At Sixes and Sevens

We are a family of four, but as a family in isolation during COVID-19, we are but three. Our younger daughter lives and works (currently from her home) in Los Angeles while our older daughter lives here in Maryland with us. She works from home most days so this social distancing has not been much of a change for her.

covid-19-handshake-alternatives-v3As three adults living together under one roof during this pandemic, we are getting along very well. For work purposes, we have established three separate and distinct work areas: Daughter #1 gets the small bedroom upstairs that she was already using as an office, hubby gets the den and the dog, and I get our home office, which is a small bedroom downstairs. The kitchen, dining room, and living room, all upstairs, are common areas where we congregate, while still keeping some space between us. We meet for lunch and afternoon coffee, but otherwise, we try to stay out of each other’s way. I am the outlier, the only one over 60, so we are being cautious because of the CDC guidelines for age, but I am not immuno-compromised and have no underlying health issues that are set forth for caution. Still, it’s best to be cautious given the devastating effects of this virus on some.

zoomI’m a full-time teacher and a part-time freelance writer, and my school is closed (as of now) through April 24, 2020. I’ve already spent two full weeks teaching online, via Google Classroom for the first week and a half, adding Zoom classes this past week. The Zoom classes I had on Thursday and Friday restored a sense of normalcy to this whole crazy situation. It was so wonderful seeing the faces of my students, 7th grade on Thursday and 8th grade on Friday. There was only a handful who didn’t log on to their scheduled Zoom class, basically the same percentage that could be absent any given school day.  In essence, those two thirty-minute classes were the best I’ve felt since my school closed on March 12, 2020. 

The rest of the time, up to and including this very moment, I have been at sixes and sevens. You may not be familiar with that saying, an old English idiom, but it means being in a state of confusion or disarray. During this self-isolation and school closure, I can certainly identify with this saying.

Richard_II_King_of_EnglandIts origin is not completely known, but it is thought to have originated in the 14th century, perhaps in a dice game, and early use in literature was by Chaucer in 1374, and later by Shakespeare in 1595 in his play Richard II, “But time will not permit: all is uneven, And everything is left at six and seven”.

H_m_s_pinafore_restorationGilbert & Sullivan used it in their 1878 comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore in the opening song of Act II, “Fair moon, to thee I sing, bright regent of the heavens, say, why is everything either at sixes or at sevens?”

In 1911, O. Henry published a collection of 25 short stories, for which he was a master, called Sixes and Sevens. He was certainly qualified to use it, being someone who was convicted on very sketchy evidence of embezzlement of a paltry $900 from the bank where he worked before becoming a writer. He was certainly at sixes and sevens for the three years he served in the Ohio Penitentiary. He had fourteen short stories published while imprisoned, under various pen names, but the pen name (and its origin which he refused to acknowledge) that stuck was O. H(io)(P)en(itentia)ry.

Eva PeronIn the late 70s, Andrew Lloyd Weber had Eva Perón use “at sixes and sevens” in the famous “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” to describe her relationship with Juan Perón. 

It is an understatement that I am a creature of ritual and routine. The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have stripped me of much of my ritual and routine, the very things that bring order to my daily life. With schools closed, but distance learning still going on, I feel completely at sixes and sevens. I’m at home 24-7, but I’m not on summer break, Christmas break, or Easter break. This week, week three of school closure, I am going to try to sort myself out by getting up at my regular weekday time, and following all my regular routines as though I was heading out the door at 7:15, my normal time.

I’m going to put on business casual clothes (one notch down from the professional attire I normally wear to school) and go to my classroom/home office and do lesson plans, prepare online materials, hold my Zoom classes, and grade research papers that have been submitted via Google Classroom. At the end of my school day, I’m going to shut it all down and go and cook a fabulous meal for my family and watch Jeopardy, my favorite way to relax. With a minimum of four weeks to go in our school closure, I can’t be at sixes and sevens another day longer.

 

Another Kind of Break

Louisiana Holy Trinity of Seasonings

Louisiana Holy Trinity of Seasonings

 

I’ve been writing regularly, but my last post here was about how impatient I was for Thanksgiving Break. I recounted how I had spent the summer in a boot due to a bad break, a broken ankle. I just couldn’t wait for five whole days in a row off from school and being free to cook to my heart’s content. My Thanksgiving Break was fabulous.

Christmas 2019After Thanksgiving, I turned my greedy eyes to Christmas Break. My younger daughter flew in from Los Angeles (#veryworriedaboutherrightnow), and the four of us were all home together. It was glorious.

When a teacher returns to school from Christmas Break, there is a certain sense of urgency to lesson planning as the rest of the school year flies by with little breaks here and there: MLK, JR Day in January, a faculty retreat and Presidents’ Day in February, and for my school, a professional development day in March. Next on the calendar is Easter Break. triidumFor a Catholic school, this is a big deal. We observe Lent at school with no meat in our lunches on Fridays, extra prayers in the classrooms, attendance at Mass on Fridays as usual but in the afternoon we return to church for the Stations of the Cross. We have Holy Thursday and Good Friday off, and then all of the next week (Easter Week) for Easter Break.

This year, wow, this year, we have been thrown a curveball. Yesterday afternoon, Thursday, March 12, 2020, at 4:15 pm, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced ALL the schools in Maryland would be closed for at least two weeks, from March 16-March 27, out of an abundance of caution (this is the # phrase of the year) in light of COVID 19. Our school was scheduled for its spring professional development day today, March 13, so our school was already closed; thus I have an unexpected eleven school-day break stretching out ahead of me.

covid-19A bigger shock occurred later in the evening last night. I received an email with an announcement from the Archdiocese of Washington (DC) stating that ALL church services would be canceled starting Saturday, March 14, 2020. ALL? No Mass on Sunday? No Stations of the Cross on Fridays? This is a first for me. Even with my bad break this past summer, I attended Mass every weekend except for the week before the surgery and the week after the surgery. Sure, it was quite the palaver as the British would say (wheelchair, crutches, cane, oh my), but for me, it was non-negotiable that I was going to Mass.

last Mass at SJ covid

Last Mass for two weeks at Shrine of St. Jude due to COVID 19, Friday, March 13, 2020, Fr. Bob Kosty

 

This morning, on the first day of my COVID 19 Break, I went to 9:00 daily Mass. When the priest started Mass, he announced that it was the last Mass until further notice. There was a collective sigh from those present, the majority of the 50 or so parishioners who attend daily Mass year-round, but the mood worsened as Fr. Bob went on to say, in a poignant and personal address to us, that in his 46 years as a priest he had not been stopped from celebrating Mass for his people. It was a beautiful Mass with a short but meaningful homily, and then after, some stayed behind to pray the rosary while Fr. Bob heard confessions.

shrineofjude-logo2Many of the regulars stayed in the church, some praying and some just sitting. It was as though we didn’t want to leave. As Fr. Bob said in his opening comments, “We don’t miss something until we don’t have it.” We don’t have Mass for at least two weeks. No receiving the Eucharist. No standing in communion with others, celebrating the Mass. No listening to the liturgy of the word. No homily. I miss it already. Heart break.

💔

 

I Am a Teacher

calendarToday is Tuesday, November 26, 2019. For the last two weeks, I have been ready for tomorrow, Wednesday, November 27, 2019. Tomorrow is the start of a 5-day break from school for the Thanksgiving holiday. Saying that I am ready for it is a gross understatement. Like saying I like carbs. Or, I like to sleep late. Or, I like to read. People who know me well know that all of these are gross understatements. I am SO ready for my Thanksgiving break.

bootWhy? First, I didn’t really have a summer break from teaching. I spent my summer in a non-weight bearing boot, sitting in a recliner, waiting for my broken ankle to heal from surgery. Yes, it healed, but as grateful as I am that I am fully-mobile again, I still feel cheated. Teachers live for summer break where we can go out to lunch with friends, go on trips, spend weekdays running errands, reading for fun and not for professional development.

Second, I’m so ready to get in my kitchen and cook to my heart’s content, since for twelve long boring weeks I wasn’t able to cook. My kitchen is upstairs, thirteen wickedly steep and treacherous steps. My husband and daughter cooked some and we ate a lot of take-out. Uber Eats was Uber Regular. So, in preparation for the biggest food day of the year, I’ve been running through menu possibilities like Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 40 greatest hits.

In spite of all of this, though, even though I am SO ready for my Thanksgiving break, today in literature class, I was stopped cold in my tracks. Instead of wishing for the remaining hours to hurry by so I would be on my Thanksgiving break, I was reminded why I love teaching. In a very short, one-paragraph example of creative writing, I was reminded what I have to be thankful for, and why. With the permission of a very special student, I share with you what I experienced today.

mozartkugel tinWe had finished my lesson plan for the class period and we had about ten minutes left. I pulled out my “think-it tin” which originally housed Austrian chocolate hazelnut candies called Original Salzburger Mozartkugel. thinketsNow it is filled with little objects I find all over my house: a charm from a bracelet, the little plastic clip that holds a pair of socks together, a fake gold ring from a box of Cracker Jacks, a badge from Girls Scouts that never got sewn on, the spring out of a ball point pen, etc. Students reach in and pull out something. They get to decide what the object is, and then they write a story where the object is the main character. The slight twist for today was that the story had to be about Thanksgiving.

My student today pulled out something that he decided was a belt. In reality it is a dog collar for a Chihuahua (dog). In the past, students have decided it was a leather bracelet, like the ones you see hipsters wearing these days. But, today, it was a belt. And this belt had a lot to say.

MLKWhen you read this, your first reaction may be that it’s light-hearted and humorous. That it is. But look deeper and I hope you will see the serious side of it as well. My student, using a literary device called repetition, famously used by MLK Jr. in his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech, wove through his short paragraph life lessons and poignant reminders of what is really important in life. mother teresaHis very creative short story is reminiscent of some of Saint Mother Teresa’s famous quotes about doing small things with love, starting with loving your own family. Please read it. Consider it my student’s Thanksgiving gift to you.

thanksgiving feastThis Thanksgiving, let’s all focus on what is really important, not which side dishes to have or how many pieces of pie is too many. Let’s focus on loving each other. Let’s focus on being grateful and thankful for what we have, not what we wish we had. Let’s focus on appreciating our family, family thanksgiving 2018especially those who hold us all together. Let’s focus on love Let’s focus on being a belt.

 

 

 

 

I Am a Belt

It’s almost Pie…I mean Thanksgiving… Day!

For a great pie crust recipe and some tips from pie-baking experts, see my article online at Washington Family Magazine and Baltimore’s Child Magazine!

DaddyBoy Bake Shop’s Simple All Butter Pie Crust Recipe

Heaven in a Pie Pan

How to Write an Admissions Essay

Express Yourself To Impress The School Admissions Committee

Finding Joy Every Fall: A Teacher’s Perspective

https://washingtonfamily.com/2019/08/30/finding-joy-every-fall-a-teachers-perspective/

The Pearls of a Lifetime

wedding photo

June 10, 1989, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Port Sulphur, LA, processing out as husband and wife!

 

  1. Thirty years.
  2. One husband, one wife.
  3. Two years dating, five months engaged.
  4. Two c-sections.
  5. One back surgery, one ankle surgery- her.
  6. One neck surgery – him.
  7. Two daughters.
  8. Two baptisms, two confirmations.
  9. Countless stage performances.
  10. Seven nephews, two nieces.
  11. One state, two countries.
  12. Two rental apartments, one rental home.
  13. One overseas move, one embassy home.
  14. Countries visited together – eight.
  15. Two homes purchased.
  16. Three cats, one dog.
  17. Ten cars.
  18. One home daycare, one preschool.
  19. Two elementary schools, two middle schools.
  20. Two college, one grad school graduation.
  21. One cross-country move – daughter #2.
  22. Loss of three parents.
  23. Loss of three brothers – him.
  24. Five presidents.
  25. One international terrorism event – 9/11.
  26. Domestic terrorism events – too many.
  27. One career – him.
  28. Three careers – her.
  29. Two hearts, two souls.
  30. One lifetime together, thirty years.

Breaking News

57913539451__22fb4574-1511-4e5b-ab08-7c0342047667Today, Friday, May 10, 2019, I am currently propped up in a recliner in my den, watching BBC America and writing on my laptop. My left leg is jacked up on multiple pillows on the recliner extension, draped in a blanket. I am surrounded by tray tables, pillows, and the minutiae of a normal life: phone, water bottle, remote, book, knitting bag, Kindle, tissues, etc. One table is tangled up in the charging cords of the devices that surround me, the hardware that is helping me pass the time as I wait. On Monday I go in for surgery on my broken left ankle and to have hardware installed, the kind that doesn’t come with apps.

Last Saturday I got up, dressed and went to First Holy Communion at my parish church and school where I teach. One of the students in the school choir became ill during Communion so I took her over to the school to wait for her mom to come and pick her up. I came home and changed, and my husband and daughter and I went out for lunch and some errands. I bought two new outfits for a trip planned for this summer, my 30th anniversary trip, to Hawaii. We came home and my daughter and I went to a shoe store to return some shoes, where I bought a cute pair of navy, strappy sandal wedges. I came home and modeled them for my husband and then went upstairs for a nap. This is where my whole world came to a crash.

IMG_0460After my nap, I came out to the living room and my dog, my adorable little 16-pound Maltipoo Puccini, was running around playing. He stopped short in front of me in that cute little stance, like he wanted me to chase him. I turned, and took one step to make the same sort of short stop to him, and BOOM–I tripped on the rug and fell flat on my back, banging my head on the floor hard enough to cause it to bleed (a little) and swell up (a lot) into an egg on the back of my head. While that hurt, the real pain scorching through my body was my left leg, from the knee down. So much so that I couldn’t get up.

Now, my left leg and I have had a love/hate relationship for years. In 1980, just at the end of my first and only semester of law school, I was changing the channel on my TV and somehow managed to fall over and dislocate my left knee, tearing cartilage along the way. Six weeks in a cast from my hip to my toes. Weeks and weeks of physical therapy. But, since I had not been invited back for the spring semester of law school, I had no scheduling issues, LOL.

Then in 2008, on a school field trip with my 7th graders, I once again fell over and this time I really did it, torn ACL in that same knee. Again immobilized for eight weeks and then months of physical therapy. Teaching from my rolling desk chair, using crutches in the hall dodging backpacks and teens, being physically exhausted by 10:00 AM with the whole school day stretching ahead of me. Not fun.

So, my first thought was that my knee was dislocated again, or worse, since I have no ACL to hold it in place. But, no, it was my ankle, which almost immediately began to swell. By later that night it was turning the colors of a Van Gogh painting. I only barely managed to keep my husband from calling 9-1-1. A nurse friend of my daughter’s came over to look at it, with that calm, cool demeanor required of this most distinguished of professions, running her finger tips softly up and down my foot. “It might be just sprained, but you should get it checked. Not necessarily tonight, but you should get it x-rayed because there are lots of little bones in the foot.” This assuaged my husband enough to let me go to bed with Advil and ice and pray for the best.

On Monday, off to the orthopedic I went. My doctor’s medical assistant took one look at it, and said, “probably going to need an x-ray on that.” Didn’t take long for the crushing news: left ankle, broken, bones displaced, surgery required.

One minute life is a series of small ups and downs, no big deal, missing part of First Holy Communion because of a sick student, finding some cute shorts and tops for a trip, having a great lunch, buying some new shoes, taking a relaxing nap, falling and hurting yourself over the stupid rug in your own living room. And then, a really big downer comes, surgery. A week to wait for the swelling to go down enough for the surgery to happen, and then TEN weeks of recovery. Not the spring and summer I had planned.

This week has been a revolving door of downs. Complete dependence on my husband: check. Pain, pain, pain: check. IMG_4293Crutches and realization that you are not as strong as you thought you were: check. In and out of the car multiple times for pre-op appointments and tests and the incumbent fear of something else being found wrong with you in those pre-op tests: check. Watching the clock for the next dose of Tylenol because that’s all you can take until the surgery (thank you opioid crisis): check. Mind-numbing boredom because you can’t focus on reading or knitting or much of anything: check. Stress over not being able to finish the school year and leaving it all to subs to cover for you: check. Anxiety and fear over impending surgery and doctors’ bills: check. Hotel reservations in Hawaii being canceled: check.

libra-2754246_960_720I’m a Libra, so it is no surprise to me that along with the aforementioned downs, there have been some really brilliant ups. Friends calling and texting. Commiserations on Facebook. A friend dropping off food. A neighbor walking my dog. My daughters checking in daily from afar. Flowers from a teacher colleague. img_4282Other teachers helping me out at school with making copies and helping my subs. Getting the hang of the crutches and the knee scooter, my best friend for the next ten weeks.

Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, however, and this one has been reinforced to me a hundredfold this week, the best one of all is joining a church choir in 1987 to get to know a guy I had a crush on. And flirting with him (albeit not very convincingly) to try to get his interest. And moving across the country to follow him to the DC area. And saying “I do” on June 10, 1989. IMG_0864And having two beautiful, brilliant, talented daughters with him. And surviving loss of family members and friends. And living overseas for two years. And being empty-nesters on and off. I told the pre-op nurse yesterday that he is my rock…and that is a gross understatement.

Over-protective, annoyingly so, and meticulous in his care of me. For better or worse: check. In sickness and in health: check. Who told me, “Let’s say a Hail Mary,” when I was struggling on Wednesday: check. A marriage soon to be 30 years strong, with or without Hawaii: check. For richer or poorer: check. With love and compassion: check. Forever and ever: check.

stone artwork

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Birthday Party Trends

Check out my latest article in Washington Family Magazine!

http://digital.washingtonfamily.com/issues/May-2019/index.html