Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Just Give Me Books and a Bic and Call Me Old

I try really hard to resist induction into the-older-I-get-the-better-I-was club. But on a recent morning bike ride through the UCO campus (yes, Bill and I were the old fa...olks, swerving to avoid students and cars), I came alarmingly close to qualifying for membership.  

I’d braced myself for the latest campus fashion trend—Daisy Dukes paired with black pantyhose and Doc Martens. According to friend and author Sonia Gensler, this is a hot new look at Oxford. But I spotted no such outfit on the UCO coeds. Either wriggling into pantyhose takes too much time and effort before an early morning class, or this uber style has not yet made it across the  pond. Give it a couple of years. 

While I was prepared for what I thought students would be wearing, I wasn’t prepared for what they were carrying. Or, rather, weren’t carrying. Riding through the campus, I noticed the same thing over and over: students hurrying to class, carrying nothing more cumbersome than a purse or a wallet or a can of Red Bull. No books, no laptops, not even an iPad that I could see. I counted exactly three scholars whom I considered properly prepared for class: an Asian girl toting a book bag, a woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties pulling a wheelie (pretty sure she wasn’t a professor), and—bless his heart—one rather nerdy-looking young man gripping a briefcase. 

When we returned home and were pouring milk over our Raisin Bran, I asked Bill, “Did you notice anything strange about those students this morning?” 

Being a card-carrying member of the aforementioned club, he gave the exact response I was expecting: “Everything about them is strange.” 

Rather than risk an I-don’t-know-what-this-world-is-coming-to lecture, I dropped the subject. But my mind was still churning, and here’s what I determined. A lot has changed on college campuses since the days I roamed them. Where my generation lugged twenty-pound tomes and bulging notebooks to class, today’s students have downloaded all their information on computers. Having read all assignments prior to class and having stored that vital information in their brains, they head to class burden-free, ready for stimulating and thought-provoking dialogue with their professors. OR tucked into their purses or pockets are teeny, tiny computers on which to take notes for further review. OR the class is being pod-cast and they can catch it again in the evening.   

Please assure me that these scenarios are feasible. I try not to dwell on the negative, but occasionally I worry about the future of our youth. And about the future of my Social Security check.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Boys and Girls of Fall

On a recent bike ride, the slightest nip of coolness in the air gave hope that fall would soon relieve our summer suffering. And my route past the UCO practice fields offered an additional sign that autumn was near: young men and women in training for fall sports. Seeing these young athletes brought to my mind Kenny Chesney’s song "The Boys of Fall." (Yes, I’m a country music fan. ‘Nuff said.) I like this song for its soothing melody and Kenny’s mellow voice. But mostly I like its lyrics.  

In this song Kenny is waxing nostalgic about his high school football days. After all, he is from the south, and this is country music. I happen to like football, but whatever your feelings toward the sport might be, if you listen to the words, I think you’ll find he's saying there's more to it than just playing the game. “You mess with one man, you got us all” suggests that much of the thrill is about the camaraderie, about being a team. And that thought brought me to reflect on another fall event: the beginning of the school year.  

Regardless of what they admit to, I think most students look forward to the new school year. It’s a time for new beginnings, new hopes, new adventures. But sadly, not all students share this excitement. Some unfortunate souls approach this event with a sense of dread.  

I’m no expert, but my experiences as a former teacher and as a parent suggest to me that a child’s attitude toward school rests hugely on the opportunity to get involved in something other than academics. Whether it’s a sports team, the drama club, or the philatelist (look it up) society, being part of a group that shares common goals and interests can have an enormous impact on success in school. Humans are social animals. Even the shyest among us wants to feel that he belongs, that he matters, that someone’s “got [his] back, when [his] back’s against the wall.” 

Granted, Kenny's song states that the football team doesn't "let just anybody in that club." It is a fact that certain groups require certain skills. But at the school where I taught, myriad opportunities for involvement existed from Astronomy Club to Young Republicans/Democrats, and everything in between. All a student needed in order to join was the interest and desire. If you have or know of young people who are less than enthusiastic about starting school, encourage them find an extracurricular activity. It might be difficult at first, but if they work at it, I’m almost certain they can find a group that interests them. The feeling of belonging can be a real game-changer. 

(For expert advice on the value of student involvement, visit Dr. Lisa Marotta's blog.)



Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Importance of Shock Absorbers: Lesson #2 from My Bike

At Al's Bicycles, Jason the salesman (or salesboy—to me he looked about twelve years old) asked, “So what’s your main objective, speed or comfort?” 

“Comfort.” The question was barely out of his mouth before I responded. I’m sixty-two years old. My biking goal is to burn a few calories and keep my joints moving while semi-enjoying the experience. The Tour de France or a reasonable facsimile was not, is not, and never will be on my bucket list. So when Jason directed me to the Raleigh Route 4.0 and explained it was built for comfort, I was interested. He pointed out the seat with extra padding and extra width, the raised handlebars that didn’t require a 170° bend at the waist, and the shock absorbers. Shock absorbers? Now he really had my attention. The only shock absorbers I’d ever had while bike riding were the extra padding and extra width on my backside.

At Jason’s suggestion, I took the Raleigh out for a test drive. I rode it up and down the street that ran in front of Al’s shop. The gears made pedaling easy, the seat was comfy, and the handlebars were at just the right height. To test the shock absorbers, I purposely drove over speed bumps and potholes. Oh, my! The difference between that bike and my previous one was the difference between a Lexus and a Pinto. (For those of you under fifty, I’ve provided a helpful link to explain what a Pinto is.) I still felt the bumps to some degree, but they weren’t the bone-jarring, teeth-rattling jolts I’d been used to. Jason made his sale. 

Since then, subsequent rides on my new bike have given me time to do a lot of reflecting on life. One such reflection was on the importance of shock absorbers— not those on our vehicles but the ones in our lives. Just like those on my bike, our “life” shock absorbers cushion the ride. They don’t eliminate the bumps and rough spots, but they do lessen the pain as we navigate our way over or through life’s challenges. And their assistance bolsters our belief that we can endure and will survive the pain. 

I consider the essential shock absorbers in my life to be faith, family, friends. In that order. I know several people right now who are facing difficulties, some life-threatening. The ones who seem to be handling their challenges the best have faith, family, and friends to rely on. 

What about you? Are your shock absorbers in place? I pray that they are and that you’ll enjoy a smooth ride.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

From Chamber Pot to Party Spot: The Evolution of the Bathroom

            I’ve finally convinced my accountant husband (Did you catch that—accountant?) that our twenty-seven-year-old master bath needs a make-over. I’ve been collecting ideas for this event for the past ten years, so I have a pretty good idea of what I want. But just to be sure I wasn’t overlooking any new innovations, I researched some bathroom ideas online. My mind is reeling. 

            I’m still adjusting to the idea that every home needs a theater room, and now I learn I need a bathroom with a couch, a 72” flatscreen, and a shower with piped-in music and room for twenty people.  I try to be modern and open-minded, but really. At what point did the bathroom replace the family or living room as the entertainment center for the home? When I’m bathing, the last thing I want is someone sitting on a couch, chatting with me while I scrub my...face. Or a crowd joining me in the shower as we sway to the salsa music and sip our margaritas. And am I to stay in the tub until I’m shivering and shriveled in order to watch an entire football game? Okay, half the game. I guess I can always towel off during half-time.  And where is the toilet? I can’t imagine anyone desiring nearby company while using that particular fixture.

            Call me squeamish, prudish, even uptight. I mean it. Call me those things. I don’t go into the sauna at the gym if I see a “nekked” woman in there. I just clutch my bath sheet a little tighter and wait until she vacates. This overdone modesty is most likely unhealthy and probably stems from my conservative upbringing. Or maybe from a poor body image inflicted on me during adolescence. But whatever the source of my damaged psyche, it’s there and I deal with it in my own way. Quite frankly, at this point in my life, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to avoid nekked sauna people—or entertaining in the bathroom—than it is to seek therapy. 

            So back to the re-do. I have four requirements for the new bath: 1) no wallpaper 2) updated fixtures 3) plenty of storage 4) easy maintenance. Of course, I want it to be pretty and functional, but one of the functions doesn’t need to be housing a party. Call me a party pooper—no pun intended—but I’m keeping the toilet and tub in the bathroom and the margarita machine in the kitchen. 

Come right in! The party's in the bathroom.