadn’t taken a picture in an hour or so, though we brookdaleholiday2did a lot of waving and yelling ‘Merry Christmas’ to assorted passers-by, and took pictures of each other. As the three of us chatted about school stuff, I looked down the nearly deserted mall and saw a sight not really of the season: walking down the center of the mall was a tall, young U.S. Marine, in full dress blues; along side of him was a petite, middle-aged woman.

It quickly became obvious they were headed right for us.

Elf Susie walked cheerfully back to the gate of Santa Land to greet the pair, and I straightened up in my throne and smoothed out my beard – although I wasn’t sure why as I didn’t see any kids. I watched the young Marine, who glanced around nervously, while the woman spoke to Susie.brookdaleholiday1

“O.K. Santa! This young man is next!” chirpped Susie merrily, as she swung open the little white picket gate for the youthful Jarhead to pass, as Jen took her spot behind the camera. The Marine walked up to me and I greeted him with my usual “Ho-ho-ho” shtick, to which he replied quickly, coming to crisp, serious attention, “Merry Christmas, sir.”

Their story was short, sweet, uncomplicated…I guess unless you’re a twenty-year old Marine.

The young man was an only child, U.S.M.C. Corporal home on leave, and his widowed mother was very proud of his recent accomplishments: a marksmanship award, three ribbons and a training award. Having her only son home for the holidays was a huge thrill, and, per what the young Marine told me, and what his mother shared with Susie and Jen, she wanted only one other thing in the world for Christmas: pictures of her son in full dress blues…with Santa Claus.

So there we were.

The young Marine had no idea why this particular setting was so important to her, but it was. So thus began a suddenly interesting Wednesday afternoon, just the five of us: Susie, Jen, proud mom…Santa and the Marine.

This was in the days before digital photography; our pictures were the time-consuming, one-shot-at-a time, Polaroid-you-stick-in-a-cardboard-frame variety – and the young man’s mother wanted nine of them to send out to relatives all over the country. My arm around his waist, the young Marine sat awkwardly but patiently at attention on the arm of Santa’s throne, glancing around nervously.

After the first picture was snapped, he staged whispered to me, while staring directly at the camera, “I’m really sorry about this, sir.”

I smiled, quietly chuckled “ho-ho-ho” as Jen readied the next shot. “Sorry about what?” I asked, Santaishly.

brookdaleholiday4“About doing this, sir. It’s my mother’s idea. I’m a little…uncomfortable.”

“Ho-ho-ho!” I bellowed.

I didn’t much look the part without help, but I could sure play it.

The scene played out, the Marine finally getting comfortable enough to lean into my shoulder a little bit, as Jen continued to focus and shoot, reminding us to smile – which the Marine did only slightly less uncomfortably with each shot. We sat there, his mother beaming with pride while chatting with Susie the Elf, me ho-ho-ho-ing-it-up and trying to help the guy out. After a few shots, I whispered to the young Marine.“O.K., I know this feels silly, but it’s making your mom really happy.”

He glanced at his mother, smiled slightly. “Yes, sir.”

He was loosening up a little, though that was countered a bit as by now as a small crowd was gathering, eyes wide; guess it’s not every day you see a Marine sitting on Santa’s lap. He smiled self-consciously. I made more Santa-small talk while Jen snapped away. “Grow up around here? Afraid you’re going to see somebody you know?” I inquired.

“Yes, sir,’ he said, staying focused on the camera, “I graduated from Park Center.”(a high school within walking distance of the mall.) I nodded, ho-ho-hoed some more, asked him a few more questions, reminded him a couple more times about how his mother was smiling, talked sports with the young man, while Jen finished getting all of the pictures to the mom’s satisfaction.

It took fourteen shots to get the nine pictures the Marine’s mom wanted (I saved a couple of the botched extras; they were wonderful.). As his mom was paying Jen and newly Marine-smitten Susie (from the looks on the women in the crowd, she wasn’t the only one) finished sliding each picture into its candy-cane-and-reindeer-motif cardboard frame, the young Marine stood up, turned toward me, started to salute but then stuck out his hand to shake mine.

“Thank you, Santa, sir.” He said crisply, with just a hint of relief, in what I think was proper-holiday-Marine-etiquette-speak.

Then, bag of pictures in hand, proud mother and dutiful, loving son walked off, arm-in-arm back down the mall, as the smiling crowd quickly dispersed.

To my understanding the young man was probably breaking protocol by wearing his dress blues in such a setting, but in the years since, I’ve gotten the opportunity to tell this story to quite a few Marines. Younger Jarheads tend to dressbluehatlook at me quizzically, apparently pondering the obvious ‘what ifs’ if their own situations. Older Corpsmen mostly nod, smiling proudly.

All have agreed it’s a pretty unique take on ‘Semper Fi’.

As for me, every year around this time I read newspaper or magazine articles about mall Santas, the at times heartbreaking requests they get, the funny things kids say, that sort of thing, and I think of twenty-minutes on a long-ago afternoon in a quiet mall.  Sometimes in conversation someone will start talking about the best Christmas they ever had, or the favorite present they ever received.

Those articles and conversations always make me think of one of the best Christmas presents I ever had a small part in giving.

brookdaleholiday3

The Christmas Pageant

December 20, 2015

Some twenty-five years ago I was involved with a small, urban Minneapolis Lutheran church. We were an aging congregation with only about fifteen kids in our Sunday school on a regular basis; this included three kids from one family – one of whom was 14 and confined to a wheelchair due to Multiple Sclerosis.

What we lacked in group size we more than made up for in spirit.

When it came time to put together our annual Christmas program (the traditional Joseph & Mary story) we had very few options for Mary, as most of the girls participating were only seven or eight. Except for Sheri, our 14-year-old girl with MS, who desperately wanted to be involved with the program, which we said we would definitely make happen in some form.

Sheri was certainly capable of taking on Mary; she was vivacious, articulate, had a great speaking voice…but her wheelchair was problematic. The role required Mary to enter from the rear of the church and make her way to the front during the opening narration. Admittedly, much of this was set up by tradition and for dramatic effect, and we certainly had other options, but limited maneuver room. While we had a ramp up the one step in front of the pulpit area (or ‘stage’) there wasn’t a lot of room for extras like a motorized wheelchair to turn or do much once you were up there.

My friend Mark Knutson and I were in charge of the youth committee, and we had given the idea some thought. When the full committee met to put together the program, the first item of business brought up was a request from Sheri and her mom to get her involved in the program, which Barb, the woman directing the program was nervous about.  One of the other women on the committee suggested Sheri would make a great Mary, noting that her motorized chair made that impractical, adding “Maybe she could sit off to the side and narrate”.

As a writer, the idea of the story being told first-person intrigued me.

Mark had a better idea.“What if we made Sheri our Mary, and disguised her wheelchair to look like a donkey”?  he proposed to surprised looks around the table;“We could cover her with blankets, and my brother-in-law is an artist, and I can get him to paint a couple of plywood donkeys that we could mount on the sides of the chair”.

After a few moments and some surprised looks,  Barb asked “Do you think anybody would mind?”

Mark and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Who cares if they do?” And just like that, the decision was unanimously accepted. Yes, it really was that simple.

The Sunday evening  of the pageant, it was hard to tell who was more excited; Sheri or her mom and dad. At least until the audience – including all four of Sheri’s grandparents – showed up. The grandparents sat in the front row, beaming with joy, as it was the first opportunity that Sheri had been given to truly participate in something like this in a major way. Mark and I had better-than-front-row-seats to it all – our own roles in the pageant: we were costumed as manger oxen, wearing homemade, long-snouted masks and kneeling  in the small choir pen off to the side of the pulpit. We were there for authentic manger atmosphere,  but also with hidden scripts handy to prompt any  of our frequently forgetful young actors.

Our Mary needed no such assistance.

Sheri did a fabulous job, and between the plywood donkey cutouts, and the blankets we laid over them and Sheri, it truly looked like Mary slowly moving through our candle-lit, church-aisle Bethlehem on her donkey led by Joseph; an incredibly Christmasmoving moment I remember vividly, looking out at the audience from behind oxen masks from our choir-manger.  Holy Communion Church had great acoustics; you could hear the gasps and murmurs of awe.

By the time the program drew to a close, tears were running down a lot of faces.

Sheri’s  family was so grateful, expressing their thanks repeatedly for us ‘taking a chance’ and ‘letting’ Sheri be involved. We told everyone the truth; Sheri was our first choice and only logical option. As I added with a smile, to hearty laughter from Sheri and her family, “The fact that she came with her own donkey…was just a bonus”.

‘And a little child shall lead them’.

 

Do you know what it means, to teach New Orleans?

December 12, 2015

This is it.

For eight school years, my wife Amy and I have been teaching in the public schools of New Orleans. People that have known us for a long time know the basics of the how-and-why we chucked comfortable, corporate life in Minnesota for the chaos and poverty of the inner city classrooms of New Orleans. But even those who know us best will probably be surprised by some of the how’s and why’s. If you have been with us the entire journey, here are all the tales, in chronological order, that begin with the gestation of some vague ideas about ‘doing something more meaningful with our lives’ into the life we have been living the past seven-plus years. For those of you who don’t know much of our story at all, here it is.

Many of the stories appeared originally in this blog, many have not. Now, if you have ever read a post or two and wondered about the whole story. here it is in a compelling narrative.

And for everyone who exclaimed, with each new classroom tragedy, comedy or farce we relayed, “Hey, you should write a book!”

Here it is.

Do you know what it means, to teach New Orleans? Available in paperback and Kindle versions.

FNT CVR v 77 B

Poverty, violence, neglect – not ideal backdrops for learning…at least if you’re a student. In 2008, Mark and Amy Lucker left their corporate lives in Minnesota and followed their faith and hearts to become teachers in New Orleans, joining the effort to help rebuild one of the worst public school systems in America, post hurricane Katrina. Do you know what it means, to teach New Orleans? is an intimate, first-hand, up close look on what made two people answer a calling, those who helped make it a reality, and many of the unforgettable characters and situations that have graced their lives over the past eight years. At times sobering, always thought-provoking; tales of school children that are funny, poignant, sad – often in the same anecdote. A must read for educators, and those who try to live out their faith and lives in practical, tangible ways.

http://www.amazon.com/know-what-means-teach-Orleans/dp/1522704795/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 


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