What should not be forgotten

4 Aug

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The sticky handrail
touched by the hands of
1500 middle schoolers

The rhythmic chime
of keys on a lanyard
as a colleague approaches

Second breakfast
with its mug of tea, a banana,
and a colleague with
her bowl of fruit and yogurt

The musty smell
of the locker room
as 120 sixth graders
leave for the day

The flow of students
up and down the staircase
at the beginning and end
of the day

The beep and buzz
of the lock
as you swipe your ID card
before the sun comes up

They joy in your heart
as you stand, before school,
in front of the building,
greeting families,
and one of your current,
or former students,
arrives

 

Faith

28 Jul

Lucas Cuartas was in one of my fourth grade classes in Medellín, Colombia. I think it was in 1992-93 school year, because Pablo Escobar was still on the run and times were crazy.  There were police searches, car bombs and assassinations by vigilantes, and paramilitaries on all sides.

Lucas Cuartas was absent one day. The Columbus School was a private school for wealthy families, and kids were rarely absent, so Lucas’ absence was notable. It wasn’t until someone official arrived – the counselor, our principal, I don’t remember who – arrived at our door that I knew his absence was extraordinary. Miss Vicky, the religion teacher, might have been there too.

My small class of 20ish students sat silently as they were told that Lucas and his family had gone out for pizza the night before. As they drove past a police roundabout, a bomb went off, blowing the roundabout to bits. The car was sent rolling. Lucas had a broken arm, but his mom was in very serious condition.

When I was in teacher’s college, no one prepared us to share this sort of tragic news with our class. Maybe they do now, but in Medellín, Colombia, though it was not an everyday experience, few families or classes had been untouched by the violence of that city and country in that particular period. In the class next door, a girl disappeared from one day to the next after her father had been found, assassinated and dumped in a hole by right wing vigilantes who felt they had proof that he worked for Pablo Escobar. Rumor had it that the girl’s mother had taken the remainder of her family and fled to Argentina.

But there were my fourth graders, facing their own tragedy that touched on our classroom family. I think there was a call for questions, I don’t really remember. I do remember, though that a sweet girl named veronica raised her hand.

“Can we pray for Lucas and his family?” was her simple question.

Chairs scraped on linoleum as every kid in my class, including the one Jewish student we had in a room full of Catholics, knelt on the floor to pray.

A few days later, I went with my principal to a mass for Lucas’ mom, who wasn’t doing well. She recovered some weeks later. Lucas returned to school in a cast, but my class felt so much closer than we had before.

I think often about the contrast between the formality of the mass and the simplicity of the prayers of my class. I don’t know if one had more impact on the outcome of the Cuartas family’s tragedy than the other. But I am still awed by the power I felt in that classroom as my students prayed. There is a verse from Hebrew that says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That classroom was filled with faith, hope and love for others. If we all had the conviction of those fourth graders and followed the guidelines and safety protocols public health officials keep repeating to keep ourselves and others safe, we will be able to go back to normal, sooner, rather than later. I have faith in that.

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Feeding the Beast

21 Jul

Thank you for bringing Lucy in today. She is such a sweet old girl! She has a severe moist dermatitis infection on her ventral chest area and is very itchy….

So began last week’s report from the vet.

Lucy came home with two types of pills and a shaved chest. After the first round of medication, she was already scratching less. And she slept better.

And then the side effects set in.

The antibiotic she is on, Cephalexin, has a list of possible side effects

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Skin rashes

 

She vomited twice. Her appetite is off and as each meal rolls around, I have to get creative.

Each meal starts with two bits of naan, each spread with peanut butter, then rolled up to conceal the meds I have hidden inside. Knock on wood, but, so far, these have been well received. Her bowl of food is a different matter. When she first turned up her nose at her bowl of kibble, she deigned to eat it when I sprinkled small bits of turkey jerky on top. I usually reserve the jerky for positive reinforcement on walks, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

After a few doses of the meds, she turned away from her food, so I tried chicken and rice. It worked for one meal. I tried sprinkling probiotics on top. One day, I got a spoonful of peanut butter and scooped some onto individual kibbles in the hopes it would encourage her to eat. It did not. Today, when she turned up her nose at my offerings, I looked in the fridge, grabbed the bag of shredded carrot and sprinkled some on top. Success!

She has three more days of Cephalexin. I am hopeful that I have enough food toppers in the fridge to get her through.

Lucy Turns 14

 

Senioritis

14 Jul

Lucy hasn’t been sleeping well. As a result, I have not been sleeping well.

Truth be told, my anxieties over the discussions around returning to in person school have also disrupted my sleep. My sleep disruption has impacted her sleep habits, but her issues are more than a reaction to mine.

A few nights ago, she had a really bad night. She woke up around 11:00 and started pacing. Oh, how I wished for wall-to-wall carpeting, because the sound of her toenails on the hardwood floors woke me up – and kept me awake until 3:00. It wasn’t just the midnight pacing – there was panting and staring into space. When she stilled, she didn’t lay down. She scratched, panted, started, then started up suddenly returning to the pacing There were sudden starts and more pacing. She crawled under the bed. I took her out for a couple of potty breaks. I gave her a very early breakfast. And I started thinking about canine cognitive dysfunction: doggie dementia.

She was better the next morning. I was exhausted, but she slept the day away in her usual, 14-year-old way. Since that day, I have been watching her carefully, keeping a list of all the behavioral changes that have happened over the last few months. She’s been itchy and, despite two baths with the medicated shampoo she got last summer, she is still itchy. Maybe that’s a part of the problem.We have a vet appointment later this week. I am hopeful and a little worried.

Lucy Turns 14

 

 

The weird way I am dealing with my back- to-school anxiety

11 Jul

I am not an anxious person, but as the details of my school district’s opening plan evolves, I have an unfamiliar feeling in my chest that I can only call anxiety. I am trying to deal with it by thinking back to times when I have felt this anxious and, despite living in Medellín Colombia from 1991-1994, I have nothing that compares.

What has been helpful, though has been thinking about my years in Colombia. It was the height of the drug war. Pablo Escobar had escaped from prison and there was a nationwide manhunt. FARC rebels were attacking police. Vigilantes were attacking narcotraficantes.  And yet, I only have two recollections of times I felt anxious there.

The first is at the end of my second year, when I had to change houses. I was struggling to find a house in Envigado where I could still employ my maid, Teresita, and have my dog. It ended well and I loved the traditional house that I found. It had thick white stucco walls and a floor with alternating yellow and green tile. The two barred windows at the front had wooden shutters that opened from the inside. There were two interior patios that had openings in the roof. In winter, when it rained, I loved the sound of the rain falling into the patio. My anxiety of looking for this house has been almost erased by my joy at finding it.

The second time I felt anxious, was in my second year. It was a particularly trying time in Colombia. In a country with the highest rate of murders and kidnappings in the world, it was hard to believe things could escalate, but they did, and it impacted us at school. The murder by vigilantes of the father of a girl in the class next to mine was bad enough. But then, on a family evening out for pizza, a boy in my class was affected. As the family car drove past a police roundabout, rebels detonated a bomb in the police station. The family’s car flipped. Lucas, my student, suffered a broken arm. His mother was taken to hospital and was in serious condition. When the principal and counselor came to talk to my class, I got tears in my eyes when a sweet girl named Veronica asked if we could pray. I had to wipe the tears away as each and every student got out of their chair and knelt in prayer for Lucas, his mother, and their family. We all felt like we were part of their family. A few days, when things took a turn for the worse,  we all attended a mass to pray for his mother’s recovery. Fortunately, she recovered and this horrible tragedy helped bring this class together in a deeper way.

So, all of this has me thinking about finding joy. Every day in isolation, I make myself do four things: exercise, read, write, knit. I think I am going to start writing the joyful stories I have from my years in Medellín. I might even post some of them here.

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Going Grey

7 Jul

I noticed my first grey hairs in the 90s, while I was working in Medellin, Colombia. A student named Felipe pointed them out to me and I told him they were all named after him. He thought that was pretty funny and told his mother, who was horrified, but laughed. Felipe was that kind of kid.

The really funny thing is that the conversation with his mother almost certainly took place in Spanish, but I remember it in English.

A few years after leaving Colombia – and more grey had appeared –  I was getting my hair cut and the woman in the chair next to me asked,”Is that your natural color, or are those highlights?”.

I told her it was and she replied,” You are really lucky.”

Since then, I have embraced the grey. That conversation helped me with its acceptance. I have watched family and friends both go grey and fight the grey. My mother spent years in a deep relationship with Lady Grecian Formula, stemming the grey tide, before finally embracing the inevitable. And she wore her grey well. My brother – who, like me, has my mother’s hair – has gone completely grey.

At my last haircut, on March 16th, my stylist cut my hair exceptionally short. I think she was anticipating the closure of salons. I am now at the point where I am thinking about getting my hair cut again. But I am also thinking about how ready I am for my hair to go completely grey.

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Walking with Lucy

30 Jun

The first walk comes early
out the back door
just as the sun is coming up.
It is followed by breakfast
and a nap.

The second walk comes later, still early,
as the street awakens with
cats, dog walkers,
and neighbors beginning
the journey to work.

The third walk comes mid morning
sometimes against her will,
mostly for my benefit.

The fourth walk comes after lunch.
On a sunny day
she might lay down on the sidewalk
taking a sunbath.

The last walk comes after dinner
her tummy full we take
one more turn around the street
before returning to the house
and she puts herself to bed.

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Jinx

23 Jun

In 1982, I went to Denmark as a Rotary exchange student. I knew I was to have three host families before I left. I hadn’t expected though, how much I would love them.

In fact, I loved my first family so much that I wished I didn’t have to move to the second. When the unthinkable happened just before the move – my second host dad was shot in a serious hunting accident – I thought it was my fault. I knew  it wasn’t, but I couldn’t help feel that I was a jinx.

The good news is that he recovered fully and I came to love that family even more than the first. But the feeling of being a jinx has never really gone away.

I was supposed to leave for Chicago on Thursday. I was supposed to attend the ALA Annual Conference and meet the members of YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults committee, of which I am the chair. Even though I know that I am not the cause if the conference’s cancellation and transformation into a virtual conference, once more, I feel like a jinx.

Even though I know it was COVID-19’s fault, there is a wacky part of my brain that believes I caused it because of a journal I purchased.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was revisiting bookbinding. In my pursuit, I thought I’d search Etsy for a nice handmade journal for my niece’s graduation from the University of Ottawa. I found a lovely maker who had some with maps on the cover.

You know how shopping sometimes goes – you find the perfect gift for your loved one, and a little something for yourself. Well, I found a journal with  Portland boards which I knew my niece would love.

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And then I saw one with Chicago covers. I had recently started a journal to keep track of my work as committee chair and knew this would help me do a better job. I purchased both. And that is when I jinxed the conference, although I didn’t know that for several more weeks, when the announcement came.

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Our committee met this week using Zoom. Our discussions were fruitful and have moved our work forward. But I can’t help wondering what’s going to happen in January, when we are supposed to meet, face-to-face in Indianapolis to select our winner at the ALA Midwinter meeting. There’s been a lot of what if thinking going on in my head these days as I navigate the ongoing COVID crisis, wondering what school will look like in the Fall, when this will all end. Maybe you have experienced this, too.  The only thing I know for sure is that I will not buy an Indianapolis journal, no matter how beautiful it might be.

 

 

 

 

A visit to the library

16 Jun

School ended for kids on Thursday and for teachers yesterday. That’s big news. But the best news was that I finally went somewhere new.

In normal times, I go to the library at least once a week. My last visit was on March 9th. When it was announced on March 17th that public libraries would close, I regretted not stopping on my way home from my last day at school to pick up my holds.

Two weeks ago, Multnomah County Libraries announced that they would begin offering holds pick ups. The first branches would open on June 8th. My local branch would open on the 15th. I was elated. On Thursday, I called the number they posted and made an appointment for 10 a.m. on the 15th. I can’t tell you how excited I was.

I arrived early, but they were already open. There was only one person ahead of me so I stood on the spot that marked our new norm

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The process was quick and efficient. I walked up to the table that filled the library’s doorway and gave my name. They found it on the 10 a.m. spreadsheet.

“You have quite a few,” the masked librarian told me.

“I know. I brought a bag,” I replied, holding up my library bag.

She walked over to the piles of books in neatly arranged around the lobby and grabbed  my stack. Back at the table, she placed them on a tray and slid them towards me. I stuffed the books in my bag and she slid the tray back.

“Do you need to see my card?” I asked.

“No. They are already checked out,” she replied.

I had already read one of my new books, so I dropped it in the book drop. When I made my appointment, the person on the other end of the line told me that any books I returned would be quarantined for a few days before being checked back in. It seems a reasonable precaution.

As I walked back to the car, I looked through the library windows and saw piles of books stacked atop bookcases in the children’s section. Must be the rest of today’s pickups, I thought.

Through the next window, I saw the books in quarantine. Apparently, I’m not the only one happy to be able t use the library again.

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Frozen in Time

9 Jun

Lucy and I were a little ways down the street when my neighbor came down the front steps of the Normandy Court Condominiums where we both live.

I waved.  She waved. It was that strange moment when, before, we would have moved closer to each other to chat. This day, as we do now,, we chatted from afar.

“Can I ask you a strange favor?” she asked me nervously.

I assumed she’d ask me to water her plants. It’s not a strange request – we’ve watered each other’s plants before, but so many things seem strange these days.

“Sure,” I said. “What do you need?”

She went on to tell me that, despite walking to work instead of taking the bus, she’d gained almost 17 pounds. That led us to a discussion of self-medicating with carbs and the need for second breakfast. Then came The Ask.

“I’ve signed up for Nutrisystem,” she began, “and they are sending me a month’s worth of food. Some of it is frozen and I don’t know if it will all fit in my freezer. If it doesn’t, and if you have room, would you be able to store some for me?”

I smiled. It was a strange request, but I said yes. I went on to tell her how, in the first two weeks of shutdown, when toilet paper had disappeared off the shelves, and we all felt as if time had frozen and every day was the same, I stocked up on food in my freezer. I made batches of soup and chili and stew and packed the freezer. For weeks, I didn’t touch the frozen food, unsure about what was going to happen. Over the last few weeks, I’ve begun eating them. So, I have some freezer space I can share and told her so.

We chatted a little more, then Lucy and I carried on down the street to take care of business.

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Randy Ribay

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