A dull ache for a sharp object

When Mom’s pocket knife gets confiscated in Italy

 

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Photo: Paul Felberbauer on Unsplash

When the security employee at the gate asked me to step aside, I remembered. My pocket knife. Oh no, my pocket knife, I thought, realizing I had left it earlier in the little cosmetic bag inside my purse. I had forgotten to check it with my luggage and now I was at the gate and my knife was going away.

The uniformed employee explained in her thick Venetian accent, “We must take this from you. If it’s you really need, you go downstairs, fill out the form, and it be sent to you.”

Standing there, I knew we wouldn’t have time to make those arrangements. And besides, it wasn’t a valuable possession. But then again, it was.

For twenty-five years, I had carried that pocket knife.

Back in 1990, I had chosen it from a mound of identical ones heaped in a small cardboard box next to a cash register in the sporting goods department at a Kmart in Topeka, Kansas. It had cost my boyfriend (now my husband) an entire dollar. It featured a steel blade, a wooden casing, and bronze hardware that over the years, had polished to a golden shine from being nestled in my purse for so long.

Similar to how candy bars are placed at checkout stands to captivate small children, that box of $1 knives held equal allure for the fishermen and hunters who visited that department. Not that I was one of them. We had gone to the store to use the restrooms tucked away behind the restaurant at the back of the store. As he waited on me, he spotted the knives and bought one for me.

“Keep it in your purse. It’ll come in handy,” he told me. He was right.

That little knife had been many places… all over Missouri and Kansas, Nashville, Asheville, several cities in Maine and Vermont, Columbus, Atlanta, Sarasota, Highland Park, Phoenix and other Arizona locals, multiple sights in the Los Angeles area, Oregon and Washington State, Cape Town and other South African cities, DC, New York City, Taos, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Dallas, New Orleans. Over the years, we had journeyed across the country to attend annual family reunions, exhibit my husband’s ceramic art at festivals, and accompany him as he served artist residencies.

And now, its final destination would be Venice, Italy, where it would be left behind, a hindrance to a quick departure, discarded inside a gray plastic tub under the counter.

I regret leaving that silly little knife because it wasn’t just a pocket knife. It was a symbol of family life and motherhood and had been more often used for non-cutting tasks. That knife spread peanut butter on sandwiches many more times that it ever cut into a fish or snipped a cord on a tent or tarp. It was this mother’s indispensable tool. As such, it was always easy to locate.

My son and daughter both knew I carried a pocket knife and I passed it back to them at least once or twice on every road trip we took over the years. Need to break open a family-sized plastic bag of M&Ms? Get Mom’s knife. Opening a DVD? Get Mom’s knife. Got a stray thread hanging from your hem? Ask Mom to hand back her pocket knife.

Just prior to leaving Venice, as I buckled up inside the plane, regretting my decision to leave my knife, I recalled how six years earlier, I had flown from Johannesburg to Atlanta with a knife my son had purchased as a souvenir. Despite its massive four-inch blade, he had somehow forgotten to pack it in a checked bag. I offered to stow it inside my purse, warning him it would likely be confiscated at our first departure.

Nope. X-rays and inspections by hand never discovered it. Of course, that would happen to a brand new knife without any peanut butter experience. And of course, that knife has since been long forgotten, I might add.

As for my knife, I have since replaced it, but the blade on my new one is narrower and not quite as functional as the one left in Venice. I mean, you can spread peanut butter on a slice of bread if you really want to, but it’s the not the same as my Kmart special.

I’m one of those people who feels sorry for the last Christmas tree on the lot. So it’s no surprise that I’m still feeling nostalgic for my lost pocket knife… a year and a half later.

Somewhere in Italy, it’s languishing in a gray bin of confiscated sharp objects. Maybe it’s been recycled by now. Maybe it’s been donated to a charity. Hopefully, it’s performing some mother’s mundane tasks, making her life a little easier, and definitely more memorable.


Had an experience similar to mine? Like this post, follow my blog, and feel to leave a comment about any precious object that’s drifted out of your life. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Punishing Laura Ingalls Wilder

Write inclusively… or else.

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Photo: Carl Newton on Unsplash

Little House on the Prairie, Ch. 11—Indians in the House

By Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Laura was frightened. Jack had never growled at her before. Then she looked over her shoulder, where Jack was looking, and she saw two naked, wild men coming, one behind the other, on the Indian trail.

‘Mary! Look!’ she cried. Mary looked and saw them, too.

They were tall, thin, fierce-looking men. Their skin was brownish-red. Their heads seemed to go up to a peak, and the peak was a tuft of hair that stood straight up and ended in feathers. Their eyes were black and still and glittering, like snake’s eyes.”

I remember reading this excerpt as a young girl when prairie mania reigned in one small slice of American pop culture. The craze for all things “prairie” owed its popularity to a series of nine volumes collectively called the Little House books. Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series’ popularity was aided by the launch of a TV drama, Little House on the Prairie, starring Michael Landon. I owned the entire Little House set and a pricey collectible wall calendar. I even visited Mansfield, Mo. with my family to tour Wilder’s final home where she wrote her books.

Spellbound through that breathless chapter where the Indians later entered the Ingalls cabin for tobacco and cornbread prepared by the girls’ mother, I considered how vulnerable the Ingalls were as they settled into the frontier of the Osage Indians who lived nearby. Based on my own background and Wilder’s perspective as told through the eyes of Laura, I never considered the vulnerability of the Osage and their culture. I just wanted to keep reading and turning the pages, so I could finish the book and dash off to the bookstore to buy the next.

The sage was enthralling and heart-breaking: white settlers making a home on the American frontier, occasional clashes with the Native Americans, Laura’s coming-of-age, tenuous friendships with the Olson family, Mary’s blindness.

Diverse? Not at all. Inclusive? Nope. It was 1975. As such, Wilder’s Little House series was considered a darn good story and was deemed worthy of recognition.

Until last week.

That’s when the American Library Association (ALA) and its branch, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), decided to change the name of its prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Inaugurated in 1954 and awarded to Wilder herself for her book series, “This award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature,” according to this ALA newsletter.

Sounds reasonable. Few would disagree that Wilder’s books indeed made “a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature” over the years, albeit not universally among readers.

Here’s how ALSC President Nina Lindsay explained the name change in a letter to her board of directors: “Laura Ingalls Wilder has long held a complex legacy, as her books reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced…”

She continued, “Today, this award elevates a legacy that is not consistent with values of diversity and inclusion—something we did not fully understand as a profession when we created the award. While many of Wilder’s books received Newbery honors, (and one may easily find other books within our award canon that don’t live up completely to our current values), we recognize that the name of an award itself holds significant power… The ALSC Executive Committee noted that the name of the award is a currently potentially significant barrier to achieving our goals, and is within our power to change.”

It’s a change many authors, publishers, librarians, and teachers advocate. Debbie Reese, founder of the comprehensive website American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) and a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman, believes the images contained in Wilder’s books of “Native people, cultures, and history work to misinform young readers.” One example of misinformation is the dehumanization that appears in Chapter 11. Here’s one instance:  Wilder writes the Osage Indians’ eyes were “glittering like snake’s eyes.”

To counter these messages that misinform young children, the AICL website recommends works “by Native authors who write books that provide children with accurate information about American Indians.”

After all, Wilder’s books do contain racist depictions and stereotypes (in Chapter 11 of Little House on the Prairie and in other books in the series) of Native Americans and Africans. In addition, Reese cites Wilder’s recurring descriptions of the land as “empty” and her arguable notions that Indians were primitive beings without civilized, autonomous societies.

Therefore, to celebrate contemporary authors with an award named for an author whose perspective is found objectionable, seemed incongruous for some members of ALSC, which exists to engage “communities to build healthy, successful futures for all children.”

And let’s not forget this: the ALSC is not censoring Wilder’s work. Anyone can still purchase her books or find them at their local library. The ALSC merely removed Wilder’s name from its prestigious award.

It should also be noted that the decision does not appear to have been made hastily and members did not unanimously favor the change. An ALSC task force conducted a survey of members and ALA ethnic affiliates. The results: 305 favored the name change; 156 did not. Still, according to the ALSC task force’s recommendation, “We believe that this decision serves the best interest of our Association, its members, and all of those they serve, not only now, in 2018, but in the long term.

But what about history? Is it wise to attempt to remove evidence of the prejudicial attitudes from our past by denigrating the authors who recorded them? Wilder’s works were clearly set in the past and while they contain objectionable content for some, they remain a historical account. According to a statement from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Mo., “Mrs. Wilder believed her books to be historically accurate and reflect American life during the Western Movement. However difficult it may be to agree with social mores within these years, the fact remains that was a different time and what was accepted then would not be today.”

Even so, the quest for diversity and inclusion in historical literature takes precedence. With its action, the ALSC is indirectly controlling authors by condoning the events, characters and the actions of the characters those authors write about, historical or otherwise.

Regardless, the end result of all this is that now Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name comes with a warning label attached. And so does the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This is what that label says:

  • Your characters will speak and behave with respect for all.
  • Your plot’s conflict must offend no one now nor in the future, and include the diverse views of all parties.
  • Your character’s thoughts and impressions must not be their own, or the author’s, but of those with the ability to make institutional change within the prevailing culture.

In short, write inclusively or you will be punished.


Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts? Click like and leave a comment so more people may see this and be able to weigh in. 

Of Tenacity and Cupcake Sprinkles

How I found connection in the Basilica of San Vitale

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These aren’t paintings, but mosaics made of thousands and thousands of tiny glass tiles known as tesserae. The gold tesserae are actually two clear glass tiles that sandwich a layer of gold leaf. The entire surfaces of these walls are mosaic; the only areas that aren’t mosaics are the windows and the marble columns. Photo: Katherine Yung

Here’s a scenario: Your daughter requests sprinkles on the cupcakes you’re baking for her birthday party. However, pretend the shaker needed to sprinkle on the dotted decorations has not been invented yet, and the only way to get the sprinkles perfectly placed and evenly dispersed on the cupcakes is not by scattering them with your fingers, but by applying them one by one, with tweezers perhaps.

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Photo: Unsplash

Adding sprinkles to the cupcakes now will take days, weeks or longer. The task will be one of intense devotion and labor, simply because of the time involved and the perseverance needed to complete it.

Now imagine that each one of those precisely placed sprinkles is similar—I know… it’s a stretch, but stay with me—to a shimmering miniature glass tile positioned into a mosaic inside the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, a city of 160,000 near the Adriatic Sea.

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A detail of Empress Theodora, from the mosaic in the apse of San Vitale. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One by one, each tile is placed into the scene. One by one, each tile forms a bit more of the image. This will take twenty years at least. It’s a painstaking process and creating the picture would be much faster with brushwork, but glass is the medium and a stunning mosaic is the goal.

Each tiny piece of glass—some are half the size of your pinky nail—symbolizes perseverance and an acute attention to detail and artistry, and—by extension—to Christ.

Cupcake sprinkles are the comparison that came to mind when I began to write about the mosaics inside the Basilica of San Vitale. My family visited the basilica in March of 2017, during a much too brief daytrip to Ravenna. The church, whose namesake was a Roman soldier martyred during the Christian persecutions, was begun in 526 and consecrated in 548.

The mosaics of San Vitale are so well-known in art history circles that they have earned the basilica the description, “the most glorious example of Byzantine art in the West,” according to Ravenna: City of Art.

On the morning we visited, the interior of San Vitale was drenched in sunlight that streamed in through the windows of the church.

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A photo from across the basilica. Notice the intense patterning even in the marble floor. It’s difficult to stand close to the tesserae at San Vitale. Most of the mosaics are positioned above eight feet. The patterns you see below the windows are mostly marble mosaics. Photo: M. Yung

As I stood in the grandeur of San Vitale, sheer awe at the handiwork overtook me. Sheer wonderment at the dedication and tedium. Sheer astonishment at the skill and collaboration it took to not only conceive the images contained in the murale, but also to source the materials, create the artwork, and execute their application and installation on the high walls of this old, old church.

In the sunlight, the golden tesserae dazzled. These are actually pieces of gold leaf sandwiched between pieces of clear glass. When they were pressed into place by medieval workmen, the gold tiles were angled to best reflect the sunlight, or the glow of a candle or lantern.

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A closer photo of the apse and the mosaic that shows Christ resting on a globe surrounded by angels. The far right figure in brown carries a miniature version of the basilica, offering it to Christ in service. Photo: M. Yung

As we took our self-tour, I stared up and pondered the mosaics and felt nearer to those laborers and artists who spent many years of their lives creating these mosaics. I marveled at their tenacity to produce these works without power tools and machinery, electricity, plumbing and other conveniences.

Would this sort of devotion be practiced today? I don’t think so, but then maybe it was different for these medieval workers.

Would the tedium of producing these masterpieces have been more endurable for those to whom the time of Christ was only four hundred years earlier? True, four hundred years is a long time, but wouldn’t the time of  Christ have been within their mental grasp?

To compare, would I find it easier to devote myself to glorifying the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock? I don’t know of anyone from that era, but I do feel a connection of sorts. I know what their concerns were and what motivated them. I can identify with them to a degree, while I find it nearly impossible to identify with people of Biblical times. Perhaps medieval workers could.

As I continued in my thoughts, my husband and daughter sought the two mosaics-within-the-mosaics below. The mosaics of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora are considered the masterpieces of San Vitale.

The first photo below shows Justinian surrounded by his court, clergy members and soldiers. The emperor holds a bowl that contains bread for the Eucharist. Justinian never visited this basilica, according to Dr. Steven Zucker in this Khan Academy video lesson, but this mosaic was his way of asserting his power and authority from Constantinople, the Byzantine capital.

The figures in both mosaics are highly stylized. Laura Morelli, art historoian and author of The Gondola Maker, explains it this way: “A more eastern aesthetic characterizes the mosaics completed in Ravenna during this early period. Elegant, slender, flattened figures on a shallow spatial plane stare out with huge, staring eyes.” The two famous mosaics clearly reveal this style.

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The mosaic that shows Emperor Justinian with his court, clergy, and soldiers at left. Even the borders and frames that surround the central image are mosaic. Photo: Katherine Yung

The mosaic of Empress Theodora rests on the opposite side of the apse and mirrors Justinian’s mosaic. In this piece, the empress carries a chalice of wine for the Eucharist. Wearing a finely detailed gown, Empress Theodora is surrounded by her imperial court and attendants. She wears elaborate jewelry, and, like Justinian, is surrounded by a halo.

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The mosaics of Justinian and Theodora are the “pieces de resistance” of Basilica San Vitale. They are found in art history textbooks as supreme examples of medieval Byzantine art. Photo: Katherine Yung

Ready to finally move my gaze from the brilliance of the gold, I focused on the frescoes that cover the ceiling of San Vitale. They were completed much later—in 1780—byartists from Bologna and Venice. While they are beautiful, they cannot compare, in my opinion, with the luster of the mosaics.

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Frescoes, water-based paintings on plaster, adorn the center dome of San Vitale. Photo: M. Yung
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My husband and son, at left, gaze up at the frescoes that surround the mosaic-drenched apse. Photo: M. Yung

I felt our visit was coming to its end, and I noticed that even the floors of San Vitale were intricately decorated. Miniscule marble tiles did their best to distract me from the golden “eye candy” above. Over the centuries, the floor tiles do show some wear, but are amazingly colorful and durable. The most wear is to the floor surface itself, which, in some places within the basilica, contains depressions from heavy traffic patterns from worshippers and tourists.

The detail in the flooring reinforced my thoughts about the devotion of those early medieval artists; they spared nothing—not even the floor—in their tenacious pursuit to glorify God.

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Photo: M. Yung

As we exited the basilica, we took photos of its rustic appearance and its unusual structure of two stacked octagons. Its unusual shape does not follow cathedrals designed in the typical shape of the Latin cross, but instead evokes eastern influence from Byzantium. From the outside, one would have no idea of the grandeur within.

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The contrast between the exterior and the interior of the Basilica of San Vitale is striking. The bricks were repurposed from demolished structures in Rome. Photo: M. Yung

Visiting the Basilica of San Vitale was a lesson in humility, reverence, and connection. As I walked across the same floors, gazed up at the same artwork, and whispered in the same hushed tones that countless others whispered down through the ages, I knew that my visit was not about sprinkles on cupcakes.

It wasn’t even about the magnificent golden mosaic masterpieces. It was instead about connecting, in one sense, to historical Christianity, and in a broader sense, to humanity.


Thanks for reading! Please click “like” so others can find this post more easily. Feel free to leave a comment about what your mind wanders to when you gaze at something truly beautiful.

The day I flipped out at the social security office

Sometimes my students become really angry. I can relate.

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Photo: Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Teaching middle school is a tough gig. Kids in grades sixth through eighth grade can be loud, impulsive, and frenetic. It’s enough on some days to make me consider finding another vocation. So at the end of a long day when I’m telling myself that there is no way I’m teaching middle schoolers another year, it helps to recall that I, too, can be loud, impulsive, and frenetic.

In fact, I once was so loud, impulsive, and frenetic that someone should have reported me. Someone probably would today.  What makes my story even worse is that my meltdown occurred when I was 26, twice the age of my seventh-graders. It’s embarrassing to recall how immature and idiotic I behaved. But, hey, at least I can empathize with my students when they have their own moments of anger.

Here’s my story. It was 1992, around 4:28 on a hot Thursday afternoon a few months after my wedding day the previous April. I was at the social security office located in a Phoenix office building to fill out a form update my social security account to my new last name.

I turned the knob to open the maple hardwood door. It didn’t turn. Didn’t even budge. So I knocked. No reply. I turned the knob again. Yes, it was definitely locked. I heard the shuffling of papers inside the office. The lights were on. There were people still there and they weren’t letting me in.

I reflected on the situation. I had taken off from work early to arrive before the 4:30 closing time. If the taxpayer-supported personnel on the other side of the door didn’t answer, I grumbled, I would have to do this all over again another day.

I was incensed. I felt cheated. I made a scene. I knocked again. I asked, “Can someone let me in?” I knocked again, this time more loudly. I asked, this time a little louder, “Is anyone there? Could you please just take this form?” It was just a silly form. A piddly piece of paper. Someone just needed to take it from my hand, I thought in desperation.

And so I pounded on the door. I couldn’t think. I was out of control and I didn’t care who saw me. I got down on my hands and knees—in my dress and heels—to look under the door. I could see feet moving around inside. There were whispers. It was now 4:31, a measly minute past closing time. No response. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I would be heard.

I stood back up and continued to pound the door. The adjacent window, conveniently crafted of obscured glass, revealed shapes and shadows within.

“I know you’re in there!” I yelled, continuing to pound. “I can see you moving back and forth! Take this form so I can leave!”

But they didn’t. No one ever answered the door. So I left, angry, red-faced, and embarrassed, knowing with disgust that I would have to return to this hallway within the week.

I came back a few days later well before the closing time and quietly and politely conducted my business. I didn’t even complain about the poor service of a few days earlier, which was probably a mistake in retrospect. Then again, they would have figured out I was the loud, impulsive, and frenetic woman from earlier in the week and might have called security.

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Photo: Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Looking back now at my social security office fiasco demonstrates that anger can get the best of us… even those of us who know better than to throw a tantrum at age 26.

My past experience with such intense anger helps me to empathize with my students today.

And honestly, I’ve only witnessed one to two student meltdowns in my classroom during my years of teaching. I can usually ward off an angry episode with a quickly whispered conversation, or, for another example, an invitation to the student to leave the room to get a drink to literally cool off. Tactics such as these help to diminish the anger.

But anger does happen once in a great while and I totally understand where it comes from.

  • Sometimes students feel powerless. Been there. That’s exactly how I felt that day in that office.
  • Sometimes students feel they’re at the mercy of someone else’s priorities. Done that. At the social security office, my priority did not align with the office personnel’s at that particular moment.
  • Sometimes students yell. Check. It’s just a natural reaction when it seems no one is listening to you.
  • Sometimes they argue. Me, too. We all have ideas we want to communicate.

Yes, I can relate to the frustrations my students feel and how they express those feelings of helplessness and lack of control. In the environment of school–or any other setting where people with different priorities meet up–tensions arise and play themselves out in myriad ways… even so far as taking to the floor in your dress and heels to yell through the crack. Wait—at least my students haven’t tried that yet. Gotta give ’em credit for that.


Thanks for reading! If you found this interesting, please click “like” and feel free to leave a comment. I also write on my teaching blog called elabraveandtrue.com and Medium.com. Check out both sites for more writing. 

Seize the moment. Or not.

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Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

A ripple of regret dashes across my mind. The clarity of this moment lays bare the brevity of my life.

Have you ever been listening to a news story on the radio, or read an article online about a solar or lunar event that’s about to be visible in your area? A blood moon. An eclipse of some sort. An unusual proximity of the Earth to Venus, for example.

As you’re listening, the announcer concludes with a date or year when the event will occur next. Sometimes the date is far into the future. 2068. 2090. 2092.

This happens to me every so often. Then I do the mental math and quietly recognize that when that celestial event happens next, I’ll likely be gone. I’ll run more numbers in my head and figure out that my kids will be well past retirement. My grandchildren, which don’t even exist yet, will be nearing it.

When I was twelve, I figured out that I would be 35 at the turn of the millennium. It was exciting then to ponder the passage of time. However, now when I think that far ahead, the certainty of experiencing any milestone is not so assured.

I don’t mean to be depressing. I don’t write this to wallow, but to point out often it’s moments like these that cause me to intensely ruminate on my reality, my life, my time on Earth.

Am I doing what I want to do? Am I doing what I consider important work? Does every day serve a purpose? Even if it’s a small purpose, or even if the work seems of little worth, it should still be significant.

With that understanding, you’d think I would make a point to experience each and every celestial happening that comes my way. You’d think I’d stay up late to seize the moment and see those meteors that will never be this visible or frequent again in my lifetime. You’d think I would wake at 2:30 a.m. to gaze at that moon. But I don’t. Sometimes I do, but usually I don’t.

On those occasions when I don’t venture out, I instead silently acknowledge that this is indeed one moment I will not experience again.

A ripple of regret dashes across my mind. The clarity of this existential moment lays bare the brevity of my life. I suspect that one day I might wish I had made the effort to see the rare events of the night sky.

When that day comes, will I instead be content? Will the purpose and significance of my life, despite those moments when I choose not to observe the heavens, offset my occasional apathy and indecision?

When that time comes, I intend to answer “Yes.”


Thanks for reading this little “slice of life” post.  If you found this interesting, click “like” so others may more easily find it. Feel free to leave a comment? Does anyone else skip out on the “last in my lifetime” heavenly events? 

 

My daughter and the peeping tom of Venice

 

It was scary to think how much time and effort this man had put into his actions that night.

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Photo: Msporch on Pixabay

Imagine being 22, female, and in Venice, Italy for a three-month internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. At 2 a.m. on the day your father plans to leave after helping you get settled for a week, you notice that the motion sensor outside your door is lighting up frequently. Too frequently, in fact, for this time of night. In addition, some of the lights are brighter than others. That’s odd.

You also hear strange noises outside. You ask your father to check the exterior heating/AC unit that you assume must be malfunctioning. He discovers not a malfunctioning appliance, but a rickety lawn chair that someone has been using to stand on so they can peek inside your apartment.

Read more about my daughter’s internship experience here.

The peeping tom had made his first appearance earlier that evening, after dark around 7:30. My daughter’s landlord–let’s call her Maria–had come over to help with the t.v. reception and while they were making adjustments, my husband and daughter had both noticed someone outside the apartment loitering in the walkway. They discussed the strange loiterer, but Maria eventually dismissed him, explaining that he was likely just someone from the neighborhood who was curious with the activity in the apartment since it had been vacant for quite some time.

So, in the middle of the night, when my husband ventured outside to check on the furnace and instead found a rickety chair, and a man with frizzy, shoulder-length hair rounding the corner about thirty feet down the corridor, real concern set in. Trying to assess the situation, my husband walked further down the corridor and noticed another lawn chair that had been stepped through around the corner. My husband immediately called Maria, who then immediately called the polizei.

While they waited for Maria and the police to arrive, both my husband and daughter tried to make sense of it all. Upon reflection, they both figured the peeping tom had ruined his first chair while peering in the window, and gone to retrieve another. My daughter also realized that the brighter lights from the motion sensor were more than likely flashes from a camera. Did he deliberately walk back and forth often enough to cause the motion sensor light to camouflage the camera flashes? It was scary to think about how much time and effort this man had put into his actions that night.

Fifteen minutes later, three uniformed police officers were there assessing the situation. Then, unbelievably, the frizzy-haired man sauntered by. Actually, because of the way the walkway turned, there was no way for him to avoid the small gathering without looking suspicious. He tried to play it cool, his camera hanging from his neck.

When my husband recognized the man, he nodded to the police officers who stopped the man and asked what he was doing out so late at night. He replied that he was a photographer taking night shots of the city.

Maria didn’t stand for it. Her Italian temper flared and her arms waved in anger. She accused him of spying and told him to leave the neighborhood and never return. She informed him that a police report was being filed at that moment and if anything happened later, he would be sorry. He was never seen again.

Although this was incredibly scary for me to hear about back in Missouri, it was good to know that, in general, Venice is a quiet municipality known to be “one of Italy’s safest cities.” The full-time resident population in the historic city center has declined dramatically in recent years, and today rests at about 55,000. We had researched the city’s crime statistics before our daughter left on her trip and were reassured. What causes the most trouble for the millions of tourists who visit each year? Pickpockets. What about violent crime? According to Frommers, it’s considered rare.

The next day, my daughter actually considered returning home; maybe this adventure was too much to take on and this incident was a sign that it just wasn’t meant to be. After an anxious day of pondering her options, she decided to stay; however, she did want to find a different apartment.

After attempting and failing to find an alternative rental with the help of my husband (who postponed his return flight for three days), my daughter returned to her original apartment, where Maria assured her she would be safe.

Still, my husband and my daughter took a few precautions. Before leaving, my husband helped her cover the windows with white paper. They figured that if a peeping tom had no view, there would be no temptation. They also made a point to meet the older woman, a Venetian native, living just across the passageway.

Over the next weeks, my daughter got on with her new Italian life. She began working a routine schedule at the museum and truly felt comfortable and at home there. She made many international friends. She became more brave and confident in her new surroundings.

Gradually, her strange experience became a distant memory. Most importantly, she didn’t let the peeping tom’s bad behavior define or detract from one of the most valuable experiences of her life so far. It had been a rough start, but she was determined to thrive.


Thanks for reading! If you found this post interesting, click like so others may more easily find it. Also, feel free to leave a comment on your own strange travel experiences.

 

 

The freedom that men enjoy (even though they may not realize it)

#MeToo is long overdue, but I still want more.

 

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Photo: Ryan Holloway on Unsplash

 

One afternoon in my early twenties, I went to a local lake. Alone. I was approached by two young men as I lay reading a book on a dock. They didn’t harass me, but our exchange was uncomfortable.

One morning about a year later, I walked through a quiet city park. Alone. I was followed and approached by a man in a car. Nearly stopping as his car cruised by me, he made deliberate eye contact, and drove on. Click here to read about that experience.

One late afternoon several months after that, I went for a run through my neighborhood. Alone. I was flashed by a man on foot. He passed by me, and I ran in the opposite direction. About a  month later, I had changed to running about an hour before dusk. One Sunday, he flashed me again from an adjacent alley as I ran by. Alone.

All of these occurrences happened many years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties. Even though they’re in my past, there’s one thing I still experience frequently: fear.

There are a handful of activities that I fear doing alone. Taking a hike is an example. Seriously, I just want to hike alone.

A few miles from our house, there’s a wilderness refuge and sometimes I just want to take off, drive the fifteen minutes north, exit off the highway, descend the tree-covered lane to the parking lot, get out of my car, and hike. Of course, my husband or one of my kids would go with me, but occasionally, I just want to go it alone.

Not safe. Not smart. You never know what could happen. You never know who you might meet – a young couple, a pair of women, a man, three men – on that trail that crosses a babbling creek, then narrows to a winding path before snaking up a steep hill to a pioneer homesite surrounded by a few gravestones.

But I don’t go. I stay home. There are some things I simply won’t do alone. If you’re a woman, you understand this. Maybe you feel it instinctively or maybe, like me, you’ve been approached, followed, watched when you were alone. If you’re a man, you may not even be aware of this freedom that you have to venture out alone.

So when I read these days about #MeToo and how women are unifying and being heard, I remember that, despite the charges, firings, and destroyed careers that signal a monumental shift is occurring for women, I still must be careful when I’m out alone.

I must always be aware of my surroundings. I must vary my routine or make arrangements to go with a friend or just cancel. I must bend myself around the bad behavior of men, most of whom are more powerful and stronger than me.

Yes, #MeToo is good, justified, and long overdue; however, I want more. I want the freedom that men enjoy. I want to go anywhere I want. Alone.


Thanks for reading. Click “like” for this post so others will find it. Anyone feelin’ like I do on this topic? Have a different view? Leave a comment and let’s talk.

The Toy I Trashed: The Hot Wheels Slimecano

With lots of pieces and lots of slime, I should have known better.

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Photo: Christopher Harris | Unsplash

 

Every parent has been there. You buy that cool toy your child yearns for and within minutes you realize: BIG MISTAKE.

So, in the spirit of Christmas, I thought I would relate my own such experience with the Hot Wheels Slimecano Playset… y’know, to relive the “joy” once again and possibly save another parent from buying this behemoth. After all, even though some cursory online searching indicates this toy has been discontinued, one or two units could still be lurking out there on a dusty store shelf or in an online retailer’s inventory.

In a word, the Hot Wheels Slimecano was formidable. Introduced in 2004, this apparatus was composed of an armload of plastic pieces that snapped or otherwise fit together. My eight-year-old son had seen it advertised on TV and wanted it desperately.

All those plastic pieces were accompanied by directions that explained which parts attached to which other parts, which combined to form race tracks, slime reservoirs, ramps, and other components that, when completely assembled, resulted in an ominous and wobbly gray, brown and orange tripod-like structure down which my son could send his cars. So awesome, Mom.

Also, there was somehow a skull or dragon head involved in the design of the thing, although I don’t remember the significance of that, other than maybe it was there to advise parents in “Jolly Roger”-style of the gooey mess that was about to be made.

An unsettling slime concoction was key to the Slimecano. I don’t remember if it was a slime we made ourselves from ingredients supplied in the box, or if it was included in the package already prepared in packets, but it was there, a thick, gloppy translucent orange goop dotted with dark specks. This slime provided the magic of the toy.

For a fleeting five minutes, my son played with the Slimecano. He was mesmerized watching his car careen down the plastic track… until it hit the slime and needed to be pushed through an oozing river of the stuff and then guided around a puddle at the bottom of the track. This all happened to the same unfortunate car. After all,  the wheels on a car can only move when they are not embedded with slime. My son soon figured out that this was a toy that required him to sacrifice his least favorite car. Send that car down the Slimecano once, clog up the wheels, tire treads, and undercarriage, and voila! auto salvage in miniature.

Then came the very unmagical clean-up time. While snapping apart the Slimecano, my son discovered the entire apparatus was encrusted with the orange goo. So was the floor. And his mom’s patience. As he dismantled the game, washed off each piece, and shoved the plastic collection back into the box, we knew that the Slimecano may have just had its one and only use. The game was over and disappointment was the victor. Thanks, Hot Wheels.

So there you have it, my gift to you: a cautionary tale of the toy I trashed. Have a similar toy story in your family? Tell me about it in the comments. We can laugh about it now, can’t we?!


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“There is nothing like a good old recipe. If it has lasted, then it is good.” Yotam Ottolenghi, Israeli chef

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Photo: Collin Yung

I collect vintage metal recipe boxes. I have eighteen in my collection. Some were purchased from ebay.com, but most were found here and there while scouting antique shops and junk stores. Most of the boxes in my collection are empty, but three contain recipes inside. Those with the recipes are ephemeral time capsules that echo with the writings of one woman’s time spent in her kitchen.

The one above was found at a little place called Shop Girl in Jefferson City, Missouri over lunch hour one day when I was visiting the city for an education conference. On my first sweep through the store, I completely missed it. As I was leaving, the shop owners asked me what I was looking for and then directed me to a display where this one was tucked. It’s perfect. Retro graphics and typography, made in USA, hinges on the lid, a few rough and rusty spots from frequent use, and… drumroll, please… recipes inside! Many of the recipes are even handwritten and all are very fragile.

There are recipes for peanut butter cookies, molasses snaps, angel cookies, prune cookies, toffee nut bars, pecan bars, chess bars, mincemeat cookies, peanut brittle, brownie drops, pecan strips. Clearly, this baker had a sweet tooth. Or perhaps this box held only her cookie recipes.

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Many of the recipes are clips from newspapers and magazines, but a good number are handwritten in cursive on note paper. A recipe for pecan sticks is written on a sheet from a notepad printed for the “New N&W Railroad… First Rate for Fast Freight.” A recipe for pecan bars appears on a sheet for “Union Pacific Railroad, The Automated Railway that Serves all the West.” One recipe is on the back of a daily expense report for “country salesmen” for Iten Biscuit Company and its Snow White Bakeries.

It’s nice to have something specific to search for when I venture into a nostalgia shop. It’s even nicer when I spot a vintage metal recipe box to bring home.

 

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Thanks, Kohl’s, for selling this shirt.

It’s nice to see clothing like this instead of that snarky shirt I wrote about recently.

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Now that’s more like it… a shirt about kindness.

 

In August, Kohl’s mailed a back-to-school catalog with a shirt on the cover displaying the words, “Shhhh! Nobody Cares!” I wrote about it in “Ten Questions for Kohl’s About This Shirt.”  I believe that snarky messages like this only send negativity into the world… and can be especially hurtful in a school setting.  I’m a middle school teacher and I know several kids who don’t need to read that their lives are unimportant.

Kohl’s tweeted to me a week or two after I published that blog post. Here’s their tweet: “Thanks for this feedback, Marilyn. We’ll be sure to pass it along to our buyers here at Kohl’s for review and future considerations.”

So when I found this “Throw kindness like confetti” shirt on a pre-Halloween mailer about a week ago, I was gratified. Yes, I know this mailer wasn’t in response to my blog post. I’m sure this flyer and the merchandise within it were all “put to bed” weeks or months ago. However, it’s nice to know that Kohl’s is aware that positive messages make the world a better place.