Monthly Archives: February 2013

Color My World…or Not

It’s a color spectrum wheel! There are too many of them…ahhhhh…my eyes!
Among the many things I don’t understand, including cricket and the International Date Line (Official Motto: Here to Confuse You), are colors.  Now, I  know what a color is and can even recognize some of them.  Like most guys, my color recognition skills are limited to about eight, which just happen to be the colors in the eight-crayon box. Anything beyond that is, well, beyond the pale. Or out of the box. I’m told that the human eye can distinguish about a million different colors.  Maybe I can, but I don’t know their names and I certainly can’t coordinate them. For example, what is fuschia? It sound like it should be a shade of pink and it is, but I had to look it up.  Or magenta.  Is that greenish? No, it looks about like fuschia.

I think, also like most guys, I didn’t care about colors to begin with except on cars. Then you have to have a cool color like silver or black.  None of those little pastel colored girly cars—you know which ones they are. So, with such limited experience, it’s no surprise that most guys do what I did until I got married—wear variations of the same color—blue, brown, and if you’re adventurous, green.  My wife tells me that she thought I was Mr. Monochromatic before we got married.  She had since fixed that by buying my clothes to make sure they match and also telling me what goes with what, usually with an askance look and the phrase, “Those two things don’t go together.”  Really, I’m grateful for the help. I am confident there are men who read GQ  and other magazines of mystery to me and know about fashion and color, but they’re not me.  Obviously.

Another major experience where color deficiency shows up comes when a room is to be painted.  Honestly, have you ever looked at the number of colors available?  And some of the names for them?  One of the rooms in our house is painted—and this is the truth—a color called “Cotton Tail.” (It’s sort of off-white.  I think.) It makes me dizzy just to go into the paint department at a store. It used to be that you took something with the color you want to match and the people at the paint store looked at it and said, “Uh huh,” and mixed up the exact color you wanted. Out of millions of possibilities!  How did they do this? I once met a guy who did this for Sherwin Williams for decades.  I asked him how he did it and he said, “I don’t know.  I just look at a color and I know what pigments will go into it. I think it’s a gift.” Now, of course, they have these amazing scanner computers where you can take in a sample the size of a quarter and they can match it from that!  Every time!  It’s a modern miracle of technology that deserves wider recognition.

Generally, painting at our house starts with a room that hasn’t been painted for a period long enough that the basic palette has changed. If you don’t know, there is a palette  of colors which decides colors for everything and it changes every so often. Some guy in Italy picks it out and everyone else just takes off with it.  You can see this phenomenon at work when you watch an old movie and think the film has faded or the dyes have gone funky.  Nope, those are the colors people actually wore back then.  Someone who is very good at this can date a picture to within a year by the color palette.  That’s kind of scary to me.

Anyhow, Becky decides a room needs to be painted and chooses a color, usually based on a pillow or the mat in a picture.  The rest of the color scheme flows from that.  I have consistently offered to paint any room if she picks the color.  This arrangement has led to some rooms that are colors I would not choose, like a pink living room, but I gave up the right to choose because, well, I can’t.

So, the  color is chosen, and I put the paint on.  I still enjoy painting. It’s relaxing and quiet and I can think about things like why there are so many colors in this world.

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I Wish It Would Snow

I wish it would snow. And since I’m wishing, I wish for about three inches of soft, fluffy snow, enough to close schools and give workers unscheduled leave or the opportunity to telecommute. I don’t want a blizzard such as New England endured recently, just some quiet, beautiful snow that we can watch and enjoy, bake cookies and have homemade soup, sit by the warmth of a Duraflame log in the fireplace and read a good book or just doze off.
We’ve had a number of “clippers” come through this year, leaving a dusting on the grass and a few days of “wintry mix” which just makes a mess or ices things up. I don’t want that. I want some real snow.
I think I also want the chance to slow down, to think about where we’ve been and where we’re going, to count our blessings and to make plans. It seems we’ve experienced vicariously on the news a surfeit of violence and suffering, of evil and cruelty, and while I would affirm that the vast majority of people are kind and good, it becomes easy to focus on the negative. A good snowfall would go a long way toward remedying that.
It’s nearly March, and while we have had snow as late as May 1 around here (in 1962, to be exact), the time for snow this year is running out. 
I was minded of the words to an anthem by American composer Joseph Martin, “Canticle of Peace.” They are:
Peace, fall like a gentle snow.
Fall fresh on the wounded heart.
Come blanket our ev’ry fear
And let the healing start.
Cover ev’ry anxious thought,
And all our fears erase.
May we know the tender touch of love’s redeeming grace.

(For more information on this anthem and its genesis, please visit http://www.cfuh.org/CanticlePeace.html. For a performance please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEHEkHkDxJE .)

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Friday Poem of the Week–The Quilters

The Quilters

I am painting a broad red stripe
On a wall in the church outside the room
Where the ladies quilting guild is meeting.
My work requires no skill, just
A can of paint, a tray and a roller.
It’s a big dumb job.
As I roll on red enamel
I hear them murmuring as they work
Cooing like doves,
Most of their words indistinct
Although a few float out to the hall,
“Kidney,” “grandchildren,” and “visit.”
I peek into the room to see them
Bent over quilt squares, embroidery, counted cross stitch
Faces relaxed as they talk and ply their skilled needles.
I do my dumb painting
While they are stitching their lives together.

–Dan Verner

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The Kids Are All Right


The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
(The crossing of their legs really gets to me. You know?) Does this statement sound about right about Kids These Days? Many of us would agree with the sentiments expressed therein.
But there’s a rub.
These words were written by Plato in the fifth century B.C. or found in an Egyptian tomb from the Second Dynasty or engraved on a potshard from the T’ang Dynasty in China. They’re not about today’s kids: they’re about yesterday’s youth. And they’re about as old school as they come. That’s an idea that should bring people up short.
It does, but it doesn’t bring them up short for long, because the older folk love to complain about the youngsters. They dress funny. They eat strange food. They wear their hair in bizarre ways. And their music… It’s so odd and so strange. You call that music? Not me—why back in my day music sounded like music, not like noise…
And they complain about the young folks’ work habits. They don’t work hard enough. They’re unreliable. They don’t know what they’re doing. You know the list.
My observation is that we have slackers in every generation (in my father’s time they were called “goldbricks.”) I taught with a fellow whose big accomplishment was getting to school at all. And it was said he did nothing at all when he got there.

And, to be sure, there are young people who don’t do squat. I once had a student whose avowed purpose in life was to “slack.’ And slack he did.  He worked after school in a bakery, a job that takes a concerted effort to slack off.. Some of my other students worked with him and said, yes, he was slacker and created work for everyone else with his dedication to slacking.
Which reminds me of The Three Rules of Work posited by the father of one my daughters’ friends. These are simple and would make a difference if we all went by them at work. They are:
1. Come to work.
2. Do work.
3. Don’t create work for others.
Now, it is my belief that the young people in our midst work hard and follow the Three Rules of Work. Most people I know, in fact, work far harder than they need to, often at a resultant cost.
Among the young, since the best “potism” is nepotism, I think of our two daughters as hard and exceptionally competent workers. Amy is a fourth grade school teacher who impresses me with her dedication, skill, knowledge and compassion. She is after thirteen years in the classroom head and shoulders as a teacher above what I was after 32 years. Alyssa is funny, smart, empathic and knowledgeable in her job as a H.R. specialist for a hugmongous corporation. If you want to know from H.R., check with Alyssa. And if you need an advocate, you want her on your side whether you have been abused by a indifferent faceless business or had a flight cancelled, you want her to step up and get these folks to do the right thing.
Then there are our nephews, Jonathan and Joshua. Jonathan is the hardest working fellow I know with an incredible sense of humor, and a kindness not often seen in young men. Josh for some time now had been the coolest person I know and has been all over his job since day one. They all make me so proud of them.
I asked Amy and Alyssa’s friends on Facebook to send me their occupations. Such a list indicates the sharpness of these young people and how hard they have to work: HRIS analyst,
quality assurance coordinator and trainer, realtor, financial representative, sales manager, associate pastor,  military social worker, accountant, career counselor, transportation research scientist, administrator, assistant director of music ministries, vice president of a company, neighborhood HR lady, teacher, veterinarian, lawyer, college professor, singer/cantor, cashier, executive assistant, kindergarten teacher’s assistant, pediatric nurse, pediatric pharmacist, mother, single parent, soldier, Marine, and fire fighter.
 Keep it up, guys! You kids are all right!

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Throwing Away a Trash Can

This situation reminds me of the old joke about the man who owned a boomerang. He became very upset one day and made an appointment with a psychiatrist. When they met, the man was obviously agitated. “Tell me what is troubling you,” the psychiatrist said.
“It’s my boomerang,” the man answered.
“Your boomerang?”
“Yes, I keep trying to throw it away but it keeps coming back.”

I told you it was an old joke. And also not a very good one. But I was thinking of it a couple of weeks ago when I tried to throw an old trash can away.

I put it out beside the main trash can since that was too full to put the discarded trash can into the main can.

The nice trash people didn’t take it.

The next week, I did put it into the main trash can. They carefully left it by the curb.

I’m glad they’re careful to not throw away something that might be useful. But I didn’t want the trash can any more. It was dirty and ripped up. So, I did what I should have done in the first place, and put it into a trash bag. The trash people took it. End of story.

Life continues to have lessons to teach us, if only we look for them. I wish I had a nice aphorism to sum this up, but I don’t. Sigh.

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Friday Poem of the Week–Teaching Irony Through Poetry

   Teaching Irony through Poetry
(for Mary G., who understood irony and so much else)

A Poem in the Form of a Dialogue between Teacher and Students

Teacher:  “Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’
Has an excellent example of the use of irony.
Since you’ve all read it for homework
Where is the irony in the poem?”

Student: “In the title?”

T: “Good guess, but no. Keep trying.”

S: “…”

T: “Any other ideas?”

S: “…”

T: “What about the neighbor’s statement, ‘Good fences make
Good neighbors?’ “

S: “That’s not ironic; it’s true.”

T: “Do you think Frost believed that it was true?”

S: “Can we ask him?”

T: “No; hes dead.”

S: “Bummer.”

T: “Yes, well, it happens to the best of us. Now, what if I told you that he believed the opposite?”

S: “That good fences make bad neighbors?”

T: “Yes, something like that.”

S: “That’s not true–our neighbor has a dog that digs up our flowers and pees all over the lawn. My parents have asked them to put up a good fence to keep the dog out. They won’t, so aren’t they bad neighbors?”

T: “Sounds like it.”

S: “So: no fences make bad neighbors. Good fences would make good neighbors where there’s an untrained dog involved.”

T: “…”

S: “So what was irony again?”

T: “Let’s try that another day. I’ve had too much fun today.”

S: “You always say that. Do you mean it?”

T: “Oh, yes.” With all my heart.

–Dan Verner

(Based on a number of dialogues with students over the years)

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The Month of Love and Presidents












For some time now, I have been curious about the exact designation of the federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of February. It poses a usage conundrum: is it Presidents Day, or Presidents’ Day or President’s Day? If it is Presidents or Presidents’, then the holiday would honor all Presidents, probably on the theory that the office itself deserves honor and respect.  Not all Presidents were shining stars.  You can provide your own examples. Or it would honor Washington and Lincoln whose birthdays were in February and who used to each have a holiday to himself. If the designation is President’s Day, then it would be for one President.  Do we get to choose in that case? Is someone going to pick Martin van Buren?
So, in the public interest and to satisfy my own unnatural curiosity, I went to the horse’s mouth, or the OPM web site and found the answer is…none of the above.  The holiday is officially called Washington’s Birthday.  There’s no mention of other presidents at all or even Lincolnwhose 200th birthday celebration was a few years ago.  There is a footnote to Washington’s Birthday,
This holiday is designated as “Washington’s Birthday” in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.
Apparently among advertisers and in the popular imagination the holiday became Presidents Day (supply your own punctuation: I can’t help you there), probably because of the fond memories many people have of a short month that used to have three distinct holidays.
When I was a lad in school, we celebrated three holidays in February, provided they fell on weekdays. I think the Monday holiday was established to insure that we got at least two days off that month. Every year for Washington’s Birthday we studied his life and did skits, mostly involving cardboard axes and cherry trees. I wish they had told us what we know now about Washington. He had quite a relationship with Sally Fairfax who ran Belvoir Plantation in her husband’s absence and taught the young and untutored Washington about social skills and intellectual matters. 

Martha Custis, a young widow, was apparently really attractive.  She was running eight plantations when she met Washingtonand there was quite a spark between them. And probably any grandparent could identify with Washingtonwhen his step-grandson failed to graduate from three colleges and essentially became what we would call today a slacker.  Nonetheless he built Arlington House as a tribute to his grandfather. Washington  was an amazing figure, one without whom we would probably be a member of the British Commonwealth, like Canadabut without the mania for hockey.
Lincoln, too, was the subject of study and drama on his birthday.  Every seventh grader (part of elementary school when dinosaurs roamed the earth) had to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  The most convincing orator dressed in costume and recited the speech before an assembly of the whole school.  I still remember large parts of the address. Lincolnwas a phenomenal figure.
I wonder if the skits and shows that we did on these famous men were remnants of a custom before the days of mass media.  Kits and scripts were available that allowed local communities to recreate national events.  In the case of Washington’s funeral, there were only limited descriptions in newspapers and many people could not read anyhow. For a small price, communities purchased staging directions and scripts that allowed them to restage the funeral locally, with local people playing the parts of famous figures. I believe this custom continued through Lincoln’s death but faded from practice with the advent of mass distribution periodicals and photography.
The other holiday was of course Valentine’s Day which we celebrated enthusiastically with handmade Valentines and Valentine mailboxes in classrooms.  My daughter, who teaches fourth grade, tells me the custom continues.  A Valentine’s party was the occasion for one of the best comments by one of her students.  A girl looked around during the proceedings a few years ago and said, “There’s way too much love in this room.”
I do have to wonder, is it Valentine’s Day or Valentines’ Day or Valentines Day? (Somebody stop me!)  The first would imply only one Valentine (a great idea if you are married) or a remembrance of the bishop Valentine.  If it’s plural, that would account for the thousands of elementary classrooms across the nation where everyone gets a Valentine.  Our teachers inspected every one to make sure we didn’t write something like “You’re lucky you got this, you loser.” Such cruelty is possible among children, but by and large the holiday was a grand occasion for good wishes and a lot of candy.
So, whatever you call these holidays and however you celebrate them, I hope you enjoy them all!


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