Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Legitimate Rape" and the Crazy Sheriff Candidate: Oh, What a World

Like most people with an IQ and a heart, I am still reeling from insensitive, untrue, and utterly disgusting comments made by Missouri Senate wannabe Todd Akin.  To wit, Akin basically analogized being raped to stubbing your toe.

And, according to Akin, those extremely rare occasions (sense the sarcasm here) where "legitimate rape" occurs almost never result in unwanted pregnancies because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Yeah, this ignorant, insensitive buffoon could arguably be elected to the legislative branch of the United States Government ... scary.

Let me tell you about rape.

It's probably the worst crime that can possible be committed.  Let me list the ways ...

1.  It hurts.  Unspeakably.  And, if you're unlucky, you deal with the physical repercussions for many years.
2.  It is arguably the most under-reported crime because, let's face it, how humiliating would it be to go to a police officer and say, "I was raped?"  It shouldn't be, but it is ... 
3.  Even if you do have the guts to go to the police, it's very difficult to "prove" rape.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but how are authorities to put a judgment call on consensual sex vs. rape when there are so many variables?  So even those who do come forward are often told by authorities, "Yeah, too bad, so sad, there's not a lot we can do."
4.  Years later, you still break out in a cold sweat and get nauseous and remember when it happened to you when you hear the word "rape" or read about it in a book or see a news story or whatever.
5.  You feel dirty, ashamed, and as though you did something wrong ... even when you know intellectually that the only mistake you made was getting a drink with a friend of a friend of a friend that you didn't know.
6.  It destroys your trust in everyone and everything, and it permeates its ugliness into all facets of your life.  If I have to deal with a male in a position of authority (a bank manager, a boss, a police officer) and it gets remotely acrimonious, I am back to being intimidated by a man ... and I do not act my best.

Yes, as you've probably figured out, I have some personal experiences with this subject.  I have alluded before, both on this site and on Zelda Lily, to the fact that I was raped when I was twenty-one, but this crap with Todd Akin has made it important to me that I don't just say, "This guy's an idiot" but explain why his words are so painful.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, by the way, have publicly stated that their ticket would not oppose abortion in cases of rape or incest (good for them, I say ... they did not hesitate to come down on what I believe to be the right side--pun not intended--and I commend them for that), and virtually every Republican in the country is calling for Akin to step down.

But this is a little bit more complicated than just some nutjob from Missouri making inflammatory remarks about rape victims and using them as pawns in the abortion debate.

See, New Hampshire has its own nutjob at the moment, and he's running for Sheriff of Hillsborough County.

[Sheriff Candidate Frank] Szabo may have inflamed the issue further when asked if he would use deadly force to prevent an abortion.

"I would respond specifically by saying that if someone is under threat, a full-grown human being, if they're under threat, what should the sheriff do? Everything in their power to prevent them from being harmed," he said.

When pressed about what he would do if he learned that a doctor was about to perform an elective abortion, Szabo replied he would do what it took to prevent that from happening.
"Absolutely," he said. "Well, I would hope that it wouldn't come to that, as with any situation where someone is in danger, but again, specifically talking about elective abortions and late-term abortions, that is an act that needs to be stopped."

So an abortion that happens as the result of a rape should lead to prosecution ... of the doctor?  Clearly Frank Szabo, Todd Akin, and their ilk have never been raped.  

I understand that abortion is a high-emotion issue; trust me, I understand that, and I would never judge anybody for their opinions on this.  I know and love people that are vehemently pro-choice, vehemently anti-abortion, and everywhere in between.  

Abortion is not the point of this post.  No, the point is the sick depths to which people will sink in politics ... and I guess the realization that it doesn't matter as much to you if it doesn't hit close to home.  When it does strike you where you live, so to speak, though, it is one thing to internalize it and be angry and bitter and so on.

It is something else entirely to say, "Not only are these men ignorant and dangerous in terms of the policies they would obviously be lobbying for, but they have no concept of the surprisingly large number of people they are hurting with this."

I didn't have the courage to speak out almost fifteen years ago.  It took me over ten years to tell anyone about what happened to me.  

But I cannot keep my mouth (or my laptop) closed on this one ... rape survivors have a voice, and I have kept mine silent for too long.  Out of honor and respect for those who are not able to do so, I say this now: speak out against Frank Szabo and Todd Akin, and certainly do not vote for them.  

Their insensitivity is telling of their leadership skills ... or lack thereof.

I had a pretty rough day yesterday ... with all of this on my mind (and the things it brought back), I guess it's no wonder ... maybe I should stop watching the news ;-).  Writing this has made me feel much better, though, even as I know I'm nearing the end of it and have to debate whether or not to hit the "Publish" button or just keep it to myself.  If you're reading this, I guess you'll know ...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Bittersweet Tale of the Jelly Bean Puzzle

If you are my Facebook friend, you have no doubt heard much about the jelly bean puzzle.  It has sort of consumed my life in a way, and it's brought up a lot of emotions that are ... well, quite frankly, difficult.

A couple of weeks ago, Belle started going through this puzzle phase.  Basically, she did every single puzzle we had in the house (virtually all of them fairly simple ... they're all Disney Princess and Fancy Nancy children's puzzles).

It struck a chord with me, to say the least.  See, I used to love doing puzzles.  It was one of my absolute favorite activities.

The problem is, it was an activity that I shared with my stepfather.  I would start doing a puzzle on the dining room table, and he would grouse at me about it, then the next thing I knew, he would be helping me with it.  We would have epic puzzle events, and on more than one occasion we would glue and frame the end result (we took on some tough ones).

Sometimes it would take us days to get through puzzles.  A lot of the time, we worked on the current puzzle together.  Sometimes, he'd get home from work and I'd have made a ton of progress.  Often, I'd get home from school and find that he'd gotten huge sections done.  If we were stymied, we'd work together.

I haven't done a puzzle since my stepdad's death in 2004.

While I love both my mother and my father very much, there were complexities that did not exactly allow us to have the best of relationships.

My mother suffers from hypothyroidism, and before she was diagnosed and began medication ... well, walking on eggshells is the best way I can think of to describe it.  You never knew what would set her off, and she caused deeper scars with words than I can express.  I also tended to get the brunt of it, for reasons that are skeletons in my family closet.

The same can be said of why my (and my siblings') relationship with my father is so complicated.  It is not my intent to air dirty laundry, particularly laundry that dates back to when I was a sixth grader.  Life goes on.

And I am the first to admit that I was not an easy child, an easy teen, or, for a long time, an easy adult.

Which is why my stepdad was so important to me.  He accepted me the way I was, held me accountable for my actions without being cruel and abusive, and did not allow me to take myself too seriously.  He also buffered my often-acrimonious relationship with my mother and allowed us to appreciate and even come to like each other (you can love without liking, and I think my mother and I had that dynamic for quite a long time).

When he passed, I descended into a depression so deep that I wasn't even aware of it.  I had never been able to depend on anyone or anything until my stepdad came into the picture, and losing him left me so lost and adrift that I couldn't even verbalize it.  Trying to support my mom without letting her know how lost I was also presented a challenge.

My mother and stepfather were truly, madly, and deeply in love, and I cannot imagine the pain she suffered, then and now.  My own loss, deep as it was, pales next to what my mother has gone through since the lung cancer death sentence came down.    

Ironically, it was Pythagorus' fall into mental illness and alcoholism that snapped me out of my own multi-year zombie state of loss and pain.  Someone had to be strong for the kids ... after all, hadn't that been what my stepdad had done for me?  He would have been disgusted, utterly appalled, by Pythagorus' actions, would have felt unspeakable disdain for the man who had shaken to the core the lives of his beloved granddaughters, and I didn't want to be in the category of people who would disappoint my stepdad in any way.  

As I pulled myself out of the mess my life had someone become, it was my stepdad's face that I kept in front of me.  It was his strength that got me through, and I came to terms with his death in the process, strange as that sounds.

I've come quite far away from the who puzzle thing ...

When Belle got on her puzzle kick, I decided that I would get a more challenging puzzle that she and I could do together, that it would be a way for us to bond the way that my stepdad and I had.

However, I clearly got a little overzealous with my choice of puzzle--a 1,000 piece monster made entirely of various colors of jelly beans.

Suffice it to say, I'm out of practice vis a vis the wild world of jigsaw puzzles, and Belle quickly found that this was a different kind of thing altogether and lost interest.

Progress has definitely been made ...

There is lots of work left to do, however, and it is a bittersweet experience for me.

Part of me keeps hoping that my stepdad will show up, because this was our absolutely favorite kind of puzzle--quite a challenge, and one that can be worked on a little bit at a time.

I'm just feeling like I'm not up to the task all by myself, and like I said, Belle bailed.

I'm going to keep on trucking, though.  Even if it takes me a month, I am going to get this stupid puzzle finished.  And then I am going to glue it and frame it and keep it for always, because even though it didn't necessarily allow Belle and I to bond in the way I'd hoped, it's given me back a little bit more of my stepdad ... in a healthy and not-depressed way, if that makes sense.

I am deeply happy working on this puzzle even while I'm incredibly sad.  Does that make any sense?

So anyway, that's the story of why the jelly bean puzzle that I've been bemoaning on Facebook is more than just a puzzle ...


Note: School starts for me on Friday (I know, I can't believe it, either), which is also the day that Addie leaves for college.  I am going to be pretty busy (and strung out) the next week or so, but I have some great guest posts lined up--one from my favorite student of all time, one from my good buddy Martin over at From Sand to Glass, and one from a friend of Henry's who's become my good friend too over Facebook (don't you love technology?).  I hope you'll enjoy all of them (I think they're pretty amazing :-)), and if you're interested in writing a guest post, drop me an e-mail.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Stealing: Our Players' Meme

Ah, Sunday Stealing, it's been awhile ... The bonus of doing a regular weekly meme is that it gives you some really interesting ideas for future blog posts.  Oh, and it's a great way to wake up on a Sunday morning while you drink the requisite coffee :-)  

1. You have been awarded the time off from work and an all-expenses paid week anywhere in the United States. The catch is that it must be somewhere you have not been before. Where do you choose to visit? 
Somewhere in the south, where I've never been in reality (other than driving through on the way to Florida as a kid) but have been extensively through literature.  Is South Carolina what Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons made it for me?  And how about Alabama, where I grew up alongside Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird?  

2. Name three of your guilty pleasures.
Coffee, cheeseburgers, and reading.

3. The best kind of Girl Scout Cookie is:
Tagalongs.  Oh my gosh, I can put those things away by the box ... I am not buying ANY Girl Scout cookies this year.  It never ends well ...

4. What do you value most in other people? 
Humor.  Even if you're an asshole, I'll find some sort of redeeming value if you can make me laugh.

5. Be honest. Do you sneak some raw cookie dough when you’re baking cookies?
I don't cook, but what I have been known to do is worse.  Yeah, you know the pre-made cookie dough they sell at the grocery store?  I've been known to buy that for the sole purpose of ... well, not baking it. Haha, I don't think I've ever admitted that before ;-)

6. Have you ever looked back at your life and realized that something you thought was a bad thing was actually a blessing in disguise?!

7. What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever visited? 
I think it would have to be Bar Harbor in Maine.  I love my little tiny slice of New Hampshire ocean, but seeing the ocean in Maine surrounded by mountains and forests, and the water is this unbelievable shade of blue, and it is just the most beautiful place ever.  

8. Are you more of a thinker or a feeler? 
I feel first and think later.  I do both equally, but it's more of a sequential thing with me than with many people, I think.  It's something I'm working on ... not a great way to be.

9. Name three things you are thankful for right now.
My family, having a job I love, and coffee.

10. Have you ever participated in a three-legged race? 
Haha, yes.  It was a drunken college thing.  It did not end well.  (I seem to say that a lot...)

11. When you are at an event that plays the National Anthem, do you place your hand over your heart?
This is going to sound really stupid, but I didn't know you were supposed to.  The Pledge of Allegiance, yes.  "The Star Spangled Banner"?  I thought standing and removing your hat were sufficient to show respect.  Since I've started attending more events where this comes up, I've started placing my hand over my heart because half the audience does, and I don't want to look disrespectful.  However, I'm still not sure if this is right or not ...
Second meme: 

12. What kind of work do you do?
I am a high school English teacher.  That means I'm a psychologist, a psychic, a clown, a philosopher, a referee, a coach, a technology expert, a cheerleader, a warden, a facilitator, and about a hundred other hats.   

13. During the course of your lifetime, which job or career has been your favorite or most fulfilling?
Teaching, no question.  Of course, the other options include things like wearing the rat costume at Chuck E. Cheese's and working third shift at Cumby's, so it's kind of a no-brainer ;-)

14. Do you think it’s necessary in your life to have a day-to-day “career” that is meaningful and service-oriented or do you function better in “just a job” with a steady paycheck?
Absolutely.  If I didn't love my job, I would certainly find something that paid better.  I discovered last year that I made more money bartending than I do teaching, which is scary.  Teaching is far more than a job to me, and the stories you collect are just amazing ... even better than the ones you get while bartending.  

15. Was there ever a time in your life when you wanted to stay home with your children instead of working, even if it meant less money in the household?
Of course ... although I still think I am a much better mother because I work.  It makes the time I have with my girls a hundred times more valuable, plus dealing with kids all day makes me appreciate them more.  I have really enjoyed this summer, actually, since I've gotten to spend a lot of time home with my kids ... where Addie basically asks for money to go out with her friends and Belle's incessant chattering begins to wear thin after awhile to the point where I direct her to the television (I'm exaggerating, of course, but I've found that it's not exactly all it's cracked up to be)

16. Tell us your worst boss story.
I have to plead the fifth on this one.  Make sure to read my memoir when it comes out, though ...

17. Have your ever been the boss?
Not the BIG boss, no way.  My skill set is not exactly suited for being a boss.  I'm great at being a high school English teacher, so why would I want more than that?  Some of my colleagues are all about going back to school to get certified as administrators, and I am honestly puzzled by that.

18. What is your dream occupation?
A published author.  But "high school English teacher" is the ultimate fallback :-)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rereading Books--Do You or Don't You?

I am an avid rereader of books, and I find myself having to explain why on a fairly regular basis in a variety of settings and situations.

I don't know why the concept of rereading is so foreign to some people.  I can't imagine just reading a book once, and saying, "That was cool" or, "That really got me thinking" or, "I am so appalled at this piece of garbage I can't understand how it's on the freaking best-seller list when I can't get my book published", or whatever.

The only argument I can think of against rereading a book, in fact, is the reality that there are so many books out there and only a limited amount of time.

But I am a dork.  I don't just read books, I live them.  I allow them to change my life, my philosophies, my beliefs, and my outlook on things.  Many of my books are in execrable condition, in fact, because I fall asleep on them, write in them, and occasionally throw them against the wall (yes, Stephen King, it's true ... I should have heeded your advice toward the end of the final Dark Tower book and just stopped when you warned me to).

I also learned how to read at a freakishly young age.  I read Cujo as a first grader, and as you can imagine, the book is rather different as a teen or an adult.  I can remember picking up a copy of The Thorn Birds at my family's beach house when summer when I was eight or nine (I'd read pretty much every other book there by then) and loving the writing, the history, the characters, but knowing somehow that I was missing the point.  There are some points you just can't get when you haven't reached puberty.

I've also found that books are very different to me based on where I am at in my own life.

I have read this book over 200 times.  I also teach it.
I was a child when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, and so I identified with Scout.  I was a tomboy.  My father was a lawyer, and not just a lawyer but one that was occasionally involved in cases that touched him on a moral basis.  I was a tomboy with an older brother.  And so on.

As I grew older, though, I read Harper Lee's masterpiece through many, many lenses.  When I became a teacher and realized the cruelty that some kids are raised with, my heart ached for Boo Radley and the Ewell children.  Coming to the whole "the universe works" conclusion about life, dealing with rape on a personal level, recognizing that there are truly evil people in the world, understanding that change comes through a lot of hard work and bitterness over the course of time ... TKAM was always there for me.

And then there's the enrichment that TKAM gave me in terms of other works of literature.  I loved Joe R. Lansdale's The Bottoms (and strongly recommend it if you haven't read it), but I would not have appreciated it the same way if not for Lee's work.  My Truman Capote phase was far cooler because I just thought of him as Dill.

It's not just Harper Lee and, of course, Stephen King (whose Dark Tower series completely altered my belief system).

Simply put, there are almost no books I've only read once ... and I've read an awful lot of books.

So how about you?  Do you reread?  Are you a selective rereader (in other words, are there some books you'll tackle more than once, but it's not the norm)?  Or are you of the ilk that reads a book once and calls it good?

I don't judge any approaches, by the way ... I'm just curious about where the wider world stands on the issue (I know my family, friends, and students think I'm kind of bizarre regarding books).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Grocery Store Routines

I seem to go to the grocery store at least once a day.

I know some people plan ahead, shop for the week, even clip coupons.

Me, despite my best efforts, I always forget something. Usually the list.

So, yeah, that's my confession--daily (at least) trips to the store. I can blame my spaciness. The fact that my kids often have special requests (and how do you say no to Cranapple juice and blueberries?)

Just wondering of anyone else has this odd life eccentricity...

Guest Post: Modern-Day Alice in Wonderland?

This guest post was written by my friend and colleague Denise Mason.  In another life, Denise would have been a scientist because she is brilliant and insightful and remarkable; instead, Denise was, like me, a victim of the period of time when smart kids with learning disabilities weren't exactly encouraged to excel.  As a result (and fortunately for the kids in my school), Denise became a teacher--and if you ever want to know how to be a rigorous, "fun" teacher who blows things up (in a safe and controlled manner) and somehow gets students to think for themselves, figuring out their own solutions to student-generated problems, talk to Denise--she's one of the best.  

Incidentally, I had to force Denise to write this.  She has writing phobia because her writing got slammed her entire life.  I've told her repeatedly that her spelling and grammar is pretty rough but her ideas are wonderful and her voice is strong.  It's confidence she lacks.

As K-Lo knows, I am a science geek to the core. I am fascinated by science and how we can use our reasoning to understand the world. I also have a slight philosophical leaning and always wonder about our higher purpose and how we as individuals fit into any master plan for the universe.

I’ve been home sick, so I was watching the documentary "What the #$"! Do we Know!?" I decided to watch it because I had been pondering a recent post by Katie on artistic genius. The purpose of the documentary was to bring science, spirituality, and philosophy together to understand how we influence our world rather than a higher being controlling us, so it fight right in with what was already on my mind.

The documentary started off by delving into recent theories in quantum physics. The premise is mind blowing! It suggests that our perceptions of reality might not be real. What we perceive to be solid is mostly empty and what we see as being in one place may be in fact in two. They compare our perceptions to holograms. It then went on to discuss how this is then supported by how our brains actually work, which leads to the ultimate idea that our very thoughts could create our reality.

An especially mind-blowing scene was a discussion about the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto and his research on water molecules. His well known books, Messages from Water -Vols. I, II, and III, demonstrate that by humans thinking positive thoughts, water would form beautiful snowflake pattern crystals when frozen but, when thoughts turned negative, it formed a sloppy, indistinct mess.

Just imagine the impact of our thoughts on humans (which are 90% water) and on the earth (which is made up of 70% water)!. So if our thoughts can determine water patterns, imagine the power of humanities' thoughts on the world!

In other words, how we think about our world ultimately determines our reality. If you wake up thinking it will be a bad day, it will. If you consciously plan to have a great day and fulfill your hopes and dreams, you will. Visualize the collective power of human consciousness.

The movie as a whole was incredibly thought-provoking! It challenges our perceptions about the universe and our role in it. I can’t say I agree with everything it said; what I can say, though, is that it makes me want to be more mindful of my thoughts and actions to lead a more positive life.

The documentary ends with the thought provoking question “So, Alice, how far do you want to go down the rabbit hole?”

Speaking for myself, I find that I'm already at the bottom wondering, "Do I drink the potion or not?"

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's Easier to Complain Than to Say, "Good Job!" ... and How Sad is That?

I had an interesting epiphany about human nature yesterday ... and it wasn't exactly one that speaks well to us, at least when you make a basic generalization that's unfortunately all too easy to make.

Why is it that, if something goes wrong in a restaurant or grocery store or autobody shop or whatever, people are very quick to complain, but it's fairly rare for customers to go out of their way to point out exceptional work?

I've worked many a customer service job over the years--Chuck E. Cheese's, Water Country, Cumberland Farms, and so on.  If the pizza had a bubble on it or an item was accidentally priced wrong, many people had a knee jerk reaction to go utterly nuclear.

I was fifteen when I started working at Water Country, a local water amusement park, and one of my first jobs was "bag checker".  There were signs all over the place outside the admissions area stating that no glass is allowed inside.  I mean, picture a bunch of little kids in bathing suits running around with bare feet and you can probably imagine why this policy existed.  And, I repeat, there were signs before you even walked into the park clearly stating this.

On my first day at work, a woman came up to my checking station, and her cooler was full of glass.  It was almost like she'd gone out of her way to locate glass containers of everything.  When I told her that she couldn't bring it into the park, she hit the roof.  I suggested that we had paper cups with lids that she could transfer her mayonnaise and stuff into, and then ...

Well, she hit me.  Yup, she grabbed a bag of hamburger buns out of her bag and threw it in my face.  She had excellent aim, and I suspect she could throw a decent fastball.  

She also had a pretty good selection of wine coolers that she'd hidden under her baby in the poor kid's stroller (security picked up on this when they were removing her from the park ... I hadn't gotten a chance to look at the stroller for contraband, and I wasn't getting any closer to her after the hamburger bun incident).

And yet, as she was forcibly removed from the park, she was screaming about what a horrible place Water Country was, how shabbily she'd been treated, and so forth.  It was just crazy--she didn't get what she wanted, so she was going to complain (and loudly--I'm pretty sure she'd already dipped into the wine coolers).

Remember the woman who sued McDonald's for quite a chunk of change after getting burned from coffee purchased at a drive up window?  God forgive me, all I could think about was that she sounded like the kind of customer that would have been freaking out, demanding her money back, and possibly throwing any available bags of hamburger buns if her coffee had come out cold.  And while I feel badly for her (third-degree burns in the vaginal region ... *shiver*), she ordered hot coffee ... what the heck did she expect?  And this woman was pulled over adding cream and sugar when she spilled the coffee ... it's not like the Mickey D's employee dumped it in her lap.

But I'm veering quite far afield of my point.

There is nothing wrong with an expectation of competency by employees in any field.  In fact, customers should be treated with respect and given what they are paying for.  

But why is it so less common for exceptionally good work to be lauded than for exceptionally poor work to be noted?

I got a flat tire yesterday, and it was a bad scene.  My car has all wheel drive, so the traction control went kerflooey once the spare tire was on ... the speedometer didn't move, emergency lights telling me that the brake system failed flashing, just a horrible experience.

Anyway, I called the VIP store I do business with (VIP is an auto parts, tires, and service chain, based primarily in the northeastern United States, I believe).  The experience I had was so exceptional that I sent the following e-mail to John Quirk, the company's president and CEO.

Dear Mr. Quirk,

I am writing to commend three of the employees at your Stratham, NH VIP store.  While I have always had positive experiences at this location, I felt strongly enough about my recent incident to let you know about the outstanding customer service I received from these three gentlemen.

I got a flat tire in Manchester and, while I was able to get the spare tire on, the traction control on my vehicle caused the speedometer to stop working and for emergency brake lights to flash repeatedly.  Needless to say, I was petrified.  I called the Stratham VIP store in a fairly distressed state.  I spoke to an employee named Chris on the phone, who calmed me down and reassured me about the situation.  

When I arrived at the store, Chris assisted me with identifying the tire as a complete loss and explained how I would be able to get some of the warranty I had on the tire based on the tire tread.  The tire was not in stock, but he ordered it immediately and gave me an estimate and a timeline.

I then mentioned a sway bar that had been mentioned as a future concern the last time I'd had my car in for work, and he asked the mechanic looking at the tire situation to look into that.  He then prepared another estimate based on the sway bar.

At this point, the mechanic, a gentleman named Mike came out front quickly to make sure I knew that the tie rod was also a serious concern.  Mike explained that the tie rod was actually a higher priority than the sway bar.

Your employee Robie oversaw the entire lengthy exchange and got right on the phone to parts stores to locate a tie rod for my car (it's evidently a part they had to order from another company because my car has very specific dimensions), and Robie went out of his way to call around and get the best price available.  The initial estimate ("worst case financial scenario") was changed by a fairly significant amount of money because he took the time to make those phone calls.

Robie, Mike, and Chris all told me repeatedly that they were "just doing their job", but the effort they put into creating multiple estimates in my best interest while focusing on other customers was exemplary.  It was a time-consuming process that they apologized for while making it very clear that they were doing everything possible to take care of my car as quickly and financially-friendly as possible.

I am a single mother working two jobs, so I appreciated the lengths they went to in order to keep the necessary work done at the best possible price.  I am also a high school teacher, and these three gentlemen exemplified the morals, values, respect, politeness, and work ethic that I strive to bring out in my students and in my own children.

Customer service is an area that is often overlooked in this day and age, and I wanted to make sure you were aware of the outstanding combination of customer service and obvious knowledge about their work demonstrated by Robie, Mike, and Chris.

I felt so strongly about my positive experience that I asked for a contact person that I could express this to. The gentlemen assured me that I didn't have to let anyone know just how pleased I was by their outstanding work, that they were "just doing their jobs". However, people always seem to want to complain when something isn't done well; it saddens me that it's much rarer for people to take the time to express positive experiences.

Therefore, I wanted to make sure you were aware of the outstanding employees you have in Robie, Mike, and Chris. 

Katie Loud
(an extremely satisfied VIP customer)

A bit long-winded, I know, but you cannot imagine how grateful I was.

Even more, though, I think I went a little bit overboard because I spent a lot of time yesterday afternoon and this morning wondering why it is so rare for someone to recognize and commend in some way when service goes above and beyond. 

Why is it so much easier to complain (and often in nit-picky ways) than to take the time to acknowledge the other extreme--which, when you stop and think about it, is a lot more common than we perhaps realize on the surface? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Facing My Greatest Fear: Flying in an Airplane (Yes, I Did :-))

I've been afraid of airplanes ever since I can remember.  I flew to Florida once when I was a little kid, and the trip back to Boston was rough--turbulence-ridden, and the pilot thought he was being funny by referring to himself as "Bud Weiser" as he pretended to crash into Boston Harbor.

Yeah, my parents decided that it was easier to load three children into a station wagon and drive three days for subsequent trips to the Sunshine State.  It was easier than trying to force me onto an airplane.

Just to give you some idea ...

So I have flatly refused to fly throughout my life.  I missed out on a high school exchange program in Australia, spring break in Mexico, lots of visits, not seeing family members that I should have seen, one of Belle's modeling events (thank you, Mom and Addie, for bringing her), and so on and so forth.

I've gotten close a couple of times.  My mother bought me a ticket to go to Florida with her, but I'd had recent surgery and was concerned about that (the details would probably make it clearer as to why it was an area of concern, but I'm not going there).  I called the doctor about anxiety medication for flying, and he happily gave me some ... but I was so anxious about flying in the days leading up to flying that I took all of the anxiety medication before it was the day we were supposed to leave.

And then last weekend my sister needed me.

Evidently, being a big sister trumps lifelong fears.  Who knew?

I think part of why I was finally able to pull it off was because it came up so quickly.  I only had a day to be anxious, nauseous, petrified, and so on.  Mainly, though, my sister's need was significantly more ... well, significant than my being a baby over something people do every single day.

Addie (who has been to Europe twice, never mind all the flying she's done in the U.S.) walked me through the entire process step by step, telling me what I had to take out of my bags during the security check, comparing landing to being in a car that slams on its brakes, and so on.  It was a huge help :-)

Addie opined that the security check is the worst part of flying, my mother felt that when they drop the wheels just before landing is (yeah, I was sort of polling people), but the worst part for me is sitting on the airplane waiting for it to take off.

Thank God for Valium and Stephen King books you've read so many times they're like old friends ...

Anyway, the flight down was fine.  A single mother and her 18-month-old asked if they could sit with me (Southwest Airlines has kind of a "cattle call" seating deal ... it's unofficial tagline is "When you can't afford anything else ..."), and that turned out to be a good thing.  I was pretty sure I would not totally lose it in front of a little kid, and I was right.

So I spent the weekend in Baltimore (lowlighted by the fact that I put my wallet on the back of a car then drove off with it), and that was all good.

The flight home, though ...

I should probably mention at this point that I have three serious fears--flying, thunderstorms, and snakes.

Well, there was a thunderstorm shaking its fist at Baltimore as my sister drove me to the airport.  In fact, there were severe thunderstorms up and down the entire eastern seaboard, to the degree that my flight was delayed.

So, yeah, the flight home was more like I'd pictured flying to be in my nightmares.  It was dark outside, you could see lightning all around, and it was bumpy and scary and not fun.  I took extra Valium.

And then, when I finally landed, Henry was late picking me up so I was very grouchy to him.

It's a male/female thing, I think.

He knew what time I left at since I texted him just before we took off, and he's also one of those ridiculous techies that has an app for everything.  I figured he'd be flight tracking me and would be waiting when I deplaned.  Probably with flowers.  At the very least, he'd be at the cell phone lot, reading a book.

Nope, he hadn't left his house yet.  So I had to wait for him to get there after being on the flight from hell, then lightning started flashing in the sky, and ...

Well, he spent this past weekend on a mini-vacation to Bangor, Maine with me, so I assume he's forgiven me, but I was pretty unpleasant.

Anyway, people keep asking me if I'd fly again.  The answer, by the way, is yes.  I'd still dope myself up pretty well and probably be on a hair trigger, but I would.  There is just so much to see and do, and I could Gibbs-smack myself for missing out on so much.

I've also learned from numerous unimpeachable sources that the flight home is by far the exception rather than the rule.

So, yeah, I faced my greatest fear, and the irony is that it took my sister being in distress to make me do it, which makes me feel like kind of a jerk.

But then I got thinking about it ... two years ago, I think I would have taken a train or driven to Baltimore.  I would be there if she needed me, but it would be on my terms because flying was just ... well, just too much.

And I've gotten a lot better about thunderstorms, too, in large part because my golden retriever is even more scared than I am, so trying to comfort her makes me less afraid.

Snakes?  Dear God!  I don't think I'll ever get over that one ;-)

So what are you most afraid of?  Have you ever overcome major fears?  How did you accomplish that?  

And here is a pic of Mary and my nephew Eddie, just so you can see how amazing my family is and why I had to go <3 nbsp="nbsp" p="p">

Monday, August 13, 2012

Guest Post: An Object of Miscellany

Well, ask and you shall receive :-)  I have been soliciting guest posts as a means of getting conversations moving in new and fascinating directions, and I've already gotten two.  Yay!  This post is written by Kenny Martin, who possess wisdom far beyond his years (we've had some very philosophical conversations via Facebook).  I'm going to respond to Kenny's post below it, but Kenny and I would both to hear your thoughts on this.  Oh, and keep the guest posts rolling in ... I'm feeling very re-energized :-)

Those against whom the fractiously tailored lives have gone, those who have been bequeathed without regard or piety, megrims, have another fault to lay blame upon aside from self. 

The genomic convolution and, by extension, the scientific methodologies at large have been partitioned as another of the archetypical points upon which the generation of the current day can relinquish both their hopes and their fears. 

There is a new absolution, and it is not contrived from spiritualism nor worship but from logicalities and concreteness. 

However, what, if anything, could be derived from this whether it be rooted in maleficence or benignity? 

The answer, I feel, is a drastic although not inevitable paradigm shift during which we choose between the subjective outlooks and the objective doctrines thereby conforming to one as a whole. However, people are not invariant, but to gauge the societal model as a whole would be the proving grounds as to acquiesce with which one reigns as the predominant model as of late. 

To speak with brevity, I will offer but one question: to which do you adhere and where does the populous as a whole reside?
(It's me--Katie--again).

I was having a very similar discussion with a group of English teachers last week ... the idea of fate vs. free will, but when you add science into it, it brings a whole different dimension.

So can you blame your genetic makeup for how your life turns out?  Is that any different than blaming any sort of higher power you might believe in?  Different from saying, "Everyone's an asshole but me, and the world is out to get me?"

I, for one, don't think so.

It's funny, we were discussing "Fate" and "Free Will" on a 1-10 scale (in terms of whose fault it was that Oedipus wound up with the fate he did), and I fell much closer to the "Fate" end than most people ... but I believe strongly in free will as well (in other words, there are some things you just can't do a damn thing about, but how you handle events like death or natural disasters or the stock market or whatever is completely and totally up to you).

When you add in the gene factor, I don't think my mindset would be much different.  

You're handed a hand of cards in life ... how you play them is up to you.  If you are genetically predisposed to alcoholism, for example, it doesn't guarantee that you'll be an alcoholic.  If your genes call you to dark places, you can still choose to search for the sun (or take medication).  

I am also, as someone incapable of adding two digit numbers without using my fingers and only made it through the science-based parts of my schooling because my sister grew up to have a PhD in a field of biology, doubtful of "logicalities and concreteness".  I mean, it was "proven" at one point that the world was flat.  Thalidomide was given the scientific world's seal of approval.  And so on.  

So I don't think that the greater world is going to be surprised by any sort of scientific explanation for human behavior.  I'd even go so far as to say it won't change a thing, except possibly increasing the entitlement complex that permeates our culture.

I go back to alcoholism.  I don't mean to sound insensitive, but that "It's a disease" line only goes so far.  When you lie about everything, when you bully the crap out of the one person that has made Herculean efforts to salvage your relationship with your child despite your best efforts to self-sabotage, when you blame everybody else about the situation that you put yourself in, when you refuse to take treatment seriously (such as claiming to be on the "making amends" steps when in reality you haven't admitted to yourself that someone as freaking God-like as you could *possibly* be an alcoholic) ... you know, grow a set, man up, and get over yourself.  There is alcoholism in my genes as well (a lot, actually ... damn Irish ;-)), and I've managed to avoid it; somehow I've been able to take responsibility for my life and mistakes instead of drinking myself into a stupor to avoid reality (and then lying about drinking myself into a stupor to further avoid reality) ... well, I guess this rant should probably end because the point has been made.  

One of my best friends has a life slogan: "PMA (Positive Mental Attitude)".  That is how I try to live my life (I do fail epically at times, although I've gotten much better).  I think that mindset is much stronger than any sort of scientific propensities.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Quasi-Agoraphobic Homebody Traveled Thrice in the Past Week

Yup, it's true, I traveled three times during the past week.  I know, I can't believe it either ;-)

Each trip is worthy of (and will be receiving) its own post, but I hate when I go too long without posting, so I figured I'd give you a taste ...

1.  Baltimore, MD
I flew in an airplane (this is huge ... flying is probably my greatest fear) to visit my sister and help her and the family move (and experienced the great wallet adventure).

2.  Nashua, NH
I went to an education conference.  This might sound boring (education conferences often are, sadly), but it was really pretty amazing :-)

3.  Bangor, ME
I visited my aunts in what was my first real vacation in eons.  It was relaxing, fun, enlightening, and just remarkable in a zillion ways I'll elucidate on later.

Ironically, I slept like a baby throughout my voyages but tonight, despite Ambien, insomnia has set in.

Hey, at least you got a(n albeit pathetic) post out of it ;-)

Also, I'm trying to encourage guest posts from other bloggers, so go here for more information if you're so inclined (I hope you are :-))

Oh, and here's a pic of Henry and I in front of Stephen King's house ... many adventures over the past week, guys, seriously :-)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Good People in the World: The Lost Wallet Saga of 2012

I had a reminder this past weekend that there are good people in the world while I was in Baltimore visiting my sister (she's going through a tough time, and it's right in the midst of moving into a new house, so I went to help out, along with my brother-in-law's parents and brother).

When we went to Mary's work to print my boarding pass, my nephew Eddie had a little urinary incident on the stairs (he told us he had to go, and we were trying to reach the bathroom as fast as we could, but when a three-year-old has to go, he has to go).  On our way out, we stopped to clean up the stairs, then we tried to get Eddie changed and into his carseat.

Now, Eddie is very much like a male version of his cousin, Belle--in other words, he knows his own mind.  He was not happy that we had my brother-in-law's car (a very small sedan with roll-down windows that's sort of a family joke) instead of Mary's far roomier vehicle.  He wasn't happy about that, he was wet, and ... well, his mood wasn't awesome.  I put my wallet and boarding pass on the back of the car to do what I could to help out, and ... well, I forgot about it.

We were about halfway to the aquarium when I realized I didn't have my boarding pass.  I started looking frantically for it, then realized I had an even bigger problem: my wallet was likewise MIA.

Needless to say, I started freaking out.  I wouldn't be able to fly home without my license, it had a fair amount of cash plus my debit card and credit cards, and ... well, yeah, I was freaking out.

Mary was really chill about it, and we started backtracking our way to her work, on the lookout for a red wallet on the side of the road.  The same conversation kept going on in the car, meanwhile.  Repeatedly.

EDDIE: Why did you lose your wallet, Auntie Katie?
ME: Because I forgot and put it on the car.
EDDIE: Why did you put it on the car?
ME: Because I'm an idiot.
EDDIE: But why did you lose your wallet, Auntie Katie?
MARY: Why don't we just focus on finding Auntie Katie's wallet, Eddie?

We got back to Mary's work, and no wallet.  I was on the verge of freaking out in earnest ... I had to teach summer school the next morning, and Mary offered to drive me home, but, I mean, Baltimore to New Hampshire and back?  That would have been cruel and unusual to do to my poor sister.  And so the freak-out was building ...

And then my cell phone rang.

It was Capitol One, and the very nice Capitol One dude told me that he had a caller on the line who had found my wallet.  Suffice it to say, I started crying.  The woman gave us directions to her house, and that was that.

We got to the house, and the couple came right out.  The woman was very apologetic about calling via Capitol One because it meant she'd gone through my credit cards, but she hadn't been able to get a phone number through the online white pages using my name and address, and she didn't know what else to do.  I started crying again because I'm a dork like that, and I thought about offering them money, but they lived in a beautiful brick house with a BMW in the driveway, so I figured that was superfluous.  I have no doubt they knew how very grateful I was, and I sent them a thank-you  note in the mail.

So then we went to the aquarium (which Eddie calls "the a-QUAH-rium", with almost like a British accent), and life was good.  My wallet had obviously been run over (the tire tracks are kind of entertaining) and my license and credit cards are oddly bent and warped, but everything works.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole venture was that the couple found the wallet on Church Street.  Mary, who has lived in Baltimore for two years, had never heard of Church Street and was confident that we had certainly not driven on a road called Church Street...isn't that wild?

Anyway, that couple could have taken the cash and returned the wallet, saying it was empty when they found it.  They could have kept the whole kit and caboodle.  Instead, they went WAAAAAAY out of their way to ensure that I got it back as soon as possible.

It's really easy to forget sometimes that most people are inherently good, and that there must be some sort of higher power watching out for us.

I have been praying a lot the last couple of weeks, largely for Mary, and the fact that this experience happened not just when I was visiting her but when I was with her is not lost on me.  Mary received some kind of promising news on her front, and I know that many people are praying for her and sending good thoughts her way.  I can't help but believe that it is helping.

So if you could spare a prayer or positive vibe for my baby sister, who is truly one of the good ones, I would much appreciate it.

I would also be remiss if I didn't emphasize the goodness of my brother-in-law (I'm going to call him Harrison--he knows why), his incredible parents, and his wonderful brother for being such amazing people.

I am so blessed to have family, friends, and total strangers that have had such a positive impact on my life.  I'm glad that I am in a position to recognize that, and you'd better believe I'm going to pay it forward whenever I can.

So do you have a heartwarming tale?  Share it in the comments or leave a link.  Let's keep the positive vibes rocking :-)

Oh, and Eddie did in fact make it to the a-QUAH-rium ... I adore this little guy <3 p="p">

Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...