Those Shiny Shoes, the Precious Dresses

It is, remarkably, back to school for children and teachers in my area tomorrow.

That means football, fall leaves and best of all, sweater weather can’t be far behind.

lunch with momIt also brings back one of my fondest memories of childhood, the annual school shopping trip with my mom. It was a day just for the two of us, where we’d head downtown to the department store and buy shoes and clothing for the upcoming year. For lunch, we’d go to a nice restaurant and enjoy a special meal.

It made me feel valued, treasured — and grownup. It was probably the most sophisticated thing I did back then. Eat lunch at a sit-down restaurant? Like a lady? That was, quite simply, incredible.

My mom made a lot of my clothes back then, and that was a separate trip, preceded by an afternoon or evening of pouring over the pattern books she’d get from the fabric store (they gave away the old ones, which were current enough). I’d put a star on the patterns for the dresses I liked the best, narrow down the list, eliminate anything my sister also chose (we rarely had the same taste, but to match my sister just would not do) and carefully consider what kind of fabric to look for before we shopped. Then, my mom, sister and I would head out to buy bundles of fabric, enough to keep mom busy sewing for some time.

By junior high, the schools had changed the rules and we were allowed to wear pants, even jeans, so shopping for fabric was a rarer occasion. Of course in high school I wanted to shop by myself more often (although if mom were buying, she was invited). The back-to-school shopping trips became a thing of the past, except for a quick trip for undergarments and socks.

We grow up, we move on, but we hold on to the memories of childhood, the family traditions that meant we were special.

One more shopping trip — that’s what I’m hoping for this fall.


Image Credits: (Blackboard) © adrian_ilie825 — Fotolia; (Mother Daughter) © skypicstudio — Fotolia

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Lessons Learned: A Belated Thank You

In sixth grade, in an effort to teach his students the importance of simplicity in writing, Mr. Dunton assigned each of us a famous saying, something we all were familiar with. We were told to re-write it, using unnecessarily complex language.

Here’s what I came up with:

AdobeStock_143047698“An overabundance of persons engaged in creating edible material taint the liquid in which meat, fish and vegetables are stewed.”

I’ll leave it to you to figure out the original popular saying. Mr. Dunton loved my interpretation, and my classmates were completely confused. I can’t speak for any of them, but that lesson stayed with me.

As did the assignment we were given in eighth grade. Write a 100-word description of anything you choose, just don’t use the same word twice.

Unfortunately some of us were very literal and thought that included such words as “the” and “is.” It became a challenging assignment. One that has proven to be useful to this day.

Frequently after I’ve written and published one of my blog posts I find an “appalling” error. I hasten to correct it, but what I really should be doing is thanking those teachers who taught me to spot the problems in my writing and helped me hone a skill that is essential to my well-being.

I have several friends who are teachers, and I know there are days they feel as if they’ve accomplished nothing. The demands put on their job that seemingly have nothing to do with teaching, but rather, with meeting the obscure expectations of bureaucrats, overshadow the part of the job they love.

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Thank you very much!

Most days will eventually fade in the memories of their students, most assignments will be a part of a hazy past. Still, some things will stick, and they will make the difference teachers want to believe they are making.

Thank you, Mr. Dunton. Thank you, Mrs. Edwards…Mr. Teall…Mr. Tabucchi…Miss Golart. For those of you I’m not naming, you are not forgotten. Neither are your lessons.

Thank you.


Images © geosap — Adobe Stock

Is the plural Octopuses or Octopi?

When I was a child, we made frequent trips to the nearby aquarium. The first exhibit down one dark hall — a hall with few escapes — was the giant octopus (just how giant it was is today unclear, but at the time, I thought it was HUGE).

Now, this was not a pretty creature (name the octopus that is) and it seemed to be looking out at us, at me, with its wide eyes. I was certain it was quite angry at being cooped up in that little space, and one day was going to escape and…get me.

My parents were a little amused at this fear, but kept their smiles hidden as they reassured me that simply couldn’t happen. Even if it did get out, they told me, which was nearly impossible, it wouldn’t survive outside of water. In the dry environment, it would be immobilized.

Octopus mimics the cat
“What are you doing out? I told you to stay in the tank!”

Apparently, that isn’t the case at all, although I have no doubt my parents were certain they were telling me the truth. In fact, on one trip, I think they even got aquarium workers to back them up.

As an adult, I’ve heard numerous stories of octopuses escaping from their tanks (most recently Inky of New Zealand, whom, aquarium authorities surmised, escaped out of his tank and down a drain pipe leading to the ocean.) In fact, in an article in “True Activist,” octopus expert Jennifer Mather is quoted from an interview in “Scientific American” as saying, “They are very strong, and it is practically impossible to keep an octopus in a tank unless you are very lucky. Octopuses simply take things apart. I recall reading about someone who had built a robot submarine to putter around in a large aquarium tank. The octopus got a hold of it and took it apart piece by piece.

“There’s a famous story from the Brighton Aquarium in England 100 years ago that an octopus there got out of its tank at night when no one was watching, went to the tank next door and ate one of the lumpfish and went back to his own tank and was sitting there the next morning.”

So not only can they escape, but apparently they’re pretty clever. The Brighton Aquarium lost several more lumpfish before they figured out what was going on.

Aquarium workers acknowledge they need to keep their captive octopuses entertained or they get bored, and who wants a bored octopus? My research revealed many of these captive creatures were injured when they were captured (in a fisherman’s net, perhaps), so some humanity is exhibited in keeping them contained.

But once they are well, it can be argued that holding them in a tank is a compromised existence.

cant see the cat
You can’t see me if I can’t see you!

Which brings me back to my feelings about aquariums today. NO WAY am I going to one with an octopus. Another interesting piece of information I learned in my research for this post? Octopuses have fantastic eyesight. I know if I visit an aquarium, the resident octopus will spot me, far back in the crowd, and decide “this is it, now’s the time. I’m busting out of here and that chick is going to get it.”

Don’t even bother trying to convince me otherwise. I’ve already proven I know more than the grown-ups.


Images © geosap — Adobe Stock

Note: While there is a general consensus in the discussions I read that the word “octopus” is of Greek origin, there was some disagreement about the plural. Some said it would be “octopuses,” while others emphatically stated it should be “octopodes.” One man disagreed with all of that, saying the word actually has it origins in Latin, which would, indeed, make the plural “octopi.”


In My Little Town

I spent most of my growing-up years in the Bay Area of California, in a suburb of San Jose I won’t name for reasons you’ll note shortly. During the time I lived there, it was an eclectic little tourist town. It was also a place where respect was taught — in my high school — and practiced.

When I was a sophomore in high school, the girl who sat next me and the boy who sat behind her in my geometry class worked at a local Mexican restaurant, well-renowned in the area. One night, this 16-year-old girl found herself waiting on a man who looked vaguely familiar. Not vaguely. He looked like — he was — Robert Redford.

This was 1976, and this was what Bob looked like around that time, in case you’re too young to remember.

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Robert Redford in “The Great Gatsby” (1974)

Damn. Both of my classmates got his autograph, she as his waitress and he as the bus boy, and they were smart enough to let their manager know, too. They were also gracious enough not to say anything to anyone else. Mr. Redford was eating with his family, and they respected his privacy.

Today, I doubt it would happen that way. That quaint little town has turned into a new money hell hole, and people are very status-driven. Someone sees a celebrity, they likely scream it out.

lake-vasonaMy freshman English teacher had noted that unlike most of the towns and cities in the area, generations of families grew up and stayed in my little town. He’d taught the children and now grandchildren of his early students, in significant numbers. It was a pretty place, with a town square and tranquil parks. The high school had the only nighttime football field in our league, which made home games very popular.

I’m speaking in very nostalgic terms here. It wasn’t all glory growing up there. Numerous girls in my high school class, including some I was very close to, were sexually assaulted on or near the school grounds. More than one notorious serial killer had lived in the area during the time my family was there.

But if we can’t have sweet memories of our growing up years, and for me it has sometimes been hard to find them, it is harder to find the good in our world today. So I am thankful for the town I grew up in, as it was then, as it remains in my heart and mind.

a world where magic happened

Little House
The book that begins the series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, with its wonderful illustrations by Garth Williams.

I have been blessed (or cursed) with a vivid imagination, and as a child my thoughts often took me to the world of the books I was reading — most often, the Little House books, of which I had a complete set, in hardback. Good thing, too, because I read and re-read those books so many times any paperback would have fallen apart, been replaced, and fallen apart again…and again.

So when I was eight and saw a pattern for a dress from roughly that era (how would I know a one or two decade difference?), I was thrilled. My mom made all my clothes, so I didn’t question her ability to make me that dress. Technically, it was my Halloween costume that year, but in reality it became my passport to a bygone era. I’d come home from school, put it on and sit alone imagining what my day would have been like 100 years before.

Yep, that's me, age 8, at a Halloween costume contest at school. No, I didn't win.
Yep, that’s me, age 8, at a Halloween costume contest at school in the dress and bonnet my mom made. No, I didn’t win.

I never really outgrew those books. If I still had them, I’d read them today. However, eventually the books that would steal me away into a different world became the Nancy Drew mysteries. At first I imagined I was Bess, the slightly overweight, somewhat shy (imagine that) comrade, then I insinuated myself as myself into my own mysteries, still with Nancy as the one in charge, the rest of us following her lead.

Eventually I moved beyond those imaginative worlds, and while I suppose psychologically that’s probably a good thing, there’s a part of me that misses that creativity. Was I really trying to escape my own world, or was I just an inventive child who needed an outlet for her dreams and fanciful thinking? Sometimes I fear we take away an important part of childhood from those who need to let their minds run free.

So Laura, Mary, Nancy, George and Bess, you’re welcome anytime.

Just for the record, this is not a picture of my collection. If it were, they'd be in order.
Just for the record, this is not a picture of my collection. If it were, they’d be in order. But I appreciate that this picture is available!

Photo Credit, Nancy Drew books: © Celeste Lindell — some rights reserved

back to school

This week the children in my area go back to school.

Of course that brings back memories of my own school days. Kindergarten, when we all had bird stickers to identify the cubby where we hung up our jackets and placed our lunch boxes. (My bird was a Baltimore Oriole.) Lunch boxes, perhaps with Barbie or Mickey Mouse, their thermoses and the way they smelled. The daily peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

first grade
Me in first grade.

First grade and learning to read. “See Tag. See Tag Run. Run, Tag, Run.” I already knew how to read and zipped through that book in a flash. My teacher didn’t know what to do with me. It remained that way all through grade school.

Second grade, we’d moved cross-country, so a new school. Sixth grade, another new school. High school, going from our small K-8 to the very large school “in town.” College, first a community college, then away in the dorms, then at a local university at night while I worked full-time.

I miss it and I don’t. I miss the special day of shopping with my mom when I was in grade school, picking out patterns for dresses she’d make, choosing the new shoes I’d have to break in. When I was in college, seeing the syllabus and believing this semester everything would be done on time, the books read, the tests prepared for, the papers written, no last minute panic.

Yes. I have those dreams where I didn’t go to school all semester and now it’s finals. More often, I have dreams that no matter how hard I try, I cannot succeed in college. At some point in my sleepy state I stop getting frustrated and say, “why am I doing this? I already have a degree.”

(Probably a good thing I have no training in psychology or I’d be analyzing myself into a frenzy trying to figure that one out. The broad meaning might be clear to experts, but the application in my life would probably elude me.)

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© Alex Workman – Lightstock

I still like learning. I like being challenged. I take online courses, both credit and non-credit, whenever I can. I’d like to brush up on my French, or more practically, learn Spanish.

If I lived closer to my mom, I’d take her shopping for some new shoes and go to lunch like we used to when I was little. Those outings meant a lot to her, and a trip like that would do my heart some good.