Try explaining a pay phone to your 8 year old

Today I welcome my friend Elise, who blogs over at Everyday Goddess. She's an amazing friend. Enjoy...

The other day my 8 year-old daughter and I were clearing off her desk. There were a few coins, pennies, dimes, and nickels mostly. This would have been an important find when I was her age. I would have spent it all to form quite a stash of penny Bazooka bubble gum. Or I could have stuck it in my backpack to be prepared for an emergency pay telephone call. I mentioned both of those uses to my daughter. She gave me that bemused expression which means, what are you talking about mother?

Once upon a time, dear child of the new millennium, cell phones did not exist! Even in surburbia where we live, street corners had what was known as a "public telephone booth." It was like a glass closet with an attached to the wall stool, a ledge to hold your things, a local white pages telephone book wired to the ledge and the piece de resistance, the pay telephone.

The first ones were rotary dialed. I believe Grandma and Grandpa have a rotary dial phone in the basement. And yes, that's right, Dad has one in his house. Anyway, the person needing to make a phone call could step inside this "telephone booth" and call someone. They would first have to insert a coin. A dime was all that was necessary when I was your age. I remember a funny way to answer the home phone was by saying, "It's your dime, start talking."

My astute child asked: "You mean people could only be at home or in a "telephone booth" to call their friends? And they only had three minutes before they had to add in more money? Who is the "operator?" What do you mean there was only one ringtone? And everyone's sounded the same? How did you know if the phone call was for you? You couldn't program in a special ringtone for each person in your contact phone book? What if you wanted to play a game? How did people take pictures or videos? How did they download music? How could they check their calendars? Or the time? Are you just making this up? You know I wasn't born yesterday mom!"

Oh yes you were my lovely!


Had I known I was going to be doing so much learning today, I would have studied harder.

Things we learned at the (stone) house of vodka today.

1. When you have a new kitty that is very rambunctious, odds are great that he will knock over not one but two large potted plants. (And you KNOW where all the dirt from said pots ended up. I knew I should have taken the shop-vac.)

2. If your son goes out sled-riding with the Do-Good Gang, he will of COURSE take his phone with him. That phone will starts its adventure in a pile of snow, and will end up in a bowl of rice on your kitchen counter. (We will be conducting services at 9:00 a.m., if it doesn’t survive the night. In lieu of flowers please vote on babble.)

3. When you can’t find the kitty because he knows in his trouble for knocking over your PLANTS, try looking on your computer. (He’s probably emailing all his friends looking for asylum.)

4. One of the do-good boys discovered that if you try to run down the hardwood steps from the second floor to the living room with shoes that are covered in salt, you will slip and bounce down the last five steps, landing painfully on your bottom. (Call me crazy, but I’m guessing he’ll be sore for quite some time. And now I know how they ran out of salt. See #6)

5. When you allow your daughter to take your 4-wheel drive SUV to run errands before she goes to college, she will probably ignore your request that she NOT take the highway to the mall. And, when she enters said highway, even in 4-Wheel drive, she will engage in a slide and spin that will take her across the highway and spin her around several times. I can tell you right now, that there was surely a guardian angel riding with her today, and he went above and beyond the call of duty. (I am still reeling from this. And so is she.)

6. When your son tells you that he did indeed salt the driveway, check it before you pile the kids into your car to take them to their dad’s house. Odds are great that he ran out of salt on the flat part of the driveway outside the small garage and never made it to the 90 degree incline that immediately shoots you on to the busy, winding, narrow, SNOW COVERED road. (Attention Mr. Common Sense- you need to make a return visit. It appears The Golden Boy was hiding on the day you made your delivery.) And yes, we slid down the driveway onto the road, honking ALL THE WAY in the hopes that the tan Volvo heading towards us would hear and see us before making contact. He barely missed us. I am still shaking.

I’m here to tell you that today’s lessons will be felt for quite some time to come. However, Sassy’s lesson reminded us that each day, each moment is a gift. I am wrapping my gifts in my arms tonight, and thinking of those who are not as fortunate. (I love you sis. With all that I am.)

I’m also leaving a little something out for that guardian angel of ours. She's had a busy, busy day.


An Ode to Miss Quill

As I continue to kick some butt in my classroom, and in my own life, I am thankful for my friends who are coming to my rescue. Thank you, Empress.

This post is written for all the great teachers out there, that go beyond their job description. Teachers like you make a difference every day, to the kind of kid like me, that I used to be. Thank you for changing lives.


English is not my first language: Spanish is. I was in grade school in the early 60's, where a non English speaking child was placed in what was then called "Special C" classes, short for Special Curriculum.

I spent my day in a classroom with all types of kids, with all types of needs. I did a lot of playing, mostly, with Colorforms. I loved Colorforms. I had taught myself to read at home, with my grandmother's Spanish books, but there were no books in Spanish at school, so I colored a lot. A lot.

There were numbers, math. That I could do. Math, I was good at math. You didn't need English to do math. My days were spent with unusual children, with me, at an open floor space--there were no desks--playing with Colorforms, and doing random math, and coloring. I went through coloring pages like popcorn.

Aside from not speaking English as well as the others, l also had odd lunches: papaya, mango, goat cheese. I was odd. No other way to put it. But, also, smart. What I did not know yet, was that I was smart.

My kindergarten teacher was happy with me, quietly in the corner. Ditto for the first grade teacher. I never caused anyone any problems, any extra work, any anything for anybody. I cannot remember the names of my kindergarten or first grade teachers.

Then, in second grade, I met Miss Quill.

Miss Quill.

I could say her name forever. From the beginning, my new second grade teacher, looked at me. She actually made eye contact with me on a daily basis. Her eyes were green, a hazelly green. I can still picture them. Miss Quill brought in books for me, she brought in math games for me, she read to me. She even came to my house to pick me up to take me to the library, where we'd pick out books in English for me.

She would have me over to her house, where she'd spend time with me doing art projects.

For Christmas, she gave me my very favorite Beatle, in stuffed doll form. It was Paul.

I grow misty eyed when I think of Miss Quill. Of course, the year ended, and I went on to third grade. I don't remember the teacher's name. All would have been the same for me again, with me in a corner, quietly doing math problems except that this time, I started out the school year with a head full of English books that had been read to me, memories of trips to the library, and art projects hanging on the walls of my bedroom.

I was sent for placement testing at the start of the school year, and in one day, I was pulled out of the "Special C" classroom and placed into the gifted/talented classroom. This was the 60's, there were no IEP's, no parent/teacher conference; things were just done. Like that.

I don't know what happened to Miss Quill after second grade. I just can't remember. But, Miss Quill? I love you. Do you know that? I wish I had known to tell you. I'm telling you now, and I'm hoping the universe somehow gets this message to you: I love you.


It's time to steer the boat in another direction. Hang on.

Most of the days I spend in kindergarten are filled with laughter, wonder, curiosity, snacks, singing, dancing, playing, reading, writing, a great sense of satisfaction and then more laughter.

Today was not one of those days.

I’ve been teaching for 22 years, and I’ve learned many things. One of them is that by the time I have the kids trained to do incredible things, it’s the LAST DAY OF SCHOOL. Then, I’m forced to begin all over again. It’s like I’m starring in Groundhog’s Day without the big lucrative salary.

I had a feeling that it might be a difficult day today when Frank was brought into the classroom (at 8:40) by a first grade teacher whose room is on the OTHER SIDE OF THE SCHOOL. She found him, surprisingly, doing handstands down the hallway. The OTHER hallway.

“Frank, were you doing handstands in the hallway?”

“Yep. Well, NO. Okay. Yep.” And then he proceeded to tell a long and involved story about something I don’t even remember because he talks ALL DAY LONG and sometimes I have to tune him out.

And suffice to say that was the best part of the day.

I spent the better part of the day re-directing three other friends as they broke most (okay, ALL) of our classroom rules. I found myself at my breaking point. And to be honest, I have a pretty high tolerance.

As the bell rang and the children flew out of school, I sat at my table with my head in my hands. Ms. Perky came to check on me, and as I recounted the events of the day I will not deny that a few tears were shed. And not by her.

It felt good to go through the events and the difficulties, I think because it helped me pinpoint who, what and where. And then I started planning.

I have learned another important thing in this journey of mine. I’ve learned that when the children are acting out; when they are breaking rules and interfering in their own learning and that of others, something must be done.

I’ve learned that if I can’t change or fix what the child is doing, then I must change what I am doing.

I have to change. I have to change what I am doing, so that they can be successful.

And so tonight I plan. Tonight I think, I brainstorm, I search for new activities and new ways to help these children, and I remind myself that tomorrow is a new day. I remind myself that they all have incredible gifts, and I remember the many things I love about them.

And guess what? What happened today and what will happen tomorrow and the days that follow? THAT is where I am earning my keep. That is what you all are paying me for.

I accept the challenge. (Just pass me an Advil and a cocktail first, would ya????)

Rinse. and Repeat.

It's Tuesday.

It's cold.

And so as a pick me up I thought I'd post this. AGAIN. Don't forget to watch whole thing. And you all always do what the teacher says, right? Right.

Now, let's get out there and kick our own @(#*#&@ today.


I sure DO have a prescription...

My mother had a gaggle of brothers and sisters. (Nine that lived to adulthood, to be exact.) It was common knowledge that my grandfather used to say every time he hung his pants on the bedpost, they ended up with another child.

One of my lovely aunts, who may or may not be in her late 70’s, has just gotten the hang of gmail. And when I say gotten the hang of gmail, I mean she forwards me every funny email she gets.

Sure, I love to laugh, but who has time to read forwarded emails all day??

At first I was just deleting them, but then I read one the other day that was entitled, “Divorce vs. Murder.” Considering my current situation, I decided to read it.

It was @(#* funny. Here it is!

A nice, calm and respectable lady went into the pharmacy, walked up to the pharmacist, looked straight into his eyes, and said, I'd like to buy some cyanide."

The pharmacist asked, "Why in the world do you need


The lady replied, "I need it to poison my husband."

The pharmacist's eyes got big and he explained, "I can't give you cyanide to kill your husband, that's against the law! I'll lose my license! They'll throw both of us in jail! All kinds of bad things will happen. Absolutely not! You CANNOT have any cyanide!"

The lady reached into her purse and pulled out a picture of her

husband in bed with the pharmacist's wife.

The pharmacist looked at the picture and said, "You didn't tell me you had a prescription."



Looks like SOMEONE found a pot of gold...

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I go to the ATM to get money from my checking account at the end of the month, I usually have about $10.00 in it. Or less.

Today I went to the ATM for milk and kitty litter. (Apparently Sassy used the last bag to get her car out of her dad's ice-covered driveway. She also neglected to inform me of this before she left town for a few days.)

I rolled my window down and noticed an ATM receipt sticking out of the machine. I grabbed it before it could blow away and took a peek.

Someone had made a withdrawal from their checking account. A checking account that has a balance of $30,218.96



Holy mother of all that is holy.

My balance? $23.59. That would be twenty-three one dollar bills.

(Now be honest, does anyone out there actually have that kind of money at the end of the month?)


If I wasn't so busy teaching, I could write even more gems down.

Frank was sitting at my table coloring this morning (8:40 and I had already assigned him the special seat) when I asked a question.

"It sound like you have a cold! Are you sick?"

"Naw," he said, coloring furiously, "I'm not sick. Boogers just clog up my holes and make me talk funny."

Try sitting through that with a straight face.


Learning - the Sweet and the Sour.

The Top Ten “Things I’ve Learned” in the last 51 days.

1. The grandmother that works in the nail salon down the road shaves her face with a straight razor when she is sitting at her table waiting for customers. (Without applying shaving cream. And sure, it might have been a Gillette disposable, but oh MAN.)

2. If you follow the directions, you can set up your internet modem, router and cable TV boxes all by yourself. (You heard me.)

3. If you follow the directions you can go to Lowe's, buy a logical replacement and replace the broken handle on your toilet all by yourself. (Thank you Mrs. Jones for that tool kit you gave me for Christmas five years ago.)

4. If you follow the directions, you can bait and set nine mouse-traps that will properly break up the house party that occurs in the middle of the night. (Sure, you may end up with a few sore fingers but no pain, blah, blah, blah.)

5. It will take Sassy all of 2 minutes to inadvertently add a password to your wireless modem thingy. It will take you 2.3 hours and several million phone calls to countries you have never heard of, before finally speaking to a cool guy from the cable company that will help you reset the dang thing yourself.

6. It took Frank 87 days to call me mom. I think it MIGHT have been the first time he was speechless all year. (Oh, and I learned that I have to monitor him more closely at Free Play. It seems he recorded “The Naked Song” onto the 'record yourself' button in the KidPix Program. Oh sure, interrogating him was tons of fun, but honestly….)

7. Zumba class is not meant for a 51 year-old woman with old creaky gymnast knees. (I’m sticking with the circuit training after school and the weight room. And just ignore the aroma of Icy Hot.)

8. I’ve discovered the reason why ladies who live alone might become cat hoarders. (My particular reason is particularly energetic and has been having tea parties with the mice. They’re bff’s.)

9. After writing a newspaper column for 4 years, I am still waiting until the NIGHT before to begin it. Yeah. I’m in college ALL over again. (Sans the tight *$$ and hot boyfriend.)

10. I’ve decided that if each of my 1809 followers sent me $10, I wouldn’t lay awake each night wondering how I’m going to pay my bills, and I MIGHT be able to make an offer on this house that I’m renting. I’m just sayin’. After all, who would keep all these (@*#&$ mice company? (Pass the cheese.) (And, call me crazy, but I DO think that's a paypal button over there. Isn't there a billionaire among one of you?)

(Does anyone else shave their face? For real?) (Oh, and a vote over at babble is just as good. xxx)


What Not to Do.

We have many different tools and tricks we use to coax these darling children to read. One strategy is using "nonsense" words to help the children with their sounding out skills.

However, I will never use these two words with Frank.

At least not after yesterday.

"HEY! I hewd that word before!!!"

Oh Sweet Lord.


Wordless Tuesday... Kind Of.

The recipe for healing may or may not include the following items.

1. First, gather your friends together for a Friday afternoon meeting.

2. Share with them the violet story, and the violet that is still blooming. (Oh, and the brown needlepoint pillow? My mother's work, as well.)

3. Visit the nearby Goodwill, where you will stumble upon treasures that will light up your new digs.
4. Add some outdoor creatures that have decided to keep you company on cold winter mornings and quiet afternoons. (Aren't they a lovely couple?)

5. Add some enticing contraptions that may or may not catch 9 mice. (Watch your fingers, and please ignore the band-aids on mine. p.s.)

6. Surprises in the mail from great friends will keep your spirits high. (The people at Starbucks have surely been wondering what happened to me.)

And the most important component in this recipe?? Cuddly companionship.


Sometimes when my lips move, they DO hear what I say.

Last week, I received this email from a parent.

Dear Mrs. Smythe,

I have to tell you that I loved hearing what Ava learned about Dr. Martian Luther King. (Yes, I said Martian.)

She shared about how “brown people don't have to go to the back of the line like they had to before Martian Luther King said they could go with the white people, as long as they get there first. You still can't cut because that would be rude.”

She may think he was a Martian, but she heard the message loud and clear. J

Reason 4,567 of why I teach.



Overheard at centers today:

"Where did Hong-Bo go??" asked Frank.

"Oh you know, E.S.L." said George.

"No," shouted Suzy, "It's P.S.L!"

"It's E.S.L!" George said again.

"It is not. It's P.S.L.!" said Suzy, with authority.

George looked at her like a forty-year-old exhausted with the conversation. "It's ESL. It's English as a Second Language. If it was PSL it would be Penglish as a second language. And that is just silly."

And they both resumed their coloring.


She's OBVIOUSLY gifted.

It was another crazy day in kindergarten yesterday, as the children are testing the boundaries and trying to remember if we have rules at ALL while in school. ( Sure, some ignore them anyway, but most of them try.)

Towards the end of the day I attempted to reign them in for a story by Jan Brett when Frank looked at me and asked, "Mrs. Smythe, did you get your hair cut???" That quieted the room.

"Hey!" shouted Stanley, "I knew somefing was differnt. Did you get a haircut??"

I looked at them and said, "No. I just styled it differently this morning. See, I just put it behind my ears like this," and I gently tucked the hair back behind my ears. "Why? Do I look like the weatherman again?"

"No!" shouted Suzy.

And then she looked at me intently and added, "It makes you look....younger!"

Oh she's good. She's REAL good. (And if I DID give grades, she'd be golden.)


Lessons that Bitchy and Sassy neglected to teach me. (aka Girls do NOT do these things.)

1. If you are late picking up your son to take him to basketball practice, he might be standing in the front yard writing his name in the snow. (With something yellow and I’m not talking about a pen.)

2. While riding to said basketball practice he might go on to describe an event in the bathroom that is something you do NOT need to hear described. Cheezus.

3. He might go on to tell you that he hasn’t brushed his teeth for three days. Proudly.

4. He will then ramble on for the last ten minutes of the ride about why he should not have gotten detention for pushing Jack’s books off his desk.

5. Then, as he is getting out of the car he might quickly ask you to take him to the store after said practice to get a birthday card for someone who is just a friend.

(A friend. Yeah, a friend who just happens to be his dad. He really DOES think I was born yesterday.)


I get by with a LOT of help from my friends...

I have been feeling better and better each day, thanks in NO small part to all of you. (Crap, you already know that, right?)

I have made a great new friend as of late, and her name is Lynn. She has made me laugh, has listened to me rant, and has kicked me in the *@@ when I needed it.

She also offered a guest post, which I am SO thankful for! And so, while I sit here in front of a fire and smile as my heart mends, I give you her offering. It made me smile- and I hope it does the same for you.

In which I discuss the gift of the magi

Both my girls had to read “The Gift of the Magi” for school and then write a paper on it. Because Keely and Andie are only 15 months apart, each year Andie ended up doing the exact same assignments that Keely had just done the previous year.

Although, this is often a mixed blessing, in some ways it can be loads of fun. This is one of the fun times.
 Andie had to read “The Gift of the Magi” for school and then write an essay on the character Jim who was Della’s husband. For those of you who haven’t read the story, it is a famous Christmas story by O’Henry and it goes like this: Jim and Della were quite poor but deeply in love. Della, who only has $1.87 wants to get her husband Jim a present. They both treasure two items that they own: Della’s hair and Jim’s gold watch. So basically the rest of the story unfolds as Della sells her hair to get a chain for Jims watch, and he, of course, sells his watch to buy her combs for her hair. The moral of the story is it’s better to give then to receive, but as Keely pointed out, both the characters of the story ended up screwed at the end so what’s the point?
At any rate, Andie was writing her essay and she asked Keely and myself to come up with a “title” to the essay. In yet another great example of “awesome parenting moments,” we came up with some terrific ideas. Here were the finalists:

1. Did you get a haircut?

2. Quit yankin’ my chain!

3. Slim Jim

4. The Crummy Christmas

5. Do you know the time?

By the time we finished yelling out all the possibilities, the three of us were cracking up and Andie was disgusted. Laughing, but still disgusted.

So, if you ever need any parenting help, I suggest you contact me immediately. I’m also available for birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.
 I’m just saying…

(visit my friend Sharon., if you have a moment, who is taking a new path.)


Her green thumb is reaching MIGHTY far...

My mother loved African violets.

She had a knack, people would say; a green thumb when it came to plants. She loved lily of the valley, wildflowers, tulips, daffodils, roses, daisies, Christmas cactuses; you name it and she could grow it.

We all knew that she had a special place in her heart for her violets.

I’m sure this was a bit frustrating for someone who was married to a member of the US Navy. We moved, and we moved often; but she always managed to move her florescent light and many of the plants she had collected and nurtured over the years.

On the other hand, I am incredibly happy in my garden only between the months of April and August. I live for the moment when my perennials peek their heads out of the earth, searching for those first rays of sun that will breathe life back into them. I enjoy the smell of dirt and the way my hands feel as I rip the weeds out of the garden. I know each and every plant that is scattered around the many gardens I’ve expanded, and smile in surprise as “volunteers” sprout up unexpectedly.

I have never, ever had any luck with African Violets.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try. Over the years I’ve sacrificed at least ten that were given to my by unsuspecting students and friends who were unaware of my talent for murdering violets.

I’ve had one for at least five years, a gift from a student who knew I loved flowers but apparently didn’t catch the “outdoor” part of my obsession.

It has lived, despite my best, great efforts to kill it. It hasn’t bloomed since the time I brought it home from school after our year-end celebration in 2007.

Guess what? It’s been blooming since I moved into this house, for 41 days to be exact.

I think I might have a roommate after all. One who is very good at nurturing African violets.

And her children.


I had no idea I could be in three places at once. I must be gifted.

I am thrilled to be over at Babble today, sharing tips on how to ruin your life. (Okay, Sara, here is the real link!)

The Babble piece was also picked up by Yahoo, who obviously don't know who I am. If you look hard enough, you'll see me there, with one or two of my closest friends. (Who really might not know who I am.)

And THEN, today, I have THESE tickets to give away. If you live in the NYC area, and love Thomas the Train, you have to check it out. (The Fancy Nancy package went to an adorable girl whose mother emailed me pics of her that were to DIE for. And lucky for her, Mr. Random loved them as well.) But hurry, I'll pick a winner Friday and hook you up with tickets!

And finally, I am spending the day helping Bitchy recuperate from a little minor surgery that might have involved a nasty mole, a scalpel and some stitches.

Even when they're 21, they still need their mommy.


Sassy hits one out of the park.

And I thought I might be lonely. (aka Sassy really does love me.)

However, when I said I needed a mousetrap, I think she misunderstood. (The mice are bigger than he is.)


Big, Throbbing Nuggets of Comfort

Have you met Anna? Do yourself a favor, and go see her. She is brilliant, hysterical, talented and just as normal as the rest of us.

Dear Vodka,

I'm so happy to be here today on your blog. Thank you for the invite.

Listen, a little birdie told me that you've been facing some tough challenges lately and, although I don't have any details of the situation (frickin' tight-lipped birdie), I want you to know that I'm there for you.

In an effort to try and raise your spirits at the start of this brand-new year, I'd like to share with you some of my favorite quotations – time-honored touchstones that have seen me through many a greasy patch on life's highway.

I hope these sayings provide you with the comfort of knowing that somewhere out there, some very wise people have already stepped in every cow flop in the pasture...and in this way we can learn from them. Enjoy.

"Happiness and bliss are just a choice away. If you want really good Thai food, however, you're going to have to drive." ~ Leo Buscaglia

"When life gives you lemons, freeze them and then wing them off your balcony at people." ~ John Tesh

"It's unavoidable. Some days are just buzzkills." ~ Mother Teresa

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And, if that step happens to be toward Daniel Craig, I'm coming with you." ~ Traditional Chinese Saying

"Watson, you dillweed. It's never going to work if you don't plug it in." ~ Alexander Graham Bell

"When life gets me down, I go for a walk in the woods. I figure if I stay gone long enough, the jerkwads who hurt me are going to think I got eaten by a bear and then the joke's on them, right? Ha!" ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Hang on a minute. Perhaps this isn't as irretrievably effed up as I thought it was." ~ M. Gandhi

Cheers and Happy New Year to you, D.!



I might have to start serving food at this little gathering. But then again, no one would probably eat it.


If I were a little more like Scary Mommy, I'd probably be thinner.

This was a gift from my friend, Jill. And while I know MANY people who share this pet peeve, I, unfortunately, am not one of them.And yeah, it's a guest post. And if only I had Merv Griffin's couch, we'd be all set. Kramer.

The most wonderful time of the year is over. The one time when near strangers ring your doorbell to drop off plates of home-made cookies and brownies and chocolates. The time when school parents send goodies home in back-backs and bring fresh muffins for breakfast. It's all over. Thank God.

I suck, I know. Bah Humbug. I just can't help it. Food prepared by people I don't know well freaks me out.

Now, I know that restaurants are no picnic. I certainly don't know the chefs and some downright questionable shit goes on in those kitchens. The neon signs about hand-washing might not get through to the line-chef and retribution for annoying preparation requests may be commonplace... I know. But, for me, there is just something different about a restaurant and a home kitchen.

When I had my babies, we had some kind and generous neighbors who brought us home-cooked meals every day for weeks. I bet they were delicious. Jeff certainly enjoyed them. But I wouldn't know. If they came from a kitchen I didn't know, I couldn't get myself to eat any of it.

Am I alone here? It certainly feels like it-- I don't see anyone else picking around at out at pot-lucks, trying to figure out who made what or passing on the homemade goodies. I just can't do it. So, you can skip my house next year for the holidays. I'll take the plant instead.