Thursday, May 30, 2013

Food for the Soul

Last evening I met a friend from my Wyandotte High School days for dinner.  We ate at a local Mexican joint, The Salty Iguana, and consumed huge plates of chimichangas (mine was full of shrimp, hers with beef) along with the reguiste chips and salsa and a great chili con queso dip.  We topped the meal with fried ice cream and mini sopapillas with honey for dipping. The food was very good, but even better was the conversation.
Fried ice cream and sopapillas
Sarah and I taught in adjacent communities on the third floor of Wyandotte and both of us were special ed teachers.  She collabed in science and math but like me she was an English major with an interest in history.  I was only fortunate to work with her during my last year of teaching but I found a kindred spirit in terms of her love of teaching and her respect for the kids we served.  Much, much younger than me, I loved watching her energy, drive, and commitment as she built her rapport with the staff and students.

When I retired, we connected on Facebook and last August met for dinner, just to catch up with each other's lives.We have begun meeting monthly and our shared meals never run less than three hours so we have to pick restaurants where we can sit and chat well after the meal has finished.  We find we enjoy sharing family tales and swapping teaching stories and I love hearing about some of my students that she has been helping.  

Time spent with Sarah helps me remember my own career journeys and reminds me that I still have some wisdom that others find valuable.  She helps me retain a connection to today's world and makes my world a bit broader and interesting.  I'm proud to have such a lovely friend.  I'm continually impressed by this remarkable young woman.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

Shss! It's a Secret

Since this is my birthday weekend and I'm suddenly older in body than is reasonably right for the mental age I've achieved, I thought I'd share just a few of the many "dirty" secrets I hold near and close.  Get ready to be shocked.

I overload my dishwasher.  I have a teeny, tiny kitchen and the only dishwasher that wouldn't take up too much valuable kitchen cabinet space is apartment size.  This means it's half the size of a regulation dishwasher.  You should see my eyes glaze over when I see what my sister-in-law in Houston can get in HER dishwasher!  Because mine is so narrow, only a few things go into at time but if you have a sink full of dishes, (another little secret -- I don't wash up after every eating) you keep cramming in glasses and silverware, and bowls, and storage containers, and pots, and lids, and trays -- until you have to use your hip to lock the thing closed.  I must have about the best dishwasher in the city because almost always I find the dishes and everything else coming out sparkling clean.

Another secret about my dishwasher is that I didn't know it had a "food catcher" in it that one should clean out regularly.  It was only this year when I lost a knife in the bottom of my dishwasher and didn't discover it until most of the handle had melted away that I found the filter and realized I should have been cleaning it out at least monthly.

Only very close family know I have a police record, have been followed by police for over a month, and have been arrested.  In 1974 and in 1976 when I was working for the Kansas City School District I went on strike with the AFT (American Federation of Teachers' Union).  The first time the union won handily and I was not a target.  The second time, as a strong union supporter  in a city that was determined to break the union, I found myself under surveillance anytime I was on the picket line -- and sometimes just had police following me around the city when I wasn't picketing.  Police cars were on our street, on watch, 24/7.  I was even arrested for blocking traffic during a protest (I WAS blocking traffic and I did totally refuse to move), put in a paddy wagon, and transported to a cell -- where I happily played Spades for a couple of hours until the union paid the bail.  When the union lost the second strike, one of the settlements they did manage to retain was that those of us arrested our records expunged.

I also have an FBI file.  In 1966 I married a man from Afghanistan; stupidest thing I've ever done.  He was a zealot, a liar, we had nothing in common, and he was the most beautiful man I've ever seen except in the movies.  It was libido, pure and simple.  We divorced two years later -- but he never actually "let go" even though I really never saw him much after the divorce.  Periodically I would get phone calls in the middle of the night or at someplace he should never have know I was -- and there would be Zia, issuing threats or offering cajoling promises.  He really didn't want me back; he just hated to lose and he had the Afghan community in KC keep tabs on me all his life.  Anyway, he had all kinds of connections to the Middle East and was in Iran when they took the hostages during the Carter Administration.  He had his American citizenship (thanks to me) and when he was grabbed and thrown into prison for buying guns for Afghanistan, the US had to negotiate his release.  He was the last of the "Americans" released from his Irani captors.  When Russia invaded Afghanistan in the 1980's, he started several organizations to supply money and weapons to his home country.  He had a pretty high profile in D.C. and New York for awhile, as he tried to negotiate Afghan freedom but he took one trip too many to the Middle East and finally he was captured and presumably killed by the rebels or the Russians or somebody or other.  He has never been seen since the 1990's.  The FBI would show up at my door and question me about him, if I had heard from him, etc., whenever he would get himself into some pot of very hot water.  They were always very businesslike and pleasant.  I never felt threatened by them -- but I wonder if I had ever tried to get a passport to Asia of the Middle East if I'd show up on a "No Fly" list.

Twice I filed suit against the Kansas City School District.  After the second strike ended in 1976 I received one of two "disciplinary" transfers out of my school.  The principal claimed I was and would continue to be a disruption to the morale of the teaching body.   The two of us (both from the same school) filed suit against the district.  Time went on while the union lawyers and the district argued about the suit.  Eventually I discovered I really liked the new school much, much better --it honestly felt more like a promotion than a discipline.  Finally after two years the district offered to settle the suit by agreeing to give back the jobs of all the "un-tenured" teachers they had laid off after the strike ended (one of the causes of the strike).  In return the two of us would just quietly drop the suit.  The union got everyone to agree that "disciplinary" would be removed from our records and just like that it was done.
 The second suit was filed in federal court to keep the district from tearing down Paseo High School AND, more importantly, transfer the entire senior class from the school to the Science and Math Magnet instead of the Performing Arts Magnet.  In 1991 Paseo was detonated and though the district never agreed to it, they eventually just quietly moved all the kids to Southwest, the science magnet.  We had a hell of fight on this one, with 18 of my students, juniors and seniors, leading the movement.  Each student was represented by their own personal lawyer, pro bono, and the lawyers billed over $600,000 in pro bono fees for the 11 months we fought the district. 

I have fallen in love with Facebook.  It's so much fun to check out what folks are doing in real time or see what people are reading today or what they have cooked.  Most of my favorite authors have their own pages and they send out notices when they have special offers on Amazon or have delayed writing a new novel.   Things I used to share here, now I'm writing on Facebook instead.  I think if I weren't retired I wouldn't be so having so much fun on the site but then a friend (I've never met) set up a Facebook group for some of us who stay in touch by email through Yahoo groups (I've actually only met in person one of these people). It seemed so easy that I quickly formed a group of friends here in the city -- people I actually can meet and talk with face to face -- so we can arrange our lunches and meetings.  I've taken to checking out Facebook two or three times a day.  I think I'm becoming addicted.  Here's my latest Facebook jotting, which probably would have made a great entry:
A fourth of a loaf of crispy fresh Cibatta bread, two large pats of soft butter, a ripe, huge, juicy slice of gleaming red watermelon, and a chilled bottle of fresh water -- gracious dining on a Friday night. So yummy!

Some secrets should be kept -- there is such a thing as revealing too much to people who will use these things against you.  But many secrets, when out in the open, help to unburden your soul.  So here's one more little secret -- right now I'm big time into romance novels.  I almost want to hang my head in shame but then Lauren Willig and Marion Chesney wouldn't be on my Kindle and I wouldn't be quite so delighted with the swashbuckling tales of early Scotland or Regency England.  I loved Fifty Shades of Gray and almost everything by Sylvia Day (yes, both are red hot sexy romances).  There was a small period of time in the 1970's when I dipped into the romance genre and then suddenly it bored me out of my mind.  Suddenly, though, I'm back into the mood for torrid, passionate kisses and loins that swell with . . . oh, you get the idea. 

Enough secrets for this year.  I feel lighter already.  Time to celebrate!

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Age Gone By

If I had the choice I would take every trip by train, but these journeys would undoubtedly be on the trains of yesteryear, not the modern high speed trains of Europe or the poorly serviced Amtrak trains of the United States.  

 My grandfather was an auditor for the Kansas City Terminal Railway from the time he was 20 until he retired at 65.  The Terminal was a joint operation of the trunk railroads that served our metropolitan area and at one time was the second largest national hub.  He worked at the beautiful Union Station but I never saw his office or actually knew what he kind of position he held other than “auditor.”  What I do know is that he was granted a lifetime pass on the trains and also received discount tickets for his family.  In the beginning years of my life all my trips were either by motor car or train.

Dad loved automobiles but had a healthy reverence for trains, too.  As a young man (he didn’t marry until well into middle age) he had traveled across the United States by rail.  He had wonderful stories of getting off the train in Yellowstone Park and staying at the wooden lodge’s there.  He had seen all the west and most of the east.  He never traveled south though until he married Grandfather’s only daughter and managed to produce the only grandchild.  

In the early 1950’s Grandfather took us by train to Miami, Florida.  It was a two night journey and Grandfather sprang for two bedrooms in the Pullman cars:  one for himself and Granny and one for Mother, Dad, and me.  We made that trip twice, once in 1953 and once again in 1954.  The bedrooms were so interesting to a small kid, with the tiny washrooms and two bunks that pulled out at night for sleeping.  I always got the top bunk and I could peer down into the huge window and watch the towns flying by.  The sound and rhythm of the wheels on the rails was incredibly comforting and exotic at the same time.  Even better were the fabulous meals in the dining car.  The service was incredible and the waiters offered up menus where you could select your own food.  I always chose the fried chicken for dinner because it was followed by a bowl of warm water called a finger bowl.  The bowl was line with a filly white paper cup and because I was so entranced by the notion of washing one’s fingers following a fried chicken dinner, I was always given extra paper cups to take back to the bedrooms.  My dad loved the observation cars and then later, some trains had domed observation cars.  Stairs would go up to the dome and down to the lower level, with the lower level below the dome usually offering restrooms or a small lounge area, while the upper portion had a "bubble" of glass on the car's roof. Passengers in the upper portion of the dome were able to see in all directions from a vantage point above the train's roofline.  Dad could sit up there for hours and I’d go for a bit, but I liked exploring and coloring in the bedrooms best.  

Dining Car
Santa Fe Finger Bowls

Day room of the Pullman Bedroom
Observation Car

In 1955 Grandfather sprang for a trip to Hawaii and we rode the train to California.  From there we took a boat, the Lurline of the Matson line across the Pacific to Honolulu.  Dad only got a three week vacation so Grandfather flew us from Hawaii back to Los Angeles where again we caught the train and rode home.  In 1955 I didn’t know a single kid that had ever been on an airline, much less one that flew over the ocean.  Now I don’t know a single kid that has been in a Pullman Car bedroom (or roomette – if you were traveling alone) or has eaten in real meal in a dining car.  

In 1956 Dad drove Mother and me to his favorite place on earth:  Green Mountain Falls, Co.  Dad had stories of driving across Kansas on dirt roads in the old luxury touring cars of the 1920’s; in those days it would take three to five days to travel the 618 miles into Colorado Springs and then up Ute Pass to the cabin his family had bought in 1910.  By 1956 the Griffith cabin had been sold, but a distant aunt offered up her home to the family.  The next year Grandfather and Grandmother came to Colorado to see what all the fuss was about – and from then on, nearly all the vacations were in Green Mountain.  Grandfather even went so far as to repurchase the Griffith cabin and bring it back into the family, making my dad happier than I’ve ever know him.  

Lake at Green Mountain Falls, in the foothills of Pike's Peak
 In the early 1963 Grandfather and I went to Chicago together over the Easter weekend.  We rode the train, of course – but this time we rode in the coach car because we weren’t on the train overnight.  Still there was a domed observation car and we spent most of the trip riding above the rails through Missouri and Illinois. 
So my last real train trip was back in 1956, complete with dining car, porters, and bedrooms.  I still dream of traveling like that and wish I could climb aboard a well-equipped, well-accoutered train to cross the United States or go from coast to coast in Canada.  Even better, my own personal dream is a trip on the 1920’s Orient Express, the iconic train trip of luxury and intrigue from Paris to Istanbul.  

The Orient Express bedroom
Now this is luxury train travel -- Orient Express

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Five Things Today that Have Made Me Happy

  1. The weather is warm enough to walk the boys without having to wear a coat.  It may be drippy (and sometimes actually rainy) and the grass may be so wet that my leather shoes soak up the water onto the tops of my socks, but I'm still walking without the burden of hat, scarves, mittens, and coat.  Even better the birds are singing us a sweet serenade as we walk, the trees are in full bud if not yet leaf, and the grass is deep green. 
  2. Another deep joy has been sharing time with friends around tables of food.  The Wyandotte Ladies Who Lunch (retired teachers from Wyandotte High School in KCK) lunched at Aixois at 55th and Brookside in the Crestwood Shopping Center this week.  The food was excellent but even better was the talk around the table, sharing new gossip about school, family news, and health updates.  That lunch was followed by dinner with my concert-going friends at Los Tules Mexican Restaurant.  Hubby and I arrived early and I got to share some personal time with a friend that I haven't had much contact with lately, which managed to cheer me greatly. 
  3. Our Mexican meal was followed by #3 on my list of happy events when we attended the final UMKC Conservatory Artist Series concerts.  Hubby was able to walk from the restaurant (just across the street at 16th and Baltimore) into the Kauffman Center and into his seat on the mezzanine level.  He wasn't actually able to go down the stairs into our seats, but they set up stand-alone chairs along the top level for him and he nearly made it through the entire concert, only having to leave during the last 15 minutes of the program.  We haven't made it through more than half of any concert in the past year, so this is quite an improvement.  The music was performed by the UMKC conservatory orchestra and concert choir and included Beethoven's Symphony #9, one of Hubby's favorites.  
  4. The refrigerator is stocked with food, once again.  Living within our pension / social security checks, I'm trying to keep the food budget reasonable by stocking up only once a month.  Sometimes the pickings seem a little slim toward the end of the month -- not that we're ever hungry but that I have to made do with what's in the house.  This means I'm actually having to cook according to what's available -- not what we really want to eat or what's quick and fast.  I'm not the most creative cook so it's always nice when I have a wide variety of choices every day for our mealtimes.  Right now Hubby is happy with melon salad for lunch and a very good crockpot beef soup for dinner.  I like having things around that don't require anything more than a few minutes in the microwave before a full meal is ready.  

  5. Finally, I'm wildly enthusiastic about the Charles Todd WWI era novels – I’m nearly through every single one of their novels in both series (one featuring a nurse; one about a man returned from WWI suffering from shell shock but trying to make it in Scotland Yard).  Charles Todd is a mother / son writing team who put together very clever mysteries while building up strong character identity.  In some ways I like their series better than the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear – not the beginning books but the last two, anyway. Winspear has announced that she is not writing another Dobbs book for two years (ack! for many of us Dobbs has been a favorite read) while she travels to England to work on a new book, so a replacement series was called for.  Both my Kindles have been getting quite a work out in the past two weeks; I been charging one while using the other at least twice daily.