The Rest of My Ordinary Day

Life finds its balance. Children grow up. Second chances come along. In the meantime, I could choose to savor this moment. What good would it do to allow annoyance to interfere with gratitude?” 
― Katrina Kenison, The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir

It is past midnight.  I just posted my SOL March Challenge Slice for tomorrow. It’s about just an ordinary day in my life. Lately my posts have been about things that are going on in my life: special events like the baby shower I just hosted for my daughter in law; town politics, in which my family has been heavily involved in the past year; a walk in nature which allowed me to make some interesting connections as my mind wandered, and so on. But I have plenty of ordinary days, too.  Today was one of them but I only managed to write about half my day before I had to leave the house to do something important.  This provided me with the opportunity to write another post, continuing the coverage of my “ordinary day.”

Before I posted today’s Slice, I was downstairs in our tv room watching a new Netflix series with my family called Secret City. It takes place in Canberra, Australia.  It’s a murder mystery about a group of journalists and a top government secret they are trying to unravel. My daughter adds commentary in her extraordinary Australian accent in the background, making us laugh. She visited Australia almost ten years ago and is able to mimic the accent quite well. We enjoy watching series that take place in odd settings. The one before this took place in Turkey, close to Istanbul.  We are armchair travelers and love the settings and the different accents.

Before that… I was preparing some info for my husband to bring to our tax accountant. I promised him I’d have it ready so he could bring it to the accountant tomorrow.  While I sifted through the information, I listened to the nightly news on MSNBC.

Before that…we ate our dinner together downstairs in order to watch Chris Matthews on his nightly news show on MSNBC. We do this several times a week unless we decide to stay upstairs in the kitchen to eat like civilized people with our daughter.

Before that…I had to create a dinner quite quickly because my husband was due to arrive home soon, and the chicken cutlets had not yet thawed.  I pulled our favorite Trader Joe’s lasagna out of the freezer, put it in the microwave, and threw together a nutritious green salad.

Before that… I made an important phone call to a friend who dates back to high school. I had invited her to my shower luncheon on Saturday but she was too ill from her chemo treatments to attend. She’s had cancer for 13 years and has fought back against several recurrences; her cancer metastasizes in peculiar places.  She is a real trooper and never feels sorry for herself, but I felt it was important to call her to tell her we missed her at the shower. I also sent her flowers the day before.

Before that…I attended a brief meeting at Town Hall on behalf of my daughter who had applied for a free home to be provided through the local affordable housing lottery. It would have been a real bonanza: four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, in a good town and neighborhood.  It would have set her up for life in a part of the world where housing is becoming unaffordable….Long Island.  Sigh. I called her to tell her she didn’t win…but we were happy to have her continue to live with us.

Before that…I had called a nearby friend to ask her if she wanted to take a walk in the park with me.  She did, and we agreed to meet twenty minutes later.  It was cold so we only walked around the pond twice, but we managed to get in a lot of gabbing as we always do when we walk together. I love the fact that she’s the only person I can call at the last minute and get to join me on a walk. We both have daughters who have had five open heart surgeries for different congenital conditions. Also my son was in the same grade as her son at school, so we have a lot in common. We were also both ENL teachers before we retired.

So that pretty much sums up an ordinary day in my life.  I said “ordinary day” because I seldom have a “dull day.”  I am usually a pretty busy person, even in retirement and I prefer it that way.  I always know I can take a day off if I need to and usually it won’t make a difference to anyone but me. That is the beauty of having grown kids and being retired. Life is good.

 

 

Freedom’s Just Another Word….

I recently visited my former school where I taught English as a Second Language for 22 years.  I haven’t been back for two years, the most significant reason being that within two months of my retirement I was diagnosed with late-stage cancer.   This past year I have begun to reclaim my life and this month I had the perfect reason to return: I needed some teaching materials for tutoring an ESL Beginner and was going there to borrow them from the teacher who replaced me.

I made arrangements to arrive at the school at the end of the school day. As I pulled alongside the curb under the shady tree where I had parked for several years before I retired, it felt like I had never left.  Everything about the outside of the school was exactly the same, including the giant oak tree which stood right outside my window and I lovingly dubbed “my tree.” This back entrance I had used during my final years because it was right next to my classroom. My colleague suddenly appeared and we embraced.  It had been two years since I had last seen her.

Going into the building was like stepping back in time.  There was a hush in the hallway where my room had been because most of the teachers had already left for the day.  My previous classroom was now occupied by a third grade teacher; I peeked in through the door window and felt a poignant pang.  I loved that room; it was so peaceful and spacious with bold touches of red on the floor and walls.

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We proceeded to my colleague’s classroom. Stepping into her room I was struck by how familiar it all seemed.  It resembles classrooms across the country which are set up in much the same way. The first thing I noticed is that she has a Smart Board.   This is an interactive screen which affords a teacher a myriad of ways to teach using technology. When I left, I was still using markers on a white board. No one had offered me a Smart Board. Sigh.

Next I noticed the charts around the room that reflect the topics and strategies the teacher has been focusing on.  I saw  my board games stacked on a couple of shelves and a cart full of Big Books I had left behind.  As I examined and touched each item it all seemed so vividly familiar to me. I was glad to see my replacement still had four PC computers available to her students; she uses a lot of technology-based activities with them.

We gathered my materials, put them into containers, carried them out to my car and went to have an early dinner together at a nearby diner, another place I used to haunt. As we pulled away from the school I felt a bit nostalgic. The strongest feeling I had, however, was that I was so glad to be free of the constraints that made my final years of teaching not so fulfilling or rewarding.

It is an impossible task to make ESL students meet the new standards and score well on the state tests as quickly as the state expects them to. My evaluations took a nose dive because my students performed poorly on the tests. I went from being an award-winning ESL teacher to being labeled a “Developing Teacher.” It was a losing battle and I am glad to be free of it.

I loved my students and I loved being an ESL teacher. I gave it my all for 22 years, but it’s time to enjoy the rest of my life.

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A Visit to the Social Security Office

Today my husband took a day off from work so we could visit the Social Security office together. Not exactly a fun way to spend such a beautiful day. But we did it because the government is about to eliminate yet another way that middle-class people, like ourselves, can benefit from a lifetime of hard work. The “file and suspend” option is about to end permanently in a few months thereby preventing couples from eking the most out of their Social Security benefits.

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I will not attempt to explain what “file and suspend” means since my understanding of it is still in the infancy stage. If you want more of an explanation you can find it on the Social Security website. I learned about this important option several years ago, but didn’t act on it because I was told by someone on the phone at the SS office that unless my husband was of “full retirement age” we could not “file and suspend.” Then a year or so later I got cancer and the matter was forgotten until recently as we began to put the pieces of our life back together.

The subject came up again recently as I began to plan for a visit with my financial advisor who was not well informed about the file and suspend option when I first presented it to him two or three years ago.

So much for cashing in on one of those “perks” that once existed for middle-income people and is about to disappear. It seems that Congress (i.e. Republicans) are eager to take away anything they perceive as a give-away to “takers” like my husband and myself in order to cut government spending. Financial reps are now saying that file and suspend was never meant to be an additional source of funds; that couples like ourselves should have invested in other ways to prepare for retirement. They say that this option was just a fluke in the law that is now being repealed.

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Well, guess what? We did invest in other ways, but most of our gains from those investments were severely impacted by the Great Recession of 2008. So, essentially, we have been treading water for the past seven years trying every way we can to make up for what we lost in 2008. I worked until 67 1/2 to maximize my pension (which is still modest since I was not a "career teacher"). I have delayed taking my SS benefits until I turn 70 to maximize them, but was that a wise move considering I am now a cancer survivor? And my husband is doggedly commuting back and forth to Queens each day so he can close the gap on our income since I retired and we lost so much in the recession. He will do this as long as he can.

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Please don’t think I am whining. I am all too aware of all the people in the world less fortunate than we are, and things seem to be getting worse for them each day. As a family, we do our part to make donations to those in need of housing or medical care. We have “been there” what with my daughter’s 5 open-heart surgeries and my own recent cancer experience, so I like to think we are compassionate people. We do know what it’s like to have your life change in a minute. But I also do feel for “average Americans” who, like us, are struggling to reap the benefits of their hard labor.

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I am happy to say that we had, dare I say, a “pleasant” experience at the SS office. The woman who helped us was bright and capable and even offered us a piece or two of valuable advice regarding ways we might be able to help our daughter. So, for today, this story has a happy ending, but I’m sure it’s not the final chapter!

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Every Day Is a Snow Day!

Before I retired I longed to sit at the kitchen table every morning, sipping coffee and finishing the New York Times. As the months grew closer to my retirement it became more and more difficult to get up from that chair and go to work. That was really not like me; I had always enjoyed my job. But that year was different. I had had it with the Common Core and its effect on me and my ENL learners. I was frustrated with the general lack of concern in the building for our plight. I was becoming envious of grade-level mainstream teachers who were able to bond over their concerns and circle the wagons around themselves to deal with the changes. My concerns were not theirs. I was all alone. It was time for me to go.

Now, here I sit, sipping my coffee, reading the SOL slices and responses to mine, pondering what to write. It is lightly snowing, I can hear the clock ticking, and in an hour I will be meeting my lovely daughter for lunch…something we try to do once a week together. How privileged I feel!

I am surrounded by the fallout on my kitchen table which often looks exactly like this.

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I have grown used to the disarray and do manage to clear the table, usually by dinner. But this is how we live…a life filled with competing issues and interests means a life that is not always organized. One of our fellow Slicers wrote about this very problem a few days ago when describing her “messy” classroom. I am less anxious about it all now because I know the table will get cleared when I get to it…and that has made all the difference.

Having the time to do the things I really care about is a precious gift which I savor each and every day. I never take for granted that I can sit here for as long as I wish unless I have an imminent appointment or class to attend. Do I waste time? You bet! Sometimes it takes me twice as long to do something because I am in no hurry or because I allow myself to be distracted by whatever.

But make no mistake. I can only do this because I worked my butt off during those working years. As any parent knows, working, raising a family, maintaining a household, going to school, somehow stealing time to be a person is an exhausting agenda for anyone. The person one is can easily be buried under all that stuff!

Some of you also know I lost a year to cancer immediately following my retirement. That was the wake up call to “I better enjoy myself now because who knows what the future may hold.” Becoming a cancer survivor totally changes one’s priorities and makes every day a gift.

Now I go to my Gentle Yoga classes, read the paper, call a friend if I feel like doing so, take a walk and somehow fit in all the daily chores. I usually prepare a full-fledged dinner from scratch to boot! Today I browsed through the Viking River Cruises catalog dreaming about a cruise I might or might not take one day.

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This is my Slice of Life. At least it’s my life for now. In all its messy glory. And I wouldn’t trade places with anyone! Now I must get up, get dressed and go to lunch with that daughter of mine. See you later!

What’s in Your Classroom Survival Kit?

I have finally begun to unpack my “life” as a teacher. When I retired in June 2014, I brought home 12 boxes filled with books, textbooks, teacher guides and resources, inservice curricula, and more. They have been sitting in my laundry room waiting for my attention.

Honestly, I have been dreading unpacking and dealing with all that stuff for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons, I think, is that being a teacher was such a huge part of my life and my identity that I think it might be very emotionally difficult for me to tackle this task. But just the other day, I noticed a small box and opened it. Inside were some everyday items that I had packed from my desk and my worktable; items that I either used every day or kept aside just in case I needed them. I found myself laughing as I unpacked them and realized that they represent an aspect of being a teacher, that only other teachers can appreciate. So here goes…
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Classroom Hygiene: disinfectant wipes, disinfectant spray, paper towels, tissues, a small broom and pan, window cleaner…

Personal Hygiene: toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, nail-polish remover, nail file, small scissors, bandaids, a package of nylon stockings, safety pins, deodorant, an extra pair of eyeglasses, eyeglass cleaner, stain remover, Pepto Bismol, throat lozenges, antibacterial hand gel…

General Items: plastic cutlery, napkins, salt and pepper packets, diet sugar packets, tea bags, coffee mugs, catsup and mustard packets, salad dressing packets, snacks for kids, snacks for myself, plastic ziplock bags, matches, ball of string, candles, bottled water…

Stationery items: envelopes, thank-you cards, birthday cards, stamps, birthday candles, address book, dictionary, calculator, extra Zip drives, class photos from many years…

Non-teachers don’t realize how well stocked a teacher’s desk must be. If our classroom is not centrally located we can be quite a distance from the nurse or the main office if an accident occurs. The intercom is not always reliable. My classroom was three hallways length from the nearest bathroom and any source of water. Then there’s the problem of not being allowed access to the Internet for personal use and limited time during the day to use the bathroom. It’s kinda’ like being on your own island all day hoping a ship will soon pass by to offer help and/or companionship.

What’s in your classroom survival kit for the coming school year?

A Day in the Life of a Newly Retired Senior Citizen

Today, while standing on line at Wild By Nature to get my pricey fresh produce and whole grain substitutes for pasta, I learned from the checkout girl that I am eligible for a senior citizen discount. I’ve been shopping there for a while so I wondered why no one had ever mentioned it to me sooner. It’s 10% off the total which does add up, especially when the wild (previously frozen) salmon is $16.99 per pound.

When I retired last June, I really had no idea what it would be like to not have a job. I was worried about not having anything meaningful to do. Boy, was I naive! (Many of you by now know I was immediately diagnosed with late-stage cancer, treated for it and declared cancer-free two months ago.) The past two months I have spent learning about retirement. Here’s what I’ve learned: I don’t know how I had time to work! Many seniors say this and now I know what they mean. Let’s consider a typical day for me now.

Today, Monday, I got up around 10 am (we are nightowls in my house) and ate a quick breakfast of a peanut butter and blueberry jam toasted English muffin. As soon as I tossed that down the hatch, I woke up my daughter who had asked me to accompany her to a visit to her new orthopedist for her problematic knee and shoulder. We both quickly got dressed, tidied up the kitchen a bit and off we went.

We didn’t have to wait long to see the doctor and were in and out in under an hour. My daughter was given a cortisone shot in her problematic knee. so she asked me to drive her home to rest. I had a few errands to do so I headed for town after dropping her at home. First I drove to the German bakeshop to pick up some chocolate bunnies but I had forgotten they are closed on Mondays. I continued up the road to the local beer distributor where I got a kindly man with a Mexican accent who works there to help me find beers with chocolate for my husband. He’s a beer enthusiast and would rather find a good chocolate stout in his Easter basket than candy.

From there I drove on to the local Marshall’s where I returned some flip-flops which I loved but decided I couldn’t keep because the thong between the toes was too painful rubbing against them. I cast my eyes around the store a bit, told myself I needed to get home and left the store. On the way back home I stopped at the bank to deposit a check and get some of that great free $$$ that comes out of those automatic machines.

I had two stops left to make. I headed across town to the local Wild By Nature, our pricey health food store. I go there for certain things I can’t get anywhere else and which my doctor has told me I should be eating to restore my immune system and my health. I cruised around the store for about 45 minutes…there are always a lot of temptations there…bought what I needed and many things that I thought I needed, like that salmon, and got back into my car.

On the way home I swung by the pharmacy to pick up the medication the doctor was supposed to have electronically ordered for my daughter’s knee pain. They checked and found out that he had reordered a medication she had told him made her sick. I guess he forgot or wasn’t listening to what she said. (Not so unusual these days, sigh.)

Finally I reached home at about 2:30. Then I had to unload the groceries and put them all away. By that time I was starving. My daughter asked for a bowl of the chicken soup I had made over the weekend so we feasted on that and sea salt chips with artichoke hummus. Yum!

Next I had a huge basket of laundry to do, so I carried that downstairs to the laundry room, sorted out the whites and darks and got a load of jeans underway. Then I came across the basket of towels I hadn’t had a chance to fold the previous day so I hauled that basket upstairs to the bedroom to fold them.

Suddenly I heard the mailman’s truck going up the street and I knew that in about 5 or 10 minutes he would be delivering our mail. I had wanted to send an Easter card to my son and his girlfriend living in Brooklyn, but it needed to be sent today to get there before she leaves for Boston on Friday to see her family for Passover. I ran up to the bedroom again where I keep my stash of cards, dashed off a quick message, sealed the envelope and stamped it. The mailman was only two houses away!

At that point my daughter suggested we take a walk since the sun was trying to make an appearance on this otherwise cloudy day. She felt she needed to walk her knee a bit and I am under orders from my doctor to exercise an hour a day! Off we went to the park which I have written about in several posts this month. We were amazed by the burst of activity we found there. All the creatures were in the process of mating. The ducks and even the gulls were beating their wings against the water in a mating display of some sort. The swan was sitting peacefully on her giant mud nest with her neck wrapped tightly around her body and tucked in so you couldn’t see her head. The muskrat we spotted last year was back! My daughter saw him scoot across the pond and under some rocks at the edge. And then…the piece de resistance! She also spotted the gargantuan snapping turtle in the shallow part of the pond. I noticed that he was accompanied by another turtle and he was trying to mount her. It was quite a sight, but he did not succeed. My daughter wondered what it must be like to have no other choice than each other to mate with every year in this small pond.

I walked an additional loop around the pond and we returned home. At this point we were both tired. Actually, I was exhausted as I often am by 4 or 5 pm so I sat on my recliner in the living room and looked at a few magazines. But I soon realized I was too tired to even do that, so I closed my eyes and the fatigue washed over me like a blanket. About an hour later, I opened my eyes and realized it was getting late and I needed to get dinner ready.

Putting together dinner involved chopping minicukes and tomatoes for cucumber salad; getting a baking pan ready for the frozen rosemary dusted red potatoes that would go in the oven, and rinsing and seasoning the wild salmon I had bought earlier. In addition, I had bought a delicious looking garlic focaccia bread for my husband and daughter to also put in the oven. I had to settle for fresh string beans with olive oil and lemon. No extra carbs for me…cancer loves carbohydrates!

My husband arrived home at 7, just when dinner was nearly ready. We ate, I cleared the table and put some leftovers in the fridge. I stacked the dirty dishes for him to wash. He always does the dinner dishes unless he has another chore to do.

I had one task left for the day…to write this post. I knew I would be too tired to write anything after an hour or two of tv, so I am sitting here typing my final words for this amazing month of writing we’ve all been doing.

Wait! I just realized I never unloaded the washing machine so I must do that before I change into my pjs so my daughter will have some jeans to wear tomorrow. A day of multitasking…which I am sure will sound familiar to many of you. They say a woman’s work is never done. I can add, “Not even in retirement!”

I Was Excited About Retirement; Instead..

I was excited about retirement; instead, I got cancer, 4th stage

I had made plans to really enjoy my first retirement summer; instead I spent 2 1/2 months being tested and evaluated

I wanted to have a celebration of my retirement; instead, I saw no one but my family all summer long

I had just joined a senior aerobics class to lose weight and get healthy; instead, I had to withdraw from the class after attending one session

I was excited about doing things with my family; instead, they ended up worrying about and taking care of me

I was eager to try out new things; instead, I spent my time in chemotherapy, radiation treatment and recovering from each round of treatment

I was looking forward to spending relaxed time with friends; instead, I was too sick to see anyone

We usually have a big house party around Christmas; instead we spent the Christmas holidays alonebecause I wasn’t up to having visitors

Everyone complained about the weather all winter; instead, I was glad I didn’t have to drive to work

The New Year came and people made resolutions; instead, I wished for more time with my family

The weeks went by and people were busy with their lives; instead, I was silently waiting to hear my prognosis

Everyone said I looked better and had more energy; instead of being happy, I felt scared

I thought the day would never come that I would learn the results of my ordeal; instead, the call I had been waiting for finally came one morning…I was cancer free!

The doctor who called was very excited and happy for me; instead, I was numb and grateful

Friends and relatives called and emailed to congratulate me; instead, I was unable to share their joy

Weeks went by and I wondered if I would ever be happy again; instead, I began to do things and spend less time thinking about myself

As I got busier, I realized my mood was lifting; instead of feeling fear and anxiety, I was being to look forward to each new day

Six months ago I sat alone for hours each day waiting for the day to be over; instead, now I am so busy there aren’t enough hours in the day

Whereas not so long ago I had lost all passion; instead, I am now passionate about everything

A month ago, I no longer had a community to belong to; instead, Slice of Life has provided me with “instant” community

I no longer turned away offers from friends to visit me; instead, I hosted a small dinner party for friends who had helped me through my ordeal

I didn’t succumb to cancer; instead, I am one of the lucky ones.  I am, for now, cancer free!

What Does It Mean To Be a Teacher Today?

This past Saturday I attended a workshop hosted by the Long Island Writing Project (LIWP) at Nassau Community College offering K-12 teachers a chance to discuss and write about the topic “What Does It Mean To Be a Teacher Today?” This group of professionals has been my “go to” group since I became a full-time teacher over twenty years ago. It has consistently provided a safe place for teachers to hone their writing skills and learn how to help students become better writers. As a recent retiree (June 2014), I wasn’t sure whether I would still “fit in.”

I learned very quickly from the sharing of writing that took place at the workshop that teachers today are very torn between what they know in their hearts they need to do to help kids learn and what they are being told by administrators about how to spend their classroom instructional time. When teachers describe giving inappropriate tests to developmentally unprepared students as being “abusive” to their students, and then feeling guilty about doing so (as if they have any choice), we know we are in a state of crisis. When teachers are told to teach a “module” that will force kids to analyze a text beyond their reading comprehension level instead of one they can feel comfortable with and passionate about, teachers feel very conflicted and students begin to dislike learning.

I left the workshop feeling that my passion for teaching is still very much a part of me and that my “voice” is still welcome. But I felt both distressed and challenged by what I was hearing and grateful that there is a still place of refuge where teachers can safely express their feelings and ideas about what is happening to them. Now, if only we could do the same for students.