Iceland:  Land of Fire, Ice, and the $18 Toothbrush

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The Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland

Musings of a Viking/Wiking Wannabe

 I admit, most Americans don’t often think of Iceland as a vacation destination, but now that Iceland’s WOW Airline is servicing Cincinnati’s airport and advertising $99 tickets, I expect travel north, far north, will become more common.

Icelandic horses wear bangs.

Icelandic horses wear bangs

It seems, though, that it’s seasoned travelers who are motivated to go there.  In our Iceland Overseas Adventure Travel group,  all 16 were experienced travelers—in fact, so experienced, that Rick and I felt like we never get up off our couch.  Our compatriots had been to such far flung places as Morocco, Mongolia, Thailand, Tibet, Polynesia.

I am smiling because I have not yet tasted the shark. Sort of like sushi dipped in urine.

I am smiling because I have not yet tasted the shark. Sort of like sushi dipped in urine.

It takes very little to inspire Rick to travel, but I’m a harder sell.  I only agreed to go to Iceland because (1) two of our friends were going (2) it’s a two-hour flight to see our daughter in Norway, and (3) I wanted to put a push pin in a country at the top of our map.

Iceland was so much more interesting than I had imagined.  It is a cold place with warm people.  It has a diverse

A green and purple country--these purple flowers, lupine, were everywhere!

A green and purple country–these purple flowers, lupine, were everywhere!

landscape with deserts and beaches, geysers and glaciers.  As I reminisce about our tour, here are some thoughts that stand out.

You may not need a suitcase.

There is Celsius.  There is Fahrenheit.  There is Icelandic.  We did our research, really we did.  Multiple Internet resources assured us we could expect temperatures in the high forties and the low fifties.  So I packed a sweater, windbreaker, sweatshirt, sweater parka, poncho, gloves, long underwear, and umbrella.

This is how you dress for work if you are a lifeguard in Iceland.

This is how you dress for work if you are a lifeguard in Iceland.

What I didn’t understand was that the Icelandic wind and rain make 50 degrees feel like 10.  Every day I filled my backpack with outerwear to fit the weather forecast.  I soon ignored the forecast, knowing that rain and wind would probably be part of the day.  By the third day, I had transferred nearly everything from my suitcase bag to my backpack.  However, there were large parts of many days that were sunny and crisp.

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School’s Out Forever: Reflections of a Retired Teacher

When I came back from a field trip a few days before I retired . . .

When I returned from a field trip a few days before I retired . .

, , , this is how I found my library!

, , , this is how I found my library!

Teaching years are like dog years. I taught for 196 years.

Conversely, retirement years speed by like a guppy’s lifespan.  I have been retired since Spring 2010, and while it doesn’t feel like yesterday, it doesn’t seem possible that I’ve been going to sleep for seven years without an alarm clock.

Retired teachers often say they “miss the people” or they “miss the children.”  I will honestly say that, while my colleagues and students enriched my life in profound ways, I do not miss the necessary diplomacy of dealing with educators or the responsibility of guiding and corralling youngsters.

If I’m not a teacher, what am I?

The last year I taught, I was the librarian.  I gave it my all.  I facilitated eight book clubs, organized seventeen field trips, found the right line in my bifocals to shelve thousands of books, and nagged my principal, up to the last hour, for an increase in my budget.

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I Cured My Migraine at the Car Wash

I don’t get migraines very often anymore, now that my ovaries are the size of Tic Tacs.  But sometimes, a confluence of circumstances—my husband, heat, bright light, my husband, stress, lack of sleep, my bokeh-lights_GJZUV2DOhusband—will bring on the spots before my eyes that signal an impending migraine.  Yesterday, it was all of those circumstances, but I think the tipping point was trying on plus size bathing suits on my plusser size body at Dillard’s in unforgiving fluorescent lighting. Let’s just say, that dressing room made my thighs look fat.

Headache Grief Worry or Fatigue

If I catch a migraine early, I can sometimes head it off.  Yesterday I took two Excedrin Migraine, splashed cold water on my face and neck, donned my sunglasses, and went to the purse department, which doesn’t have dressing rooms, mirrors, or judgy saleswomen who call over the half door, “Don’t be hard on yourself.”  (I guess she heard me weeping.)

The headache wasn’t getting worse, but it wasn’t getting better, either.  I felt far from the toss-your-cookies climax, so I decided to run one last errand:  get my seven-month old, electric blue Toyota Camry washed.

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How did this become a thing? Here’s a list of twelve inexplicable things.

When I was a teen in the 60s, these were “things”:  madras purses too small for two Kleenexes; Izod crocodiles on 220px-Wizard_troll_doll-low_resbreast pockets; fluorescent-haired troll dolls; hip hugger jeans, white gym shoes with tan-colored stockings (held by thigh-grinding garter belts); shocking pink paired with lime green; Bob Dylan.

I embraced these things in hopes that some day I would sit at the cool kids’ table, but I never thought about how these things became “things.”

When I was a middle school teacher, I was forever trying to puzzle out how adolescent things became “things.”  Trousers that sagged and revealed underwear; Gothic black;  frayed, holey jeans; UGGs and Crocs,  Avril Lavigne.800px-CrocsAccessories

And here I am in my very adult life, still wondering, “How in the heck did this become a thing?”

Here are a dozen modern day “things.”

plated asparagus and poached quail egg appetizer

Small plate of asparagus and poached quail egg

1. How did small bites in expensive restaurants become a thing?  I don’t recall any time in my life saying, “Let’s get dressed up—I’ll even put on a bra–and go spend a lot of money on a little bit of food so I’ll be hungry enough to come home and eat my leftover meatloaf?

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She said I snore? Liar!

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Me sporting what my husband calls a “no pest strip.”

“Hark, how hard he fetches breath.” ―William Shakespeare

There are a couple reasons I keep my husband.  First among them is that he keeps the secret of my snoring.  When we’re in a plane, in a movie theater, or lying on the beach, he is there to nudge me if I, uh, breathe heavily. He doesn’t even have to say the word “snore,” nor would he ever.  No, never!  He just looks at me lovingly in a way he reserves for just such occasions, and I know that I’ve been sighing, loudly.

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Bedtime Stories with Mom

IMG_3619We are home from the doctor’s appointment, so now it is Mom’s bedtime.  If it’s not mealtime or bathroom time or appointment time, it is bedtime.  I help her change into her comfy pajamas, ones that are soft and stretchy, but not so slippery that she’ll slide out of bed. I roll Biofreeze onto her  shoulder and rub Voltaren liniment on her knees, then a dab of ointment on the pressure sore we’ve been tending for five years.  I lift her right leg (by the foot because her legs hurt), and her left, and then swaddle her in a sheet, a blanket, and a spread because the temperature’s only 78.  “You good, Mom?” I ask her.  “Oh, yes,” she says as if she were settling into a spa day.

She is not really my mom, but I have been calling her “Mom” since I was a teenager.  “You’re the daughter I never had,” she told me 48 years ago, three years before I married her son.  When my own mother died in 2013, she said, “I’ll be your mother now.”  And now it seems natural and absolutely right.

Once Mom is all cozied up, I try to get comfortable for the hour-long storytime.  I kick off my shoes and go lie down on the other side of the full bed.   The bed creaks with my weight, and it sounds just like Mom’s knees and shoulders.  The bed isn’t as old as Mom—97—but I wouldn’t doubt if it’s 50. “Maybe you should buy a new bed, one of those fancy Craftmatic ones, the kind that can incline your head or your feet or your bottom with just a press of a button.

“That would be a waste of money at my age.”

“Well, how about a hospital bed.  I think Medicare would pay for it.”

“Not a hospital bed!”  She is appalled, as if I suggested we install a ramp or convert her bathtub to a walk-in shower, all things you do for really old people.

I try to fluff up her smushy pillows to cushion my back, to no great effect.  I finally just sit up, resting my back on the headboard. More creaking.

I pick up the book I’ve been reading to her for a month, Before Oprah:  Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who book coverCreated Talk TV, and ask, “Now where did we leave off?” because I don’t remember, but I know she will.  Her mind is so sharp, her memory so good, I ask her for phone numbers and recipes and addresses that she knows by heart.

“Ruth just had a stroke and she was in Holmes Hospital.  They told everyone she was suffering from exhaustion.  At a photo shoot, the photographer noticed her smile was crooked,” she says.

“Oh, yes.  Okay.”  And I open the book where it’s marked with a store coupon and begin reading.

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When Your Friends Live on the Street, Your Street

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Do not avert your eyes. It is important that you see this. It is important that you feel this. ― Kamand Kojouri

Last night I was sitting by the front window in the Vine Street Skyline Chili, just me with my four-way, book, and phone.  Rick was at some sporting event, the one where the players wear long pants, I think.

I was feeling empowered, eating unapologetically alone.  I was multitasking, texting with one hand, shoveling food in with the other, when there was a knock on the window.  My heart sank when I saw that it was Brady and his girlfriend Chelsea, my amply pierced and tatted young friends.

Brady came in to see me, and we chatted briefly in that surface way you do when someone stops by your table, and then he left to join his girlfriend.  I watched as the two, hand in hand, crossed the street.

I had been Brady’s eighth grade English teacher in 2000, so he’s in his thirties.  A Millenial. You know, that generation that’s supposedly tech-savvy, civic minded, liberal, and entrepreneurial, or maybe lazy, narcissistic, and selfie-loving?

None of those adjectives apply to Brady and Chelsea.  They are street people. They live the majority of their lives on and near my street in downtown Cincinnati.homelesscoallogo

When Brady was in eighth grade, he was a smart-underachiever. A smart-aleck, too. One of the most frustrating, disappointing kinds of kids to teach.  You can see that success is within their reach, but they won’t take their hands out of their pockets in their drooping pants.

Brady was like so many of the kids in my school:  No father in the picture.  A mom working long hours in a  minimum wage job.  Brady lived in a little brick ranch with a small, untended yard.  These were “the working poor,” people who worked but couldn’t get ahead, or out from under debt, or past the daily demands of life.  A broken car or leg or relationship can land such folks out on the street.  But Brady’s family managed to stay in their house.

The year I taught Brady, I was doing graduate work, too.  As part of my coursework, I designed a research study focusing on aliterate boys—boys who could read but chose not to.  Kids who were a lot smarter than their test scores and grades would lead you to believe.  I asked Brady and some other eighth grade guys if I could talk to them after school about reading.  All of the boys, including Brady, seemed to enjoy the attention and being experts at something, even if that “something” was apathy.  I gave them pop and Skyline dip and gift cards, but I think they would have participated even if I hadn’t.

After Brady left the middle school, he returned and visited me for years.  Once he sported a very impressive Mohawk, one that stood at attention, thanks to glue, he said.  “Really?  Glue?”  He was pulling my leg, right?  Another time he visited, he was cultivating dreadlocks.  I think he liked it when I teased him about his crazy hair.

As I finished my Skyline dinner last night, I thought about Brady and what I wished I would have said to him, so I was pleased when I walked out to see him and Chelsea standing on the corner across the street.  I wondered if they were waiting for me.  “Mrs. Lingo, you would be so proud of me.  I read a whole book.  A ‘course Chelsea had to talk me into it.”

“Yeah, I had to read it first,” said Chelsea, grinning and rolling her eyes.

“It was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I seen the movie, the American one, but I want to see the Swedish one.”

Mary Magdalene House, where people can get a shower and change of clothes

Mary Magdalene House, where people can get a shower and change of clothes

“That is a really big book, Brady.  Way to go!” I said.   “And the sequels are really good, too.”  (Once a teacher . . .)

“Hey, guys, I wanted to tell you that I think about you a lot.  I worry about you two.  You need to get jobs.  You need to get your little boy.”  We were all quiet for a moment.  Brady shrugged his shoulders and lowered his head, as if he knew he deserved this chastening, but wished he didn’t have to listen to it.

****************

The first time I spotted Brady and Chelsea downtown was about six months ago. Brady called out to me from across the street.  “Mrs. Lingo!” he cried, and he and his girlfriend jogged over to me, even burdened as they were by bulky backpacks.  He was handsome and tall, even if he looked disheveled and dusty. His girlfriend was petite, and I tried to open my tiny mind to the multiple hook-like piercings in her pert nose.

Brady told me they had a child, a boy of about two, and he whipped out his phone to show me a picture.  And he admitted, without being asked, that his son was living with his mother.  Brady said that he was homeless and looking for a job.

He was somber in the telling, but his demeanor lifted as he explained to his girlfriend that I had interviewed him about reading when he was a middle-schooler.  “She wrote a book about me,” he said. I didn’t correct him, and I’m not sure it was because I wanted him to look good to his girlfriend, or because I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t finished my dissertation, that I was a quitter.  “I picked him to interview because he was so smart,” I told his girlfriend, and that was the truth.

I wished them well, told them I hoped their little family would be together soon, and because he didn’t ask, I pulled a $20 bill out of my purse and pressed it into Brady’s grimy hand.  “Go, eat!” I commanded.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that Mrs. Lingo.  Really.”

A week later: “Hey, Mrs. Lingo!” and there they were at the same place I’d seen them before.  Again, they bounded over, clearly excited to see me.  Brady said they just couldn’t find jobs and said, almost in a whisper, that it was because, “they always pick blacks.  I hate to say it, but it’s true.  While he talked on animatedly, all I could think was How did this happen to you, Brady?

As I was winding up the conversation, Brady looked down.  “I hate to ask,” he said quietly, and I could tell what was coming, “but could you give us a little money?”

“I’m sorry, Brady.  I can’t.  But I wish you luck.”  I wanted so much to empty my wallet into their hands, but I was so afraid how that money would be spent.

They never asked for money again.

**************

When you live downtown, you encounter panhandlers every day.  When we first moved here seven years ago, we would ask them, “Are you hungry?  We will buy you lunch.” We would take the person into the nearest restaurant, and we paid after they ordered a pizza or a sandwich.  Sometimes they would say, “No, I just want money,” and we’d decline.

But after going to our first monthly Downtown Residence Council (DRC) meeting, we stopped even offering food.  ODB2
The police informed us that there were dozens of Cincinnati non-profit organizations that provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of the week, and encouraged us to donate to the agencies instead of individuals.

Furthemore, most of the panhandlers are not homeless, despite what the signs say.

Most significantly, a large percentage of those begging for money are addicted to drugs, and the kind offerings from “Good Samaritans,” went to feeding their habit.  At one DRC meeting, a police officer and firefighter told us that just that morning they had to revive a man who had overdosed in a restaurant bathroom.  “And next to him was his ‘I am homeless sign.’”

One woman at a meeting said, “There was a man that was so pathetic. I just had to help!   I gave him $5.”

The policeman responded, “Well, I hope he’s alive tomorrow.”

**************

This morning when I was walking to the bank, there they were on that very same street corner.  “Hello,” I said.  “Here you are again!  You are always on this block.  Why are you just walking around this same area all day?”

“We’re looking for you,” Brady said, smiling.

I was touched by his words.  And burdened.

How to Help:

A PRINTABLE GUIDE you can offer people in need. The Visitors Center at Fountain Square has a handy pocket size version they will give to you to hand out.

WHERE TO DONATE   There are so many wonderful agencies, but here are a few I support.

homelesscoallogo       CINCINNATI HOMELESS COALITION

 

 

ODB2

 

 OUR DAILY BREAD

 

Mary Magdalene House, where people can get a shower and change of clothes

                MARY MAGDALENE HOUSE

 

 

tender merciesTENDER MERCIES

 

 

streetvibesWhen someone offers to sell you a copy of Streetvibes, buy one, and ask whether the seller is published in that edition.  Streetvibes  includes creative writing, poetry, articles, photography and interviews written by homeless and formerly homeless individuals. Streetvibes reports the often-invisible story of poverty in our community.

 

 

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Sandy Lingo

Life itself is the proper binge.  - Julia Child

A writing friend said that when she reads my writing, she always wants a second helping.

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