Rock and roll

We’ll rock and roll on with one more post about our little troupe’s adventures in England, then get on across the Channel – though the Paris installments may have to wait for some pressing current events.

We’ll see where our travels take us in the next few days.

Though our original tour called for us to leave London via the Chunnel and arrive quickly in Paris, the fates had other plans. Actually, I couldn’t have been happier about the side trip to Canterbury, and our little subgroup was pretty go with the flow easy, so we were all good.

We spent a few hours in Canterbury, taking in the fabulous cathedral and some of the town – instead of sharing photos, I’ll let you look for yourself if you’re so inclined. We were pretty enamored of Edward the Black Prince’s tomb – he was crazy-tall for a 14th-century knight – and Thomas Becket’s murder site was strangely thrilling.

The Elizabethan architecture, especially the Sun Hotel, with the plaque denoting that Charles Dickens had spent time there (yes, I took pictures), was especially fab.

Nick, Alli, Elizabeth and Andrew on the hike up to Dover Castle.

Nick, Alli, Elizabeth and Andrew on the hike up to Dover Castle.

Quickly, though, we moved down the road to Dover, which was thrilling in a different way.  We got to imagine what it was like in the underground tunnels during World War II AND see a long cannon stamped with Elizabeth the First’s seal.

All very exciting and interesting.

But when we got to the little seaside (OK, channel-side) town  where we’d be spending the night – let me just say we were surprised. We didn’t see much of Folkestone and I’m sure it’s a nice place – I’ve looked up pictures and seen lovely buildings.

What we did see was mainly our hotel, the hyperbolically named The Grand Burstin.

The Grand Burstin.

The Grand Burstin.

It may have been grand at one time, but in 2009, it resembled an aging cruise ship from the outside, which the kids thought was kind of cool, and an old folks’ home only with rattier rooms on the inside.

Even our tour guide confessed that she hated it when EF Tours booked groups at The Burstin.

We kept stiff upper lips, though, pip, pip, and it turned out to be a jolly good show. Sort of.

Our communal dining was buffet-style, heavy on jello and unidentifiable gravied stuff. Alli, always cheerful, couldn’t be daunted, though.

“I love this place,” she said. “It’s like being in a nursing home!”

Outside our 30-odd tour participants, most of the clientele was definitely elderly. Seems The Burstin was a happening place for older folks on holiday. They dance the night away, and somehow – my memory’s sketchy on this – we got caught in the audience of a rather sad cabaret act as we tried to exit the dining hall.

My small group was too polite to leave until a break, but I can’t remember what was performed or who performed it. I just know we were glad to get out of there.

Kitty, Kim and I decided we’d walk to a nearby pub to hear some real British rock ‘n’ roll while Alli, Elizabeth, Nick and Andrew played on the pebbly beach and hung out at the hotel.

After all, we were in England, home of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page. Everyone who loves music has heard how 18-year-old Robert Plant was discovered singing in a small-town pub. Who knew what we’d find?

Young Robert Plant, just because. (Nowhere near who we found, of course.)

Young Robert Plant, just because. (Nowhere near the singer we found, of course.)

Plus the people-watching would be great, if our hotel was any indication.

Even Kathy, our tour guide, decided to join us (keep an eye on us?) at the pub we popped into. I cant swear that it was The Royal George, but I’m pretty certain that was it. We didn’t take photos, but I found it online. Looks right, location’s right.

The Royal George, a waterside pub in Folkestone.

The Royal George, a waterside pub in Folkestone.

Music was wrong, wrong, wrong. Instead of a young rock god belting out British blues, the entertainment was a group of middle-aged blokes belting out ’70s and ’80s American radio rock.

We found it all pretty funny. Bob Seger covers were about as good as it got for me, since I can’t stand big-hair bands or Thin Lizzy and have never loved Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

I think they might have thrown in a “Mustang Sally,” but I can’t swear to it.

We had a ball, though, soaking in the culture.

Very early the next morning we beat a hasty retreat back to Dover to catch the ferry. Seeing the white cliffs as we chugged away was something I’ll never forget.

Or the night in Folkestone, even if the details are blurry.

The white cliffs, extremely zoomed-in on my little Olympus, as we took off on the ferry.

The white cliffs, extremely zoomed-in on my little Olympus, as we took off on the ferry.

Travelin’ band, part 2

Alli, Kim and Andrew – along with some of the larger group, got caught by the light at Buckingham Palace.

Alli, Kim and Andrew – along with some of the larger group, got caught by the light at Buckingham Palace.

Our little  traveling band within the larger group had a great overall experience; don’t get me wrong. But in case you don’t know, let me explain a bit how group travel works, at least with EF Tours. The company makes money by moving people in bulk, housing them in hotels that are off the popular path and feeding the masses in restaurants that offer good package deals.

The system makes money for them and gives students and teachers (and other accompanying adults) planning-free, fairly inexpensive travel experiences. When it works well, it works really well. When it works not so well, you suck it up as part of the package deal.

For example, we flew into Gatwick Airport, not Heathrow, much to future-pilot Andrew’s chagrin. But that was all right – just strange when we drove straight from Gatwick to Heathrow, where our very nice airport hotel was located. Our hotel was deluxe and quite close to Hatton Cross Tube Station, and since we so enjoyed the –”Mind the gap” – train rides, all was well.

But getting from airport to airport was bizarre; traffic was backed up for miles – our coach driver had to exit the freeway and use an access road, where traffic still stood still, for part of the almost-24 mile journey, so our “41-minute ride” took at least two hours. The group was already impatient from waiting on us by the time we got there. We just had time to put our luggage down before we left for the activities of the day.

Let me add one last thing about the group we were tossed into. My husband, my biggest fan and sometimes most astute critic, said I should not have taken out something I did from the last post, which put things a bit more into perspective. I mentioned that Kitty had just come through a bout with cancer – after surgery, she also had chemo, which took all her hair, followed by strenuous radiation treatments.

Our trip was a victory lap of sorts and her first public appearances without her wig. We all thought her cute spikey hair was cute spikey hair. The women in the ball-cap congregation seemed to find it an affront on a woman of a certain age and commented, pointed and generally did not behave charitably at all.

When ever-protective Kim got wind of that, she was livid and made it her job to set things straight. Can’t remember if it was on a public train ride or the charter tour-guided bus, but Kim parked herself close to the gossipers and loudly talked across the seats to Kitty and me.

“I just can’t believe you’ve just recovered from CANCER!” she said loudly. “You just don’t look like someone who’s BEEN SO SICK and had CHEMO and RADIATION. And your NEW HAIR IS SO PRECIOUS.”

At that the women looked mildly abashed, but they did not warm up to us.

(I can never say or hear “mildly abashed” without thinking of one of my favorite poems, “The Study in Aesthetics” by Ezra Pound. If you’ve never read it, please click here. It could change your life – or at least your perception. Which reminds me of Aldous Huxley, but I’ll move on. Sorry, English major, former teacher. We can’t help ourselves.)

You’ll have to trust me on this, but I am friendly and can usually talk to anyone. I did try – I even pulled up my pant-leg that night in Folkestone to show them my blackened leg and explain why I was wearing the weird shoes, but that just seemed to annoy one of the women more. So be it.

Back to the trip.

The kids loved the red phone booths.

The kids loved the red phone booths.

The first day we took a fabulous guided tour on a chartered bus – through which many of the other people slept or talked. I made my group sit up front (I’m a nerd and proud of it) and pay attention.

Our tour guide, a 6-foot-2ish American married to a Brit who’d acquired her own British accent turned out to be the our guide on our spooky night-time Jack the Ripper tour.

Our talented and brilliant tour guide. Can't remember her name but we loved her.

Our talented and brilliant tour guide. Can’t remember her name but we loved her. Oh, that’s Buckingham Palace in the background.

At some point we may have gone en masse to Windsor Palace. I know my group went there. And my bunch went to the Tower of London (maybe we all did), where, in open defiance of the “Absolutely no photography” sign, my girl Elizabeth took a great crotch shot of Henry the Eighth’s codpiece on his suit of armor, part of the special exhibit.

The Royal Guard made quite a commotion at Windsor Palace. Turns out they were yelling at me when they kept chantining, "Get out of the way!" At least I got the shot. Scary, though.

The Royal Guard made quite a commotion at Windsor Palace. Turns out they were yelling at me when they kept chanting, “Get out of the way!,” which I realized when they turned in my direction. Oops. At least I got the shot. Scary, though.

He was quite proud of himself. We died laughing.

We were on our own for most lunches, but dinner was a group affair. In London we had great Indian? Middle Eastern? food for one meal, hit a fish-and-chips joint for another and dined in the upstairs room at Ye Olde Cock Tavern for yet another. The atmosphere in that historic old place was fab.

What can I say? One of our favorite places.

What can I say? One of our favorite places.

But the food was bangers and mash, roughly weiners stuck in mashed potatoes. That, with the name of the place, well, you can imagine the jokes. My vegetarian ratatouille? Alfredo casserole? was actually delish and I was the envy of some of the adults.

Most of the kids thought the bangers were bang-up. Yuck.

Originally, our trip included traveling from London to Paris via the chunnel, which turned out to be broken or down for maintenance, so we got a side trip to Canterbury (English major heaven), Dover and the strangest hotel you can imagine in Folkestone, followed by a nice ferry ride across the English Channel and a chartered bus from Calais to Paris.

But my hubby awaits with an “Arrested Development” queued up on Netflix, so that leg of the journey will have to wait.

People are strange

Some of our group at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Alli in front, Kitty in the yellow coat.

Some of our group at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Alli in front, Kitty in the yellow coat.

Before moving on with our tight-knit little traveling bands’ adventures, let me just get this out there: People are strange, and traveling with a big group of strangers is, to belabor a point, even stranger.

Before embarking on travel with EF Educational Tours, I’d taken groups of students to conventions with hundreds or thousands of other students and teachers, but we didn’t travel together.

The only group travel I’d ever done was in 2001, to Dublin with the Central Arkansas Arthritis Foundation Marathon group. We almost didn’t get to go after the events of Sept. 11, but our group voted that we weren’t scared, dammit!, so go we did.

(I walked the marathon, bent over in pain for about the last 20 miles, as it turned out – a long and winding story.)

We were all adults and though we did do some things together, we had no real enforced group time. And  most of us had been training together at least occasionally for months, so if we weren’t friends, we at least knew each other.

Getting tossed in a mixed pot of people by random chance to spend nine days and nights together is something else entirely. For some people, I’m sure that it’s great. Instant friends, yada, yada.

We had a different experience in our group of 30. We were just a tiny band of six, five from Arkansas and Kitty from Washington state (but part of my family), cooped up with some nice, friendly if a bit distant (but, hey, so were we) people from Indiana (??), I’m thinking, and a big rowdy bunch from a small town in Texas. I’m thinking east Texas, but that’s my assumption.

Kind of “The Last Picture Show” Texas but not as hip. As in trying to refuse to enter Canterbury Cathedral because you can’t wear a baseball cap inside.

As in “Hey, we can get booze at this fancy hotel in Paris even though we’re kids, then puke all over the lovely lobby bar then run off laughing while our adult male chaperones laugh, too” – until Kitty thundered “Hold it right there, buster,” or some less southern version of the same, and insisted they help the poor bartender clean up their mess.

Waiting by the tree.

Waiting by the tree.

Please don’t think I’m a snob – Alli, Elizabeth, you can vouch for me. I’m just making observations about being forced into a  – hmmm, what word to use? It never became a relationship. Maybe shared experience? – with people from different worlds.

The kids actually did form a bit of a loose friendliness with some of them the last night or two, but for the adults, the twain never met. We kept our distance, but those women made it quite clear from the beginning that they didn’t like us one bit.

I take that back – one did, and she was quite sweet, actually, even after we lost her child one night in Paris. (I can still see her beatific smile; she had an other-worldly lovingness. The others, not so much.)

Her daughter, at 12, wasn’t even legal to be along for the ride but was allowed to accompany her mom. Yes, we lost a small-town adolescent with a heart condition while her mother was trying to retrieve two kids from their group who’d run off deliberately. Our tour director Kathy promptly retrieved her and it worked out fine, though.

I’ll explain later. It was an accident and we felt awful. But it’s funny in retrospect. Many parts of the trip were.

Another thing that had never crossed my mind about group travel was all the waiting we’d have to do – people were blatantly late for designated meetings when we had time apart (the happiest times for our little group), so we spent lots of time waiting under the tree, on the steps, by the bus.

And waiting by another tree. That's our darling director, Kathy, in red and our boy Andrew in the blue sweater.

And waiting by another tree. That’s our darling director, Kathy, in red and our boy Andrew in the blue sweater.

But we were late, too, once, at the Louvre, I think, toward the end of the trip when the only watch in our group had stopped. Oops. Pretty embarrassing considering how we’d grumbled about waiting.

Then there was the night Kim and I – well, that’s a story I’ll confess in full later. She agrees we can go public.

Our little group approaching La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre. Elizabeth noticed Kim was taking a picture.

Our little group approaching La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre. Elizabeth noticed Kim was taking a picture.


Travelin’ band, part 1

My London and Paris traveling band, Andrew, Ali, Elizabeth and Nick. Oh, and a royal guard who was ever-so-serious about his gig.

My London and Paris traveling band, Andrew, Alli, Elizabeth and Nick. Oh, and a royal guard who was ever-so-serious about his gig.

Though I’d taken traveling bands of journalism students to conventions all over the country, I’d never officially taken a group out of the country – and never on purely a pleasure trip – until June 2009.

There was that time in 1995 when I took a gaggle of girls to San Diego; the first thing we did after checking in at our National High School Press Association convention hotel was ask for directions to the best way to get to Tijuana, Mexico. The concierge gave us his spiel about how they could not in good faith recommend that we cross the border, though if we were determined to do so, the best way to get to the train station was X-Y-Z. These were the pre-passport-for-Mexico-and-Canada days, so it was easy.

The girls had begged to go south of the border, but all they really wanted to do was go to the Hard Rock Tijuana, which was accomplished pretty quickly. I think we took the bus back, and when we got there, the little chick who’d missed the early morning flight was waiting in the lobby. Jessica’s power had gone off in the night so her family didn’t wake up to make the early flight. We had to leave without her.

Those were the good old days, though, and the airline just put her on the next flight. But this was also pre-cell phones, so we couldn’t contact each other, and she’d been waiting in the lobby for quite a while when we got back. The hotel wouldn’t even let her into one of our rooms until we returned.  

Anyway, from the time I was a teen myself I always knew I’d take students on an EF Tour someday (my family couldn’t afford to send me when some of my classmates went with one of my favorite teachers). Newspaper staff students had been mentioning it since I started at Central High School in 2005, but in the end, it was one newspaper staffer and three yearbook kids, whom I’d had in Journalism One, all newly graduated, who crossed the ocean with my sister-in-law, Kitty; a staffer’s mom (who turned into my dear friend Kim) and I.

Planning such trips starts a year out, and right after we booked it, Kitty learned she had breast cancer. Instead of canceling, she made the trip her recuperation goal and made the trip her first public appearance sans wig. She was brave in more ways than one.

We were quite a pair on the flight over – Kitty had to put her arm in a compression sleeve for high-altitude swelling prevention and I was in a compression leg brace for my torn hamstring. Eight days before the trip, I had a rather bad accident, so we were both banged up. But what do you do but go and enjoy?

We left Little Rock the morning of Monday, June 15. (Kitty’d flown to Little Rock from Yakima, Washington, to fly out with us.) The previous Sunday, June 7, if my math is right, I’d taken my tumble.

Sister Cathy and I were walking Tess at McArthur Park (this was pre-Zuzu and after darling Toby). Tess had been angelic on the walk – unusual back then – so I was caught quite off-guard when two big honking geese came charging out from under a bush at us. She hit the end of her leash so fast all I could do was make sure I got to the grass before falling.

While going down, I had visions of the trip flitting by along with “don’t hit your face, don’t hit your rotator cuff, don’t get hurt – you’ve got kids counting on you!” I got two out of three and took the weight of the fall on my left ribs, which tore the cartilage between them. The impact was so hard that my right leg flew across my body with such force that it tore my hamstring straight across.

My right foot was level with my left shoulder. I am not limber.

Plagues me to this day at times.

Cathy ran to get Tess, who was in the pond by then, and I hobbled over to a bench. We called John who came to get us – they tried to take me to the ER, but instead settled for us calling our ER doc friend when I refused.

By trip time, my leg had turned black down to my ankle and the swelling had started to go down. I didn’t tell anyone I was injured until we saw each other at the airport. My two boys, Nick and Andrew, were so sweet and concerned about my ribs that they carried my purse at times on the trip.

Kitty looking radiant and me looking tired – with leg brace and MBT sandals to help my leg heal.

Kitty looking radiant and me looking tired – with leg brace and MBT sandals. I didn’t care how they looked and they seemed to speed up recovery.

We left Little Rock at 11:15 a.m. Monday and arrived in at Gatwick Airport in London the next morning around 7 a.m. We met up with the other members of our large group – strangers who stayed that way, but we’ll come back to that – and our darling tour director, Kathy. It wasn’t long until we were watching the changing of the guard.

Our tour guide, Kathy Pickis, did a marvelous job. We loved her.

Our tour guide, Kathy Pickis, did a marvelous job. We loved her.

More to come. Quite a bit more. We packed a lot into that trip.

My girls: Ali, who's now married (!), Kim (looking radiant) and Elizabeth, in one of my favorite pictures from the trip, across the street from the House of Lords.

My girls: Alli, who’s now married (!), Kim (looking radiant) and Elizabeth, in one of my favorite pictures from the trip, across the street from the House of Lords.

Time warp

I’m not sure what’s going on with the cosmos, but lately I’ve been caught in some kind of odd time warp. I mentioned that a couple recently recognized me from my old column in the newspaper – one that was abruptly cancelled 9 1/2 years ago but that they thought they’d just read recently.

Turns out that was just the first of five or six times in about 10 days that someone recognized me and said they’d been seeing my work – or that they missed it.

Then at ArtWalk, I ran into a reader who became an acquaintance many years ago after introducing himself to me at Barnes & Noble (as he reminded me).  We ran into each other constantly for years, but I hadn’t seen him in maybe five years until Friday night – and the first thing he said was, “I was just thinking about you,” which was odd enough.

“I was reading the paper the other day and thinking, ‘It’s just not right,'” he went on.


Sunday I pulled out what I thought was an empty manila envelope because I needed something to hold some documents, and it contained clips of a few articles I’d written – very yellowed with time and an absolute surprise.

Not sure what’s up with all that.

For much of my adult life, when I wasn’t working at the statewide newspaper, I taught high school, journalism, desktop publishing, newspaper staff, creative writing and, briefly in the mid-1980s, English. (And I served as girls soccer coach for three years, which was a blast.)

I loved my students, even most of the ones I could hardly stand.

But I always had a special bond with my creative writing students. So that made Sunday even more special.

My current writing gigs are for The Bernice Garden, the Arkansas Cornbread Festival and Esse Purse Museum, all extremely fun things to be involved with and right in our neighborhood.

I’d thought maybe I knew one of our 2013 sculpture contest winners at the garden this year (for the community project sculpture to be named “Wish Locks”) – the name Erika Droke was so familiar that I expected to recognize her when I got to the garden to talk to her and husband John Van Horn and take pictures of people painting locks Sunday during The Bernice Garden Farmers’ Market.

The very cool sculpture

The very cool sculpture “Wish Locks” will be decorated with locks painted by members of the community.

But I didn’t expect her to be one of my creative writing students from the early ’90s, though we recognized each other instantly! Crazy.What an excellent surprise.

John Van Horn and my former student Erika Droke came up with the creative

John Van Horn and my former student Erika Droke came up with the creative “Wish Locks” idea. Yes, I’m very proud!

We had a brief catch-up session and plan to do more. I’m going to take Jude to paint locks one Sunday – he’s quite the artist and we’ll each do one.

Speaking of Jude, in other time weirdness, I was putting something on a high shelf this weekend when I came across a little “Yellow Submarine” Beatles figures set I’d gotten him for Christmas and hidden too well, evidently.

When I mentioned that to Liz yesterday, she said, “Oh, yeah, I was just thinking about that. I wondered what happened to it.” That would be a flash of clairvoyance, according to Judith Orloff, who wrote Second Sight.

This was a perfect time to find it, though, because he started a summer art class at Arkansas Extended Learning Center (owned and run by my friend, Dana Venhaus, unbeknownst to Liz, in another small synchronistic touch) and was feeling shy. I told him I had a surprise for him if he went with an open mind and was brave

He did, he was, and the Yellow Submarine set was his reward.

One last “coincidence (?)” – the other day I had a missed call from a friend I haven’t talked to in ages. Since I’m not a big phone talker, I don’t call back if people don’t leave messages, assuming missed calls are pocket calls. (Unless it’s my kids/son-in-law or my mother.) So I didn’t call back. But I did run into her yesterday at Target.

It was indeed a pocket call, but we had a quick and fun catch up visit in the aisle, and now she wants to read Second Sight, too. Synchronicity at work or coincidence?


Well, I lied. One last last thing. As I was leaving Lakewood in North Little Rock tonight, I had a flashback to the early ’90s when Liz and I were in a guitar shop on JFK Boulevard. She was in junior high and dabbling with guitar, and I was teaching at NLRHS. A young woman who worked at the shop came smiling up to us with her arms extended.

“You was my English teacher!” she said, introducing herself, though I remembered her pretty well. (I still know her first name, which I’ll withhold.)

“Nice work, Mom,” Liz leaned into my ear and said. I had to stifle a laugh.

Save me

I always like to give credit where it is due, so let me just take a moment to mention that Capital One popped in this week to save me from hackery. Someone used my Visa at 2:20 a.m. to make an iTunes charge of $40, and the watchdogs knew it wasn’t me. 

I awoke that morning to an urgent email asking me to call the fraud department. Since we’re leaving the country next week, Capital One also overnighted me a new card.

Customer service at its finest.

Not very long ago John got the same email when someone had use his Capital One Mastercard to charge $100 at iTunes (I smell a racket), which is especially odd because he never buys anything at iTunes. (Unlike yours truly, who doesn’t want to know what she’s spent.)

Don’t know how they’re doing it, but the iTunes hackers are out there. Beware.

What’s in your wallet?


The new issue of Newsweek came in the mail to save me from pre-Olympics fatigue. I was already bored with the summer games until the cover shot of Hope Solo reminded me that soccer was a summer game. 

If you haven’t read her story, you should. She’s an amazing athlete and has an interesting life story. And she doesn’t take any crap from anyone, which is a quality hard to come by for some females.

Not to mention she’s beautiful. But not as beautiful as her skills.

She’s a keeper. By that I mean a goalie, if you’re not soccer literate, the one who saves the team from getting scored on. But she’s a keeper, too, if you know what I mean.

And reading about Hope (whom I always want to call Han, as in Solo, another of my faves) reminded me of how much I loved coaching the North Little Rock High School girls soccer team the first three years of its existence.

Saved me from a lot of things as I was going through a tough divorce. And gave me so, so much. I love those girls to this day, especially the left fullback, who happens to be my daughter. She’s the one with all the hair in the photo.

The NLRHS Lady Charging Wildcats, spring 1998

But they were all special, every year.

Ease on down

I don’t miss teaching, really I don’t. It was definitely time to ease on down the road. But I do miss students, sometimes, and they’ve been on my mind since Wednesday night when John and I did our volunteer ushering gig for the Rep’s version of “The Wiz.” 

(The production has been extended, by the way, so you can still get in to see it – definitely recommended if you’ve never seen it or if you’re a fan. The dance troupe is phenomenal. We LOVED the Lion. And the Wiz is like Little Richards+Jimmy Swaggart, but in a good way.)

Neither the plot nor the songs – nor the students in attendance – got me to thinking about kids I’ve known and loved.  It was visiting with a former student and her parents and getting an update on her older brother, one of my first newspaper students at Central High School.

Hubby and I were busily handing out programs and helping people find their seats when a very tall and strikingly beautiful young woman beamed down at me and engulfed me in a big hug. There she was, tomboy, soccer-star Sarah, all grown up and lovely in her heels and bright coral blazer.

She’s finishing her junior year in college and doing just great.

That was never in doubt. She was always a sharp and responsible student.

Her brother, though, had a different reputation, evidently, before I knew him. To me, he was always an all-star and was quickly promoted to co-editor of “The Tiger” newspaper.

His mother tells a different story. She told me Wednesday night that I was the first adult, beside her and her husband, to have faith in and high expectations of her son (I’ll call him BT). She said she sees me as responsible for his success, which is considerable.

I think she’s giving me way too much credit. Another teacher also noticed BT’s considerable IT skills, for example; we talked about him. But what a compliment and how I appreciated hearing it!

BT, who according to his mother was “a slacker” before he fell in love with the school newspaper, got his degree in International Business with an emphasis in informational technology and a minor in Spanish, in which he is fluent. She says he has become outgoing (unlike the shy boy he was in high school) and has a cool and exciting job for a high-powered, worldwide technology company in Austin, Texas.

So very cool. But I never doubted he’d do such things – I could always see him at Google or Apple or some such place and encouraged him to pursue such a career. He’s not there yet, but he’ll only continue to rise. Super-smart guy.

Toward the end of his senior year, BT shyly invited me to his Eagle Scout ceremony, which John and I happily attended. l broke a rule and kissed him on the cheek afterward, in front of his parents and my husband.

I do believe the statute of limitations has expired, if you feel compelled to turn me in, in these days of hands-off teaching. (And I’m married to my attorney.) It was the right thing to do. He needed the love. And I loved him. Still do.

I loved so many of my students, even the ones I didn’t love, if you can understand that. I was never nominated for an award as a teacher, but my kiddos won plenty, and that’s good enough for me.

The only award I ever needed was to get through to some of them occasionally. Maybe make a difference in somebody’s life.

Wednesday night made my 16 years of teaching worth it all over again.

Funny how time slips away

Well, hello there – my, it’s been a long, long time

Today was a nice and coincidental day. Mother and Cathy and I headed way out west to YaYa’s for a mother/daughters birthday lunch (birthdays seem to extend into weeks when you’re older). Definitely worth the drive. Food, wine and service were great, and complimentary baba ghanoush will win me over anytime.

Just before we left, the manager, a nice-looking young man, came over to our table. He’d been by earlier to ask how our meal was.

This time, he looked at me quizzically, bent down, and asked me if I used to teach. I said yes, and he said, “I knew it! You were my teacher.”

Turns out he was one of my sophomore English students the second year I taught, way back in 1986-87 at Jacksonville High School.

He said he’d been telling his coworkers he knew it was me but it couldn’t be because that was so long ago I’d have to be old now, and I looked (to him) “exactly the same.” Nice to hear, but I assured him that I am old, having just turned 56 this week.

His eyes got big and he said, “Oh, my gosh, you weren’t that much older than us – a bunch of us from my graduating class have been on Facebook talking about how weird it is that we’re all turning 40.”

Big dose of perspective – time is flying. I knew the seniors from my first year were turning 43, but the sophomores were still kids in my mind. (And it also makes me wonder how old they thought I was then. I was 31, which to 15- and 16-year-olds seems pretty indeterminable, I suppose.)

My personal children were precious and little back then (they’re precious and big now and have precious little ones of their own) and loved to go way out to the school with me  if I needed to hang out with yearbook or newspaper staff in the evenings or on weekends. Liz especially loved to write on the chalkboards (yes, chalk – these were the olden days).

Jay said our principal had been in recently too, but

he recognized Jay before Jay recognized him. Anyway, it was a nice visit that brought back some pleasant memories.

Siegfried Sassoon

Then we girls wandered through a couple of stores. At Coldwater Creek, while Mother was shopping, I picked up a very cool book called “The Little Big Book of Dogs” and opened it randomly to a poem called “Man and Dog,” by Siegfried Sassoon.

He just happened to be one of my favorite World War I poets, one I taught heavily to my senior English classes at Jacksonville High School all those years ago.

No biggie, but a nice coincidence. And a really great book for dog lovers. Would make a good Christmas present for someone who, say, has two German Shepherds or something.

Later I met John and our friends Julia and Rich at Breckenridge to see “Contagion.” Good movie, bad news. The $5 feature between 4 and 6 p.m. is no more. Makes you long for the good old days of last month.

Then I came home to a new “Rolling Stone” (Jon Stewart made the cover again) with articles about Pearl Jam’s 20-year-anniversary and the 20-year anniversary of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” – and that the Rolling Stones might, just might, tour next year to celebrate the band’s 50th(!) anniversary. How’d that happen??

Gee, ain’t it funny how time slips away?

Piece of my heart

Tomorrow my son-in-law and I are going to the funeral of Donald Wilson, one of my former students and one of Brent’s close friends from the old days. Donald was funny and quirky and weird and loving.

Heartbreaking. A few years ago, my son and I attended the funeral of Donald’s sister, a brave wonder of nature named Lindsay, who died at 29 of cancer.

Earlier this year, Liz and Ben and I attended the funeral of our beloved Jeremy Owens, one of their best friends who spent many hours at our house – and was also one of my students. He was a beautiful, if troubled, boy. We all wanted to kill him at times, but we all loved him dearly and he could always make us laugh, until the time he made us cry.

I’ve lost other former students over the years, one of whom was the oldest son of one of my oldest, dearest friends. Jason Gwatney, I’ll always love you and miss you, though not as much as your brave mother does – that’s not possible.

But it needs to stop. Now. Because they’re too young and life’s too precious.

And they all take a piece of my heart when they go.

Rest in peace, kiddos. Love you all.

Happiness is a warm … Mac

As a long-term Apple aficionado, I was saddened to read of Steve Jobs’ retirement and evidently worsening health problems. I’ve witnessed death by liver (my father and brother-in-law) and pancreas (our dear friend Tom), and they were horrible to behold. I know Jobs is in better medical hands  and certainly hope for the best for him. Poor (rich) guy.

But we’ve known this day was coming, and Apple, being the Little Engine That Could, will survive. And thank goodness for Macs, because there was a time when I thought I hated computers.

No, I did hate them.

First HAL 9000 thoroughly traumatized me in 2001: A Space Odyssey. That flat, atonal voice gave me the willies even before he took over the ship. Only HAL could make “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do” scary – it was a “follow the bouncing ball” singalong song before he corrupted it.

Then came the horror that was DOS and the word-processor-like clunkers we had to type on in the old newsroom at the old Arkansas Democrat. Yuck. The giant mainframe was in the back, scary big, and we had to angle for time to type or edit our stories, hoping we’d remember the hideous numerical commands and to type \p to create a period.

Give me an electric Olivetti any day. (Actually, maybe I had an IBM Selectric. Whatever.)

But in 1990, when teaching at NLRHS, I learned about Macs when we worked with the NLR Times to produce the school paper. They were cool. But in 1991, when I was given the cutest little Mac Classic II to use with newspaper staff, it was love at first sight of that little smiling Mac icon. 

I loved how the default alert was the musical Sosumi, supposedly a nose-thumb at my beloved Beatles’ Apple Corps, who stated in the agreement they reached on the name that Apple Computer couldn’t deal with anything musical.

And the kids loved it – they’d clamor to work on the Mac. Petted it, called it sweet names. We were smitten and decided to build a Mac computer lab. We had to fund it ourselves, but we didn’t care.

This was just around the time the newspaper business as a whole was going to Macs – all creative publishing businesses were. But the school district was big on Dells, so I had to call about 100 major newspapers across the country (this was the old days, and, yes, there were that many major newspapers, and more) to ask what they worked on. Every paper but one used Macs, and that one was changing over any day.

So we got approval, but no funds. Let the car washes begin! The privilege of working on Macs has been one of the biggest recruitment tools for high school journalism that I’ve seen.

A couple of years later, I bought my first (insanely expensive) personal Mac, a big, clunky beigey-white Power Mac. I loved it. Then Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, and, low and behold, the iconic egg-like iMac in multiple colors was born. In 1998, I ordered what daughter Liz and I called “Barbie’s Dream Computer,” a hot pink one. The screen was in glorious living color. (I donated the Power Mac to a high school newspaper staff taught by a friend.)

John and I met online on the dream computer.

In 2003, I jumped the gun and got a 20-inch flatscreen crook-neck iMac and gave the dream computer to Liz.  It was glorious until about 2004 when, just after the warranty ran out, I spilled coffee near it, and some got in the air holes for the fan. Shortly after that, the beautiful flat screen went black. Between the residual coffee and all the dog hair that my brother-in-law pulled out when he took it apart, we decided it wasn’t worth trying to fix, so I just bought another  flat screen and hooked it up. It still worked fine despite looking strange.

I donated that one to Central when I started teaching there, since I got a new, smaller all-in-one iMac. We still have it – one of the old white ones, not the cool silver ones that came out right after we bought it. Long-term commitment on this one.

I’m typing this, however, on my 15-inch Macbook Pro. John even made the leap this year, from PC to a 13-inch Macbook Pro. (We’re no longer a mixed marriage.)

He likes to tease, but he’s encouraged me in Macdom, actually – he surprised me with a hot pink Nano  when they were new, and after I filled it with songs, he surprised me with a second-generation, 32GB iPod Touch engraved on the back with our a line from our wedding song.

And this year, once Verizon got them, I finally got an iPhone. And, for back to school purposes, of course, an iPad 2. As the hubster likes to say, I have the “complete Mac collection.”

What can I say? Gotta love them apples.