A Fish Out of Water

In mid-April I heard a morning radio spot about Toastmasters. I knew of the organization, but not enough to feel like it might be for me until I heard the two gentlemen describing its mission. Conditions were right. I could make one of the two weekly meetings regularly and it was only a twenty-minute drive to the meeting site. No excuses. Time to stretch my wings a fly a bit.

The first presentation a new member is assigned is an ice breaker. Here is a version of what I said. I did write it out, by hand, while sitting in the backseat of my car in a nearby parking lot the hour before the meeting began. That does not mean I procrastinated. In my waking and dreaming minds I had made the presentation scores of times, each time with a different intro and variations in the way I used the props. My presentation was not recorded, so, though I altered my presentation somewhat, I do not know exactly what the words were that differ from the version that follows. The props were a fishbowl in the shape of a fish, and a fishing pole made from a shishkabob stick, a ribbon, and a fish cut from a brightly colored index card. At appropriate times in my talk I would either drop the fish into the bowl, or yank it out.

This fishbowl represents the various families I am part of. Sometimes I am happily swimming with the others in one, but much of my life I have felt like a fish out of water. If I can explain that, then maybe you will have an idea who I really am.

I will tell you I am NOT the one whose profile you might read on a popular singles site. I am NOT the one my best friends say I am, nor am I the one my colleagues might describe. I am not the one my son calls Mom and tells that he loves. I am an amalgamation of all those personalities, and that conglomeration of individuals wonders why she is so nervous at the prospect of speaking on the one subject she should know better than anyone else – HERSELF!

The first fishbowl I was a part of was my family fishbowl belonging to Cal and Evelyn Pearson. I was the first-born of first-born parents which created a unique sort of fishbowl for my first. It was different from the one my siblings would join later. There I was safe free to be exactly who I was and loved unconditionally.

I joined that fishbowl on June 29, 19…the year is not really important…in St. Louis, Missouri. My parents had moved their fishbowl back and forth between Doniphan, Missouri, and St. Louis, several times, but it was decided the fishbowl would be in St. Louis when it was time for me to start school. Mom said she named me Teresa Gale after two celebrities of the fifties – Teresa Brewer, a popular singer, and Gale Storm, a blonde actress of My Little Margie fame, a sit-com on television. She had hopes that I would be peppy and vivacious as they were. Guess I’ve lived up to that most of the time.

Elementary school was the second fishbowl I joined. In kindergarten I was in trouble a lot. Mrs. Engelbritzen didn’t like it that I couldn’t keep my head down for all of the rest period, and she didn’t like it that I interrupted her often. I just wanted to be helpful, but she never seemed to want my help. In grade one, Mrs. Shoemaker did let me help, so I stayed busy. Mrs. Shaw in grade two let me help a bunch. She let me help my classmates who had trouble reading, and she let me write spelling words o the board. She kept me so busy that I finished grade 3 that same year. Mrs. Whitmore in grade four didn’t need my help much, so she put an extra desk for me in the principal’s office so I could help her. I stayed busy running errands, delivering messages and once in a while I was allowed to answer the phone. When I finished my classwork sitting at my own little office desk, I had a buzzer to push. That meant a classmate would bring me new lessons and take my completed ones back to the teacher.

School was such fun, all of it – the lessons, the square dances, lunch time in the gym, visiting the classroom that would be mine in the fifth grade and seeing all the books Mr. Sullivan had that I would get to read.

I may not have been so helpful and happy had I known what was ahead. A strange lady came to visit my teacher after Christmas during my fourth grade year. There was another table set up just for me in the middle of the gym. The strange lady kept me busy there, too, with all sorts of games and puzzles and conversations. It was later that my parents told me that because I did so well playing the games and solving the puzzles, I would be sent to a different school. This new fishbowl was full of unfamiliar faces, and new places, and lots and lots of hard work.

In this new fishbowl it was not okay to be me. Mrs. Morris, the teacher in grade 5, began calling me the absent-minded professor. I didn’t think it was absent-minded of me to want to make sure I had the t page numbers of my assignments, and the right due dates. Everyone was telling me I was smart, so that had to mean I wasn’t supposed to make mistakes.
Peppy and vivacious went out the window.

What if a mistake had been made, and I just got lucky, and I really wasn’t all that smart? So, at the age of nine, I had my first fish-out-of-water feelings. Somehow I still managed to connect with my passions, get back in the fishbowl and swim with the other fish in the fishbowl of high school, EVEN when my folks moved the family’s fishbowl to Doniphan from St. Louis right at the end of my junior year. During my senior year, I was way out of that high school fish bowl way more than I was ever in.

I managed to go with the flow through college, and afterward, married and began teaching in Doniphan.In that district I taught eighth grade language arts, third grade, and high school French and English. The classroom was my fishbowl. I was in charge. All except two years were in that district. One of those two years I taught fourth, fifth and sixth grade English in an elite private school in Memphis, and the second i worked as payroll clerk at Orscheln Brake Lever Factory in Moberly, Missouri. Those two years corresponded to changes in my personal family fishbowl that I shared with my husband and son.

I married that same man THREE times, which is comical NOW. Remember that young girl who had to make sure she got everything right, who couldn’t make a mistake because she was supposed to be so smart? She was still at it, trying to fix things. I finally realized that some things CAN’T be fixed, and moved on.

My brother-in-law had an uncanny ability to see right into my personal fishbowl and come up with some right-on insights. At his urging I took the MENSA test. When the results arrived in the mail, I panicked at the thought of opening that envelope. I was reliving that same old fear. What if I am not really all that smart, and all this time I have been a fraud? Or what if I am, how could I have made such a mess of things and never found solutions?

We know so much more about the brain now than we did when I was growing up. I don’t have to apologize for being smart AND not being perfect. After all, we know now that there is a variety of ways to measure intelligence, that there are all kinds of intelligences. IQ is not the only determiner. We all have our different strengths and our different weaknesses.

Now I have found a fishbowl that will be as exciting and as challenging as my first school experience, one that will allow me to be who I am. I am so glad I have jumped right into the Toastmasters’ fishbowl.

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Schlemiel, Schlemiel, Potato Peel

Schlemiel, Schlemiel, Potato Peel

Predicaments. I get into them often, Why? Don’t know, don’t care. That’s material for indepth psychotherapy. I just want to know how to exit them with NO FRUSTRATION!

To write I use my laptop, since my desktop and I parted ways several weeks ago after a long complicated relationship. The nice lady on the tech help line told me it was going to leave me soon anyway, that I needed to look for a replacement. I’m looking. Too many choices. So I am relying on my old friend dumped by someone else. We were managing fine until now.

I wanted to write about derrieres, a French word needing an accent. My desktop and I had accents all figured out. I am clueless with my laptop, however, and it does not freely share info, so I investigated.. Not a good idea without all the facts. Assumptions get one into…predicaments.

Who knew there is combo of keys to flip the screen upside down? New experience. Keeps the relationship interesting. Good thing I remembered what my left hand was doing so we could return to our comfort zone. Another day I might exercise my brain with an upside down composition, especially now that I am curious why that is even an offered feature. But not today. There is a deadline.

Guess I don’t know everything my left hand was doing. The screen is right side up, thankfully, but it is dark. That’s an easy fix on my smartphone, but I am clueless again on just what it takes to turn my laptop on bright. After a bit of prodding fate intervened. Fate has a grand sense of humor.

The laptop shared a screen boasting a word of the day. The screen would not move, no way, no how. Before going to extremes to get what I wanted, word nerd curiosity made me find the featured term.

Schlemiel – an awkward, unlucky person for whom things never turn out right. One has to chuckle at my laptop sharing that word with me on this day.

I really do have something to say about derrieres. Another time.

This first appeared in my hometown paper, The Prospect-News, in April.

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Well, Duuhh…

Remember those times tables we copied and memorized and reproduced in grade school? I was way into adulthood when I discovered the ‘secret’ of the nines, that the sums of the digits in the answers equal nine. ( 9 x 2 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9) Go through two or three more to prove it to yourself. It is discombobulating that I didn’t know this all those years.

Another later-in-life discovery comes to mind. As the ex-wife of a car salesman, driving who-knows-what from day to day, I would have been spared multiple embarrassing trips around pumps had I known that gas gauge designs indicate which side the tank is on. Why all the secrets?

Recently I learned of another that had somehow escaped me as a classroom teacher – what it really means to be dyslexic.

Read here dyslexic Paul Madaule’s take on those affected as expressed in his clinical study.
“…the dyslexic child lives with his dyslexia all of the time: at recess, at home, with his friends,
alone, asleep and in his dreams. The dyslexic is a dyslexic every second of his life…Dyslexics are
often dyslexified throughout their entire body.” ( From Chapter 8 in The Brain’s Way of
Healing, Norman Doidge)

Because it has been characterized as mainly a reading disorder, affected children have been exposed to a shopping cart of gimmicks intended to help them compensate for the malfunction causing the condition. Some approaches worked, some didn’t. If students managed, it was more likely due to their own tireless efforts than to the trendy tricks applied to classroom instruction.

Without the ease of language, written or oral, gaps develop in social ties to friends and family, leading to withdrawl. Many times negative labels such as lazy and inattentive are applied, adding to the isolation. Fortunately, understanding of this disorder is expanding as the research on the plasticity of the brain continues..Genuine helpful treatments are gradually replacing the mixed bag of tactics as research reveals that the brain is a malleable organ that can be re-wired to create new connections to overcome disorders such as dyslexia.

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Spring Signs

Spring Signs

A mosquito, a gnat and a housefly
Made an appearance the other day.
As each performed its fly-by,
I sensed spring is on its way.

The mosquito was so very little
Took no more than a wave of my hand
To cause it to skedaddle.
No bite. It never did land.

Bizarrely the gnat was flying solo.
Usually it is part of a swarm.
Won’t hear me complaining, though.
Will be lots when it gets warm.

The housefly was maneuvering slowly,
As it thought about taking a flight.
No time wasted consoling,
The flies and I will soon fight.

Unlike the mosquito, I’m no longer petite.
Takes a few tugs to make waistbands meet.

Winter’s solitude, just me and the cat,
Makes me feel like the pesky ol’ gnat.

The dreary days means a much slower pace,
The housefly and I might not finish a race.

Robins are praised as the first signs of spring,
Though I haven’t seen one of them yet.
Three pests on a first spring fling
Means warm days are ahead, I bet.

Brighter days and warmer temps are coming,
Luring us to gather outside for fun –
Floating, boating and sunning,
We will greet spring on the run.

This was first published in the April 1st issue of the local weekly paper, the Prospect-News.

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Top 10 Signs I Staged a Snow-In

10.The living room looks like a college dorm room.

9. There is a line-up of miscellaneous necessities just inside the front door: bird seed, boots, lantern, broom, extra pair of fuzzy socks.

8. By my rocking chair, there is a handy stack of books – well, a taller stack of books – along with my stash of extra pens, a book of stamps, postcards and notebook paper.

7. A spare electric heater is sitting in the middle of the floor.

6. The car charger for the phone is in the car and contact numbers are posted by the landline.

5. I scrounged up 7 gloves…only one matching pair.

4. The quilt from an upstairs bedroom is spread over the couch.

3. A basket of snacks I don’t normally eat is the centerpiece of the kitchen table.

2. There are recordings on the DVR of shows I don’t normally watch from channels I don’t normally watch.

And the #1 sign I staged a snow-in, my fridge is so packed I won’t need to do any grocery shopping the rest of March

{This first appeared in the Wednesday, March 11th issue of my local paper, the Prospect-News.}

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A Snow-In

Snowcovered cedars lining driveway 2014

Snowfall settles in

And silent isolation

Tarnishes the joy.

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Brain Changers

(A while back I accepted the offer of a chance to participate in the Correspondence section of our local paper, with the stipulation that my submissions have a 250-word limit.I accepted the offer, and take the word limit challenge seriously. What a challenge that is! In revising and revising to decrease the size and maintain the point, at times the point changes. I fight the feeling that I am losing my style, if that is what it is, all those cute, clever examples to support my opinions. My blog posts don’t have word limits, so maybe I can record my witticisms here to experiment with style/brevity. Can I really say anything impressive and provocative in 250 words or fewer?)

Perhaps you have heard “neurons that fire together wire together.” That explains how we learn the isolated steps of the Achy Breaky then put them together in a sequence resembling a dance.

120 years ago Henry James alluded to the brain’s malleability, but with little fanfare. In 1948 that characteristic received a name – neuroplasticity – thanks to Polish neuroscientist Jerry Konorski. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that it was understood that our brains could adapt in function and structure beyond childhood.

This ability to form new connections is a response to learning, experience and memory-making.
To stimulate our brain cells to be happier folks, here are 4 simple alterations we can make, according to Shawn Achor in his 2011 TED talk.

1.Write 3 things you appreciate for 21 days. It doesn’t have to be complicated journaling;
it can be a 2-minute task writing in the margin of a newspaper headed to recycling. It is the thinking and the doing for 21 days in a row that allows our brains to retain a pattern of looking at our worlds through a positive lens.
2. Exercise. Can’t get around the fact that our brains need movement. Dig out those cassettes and relearn the steps to Achy Breaky for starters.
3. Meditate. That term intimidates me. I understand ‘practice mindfulness’ better. Focus on the moment. Our brains need a break from the multi-tasking chaos that technology creates.
4.Commit random acts of kindness regularly. This requires conscious thought, and done
consistently, it is a brain changer.

(Recommended reads: The Brain that Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing, both by Norman Doidge, MD. Check out this website: brainHQ)

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