Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ooooooh, Let's All Be Scared!

Even though I'm in London on this All Hallows Eve, I am trying to keep the good ol' American(ized) Halloween spirit in my heart today. It's rainy and gloomy here (good, good - adds to the atmosphere . . . ), so I'll probably forego a day of cemetery-tromping and opt for a museum. However, that will not deter me from reflecting on the scary stuff of 2010. Here's my list:
  • Justin Bieber's hair. Every time I see this 10-year-old boy posing as a teen heart-throb, I want to jump into bed and pull the covers over my head. What is with that creeeepy hair? *spine-shiver*
  • Everyone running for political office. I'm terrified of all of you. You are not our best and brightest. You are our greediest and dumbest. Will someone please wake me from this election year nightmare?
  • That dancing cougar-woman in the Chico commercials. Sends me running from the room every time  the ad hits the TV. The problem is that her look-alike cougar-zombie pals roam the Upper East Side in packs, even in broad daylight. True. *cringe, whimper*
  • Bedbugs. Though I haven't had the thrill of meeting any of the little critters yet, all the news reports keep me awake at night thinking, Okay, what will I do if I get bedbugs? *itchy, scratchy*
  • Charlie Sheen. 'Nuff said.
Okay, now you. What's scaring you this Halloween? My suggestion is to settle in with a good horror flick and reminisce about those good old innocent scary days - pig's blood at a prom, blood-sucking Transylvanians, and satan-spawned devil-babies. That should take your mind off Justin Bieber's hair.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hanging Out With The Astors

I don't want to brag, but I spent yesterday afternoon with the likes of John Jacob Astor, Clement Clarke Moore, and John James Audubon. They were absolutely perfect company - they're all dead and buried in the Trinity Cemetery and Mausoleum. Trinity Wall Street in Lower Manhattan ran out of buryin' room in 1842 and acquired some nice property at the northern end of the island to accommodate all the folks needing a posh place to be interred. Much of the land was the original estate of Audubon (now the site of The Church of the Intercession).

Hanging out in cemeteries is one of my favorite things to do, as long as I'm not there on official business, if you know what I mean. There's so much to be learned from the information people choose to put on their markers. I'm always sad to see markers with lists of small children - usually four or more names of babies all under 3 years of age. Families just carried on after all that death, I reckon. And of course some families have huge mausoleums or massive statues. Oy, look at us! 

The weather was gorgeous, and I was the only one around, except for a few folks working at the church. The cemetery is split in two by Broadway, with the eastern division taking up the blocks behind and alongside the church, and the western division running along Riverside Drive. Views of the Hudson and the George Washington Bridge were exceptional.

Former mayor of New York Ed Koch, though not yet dead, has his place all staked out and the marker and bench already in place. Talk about planning ahead! And I found a George Bartow buried atop a hill in the western division and wondered if he might be a Yankee branch of our own Bully Bartow family tree. The only marker I couldn't find was Jerry Orbach's (yes, they still bury folks in the communal mausoleums at Trinity). 

Hanging out with dead folks can be a pleasant thing to do. In the bright sunlight.

Children's marker. I saw 4 or 5 of these in cemetery.

Former mayor Ed Koch has planned ahead. (He's not dead yet.)

John James Audubon's resting place

The Proof is in the Puttin'

Proof-reading. Ugh. Almost as bad as an algebra test. And yet, it is part of my job. Not the fun part. It's a tough discipline, one that requires total concentration on spelling, punctuation, and grammar alone.

Now, I'll admit that I am by nature and education a picky spelling/punctuation person, and there are certain grammatical errors that have a positively physical effect on me (mixing up "less" and "fewer," for example). Still, I'm also one to get drawn in by whatever I am reading, and unless the errors are glaringly obvious, I stop being Comma Queen and focus on the subject matter.

If, on the other hand, the material to be proofed is mind-grindingly boring, my mind wanders into Never Never Land instead of focusing. Yes, proof-reading is a no-win situation for me.

So I thought I'd take this little break from proofing a training manual (quite interesting topic, actually) in hopes of clearing my head before slogging through the rest. Maybe a cup of tea. Or a full-on apartment cleaning. Or a lovely root canal.

Yes, the proof is in the puttin' - puttin' yourself away from all distractions and into the nitty-gritty specifics.  Hm. I've just felt a raging need to scrub the toilet.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I can complain all I want

I voted. Since I'll be at a conference in England on election day, I cast an absentee ballot. Marked it. Mailed it. So I've earned my right to complain, thank you very much. And sometimes that's about the only reason I find to vote. I really would hate to give up my Constitutional right to complain. That is in the Constitution, right?

Truth is, I lost my political efficacy around 1998 and have yet to rediscover it.  I feel totally powerless, politics-wise. Yes, I can vote, but whichever way I go from election to election, other Powers That Be have more impact than I - multi-gazillionaires, big insurance, big banks, media-yammerers. It doesn't matter which political party is in power, there seems to be too many outside forces pulling the (real) strings. My one little measly vote simply can't compete.

Politics has always been a mean game. If you know your history, you know that to be a fact. Shameless behavior is nothing new. But it does suck the life out of good citizens over the long haul. There is a great temptation to throw up our collective hands and say "To hell with all of it." Yet, I have no idea how to fix the meanness, other than requiring everyone - candidates, citizen groups, lobbyists, etc., - to act honorably. Can we not at least find our way to "honorable"? Sigh.

But, I voted. I've done all I can do in this political cycle. It's not much. But I have the feeling that the only thing I've won is the right to complain.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Good Day/Not Good Day

It's been an interesting day. As I sit with my feet up, I'm weighing all the pros and cons of the day. Let's see which list is longer, "Good Day" or "Bad Day," though I think I know how this will turn out.

Good Day:
  • Morning phone call from Daughter and GrandBoy. Always a delight to catch up on his latest antics.
  • Apartment still clean from last weekend's super-clean-up and a week's worth of being a good girl, cleaning as needed. Allowed me to have a relaxing day.
  • Perfect weather, bright blue sky and just enough breeze to keep things comfortable.
  • Great podcast walking tour, Made in NY, highlighting movie and television locations in Tribeca and Lower Manhattan. And, yes, that is a picture of the Ghostbusters firehouse. Must do Part 2 sometime soon.
  • Made a totally delish applesauce-cinnamon-walnut bundt cake.
  • Did not receive any bills in the mail today. Nothing. Total junk mail.
  • Remembered to take a book back to the library on the exact due date. Whew.
  • Did not wait over two minutes for any subway train today. That must be a record for a Saturday, when train schedules are so wonky.
  • Still relishing the come-from-behind win of the Atlanta Braves in post-season play-off game in San Francisco last night. Keep surprising us (in a good way), Los Bravos!
  • Jane Lynch is hosting Saturday Night Live.
  • Stayed healthy and safe. No stomach virus, plague, headaches, or other catastrophes.
Bad Day:
  • Well, it was just a matter of time, right? My beloved Alabama Crimson Tide suffered a totally embarrassing thrashing at the hands of South Carolina. Sad, sad. Still love ya', though, Tide - now, buck up for the rest of the season. Roll Tide!
  • Remember the applesauce cake I made? Well, I really wanted it to be a pumpkin-spice-walnut cake, but I could not find one single can of pumpkin in all of Spanish Harlem. Seriously. And, sure, I could've tracked down a real pumpkin and done it from scratch, but I was not about to go that route. So I settled for applesauce cake. Great, but I was craving pumpkin.
  • I did not win the lottery. Of course, I didn't play, either, but I didn't find a winning ticket on the ground or anything.
Now. Which list is longer, hm? Of course, the "Good Day" list. But we knew that all along, right? I can rise above Bama's football loss and having to make the applesauce-pumpkin trade-off. And if I'd wanted to win the lottery, I shoulda' bought a ticket. So I won't even dignify it as a "Bad Day," but as a "Not Good Day" list. And just look at all the fabulous "Good Day" stuff!

Countin' my blessings, folks. Countin' my blessings.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Just in Time for Halloween: New Horror Flicks

Disappointed at the pitiful lack of solid-good horror films over the last few years, I submit for your approval several concepts that should increase the horror movie box office take:
  1. Invasion Of The Giant Thing Overhead: Mild-mannered, middle class couple goes through a variety of degrading horrors before boarding a plane for Central City, Mid America, only to find an unspeakable terror awaits them as they try to stuff their luggage into the overhead bin. Filmed in Head-Bang-A-Vision. Audiences will thrill to the feeling that heavy back-packs and tote bags are repeatedly falling on their heads!  
  2. The Bloody Cult Of The Sudden-Stoppers: Unsuspecting citizens in Metropolis are terrorized by a cult of ignoramuses who stop dead-still at the bottom or top of escalators, causing total carnage as folks pile into them. Be warned! We are not responsible for audience heart attacks or puking during the bloody escalator shredding scenes.
  3. Revenge Of The Money-Hoarding ManiAx: Monstrous bankers hold hard-working customers hostage by placing 5-day holds on deposits, upping bank fees, and forgetting to credit direct deposits into accounts. The ax-wielding men in pinstripes leave trails of broken heads, broken hearts, and broken dreams. Gauze and adhesive tape will be given to each theatre-goer to soak up the incredible rivers of blood. 
  4. The Creature Screams Among Us: Passengers settle into their seats in the train's Quiet Car. All is calm, all is blissfully silent. But, oh ye passengers, do not get too comfortable. A cell phone rings. A loud-mouth, brainless fool answers. Thus begins two hours of hair-raising horror, as the Creature holds an entire train hostage to his brain-exploding, skin-peeling phone conversations. Shot in Ear-Bleed-O-Vision.
  5. Attack Of The Deadly Burrito: It looks so harmless, with its luscious refried beans packed inside a soft flour tortilla. But it contains all the stuff that will send you straight to the toilet - for days on end. We cannot give away the frightening running-out-of-toilet-paper ending. Bring an extra pair of pants or wear an adult diaper. Life-like smells will stay with you for years. And you'll never look at a bean burrito the same way again. 
See? No need to remake classics like Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Night of the Living Dead. Leave them alone, and create a few new horror classics. Mwahahahahahahah! Mwah. Ha. Ha. William Castle lives!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Few Modest Proposals: Education

Dissecting the problems of the American education system is all the rage now. It happens every few years. Nothing much ever comes of it, other than a few newfangled, often silly programs for math or reading or bulletin board design. As a former student and a former high school teacher, I feel uniquely qualified - well, as qualified as anybody - to impart my solutions to the education "crisis." Learn and do:
  1. Let teachers teach. Parents, stand in support of them. Most of my teachers were outstanding, but I did have a few awful ones along the way. Mother and Daddy always stood solidly in the teacher's corner, good or bad. I knew that. That parent-teacher support also ensured classroom discipline. Parents, use your helicopter skills outside the classroom to encourage reading, play time, and to make sure homework assignments are done. And if your little darling has a lousy teacher along the way? Well, welcome to the real world, with the occasional lousy boss or supervisor. Learn to function and carry on.
  2. Stop teaching to these ridiculous standardized tests. Nothing is gained by it, and it keeps teachers from really teaching and students from really learning. Use them for their original purpose, but stop putting so much emphasis on them. No more SAT tutors!
  3. Arrange the students' desks in the time-honored system of rows. No more circles. No more cushions or learning centers. Rows. Facing forward. Sitting in rows eliminates (as much as possible) distractions. The teacher can see each little face. Rows are safe and functional. Rows.
  4. Provide sturdy, comfortable desks for the students. Have you tried to sit in one of the unstable, molded plastic monstrosities filling today's classrooms? Who on earth could concentrate for more than 5 minutes in those awful things? Go back to sturdy, solid seats with desks large enough to spread out a notebook and textbook. Same for little kids. Give them solid chairs and desks.
  5. Concentrate on basic grammar and spelling skills. Effective communication isn't possible without the proper tools. All we do is yammer on about math and science, math and science, when the real problem is that foundational, everyday communication skills are lacking.
  6. Put away the beans and buttons, and unpack the flashcards. Students, especially the little ones, have a great capacity for memorizing and learning via rote. This is not a bad thing. Tap into it while you can. To this day, whenever I have to add, subtract, multiply, or divide, I see the appropriate flashcard pop up in my head. Unpopular, I know, but face it, a lot of what we know as adults we memorized as kids. I suggest using the beans and buttons for art projects, not math.
  7. Teach handwriting skills. Handwriting, especially cursive, gets a bum rap these days as everyone taps out stuff on a keyboard. But proper handwriting is a good discipline to acquire and can be applied to lots of other areas of learning. Plus, everyone needs a fabulous way to sign her/his name, eh?
  8. Get rid of backpacks. Why load down students with so much stuff? No one should have to tote all of their textbooks and electronic goodies around all the time. Require a notebook or tablet (real paper, not electronic), pens/pencils, and, if necessary, a USB flash drive for bringing electronic work (even electronic textbooks) to and from classroom and home computers. Set our children free!
  9. Demand courtesy in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the playing fields. This goes for teachers, students, administrators, and parents. We must become a civil society or education is useless. Be nice.
  10. Enforce school dress codes. I don't like school uniforms, but I'm all for stricter dress codes. This goes for teachers, too. Start dressing like adults in the business world. Grow up, cover up, brush your teeth and hair. Works across socio-economic lines.
Schools can't be all things to all people. We have to stop expecting teachers to be parents and law enforcement officers, as well as effective teachers. Parents, do your job. Teachers, do your job. You can't make schools safe with metal detectors; you make them safe when teachers and parents work in tandem.

Several things stand out about my fifth grade class picture. One:  it was lily white. A very bad thing. Yet the students were a real socio-economic mix - some wealthy, some poor, lots in the middle. Two: 29 kids. Our classes were usually 28-32, considered too big today. But I guarantee you that Mrs. Peters had very few discipline problems. And she was such a sweetie! Three: sitting in sturdy desks, in rows. Four: actual chalk on actual chalkboards (I hate the dry-erase stuff). Five (and maybe the most important thing): the PTA Attendance Banner that meant our class had the most parents attending PTA meetings.

So, there's my 2-cents' worth on the education miasma. A longing for the 1950's? Perhaps. But more a longing for courtesy, civility, and solid classroom learning. Just fix it before GrandBoy Liam lands at the schoolhouse door.