Friday, January 30, 2009

Catching the Bus

I was on my way.  I got up about 4:00 AM  and started my car, just to be sure that it WOULD start.  It was 17 below, after all.  Clicking the remote from the warmth of the kitchen, I watched nervously, breathing only when I saw the exhaust start billowing from the tailpipe.  

"Okay," I thought.  "I won't have to wake up Terry to take me to the bus."

I was glad about that because I didn't want to have to make arrangements to be picked up upon my return.  

I dragged my luggage to the car.  One carry-on:  check!  One personal item:  check!  One garment bag:  check!  Yes, now I would have to submit my belongings to the handling of the baggage handlers, but there was no way around it.  I needed everything I was bringing.

I drove to the bus station, leaving plenty of time to spare.  After purchasing my ticket, I, along with the other travelers, watched the TV in the station lobby. 

"Unseaonably cold," said the reporter. "Don't go out unless you have to!"

 Lucky us!  We were getting away from this latest deep freeze.

Looking around, I wondered to myself, "Where are these other people going?  Hopefully, somewhere warmer."

Two women walked in together,  embarking upon some joint venture, noticably excited about their trip.  They deposited their bags in the appointed place.

"One-way tickets for two to Midway!"  One woman paid for both, treating her friend to the ride.  They helped themselves to coffee and plunked down heavily on the small sofa.

Next to me sat a solitary traveler.  He wasn't dressed in a business suit, just casual attire, work clothes actually.  He relaxed with his eyes close, perhaps dozing or maybe just resting his eyes. I wondered about where he was going and why:  was it a family gathering or something job related?  He didn't look like the frequent-flyer type.  No briefcase, no garment bag filled with suits.

The announcement came.

"The First bus goes to O'Hare; the second bus goes to Midway. Have your tickets ready."

This was it.  Everyone jumped to attention, anxious to board the waiting coaches.  

"This the bus for O'Hare?" I asked just to be sure. 

 "Yes ma'am.  Let me take your bags."

I walked up the aisle of the bus, surprised by how crowded it was.  Sitting down, I looked through the window and viewed the darkness that still made up this morning. We drove down the street towards the tollway.

 The familiar sites of this oft traveled street looked different at this time of day, as if they had not yet awakened.  Only night lights shone within the buildings.  Signs were blackened, lots empty.  No line of cars awaiting the changing of the traffic light.  The driver handily maneuvered the long curve of the ramp and merged quickly into light traffic.

"This is it! I'm on my way," I thought.  "The first couple of steps are completed.  What will the rest of the day bring?"

It would be a long morning of travel, sure to be exhausting.  But while riding that bus I felt exhilarated and ready for adventure.   Travel can be like that, after all: an invitation into the unknown, even when the final destination has been chosen and all details have been tended to. Adventure is in the eyes of the beholder.  And it can be experienced in the most unlikely of places.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

At A Loss for Words

The trip to Washington went very well.  The flights were on time, I made all my connections and there was very little turbulence.  All the flights were on small planes, fifty-seaters that made boarding and unboarding  quick and easy.  True, leg room and aisle space were scarce, but other than that it was really enjoyable.

My six day excursion was jam-packed with so many exciting events that I find myself at a loss for words that adequately describe the experience.  The inauguration events were not just exciting, they were more than that. Words, even pictures, don't do justice to the spirit that permeated the cold Washington air.  "Surreal" comes to mind, but that's not quite it.  Makes it sound weird, I think, and it wasn't.

So, I'll wait another day, perhaps putting pen to paper to help me focus and identify what I was feeling and still feel about all that went on.

In the meantime, allow me to say that I had a great time with my son...  He started his new job while I was there and seems to be very excited about the opportunity to work for the president.  Who wouldn't be I guess?  We spent a lot of time together, but I also tried to give him the space to spend some time with friends without his mom in tow.  I read, I watched TV and just relaxed.  It was nice to be away from it all.

So, news and impressions of the inauguration will follow in the next couple of days.  The channel becomes how to write about it all without banalizing it?  I hope you will check back to see if I succeed.  I invite you to share the experience with me as soon as I know what to say.

Friday, January 16, 2009

This Is It--I'm on My Way

The day has arrived. I am on my way to Washington D.C. Please check back later to read all about my adventures at the inauguration. I may even have pictures!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rain Isn't the Only Thing I Wish Would Go Away!

Today as my secretary and I came back to the office after grabbing a late lunch, we passed by a home where the front sidewalk and stairs were covered in deep snow.  It was a beautiful, pristine drift of pure white fluff that had obviously been there for several days.

At first I thought the home might be unoccupied, but there were two vehicles in the driveway.  The driveway was free and clear of any snow, so obviously somebody was there caring for the place.

"How do they get mail delivery?"  I wondered.  And then I saw it.  There in the window of the front storm door was a poster, with printing large enough to be read from the street: "Go away!"

That says it all in no uncertain terms.  Go away!  

Today is one of those days where I could see myself saying "Go away!" to people who annoy me.  I just wish that one Tuesday would run smoothly, that every volunteer would show up, that all the kids would behave and do what they're told.  But already three people have called off and it's only 4:20.  The likelihood of at least one more person bailing on us is high.  

It's hard, I know, to commit to volunteering.  It's a lot of work for very little reward.  But, people are counting on this service.  It's getting to the point where both my secretary and I have sleepless Monday nights.  Instead, we lie awake wondering what problems Tuesday will bring and how on earth we will get through another full day of damage control.

Yes, I'm stressed today.  I can't feel hopeful or positive; I'm just worn out.  It's one of those days where I myself want to Go Away! Anybody want to go with me?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Erica Jong Holds No Copyright on Fear of Flying!

Well, one thing about not writing for a few days is that I have the opportunity to apologize once again. At least it gives me something about which to write! So, please forgive me yet again for not posting; I have been busily preparing myself, both physically and emotionally, for this trip to Washington.

Those who know me well know that I don't necessarily enjoy flying. This trip, scheduled for mid-January, is no exception. Not only that, but for the first time I am flying alone--no friend, no family member, no group of wayfaring wanderers...just me! By myself! Yikes!

Add to that the fact that I have a connecting flight in Cleveland--yes Cleveland!--(heavy sigh here!) with only one hour between landing and take off. With each passing day, the stress is building. Do I check luggage or try to just carry on? What if the Chicago flight is delayed? Can I really see myself running through the airport in Cleveland trying to drag my carry-on, which surely will be overpacked and unbalanced, as usual? Yes, in my dreams I see myself tripping and my luggage tipping all the way to the connecting gate. Only to find... Well, I think you can imagine how the nightmare, I mean dream, concludes.

It's not that I'm not looking forward to the trip because I am. But for goodness sake--a direct flight to D.C. takes only one hour and forty-five minutes. Do we really need to transfer in Cleveland? What's that anyway, about forty-five minutes away?

I want to go, I really do. I'm excited about the inauguration and the inaugural ball. I've gotten myself a new dress and I'm ready for a night on the town. I just wish there were an easier way. I wish I would have invented my tele-transporter--the one where we can just decompose into molecules and relocate ourselves in another location instantly. I should have paid more attention in my physics class, I guess.

Instead, I sit and nervously watch the weather. How much snow are they predicting? The temperature will be how low? It might be a comfort to be getting out of town to avoid Chicago's winter if it weren't for the fact that the jet streams pushes the weather East. By the time I land, the weather here will be well on its way to where I'm headed. (Another deep sigh here!)

Well, what can I do? After a point it's all out of my hands. I'll get in my car, drive to the bus station and head for O'Hare. From there on, the airlines will have to do its best to get me safely to my destination. On time? Well, that's another matter entirely, I suppose. Maybe it's good that I'm leaving a few days early. By leaving Friday, I should be able to get there by Tuesday, I'd imagine. So, that's the silver lining I guess. Should I bring my sleeping bag just in case? No! Checking that would be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Can you imagine me running to the gate with a sleeping bag, sure to be unrolling, in tow? I guess I'll take my chances. Perhaps there'll be an extra cot that I can use. And maybe things will go smoothly after all. One thing about expecting the worst is that it's only up from there.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Washington Bound

My son called early this morning to let me know that we definitetly had tickets for the inauguration. We will be in the section in front of the capital, somewhere in the "standing section" before the split that extends to the mall area. This is great news for us. Every rally or event that I've been to has offered only standing positions, so it's what I'm used to and what I expected. To be in the area surrounding the capital building is a bonus; I expected to be in the public viewing area outside of the mall, blocks away from the actual event. Nevermind the fact that people are going to begin lining up at 4:00 AM. We'll play it by ear, hopefully arriving at a time that is reasonable while still getting into our section.

The bonus is this: We'lll also be attending an inaugural ball! It's not the Illinois ball, but one of the official ones, so there is a chance that the new president and first lady may stop by... Though my son told me not to, of course I went out and bought a new dress and shoes. I have to look my best, just in case! One never knows. And one of the most important persons in the world will be there--my son, who works for the federal government and who has made me so proud with his own personal accomplishments. There's no way that I'm taking chance on embarrasing him with a dress that's out of date. Not when he will be wearing a tux. Not when his boss is there.

I'm looking forward to my time in Washington. Most of the time I will be in jeans and sweat shirt, probably wearing either uggs or hiking boots--whatever the weather demands. At night I will be crashing on the floor of my son's rented row house. But at night--well, that's when we'll put on the ritz and drink champagne. I will be celebrating the new president, but I will be beaming at my son, Jeff, one of the men behind the man. I'm looking forward to this time,, not only for the hope it inspires, but because it means to much to him.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Only Thing You Can Do With Teens is Meet Them Where They're At

Last night I had five volunteers not show up to teach in our religious education program. Each Tuesday night is stressful as we wait for calls and then frantically try to find substitute volunteers, of which we virtually have none. So when the last teacher did not either call or show up, you can imagine how stressed and angry I felt.

The only solution was for me to take the class, which I hate to do because I can't do any of the other things that I am supposed to be doing, i.e, meeting with parents, handling discipline, administrative duties like attendance keeping and photocopying and observing and evaluating the volunteers who are there.

After resigning myself to the inevitable, I hastily made a copy of the class roster, grabbed a student copy of the book (the absent volunteer had the teacher's manual) and ran down the hall to meet with this group of junior high students. Their reaction to my presence was less that enthusiastic, can you imagine that? But then, what group of teens wants to be taught by the director of the program instead of the young, pretty and hip mom who normally leads this class? I guess I couldn't really blame them.

Nevertheless, I was resentful that I had to be there and I lost my temper, not at their lack of enthusiasm, but by their unwillingness to co-operate under difficult circumstances. The truth is, I wasn't angry with them necessarily, at least not at first, but at the fact that the entire evening was one problem after another. I had already had enough! And now this.

I ranted and raved for a few minutes about their crummy attitude. At least now they weren't laughing any more (which was appropriate but also a shame when you think about it.) When no one volunteered to read from the book or to answer the question, I called upon students randomly and eventually the class got underway. Once we all relaxed a bit, we began to establish a guarded rapport. Eventually, I compromised: if they weren't willing to talk to me, let them talk to each other. Instead of answering the questions in a large group setting, they discussed them in small groups, coming to a group consesus that could then be reported to the class at large. The pressure was shared among the persons of the group as they worked together. They responded to this approach very well. I repeat: imagine that!

It never ceases to amaze me how stress or unexpected circumstances can cause me to act less than my best self--as if I'm taking all I know about teaching or about adolescents and throwing it away! I revert to that teacher that so many of us remembers but who none of us liked. Once I was able to move past my own annoyance, and remember why we are all there, we began to accomplish something together. I need to remember what it's like to be in seventh grade and to imagine what it must be like to come to class at night after being in school all day. Like me, the kids had already experienced a full day's worth of tasks and pressures. The best thing to do was to meet them where they're at. I think we were all really in the same place--a place where none of us felt like being.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Less Work, More Play--for a Healthy Change!

Whatever you think about Oprah, one thing that I personally have to admire is her latest commitment to take time for herself.  "Hooray!" I say.  How many of us really take the time to care for ourselves?  I know that I have been putting off both doctor's and dentist's appointments, only because I am so caught up with putting in extra hours on the job.   

I used to work out at the gym at least three days a week with a good friend of mine until I was required by my boss to take a Spanish class.  Unfortunately, the class conflicted with our gym schedule and it was inconvenient for my workout buddy to go later in the evening.  Once you lose your buddy, you may as well just hang it up; the motivation is gone.  Neither one of us have been to the gym since then.

I used to play the guitar and take piano lessons.  But I stopped when I went to work full time.  It seemed pointless to spend my time that way when there were so many other things that needed to be done--laundry to be washed, dishes to be done, beds to be made.  Sigh!  All work and no play...

I plan on joining Oprah in her quest for self-care.  My Spanish class has ended and now it's back to the gym.  I'll call the doctors and dentist this week to schedule long overdue appointments.  I hope to go back to making healthy choices and to doing other things that fulfill me:  writing more, painting, music, etc.  Yes, life is just too short to continually put my favorite things, and my very self, on hold.  "Less work and more play!"  may very well become my new mantra.

Monday, January 5, 2009

An Attitude of Gratitude

Well, I'm back at work full time today. I've been coming in the last couple of weeks, except for the holidays, of course, to answer phone and email messages, get a few things done in the quiet of an empty school building.  I find it relaxing to work in total quiet and enjoy those days of peace and quiet.

Now, the hustle, bustle and noise that make up a school are in full swing.  The kids seem actually happy to be back and excited about seeing their friends again.  Teachers, too, are ready to get back into the routine of their days.  A couple of new students arrived today and I can't help but think of the Obama girls who are also experiencing their first day at a new school.

The same thing happened to me when I was 8 years old.  My family moved from Blue Island to Tinley Park over Christmas break.  The first day back in January, I joined my new third grade class.  I can still remember that day, how shy and uncomfortable I was in joining the already established group mid-year.  I felt every bit the newcomer and odd person out.  Shy by nature anyway, my bashfulness was multiplied several times in this new, unusual environment. This school and this classroom were nothing like the place I left behind.  Who are these people? What would this teacher be like?  It was almost too much for me.

Needless to say, eventually I befriended people.  Still, I never felt quite comfortable or at home in that school.  That move was a turning point for my family and not in a good way.  My mother, always a city girl, hated being out that far in the "country."  She never drove and there were no buses to get around.  She felt trapped in this beautiful new home and she never was able to get over it.  The downward spiral that began that winter accelerated with each passing year.

I remember this now with sadness, but also with the realization that it didn't have to be that way.  When I feel trapped, I hope I will remember to adjust my attitude.  I'm not happy every minute of every day.  Nevertheless, an undercurrent of inner joy continues to operate. This comes from being grateful for the good things that I do have.  Yes, attitude is everything.  And gratitude reminds me that things are never all that bad.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

War is Not Healthy

"War is not healthy" the poster read

as it hung upon the wall,

"For children and other living things,"

this icon of the 70's,

symbolic of the songs we sing

as we march upon the street,

hoping that the peace we'd bring.

As students we remembered that

our friends were being shipped to fight;

victims of low GPA's or

lottery became their plight.

We read the names of high school friends

killed those days in Viet Nam

well aware it could be us,

we rose up on the campus lawn.

Across the room another sign

"Nuclear free zone"

this one read.

How obvious its message was

as daily we record our dead.

The war that lasted far too long,

"not war," they claimed, but "occupation."

We didn't know the difference then--

we stood with posters at our station.

The arm bands worn then

said it best,

we will not put our friends to rest!

Our voices heard,

they headed home

to country that rejected them

as if the choice was theirs alone

to plunder villages and folks...

No acceptance of the burden

that they carried as their yokes.

War is not healthy... !

we stood firm and

marched each night in steady stream...

Where is that girl who believed

but now no longer owns that dream?

Who wonders if this current war

will last beyond her daughter's term

who will be called upon for years,

duty bound, to again return?

Beautiful girl, beloved by all,

a princess in her parents' eyes,

upon the duty of the call

she must obey and then arise.

A daughter trained to protect, defend,

Does she, herself, awakened lie?

Why must she bear this burden now--

prepared to fight, perhaps to die?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bucket List Visit is Overdue

Last night my husband and I watched the movie "The Bucket List."  While I have my own bucket list, I had never actually seen the movie.  I just made my list after seeing trailers and in hearing about the movie from others.  My daughter and son-in-law enrolled my husband with a membership in Netflix as a Christmas gift and this was the first movie that he received.

While watching it, I was reminded of how quickly life passes and how I often forego my own dreams to focus on the expectations of others.  I go to work each day, do all the things expected of me, and then head home to complete all the chores and tasks that await me there.  Each day seems routine, running like clockwork, with little in the way of variation or excitement.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and at that time I vowed that I would no longer continue to do things that made me unhappy or caused me stress.  Of course, that was unrealistic to a degree; no one can avoid doing some things that are unpleasant.  Nor can one completely avoid stress in his or her life.  Even positive events can be stressful.

No, I think the point of my vow was to move generally in the way of living a more positive, joyful life.  Looking back at the years since then, I realize that I have, to a large extent, failed in my attempts to do this.  Perhaps it is because of poor choices.  More likely it is in my own attitude toward things.  Sometimes one is helpless to change their circumstances, but one can usually adjust his or her attitude toward the events by which he or she is surrounded.

Frank has made me a member (in good standing, I hope!) of the Joyous Rebellion.  I think that the first thing I need to do is to create more joy in my own life.  I will do some of the things that I have been continually putting on hold--fun things that bring life and fulfillment.  By doing that, I make a conscious decision to life a joy-filled life, one that I hope will reflect joy to others.  I want to radiate joy, becoming a beacon to others.  

There are always going to be plenty of reasons to mope and to be pessimistic and fearful.  By focusing on the positive, I may bring hope to others.  There is just as much reason to hope as to fear!  It's a choice, an attitude toward life that I hope I will own more fully in the coming year.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009!

Happy New Year to all of my writing friends! 2008 was a great year because I met all of you. Now, on to 2009. May all of our efforts be life-giving!