Tag Archives: blogging with friends

My year of being religious

Growing up we rarely went to church, and when we did it was painful for me. I was extremely shy and the Sunday school kids seemed to be mean.

My parents tried to make up the lack of religious education by giving me Bibles over the years. First a tiny book full of Bible verses, at least one that I memorized. Then a huge illustrated Bible whose drawings alternately fascinated or horrified me. They also gave me a regular King James bible and a Living Word Bible.

I am not sure how old I was when I decided to pray for the soldiers in Vietnam, but when I told Mrs. Wewell, our next door neighbor, she said that I should pray for her instead. I did and the next day her beloved dog was killed by a car. When I tried again a few months later, her hand was caught in the ringer of her old ringer-washer, making that hand useless for the rest of her life. So I quit praying, certain that God misunderstood my requests.

I discovered C. S. Lewis’ Narnia in my teens. I considered them my favorite books for a very long time but knew no one else who’d read them, although eventually my British boyfriend, Jeremy, read them too and loved them as much as I did. I guess I knew they were based on the Bible at some level, but it didn’t bother me, nor did it make me religious.

Fast forward to 1996 or so. We’d bought a new computer and one of the first things I did was look up C. S. Lewis. I joined an email list called Mere Christianity where people talked about Lewis and all of his books. Among the other members was C. S. Lewis’ stepson, Doug Gresham, who invited me (and my family) to his Irish retreat when I mentioned I was trying to believe. Other members also tried to give me advice on how to find faith. A few sent me books they’d written.

Something clicked in my head and I felt that maybe, just maybe, it had all worked. That I was now among the faithful. I recall looking at my students in a different way, even feeling I could see their souls on one occasion. My one-time teaching assistant at work belonged to the LDS church and we’d have long conversations about faith.

Also about this time Dean was taking the kids to church because he felt they needed a religious upbringing. And also to be able to tell his mother that they were getting a Christian education. I didn’t accompany them very often, but sometimes I did. It turns out the congregation thought I was Catholic and that’s why I rarely went to their church.

This lasted about a year and the feeling of having faith, of believing faded and eventually went away.

I think that part of my search for religion and faith was assuming that when I died I would need a minister or some religious official to officiate at my funeral. I’ve since realized that is not the case and it’s definitely made me breathe easier that I don’t have a church. Or faith in a supreme being.

I’ve had some blips now and then and even started a blog about it just after my father died because at that time I guess I still hoped to eventually find my religion. But not now.

Dinner at Jacobi's

Welcome to the Northwoods! Dean and I heard about Jacobi’s from the Pasholks (who hated it but thought we might like it). We did. In fact we liked it so much we chose it for our 30th anniversary dinner (instead of a trip to New Zealand or Newfoundland). Really good restaurants are hard to come by in Northern Wisconsin, but Jacobi’s is definitely a really good restaurant. I chose it because I have history in the area and I love the restaurant. I think you will too.

It’s Saturday, August 18, 2021. The United States has a new (Democratic) president and both the House and Senate have Democratic majorities. As for COVID-19, social distancing worked and the spread of the disease slowed. There is now a vaccine for the virus as well as highly effective treatment. It’s still out there, but with the vaccine and treatment, the world is back to normal.

We step out of the 2021 Subaru Outback equipped with the time and place travel module in front of Jacobi’s of Hazelhurst in Hazelhurst, Wisconsin. The Outback stopped at each of our homes on March 21, 2020 (March 22 in NZ) to pick us up for a dinner in a better future.

The outside of Jacobi’s is unassuming, but when you walk through the door and see the beautiful (and fully-stocked) wooden bar, you know you are in a special place. We have a seat at the bar. I order an old fashioned, and encourage the rest of you to do the same. Susan, who has given up alcohol, has sparkling water (unless, because this is a fantasy, you would like an old fashioned as well?) We’re loud, we know that, but we’ve been friends for over ten years and most of us have never met.

We’re seated in the back room. The one with the fireplace. Even if this is summer, let’s say the fireplace is lit and we’re near enough to it to feel cozy but not close enough to be too hot. Wisconsin late summers can be cool. We examine the menu.

The server brings us fresh baked bread and butter along with a complimentary appetizer of fresh watermelon, feta and balsamic vinegar. She asks us what we’d like for drinks and if we want appetizers. Helen orders dry red wine (a whole bottle!), onion rings and garlic bread (to share). Mali orders spinach artichoke dip to share and a glass of California Chardonnay. IB and Bridgett both order a boulevardier. Maureen orders something, but I cannot hear her over the talking. Susan sticks with sparkling water with a twist of lime (unless, since this is a fantasy…) and Kim orders a drink I’ve never heard of with top-shelf gin. I decide to move onto wine, and order a chardonnay.

Our drinks and appetizers arrive and we talk about our lives and how happy we are finally together in the same place. The food is exquisite as always.

The server returns for our dinner order. Helen orders spinach and garlic tortellini, Mali decides on the blackened chicken pasta but substitutes the chicken with blackened shrimp, I choose the pan fried walleye because walleye is one of my favorite fish. Susan asks if the chef can make her a salad for dinner because salad is Susan’s favorite food. The server assures Susan the chef will make a special salad with berries, nuts, heirloom lettuce, blackened chicken and hard boiled eggs. Bridgett chooses the black angus ribeye — because it is unadorned except for au jus. Maureen orders the pork tenderloin after making sure there were no almonds or anything made with almonds in the dish. IB selects the shrimp and tenderloin en brochette. Kim decides on the honey ginger grilled salmon. We order another bottle of dry red and chardonnay to share.

Our dinners arrive, and a few minutes of quiet descend on us while we enjoy our meals, the only sounds are murmurs of appreciation and a sigh or two. We’re all curious about Susan’s salad, it looks so delicious and healthy.

When the server asks if we would like to see the desert menu, Mali and Helen both order the double chocolate truffle pie. Maureen and Bridgett order the blueberry pie (which contains no almonds so Maureen is safe). I convince the rest of you (except Susan) to have ice cream drinks. I order a pink squirrel and Kim and IB order grasshoppers.

After dinner we sit back in our chairs and talk some more, more subdued now. We want the evening to go on and on, but we are needed back home. We hug goodbye. We climb into the Outback and are whisked back to our individual isolations in the midst of an unbelievable pandemic.

My most *** purchase ever

Our topic last week was your most insert adjective here purchase ever. I have not read any of the posts and I really don’t know that there is one stand-out purchase for any adjective I can think of.

Oh wait.

I think I know.

My most un-woke purchase ever

On January 30, 2020 I bought the Kindle addition of American Dirt. I’d read many articles, tweets and blog posts explaining why I should not buy the book, but I bought it anyway.

I did it because it was recommended by Stephen King. I didn’t do it because Oprah chose it for her book club. I did it so I could talk about something that I’d actually read and not just read about.

I started reading it. I thought it was well-written, at least what I read. I stopped for a few reasons: to concentrate on books I needed to read for this reason or that, I didn’t like part of the storyline, I felt guilty for buying it in the first place.

I still plan on finishing it but it needs to wait in line for a few other books I want to finish.

An annotated list of my jobs

Note, this is not in chronological order.

TL;DR

  • Babysitter
  • sales clerk
  • waitress
  • bakery clerk
  • substitute teacher
  • teacher
  • web accessibility specialist

Child care

Elgin, Illinois 1969 – 1977

I started earning money by babysitting. First for my brother, then for children of family friends and even a relative or two. It was fine, but I definately tired of it after a while. I didn’t have a set charge and let the folks whose kids I babysat give me what they thought right. It usually was about a dollar an hour if I recall correctly.

Retail

Ben Franklin, Elgin Illinois 1973 – 1974

My first “real” job was as a sales clerk at Ben Franklin in Elgin. I wanted to go to England as an exchange student and needed to earn half of the cost of the trip. I worked after school and on weekends. It was fine. I learned how to count change. I met some interesting people. I was someone’s son’s birthday present one night. I quit before I went to England and the assistant manager, a woman who could be nice, but often chose to not be, told me, “fine, shop girls were a dime a dozen.” I think the most I made there was $1.70 an hour even though minimum wage was at least $2.00 an hour in 1974. I remember the manager telling us that he knew that minimum wage had increased but he could not afford to pay us that.

Zayre, Elgin Illinois 1975 – 1976

I am not positive about the years I worked at Zayre, but I know I worked there for a while when I was in community college. I think it was only until I got enough money to go to England. Zayre was a discount department store like K-Mart. I worked at the jewelry department. I didn’t like this job much at all, but I guess I didn’t hate it. I did end up with a lot of hours though because the manager often called me in when I was not scheduled because she didn’t like to work or something (she ended up being fired for stealing money from the register, so that must be how she made money). I probably made $2.30 an hour which was minimum wage.

Work Study

Elgin Community College, Elgin Illinois Spring 1977

Looking back, this was a perfect job for me. I spent my time shelving books in the school library. I was paid to hang out in a library! I wish that I didn’t have my mind so damn set on teaching, because I think I would have made a really good librarian. I assume I was paid minimum wage which was $2.30 an hour.

Food Service

Manor Pancake House, Elgin Illinois 1977 – 1979

Once again, in order to make money for a trip to England I had to find a job. I probably started waiting tables at the Manor sometime after Jeremy’s visit in the summer of 1977. I am sure my journals will tell me, but they are in a box in a closet filled with crap and I don’t feel like going down that rabbit hole this morning. Anyway, I worked at the Manor while I was attending Northern Illinois University (living at home, commuting three days a week). My hours were long — sometimes working the night shift. I worked almost 40 hours a week while going to school full-time. I was a better waitress than I was a student. I don’t know what I made an hour, but tips in a pancake house in the 1970s in a midwestern town were not something to write home about. The restaurant was my social life, so there was that.

Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania 1981 – 1982

I don’t know if working in a bakery in a grocery store is considered food service, but let’s say it is. I supplemented my substitute teaching income by selling cookies, cupcakes and croissants to citizens of the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I liked my workmates enough. One of them had a day job working on the crew of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I sold a croissant to Willie Stargell, but didn’t know who he was until someone told me, later. All I remember was that he was very nice and wore a fur coat and fancy brimmed hat, and that everyone stared at him. I probably made minimum wage ($3.35 an hour).

Teaching

Bartlett Learning Center, Bartlett Illinois 1979 – 1981

After trying to get a teaching job with the Elgin school district, I didn’t know what to do so I did nothing. I continued working as a waitress until one evening my cousin called and said that there was a private school for special needs kids who needed a temporary substitute teacher. I interviewed and got the job. The school was in a convent (actually an “old nuns’ home”) and run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis and I quickly became best friends with several of the Sisters who worked there. When Sister Jane, for whom I was substituting, returned from medical leave the school asked me to stay on as a co-teacher to help Sister Jane. The next year they offered me my own classroom. I might be teaching there still if Dean and I had not moved to Pittsburgh. I think my salary was somewhere in the low teens.

Substitute Teacher, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania 1981-1982

While working on getting a teaching certificate in Pennsylvania I taught kids with special needs as a substitute teacher. I got called a lot. I was supposed to be up and ready to go in the mornings but I never was and was often late to the school. I didn’t know Pittsburgh that well and often got lost trying to find a school. I think I was a failure at substitute teaching. I also hated it. Pay was not too bad.

Teacher, Pace School, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania 1982- 1985

I interviewed at a few private schools as well as for the Pittsburgh school system and finally landed a teacher’s assistant position at a private school in East Liberty. After a couple of months they asked if I was interested in applying for a teaching position at the school when one of the teachers left. I was game and got the job. Pace was a school for students with learning and emotional disabilities (it is still around, although not in East Liberty and I don’t know what population it serves). When I was there it was funded by the school districts in and around Pittsburgh for students that the school districts had no programs for. I received quite an education at Pace. I taught a whole lot of angry children. I was punched a number of times, had chairs thrown at me, I was tackled once from behind. I was not prepared to teach such children, but I tried. Pay was probably low 20K

Teacher, St. Ann School, Arlington Virginia 1986 – 1991

After we moved to the DC area I took a break from teaching to work on getting a Virginia teaching certificate and to look for a job. I was hired by a company called Seton Centers that put special ed teachers in Catholic schools in the area. They sent me to St. Ann School. It may have been love at first sight. My years at St. Ann were definitely the best of any job I have ever had. The whole school was welcoming, from the principal (Sister Joan),to the fellow teachers, to the parents. The kids were well-behaved. I am still friends with the mother of one of the students I taught. The only problem was the pay (probably mid-20K).

Teacher, Rose Hill School, Fairfax County 1991 – 1998

I interviewed at several schools when I was trying to break into public schools. Some in Alexandria and some in Fairfax County. I was offered a position at a school in Alexandria, but the school was going through some issues and I didn’t want a bunch of drama in my worklife. My favorite interview was along what was called the Route 1 corridor — known for being a low-income area. I know I would have gotten that job if the county didn’t have a policy that an existing employee of the county had first dibs. The principal told me as much when he called to say he was sorry he could not offer me the job. I ended up being hired by an outgoing principal for a resource teacher position. Apparently his exit caused the exit of a number of teachers. The new principal seemed fine the first year — very granola, but over the next summer she got divorced, started dating the cluster supervisor, cut off her curly hair (rumor has it with a Flowbee), and exchanged “just left the farmer’s market dresses” with corporate professional clothes. She also lost her sense of humor and any shred of kindness she possessed. She was the one who asked me if I’d planned my pregnancy. Despite her, I liked the job enough to stick around for 7 years. I left when got into grad school. Salary — I don’t remember. Probably double what I made at St. Ann’s.

Information Technology

Web Accessibility Specialist, Caliber/ICF*, Fairfax Virginia 2001 to present

After graduate school I decided to change careers and interviewed at consulting companies to work on websites. I was hired by Caliber as a web content manager, but they quickly encouraged me to learn about web accessibility. A new law was about to come into effect that mandated that all government websites must be accessible. I was a quick learner and that’s what I am doing for this company, over 19 years later — evaluating websites for accessibility and remediating electronic documents so they can be used by people with disabilities. I have mostly enjoyed this job and I feel good about what I do for a living. And I have worked from home since 2003. Salary — let’s just say I will REALLY miss it when I retire.

*Caliber was purchased by ICF around 2005

Ten things I like about me

…in no particular order…

  1. My sense of humor — it is quirky and sometimes dark.
  2. I can still see the world through a child’s eyes and can be childlike (more often than adultlike, I fear)
  3. My cooking. I really like the food I make, at least most of the time
  4. My writing. While not as good as some, I feel that I write well and it is something I love to do.
  5. I like how I set out to ensure my kids became readers and they did. I have no doubt it had a lot to do with seeing me read, having me read to them and talking about books with them from a young age.
  6. The Illinois-shaped birthmark on my inner right calf.
  7. I treasure my values and the fact that I continue to strive to be a better person, morally and ethically, all the time.
  8. I like that I have an open mind about many things, except maybe certain foods — like I don’t want to ever (knowingly) eat a bug.
  9. I like that I can identify more birds than the average human.
  10. I like that I raised (okay, helped raise) two outstanding humans. When I dismiss it as genetics, they both assure me that it was much more than that.

Old Lovers

I spent a few weeks last summer on a river boat cruise. It was the romantic Danube tour but I was with my husband’s sister and six of her closest friends. There was nothing in their way to prevent turning the cruise into an episode of The Loveboat, but being the only non-single one of the bunch, that was not an option.

The night we were docked in Vienna the seven friends chose to go to a classical concert in town, but I was tired after having gone on a morning tour of Vienna in the pouring rain, then a raft trip after lunch. I was also coming down with a cold, although I was convinced it was allergies at the time so I opted out of the music and sat in the lingboat’s lounge drinking a cocktail and reading on my Kindle.

When I looked up from my book I noticed a tiny woman with snow-white hair sitting across from me, drinking her own cocktail. I smiled and she smiled and before long I knew everything there was to know about Katherine Ashe aka Katherine Ann Wynne. She worked for a company that closed down or something so decided to write. She published books on an obscure Englishman called Simon de Montfort who apparently founded Parliament.

She must have sensed that I was not going to read the books about the founder of Parliament so she said she self-published a book about Fairies. This might or might not have been after I mentioned my daughter was a big believer in the wee folk.

After an hour or so her husband, Peter, joined us. When he learned that my husband worked for NIH he said that my husband probably knew someone he went to school with. Sure enough, Dean knew Peter’s classmate, Tony Fauchi.

I had such a delightful time speaking with this fascinating couple that I asked them if they would mind posing with Rupert. They said they’d be delighted to and anyone who would not want to pose with Rupert was not worth knowing.

Katherine and Peter holding Rupert in the lounge of a cruise ship.
Katherine, Peter and Rupert

Their love for each other was apparent in the way they spoke to each other, the way they looked at each other, the way they spoke of their past life in New York City and their current life in rural Pennsylvania. Throughout the rest of the tour I saw them quite often and while we didn’t have any more long talks, I could still see their love for each other, even at a distance.

They seemed like such a happy, intelligent couple that I think about them often. I still need to read The Fairy Garden though.

My first crime

When I was around 6 years old I was friends with two sisters, Devin and Kathy, who lived on my street. We used to play in their basement where they had such wonderful toys as a mini kitchen with a sink with real running water and a washer that really washed doll clothes along with matching dryer that whose drum you could spin with a crank on the side.

They also had a doll house with lamps and ceiling fixtures that really lit up via hidden batteries and wires. In addition to dollhouse-sized furniture, this dollhouse had dollhouse-sized residents: A mother, a father, a son and a daughter. It even had tiny plastic babies (the kind that one might find in a King Cake) that took long naps in dollhouse-sized cribs.

While I desperately coveted everything they had, I really wanted one of those tiny babies so one day, when the sisters were briefly elsewhere, I secretly slid one of the tiny dolls in the small pocket on the lower thigh of my turquoise pedal pushers. They had many tiny babies and I had none, I said to myself to justify the crime.

Photograph of three tiny dolls. Front, back and side.
Exhibit A

Not long after that day I was playing with my Barbie in my living room, having her hold her tiny new baby. My mom must have been watching me play and asked me where I got the tiny baby. At first I said that Devin and Kathy gave it to me because they had lots and lots, but when she pressed me (maybe threatened to ask their mother) I admitted that I’d taken it. She made me promise to give it back to them and apologize.

I kept half of that promise. I did give Devin and Kathy the stolen tiny baby, but I did not apologize. In fact I lied and told them that I had my own stash of tiny baby dolls and they were welcome to one of mine. They thanked me with hugs.

Dona turns 7. Eight girls at a birthday party.
This photo was taken around the time of the crime. The criminal is sitting in the front row, second from left and the victims are in the front row third from left (Kathy) and back row middle — making the silly face(Devin)

***Note that I did not attempt any wordplay so don’t strain yourself trying to find some.***