Friday, May 29, 2009

Unhand me sir! And take down those road signs!

Nothing makes me feel more aged than taking my teenage son shopping for clothes. It doesn't matter how fabulous and youthful you usually look; if you are hanging around the dressing room of an Old Navy and a sulky, 6'1" boy emerges you to show you his pants, no males will cast interested glances and the dressing room attendant will look at you with pity because you are officially a HAG. I remember dressing Mad Scientist in John-John suits that showed off his chubby thighs. How did we get to the point where he needs a 32" inseam?

Speaking of pants, we got the new J. Peterman catalog! My favorite item: the Pants of Glory.

Awesome. How could anyone have a bad day if he armed himself with his Pants of Glory? Get yours today.

I love how their website casually juxtaposes a set of drinking glasses, on sale for $24, with a vintage French poster priced at $1600. That is bravado. Meanwhile, my daughters were rendered helpless with giggles at the "Proceeding Unmolested Through Khalili Souk in Cairo" dress, which features a "Non-plebian hem."

We were seriously considering Morocco for our vacation, and this dress would have been perfect. I almost regret that we wimped out and chose Rome instead.

More neighborhood excitement! On our little block there is one resident who essentially wants to ban all cars from ever passing his house. We'll call him "The General." There's another resident who sees any restrictions on the way in which one may drive one's vehicle as a threat to the freedoms we hold most dear. We'll call her "Beehive." Beehiveand The General have been at war for decades and they use the city traffic engineers as the pawns in their battles. Last fall The General scored a great victory when he got a new stop sign placed at the corner, directly in front of Beehivee's house. Beehive called an emergency meeting which took place in front of the offending stop sign and which was attended by neighbors, the city manager, a Charlottesville police officer and other city officials and myself. Within a week, the new stop sign was gone. This spring, The General began agitating the city to get rid of the bus route that passes down our street. Beehive organized a successful campaign to thwart him. Yesterday, in a stealth attack, The General scored another victory: new signs have appeared at each of the four corners of the park our houses face.

I think the signs are innocuous and might even prevent drivers from missing the curve and careening wildly down our driveway, which has happened--more than once. Beehive takes a different view. Last night, Paul Revere-like, she visited her neighbors to "warn" us about the signs. I'm not sure what she is warning us about. We weren't home when she made her circuit of the block, but my next-door neighbor informed me of it and told me Beehive had, in no uncertain terms, told her to be sure to alert me about these terrible new signs. I guess she thinks the police will by lying in wait for hapless motorists who dare to take the curves a little too fast. To be fair, The General just wants to prevent children--his grandchildren especially, but other children too--from getting killed as they cross the street to get to the park. At one point, he made his own road signs that said SLOW: CHILDREN AT PLAY. Where he got the correct yellow metal diamonds is a mystery to me, but since the signs were unofficial, the city made him take them down.

I'm less clear about what Beehive wants. I hardly ever see her driving, fast or otherwise, so I don't see why she wants our street to be a raceway.

Pointless photo addendum.

Grace and Seamus at lunch after my graduation.

Seamus and me

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

21st century education

Last night I attended a community forum about the future structure of the Charlottesville public schools. Many things were discussed, but here's what struck me: the assistant superintendent's speech about providing our students with a "21st century learning environment" and with connecting classroom content to the "real world."

First of all, the "21st century learning environment." What is that, exactly? What is different about this century? The technology, obviously. Still, what does that mean? More computers in the classroom? We already have computers in the classroom. The time for getting excited about computers in the classroom passed twenty years ago. I'm not a luddite. I appreciate the ways that computers have enhanced our lives and increased our access to information, but I think their use as educational tools has been maxed out, pretty much.

I'm fairly appalled at the way my kids write research papers. They'll have one window open to google, and in another, their text document. They find their information willy-nilly with no regard to the reliability of their sources. They'll rapidly switch from internet source to document and cobble together a "paper" within half an hour--something that for me, was a several day process, what with trips to the library for books--actual books--and taking handwritten notes which were translated into a handwritten paper unless my mom was feeling generous and let me use her typewriter. But sometimes you hesitated about handing in a typed paper if it wasn't required. You'd get panicked questions from your classmates: "OMG, was this paper supposed to be typed?" You risked looking like a brown nose.

Obviously, this issue goes far beyond typing vs. handwriting. And I'm not saying we should return to handwritten papers. My three oldest kids all type as rapidly as professional secretaries, and that is fine with me, but is their *learning* improved because of this skill?

The assistant superintendent mentioned texting, and how popular it is with our young folk. Indeed it is! One recent cell phone bill showed that we sent or received 50,000 texts. FIFTY THOUSAND TEXTS IN ONE MONTH. But how does that translate into something useful for the classroom? Will kids be texting their test answers to their teachers? Just because we have this technology and kids enjoy using it, does that mean it *must* be incorporated into the classroom?

Next is the issue of aligning content with the "real world." It's the age-old grumble of students that what they're learning has nothing to do with real life. You know what I say to that? Suck it up, kid. Think how impoverished our children's education would become if the one overriding educational principle was that everything learned had to relate to real life. I guess we could do away with literature because what do Shelley or Shakespeare have to do with real life as an adolescent sees it? Or maybe literature would be confined to works that reflect modern real-life problems that our kids can relate to personally? Because God knows, we wouldn't want them to have to stress their brains by trying to understand something that wasn't personally relevant. And I guess we could stop math once basic arithmatic had been mastered. History? It's in the past! What does it have to do with real life, now? Away with it! Music? Nope, no real life link. Think of the cost savings in doing away with all those instruments.

Did I put my kids in orchestra because I thought they were going to become professional musicians? Of course not. Like most parents, I wanted my children to have the experience of learning an instrument and performing in front of an audience. I thought the self-discipline required for practice would be good for them and I thought that playing an instrument might enhance mental agility. But most of all, what I love about the orchestra program in the Charlottesville schools, is the music. They make beautiful music. I enjoy listening to it, and my kids enjoy playing it. It's about beauty, and you can't force beauty to relate to the real world or to career skills.

That's the other thing. In aligning content with real life, the assistant superintendent said, we will be preparing our children with career skills. OK, careers are good, and of course we want our children to have successful careers, but if the main focus of K-12 education becomes careers and job skills, then we have replaced education with vocational training.

Monday, May 25, 2009

General peevishness

We're in a cycle in which everything in our house is breaking. It's ever so much fun when you lose home phone service on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend! And the refrigerator is periodically expelling puddles of water from underneath itself. I have been thinking of it as the "new" refrigerator, but today I realized it is nearly ten years old.

I went grocery shopping Sunday at Whole Foods, and I have never seen a crowd of more sour-faced, hostile, miserable, peevish, cross, huffy, churlish people. What was wrong with everybody? Was their hemp underwear itchy?

I understand grocery store etiquette--for example, I can't stand people who block the entire aisle with their carts and their bottoms while they bend over and contemplate whatever is on the bottom shelf, so I'm always careful to pull my cart as close to the side as possible, so other people can get by. Still, it IS necessary to stop moving, periodically in order actually put things in your cart. I mean, that is the whole point of grocery shopping, isn't it? BUYING THINGS? But no, some people had to indulge in glares and angry mutterings when all I did was cross their line of vision.

The scene was particularly savage in the bulk section. There was a shopper buying bulk spices, and there is room for just one shopper at a time at the spice shelf. So I waited behind her for her to finish. Meanwhile, another shopper came up, also wanting spices and when the original shopper moved away, this new shopper gave me an annoyed look and said in this sulky tone, "Oh, you can go ahead." Like she thought I had done something rude by not letting her get to the spices ahead of me and that she was making the sacrifice of the year by allowing me to select spices, completely disregarding the fact that I was there first. If she had been a frail old lady, or holding a screaming baby, or for some other reason appeared to have had a more urgent need for spices than I, I would have gladly let her go ahead of me, but it was clear that she felt ENTITLED to first crack at the spices regardless of whether or not someone had been waiting ahead of her. For this very reason, I took her passive-aggressive "Oh, you go ahead" at face value, and I bought my spices, dammit.

Whoa! Why so petty? I guess rubbing shoulders with a bunch of pissy hippies makes me cranky.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The new nurse

I am a nurse. An unemployed nurse, to be sure, but a job will come along. All signs point to July, the beginning of a new fiscal year, as the magical time in which nursing jobs for new grads will suddenly become as plentiful as gyspy moths in June.

So graduation has come and gone. It seems a bit of a let down to spend the week after graduation in an NCLEX review course, but that is what I have been doing. Every day, sitting from 9:00am-4:00pm in a dreary classroom while outside my garden is calling to me. I want to dabble in the earth and take long breaks to read novels.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fun with English

I just finished reading The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk, a little dictionary of archaic English words and expressions. I was struck by the many words--at least one per page--related to beer or ale: either particular types of ale, or cups for drinking it, or particular times when it is drunk (all day, essentially) and the condition people are in after much of it has been drunk. Second to ale/beer words were words related to sexual misconduct of some type, mainly adultery and fornication. I am all for resurrecting disused words. When I was in my early teens, the word "wench" came into fashion among the youth of my acquaintance. We used it often and I felt the old-fashioned word gave our speech a particular flair. Here are a few of my favorites from The Word Museum.

Barley-child "A child born in wedlock but which makes its advent within six months of marriage." [My own Mad Scientist is a "barley-child" and so are a sprinkling of my nieces and nephews. To me, it evokes attractive, tawny colored children.]

Cover-slut "A long apron used to hide an untidy dress; any clothing slipped on to hide untidiness beneath." [Can I get one at anthropologie?]

Chafe litter "Chafe litter is he that wyll plucke up the fether-bed or matrice, and pysse in the bedstraw, and wyl never ryse uncalled. This knave berayeth many tymes in the corners of his maister's chamber, or other places inconvenient, and maketh cleane hys shooes with the coverlet or curtaines." [This is what Miss Manners would call an inconsiderate houseguest.]

Drowning the miller "Adding too much water to wine or spirits; from the term when too much water has been put into a bowl of flower."

egg-wife-trott "An easy jog, such a speed as farmer's wives carry their eggs to the market. SEE midwife gallop." [I will be doing the egg-wife-trott on the day that Anthropologie opens here in C'ville.]

froonce "to go about in an active bustling manner." [The nursing students froonced whenever they were in sight of their clinical instructor.]

giggle trot " a woman who marries when she is far advanced in life is said to take the giggle trot." [Hilarious.]

gospel gossip "one who is over-zealous in running among his neighbors to lecture on religious subjects."

kiddliwink "a small shop where they retail the commodities of a village store."

kissingcrust "Crust formed where one loaf in the oven touches another."

liplabour " Action of the lips without concurrence of the mind. Words without sentiment."

married all over "said of women who, after their marriages, fall off in their appearance and become poor and miserable looking."

mollynogging "Frequenting the company of immoral women."

nose-bag "A visitor to a house of refreshment who brings his own victuals and calls for a glass of water or lemonade."

Pornocracy "The rule of prostitutes; dominating influence of courtezans. [From] The Pornocracy, a party which controlled the government of Rome and elections to the papacy throughout the first part of the tenth century." [Another fine chapter in the history of the Catholic Church. To me, pornocracy sounds like a word that was coined yesterday, not 1,000 years ago. I'm thinking the Clinton administration.]

potvaliant "Heated with courage from strong drink."

prinkle "The flesh is said to prinkle when there is a tingling sensation, consequent upon a temporary suspension of the circulation."

quafftide "time of drinking." [An excellent word. I plan to incorporate it into my daily vocabulary forthwith!]

ribroast "To beat soundly."

runcy "A woman of coarse manners and doubtful character." [The runcy wiped her nose on the hem of her cover-slut.]

shivviness "The feeling of roughness caused by a new undergarment."

snoutfair "A person with a handsome countenance. SEE bellibone, cowfyne, pigsnye. [I can see why this word fell out of fashion: That snoutfair lass looks a lusty wench!]

snow-bones "The patches of snow seen stretching along ridges, in ruts, or in furrows, after a thaw." [In Buffalo, one can see snow-bones as late as June.]

sooterkin "A kind of false birth fabled to be produced by the Dutch women from sitting over their stoves." [dumbfounded. I can't imagine what this could be.]

stale-drunk "A man is said to be stale-drunk when he has been drunk overnight, and has doctored himself with stimulants a little too much in the morning--when he has tried too many of the 'hairs of the dog that bit him'" [We call this still drunk nowadays.]

white serjeant "A man fetched from the tavern or ale house by his wife is said to be arrested by the white serjeant." [Jon has been arrested by the white serjeant a few times.]

yule hole "The last hole to which a man could stretch his belt at a Christmas feast." [Brilliant.]

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Big news: I found my go-to shoe for Rome. This was a big job, as I had to find a shoe that is at least semi-stylish and yet comfortable for walking.

I discussed the whole Rome wardrobe problem with my fashionista sister and she said I should just wear sundresses and flip flops every day, but then I heard that flip flops are not quite right for Rome. And flip flops are not the greatest for walking, although last summer I walked about 20 miles (no exaggeration) in them all over Washington, DC. Sneakers are comfortable, but when Romans see you wearing them--even nice sneakers-- they wonder if you've just been running through the woods or running from the cops, or working on a farm.

I seriously considered these sporty Mary Janes, but realized they'd probably look best at an Indigo Girls concert and with unshaven legs.

I have settled on these fun clogs. They are comfortable and look good with dresses and cropped pants.

Q: But Patience, you're going to be walking all over Rome in wooden shoes. Are you sure that's wise?

A: I hear what you are saying, and I appreciate your concern, but these shoes are made in Sweden! And I love them! What is it about the Swedes that makes them design things that are so clunky and yet so loveable. Things like the Volvo 240 (the old-fashioned boxy Volvos with the huge headlights) and these shoes.

At least I know not to walk around Rome like this: