Thursday, May 10, 2012

Essay # 11 - Final Essay -My First Job


Essay # 11 - Final Essay

My First Job

Saturdays at the Woolworth’s where I began my working career were a madhouse. This particular store was on Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens, one of the boroughs of New York City.  (In case you’re curious, Steinway Street got its name because it led to the Steinway Mansion and the famous Steinway piano factory.  Not relevant to this story, but an interesting bit of trivia.)  Steinway Street is a typical city street in the Big Apple – miles of stores holding hands with each other as they line either side of the street, bonds broken only by necessary intersections with other streets, also lined with buildings on either side.  Since at that time, most business establishments were still closed on Sundays, Saturdays were the big shopping day for most of the multitude of residents in the area.  This store,  on this street, in this city was my stepping stone to the future as I had my first real job experience – finding a job, learning the ropes in a job, and moving up in a job.

 That summertime, I was just 16 years old and finally old enough to apply for work.  Woolworth’s seemed a logical choice.  It was close enough to walk to, if I needed or wanted to, but also easily accessible by bus or subway.  It was also the type of job that might allow me to keep working part-time when school started up again.  Besides, I had a friend who already worked there, and having a familiar face nearby always makes any transition easier.  I applied for and got the job without any difficulties.  (I guess they realized my exceptional quality at first glance...) 

Stores were a little different in those days.  There were no computers, no scanners, no checkout counters lined up at every entrance and exit.  Instead, we had real cash registers located at various places around the store.  We actually had to know how to count out the proper change to the customers!  And my work station was unlike most, even within my own store.  I was assigned to a counter at the most strategic entrance to the establishment.  I say counter, because that is what it was – a counter that made a long rectangle around my employee area within that space.  On one long side was jewelry; on the other long side was candy, some of which required weighing.  On one short side was the popcorn machine, and – here I must plea early-onset dementia – I can’t remember what was on that final short side, but it was something different that needed my attention.  And there I was, stuck in the middle with people on each side demanding that I tend to them RIGHT NOW!  Saturdays, as I said, were a madhouse, not only because it was THE major shopping day of the week, but also because on 2 of the corners of the same intersection as my store were movie theaters.  And any frugal American citizen in those days realized it was to their financial benefit to stock up on candy and popcorn across the street at the local Woolworth’s rather than pay the exorbitant prices required for such delicacies once they were seated inside the theater.  And so, on any given Saturday, I had lines of people on all four sides of my counter DEMANDING my attention.  Though this was a very difficult beginning to my work career, there was one good result.  Through this experience, I learned a valuable lesson.  I learned that store personnel are people, too.  They are not unfeeling machines.  When someone would take the time to smile or say thank you, it was as if he or she had bestowed a blessing upon me.  When customers would patiently wait their turns, I would thank them profusely.  It was so nice when someone recognized that I, too, was a member of the human race.  This is a lesson I have never forgotten.  To this day, I try to always thank the employees who serve me.  I even thank the toll booth people as I hurry on my way to my destination.  It doesn’t add any time to my trip, but it recognizes their humanity and may give them a much-needed boost for the day.

Learning to deal with the public, learning how to multi-task and still maintain order, and just learning to keep up with supply and demand in my little microcosm of the business world were all part of learning the ropes in a new job situation.  And I must have done well, because soon I was asked to move up to the more responsible position of “Office Girl.”  Of course, I took the job, though I don’t remember any pay increase involved.  Becoming Office Girl was a step up and I was thrilled.  As Office Girl, I now had new responsibilities and a new boss.  My new office supervisor was a grumpy, old lady who never had any kids and didn’t like teenagers at all.  My main responsibility was to periodically collect the money from the various cash registers around the store, bring it all upstairs to the office, and count and record each amount separately.  This was later checked against the cash register tapes for accuracy and, of course, possible theft.  I had other office duties, but they did not require all my time, so I was privileged to pursue a great variety of store-related activities.  Since I was no longer assigned to any one work station, I would fill in on any area of the store needing extra help.  I worked stock down the basement or filled in wherever someone was needed in the main storefront.  Woolworth stores in those days were the tiny forerunners of the big box stores now.  We sold everything from pet fish to material, from household items to books and records, (yes, records, not CD’s!) from clothing to hardware.  And I was able to work anywhere, something I loved, since I always enjoy doing new things.  One of my favorite activities was decorating the store for holidays.  I loved choosing the ornaments for the Christmas trees, picking whatever decorations struck my fancy.  And one of my most unusual assignments was as bodyguard when someone was making the bank deposit.  (I’ve always wondered what I was supposed to do should we be attacked on the way.  I do have a good pair of lungs, and I suppose the loud noise might cause the perpetrators to think twice, but I’m glad I never had to find out if that would work…)  When inventory time came around, our store received an influx of special machines that made the round of Woolworth stores.  That grumpy, old lady I mentioned was insistent that the young whippersnapper should never touch one of those delicate, expensive machines.  As it turned out, she had a medical emergency during the entire inventory time, and that young whippersnapper and another lady did ALL of the work on those machines, and never broke a thing!

And so, I was now experienced in the real business world.  I’d found my first job, learned how to be a good employee, and was beginning to move up in my career.  As all good things usually come to an end, so did this job.  Though I did continue working through summers and after school during the school year for a time, I eventually graduated from high school and moved on to college and so left the place that had taught me so much and where I had made many good friends.  The lessons that I learned there continue with me throughout my life.  Not only the lesson of remembering to treat workers as human beings, but also the lessons of being a good employee myself, and learning how to work with difficult people.  I’ve often said that everyone should be required to work a low-level job dealing with the public.  If more people realized what it felt like to be treated poorly, they would tend to treat others better, and perhaps the world might be a better place for all.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Essay # 10 – In-Class Any Essay


Essay # 10 – In-Class Any Essay

Dirt

Dirt is everywhere!!  Here it is, springtime again, and the dirt spreads, magically extending its hidden tentacles to creep silently beneath my closed door, through the living room, and into every corner of the house.  Or so it seems…  How does all that dirt appear out of nowhere?  Is it really magic?  Or do alien beings watch my every move, wait until no one is home, then sneak in and sprinkle some sort of extraterrestrial dirt-dust all around my house?  (If so, I wonder if it has some sort of special properties.  Maybe I should try starting one of my garden plants in some of it as an experiment.)  But, for some reason, these unusual explanations seem too irrational to accept without some scientific testing.  So where does all this dirt come from?  Hmmm…..

As I said, it’s springtime, which here in Maine is synonymous with “Mud Season.”  Now, there may actually be a logical reason for such absurd terminology.  It could possibly be that someone, maybe from out-of-state, came driving here one fine spring day, maybe even having purchased some land from one of those realty ads, which was so unbelievably cheap, he couldn’t pass up such a good deal.  As this poor tourist-turned- property-owner traveled to his destination, roads changed from well-maintained interstate highways to reasonably-well-maintained state roads to minimally- maintained county roads to somewhat-maintained town roads to barely-maintained back roads to the inevitable unmaintained dirt roads, which in the springtime seem more akin to higher level swamps than “roads.”  As this poor wanderer continued on his journey toward his prize, he must have started to wonder what indeed he had gotten into.  Possibly he eventually reached his destination, turned into his driveway and sank up to the axle in that special mud, much like quicksand, which seeps out as the ground thaws when winter gasps its last breath and seeks one last vain attempt at vengeance before giving up the fight.  As the days turned into weeks and he struggled to keep his vehicle from being sucked in by more liquid road or from being devoured by ruts and potholes, while the local yokels cheerfully greeted each other with acclaims that “it’s finally springtime in Maine!”  He probably finally grumbled in reply something like, “Where I come from we have 4 real seasons: winter, summer, spring, and fall.  This season isn’t spring, it’s mud, nothing but mud…”  To which the stoic Mainers proudly replied, “You’re darn right!  We have our very own season here, Mud Season.  I knew we were special!”  This story may be a little far-fetched, but I’ve never heard a better one, so who knows?  Maybe it’s true…

So that’s our first explanation of where all that dirt in our homes comes from: the great outdoors.  But how does it all get inside?  This part is actually pretty easy to explain without magic or aliens, though no way near as exciting a hypothesis.  It seems my house is inhabited by dirt-tracking varmints, who choose to ignore a series of outdoor mats and rugs leading to the front door.  Some can be reasonably excused.  They have 4 feet apiece and don’t seem to have the agility to carefully wipe each individual paw before entering my domain.  In fact, they dispute the fact that it is my domain, mistakenly believing it to be their own, and they don’t mind the dirt at all.  In fact, it may even bring a little sense of comfort as the dirt increases to make it feel more like the great outdoors while indoors.  Those 4-footed family members include 2 dogs and 4 cats, who regularly go in and out all – day – long.  The quadrupeds may have an excuse, but the bipeds in the family do not.  While I do my best to enter my abode without the adornments of additional mineral matter adhering to my shoes, others in the family seem oblivious to their hitchhikers, allowing dirt free access to our private quarters.  Though I’ve done my motherly and wifely duty to alert the other family members to the impending avalanche of earth that will one day bury our family alive, never to be seen again, they somehow don’t believe in the scientific truth of that prediction.  And so, dirt continues to win the war.  I shovel it up; others bring more in.  As long as there is springtime and Mud Season in Maine, it is a fruitless task; and I wonder if it is truly insanity to continue doing the same thing while expecting different results.  And if it is, I’m in big trouble…

We’ve now discussed the dirt of Mud Season and how the dirt from outside gets inside, but do we ever purposefully bring in dirt?  Alas, the answer unfortunately is, “Yes.”  We Mainers are gluttons for punishment.  Not only do we choose to live in a place that seeks to envelop us and our vehicles each springtime, we also seem to cheerfully choose the absolute messiest manner of maintaining comfort in our own homes – wood heat.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love wood heat!  The price is right – free; and the luxury of spinning like a rotisserie chicken in front of a rip-roaring fire while the heat soaks in to the marrow of every bone is comfort to the extreme.  But every luxury demands its price, and wood heat brings with it not only the sawdust remaining from each chainsaw cut and endless chips of bark, but also the ash that floats into the air every time the door is opened (especially if you’re mentally challenged or leaning toward cognitive decline and keep forgetting to open the top damper!)  This byproduct of wood heat floats through every room eventually filtering down to leave its inevitable calling card.  So not only do we “accidentally” add to the dirt load in our homes, we also “purposefully” do the same thing.  (I’m beginning to lean toward that insanity theory.  Do you agree?)

So, that’s the story of dirt in Maine: Mud Season, foot traffic, and wood heat.  We’ve learned to live with it, and we don’t seem able to live without it, no matter how much we grumble and complain.  But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  They’re now saying that the present trend toward spotless living is creating tendencies toward allergies, and that dirt “immunizes” children from future hypersensitivities.  So maybe that’s what I’ll tell my next set of visitors when I see that look of amazement followed by repulsion as they enter in my doorway one fine Mud Season morning.  I’m looking after the well-being of my family.  And if they like, they can do their own families a favor and scoop some up to bring some home with them, too.  After all, we Mainers like to share the bounty, and there’s plenty for everyone.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Essay # 9 – In-Class Process Essay - Tools


Essay # 9 – In-Class Process Essay

Tools

I love tools!  Gardening tools and carpentry tools especially.  My gardening tools I’ve had for years, and each has become almost a part of my physical body when I choose just the right one for my gardening task, but it’s only been a few years since I learned the enjoyment of carpentry, and, oh, there are so many wonderful tools still to explore!  Having already settled on the perfect gardening tools, how do I now fulfill my carpentry tool need?  I’ve come to realize that tool acquisition entails 3 factors: need, knowledge, and purchase (not necessarily in that order…)

Generally, as you’re working on that big project, the point comes when things aren’t working as planned.  That can mean different things to different people and even to the same person at different times.  A case in point was when I was struggling to hold up and hammer on a trim board destined to hang above my son’s long closet doorway.  Right in the midst of that particular project, while I was going into contortions trying to get that first darn nail hammered into the right spot, so the board would end up level and centered; I got a phone call;  good excuse to take a break and rethink this project.  It happened to be a carpenter I knew who asked why I was huffing and puffing.  When I explained what I was trying to do, he just laughed and said, “That’s what air guns are for.  Pop!  It’s in place.”  Now, I wasn’t going to stop my project, jump into the car and buy the nearest air gun, but the seed had been planted in my brain.  I had 7 more closets to do, eventually, never mind the doorways and window trims.  That sure would be handy…  A need had been determined, and in this case the knowledge of just what I needed had been decided.

Other times, you know the need, and you have to search for the solution.  Books are usually my first line of defense when I lack the knowledge of what’s available and am actually looking for an answer.  I’m a book-lover, as well as a tool-lover, though most of my books could actually count as tools.  They are generally how-to and reference books, since I taught myself most of what I know.  In those books are often solutions to problems.  (Did you know there is a nifty little “siding tool” to zip along vinyl siding to both unlock and lock a piece when it needs to be put on or replaced?)  The internet is another source of information that can easily be accessed from home, and which I use regularly.  Then there are stores.  Hardware stores, whether they’re the local mom-and-pop type or the bigger box-type, have knowledgeable people available to tell you not only what you need, but how to use it.  Then, being curious and always on the lookout for interesting ways of doing things, I sometimes find solutions before I even have a problem!  I remember watching my son’s scoutmaster using a sliding miter saw for a project they were working on.  Nifty!  I didn’t need one then, but later, when I began my own journey into carpentry I remembered that tool and its uses, and eventually got one of my own.

So, the need has been determined, the solution has been decided.  Now, it’s time to make that purchase!  This can be the tricky part, unless you’re rich and can just go out and buy anything you want whenever you want to.  (And if so, can we become friends?  I’m sure we’ve got a lot in common…)  I’ve acquired my own tools in many ways, always trying to get a good deal, doing without until the optimal moment appears.  The absolute cheapest way to acquire tools is to get them for free, which though not common, can happen.  I’ve gotten some tools given to me, and gotten some tools from our old dump’s Bargain Barn, where people left usable stuff they didn’t need, and took home usable stuff they did need.  Those are usually small hand tools, but those are also the ones that get used the most.  The next best place is yard sales.  Yard sales contain treasures waiting to be found.  But, as with any treasure-hunting, it can eat up the hours.  Plus, it requires just the right combination of luck and timing or you can waste days that are needed for other projects. (Yet, that is how I eventually got an almost new framing air gun for $10, so that can be used to argue the point.)  Of course, regular sale-shopping is always an option, keeping an eye on the papers to see if that particular item you’ve been looking for finally goes down to the price you’re willing or able to pay.  The Day after Thanksgiving Sale has become my personal annual gift-to-myself sale.  I usually splurge and buy something I’ve really been wanting, but haven’t found used.  Sears and Home Depot often have terrific discounts early in the day, and thankfully, here in Maine we don’t have the ridiculous stampedes they have in more populated areas like New York City.  That’s where I got a set of 4 air guns with compressor for about the price of one, and where I bought that coveted sliding miter saw that I now use regularly. 

So, that’s how I’ve been working on my tool collection – determining the need, finding a solution, and making the acquisition, but not always in that order.  Some tools are just so cheap (especially if free) they can’t be left there all alone; you’ve just got to give them a good home.  Then later the immense usefulness of that prize is discovered, when finally just the right project needing just the right tool becomes the project for the day.  My own tool collection is nowhere near complete.  And I really should stay away from places like Home Depot where my mouth drools as I see almost endless possibilities for more projects needing more tools.  So maybe it’s a good thing my wallet is small, or else I’d have to add another addition onto my house …




Sunday, April 22, 2012

Essay # 8 - Effect Essay - Homeschooling


Essay # 8 - Effect Essay

Homeschooling

The homeschooling movement has taken our public schools by surprise.  Instead of quietly dying out or falling apart, with public schools picking up the pieces of broken educational dreams, it has steadily pushed forward, going against the tide of modern educational philosophy,  forcing public schools to adapt to this new trend in learning.  Having homeschooled all four of my children through high school, with two already graduated from college and two now attending college, I can see many advantages of homeschooling. But, before beginning, I want it in the records that I do not believe homeschooling is the ONLY way, nor is it the RIGHT way for everyone.  It is just ONE way, which has many beneficial results, among which are the positive effects it has on education, socialization, and family life.

Education is the most obvious reason many people choose to home school, and education is also the easiest effect to measure.  As more and more homeschooled children are entering into and succeeding in college, universities have become aware of the educational excellence of these children.  Many colleges are actively seeking homeschoolers for their student enrollment. This is a strange phenomenon, considering that many parents, including myself, have never finished college themselves.  I remember going to a home school conference when my oldest was perhaps a junior in high school.  One of the speakers was a university admissions counselor.  She explained that one reason why homeschoolers do so well in college is that in public school, 70% of the schooling is taught in the classroom and 30% is learned by the student at home, whereas in college, 30% is teaching and 70% is self-learning.  Home school moms are too busy to spend a large amount of time teaching, so home school kids learn at an early age to work on their own, which in this case has a positive outcome. 

Another benefit of homeschooling is socialization.  This may sound strange because those opposed to homeschooling often cite this as a negative attribute.  For me, this was my original reason for wanting to home school.  In fact, I wanted to home school before I even knew it had been invented.  I had my own memories of how mean kids can be to each other, and how attending school tends to divide kids by age, grade, ability, and sex.  Homeschooled kids, on the other hand, grow up without being bullied or being made fun of, and without negative peer pressure.  Instead, in general, they grow up with a healthy sense of self-esteem, and with the ability to relate to people of all ages, sexes, and aptitudes.  I remember going to a dog show with my oldest daughter.  We stopped to talk to one of the handlers who then asked if she was homeschooled.  This caught us by surprise, since dogs had been the topic of conversation, not schooling.  She commented that my daughter was comfortable talking to adults, which is common among homeschoolers, though unusual in the average traditionally-schooled children.  In fact, in any home school gathering, children can be seen participating in activities spanning the entire spectrum of social opportunities and having fun doing so, an ability that will be a benefit throughout life.

The final effect, a strong family life, is maybe the most important result of schooling at home.  Instead of children spending most of their waking hours away from the home, growing apart from the nuclear unit, they spend time within the family, forming strong bonds of work, play, and friendship. They learn valuable lessons on morality, work ethics, and faith.  Since the family is in control of the child’s education, parents can choose to allow time off from school for important holidays, such as birthdays, or they can choose to go on extended field trips to exotic countries like Australia, on shorter trips to other parts of the US like Washington DC, or on mini-field trips to see the hidden insides of the local bank or dentist’s office.  Schooling is in the hand of the parents, who usually try to instill a love of learning in their children, knowing that if they succeed, it will open endless doorways for the future.  In our family, homeschooling gave us the opportunity to take care of my mom in NY for 6 weeks while my dad was recovering from heart surgery, something that would have been more difficult if not impossible if my children had been going to traditional schools.  And I for one have thoroughly enjoyed the excuse of homeschooling as a reason for visiting innumerable historical and educational sights and museums with my kids.  We have worked together, played together, prayed together, and stayed together, something that has become rare in today’s society.

For our family, homeschooling was a good choice.  It provided my children with a good educational foundation, the ability to relate to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds, and a strong sense of family.  It makes me glad to see how happy and well-adjusted they have become.  And I am pleased to know that at least some, if not all, of my children plan to continue this new tradition of homeschooling in their own families in the future.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Essay #7 - Process Essay - Becoming a Black Belt

Essay #7 - Process Essay

Becoming a Black Belt

Walking down the streets of Harlem, in the early hours of morning.  Groups of black men watching as I meandered through the streets on the first day of class at City College of New York, trying to find my way to my new school.  A police car gracious enough to follow next to me during the most heart-pounding section of my wanderings eased my fears.  This is just one situation that produced in me a desire for safety, a desire to be able to protect myself in any situation.  Ironically, it was only after moving to the peaceful countryside of Maine that I had the opportunity to study martial arts.  I was no longer in an urban environment, but I had brought some of my fears with me from New York, and I jumped at the chance to learn Tae Kwon Do.  Little did I know then what would be involved in the process of becoming a black belt – learning a new martial arts language, practicing and progressing through the ranks, and finally suffering the ordeal that is simply called the black belt test.


Learning a martial art is much like learning to read.  A child must first learn to recognize the letters of the alphabet and to remember their names, and then he or she progresses to putting the letters together, first in order to understand words, then sentences, and finally books.  In the same way, I had to begin by studying the very basic moves and the names of those simple motions, progressing to simple combinations of those moves, then to more complicated forms, and finally to advanced techniques.  Being an “older” student, I remember my kids making fun of me as I struggled with that first martial arts “sentence,” the very basic, first form of Tae Kwon Do, Kata #1.  They thought it was hysterical when their mom repeated the words of each motion into a tape recorder, several times over, and then ran the extension cord outside where there was enough room to go through the routine over, and over, and over again until I finally got it right.  That was my first sentence, the toughest one to learn, but I did it, and it provided the foundation for many moves to come.
 

The next 4 years were spent learning many more Tae Kwon Do techniques.  Each martial art has its own particular emphasis and style.  Tae Kwon Do means the way of the foot and fist.  It uses powerful blocks, strikes, and kicks as a means of self-defense.  It progresses through 10 levels of expertise, each level denoted by a different colored belt, culminating in black belt.  As I tend to do with anything I endeavor, I gave it my all, practicing wherever and whenever I could.  Starting at an older age was definitely a disadvantage.  My teenage daughter, who began taking classes at the same time, was a natural.  She learned things effortlessly and executed each move to perfection in no time.  For me, however, it was a different story.  I had to struggle and fail miserably, struggle and fail with a little more dignity, struggle and almost succeed, struggle and succeed poorly, then finally struggle and succeed well enough to proceed to the next rank, only to begin the process all over again in an effort to continue on the path toward black belt.


At long last, after years of struggling, the day eventually came when my instructor felt I was finally ready to test for my black belt.  Knowing how strenuous the test would be and how little natural muscle I had on my long and lean body, I had been pushing myself for 2 years to build up endurance and upper body strength (an area where I was severely un-gifted.)  That proved to be a really good thing, since the week of my test I was sick for several days, healthy for one, and then suffered a bout of insomnia the night before my big test (a problem I’ve had to deal with for many years before and since.)  When I arrived for my test, I felt more ready for bed than for anything else, but that was not to be.  The black belt test consists of a long, arduous series of events, encompassing everything learned since training began, as well as more push-ups and crunches than seems humanly possible to complete, culminating in continuous sparring with 4-6 different, energetic  black belts.  I didn’t know how I could possibly pass, but there was no way I wasn’t going to do my absolute best to succeed.  Thankfully, right before we began, one of the head judges gave me the best advice possible: whenever feasible, between every move if need be, relax completely.  I took that advice to heart, using every available moment when not in the act of executing a move to rest.  And it worked!  4 ½ hours later I had completed all my requirements, and although my body had been through the worst workout of a lifetime and I even had blood blisters on the bottom of my feet, I felt great!  And, of course, I had that new black belt around my waist to wear as a badge of honor and achievement.


That was 10 years ago, and since that time I’ve been teaching Tae Kwon Do myself, sharing what I’ve learned with others as well as enjoying the excuse to keep up my own skills.  It’s been fun to be part of the almost-hidden, mysterious martial arts community, and to have had an opportunity to go to Canada to help judge a black belt test there.  While I haven’t needed to use the skills I’ve learned in real life applications, it’s definitely made me more aware of potentially dangerous situations as well as ways to avoid putting myself into those situations. I certainly feel that all the learning, and trying, and doing was well worth the effort, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn, and try, and do even more things in the future.










Friday, March 30, 2012

#6 In-Class Example Essay - Hair

#6 In-Class Example Essay

Hair

Hair: animal hair, people hair, fake fur, feathers.  It all is similar, yet it all is different.  Hair has many purposes.  Most hair covers bodies for a very practical purpose: protection from the elements.  It can keep one warm in winter, and protect from excessive rays of sun in summer.  Bird feathers have an additional purpose, that of being used to attract a prospective mate.  Whatever its use, whatever its type, hair is an ever-present part of our everyday lives.  In our family, three types of hair are especially apparent - indoor pet hair, outdoor horse hair, and, of course, people hair.

Being a family that loves animals, we have an overabundance of hairy critters occupying our home.  I love to have a cat sitting on my lap or on my belly as I lay in bed, purring away while I run my fingers through the soft fur.  And although the dogs don’t get bathed as often as they should, they keep reasonably clean by rolling in the snow, grass, or leaves, and I don’t mind washing the layer of dirt off that is left behind after a good scrub.  Our oldest cat, Shadow, is now 18, and his fur, like the rest of his body, has shown signs of wear and tear.  The thick, shiny, silver-lined gray hair has become dull and limp; the skin underneath flaky in spots, covering a sparse frame.  But we don’t tell him he’s changed; we don’t want to hurt his feelings.  So he still thinks he’s as beautiful as always, and beneath it all, he definitely is.  With 3 cats and 2 dogs, all with long fur, except one, our house is full of pet hair.  But I don’t mind.  Some seasons are worse than others; that’s when it seems you can clean corners every five minutes and it looks the same.  But thankfully, we live where we can at least let the dogs out for most of the day during shedding season, which is a help.  It’s funny, but our only short-hair animal, a cat named Smudge, is the worst culprit of all.  His shedding season seems to last from March until January.  (Yes, that means we have a total of one month when we can pet him without cat hair sticking to our hands, filling the air and our noses with cat fur.)  We must REALLY love animals to put up with that… and we do.

Outdoors, our horse population has shrunk from three to one, making it more manageable, but less fun.  Horses definitely do have a shedding season.  It starts early, before it actually warms up, and for some reason, seems to start on the face and move back and down from there.  Our present horse doesn’t have much white on his face, but our old horse, Danny Boy, had a very wide white blaze, a striking contrast to his chestnut body.  That blaze was very unusual.  The hair there would be several times as dense as anywhere else on his body.  You could actually feel the difference as you pet him.  And when springtime came, that blaze was the first place to shed out.  Petting his face, which he loved, sent horse hair flying everywhere.  A person had to be careful that it didn’t completely cover Danny’s eyes or lodge in his nose, not to mention what it did to the human involved.  And when the rest of a Danny Boy’s shedding body caught up to his face, the ground was so covered with  horse hair, it looked like he’d been ruptured, leaving his earthly garb behind.  It’s surprising, but horsehair has actually been quite useful through the years.  It’s been used for filling mattresses and as a binder in plaster in old houses.  In fact, a house I am renovating has horse-hair plaster, which is quite strong.  While tearing down an old wall, you could easily tell the difference between the part that had the horse hair and the part that was added later, which didn’t.  In fact, the wall needed replacing simply because the non-horsehair part didn’t hold up!  So horsehair might be a nuisance, but if times get desperate, we might have to start putting it to good use again.

Pet hair, horse hair, people hair.  What about that people hair?  When I bought that old house I’m renovating, I was told the plumbing had problems, which was quite true.  The previous owners were a large family with 3 teenage girls, and two younger girls, all with long, straight hair.  A big bottle of Draino made especially for hair helped with some of the clogged drains.  Others required more drastic measures.  When removing an old claw-foot tub during renovation, we discovered a wad of hair, much like a horse’s tail coming out of the initial drain pipe and going down the main tube.  It was long!  Now I wonder what the other drains would look like if I took them all apart…  In my own family, we aren’t blessed with long, thick hair for the most part, so I don’t have the same problems.  My only thick-haired daughter is now married and gone, taking with her the hair she used to leave behind as a token to remember her by.  But when I go to her house, I usually help clean the bathroom, with an abundance of black, curly hair, because unfortunately, she’s afraid of spiders and those clusters of hairs look too much like arachnids for her to deal with. 

And so, hair is a part of life, whether it’s in your own home, outside in the barn, in homes you visit, or on your own head.  Some people are possessed by their hair, continually occupied with keeping up the fa├žade it helps create.  They are much like the birds who fluff and preen their feathers, trying to look their best to make the best catch.  Some prefer long hair, some short; some with thick hair have it thinned, some with thin hair use products to make it thick.  Some with curly hair use straighteners, while others with straight hair use curling irons to change their looks.  Some dark-haired beauties lighten their hair, while other blondes change their hair color completely.  I often wonder why more people don’t like their own hair, especially when others would give almost anything for the same look.  But, for better or worse, hair makes a statement.  It says something about the person sporting that mop atop their head.  And that, I think, is the answer to my own wonderings.  And now, I wonder, what does my own hair say about me?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Essay #4 - In Class Contrast Essay – Rewritten

Essay #4 - In Class Contrast Essay – Rewritten

Roads

Life is full of roads.  Some are actual, visible roads, like the road I drive on to go to town or to anywhere.  Others are inside and invisible, the choices made as life takes its own twists and turns.  Decisions made when cross-sections appear, sometimes out of nowhere, shape the course and direction of those roads.  And those are the ones that really matter.  In my own life, I can think of one major decision that changed my life forever, a choice I made 30 years ago, one I have never, ever regretted.  That choice was to finally give up, give in, and give my heart and life to Jesus Christ. 

I remember growing up, going to Catholic school, attending Catholic mass, because I had to.  Those were the rules.  If I didn’t go to mass, I’d go to hell.  That makes an easy decision, though I didn’t actually have a choice.  I even went to Catholic high school.  Mass was right there in the chapel, no excuses.  But my senior year I switched schools and went to a New York City public school – culture shock as to academic expectations (from high to none) and morals (from “be a good girl” to “if it feels good, do it”), not to mention the fact that in Catholic school, if you didn’t return your schoolbooks in primo condition, you didn’t go on to the next grade; while in public school, books were used as footballs or left at home, maybe forever.  That was the beginning of the end for me.  College just clinched the deal; and for years, though I believed in God, he was that “higher power” somewhere, whatever you wanted to call him – Allah, Buddha, the Great Spirit, etc.  It was all the same to me.  He was up there; I was down here, almost “never the twain to meet.”

When I became a Christian (was “born again” in Christian-ese), strange things began to happen.  I began to have an insatiable appetite for Bible reading.  What had once been a dead book, propped up in a dusty corner of my bookshelf, became a life-giving, awe-inspiring love letter just to me.  Though I had gone to mass almost daily for the first 17 years of my life, and though I had attended Catholic school for 12 years, counting kindergarten, I knew very little about the Bible and I had no interest in learning more.  It wasn’t that important compared to the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church that I’d had to learn, and that was more than enough for me.  After I became a Christian, I became absolutely fascinated with the amazing stories of the Old Testament (many of which I would have left out had I been the one writing The Book.  I would have sugar-coated it to make everything more appealing to the general public, not to mention that I hate to make anyone look bad.)  But those parts gave me hope.  Those ancient warriors of the faith were ordinary, fallible human beings like me, not holier-than-thou superheroes as the Catholic Church portrays their saints.  And the story of Jesus himself is almost beautiful enough to make one cry.  I was a young mom with a two-year-old son at that point.  There was no way I’d give up my child for a sinner, no matter how hard he begged.  But God willingly gave up his son, his only, only son – for me.  And not only for me but for every other rotten human being ever born or ever to be born.  It was just mind-boggling.

Then there was how you “got saved” and what was expected afterwards.  That was an alien concept.  Those were strange words.  I was never drowning, or lost, or in danger of falling off a cliff.  I didn’t need to “be saved.”  Christians sure do have a strange vocabulary.  In Catholic school, we had a whole invisible rule book.  We had to go to Mass on Sunday (later Saturday evening became a suitable substitute.)  We couldn’t eat meat on Fridays (though later that was also changed.  I always wondered what happened to all those poor souls in hell or purgatory.  Were they immediately released or did they still have to take the punishment for their crimes?)  I remember the horror of my mother when she realized it was Friday and she had just served us delicious bacon.  Had it been open, she would have made a beeline for the confessional to ease her suffering conscience.  But when friends of mine became Christians, they didn’t have to do anything… weird.  They just had to accept the free gift of “salvation through Jesus Christ.”  Again, strange words – hadn’t a clue what they meant.  They also didn’t have to go to church at all.  There wasn’t even a hell consequence, yet they went every Sunday, twice a day in fact, and Wednesdays.  They were strange folk.  After I became a Christian, I’ll admit, I didn’t go to church either.  My husband was a hermit, and at that time in my life I followed in his footsteps.  But I read, no I devoured, my Bible for hours every day.  I wanted to learn everything there was to know about my new faith.  Later, much, much later, when my oldest son began looking toward college, we finally started going to church.  It wasn’t for the purest of reasons either.  I’d raised my kids with a strong faith, and he decided he wanted to go to a Christian college.  In filling out the applications, it asked questions like: how often do you attend church?  Every Sunday?  Sundays and Wednesdays?  Every time the church doors are open?  Oops… there was no place for “Never.”  They also wanted a reference from his pastor or youth group leader.  It was finally time.  We found a local church where different friends attended, and I was hooked.  I finally understood why those first friends went to church when they didn’t even have to.  Though I probably exceeded the Bible knowledge of most of the congregation by then (other than the pastor), there are some things that aren’t in the Good Book, or actually they are, but actions speak louder than words.  And I began to learn those things.  I’ve now been a Christian for 30 years, attending church for 15 of those years (though not all in the same church).  I now find myself going to church on Sundays, not for the short, mandatory ½ hour as the Catholic Church demanded which I reluctantly obeyed, but for 3 hours, willingly, under no obligation to attend.  Plus I’m part of a weeknight in-home Bible Study which will celebrate its 6th year together in April.  I now consider my church my family, and I‘m glad God found a way to steer us to the right path.

During all those years while growing up, attending Catholic Church and school, I managed to effectively separate church and life.  It wasn’t that I was awful, just a bit schizophrenic.  I could easily compartmentalize my life into two sections: life and church.  They didn’t seem to interfere much with each other.  Those Catholic rules were more about church attendance, confession, and holy days.  Life didn’t happen much at those times.  But the Bible, that was another matter.  It said scary things like if one person lusts after another, it’s the same as committing adultery.  To be angry without just cause at another is like murder.  And God hates lies.  Plus there was the novel idea of being nice to those who hurt you, repaying evil with good.  These were everyday sorts of things, hard to separate from normal life.  It also doesn’t give many outs for marriage, just 2 that I know of: adultery by the other partner, and if an unbeliever wants to leave, let him go.  Every marriage has its struggles, and my husband and I married young.  I was only 19.  We’ve had our share of disagreements.  While most of our other, non-believing friends’ marriages bit the dust one by one, divorce was no longer an option and we learned to deal with our differences instead of looking for a way out.  Faith and life were no longer separate, but one and the same.

Making the decision to follow Christ changed the roadmap of my life in many ways.  I know that some people can point to the day, the place, and the time when they accepted Christ for who he is and for what he did for them.  I can’t.  I can give you a year, 1982, but only because my firstborn son was 2 at the time.  For me, it was a slow process.  God had to work on me slowly because he knows I can be stubborn.  But he was very patient, working in my life as I was willing and able to take it.  Eventually, instead of crying, “Uncle,” and giving up, I cried, “Father,” and ran into his huge, welcoming arms, like a little child running into the arms of the one who loves her best, who knows her best, and who wants only the best for her.  It was a decision that changed my life forever, and I hate to even imagine what I would be like had I chosen a different path.