Archive for the ‘School’ Category

The Burglar Who Stole My Heart

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Did I mention that I like to read? And that my favorite genre is mystery?
I have 16 shelves of books devoted to various mysteries, most being books in series, some single examples. I think there are more in the basement. And in my bedroom. And on my Kindle.

This love of mysteries started in grade school with Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the Three Investigators. In junior high I moved up to Barbara Michaels and Mary Stewart, and was glad that the ladies were prolific writers. When I was 19, I joined The Mystery Guild and branched out.

And then one day, I fell in love with a burglar.

Bernie Rhodenbarr began letting himself into houses without a key a year or two before I graduated from high-school. When I met him, he’d already pulled a couple of jobs, nearly gone down for murder, and dealt justice to a few scoundrels. I immediately ordered the rest of the series and waited impatiently for more.

Bernie is a pretty unassuming guy to be the hero of a whole series. He’s a quiet bachelor who’s kind to his elderly neighbor, appreciates the art he steals, and loves to read. He’s a little of a renaissance man, appreciating fine cognac, attending the occasional play or concert, dining at a private club, dressing correctly for every occasion. A decent, steady kind of fellow. And then he’s also a dashing rogue, who just occasionally opens locked doors, helps himself to a few choice morsels, and thoughtfully locks up behind himself when he leaves.

Alas, Bernie’s creator, Lawrence Block, was enjoying the adventures of Matt Scudder and Evan Tanner, and he ignored Bernie for years at a time. After The Burglar in the Rye, back at the turn of the century (this one,) I’d not heard from Bernie again except when a sleepless night sent me on a visit to a familiar adventure. My copies of the Burglar books are well worn and showing their age now, a little like me.

BUT HE’S BACK! This year for Christmas, Block is treating us to another adventure with the gentleman burglar, and if you haven’t fallen in love with Bernie in the past, here’s your chance. We find our rogue hero doing what he does best—selling books in his book store, that is. Can he help it that people look him up there and offer tempting challenges? Soon he’s deeply involved in rounding up early American silver, solving a murder for his old friend Ray, and enjoying his popularity with the ladies. With his henchperson to help and some unofficial investigating along the way, Bernie soon puts things to right. Well, maybe not right, but at least all the guilty pay.

Through the years, as I and my books got older, Bernie didn’t age much, but he kept up with the times. When we started off together, he didn’t even have a cell phone. These days, he’s using burner phones, googling bad guys and lamenting the popularity of Kindle.

I, too, lament the Kindle, even as I have decided I like reading with it. Yes, I love the feel and weight and smell and appearance of real books. In my fondest dream, I own a store like Bernie’s and sit among good friends and new aquaintences, surrounded by reading for every mood and need, sharing these treasures with customers and aquiring new ones. But unless I take up burglary, I’m as unlikely to be able to do that as I am to turn a corner in New York, wander into a bookstore and toss some wadded paper for Raffles while lunching with Bernie and Carolyn on Juneau Lock.

What does the future hold for Bernie? I don’t know if he’ll be back for another adventure. I always hope. But if this was the last time we hear from him, it was worth the wait, and so much fun that I might just start my second reading tonight.

When Did You Begin to Read?

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

When did you begin to read?

Do you remember? Can you remember the first words you read on your own, your first book, the first time you read with no pictures?

Most people who love reading don’t remember beginning to read. It’s just something that has always been there. Part of who you are. You don’t even think about it. You just do it.

Some of my earliest memories involve reading. When I think of my mother, it’s often of her voice as she read to us. I remember reading to my baby sister, being bored to distraction by Dick and Jane, waiting eagerly for the Scholastic Book Club flier each month, reading to my newborn babies, and the pride of knowing that my son had stayed up all night to finish one of the Harry Potter books the day it came. Most of my education comes from reading. Even my faith in God is intertwined with a book.

When I was 19, I found out that if you joined a book club, they would send half a dozen books FREE as long as you agreed to buy a few more over a couple of years. WHAT A DEAL! Soon I belonged to four clubs, but the Mystery Guild was my favorite. Raised on Reader’s Digest Condensed Books selections of Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels, I love mysteries. I’m not like most mystery readers. I seldom try to figure out “whodunnit.” I just turn pages faster and faster as the writer reveals delightful twists and turns, with the reward of a neat wrap-up at the end.

When my children were young, I read the classics of childhood aloud to them, even after they were able to read alone. We read Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, the Bible, Robinson Crusoe, nursery rhymes, short stories, Eddie books, Alfred Hitchcock mysteries, the Hobbit…so many more.

When the children began reading longer books, I started reading some of what they read, and found delightful things like Hoot, and Harry Potter, and Holes (why do all the new books begin with H?)

For a couple of recent years, life somehow got in the way, and I found I could no longer read. The words were there, but the attention span wasn’t. I began reading mostly short articles on the internet and in magazines. I missed books, but couldn’t concentrate. It nearly drove me nuts—all my life, I didn’t worry about being a lonely old person, because I would just read. How would I deal with old age if I couldn’t spend it reading??

Thankfully, the concentration problem finally went away, and while I’m too busy to read as much as I’d like, I have a Kindle packed full of things to choose from. These days, I bribe myself to go to the gym by allowing myself to read without guilt as long as I’m walking on the treadmill. See? Reading is good for you.

When did you begin to read?

Winning the Financial Aid Lottery

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I’ve been home sick for several days, so I took the opportunity to file some of the required college financial aid forms online. This is the third year I’ve done this, so I should know what to do and when to do it, right?

The first part was a breeze. I actually knew the password and log-in names, and the FAFSA pre-filled last year’s information and just asked me to see if it was correct. What a breeze! I had worried because my taxes weren’t done, but I had my W-2 laying right there. No problem! Hmmm, new marital status, what kind of trouble is that going to cause? Just check the box? Great!

Moving along, breezing through the pages, then we come to: Parent(s) income____. Parent(s) other income______. Parent(s) income that you are trying to hide_______. I feel guilty only filling in one box. What if I hid it from myself?

Then we had: Income Tax paid (from line 56.)_____. There is nothing on line 56. But there is an amount owed on line 57. Is that the right amount? Why is it on the wrong line? Why don’t they just sync up with the IRS and get this stuff themselves?

Parent(s) total of cash, savings and checking accounts_____. Sometimes I lie on this one. I figure if I put what it really is, they won’t believe me. So I add a few hundred.

Parent(s) assets____. ZERO! Okay, done.

But now I need to file the CSS Profile. You need to be a CPA to figure that one out. Oh, you’ve never done that? Thank your child for choosing a school that doesn’t need a sample of DNA to hand out financial aid.

There are six different questions about retirement income. Which one to choose? Is my retirement plan sponsored? Will I get Social Security? Will you give my kid enough college help that she can take care of me in my old age? Is there a line for that?

What is your sister’s name? Where does she go to school? How much is her tuition? Do we get tax exempt interest? Why are Railroad Retirement benefits a separate category from any other? Credits to be received—how do I know? I don’t have them yet. And the best line of all: Cash expected to be received or any money expected to be paid on your behalf_______. Do I need to estimate the amount each aunt or uncle or grandparent is likely to send on her birthday? What about her graduation gifts? If she finds a quarter on the sidewalk, is there a line for that?

Maybe it isn’t really that bad, but getting financial aid for college is not for the faint of heart. I think that these forms are the first place that schools cut students who really don’t need the money. The parents with good college savings plans just close the window and send cash. The rich parents pay their accountants to do it.

For those who persevere, though, you just might win the financial aid lottery. And for the two years of aid my son has already been given, I’d like to say THANKS!

The Facebook Club

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

I’ve been out of high school a lot longer than I’d like to think about. I really hadn’t kept in touch with my friends. The ones I spent the most time with moved away, and I’m not good at maintaining long distance contacts. But with “social networking” all the rage, I got a Facebook page, and suddenly there were people I hadn’t seen in years, asking to be my “friend” and posting 30 year old memories. And it was like we’d always been together.

I went to a fairly small high school. I knew everyone in my class, along with most of the kids in the three years before and three years after I graduated. Give me a few minutes and I’ll name’em all. I knew their siblings and their parents.

The funny thing is that I guess my memory isn’t as good as I thought. I get friend requests from people I don’t remember until I look them up in the yearbook. I can’t remember who were siblings and who were cousins. Some people I remember well from grade school but was surprised to learn they were still around at graduation. Or that they weren’t. Looking through the yearbook, I’m shocked to see how many people I haven’t thought about at all since we left. I knew all these kids. Didn’t I?

So I have renewed close friendships, happily made new ones, dug out old pictures and newspapers, and rebooted my memory. I’ve chatted long into the night with some people, while I may just leave birthday wishes on the walls of others. I admire all the children and (GASP!) grandchildren, and pray for parents who are getting along in years. As I see my own children growing up and preparing to leave high school behind, I’m learning to cherish that time.

The best part is that it’s not at all like high school. We share a history, which gives a foundation to new friendships. Some of us share specific stories and memories. But the petty things which kept us in our separate cliques, the insecurities that kept us from talking to someone different from us, the jealousies that kept us from being happy for someone else’s success, are gone. We don’t have to keep up an image anymore—the jock, the good girl, the brain, the doper. We’re not the Breakfast Club anymore. The dumb kids aren’t dumb. The pretty girls are still pretty, even if they’re chubby now. The jocks have brains and the brains are coaching their kids. And we all have real feelings and dreams.

So here’s an apology for any hurt feelings I caused. Some forgiveness for hurts done to me. A thank you for little acts of kindness and a promise that if I ever get rich, I’ll buy pizza at Fred’s for everyone to pay back all the pizza I bummed when I was broke. I was blessed to have such friends when I was growing up. I’m blessed now to have them back.