Friday, September 15, 2006

Three weeks and counting . . .

Teaching is hard work, physically and mentally. Exerting emotional control over a classroom takes as much, if not more energy, than the physical stamina required to get through a day spent on one's feet. Today was the end of my first three weeks back in the classroom after a lapse of 16 years. I am exhausted.

My position is not that of a regular classroom teacher. In fact I only have an office where I meet seven children for 45 minutes at the end of each school day.

I’m called a collaborative teacher, meaning I go into the classroom of other teachers who have my special education students and work with them to adapt and modify lessons, as well as provide physical remediation to the kids. It’s not must my kids, either. Because we don’t want the SPED (special education) students immediately identifiable, I work with anyone in the classroom needing assistance.

I also take groups of kids into pull-out sessions if they need skill development or some sort of alternative classroom assistance. Sometimes, the kids are behavior problems. Usually the behavior problems are caused because the students simply aren’t able to do the assignments and their frustration level boils over.

I am horrified at how the vocabulary levels of inner-city children have slipped since the 1980’s. Reading on any level above the 5th grade is almost non-existent, mainly because the kids can’t recognize the vocabulary. Some of my special education students, all mainstreamed now because George Bush decreed that “no child is left behind” read at pre-primer levels. I have one student who can only identify the beginning letters of words. This child comes to school every day. She always has her supplies. She is never tardy. She comes to me to try and get every assignment completed. She is never angry over her situation.

Many of the other students do get angry, though. They are highly frustrated by their lack of ability to move forward. Every class, every assignment, causes their irritation to grow. To cover their inability to function, even on primary levels, they act up. It’s better to be thought a trouble maker than to be called stupid.

The other portion of my job I’m less sure about. I carry a caseload of 19 special education students, mostly mentally and developmentally retarded but some with mild behavior disorders. I’m to ensure that their special needs are met and to develop individualized educational programs from them as they are included in the general school population. Special education students are no longer taught in segregated classrooms.

When I left teaching 16 years ago I was running a program for students aiming for college. We were trying to match our curriculum to that of the suburbs so the children could compete on a college level. My literature lessons included Twain, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and Wright.

This week I worked with a pull-out group from a junior level English class on a short story by Bret Harte. The students needed to identify foreshadowing, point of view, and theme. I read the story to them because I had to. Nearly every sentence we had to stop and explain what Harte’s words meant. If Harte wrote “the skies were leaden” the students had no idea what to make of that. Once they understood that the skies were full of clouds, the color was gray, and that it was November, they realized that Harte meant it was going to snow. The story was four pages in length – and it took two 90 minute sessions just to read it.

Eventually we got through the story, but then we had to take the test to prove we understood the theme and the author’s message. The children could relate the events of story to me but they had no idea how to identify a broader theme. With a directed conversation we eventually got past details into a broader vision, but then they had no idea how to get their thoughts on paper.

Initially this group of juniors chose to come with me into the pull-out session because they believed it would be a fun experience. Two of the boys left mumbling that they never wanted to have to work with me again. My two SPED students, used to the process, suffered with stoic faces. One young man and two of the girls asked me if I could work with them on the next lesson because they finally “got it” – meaning they understood what they were supposed to do to pass one of the benchmark exams required of 11th grade English.

To get the kids through only four of the 360 benchmarks they need to pass this year I had to completely rewrite both their exercise sheets and their benchmark tests. The system does not appear to be designed for the level of kids we are actually dealing with.

Monday of this week I got up with the dreaded teacher’s disease. Every first year teacher knows they have to build up their immunities to all the student germs and until that happens they catch everything that comes down the pike. This time, for me, it was the sore throat, horrible headache, tight chest, and dreadful exhaustion. By Wednesday my head was so full of junk the bones in my face ached. Today, day five, I began to think I might be on the road to semi-recovery.

Today was also supposed to be my first pay day. I didn’t get a check. I have been told that the check “is in the mail” so I’m hoping that tomorrow I might be able to buy groceries and pay some bills. That sad little last check in mid-August from the construction company seems like it didn’t go very far or last for very long. After this first check from the school district, they will use direct deposit so this glitch is hopefully only a one-time thing

Tired, sick, and still unpaid, I must admit that my first three weeks of teaching have been exhilarating. I’ve met parents, I’ve attended workshops. I’ve waltzed into classrooms with my happy song-and-dance routine as the collab teacher everyone really wants to work with. I only want to physically murder once nasty, horrible girl. I want to cherish at least six other students. I like most of my colleagues. I love my school. Three of my post-grad assignments are complete and turned in and I’m close to finishing the fourth.

Nothing is a bed of roses. The most you can hope for is to feel fulfilled. I’m way beyond fulfillment on this one.

Friday, September 08, 2006

2,996 -- Mohammed Salahuddin Chowdhury

Dedicated to his family and his religion

Schooled in Bangladesh
Earned a master's degree in physics
Studied real estate and computer science in the US

Worked as a waiter atWindows on the World

On September 11, 2001 Mohammed Salahuddin Chowdhury was working to support his pregnant wife and six year old daughter. He believed he was living the American dream.
Two days later his son was born.
He is quoted as saying: New York was the place to succeed — especially if you are confident, smart and very good-looking.

2,996 is a tribute to the victims of 9/11.

On September 11, 2006, 2,996 volunteer bloggers
will join together for a tribute to the victims of 9/11.

Each person will pay tribute to a single victim.

This tribute proudly honors Mohammed Salahuddin Chowdhury and his family.

Mohammed's son will be five years old September 13th. His daughter will be 11 this year.

We honor him by remembering his life.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Place for Joy

We attend a historic church in the northeast section of our city. The church has been on a downslide for the past 40 years. In 1996 the congregation actually voted to close the church doors and walk away in defeat.

Hubby and I joined this congregation 1998. Obviously folks with a better sense of history elected to try one more time to salvage a once great memory. The church doors remain open, but the congregation is sadly diminished.

Hubby is the music director at the church. We were brought in by a dear friend and influential city lawyer who lives in the historic Northeast in one of the great mansions built in the late 1800’s. Many of the church members live in these huge old homes, many of which are on the historic register. Because the area is in the urban core quite a few of these 100 year homes have gone through difficult times but now they have either been restored or are undergoing complete renovation. Others congregation members live in the little bungalows built in the 1950’s that dot the streets along side the great mansions. The diversity in the area continues to grow with each passing year, first the working class whites took over as the weathy moved to the suburbs, then the African Americans, the Hispanics came in the 1980's, and now the Asians. Our church opens her arms to everyone, whatever their racial identify or sexual preference.

Hubby and I live a long way from this once elegant portion of the city, though we still live in what is called the "inner city." We commute to the church because we are proud to part of the effort to save this stately, elegant lady from abandonment.

The church was built in 1888 by a famous local Methodist preacher. He gave the land and enough seed money to build a small church. The intent was to build a cathedral next to the original building and turn the original space into an education wing.

In 1925 ground was broken for a great stone cathedral. The Depression saw the church sold on the courthouse steps because the construction payments could not be met by the suffering members, but generous city benefactors returned the church to the congregation.

The church is situated on the highest point in the Northeast area, built with a tower instead of the more traditional spire. Consequently cell phone companies adore us and pay a substantial sum each month to erect their radio antennas atop our flat tower. These $1000 + payments from the cell phone companies help keep our doors open and the gas bill paid. The Catholic Church just around the corner, with its beautifully pointed spire is not so lucky.

I’m not a particularly religious person. Organized religion has usually felt hypocritical to me. In this church I found my home: a warm congregation, a place where my meager services can contribute, and a feeling of peace. We have the same problems people experience in any church. We gossip and we sometimes are petty. Fund raising is awful. But when the music pours forth in the gorgeous, soaring sanctuary I find I believe in God. My prayers, once left unsaid, have become an integral part of my life since joining this church. I may not believe in the dogma and dislike much of the ritual, but my soul has accepted the spirit of this beautiful space.

Today, our pastor spoke of love, a fitting message for Labor Day. Our ensemble sang Dona Nobis Pachem and I felt real peace enfold me. I knelt at the communion rail and offered up thanks for all the blessings of these past several weeks. I’m glad I could speak this morning with the Almighty Power of our universe and feel the Supreme Presence of love and peace enter my heart. This has been a beautiful Sunday. I am indeed grateful, and joy fills my soul.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

16 years is a damn long time!

First week of school for me.

Oh! My aching feet, voice, eyes, back.

Clearly I am not in shape for the rigors of the classroom.

Neither was the school actually ready for me -- no working computer, no log-in id's, no keys to any room, my room actually assigned to another person and in use, no desk, no supplies, no keys to the filing cabinets maintaining all the records I must keep, nobody to explain the excentricities of the new school system.

Still . . . my first day was spent just getting acclimated and not having to deal. My second day just as the bell rang to dismiss the students, a 10th grader grabbed in a huge bear-hug and thanked me for helping her. Normal 16 year olds do NOT hug. Today the computer ID showed up with the computer tech guy who also made sure parts of the computer work (no printing yet). The vice-principal finally broke down and got the locksmith to make a key for the filing system -- and he gave me the covetted elevator key so I don't have to climb to the 3rd floor carrying loads of books and papers.

Also I started graduate school this week.

Bear with me; I'll be back. The news won't be all good -- but I think it's going to be doable.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

This and that

Life is busy here in our little portion of the Heartland. We are having some fun but mostly our days are spent chasing our tails, trying to get ready for “the year.” A teacher’s life runs not from January to December but from August (used to be September) to July. Interestingly, the former has never seemed natural to me; I suppose I just spent too many years either being educated or teaching. The natural flow of my life is much more attuned to gearing up for the fall and powering down in the summer.
  • Hubby is preparing to have his knees repaired. He opted, with his doctor’s consent, to start with steroid injections. I gather the doctor believes this is probably a futile step and is already talking about some sort of gel injections, but Hubby, with his intense dislike of medical treatment, is calling the shots. He has, however, already talked to his doctor about knee replacement, which at one point I was sure he would never consent to.
  • Hubby’s blood pressure medication is being upped to the highest dosage possible (for this particular pill) this week. Today he visits with his cardiologist to see what they recommend as possible alternatives if the new dosage doesn’t work.
  • We are still waiting on the results from the sleep apnea tests.
  • My doctor performed my TB test this morning. With the results from that in hand on Friday, I can finally start teaching next Monday. I never realized it took two days to read a TB test.
  • I attended the orientation night at the local agricultural graduate school, working towards my SPED (special education) certification and out-of-state teaching certificate. I had been e-mailed specific instructions as to where to go for their metro campus, but I ended up in a course for folks trying to get their administration certifications. Eventually, mostly because the ag school kept following up with me, we determined I had been given the wrong directions. Meanwhile, I had informed the new school district that it appeared I wouldn’t be enrolled in class this semester. Today, after chatting with the ag school again, I learned that they have an on-line course I can take. On-line. Wow! Just how sweet is that? When I remember the agony I went through getting my masters – and all the work it entailed, I’m blown away! Now-a-days they seem to have this down to a pretty (easy) science.
  • We picked up the back bedroom which we use as the office / computer room / closet so both Hubby and I could sit in there at once. Buried on the floor was a box of Christmas cards that didn’t get mailed out in 2005. How embarrassing is that? I thought about putting stamps on them and mailing then now or saving them to mail this Christmas, but I always include a letter in my cards and last year’s letter was about angel dogs, so . . . it doesn’t seem appropriate to send now. However, if you are one of the 17 folks that didn’t get a card from us (sister-in-law, best friends in California, church buddies) and want a 2005 X-mas card in late August 2006, let me know and I’ll mail it out to you. Be forewarned, the letter will make you cry.
  • Hubby and I went to see “Little Miss Sunshine” at the movies last weekend and we rated it the best movie of 2005 AND 2006. The movie is hilarious and sweet. Yes, it has an R rating because the Grandfather (Alan Arkin, a divine actor) uses every serious cuss word in the book (and takes cocaine) but he really makes you laugh uproariously. The movie has a couple of downer moments that aren’t dwelt on but made to seem just a part of real life – and the upshot for everyone, no matter how dysfunctional, is that love conquers all. See the movie if you get the chance.
  • The old man of the dog pack, Fritzy, got a bacterial skin infection, as well as ear infections. We had been treating him with over-the-counter spray but the groomer thought Fritz needed to see the vet. The vet thought he might have ring-worm, but today the tests all came back negative. We had already determined that when the antibiotics completely cleaned up his skin within a five day span. He certainly is more comfortable since his “cure.”

Life, at the moment, feels very good. I have a job, one that will challenge me and use my talents. The pay is much more than I ever expected. Hubby is still in recovery mode, taking much longer than he would like to “get back to normal” but every day he is able to putter around is a blessing. We may not have come full circle from my depression of a month ago but we are moving forward. We have each other and our boys. We are coping, just as I always knew we could do. Our family and friends have been so supportive through our trials, and that, of course, is one of the biggest blessings of all. These past months have shown me unconditionally that our well-being, even our survival, is interdependent on others. My heart, consequently, is full of love.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Running Around; Starting Over

Hubby spent today playing chauffeur and I’m exceeding grateful to him for his time and effort. The new job (teaching) is far enough away from home that I don’t know how to get there without serious instruction. I can get lost getting out of my own neighborhood, while Hubby can find his way around Robinhood’s Barn.

Yes, he gets lost and yes, he won’t ask for directions – but he claims that’s because if you’re lost in a new place the best way to learn about it is to muddle your way around until you get your bearings. The problem for me is I have no bearings. Directions mean nothing. I need to be told: “Go five blocks down and at the gray and white house with the tulip tree in the yard, turn left; stay in the left lane until you come to the big Kroger’s on the corner of the third street and take a left again.” Mileage, east, south – all meaningless instructions for me.

So we drove across the state line and into the next big city and found its school administration building. Hubby patiently waited with dogs in the car while I had my ID photo taken and filled out the paperwork that would get me inside a school building. This immediate paperwork consisted of forms that allowed them to do background searches on me to see if the local police or any federal agencies were hunting me down. I also came away with stacks of paperwork that weren't as immediate but were pretty critical none-the-less.

We stopped then and ate a lovely big breakfast as a treat. Just three blocks from our home a home-style restaurant has opened, serving wonderful scrambled eggs and potatoes O’brien. We thought we needed the sustenance before we tackled all the paperwork I was dragging around.

Back home, after reading through all the material, we set out again. First to the local college campus where students were enrolling and paying fees. It was a mad-house but because Hubby was behind the wheel, I was delivered right to the front door and as I wasn’t matriculating, I came away in about 10 minutes with a promise that my transcripts would be mailed out post-haste to the proper locations. I could have gotten them immediately if I had graduated after 1975 . . . the student assistants examined me closely when they found out I couldn’t make that cut. I guess they wondered what an old fart would really look like who still needed a copy of her college transcript from the dark ages.

Then we headed back downtown to the headquarters of my old school district. I hadn’t been inside their offices in over a dozen years but nothing had changed. It took about three minutes to fill out their forms verifing my past employment – and a promise that within two weeks or more they might find and mail my actual records. They did make me a copy of the paperwork I left with them so I could prove I was trying to move forward on everything the new district needs.

Once I have all the required paperwork completed and in-hand, and a doctor’s certificate claiming I don’t have TB and am fit enough to teach in a public school, I have to go to the police station and get myself fingerprinted. I understand the necessity of that but I truly am horrified that it’s needed. The police will then seal and mail the envelopment off to the state education offices.

Our weather was very humid and hot today so I pretty much wore Hubby out with all the running around but his help was invaluable. Being able to simply run into all those buildings without finding a place to park and having door-to-door service cut down on the time required to get all these tasks completed.

Meanwhile, my friends who had vouched for me with letters of recommendation were providing verbal confirmation for me over the phone. This is first time I’ve ever had to provide my references, much less have them checked, but if any employer is going to do it, it should be one who deals with our children.

My pastor, a highly education and serious gentleman, e-mailed me that he had "stopped just short of nomiating you for canonization to sainthood without pushing the envelop." One can't ask for a better recommendation than that.

Monday night I attend an orientation for graduate school. One of the smaller "across the state-line" colleges is offering certification classes in my urban area for teachers. They have waived "out-0f-state" tuition for the metropolitian area so the hourly fees are not impossible to meet -- and the school district has said they will chip in.

This job is beginning to feel real.

After I left teaching 16 years ago I had a consulting job with one of the five biggest firms in this city. It took a while but eventually that job turned into the best one I'd ever had. I worked with and for really good people and I was paid a very nice wage. As always happens in big business, the way the company was operated changed radically and my contract was not renewed. During the time I was there, nine years actually, it was the best time of my life. I never thought I'd find a job that paid as well as that one or one I enjoyed as much. Interestly, this teaching job pays nearly as much, once I factor in the benefits I'm being provided. If the folks are half as nice, I will have come full circle -- back to where I started in my career. Hopefully I bring a lot more to the table.

When I started the school interviewing process just three weeks ago, I wondered where I was headed. When the first three interviews fell through, I wondered what I was gaining from the experience. I questioned why I was led to go through the process, especially since I had found it so defeating. It's just a trite adage, but things happen in their own time. You just have to trust that things will turn out and that is one of the hardest things in the world to do when you are mired down in disappointment.

I had a lot of help getting where I am right now and I owe a huge debt to a lot of people. I only hope I can make them proud now. What I have to remember is that I'm not alone in this. Everyone who helped me get to this place wants to see me succeed. I'm going to be leaning on them in the upcoming year.

The next chapter of my life is just beginning.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Resignation Congratulations

So I didn't pass on the school district interview (see previous post). The principal called me twice and asked me to come in and see the school. I figured what did I have to lose, so I went. Put on the black linen pants and the black tee and a strand of pearls and hauled my old, fat ass into the biggest high school I've ever been in. Huge. Not one but two towers. Wings on either side and buildings in the back. A huge wood paneled reception hall with dual fireplaces right inside the front door.

Engery surging all over the place. Staff seemed very positive and competent. And friendly. In the other schools everyone had been pretty stand-offish. Lots of "hellos" and "how are you's" floating at me. Nice principal. Knew hubby from 25 years ago and knew my history with the school district across the state line -- and still wanted to chat with me about working in his school. Except he didn't, chat with me, that is. Instead he handed me off to the staff I would be working with. And I loved them. Real people. People who had been in the trenches but still weren't completed burned out. Many of them almost as old as me. Folks who understood life.

I was honest about all my deficients. I barely touched on my assets. But we clicked. School had already started the beginning of the week so I got to be in the hallways between classes and see the lunchroom first period. I liked the tone set for the kids and how they responded.

I fell in love with school building, built as a public works project in 1935 and now wonderfully restored and maintained. I found I really wanted the job they had open -- and they, in turn, wanted me, too. So it was a match. Maybe not a perfect one but good enough if we all try to make it work.

Today the school district officially offered me the position -- at a salary $10,000 more than I thought they would offer. I couldn't accept fast enough.

I've got some hoops to jump through. My life-time certification in the "other" state won't pass muster because I've been out of the classroom so long. However, they cut a deal to have it "exchanged" for two years while I gain certification. I also need to get certification for the specific area I'm to teach, so we can kill two birds easily with a couple of night courses. They already have me lined up with a state university.

Tomorrow morning I go sign official documents. Today I submitted my resignation to the construction company, effective immediately. Sweet! Really sweet! I floated out that trailer door, and on locking it for the last time, I clicked my heels in the air and flung my hat skyward.

New beginnings always bring a positive outlook. I know there are many hard knocks ahead. I've got a steep learning curve to overcome next week when I re-enter the classroom. When I left 16 years ago teachers didn't have own computers and were still using mimeo machines, students are more violent than ever (I've been warned several times about that), and I'm working in an area outside my expertise. Everyone, including me, is going to have to be patient while I climb the learning curve.

My environment will be lovely, though. My co-workers seem positive and friendly. My direct supervisor in the new teaching area is a close friend from church who has championed me through this whole process. My hubby thinks this is very good move on my part and is being extremely supportive. Many positives are stacked in my favor.

So the match, which isn't perfect, has the potential to be a really good one. I'm excited about this next phase of my life. And the satisfaction I got from walking out on the construction company will last for at least another month.

Monday, August 14, 2006

And the testing continues . . .

Hubby went to nuclear medicine today to have his knees examined. Somehow we jumped the gun and thought his knees were also going to be repaired at the same time, but it took five hours just to get a couple of pictures.

Because of the coil in his head, Hubby couldn't have the MRI that was originally scheduled in June. We waited this long to get into nuclear medicine at the local hospital to have "special" x-rays taken which also involved radioactive knee injections. Ouch! The several hours Hubby was required to lie flat on the exam table left him exhausted and miserable with pain. Still, we are more than grateful for all the modern machines and techniques that keep us moving forward toward a more healthful future.

Luckily this was not one of the days I was scheduled to work so I trailed along for injections and long hours in uncomfortable waiting room chairs, but still I wasn't as miserable as hubby, flat out on an unforgiving table.

On arriving home a medical company in the suburbs called to have me come for a job interview. Truth be told I wasn't all that thrilled. I really like working only two days a week. I know it won't support us in the long run, but currently having five days off inbetween two days of work is , well, sweet. Really sweet. Also the school district called and thought I might like to try for rejection number four with them. I told them I'd think about it but the reality is I think I'm passing. Three strikes and you're out, right?

Plus, interview clothing in 100 degree plus heat simply suck the big one.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Clearly, this time in my life isn’t meant to be easy. Hubby’s illness, dog’s death, loss of job, seems like that should be enough. However, just when you think life has shot her last load at you, it appears she has another live round in the chamber. My mother called in the middle of the night, 3 a.m. to be exact. We didn’t answer the phone but she left a message on our answering machine to call her.

For me my mother is highly problematic. Just when I think I’ve mastered myself enough to handle her, she inevitably proves me wrong. I’m an only child of an only child. In fact, she and I are the last of two family trees. Her line ends with me and so does my father’s. Sometimes that makes me very sad.

Mother drinks. I don’t honestly know if, at 81, she is still a falling down, mean drunk. But during my childhood and teenage years the drinking escalated, causing a rift between us that we can no longer mend. She loves me, as best as she can love, but she has no idea how to love really. What she considers love, I see as control.

The bad thing – and the good thing, too – is that she is very wealthy. She inherited an incredible fortune from her family which supports her very nicely now that she is old. She has no one to take care of her other than the hired help, but she can afford to live in an expensive resort community in Colorado with folks coming in daily to see to her needs and chauffeur her around to her various appointments.

Mother has never held a job in her life except for three months right out of high school when she clerked in an upscale store downtown. She was fired because she didn’t show up regularly. At 19 she got pregnant so a month after her 20th birthday she married my dad, a very unworldly 42 year old who still lived with his mother. You can already see this wasn’t a match made in heaven. They remained together in a highly volatile marriage until my dad finally managed to die at age 73 from a disease that shouldn’t have killed him. It was clear to everyone but my mother that he just wanted some peace and this was the only way to get it. Meanwhile, he didn’t die nicely which caused her no ends of trouble. Payback can be a bitch.

When I took up with Hubby (we lived together five years before we married) she was irate. We used to live in the same city but Hubby was such a horror to her that she had to move 600 miles and two states away to escape him. She has never been back to visit me in the 34 years she since she moved. To this day Mother still refers to Hubby as “That Man” – refusing to dignify him by calling him by his name.

Of course, I have been disinherited a number of times. At first, there would be drunken calls asking me if I loved my family and if I did how I could have taken up with “That Man.” The carrot, of course, would be hung in front of my nose: give up “That Man” and you can be back in the will.

The thing Mother never understood was that I didn’t want to be back in the will. All my life I had been told by my mother that my sole purpose in life was to take care of the family. It sounds like one of those gothic novels, but Mother made it plain that I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough to attract a husband. My career choice was a given. Women couldn’t really enter the workplace in any career other than school teacher, nurse, or secretary. I was to be a school teacher.

It speaks to what a good manipulator my mother was that I never questioned that choice until I was a senior in college and faced with actually having to teach. However, my parents had paid for my education, never asking me to work, so I clearly understood that my duty was to take a teaching job and begin paying my family back for my education. I got the teaching position, lived at home, paid rent, and followed the rules my mother set down. My clothes were monitored. My friends had to be approved before they could enter the house. I didn’t have a private telephone so my mother answered all my calls before I got them.

As Mother drank more and more, I grew restless and less submissive. Mother and Dad had a vacation home where they spent six months of the year and during that time I began to live a life my mother wouldn’t have approved of. When my parents came home it was harder and harder to fit back into the old ways.

Then I met Hubby and I knew I had to leave home. My parents moved to their vacation home and within two months I moved out of their house into my own apartment. Hubby had his own home; I’m not saying he didn’t spend most his time with me (and every night) but officially we did not move in together.

Mother threw a fit. She came back home and tried to have the police arrest me for stealing. Two policemen actually came to the school where I was teaching to question me. I had to hire a lawyer who eventually settled with her attorney that we would not contact each other.

Meanwhile the drunken, abusive midnight phone calls continued. We went on like this more or less for 25 years. When my father got sick, I spent the summer before he died with my parents at his request. Hubby came and spent a week with us. Dad and I were fine; Mother and I barely tolerated each other. Dad liked Hubby and told me, in front of Mother, that if Hubby made me happy, then Hubby was okay. Dad took Hubby to church to show him off; Mother threatened to boycott the church for eternity.

After Dad died, Mother asked me never to visit her again. However, she continued to call on a regular basis, claiming I didn’t love her and didn’t care about my family.

In 1993 I drove by myself to spend a week with her. In my heart I knew this was my last effort to make some kind of peace. She told me my life was a dirty mess. To prove her point she didn’t touch me the whole time I was there; even when I was leaving, she didn’t offer a hug or a kiss. If I reached out to her she would flinch.

So, I isolated myself from her. I really worked to cut off the feelings Mother could generate. The master of manipulation, she could make me absolutely furious within five minutes of talking with her. I needed to figure out how to turn that all off. I succeeded pretty darned well. I would write to her, rather than phone her. That angered her, of course. I was a bad daughter because I didn’t come on her birthday, and I didn’t even call her. If she was drunk I would refuse to talk with her on the phone. When she became abusive during her calls to me, I hung up.

Two of her friends on her 75th birthday gave her a trip to see me. They made reservations at the Ritz Carlton, bought her first class plane tickets, and arranged limo service for a weekend. She wouldn’t come. They called me and begged me to come see her. I told them without Hubby I wasn’t coming. Hubby, of course, was not invited. I promised them, though, that on Mother’s 80th birthday I would come celebrate.

For her 80th birthday, I arranged to throw Mother a party. I put together a memory book, rented a car so Hubby, dogs and I could drive to her home, took time off from work, and sent invitations. Mother went hysterical. First she had her friends call to tell me not to come. Finally she had the lawyer call and say she wouldn’t see me. At that point, I caved. This was costing a fortune and if no one, especially Mother, was going to enjoy it, so what the heck was I doing?

I now send flowers for birthday and special occasions. I have cakes delivered to her door. I send weather reports and church bulletins as letters. I do not share any portion of my actual life with her.

We understand that she is failing fairly rapidly. Fifty years of alcohol abuse and sixty years of cigarettes are bound to eventually take their toll. She is still in her home but has attendants with her during the day. She has written in brief notes tucked into the odd card here and there that she is happy but her memory is slipping. My birthday card this year came three weeks late; either because she planned it that way or she actually forgot (I still don’t trust that she isn’t manipulating me in some way).

After she called us at 3 a.m. last week, Hubby kindly suggested I return her call. My response wasn’t sympathetic: if you want to find out why she called, call her yourself. So he did. They had a pleasant chat. Seems she told him she was having a change of heart about our relationship. Gee, after 33 years, you think? She actually called him by his name, instead of “That Man.” She thought she might like to see us both before she died. She wondered, since she was going to have to give up her home and move into assisted living, if we would like anything out of her home.

Damn. My life feels complicated enough without my mother entering the picture. I honestly don’t want to deal with her. I know that she’s my mother, and I am supposed to love her no matter what. I just don’t like her all that much. I’m barely keeping it all together without this added burden. I don’t want to be the bigger, better person right now and offer her a loving hand. I want to just walk away and act like she never called . . . or never existed.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Rough Time

Working only two days a week sucks. So does the pay for working only 16 hours but such as it is, we need the money, so I interrupt my life in the middle of every week to maintain the construction job that is now less than part time (so they don't have to provide any benies).

Last week and for the first three days of this week I interviewed at a school district across the state line. I finally got my head / heart in such a low place that it felt okay to accept a teaching position after celebrating for 16 years that I could actually support a life outside the classroom. Except now no one would hire me. Every morning I'd work myself up to be all positive and happy and sell my ass off as a really good teacher -- and each and every time I'd get beaten out for the position by a younger person who had taught a lot more recently than I had. So. After reaching the true bottom of my emotional barrel I said, "Suck you teaching; I'm not going to subject myself to this kind of defeat one more time."

Interestingly, through all the effort I was expending at trying to get teaching jobs, I was finding my e-mail and my home voicemail full of calls from construction companies wanting me to contact them as they'd seen my resume on-line. Right before I decided I would like to teach again (actually have a stable job that also had insurance benefits) I had peppered the internet job sites with my resume. I just downloaded a very basic resume overview to anybody that had a job listing that sounded reasonable -- without a cover letter and without any recommendations. Interesting that more than a couple of nibbles came from that when I couldn't get anybody to care that I'm a slam-bang great teacher, a far better teacher than anything I do in the construction industry.

Because I'd wasted three days this week vainly interviewing with any principal that would see me, I had to spend Thursday and today in my construction trailer, trying not to look like a thunder cloud who would bite someone's head off just for coming through the door.

Next week I'm going back to see what construction jobs are still open. A good friend has networked me into his company, and though the job wouldn't be intellectually challenging, it would be a stable job with decent benefits (and a sad but livable salary). Also I would be working close to home.

Wednesday of this week I thought I couldn't sink any lower emotionally than when my final teaching opportunity bit the dust -- and then Thursday I had to come to the construction trailer where I figured I was going to be met by an HR rep and finally fired (because they wanted me to work Tuesdays and Wednesdays -- and I'd called in sick so I could go interview with the schools). However, I wasn't fired and actually no one bothered to even show up for work except right after lunch when the construction crew found my car had a flat and they changed my tire for me. And then I went right home so I could buy a new tire.

Somehow this morning I got up and wasn't feeling so glum and defeated and knocked about.

This morning I could actually count a few of my blessings, and I have a lot of them to count when I can get my head off the ground and look around me. Next week I'll start again, looking for a job. I do believe that the things you need are eventually provided to you. I don't know what I learned from the past two weeks while I put my hopes and dreams yet again on a teaching position; I only know I won't do that again. Something new and wonderful must be waiting for me right around the corner, I've just got to get off my ass and quit feeling sorry myself and go find it. Easier said, of course, than done.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


This Friday my employment comes to an end. My head has finally wrapped itself around the event and now I’m merely hanging in limbo wishing it would come sooner, rather than two plus days away. I want out. I want to stop going to my little construction trailer and trying to look like I care what happens to the business going on inside it. I’m done.

But, of course, financially, I’m really not done. I’ve got to start again, find something that pays legitimately well enough to support my little family and will bring me some level of accomplishment. Mostly, though, I’m working for the money and nothing else. Pay me enough and I’ll try to do the job. That’s some real motivation, isn’t it?

This job has been dreadful for the last 15 months. First came the boss who threw temper tantrums like a three year old. He actually threw things when he got really angry: chairs, pens, baseballs, books, notebooks, plans. He was also cruel, saying unkind, hurtful things. He actually once told me that if he had to spend a couple of hours in my presence, he’d probably "have to kill you."

In June 2005 the home office shipped off the pretty, slim, and very young bimbo that the married 45 year old partner was romantically involved with (and nearly ruined his marriage over) to the construction trailer, thinking she wouldn’t mind working "in the dirt." She minded very, very much and was gone within two weeks – promoted to a "friendly" contractor that owed my company a favor.

The asset management specialist (the guy who manages the property once it’s built) spent three months trying to get me to do his job every day because he couldn’t "make my computer work, darn it." He got caught trying to sell company secrets to the competition.

The tenant coordinator quit in a huff when management offered him a huge raise and then reneged when they found they had actually given him the salary offer of someone with a lot more seniority. He had signed the offer and told his wife about it – and he never even got an apology. This guy was never replaced so management thought I should do it his job, as well as my own. No increase in my salary, of course.

When the angry manager quit because his superior / best friend resigned to take a more lucrative offer from another company, in came the guy I’m working under now. Doesn’t trust anyone; believes everyone is out to cheat him / get him / shirk their job responsibilities. Runs 30 minutes to more than a day late for appointments. Misses planes and yells at the airlines. Doesn’t complete paperwork in any kind of timely fashion. Writes the English language phonetically but won’t ask for help.

All in all, I’m well out of it. Except I need the money. So, it’s back to the drawing board. The resume has been re-created and updated. I’ve looked on line and have been pleasantly pleased to see that my three years in construction may actually prove beneficial in finding new employment. I've even submitted my resume to a couple of construction companies. Aslo, I’ve got the web-site marked so Saturday morning I can apply for unemployment on-line.

Over the July 4th holiday weekend when no one was around I drove to the construction site and removed all my personal possessions that were invisible to management’s eye – the stuff in drawers and files. All my personal files on the computer have been carefully erased. I can be gone from this trailer in 10 minutes: grab the plant, the CD player, the wreath on the wall, and my purse.

Next week I spend 16 hours working here. That’s all I’ve been told I’m needed now that the job is phasing out. According to the company I can show up for 16 hours a week until probably Christmas. I plan to show up at least for one week. Then we’ll see. I don’t plan to quit. I may find that I can’t afford to put the gas in Big Mo (my Lincoln Towncar) to drive the 60 miles round trip it takes from house to the site the following week. The company has already told me they will NOT pay me any gas mileage. But I refuse to actually quit because I want that damned unemployment. I’ve never had it and this time around I’m figuring it can tide us over until the next job turns up.

Stay tuned. Who knows what I’ll be doing next to earn that almighty dollar. If you have any leads send ‘em my way.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Right between the Eyes

Hubby had an appointment with his new neurologist yesterday. We’ve never seen such an array of high priced, super educated, well-titled specialists before and we’ve been mightily impressed. In fact, we’ve met so many new doctors that we now keep a bound calendar with attached address book just so we can note appointments, places, addresses, specialties and try to keep them all straight.

First up, Hubby has a cardiologist. He monitors blood pressure and sends Hubby for extensive cardio testing. He also wears three piece designer suits, blue shirts with French cuffs, and very tasteful ties. Of all the doctors, he is the most handsome and stereotypically dressed.

To date, Hubby has spent 12 hours in cardio testing, stretched over a three day span. The cardiologist is unhappy that Hubby’s blood pressure stubbornly resists going below 140 / 90 (or thereabouts, fluctuating mostly up) so medications are routinely changed. Hubby doesn’t like the medications and if they make him feel lousy he stubbornly resists taking them. The prescriptions from the cardiologist made Hubby very dizzy so he happily resorted to the prescriptions his primary care physician sent home with him from the hospital. To counteract Hubby’s independent streak, the cardiologist has now set Hubby up with his own nurse practitioner that he is to call day or night if he has any bad reactions to the prescriptions.

Hubby also has a neurosurgeon, the one who operated on the aneurism on April 27. The neurosurgeon doesn’t demand the face time with hubby that the cardiologist wants. One post-op appointment and Hubby was released for six months, at which time, a "procedure" will be scheduled to check on the state of Hubby’s head. I took an instant dislike to the neurosurgeon, who was professional to the point of being chilly. He was extremely competent however and it was he who realized after four days of extensive testing and no clear diagnosis just what had happened in Hubby’s head the day after Easter.

Hubby’s favorite doctor is his primary care physician, Dr. Duran. He is young, cute, upbeat, caring, and funny. Hubby, who always believed that health was simply mind over matter, did not have a doctor. Briefly, when he found himself unable to overcome the symptoms of adult on-set diabetes, he saw a specialist and a nutritionist. His blood sugar was over 300 when he was first diagnosed. Simply by weight reduction and the elimination of sugar from his diet, Hubby brought his sugar into the normal range – 80 to 130 usually. He will remind you that clearly he had been correct all along – controlling his health was merely his mind controlling the "bad."

Dr. Duran was on call the night Hubby was admitted to our neighborhood hospital, at 3 a.m., after we had spent seven hours in Emergency waiting for ambulance transport. From the moment he and Hubby met, Hubby wanted him for his own doctor. Luckily, Dr. Duran was part of Hubby’s insurance program and wanted Hubby for a patient. We have an R.N. friend who claims everyone would have wanted Hubby for a patient because clearly he is a text book case, beating the odds in such an incredible way, and the medical community wants to know just how he did it. Several medical papers may soon be in the offing.

Dr. Duran is the most relaxed of the doctors, possibly because he's the youngest. He dresses in jeans and t-shirts under his white coat. He greets you exuberantly in the parking lot on his way into / out of his office. He calls after one of the procedures he's scheduled has been performed just to make sure you are doing okay. He talks with you before he takes your blood pressure. He is happy to include me in Hubby's appointments. We both like him exceedingly.

Dr. Duran has set Hubby up with several new specialists. The gastroenterologist performed a colonoscopy two weeks ago. The results were gratifyingly clear and Hubby doesn’t need to go back for 10 years. Hubby’s knees have caused him great pain for at least seven years, and Dr. Duran believes he is perfect for arthroplasty, the resurfacing or relining the ends of bones when cartilage has worn away and bone has been destroyed.

We had to wait the longest for the post-op appointment with the neurologist and I assumed that this would merely be a check-up and release. The neurologist, though, wasn’t about to let such a "test case" escape without a more thorough study. Consequently, Hubby has been scheduled for some type of procedure and the hospital has called to set it up for tomorrow. Hubby is not sure exactly what they are gong to do, but we know that no "pre-surgical" activities are required.

Hubby was far more interested in the diagram the neurologist drew for him. We had always thought that the aneurism was just off to the side and behind Hubby’s right ear. Nope. He was struck "right between the eyes" where two arteries meet and branch off. We had been warned repeatedly in April that the surgeries on Hubby could leave him blind or mentally impaired but we never pictured something so close to his eyes and the front of his head.

Tomorrow we’ll learn how well the repair on the aneurism is holding. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Looking for the Silver Lining

Right this minute my life seems so overwhelmingly out of kilter that just getting up from the bed uses up all my reserves of energy. Suddenly my usually overly developed coping skills have reached rock bottom.

A long time ago during one of those god-awful corporate sessions where people are forced to gather into pre-selected groups of mismatched coworkers, a very astute man who had known me at least ten years said in response to needing to say something nice about me, "You cope. No matter what happens, you always cope." I had expected to hear I was super-organized or good at structuring group process. Instead I was surprised that someone actually realized that probably my most dominant, and usually best hidden skill, was my ability to cope when things go wrong.

And I have coped. I have coped with divorce, parental and family strife, financial problems, major career changes, marital troubles, disinheritance, death, weight issues, theft and fire loss, friendship betrayal, the disappointment of never having children, as well as all the little disappointments we all face daily.

I think coping is probably a skill most children of alcoholics learn very early. Both my parents drank too much, but alcohol turned my mother very mean and she was a binge drinker. Consequently my childhood was very unpredictable and I was always watching out for the event that could set up a drunken night and the resulting ugliness.

Currently, a series of unsettling events has lead up to the depletion of my coping reserves:

  • Wolfie, my beloved dog, died suddenly in October; one minute he was romping in the park and the next he suffered a massive bleed into his gut and we had to put him down.
  • Hubby on the day after Easter suffered an aortic, cranial aneurism. Though he is now working toward a full recovery, he was hospitalized for ten days, six in the ICU. We have since learned that only one in five survives this type of aneurism and of that one in five, only one in four suffer no long lasting effects.
  • Now the medical bills have begun arriving. The hospital bill itself has billed for over $117,000.
  • I’m being "released" from my job at the end of this week and will no longer be a full time employee, entitled to benefits and insurance.

Here’s the thing. Intellectually I know that every one of the above "traumas" has a silver lining.

  • Wolfie was 19 years old. We were so lucky to have him live as long as he did. He enjoyed his life with us and he died in my arms, knowing he was deeply and lastingly loved.
  • Hubby survived, against all odds, he came out weakened but "in tact." He now has a wonderful array of doctors fighting to bring down his resistant blood pressure and to help him with the other indignities of that being 71 can bring: bad knees and diabetes.
  • Hubby had really good insurance. Sure, a much bigger portion of the medical bills than we would like are ours to pay, but the largest portion is being paid by insurance. All the medications now required to return Hubby to health have so far only been five bucks a pop. The hospital is willing to work with us on setting up a reasonable payment plan for the amount we owe. Our primary care physician is exactly the one we wanted and he understands that medical costs must be kept down.
  • I have come to hate the job; it was fun and rewarding up until May, 2005. The past 14 months have been awful. I dread getting up in the morning, my stomach is always tied in knots, and the pay sucks.

I know all these things mean I’m not doomed. I know that in my head. My stomach, tied in awful knots, refuses to listen to my head. Many of the signs of depression are the ones I’m exhibiting now: laying in bed all day with the covers over my head; sleeping during the day and staying up all night while worrying about finances; the inability to motivate myself to do anything beyond stare glumly at the TV (and watching movies/shows that are beyond boring).

I can’t write and my resume needs updating desperately. I can’t read and I certainly need to be proactive about finding a new job. I can’t think beyond, "Oh no, I don’t want this to be happening." Combined, all of this has left me bereft of my usual coping mechanisms.

For the past two weeks I’ve avoided church. I don’t want to have to explain that I’ve lost my job and I have no interest in the resulting sympathy pats and hugs. Plus, I know that secretly most everyone will be silently thanking their lucky stars they are not in my shoes.

I e-mailed my sister-in-law that I would eventually cope because it’s what I do in life. It’s just that right now coping appears to be later rather than sooner.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Here it is in all its unvarnished ugliness: I got fired last Thursday.

Or what amounts to the same thing.

I've known it was coming for a very long time -- but when it smacks you in the face, the upset is just a real.

Mostly, not because I'll miss the job, but because I have to start all over again and get a new one and figure out how to fit in to a new environment.

And damn. I have to update the resume which I lost in the computer crash of 2004.

What management did was tell me that after July 14th they had no need of my services. Unless I wanted to work 16 hours a week for them until they could unload me for real. And they knew that wouldn't fly because I can't afford it so it was their way of weaseling out without actually firing me.

I'm investigating options -- heck, I never just vanish into the night unless the job is temporary. The job really had gotten ugly in the past 12 months, so I may have a small bone to hold over their heads.

It's probably a blessing in disguise but right now, at this moment in my upside down life, it just feels like another blow -- that I'm not going to be able to recover from. I will, of course, because it's what I do. I cope.

But I'm kind of in hiding right now, just figuring out how to manage to cope one more frigin' time . . . why can't it just be easy for awhile, eh?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day 2006

15 reasons why we love our Papa:

  1. He’s never grumpy in the morning when we feel frisky and want to run and jump and play. He’s ready to grab the stuffy or throw the ball and we love to do that at 6 a.m. We avoid Mama like the plague if the hands on the clock don’t say at least 9 a.m.
  1. Papa isn’t afraid of anything and that makes us brave, too. Bigger animals, loud noises, frightening in the sky, our Papa faces them all down and makes them run away.
  1. We adore treats so, of course, we love Papa who brings us the treats when he goes to the $100 store (Sam’s or Costco). He hides them down by his side of the bed but we KNOW where they are and we go stand right in front of his hiding place so he will remember to give us some. He never gives just one either; we always get at least two each.
  1. Papa teaches us stuff but he’s not mean when he does. We have learned that streets are very dangerous and we must never step on them when we are off leash. He teaches us that we must come when he calls or we could get lost or hurt.
  1. Because he treats Mama gently, he is our role model. We all know that our Mama can be more fragile than Papa and we can’t jump on her like we do with Papa. Also he shows us by example that licks and love and better than growls and bites.
  1. Our papa is very patient. He helps us remember not to pee-pee in the house or run into the evil neighbor’s yard. He’s good about not yelling at us when we forget but he can be very stern with us when we forget. He also knows that we don’t remember things for very long so if we make a mistake he doesn’t punish us for it the next day.
  1. Papa is very, very smart. He can drive the big automobile that takes us fun places, he can drive for hours on a long road and end up where we meet very nice people, and he can read so he knows which are the good treats to buy for us.
  1. Our papa is so handy that he can open treat jars, dog food bags, and cans of liver with only his paws. Wow! We wish we could do that! He can also turn on faucets and fill water bowls. These are GREAT skills to have!
  1. Papa has insight into what the crazy Mama is going to do next. We never know but Papa helps us follow along with her moods, her cooking habits, and her housekeeping. He also seems to know when Mama is going to turn on the evil vacuum which always tries to gobble us up; he takes up for a ride just before the vacuum gets turned on.
  1. Papa is rich. He has an automobile which we get to ride in. He has paper in his pocket that turns into really good food at the dog food store. He has a big bed which he shares with Mama and us. He has a house that he lets us live in. Inside that house is heat when it’s cold and cold when it’s hot and running water and a place where treats and food are stored. Papa is probably the richest man in the world, actually.
  1. With his huge hands Papa gives the most wonderful scritches in the world. We nudge him all day long for those scritches. We love Papa’s scritches! But even though his hands are big and strong they are always gentle.
  1. We go on long walks every day with our papa. He taught us to walk off-lead and as long as we come when he calls we don’t have wear leashes. Running free in the park is the best gift that Papa gives us. He had to work a long time with us to teach us the rules of the “free run” and we love him for doing it.
  1. We get to ride along side Papa in his big automobile nearly every time Papa goes for a drive. He taught us the command “Get in the back” so we can ride when he has company with him. We also get to sit up front with Papa when he’s alone. We love to go for a ride in the car. We even know how to put the windows up and down by ourselves!
  1. Papa always shares his dinner with us. No matter if he eats in the best restaurant or from a paper plate at home, he always gives us a bite. We’ve eaten steak and lobster and hot dogs and hamburgers. At Baskin Robbins we get our own cups of vanilla. Papa always has enough for three on his plate.
  1. Best of all, our Papa has a huge heart and he gives his love to us and to Mama. We can feel that love when he feeds us and plays with us and pets us. He doesn’t take the love away when we forget stuff, either. He loves us every day, all day long. And we love him back.

We hope that you have a Papa as good as ours and that you are showing him all your love this Father's Day.

We love you Papa! Fritzy and Gus

PS -- the photos of our Wolfie, the best dog in the world

1986 - 2005

Friday, June 16, 2006

Finally a Real Celebration

My sixtieth birthday at the end of May was a depressing non-event. It was celebrated by a small luncheon attended by two co-workers who bought me lunch. My mother sent a card a week late. Hubby said "happy birthday" at 7:30 a.m. when he saw the date on the TV news screen and never acknowledged the event again. My sister-in-law said she was sorry she couldn't celebrate with me but since she was 900 miles away in Houston I could just suck it up. Frankly, I’ve been feeling a little bitter ever since which made me think about the kind of party I would throw, if say, I had unlimited funds, could invite anyone to attend (and they would have to come but they would also really, really want to attend), and I could hold it anywhere in the world.

Immediately, my aspirations are not set very high. Having the party right in Kansas City would be perfectly fine by me. I think I’d invite Martha Stewart to come plan the event and she could send her TV crew in to do all the work – in return they could film the party, kind of like Oprah’s Legends party except I’d the recipient of all the good gifts.

I wouldn’t be picky about the theme of the party but I would prefer it be held indoors. Late May in Kansas City can be pretty darned hot and I don’t look my best bathed in sweat. Since I was born in 1946 an appropriate theme might be Flashback to the Forties. Martha could design the perfect homemade invitations, we could serve good old comfort food like mac and cheese, meatloaf, and potato salad. We would all dress in the appropriate 1940’s clothing but we’d make it a very casual affair. We'd start up around 5 p.m. with some Old Fashions maybe and we would party until we all got tired which, based on the average age of this shindig, would probably be before 10 p.m. – but actually five hours at a party is a long time. I’d want to hire a photographer for the event because the guest list, now that would be spectacular!
My celebrity guest list (and remember everyone would come because this would be THE party) would include:

-- Bill and Camille Cosby, education activists – since both Cosby’s have their doctorates in education, I’d enjoy sharing opinions on improving public schools with them. Dr. Bill says things the rest of us are thinking but are afraid to say out loud and he does it with enough humor to make the message palatable.

-- John Irving, author – my favorite modern novelist, Irving has written books I revel in reading. Even when his books are turned into bad movies I enjoy them. I’d want to discuss the themes of his novels with him: feminism, New England, abortion, wrestling, and, of course, bears. He could also tell me about the real Robin Williams (The World According to Garp) or Michael Caine (Cider House Rules).

-- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice - as a strong advocate of women’s rights, it would be great to hear her comments on her last ten years on the Supreme Court. I’d especially want her to share nasty anecdotes on Clarence Thomas.

-- Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, actors – the tales they could divulge about their movies would be fascinating. Equally interesting would be their philanthropic involvements during the last 20 years.

-- Whoopi Goldberg, comedian and actress—how I love Whoopi! I adore her style, her humor, her movies (even the bad ones), and her irreverent outlook on life. All during the eighties, aften I'd seen one of her films I’d go out and buy her wardrobe: yellow high tops or huge oddball pins for my overcoat. Now I never miss the reruns of Jumping Jack Flash or Burglar on cable. The Color Purple is one of my all-time favorite movies, partly because Whoopi was the perfect Miss Celie.

-- Rosie O’Donnell, comedian and host – another woman who tells it like she sees it. With Whoopi and Rosie as guests, the joint would be jumping.

-- Hugh Grant, actor – I’d definitely want some hunky eye-candy, and Hugh would be both a stunningly handsome and funny guest. Plus, he’s got that controversial edge going for him. We’d all be watching to see how he reacted to women in the group.

-- Barack Obama, politician – who wouldn’t want to hear from Obama just what his political aspirations really are? Does he think our country is ready for an African-American president? How many death treats has he received since he became one of the most visible minority politicians?

-- Bill and Hillary Clinton, politicians – oh, yeah, baby! If you haven’t realized yet just how liberal this child of the 1960’s really is, having the Clintons at my party would certainly be the tip off. I love Hillary. She’s been my hero since I first read about her when Bill was running for President. I want her to become President of this country. I want to believe that we have moved far enough from our bigoted past to elect a woman to the White House. I don’t think either Barack or Hillary can survive (either politically or physically) for me to see that happen, but how I want to believe that it can. I also happen to think Bill Clinton was a really good president – maybe not a perfect man – but as president, he did a fine job. Hillary stood by him – and you can claim that was only for political reasons, but there really are people who, after making a commitment to love, honor, and cherish a mate, stick with it even when the mate doesn’t always deserve the loyalty. She deserves to be praised for that, not vilified. She kept her marriage vows no matter what and it certainly wasn’t easy with all that nasty publicity.

-- Chris and Paul Weitz, brothers, movie producers, and directors – the movies these guys have made span the generations – from American Pie to About a Boy. They seem to have gauged the pulse of the movie-goer and then produced movies, which if not always art, are nearly always upbeat and entertaining. Also Hugh would have somebody to talk with besides American politicians as he starred in their About a Boy.

-- Helen Thomas, reporter – this old broad tells it like it is and won’t sacrifice the good-graces of the current office-holder when she asks the tough questions. She makes me proud of the White House press corps. Plus, she’s known and covered presidents since John Kennedy.

Andrew Wyeth, artist – the oldest guest at my party, Wyeth, 88, could tell us about his famous Helga paintings, his favorite New England haunts, and with Irving, share stories of New Hampshire.

-- Jubilant Sykes, baritone – singing both classical and contemporary music, this American singer might agree to provide grand entertainment for my party, plus Hubby would really enjoy a duet with this cat.

-- Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, writers and producers – I have so loved the TV show Gilmore Girls. I know that often the guys just don’t get it but I want to move to Stars Hollow and live with all those eccentric, beloved residents. I want to have a mother / daughter relationship like Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. I so understand the problems Lorelai has with her own mother and I love that nothing on the show is completely black and white / good or evil. I’d want to know how the writers feel about watching their show go on without them, now that they have been cut loose from it and I’d want to hear what they have in development. And I’d want to know if they can talk as fast as the dialog flows on the show.

-- Jim and Virginia Stowers, philanthropists – cancer survivors and founders of the Stowers Institute in Kansas City, MO this couple has dedicated a vast fortune to supporting basic research on genes and proteins that control fundamental processes in living cells. The institute’s goals are to unlock the mysteries of disease and find the keys to their causes, treatment, and prevention. They have created a state of the art facility in my city, offering incredible resources to those involved in finding long-term solutions for gene-based diseases. I never see them flashed all over the news; they have quietly dedicated enormous sums of money to making life better. I’d really like to know who these people are and share their vision for the future.

-- Charles Gusewelle, columnist, Kansas City Star – oh! How this man can write a short essay (500 words maybe) and just break my heart, or make me stand up and cheer, or send me down memory lane. The man does "slice of live" better than anybody! Moreover he is a native born Kansas Citian so we share the same experiences and reminiscences.

-- Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Vermont businessmen – two regular guys who made a fortune from ice cream – and if they brought some to the party that would be just another bonus of having them attend.

So that’s 24 celebrity quests, 25 if Martha would abandon her hosting duties and join us, which I hope she would. We’d crack ugly on the Bushes and their political ilk and make fun of the right wing conservative Christians, who certainly must be finding it more and more difficult to support their own leader’s political stands. We’d dream of a future where women and minorities would wield equal power with the white man and really upsetting the white father figures of the conservative right. We’d cheer on gay marriage and figure out how to withdraw from the Middle East. Illegal immigration wouldn’t even be a topic at my party. We’d sing songs, swap hilarious stories, and eat good food. I bet I’d get 25 really cool gifts, too. Now this party would make a 60th birthday one to truly remember.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Reflections of Who We Are

Intentional or not, our cars tell the world about the types of person we are. Our social and financial status, our need for outward validation, our security in our gender roles and even the transitional stages of our lives are broadcast to the world by the four wheels we choose to drive. Emotional needs filled by the purchase of an auto range from validation of sexuality to pure power. But while car-as-indicator-of-personality can border on cliché -- sports cars for age-defying middle-aged men, minivans for soccer moms, trucks for construction workers, etc. -- the desire to buck or ignore these classifications can be just as revealing.

Hubby and I buck the trends. We realized with the last new car purchase we made in 1990 that we did not find enough value in an automobile to spend more ten grand on one. Our values haven’t changed as car prices have inflated.

How did we settle on $10,000? In 1973 we bought our home for $17,900. We have lived in that house for 33 years and it has more than tripled in value. Why would we pay more for a car that would depreciate the moment we handed over cash?

So we’ve driven old cars, cars others have discarded, sometimes for very valid reasons. Our best purchase was a 1989 Cadillac Seville hubby bought for $3000. Honey of a car, it never stranded me and I always felt snazzy driving it. During the Seville’s life, I was managing my own communications company and that car made me feel like I had "arrived." It wasn’t too big, it was really pretty, and it ran beautifully. We drove it until we had to replace the engine and then we drove it until that engine gave up the ghost.

Right after I quit teaching and while I was building my business, I drive cars that cost less $1000 – combined. The first was a simple brown Dodge we bought for $400 – no frills, no toys, not even a working a radio. The second was a more sporty Mercury that was miserably uncomfortable but only cost $700. Each car lasted me at least 18 months or pretty hard driving.

The worst car we ever owned I named The Tank, a 1993 Cadillac De Ville which hated me with a passion unheard of in an inanimate object. That car never gave me a day’s worth of peace. It was pretty and it was big and it was spawned by the Devil herself. Somehow the gas flow system was screwed up and if the tank reached half full, the damn car thought it was out of gas and quite running. It never had heat when it was cold and it never cooled when it was hot. At stop lights it would quit running and not start again for upwards of 50 minutes, or longer. It stranded us all over town – and Hubby, who had found and decided it was a good purchase, wouldn’t give up on it. He had paid more for The Tank than any car since we quit buying new ones and he was determined he could tame the evil beast. We still own The Tank because Hubby can’t find anyone who will even consider buying it but we quit driving it during the spring of 2005. It sits, hulking, in our driveway with a rotting For Sale sign in the window, defying anyone to try and make it run.

Once we gave up on The Terrible Tank, we bought a beautiful midnight blue 1994 Cadillac De Ville with a North Star engine which proved way too costly to repair when things went wrong with it. That car caught fire in our driveway, melting the dashboard and half the engine. The fire, unfortunately, did not spread to The Tank. That's me on your left with Midnight right after we bought her.

Meanwhile Hubby has owned a succession of odd work vehicles – the kind of car you can dump opened cans of paint into or hook long ladders to the roofs. He’s had old vans, old pick-ups, and is currently driving an old SBC (phone company) industrial van with over 300,000 miles on it. Darned van is so tall I have to have stepping stool to heft me into it. Keeps running though when everything else poops out.

My latest vehicle was purchased after much serious investigation on Hubby’s part. He wanted a one owner, American made, big car, built before 1994 – when nearly all the engines on cars became so computerized that the driveway mechanic has no hope of tinkering on them. After a long search he eventually found a 1993 Lincoln Towncar that met his requirements.

If a car broadcasts your social and economic status to the world, then in that Towncar screams that I’m a blue haired, little old lady on my way to the bingo parlor with a bucket of makers and a carton of menthol cigarettes. Actually, the can’s image isn’t so far off from my own, darn it. Hubby and I like the luxury of the full-sized auto. We like comfy seats where two doggies can snuggle next to us while we cruise down the highway. We want to be able to stretch out our legs, and wallow around when the arthritis pain kicks in. The Lincoln serves those needs admirably.
Also the car has been very stable to drive. I travel over 300 miles a week to work so I need a car that won’t break down, that doesn’t have a flashing instrument panel of red and amber warning lights, and that can withstand travel on gravel roads. Because the Lincoln is well worn it doesn’t need washing every other rainstorm. Because it has been adequately maintained during its long life, it doesn’t need fluid injections every second day. It does, however, need a little push to provide the extra comforts, so today the air conditioning system is being reworked so I can (hopefully) drive in cool during the rest of the summer. We had the same problem at the close of last season when we had to overhaul the heating system.

If the bottom line in car ownership is "how does the car make you FEEL?" then Hubby and I feel like rebels. We won’t subscribe to the philosophy of buying a new car every two/four at a cost of $30,000 and more just to promote our image. We are a couple of old fogies who still remember the glory years of the 1960’s and we drove the "protest" cars and vans of those years to prove it. We aren’t going to drive around in a status symbol because we don’t really care how others see us. We can find better ways to spend (or save) money than on a hunk of metal. Conversely we aren’t going toddle around in a little tin box of an economy car when our arthritic knees no longer bend properly. We are driving "your grandfather’s car" but then again, we’re both old enough to be your grandfather. Rebel or fuddy-duddy, we now pay cash for our vehicles which will never cost more than our home. That's just NOT right. Also, car payments are so depressing!