April 2006

My Stories

Mother of all Road Trips-1

Mother of all Road Trips-2

Mother of all Road Trips-3

Mother of all Road Trips-4

Containing Jim in Paris

Ranging the Yellowstone

Lisbon Portugal- Part 1

Lisbon and Sintra- Part 2

Evora Portugal- Part 3

Coimbra Portugal- Part 4

Porto Portugal- Part 5

At the Mammogram Office

Carmel Art Gallery

Venice- Part I

Veneto- Part II

Ravenna- Part III

Cinque Terre- Part IV

Vernazza Bonus- Part V


Crunch Time

Putting on the Ritz

Granada and Sevilla


Tuscany and Umbria - 1

Tuscany and Umbria - 2

Driving in England

Dwelling in England

A Dozens Reasons

In the Hamam

Istanbul Greece Diary

Pearl Harbor Team

Old Girl



Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners


Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say


Middle School Relay

Grad Party


Moving On

Radio Shack

Newlywed Couches


Old Faithful Inn


Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Four Seasons Camping

Curly's Truck.

Disaster Restorations

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Ducks and Beavers

Wearing Red

Photo Boxes

Las Vegas Soufflé

40th Birthday Party

The Heart Tickler

Wonderful Little Things

Heritage Tour

Erickson Era

Old Buildings


Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

A Look Back

Robin's dance schedule on St. Patrick's Day would begin in the morning at Salem Heights Elementary School and run into evening hours. "Stamina" was the prayer request she gave our Bible study group as she checked out early for Irish Dance rehearsal.

"How about we surprise her in the audience at Salem Heights?" I suggested. "It's close, easy, and I know my way around there pretty well" They agreed.

As a parent I'd spent over a decade at that school but hadn't been back since Taylor finished neady five years ago. It was time for a little nostalgia.

The ancient pink public school sits on a major arterial, so everyone parks in the church parking lot behind; the school and church lots link in remarkable church and state unity. Jim and a couple other dads built the first real connection with a set of railroad ties for stairs, replacing muddy uphill path. How this cooperation continues, no one can adequately explain.

I led my Bible study ladies into the school and down the hallway lined with brightly decorated ceramic tiles, one for each of the students enrolled at the school some ten years ago. Before parents discovered the correct combination of glue to secure these suckers to the wall, one of the children's tiles had crashed to the floor and shattered. An enterprising mom studied the pieces then re- created the entire tile so perfectly that the student was never the wiser.

In the front office we signed in as visitors and I peeked around. Over here, the cupboard that held the checkers and Monopoly Jr. games I'd purchased for my mentor program. Over there, the sick room, complete with sick kid and his mommy. He sat upon the cot where I'd found my Taylor after an urgent phone call from the school. Taylor was in severe abdominal pain, and we feared appendicitis. Taylor moaned dramatically as the office manager, Michelle, helped me push him by wheelchair to my car, and we raced for the pediatrician's. Turns out my boy was constipated.

My Bible study group took seats in the cafeteria and waited for the massive stage curtains to part, I knew every inch of those curtains. We'd draped those babies over monkey bars outside and, by order of the fire marshal, sprayed them with fire retardant. The results weren't great, yet a clear improvement upon the previous dilapidated, foul draperies. Acquiring these curtains was no small task for our parent club. Our friend and fellow parent, Jeff, had heard that a neighborhood bank with some decent curtains was scheduled for demoliton. And they'd offered them to us, for free! Soon after, Jeff was driving past the bank and noticed bulldozers poised to flatten the bank--with our curtains still inside! Jeff stopped and sacrificially placed himself between the trucks and the bank, rescuing our curtains. They were funky, brown and little bit ugly, and I loved them.

The students filed into the cafeteria in a mannerly order, accompanied by some very familiar teachers. Their faces, like mine, showed a few more lines and their hair, a little more gray (or blonde, in my case), but they otherwise looked the same.

In walked Janet, Annie's third-grade teacher. Janet was perfect for Annie-- young, empathetic and optimistic. She also liked lists and processes, and had posters around her room highlighting concepts such as "Eight Ways of Learning" or Five Types of Emotional Intelligence." I didn't really get it, but the kids seemed to, so whatever.

Janet was also big on conflict resolution. If students had a disagreement, they got to (had to) resolve it in the hallway using a guideline under her direction. I was somewhat skeptical of this conflict stuff, mostly due to experiences with the "Conflict Manager' program at the school. Annie was part of this program, implemented to assist resolution of playground arguments. She and a handful of other students received training, bright vests, and clipboards with material to help settle student disagreements on the schoolyard. Later I asked Annie if anyone had ever used the conflict resolution services, and she said only once—-when two conflict managers got into a fight.

Janet put her conflict skills to work at Annie's classroom birthday party one year. Four year old Taylor helped me carry in a huge box of cupcakes—half of them chocolate and half vanilla—for the celebration. With little Taylor in tow, I didn't volunteer as much in Zach and Annie's early Salem Heights years and mainly showed up on their birthdays with baked goods. Taylor must have figured that school was just one continuous party, at least according to his experience.

Taylor and his chocolate cupcake were sitting next to Annie when Janet suggested a round of "Heads-up, Seven-up." Dozens of small thumbs sprung to the air and heads dropped to the tables while a few girls roamed the room. 'When one of these girls eventually returned to her desk next to us, she noticed- to her horror-that her vanilla cupcake was missing.

Janet went into full resolution mode. First, a stem reminder the merits of honesty, then a call for the thief to confess his or her crime. Dead silence. More talk of integrity. More silence. The party ended on a somewhat somber note.

On the way out, Annie whispered to me, "Mom, Taylor had a chocolate cupcake at the start of the game. But when the game was over, I saw him eating a vanilla one."

I never had the guts to own up to Janet.

We supplied not only cupcakes to the school; we contributed infectious diseases, too. There was the time Zach and Annie broke out in chicken pox exactly two weeks before Christmas. I had to make the call of shame to the office so they could spread the word that we'd spread the virus-- just in time for their classmates to break out on Christmas Eves (Our own kids were still contagious when we had 53 dental staff at our house for dinner and our babysitter cancelled, so I suffered plenty, too, My little brother, Andy, saved the day, babysitting at Grandma's.)

And then there was the other infestation, an indignity that our nearest and dearest have long urged me to share, but I was too humiliated. until now. Years have a way of melting needless pride. Our children still at the age of required attendance at every newly-released Disney movie. I honestly can't remember which movie we saw, just that it showed in the nastiest theater in town, a place reserved for the youngest of patrons and their beleaguered parents, like us, We'd held out a few weeks until the thinned so we had the place nearly to ourselves, a situation that Taylor took full advantage of by testing various seating areas in the theater, his little blond head rubbing against each fraying fabric seatback.

Taylor was in second grade, yet he still allowed me to cuddle with him at bedtime over a good book, our heads resting on his pillow together. I noticed his locks were a little long, so Jim took our boys to a discount haircutting place for a trim. When the hairdresser reached Taylor, she stopped cold. "He's got lice. Here, see? You should check the rest of your family." Jim delivered the news to me by phone and I found some of the creatures in Annie's hair, to her absolute disgust. "l hope you have them, too!" my distraught Annie cried. I guess she didn't want to be the only dirty girl. She wasn't.

At the time, my hair was unusually long and abnormally thick—a lice fantasy. Jim worked hours on my hair, bless his heart, while I scrubbed highly toxic pesticidal shampoo all over my beloveds' scalps and kicked our washing machine and dryer into overdrive. This was new territory for me and I was so mortified I asked the kids not to spread the word, or the lice, anymore than nessary. Kids get lice; mommies don't. Let's just pretend I didn't, OK? There were a few exceptions. We told two sleepover kids and their families, one that had just come here and one whose home Taylor had just visited. I heard actual screams coming from the phone when Jim made that second call.

We decided not to tell Annie's middle school the real reason behind her "sickness" as she was utterly embarrassed by the entire episode, but I went squeaky clean with Salem Heights—at least about Taylor, He didn't care; he was simply thrilled to miss a few days of school.

I profiled as low as possible during this time, but had to surface for the school fundraiser at Roundtable Pizza. My volunteers and friends had plenty of questions for me about our lice fun, but I managed to sidestep any direct queries about me and my abundant hair including, "Gee, that would have been horrible if it had gotten in YOUR hair!"

At that, dear Annie piped in, "Oh yes, my daddy spent two hours on it last night!" My friends turned to study my scalp, still slick with after-product solution. I wanted to crawl under the pizza oven.

Back home, I worked feverishly to furtner disinfect our house. I knew I'd gone too far when I thrust the cordless phone until the tap after the receiver touched my hair. I killed the phone. All that work coupled with my sudden loss of appetite had the unexpected and delightful effect of starting me on the most successful weight loss episode of my life, weight I've kept off to this day. I call it... The Lice Diet. It's very effective, but not for everyone.

Later we heard that the old children's theater had had a lice outbreak around the time we visited. We never went back and a few months ago they leveled the place. Nobody wanted their curtains, as far as I know. Taylor had a more hygienic theater experience in third grade when he got cast as P.T. Barnum in the school play. I wasn't too surprised as Taylor loved the stage and his career aspirations were to be either an actor or a dentist—an interesting combination. Still, he was a little young for the lead and essentially tone-deaf in a role that required not just singing, but a solo.

Our sweet choir teacher, Glenda, guided him through that musical classic "I'm Rusting in Bridgeport." Taylor crooned off-key in front of those old brown bank curtains, wearing a ringbearer-sized tuxedo and top hat. In our home movies you can catch Taylor rolling his eyes between choruses.

On today's Salem Heights stage, our Robin shined with her Irish companions and we cheered. The many deaf students in the audience enjoyed the performance as much as their hearing companions, with interpreters at the ready up front. I remembered how much I loved having the district's hearing-impaired program at Salem Heights, how it contributed to an atmosphere of and humility.

In Taylor's first grade classroom alone, there were deaf students, Spanish- speakers, advanced leamers, a mildly autistic boy and a newly-arrived German girl. Taylor's gifted teacher, Kathy, somehow made it work. She found a skill that the German girl excelled at and had her wordlessly demonstrate it to a classmate: an exercise in confidence building. If a deaf child misbehaved, he got a scolding from his teacher, in sign language—a true sight to behold.

Salem Heights seemed to be a magnet not just for the hearing impaired students, but for other physical impairments as well, I remember telling Annie she should be extra nice to her classmate who'd lost most of his fingers from meningealcoccal disease as a baby. She answered, "Why? I treat him just like everyone else!" She was right, of course. And that was the general philosophy of the school.

I remember the blind boy whose parents let him ride his bike on their cul-de-sac. The neighbors knew to move their parked cars beforehand. Salem Heights was a perfect fit for this kid. One day I watched as he walked down the school hallway with cane in hand, announcing, "I'm coming! Watch out!" Little did he know that the only students within earshot were a group of deaf kids.

The population of this little school is unusual and the boundary lines resemble a submarine sandwich, the school sitting at one end in a working-class neighborhood and us at the other end, We live closer to another newer school, and many of our neighbors transfer their children there, but they're missing out on some wonderful stuff.

They'll never know about the kind of character it takes to teach here and the kind of kid it produces, They'll never know about the scary basement, the ghost stories, or the secret staircase. They'll never know about our school bell that the community hall next door salvaged from our dumpster in the 1920's and then hid in their tower... until today. Our parent club had learned of this bell and tried to recover it from Salem Heights Hall, but they just chastised us for our wastefulness 70 years earlier. Apparently they've got some new blood over there and have reconsidered, because I hear we're getting out bell back.

The lovely Irish Dancers finish their final act. The show is over. The brown stage curtains at Salem Heights draw to a close.

This school, in all its theater, will always belong to us, yet our time here is complete. They have a new generation of performers now. Our dance at Salem Heights is over, but we've successfully realized the next stage in life.