Monthly Archives: August 2012

Third Grade…

I had a crush on Chara H. There was talk of meeting on the sidewalk after school and kissing.

Karen H. was curious about what Beverly S. looked like while sitting on the toilet. Karen climbed onto the toilet paper roller and hoisted herself up the divider separating the bathroom stalls. The metal toilet paper holder didn’t hold and Karen tumbled down. Her knee ripped into a long jagged portion of the dispenser. All of this we found out later. The immediate aftermath was the entire class standing just outside the classroom door watching as the school nurse and our teacher Mrs. S. improvised a wheel chair from a wooden desk chair. They seemed frantic as they tilted back the chair and dragged the seated Karen H. backwards down the shiny clean and very wide school hall. There went Karen, seated, facing us and disappearing away down the hall. She was crying rhythmically. There was blood on the floor and at the edges of the towel wrapped against her knee. And for me, a certain loss of innocence and with it the blooming of excitement with the knowledge that one girl was trying to look at another girl because she had her pants down.

More blood: Eric C. held a very sharp point-end-up pencil just over the seat of the desk chair as Dominick L. dropped down. Scream. Mrs. S. seemed anxious ushering a howling Dominick out of the room and off to the school nurse. The entire class watched. We could see the blood soaking through the back of Dominick’s pants.

We made clay sculptures. They were stored in the closet and someone smashed mine. He was punished and Mrs. S. let me make another. I was pleased with the way it was handled and learned first-hand the redemptive power of justice.

Miss T., the school librarian, taught me a trick to correctly spell “together”: break it into “To Get Her.” Now I can’t spell the word without thinking of it this way.  And I still can’t spell.

Our entire third grade class piloted an experimental approach to learning called PLAN. I had no idea then or now what it stands for. They broke down the walls between classes and installed accordion style separators like the ones in conference center banquet halls. During math and reading, the accordions were pushed in and it was one big classroom, a long bee hive of activity. PLAN was created for each student to learn at his or her own pace. Everyone had the same curriculum, which was divided into units. Each unit had lessons and activities each student did on their own, and group discussions facilitated by a teacher. I assume the thinking was that everyone would progress at their natural pace: smart kids would sprint through units and get more and more knowledge while classmates in possession of fewer neurons would go at a speed that challenged but did not frustrate, and also did not hold others back. The idealistic ex hippies (this was the 1970s) failed to consider, however, additional variables that dictated how fast a student might want to go. Like plain old laziness, interest in a particular unit, distraction, the desire to go though the units with friends, etc. A teacher told me harshly at one point that I was taking too long on a unit. The unit was making a snowman from Ivory Snow Flakes. The lesson was probably geared to teach measurement or creativity, or perhaps it was a reward dangled to incentivize us to move at a reasonable pace. It started with mixing a big bowl full of pure white and fresh-smelling Ivory Snow Flakes and water, and making a little snowman with the resulting soft mounds of soap. I had seen others reach this unit and was crazy excited about doing it myself. I finally got there, hands deep in soft warm soap of my own making, so of course I was going to take my fucking time. And I was playing by the rules. Move at your own pace. So, teacher who looked upon me with disapproval and told me to get going, screw you. Not surprisingly, the experiment was considered a failure and the walls were back up the following year.

Beverly S, yes the same one of the bathroom stall peeping incident, told me how to induce vomiting to get yourself sent home. Mix mustard with warm water and chug. I never tested this, but she told me she offered it from experience and I believe her.

I never did kiss Chara, but I thought about it a lot.

Adam and Jack start third grade today.

Getting Hot Over Cereal

Why does “5-Minute” Oatmeal take 25 minutes to make?

Does the oatmeal know we have to get to soccer clinic and it will take 14 minutes of discussion, explanation and sorting just to get the boys into simple white t-shirts?

Does the oatmeal know the boys will need to be reminded at least 4 times to tie their sneakers?

Does the oatmeal know that Adam and Jack will have to be asked over and over to please stop moving as I apply sunscreen?

Is the oatmeal aware the dishwasher is broken and the plates and cups filling the sink make it that much more difficult to get breakfast ready?

Does the oatmeal hate me?

Is the oatmeal fucking with my head?

What is the oatmeal’s fucking problem?

Tomorrow I am switching to 2½-minute Cream of Wheat.

Stairs II: More Stairs!

By popular demand, more images of the fabulous stairs…

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And a bonus Stairs Movie!!!

Stairs on a Hill

How I put stairs into a hill and learned a valuable lesson about a career as a contractor

We arrived a few weeks ago on Cape Cod at the in-laws’ place, a weathered-wood-shingled house sitting on a rise overlooking Deep Pond. It has always been difficult to get to the pond: The drop is short but steep, and covered in clumps of tall grass, loose dirt and tangles of creepers and bushes. I decided to change all that.

I went to the hardware store and got gear: Leather workman gloves, a tree saw, garden shears and a heavy-duty rake that bites into the earth with sharp steel prongs. I started to cut, pull, yank, sever, rake, saw and clear a curving path down to the pond. The path followed the natural contours of the hill, making a lazy curve to wind down slowly against the slope. When it got to the pond, I cut at a natural opening in the brush to create a little waterfront. I also saw an animal path along the pond, and pulled away poison ivy and prickers, sawed through thick overhanging tree branches and pruned back bushes to make a nice walking path.

Adam, Jack, Jessica and the in-laws walked down the path, took in the waterfront, meandered down the cut along the pond, and saw that it was good.

I should have stopped there.

But I gazed up at the hill and knew there was a quicker way to the pond. A way that came straight down the slope. Faster and bolder than the curving path, a design that made no concessions to the sharp drop and loose soil. I decided to build stairs.

I hacked at the dirt with the sharp metal of the rake and soon carved out a little terrace. I had tested the idea and it worked. Time to go shopping again.

Several hardware, lumber and garden supply stores later, I had six railroad ties that I had cut myself, six large red patio-style bricks, metal stakes, a sledge hammer, 150 pounds of small white rocks, and a vague plan that I had put together by asking two friends who have no building experience how they would build hiking path-type stairs into a hill.

When all was said and done, I had returned to the garden supply place a few more times to get grass seed and plants for ground cover, nutrient-rich garden soil, and 150 more pounds of white rocks. I sweated out several times my body weight, repositioned hundreds of pounds of small boulders and rocks to help stabilize the railroad ties I had pounded into the earth, lugged pond mud up the hill to serve as mortar for the rocks and patio brick, understood why contractors go over budget, and came to the (not surprising) conclusion that this type of activity was not for me.

But the stairs are done, and it is now a short trip to the pond. I had conquered the hill and produced something that did not require the use of a computer.

The stairs, like a bloodied just-born baby, are still too raw to be pretty: They are covered in mounds of muddied dirt and a messy scatter of white rock. But they are structurally sound, though soil erosion could change that. Or, if the grass grows and plants put down roots, the stairs will stay and blend into the environment, functional and beautiful.

Sugar and Nostalgia: Kandy Korner!

Every summer growing up, we would come to Cape Cod for a week with my cousins. One of the highlights was the ritual trip to Kandy Korner on Main Street in Hyannis. It was a bright little store filled with big jars of penny candy. Our parents allowed us as much candy as we could fill in a wicker basket you grabbed at the entrance.

As a kid, everything about the trip to Kandy Korner was exciting: The anticipation, the wide-eyed dash around the store filling up the basket, the candy comparisons and trading with my sister and our cousins, and, of course, eating the candy over the course of the vacation.

Sweetly, not much about the experience changed.

Telling Adam and Jack about it was exciting, and I was thrilled first spotting the store as we walked down Main Street. Once inside, I saw the space had grown much larger, extending farther back and now also selling t-shirts, jewelry and souvenirs. But reassuringly, there was still a stack of wicker baskets at the entrance.

Adam and Jack wandered wide-eyed and smiling down the candy-jar cluttered aisles, half-filling their baskets with jawbreakers, sour gummy things, taffy, and other various and sundry candies in multiple shapes, sizes, colors, and packaging. While I would have let them get as much candy in their baskets as they could, they were happy only going half way.

I grabbed some old favorites, including Razzles, Bit-O-Honey, Bazooka gum and Gobstoppers. The disappointment was the Chunky chocolate bar with nuts and raisins: It was not the exotic and delicious top-of-the-line candy bar of my youth. Instead, the chocolate tasted chalky, cheap and too sweet, and the nuts and raisins seemed old and merely an afterthought as opposed to an integrated part of the Chunky experience. But the Razzles and Bit-O-Honey hit the spot, showing Jessica the legendary Kandy Korner made me happy, and being there with my kids was the real thrill.

Tripping on sugar and nostalgia. Kandy Korner, Cape Cod.

Mussel Double-Dare

Mussels are both plentiful on Cape Cod and a sought-after treat for the Wilans. Someone, though, must get dirty in the mussel beds.

Postcard: Cape Cod, South Orleans

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Cape Cod, South Orleans, Zen Moment

South Orleans, Cape Cod