The Santa Claus Challenge

th-2Most of us remember when one of our classmates declared that Santa wasn’t real.  Some of us ay recall the famous Dear Virginia editorial response published in the New York Sun in 1897.  Even though, I’m old, and even though I’m currently living through the most turbulent, hateful times I find deplorable, I still believe in Santa.

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Santa Claus is a spirit, who resides within most of us. When we were children, he miraculously answered our letters on Christmas morning.  In most cases.  I didn’t get a pony, but a got a Schwinn bike.  I didn’t receive a drum set, but I got a guitar.  Surprisingly, I was never disappointed.  I was happy with all my gifts–except the underwear.

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As I aged, my experience led me to a greater understanding of Santa.  A mythical figure, who lived in a dreadful climate, who urged children to be good, who fulfilled wishes, for what?  A plate of cookies and a glass of milk?  Doubtful. Santa Claus , St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, or whatever your moniker, came to teach.

His lesson embodied the Golden Rule–do unto to others.  But Santa tweaked it a tad.  Do unto others with anonymity.  For me, there’s no greater joy than giving without acknowledgement, nor accolade. And yes, there are a myriad of ways to get a tax deduction without revealing or bragging.   Trust me, I know.

Inside of each of us is Santa Claus.  In times of disasters, strangers help others; sometimes risking their own safety to render assistance.  With the holiday season fast-approaching, I urge you to accept the Santa Claus challenge.  Do something for someone anonymously.  You’ll be surprised by the joy you receive.    I double-dog dare you.

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The Horror of Cables

In 1971, the Five Man Electric Band wailed, Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs. Precisely how I feel about charging cables for technology products.

I have a minimum of three drawers and several stashed boxes filled with charging cables. Of course, I’ve no idea which device uses which or if none of them do. Of course, not all of them are mine–some belong to my kids or are gifts from long gone visitors that left them to live with me. Sometimes, I feel like they multiply at night and delight in entangling themselves.

Additionally, if a dog chews a cable or I lose one for a current device, I’m forced to order another. The dilemma, at my age, is I don’t know which cable to order. Do I have a Kindle Fire 7? An 8? or a 20? Do I have an IPHONE 6,7,12? My IPAD charger and my Fit Bit charger is in my lost luggage, which probably went to live with Jesus and Jimmy Buffet’s lost salt. Thus, yesterday I rush ordered a new one. Sadly, it was NOT the correct one.

Yes, I understand free enterprise, and yes every manufacturer should be able to make their own charging cords. But why do they change the cord every time they make a new model Kindle, IPAD, IWATCH, or IPHONE? Why can’t electronic devices be universal to each manufacturer by product?

Like all of us, we have standard large and small devices in our homes from a myriad of companies from kitchen blenders and waffles irons to televisions and refrigerators. All of them come plug-in ready to use. Plug them in, and voila!

So, today I wonder why things aren’t standardized? Why do I have to know which generation I have of this Apple device or Kindle Fire? But more importantly, why can’t we all be friends? I shall ponder this at 4 am.

September 16, 2001

Sunday night–five days after the attacks on The Twin Towers, The Pentagon, and another downed aircraft in a Pennsylvania field. We decided to take our kids out to dinner to a Scottsdale Mexican restaurant; our mood was light. Our kids chatted, and we ordered our dinners. Our waiter had just finished placing steaming plates of fajitas, tacos, pollo fundido, and enchiladas in front of us. A mariachi band had positioned its members across the upstairs balcony overlooking all of we diners in the packed room below. They began to play God Bless America.

Every patron put down their forks and drinks. Everyone stood and sang boldly and proudly. At the song’s conclusion, there was no applause–just a lot of teary eyes. The background noise of a very busy restaurant was replaced with quiet subdued talk.

Fast forward twenty years: January 6, 2021. Gone was the true patriotism I had witnessed in that Mexican restaurant. I watched in horror as supposed Americans attempted to destroy the US Capitol Building. Suddenly, 233 years after the US Constitution outlined democracy, a segment of our society disregarded, disparaged, and attempted to destroy it. Their reason: Our Guy Didn’t Win.

Spare me. In every sports competition, the team with the highest score wins. In gambling, either one gets the cards or doesn’t. Miss America, the Pillsbury Bake-Off, and the Publishers’ Clearinghouse have one winner. Just because one doesn’t like the results, doesn’t call for insurrection.

Twenty years later, I feel like Rip Van Winkle. I’ve awakened to a new America that randomly kills its young and elderly, that threatens to destroy revered institutions, that spouts outrageous conspiracy theories at every turn. What ever happened to the true patriotism of Land that I Love?

Rampant Toxicity

On several occasions this week I was with educators. Some were classroom teachers, some were administrative secretaries, and some were principals and district superintendents. All of these occasions were social gatherings, not business meetings. As I mingled with folk, I was stunned to hear their personal “war” stories of the school year.

Their overarching conversations focused on the toxicity of others. One district office secretary said, “Sue, I hate to answer the phone. The vast majority of those calling begin with a fiery, swear-word rant about their issue from bus routes, to playground time, to cafeteria services, and of course, teacher performance. Their anger overrides any attempt to have a reasonable discussion. I’ve been so brow-beaten I decided to quit, but with the help of my husband, I learned to not internalize nastiness.”

Principals and classroom teachers are at the forefront of the educational toxic environment. Somehow, they are accountable for school violence in addition to their already cumbersome duties. Books are banned, lesson plans are questioned, assessment practices are challenged. To add further to the chaos, state legislatures and governors pass hundreds of new requirements on the institutions that were designed to ensure an educated public, ala Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann.

Unfortunately, it seems no one is immune from rampant toxicity. An orthopedic surgeon and several others were murdered this week in a Tulsa Hospital by an angry patient. Flight attendants are shoved, hit, and even punched in the mouth by unruly passengers. Restaurant servers endure her harassment from customers, and police are the frequent victims of ambushed violence. Even fire and emergency folk are subjected to this uncontrollable cancer.

The English language has nose-dived. Gone are the words of decorum and civility. Confrontation has replaced cooperation. All of us has become you versus me. Disparaging, insulting descriptors have eradicated empathetic kind words. WHY?

The answer lies with us. Is this truly the world we want to live in–a world of hate? WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS.

We Are Better Than This

Tuesday, May 24, 2022, was a devastating day for educators, parents, extended families, and most importantly for children, as the horror in Uvalde, Texas unfolded. Once again, evil invaded a school and massacred innocent teachers and students. I flashbacked, nine and one-half years ago, when I was seated in a school board meeting. I asked our superintendent to light a candle for the students, teachers, and principal slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School and to offer a moment of silence.

I was so wrong! In fact, so wrong that last night I apologized at a party I hosted. I should never have asked for silence; I should have pleaded for VOICE. Thoughts and prayers will not allow the lost children to graduate from elementary school, let alone college. In the early 1990’s AR-15’s were banned from sale to the general public; they were sold solely to the military and law enforcement. When the ban expired in 2004, gun manufacturers seized the opportunity to market them to everyday folk. It was like trading up your old car for a high-tech Tesla or Lamborghini. Currently, AR-15’s have the highest sales and the ability to deliver hundreds of bullets in a short time, without reloading.

Further given the ready availability of AR-15’s, they are purchased by some who aren’t mentally stable or are immature. If I have to be 21 to gamble or buy a beer, I should have to 21 to buy a gun. If I have to show my ID to buy Claritin, there should be restrictions on gun sales. Damn, one terrorist put a bomb in his shoe, and we ALL have to take off our shoes at airport security, unless… we have TSA clearance, which includes a fingerprint scan, identification, and a background check.

Sadly, no place is immune to violence. Schools, churches, grocery stores, restaurants, and playgrounds. We must SPEAK UP! We must no longer tolerate the wanton waste of human life. The government is bold enough to FORCE me to have a kid, but too WEAK to ensure my kid makes it to recess alive. We are better than this.

The Dead Language

No, I’m not talking about English, though many folk obviously weren’t paying attention in English class. I’m talking about:

Latin is a dead language

As dead as it can be.

Latin killed the Romans

And now it’s killing me!

Au contraire, I beg to disagree. Latin was so beneficial to me as an English major and made my study of French even easier. I took five years of Latin in high school and college, which served to improve my vocabulary and spelling, but it also made it easier to decipher words I’d encounter I didn’t understand. My internist is also a member of our weekly trivia team, and his undergraduate major was Latin. Between the two of us, we can arrive at logical answers of word derivatives and Greek and Roman mythology. He’s also the first to admit Latin was extremely helpful in medical school–a comment made by law students as well. So why did Latin vanish from public schools?

According to a The New York Times article, in the 1960’s students rebelled against the classics and the Roman Catholic Church ended Mass in Latin. However, recently there has been a resurgence of Latin; not only on the East Coast, but in states like Alaska and New Mexico. Some attribute this increase to student fascination with Harry Potter ‘s Latin chanting spells, others say it increases SAT vocabulary skills, particularly in high-performing suburban schools. Jason Griffiths, headmaster of Brooklyn Latin (a NY public school) says: “it’s the language of scholars and educated people…people who are successful.” Adam Blistein, executive director of the American Philological Association at University of Pennsylvania adds Latin study appeals to college admission officers as a sign of critical thinking skills and true intellectual passion.

Yet, if a school wanted to offer Latin, there is a dearth of Latin teachers. Some schools have waited four years to fill a position with a qualified teacher. Yes, there are online courses available, but none would compare to my wonderful Latin I instructor, Ron Cataland. Yes, Mr. Cataland, I remember the opening line of The Aeneid: Arma virumque cano. (I sing of arms and men.) Further, I’m particularly fond of Kansas’ state motto: Ad Astra per Aspera (To the stars through difficulties.)

Latin will never be a dead language for me. I’m very grateful to Youngstown Public Schools for offering it over 50 years ago. E Pluribus unum…out of many, one. Check your money; now you know.

Help Me, Rhonda!

(Apologies to The Beach Boys.) But I need help. In fact, I need a lot more help as I’ve aged. Replacing burned out light bulbs on my 10-foot ceilings is no longer on my to-do list. In fact, standing above the third ladder rung makes me perspire. Secondly, I’ve every jar lid removal appliance invented. I swear it used to be I could simply tap them on the tile floor and twist the lid off the pickle jars. And don’t get me started about the heinous Gatorade bottles or childproof prescription bottles, which I’ve been known to smash with a hammer.

To complicate my life even further, I’m living in a digital world, where others seemingly understand how to set up their computer, smart phones and watches, and charge hundreds of cordless devices. (I’ll save my rampage about charging cords and charging devices for another time. But really, why can’t they all be somewhat universal.)

While I’m most appreciative of those who help me navigate and fix things for me, I’m very grateful for Rhonda–my pet name for You Tube videos. I was not always a visual learner, after all, I was an English major. But when we entered the high-tech age, their language made zero sense to me. I struggled reading and rereading unintelligible instructions. I had to compensate for my inadequacies before I looked royally stupid. Now, I’m amazed by the number of things I can do by watching a one-minute instructional movie! I’ve learned how to change watch bands, program my phone, download apps and delete apps, and repair a leaky faucet. This week my touchless garbage can wouldn’t work; okay, just replace the batteries. Once I replaced the batteries, it still didn’t work. But Rhonda came through for me. Clean the sensors with a wet rag. Voila! It works. And to think I was initially so frustrated I was going to buy a new one!

And so my friends, when you encounter a problem in our complex, technological world–ask Rhonda.

“Two Beers and a Puppy”

Earlier this week I stumbled on an excerpt from Ross McCammon’s book: Works Well with Others: An Outsider’s Guide to Shaking Hands, Shutting up, Handling Jerks and Other Crucial Skills in Business that No one Ever Teaches You. Billed as a helpful test in determining one’s feelings about another, one can determine by asking two questions: Would I have two beers with this person? Would I have this person babysit my puppy for the weekend?

Perhaps, it’s such a simple test it seems ludicrous. But think about it. Two “nos,” and move on. Yes, to beer; no to puppies. This person may be fun and entertaining but lacks maturity or responsibility–and thus, trust to care for an innocent dog. Also, beware of anyone, regardless of their beer choice who doesn’t like animals. In contrast, no to beer, yes to dog sitting. These folk aren’t conversational gurus, nor amusing, but puppies and kittens are enamored by their quality of attentiveness. Good people–not the lives of the party.

Two yeses equals the jackpot! Thankfully, throughout my life for the most part, I’ve surrounded myself with 2 Y’s, who have so enriched me. Some of them have been colleagues, some were employees, some were just random folk I encountered along the way.

Since I initially read this and assessed all my past and present relationships, I realize now mistakes I’ve made. I’ve trusted when I shouldn’t have, I misjudged in my naivete, and I’ve overreacted. Yet, I’m intrigued by the simplicity of McCammon’s test. This Dr. Suze, old dog has learned a new trick.

Damn! I may have just given you direct insight into my persona. If I don’t invite you to happy hour or ask you to dog sit….

Email Blitzkrieg

In my naivete, I thought the amount of my daily emails would decrease ten-fold once I left the school board. However, every day I’m bombarded with almost 200! Granted they’re not the angry ones I used to receive, they are primarily the results of online shopping and my internet searches. (And folk were worried that Corona vaccines injected tracers in their bodies! Hell their cell phones and computer devices know all there is to know!)

However, recently, I’ve received hundreds of emails about my recent job application. What? First and foremost, I did not apply for a job! I am not looking for a job; I get roped into enough volunteer ones. I do not want the time constraints that come with a job. At 6:00 this morning, I received this: We are working on a select number analyst and manager roles, and after reviewing your information and qualifications, I thought I should reach our to you. Please take a look at the attached list, and let me know if you would like to have your resume included in the upcoming interviews.

Impossible! This job search company, American Job Board, received no application and no resume from me. If they had my resume, they would never ask me to apply for analyst job; math and I are not friends. Finally, I’ve spent my entire professional career in some form of public education, currently a vilified profession, where parents and politicians know more about student achievement and success than a classroom teacher.

Until now, I’ve just deleted these intrusive emails. I’m afraid to respond to them, lest they will continue cramming my in box. But Johnny Paycheck was right: Take this job and shove it.

“April Is the Cruelest Month”

One hundred years ago, T.S. Eliot, declared in his poem, “The Wasteland” April was the cruelest. OMG! I, so agree! As I perused the weather news this week various parts of the US are still experiencing snow clinging to budded trees. Mother Nature continues to tempt with daffodils and crocuses only to roar back with Santa Claus delivering Easter baskets.

April, for me, brings nothing but painful memories and worries. My first mistake was finalizing my divorce on April 1, which at the time, I found humorous. However, in retrospect, the joke was on me! In April, all of my insurance bills are due as well as my taxes. Ye Gods, I’ve written so many checks my hand hurts, not to mention my bank account. Further, two years ago in April, I also had my dance with death during the pandemic.

I fully realize many of you who have April birthdays adore April, and I wish you many years of celebration and happiness. And by the way, the last word of “The Wasteland” is Shantih, which means peace in Sanskrit. Hopefully, April will, indeed, bring us peace and May flowers.

Cricket…the Dumb Dachshund

When my youngest kid was suffering through chemotherapy, I made the choice to spice up her 25th birthday with a new puppy. Even though, I’m not a dachshund fan because of their stupidity and gluttony, my kid loves wiener dogs. The breeder had over a dozen from which to choose: traditional reds and blacks, and piebalds. My kid naturally selected Cricket who was born on April 20th and gave her the middle name Kush. (I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t Mary Jane.)

After recovery and remission, my kid moved out, but Cricket stayed. She’d become so accustomed here and had grown far too big to fly under an airline seat that it seemed like a wise idea. Now, after 8 and one-half years of adoption, Cricket is still here and mastered her incessant watch-dogging and random bathrooming habits.

Early this morning, I was in the most delightful slumber. Then, my mattress began to shake. Soon my bed was rocking and rolling. Ye Gods! Is there an earthquake? I abruptly stood up, turned on the light, and beheld another pillow to be rocking my bed. What the hell?

Dumb Cricket had managed to crawl head first into the pillow case, and given her length couldn’t turn herself around to get out. Perhaps, had it been eight or nine AM, I would have found this amusing, but at 4:30, I was not pleased. After several, unsuccessful attempts to pull her fatness out, I just picked up the pillow and shook her out on the bed. She was seemingly grateful for her release, unlike me who had been rudely awakened.

Hopefully tonight, she will be on guard duty anxiously awaiting the Easter Bunny and sparing me from her shenanigans. But, my friends, take it from me. NEVER, buy a wiener dog.

Happy Passover and Happy Easter.