Learning How to “Be”

I have been MIA from my blog for three months. While I have been writing both on paper and in my head, no words have reached the typed page. The culprit of this break is a total knee replacement. You see the month before surgery I was trying to wrap up the school year and have things in place for my last week of school absence. This included completing grades, packing up my classroom, and taking care of the long “to do” list of tasks that needed tending before I took my leave.

The knee replacement surgery or TKR of my right knee went off without a hitch. I had done all of my pre-hab exercises and worked on getting my body and mind ready for the surgery. My sister, who had bilateral TKR in October, was my guide and cheerleader. She prepped me with all the information I would need to know to make this a successful operation. Her phenomenal recovery made me think anything was possible.

I had prepared myself for the pain post-op, and the energy and determination that would be needed for PT. Neither of which were as bad as I expected. My progress was right on schedule, and I had a great three-week post-op visit with the orthopedic PA. Life was good. Yet something felt unsettling.

Dedicating myself to doing my daily exercises and icing my knee took discipline, but I made a schedule and stuck to it in order to reach my end goal. It was the other part of recovery that took me by surprise. I had no idea it would be so hard to allow myself to “do nothing” and heal. My time between exercise sessions consisted of sleeping and reading with a healthy meal thrown in between. Never would I have thought that healing would make me feel guilty. Although everyone around me kept reminding me that I just had major surgery, I kept feeling like I should be “doing” more.

Little by little I learned how to give myself permission to “just be.” I learned many lessons during the last six weeks post-TKR.

  • how to slow down and listen to what my body and soul need
  • who are the people in my life who truly care about me
  • how to enjoy the things that have taken a backseat in my life like reading, writing, and connecting with my spiritual life
  • the importance of taking care of myself and focusing on what I need to thrive
  • the gift of silence

August is here, and normally I would be stressing about the beginning of the new school year about now. However, this summer and recovery journey has me rethinking my old ways. I am definitely excited for and wary of the approaching school year, but I am not letting it consume me (at least not yet). There are days to be lived and moments to be loved over these next weeks that I don’t want to miss out on.

TKR has given me relief from some pain, a lesson in perseverance, and a new vision of my world. Since I haven’t quite mastered all of these things, I have scheduled my next TKR for November. I wonder what new lessons I will learn. Whatever they may be, I know I will give myself time, patience, and everything I’ve got to the process.

Appreciating Teachers

Today I take time to remember the teachers who influenced me during my days as a student in elementary school and high school.

  • Sr. Therese Kathleen SSJ – this kind first-grade teacher was gentle even when my behavior was not.
  • Sr. Roseathea SSJ – this elementary music teacher first ignited my love of music.
  • Sr. Alice John SSJ – this 7th-grade teacher thought outside of the box and formed a jug band in class, teaching me that school could be fun in unexpected ways.
  • Sr. Clare Andrew OSF – this HS English teacher helped me find the writer within.
  • Sr. Clair Immaculate OSF – this Senior English teacher first published my writing.
  • Mr. Eligio Rossi – my first and best string bass teacher pushed me to be better at each and every lesson
  • Dr. Michael Giamo – the conductor of the Philadelphia All-City Orchestra gave me an opportunity to perform with the best on stage at the Academy of Music and fueled my passion for strings.

This June will be 50 years since I graduated from Resurrection of Our Lord grade school in Northeast Philadelphia (YIKES!). Then I spent four years at St. Hubert Catholic High School in the Tacony section of Philadelphia. These years certainly had their ups and downs, successes and failures, friends and foes, but in all those instances there were teachers who helped me navigate my childhood and adolescence and shepherd me towards young adulthood. I am sure if I spent enough time on it, many more would come to mind, but right now these are the ones my 60+ brain can easily remember. I appreciate them all.

I am also thinking about the teachers who have been my colleagues over the years. I don’t want to start listing them because I will undoubtedly miss a few. This is my 36th year teaching, and I never stop learning from the teachers with whom I work. Some started out as colleagues and ended up as life-long friends. Know that I appreciate each of you.

Last by not least are the younger teachers who are struggling in the trenches right now. I see you. I understand. Hang in there if you can. You matter! Someday after your career is long over, one of your students will be writing a list of the teachers who impacted their life, and you will probably be on that list. You make a difference! I appreciate that your chose this profession.

A Twisted Story

On this day in 2003, the Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, (former Mayor of Philadelphia) declared April 26th to be “National Pretzel Day” to acknowledge the importance of the pretzel to the state’s history and economy.

Pennsylvania has a rich history of pretzel making beginning in 1710 when Germans brought them to the area. Julius Sturgis made the first “intentionally” hard pretzel and would later own the first commercial bakery in Lititz, PA in the heart of Lancaster County. 80% of the pretzels sold nationwide are still made in Pennsylvania. Being Philadelphia born and raised, soft pretzels are one of my favorite snacks especially when they are paired with a “wooder” (water) ice!

Reportedly, Italian monks created these delectable treats as  pretiola or “little rewards” to give to children when they learned their prayers, thus the shape of the pretzel looks like crossed arms in prayer. But if you live anywhere in the Philadelphia vicinty, the pretzel of choice is a tight figure 8 shape – no large loops!

Philadelphia (Philly) Soft Pretzel
Traditional Soft Pretzel

If you would like to learn more about “National Preztel Day” check out the video below. But I want to leave you with a couple of fun facts about pretzels. In 1861, pretzel making was the second highest paying job next to tobacco. The average American eats about two pounds of pretzels a year; Philadelphians eat twelve times as many as anybody else in America – some say they average twenty pounds a year! I know I do my share to pad those statistics.

Surprise Packages

The Amazon Prime van usually stops in my cul-de-sac as least once a day. Since Christmas the number of packages arriving at my house has gone down to a trickle, so I don’t pay much attention to what direction the delivery person goes after exiting the vehicle. One day last week, my husband carried in a package on his way in from work. I looked at Alexa for a notification and started trying to remember if I had ordered anything because I really am on a spending moratorium; plus my husband does not shop online. Much to my surprise it was a gift from my sister. She sent me a copy of a book she told me about a while back. She was going to lend me hers when she was finished but decided I needed my own copy. She gifted me Storycatchers by Christina Baldwin. As I started reading the Preface, I knew this was a special book – one I would be savoring again and again.

These are some of the nuggets I have pulled from what I have read so far.

  • Story is the narrative thread of our experience – not what literally happens, but what we make out of what happens, what we tell each other and what we remember.”
  • “Yet the question remains, what stories will we save? And the question arises, what stories might save us?”-
  • “The self-story is the narrative voice in the stream of consciousness that runs babbling along the edge of our awareness. Minute by minute this narrative defines who we are and what we are capable, or not capable, of doing.” 

Each chapter includes memoir examples, writing quotes, and prompts. I could be lost in this book for a long time!

So as if one surprise wasn’t enough, yesterday another package arrived via Amazon. This time it was a lovely little book called A Book of Delights by Ross Gay. It was a wonderful gift from my daughter who heard about it on a podcast and thought I would like it. I do! The book is a collection of the daily delights that Ross Gay found and wrote about everyday for a year. I have decided that this will be my “upstairs” book and live on my night table, so I can be delighted in the morning as well as before I go to bed. It’s not a book I want to read straight through in one or two sittings. I want to enjoy and think about my own daily delights.

I am so thankful to have both a sister and a daughter who know me so well and are so generous. Those two acts of kindness made my Easter break even more special. I hope to pay my good fortune forward in the future.

Comfort Food

Making a sandwich of bread and cheese does not take much forethought, but deciding to grill the sandwich until the cheese melts within is the stuff of dreams.

Unknown

As many of you may already know, I am married to a chef. Thank goodness, because my culinary skills are minimal. I like to think that is because I never needed to develop those skills given my fortunate circumstances. However, I am the master of french toast and grilled cheese sandwiches!

Today is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day as opposed to National Grilled Cheese Day which is celebrated on September 3rd. So in honor of this most delicious holiday, I decided to do a little grilled cheese research.

The grilled cheese sandwich is one of America’s top comfort foods. Its humble beginnings reach back to the Great Depression when it would be eaten open-faced. Eventually, people began putting a top slice of bread because it was cheap and filling and helped sustain workers.

Two men had a huge impact on the grilled cheese sandwich – Otto Frederick Rohwedder and James L. Kraft. Any guesses why? Well, Rohwedder, of Davenport, Iowa, invented the sliced bread machine in 1927, and by 1933 sliced bread became more popular than unsliced. Kraft obtained a patent in 1916 to make processed cheese which became known as “American Cheese.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Although the term, “grilled cheese sandwich” did not start appearing on menus until the 1960s before that it was known as “toasted cheese.”

Are you a purist or do you have a favorite twist on the grilled cheese sandwich? My favorite is swiss cheese and bacon on rye, but I haven’t met a grilled cheese sandwich I didn’t like yet! Add a bowl of creamy tomato soup, and I am in heaven! Feel free to leave your recipe ideas in the comments!

Bon Appetit!

A Pain in the Rain

Rainy days make me feel old because I let them shift my focus from what I can do to what I can’t do. My joints throb; my muscles ache – the rain just announcing its arrival. My knees sing “click, crackle, crunch.” A finger bends and has trouble bending back – it gently cries, “Oil can.” Walking around is made more difficult by this weather event causing me to be even more reliant on my “gait aid device” aka cane. I can let water flow from my eyes in despair, or I can look forward to the rainbow.

Today’s poem is a 4×4 Poem inspired by Denise Krebs and the directions and format can be found at ethicalela.com #verselove

It Won’t Get Me!

Arthritis stinks
Predicts the rain
It slows me down
But I don’t stop

Rest when needed
Arthritis stinks
Medicine helps
Exercise too

Can sit all day
Or push myself
Arthritis stinks
Get up and walk

Aging is hard
But life is good
Movement is sweet
Arthritis stinks.

I’ll do my best to keep looking for the rainbows, but there are two more days of rain trying to shake my resolve. Break out the relaxing teabags!

I DID IT!

I DID IT!

  • With uncertainty
  • With trepidation
  • With determination
  • With bouts of writer’s block
  • With migraines (boo!)
  • With inspiration from the slices of others
  • With encouragement of fellow writers
  • With enjoyment while reading others’ posts
  • With satisfaction

I DID IT!

Thank you to all of my fellow writers for helping me complete the Slice of Life Story Challenge this year with your inspiration and encouragement. Thank you to those of you who read my slices, liked a slice, or commented on a slice. Thank you to all of you who shared so openly; I enjoyed reading your posts. I look forward to reading more “slices” each Tuesday throughout the rest of the year.

Happy National Pencil Day!

Today is National Pencil Day. It commemorates the day in 1858 when Hymen Lipman patented the ‘modern pencil.’ It was a wooden graphite pencil with a rubber eraser attached.

How do you feel about pencils? I love them! From the scritch-scratch sounds they make as they move across the page to the forgiving eraser conveniently placed on top, pencils are special friends. I don’t write with them as much as a would like to because sometimes I worry about smudging the page or wonder if my notes will fade over time, but I think I will resurrect my pencil usage in honor of the day. After all, it was a pencil that first sparked my love of writing, and it is much easier to control than the pen.

I can be a pencil snob. I prefer Ticonderoga yellow pencils or Staedtler black pencils. When it comes to colored pencils, Crayola it is! Obviously, my pencils need to be sharp, and I usually have a handy-dandy pencil sharpener close by for when I can’t get to my electric sharpener. In my classroom, I have one pencil sharpener for graphite and one for colored pencils because as much as I love colored pencils, their wax or oil-based interiors can wreak havoc on a sharpener.

Fun Facts About Pencils – link below

  • One pencil can draw a line up to 45 miles long.
  • Pencils can write underwater and in zero gravity too.
  • One pencil can write up to 45,000 words.
  • Almost 14 billion pencils are produced in a year.
  • Pencils in the U.S are painted yellow to indicate the best quality pencils.
  • Roald Dahl used exactly six sharpened pencils with yellow casings from the beginning of the day; only once all six became unusable would he resharpen them.
  • John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” reportedly took more than 300 pencils to write; Steinbeck was also said to be an obsessive pencil user, writing many of his masterpieces in pencil.

I will definitely try to remember the three lessons you can learn from a pencil. I am not fond of the first one; I worry about the second one, but I love the last one!

A Day to Remember

In the midst of chaos there is also opportunity.

Sun Tzu

Since 2017, this day has been set aside to honor and remember Vietnam Veterans; it is the anniversary of the withdrawal of military units from South Vietnam in 1973. I was a freshman in high school at the time. As you might imagine, I didn’t know a great deal about the war. I had three cousins who were in the service at the time. Two were marines and one was in the army. They were all a good bit older than me, and I didn’t really understand the entire situation. I did know that one of them went “overseas,” but I don’t think I put two and two together. I do remember worrying about draft numbers when my older brother was getting close to turning 18. He did not get called to serve.

Vietnam by the Numbers

  • 20 years – the length of the war – second only to the war in Afghanistan
  • 9 million US military personnel served
  • 58,000 soldiers are memorialized, for being killed in action, in the black granite of the Vietnam War Memorial
  • 1500 are still unaccounted for.
  • 19 was the average age of a soldier fighting during the war
  • 27 young men from Father Judge HS in Philadelphia (where one of my brothers would later attend) were killed in action. 1961-1968
  • 27 young men from the former Cardinal Dougherty HS in Philadelphia also lost their lives in Vietnam. These two high schools each lost the most alumni of any other parochial or private school in the nation.
  • 64 alumni of Thomas Edison High School lost their lives from November 1965 to January 1971 while serving in the Vietnam War. Edison holds the distinction of having the most casualties from Vietnam than any other single high school in the United States.
The memorial outside of Father Judge HS

When I was around ten or eleven (1968-1969) I began to notice the war and the protests against the war. I know I did not understand the politics of the times except for the arguments that would sometimes break out at family gatherings. I still don’t know enough – not what I should know. I have vague memories of the Kent State Massacre, and “Hanoi Jane” Fonda. For me, those years are etched in my memory via songs – the soundtrack of an era. We would sing songs around the fire on Girl Scout camping trips not knowing if they were for or against the war – at least I had no clue at the time. You could hear the echoes of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” through the trees as the guitars gently strummed the accompaniment. I would listen to my transistor radio and sing along with tunes like “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Peace Train,” “War,” “The Times They are a-Changin’,” and “Get Together.”

I do know that Vietnam Veterans were not welcomed home with parades and fanfare. Often they were disrespected and the victims of taunts and shouts. They came home with physical and mental health problems and some people didn’t even seem to care. Only now are they beginning to get some real recognition – too late for some. In just a few short years the US will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of our involvement in Vietnam. I promise to know more by then.

Within the soul of each Vietnam veteran there is probably something that says, ‘Bad war, good soldier.’ Only now are Americans beginning to separate the war from the warrior.

Max Cleland

Personal Day

Spent the day with my hubby
Made no plans
Set no alarm
Slept in late
Watched some TV
Drank a cup of tea while it was still hot
Read a few chapters of a book
Took a nap
Cleaned out & organized the pantry
Ate a delicious dinner thanks to my personal chef
Sat down to watch the Phillies
BAM!!
Got another migraine
🤷‍♀️
At least it waited until after dinner!
Good thing I didn’t make plans!