Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Free-zer


I just turned 41.

40 + 1…

It was actually quite strange as far as birthdays go. I mean hey, when you turn the big ones like 21, 30 and 40, everyone makes a big deal out of it, but at 41, practically everyone forgot.

It’s okay. If it isn’t important to anyone, I can sort of graze over it like it never happened and act like I am still 40. Wait… I said graze instead of GLAZE… well, you know what I mean. Did I spell that right? I’m not 41… I can’t find the right word and I can’t spell.

It was such a strange day. I pretended May 28th wasn’t my birthday and celebrated on May 29th instead. May 29th was a much better day anyway. At least the sun was shining that day.

Back to my 41st birthday…

It all started early in the morning when we had an early field trip and had to have breakfast on the bus. We went to a museum and it rained.

All day…

You may be thinking, “A museum… great, you were inside!”

Nope. It was an outdoor museum and we had to walk for five minutes at a time between displays, none of the kids got to have milk at lunch because the milk had been left on the bus, and one of our groups was late getting back to the bus, which made us arrive back at school after the day should have already been over.

I shouldn’t be so negative. No one got hurt. Everyone was safe.

And I was a year older.

I always hear people say, “Happy Birthday. A year older and a year wiser!”

Nope. In my case, I have to argue with that. Although I am indefinitely another year older, I am certainly not a year wiser. I seem to learn and relearn the same lessons over and over and over and over again. Here’s my latest lesson. I learned to ask questions and to measure. I’ll tell you how. It was quite a story.

I’ll start at the beginning.

We are joining a CSA… (Community Supported Agriculture), which means someone else does all the organic planting, weeding, and plucking. We will have more vegetables than will be humanly possible to comprehend… and we will have to eat or store the veggies by canning/freezing. We don’t have enough room in our freezer! That’s where I made (my first) huge mistake.

It didn’t start out to be a mistake. I was actually incredibly proud of myself for spotting in the local paper:

ABSOLUTELY FREE

FREE FREEZER Some rust, but works! Also 3 gallons of Benjamin Moore Wickham Gray ext. paint & 4 + gallons Cabot solid color acrylic stain Barn Red (insert phone number here)

My eyes focused on the FREE- ZER. Normally, I would call and ask for both stains and decide to stain my house and deck too… but (this week), my focus was on the FREE FREEZER. I called the number listed (though I haven’t given you the number to protect the innocent) and our conversation was as follows:

“Hello.”
“Yes… hi. Do you still have your freezer that you advertised in the paper?”
“Is this Amy?” (That’s Vermont- our paths have crossed somehow.) (Now, I suddenly got nervous… have I called this person before and relieved them of something free before?) (How does she recognize my voice?)
“Yes… this is Amy. Who is this?”
“Linda _________.” (again, I am going to protect her… she is innocent in all of this.)


Our conversation became very informal because we knew each other. She told me that she had already given it away, but that the other people who asked for it needed to get a truck so they could move it. She also said it may not happen with the other folks so I told her to call me if it didn’t work out. This would not be a challenge; my name and number are in the phone book and this is a small town.

So, here’s where I made one of my errors: I never asked her any specifics about the freezer. I didn’t ask if it was a chest freezer or an upright. I never asked what size it was. I hung up and considered it finished because someone else was ahead of me.

Days later, the phone rang during the busy time of the evening. My husband answered the phone. After a few moments, I assumed that my husband was talking to Linda ___________’s husband because they seemed to be trying to figure out when it would be a good time to pick up the freezer. In my defense, my husband never asked what type or size of freezer it was either. See? We are such a good couple.

He decided to go get the freezer on May 28th… my birthday. He got a friend of ours (Norm) to help move it and borrowed my step-father’s truck. They would go in the evening… after T-ball practice.

But there was no T-ball practice, because as I mentioned before, it was a very rainy day. SO, I came home completely exhausted from the wet field trip and made dinner My friend Barb (Norm’s wife) came over to our house to have dinner while Norm and my husband went to pick up the Free-zer. The kids played and ate happily together.

We had a glass of wine (or two) (it was my birthday) and waited for the men to return from their wet adventure to get the free-zer. An hour or so after the guys had gone, I checked the answering machine messages.

There were several calls that were birthday oriented… and then message #5 had my friend Linda __________ saying: “Tonight isn’t the best night to pick up the free-zer. Could you guys reschedule for another night? Well, we left the door unlocked and the light on so maybe if you just want to grab it you can. Here’s our number if you want to give us a call.” (insert number here)

Oops.

Have I ever mentioned that we don’t have a cell phone? We probably should, but I am in denial! I asked Linda __________ if she knew anyone who could go by and tell the guys that they could just grab the Free-zer. She did. Someone showed up and told them so they got the free-zer and brought it home.

My husband put a huge gash in his leg and was cursing my name (see picture) as they brought the massive thing UP the driveway and set it down near the bulkhead doors to the cellar.

That was when they discovered that it would not be able to fit into our cellar. Oh boy!

So we have crossed the line (you know what line I mean.) We have a freezer sitting in our front yard with a tarp and a free door- from a yard sale- on top of it.

Now, through this experience, I have decided to add a new word to the dictionary. The word is ZER.

In my dictionary, there are only 27 words that start with Z! I think we need a new word.

Zer (zir) noun a free, giant heavy problem created by a wife for her husband to solve on her birthday (zerier, zeriest, zerily)

I need your input. What do we do with our ZER? Here is what we have come up with already:

Take apart the doorframe and put the freezer into the cellar. Rebuild the door once it’s in there.
Offer the ZER to the farmhouse at the community where we live.
Pour concrete into our current sand-box and built a structure around it to house the ZER. Add an electric box so we can plug it in.
Put the blessed ZER on free-cycle.
Put it back in the paper for FREE.
Call Linda ______________ back and ask her who wanted the ZER but couldn’t get a truck. We’ll deliver it to them.
Leave it where it is and feel good about crossing the line and storing things we don’t need in our yard.

Please share your ideas. We welcome your input.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Soul of the Feet


I was folding laundry this morning and was pretty relaxed… I was day dreaming and mindlessly folding and sorting UNTIL:
I reached the bottom of the pile and came across the same age-old drama I encounter every time I fold clothes!
WHERE did the matches go to the remaining socks at the bottom of the basket?
Where?
I mean seriously… WHERE?
I know people have talked about this before and comedians have built entire stand-up routines around the question. But have scientists taken the time to actually study it? Has anyone every written a Master’s Thesis or has anyone ever statistically analyzed how many socks disappear over the course of one’s lifetime? Is there a Bell Curve from household to household and if there is, where does my family fall on it?
We (my husband and I) have a system. Well, before I continue I should actually say "he has a system" because he is actually the one who does laundry more often (bless his heart). No- ladies- he’s mine! It took me years to get him to the point where he felt like he needed to take over, so back off.
I gave up on it almost completely (laundry) a year ago – when I turned 40 – I just stopped doing it (laundry). You see, I realized laundry made me feel like I never truly accomplished anything. You see, with laundry, I will never catch up and have it all done and I don’t like that feeling. I have actually fantasized about drinking two pots of coffee in the morning and doing a laundry marathon all day… washing everything I can get my hands on… folding it all and putting it away… then I would put the kids to bed and strip naked to wash the last remaining load of clothes from the day and any towels from the bathroom floor. At about 11:00 pm I would be done and then it would feel GREAT until the next day when everyone would wake up and (God forbid) get dressed. Then there would be dirty clothes again! And oh… my kids will be climbing out of bed wearing dirty pajamas, wouldn’t they? Sigh…
You know? Admit it… you have the same fantasy.
You don’t? Well, at least do you end up with socks that don’t match at the end of folding a load of laundry? Come on now… good… thanks… I feel better…
That brings us back to the "sock system" I mentioned before. We have a bag that hangs in the closet and whenever the person who is folding (usually my husband) comes across a mismatched, lonely, independently- minded sock, it gets set aside. The bag of other mismatched, lonely, independently-minded socks get dumped onto the bed and the socks stare at each other like a bunch of wallflowers at a junior high dance with Journey music playing in the background. They then get matched together if indeed there are any matches and the rest of the mismatched, lonely, independently-minded socks get shoved in the bag with the other ones.
I must say that it boggles my mind how many mismatched, lonely, independently-minded socks we have!
Where do they go?
Now, I had a very philosophical moment this morning as I sat with my morning cup of coffee (yes, just one…not two pots…) I let go of my laundry fantasy when I turned 40, remember?
My husband and I were discussing death (how cheery) and where we believe the soul goes after a person dies. Now scientists have discovered that the soul possibly has a weight – something like 21 grams, I think. So it is possible to say that the soul leaves the body at the moment of death. Over the ages, people have said that when you die, your body goes to heaven and you play harps and meet up with all the people that died before you. Or, if you made bad choices during your life, you go to the hot place and are faced with examining your life and feeling really bad about yourself. Heaven and Hell are one explanation for where a soul goes. I have spent most of my adult life sort of ignoring all of those thoughts because I didn’t feel like thinking about it. There is somewhat of a reprieve from thoughts of death from late childhood until a person lives through their twenties and thirties… but all of a sudden thoughts of death and the afterlife (or whatever) come creeping back. I am about half-way done with my journey on this earth (if I am lucky) and now I have little children of my own who are beginning to ask me questions about what happens after a person dies.
The parenting thing is easy in the middle of the night when they are hungry or teething or need to have a diaper changed. The toughest part of parenting is when they go out into the world and start to see they don’t know things and start asking questions. I feel in control of the Christmas, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy thing… I preface every discussion with the word LEGEND> that way, I am off the hook and no one can ever turn around and blame me for lying. I made sure that the cookies and milk were consumed on Christmas Eve. When we were out of town for Easter, I did what any good mother would do, I made my children write a note to the Easter Bunny to tell "him" where we were. It is sick isn’t it?
It is especially sick because I KNOW these things are not real. I am raising my children to buy into the whole legend thing… for what purpose? I have to say… I’m not sure. But it’s fun. It’s fun for me and fun for them… it is a magical time in a child’s life when there are presents under the tree or a quarter from the Tooth Fairy (am I cheap?)
But when I am faced with the possibility of talking about what happens after death, I am not quite sure what to say. I – believe it or not- draw a blank and am unsure of how to answer the question about "where" someone goes when they die.
I’m almost getting there though because I thought about it all day.
So here goes: I’ll try to communicate to you where my thoughts have gone and what I will say the next time I am asked about WHERE a person goes after they die. I began to solidify my theory when I noticed my son’s friend’s socks today. He (my son’s friend) is a five-year-old twin and he has a two-year-old sister and a five-month-old brother. His mother is a woman who is always smiling and has her priorities straight. She allowed her son to go out wearing two different Halloween socks in April. Some women couldn’t do that. (I can- could – would- have done that…) and I appreciate that someone else has my same issue with mismatched, lonely independently minded socks and with dignity and a smile, she wears her house’s sock dysfunction on her sleeve (well, actually on her son’s feet). I watched him wear his socks with pride. I also watched as the two-year-old toddled around without shoes (but still) in her white socks. That is living! That is great!
I thought of another friend of mine who just puts all her socks in one basket… her daughter wears socks that match or not… without care or concern.
My theory is this: the way we deal with socks relates directly to the way we choose to live our lives. The way we choose to live our lives is all that matters because for now… we are alive. We live the way we are comfortable living. We don’t know about death and so it should not enter our mind while we are living life and wearing socks.
Some people roll their socks into little balls and pile them neatly in the dresser. Some people only buy white tube socks because matching them up is never an issue. Some people throw any unloved socks away. I have a friend who calls her grandmother a "sock Natzi" because she will take entire bags of socks and spend hours finding matches. I asked if I could mail her a box of our mismatches to Albany. She would probably rewash our socks too. They are definitely not pure whites, try as we may.
I have even attempted to roll socks around themselves before putting them in the wash hoping that they will remain soul-mates through the entire cycle. Nothing seems to work. They separate and disappear much to my dismay all the same.
I’ve told you my (our) system. We are living. Really living and because we can’t always find matches for our socks, I consider that to be evidence of that.
And until we are not, we will try to match the socks up and be as patient with the ones who don’t because that is the system we have created.
And I wanted to share the final aspect of my theory with you… with all my thinking about socks and souls today I think I’ve figured it out: I think socks and souls weigh about the same. I think they weigh about 21 grams. I think that when we die we actually go to the same place that all the socks go when they disappear from the dryer. They go into the cosmos and float around and wait for somebody to match them up. Which proves that what happens to the soul is that is gets reincarnated. Souls float out there and wait for the right old shoe to house them, or in other words… the perfect life that they are meant to live. Souls hang out there in the darkness of the universe just like the socks inside the bag in our closet. Perhaps the universe after all is just one big back that holds all the waiting souls. Their time will come too, as soon as someone decides to take the time to match them up so they can fulfill their purpose.

You Can Ring My Bell


Three years ago when I rang the 209 year old cast iron school bell to call students in from recess… it broke. I don’t even remember what day it was, but it will always be in my memory as if it happened only a week ago. I pulled the rope, and much to my dismay, it collapsed at my feet. I can’t explain the feeling, except it seemed telling of something that was bigger than my two-room schoolhouse in rural Vermont. It was a sign of things to come.
Since beginning my job at the tiny schoolhouse in 2003, I have always taken pride in the fact that on top of the building is a cast iron bell. I have always found it amazing that it has been ringing to bring children into the school for over 200 years. Every time I rang it, I felt proud to be the teacher in my school. To me it was reminder that things used to be made well, and that quality lasts a long time.
Well… that may be true or it may not. I always looked at the bell symbolically. Every picture we see of a school never shows a big building with long hallways and tiny square windows. It always shows a little red schoolhouse with a bell on the top just like the school I teach in (well, except my building is white). I felt immediately grateful to have my job and talked about that gratitude with anyone who would listen.
First of all, I believe in the tiny corner store and not the mega-Walmart. It stands to reason that my philosophy of education would be the same. My students and I are like a family. We love each other dearly and act like we are related most of the time. I have been called "mom" quite often and I think I reach these kids more effectively than I would with a class of 30 or more. It is intimate and close in the old room with wooden floors.
So, was I aware of the fact that my job was too good to be true? On that fateful day when I pulled the rope and it broke, did I realize that the school would prove to be an uphill battle that I would have to wage every year that I chose to teach there? I didn’t know at that time… but I sure know now.
The story of the closing of the schools in the small towns of Granville (150 years old) and Hancock (209 years old) Vermont is a very complicated story. I could begin at the beginning and try to tell the whole thing, but it would be a novel… not a blog. Here is the cliff-noted version of what I believe is happening: the towns are in the process of dying and everyone is experiencing grief.
I didn’t realize it, but some bright woman named Betty Smith (Vermont Public Radio) pointed it out to me. Thanks Betty. The town (for purposes of simplicity, I will focus of Hancock) and its people are grieving the loss of life in the village. Things aren’t growing, progressing, and improving. There was a time when rural towns in New England were actually thriving. In certain places now, however, the opposite is true. The complicated part is people are experiencing stages of grief at different times and these people are interacting and making decisions about things in the town (like the fate of the school.)
Just for your information, here are the Stages of Grief:
Shock and denial
Pain and Guilt
Anger and Bargaining
Depression, Reflection, Loneliness
The Upward Turn
Reconstruction and Working through
Acceptance and Hope
I don’t live in the town, but I love the town, so I know I am grieving along with everyone else. I tend to see the potential in things and have energy and hope to push things in a direction as much as I can. For example, I don’t see peeling paint on an old building… I see that it could be repainted a lovely color. I don’t see the collapsed foundation of the old building at the corner of route 100 and route 125. I see that it can be lifted up and repaired. I see that someday it can be a pizza place. It’s called "Hope."
Not everyone looks at things that way. It takes all kinds of people to "make the world go around" as they say. There are the "Dreamers" and the "Non-Dreamers", there are the "Get-its" and the "Not Get-its." I don’t know which side of the fence I am on… but I am definitely on some side of the fence. I will say how I feel and I don’t ever hold back. I tried on many occasions to get the bell fixed. Three people said, "Oh. The bell is broken? I can fix it."
But no one ever fixed it. They had intentions… good ones I might add. But intentions aren’t reality.
After the town meeting in March, when I heard that the school was going to close, I felt many things: I felt very "Angry"… "Sad"… "Reflective"… I danced eagerly around the 7 stages of guilt as if on stage at a third grade recital. My dear friend Trina (a school board member) suggested that we contact "The Story" which is a show by Dick Gorton on National Public Radio. See link of program: http://thestory.org/archive/the_story_745_Working_Through_It.mp3/view
She explained that maybe it would be cathartic for me to talk about my feelings. Boy, was she right! I went onto the radio and told "My Story" and it was therapy. I talked about being a teacher in the city vs. being a teacher in the country. I talked about my wonderful little school. I talked about the joys and pitfalls of teaching. It was a half-hour and was broadcasted on April 2nd. I don’t know how many people heard it, but some people actually reacted to it by e-mailing their thoughts. I felt incredible comfort from strangers who noticed the value of my two-room school. For a time, I didn’t have to feel loneliness and helplessness. It was wonderful. One man called me at home and gave me ideas for rescuing the school by bringing broadband and small business development to the town. Thanks Dan of Chicago!
One gentleman in particular reached out to the little community of Hancock, Vermont in the simplest, yet most powerful way. The day after the broadcast, there was a message on the school answering machine from a guy named Ben. He said he had heard the broadcast all the way in Virginia. He said he would be going to Maine in a week and on the way he wanted to come and fix the broken bell.
And he did. Ben came to the town of Hancock, joined us for lunch, rented a room at the local hotel for the night, and made some little children incredibly happy by fixing their antique school bell.
He did this for free. He did this to be nice.
It cost him money.
He also said as he heard the broadcast, he had been driving along and sort of daydreaming when heard Route 100 mentioned. He knows Route 100 because a child, he used to ski in Vermont. He has fond memories of the place, obviously. He also appreciates history and values antiquity.
When it rang for the first time after three years of inactivity, I was moved to tears. You can ring my bell! And in the words of a local woman (who attended the school house as a child) "If the school closes, at least it won’t go down broken!"
People are nice. People do go out of their way to do kind things. This man was a random person! A stranger! As he left, he said "I guarantee my work for five years. If that bell is broken in 4 years and 360 days, I do hope you’ll call me to fix it. It won’t stand. It can’t be broken. It’s just not right. And this school better be open if I have to come back!"
You know what? He is one of the "Get-its"… one of the "Dreamers"… and he’s the best kind of stranger because he knows how to share his gifts.
And as far as where I am in the stages of grief: I am on the "Upward Turn" stage. Some random contractor from another place helped me "Work Through it" because he performed some "Reconstruction" on the bell. I now have "Hope" for the future. Even if the school does not stay open, I think I will be better able to "Accept" it because I didn’t feel alone and the bell didn’t have to remain broken.
Thanks Ben.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Owl's Sight


Owl’s Sight
I don’t know much about owls, but I do know that they can turn their heads almost completely in a circle and they can see at night better than I can. Owls are swift and graceful and a symbol of wisdom. I wish I could be more like an owl sometimes. Well, I am swift (especially after a cup of coffee), but I am not always a symbol of wisdom, that is for sure.
So, I was supposed to go to a writing class today, but it didn’t happen because I couldn’t FIND the class. I don’t know if the class didn’t exist or I only imagined I was supposed to go to a writing class today. I paid to attend. I received confirmation for the class. But I couldn’t FIND the class. It was frustrating.
So needless to say, I am sitting in a coffee shop right now writing, instead of sitting in a class LEARNING about writing. The class was supposed to be at The University of Vermont in a building called Mann Hall, but there was no one there when I showed up. The hallway was dark and there was absolutely no one there.
Some random nice girl let me use her phone to call my husband to talk to him about the brochure to find out where I went wrong (I left the class brochure at home- duh.) But he couldn’t find the brochure anywhere. I told him I would drive around and call him back to give him some time to find it because I didn’t want to use air time on this poor random girl’s cell phone. I don’t know where I was driving to… but it felt better than standing in a parking lot after the girl left with her cell phone. I wanted to find a public phone to call my husband again, so I started driving around Burlington. I drove past my friend Greg’s house and decided to knock on his door to use his phone. I haven’t seen him in over two years, but he is the kind of friend that you can knock on his door to borrow his phone if you are unable to find a public phone.
You are thinking, "Get a cell phone."
My response: If I had a cell phone, I would not have learned about the Continental Method of knitting today.
You are thinking: Huh?
"Hey Greg."
"Hey Amy. How are you?"
"Fine. Can I use your phone? Sorry to knock so early."
"That’s okay. Come in. How have you been? You want some coffee?"
"Sure."
With Greg’s phone I called my husband to see if he could tell me more info about the class and see if he had found the brochure. He found it in (yes… in) the couch, but the address was the same one I had. How annoying! Who planned this class anyway? Greg is techno-savy. He has a lap-top, high-speed internet, a cell phone and a land line. While I was talking to my husband, he found the class information on-line and discovered that the class was in a different building (Waterman Building…) so I got in the car and went to the class.
Again… no one was there. I found an empty room with no students in it! Man, was I mad. So…I went back to Greg’s house (again) and called my husband (again…)
I ended up hanging out with Greg for about an hour. We caught up on what has been happening in our lives. I was telling him about making Blagz and blogging and my fears about my school closing. I told him about wanting to open a business someday if my school closed down. He is teaching business at the local community college and he shared about what that was like. He doesn’t seem to like it. But, after covering many topics, Greg told me about a little shop nearby called The Bobbin… he said I should check it out. He showed me the web-site first and it looked interesting: www.thebobbin.com .
He used Google Maps to show me how to get there… wow… I really don’t spend enough time on-line… That was cool. I forgot about satellites… wow. He also showed me how to get to a coffee shop down the street so I could sit and do some writing and grab some lunch. After all, I had just driven a couple of hours to get to Burlington, so how could I possibly get in the car and go straight home? What a drag that would be… (not to go home, but to feel like I had wasted all that time in the car only to get back in the car and go home.)
I went to The Bobbin first. There was a woman in there named Rachel who was appliquéing an owl on a black hat. The store was great. It was bright and retro and I felt drawn in immediately. Her three-year-old son was there and he actually shares my younger son’s name. Desmond. There is another young Desmond out there.
Okay… wow. Weird.
I had to sit and knit in The Bobbin.
We talked about many things. One topic was left-handedness… and Rachel asked me if I knew how to knit with The Continental Stitch. Nope. She gave me instructions in a booklet and showed me how. I love learning knew things… they say that should happen every day, and since I couldn’t FIND my class…
We talked about Goddard College. We knew a few of the same people.
That’s Vermont.
I learned so much sitting in The Bobbin. They had hand-made things all over the place. They believe in "Sustainable Crafting." There were mittens made out of sweaters and animals made out of sweaters on one shelf and shirts made into coats on a rack. There were aprons and hats and berets and pillows on display and a rack of great Thrift Shop dresses from the 1970’s. Wow! I felt like I had died and went to crafter’s heaven. The place was so funky and comfortable. I sat for awhile and Rachel and I chatted while I practiced my new knitting stitch.
As I sat, I started noticing the owls all over the shop. There were macramé owls hanging from the ceiling and owls made from recycled clothes that were huggable. Rachel and I were kindred spirits. We reaffirmed the hand-made pledge for Christmas and parted as new-found-friends. I will go back there again someday because it was refreshing to see something I have only imagined in my wildest dreams. Someone is actually making a business out of being creative and social and thrifty. Go Rachel (and her partner I didn’t meet!)
And now… I have written a blog anyway. It has been a few months. I needed this. Instead of learning about writing in a class I couldn’t FIND, I actually went on my own field trip and followed a bread crumb trail out of The Bobbin to the coffee shop. Now it is time to go home to my family. Time FLIES (ha ha) when you’re on an adventure alone.