It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like….April?

December in New Jersey.

It’s a seemingly endless string of gray days, horizontal winds, and frigid temperatures.

It’s the time each year when I stop looking at the Christmas decorations and start looking up real estate in Florida. But then I remember that Florida has oppressive humidity. And alligators. So instead, I lose all hope and mentally retreat to a place that is as gloomy as a 4 pm on an overcast 25-degree day.

It’s the time when I visit with my old friend Seasonal Affective Disorder. And yes, S.A.D. makes me s-a-d.

Me. The woman who doesn’t have a day without plans in the summer is replaced by the woman who won’t make plans until the day of an event based on the temperature. And the wind speed. And the possibility of a freak ice storm occurring. Logical, right?

I am a joy to the world during the holidays.

But this year, I have a reprieve!  I’m getting a “fake April” in December!

Accuweather

This is the actual weather forecast for the greater Philadelphia area for December 11-17. 

And because of it, I made plans.

I am attending the holiday party tonight for work. I am going for a run tomorrow OUTSIDE. And I am going to a drag show brunch in Philly on Sunday. Yup. That last one is a real thing. And proof that I’ll say yes to just about any event when the temperature is temperate.

But I’m also wary about looking BEYOND the forecast for this week. I know that a low temp and chance of precipitation could very quickly make me become one with the couch for days on end.

Couch

However, I think this is the year that I may actually reduce my version of S.A.D. I began this proactive process early too. In June I started seeing a therapist. In July I started yoga 3-4 times a week. And in September I started very candidly talking about all of it.  

Some people reacted to my S.A.D. declaration with looks of pity. Some with empathy. And some with an overwhelming need to flee the conversation. I get it. I want to run away from it too.

But I had to do it because I became exhausted trying to pretend that I didn’t move from the bed to the couch and then back to the bed from Dec to March. I started being honest. And I started with myself.

So I’m going to enjoy this next week with all the vigor of a spring lamb bouncing through a grassy meadow. After that, I’ll take it one week at a time as I anticipate a “spring forward” to the real April.

 

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Have a Holly, Jolly….July?

One of the best things about growing up in the 70s — beyond being able to mix stripes and plaids in any outfit — was the weekend after Thanksgiving.

When we ventured out of the house, we immediately went to Sears to see the magical transformation that happened while we gorged all day on Thursday.

The formerly nondescript store was changed from a place that sold dungarees and hammers, to a winter wonderland of red velvet, gold garland, and hammers.

Each store we went to during Thanksgiving Weekend had morphed into a garish yet beautiful display that we knew was as temporary as cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch.

Now, one of the worst things for kids growing up in 2015 — beyond inadvertently watching Cialis commercials with their parents — is the fact that the magical transformations of that era are gone.

When I ran errands today, Friday, July 17,  I saw Christmas reminders everywhere I went. They were in front of Shop Rite on the Salvation Army sign. And at the used car lot. And at the Hallmark store. And on my channel guide.

Seriously. Christmas four times today. My head almost exploded.

Xmas in July 2 Xmas in July 3 Xmas in July1

I used to love the holiday season because that’s all it was – ONE SEASON. Now, Christmas is in the public eye six months of the year. Soon, the neighbors who keep their lights out too far into January will actually just be a smidgen early for the start of Christmas. But in January, they’ll also be thinking of Easter. At Easter, they will be gearing up for the Fourth of July. In June? Back-to-School and Halloween.

So hey. Why not just skip the formality of waiting for a single holiday to have its time — to be special — and merge everything into one year-long holiday that we can celebrate every single day!

And let’s start now. Let’s make nothing special by making everything a daily occurrence.

To all, I say my first “Merry Hallowgivingmas St. Easterpendence Day!”

I can’t wait to see the decorations for that one…

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All We Are Saying, Is Give Trans a Chance

Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn.

I get it. Transgender issues can be confusing.

I recently learned a great deal about trans issues as the adviser of Delsea Regional High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Before this year, I knew the basics, but not the complexities. My co-adviser and I decided that we both needed to educate ourselves because, statistically speaking we knew that in our group of 60 students, we’d have a few who were trans.

We were right.

In our quest to learn more, we found out that a former student had successfully transitioned (“F to M” or Female to Male) and wanted to speak to our group. When he came to speak, we didn’t know which current students were hiding something they were too ashamed and afraid to let others know. By the end of the meeting, we knew two of our students identified as transgender.

After many tears, after many face-to-face conversations, meetings with counselors, meetings with parents, many late night emails, and a very unsettling suicide scare, our transgendered students are making great strides in their quest to live happy lives. The tears have been replaced by smiles; the conversations have move from suicide and fear to Cosplay and crushes.

Caitlyn’s transformation has started a national dialogue. Transgender issues are receiving attention like we’ve never seen before. Students outside of the Gay-Straight Alliance are discussing the LGBT community in unprecedented numbers. Hopefully, the trickle down effect will be a day when our transgender students no longer fear coming to school because of bullying, no longer hate themselves because of something they cannot change, and no longer see suicide as an answer.

Finally, I know many people are upset by the moniker of “hero” when applied to Jenner. I get that. I don’t see her as a “traditional” hero in the sense of the word that we are used to – soldiers, police, firemen – those who sacrifice life and limb for the safety of others. But hero is a subjective term and we could spend a great deal of wasted time getting hung up on an argument about semantics.Some people will see her as a hero in their definition; others will not. One side will not change the other side’s mind.

As for me, I don’t need to use/not use hero. I am simply appreciative that her transition has ignited a conversation — and that some of our most marginalized and bullied students are now a part of it.

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Row 3, Seat 2

After two decades of teaching thousands of students, there is a recurring moment that puts a panic in me worse than just about anything else. It happens outside of the classroom, off of school grounds, when I hear the following question:

“Mrs. Ippolito, is that you?”

And boy oh boy can that query make for a special moment when I’m out buying underwear. Or chewable calcium. Or cat nail clippers.

At that instant, I have a few choices:

Act deaf
Turn and say, “Um, no.”
Acknowledge my identity

I don’t pick the first one (Bad karma)
I only pick the second one if I’m incognito (Which is never, unfortunately)
So, I pick the third one.

But as much as I am thrilled to see former students, I also have an overwhelming sense of panic as I hear my name — because I don’t always remember theirs.

Without Facebook and social media, a good number of the students I taught in the 90s would be unrecognizable to me. So, I am grateful to have reconnected with hundreds of them who have friended me on FB over the years. Those students’ faces and names are now usually clear; I know who they are. And who they date. And where they travel. And what they eat. And where they work. And their favorite bands. And based on the latest quiz, what characters they would be from Sex and the City.

But, even with social media some my first students are still initially tough to figure out because the girls have transformed into women and the boys have turned into men…some of whom look like lumberjacks and are professional wrestlers.

Joe Gacy

(Wrestler Joe Gacy. Taught him in 2003 at the age of 16)

And the changes in my students go way beyond looks when I see them in person.

They’re holding children instead of backpacks.
Or
They’re at bar instead of a prom.
Or
They’re wearing suits instead of Hot Topic t-shirts.

1998

(Still friends with Seli and Amy after teaching them in 1996)

However, after that initial panic, I can begin to see the 15-year-old face that I knew hiding in the 30-plus-year-old adult in front of me. I’m sure those of you who have been teaching for many years can relate. We see the teen face, but we don’t remember the teen name.

But there is something distinct that I usually do remember for all of them: where they sat.

If I could say what I’m thinking in these moments, it would sound like this:

“Hi there Row 3, Seat 2! How have you been?”
“Yes, Front of Row 4. I am still teaching at Delsea High School.”
“Ooooh, Row 1, Seat 5, your daughter is adorable!”

I know it’s an odd thing to remember and I don’t try to do this. It just happens.

I’m not alone with this Rain Man-esque ability either. Many of my friends are teachers and can do the same thing: look at a student, remember where he or she sat, blank out on the name.

Beyond the seating chart, I usually remember other odd things too.

I remember the students who consistently giggled at my corny jokes.
I remember the students with distinct handwriting, especially the big, loopy kind and the small typewriter kind.
I remember the students who stayed after school or came in during my lunch to have heart-to-heart conversations about parents. and dating, and stress, and college.
I remember the students who gave me attitude and the students who gave me joy.

I remember just about all of the students I taught; I just don’t remember all of their names.

So please, former students, if you see me at a Phillies game, or in Sea Isle, or at a restaurant, or out running errands, act as if I’m 80 and just tell me your name right away. I’m sure the floodgates will open way beyond row, and seat, and penmanship. I just need to hear YOUR name right after you say mine, ok?

Don’t make me call your parents.

TJMS

My first year of teaching in 1992-93 at
Thomas Johnson Middle School, Lanham, MD.
These “kids” are 36 now

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The Cat Goes Moo?

I’ve never seen a cat eat a vegetable.

Or a fruit.

Even the thought of a cat gnawing on a carrot or chewing on a strawberry is too ridiculous to picture without imagining the flaws of the logistics (Think of a cat holding a strawberry. See???)

From what I’ve seen, a cat’s interest in fruits and vegetables doesn’t seem to extend beyond the gag after smelling them or the prospect of batting them around the kitchen floor.

And we all know how that second scenario ends. Quickly disappears under the fridge — with the tie wraps. And earring backs. And lost pasta.

So through the years I’ve been much more likely to see a cat chew on a mole’s head or its own dried vomit than a veggie.

But, I might be wrong about all of this. (My mother will love that statement.)

Maybe, as it turns out, the cats in my life have actually been trying to eat that toy blueberry. They’ve been trying to savor that retch-inducing broccoli.

Because recently I’ve noticed that there’s been a push for “fruit and vegetable-based” cat food on TV and in stores. Scientists have been hard at work in their quest to change felines to bovines (Got cat?) and make them happier in the process.

Cat Food

In the latest commercial for organic, healthy, nutritional pet food, I saw the deep concern on the actress’s face as she rued the day she ever fed her cat generic food because of “all the preservatives!”

She meted out deep concern over the fact that the actor-cat she was holding had gone so many years without acai. If it wasn’t for the contentment on his fluffy face, I’d swear from her words that he was depressed about the lack of smoothies in his life. Or the fact that he was an actor-cat.

But I’ve owned many cats over the years, from Tokie, to Powder Puff, to Fritter, to Puffy, to Tiffany, to Brutus, to Stella and each one lived a long life without ever eating spinach. Or anti-oxidant raspberry extract. Or ginseng. And not one seemed upset about it.

However, it could explain why Fritter and Stella always bit me. They were grumpy. And irregular.

So as I noticed more and more of these commercials, I started to wonder: Am I a bad pet owner?
Were the cats in my life secretly longing for the asparagus that I had so carefully hidden in my napkin as a child?
Were they wistfully looking at my empty salad bowl hoping there would be just one scrap of red cabbage?
Were they internally crying out for their turn on the corn cob when all I heard was, “Mew”?

No matter how guilty the feline-loving bigwigs on Madison Avenue may try to make me, it’s difficult to believe that a lack of organic produce is negatively affecting the mental and physical well being of my feline companions.

What’s my proof beyond decades of cat ownership? My new feral-turned-tame, outdoor-to-indoor cat, Jerome. He didn’t like the whole “eating healthy” thing when I recently tried it on him. And this rejection of food comes from a brute of a cat who begs for raw chicken and pizza and small livestock. In my experiment, he turned up his nose and walked away from the salad I put in his bowl. He balked at the roasted Brussels sprouts on china.

Philistine!

Yawn

Jerome. Angry at veggies. (Actually just a mid-yawn)

His age and his background are unknown to us, but I’m pretty sure that in all the years he spent wandering the nether regions of the neighborhood, he was not cultivating a new strain of toxin-free sweet potatoes to include in his diet.

That would be impossible.
He doesn’t have thumbs.
Or gardening tools.

So forget about him farming healthy food choices. This is a cat who wouldn’t even be able to complete his meals if I didn’t bring him TO the bowl, since he has a tendency to walk a bit, fall over, and start purring.

Come to think of it, he usually acts as if he’s high. So he wouldn’t forage for greens anyway. Unless it was catnip.

Stoned

(Jerome. Stoned on catnip. That he didn’t grow.)

But the upshot of this whole hullabaloo is that I’m happy when people go above and beyond for their pets; I am of the same ilk. I even have the “Crazy Cat Lady” starter kit which includes two other feral cats, a tarp-covered feral sleeping compound, and multiple 25lb bags of non-organic/non-vegetable/non-fruit cat food. And since the older cat of the pair has been living off of that food for 17 years, I think I’m going to stick with it.

But if giving your cat farm fresh, cold-stored, preservative-free vittles is the thing for you – go for it! Somewhere I’m sure your cat is trying to smile.

As for me, I’m going to keep the fruits and veggies on MY plate.

And occasionally, I’m sure, under the fridge.

On couch

(Jerome. Just not having any of it.)

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Return to Sender

During the past month, my Facebook newsfeed has been covered with lists.

“40 Things I Now Realize at 40” (stuff sags)
“30 Surprises of  Becoming Parent” (you’ll smell like puke)
“20 Pieces of Advice to Ignore If You’re Getting Married” (you don’t need fancy china)
“10 Words You’re Using Incorrectly” (exponentially)
“5 Sexual Positions You’ve Never Tried” (only lithe gymnasts with no spinal columns SHOULD be trying them)

So basically I’ve seen this:

“100 Lists of 5+ Things That Will or Won’t Apply to Everyone or Just a Few People in Every Situation or Some Rare Instances”

Awesome. I’ve been looking for that.

The lists themselves are innocuous enough; it’s simply people who have figured out truths in their lives who want to help others discover their own pathways to bliss. At least that’s how I’ve seen them.

But to others, it’s not that — at all.

Based on the majority of the comments under the lists, I’d say the altruistic purposes of the authors are completely lost on the cadre of internet trolls who almost instantly post how “stupid” or “wrong” or “idiotic” the list and/or authors are. The venomous vitriol spit by these vipers is filled with personal attacks and hurtful comments of another person’s opinions. Let me say that again – oh-pin-yuns. Not facts. Not societal mandates. Just one person’s view of life as they know it. Relax people.

And if you have one, take a pill.

What I don’t understand is why these Bitter McBittersons don’t just hit the “back” arrow, or close the page, or walk away from the computer. But as we know some people will always look for reason to be pissy. To that, I give them an emphatic “Ew.”

Personally, I find the lists amusing. I’ll read them simply to keep an open mind about the shifts – or a lack thereof – in the social mores of the time. Sometimes they’re funny; sometimes they’re ridiculous.

But here’s the bigger issue: maybe advice from others on very personal matters isn’t the way to go. How about if we give OURSELVES advice about lessons learned? Can’t get more personal than that.

And it’s exactly what I started doing with the 12th graders in my English classes in 2008.

The “Letter to Me at 23” has been given to my seniors each June since 2008. There are some guidelines for writing, but it is up to each student to decide what is important enough to include. It’s a way for the 18th year old teen in my class to speak to the 23 year-old young adult of the future

5-year letter - editied

I wasn’t sure how well it would go over; however, the first five-year letters were mailed in May of 2013 and the responses were overwhelmingly positive; the students strongly urged me to continue to give this assignment.

And it all started with a letter that I wrote to myself in 1985.

Let’s go back to that year for a second, shall we?

When I was in the spring semester of my sophomore year in high school in 1985, not only did I have a bad attitude , but one side of my head was shaved, I wore black from head to toe each day, and I continually listened to The Cure.

Yeah, I had an emo phase. And I also thought that everybody should Wang Chung.

Emo Jess

(Nope. Not a costume. Just a Tuesday)

Then one day, in a fit of teen angst and depression, I became more and more disgusted with all of the happy quotes that adults would say to me to break me out of my funk. My response eye rolls were almost audible.

For some reason, instead of taking their advice, I decided to record all of the frustration I was feeling, NOT in a sappy poem so typical of teens, but in a letter – to myself – that I was to open on my 30th birthday.

I wrote pages about what was wrong with my life, what I hoped the future would be, and the names of some of my closest friends.

I vividly remember signing it, “Isn’t that true 30 year-old Jessica?” but in all the years I looked at the sealed envelope, that’s all I could remember of the content of the letter.

Years passed. I went to college, got a job, got married, bought a house, and still the letter to myself remained sealed. I was determined not to open it before the deadline of my 30th birthday on June 11, 1999.

So I waited… and waited…until the day of my birthday finally arrived. Four of my best friends from college came to stay with me for the weekend. They all knew about the letter, so the anticipation was building.

After the party, the five of us gathered around the kitchen table and the letter was brought out. For 15 years this letter to myself sat in a plastic Capezio bag with all of the notes I had ever written from third grade on.

It was time. I unsealed the letter and I began to read it aloud.

As I read, there was silence. Mouths were agape and there was no movement. I got to the end and read the only line I had remembered, “Isn’t that true 30 year-old Jessica?” and with that, 15-year wait was over.

And then, like a bag of quarters to the face – it hit me:

I was an idiot at 15.

As this realization hit me, it also hit my friends who responded with every-so-supportive hysterical fits of laughter. I started laughing too.

I laughed because I had no idea who 90% of the people were that I had written about; my problems could have been labeled  #firstworld; my roller coaster emotions could be explained by the fact that I inhaled too much Aqua Net and was not getting married to Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles.

But the lessons I learned – from myself, and not someone else’s list – were this:

Change can be a great thing
My problems will all work out
My obsession with George Michael from WHAM! was more futile than I thought

80s Pic001

(And to think he didn’t respond to this picture/fan letter)

The milestones I achieved, the memories I made, and the laughter I shared over those 15 years were things I couldn’t even image as an immature teen. Likewise, where my students will be later in their lives might be vastly different from what they are expecting at the end of their senior year. Who better than themselves to help guide the way with their own words? It is a “do this/don’t do that” specifically tailored to them – without the snarky comments from cyber ogres.

So the next time you see a “30 Things” list, be kind and give the author a “like.”

And then sit right down and write yourself a letter.

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Slow Line. Take It Easy.

As a public service, let me know if you need help finding any of the following people:

The cashier who runs out of change and tries over and over to crack open a roll of coins
(just smash it)
The customer with expired coupons who wants to use them anyway
(manager needed)
The three people in my town who still write a check at the supermarket
(and don’t prewrite any part of the check)
The customer who takes a stand and holds up a line to save money or get a deal
(it IS 40 cents after all)
The sales person who is overly eager for a break
(especially those who are “Seriously, sooo over this day!”)

Basically, I can help you find the slowest.lines.ever.

All you have to do is ask me to join you in any kind of shopping. I can find these people and situations each and every time I go; it doesn’t matter what day or which store.

It could be a supermarket near my home on a Tuesday, a clothing store at the mall on a Saturday, or a farm stand the way home from work on a Friday.

I am a magnet for delays. And slow lines. And unusual customers.

Now, as a game, I try to predict what the hold up might be as soon as I get into a queue; I’m getting quite good. But there are some things that even I haven’t been able to predict.

For example:

The man who was buying dinnerware at the supermarket and wanted each bowl for $1.05 instead of the $1.15 he was being charged. He had four bowls. The line was five people deep. He fought for the forty cents. Score.

The woman who gave no indication that she was an extreme couponer until all of my items were out of my cart and on the belt. It was then that she took out an accordion folder and selected a wad of them from the front section; they equaled fifteen minutes of scanning and 60% in savings. I looked around for a camera crew because I was sure she had to be part of a reality TV show; she wasn’t. But I still clapped like a monkey with cymbals when she was finished.

Shopping blog

(Because everyone needs 20 bags of Halls cough drops)

The woman at Kohl’s on a busy Saturday afternoon who was buying a leather belt that had no tag – no label whatsoever, actually. The flustered cashier tried looking it up, calling for help, and sending an associate to get another belt, but to no avail. Still, she would not give up the purchase and asked the cashier to call the service desk so they could look up the price. After five years and a day, another line opened and I moved. Belt Woman was still there when I left; she’s probably still there now.

All of these people have been somewhat entertaining. But it’s not only those in front of me who become a side show. The ones behind me are usually just as interesting. You know them, too.

The “huffer-puffers” who sigh loudly and make comments under their breath hoping to engage the ire of those around them to join in on the “harumphs.”

The important people who “just don’t have time for this!” (They’re verrrrry busy).

The chatterboxes who now see the person between the delayer and them as the perfect captive audience; they are also known as “the sharers.” Medical issues and the weather are the main topics of the verbal vomit from this subgroup.

I could get my panties in a twist each time these things happen to me, but if I did, I’d be walking around with a permawedgie. I also worked in retail and understand how annoying customers can be. So I save my burning indignation for people who leave their carts in the middle of the aisle and walk away to browse.

Shopping blog 2

(The moment before I smashed into the abandoned cart)

Instead, when stuck in a line, I play Dice with Buddies, or reorganize my wallet, or read the ridiculous headlines of the weekly rags. It keeps the salesperson from being nervous and keeps my underwear in place. Win-win.

Kim K's Butt

So this is a thank you those who have stalled my exit from a store. It is because of you that I have a 400+ high score in Dice, have a clutter-free wallet, and know the challenges of Kim Kardashian’s life.

I’m heading out today around noon to run some errands. I’ll see you soon.

(*Bonus points if you recognized the play on words in the title of this post. You’re old too!*)

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