Mom and Pop Shop

Contrary to my DNA and my chromosomal structure, I absolutely hate to shop. The idea of spending even fifteen minutes of my life in a mall causes me to break out in hives, a cold sweat, a hot sweat; I’ll sneeze, I’ll cough, or I’ll even throw a tantrum if the aforementioned behaviors fail to foil the shopping trip. I like going to the grocery store, because I like to cook. And there’s nothing better than a trip to a hardware store, especially if it features a healthy garden supply department. But general “shopping”, as in, “Let’s all of us girls get together and go shopping! Then we can go to lunch!” is the most detestable of all activities. I would rather stick needles in my eyes. Or have a pap smear.

Now that I have made my point about how much I loathe shopping, let me tell you why. It may be because my mum (if you’re from western PA, you have a mum) would drag my sister and me shopping every single Saturday between September and May (summer Saturdays were spent at the beach, and that’s another blog altogether). Not only would we shop on Saturdays, we would shop on Monday nights, because apparently, that was Susan’s best time to find a bargain? Whatever she wanted on Saturday but ran out of money for was on sale Monday night? I don’t know. I do know that even if the merchandise shopped for were meant for Becky and me, I couldn’t have cared less. Most of the time it was Mum trying on clothes and Becky and me trying to amuse ourselves by hiding among the racks of Ship and Shore sportswear or over in lingerie trying on huge bras over our little bitty…bodies.

My mum’s favorite store “in town”—that town being Meadville—was Trask’s, which soon morphed into Carlisle’s. I believe I have correctly placed the apostrophes in the proper places, for each of these department stores were probably first owned by someone named Trask or Carlisle, who knows or cares. What I do know is that my mum spent more time and money in Trask’s/Carlisle’s in her short life as a wife and mum than she ever did in a grocery store or hardware store. Which is why the whole shopping gene must have skipped a generation.

My straight up hatred of shopping could stem, too, from the fact that I hate to part with money. I like having things, but the act of passing over a credit card, writing a check, or saying goodbye to the few dead presidents who might be lurking in my wallet has a rather unsettling effect upon me. I can’t help but think there might be something that I will really need and that I won’t be able to get because of a foolish decision to buy purple eye shadow or a new pair of sunglasses. So, yes, while I hate to shop, I am sometimes forced to.

Today, I needed a gift for a little friend who just made her First Communion. It was raining. I had a lot of work to do. And it was raining. The last thing I wanted to do was to go shopping (I think I’ve made that abundantly clear), and I knew that neither the grocery store nor the hardware store carried First Communion items, so I settled the matter by taking my business to a little boutique right in my neighborhood.

And here’s where my utter revulsion for the whole shopping experience left my very being like a rabid monkey stubbornly clinging to my back. I love this little boutique. Delaney’s–its namesake the proprietress’ daughter– has just about everything one could ever want in a repository of charm, and while that in itself is important (especially if you need something charming), it’s the atmosphere and the personnel that make the shopping excursion an altogether lovely experience. The best part of Shopping at Delaney’s is that there is always someone willing to find for me just what I need. Every time. It’s a bit pricey (well, for me, because, you know, I hate to part with cash), but the personal attention at Delaney’s goes well beyond what I have ever found anywhere else. And, no, I don’t mean Wal-Mart; I mean other boutique-y places where most of the time the personnel treat me like I’m Julia Roberts shopping on Rodeo Drive (did I mention that I often shop wearing the same clothes I wear while picking up dog poop in the yard?) except that I’m neither Julia Roberts, nor am I a prostitute.

No one paid me to write this. It’s just that when I can essentially walk from my house into this little neighborhood emporium of sweetness in under ten minutes, find the perfect gift and have it gift-bagged in just about the coolest little bag imaginable, well that, my friends, is noteworthy. And when a small business owner in your neighborhood brings a little bling into your life without your having to wash your hair, put on makeup, and schlep into “town”, that small business owner deserves a shout out. Love you, Delaney’s!

Inauguration Day

So, this is something I’ve wanted to do for quite awhile–blogging, that is.  I have always felt as if I have something to say but no one to whom I could say it! Does that sound sad?  At the very least, though, I thought that if I could begin airing my views on life, love, family, work, politics, religion (oh, yeah!), and culture, perhaps someone out there who needs a writer, an editor, or A Fresh Set of Eyes will contact me and let me help them create and craft their own messages. 

About me:  I am married to the hottest man on the planet (more about him later), I am mom to three amazing children and two demanding Labrador retrievers, I own a twenty year-old house that is a work in progress, I am blessed with a job that I love writing for a software company, and I’m now embarking on a quest to market myself as a professional writer.

Experience?  I served the state of Indiana for twenty-five years as a teacher, first in the Indianapolis Public Schools and later in a suburban Indianapolis school district.  This means that I have no problem yelling at your children in public if they misbehave, so get over it.  More importantly (and less likely to get me arrested), though, from teaching I’ve gained an appreciation for doing things the right way and for adhering to standards to which few writers today pay any attention.  Like that last sentence—see?  I didn’t end it in a preposition, did I?

Making mistakes?  I’ve made a mountain of them!  For instance, early in my career, when I thought I was going to change the world one little sixth grader at a time, I wrote and then stupidly sent a scathing letter to–oh, I don’t remember to whom (maybe I’m blocking it out)–that was so poorly written I am sure that the recipient tossed it after laughing at my certifiable incompetence.  I learned from that blunder that, like the adage, “Revenge is a dish best served cold”, one should never send or publish anything written in the throes of anger (or after drinking a considerable number of cocktails). 

So there you have it.  My first submission.  The first of many (she said, optimistically).  And I desperately hope that I won’t look back on this inaugural entry and wince with embarrassment at my shortcomings.  Bring on the words!

Old Dog

Two years ago to the day, I quit my job as a teacher.  I was so unhappy and so miserable that I couldn’t even wait until the end of the school year.  It wasn’t because of the children in my class; they were a daily delight.  I didn’t leave because of the people with whom I worked—they remain good friends of mine.  Money?  No, it wasn’t the money.  It takes years to get to a place in teaching where the money one earns is finally substantial enough to almost make it worthwhile, and I was already there.

I quit because I could no longer perform my job knowing that no matter what I did and no matter how hard I worked, I would never rise to meet the combined expectations of a district administration and a misguided state department of education.  I quit because I couldn’t swallow enough Kool-Aid necessary to change what I knew to be best for kids in order to satisfy the new vision of some grant coordinator in the central office who had gone to a workshop in San Diego the previous summer and discovered that the problem with teachers was their “white privilege”.  I quit because I certainly could not depend upon the collective standardized test results of 27 ten year olds to determine whether I could earn a raise or keep my job.  And I quit because I constantly felt as if I was being punished for doing something bad.

Did I have a back up plan?  No.  I knew I had skills, but those skills were limited to the education milieu.  I soon discovered that headhunters and recruiters saw teaching just as most of the uninitiated do:  Sure, she can put up a mean bulletin board, and I’ll bet she’s great at reading a story, but can she do anything else?  Imagine my shock when I interviewed for a sales position with a web-based education company and was told that I did not have enough experience to market their product—a product that I had been using with my students for six months.  I was equally flummoxed when I tried to enter the higher education arena but was met with crickets.  Apparently there are enough university professors in central Indiana’s schools of education—too bad most of them have little actual classroom experience.  I began to believe that whatever skills I had were not marketable.

Serendipity saved me when I reconnected with a high school friend who asked me to work for his software company.  Agreeing, though not really knowing how my skillset would jive with a software outfit, I interviewed with management (over the phone) and replied ‘yes’ to her questions about my technological prowess, reckoning that I had enough time and Googling skills to figure out what the hell she was talking about.  My friend had earlier assured me that there would be no math on this test, but my first assignment was to test algorithms.  So I Googled ‘algorithms’ and discovered to my horror that it was something that had to do with math.  I felt like opening a vein.  The actual task was not nearly as difficult as I had imagined, and though it took me like eleven hours to complete what should have taken me two, I finally did git-r-done.

My point is this:  I am 50 years old, and I never believed that I could learn anything new that would be of any benefit to me.  Moreover, I had no desire to learn anything new—after all, I had been in school for just about 45 of those 50 years.  For crying out loud, didn’t I already know everything?

I am responsible for knowing how to run manufacturing software and explain it in a users’ manual format, so consequently I learn something new every day.  Sometimes the process is frustrating, sometimes it’s maddening, and sometimes I feel like I am the most dim-witted, obtuse knuckle dragger out of a boat-load of geniuses and that my importance to the company ranks only higher than that of the lady who comes in to water the plants.  It’s bad enough that I’m considered elderly among all of these recent college graduates, but to feel like a dullard among kids who are young enough to be my former students is a rather humbling experience.  But I’ve learned from that, too.  I learned that when you ask a twenty-something kid to help with a complicated problem you had better bring cupcakes the next time you see him.  I also learned that these same twenty-somethings are a little wary of me, especially when they discover that I’ve been a teacher.  I’ve learned to admit when I don’t know something—which happens just about every day—but not to dwell on my shortcomings.  And I’ve learned that I can acquire new skills, and that makes me very happy.  It also makes me feel as if this old dog can learn other new tricks.  Unless they involve math.