The best education I know

June 12, 2017 – Forty years ago this past weekend I graduated from high school. Many members of my graduating class flooded Facebook over the weekend with our graduation photos to show our pride and promote our 40th year reunion coming up in November. Of course, we all said the same thing…we can’t believe those 40 years passed so quickly.

Back then, Jimmy Carter was president, the first Apple computer was on the market, Elvis died at 42, Star Wars was playing in theaters across the country, and a gallon of gas cost 65 cents.

I wanted to share just how different my life turned out from what I originally planned, and perhaps offer a few pearls of wisdom to new graduates. However, looking back on what I can remember about my 17-year-old self, and what I expected to accomplish, I’m drawing a blank. I don’t recall thinking about my future at all in 1977. There are no memories about what I wanted to be or where I thought my life would go. I hadn’t thought about college yet, or a career and I certainly had no plans to get married and have children. Even though I didn’t make a plan, all of those things simply happened along the way when they were supposed to.

Turns out, like many teenagers and some very fortunate adults–according to “The Power of Now” author Elkhart Tolle–I was a live in the moment kind of a person. Tolle, whose philosophy states that living in the now is the truest path to happiness and enlightenment, believes that to be the ultimate goal. Too bad back then I didn’t realize what I had achieved.

I’d like to think I’m still that way, but I realize that I missed out on bits and pieces of my life worrying about things that I have no control over. Even though I do my best to live in each moment, I’m not always able to, and I don’t believe many adults can. But I’m OK with that, because I stay in the moment more often than not.

So, if I was to offer any sage advice to new graduates, it would be to live in the moment as often as you can. Tolle’s theory of “The Power of Now” is right on, it’s just not practical for many of us to live that way every second. I believe it’s necessary at times to think about and plan for the future. And it might even be helpful to go a little crazy once in a while; if anything, it makes you appreciate the good times.

I read once that a Chinese philosopher said, “When you do the dishes, become the dishes.” In other words, be aware of what you are doing in the moment and do it well. Very wise words.

Life teaches many us many lessons along the way, whether we have a plan in place or not. And even if we have a plan, it doesn’t always let us follow it they way we expect to. A happy compromise is an open mind and expandable plan with plenty of room for change. That’s the best life advice I have to offer.

Congratulations to the class of 2017!

A Letter to My 5th Grade Math Tutor

May 22, 2017– Dear Miss Kasmir:

On behalf of my parents and me, I wanted to apologize for the horrors you endured when trying to help me with my math skills.

You left my home frustrated and in tears on many occasions, especially when I didn’t make any progress, didn’t pay attention to what you were trying to show me, or dropped my pencil under the table for the umpteenth time to escape your instruction for a few seconds. You probably told yourself I was hopeless, and it turns out you were right.

According to a new study, “the size of one’s brain structure and the connections between it and other regions can help identify the children who will hardly benefit from one-on-one math instruction.” In other words, the article states we shouldn’t bother to hire math tutors for our kids because in many cases, it is useless.

That sounds harsh, yet the study indicates that scientists can predict how much a child learns from math tutoring based on the measures of brain structure and connectivity.

Clearly, had this data been available in 1970, I would have been labeled as one of those children, and it would have saved both of us a lot of grief. Or, at least I could have served as an interesting outlier. Apparently, my gray matter in the right hippocampus of my brain is not as large, nor does it connect as easily to the area that relates to math problem-solving skills. Who knew?

I think about you now and then, and wonder what you did with your life. I know you were studying to be a teacher when you tutored me, but I heard that you decided it wasn’t the right path for you. If that is the case, I’m glad the time spent with me set you on a more appropriate journey to your life’s goal.

Your first and perhaps last student,

Jane M. McMaster

Visions of Hotcakes Danced in Our Heads

2f64616173a616731dac6156882e3e9cDecember 23, 2016Since I started this blog back in 2010, I’ve told and retold the story of my Grandfather and his famous Christmas hotcakes. Running the story each Christmas has become as much of a tradition as leaving cookies and milk for Santa. 

Christmas Hotcakes

When I think of my grandfather – known lovingly as Pop Pop throughout our large extended family – lots of warm and comforting memories come to mind.

Most often, he’s standing in front of a microphone at a family party singing a favorite song from 1919 that begs, “Don’t put a tax on the beautiful girls, I won’t last a day without love…”

Or, he’s sitting at our dining room table playing Scrabble with my parents after one of our Thursday night dinners.

I also vividly see him standing in the kitchen preparing his famous hotcakes.

Pop Pop made hotcakes every Sunday for his kids before church. Then, he’d make them for us during our summer vacation at the beach because he usually came with us. He’d love to get up early, walk to the grocery store and buy what he needed to whip up a fresh batch. We’d wake to the sound of him whistling in the kitchen with the griddle sizzling.

“Who wants hotcakes?” he’d ask as soon as he saw our sleepy faces.

We all did. They were one of the things we looked forward to while on vacation. And we loved them the next day, too, and maybe even the day after that. By day four, we’d have rather eaten a simple bowl of corn flakes or a Pop Tart, but we never had the heart to say so, and we ate them anyway. It was a small price to pay to please a man who brought so much joy into our lives.

He also made hotcakes for us on Christmas mornings, and we’d eat them as if we never had them before, then he’d fall asleep on the sofa while we opened presents.

Pop Pop passed away in 1977, and I still think of him and his hotcakes every Christmas. Gone but not forgotten, poured but never duplicated, Pop Pop’s hotcakes were the centerpiece of our Christmas morning and our summer vacations.
Those memories will be with me always.

Summer Sounds

sounds of summerSeptember 2, 2016Today marks the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer.

I have to venture back to childhood to remember what I miss most about summer once it’s gone, since adults rarely get to experience it the way a child does. Summer seemed endless back then, with each day passing slowly, some feeling like an entire year.

As a child, how summer sounded is the easiest to recall. Here’s what I remember from the two places where I spent the most time:

The Jersey shore…
• Echoes of seagulls (and the smell of Coppertone).
• Vendors walking along the beach selling “Fudgy Wudgies” and newspapers.
• “Watch the Tram-car please,” on the Wildwood boardwalk.
• Rock music playing by the amusement piers.
• Announcements of lost kids on the boardwalk.

The old neighborhood…
• Big Wheels racing down the street.
• Hucksters peddling “Jersey tomatoes.”
• Mister Softee or Good Humor trucks.
• Crickets on a hot night.
• Baseball games playing on transistor radios.

It’s hard to say goodbye to summer, but there’s plenty to love about autumn to take away the sting. It makes me smile to think that the sounds of fallen leaves crunching beneath my feet, the crackle of a fireplace and fans cheering at football games are close behind.

Visions of hotcakes danced in our heads

f1b888ad9fd1f4971fed3a08b11b799bDecember 21, 2015It wouldn’t be Christmas without thinking about my grandfather. As I’ve done since this blog began in 2010, I’ll retell the story of his famous Christmas Hotcakes because it is worth repeating…

When I think of my grandfather – known lovingly as Pop Pop throughout our large extended family – lots of warm and comforting memories come to mind.

Most often, he’s standing in front of a microphone at a family party singing a favorite song from 1919 that begs, “Don’t put a tax on the beautiful girls, I won’t last a day without love…”

Or, he’s sitting at our dining room table playing Scrabble with my parents after one of our Thursday night dinners.

I also vividly see him standing in the kitchen preparing his famous hotcakes.

Pop Pop made hotcakes every Sunday for his kids before church. Then, he’d make them for us during our summer vacation at the beach because he usually came with us. He’d love to get up early, walk to the grocery store and buy what he needed to whip up a fresh batch. We’d wake to the sound of him whistling in the kitchen with the griddle sizzling.

“Who wants hotcakes?” he’d ask as soon as he saw our sleepy faces.

We all did. They were one of the things we looked forward to while on vacation. And we loved them the next day, too, and maybe even the day after that. By day four, we’d have rather eaten a simple bowl of corn flakes or a Pop Tart, but we never had the heart to say so, and we ate them anyway. It was a small price to pay to please a man who brought so much joy into our lives.

He also made hotcakes for us on Christmas mornings, and we’d eat them like we never had them before, then he’d fall asleep on the sofa while we opened presents.

Pop Pop passed away in 1977, and I still think of him and his hotcakes every Christmas. Gone but not forgotten, poured but never duplicated, Pop Pop’s hotcakes were the centerpiece of our Christmas morning and our summer vacations. Those memories will be with me always.

Birthdays

cupcakeDecember 9, 2015 – I was 21 when my parents helped me buy my first (used) car by giving me a small loan. I promised to pay them back with a portion of my mediocre paycheck each week.

On my birthday that year, with a good amount of that debt still owed, they gave me a card and inside it my Mom wrote, “Your debt is forgiven. Love, Mom and Dad.”

My parents have always been generous with birthday and Christmas gifts through the years, and it was just like them to do something like that. Still, that particular birthday card has always been the most memorable.

Fast forward more than 30 years later, and upon celebrating my birthday with family over the weekend, I received another memorable card. This time it was signed simply, “Happy birthday. Love, Dad.”

It was a beautiful card addressed to “A Special Daughter” and in many ways, similar to cards I had received in the past – with one huge exception. It was the first card I received that wasn’t from Mom, too.

My Mom passed away a year ago in January, so there have been a lot of firsts without her in 2015, for my family and me. It’s fitting that today I think of her because she had a leading role in my first birthday and each thereafter.

This is long over due, but thanks for the birthday, Mom. This is your celebration too.

 

 

Summer Breeze

summer breezeJuly 30, 2015 – To the boy who lived on Claridge Street around the corner,

It was the summer of 1974. You stood near the cash register at Lou’s Candy Store and made an impression on me that will last forever.

Perhaps you were buying something, or just stopping by for a visit because you were a friend of the owner’s son. I knew who you were the way you know all the kids in the neighborhood, but it was the first time I observed you closely.

I felt smitten as I watched you sing along to Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” playing on the radio. It made me realize you were a kind soul even though even though your little sister had threatened to turn my little sister’s nose upside down so she’d drown when she took a shower.

After I shared that moment with you, our paths ever crossed again.

“Summer Breeze” played on the oldies station today, and I smiled remembering the boy who touched my heart that day, just like I do each time I hear it. Funny, your name escapes me, but I have never forgotten how you made me feel that perfect summer day all those years ago.