Glad I Saw It: Random Crap from Here and There

i have mood swingsI do love the colorful and quirky windows in our local shops. This stopped me on a day when I had to agree with the statement. See it for yourself while it lasts at the Essex Fine Arts Gallery.


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Glad I Saw It: Curiosity and Art

photo copyWe were waiting at a local barber shop as my son was getting a close-cropped cut, when my daughter tugged at my sleeve and pointed towards the door. A man was sitting near the front, by the door, and he had a drawing pad out. “He’s drawing a cowboy!” she whispered. She stared and stared as the drawing took shape. Finally, I suggested she go over and let him know she like his drawing. She agreed, but I had to come too.

Her bravery dissipated as soon as the gentleman’s attention went from his creation to her presence, and I was left to explain that my six-year old had been admiring his cowboy picture. “She’s an artist too,” I explained. Oh! Wonderful! And a fresh sheet of paper came out.

Soon the man was sketching my little girl’s giraffe hat with a thick, black marker. And as it took shape, he told jokes and stories that felt like familiar friends. “Children are so great with art, so open,” he began. And then regaled us with micro stories about a child drawing God, despite being told it was impossible, and why he always brings a sketch pad to pass the time, and that he was glad my daughter had asked about the artwork.

In the end, we had a great conversation and got to take home a sketch of my daughter with her giraffe hat. At the top he wrote “A Happy Girl” then hesitated for a second and continued “is a Happy Person.”

If you want to see some of this gentleman’s work, visit Chuck Hayden’s art here, or stop in at Jacklyn Kling Distinctive Framework on Walnut Street in Montclair.

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Keep Dancing Like No One Is Watching: Katy and Missy

534733851JF00009_Pepsi_SupeI thought Katy Perry did a great job at the half-time show for Superbowl (insert number here). I was very happy to watch Lenny Kravitz sing Katy Perry’s breakout hit with her. And because I’m not tuned into music industry rumors, the Missy Elliott guest appearance was a total surprise. I was already seat dancing from the first “I can name that tune in six notes” teaser of Get Ur Freak On.

But to hear Twitter commentary during and after the show, Katy Perry was a total asshole for even being on stage with Missy Elliott. There was making fun of Perry’s dancing, how she didn’t have talent or skill compared to Missy Elliott, and so on and so forth. Because, you know, sharing isn’t caring when the Judgy McJudgersons are in town. Never mind that Missy Elliott was amazing in her responses. Never mind that people are always saying “Female artists need to help each other” and “If you’re on top bring someone with you.” Oh, and there is the “Dance like no one is watching” thing too.  See how far that goes?

But that’s okay. It’s all right. I’ll just made sure to take a good listen to Missy Elliott’s Gossip Folks, followed by Katy Perry’s Firework — or maybe This Is How We Do, just to piss people off. Because if you can’t see from their respective videos that Katy Perry was influenced by Missy Elliott’s in your face style as she started out, you are blind.

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Moving Forward in Love as We Work for Justice

Daniel Pritchard FoundationSusan Pritchard, an amazing woman I met through my work with Moms Demand Action, called me just a few days after my father passed away to take me up on an offer I’d made during the summer. She asked my help to write a piece honoring her son Daniel’s memory. It was an incredible responsibility, and an emotional task that helped me more than she can know. The letter was recently printed in the Verona-Cedar Grove Times, and I share it with you as an example of the power of hope and the sometimes fragile resilience of those left behind.

Daniel Pritchard’s Family Reflects Years After His Death

Five years ago, our son Daniel was shot and killed in an attempted robbery in Verona.  A second trial of one of his alleged killers has ended in a mistrial. Again. In the current climate of frustration and fear and distrust in our justice system, it feels selfish to join in the chorus demanding more from ourselves and those systems we rely on to keep order and public safety in our communities. In our family, in our own small way, we have chosen to move forward in love even as we continue to work for justice for our son Daniel. We have taken healing inspiration from Booker T. Washington’s words: “I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate them.”

Aside from our individual choices in healing from our shared family loss, in honor of Daniel, we created the Daniel Pritchard Foundation that works to “Let civility, respect and common decency prevail.” Through community generosity to honor Daniel’s life with his friends and family, we have raised funds for scholarships based on student perseverance in the face of obstacles, families facing great hardship and turmoil, and for community members who work tirelessly improving the lives of others. Recent recipients include the Homeless Bus and Elaine Lane of David’s Shoes. We have also worked for gun reform through expanded national background checks and against trafficking of illegal guns through the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

Those of us who have lost friends and family to gun violence and other terrible, sudden incidents, each move forward in individual ways and at our own pace. No one method is best for everyone, but what we in Daniel’s family and close circle have found is that our desire to live up to Daniel’s example – to help keep his memory and legacy alive – has overcome the resentment. It has allowed us to break the cycle of anger that once threatened to overcome our hopes for the future. Don’t mistake our positive outlook for compliance. And don’t think that those who work to make the world a better place don’t also work for justice for our loved ones. The two goals are tangled and intertwined, just as our memories and mourning will always mingle and coexist.

As the New Year begins, and as the anniversary of our son’s and brother’s death approaches, we wish each of you a peaceful year of civility, respect, and common decency.

A version of this letter first appeared in the Verona-Cedar Grove Times

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Glad I Saw It: Artist


I have always had great admiration for those who can create the tangible out of imagination.

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Technology and the Achievement Gap

38404b540f281c7e8e864f32e4a4d237Technology is not the way to close the achievement gap in education. In fact, it’s entirely possible that when school districts offer computer programs and tasks to do at home they widen the gap even further.

Last year I listened in horror as a friend in a neighboring township described her child’s required math homework. It was to be completed solely on the computer. There were no alternatives, and when parents were unable to access their children’s accounts, they went without. I tsk-tsked about it and felt slightly superior that this was (as far as I knew) unheard of in my school, or even in my district. Continue reading

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Glad I Saw It: Pencil Dispenser

We haven’t stopped by our library since well before the holidays, so this was new to me.

pencil dispenser

My first thought was that it was just a funky vintage feature. But then memories of dozens, scores, of dearly purchased pens and pencils — freely given — walking out my classroom door every month. Perhaps this installation is more about encouraging ownership instead of relying on the generosity of the librarians.

Or, perhaps it’s just because it’s so cool.

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Glad I Saw It: Pins

photo copy

I saw this collection of pins at Watchung Booksellers recently. Of course I loved the I can read! pin, but it was the Smile They’re Watching pin that I was glad I saw. There are a couple of other winning tidbits in there, so take a moment to check out the variety the next time you’re book shopping.

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Playing Chess with My Son

photoMy Dad liked to play chess. My son, now almost eight, was always too young to play chess properly with his Opa, but at least the idea was introduced and some of the rules and strategies were discussed between them. I never learned to play. It was too hard to remember which pieces could do what and in which direction. I preferred reading or watching television or flipping through my Mom’s Good Housekeeping or Brigitte magazines.

Now that my Dad is gone, I’ve made a commitment to play chess with my son. And hopefully with my daughter when she catches the strategy bug. This past weekend I played two games. Or are they matches? I play conservatively and slowly because I still don’t know all the nuances of moves and attacks and traps. I think I may have misused the Bishop once or twice.

My almost eight-year-old son didn’t like that I won. Twice. But he liked that I played. And we’ll keep playing, thoughtfully and patiently. As my Dad always did.

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Eulogy for My Father

Eulogy for my FatherI was a little over a year old, and my mother was pregnant with my sister Andrea, when someone asked my Dad “Will you give her back now?” – referring to my adoption. Years later, when Dad told me this story, he would admit that it was the one time he’d ever felt like punching someone in the face. He didn’t, of course. But it was the first serious conversation I remember having with my Dad, and it was the first conscious moment I have of knowing I was adopted. I must have been five or so.

He was good at telling stories – sometimes long-winded ones – that taught us to trust ourselves. He told stories that told us we were loved. Unconditionally. He taught us – all of us — what it meant to be a grown up.

My youngest sister Katja has talked about Dad’s letters so beautifully, so I won’t go into those, or how many yellow lined paper “you’re in trouble now” letters I may or may not have received.

But when I had my heart broken for the first time, it was Dad who came to talk and let me cry and say that sometimes people are jerks to each other. Loving someone sometimes hurts your heart, he said. That was being a grown up.

He defended my mom to us three teenaged daughters with a maddening consistency that confused and irritated me at the time. But now, as a wife and mother, I appreciate it and want that same unified and supportive backup for myself, for my family. It was part of being a grown up.

Our Dad had awkward moments as well. At my wedding, he rambled on and on about how he and mom tried and tried and then tried some more to get pregnant for years before adopting me. And then there was the time he and I sat down to watch Barbarella – starring a nubile Jane Fonda — because I was obsessed with Duran Duran and had heard the band’s name was based on a character in the movie. For those who know Barbarella, you’ll understand why many of the scenes were supremely awkward to watch with your teenage daughter. But he did it. And then we never spoke of it again. Because that’s also being a grown up.

On the other hand, when I broke my far-too-early curfew to attend a high school party to get completely smashed, Dad taught me that being a grown up sometimes means facing the music – but later. He carried me sadly into the house that night, all the while listening to me slur that this was all his fault. At the time, he just kept repeating quietly, “I know. I know.” And the next morning, he came up and talked to me about drinking too much and scaring my parents and being respectful of myself. But he didn’t raise his voice or get angry or shame me for my behavior. In expecting me to be a grown up, he showed me what it meant.

Over the last year, Dad and I have been having talks about death and dying and what it meant for those of us left behind. We talked about the blessing of being able to have time to say Goodbye and I Love You and Thank You. Not everyone has that chance. We talked about the afterlife, and he asked permission to discuss heaven and his abiding faith with my son. He knew the image of Opa waiting in heaven, young and strong and healthy, to play soccer with his grandson would be a comfort, not just to my son, but to our whole family. They were grown up talks.

It has always been important to my Dad to exhibit patience, to make it clear that admitting love is a sign of strength, not weakness, to show humility in all things, and to be fair. In one of our last conversations, my Dad asked me for confirmation that I felt equally loved to my sisters. Even 45 years after someone asked if he would give me back, he wanted to know that I knew he never would. We cried together that day. And we were quiet together and we knew we were loved.

Those who have been lucky enough to be a part of my Dad’s life know that his love for family and friends, his respect for colleagues and neighbors, his devotion to his God and his ideals, and ultimately his humility in allowing himself to be cared for by those who loved him are all life lessons in how to be a grown up. And I thank him for those lessons.

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