What I Know of Leaves

As a child, I loved autumn – the fallen leaves, raked in piles on my lawn with their musty scent always thrilled me. I remember my Dad and I raking the leaves from around the entire yard to create the largest mound possible before plunging into the mountainous pile.

I still find great pleasure in the autumn leaves, but I haven’t jumped into a pile of them in quite some time. Perhaps I need to do that again. But these days I find myself admiring the colors and shapes of leaves. I enjoy the crunch of dried leaves beneath my feet as I cross the lawn and I still love their earthy scent. I enjoy watching the squirrels scamper through them as they seek to hide their treasures.

I think the leaves are my favorite part of the season. They seem to pair nicely with jeans, hooded sweatshirts, and hiking boots.

Upon the wind, they gather and play
dancing and swirling as though
they were a sign of youth and vigor
instead of the dying of another season.

Laying one upon the other
Shifting and stirring,
rustling with
each footfall and breath of the Earth.

Hues changing, ripening
with intense beauty and fading
into the background with age.

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“No, the shirts are for me.”

When it comes to clothing, I’m all about comfort over fashion -quite frankly, I wouldn’t know fashion if it bit me in the ass. If it were solely up to me, I would wear jeans and a t-shirt every day of my life. I’ve recently discovered the joys of yoga pants too, but that’s a whole different story. When I die, at my viewing, I want to be dressed in jeans and a t-shirt; I mean, why change at that point? Hell, if I could go back and do it again, I’d probably wear jeans and a t-shirt to my wedding. You get the point.

I walk a fine line when it comes to dressing professionally for work. If I have to dress up, I want to be comfortable. Men’s dress shirts tend to work well for me; they’re dressy enough for work, but make me feel casual.

This morning I was out running some last minute back-to-school errands, and I decided to pop in at a local discount department store thinking I might be able to find some new shirts. I went through the women’s section and didn’t see anything I cared for, so I went to the men’s section and found short sleeve button up shirts in my size, and in colors I like. Score!

I proceed to the checkout. I make small talk with the female cashier. And then she says, “are you back to school shopping for your son, or shopping for your husband?”

I hesitated a moment and then replied, “for my husband.” And with those words, I knew I’d be coming home to write an analysis of this incident.

(On a side note, she then responded with, “like a good wife should! Men can’t shop for themselves; well, they can, but…” I know, I know, so much gold to mine there for commentary! I feel the need to apologize to my male friends just for relaying this deeply flawed stereotype.)

Her question had caught me off guard, and I’d lied out of laziness. I didn’t feel like explaining. But why would I feel the need to explain? I could have just said, “no, the shirts are for me.” Simple as that. But that’s not what I did. Am I ashamed of wearing men’s shirts? No, obviously not if I wear them regularly to work. I simply wanted to get the hell out of there.

I know this cashier meant well; she was just trying to be conversational which if you know me, can be awkward enough (see last sentence of above paragraph).  At first, I wasn’t as disturbed by her question as I was about my inability, to be honest. But the more I think about it; I feel equally disturbed by the entirety of the conversation. And what the hell is this “good wife” bullshit? My husband can and does shop for himself and does just fine, thank you. Not to mention she must have thought I looked old enough to have a son wearing 2xl men’s dress shirts! WTF?!

I don’t usually tend to think of myself as “gender nonconforming,” but if you feel the need to put a label on it, there it is. My family referred to me a “tomboy” growing up. All I know is that I like to wear whatever makes me comfortable, and in this case, it’s men’s dress shirts.  I have on occasion walked into a department store, gone directly to the men’s section to get what I wanted, paid for it, and walked out – short, and sweet, and to the point – the way I prefer to shop.

And then I consider my male friends, the ones who don’t necessarily conform to gender stereotypes. What must it be like for them? In all the times I’ve bought men’s clothes, up until today, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about it, but I get the sense that a man browsing the women’s section or seen purchasing women’s clothes would automatically be assumed to be shopping for his wife.

Gender stereotypes are still the norm in our society. As a society, these stereotypes serve no real purpose but are difficult to break free from and so they persist. I failed to do my part today in working for change, but I hope if the opportunity ever presents itself again that I will conscientiously decide to take up the torch and help burn down those stereotypes down. And maybe, if enough people make that conscientious decision, gender stereotypes will cease to exist.

 

 

 

 

 

End of (my) summer reflection…

It’s that time of year again, for me anyway, when I start back to school (work). So I thought it would be good to take some time to reflect on my summer and my thoughts about the upcoming school year.

My summer started out with me feeling vaguely apathetic towards the break. I am usually much more excited to escape the daily rhythms of life as a teacher. The idea alone of sleeping in is enough to bring a smile to my face – hey, getting up at 5:30 a.m. gets tougher the older I get. However, this year I’d managed spontaneously to decide that I wanted to take a position as summer camp director for a nature camp. At the time, it seemed liked a fantastic idea. I’d get to spend time in nature, have some structured activity to my summer, and earn some extra money. But as summer approached I became extremely apprehensive about the prospect of giving up three weeks of my “me time,” the idea that I would be in charge of 35 children and a few teenage volunteer counselors, and that a whole host of horrendous trauma inducing events could potentially occur to myself or the children I was in charge of. (Yes, my anxiety was highly involved with my imagination pertaining to the potential traumas, but that didn’t make them any less real in MY mind.)

As so often happens with my well-intentioned spontaneity, I had begun to regret my decision. What had I gotten myself into? Surely someone was going to suffer a broken bone on my watch, or worse yet, a fishhook injury the likes of which the world had never seen before, or even a snake bite, and don’t get me started on the thought that some child might wander off and drown in the lake. Aaaakk! I couldn’t handle the pressure (self-imposed, yes, but still), how was I ever going to be able to do this?

My first week off from school I spent preparing for the following week that would be the first week of nature camp. I had plenty of activities planned. The campground owner thought I had great ideas, and things would go very well. I wasn’t convinced, but I was going through with it, ready or not.

The first week of camp was a good week. Everything went well, and there were only two bloody noses the whole week. I can handle bloody noses. As long as it isn’t my blood, I’m usually good to go.

After the first week of camp, I had a week to myself to decompress. It was a relief to have made it through the first week of nature camp, and I felt more prepared for the remaining two weeks I’d have later in July.

Then there was a week of vacation with my husband at Rehoboth Beach. Vacation was good though my moods fluctuated frequently. You never think of anxiety and depression fucking with your vacation time – a time when you’re supposed to be relaxing and having fun – but mental illness doesn’t give a shit about that sort of thing, it does what it wants when it wants. Despite that, we still managed to eat several delicious meals out, enjoy kayaking, take two boat rides (an eco tour and a sunset cruise), take a day trip to Assateague, see two plays at the local theater, have dinner with friends, and take two separate nature/bird watching hikes. All in all, we still had a great time.

Upon returning from vacation, I had a week to prepare for the next two weeks of nature camp and the arrival of my two younger cousins. They were going to be visiting and helping me as camp counselors. I was extremely glad to have their company and their help.

The final two weeks of nature camp went fairly well. Only one small glitch with an unhappy parent caused me a significant deal of stress and anger, but in the end, things worked out. I managed to please the majority of campers and their parents who were supportive and kind. I even managed to have some fun in the process.

Looking back on the camp director experience, I think it went well overall; however, I would hesitate to do something of that nature again. On the other hand, it was wonderful to have my teenage cousins visit for two weeks. And we’ve made tentative plans for a visit again next summer.

Following the camp experience, my husband and I celebrated our 10th anniversary with a trip to Cape May, NJ. It was an amazing weekend getaway! We went to a crab and beer festival, took an ecological boat tour, did a small bit of hiking (it was exceedingly hot), and again enjoyed some amazing food.

The past two weeks have provided me with some down time for which I am extremely thankful. I’ve spent my days wandering local parks, taking pictures, reading, and writing. I’ve visited all of my favorite downtown coffee shops and just generally had time to mentally relax and feel like I’ve had some much desired time to myself. All topped off with a visit from my mom this weekend and a trip to the Mt. Gretna Arts Festival.

I went into my summer rather apprehensive about what was in store for me, but looking back (as is usually the case), I didn’t need to be so worried. I’m very grateful for the summer that I’ve had.

A lesson I should currently be applying to my impending school year; I’d like to say that I will, but I know myself better than that. There will be anxiety. There will be stress (self-imposed and otherwise). And there will be challenges. And even though I know that I am strong and capable of handling all of that…it still worries me.

I haven’t been sleeping well the past few nights, and I’ve had several stress-dreams, so this afternoon I’m doing something special for myself. I’m going for a massage. I haven’t had a massage since our honeymoon ten years ago, and I’m excited by this opportunity.

So here’s to the new school year:  may it be filled with fun, amazing students, opportunities for growth, and a sense of fulfillment.

 

 

 

Sketch from the Park

I sat down thinking to myself that I would sit on the park bench for a short time until my parking meter ran out. No sense in wasting the money when I could enjoy some quiet reading time. Then, from behind me, I heard what I assumed at the moment was the voice of a lawyer talking into some Bluetooth device rather loudly. I attempted to tune it out just like the rest of the city noises. It was all just background.

I soon found that I couldn’t do much to tune the voice out as it continued to approach and grew louder with proximity. I glanced from the corner of my eye to see a worn leather suitcase plopped unceremoniously on the sidewalk near my bench as it’s owner paced back and forth arguing with someone on the phone. I turned my head to see a somewhat bedraggled gentleman with graying hair. He looked nothing like a lawyer.

The man strode further on down the sidewalk, seeming to have some destination in mind, and I realized then that the suitcase was still sitting approximately ten feet from me.  I momentarily wondered if the man had forgotten it and whether I should call out to him, but before I could make up my mind to any action, he came walking back much quieter this time. He picked up his suitcase and resumed his progress down the walk only to stop once again another twenty feet away, drop the suitcase and pick up the conversation with the person on the other end of the phone.

“Don’t talk to me like that; yeah, now a lady is looking at me,” he said, and I guiltily wondered if I was the “lady” he was referring to. I quickly averted my eyes back to my book trying to appear innocent of having eavesdropped on his conversation. “She’s just trying to read a book, and you’re interrupting her,” he continued much more subdued than the previous topic of conversation but still obviously irritated with his caller’s demeanor. I peeked over the top of my book shifting slightly on the bench to see if there were others nearby, but no; I was the one and only potential culprit. He was referring to me, and I found myself relieved when he picked up his suitcase yet again and continue his stroll towards the entrance to the parking garage – or so I thought.

Again peering over the top of my book, now fascinated by this odd gentleman and his suitcase, I became even more confused by his behavior when he again flung down the suitcase behind a dumpster loudly proclaiming, “you’ve got people looking at me! Why can’t you just leave me alone?” He proceeded to sink exasperatedly down on top of his suitcase and soon all I could see were his feet sticking out from behind the dumpster.

Figuring my entertainment had subsided, I went back to my reading. I managed another two paragraphs before I could hear his voice again echoing from the archway to the parking garage. He seemed to be telling the other person that they were in no way married. Puzzled and slightly amused by this new development, I continued staring at my book while tuning my ears in on his conversation yet again hoping, this time, he wouldn’t notice.

“We’re not married. You and I were never married. Wendy and I were never married,” he retorted. I could only imagine the other half of this conversation being just as emotionally charged as his half based on his tone of voice as he raged on again stepping from behind the dumpster, “Who the hell do you think you are? You’re not entitled to anything! Wendy and I were never married. Common Law marriage hasn’t existed since 2004, and we weren’t even together for seven years before 2004.” He began pacing again then headed in my direction yet. I shifted my eyes from my book again just in time to see him stoop over a cigarette disposal bin and start rummaging through it. Oh, I thought.

Up until this point I’d given the man’s appearance and odd suitcase the benefit of the doubt and made no assumptions, but it was at this moment that something clicked in my brain, and I realized that this man was likely homeless. At the same time, I became aware that he was not, in fact, talking to anyone via a Bluetooth device, but rather to a voice only he could hear. I buried my nose deep into my book yet again and as he continued past me leaving his suitcase tucked behind the dumpster. He strode on towards a garbage can further down the walkway behind me still yelling about Wendy and then back again towards the dumpster. Lifting the lid to the dumpster, he proclaimed to the voice only he could hear, “if I find something you’re not getting any of it do you hear me?”

An immense feeling of sadness washed over me. My mind ping-ponged about contemplating whether I should buy the man some food at a nearby cafe, or if money would be more helpful? Was it safe to approach him? What if he became angry with me? Here I was stereotyping this poor man; surely I should be offering help of some sort …

And as I wrestled with my failings as a human being, the man pick up his suitcase from behind the dumpster and walk off, checking each of the garbage receptacles as he went.

The Wooden Frog

I’m on vacation at the beach this week staying at one of my favorite places right on the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk, Star of the Sea. We have stayed here may times over the past five years or so and I always look forward to returning.

For those of you who don’t know, I (like the God character in Dogma) am a skeeball junkie. I love old fashion arcades and Rehoboth beach happens to be the home of one of my all time favorite arcades.

Now for the real story….

Every year we’ve come to Star of the Sea, there’s been a wooden frog in the lobby leading out to the boardwalk. The first time we stayed, we discovered through mere curiosity that the wooden frog was hollow and you could remove his top to reveal a shallow bowl. It was empty and it gave me an idea; I decided we’d leave something in the frog as a gift for the next curious explorer, most likely a child.

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My first thought was a treasure map leading to a small buried/hidden treasure, but later decided that really wasn’t a practical thing as the bearer of the map might not be the first to discover the stash. I opted instead to leave arcade tickets.

This in itself was completely within my character as my arcade winnings are rarely, if ever, redeemed for prizes. It is my tradition to give away the tickets before leaving the arcade to a child. It’s actually my favorite part of going to the arcade; getting to see a child’s face light up when they realize that I want to give them my tickets.

Ever since that first year, upon our arrival at Star of the Sea, we’ve checked the frog to see what loot others may have stashed there. I’m fairly certain that almost every time we’ve found something in the frog. Always some sort of anonymous gift.

This year, we discovered several pieces of what appear to be play money and various other items.

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This year, we discovered a little note card sitting next to the frog simply saying, “Take one, Leave one.” Perhaps management or the cleaning service have clued in on the game their patrons like to play.

Our trip to the arcade this morning has now supplied our newest contribution to the anonymous wooden frog. A ticket slip from the arcade will be found by the next set of curious little fingers to explore the frog in the lobby.

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I have no idea if we were the first to begin what has become this tradition of paying it forward, but to those who continue to participate, I thank you. It’s nice to see that there are still small treasures in this world to be found if you are curious enough to go looking.

A Thank You to George S. Schmidt

Upon being asked recently when I began writing and who my favorite writers were, I recalled a specific book of poetry that I’ve kept in my collection for a considerable length of time and have periodically returned to throughout my life. I’m fairly sure the book came to me at around the age of 8 or 9, but how it became mine, I’m not entirely certain. Mostly likely I picked it up at a yard sale or library sale as I do know that it was not a new book when it came to me. Its pages had already begun to yellow at that point.

From the first time I read the book, there were a number poems that I enjoyed. Not every poem was of interest to me (as is still the case), but one poem, “Sunlit Yesterdays,” stands out in this collection as a poem I’ve repeatedly read to the point of near memorization. I have no idea what exactly drew me to this particular poem as a child as it is the poet reflecting on his life in old age. But this poem has always drawn me in. There are a few others I’ve always enjoyed within the collection as well. The book is entitled Random Rhymes, which seems rather nondescript and ordinary.

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However, my most recent re-exploration of this book focused not so much on the poetry itself, but I was curious about the background of the book and its author. I made some interesting coincidental discoveries (exciting to me anyway), and I wanted to share them.

So the book was written by George S. Schmidt and it just so happens that he was from York, PA, which is only about 30-40 minutes away from where I live. This information intrigued me, and I have been digging for more details. The forward of his book indicated publication in 1928. I was able to find a copy of the book for sale on Amazon. Even more amazing, I learned that this was Schmidt’s second book of poetry, the first was entitled Vagrant Verses.  Mr. Schmidt was a business person and lawyer in York; he was born in 1861 and died in 1935.

George S. Schmidt appears to have had a sense of humor that I quite appreciate. In the forward he says, “I am transmitting this booklet to the individual members of the Order, and to a few other of my friends, at a time when their hearts are so throbbing with goodwill towards men, and their eyes to dazzled by the lights of Christmastide, that their vision is impaired, and the manifold defects in these random and disconnected rhymes may ‘to some extent’ escape them.” I find this amusing. It appears that he gave this book only to a small circle of friends (it was privately published) and told them that even though they received the book out of his love and affection for them, they were in no way obligated to read all of it or any of it for that matter. A man after my own heart, he was.

I am sure none of this is of interest to anyone besides myself. However, I can’t get over the idea that I’ve kept this book for over 20 years because it marked the beginning of my love for poetry and in part inspired me to write poetry myself, and for the past 15 years, I’ve been living within miles of the author’s hometown. The book traveled over a hundred miles to get to me as a child, only to land close to home once again.

So, in conclusion, I thank you my dear departed friend, George S. Schmidt for your many years of company. I have indeed read each poem in your collection, and though I do not like every poem, I do appreciate your work.