And The Winner Is…Part 2

So I’ll wait with my poker face on while she deliberates whether it’s safe to stretch her word far enough into the double word zone but with a letter I may not be able to stretch into a triple later.  To play the S or not to play the S, that is a question.  Also, how many Ds are there in the game?  You could count them up and roll the dice accordingly.  Well, we don’t use dice but it’s an idea.  Perhaps a Magic 8 Ball would come in handy once in a while.  So she’ll put the word out there and maybe it’s only because it was “a really cool word” and it had to be played, points or no points.  Yep, it’s a really cool word all right.  Too bad I’m going to roll right over the top of it and play my X word into the red territory and pull into the lead by 30 points.  Ha.

“Cheater.”  Spoken softly through clenched teeth and with eyes slitted sideways at me.

“I know.”  Carefree.  Confident.  True.  I had looked up every X word variable and stumbled onto this one.  Research pays off.

“What does it mean?”

“An African unit of money.”

“I don’t know how you sleep at night.”

“Me neither.”

And so the tension mounts, as much from our surroundings as from the slowly filling board.  We have to keep vigilant peripheral vision to stop a crawling or stumbling child from landing on the board (we usually play on the floor with cushions) and if someone needs the facilities or to grab a coffee refill, the other is bound to keep her hands off the tiles.  And no peeking on the other gal’s tray either.  Years ago we decided that really cheating for goodness sake was no fun at all.  When the game ends and you realize there are eight blanks played, you know you’ve been duped and neither your victory nor your defeat is worth much.

“Argh!! There is nothing on my tray but junk!”

“I’ll sell you a vowel.  I’ve got four Es.”

“Too bad you have the Q.  And the J, I’m sure.”

“That just means I’m getting all the points.  Too bad you’re gonna lose again.”

“I know.”

“Seriously, I’ll give you a hundred bucks for a T if you got one.”

Our games last about an hour give or take.  We rarely have to prod each other on to make a move.  The closer to the end of the game you get, the trickier the moves have to be, especially if the score is even.  We’ve each made up a 50 point deficit and both know the joy of going from underdog to top dog in the end.  Anything is possible, and somehow attitude is a major component of if and when fickle lady luck decides to join your side.

Don’t give us a chess board or Stratego or invite us over for a game of poker.  We can’t count, we don’t need to think more than one step ahead, and if we are interrupted twenty times in the hour, you wouldn’t expect us to be able to play anything in a straight line.  We tried the online scrabble game, the ones in phones and one on Facebook.  Once in a while we gather a crowd and really cut loose with a game of Take Two.  But it’s just not the same.  No one else can quite grasp the sentiment.

“That is SO not a word.”

“A rubber-soled cloth shoe.  From Norway.”

“Oh whatever.  Can you add an -ER to it?”

“Because then the shoe is shoeier?”

The notebook has a few blank pages left in it.  Maybe if we could get together more than a couple times a year it would go faster, but we’re patient people.  And I need to add more words to the Dictionary.


And The Winner Is…Part 1

In my game closet there is a small spiral notebook with years of score keeping running through it.  Red ink, black ink, doodles and stars adorn the margins and some pages have been torn out and tossed ceremonially into a trashcan.  The columns are kept clearly separated and labeled for the most part “Me” and “You”.  Occasionally there was a third player but those pages don’t count.

The players of course, are my sister and I.  Our game of games: Scrabble.

Clear back to the opening pages, I was home with tiny children and my younger sister was doodling variations of “Mrs. B…..” with little hearts on the backside of the scoreboard while waiting for her turn and her future.  Later pages have her lists of possible baby names between tile counts.  This in itself will tell you who normally keeps our running tally.  Big sister trumps little sister, so big sister claims to hate math and can spend the entire game accusing little sister of cheating.  But I’m just too lazy to check her work.  The truth is, she could rob me blind in the score keeping and I wouldn’t have a clue.  There are a couple of pages that end somewhere in the middle of a game that had to be forfeited due to interrupted baby naptimes or a dinner that could no longer be delayed.  But for the most part, my kid sister keeps a beautiful book of numbers.

A circled final winning score shows the end of each match.  Each match brings the updated tally of wins per sister an inch closer to fame and fortune.  If someone played a seven letter coup, it is duly recorded in the margin. If a truly amazing triple was played, there may be stars and notations included.  Early on we played a game where my sis must have been highly caffeinated.  Apparently, she broke 500 points by playing “cartels” and “leakings” along triples.  Even my spell check says that last one is NOT a word.  Most of the time we break 300 each by the game’s end.

You won’t hear me say it out loud.  (Cheater.)

OK, so what is not written down, but guaranteed to have been a large part of the game, is the running dialogue between us, each of whom is equally skilled and both of whom have predetermined herself as the winner of a game not yet played.  We sit down for our games with an aura of victory and the sure knowledge that our worthy competitor is already shaking her head in pity for our loss.

“According to the scorebook, it’s my turn to win today.  You won last time.”

“Yes, but we’re playing at my house.  My house, my rules.  My rule: I’m winning today.”

“Did I or did I not just bring you a coffee?  You have to let me win.”

“Look, I’ll prove it.  I’ll draw my letter.  There.  See?  I pulled out an H.  Clearly the fates have chosen me to go first, and win the game.”

“Pfffft.  There.  Looking like my B is going to trump your H and me and your fates are gonna have a good laugh today.”

“We’ll just see about that.  Pass me the book.”

And now a note about The Book.  We have a couple of our own rules.  What would be the fun of any game if you were stuck with somebody else’s rules?  The game board score boxes of course make sense as do the face values of the tiles and so forth.  But honestly, if I have to actually think while playing a game surrounded by children you are kidding me.  I have a well used and much loved Scrabble Player’s Dictionary and it travels with the game.  There’s no wasting time thinking up a word that may or may not in fact be a word, playing it, and then having to waste more time in challenging it.  If you have to look it up anyway, why on earth not just do it to begin with?  Sheesh.

We have discovered more new words than you can possibly imagine.  We have actually discovered the reverse as well and had to pencil in words that ARE words.  Why was “understand” omitted?  Seriously, it’s not there, and neither is “underwear”.  And there are words in there that I know for a fact can NOT be words, and yet there they are.  You can take a tray of ridiculous letters that in no way shape or form are ever gonna be a word, but if on the off chance you could play a Q in the four spaces of a triple box, by golly you start thumbing through the Q section.  What do you know?  My, my, you learn something new every day.  It never ceases to amaze me what qualifies as a word.  And apparently the makers of the book left no stone unturned.  We have an unspoken agreement that we won’t play a word that is in unsavory taste.  Unless it gives us a bazillion points, in which case we don’t let the kids watch.

All’s fair in love and Scrabble.

Sven’s World: Our Interview with a Travelling Gnome

We’re here to interview Sven on a lovely morning at his home in sunny California, US of A. He stands all of 3” tall, black boots planted squarely on the coffee table, valise held at the ready, and full of perky expectation.

Q: Good morning, Sven. Thank you for giving us the chance to meet you. You appear ready to dash out the door at any moment. I’ve heard that you claim to be ready to travel at a moment’s notice.

Sven: Yes! It’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do. I lived in a bookstore briefly and met a fellow by the name of Flat Stanley. After hearing his wild adventures and seeing some of his photos, I knew it was the life for me. I met my owner soon after. She and I discussed it over non-fat vanilla lattes and felt a connection right away. It was obvious we were meant for great travels together.

Initially, I seriously considered becoming a pirate. After all, Flat Stanley was a little…flat. I’m made of sterner stuff. But I simply can’t pull it off with this hat.

Q: Your hat is quite remarkable. I like it.

Sven: It stands tall in the wind, yes, and the red makes me easier to find when I’m lounging in the bottom of a huge dark purse, but a pirate captain requires a skull and crossbones at the very least. I tried on a Native American ceremonial headdress in Taos once. But it wasn’t the same.

Q: When did you begin your travels?

Sven: It would’ve been 2008. I was young and cocky then and jumped at the first travel opportunity that came along, taking off with a stranger. Well, I was held hostage in Cambria for weeks until I made my way back home. Lesson learned! I’ve avoided hitch hiking ever since.

Q: I see. Have you traveled outside of California?

Sven: Yes. Here and there in America of course. Road trips through Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, skiing in Utah, and deer hunting in Texas. A flight to Virginia. A flight to Maui for snorkeling and whale watching. Southwest Airlines are fairly nice, by the way, and Alaska Air served mai tai’s on our flight to Hawaii, so they rank well in my book.

Q: Tell me a little about your road trips.

Sven: I used to have a bucket seat near the A/C but now I ride at the bow of the Black Pearl, as I call our car. My job is to watch for pirates…er…cops in the fast lane. It’s an honor I don’t take lightly. While I won’t ask for bathroom breaks, I very much insist that we stop for amazing sunset photo ops, where ever we happen to be at dusk. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” and all that.

Q: Any particular memory from a road trip?

Sven: Well, you really must stop at THE THING.


Sven: Oh yes! All there is for simply miles upon miles of cactus habitat in Arizona on your way to New Mexico is billboards. They all advertise for THE THING, which is the only THING for pretty much ever that you can stop and take a break at. Even I’m stiff after hours of driving, and the shocking secret they keep hidden there is so worth it.

Q: What is it?

Sven: (Chuckling) Oh no. You’re going to have to go there yourself and find out!

Q: Hm. I see. How about international travel then?

Sven: I have excellent photos from New Zealand! You really must go. Halfway around the world, I did some pretty awesome kayaking, hiking, and sightseeing of course, and I am thinking of doing Australia this summer. Outback and all, you know. Possibly don my formals and attend a wedding.

Q: You have a passport?

Sven: Of course. I keep it updated at all times, just in case.

Q: In your valise there?

Sven: Of course not. My valise is filled to the top with jellybeans. Mostly black ones. You should never go anywhere without snacks handy. (He shudders slightly) You never know what a native will hand you for dinner.

Never check your bags by the way. I pack light, and only have this carry-on. I had it tattooed with a plumeria during my stay in Maui. Special treat.

Q: Would you ever fly solo?

Sven: You mean by mail? Never! There are many places I want to go in this big beautiful world but I have no intention of asking the government to take me there. Have you seen the way FedEx throws…er…delivers packages?! Outrageous. Go with family. Always.

Q: I’d like to ask, before we finish, if you have any travelling “incidents” you’d like to share with our readers? Many times, travel does not turn out to be as smooth sailing as it was planned.

Sven: I’m so glad you asked. Sometimes it’s the “incidents” that were unplanned that become your travel book’s best memories! Yes, there was the time I went skydiving without a parachute, out a window while dining at Cheeseburger in Paradise in Lahaina. It may have been the mai tai in a pineapple that got to me. Luckily, I landed on my pointy hat in the sand. So it’s good for something after all.

I had some minor hand surgery the summer I went to Texas, connected to holding a fiery sparkler on the Fourth of July. Texans do love their pyrotechnics! At least they didn’t tie me to a rocket. I know that’s what they were thinking. I’ll be a pirate…but not an astronaut.

(Sven pauses for a moment.)

And then there was the time I underwent complete Humpty Dumpty emergency surgery.

Q: I’m afraid to ask.

Sven: You should be. I was “skipping” along the surface of a swimming pool. Unfortunately, the pool stopped, but I did not. Striking the concrete, I broke completely in half. I’ve only felt that kind of terror once before, while being chewed on by a recalcitrant raccoon. Now I have the scars that prove I’ve been places and done things, by jove, and what’s a little inconvenience when one is having grand adventures?! I’d like to see Flat Stanley top that one!

Q: Perhaps you, maybe, should not try to walk on water in future. It really is past time for us to go. I’d guess by looking around your lovely home that you could be just as content staying here as travelling abroad.

Sven: Yes, I work a little, church a little, once in a while attend an Aztec or Padre game. We play monopoly and I get to be the banker. I dabble in real estate on occasion. But in my heart, I’m just waiting for the next big trip.

Q: Thank you so much for sharing your travels today. We look forward to hearing about your next grand adventure, where ever the road may take you.


Passion in a Pocket Part 2

I was a civil employee early in the year 1988. I worked as a humble book-shelver in our city’s public library. It was heaven. I was there the day we closed the doors for three weeks, which is just unheard of. We then, meticulously by hand, one single book at a time, put every item in that library onto the new-fangled barcode system. It was a massive undertaking, custom-made for a detail oriented OCD person like me. It was probably the only time in history that every book was put into its proper place and stayed there. Imagine.

I wish I had had the chance to take home one of the card catalog drawers. Maybe J-K, fiction. They are a piece of history now, which makes me worry terribly about the future of paper books and libraries themselves. And my “murky future” bookstore.

How will I sell you a book that you actually have to turn the pages of?

Before that, I worked at the mall across the street from my high school at Waldenbooks. I took incoming shipments of books out of boxes in the back room and placed them out on the store shelves. No one wanted this boring part of the job, and what was their loss was my heaven. I briefly read the covers and backs as I worked, and sometimes the middles if I could get a 15 minute break.

The funny part was, that if a customer walked in and said, “My daughter is reading a series with a dog, a grapefruit and a ship in it…” I knew right away what series it was and could put my hand on it. If a customer came in with, “My mother is a Nora Roberts fanatic and it’s her birthday but she already has all the Nora Roberts in the whole world….” Then I knew which authors her mother was going to love. Studying to pass your GED? Got it right here. Need to find exactly the right toddler book involving a duck? Yup. If we didn’t have it, I could get it. We did have a computer then. Nothing like today when you tap over to and have instant gratification. But it felt fulfilling all the same.

So far the best book gig, hands down, has been as “Mommy”.

I read to my kids before they were even born.  I love reading aloud; I do all the voices, as Jo says in Little Women, and I have had every awesome kid’s book worth reading. Bookcases were my signature furniture decorating style.

My youngest is 13 now, and we moved houses, so almost all of our books were donated between the elementary school, the local library and the library resale shop. Out of an extensive collection, I have reduced my personal library down to about 200 that I cannot bear to part with.

Books were meant to circulate, not sit on a shelf, and we had moved on, literarily, to Dickens, Kipling, Dumas, Twain and the like. It’s not that I can’t borrow them from the library whenever I want to. It’s just comforting to know I can put my hand on one and be instantly in India or Rohan, on a whaling ship or rafting the Mighty Mississippi.

The other day, I went to the library and borrowed a stack of old friends, from Eric Carle to Amelia Bedelia.  My older, sophisticated techy kids sat down and had a heyday,  reminiscing about all the warm quilty cozy feelings of being three years old, sitting in Grampy’s lap, listening to “Three Bears. One with a light, one with a stick, one with a rope…”


Passion in a Pocket Part 1

In my distant and murky future I see a brilliant little jewel. It’s a vision of me owning a bookshop that also serves tea and sells pretty little frivolous trinkets. There’s definitely a kid’s corner. I can’t imagine any one bit without the other. It should have candles and flowers for sale too, and a cat who lives in it.

I might even live in it. Why would I leave?

The smell in a bookshop is amazing. I love the smell of paper. There is a very particular smell to new coloring books and another for new crayons, as there is for play dough.  However, a book smell carries nuances of possibility and anticipation and singularity that nothing else comes close to.

When I went into my son’s high tech high school “library” I almost fainted. Where were the books!? There were round couches around round tables full of electrical outlets facing huge whiteboard walls. Kids sat down, plugged in their iPads, downloaded their books, projected essays onto the walls and started reading. Treason! Heresy! And a distinct odor of ammonia.

At the moment, I volunteer in my church’s library, where people donate old worn books from great-grandparents’ shelves. Some ancient tomes have crumbling leather binding and spidery hand written notes on the flyleaf dated 1902. They were treasured keepsakes and respected writings. The scripted signatures are pieces of art in themselves. Penned with proper ink. That’s before keyboards people. And texting. It’s called penmanship and it was a sign of educated upper-class folks. They could read Latin. Can you? No, Googling is not allowed.

Books and I go way back. Not to 1902, wise guy, but back there a bit.

I grew up in a tiny house in a tiny neighborhood under the supervision of a fairly over-protective mum. The only place I was allowed to go on my own was a (yes) tiny library which sat at the top of the tiny hill of our tiny street. Librarians are always wise, are they not? Ours was a tiny lady named Pearla (I’m not making this up folks) who saw a little girl with big dreams, and put the right books into my hands.

Thank you Pearla.

I clearly remember studying and practicing ballet from a book, in our kitchen, holding onto the back of a chair. If you cannot afford ballet lessons, and you want to be the next prima ballerina, you grab a book and get going. When I finally took my first ballet lesson at the tender age of 35, it occurred to me that my dream was much more brilliant than its reality. Oh well.

But the reality would not have been attempted had not a brilliant dream preceded it. And while we wait for tomorrow’s conclusion, I’m wondering…what’s your brilliant little dream?

Dust Bunnies Beware

I am the proud owner of an industrial size regulation yellow janitor mopping bucket. And I’m not afraid to use it. I’m sure it horrifies my family when I go to town on the floors; maybe it’s the way I tie up my hair, roll up my sleeves, and put on my game face. My German roots rejoice over the shiny clean awesomeness of it all.

Yay! It’s so springy. In So Cal we have lovely weather year round but once the last of the frost is gone, we tend to get as crazy as everybody else. We toss open the windows and toss out the kids. Go digging in the garden and digging through new recipes. We have the annual rounding up of the dust buffaloes.

Our home sports mostly tile or wooden floors which is genius for heaps of people trekking through. When the floor is clean, you know it. When it’s dirty, you know it. The tiny dust bunnies scamper along, multiplying slowly beneath the radar. They curl up under the couch and behind the beds, enjoying their long winter’s nap. Come spring cleaning madness, though, the little things are no longer wee baby bunnies.

They are gi-normous dust buffaloes with attitudes!

They hear the approaching sound of doom and shrink into the corners: my cowboys are coming with the vacuum to bring them to justice.

Not many escape.

Speaking of vacuums, my faithful zoomer broke off another piece. This one might be important, it appears to hold the front wheels on. It’s the world’s best vacuum and that’s no lie. It’s got two clear plastic chambers and a spinning air filter that picks up everything in its path and holds it captive until I go tip it upside down over the trashcan and shake. What comes out is enough hair to make an actual buffalo and maybe two cups of filth. It’s better than using the old paper vacuum bags. You never know what’s going on in there until it blows! So when I go to buy a new one, it will be exactly this same model.

I found out you’re not supposed to use the vacuum on hard wood floors because of the rotating brush, so I have a huge dusting mop for those. I push it around and in two minutes, the room is swept. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or if I’m getting gypped. I see the kids who work in the grocery stores and they get to push them all up and down the aisles instead of doing real work like restocking the always-empty salad racks.

Rounding out the list of my weapons of choice is my very wonderful feather duster. You need one, you really do! Only get one with real ostrich feathers; the oils in them suck up dust like you won’t believe and grab on till you walk outside on the balcony and whack it firmly against your palm over the neighbor’s back fence. They should also have the opportunity to dust, I’m only sharing the love.

I’d like to close by mentioning two of my favorite people, persons who come to mind when I’ve got microfiber cloths in one hand and the Lysol in the other. Inspiration for the joys of hard work that isn’t actually hard, and the excellent attitudes behind it: and our elementary school janitor, Mr. Calvin.

Now that I’ve dropped names, someone go clean up that mess.

Not Again!

It’s time to Spring Forward. Twice a year we move the clocks, replace the batteries in our smoke detectors, and get our teeth cleaned. Gooood times.

How was your week? Mine’s gotten better since I filled my camelback with espresso.

Everything has been coming at such a fast pace, I fall into bed exhausted each day only to smack the alarm clock across the room the next morning.

I have jet lag and not even a vacation to remember for it.

Every time our wonderful government changes to Daylight Saving Time the chickens and I go on strike. We plan on making hay while the sun shines, and not one minute before it does.

I always thought we invented this lovely little torture device to help out farmers. So originally, I was okay with it. I can put up with some inconvenience if it helps them feed America.

But then I actually pushed a couple of Google buttons, and do you know what? It’s a lie. Turns out, farmers were the biggest opponents of the idea. They have to wait for the dew to dry on crops before they can harvest them, while the market runs on, hours ahead of them.

I won’t be telling my hens about the movie I watched the other day.

It said the mass market for eggs compels some chicken ranchers to keep their hens in artificially lit henhouses on timers. Eggs are produced with greater regularity and business booms because ranchers are outsmarting the finicky creatures. Hens lay eggs during warm daylight hours, and when the sun or the temperature goes down so do they.  What motivates these ladies is a 12-hour-a-day year-round simulated vacation in the Bahamas.  Sounds great until you realize this can only go on for a couple of years before the exhausted things are turned into pot pies.

Believe it or not, cows are not interested in moving their milking times around in the morning just because the dairy moved the clock hands forward an hour. I imagine the dairymen are not going to house their cows in giant artificially lit stadiums, though.

Not so surprisingly, the grilling and golf industries voted two enthusiastic thumbs up, convincing our government to stretch DST from six to our current eight months long.  I suppose they don’t think about where the chicken and beef on those barbecue grills came from?

And if you had a choice between an extra hour of sleep and an extra hour of golf, which would you choose? I know, right?

Research shows our risk of a heart attack surges by 10% on the Monday and Tuesday following our big Spring Forward.

That could be from the alarm clock shrieking into our ears in the dark.

It could stem from our attempt to defeat the jet lag with gallons of caffeine and sugar.

It could come from reading about how the egg industry treats chickens.

But I ask you: Are we going to keep putting up with this nonsense?

When I want to be healthy, wealthy and wise, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, get off my roost!

Is it Too Late to Mail a “Happy March” Card?

I feel the need to apologize to everyone who didn’t get a Christmas card from us this year.

That would be all of you. Sorry.

It was all mapped out in my head and on the calendar. In my world, that’s a slam dunk.

My favorite part of Christmas is the cards. I love to receive them, thank you! And I love to send them. We may or may not get a tree. We may or may not get cookies made. The tinsel can get tossed any-ol-where. But addressing cards and sorting photos and buying pretty stamps are my cup of tea.

Can you believe there was a time when the kids were little and we made a family project of it? They hand decorated each card with a drawing or their name and we learned how to address an envelope correctly. Someone licked the stamps. Someone licked the envelopes. We used ink and rubber stampers to decorate the back. And drove to the post office.

Along the way, I learned the trick of using a damp sponge to seal the envelopes instead of the “lick em and stick em” routine. Even the stamps aren’t the licking kind anymore, thank goodness. Anyone else out there remember the joys of “tacky tongue”? Please tell me I’m not the only one. Please.

If I we had a very eventful year, I typed up a little insert. It was usually letting you know we had (once again) added onto the family or had (once again) added onto the house and everyone’s age, school doings, blah blah blah. Things a grandparent would want to know, but bore your single girlfriends to death.

The advent of the Costco photo greeting card was just in the nick of time. The older the kids got, the less they wanted to sit for an afternoon of card making. And I realized that I could order glossy cards pre-signed with everyone’s name and age. I could add a photo that was worth a thousand word newsletter!

Now they just had to pose for an afternoon of photo taking. There were haircuts and outfits and location scouting. There was bribery. There was begging. There was Kodak! There was the sun in their eyes. There was a bee in the grass. There was junior about to fall out of the tree before mommy could get into camera position.

Fast forward to the Christmas Card of 2012. There we all are, grouped together smiling in the den. Such a lovely family. Ha.

What you don’t know is that eldest son’s girlfriend was taking the photo, causing him to ruin the first ten shots with ridiculous faces. My arm is around youngest son’s waist: and squeezing. He’d better be taking this seriously if he knows what’s good for him. Both daughters are behind us, the only willing participants in the shot although half of the time one or the other of them are rolling their eyes at all the brotherly antics going on. Child number four wisely posed on the other side, far from my reach. The camera will show another dozen shots where he felt the need to only insert half of his head. Hubby’s smile is fixed between admonishing everyone else to smile. Our cheeks are starting to ache.

Out of some 30 shots, the one you got was the only one that worked.

When I asked the family to sit together for an impromptu photo this last Thanksgiving, they scattered faster than roaches when the light turns on. They wouldn’t sit all in the same room again until January.

My card tradition may take a necessary detour.

I realize not everyone does cards anymore. I have a brilliant artsy girlfriend who is a graphic designer, photographer and witty mommy. She emails a full color photo card/newsletter right to my inbox that knocks my socks off. Of course I’m jealous. She’s saving trees. But I have a hard time hanging it on the fridge.

There’s a good nine months to think this card crisis over. I’m considering everything from Photoshopping their heads onto some lined up bowling pins to candids of them asleep, drooling on their pillows.

“Visions of Sugarplums” I’ll call it. Oy vey.

Honor Your Partner Part 2

Always introduce a new dance class series with the Native American Rain Dance.  You need a hook for these poor souls.  They were told in no uncertain terms that these dance classes were mandatory and the first person to cop an attitude would face the firing squad.  Their eyes are begging you to not make them dance.  The only dance they are acquainted with, if they are, is what their older siblings are doing in the dark high school gyms to music that shrieks questionable lyrics at them.

Some of the girls are trying to hide their excitement.  They are FINALLY going to get a boy’s undivided attention for a five minute space and maybe even HOLD HANDS.  No matter if he was forced at gun point.  He will have to acknowledge her existence and treat her with respect.  If only it’s the right boy.  Oh no.  What if the teacher makes her partner with him??  The other girls are never going to stop teasing.  He might even think she likes him if she likes the dance.  That’s it.  The girls after ten minutes of thought have already decided to dance with the other girls and avoid the whole ridiculous mess.

Well, the Native American Dances have props and everybody dances with his own bad self.  Perfect. No one is going to notice if you are dancing “heel-toe” instead of “toe-heel”; they are having too much fun with the drums, bells, and ribbon wands.  Who doesn’t love to jump up and down yelling while making as much noise as possible during school?  Someone gets to be the rain man in the middle, wear the crazy wig and bang the bongo drums.  You should choose the most sullen face in the crowd, the one who is in NO way happy to be there.  Four lucky kids are rains from the corners of the compass. They spin clouds and wind back and forth over the parched planting grounds.  The rest of the tribe circles the room bringing their energy and their teamwork into play.  No one is getting graded here.  There will not be a test.  The smartest kid is irrelevant and so is the class clown and so is the bully and the kid who still can’t do those rotten times tables.  Everyone here is too busy, bringing home the rain.

Toward the end of my tenure I actually made up a hula dance to a song from Lilo and Stitch. The lesson music was uninspiring so we ditched it and instead danced a sunrise and palm trees and swayed as a group like the ocean, making waves that rolled from one end of the room to the other. Some music can take the class all the way to Hawaii in their imagination. It’s fascinating when the magic moment happens: the music goes into their ears and dances out from their hearts through their fingertips.

Quite on purpose, we wrap up our lessons with my beloved Virginia Reel.  Kids typically won’t go to a “dance” today and return home the better for it.  Our over sexed, over loud, over materialized music doesn’t seem to encourage manners.

But a dance, once upon a time, was the place to be civilized.  The lights were on and the ladies dressed.  Where gentlemen impressed ladies with their athletic precision in the steps, their respectful attitude on the sidelines, and practiced intelligent conversation.  Where ladies were gracious and polite and made the subtle flirt an art form.

Every boy in our fifth grade class learned how to bow to their partner, and every girl learned a proper curtsy.  It’s at the beginning and end of every square dance.

They may never have occasion again to use this skill.  But I am hopeful that knowing what it looks and feels like to “honor your partner”, no matter who it is and what the next dance may be, will go with them into their future.  Prepared for that one moment when simple grace and respect could change the course of their lives.

Honor Your Partner Part 1

“Everybody forward and back!”  A banjo picks up the Virginia Reel that will take our class on to new heights of social cooperation and gender tolerance.  If you can get a fifth grade boy to take a fifth grade girl’s hand for even that one small moment of sashay, you have achieved a major accomplishment.  My goal: to carry these kids beyond the worry of social graces and into the pride of performing athletic graceful movements that flow with the music.  To show them how the collective movement in a dance makes something much bigger than the pieces that are themselves.

Oh yeah…and to have a really fun time!

I volunteered for many years in my children’s elementary school, most of the time teaching music related lessons, kindergarten through fifth grade. It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I have a lot of stories to share, but today…I just want to dance!

The students are hopping and turning now around large straw hats on the floor.  We are dancing the Mexican Hat Dance.  The hat provides a buffer between rowdy partners that will fail altogether once we start the music for the Chicken Dance.  It’s so much fun to have a reason to move in the middle of a highly structured day.  As the lessons progress, the random sillies and day’s frustrations make way for body awareness and timing.  They begin to realize that the rhythms and steps are removing tension from mind and body.  And they like it!

Buffalo Gals is the next step up towards square dancing. Only it’s in a circle.  A wagon wheel actually.  The Virginia Reel is square dancing in two lines.  Someday I would like to graduate to actually dancing in a square.  It takes more practice than the teacher’s schedule gave me and so in 15 years I still don’t know how to do it.  But give me the chorus to Buffalo Gals and our kids will rock that wagon wheel.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOhhhhh Macarena.  Seriously.  We do the Electric Slide, the YMCA, your basic wedding reception dances.  The kids may as well have a nicely rounded education.  These are life skills.  If you can’t form a Conga line you are missing out.  We hold onto the person in front of us by the shoulders, not the waist, and I’m lucky they aren’t pulling shirts off backs.  Thankfully, the Bunny Hop allows for more individuality.  I try to have them make baby bunny hops, not giant rabbit from hell hops.  It doesn’t always sink in.

Here’s another favorite of mine: the Limbo Rock.  You dance it at luaus and who in So Cal is not going at some point in his life to one of those birthday parties?  I love this because it is the great equalizer dance.  You have the line backers, the track stars, the class jocks who are way too cool to take these dances seriously.  Then you have the little guys.  The computer techies, the quiet fellows who are taking this all in and thinking somewhere in the back of their minds, “I am so finally going to impress a girl!”  And you are SO rooting for them!  The Limbo is their shining moment.  As the Great Danes fall going under that stick, the Chihuahuas are popping under with attitude and coming up to cheers.

I love my job.