Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ode to Teachers...

     The first day of school is fast approaching (three weeks and counting). As I begin to think about preparing my classroom for the new students who will enter it, I find my mind traveling back to the teachers in my own early life who inspired me and influenced who I would become. There are many teachers and classrooms I remember clearly; three stand out from my days at Christian Day School in San Fernando, way back in the 1960's.

     Mrs. Reid, slender, dark-haired, gentle-voiced, and very strict, taught me to read in first grade, using the famous (or infamous) Reading with Dick and Jane series. I can vividly see and even hear the first pages of those books. I loved Dick, Jane, Sally, and of course, Spot.
Look, look.
Oh, look.
See Spot.
See Spot run.
Run, Spot, run!
I had come to first grade with a powerful desire to learn the mystery of reading, and Mrs. Reid granted that wish. (Don't you just love the irony of her name?) I am forever grateful to her. I can see that wide room, cool and dark, filled with wood-topped desks, rubbed deep-brown and satin-smooth from years of eager use. Mrs. Reid would pass around a bin full of small, square, yellow letter tiles from which we would take great handfuls, then quietly create words on our desktops. I felt a sense of magic in that activity: I had the power to make words that others could read and understand!

     In fourth grade, I basked in the radiance of Mrs. Hart (again, a name so like her being!) She was round and warm and constantly smiling; she oozed love. Her classroom was brightly lit and full of colors. Students' papers smiled proudly from the walls. I know we studied math and science and California history, complete with the standard Mission Model, but my most powerful memory is of the books Mrs. Hart kept on a special shelf at the back of the room. A series of biographies of famous Americans written especially for children, we were allowed to borrow them to read during free time or when we had finished an assignment. A contest developed: who could read the most books from this vast collection before the year was over? I loved those books, especially those about famous female Americans like Betsy Ross and Abigail Adams. Every spare moment I could squeeze out of the day, I spent reading those books. There were about fifty, I think, and I read most, though not all, of them. My interest in strong female characters has stayed with me; I find the life stories of women like Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, and Eleanor Roosevelt to be powerful influences on my own life and character.

     Mr. Fesler made my sixth grade year amazing, utterly amazing. Tall and slender, dressed in shirt and tie, Mr. Fesler was a commanding figure. He was brilliant; he seemed to know everything about everything. And he was artistic and creative, too. Oh, Mr. Fesler held us up to the highest standards, pushed us academically, then rewarded us with his attention and compliments. I started the year with four lovely spiral notebooks, each a different pastel color. I had never before possessed a spiral notebook; they seemed so adult and I felt so grownup using them. I remember taking notes and drawing careful and detailed illustrations with colored pencils in those books: Ra the Sun God, a map of the Nile, a neuron and a muscle cell, the digestive system. For an art project, I remember using pastel chalks in vibrant colors (again, soooo adult!) to create a beautiful scene of ocean waves and sky on a huge piece of construction paper, pictures which were eventually suspended from the classroom ceiling. We did Algebra, too, that year. (How grownup is that!) I learned about X and Y and equations and fell in love with them all. Math is black and white; answers are right or wrong. And, if they're wrong, you can confidently go back and fix them. Every afternoon that year, I came home from school, and immediately sat down at the dining room table to do my homework, always starting with math. To this day, if you look closely at that table in my parents' dining room, you can clearly see equations impressed deeply into its surface in my handwriting.

     As the first day of school year 2010-2011 approaches, I aspire to share with my eighth graders my love for, and the power of, words and reading. I aspire to create a space and a community so that we can all learn and grow, be inspired, and develop our characters.

(In preparing this blog, I googled Christian Day School in San Fernando, hoping to link to a photo or two, old or new... only to find that it doesn't exist any longer... using google's surface street view on Kewen Street, I can't even find the buildings... and the only school listed in the directory is a Headstart Preschool... so if you have access to photos, let me know, please!)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Regular Spot...

     Don't you just love to walk into a local eating establishment... knowing you'll be recognized and greeted as an old friend... and your favorite food or drink will be ready for you quick as a wink?

     Tucked away in Historic Old Town Auburn, in one of those quaint brick buildings from a bygone era, when sidewalks were boardwalks and fancy facades were all the rage, sits Mary Belle's Restaurant. Between two antique shops, across from the vintage red firehouse, and catty-corner from the post office, with its original filigreed mailboxes, in a building that previously housed, among other concerns, a hardware store, a drug store, and a Chinese restaurant, Mary Belle's is always a-bustle at breakfast-time.
     The narrow streets of Old Town were built for vehicles of that former era, so today's cars squeeze between their curbs. This exercise in navigation is well worth the effort. Recent years have brought a face lift to this small town's beauty, not a plastic "progress at all costs" kind of redo, but a thoughtful restoration project that has succeeded in bringing out her allure.
     The shingle atop the building enthusiastically invites passersby into Mary Belle's. Opening the door and stepping across the threshold transports you sweetly back in time. The Formica counter, with its swivel seats, is right out of the early 1960's. Waitresses call out a welcome, encourage you to take a seat, and quickly fill your mug with coffee. A family-owned business for nearly 50 years, Mary Belle's is the oldest restaurant in Auburn.
     The daily specials, like the regular fare, are all homemade from the freshest ingredients, much of it local produce. My favorites are the blueberry pancakes, made with a gazillion fresh berries, and the vegetarian eggs Benedict, with spinach substituted for the traditional ham and a "to die for" homemade Hollandaise sauce. For lunch, they make the best tuna melt sandwich in the world, bar none.

     The irony is that I only discovered this landmark restaurant in my hometown a few years ago. It wasn't that I had just never gotten around to trying out Mary Belle's menu; it was that I didn't even know it existed! How many times I must have driven or walked right past it, I can't even imagine. But, thankfully, one day not long ago, I did venture in and partake of their delightful fare. Now, it's my regular spot, and I have never, ever been disappointed.

     A couple times a month, of a weekend morning, I arrange to meet either Sandra or Bill, my two breakfast buddies, at Mary Belle's. We always sit at "our" table, though, interestingly enough, that spot differs depending who I'm with! Bill and I always sit in the bay window at a round table, while Sandra and I always choose the square table by the back wall.
     What was that line in the old TV series "Cheers"? ... a place "where everyone knows your name"... I'm not sure the waitresses at Mary Belle's know my name... but they know my face... exactly what I'm going to order... and where I'm going to sit!

     Take my word for it, and stop by the next time you're in town; the restaurant is located at 1590 Lincoln Way in Old Town Auburn. Or don't take my word alone; check out photos and reviews on Yelp.