Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lesson 105: Deck the Halls

Eloise has survived Thanksgiving and is looking forward to another day and a half off.  You smart Slovenians are looking at the time of this posting, assuming Eloise has made an error, but I haven't.  Eloise is a Pennsylvanian and we typically extend our Thanksgiving holidays through Monday due to deer season.  Not reindeer, so don't panic.  The Lamp Post isn't that far north.  Deer as in white tailed deer, our state animal.  It is legal to shoot them come Monday.  The woods are full of hunters and malls and movie theaters are typically full of women and kids.  Schools are closed, so the Monday after Thanksgiving has become just another Christmas prep day for Eloise.  I think I am attacking the greeting cards tomorrow.

I can look back at Thanksgiving with no regrets.  Everything was great: food, family, friends, and the weather here in northern Pennsylvania.  It was unseasonably warm for Erie, which allowed old Eloise some long runs outside--her favorite thing.  On Thanksgiving morning I was almost feeling some regret that I didn't run the annual Turkey Trot race out on the Peninsula.  I am not a huge fan of organized races.  I run because my girls like them and only register under the names of dead US Presidents.  This year many urged me to come out and the weather was actually agreeable.  But the thought of 4,000 people and Port a Potties was not appealing to me on Thanksgiving morning, so the loner that I am headed out on the local roads solo.

What do you do out there all that time? someone once asked me.  I think, I plan, I reflect, I sing, I pray, and I flat out enjoy my time of solitude.   I got to thinking about a very vivid dream I had--something that was going to happen in the year 2021.  That gave me some hope because now that we are careening toward that fateful Mayan year of 2012, some of us are doubting whether we'll be here to see it.  Then I got to kind of feeling regretful that I didn't register for the race under James Madison, 40 year old female.  I got a peek at the shirt for this year and it was really cool---long sleeved purple tee with both front and back designs.  I loved it and was wishing I had one to show off this weekend.  I said to myself, Geez God, I should have run that race.   I'm a lousy mom.  I should have done it for the girls and we could have all worn our matching shirts this weekend.  Forgive me for being a selfish person and give me the strength and patience to run that race next year.  

CLUNK, TRIP, SKID, STOP.   That was what I did not 20 seconds after I had my little breathless conversation with The Lord.  I stepped on something and I had to back track to see what it was.

When I retraced my steps, I found that I had actually stepped upon a black t-shirt, crumpled up and wet, lying just outside of the community park entrance where the Legion Ball players have their games in the fall.  Cool!  I got me a t-shirt anyhow!  Thanks, God. This is the shirt:
On the back it even had a 21---like the year 2021, so I took that as some sort of sign that we are all going to be still around, probably trying to find the next time the planets will align or resurrect another ancient culture who predicted the world's impending doom.

When I got home, I rinsed the t-shirt out in the sink, and noticed that the jersey also had a front.  Cool--- a two sided shirt, just like the Turkey Trot one.  Wow, God, you really are awesome.  Thanks so much!  The shirt looked quite big, but I thought with a couple of washings in hot water with liquid Lysol, it may shrink up a bit.  I didn't recognize the logo on the front, but went down to the basement to toss the tee in the agitator, and decided to google the name.  This is the front of the shirt:
OK now Readers.  Let's test your read-between-the-lines comprehension skills.  Modern Adult superstore.  Both the male and female symbols inside the O. what could that be............................?    So now Old Eloise is thoroughly confused.  Sign or no sign? I guess we'll all just have to wait and see.

Sam found me upon my return up the basement steps from the t-shirt washing.  I left for my long run well before he was awake and he hadn't seen me yet.  The little guy has grown used to my long weekend runs, and he came running at me with a big smile and his arms outstretched to hug me.  "Oh Mommy!  I missed you!  How far did you go today?"  I told him that I went a long way and that he could ride along with me when we went out in the car to see how far it was.  Yes, I hear ya'.  I know about Map My but I think it is more rewarding for me to track my route in my car because sometimes I can't believe I went as far as I did.  Riding the route in a car makes it seem like a bigger accomplishment.

Sam hugged me around my waist as his head is just even with my abdomen now.  I patted his little head with his freshly buzzed holiday haircut.  Sam leaned back and looked up at me with his big blue eyes and one dimpled cheek.  He smiled and said, "Oh Mommy, I just love how the fat on your belly is so warm and squishy after you run.  It makes me love you."  And the little %$#@ turned and walked away.  Ellen was frozen, mid bite of her breakfast cereal waiting to see what I'd do.  After a long moment of breathless, frozen silence, I said to no one in particular, "Be glad it's Thanksgiving." 

Funny, yes.  But I read something even more comical on facebook about a week ago.  It was a snarky comment about people who put up Christmas decorations too early, as in prior to Thanksgiving.  This doesn't really bother old Eloise.  Some people with extended families living far away have to celebrate their Christmases on Thanksgiving and who can do that without a lit Christmas tree.  I get that, so this is no dig on my part.   But this saying; it's just too funny not to share: Every time a Christmas tree is lit before Thanksgiving, somewhere on the North Pole an elf drowns a baby reindeer.  A horrific thought for sure, but clever indeed.

Eloise won't flip her calendar page to December until Thursday, but I use Thanksgiving weekend for all of that Decembertime prep--you know, the decorating, shopping, wrapping, and list making.  Notice "baking" is not on that list.  I try to hold that off as long as possible because the longer the cookies are around, the longer I have to eat them.  But I am a working mother, and time is of the essence.  The more I can get done Thanksgiving weekend, the smoother the holiday goes for all of us.

The picture movie I put together is of my children decking the halls of the Lamp Post this weekend.  Ellen did the tree, Natalie brought up the boxes from the basement, and Sam---well, he did the nativity set again this year.  It's his favorite job.  Sam is four years old and really into action figures.  This year it is those little wrestling guys called Little Rumblers.  It seems that Herod ain't gettin' through the manger this year.  Jesus is safe again.  Sam's got Triple H and The Undertaker standing guard.  Take a look at the wise men he's stacked on top of one another.  I asked Sam why the one Wise Man was standing on top of the other.  Sam replied, "He couldn't see Jesus, so his friend helped him."  How prophetic, Sam!  Shouldn't we all give a leg up to help our friend see Jesus?

You'll get to see some of my favorite decorations from The Lamp Post.  I don't expect House Beautiful to call me to do a cover shoot because of them, either.  They are all sentimental, and Eloise is a sentimental soul.  You'll find my favorite picture of Ellen at a little over a year old crawling around underneath the Christmas tree.  That is on display every year along with the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, my card with the three angels (guess which one is Sam), and the ceramic tree that belonged to my mother in law.  She's gone now, but plugging in that tree makes it seem like she's still here with us.

My favorite decoration actually made the grab for the cover shot of the movie--it's kind of hard to make out, but it is a chain of paper clips.  I hook one to the tree every year in honor of a student in my very first class.  The boy didn't come from a family who had extra resources--enough to get by, but certainly none extra to buy teachers Christmas gifts.  On the last day before break this boy, whom I still see on occasion and now is in his later 20's, brought me a small box wrapped in aluminum foil, tied with a dirty, frayed shoelace.  When I opened the box, I found a chain of 8 paper clips.  I looked into his excited, skinny face, and the boy said to me, "They are for you!  They're paper clips!  I see that you used them all the time to hook our papers together.  You can hang this on your tree for a decoration, like tinsel, and after Christmas you can use them for our papers."  It takes a lot to make Eloise cry, but this time I couldn't stop the tears.  It was one of the sweetest, most heartfelt gifts I'd ever received.  I hang a chain of paper clips on my tree every year to remind myself that thoughtfulness is what it takes to make a gift priceless.

They say what you write reveals what is underneath.  If that is true Eloise has no secrets because you sure have read enough of my work.  Pay close attention to the letters to Santa my kids wrote this year.  Natalie, my girl of few words, speaks volumes.

Sam's was dictated, but he insisted in writing his name.  You can see he's a lefty because he writes everything backwards.  His requests say it all.

And then there is sweet Ellen's; my child who carries the weight of the world.  As a fifth grader she was not keen on writing a letter this year.  Too bad, I said, It's tradition.  Look closely at what her requests were.  Again--writing really does speak volumes about a person.

Enjoy the movie.  The song is Deck the Halls by Jim Brickman.  It's really pretty---just like my newly decorated house.

Let the holidays begin!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lesson 104: Blessings

Just so you know, I have no control over which picture Windows Live Movie Maker grabs for the cover shot.  It seems to be a random slide, until now..............look who made the cover today!  This picture hangs on the wall of "The Camp."  It is the coolest painting I've ever seen because no matter where you stand in relation to the picture, Jesus's eyes follow you.  I've heard stories of deer camp, but I really do think this very picture is what has kept the place standing since 1934.  Amen.

Today is a day to give thanks and count ones blessings.  The song Blessings by Laura Story is the perfect song for this year as it seem there has been lots of bad news coming Eloise's way.  Unexpected deaths, illness, and my favorite coach's fall from glory are but to name a few.  Add to all of this the two books I read this fall are The Help and Sarah's Key.  Both tough, emotional reads but ones I feel glad to have spent time with and emerged from the back end of the book a better person.  Even my lesson topic last week, the story of Squanto, shook me up a little bit.  If you are a reader and lover or stories as blog readers should be, a good story can make an impact.

What did Eloise learn from all this gobbledygook this fall?  Was there a common thread?  Was there something that God wanted me to learn from all of these stories that He brought to my attention?  I do believe there was.  In all of my stories, from The Help, Sarah's Key, and Squanto, to the Penn State scandal, someone turned a blind eye to something.  Slovenians, the phrase turning a blind eye does not mean someone just poked you in one, it means that you know something wrong is going on and you pretend that you don't see it.  Not good. 

Were there good people in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 who thought something was wrong with "separate but equal?"  How about the Parisians?  Didn't someone think sewing a yellow star to the sweater of your neighbor then loading him on a cattle car for a quick trip through the countryside was a bit strange?  And even in the 1600's, wasn't there a Spaniard standing in the market of Magalia that thought walking by the "Buy a Savage from the Americas" section was wrong?  Slovenians, as you can see injustice is worldwide and you have certainly suffered your fair share, too.  But have we learned in time?  Apparently not because there are people at a prestigious institution who looked the other way when a coach showered with ten year olds.

Can it ever stop?  When will it end?  Here are Eloise's answers to the questions you just raised:  Yes it can.  Today.  And it starts with you.  Well, you and the guy on the cover shot, that is.  Invite Him into your life.  Read His book.  It's life changing.  After you spend some time with it, you'll know when to turn the other cheek and when it is time to flip the tables over in the market. 

Don't turn a blind eye to things, Dear Readers.  That would mean that you are only seeing life with one eye and you would miss so much good, so much beauty.  To remind you of all things bright and beautiful this holiday, I put together some of my favorite nature shots from this fall.  You'll see the way the leaves hold colors tight---especially my favorite tree, the Weeping Willow.  She's holds on to her leaves the longest.  All the other trees in my yard are bald, except for her.  We can learn a lot from the Weeping Willow.  She is big and strong, but her branches are flexible.  Instead of her limbs snapping in a strong wind, her branches billow and I enjoy her dance outside of my window during the worst of storms.  Her roots run deep, and where you plant her; she's there to stay.  I am so glad she's the first tree I spy out of the Lamp Post window when I write my blogs.  She reminds me of how I want to be; strong, flexible, and hold on to my color for a long, long time. 

Enjoy the photos.  The ones of my girls are from when they were in preschool and returned home wearing their feast hats.  Natalie was an Indian almost a decade ago now.  Ellen chose to be a pilgrim during her time.  On Monday, Sam came home with a Miles Standish hat, but the way carts that blanket everywhere with him, I've nicknamed him Linus Standish this holiday. 

I hope your turkeys turn out and the pies are baked to perfection.  Doze on the couch while you watch some football, and wake up to play a board game with your family while eating your second slice of pie.  It's OK.  It's allowed today.  But most of all, look around you with BOTH eyes and count your blessings.  There are many to see and you won't want to miss a single one.

Blessings to you,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lesson 103: My Indian Outlaw

Thanksgiving is just two days away.  I've been watching people's posts on facebook stating what they are thankful for each day in November.  They've made for enjoyable reading and have been very thought provoking for me.  What is it this holiday that Eloise finds herself thankful for?  The usuals are on there:  my family, my friends, and my freedoms are always the list toppers.  Something unique to this year though, is the progress and healing of my son Sam.  Sam--my surprise child, the spunkiest of my bunch, my wild Indian.

Sam has made enormous strides in the last two months.  He is sleeping better, has gained four pounds, and his mischievous smile is back.  For this, I give enormous thanks to my God.  Amen.  You'll see him on the video during some of his finer (and dirtier) moments.  He absolutely loves football.  Sam will play pick up ball with any kids he sees.  We attended our last high school game of the season last weekend, and Sam found a group of kids tossing the football.  "Hey, can I play?" he yelled to them.  They ignored him.  "Hey!  You kid!  Can I play, too?" he shouted a little louder.  Ellen turned to me and said with an eyebrow raised, "This could get interesting."  And that it did.  The kids who were sixth graders gave him a momentary glimpse of attention and went about their play.  Sam is no glory boy.  He's a workhorse.  Sam is destined to be a lineman.  He has no interest in catching the football whatsoever.  He only wants to tackle people.  Sam chased those kids around that open field for nearly a half an hour.  A time or two a nice kid handed Sam the ball and let him run around with it, but he wasn't interested in that.  He wanted to chase someone down.  You will see a few shots of him trying to take down a sixth grader.  Sam grabbed the kid around the waist and wouldn't let go.  The kid (who had a very good humor about him) said, "Holy crap!  This kid is strong!"  You will see a snapshot of Sam flexing after he finally brought the kid to his knees.

The picture movie is set to my LEAST FAVORITE Tim McGraw song, however.  Truly, Indian Outlaw never did it for me.  It's an oldie and I had to look up the video on youtube because I couldn't remember it. Now I know why.  I must have mentally blocked it out.   When I found the video on youtube, I almost fell off of the kitchen stool I was sitting on.  Was this REALLY Tim McGraw in 1994?
  Good Lord!  My perfect specimen had this stringy hair and this cheesy mustache?  No wonder I passed him up and let Faith have him.  Some men do get better with age though, and Tim is one of them.  Look at him now at the premier of his recent movie Country Strong.  Much, much better.  Tim even looks good without his black hat.

There is one Indian that I do have to give five minutes to on this blog.  It's this one:
Squanto.  Now Sis, just to make this clear--this really isn't a photograph of Squanto. They didn't have cameras in 1620.  This guy is an actor.  Just didn't want you to say something silly over the gourmet Thanksgiving feast you are preparing for all of us.  Got your back, while you are breaking yours making pies for me.  How is that pecan one coming?  

If it wasn't for Squanto, I doubt we'd be eating Thanksgiving dinner.  Yes, I know that Massasoit and Samoset helped, too, but Squanto did the most in my opinion.  And oh the back story that man has!  The elementary history books always give mention to the fact that he was the last remaining member of his Patuxet tribe and helped the pilgrims plant corn and stuff (as paraphrased to me by a third grader).  But it is Squanto's full circle story, from his boyhood voyage to England on an English trading vessel to his return trip home with Captain John Smith then being captured within a days walk from home by Captain Thomas Hunt.   Squanto and many others of his tribe were sold by Captain Hunt as a slaves in Spain.  If it weren't for Brother Diego and Brother Luis taking pity upon Squanto as he threw himself at their feet begging for mercy, you may not be passing the cranberry sauce on Thursday.  The story is so amazing I suggest you research it for yourself.  If you are one of my students, prepare to learn about this in much greater detail next fall.  I got the rest of this year planned out already and it is on to the Vikings after break, but we'll catch Squanto again.  I promise.

This Thanksgiving I will be thankful for my two favorite Indians, Sam and Squanto, among many, many other things.  Bless us, O Lord for these thy gifts................


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lesson 102: Beautiful People

Just a quick post tonight because I got a few more coming this week.  I needed something to counter all this disturbing news we've been exposed to in the last couple of weeks.  Pennsylvanians have taken one square to the chops and we are a hurtin'.  With all of this disturbing news coming from heart of my great state, it almost makes one want to lose faith in humanity.  Yes, ugly lurks everywhere in this world, but I do believe beauty tips the scales to our favor.  There are just as many good people in this world and in the end, the good guys always win.

Thanksgiving is no time for disgust, however.  It is the weekend before the great feast and we are all making room for family, friends, and neighbors round our tables five days from now.  We've got happy preparations to take care of.  We've got birds to cook, pies to bake, and people to feed.  Beautiful people.  Nourish them this year with good food, great conversation, and shared prayers of thanks.

This year Eloise is thankful for the beautiful people who surround me.  Some of them are on this picture movie, moving along to the tune carried by the voice of one beautiful man.  Thanks Tim McGraw for the song.  I supplied the faces.  See, together we would have made a great team.  You win some, you lose some, I guess.  But this year I really did win because I'll be spending my holiday with most of the people on the movie--the most beautiful people in my world.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lesson 101: Penn State Lost This Week

In case you missed Saturday's noon game between Penn State and Nebraska, Eloise is here to inform you that Penn State lost this week.  And in more ways than one.  I bet many of you were wondering if Old Eloise, Proud Pennsylvanian and Penn State Fan, would comment on the happenings that have come to light at our state's finest university.  As keeper of The Lamp Post, it is my responsibility to deal with light, so I shall.  Unfortunately, when Penn State came into the spotlight this week, it simultaneously cast a shadow across the university that will long leave its mark.  Would Eloise speak or remain silent?  I think many have remained silent far too long, so I'll take my five minutes in blogdom to share my thoughts, thank you.

Eloise is loyal.  She loves a legend.  She's a fan; a true lover of sports.  And it seems, when her favorites fall, they fall hard.  I can recall my disbelief when I watched OJ Simpson fleeing in a white bronco on a California highway.  I remember being bewildered as to how and why Tiger Woods could take part in so much stealth infidelity, especially when he had such a beautiful wife waiting for him at home.  My heart broke when I saw an image of Michael Phelps smoking dope.   But this Penn State scandal is is like none other--it's epic because it involves the abuse of children.

It's taken the good part of this week for me to compose myself enough to try to garner some thoughts that make sense.  Even now with a Bible on my left and a pony bottle on my right, my thoughts jump back and forth from disgust to disbelief.  I am divided by my loyal nature, wanting to defend my favorite coach and all the good he has done, and the protective instincts of a mother/teacher/human being.  I held on to the hope that in time as more information was brought into light, there would be some sort of rational explanation as to how this abuse went on for so long and went unpunished.  But my only conclusion tonight is that this whole situation is irrational.

In fact, I believe irrational is the exact term I am looking for because I just looked it up on my handy little on-line dictionary.  Here is the definition supplied by Farlex, the On Line Dictionary:
ir·ra·tion·al  (-rsh-nl)
a. Not endowed with reason.
b. Affected by loss of usual or normal mental clarity; incoherent, as from shock.
c. Marked by a lack of accord with reason or sound judgment: 

Penn State officials who had knowledge of any of the accounts outlined in the Grand Jury Report lacked sound judgment.  Their actions were beyond reason.  I am certain their mental clarity was effected from the shock of their knowledge.  You know what they say about people in shock--they operate on auto pilot.  I do believe there are some things that are incomprehensible to the normal human being.  Atrocities so great that our minds almost cannot grasp them.  Surely someone was mistaken.  That couldn't have been what was witnessed.  Not my child; this couldn't have happened to my child.  Or how about this from a child's perspective:  What is happening to me?  

When people are faced with evils so great, I believe there is part of the brain that just shuts down.  It buries horrific events as a coping mechanism.  The great file cabinet called our mind shoves the horrors away in a deep place and moves on to other things just to survive.  But somewhere, deep in those abused boys living in grown men's bodies, there was a stirring for justice that allowed for the reopening of one of those locked file cabinet drawers.  Someone was finally brave enough to speak out, knowing full well that they would bring down an entire institution and its legendary icon along with it.  My prayers go out to that brave soul tonight as well as the others who stepped forward to acknowledge that they too, had been harmed.  Lord, give them strength at their time of greatest need.

This sin has always existed whether we care to admit that or not.  The Devil Himself infects the minds of people and twists them up.  Crimes of this magnitude against children have always been lurking, hiding in the darkness.  But the world is changing.  We know more.  We communicate more often.  We are linked together almost instantly.  The recent events involving Penn State have shined a light on the worst in the nature of man, and we can no longer pretend that we can't see it.  A floodlight has lit up State College for the whole world to see what has been going on in central Pennsylvania for the last decade.  As I quote from the book of Corinthians, Chapter 4, He will bring to light what is hidden in the darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts.  Amen to that.

We can no longer turn a blind eye from what we have seen, or even from what our gut instincts are telling us.  When a crime has been witnessed or rumored of, especially against a child, "reporting to the chain of command" does not apply.  Here is a quick, easy number Eloise wants you to remember--9-1-1.  It is the universal number for the police in this country.  You can call it from anywhere you are and you'll find someone who can direct you to what to do next.  It may be understandable that you may feel the need to run to Daddy to ask what to do, but as a 28 year old, I think you could punch in those three numbers all by yourself.  The safety of that child was far more important than the institution, The Church of Football, as columnist Rick Reilly called it in a recent ESPN interview.

When we know better, we do better.  After I finished reading The Help by Katherine Stockett, one of my new favorite books, I immediately called my mother and asked her what in the hell she was doing in 1962.  "Graduating from high school," was her reply.  I told her she was old enough and smart enough to know that there was no sound reason that people of color should be kept from using the toilets of white people.  "Of course I knew that," she said.  "I didn't know what was going on down south."  Forgiven because it was the year 1962 B.I.  Before Internet.  

I didn't know.    At first that sounded like a lame excuse to me.  I stewed about it all day long.  Stewed about it until I went to bed, that is.  I looked over at my night stand and the pile of books that I keep there.  These are some pictures of my nightstand tonight:

I keep a stack of books by my bedside and read myself to sleep whenever I feel the call to climb in bed.  I read whatever I am in the mood for.  Sarah's Key is the one I've been working on.  It's about the Holocaust in France--yes France.  I always have a book going about it  because I feel a sense of personal responsibility to never allow myself to forget it happened, even though it took place many years before I was born.  It makes me aware of the human potential of hate.
You will see that Raising the Spirited Child, is also on the top of my stack, for reasons I am sure you can understand if you are a faithful blog reader.  And no, the giant Rolling Rock can is not a fresh one--it's my bank for my nickels and dimes.  I like to separate my coins and this worked perfectly.  To further explain, my LOST box contains the contents of all my favorite mementos, and that round thing is a geode cut crosswise because that is my favorite rock.  I use it as a coaster.

I didn't know.  A few years ago, I was reading a Reader's Digest article about a woman who lived through the uprising in Darfur.  I was captivated by how she and 9 other people hid in a tiny bathroom, the kind with just a toilet and a pedestal sink, for SIX MONTHS, without ever coming out, to escape the people running through the streets with machetes in 2003.  Where was I? I asked myself.  Oh yes, going to play dates, and buying toys for my children, and this woman learned to sleep standing up.  I didn't know.  I felt like a heel that I didn't know this was going on, and vowed to never forget those who suffered while I was busy making mac-n-cheese.

I've lived a charmed life, lucky to be born in the country I live in to the parents who raised me.  I had no control in that.  But I can control my awareness of things.  Eloise has become a Watch Dog of the World, so to speak.  My sister on occasion has told me to tone it down because I am no fun to have at a party.  I get that.  Guilt has its place, but guilt has power.  I am hoping and praying that those individuals who looked the other way, or felt like it wasn't their place to report these crimes to the police at the time they happened are motivated by their guilt to make a change--one for the better.

Eloise is a teacher and we are reminded every year, often several times a year, about the rules for keeping our children safe.  Parents have trusted us not only to educate, but to guard and protect their children while they are in our care.  I ask about every bruise.  I make phone calls when I child is acting out of the ordinary.  And if a teen shows up wearing a long black trench coat I have the right to check to make sure there is not a sawed off shotgun in the inside pocket.  Columbine changed that for us as Penn State will change us again.  We will rise above it, learn from it, and more children will be spared of these horrific crimes because of it.

We were up at Behrend, the Penn State Erie branch campus on Saturday for my nephew Jack's Lego Robotics Competition (they took second place out of 40 teams, by the way).  I happened to spy a lamp post with the Nittany Lion paw print on it.  I had my kids gather around it and snapped a fast one.  Is Eloise ready to trade in all her Smurf colored clothes she wears every Saturday in the fall because of this tragedy?  No way.  I will not let the actions of few effect the history of many.  I am proud of the university I support, and will remain loyal, as will many others.  We shall overcome.
I also snapped this photo of the Nittany Lion.  Notice how he has a beam of sunlight upon his head.  I didn't doctor that, the light was really shining that way.  I guess the Lord wanted the Lamp Post to shed some further light on this topic, which is bound to be the fodder around many a water cooler for several months to come.

The above video is of my son, Sam.  Clad in his Penn State pajama bottoms and t-shirt, he was practicing his football moves.  If you wonder why he is the way he is, watch the video a couple of times; you'll understand.  You will hear his sister Ellen and partner in crime Emily, egging Sam on, Flip Camera in hand.  If you doubt for one single second that my boy doesn't have the makings of a great linebacker then you are taking up residence on some other planet.  That is Sam actually practicing his agility moves, then charging Ellen to practice his tackles at age four.  Yes, he did actually bite her knee (I'll try to keep him out of the boxing ring).  Lineman are known to be mean.  And when someone asks me, Do you want him to play for Penn State someday?  My answer will be ABSOLUTELY!

Penn State lost this weekend.  They fell short of a win by three points.  They also fell short in many other ways over the last decade as well.  But don't be so quick to point the finger, because I assure you , this is no isolated incidence.  This is happening in your neighborhood right now.  Maybe in your back yard or in the house next door or at university of whose flag you fly off of your front porch on game day.  The person in question may be your friendly neighbor, your teacher, or your clergy person.  Penn State is in the spot light, but the world has cranked up the wattage on that beam.  There is no doubt that it will cast shadows far beyond Happy Valley.  Prepare yourselves now.

Yes, Penn State lost this weekend, but they will be gaining one hell of a lineman in 2024.  I can't wait.

Still love you, Joe,

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lesson 100: Let's Hear it for the Boy

Tonight's blog post ended up being the perfect one to celebrate my 100th blog post since August of 2010.  I saw the triple digit creeping up last month and the topic of #100 has been on my mind.  What would be worthy enough to hold the place of Post 100?  It didn't all come together but a couple of hours ago and the catalyst was a mistake.

I checked back to look at the blog for a reason I already can't remember (Eloise has a very cluttered mind, especially on Sunday nights).  When I looked at post #99 I realized part of the story did not upload.  There is a missing paragraph (or two).  I don't write from drafts---I just write like I talk, as if you were sitting right on the other side of my computer screen (which you kind of are).  Readers always tell me that when they read what I write, they can hear my voice--and I think literally, not so much the poetic writer's voice.  And is because my fingers just fly; I don't have a copy to look back on.  But when I read it back through, there is an obvious point where the story drops off and changes topic rather abruptly.  You can actually see where it is.  The missing paragraph(s) belong next to the long shot of the Lamp Post that shows the wall where I want to get a lamp.  Reader Jenny already found me one!  Thank you.  Now help me convince my family I need to have it.

In the writer's world, this is called a poor transition.  It is the very thing we teachers are trying to teach children when they write--it's all about good transitions---it makes for a smooth flow for your writing.  I think about the only flow kids get from teachers is that advice, going in one ear and out the other.  Writing is not a popular subject in school for most kids.  In fact, I do believe most people struggle with written expression; probably darn near as many who are afraid of public speaking.  I can do both well, hence my profession.

I was writing about the elm tree tag that my dad hung in his garagemahal.  Then there is this vast emptiness....then I start talking about the wall of the Lamp Post in need of a lamp post.  Clunk.  That is what you call a poor transition.  The gist of the missing piece was this:  You should surround yourself with the things you love in the space that you have--and namely the place you most frequent.  For my Dad it is the Garagemahal, for my Mother, her kitchen, and for me, it's The Lamp Post.  I can do my most creative work in the space I am most comfortable in.  The Lamp Post is up high, just like it sounds as though it should be, sitting atop my living room in a loft area.  I have a window for natural light, and a wood stove beneath it that radiates heat upwards to warm my feet.  So my transition was to link my Dad's sanctuary to my own.  Smooth.  If you upload correctly, that is.

I strive to write seamlessly because I hate transitions in general.  I never have dealt with change well, nor do I feel comfortable when things move to fast.  I like to take my time and think things over.  I am a ponderer and in another life, I do believe I was some sort of tree sloth (I eat plants, I love trees, I'm slow moving, and that hair of mine.......).  Annoying as it is for those who know me, a reminder to you:  we can't help how we are made.

Four and a half years ago I made myself a little boy who is turning out to be a heck of a lot like his Momma.  He's blue eyed, stubborn as all get out, and wide through the butt like a  linebacker (like I said, we can't help how we are made).  Sam is constant material for this blog.  God knows what his therapist will say to him as together they go back and revisit Sam's childhood all recorded in blogdom for the world to see.  And those of you who know me, have heard that I'm having a bit of a bump in the road with him.  It's not a road block, it's a pothole people, and we're making our way around it with lots of help from lots of people.  They all say the same thing--the kid gets anxious over transitions.  I get that.  Big time.

We have cool cards posted all over the house at 3 foot high eye level that say, "Wait--Breathe--Count---Calm Down."  It's too bad that I am the one who most often uses them.  I'm killing my knees.  Remind me to raise those suckers up to 5'8" high.  With patience, consistency, and persistence, Sam is nearly back to the old funny Sam that he was six months ago.  He's sleeping better, much more settled, and eating like a champ.  I only got about ten years to go to fatten him up for the Huskies line.

I know this is going to seem like a poor transition now, you Careful Readers, but this does link together.  I went to the new Footloose movie this weekend.  I went with my friend Keri who happens to dance better than Julianne Hugh and owns the dance studio where my girls take lessons.  She also happens to be the one I was sitting next to at the showing of the original movie at The Eastway Twin Theaters twenty-five years ago.  It was really a full circle moment for the both of us--especially when I kept whispering to her probably too loudly I want those red boots!  My first task upon my return home was to announce to the facebook world that I had seen the movie (I know Slovenians, don't judge, because Americans aren't the only ones who do this).  My second task was to melt my iTunes card downloading the music.

All of the original songs have been remade and they are quite good.  Blake Shelton's version of the title track is very good.  Holding on to a Hero was the biggest surprise---it is slowed wwwaaaaaayyyyy down, but it is excellent.  My favorite though is Let's Hear it for the Boy.  For those of you who can remember the original, it is the song Kevin Bacon teaches Willard to dance to.  Willard is in the new movie version and is ten times more lovable than in the first one.  In fact, I think Willard steals the show.  The song you hear playing in the background of my home movie clip is Let's Hear it for the Boy--the new version.

It was Sunday night and I was getting prepared for the week.  If you look around my kitchen you'll see the garbage ready to go out and a floor in desperate need of sweeping.  You'll also see the corner cupboard minus the door.  Sam thought it would be a fun hiding place for hide and seek and he leaned his 51 pounds on it and the hinges gave (I told you LINEBACKER).   I was in the middle of all of this Sunday evening clean up with my music blasting to keep me motivated.  Sam heard it and he came skidding in to the kitchen in his socks saying, "Dance with me Momma!"  The boy is more and more like me every day.   He loves his music and loves to dance.

Music is on in my house and car almost all of the time.  It was how I grew up and I think I carried that piece into my life today.  Music soothes me when I am sad, can force a tear when I am in need of a good cry, or keep me up and moving on a Sunday night when I'd rather just sit on my couch and leave it all until the morning.  And when it's on, you'll often find me dancing in my kitchen, usually sliding around the linoleum in my socks, just like Sam on the clip (although I don't do the belly flop thing--like I said, that floor is in desperate need of a good sweeping, so I know better).

Sam, clad in his peace t-shirt (I secretly hope some tranquility will seep into him through osmosis) and plaid pajama bottoms was happy tonight.  The boy you see on the movie is my old Sam--that funny, lovable, off the cuff kid who keeps me on my toes.  So tonight, when he yelled, "Dance with me Momma!" I did just that.  The sweeping could wait and the only garbage that I wanted to think about was the white bag that needed to go out behind the wood pile.  None of Sam's problems the past six months mattered at the moment.  All that mattered was he wanted to dance with me.

Psalm 149, verse 3 was quoted by Footloose character Ren McCormick when approaching the town council in attempt to abolish the ordinance about teen dancing.  It reads:  Let them praise his name with dancing....
And I did just that on many levels.  (And how about that for a transition, for ya'?  I sure hope it posts correctly).

Let's hear it for my boy!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lesson 99: What Kind of World Do You Want?

Hello, Readers.  This is a bit of a hurried Lamp Post posting tonight as Eloise has lots of plans for the weekend.  I got a football game and a fund raiser and a Footloose movie to go and see, and that’s all BEFORE dinner time on Saturday.  But namely, my main project is installing my Wi-Fi.  A bit late in the game, you say?  Not at all really, considering we were the first to have it several years ago when I went though the painful process before.  I no sooner had that $100 router figured out and installed when I saw a report that experts were studying Wi-Fi and it’s possible links to brain cancer.  I rapidly unplugged it all and threw it in the trash.  Years have passed and Wi-Fi is literally everywhere.  I’ve given it some thought and came to these conclusions:  #1—It is now deemed completely safe,    #2—We are all doomed.  In either case we’re all in this together, so I’m giving it another attempt.  I hope this installation goes better than the last time.

You know how that is once you start unplugging things of the technical sort.  The Lamp Post will be out of service for a bit this weekend.  I have this sick fear that I won’t be able to get everything up and working properly and will have to call a teenager (or a third grader) to hook it back up for me.  I wanted you all to see the pictures from the last home game for my Huskies.  Thanks, kids.  It was a great season. 

My children and football are the center of my world in the fall of every year.  Eloise is a teacher and returns to throngs of noisy children every September.  I am surrounded by them all day and their incessant questions (I teach the “avid learners”), then I come back for another dose every Friday night at a football game.  I love high school football and always will.  I’m my team’s biggest fan.  On the movie included along with snapshots from Friday night’s game, are some other things from my world that I love.  You’ll see lots of pictures of trees and leaves. 

I have to make a public confession—I’m a tree nerd.  I have 33 trees in my yard and each one has a special purpose.  You’ll see one of my giant weeping willows, and my maple tree that is sick with tar blight.  After school I got a really awesome shot of another tree with really bright yellow leaves.  It’s like the lyric in the Luke Bryan song I love---the desperate way leaves in the fall hold colors tight.  It’s as if the leaves really are desperately clinging to every last ounce of color before the desolate winter sets in.  You’ll also see a little, baby elm sapling.  It is my new favorite tree.  I have to think of a name for her—I just can’t quite come up with it yet.  Yes, Eloise names everything--even trees.

A friend of the family gave us the tree which is a Liberty Elm.  This is the plaque it came with and the story behind it.  The name is going to have to match the story somehow, so if you think of a good one, send me a suggestion.

The red colonial in the background is the house I grew up in.  I built my house next door, so my parents are my next door neighbors.  Living next to them is an adventure.  It really is comforting for those of you who just got a shudder up your spine.  They are an excellent source of blog material to say the least.  After all, Everybody Loves Raymond is a sitcom written about that very thing.  It's nice that my parents have the tree because they placed it in a spot where I can see it from my house too.  This plaque which explains the story (and its a good one, so make sure you squint and read it) is hanging in my dad's garage which I named the Garagemahal. 

The Garagemahal is a 40 x 30 foot sanctuary for my dear old dad.  He is out there all the time---just like a little kid in a playhouse.  It's his world.  And in dad's world he surrounds himself with things that he loves:  train memorabilia, Pittsburgh Steeler fan gear, and beer.  The guy on the video holding the stein is not my Dad, but I do think it probably could be one of my German, beer loving relatives.   I photographed the Beer Guy when I was in the Garagemahal taking a snapshot of the Liberty Tree plaque, which for now, is hanging on the wall just inside the man door.  Once the tree matures the tag can be placed on the trunk.

That tall, blank looking wall to the left of the top photo totally needs a floor lamp.  I have absolutely no lighting when I write at night and Eloise is suffering eye strain.  I've learned over time that it is best to hold out for something you really want, rather than to settle for something less than the best.  I want a floor lamp that looks like a lamp post, and I can't find one.  If any of you readers ever do, please send me a message.  
 I love maps and globes far more than GPS navigators.  It should come as no surprise that I have a globe atop my storage unit.  On the lower left shelf is the LOST Complete Collection that I got for Christmas last year (the one I threatened to light the tree on fire over if I didn't get, if you recall).
 For now the window provides me adequate light while I write, but the winter is upon us and extra hours of darkness.  Eloise does not do well without the sunlight.  I'm like my plants.  If you stick me in a closet, I get pale and pasty just like the Sixth Grade science fair projects every year (there is always one on this topic):  Can plants grown in a closet?
 When you watch the movie you'll see a shot of my Dad's beer can collection he keeps in the Garagemahal.  It made me smile to think that I have surrounded myself with my own can collection, but mine is the non alcoholic version.
 My mother gave me this lamp post for a decoration.  It was actually one of her Christmas decorations but I ripped the wreath off of it so I can set it out all year.  The framed picture is a painting that Ellen made for me.  I love how she put the glow of light outside of the actual lamp.  She said, "It's a painting of a lamp post.  The light reminds me of you."  Sweet.
On shelf above my computer you'll find my pencil can the girls made me out of beach glass, a bird cup Sam gave me for Mother's Day, a carved wooden lamb that reminds me of Jesus, and my lucky horseshoe.  I found it when we were digging the foundation of our house.  I built my house on what used to be a horse pasture in the 1800's.  I'm not superstitious or anything, but I always make sure the points are facing upwards so my luck doesn't run out.

Does the apple ever fall far from its tree?  I'm the apple that landed next door.  You can see that I am a chip off the old block--I don't have a collection of beer cans, but I did turn a Rolling Rock bottle into a daisy vase.
 I told you I name everything.  And if you know me, I probably have a nickname for you.  Most I keep in my head though, so don't ask me what yours is.  They are secret.  This plant I named Guadalupe.  My friend Keri got it for me when my grandma passed away in September.  Keri married a guy from Ecuador, and this reminded me of the palm farm he has there.  I looked up Top 10 Ecuadorian Baby Names (yes, you can Google just about anything), and decided to give this plant a multicultural sounding one.  Evelyn happened to be the number one name in Ecuador last year which sounded too American.  I opted for #6--Guadalupe instead.
Meet Charlotte.  A gift from Tracy Southern when she came home for a visit last spring.  T Southern now lives in South Carolina, about a mile from Charlotte, NC where she originally moved (and left me lonely) many years ago.  I thought it was a pretty, southern sounding name.  TS told me "you can't kill this."  I think after a month in the north the plant was out of sorts, so I sent her an email with the next photo attached.  It read, "I beg to differ."

This was poor Charlotte after about four weeks in Erie.  I thought I lost her.  I can't stand to kill a living thing--even the tomato worm that was eating my half of my garden.  I found the little &#^$%@ and put him in my neighbor Fitzgerald's garden.  Simple solution.  Other than one waitressing job that I despised, I never quit anything in my life.  I'm not a quitter, and I wouldn't give up on Charlotte.
Once I realized I needed to remove the pretty, pink wrapper to give her some breathing room, she started to come back.  I retrieved this out of the garbage TWICE because my hubby tried to pitch it.  He's a little quick on his decisions.  Glad I saved her because the above photo shows a nice, healthy looking Charlotte sitting on my Lamp Post window seat.  She's even blooming again---in November.
 So how far does the apple fall from the tree?  My sister's apple landed about 4 miles away.  Maybe she strayed too far from her roots.  The following two snapshots are of plants that Kenyan Karen decided to nurture this summer.  If you look closely, the white pot in this photo reads, "Homegrown on Lake Erie."  City officials are not asking her permission to put this on a travel brochure of the Erie region.
Kenyan Karen has good intentions every year.  She likes plants, too, but plants need time and care.  She's got a lot going on in that great big house of hers, so sometimes the plants forget to get watered, other than from a good leg-lifting from her pug Hercules.  Maybe dog urine is what gave this one it's nice, crispy brown look.
I always save the best for last, and this is the prizewinner of blog #99:  This is the plant that Sister Somebody--Jack's teacher who is a nun, gave Karen to care for.  She gave it to Karen to "split and re pot."  Kenyan has them completely fooled.  I told her to be extra careful with this one---we may need an extra nod when we're standing at Heaven's Gates someday.  Re potting the office plant of a nun just may be our ticket.  

While were all biding our time here, waiting for our turn to stand at Heaven's Gates, what have you filled your world with?  Is it all work and no play?  Eloise's advice today is this:  get outside and do something you enjoy and take a couple of kids along; plant a tree (and make it an elm); have a beer or a coke and find someone to drink it with; share your world with someone today.  

Make today a good day, Readers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lesson 98: A Halloween Thriller

Unless you are a Creature of the Night like Eloise, by the time you are reading this blog, it will most likely be November 1st, so I would like to wish my readers a Happy World Vegan Day.  More people would probably identify the day after Halloween with All Saints Day, but given that Eloise is not a Catholic, that wouldn’t make much sense either.  I’ll gnaw on a carrot and write this blog.

I am gnawing on a carrot not only in support of my vegan peeps, but to remind myself that I do not need the bags full of Halloween treats that are sitting in buckets on the floor ‘neath the Lamp Post.  I’ve always had mixed feelings about Halloween, and the over consumption of candy is just one problem.  Eloise is a chicken is the larger one.

Yes, I am a self-admitted, lily-livered, quaking in my boots type chick.  I’m kind of like Don Knotts in the Ghost of Mr. Chicken, if you’ve ever seen that oldie.  I would look like this:  
I always have startled easily and I certainly don’t like to be spooked.  You will never find me in a scary costume and Haunted Houses are absolutely out of the question.  I just know that the one I decide to attend will have the lunatic with the real chainsaw waiting to fulfill his secret, sick fantasy of severing someone’s head.  I’ll pass, thank you.

The scarier thing about Halloween anymore is the cost.  No matter what my sister tells you, I AM NOT CHEAP!  It’s just the time of year the holiday falls that gets me every time.  We brave enough to live in Northwestern Pennsylvania can smell winter upon us.  We need to have boots, hats, coats, scarves and all that good winter gear needed for weather that is only (gulp) a couple of weeks away.  With kids, that gets expensive when they outgrow the major gear every year and never have we made it to March with two matching gloves.  You know as soon as the witch hats and fake blood are marked down to 70% off, there is a jingling of Christmas bells in the retail stores.  I start mentally trying to divide the number of weeks by the number of paychecks.  Math always confuses me, so I am always off by a bit (or a bundle).

This year I made up my mind that I was not going to spend tons of money on Halloween costumes.  After all, when I was a kid I had fun stuffing my Dad’s sweatpants and GE t-shirts with a pillow to make a fake big butt (too bad now I have a real one).  I’d use the case from that pillow as a sack to hold all of my candy.  No Party City was around then, hence no $40 costume to wear one time.  No sturdy handled plastic bag with the glow in the dark markings.  And by all means no blinking light saber that changes from red to green to yellow.  I used Dad’s flashlight under the issuance that I better not bring it back busted.   No, there was not as much choice, but things seemed simpler then.  Did you ever notice that ALL the Peanuts characters on it’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown were ghosts?  Just sheets and neckties. 

Natalie wore Ellen’s break dancer costume from last year’s dance show.  Sweet.  Ellen made herself an artist.  She made her own palette from a cardboard box, found some artsy looking clothes, and painted up an old smock.  All that one cost me was a $5 beret from Wal-Mart.  Two kids down and five bucks spent.  Awesome.  Then comes Sam.

Sam, my only son with the stubborn streak and quick temper we are trying to tame.  We’ve really been pushing the Super Hero thing---the nice buff guys who fight to PROTECT people.  They are the knights of the modern age.  I spotted the $20 Superman costume at Wal-Mart when I was getting the beret for Ellen and I couldn’t resist.  I should have stopped there--$25 total expenditure for three kids wasn’t so bad---until I found the matching flashlight and the ring for Super Sam.  I’m not good at math, but the cost went up a bit I guess.

But I feel bad because I wouldn’t have been nickel-diming on Halloween as much this year if I wouldn’t have made one of the worst decisions in recent history.  My girls duped me into getting them hair feathers.  You know, the new fad---little, delicate feathers clipped into the side of one’s hair.  A few of the little girls had them upon return to school this year, and Ellen started begging.  It’s sure is nice when a kid wants something really badly---they will work for it.  The girls have been patiently doing extra jobs, immediately upon request for about a month now.  If they would hesitate or even look like they were about to roll their eyes I would say in a sing-songy voice hair feathers, and boy did they move. 

Two weeks ago on a Friday I was in a good mood.  The football game was away that week and I was pretty sure of a win.  I surprised them with a trip to the local salon to get the feathers.   I wish I would have snapped a picture of their faces when I told them we were going.The girls chattered excitedly on the drive to the salon, thinking aloud about which color they should pick and choosing the perfect placement in their hair.  I smiled and thought to myself I am so lucky to have girls.  This is fun.

The cosmetologist helped us choose the feathers and explained that they could be washed, could get wet, and could be curled or flat ironed.  They would stay in for up to three months and if they did fall out, you could save the feather and bring it back to get re clipped in your hair.  Seemed like a sweet deal. 

The girls had so much fun getting their feathers in that I decided I would get one, too.  Heck, Eloise has a mane of hair, and I’d just put it back by my ear, kind of underneath, so that it didn’t show unless I styled my tresses in such a way that it would.  The girls tackled me from either side and gave me a hug I will never forget.  “You’re the coolest mom ever!”  said Ellen.  “Cool, yes,” said Natalie.  Music to a 40 year old mother’s ears.

Cool soon turned to red hot when I went to the counter to pay for three hair feathers and a bottle of shatter nail polish (I was feeling extra generous over the cool comment).  $129, said the perky beautician.  I blinked.  “That will be $129,” she said again, holding out her hand for my debit card.  “As in dollars?” I asked.  She giggled.  I choked.  But because I’m so cool, I pretended it was a cough. 

Here are our feathers:

Ellen was the envy of the playground.  One of Natalie’s friends from school told me, “Cool feather in Natalie’s hair, Mrs. Eloise.   That was nice of you to get her one.”  OK—maybe money isn’t everything.  It’s like that PRICELESS thing in the Master Card commercial.  But I swear on everything holy that if one more person tells me, “Hey, come here.  I think you have a blue string in your hair,” I am going to flip out.

………or maybe fly away.  In fact, that was what my Halloween costume was this year.  I wore a blue sweater, blue jeans, my blue running toe shoes, and of course my blue feather.  There was only one thing I could be.  The best costume for someone dumb enough to spend $129 (without the tip) on 3 hair feathers and a bottle of nail polish.  See below.  

The blue footed booby.  Now that’s priceless.

Happy vegan day!