The Only Source of Knowledge…?

Albert Einstein posited, “the only source of knowledge is experience.” While many folk will agree with Einstein, some will counter: “I don’t need to set my hand on a stove burner to know it’s hot, nor do I have to sail around the world to know it’s not flat. I am educated! And I read.”

In essence, both are true. So why the conundrum about the COVID vaccines? Yes, throughout history folk have rebelled against both smallpox and DPT (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), but over time, generations of people never questioned the value of those injections. Thus, I’ve concluded eventually the anti-COVID vax followers will die, and future generations will not think twice about another shot.

My very intuitive, youngest, creative kid and I had a conversation about the conundrum this week. My position: with a US literacy rate for those over 15 of 99%, people can read the vaccine can prevent serious illness and/or death. Her position: the doubters have never been really ill. They view the bedside confessions of those who wish they’d been vaccinated as fake news.

Hmm. I have to think about that. Her words. “Mom, they’ve never experienced what we did. They don’t know what it’s like to really be sick.”

Sadly, my kid was diagnosed with cancer at 23 years old. She spent several, week long stints both in ICU and on the cancer floor of the hospital armed with an on-demand pump for pain medicine, blood transfusions, and a breathing machine. She not only lost far too much weight, her hair, her energy, her job, but her youth. By the time she was in remission, she was not a carefree 25 year-old on her way to celebrate her quarter century birthday in Las Vegas. She was a introspective adult. And now, eight years later, the scars on her body are a constant reminder of her ordeal.

And as many of you know, I did my own dance with death 19 months ago. Me? Who had never done any time at the hospital except two overnights with the births of my two kids. Me? With a ruptured colon, which resulted in almost two weeks of intubation and ICU. Even after I taught myself to write again, I spent twelve days in rehab learning to walk again. (In fact, they only released me from rehab when I went ape-shit over trying to climb a simple stair step.) And perhaps it’s a good thing, I still have NO memory of three weeks of my life. Glimpses, but no concrete recollection. And fortunately, since my brain still works at my age, I even plotted my hospital bills on a calendar to see if it would improve my recall of events. Now 19 months after being ripped a new you-know-what, side version, I’m very skeptical of having “Hector” reversed. Honestly, I’m too scared to have “Hector” reversed. I don’t want a deju vu second surgery.

Maybe, my kid is right. Both of us were so relieved to receive the COVID vaccine. Not because of our college educations, but because of our experiences. I absolutely know there’s nothing I can say to convince an anti-vax person to do the deed. Your choice. Your science. Fine. Then don’t go to the hospital if you fall ill. Take your dewormer pill, drink your bleach, eat your fish food, or use your ultra-violet light. Just stay out of health care facilities saving those who want to live for their families. Thank you.

Labor Day Weekend: A Reflection

Since nothing peaked my interest this week other than the appalling legislation and blatant disregard for women’s rights by the US Supreme Court which I won’t dignify by discussing in a blog, Of course, I don’t want vigilantes protesting my free speech in my well-manicured front yard either. Thus, I looked inward. Certainly, the realities of COVID have not only turned our lives upside down but have caused many of us to be alone much of the time. With five dogs, I’m not really alone, but they rarely engage me in conversation. I thought about my childhood September Holiday weekends and conclude I hated Labor Day weekend!

Hate, a very strong word, but hated them I did! First, it was the end of the garden season at our family farm. Soon Jack Frost would kill off the remaining unripe tomatoes and decimate the sweet corn and beans. Because of the looming fall weather, the weekend was spent picking, shucking, grinding, canning, and freezing. Once I spent both Sunday and Monday shucking lima beans and vowed to never eat another. On another, I ground several bushels of tomatoes for juice–a strenuous activity for fancy electric juicers weren’t available then.

Secondly, the largest Ohio county fair was held from Wednesday through Labor Day. On several occasions, I had to go on Labor Day to help my father close down the Dental Society’s booth. It was sad to see the last Italian sausages and cotton candy be sold and think it would be a whole year before I could eat greasy French fries with malt vinegar.

But most importantly, Labor Day signaled a major change in my life, for on Tuesday I would be back in school. My carefree, daydreaming summer days were over. No more fishing, nor more sandlot softball games, no more walks in the creeks of Mill Creek Park. No more rocket ship rides at the amusement park, no more sleepovers, no more picnics at the farm. The clear blue skies were now cluttered with big puffy white clouds suggesting fall had begun, and in Ohio that meant there could be snow for Halloween and certainly before Thanksgiving. Oh God, how many days of school would I have to endure before Thanksgiving or Christmas break?

I suspect it must be curious to you that a 50-year, career veteran of education detested going to school. (In fact, it wasn’t until I went to high school it became palatable.) I think it was simply my feelings of confinement, of monotonous routine, of abject boredom. Now believe me, I wasn’t smart and found I knew everything the teacher taught–not the case whatsoever. I was just a dreamer and an anti-boxer–I never had to think outside the box because I had none. School was simply something I endured, so I could move on to more exciting things.

Thankfully, my own children never learned of my disdain for Labor Day because Arizona schools have been in session for a month. Happy New Year to my Jewish friends and best wishes to those who start their school year tomorrow.

School Lunches

My writing prompt this week for another site asked: What was my favorite lunch to bring to school? Even though President Truman establish the federal free lunch program in 1946 as a measure of national security due to young men were rejected from the WWII draft due to medical conditions caused by childhood malnutrition, my school didn’t have a full-service cafeteria until ten or twelve years later. We simply had a large room in the school basement filled with long tables and chairs, aptly named: The Lunch Room. Thus we all had thermoses and lunch boxes or brown bags. Admittedly, I like the social part of lunch and was very proud my friends had dubbed my mom the cookie queen for her chocolate chip and her peanut butter with Hershey”s kisses cookies. Her cookies were so popular I could trade them for practically anything, including tadpoles and salamanders.

One day, my friend opened her lunch box and took out something that smelled incredible and looked delicious. “What’s that?” (Yes, I was that naive; I grew up in a WASP, meat and potatoes family, who never doctored anything with garlic or tomato sauce. Pasta was limited to macaroni and cheese.)

“My grandma’s homemade pizza.”

“Do you want to trade me for some of your pizza? I’ve got cookies”

She tore off about a two-inch piece, as I passed her two chocolate chip cookies. One taste was all it took, and my life was forever changed. This experience was the start of my discovery into a whole new world of wonderful, ethnic foods from European immigrants who’d moved to Youngstown, Ohio to work in the steel mills. Eventually, one of my grandmothers, my dad, and my mom became fans of Italian cuisine. (Sadly, my mom thought she could make spaghetti sauce, but her attempts were worse than Chef Boy Ardee, so we ate Italian at the restaurant.)

Once we had full-service cafeterias, even though much of the food was supplied by the federal government, our cafeteria ladies created wonderful dishes. So much so, I usually bought my lunch–or at least dessert. Certainly, a far cry from the awful, unappetizing food served today from microwave ovens. In fact, the last time I ate in a school cafeteria was three years ago. I was seated at a luncheon with firemen and watched them struggle to chew and swallow chicken nuggets and tater tots. (I was so embarrassed because I’ve eaten fabulous fire station meals.). Finally, I rose and went to the condiment table and returned with mayo and catsup to doctor up their meals. Immediately, the lunch room Nazi approached and began yelling at me for removing them from the condiments table. Ye, Gods! Could my embarrassment get any worse?

Of course, it’s 2021! I used to consider myself an erudite person, but I’m now just a throw-away senior-citizen heretic who believes in science, fact, and common sense. Passe, for sure. Seventy-five (75) years ago, Truman instituted the federal free lunch program, and this week a suburban Milwaukee School Board cancelled it, for fear of children becoming “spoiled.” Really? Hungry is better?

What Is an Expert? It Ain’t Me, Babe

Once a week I play trivia at my ‘hood bar and grill not only because I like the food, the camaraderie, and the challenge, but because I’ve collected years of worthless information in my head. Make no mistake, I could never be a Jeopardy champion, but I did have a liberal arts undergraduate college education. I know a little about a lot of things; yet, I’m a master of none. Fortunately, I play on a team of four to six people with different careers and of vast age differences. Of course, some times we argue or negotiate about an answer, but the team member with the most conviction and expertise usually prevails. In fact, last week I insisted. The discussion went back and forth to the point I declared,”My answer is correct. If not, I’ll buy dinner!” Everyone acquiesced, and I was right.

In direct contrast, I had a chat last week with a friend, whose daughter is a resident in a local children’s hospital. Her daughter is not only a talented singer, dancer, and actress, but a physician to be. Her end goal has always been to become a pediatric physician, who could not only heal, but entertain children in need. However, she recently revised her plan and has applied across the country for Neo-natal fellowships. Why? She’d be just what the doctor ordered for children!

“Mom and Dad, as you know I’ve wanted to be a pediatrician since I was six years old, I love kids. But I can’t.”

Why?

“I can’t deal with Know-it-all parents who question my suggested treatment. I’m spending far much time justifying my care plan and listening to their arguments against it. I’m so tempted to say to them ‘Why did you bring Johnny to see me if you know what to do about his ear infection?’ At least in the Neo-natal unit, I can exercise my best judgment for infants.”

These days I find myself flinging words like: unbelievable, appalling, disgusting, and mind-blowing. In last two years, unbeknownst to me, there emerged a new intelligentsia who proclaims to know everything about everything. Even though most dictionaries define an expert as: “one with a special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject, albeit a specialist or an authority.” However, the Urban Dictionary definition may be more fitting today: “an expert is someone who think he knows how to do something, but actually just screwed everything up.”

Think about it.

Russian Roulette?

A year ago this week, my eight-year-old blog skyrocketed with over 1,500 hits because it was entitled, COVID and Sports. Over 90% were from angry parents bemoaning the suspension of fall sports. Thankfully, my school board career ended in December, and I no longer have to worry about the safety and well-being of 30,000 students. However, as a 50-year educator I still care about children, school, and COVID.

As a child, I had measles, mumps, and chicken pox. (Dr. Salk saved me from polio.) During each of those illness, I was quarantined until the County Health Department nurse visited our home and certified my return to school. My very conservative parents never questioned school-required immunizations, nor mandated quarantines. But then again, my parents never questioned restaurant dress codes, snow emergency road closures, nor seat belt laws. Further, my parents’ household ran on rules. Any instance of disrespect to a teacher, a family member, or a random adult was met with some form of discipline. At 16, I ran the front end of the family sedan into another car; the damage required a tow and a month of repairs. Jobs were scarce for teens, so I worked all summer on the chore list to pay the bill for damages. Believe me, I washed a lot of cars, mowed a lot of lawns, trimmed a lot of bushes, hoed a lot of corn, and worked as my dad’s office assistant during employee vacations. Yet, I knew my parents wanted the best for me. They strove to set parameters so I stayed safe and well.

In my boredom last week, I watched the public comment section of several local school board meetings. I was absolutely astounded! One by one, young parents urged, demanded, or yelled at the school board: These are MY kids! You’ve NO right to tell them to wear masks! Don’t you dare quarantine my child. My child has rights; I’m his parent, and I’ll decide if he wears a mask. You can’t make my child get a vaccination. Don’t you dare talk to my child about her social-emotional health.

The more I watched, the more disturbed I became. Russian roulette? With children? A “potentially deadly” game. Young parents standing on some ideology which will undoubtedly bring hospitalizations, permanent physical damage, or even death. The news is filled with stories of naysayers who died simply because of their own ignorance, and I’m OK with that. But I’m appalled parents would risk their children’s lives. Would they give their kid a gun with only one bullet and spin the chamber?

At Sutter Creek Elementary School last week, an elementary teacher was beaten by a parent over the mask mandate. COVID is to blame–not the battered, hospitalized teacher! COVID is the enemy, not schools, universities, airlines, nor restaurants. What’s so difficult about safety protocols if we can defeat the enemy?

COVID doesn’t discriminate, and COVID doesn’t give a rat’s hind end about MY rights.

Let Them Eat Paste

This week I finished my delivery of school supplies to elementaries with high-need populations. My friends and family joined in amassing over $1,000 worth of crayons, markers, rulers, pencils, paper, and composition books. Further, some of my friends across the country also started supply drives in their hometowns. Everyone reported the same response: The school was so grateful for my donation.

My next-door neighbor, who was born in England, and her family moved to South Africa, where she predominately attended private girls’ schools. For the last three years, she has graciously undertaken the back-to school supply drive with me. “Why do we have over 100 glue sticks, Sue?”

“Because kids glue a lot of things. Did you cut and glue in elementary school?”

“No. Seems dumb to me.”

“Perhaps I used the wrong term. When we were in school it was called pasting. You know you cut out Christmas trees and pasted decorations on them. We made Valentines for our parents covered with a plethora of pasted hearts. I can’t believe you never used a jar of paste that spread like margarine with a stiff brush or tongue depressor. Didn’t you ever build boxes out of popsicle sticks?”

“No. Sounds like rubbish to me. Our schools were not designed for arts and crafts.”

“Sass, I’m sorry, but it was great fun, even though my popsicle box was destined for the rubbish. But, you missed the very best part! You never ate paste!”

“That’s really bloody stupid.”

“You’re so wrong; it was delicious. It had a rather minty flavor. Usually, I just licked the small bit that was on my finger, but one of the boys in my class ate a big glob one day. From then on, Ernie became Pasty. I saw him several years ago at our high school reunion, where everyone still addressed him as Pasty.”

Of course, I couldn’t let this drop, and while at trivia last week I asked all of our similar aged friends, “Did you eat paste?” Sass was appalled because all of them did! Next week, we’ve plotted a paste testing contest for Sass. No person 50 and above should go to his/her grave without the joy of eating paste.

And so my friends, how many of you ate paste?

Should They or Shouldn’t They?

My kid and her fiancĂ© are to be married in October. Now, I’m NO expert in marriage since mine failed, but these two seem to be madly in love with each other. They are different, but alike in a number of ways. While I’m delighted for them, I’ve one major concern. Of course, I can rectify that concern while I’m alive, but I need a permanent solution.

Their problem? Driver’s licenses, AKA ID’s. Cases in point:

  1. My kid and I went to San Diego several years ago. She drove; I road shotgun because she thinks she’s the boss. We stopped at the outlets on our way to the beach and she went to pay for another new handbag to add to her collection. No wallet, no credit cards, no money, AND no id! She flipped, “How am I even going to buy a beer at the beach?”

“You’re 30. I don’t think that will be a problem. Be grateful you didn’t get a speeding ticket.” Pout, pout, pout all weekend. My uber-educated left her wallet at home, but her mother was there to pay the bill.

2. On Friday, my soon-to-be, son-in-law flew to Phoenix to spend a few days with me. (Admittedly, I was humbled. Who wants to spend time with his mother-in-law? Especially one as crazy as me?) “Sue, I almost missed my flight,” he drawled–Southern speak.

“Why, CB? Late getting to the airport?”

“No, ma’am.” (Cute Southern boy talk.) “I reached in my wallet to show my ID to the ticket agent, and it wasn’t there! I left my luggage did another one-hour, round trip to retrieve my passport. Can you believe it, Sue? I made the plane just before they closed the doors.”

“So, did you find your driver’s license?”

“Sue, I’m a very anal and responsible person, but no, I did not. I’ve no idea where it is.”

Responsible? Hardly my choice of adjective. Inwardly, I was rolling with laughter, Two people who are about to be married who may or may not be able to validate their existence on the marriage license application. Too bad they are not dogs I could have them micro-chipped. Perhaps tattoos emblazoned: DO NOT Leave Home Without ID!

Excuse me, I must go. I can’t find my glasses. No, they’re not on top of my head. I just had them. Oops they’re looped into my shirt front, but where’s my cell phone? Ever wonder why apples don’t far from the tree?

THE Teacher

Some Phoenix students returned to school this week, and within the next two weeks the majority of children will be back in their classrooms. In January, fifty-one (51) years ago, I walked into my first classroom as a student teacher in 8th grade English. Needless to say, I thought I had been sentenced to death. Junior High School? Hormone-laden barely teens?

I was so depressed by this assignment; I wanted to teach 11th grade American Lit. It was my forte; I belonged there. I could hardly hide my abject indifference when I met my supervising teacher. She looked ok–coal black hair, flashy red lipstick. She dressed ok, but she’d never be great because she was my Junior High warden. As I climbed the stairs to the second floor of the old building, my dread grew with each step. I knew I’d never survive 5 months of this madness.

When I entered the classroom, Mrs. E was seated at her desk poring over papers. “You can take a seat at the back. I’ll introduce you to each class and when I monitor sixth period study hall.” Study hall? Damn. I remember junior high study hall–nothing but chaos. Even though it was January, I felt perspiration run down my arm pits. And for three days, I sat at the back and observed. By the third day, I admit I was awed. Not only was she engaging and humorous, her kids adored her. Me? I was in love with her handwriting; it as bold, emphatic, and filled with flourish. Curiously, I found myself attempting to emulate it among my doodle observation notes. Then on Wednesday afternoon she said, “That’s it Sue.” What did that mean? “You take over tomorrow.” Whoa. Wait a minute; I’m very content to sit in the back.

“Oh, Mrs. E, I’m not ready to take over classes, let alone monitor study hall.”

“Call me, Donna. Get ready. Tomorrow you’re in charge.”

“But you’ll be in the room, right? Particularly if I blow it.”

“Perhaps.” Perhaps? What the hell does that mean?

And on Thursday my 50-year career in public education began, as did my relationship with my mentor, Donna. She believed in me, even when she dropped in on my study hall and saw I had the superintendent’s son standing in the corner. (In my defense, I didn’t know who the clown was.) She encouraged me when I told her I had no intention of making teaching my career; I had bigger plans. “Sorority girls are college girls; you’re not going to be one forever. You must teach; you have the gift.”

My biggest takeaway from Donna was her notion of the “elusive” gift of teaching. As a graduate professor, I would engage my classes in interesting philosophical discussions about the gift. “I can walk down the hallways of any school and tell which teachers have the gift. They ignite passion, fire, and curiosity. They challenge, not disparage. They encourage and even cajole. They inspire.” A flurry of yes, buts would erupt. Test scores? Number of failures? Attendance rates? Office referrals? Their “buts” were endless.

Five decades later, Donna and I are still friends. Whatever happened to me during my short stint with her left an indelible impression on me. Though long retired, she still has the passion for public education, and she routinely reminds me to continue my advocacy for children. (I don’t need reminded, Donna.) In fact, my only wish is I mastered her unforgettable style of handwriting!

Sticks and Stones: Part 2

Yes, this is Part 2 of my oxymoron, post-COVID vacation to North and South Carolina. I did travel to Aiken, SC, to see Annie and CB, her fiancĂ©, where the landscaping was much more rolling. Aiken is horse country and has an expansive, time-trials track for such races as the Kentucky Derby. Many of the houses are antebellum; in fact, my eldest will be married on the lush grounds of the former governor’s mansion in October. After my short stay, we drove back to Wilmington for the 4th of July weekend.

The sticks: Friday night my friend was in charge of preparing the garlic bread and broiling it in the infamous stove oven from hell. I swear she had just placed it in the oven when the loaf caught on fire and sent smoke billowing through the house. Later, I tried to warm something in the microwave, which I had covered with a paper plate. The paper plate caught on fire and sent more smoke roaring through the house. (Did I mention I didn’t notice the paper plate had a metallic covering?)

The stones: Yes, they indeed break bones. First, I rolled my ankle on the concrete porch. I felt my stomach lurch; I swallowed hard. Whatever I was about to hurl retreated. Then my youngest stubbed her toe on the porch stoop. Her toe went off at a weird angle. Enter my eldest, Dr. Boss, to inspect our injuries. She demanded RICE! Rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Damn! There went our 4th of July plans to watch the fireworks from the USS North Carolina battleship on the Cape Fear River. Of course, we also missed a day at the beach and a shopping adventure.

I was outfitted with an brace to stabilize my badly swollen and bruised ankle; according to Urgent Care doc, I wasn’t broken, just bent. My youngest, on the other hand, was diagnosed with a broken toe, which was yanked back into alignment and taped to another toe. She further got one of those high-styling ortho shoes.

Needless to say, my first post-COVID adventure was memorable. However, I’d prefer the next one not include sticks and stones.

The Stove: Part I

I’ve just returned from my first, post-COVID trip. Oops that may very well be an oxymoron–call me a cynic, but I’m not convinced with the number of anti-vaxers it’s possible. Moving on, I spent almost 2 weeks visiting my kids in North and in South Carolina, where I was still awed by lush green landscape, occasional thunderstorms, and tree frogs that hung on the porch windows. Such a contrast to drought-ridden, burned up Phoenix.

My first stop was Wilmington, NC, where my youngest and her husband had relocated two weeks prior. (It was her birthday, and since her cancer bout I make an effort to be there to celebrate her new year.) Though I did offer to take the two of them out for birthday dinner, my kid wanted homemade spaghetti and meatballs. No problem. Meatballs mixed, baked in the oven, plopped in a rich sauce in a crockpot to simmer for several hours. With the salad prepared, the garlic bread ready for a quick dash under the broiler, it was time to boil the pasta. Angel hair is her preference; dinner would be served in 10 minutes. WRONG.

“Lena, help me. I can’t turn on the stovetop burner.”

“Mom, just look. Press the square that says power on.”

“I did. It just blinks.”

Thirty minutes had passed and neither my kid, nor my son-in-law could turn on the burner. Midway through their efforts, I left the kitchen to stifle my laughter. They were so frustrated! Young tech-savvy folk who thought I was dumb. Finally, Lena found some contraption I’d never seen, plugged it into an outlet and anchored it into a pot of water. “Mom, what’s the temperature of boiling water?”

Oh, ye gods! And we paid a fortune for her college education. “212 degrees. Didn’t you ever learn that?” My suppressed laughter was making my sides ache.

“The thermostat only goes to 195 degrees. But let’s give it a try.” And so, another 25 minutes passed. I put some pasta in the water to see what would happen. Nothing a a stale stench of a long-opened box of angel hair. I went to the restroom. Who says one’s best ideas don’t spring from the toity? When I emerged, “John, I’ve an idea. Will you make a quick run to Walmart and buy a hot plate? We could have used the one on your grill, but you’re out of propane. A hot plate will allow me to boil the pasta, and we can finally eat.”

Lo and behold John returned with a double-burner! At nine PM, I served birthday dinner. I could barely eat due to my smug humor roiling inside. The couple rued the fact a broken cooktop was not disclosed in the sale of their house, as they made plans to purchase another. However, Lena found the stove’s instruction book and the next morning announced she’d figured out the problem. Induction cooktops require special cookware, so instead of buying a new unit for $1,000+, she bought four special pans for $500+. However, John could have bought three, dual cook plates for a mere $75, which may have not been as attractive, but they would not require rocket science to operate.

Two weeks have passed; why do I still find this event so utterly amusing?