Category Archives: thoughts

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

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.

Thanksgiving Beauty

Thanksgiving was beautiful. It was just us and my parents. Dad made turkey because Mom is turkey crazy on Thanksgiving. I don’t really understand because I’m not a fan, but I love that Dad does this for her.

It’s their way.

Dad has psoriatic arthritis. He hurts all the time. But he never complains. Last year Mom was in the hospital with MRSA. She missed Thanksgiving and Christmas at home, and Dad was all out of sorts not making the turkey for her.

It was good to eat turkey and cranberry salad Mom made. Mom made the cranberry salad in spite of tremors that make chopping tough. Actually the salad isn’t easy to make without tremors. She made it anyway. Because Dad made turkey, and cranberry salad is a must if there’s turkey.

So we ate a delicious Thanksgiving lunch that wasn’t about eating but was about spending time with each other, and that was beautiful.

I’d tried to convince them to go out since it was just us. I mean you cook for hours and hours and eat in twenty minutes.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?

It’s giving and sharing and talking and laughing and cleaning up and laughing and then sitting around the table playing dominoes. They taught us how to play Moon. And as we played they laughed and reminded us about Grandma and Grandpa loving that game. They did love to play games, especially domino games and Skip-Bo.

And that’s Thanksgiving too. Memories of loved ones who have passed. Memories in the recipe for cranberry salad and how they loved to eat the turkey skin and how their pie crust was better than store bought and how they ate cornbread soaked in buttermilk for a treat.

Thanksgiving was beautiful. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

I Remember, but I wish I didn’t

I posted this on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

A Writer's Life

I remember 9/11.
I can see it as clearly as if I were standing in the newsroom with my students– on the phone with my husband telling me to turn the channel to MSNBC because something had happened at the Twin Towers. I can relive every moment as my class watched in horror as the second plane crashed intentionally into the second tower. We didn’t stop watching.

When I got home, I kept the TV on. I didn’t turn the TV off for a week. Not for a second. Every night I tried to sleep, but the news was on. Always.
As I prayed and asked God for a miracle.
That someone would be alive.

I didn’t know a single person in New York or D.C. that day, but it felt like every person interviewed was a neighbor. I watched, stunned, as day after day after day people who lost…

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Year 24: A new year in a turbulent time

This is one of my favorite times of the year. The blank slate, fresh start, new beginning of a school year.
But the white supremacist march in Charlottesville and the death of a counter protestor and two law enforcement officers eclipsed all my normal joy.
Seeing those angry people holding Nazi flags, Confederate flags and other symbols of hate while they shouted hateful words including Nazi slogans hurt my heart. Seeing so many of those faces and thinking they're not that much older than the children in my classroom hurt even more.
All day I've felt this darkness, this pain, this awful pollution of the soul.
And then as I sat down to write this, something shifted.
I'm a teacher. A public school teacher. The public school is everything that stands against hate. The public school is a place where playing fields are leveled, where cultural differences are embraced, where kids of all races and religions and genders work together constantly. It wasn't always so, but the world changed, thank God.
The angry hate we saw in Virginia this weekend was loud. It was awful. But those people lost a long time ago, and the public school helped make that happen.
So here I am, sad but hopeful, sure beyond doubt that my job, my mission, is more important than ever.

Together Again

A million years ago Sandra Scheller allowed me to observe her journalism classes at Rider High School when I was an MSU student. After four years she let me take over the Rider newspaper after I was hired as an English teacher.when I left Rider last year Sandra took the newspaper back after 22 years. Now we’re at Gloria Shields Workshop together. Life is so awesome. 

The kid who knows too little

The girl drove me crazy.

She always called me over, always wanted me to hold her hand and walk her through what to do. She’s in a huge class of students who…keep me on my toes. And she wanted my attention 100%.

The thing is she has a great eye, and she’s super creative, and she seems to be a good student. Except in my class. 

In my class she lost 30 photos. In my class she didn’t follow the step by step instructions printed on the sheet in front of her. In my class she wanted my every moment and that just wasn’t possible.

Frustration set in, on both our parts.

Until the middle of second six weeks when she asked a new question. So how do I make a new PowerPoint again? And the girl sitting next to her added, “What is an attachment?” And the one next to her said, “I never really used email before.”

And just like that I realized for weeks I’d been speaking a foreign language to these kids. And the “Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee,” girl was actually the brave one willing to ask the questions.

It took three class periods, but in the end they knew what to do, and now when they walk in the classroom, they do amazing work. We lost weeks because I let my frustration get in the way of finding the positive and I didn’t bother talking to and with them to see if I could understand what the heck was wrong.

Ugh.

Something to remember for next year.

Yes, you should be a teacher

Mrs. Lee, I’m thinking about being a teacher, but I just don’t know. What do you think?
My former students ask me this question pretty often. My answer has not changed even though education has.
Yes. Yes, you should be a teacher. No other job is as rewarding as awe-inspiring, as beautiful and life affirming as teaching.

Yes, teaching has changed, and yes, everything is more test centric. Despite that, teaching is still an incredible job.

Yes, kids curse and question authority and their phones will drive you crazy. Kids always cursed and questioned authority. It’s different now for a lot of reasons, but that’s not just an education issue. And the phones are crazy, but walk into any restaurant and look around. It’s the same everywhere, and it’s certainly not just the kids. We get to be part of teaching society how to use those phones successfully instead of letting them control our lives.
Yes, teaching hurts sometimes. When your kids lose parents or grandparents or get kicked out or live in a hotel or come to school dirty and hungry or get involved in the slippery slope of drugs and alcohol or go through bad breakups or fail their STAARs or get criticized and ridiculed for work they were proud of or wreck their cars or drop out–GOD, that last one hurts so bad–you bet it hurts. And that’s why you will be an amazing and wonderful teacher. Because it does hurt you and you will do everything in your power to help your kids through the tough stuff. 

Yes, politicians who are beholden to banks and other special interests will make you crazy. Yes, the politics of teaching can drag you down if you don’t let it energize you. Yes, you will sacrifice sleep and money and health. And still, yes, you should teach.
Unless, the only reason you’re thinking about teaching is the decent starting salary. Because if that’s it, no, no, no, no. You don’t want to teach for the money, I promise. 
Teaching is hard physically and emotionally. It takes everything you’ve got to do it well, and there will be days you suck it up in the classroom, and those days can have terrible consequences if you’re not immediately aware. You will go home Fridays and crash. You will spend hours (and sometimes $$$) on lessons that fall flat. You will lay sleepless in bed staring at the ceiling worrying about a kid in your class, you will ask for unspoken prayer requests for kids going through struggles that seem impossible.
You will gain weight if you are not extremely careful or blessed with great metabolism or someone who works out constantly. You will work sick and miss moments with your family. You will sit through meetings wondering why on earth they didn’t just send an email or read emails wondering why on earth they didn’t have a meeting. You’ll go through great new concept after great new concept after great new concept discarding the one that came before for the new until your head is spinning and you can’t remember what you’re supposed to be doing.
And still, you should be a teacher.
Because yes, there is heartache and frustration, but there is so much more. You are changing the world, lighting a light, showing the way, challenging and enlightening and loving kids to success. And honestly, there is no better job in the world.

If you feel like maybe you want to teach, try and see. Give yourself three years to discover if the classroom is your calling. If it’s not, that’s okay too. You’ll still look back on your time with kids as an educational experience. If it is your calling, you have found an amazing life journey and the best job in the world. ❤️

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who taught me visits with Grandma were the best vacations, Young and the Restless is timeless, kissing on a bridge was not “making love,” there’s an art to walking in high heels, knowing if you’re a winter or a summer matters, the birds and the bees talk using the dust on the dashboard could be traumatic and hilarious, dance parties make everything better when you’re a little kid, shorts can be too short, sunscreen matters, koolaid and popsicles make hot summer days amazing, the best stories are the ones you make yourself, Writer’s Digest is a thing, Silhouette Romances are the best, kissing the man you love on the couch in front of your kids is a good thing, Mary Kay makeovers are the best, roses roses smells delicious but it’s brutal on those with allergies, matching Mother’s Day dresses can be a blessing and a curse, there’s a way to hold your mouth just so to get that perfect curling iron curl, the feathered hair haircut is perfectly achieved by putting hair in a ponytail and snip, great legs are genetic (wah!), great nails are too (yay!!!), chocolate fixes everything (wah!), fresh tomatoes-onion-cucumber does too (yay!), power through when you mess up singing, practice so the mess ups aren’t constant, it’s worth it to wake up early to see a royal wedding, reading is fundamental, recipes matter, “don’t make me stop this car” strikes fear in the heart of all kids even when they’re not in a car, and a whole bunch of other stuff. ❤️ Love you Mom.  MB

I’m a democrat. Here’s why.

Someone said the democrats have lost their identity. Maybe that’s true. Maybe on a national level there is an identity crisis, but there’s not one for me. 

I’m a democrat because:

Strong public education is a bedrock of democracy.

Women’s rights are human rights.

Bathroom bills are attacks on all people not just the transgender community.

I should not be afraid to be sick because an illness would destroy me financially, even though I have insurance.

The income gap is growing and it will destroy us. Corporate executives are earning record salaries while more people employed full time are on food stamps and living in section 8 housing. This is not okay.

I’m a deeply religious person, but I firmly believe in the first amendment. Separation of church and state is essential to democracy.

The first amendment is not only about protecting Christianity.

Pro-life is not pro-life. It’s an oversimplification of a multifaceted issue. When abortion is outlawed it does not stop abortion. It moves abortion to back alley butchers. This has been seen throughout the ages.

The mortality rate of poor pregnant women in this nation is staggering. Cutting Planned Parenthood funding makes this problem worse. 

A free market system does not work for all areas of life. Profit cannot be the driving force for everything because profit does not care about the lives damaged for gain.

Super PACs are killing us.

It is our responsibility to address the vast issues of poverty, and government assistance is necessary to help with those issues. It’s all fine and good to say communities and individuals should fix these problems, but that doesn’t happen on a regular basis. It leaves assistance up to fate. Not cool if fate doesn’t smile on you. Not cool as in people die in our streets because we purposefully let them.

Politicians don’t belong in our bedrooms unless we invite them.

Politicians don’t belong in our uteruses unless we’ve given birth to them or unless they also happen to be our OB/GYN.

Immigration reform is absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t mean mass deportations and fear.

People matter.

No, all people are not equal, and we need to work on that.

The “good old days” were only good if you were white and male, rich helped.

Climate Change is real. And yes, some of it is natural, but mankind has contributed greatly.

Science is a thing and it matters.

Facts matter. The environment matters. Protecting our water matters. 

Peace matters.
Republicans can look at this list and say they agree with some of the points. That’s all fine and good, but the Republican Party is at war with all the points mentioned. They’ve let themselves be overtaken by belief in the almighty dollar above all else, disguising that belief with fake Jesus; not real Jesus, but the political Jesus who’s white, blonde and wears an R on his sleeve.
This list is not complete, but it’s a start.