Big Chef In The Sky

Big Chef was the place. An old fashioned diner complete with a counter, a customer base of retirees composed of aging vets and the requisite crew of wait staff who could dish out the sass as quickly or even quicker than they took it.

When my father-in-law walked in, a chorus of “Lee” sounded around the place and he would say hello to all as he led us to the counter for a burger and fries or tater tots and hot chocolate or coffee and coffee and coffee. We weren’t there often, but Johnny was, and he wasn’t alone.

Big Chef is gone now, replaced this week by a new diner. The other patrons are almost all gone too. Cancer, old age, heart problems. Time does that.

I never understood the real magic of Big Chef until visitation for my father-in-law.

Everyone there loved Johnny. Many of them had met at Big Chef, and over the years he’d had them over for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Sunday dinners he cooked.

One of his Big Chef friends drove hours from Port Arthur for the visitation. Johnny served as an honorary pall bearer for that friend’s wife back in 2010. The man was a truck driver who stopped in at Big Chef regularly and ended up as much family as friend.

Another Big Chef friend lived across the street from Johnny. The World War 2 vet enjoyed being known as a grumpy old man even more than Johnny did. When he got sick, Johnny and a few other Big Chef friends checked in on him all the time and made sure he ate, took him up to Big Chef, went out to visit him at the Veteran’s Center when he couldn’t continue to stay at home. That friend’s daughter took Johnny to the hospital years ago when he had a blood clot and probably save his life. She was with Brian and Johnny when Johnny took his last breath last Friday at the Veteran’s Center.

Other Big Chef friends checked in on Johnny often over the last two and a half years as Johnny battled metastasized lung cancer. They were there for the car auctions and the time out in the shop working on the classic car collection, something the doctor said gave Johnny quality of life and would help him live longer. It did too. Until the last few weeks of his life, Johnny worked on those cars with his friends. Friends made at a diner first years and years ago.

Big Chef was a place.

But it was a whole lot more than that.

Johnny at the Big Chef diner counter

Eugene Johnny Lee

March 13, 1936 – Sept. 14, 2018

He was a good father-in-law. He will be missed.

Obituary

Memorial slideshow

Me and We.

God uses my tough times to teach me who I am.

I need to remember that.

I’m re-learning who I am, finding me again. A me not tied up in the things I have or my job or the people who depend on me.

It’s different.

It’s honestly strange.

I’m not a blank canvas. My life experiences have made me me. My relationships have made me me.

All of that is good.

But it can be bad too.

This is a season of change, and not just because menopause sucks.

I didn’t realize how much my me was tied into the we that DH brings to my life. Again, not a bad thing. I’ve spent over half my life with Brian and he makes me a better me. That line “he completes me” is absolutely true.

However, life threw us a giant detour and suddenly we are not we. We are me and him in different places at different times FaceTiming and talking and together sometimes.

I didn’t realize how much I depended on Brian to help me be me until this year. Last year it felt like a temporary situation. This year it’s life, our new norm. And I need to deal.

But to do that, to deal, I need to be good with me as me. I need to be grateful for the times there’s a we, but I have to be okay when there’s not, and that’s not easy. I am selfish and whiny and not even a little bit grateful.

More than anything I’m afraid. Left to me I work and watch TV and that’s not living. That’s letting life happen. So it’s time to stop that. It’s time to actually do the things I want to do. To figure out me. To be courageous. To change my mindset and remember how I started this post: God uses my tough times to teach me.

Lessons

Be kind.

Help others.

Event + Response = Outcome

Everyone is just as busy as you are. We all have the same 24 hours.

When you’re feeling down, do for others. It will make you feel better.

When making a parent phone call, put yourself in that parent’s position and ask yourself what you would want to hear.

You can’t take words back.

Don’t speak in anger.

The universe listens and responds.

The Serenity Prayer is real.

The Golden Rule is real.

Say yes more.

Learn to say no.

You do you.

Written goals are better.

Dream big.

Make your own fun.

Perfection is impossible.

Deadlines are deadlines.

A clean desk is possible.

A messy desk isn’t a moral failure.

Ask.

Listen.

Love.

Maybe Me

Empty Nester.

Middle Aged.

Gigi.

Almost 50.

Remember when….

There’s this post that makes the rounds about being 50 and finally knowing what and who you are. About the strength and wisdom that comes with age.

I don’t feel it. I’m smack dab in the middle of my 49th year, and there are times I feel as lost as I was at 25.

Time passes.

The apartment is…well, just is. Not special. Not home. An after-effect of change.

That’s a weird place to be, a psychological shift of seismic proportions I never expected.

Time is fleeting yet infinite. There are no practices, games, lessons, meetings with DD. There’s work and there’s the apartment. I should have so much time to find me. I would have killed for this time to go to the gym, write, learn to cook, read a book, whatever in those early days. Now the time is here, and I watch the news, sports and ABC dramas then take a magnesium and go to bed where I sleep or think about should haves, could haves, would haves. Weird.

That’s it. I’m feeling weird these days. A little lost, a little found. A wanderer, I guess, looking for me.

Weird. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s perfectly normal and weird is not looking.

Maybe it’s menopause. Maybe this entire post is one existential menopausal reflection. Or is it the opposite of existential?

It is what it is.

I am what I am.

49 is an odd place to be. At least now, in this moment.

I Can

I am a big believer in speaking words to power. I tell my students all the time “don’t release that negativity to the universe.” But sometimes I live in the do as I say not as I do universe.

For the last few weeks that’s where I’ve lived with my writing.

I read a book, love it, sigh and say, “Nope, can’t do it. I can’t compete with this.”

I stare at my computer screen and see the blinking cursor and it fills me with fear and dread and emptiness.

I’ve given myself permission to write crap, and when I look at my words, that’s what I see.

That negativity isn’t real. I know it’s not real, and still it shuts me down. SOME of the words are crap. Total crap. But at its base, the story I’m working on is good. I KNOW this and still I let my fear of inadequacy get in the way.

The last couple weeks I haven’t had words to share with Night Writers, the group I go to weekly at my local library. I help critique others, but that makes me feel like a fraud of a writer because I haven’t written anything other than a bajillion social media posts and a handful of blog entries.

Instead I’ve looked at my words, readied my writing space and after thirty minutes of thinking “I can’t!” I turn on a recorded Grey’s or This is Us or open my kindle app to read another Jill Shalvis or Kristen Ashley or Nora or SEP (…the list of authors I love is LONG!) book and wonder how can those writers be so good?!?!

Last night, though, after my writing group met, I opened my notebook and iPad, gathered my editor’s notes (Penni, you are a Godsend!) and told myself to get over it. The only way to get through the I CAN’T WRITE moments is to sit down and do the work.

I almost didn’t write this today because sometimes I write these “I can do this” posts, and my brain taunts me.

But you know what? My brain taunts me anyway, so here it is. I can do this. I want to do this. I LIKE the end product when it’s all said and done, but getting to a real The End is not easy. It takes real work. There’s no pretend. If I want to be successful as an author, I’ve got to write and tame that negativity beast. Tame her because she’s not going anywhere. She’s there in my brain ready to pounce when I least expect it. She’s part of the process.

I can do this. I can.

Save the Public School: VOTE

There is a villain in the Oklahoma teacher walk out, and his name is Harold Hamm. Honestly. Mary Fallin is his partner in villainy.

For the last two decades the American public has watched while states led by radical conservatives cut taxes on corporations and destroyed public services while doing so. The experiment has led to massive cuts to education, healthcare, mental health facilities, special needs services and more while the income gap has gutted much of the middle class.

I knew this, and still I was shocked to read that Hamm, the 28th richest man in the US and one of the world’s top 100 richest men lobbied the OK lege against a tax hike.

Giant corporate tax cuts supposedly work like this: giant rich companies led by billionaires pay low, low taxes or no taxes, hire tons of people and pour money into local public services.

But it hasn’t worked like that. Instead companies like Hamm’s have grown bigger and richer while those giant corporate tax cuts have led to crisis after crisis. And current far right Republican leaders continue to cut and cut and cut.

It hasn’t always been this way, I don’t think. But it’s where we are now, and it’s our fault. We keep allowing culture wars to control our votes and we keep these people who are decimating our public schools in office.

People, there is only one way to fix this problem. Vote the current leadership out. Show up at the polls in November and tell the Harold Hamm’s and Mary Fallin’s we are done with their nonsense.

Texas: this is OK focused, but listen up. We are headed in the same direction courtesy of Abbott and awful DP. Our power rests in our vote. Don’t let this continue. Vote them out of office.

The Pilfering of Public Education

Another reason to vote for pro-public education politicians:

The pilfering of public education continues. Next week starts testing, where we will do what the state makes us do even though we know these tests don’t measure what testing companies and politicians and charter schools focused on test scores and the bankers that make big bucks off those charters say they measure. These are endurance tests where focus and the ability to sit for long periods of time will be rewarded even though those two things don’t tell us much about the future success of a student. These endurance grades will be applied to districts and schools this year. Next fall we’ll see the new crop of A-F grades. Schools filled with children who can sit, read, bubble and write for FIVE straight hours will earn an A grade. Good for them.

I’m not anti-test, but I am anti this monster our politicians have created.

A few years ago a new student joined my class in mid-October. She was confused about the focus on tests, the practice tests, the streamlined lessons built to the test, the classes for those who’d failed the test. Where she lived, no one ever talked about the test until the week before and then you took a two-hour test on a computer and went on with your day. She thought Texas was crazy. She’s right.

But schools have to do what the state tells them they must. So we will do this. Our testing coordinators have planned and organized and worked to make the process as painless as possible. We’ve been trained to actively monitor, read directions and say “I can’t answer that. Just do the best you can.” Administers are ready to walk through buildings monitoring constantly. The hall assistants have their Fitbits ready to count the steps. I think some of ours did 10 miles last year.

We will do this and we will make sure our kids know they are more than a test score. The testing company will earn its $70-$90 million they’ve been paid for this test year. And we will lobby the lege to change this nonsense. And it will go on and on and on UNTIL we vote for politicians who listen to educators.

The World is Changing

When I was in college, I had to take speech to graduate. I HATED talking in front of people, but as my professor told me, if I wanted a degree, I had to do it.

I survived.

Today I’m a workshop speaker, I’ve spoken at school board meetings, I’ve given speeches at rallies, I’ve presided over meetings. All of that still makes me nervous. I’m not sure any of those public speaking moments would have ever happened if Dr. Dencil Taylor hadn’t told me I had no choice but to speak in front of my class. EVEN though I told him I’d get sick. He was heartless.

Actually what he was was a master educator who believed more in me than I believed in myself.

Today speech class is no longer part of the required curriculum in Texas colleges. The lege decided it wasn’t necessary. EVEN though public speaking ability is one of the skills business leaders say is absolutely essential to success.

Recently I read about a university that is cutting liberal arts majors. On further investigation I found this is a common theme in higher education. The reason given over and over again: it’s tough to get a job with a liberal arts degree.

The world is changing, and not for the better, if a degree that encourages you to think and read and write can’t translate to a job.

The world is changing, and not for the better, if we only look at education in terms of vocation.

I was alarmed when students said they didn’t want to take high school journalism because they didn’t want to be journalists. I mean, let’s be real, high school IS NOT ONLY about what you’re going to do later in life. And it shouldn’t be. Shoot in all likelihood students will change their major more than once in college if they go to college. They’ll definitely go down different career paths regardless of whether or not they get a degree.

There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with vocational education, but for us to make all educational decisions through that limited lens is a huge mistake.

And that mistake is the same mistake universities that choose to discontinue liberal arts degrees are making.

The world is changing. Training for a vocation is not enough. Students need to be able to think critically and problem solve and write and analyze data and think some more and work in collaborative groups and think some more. They need to learn how to be flexible and understand the difference between fact and opinion, and they need to understand the power of propaganda. And they definitely need to know the past because it serves as a lesson, a warning, a road map to our future.

Yes, we need vocational education. But vocational education is not all we need.

Liberal arts subjects help us navigate that changing world. Removing them from the curriculum is the wrong answer to a real issue.

The world is changing. Absolutely.

21st Century Education: Yearbook

A few years ago someone asked me if yearbooks were even relevant anymore.

I was ready with my standard response: Kids in publications classes learn to communicate effectively, collaborate, problem solve, question why, tell their community’s story creatively and work on a deadline under massive stress in complete chaos. Relevant? Check out the 21st century education skill sets demanded by today’s top corporations and you’ll see yearbook checks almost every box. With design and surveys, it even makes the math cut.

Yearbook, newspaper and journalism classes aren’t just about the end product. BUT the end product does, in education speak, show mastery of the skills learned in the course. In yearbook’s case, the book encapsulates the school year FOREVER. In 50 years the book will be what people turn to to learn about the past. The yearbook is the school in book format.

Yearbook is not just relevant, it’s essential.

(More on this tomorrow.)

Taking a Break

When we finished the yearbook Thursday night, I posted a year in review of pictures showing the editor from summer camp to the very last layout submission on our Facebook page. It was beautiful and fun and reminded me of all that’s good about social media.

On Easter I liked a memory photo of President Obama and the former First Lady reading Where the Wild Things Are to children. It was beautiful and funny and reminded me of all that’s good about social media.

And then I read the comments.

I sat there at my mother-in-law’s house reading one racist awful thing after another, getting angrier by the minute.

Then I posted a news story and that same anger reverberated through me as I thought about OK teachers making such a small paycheck and retirees making a pittance after insurance. Then I started researching healthcare and medical costs in the US and posted and someone said “Thanks Obama” and my head nearly exploded because yeah, it really sucks that insurance has to cover pre-existing conditions and can’t cap our care and states that expanded Medicaid have decent healthcare for decent prices but big pharma and insurance are definitely going to bankrupt any of us who happen to fall ill…..and I realized…..

Social media is killing me.

I didn’t take my blood pressure, but I felt it skyrocket.

I like debate. I love the people I debate with. I have had lots of friends who have different political persuasions, and in the past it was fun to disagree.

But…

Not now.

Now I’m angry.

Or I’m bored and I start checking out what’s going on and an hour later I’m laughing at a video of some little kid I don’t know instead of talking to the people I do know.

Or I’m checking out twitter to see what the political pundits are saying.

Or I’m saying amen to Collier because awful Dan Patrick IS killing public education and people who vote for him are voting me out of a job and voting kids who aren’t independently wealthy out of quality education.

Or…

The list goes on and on and on and on.

Social media is infinite. It’s amazing because of its reach and the connections we make. It’s awful for the same reason.

So as I sat there realizing how worked up I was over something that had been debated to death, as I said “people are so stupid!” I looked in the mirror and saw me.

And I deleted the social media apps off my phone.

My goal is a week.

I should do more.

We’ll see what happens.