Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

For the Love of Family

We travel to Houston for Christmas every year. It's a long journey because we go by car so our boys can travel with us. We have been going since the 1980's when Hubby's sister lived in an apartment and we were each pre-dogs/cats.

We used to garage sale in the summer and acquire strange Christmas presents that we would give -- and then ask the recipient to guess exactly what the item was. Hubby's sister was a computer programmer in the 1980's when that was a strange and new profession. One year she gave us used computer chips -- and we had no idea what they were. In the picture below we had decorated her balcony for some contest held in her complex.

As we all matured, Hubby's sister moved into her own townhouse. We always stayed with her and she would abandon her bed to us, sleeping either with friends or in the guest bedroom in a sleeping bag. In 1990 we started arriving with a dog. Several years later she had a cat. We added Christmas stockings into the mix for our fur children. The fireplace in this home didn't actually work but she filled it with candles so we had the correct ambiance. In the picture on the right we had spent the Christmas holiday revamping her kitchen -- and Sister had given Hubby a matching sweater for Christmas and he had given her a matching hat.

Eventually Hubby's sister moved into a very elegant townhouse with a working fireplace. That year we lit the gas logs on Christmas morning, but the temps outside were so warm we had to also run the central air conditioning. The picture on the left is of Hubby's train track. The train is a huge German toy train that has enough track to run through half the living room -- including through the glass coffee table. Notice also that the gift giving has gotten just a bit out-of-hand.

Then Hubby's sister retired from her management position with a big Texas oil company and decided that she would rent her now two townhouses for extra income. She and her two cats moved in with a good friend. We were still welcomed with open arms but it seemed prudent at that time to stay in a motel when we visited. The picture at the bottom right is of Hubby feeding Wolfie his Christmas treats while Omri, the cat, watches. Both Om and Wolf are now gone -- but they are both with us in our hearts.

After a couple of years, Hubby's sister moved into a sweet little rental property, owned by another good friend. With only bedroom, we continued to stay in a motel during Christmas week.

Last year, after a series of hurricanes in the Houston area, Hubby's sister decided to sell one townhouse and move into the more elegant one -- and we were once again back together for the entire holiday. Sister decorated, Hubby cooked, and we celebrated like a loving family should.

This year's holiday was one of the best ever. The presents we gave seemed perfect. The laughter we shared was loud and long. The carols were sung. The traditional fried chicken and potato salad were devoured. And the love was shared. Christmas belongs to family. It renews you for the upcoming year and gives you the strength to carry on. Our family may not be a traditional one and it may be small in number -- but we nurture each other, we value our unique characteristics, and we support each other's lives. There is tremendous benefit in the renewal this family brings to our lives.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Home Sweet Home

We are back from a fabulous Christmas in Houston. Temps there were in the 60's during the day and we wore short sleeves and sandals. Temps in the Heartland hover around 20 and yesterday evening 3 inches of snow fell. Still -- home looks mighty sweet.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Life in Bullet Points

Fastest update manageable:
  • Holiday party at school went well; kids had fun; Hubby brought in individual bottles of sparkling cider for the 16 Advisory teens and a package of plastic champagne flutes -- the kids were in heaven; everyone got a stocking filled with oranges, kisses, peanuts, candy canes, an ornament (all those years of buying Hallmarks at after Christmas sales) and jewelry for the girls, tools for the boys; high times for at 16 year old
  • Saw my own doctor for the gout, which I still have; no magic pill available no matter how much I beg; infection still running rampant, hence gout still hanging on; damn
  • Mother update decrees she does not need second knee replacement so she is back in her own home for the holidays after a brief hospitalization
  • Dogs see groomer tomorrow for Christmas cut; seems I need one, too -- but . . .
  • Grades delivered today for fall grad course -- eked out an A but just barely (the final paper was a B+) -- looked like from the course graph that it was my perfect attendance that managed to garner the A for the course; 4.0 grade average, Yeah! Baby!, still in tact
  • We leave for Christmas holidays on Friday after school - we're driving, of course, so the dogs can go; not nearly ready -- no packing yet, wash still undone, no wrapping -- but I have found the presents; my hope is that I can put the right gouty foot on the accelerator pedal come Saturday morning when it's my turn to drive
Happy Holidays everyone! See you on the southern side of the nation in a couple of days.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I End Up in the Emergency Room

Gout is considered a form of crystal deposition arthritis, hence the name, gouty arthritis. Uric acid, a chemical that is found in the serum component of our blood, is the key to understanding gout. Excessively high levels of uric acid lead to the deposition of monosodium urate crystals into joints and certain subcutaneous spaces in the body.

Most acute gouty attacks occur in the late hours of the night. As we sleep, our bodies tend to focus on the primary metabolic functions such as digestion, breathing, etc. The extremities, such as the feet tend to cool as a result of this 'lack of attention'. As they cool, and if the dissolved amount of uric acid is high enough, the result is the change of uric acid from a liquid to a crystal. The hallmark symptoms of gout is the acute onset, usually at night with severe pain.

The symptoms of gout usually appear at night and come on like a freight train. The weight of the bed sheets is often intolerable. One joint or several may be involved. The most common site is the first metatarsal phalangeal joint (big toe joint). The pain is described as crushing and excruciating. Attacks tend to last several days.


Yes, I was struck down on Saturday morning with gout -- and the symptoms and the incredible pain continued until 10 p.m. when Hubby bundled me to the E.R. for diagnosis, some pain pills which did nothing to alleviate the pain, and eventually an IV filled with antibiotics, because my white count was very high, anti-nausea medication and heavy-duty pain meds. Finally sweet relief.

I've been loopy all day -- but the big toe on my right foot is improving and I can stand -- if not completely upright -- at least I can once again shuffle along.

Gout is awful. The pain has been incredible. And I lost the entire weekend before Christmas vacation -- a weekend that was supposed to be filled with all kinds of errands and activities and church and packing for Christmas. But I'm recovering. Blessings all around.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Getting One's Just Desserts

So, after months of silence -- hell, years of non-communication -- my mother called me on Friday of last week. However, when I answered the phone she asked for someone else. I told her, politely, she had the wrong number, and without us ever acknowledging each other she hung up.

Back fill is that sometime in October, I suddenly told Hubby that I was having premonitions that she was in trouble, probably rapidly failing health and that I wouldn't be surprised to hear that she had had to move into a nursing home. She's 81 years old after all, lives totally alone -- well, as alone as a woman with a huge pile of money can be, considering she can afford all the care she needs.

On Tuesday night she had her best friend call me because 1. she had received our Christmas card in the mail and 2. she had also received her Christmas gift from UPS. I had ordered an assortment of old-time food stuff from the Vermont Country Store, things she and I had enjoyed eating when I was a kid: plum pudding and hard sauce, oyster stew, Vermont cheese, and B&M brown bread, special crackers, etc.

Mother, herself, could not call me -- but she had her friend call and say that she would enjoy knowing something about my life. I was totally honest. I told the friend I was done with the situation. I would acknowledge Mother on holidays and her birthday because I felt she didn't have anyone left who would remember she was alive. Certainly there is no other living family other than me. I would send things like flowers and food and warm nighties but I was no longer making a personal investment in the situation. The 35 years she had tried to hurt me in every way she could think of had finally taken their last toll two years ago and I WAS D.O.N.E.! The family that had stood by me during those 35 years, even if not blood relations, would be the family I choose to include and support with my love and affection.

The friend said Mother had been thinking that she might like to send Hubby and me a gift for Christmas, something other than the pears from Harry and David that she had sent every single Christmas for the last 15 years. Four pears -- that's what we got every year. Granted, they are very good pears, but still . . .

And in the middle of that conversation about Mother wondering what we might like as a Christmas gift, the friend told us that Mother had bought the town she lives in a fire truck. Not a toy truck, mind you. The entire real red fire engine. The one they had was old and run down and sometimes they could not get up the mountain roads to isolated cabins. So she bought them a new truck.

For 35 years we've gotten pears and gifts from Goodwill and once a set of stuffed cloth wise men.

I've told myself over and over that she can't hurt me anymore, that she won't make me mad. Still -- over $100,000 for a fire truck -- while I get four pears every year?

I understand that she and my dad made me independent and self-reliant and I have the skills to take care of myself. I know that she was the sole heir for my grandfather's money and she can do with it as she chooses. But goddamn -- what a small fraction of that kind of money would have made in our lives all these years while we drove second hand cars and lived in a tiny bungalow and worked every days of our lives to meet the bills!

If, as the saying goes, you reap what you sow, just exactly what does this say about me?

I understand she's failing in health, a broken hip requiring a replacement, new knees that are not healing properly, twelve thousand a month in home care services because she's terrified of going into a nursing home, some dementia. Maybe she's reaping just a bit of what she's sown, too.

Certainly, neither of us are happy about the situation. We can't resolve it, fix it, or even patch over it for "old time's sake." She won't talk to me; I can't talk to her, not even for a fraction of what that new fire truck cost. It's a total impasse. How sad. How unutterably sad.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

2007 Family Christmas Card

Season's Greetings --
Hubby, Milly, Gus (left) and Fritzy (right)

The 2007 Family Christmas Letter

Two years ago we spent a magical night in an enchanted wood and that story became our 2005 Christmas card. Many responded that they cried with us over our heartbreak at our dog’s death.

Immediately following that mystical woodland trek, of course, our lives took even more highly dramatic turns: the life-threatening cranial aneurysm of Hubby the day after Easter in 2006; the loss of my job in May and the subsequent decision in August to return to teaching in a new district and an unknown school after a 16 year absence; the need to re-enter graduate school to earn certification to teach a whole new curriculum; and the arthritic knees that wouldn’t regain strength after a prolonged hospitalization.

Each turn of events, though heart rending in the moment, brought us a new outlook on life, a deeper understanding of our needs and blessings.

In 2007 we can honestly say, that right now, in this place and at this moment, we feel a happiness that we have never known before. We’re traveled this year, spent time with loved ones and dear friends, and reveled in freedom. Our family is healthy and active. We learned to share a deep love and a generosity of spirit that has brought peace and beauty into our lives.

Holiday cards shouldn’t bring tears; they should tell stories of joy and thanksgiving. The magic from that evening in 2005 came full circle in 2007 and we are so grateful to be celebrating our family, our friends, our careers, our joys, and yes, even our lives.

In 2005 we wished that each of you could share in the sprinkling of magic dust that we experienced in those wonder-filled woods. This year we wish even more for you: may the happiness that infuses our lives at this moment surround you and bring you “tidings of great joy.”

Have the merriest Christmas ever and a completely blissful new year! With all our love --

Hubby, Milly, Fritzy, and Gus

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Santas Come in All Forms -- and Genders

Today is the day teachers everywhere pray for -- a snow day (well, actually, more an ice day, but still . . . ). Schools in the entire metro area were called off by 10 p.m. last night -- and then, of course, the weather did not get as bad as expected, but we were already snuggled in for along winter's nap.

I went to bed last night at 9 p.m. and finally woke up completely (at my age we get up a couple of times a night) at 9:30 a.m. I had really been tired. The laundry had been done over the weekend and yes, the presents to travel to Houston still haven't been sorted, but the day just called for a snuggle down with a good book.

Grad school whipped my ass this semester. I simply couldn't manage to get right what the prof wanted -- and she wanted a lot, mostly paper after paper. Sometimes I'd come close, but others I'd lose points for not using the comma correctly. Any interjection of humor brought out her red pen slashes and plenty of point deductions. By the time the final paper was due, I only had 94% of the points available -- and I knew that my final paper was all helter-skelter. Aware that my 4.0 grade average was more than in jeopardy, I stressed out big time. Stress and overwork sometimes shut down my ability to concentrate on my biggest reliever other than music -- mystery novel reading. I have read a lot of news magazines and every People that's delivered, but I haven't been able to chunk out chapters in novels. Three books sit open, read about a third of the way in, before I'd give up.

Yesterday when I got home from school a medium sized box from California awaited me. It was from my good friend Joyce. Joyce was my boss from 1993 until 2002. We both worked for the #3 Telecom Company during that time. But all good things must eventually end - and this had certainly been a very good gig for me. I had the opportunity to work with a brilliant and caring boss who oversaw a staff of really bright, achieving women in an environment that was nurturing and creative. It was the best job I've ever had -- not the job I'm best at -- but certainly the best in terms of professional growth and personal happiness. In 2001 I was eased, with lots of love, out of my contractor gig for the company, and within two years Joyce left to follow her husband into new ventures.

But we stay in touch, e-mails here and there, her visits to town to see friends and relatives. She wrote me a wonderful recommendation when I decided to return to teaching. I know she's always there, just a note or phone call away. And yesterday she was my own personal Santa, for in the box was a bevy of new novels -- for both Hubby and me. He couldn't grab the new Parker quickly enough, wrapped himself in the comforter -- and didn't emerge until lights out. On my part I read the new selection from a silly little series set in the 1930's -- and found myself mellowing and relaxing -- and once again able to take release from my favorite pastime.

I'm not nearly the good friend to Joyce as she is to me. But I thank her with all my heart -- for the eight years we worked together -- and for remaining my dear friend after. She truly brought Christmas into our home. Many, many thanks.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Lengths to Which Your Friends Will Go

A week or so ago a dear friend had hip replacement surgery. Several weeks prior to that, on an overcast but fairly warm autumnal Sunday afternoon, our friend treated us to a unique experience. His wife owns a horse, smallish but quite sturdy. They had built a four passenger cart for the horse to pull and acquired all the requisite accoutrement, including period clothing. They are often requested at small town parades and old west re-enactments. We had shown interest in their stories and so they invited us out into the hinterland to savor the experience of an authentic horse / wagon ride.

After a lovely post-church lunch, we ambled down the highway a piece, arrived at a picturesque riding stable and Deb went into get the horse, while Lou gathered equipment. Except the horse was sure that winter had arrived and cart rides were a thing of the past until spring and Deb had the devil's own time making that horse agree to be "carted."

Lou, working in pain the entire time with a screaming disintegrating hip, helped Deb with the mare and also heaved and toted and carried and buckled and generally did a yeoman's job. Hubby and I watched in amazement from the sidelines.

The gear for the horse is gorgeous -- all leather and studs.

Then the cart came out of the trailer -- beautifully stained wood and hunter green paint -- and perfect in size and shape.

The horse relented, was harnessed, and we heaved ourselves into the cart -- and then the fun began. Lou drove and we were whisked back into time, riding gloriously happy behind the mare.

Up and around the trails we rode, at first clutching the sides with white knuckles, but eventually realizing this was a lot more fun that we had thought.

Eventually we all tired, and we clamored down. Lou and Deb had another hour's work ahead of them but they sent us onward, saying the drudgery was in the details and they wanted us to remember only the fun.

And what fun it had been.

Now Lou has a new hip and is in recovery, doing just fine, thankfully. We're glad, not only because we want our friend hale and hearty for our concert gigs but also -- we hear they have a boat, too . . . .

Sunday, December 09, 2007


For the past 60 years our little bungalow has had galvanized pipes which meant, of course, that the corroding in them decreased the water pressure just a little more each year, until this year, when we suddenly were down to a mere trickle, if that.

Also the pipes were springing leaks at an alarming rate. When Hubby was hospitalized in April of 2006 the second night he was there I came home to a flooding basement. I had to sneak into the hospital at 1 a.m. to ask him just where the heck the shut-off valve was to the water (I was too stressed to remember -- and the hospital phones to patient rooms shut down at midnight).

This month Hubby found a another, newer leak in the basement. He's frustrated by his lack of strength to fix these things himself, but he's more than capable of supervising help. In came a little crew that he'd gathered (I don't ask myself where these men come from, I just accept them as they parade through and then camp out in the basement) and they spent the next four days fighting pipe leaks in the basement.

Each time one pipe was fixed, another one sprang a leak. Initially, they determined that three major leaks existed but as they removed one corroded pipe after another, they sort of lost count. I'd like to say we put in copper piping, but we didn't. We went plastic all the way -- so much cheaper.

For two days this week we had no water in the house. The first night we couldn't even flush the toilet, much less take a bath. The second night they saw to it that at least the toilet would semi-flush. Dishes piled up in the sink, everything under each sink was unloaded and strewn on the floors, and pipe joints appeared everywhere. Also, they drilled new holes in the floor to bring new piping into the bath and kitchen, creating mounds of nasty sawdust.

By putting on blinders and shutting down, I managed to exist through the chaos. Suddenly, Hubby claimed they were done. "You can take a bath tonight, Babe," hubby proudly announced. I trudged through the debris now littering my bathroom floor and cabinets, and dutifully turned on the water -- and -- AND -- a full stream of hot water poured -- NO GUSHED -- from the faucet. I hadn't seen that much water in . . .well . . . maybe fifteen years.

I'm still learning how to adjust the new faucets (hot water actually must now be mixed with cold - what a unique thought!) while I'm slowly cleaning up the messes (there's even plastic piping in the living -- I ask you, how did they get the pipe into the living room?). But it's wonderful to have fully functioning water streams in this house. This has been a great Christmas gift.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

In Anticipation of Glad Tidings

Hubby bought a tree for my classroom this year. Last year, my first year back after a 16 year stint in business, I didn't have my own room. But this year I do, so Hubby got the kids a tree. It's one of those fiber optic trees so it doesn't really look good unless the room is pitch black, but the kids like it anyway.

My para went nuts. She decided the kids had to make ornaments. Now these are high school kids so I looked at her a bit askance, but . . . on Monday and Tuesday I took the days away from school to write my final paper for my grad class . . . and my para took the time to have my 4th block study skills kids make ornaments and -- get this -- hang their stockings around the tree. I came back on Wednesday to find the far corner of the room a veritable Christmas fantasy land. Eighteen stockings, all purchased by the para, each with the respective kid's name, have been hung around the tree. Snowflakes have been made and padded with scrap paper to be dimensional. Ribbons have been curled and draped. The African-American dancing Santa, gifted to hubby some years back, stands proudly next to the tree while all my classroom stuffed Schnauzers are peeking out from under the branched. The boom box, dialed to the 24 hour Christmas station, plays soft carols and we have lit the cinnamon candles. It is very festive.

So, even though we are having freezing rain and dire predictions for ice storms, Hubby and I went out to the dollar stores today and loaded up on odds and ends to fill the stockings. Monday I'm going to cart in a huge box of weird stuff, hand over the tissue paper, and tell my para to find herself a couple of elves and get busy stuffing those stockings.

The Christmas spirit abounds.

Friday, December 07, 2007

We Do the Shows

For Thanksgiving the family met in Branson, MO for a trip we had been planning since the end of July. We saw the shows, we dined, we shopped, and we laughed. It was a marvelous vacation.

Hubby and I had been to Branson pre huge remodel, when the town was a one road village with Silver Dollar City up the mountain road from motel row. That had been fun in the 1970's, just a three hour jaunt from home with pretty scenery and fudge shops for snacks. Then Branson became the #2 (or is it #3) destination vacation spot in the nation -- and we avoided the place like the plague.

Every year, though, I'd see the local ads for the Christmas shows -- Andy Williams, the Rockets, Shoji -- and I'd lust. Country music will never be our thing, but Broadway and good crooning is very entertaining. The Baldnabbers is a definite no but Andy Williams -- well, we grew up with his TV shows.

So, in July we contacted the Houston family and we all agreed on a set of shows we thought we might enjoy, we found a hotel that took the dogs and made the humans happy in the bargain -- and we booked the trip.

Wednesday before Thanksgiving we met around 1 p.m. at the hotel -- the Houston contingent flew in and we rented a car for our drive down through the Ozarks. The weather was rainy but not too cold. That evening we saw Andy Williams -- the best of the shows, actually. The man is 80 years old and still sings moderately well, dances, has a 10 piece orchestra to accompany him and lots of interesting side acts.

Thanksgiving day we shopped -- yes, stores were open -- and saw the 12 Irish Tenors, another good show. We took the Silver Dollar City Trail of Lights tour, the worst of the events, before turning in. Next morning at 7 a.m. we hit the outlet mall sales before seeing two more shows: Manheim Steamroller and Shoji (who happened to be Hubby and my second favorite show). Saturday we saw the Shanghai Acrobats and went to the Branson Belle Steamboat for dinner and another good show. Sunday we came home.

Branson is affordable, highly entertaining, and an all round good vacation spot. We'll be going again.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I got tagged!

. . . by snugpug (see picture on right -- Queeni, Rupert, & Snugpug) to do this meme on behalf of Fritzy and Gus.

Fritzy's top 7 annoyances because Fritzy can be quite the picky boy:

1. Anyone who actually manages to pass him by without stopping to make over him and tell him just exactly how "itty bitty pretty" he really is. Ignore him and he may snap at you.

2. Children who dare to run by the car while he is vigilantly guarding it from marauding hordes of wild beasts -- or whatever Fritzy thinks he's actually guarding the vehicle from.

3. Mama's who try to climb into bed after he has cozily settled himself under the covers for a long winter's nap.

4. A housemate who is huddled in front of the warm air vent at 5 a.m. when the humans are stirring and temperature is hovering around 65 degrees in the house.

5. Anyone who would deign to offer up raw veggies to eat instead of prime rib, shrimp, or pork chop bones.

6. A younger housemate who gets to the ball quicker after it has been tossed for him to catch.

7. Full anal glands -- they MUST be emptied every month, or woe to the person upon whose lap he decides to perch.

Gus does not have 7 annoyances -- he has only one very large one:

#1 and only: a very bum left rear leg that hurts pretty much all the time for no reason that highly expensive x-rays can determine and requires him to take medication every morning of his life and not be able to jump at all (especially onto the bed where Fritzy can loll around at will and get all the human attention because he can leap like a frog).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy Holidays

I just got another of those annoying e-mails about saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" to prove I'm a good Christian God-fearing woman who wants to celebrate the birth of Christ. This is the fourth one I've received in the last two weeks -- and they make me angry.

It's highly egotistical to believe that the only holiday being celebrated in December / January is the birth of Christ. There is nothing wrong in including all the celebrations in my "Happy Holiday" salutation. There is nothing politically correct about it -- it's just good, kind decency of character and sensitivity of spirit.

So bah and humbug to all those "good decent Christians" who must force Christ down everyone throats in December. I'm proud to say "Happy Holidays" -- that makes me part of the human race, not just part of the Christian community.

And as an evil aside, at least three of the Merry Christmas enforcers were people who DON'T go to church -- or only show up when it's convenient. I, however, go to church nearly every Sunday of the year. Granted, it's partly to support Hubby who is the music director at our little church -- but I'm still there, serving God and the community in which the church resides. And those folks think they have the right and duty to tell me how to wish my family and friends the greetings of the season. Phooey on them!

The second to last fall graduate class was tonight -- and I presented my final paper to the class and turned it in to the professor. Talk about feeling relieved! Maybe I can even find some time to write a little on this blog now -- and wish everyone a "Happy Holiday" while I'm at it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Haves and The Have Nots

This evening Hubby provided us with a fabulous dinner. As head chef, he's responsible for the only really decent meals we eat at home and lately we've been picking around at the olds and ends of left overs or just heating up canned soup. This morning we got up to our first hard freeze, with a wind chill of 15 degrees, and the frigid air brought out the need in Hubby to provide us with hearty fare. We had huge T-bone steaks, fresh mashed sweet potatoes, homemade biscuits covered in sausage gravy, and a fresh lettuce salad. The steaks themselves must have set him back $15. The meal was fit for a queen and all four of us loved every mouthful. The boys were sure happy to have the T-bones when we were done.

Yet just this morning, with the temps well below freezing and the wind whistling, metal detector duty at my high school was a heavy chore. I stood at the near end of the table closest to the front door and every time it opened, the wind chilled me. I had dressed appropriately -- heavy fleece shirt, winter-weight slacks -- and I wasn't really suffering, just feeling a bit chilly.

Through the door came a young man dressed in a light tee shirt and a pair of jeans -- and that was all, except for his back pack. As I fumbled through his pack, I smiled at him and said, "You're going to have to get that coat out and wear it tomorrow . . .it's too cold now to go without." And he replied, with a look of defiance, "I don't have a coat."

The kid charged through the metal detector, with me standing slack jawed. I hollered at him to the other end of the table as he retrieved his bag, "We can fix that if you want." He shook his head and vanished into the school.

Fully 10% of our boys came to school this morning with no coats. Some had on heavier shirts, but many were like the first guy: short sleeved tees and light weight jeans. They were blue with cold but the were at school. Most has back packs stuffed with books and folders.

How many actually didn't have a coat at home? I don't know, but I imagine probably most of them. And we expected them to read Shakespeare and study the Boxer Rebellion and do equations and learn anatomy, when, at least some of them, don't have warm clothing, enough food, or heat in their homes.

Tonight in my toasty warm house I ate T-bone. Some of my kids huddled in dark rooms with empty bellies trying to stay warm.

This can be a cruel world when you're without.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Weekend Work

The first couple of years Hubby and I lived together / were married -- and owners of my first house -- we didn't have a washing machine, much less a dryer.

Hubby, 11 years older than me, had owned his own home for a good 10 years when I met him. He had a washer and dryer in his kitchen, a huge Kenmore combo. Right after we bought "our house," he moved his mother into his house, which was just around the corner and two blocks down, within easy walking distance. She kept the washer and dryer and I was fine with that because I'd deliver the baskets of washing to her, she'd do all the work including the folding, and I'd take home the clean clothes.

About seven years into our relationship, Hubby's sister decided to move lock, stock, and barrel from our town to Houston and into an apartment where she had no room for her own fairly new washer and dryer. She donated both to us.

Since then we've owned a couple of washers and several other dryers and I have to admit, I do see the relevance of having your own washer / dryer on the premises so you can do the laundry whenever the mood strikes and the need is urgent.

Hubby will do the laundry, if asked. The problem is he has no sense of delicate versus the overalls he has been wearing while roofing. Whites, reds, blacks, navies, pinks -- all the same color to Hubby -- and all the same color in the wash after he's finished. Two years into owning a washer / dryer in this household, Hubby was banned from ever doing the laundry.

Our washer /dryer is located down 18 steep steps into the basement -- and back up 18 even steeper steps (yeah, I know, the same set go down and up but on the way up they get a whole lot higher and more narrow, especially when you can throw the dirty laundry down the steps but you've got to heft if all back up in much neater bundles) and the whole thing is hideously tiring.

I've come to hate doing the wash. In fact, both Hubby and I now own enough underwear to carry us through three complete weeks before I HAVE to wash clothes -- and if push comes to shove, we could make it through four weeks, but we'd be embarrassed to show up at the hospital wearing those undergarments.

Today I'm doing the wash. Down stairs, heaving the laundry bags before me. Loading washer and then dryer. Carrying up winter clothes from the trash bags we stored them in last spring. Back down stairs, carrying the excess hangers. Heaving heavy baskets of wet laundry. More unearthing of sweaters, sweats, nubby pants, and wool socks. And always those daunting 18 stairs to climb.

Frankly, I'm getting too old for this.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Lot of Nothing

Nothing much happening that's fit to report -- good or bad. Things are so-so -- not fine and dandy, but okay. We plug along.

The best news is that Gussie's teeth have healed nicely and he is back to playing with toys and chowing down on his hard nugget food. Actually, I guess we should say, Gussie's gums have healed nicely. All his front teeth except his big pointy canines are gone. So are a couple of teeth on the right side. He doesn't seem to miss them much.

At school I'm on metal detector duty every morning until Christmas. This is onerous stuff. One gets to dig down in all the assorted back packs and gym bags looking for potential weapons. I've never found one -- I've always assumed that if one actually wanted to do damage to a school, walking into a known metal detector with an AK47 was beyond stupid. Our students aren't that dense. So actually, my job is probably merely an announcement to the kids that we don't approve of them carrying guns and knives and brass knuckles to school and we maybe could find them if we actually had to. Meanwhile, I stand for 30 minutes every day at 7:00 a.m. bent over a low table, pawing at kids' gym shorts. Thrilling work -- and very physically draining. I go home exhausted every night.

John Hopkins University today announced that my high school, the one I cherish and am so proud to teach at, is a "drop out mill." They claim that t0o many students pass through our doors, only to drop out, and that we have reached a new low in education. Two of my district's schools made the list of infamy while seven made it just across the state line. The out-0f-state schools simply agreed that they had problems, but my district was highly combative. The Hopkins' statistics claimed that only 33% of our student body ever graduate high school. Our statistics show that in the past two years we've been at 77%. I've been at the school during those two years and I'm quite sure that the 33% is an erroneous (or very old) statistic.

In November I'm scheduling multiple IEP meetings for my SPED students and their parents. This necessitates phone calls, meeting arrangements, and long hours spent writing the IEP's. In my district these documents are NOT easy to produce. Some districts actually have drop down and plug-in IEP forms, but we create 25 page essays.

My graduate class sucks the big one. The professor is one of those that reads the PowerPoint slides to you. Why, oh why, won't professionals learn NOT to do that? Moreover she is the queen of the buzz word -- and she really doesn't get what the life of a public school high school teacher is like. I hate the course, I don't respect the teacher, and the assignments -- dear Lord! I haven't read the book except for the first chapter -- too busy trying to create the damn writing assignments -- and she keeps yammering on about how the final will cover textual material. This does not bode well.

So -- the upshot is I'm tired. Very tired.

Right now I'm counting the days to Thanksgiving. And then Christmas. But the week of New Year's we have completely off. Finally, I can get some much needed house time and some uninterrupted, deep sleep. If I can just survive until then.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Doing Fine

Sweet Gussie had a hard day but came through with flying colors. Six teeth were removed -- most of them from the front from what we can tell. He's not exactly opening wide for the viewing of his little mouth. His canines however are in tact and his tongue does not hang out from his mouth because he has no teeth to stop it -- I actually worried about that before surgery.

The vet phoned around 11:00 a.m. and said that his pre-surgery blood work looked great so obviously he was beating the infection along with the help of the antibiotics. The bill, when we went to get him at 3:00, was a couple of hundred dollars less than the estimate.

Fritzy was miserable all day and hid under the covers for most of the morning and afternoon. He looked very relieved when Gus bounded from the vet's office into the car.

Tonight Gus has drunk his fill, finally, and had a small, soft dinner. We also managed to pill him with little difficulty and no moaning. Now he's sleeping on his pillow in the computer room completely worn out.

We are glad he is home, safe and sound. Once again we have a lot to be thankful for -- both physically and financially.


Here it is 1:45 a.m. on Tuesday morning. I'm sitting looking morosely at the computer screen and at my feet sit two miserable faces, trying to tell me their water bowl is missing -- and there are no tiny tidbits left over from dinner on the kitchen floor. Fritzy always leaves just a little for the 2 a.m. snack.

The vet's instructions were very specific. No food or water after 7:30 p.m. Up came the water bowl and the left-over food at, well to be honest, 8:15 p.m. -- but we were close enough. Now each boy wants a little drink before setting in for a continued night's rest.

Gussie, the dental patient, came pawing the bed at midnight to tell me the water bowl was -- not just empty -- completely missing. That got me up. We've all been awake since. Gus, the stoic who chooses not to gripe or complain much -- has settled back on his pillow, watching me from a distance. Not Fritz, who is very vocal and persistent about his needs. He follows me everywhere, giving me the sad eye and trying to herd me into the bathroom where the water bowl is kept, so I can see for myself that a vital part of his existence is lost. I tried the subterfuge, luring Fritz to the kitchen for a secretive slup (after all he's not having a full dental in the morning) -- but his lapping brought Gus on the run, looking for a sweet sip of cooling drink.

This is going to be a long night. And a longer day tomorrow with Gus having his teeth removed and his jaw evaluated -- possibly even restructured. Gus is on the mend, thankfully. He has been carefully eating out of the side of his mouth, trying to protect those bloody front teeth. He has also been whimpering, just under his breath, when anything touches the infection. This makes it very hard on the humans to pill him every day. But Sunday morning he felt fit enough to pick up the soft, small ball in the living room and give it a couple of squeaks. The soft chew toys that he has so loved to run around shaking sit silently waiting for better days.

Gus will be home tomorrow night. I won't leave my babies at the vet's overnight. Usually only a tech is on duty, if that, at a vet hospital at night -- so no matter what, my babies come home to spend the night with me. In interviewing vets after my old one moved away, that was something I made sure could happen. The boys can spend the day at the vet's getting restorative treatment -- but nights belong to me. I'm here, I can sit up with them all night if need be, and they will not be caged for long periods of time.

It will be a huge relief to pick up Gus tomorrow. Hopefully, his little mouth will then be completely on the mend. Until then, I'll just have to try and ignore the sad little eyes that are following me everywhere.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bad Parents

Poor little Gussie, our youngest, the boy of the amber eyes and sweet disposition, is ailing.

Sometime last week I began to notice Gus wasn't eating very well. He took treats and chowed down on them but he ignored his dinner bowl. However, by morning the bowl would usually be empty, so I assumed that he was getting up at night for a leisurely snack. Evidently, however, Little Itty Bitty Fritty had been enjoying two dinners for some of that time.

Gus' behavior became lethargic and periodically he would whimper just a bit, so I finally gathered him for a hug fest and noticed that he seemed very sensitive around his beard. Opened up his mouth -- and his lower teeth had fallen out and his gum was a bloody mess.

How could we not have noticed that his teeth were rotting right out of his head?

Into the vet he went first thing this morning. He has a gum infection, a least one of his upper teeth is also loose but because he now hurts so bad, the vet wasn't into poking him anymore than necessary. She felt he was having some bone loss in his jaw, however, besides the rotting, falling out teeth.

Poor little mite. He's never snapped at us or his housemate but he must have been in misery for some time. Awful misery, actually. I can't imagine what he has been feeling -- but my own jaws ache in sympathy.

We have to clean up some of the infection before he can have a full dental exam done under anesthesia. We have doses of pills -- not easy to get him to swallow what with his extremely sore mouth. Tonight we gave him pancakes for dinner and he gobbled them down so happily that he never noticed he was swallowing antibiotics, too. Clearly soft food was a delight -- and he was very hungry.

We'll be paying through the nose, of course, for our lapse in health oversight. Today's vet bill was $73. Next week's is probably going to be in the four figure zone. Added to my own recent -- and ongoing -- dental woes, 2007 has been the Year of the Tooth!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Washing the Dishes

This is an embarrassment to admit -- but we are not good around here at washing our dishes. Once we were but that time has passed. I know that dirty dishes piled up in the kitchen bring vermin and bugs and nasty smells so I buy paper plates (awful for the environment) and we throw them away after one using. Both the dogs and the humans eat all their proper meals on paper. We drink our soda straight from the can. As the glasses slowly broke one by one we didn't replace them and our cabinet now holds a grand total of two plastic glasses and once glass that used to hold a candle. We own a weird variety of Schnauzer coffee mugs out of which we drink our hot tea. We have a set of eight bowls we use for cereal. We now even buy our soups in the cans out of which one can drink. We only own one set of pots and pans which we wash as we need a clean one.

Our house is very tiny. We have two postage stamp bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room and a Pullman-style kitchen. Two people cannot work in it at the same time. In it we have a small full size refrigerator that is 25 years old and an electric stove we bought from an apartment sale in 1983 and a good microwave oven. The stove has four burners, an oven in which the door does not shut properly, and a broiler that does not work. We have a garbage disposal because we are not neat enough or clean enough to live without one.

We have had two dishwashers in the 35 years we have owned this house. The first an apartment sized Kenmore was purchased from Sears in 1975. We took out the row of drawers in the kitchen to install it. That one lasted 14 years. We found in the 1980's that was very difficult to find the half-sized dishwashers and they are now sold at twice the cost of a regular sized one. We bought the second one from the huge mega-store in Omaha and had it trucked into our city -- and it lasted three years. Then Hubby got sick to death of pouring money into it to keep it running and we were without a dishwasher for the last eight years.

I was miserable. My method of cleaning had always been to gather up the decorative shelves of glassware and run them through the delicate cycle on the dishwasher. I'd stored the sterling and the hand blown glass away. My bad back made standing at the sink for more than five minutes agony. Hubby, however, was adamant. We simply didn't need a dishwasher. He would wash all the dishes and once they air dried, my job was to put them away.

In principle this sounded find. But when one washes dishes only once every two weeks, the reality sucks. So from 1999 until yesterday we lived without a dishwasher. Yesterday I came home to find a new apartment sized GE dishwasher sitting in our kitchen. Across from it sat the new Frigidaire 30 inch electric stove.

I am in heaven. Hubby got the dishwasher leveled and raised a bit today. Then he sent me to the store for dishwasher powder and spot remover. We had to take the spice rack down because the new stove is a bit more narrow than the old one so I also needed to get wall cleaner. What had fallen under and behind the stove was disgusting but we didn't own a broom. I got one of those, too.

I am cleaning the kitchen in spells and spurts, simply because it's such a huge job. I've got the walls sprayed, the floors swept, and I've run two loads already in the dishwasher. This is heaven. You never realize what a joy it can be to clean when you have given up on it for the last ten years or so.

What caused Hubby to change his mind? When we were talking about the new windows Hubby installed last month, I mentioned that I didn't look at the house anymore. I didn't really see it -- and in point of fact, I couldn't actually tell him how many windows we had in the living room. I casually threw out that once I couldn't wash the collectible glassware in the dishwasher I had just given up. I didn't have the energy to hand wash everything and since I couldn't maintain the things I loved, I just shut myself off from the housekeeping. If I didn't see it, I could ignore it. I hadn't thought much about the remark, but I had noticed that for just a second the inscrutable man suddenly looked startled.

So now we have a lovely dishwasher. And since he really likes to cook and bake and broil, we also have a lovely new stove. I'm seeing the kitchen in a whole new light!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Dentist -- AGAIN!

Tomorrow I have the fourth of five dental appointments to fix a broken back molar. The first of August the root canal was performed -- took two appointments to get it completely dead. Then two weeks ago we started the process of building up the back molar for tomorrow's appointment of making the mold which allows the dental student to make the crown.

I told my dentist at the last appointment that if I had had any idea how awful and long and involved this process was going to be I would have pulled the damn tooth. I'm sorry I didn't. I was clearly told that keeping the tooth was in my best interest because without it the top teeth would move around because they would not have any contact below them.

But . . .the cost of this one broken tooth has become excessive -- in terms of money, in terms or time, and in terms of misery and discomfort. The root canal itself was pitiful and ended up causing me a week of misery -- and $500. That's the cost for a molar root canal at the dental school. In a regular dental office I understand the cost is MUCH higher.

The last appointment again involved filling my mouth full of equipment which makes me highly nervous and claustrophobic. I had thought that since the nerves to the tooth were now completely dead due to the root canal I wouldn't need anymore deadening shots. However, because tthe tissue surrounding the tooth was "going to be disturbed" so I got the full multi-shot treatment. This appointment, though, only cost me $88.

Tomorrow I get to fork over the $380 the gold crown is going to cost me. Since every appointment has been so uncomfortable I'm dreading this one. I can't imagine how they could possible "hurt me" anymore than they already have, but dentists seem to be very adept at devising torturous treatments.

Because so much of the tooth had to be built up, I've been required to make three separate appointments for the making and fitting of the crown -- which means that I since this is the dental school and the appointments go from 9 to noon, I have to take the day off from school, also. Adding that in to the money, the pain, and the misery of this whole experience, I would have been far smarter to just have had the tooth pulled. That costs $45 and could be done in thirty minutes.

I told my dental student I was really sorry I hadn't elected to have the tooth extracted and she was horrified. In fact, she has called me twice since then to make sure that I'm not a miserable patience and to ensure that I actually will show up for the next appointment.

Oh, I'll show up alright -- but I won't be happy about being there.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Little Gus

We have taken so few pictures since Wolf died that poor little Gus is camera shy. Mr. Fritz is a natural ham and he poses perfectly but Gus seems intimidated by the camera. As soon as the digital clicks, signaling that the shutter will soon close, he puts his ears back and turns his head.

Wolf, before him, just wouldn't stay still for a picture. He was always moving. He couldn't understand why he should stay seated at a picture-taking distance from his mama and look at her while she took his photo. If I was a foot away from him that was just too far and he had to move into my lap immediately, camera be damned.

Fritz, as Milly before him, understands that he is beautiful and he sits perfectly, posing in all his glory for the camera.

Today, because I needed to do a page bio of myself -- and what good is a bio without a lot of pictures (much better than words), I took pictures of the boys. Here are some of the better ones.

Fritzy has the uncropped ears while Gus has the golden eyes. You can clearly see that Fritzy is a much bigger boy, also. Fritzy is nearly 10; Gussie just turned three.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Autumnal Joy

Just like the grand dame before him, Fritzy is experiencing the joys of autumn. When Papa takes him to the park he loves to rustle the leaves and chase the squirrels who are so busy hunting for acorns to store away that they at first ignore him, but most of all he loves to roll in the grass, soaking up the blissful warm rays of autumnal sun.

His snout burrows in the grass and we know that soon he will throw caution to the wind, flop over, toss his paws in the air, and wiggle his back in whatever stinky he has found in the grass. He never does this on overcast, cloudy days. He only flops in the bright sunlight -- possibly because the warmth has brought out the smells that are so appealing that he must wallow his whole body in them. Whatever the reason, he abandons himself to the joy of the moment while his humans look on longingly, wishing they, too, could toss off the cares of the world, tear off their clothing, and wiggle joyously in the autumn air.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hair -- or lack there of

For the last 11 years I've gone to the same beautician. She gave a fabulous hair cut and she listened when I explained my philosophy on permanents. It took her a good three years to totally understand that I really meant it when I said that my hair was never to move during the day. Wind through my hair gives me the willies. I want hair that's been stuck on with super glue. I use Adorn hairspray, popular in the 1950's, to stick my hair in place -- and the environment be damned. Because my hair is very, very, super-fine, I want a perm that gives other women frizzies -- me, it gives body.

In the last two years my beautician has taken up with a very handsome man while still married. She sent her oldest off to college and sent the husband and son off to live in an apartment -- and she proceeded to tell me the excruciating facts of her life in long detailed discussions every time she did my hair. The mother and father no longer spoke to her. The husband filed for divorce and left her with the house, car, and business -- plus all the bill. Because her life was now wrapped up in the new bloke, she began to see her clients at very erratic times. I found the times inconvenient, the conversations uncomfortable, and the fact that frequently it took days to get an appointment frustrating.

Meanwhile the short hair continued to grow, the permanent from last June faded, and the hair began to move about my hair. So today I Googled the salons in my zip code, as well as the more up-scale zip code just to the west of me. I called seven salons and only one answered my call -- all the rest had answering machines and complicated lists of names of people I could leave a message for. The one salon only worked on hair extensions. When I asked about a cut and perm, they wanted to know if they would be working on real hair or synthetic.

So I called Fantastic Sams. Nothing upscale about that. $41 for a cut and perm. Walk right in, no problems. I drove around the block and just up the street and walked right in. Because I had dyed hair the cost was five bucks more. Because I bought a moisturizing setting lotion the total bill came to $51.78. I've been paying $135 for a perm and hair cut -- plus a pedicure. This time I didn't get the pedicure, but I also didn't have to listen to someone tell me about their love life. Instead of three hours, I was back home in ninety-five minutes.

The cut is not quite the same quality as my old beautician -- but she's had eleven years to get it perfected. The perm is lovely -- just what I wanted. The new beautician listened to me, did not argue about what I wanted, and stopped to ask questions as she went, especially as we kept getting the hair shorter and shorter. She is not tell me her life story. She did not ask me. We did not need to chat, gossip, or exchange pleasantries. I tipped her big. She gave me her card and told me to come back.

I most certainly will.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Being Positive

The folks I work with have developed a collective negative attitude. I find it exceedingly depressing to listen to them kvetch every morning -- and then throughout the day. My boss, however, is Mr. Positivity and I've learned that, since he makes me feel happier to be around him, I'm better off adopting the positive attitude myself. Even when I don't feel particularly joyful.

"Good morning. How are you today?"
"Great! and you?"

This exchange usually causes a stare -- or a positive response. Once in a while I get the "awful, this day is hell" reply, but usually folks respond in kind.

The kids tell everyone they have the "happy teacher" -- you know, the one who smiles all the time. I hadn't realized they had noticed how hard I was working to be positive, but I feel good that they think I'm really a joyful person.

I'm not really -- at least not more joyful than the next person. But life is so much easier for everyone, if instead of griping all day long, you try to look on the bright side of things.

Just call me Pollyanna.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

Humor From a Friend

Thought, on this Labor Day, it might be fun to inject a swish of humor into what have lately been fairly serious posts.

I actually belong to a group of people who for nearly 10 years have sent e-mails to each other as, wait for this . . . their dogs.

Yes, we adopt the voice of our dogs and we talk to each other. Weird as it may seem, we are a group of 10 or so constants, with a small satellite group that interjects here and there, and we share our lives through the eyes of our dogs.

This is a picture -- completely separate from our dogs' lives -- that was sent out to us today from one of our members.

It certainly deserves a small chuckle.


Friday, August 31, 2007

Welcome Labor Day

This past week has left me bone weary. I have been laboring in the classroom and I'm tired. Really, really tired. This morning it was a kind of sick tired, where you dragged yourself from the bed at 5 a.m., threw on the worst pair of "happy pants" that you own, the unconstructed bra, the super big tee, no makeup and certainly no jewelry - and dragged yourself off, hoping for an easy day. You also had to warn Hubby that you actually might not make it through the entire day.

Somehow, on the days you look your worst, you have the most visitors and students. It always works that way. You think I'd learn and put on the fancy clothes when I'm at my lowest point.

I've been named "buddy" teacher by my administration for the dysfunctional English teacher that the district sought to fire last year. All the "I's weren't dotted and T's remained uncrossed" so instead of firing her, they transferred her to my high school. She's a terrible teacher in every sense of the word. Nothing she does is appropriate. She's late nearly every day. She plans poorly. She has no sense of classroom rapport with the kids. And she can't teach her way out of paper bag. I've spent three weeks now modeling the proper technique in her classroom to no avail. Thursday I gave up. I pulled the lowest group of students out of her third block to teach myself and walked away from all the other blocks. Being with her now makes me angry on a deep inner core level and it's to both our advantages that I stay away. Our administration must do its job and document her failure in the appropriate manner. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed. I've given her my best and now, I firmly believe, she needs to be fired.

So . . .beginning yesterday I completely rescheduled my day. My para spends her time with the Algebra and science students. She hates English and Social Studies the way I hate math and science so we make a pretty decent team. In my new schedule I work with 25 students throughout the day, in five different classrooms, mostly in English / language arts.

Today, however, was full of counseling. Students on behavior plans were acting up and had to warned that "the end was near." My 4th block classroom had become noisy and at least once a period I had to intervene in some loud altercation during the past week. These are mostly LD and behaviorally disordered students and I recognize that at the end of the day they are keyed up and need to let off steam. However, when I have to physically position my body to calm them down, they've gone too far. Today they got the lecture -- and the severe looks -- and the stern voice. It was kind of amusing to see their hang-dog expressions. I really like these kids and they know it. We ended our day sharing rice-crispy treats and planning for a better next week.

Colleagues were having problems with overly large classrooms and unruly students. Since 75% of good discipline actually comes from good, organized, relevant instruction, I've become the go-to person to help teachers restructure lesson plans so that work for the teacher and the kids. Today I got to write a lesson plan for "The Prince" -- around vocabulary and theme that allowed social studies kids to pass benchmarks over its contents. That was certainly a first.

The 11th grade English teacher was having difficulty getting across the concept of paradox and irony. Given the right story, paradox is fairly easy to get the kids to see. Irony, though, is very difficult. Idioms are hard, too. If you say to a 2007 child, "the principal will call you on the carpet if you throw paper one more time" they have no idea what you really mean. The class was reading stories and trying to apply the proper terms but everyone was failing. We worked on slowing down her instructions, speeding up her activity transitions, and doing a much more dramatic reading of the stories. We had a wonderful story by Alice Walker that perfectly demonstrated simile, metaphor, paradox, and hyperbole -- and most of the students actually got the hang of the concepts.

In third block, I had planned a quiet lesson for the kids culled from the poor teacher's class. We have just started reading "To Kill a Mockingbird," covering Scout's first days in school. We did a fun, creative writing assignment around "point of view" using a quote from the novel where the kids took a picture of a pair of shoes and wrote about that person's day. However, our kids cannot just write without a huge amount of prior structure being established and solid expectations enumerated. Right in the middle of our discussing character development and point of view for each one of the individual students, in walks our floor principal as well as the principal of the school for an impromtu observation, and they stayed for over 30 minutes.

By the end of the day, I dragged myself home, fell into bed, and slept until 6:30 when Hubby woke me for a chicken salad. It's 8:30 now and I need a bath. Last night I was too exhausted to get into the tub, and then so tired that I was sick from 1:30 until 4 a.m. when I finally managed an hour nap before starting my day. I'm going to sign off here, jump in the tub, and hop into bed surrounded by loving dogs within the next couple of minutes.

This Labor Day I'm planning on resting up from my labors of the previous week. That and write and important paper for grad school. Once again the house will remains uncleaned, the sawdust from the new windows is still on the floor, and the underwear is piled high in the laundry basket. I need Labor Week -- not just a Labor Day celebration.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Teachers and the Idiot Parent Blogger!

Every August a group of very foolish bloggers suddenly think it's their right to trash teachers.

"Oh, I had such meanie teachers they made me quit school in the 11th grade!" Whine.

"I went to parent teacher's night and the stupid, crazy teachers couldn't even run a PowerPoint presentation." (this particular one wants to make me bite nails on a regular basis - -- which is why I don't read that whiner much -- and she lives in my home town!). Whine! Whine! (I don't feel bad about linking to this one -- she is always complaining about other bloggers . . .fair's fair).

"Why should WE respect teachers who are lazy and incompetent -- AND then they get three months off EVERY summer?" Whine! Whine! Whine!

And on and on they complain and groan and moan.

All this carping -- by folks who have never stood for 90 minutes before a classroom of 15 year olds right before lunch -- makes me want to puke.

Here's the thing -- and I've been on both sides of the world (business vs. education) -- when you walk through the school doors at 6:30 a.m. (not 7:30 you dweebs!) until you leave at 3:00 p.m. (if you're lucky) you are on call. You don't get a coffee break. You don't get a bathroom break. Elementary teachers don't always get a lunch break. High school teachers get 20 minutes for lunch -- NOT an hour. The day IS intensive and that tension does NOT let up because you need (want) to sit down for minute.

In business, you work for 15 minutes (on your butt -- not on your feet) and someone stops by your cubicle to chat. You work another 15 and you head down the hall for coffee or a coke. You feel the urge to pee, you go to the bathroom when you need to. You can call your spouse to arrange for dinner that night, or call your child and see how his day is going, or arrange for tickets to the ball game. Ask a teacher if any of those things EVER happen during his / her day!

I teach 90 minutes blocks. It's intensive the entire 90 minutes. I don't sit down. I dance. I cheerlead. I provide instruction. I offer up examples. I give individual attention. I meet with five different groups during a ten minute time-frame. Kids touch me all the time. They touch me physically and mentally, pulling out my energy and absorbing it like a sponge.

One 90 minute block with a five minute passing period, followed by a second 90 minute block, another passing period -- and finally a 105 minute block. All of that's before my 20 minute lunch. Then I get 45 minutes for planning -- and because I'm a cooperative teacher I actually do use my planning period for meetings. I end my day with a 45 minute block of teaching study skills. The I have 30 minutes to attend content area meetings or prepare for the next day.

I walk 1.62 miles a day to do this -- inside a huge old building that is somewhat air-conditioned and even less heated. I'm usually either hot (summer) or freezing (winter). The only elevator is a freight loader at the back of the building and school is three stories tall. I stand during most of the 90 minute time-frames -- or I walk around, touching kids, keeping them focused, using my body as a tool in my teaching.

I counsel kids that others want to kill. Tell me, business people -- just how many people DO YOU work with that can get killed by just stepping outside the building? I work with pregnant 16 year olds. I counsel students with severe learning disabilities whose parents (you! you folks who are out there complaining about teachers) haven't provided the kids with breakfast, the proper meds, or a good night's sleep. I walk the halls after a Code Red has been called -- looking for the intruder that may come armed with a gun or a knife or a bomb.

The parent I listed above skipped her Advisory meeting at her son's schools because she was pissed that the teachers she had visited with couldn't produce PowerPoint presentations for her to view (and to be fair, because she was feeling guilty). Gad. This is wrong on soooo many levels. First -- Advisory. These classes meet once a week in our school and are designed to make a connection between the school, the child, and home. The Advisory teacher should be the one the PARENT wants to meet -- and if you haven't learned that yet, then you, yes - YOU PARENT -- the one constantly carping about MY profession, haven't bothered to know about your child's educational day.

Secondly, no PowerPoint presentation in my classroom? Lady -- I MADE MY LIVING doing PowerPoint for the senior executive level of the #3 telecom company in the world! I make better PowerPoint presentations than you EVER thought about -- but I have NOTHING to show them on! What! You think every classroom is filled with media software right at our disposal! I wish! We'll raise your taxes, idiot -- then maybe I'll have the right materials so you can view MY PowerPoint presentation. And I'll blow you away with all my animation and slide transitions and rising and falling music! Hell, lady -- I don't even have a white board or an overhead projector. I'm glad to have chalk and a blackboard!

So get off my back! Get off teachers' backs. Stop your carping. Pull your whinny self out of your depression and quit blaming teachers for all the problems you've faced in life. Just like every other profession -- we have great ones, good ones, mediocre ones, and poor ones.

Honestly -- nobody you had for 10 months of the year for 60 or 90 minutes five days a week along with 30 other squirming bodies ever ruined your life, unless they met you after school and did something unspeakable. Your own parents may have ruined you -- or you might have ruined your life by the choices YOU made (dropping out of school) -- but your English teacher barely dented your exterior. And if she did make an impression on you for the good -- hurrah! She really WAS a miracle worker! Praise AND respect her!

As parents you owe teachers the same respect you would offer a co-worker or the janitor in your office building. Nothing more or less. But you owe them the common courtesy to stop griping about how they "ruined my life" -- because they honestly DID NOT! Quit complaining because you wish your life was different -- and quit blaming the teacher because it isn't.

Rant over. For this August. Go to last August, though, and the same woman set me off.

The View from My Window

Grad classes started for me on Wednesday. I had been looking for info on the class right up until last Sunday when I finally wrote my advisor and asked exactly when classes started and when mine met. She responded immediately so I never checked the on-line schedule again.

Wednesday night I found out that a book had been assigned, about a quarter of the class had the book, and it had to be sent from a small town in southeast Kansas up to the big city. Even worse, next Wednesday's assignment was from the book -- reading two chapters and then writing from an lesson that was only printed in the book. Bah!

I rushed home, ordered the book by next day mail -- and it came this morning (which was a day late but I'm still not a dollar short, so okay, no complaints). I delved immediately into the chapters and found the book, not exactly exciting, but sensible -- which is probably the best that can be hoped for in a grad level text. At the end of the reading I started the writing process. About three hours in I began batting flies. It's deep summer here in the heartland and I live in a hermetically sealed house fueled by cold air-conditioning. Flies do not get a chance to enter my home.

Now here's the backfill. This week, after years of dithering, Hubby gathered his crew and they tore off all the ugly siding that Hubby had put on the front of the house in the 1980's (not the sides or back -- he only put the ugly stuff on the front -- he painted the rest and it looks fine -- but the front of our home slowly weathered to ghetto hideous because he never bothered to stain said front paneling). Then in the early 1990's someone shot a b-b pellet through the smaller front window and we never replaced it. The glass cracked and cracked, until finally half the glass fell into the front yard. The dogs clawed the front door into muddy tatters. The garage door began to disintegrate - and since it was the only thing painted, the paint started to peel. Last year, for a reason only known to Hubby, he pulled all the guttering down along the front of the house -- and then the aneurysm hit and whatever had been planned was put on indefinite hold. I have never complained about the front of the house, believing that my griping would give him cause to complain about my housekeeping - and the less said about that the better.

But on Thursday I came home to a Pepto Bismal colored home-front. When I recovered enough to find my voice, I realized that what I was looking at was insulation. The new paneling was neatly stacked in the driveway, with the huge dumpster that had also been delivered. Wow! The front also has had awnings over the windows -- large metal things that gave us shade from the afternoon sun -- but they were over 50 years old. In the front yard lay the awnings, with the tops all covered in slimy green gunk (which, thankfully, I hadn't been able to see from inside the house or the street).

The view from inside the house was completely different with the awnings gone. The sun poured in -- and it was bright all day long. I could see way up the street and way down. The big picture window has an incredible view which I had never realized before - and I've owned this house since 1974.

On Friday more insulation and some paneling went up. This morning the crew was hard at work by 7:30 a.m. Thankfully, the doggies know the crew and only barked when the pounding sounded like the postman was trying to get inside the front room. I scurried into the office and went to work on my paper, ignoring the din.

However, the flies got annoying so I finally wandered out from lair -- and found all the windows off the front of the house. The kitchen had a brand new window already installed, a lovely, clean white framed window with screens and inside locks - and EVERYTHING I've never had before.

But in the living room the picture window was gone. Open to the street was my whole house. The neighbor kids were congregated in my yard, peering in. The lady two doors down waved at me as I stood, peering out, in my nightgown, hair uncombed, teeth unbrushed, scratching. I had gotten so used to the privacy of my little domain, windows with awnings, covered with shades AND curtains, it had not occurred to me if I could see out -- THEY could see in.

New things are good, right? I've just got to make some adjustments.

Friday, August 24, 2007

1.62 Miles

Today has been a pretty normal day at my high school and I found myself doing an average amount of walking between classes. The school itself is so large that it occurred to me this summer that a fun thing to do would be to keep track of how many miles I covered in a day -- just going from the car into the front door, then to the elevator on up to the third floor, and finally around the three long hall ways it took to get to my room was a long jaunt. Add in the extra trips to visit the office, the school psychologist, the counselor, the break room, and the teachers I collaborate with -- I figured I might be chalking up some hefty numbers. So I bought a pedometer.

Today I only needed to go from my room to the first floor once. Unfortunately on the return trip the elevator was not working so I had to hike up the five flights it takes to arrive at the third floor: two flights between one and two and three flights between two and three.

This afternoon Hubby delivered a truck full of supplies to the loading dock where students did a massive unload and delivered 12 moving boxes, two chairs, a coffee table, a file cabinet, and a work table to my room. Though my paraprofessional did most of the labor, I needed to be available for supervision.

Total miles walked from 6:30 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. -- 1.62. And this was an easy day.