Sunday, September 30, 2007

A House Divided

The story of how we met is another subject for another page. But the fact is, we both married the enemy. What am I referring to? Rival football teams! In the state of Alabama, when you are asked to declare your allegiance, it’s not to your religion, but rather are you an Alabama fan or an Auburn fan. We have an agreement—we don’t watch the big game together. Except for the horrible birthday party that we couldn’t get out of—our relatives’ Mom was turning 65 and every other family member refused to come because the party was set at the time of the big game. So—sigh—we ended up at the party glued to the little TV (we had just purchased a huge TV for our lovely basement room that same year) and yet we found ourselves sitting next to each other watching the game on a bad TV in a room full of relatives from out of state who clearly just didn’t get it and insisted on carrying on with the party. Our thoughts? Couldn’t you have been born on another day? But I digress. How has this rivalry influenced our marriage? This story has two sides:

He says: I had a roommate at Alabama. My roommate and I married a pair of Auburn sisters.

She says: My sister and I were roommates. We married two roommates from Alabama.

He says: Alabama has the better football record over all.

She says: Quit living in the distant past. The really bad fans (not my precious husband) keep propping up Bear Bryant who died a long time ago. Auburn has won the last 5 games.

He says: Auburn fans have a “poor me” attitude that got old a long time ago. They pretend to be shocked when they win.

She says: Alabama fans expect to win. They ARE shocked when they win. And yes, I am surprised when Auburn wins. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop!

He says: I do root for Auburn when they are not playing Alabama.

She says: I do root for Alabama when they are not playing for Auburn. My precious husband even said that when Auburn was close to a national championship that he didn’t mind if they beat Alabama. He is the kindest person I know.

He says: We do not watch the game together. It is just not fun. I do know that the year we went to Mt. Zion we couldn’t watch the game together. Sharon kept coming out of the restroom with a big grin on her face. Boy, they must have really good restrooms there.

She says: We do not watch the game together. It is just not fun. However, a few years ago we were at Mt. Zion so we couldn’t watch the game together. However, there wasn’t a rule that I couldn’t go into the restroom and text message our daughter who was in the stadium and find out the score. We won.

He says: My worst memory? 17-16. I was at Alabama working on my car. Auburn won in the last 30 seconds. Couldn’t believe it. Everyone our age knows exactly what game I am referring to just by mentioning that score.

She says: I keep hearing the voice of one of our rabid Alabama fans. He says AH LA BAHMA in this most irritating voice that John likes to imitate because he knows it makes my skin crawl…Oh, and did I mention that John’s relatives put on a game at the Thanksgiving family party and played the game over and over again? That was the year Auburn lost. Come to think of it, they haven’t done it for the last FIVE years.

He says: My best memory? It was fun while Bear Bryant was alive.

She says: See what I mean? Living in the past. But if we are going to go back, 17-16 was so exciting. I had a bad date, but the game had a great score.

He says: Superstitions? Nah, don’t believe in them.

She says: One day when Auburn was winning, I was upstairs watching the game on the little TV in the kitchen. John came upstairs from watching the game on the big TV and said, “You’re doing laundry. I’m going to do laundry.” Everything got washed that day. Maybe I should do toilets during the next game…

He says: Sharon takes Auburn losses very personally and hates to see the Sunday paper the next day. It affects her mood for a day. Fortunately she has a bad memory for sports scores and gets over it quickly. What she does hold on to are all the little slights that happen over the years.

She says: John keeps the losses in perspective and realizes that he can’t control the games. He doesn’t get emotionally invested. I admire that…I should mentioned that he attended all the home games when Casey started at Auburn. It was hot as Hades but he endured the games to see Casey! I do remember that he refused to say “War Eagle.”

He says: They make great women at Auburn. Sharon graduated from there and Casey is still a student there.

She says: My sister and I agree: they make great men at Alabama. I got the coolest husband from there. And did I mention that he is precious?

When our daughter was trying to decide where to go to college, we truly didn’t mind which college she attended. Alabama is closer which would have been great for those times we go to campus to see her. I am down there a lot (I teach on five faculties for Alabama). But I am glad that she chose Auburn.

PS: The relatives who continued to play the game where Auburn lost all during the Thanksgiving family party have gotten their just reward. Their daughter fell in love with the grandson of Hare (Jordan-Hare is the name of the stadium at Auburn). Their daughter got married in Auburn (that was a pretty good day seeing all those Alabama fans on Auburn soil). The funniest moment was when the Alabama mascot, Big Al, showed up at the reception. Those rabid Alabama fans are now at Auburn all the time because their grandbabies are being born there! I love a happy ending!!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

You Must Be Present to Win

I have a niece named Kelsey. She graduated from Vassar and is blessed with intelligence and a caring heart. After she finished her college education, she wanted to give two years of her time to others. She narrowed it down to the Peace Corp or Teach America, an organization that rescues failing schools. She chose Teach America. Her first year was extremely challenging. She had no resources for her class [like enough desks (!), text books (!)] She stuck it out with help from people like Bill Rush and his fabulous wife Rhonda whose Key Club adopted Kelsey's cause. Some of my husband's coworkers didn't even hesitate to send checks. Mary Anne Parks Antonio and Sue Hengel pitched in as did other caring friends (sorry if I failed to mention anyone who lovingly contributed). Kelsey had to battle a grueling environment, parents who were uninvolved, and sometimes emotional challenges from constantly fighting an uphill battle.

She again came out with a request for help this year. Her story is so compelling:
I am just starting my second year with Teach for America. I'm teaching high school chemistry and physical science at a public charter school in what is arguably the most dangerous city in the U.S., St. Louis. The public school system in St. Louis had fallen into such horrible condition that it lost its accreditation at the end of last year and was taken over by the state. With the public schools in disarray, students are flocking to charter schools, even though these schools have their own set of problems. This is the third year that the charter school I work at has been open and its plagued with disorganization, debt, and lack of resources.

Nearly 90% of our students are on free or reduced lunch plans. Gang violence, poverty, teen pregnancy, disrupted family situations, pressure to be involved in crimes, and low expectations for achievement are realities that my students live with everyday.

I've had students who have been arrested, ended up pregnant, been left homeless, been shot, and been killed. Academically, the students come to me with math and reading levels well below grade average. Their previous schools have failed them.

Even the extremely bright students are at a considerable disadvantage when competing for college admission with students across the country who went to successful schools. Once they get to college, the students will be ill-prepared for the academic demands of higher education.

I have to try to pull them up to grade level and lead a science class that is on par with science classes in the best school districts in the country. However, my school doesn't have a science lab or budget for obtaining supplies to use in my classroom.

Anything that I need for my classroom comes out of my own pocket.

It's definitely worth the investment if it helps the kids learn but I would appreciate any help with obtaining the basic school supplies that my students can't afford and which help make my classroom a much more hands-on and engaging learning environment.

Thank you for your help!


Kelsey's Wish List:

Hi Sharon! Here's the list of school supplies I need if anyone you know is still willing to help me out this year.

Simple calculators
Index cards

Dry erase markers
Colored pencils


Elmer's glue



1-inch binders

Binder dividers
Notebook paper

Construction paper

omputer paper
Thanks for your help!
Love, Kelsey

Again, the Sue Hengel's and Mike Moss's of the world as well as the ever-giving Mary Anne, stepped up. And there are probably more who have been quietly stepping up to the plate. I am so lucky to be surrounded by friends who take on the needs of my family as their own. Thanks, guys. And thank you, Kelsey, for caring enough to put away a chance to earn big bucks in order to invest in our teenagers. You are the best.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Casey Lovoy: Joymaker

Today is my daughter's 21st birthday. This event brings me absolute joy and causes me to think about her self-described role in life. When she was 9 years old, my husband John, Casey and I were sitting at a restaurant on Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX. We were dining al fresco and it was a glorious night. Casey turned to me and asked me, "Mom, what is your role in our family?" I can remember thinking, "Where on earth did she learn that word?" and my second thought was, "What in the heck am I going to say?" I remembering giving a very lame answer, "Oh, I am the caregiver; I find ways to take care of you and your dad." Not a very good answer, but it was the best I could do for a fill-in-the-blank pop quiz. Casey then turned to her dad and asked the same question. John quickly got a "deer-in-headlights" look that must have mirrored my face a little earlier.

It is important to point out that John is part of that introvert crowd, and generally they don't do as well on oral pop quizzes when they haven't had a chance to ponder the question in advance. He choked out, "I am the protector; I find ways to keep you and your mom safe." Whew, dodged that bullet with an ok answer.

Casey looked at us with pity because she had clearly been considering her response. She said, "I know what my role is, I am the 'Joymaker;' it is my job to bring joy to both of you." And she wasn't finished. She continued by stating, "You are in such a hurry that you might miss all the beautiful things in life and it is my job to point them out." Yikes...out of the mouth of babes...

She has lived up to this title. Every moment, I think, "This is the best day/month/year," and I am always wrong, because the next one is always better. She is the first to point out the rainbows. She is quick to note that it is rude to be on the cell phone when we are together in the car. She gets us all out for family walks where we get a good cardio workout and even better face time with one another. She cherishes all of her friends. She worries about those who are in trouble. She has more emotional maturity in her little finger than most people have in their entire bodies. Happy birthday, Joymaker.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Hot Dog, What a Lady!!

As I have previously noted, I am one of seven children. When I calculate it out, that means that my mother was pregnant 63 months of her life! That figure astonishes me. But another figure that astonishes me is the wonderful black and white photo of my mom that I have where she is wearing her black Jansen swimsuit. She has long flowing black hair, she is casually leaning against the wall of the pier with a fishing rod.

I can recall that as little kids we were playing on the beach. My mom was walking by herself, several feet away, wearing that black Jansen swimsuit. There were several young men, probably of college age, passing by, who caught a look at this brunette beauty. I distinctly remember one of them saying, "Hot Dog, what a lady!" Word quickly spread among the kids and we ran up and told her, thinking that was really a funny comment. I can remember the guys' faces fell when they realized that she had a whole tribe of children.

We laughed for years and would repeat that comment to my mother who always giggled. When I found the photo a few months ago, I looked at her again through new eyes. I now see what they saw: not a mother of 7 children with all the chores and challenges that go with the hardest job in the world, but a woman blessed with long, flowing hair, grace and beauty. Hot dog, what a lady!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Take Your Daughter to Work Day, Uh...Year

My father has always been ahead of the times. Long before the "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" was initiated in 1993, my dad discovered the value of having your daughters present on the job site. Keep in mind this was in the 1950's and 1960's. It was not done in the spirit of feminism, but because we were cheap labor. Let me explain.

My parents have seven children. I can remember how tight money was. I can still picture my mom sitting over the grocery list and calculating the cost of every single item. She would add them up and if the amount was too much, something had to go. Feeding a family of seven, particularly with boys who could eat an entire box of cereal in one sitting using mixing bowls was tough. By the way, that was ONE box of cereal per boy. That was also in the days of home milk delivery. The milkman got quite a workout bringing our order.

My dad worked three jobs to make ends meet. Sometimes the ends wouldn't quite come together and he needed help on the job. Another factor was that my mom, who is an introvert, would be at her wits end by the time Saturday rolled around from coping with seven, rambunctious children. My dad taking us to work represented a few hours relief for my mom from the chaos. So hi ho, hi ho, it was off to work we go.

It was so much fun. We were little enough to crawl down holes and thread wires. We spackled holes in baseboards, played with all the tools, learned the difference between flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers and played with mercury (that was before it was known that it was dangerous). We rode bush hogs, road scrapers, and dump trucks. OSHA inspectors would have had a field day with all the safety violations, but we never got hurt. I was never in the dark about what my dad did at work. We knew that he had to do hard physical labor. All of my brothers could wire a house by the time they were 12. I felt totally comfortable operating a hammer and to this day, I still get a thrill when the box says, "Some assembly required." I know that I am up to the task. The smell of sawdust is better than any fine perfume. Any ol' day I would choose a trip to Home Depot or Lowe's rather than a department store.

When I got married, my wish list actually included tools and I still harbor a dream of getting the Sears tool box (the one that is shiny red and has the waffled silver border).

The benefit of going to work with my dad is that not one of my siblings has ever used the terms, "girl chores" or "boy chores" because we knew that we all had to pitch in. The work ethic of each kid is remarkable and we had tremendous role models who showed us that whether you worked inside the home or outside the home, it all counts. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

I remembered the first time I heard these words on a commercial and frankly, it annoyed me. For some reason today, these same words occurred to me today during Yoga with a whole new meaning. I originally started taking Yoga because my dear cousin, Anne, who was dying from breast cancer, asked me to go. I couldn’t imagine what you could do for an hour without loud music with an instructor shouting directions akin to that of a drill sergeant at the top of her lungs. What would I do for an hour without lots of action, punishing movements and throbbing, heart pounding music? I found an oasis of quiet, poses movements that taught me to be flexible and a wholesome outlook when considering the other women in the class.

As I was thinking today during class, I was taken back to my younger years when Nan Pizitz took me under her wing at the YMCA. I wanted to be an aerobics instructor and thought I was graceful. Nan, however, saw in reality, an awkward young woman whose graceful movements were a figment of her own imagination. She must have felt a good measure of pity for me because she invited me into her basement studio and spent hours teaching me how to hold my hands, move in true rhythm and make that inner grace an outer reality. I will always be thankful for her investment in me.

From there I went on to teach at the Y and a local hospital and reveled in instructing dancing aerobics and later step aerobics. I dropped out when my travel schedule became impossible but also because this field became about breast augmentations, thong leotards, and comments that were full of comparisons and chalking up body failures.

I eventually came back as a participant but consistently avoided anything that had quiet connected to it. Then came Anne’s request and I grudgingly showed up for a class that was conducted in a dark room enveloped in slow music and included a whole new language involving downward dogs, cobra, and sun salutations. I was determined that I was going to give it one shot and then report back to Anne that I tried, but it just didn’t fit my personality. But I was so wrong. I found a group of people who were encouraging, cognizant that we are built so differently, and that I could settle down. I found that I could pray, contemplate all kinds of things (like this entry), and that the quiet was wonderful. I looked around the room today and saw Dot and Joyce who are in their 70’s and literally going strong. Joyce has gotten back the 3” in height that she lost due to osteoporosis. They are beautiful. Then there is Dana and Peg who are both built like graceful ballerinas but are graced with inner beauty that is so much more powerful. They are beautiful. LeAnn has this tiny, powerful body. She has a passion for Yoga and is challenging instructors to be better in their practices. She is joined by Marsha who works hard to make sure that each class experience is a treasure for that day. They are beautiful. There is Bettina a new mom and Deidre who just lost her mom. They are women of color, however very different. They are beautiful. There are the best friends in the back of the class who are in their 50’s, look like twins, and have fun carving out time for their friendship. They are beautiful.

All these wonderful women have reminded me that I am a treasured child of God. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. Namaste....

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Love Thy Neighbor

We are very lucky to have two sets of neighbors who are also our close friends. The three families have spent many a warm day around the pool, which fortunately is not at our house. The neighbor who owns the pool will probably rethink asking either family to watch their house while they are on vacation.

Let me explain. It all started with a "quick" trip by the house to check on the dog. The dog was fine but so was the giant ant population that had gathered in the basement. They had discovered a Cherry Coke left by one of the vacationing daughters. Coke may not realize that they have an untapped customer demographic. We, however, realized that this was a bad case of PESTILENCE. We looked around for some kind of bug spray. We couldn't find the Raid®, but we did find some hair spray. Being creative, we found that this stuff works!! The ants died, but they looked good. This might work on head lice! But I digress. One problem solved.

Then we noticed that the basement had one inch of water! Now we realized that we had a FLOOD. We figured out the problem (OK, John figured it out) was the condensate pump. John volunteered that we had an extra one at our house (OK, this really random--who stocks extra condensate pumps for heaven's sake?) The womenfolk set out to find the fuse box while the men were drying out the basement. We never did find the fuse box which was cleverly disguised behind a picture. Our brave husbands fixed the pump anyway. We later found out that the pump was the wrong size. But I digress.

Then Tim, the neighbor in charge of the pool, noticed that the pool had turned a horrible shade of green. It seems that the vacationing couple's married daughter had stopped by to take a dip and she wore a swimsuit that she had used in a lake. The pool was now infested with algae that would make any biologist proud. The pool doc had to make a house call and recommended a protocol that was very labor intensive. We nursed the pool back to health.

After this adventurous evening we called the neighbors. They asked about their house. We lied. "Things are fine," we croaked (none of us are good at this sort of thing but we knew they shouldn't cut their vacation short over ants, a flooded basement, a broken condensate pump and a green pool) They wondered why we were all gathered at their house. We told them, "You know how a pool brings people together." They replied that they were happy that we were enjoying it while they were gone. Yeah, right. That's our story and we're sticking to it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Confession Is Good for the Soul

What words can put fear into that of a fellow woman? I can think of two: Recipe Exchange. I must confess that when I get an email from one of my friends asking me to participate, I go through a buffet of reactions:
  • Do I even have 5 people to forward this on to? (Oh, and I should mention that the latest request asked me to send it on to 20 friends?!)
  • Will I let down the person who sent it to me? Will she think I am a bad friend if I don't send it on? I really care about her and hate to let her down.
  • Will the person who was supposed to be #1 on the outgoing email be upset if no one replies?
  • What if the #1 person doesn't have many friends and this is a way for her to make connections with other caring women?
  • Will my friends get frustrated with me for sending on to them? Aren't they already too busy?
  • Who has 20 friends that are available for this kind of thing?
  • Why can't I just say "No??!!??"
  • What if I just don't do anything? Will anybody really know?
  • If I am ever in doubt that I am a "Feeler" vs. a "Thinker" I need to reread this whole entry.
  • These directions are so complicated! Send a recipe to the number 1 person and then move the number 2 person to the top and then put my name on the email and then forward...
  • Are people really still cooking?
  • With the internet and great magazines, do people really want recipes?
  • Can't we just ban together and pledge not to do this to each other?
  • Will this land me on people's spam lists?
  • Will people send out recipes using spam? (ugh!)
You get the idea! All this angst! Several of my friends had the where-with-all to say, "I am so sorry, I just don't have the time to participate! [good response!] I thanked them for being honest! I also realized I should have crafted a similar response!

Then I got an email from the lucky recipient who was supposed to get all the recipes. She was so excited. Then I started getting recipes, all of which sounded sooooo good!

I have decided to go ahead and put out a recipe for succa (Italian for spaghetti sauce). It is a treasured recipe. From now on, every request labeled, "Recipe Exchange" will get this as a reply and none of my friends will be bothered again. They have already done their duty!

Confession really is good for the soul. I feel better (and hungry) already.

Italian Succa

Tomato sauce, large, 4 cans I use Wal-mart’s generic brand

Red wine, ½ can (I use it to “swish” out all the cans of tomato sauce)

Basil, fresh, ½ package

Lawry’s Garlic salt, 2 tsp.

Nature’s seasoning, 2 tsp

Fresh ground pepper, 2 tsp.

Sargento Romano cheese, ½ triangle grated

Combine the above and simmer for four hours

Pasta: Cook, but DO NOT let get mushy!!

Romano cheese: Put on pasta FIRST, then put on the succa!!

I Contact

"Don't stare!" I can remember being admonished with this warning anytime that I saw someone who had a physical or mental challenge. I can vividly recall quickly averting my eyes in case I might cause embarrassment to someone if my eyes lingered too long.

I realized one day that I had totally forgotten to program my daughter with this same information. The man who was putting the flooring in our house did not have his right arm and had a hook in its place. With the curiosity of a six old, Casey asked, "Well, Mr. Harden, what happened to your arm?" I imploded internally with the realization that I had failed in one of the chief duties given to Moms: Teach your children not to stare.

Ken Harden explained to Casey that he had a disease in his right hand when he was in high school and that the doctors cut off his arm to save his life. He went on further to demonstrate how his hook worked. Casey was fascinated, and I had to admit, so was I.

I later told Ken that this story had worked its way into my training classes and that he has achieved a degree of fame. He told me that children were never put off by his hook, but adults were rarely comfortable talking about it. He said that they acted like he must wake up every day with the discovery, "Oh, my gosh, my arm is gone!"

I use this story in a class where we talk about how the "don't stare" message was programmed into most of us. One class stands out as one in which I was taught a great lesson by one of the participants. A nurse who was in my class said that she worked with burn patients whose faces had been disfigured. She said that the thing they commented that they missed the most was that people refused to make eye contact with them. She said they said they felt as if they disappeared.

When reflecting on this this, I came to realize that with "Eye Contact" you grant humanity and value to others. The "Don't Stare" message seems kind on the surface but in reality, hurts. I then came to understand that "Eye Contact" leads to "I Contact" i.e., "I make Contact with you because you matter, you are a child of God, and you have value." Amen.