Monday, June 29, 2009

Oh the Terror!

Finals week. Oh, my God! Deliver me from grad school. I kiss the feet of any professor that does NOT give a final. But this one does . . . and though it's an on-line final, it's still a test. A test called a final. A final worth triple the points of any written assignment. Short answer questions. Two huge essay questions. A variety of multiple choice questions. Interestingly, I do far better on the essay questions. I tend to over-think the multiple choice -- or in some cases -- read them completely wrong and I always miss a couple. Even when I honestly do the know the answers.

I have huge test anxiety. Couch-potato analysis would attribute it to my grade school years. I have never been a good speller, it is NOT an innate talent for me: I don't hear the letters, I never learned phonics, and in grade school the weekly tests were always spelling tests. I failed a good many of those. I hated memorizing the words . . . so I didn't. I could define them. I just couldn't spell them. Then there were geography tests and I'm not very good with maps, either. And math tests. I failed almost every one of those from fifth grade on until someone (my grandmother) realized when I got to high school that I never learned my multiplication tables.

So huge test anxiety. Sweaty palms. Heart palpitations. Sleepless nights. Stomach aches. I get them all.

Studies show that one of the common nightmares among adults is about not showing up at the right time for a test. I go one step further and in my recurring nightmare of the last 30 years, I have enrolled in a grad school class but then forgot to show up until it was time to test. Then I remember I need to attend the class so I drive to campus and can't find a parking place or the the right building or the right classroom -- and when I finally get to the testing room, with only 20 minutes left on the clock, I open the test booklet to discover I also forgot to read the text and I can not answer a single question. Every time I've had this dream I've always awakened KNOWING that I have my masters and that I never need to go back to grad school. You can imagine my delight in being back after a twenty-five year absence.

The final is Thursday. It is open book, it is web-based, there are only two essay questions and I've done all the research on the reviews offered by the professor. Over the weekend I finished off the last three papers for the class. Now, all I've got to do is endure the test terrors that will overtake me until the last question is finally answered.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Our Loving, Gentle Boy

While Wolfie, of the previous post, may have been my heart dog, the dog that came a week after Wolf died has proven to be the sweetest, best behaved, calmest of dogs that we have ever owned. Little Gus was found wandering the streets of Ottawa, Kansas and though he was tagged, his owners never answered the repeated calls to come collect him. This wasn't the first time he had wandered away and been turned over to animal control, so the Bea Martin Peck Pound took him and advertised for a family. Though my heart was never up for his adoption, Fritzy (who had also come from Bea Martin Peck) and Hubby were definitely in the market for a second dog. Hubby completed the adoption; I merely rode along to pick up the dog.

Gustav is small and sturdy. His eyes are huge and amber colored. His fur is almost white. He is, and has always been, serene but as he ages he becomes more contemplative and introspective. He does not dance with joy just for the sport of it. He will dance, of course, to see his pack return from a trip or when offering him a ride in the car, but he never dances just because he's alive and the world is good. He needs a reason to dance. He does not sing as some Schnauzers do. He is a fairly quiet little boy.
Gus does not hump his housemate. Ever. He does not care about being alpha dog. Fritzy humped him weekly -- and now Luie has taken Fritzy's place. Gus does not care. He simply stands, serenely quiet, as if to say, "let me know when you think you're through you silly goose for both you and I know you haven't the balls to carry through with this stupid activity." And when Luie loses interest in riding Gus's backside, Gus moves on as though nothing untoward had happened.
Gus does not care if he is fed first. We make it a point to do so -- giving Luie who is dancing for all he's worth the first bowl would just increase his demands to be alpha of everything he surveys. Gus simply wants to be sure that he has a bowl of food. He doesn't care what is in Luie's bowl and he does not wander over to nudge Luie out of the way to see if Luie has something better. The humans, though, have to stand guard to make sure that Luie does not nudge Gus out of the way, because Gus will NOT go over to Luie's bowl and dig in. He just wanders off looking sad.

The only alpha activity that Gus has commanded is pride of place in the car. Fritzy had moved into Wolf's position on my lap in the front seat of the car after Wolf died and there he rode for the next four years, Gus was always relegated to the back seat. The moment Fritzy died, Gus claimed the front seat -- and most specifically my lap. Fritzy was an agile, bendable dog and he rode comfortably on my right thigh, leaning up against the window. Gus is not agile. He has short, stiff legs. He frequently has back and hip problems. We've had him X-rayed twice and nothing shows up to explain why he suddenly goes lame, but this happens maybe every other month or so. Gus does not jump well. He cannot get on our bed by himself but must be lifted up. On my lap, he perches precariously, neither of us exactly comfortable. On long trips, I prop a pillow under him so he can lie down more easily, but even then, neither of us are particularly settled in our positions. Since this is the only alpha position Gus has ever demanded in our house, I am happy to give my lap up to him (except on those mornings when he has paraded himself through the mud and I'm wearing white pants to school -- then we argue back and forth, with me telling him to get in the backseat -- a command all our dogs have learned -- and Gus jockeying to clamber by hook or crook to have some portion of him, even if it's just a paw, laying on my body -- the kids now expect me to have paw prints on my clothes on rainy days).

Luie is frustrated by this alpha need of Gus to be in the front seat. He tries to worm his way onto my lap, squeezing out Gussie. Gus never growls, never moves a muscle. He may turn his head and look deeply into my eyes to be assured that I'm not going to displace him, but he never turns on Luie. But Luie is our attention deficit dog and even he manages to move Gussie, he never wants to be in one place very long. All Hubby has to do is open a back window and Luie is off to smell the outside world or chew on the seat belt or find the empty water bottle and try to kill it. Gus will then settle down uncomfortably on my lap, and lift a paw in hopes that a friendly hand might offer up a chest rub.

Last summer when Fritzy was dying slowly of kidney failure, I got quite sick -- first with a drug interaction and then with the flu. I spend nearly three weeks in bed and during that time, Fritzy laid listlessly on the bed with me, sleeping lightly, and demanding nothing -- not even food. Gus, still a young dog, laid between both of us, watching over us. He only asked to go out when absolutely necessary. In our house we must walk the dogs -- there is no opening the door and letting them out on their own. Gus would lay, quietly, on the bed with Fritzy and me, asking only that we keep the water bowl full and not leave home without him.

Gus does not pee in the house. Fritzy would sneak a little leak here and there. Wolfie, at age 17 (or 19 or however old he actually was) had lost the will to care about where he peed. If he needed to go, Wolfie went - and we quietly, and without comment, cleaned it up. Gus came into a house that still had Wolf's scent -- and never once peed on it. He has, once in a while, gotten sick, and had an accident -- but he has never, once, willfully peed in the house. That would be messy is what he seems to think.

The only time Gus has ever been unhappy with his family was the day he woke up from the teeth cleaning to find that nearly all his grabbing teeth were missing. Poor boy, he's both lame and born with rotten teeth. He kept his fangs, but all his front teeth, top and bottom, are gone -- and he was so disgusted with us because now he could no longer occupy himself with large chew bones. How in the world he was gnawing on them with those horribly rotten, wobbling teeth, no one ever figured out.

Gus is a gentleman. He does not growl or bite or nip. He does not paw on visitors for attention. He can bark to protect the front door, but that makes him pure Schnauzer. He is accepting in sharing his home with housemates. He is a good guest when we travel. He comes when he is called. He is never demanding. He will ask before he tries to jump in a lap. He walks perfectly on the leash (while Luie pulls and charges and refused to pay attention). He loves to cuddle next to me in bed but when the time for actual sleeping comes, he is happy to settle on the foot of the bed because I can never stay in one position very long (and if I could only convince him to sleep vertically instead of horizontally there would be room for both Gus AND my feet).
The truly sad thing is that Luie is the dog destined for the temperament of the humans in this family. We are the "take charge, barge ahead" people. We, like Luie, want to advance on life and bite it in the butt. We don't really understand what this sweet, gentle temperament is all about. We don't really "get" Gussie and we don't actually appreciate all his finer points. He's just so . . . passive. Maybe it's because he came right on Wolf's death and he innately go the message that he could never measure up to the "perfect heart dog." Maybe it was because we were so intense on making Fritzy alpha dog when Wolf was gone. Maybe we forced him into this submissive role. However, sad it is, we have to remind ourselves that Gussie is the perfect house dog. He is everything a dog owner would want.
Gus is so loving and accepting and innately good, that sometimes I think we don't deserve him. He has to compete with a dog he never knew to get love from a heart that is forever cracked. But he has managed, with his big amber eyes and his sweet, giving disposition, to heal over many of the seams in my broken heart. He is probably the very best dog we have ever owned, even compared to the incomparable Wolfie -- and he has given us a generosity of spirit that we simply have not earned. We love you dearly, sweet Gus, and we thank you from the bottom of our broken hearts. We will try, from here on, to do better by your sweet self.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Written in May, 2002, I came across this old e-mail and it so summed up how much I loved my Wolfie, I thought I re-post it in his memory. During this time I was still running my own business with a contract at the local #3 telecommunications company. Wolfie, my heart dog, died in October 2005 -- and though my spirit is once again strong, my heart has never totally healed. This is just one reason why:

It's been a long week in Kansas City (sorry Garrison, had to borrow your line).

I've been working long, stressful hours -- and showing it. Road rage attacked me twice on my way to work last week. I actually treated a coworker like one of my students, even if she did annoy the crap out of me, this was not appropriate. She's very young, though, and she responded just like my kids at school used to -- hopped right to the task she had been avoiding for three weeks. I quit talking to my best friend at work because I wanted to wring her neck, too -- and silence was better than an explosion. Stress has been bringing me low -- and playing havoc with my common sense.

Last night I walked in the door after a 12-hour day and the doggies were home. Usually they spend my working hours with Hubby, but he had things to do and people to see, so he had left the dogs at home. I opened the front door to find Wolf and Fritz beside themselves with joy.
Well, sure, they are always happy to see one of us return, even if we've been gone only two minutes. Fritzy did his normal "look at me -- pet me - I'm glad to see you - I'm gonna go get the ball and YOU can play with ME" routines.

But my Wolf is a very special boy. He started wagging his tail. And then he wagged his whole butt. It was just like a clock pendulum -- swinging back and forth, side to side, over and over. His eyes smiled and his butt swayed.

I'd come in the door typically evil. Feeling nasty, thinking of all the stuff I had to do the next day, pissed cause I'd had a rotten lunch and no dinner was waiting on the table for me. And there was Wolf. Eyes filled with love, butt working overtime, swaying back and forth, stubby tail moving as fast as a Wolf could work it.

And suddenly I was less tired. I dropped everything -- briefcase, purse, pager, cell phone, key cards, software carrying case, water bottle, door & car keys and plopped down on the floor right at the door. And Wolf -- still swinging his butt as hard as he could, put both paws on my chest, stood on his hind legs, and put his front legs around my neck, to show me how happy he was I had come in the door. He kissed me over and over. And I kissed him back. And we hugged.
Fritzy ran hither and yon, scampering over the house, dropping toys as fast as he could trying to distract us into playing. Wolf and I just hugged . . . and hugged . . . and hugged. And Wolf's little butt just kept up the rapid sway.

No butt ever looked so good . . . or brought such joy. The stress began to ease, the tension fell away, and Wolf settled into my lap, offering up his full attention until I could finally rise, again, renewed, at peace, and ready to face the world.

Keep the faith -- and take the time to appreciate the love – Milly

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Brain Melt

It is HOT here in Kansas City. I know the entire Midwest is H O T! A friend in lower Minnesota is complaining about 98 degree temps while here it is only 95. The humidity though sends the heat index to over 105. Another dog friend in Chicago has had high temps with power outages. Now that's awful! I'm grateful to have a powerful house AC that keeps us cool indoors. Hubby has finally found and paid for a radiator for the Aurora and they are picking up my car this afternoon to install it. That means that hopefully before the week ends we will have air conditioning in my little car. It's been darned hot driving around without it.

This morning I went to the dentist. I go to the UMKC Dental School -- have for the last 20 years. I really like it. If a mistake is made, they fix it, no questions asked -- and because you have students working on you, everything they do is scrutinized and supervised. Last summer we filled my last cavity just before my student graduated. Unfortunately, I had swallowed four Ibuprofen before I left home, not knowing that it was this aspirin that was interacting so badly with my prescribed meds. Anyway 90 minutes into the filling, I get violently sick to my stomach and then proceeded to throw-up every seven minutes until they got the hole in my mouth filled and could send me homeward. My student dentist, as would be expected, rushed the job -- and then immediately graduated (probably blessing the day she never had to see me again). I was left with a filling that did not make contact with my other teeth -- a huge yawning cavity that every piece of food that enters my mouth seems to get stuck in. This summer my brand new dental student, a strapping young man, is repairing the filling and also replacing a very ancient one in a back molar next to it. It's all good, but it was very hot driving to and from the dental school without air conditioning.

The news reports that Ed McMann died at the age of 86 today. I know he had been sick for some time. And the family with eight children, Jon & Kate something-or-other, are divorcing. I'm not sure why that story is topping the news. Their kids are cute but frankly I could care less whether the parents are happily married. The supreme court, contrary to expectation, upheld the voting rights act -- except for that complete idiot Clarence Thomas who wrote a dissenting opinion (of course). Three adults and one child were killed in the neighboring city in which I teach and no one seems to know why. A neighborhood just 40 blocks from my inner city house was judged the sixth most violent neighborhood in the NATION. Iran has election woes. Certainly the picture of the dead Iranian woman that topped international news last night was highly disturbing.

Tonight I have class from 5 to 8 p.m. I got my paper completed but I'm aware that it isn't up to my usual standard. I've delayed putting it in the Internet drop box so I can give it one last re-reading to see if I can fill in a couple of the wholes I know exist. I used the National Archives site to develop my Universal Design for Learning lesson plan for social studies. It's a wonderful site and if you haven't checked it out, plan to spend some time there clicking around on all the links.

The heat has me beat. I slept well last night but I think I'm ready for nap again this afternoon. We have at least five more days ahead of us like this. I wonder what the neighbors would think if I set up the lawn sprinkler and just went outside and laid down in it?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Slowly on Saturday

Another paper is due on Tuesday for my grad school class. Three more chapters in the text book need to be read besides the three I only skimmed from last week. The stereo cabinet is still not completely redecorated. The bottom two shelves need arranging. A whole heap of wash has piled up both in the bedroom and in the basement.

My heart just isn't feeling industrious today. Last night was a long night of non-sleeping. I caught up on the news magazines and People while the boys snored softly curled next to Hubby. Eventually, when my legs could no longer stand the tingling, I got up and read on-line journals until my eyes were bleary. Then I tried again to sleep. Eventually around 4 a.m. I managed a couple of hours of dozing in and out. Consequently, I feel all fuzzy headed and disoriented today.

The weather isn't cooperating either. We have had a succession of days with temps hovering in the low 90's but the humidity has caused the heat index to read over 100 every day. My body feels like it's infested with mold and damp rot. This especially happens in my little car which has no air conditioning - and the 5 p.m. drive to class is like I've put in 40 minutes in a sauna. In the house we're blessedly cool and dry with a very powerful central AC system -- but anytime I venture outdoors, I'm miserable.

Somehow I seem to run through all the USA network NCIS reruns -- and now I have no TV to watch during my down time. I'd start a book - but I need to read that darned text book so I can't justify opening a new novel. The boys would love a walk in the park, but it's sooo hot outside. I don't want to clean, do the wash, or write a paper. I don't want to read a text book. I've already caught up on all the on-line journals and played my computer games until I'm bored with them.

Whine. Whine. Whine.

And that's the news for today from my world. I'll be better tomorrow (I hope).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Let there be -- TEA!

Many years ago, when Hubby was young and strong, he built a stereo cabinet for our house. Remember stereos? Record players, tuners, speakers -- we even had a reel-to-reel. He built the cabinet to contain all his "equipment" which, after five years of living together, he decided was safe to bring into "our" house.

Many people feel we have the best of all worlds -- Hubby kept his own house after we bought the little bungalow we share. For a while his adopted mother lived there. Then it stood empty after she died. Eventually he rented the house. Then a tenant who was on the wrong side of the law got in trouble with his drug-running buddies and they tried to burn the house down in retaliation. Actually, only the garage and back part of the house burned but because of water and smoke damage, the entire house had to be rehabbed. So we gave up on tenants and turned the house into an office . . . and Hubby, who must always be busy, keeps his tools and workshop there and runs little business ventures out of it. Actually, the current venture isn't so little, but that's another story for another time.

Anyway, back to the stereo cabinet. Hubby built a floor to ceiling (10 feet?) wood cabinet with spaces measured to fill all his equipment AND records. This cabinet is SO huge and heavy that it takes up half a wall and requires a team of men to move (it's made of wood, remember?). But then stereo equipment began to shrink. The reel-to-reel was the first to go. Then the cassette players. Finally we boxed up the records and sent them to Hubby's house along with the record player. Now we have the CD that plays multiple discs, a tuner, and hundreds of CDs which need racks to hold them, not shelves.

I began to turn the huge wooden stereo cabinet into display shelves. I collected those Christmas houses for a while. The top three shelves held them. I collected tea pots and the bottom two shelves held them.

And then I quit keeping house. Hubby, who had never kept house, didn't seem to notice. Clearly the dogs didn't care. The dishwasher broke and we didn't replace it for seven long years and during that time, I just didn't go into the living room. Well, I dusted it maybe once a year. And then I kind of stopped even doing that. The room was filled with blue glass and flowers and art work and winter houses and tea pots - and the job just became too massive to tackle without a dishwasher for the glass. Oh - did I say there was a baby grand piano in the room, loaded with art glass and expensive statuary?

Only Fritzy ever really visited the living room. And his purposes were less than altruistic. He made it his job to water the tea pots and tea cups on the bottom shelving. Whenever I'd actually go into the living room, I had to clear off the bottom shelf and empty the tea cups of his pee. You might want to re-think if I ever invite you over and offer you a fine porcelain cup filled with fresh brewed tea. I didn't clear off the shelves to stop him because I actually had no place to store the things displayed there. This house is crammed full to the rafters. Just when I'd think I finally had Fritzy trained not to pee on the bottom shelf of the cabinet, I'd find that he has sneakily discovered a new way to hide his activity.

Getting the CD player working this past weekend made me re-evaluate the stereo cabinet. Hubby has offered to remove it. I've thought about it, but he made it -- for us. It was a labor of love -- and trust (Hubby loves his music probably better than anything in his life, even now, when he no longer makes music -- I imagine he would trade me in to get his voice back - and I don't begrudge him that thought - if I had a talent like that I'd do anything in my power to keep it -- time and age are ugly masters). Anyway, I'm keeping the stereo cabinet.

My grad course this summer is about UDL -- Universal Design Learning -- which means making everything, including learning, accessible to EVERY one. This got me thinking about making our living room, once again, accessible to the family. The one thing I would like to do and can't, is replace the wall-t0-wall carpeting with that fake wood flooring you can wipe down in a jiffy. Old dogs, sick dogs -- we've had them. And frankly, carpeting with incontinent dogs is less than attractive. You just never get rid of the smell, especially to new dogs, when the sick dogs have gone on to better rewards. The guests might not know, but the new dog can tell immediately where the favorite pee spot was for the old dog. Consequently, under the baby grand is where every sick dog (young or old) goes to have accidents. And this old body of mine is less than agile in getting under there now. But the piano and the wood stereo cabinet are simply too big for us to move out if carpet is to be replaced. Hubby, not yet ready to concede that he can't fix this problem for us himself, has at least had the seed planted. The carpeting must go -- if not this year, in the near future.

The piano will probably go first. It was his piano; he acquired it for $50 and kept it in his living room during his bachelor days. When I first saw it, he had dirty underwear and a handgun laying inside the lid. We had it restored, refinished, and for 25 years it has been our prize possession, but now no one plays it. Hubby doesn't play and twelve years of piano lessons only gave me the ability to read sheet music - not to really MAKE music. My back is so destroyed with arthritis now that I can't sit at the backless bench for more than ten minutes or so at a time -- and consequently, the automatic knowledge that once made my fingers play specific notes is pretty well lost. We've talked about selling the piano -- but can't bring ourselves to advertise it. Lately we've talked about giving it to someone who will love it as we once did. Now, it sits in grand, dusty splendor, taking up most of our living room, untouched, untuned, and only the dogs visit it for nefarious purposes.

So . . . the winter houses are going to be mostly put away. The stereo shelves are so deep that I can leave a few for height interest. I found that the ugly plastic CD holders, if turned sideways, will fit in the spaces originally intended for the reel-t0-reel and cassette players. The cabinet is once again holding music as it was intended.

That leaves the tea pots. I found the last saucer yesterday that was still yellow from Fritzy's pee. It made me sad when I put it in the dishwasher. Poor little, stubborn Fritzy who died so young (okay, he was 10 -- but that's young now-a-days) from kidney failure. He had spent all eight years of his time with us filling up those tea cups. The new dogs don't water the tea cups anymore. They sniff them inquiringly (because clearly I hadn't cleaned up all that pee from last summer) but they don't add their own scent. Luie only visits the living room to leave a little something under the piano. Gus only visits if he's sick.

I'm putting the tea pots back on the shelves, only this time higher up. They will now go where the winter houses have sat. No dogs will get to pee on them. Holding each tea pot brought me a measure of joy I haven't felt in household things in some time which is why I'm leaving them out. The ones that didn't (only two, actually) were stored away with the houses (I found a couple of boxes -- Hubby can figure out where to put them in the garage after I have them filled.

Slowly, the stereo cabinet is cleaning up. The dust has been wiped away. The CDs are organized. The player works. The tea pots are slowly being washed, dried, and admired. At least one corner of the living room will be clean come July. Another era of our lives has passed, though. It's all bitter - sweet.

A picture from several years ago (not the stereo cabinet) showing how packed out little house is with stuff. The blue glass was mostly stored away ten years ago.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Let there be -- MUSIC!

I am so excited! So very thrilled! There is once again music in my house.

The savage beast in me needs music, beautiful classical music, lyric tenors, sopranos who screech even, basses of the profundo variety, an alto here and there (Jesse Norman! yeah!) and a few "easy listening" CD's thrown in for variety -- a little Celine, a little Barbra and some Josh.

For the last four years the CD player has sat silent. Hubby got one I couldn't make play easily -- six slots and I'd push buttons and nothing would happened. I don't like complicated appliances. I want them to go automatically with little to no help on my part. After Hubby also hooked up the player so it would play in both the computer room and the living room and I had to decide between A & B buttons, I was truly lost. I had a CD player at the construction trailer so I used that as my outlet. At home I watched TV or played on the computer. Then I started teaching three years ago and going to grad school at night, so there was no time for music. If I wasn't working on classwork, I was studying, and if not that I was trying to keep up with the laundry and get some sleep (another story all together). Music was relegated to church activities. Then those, too, stopped.

Hubby had the aneurysm and music went clean out of our lives. He no longer sings. The man who always made music is silent. The CD player with all the speakers arranged around the house collected dust. Only at Christmas, when we were traveling on the road, did we drag out the CD's to play driving in Oklahoma (ever try to find a decent classical music station in Oklahoma?).

All through this spring I looked at the assorted CD's scattered all over our house, CD's that had been pulled from their cabinets, taken out of the their cases, stacked up here and there on various corners, just collecting dust and never being played. Like a good book that needs to be read, good music simply needs to be heard. I decided that my one of my summer chores would be to gather the CD's, put them in cases, resort them, and store them in all the respective CD holders (floor and table-top) around the living room (and in the garage).

All morning and afternoon today I worked on them. Hubby, having a summer cold, napped and peeked out at me every now and them while I sweated my way through hundreds (yes, hundreds) of CD's. I'm still not through, but I have all the Christmas CD's now in traveling cases for Houston (there are at least 150 of these). All the divas and tenors are back in their respective slots next to the CD player been turned on in over three years -- because when you pushed buttons nothing happened.

Finally, Hubby dragged out of bed and wandered into the living room. He pulled a wire here and then one there and determined the player wasn't plugged in -- the problem with finding where the plug was missing was difficult because of all the speakers hooked into the machinery. But 40 minutes of grappling on the floor with various chords, I suddenly heard music. Oh! Bliss! Seems one of the "dogs" had managed to unplug the machinery.

I still don't exactly know how to make the CD player work. When this set of six CD's is finished, I may not be able to change them - but then, I like what's playing. Kiri Te Kanawa (oh, my god! what a wonderful voice) is singing Berlin. Brightman will be thrilling Andrew Lloyd Webber (don't judge -- I like most of his stuff). Donny Osmond (okay, you may judge but he has a very nice voice and his adult stuff is really, really good) is singing Broadway. Il Divo is cued for my tenor needs -- if one tenor is good, four are fantastic. And, of course, Andre is in the mix. Who couldn't listen to all that again if I can't change out the CD's?

My entire being is relaxing just hearing the beautiful music wafting through my house. How I've missed it!

Getting Ready for Christmas

We do not spend Christmas at home any more. It's kind of nice. I don't have to decorate the house -- which IS fun -- or take down and store decorations -- which is NOT. My only decorating gets done at school -- and even though we're supposed to be all PC about Christmas itself and celebrate winter or the changing of the seasons or the first snowfall (and last year we had NO snowfall of significant amount), in my urban core classroom we celebrate . . . um, Holidaymas? Anyway, we put up a tree and accompanying Santa Claus and reindeer, have gifts, exchange cards and have a feast right before Christmas vacation. Frankly that's all the energy I wish to expend for creating a Christmas celebration.

In our defense, in making the sister-in-law do all the decorating, we do rent the car (always over $400 -- but cheaper than flying two adults and two doggies to Houston) and we drive a combined 1600+ miles to go and come back. That's two full days on the road. We don't have to clean the house to get ready for guests but Hubby usually does most of the cooking while we're there. And lately we've been helping sister-in-law do some holiday entertaining with her friends -- it's always helpful to have some willing hands to plan, create, and cleanup from a party; and frequently Hubby is the actual entertainment at the festivities. So we do our share, I think -- probably not enough, but because we all love each other very much, we wouldn't have much of Christmas if we did it separately, so it comes out in the wash (I hope).

We used to do massive gift exchanges, but supposedly we've cut down on those. Except for the last three years Hubby has felt the need to Christmas shop for during the month of December and so we spend our weekends finding gifts for the Houston crowd (sister-in-law plus a friend or two). Sister-in-law put her foot down and said she wasn't buying gifts anymore, and last year she pretty much stuck to her word but somehow we still had a bountiful gift exchange. Hubby has never, ever agreed to fewer gifts.

So this summer I've been going garage sale gift hunting with him. I'm hoping to curtail some of the last minute December gift hunting. The thing is, he likes to garage sale his way. He drives all over the city finding sales, letting me out of the car in the broiling summer heat, to paw through the junk at the sale and if I find a winner, then asking him to come "see what's here and make a bargain." I can only take about three hours of this on a hot Saturday, but for the last five Saturday's we've collected quite a little treasure trove. We have entertainment gifts, collectibles, housewares, and theme presents (and because sister-in-law will occasionally drop in on this site that's the best I can do in explanation).

The next problem, in our tiny and jammed-packed house, is to figure out where to store the gifts so I won't forget we bought them. Since I no longer have stacks and stacks of shoes, I cleaned off the shoe shelves of the junk that had accumulated there over the years and have piled-up the gifts. While I "computer" in the back room I can keep my eye on the growing stacks.

Last weekend we went to a church "rummage" sale in a neighboring state and though I didn't buy anything for gift-exchanging in Houston, I did buy up all the packs of assorted Christmas cards that had been priced at fifty cents a bag. Because I was there on the last day of the sale everything was half price. I usually buy my cards at the after Christmas sales, but after selecting five boxes of cards last year, Hubby demanded I quit "stocking up" -- though what he didn't realize is that really cool Christmas cards now come in boxes of 10 or 12 and not 25. The bags of cards I bought at the church sale had 30 to 50 cards each, with the accompanying envelopes with them. Even if I only use them for gift tags, it was a great purchase.

We have not just been buying for Christmas during our Saturday forays, but also for Hubby's new adventure and my classroom, so we're acquired a lot of books and tapes and school supplies. But mostly, we shop for that unique, impressive, and "cheap" Christmas present. I think the Houston crowd may be in for some surprises this year!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Changing Channels

For the past three years or so, every week night from 6 until 8 p.m., Hubby tuned in to the Hallmark channel showing of Walker, Texas Ranger. How I grew to hate that show! I don't dislike Chuck Norris, I think he makes wholesome family entertainment. He also always made good use of varied ethnic casting of which I approve whole-heartedly. I do dislike Norris' conservative politics but except on the gun-control issue, he doesn't really inject his views into his movies and TV shows. However, ten hours of Walker weekly for three years proved very cloying. After six months, I adjourned to the computer room or read magazines and books and left Hubby alone to watch the TV. He claimed Walker relaxed him -- and I guess he was right, because usually after 15 minutes he'd be sound asleep, unless, of course, I'd think I could sneak in and change the channel on him. Then he pop right up and growl. I learned to just leave Walker on for two hours and peace reigned in the household.

And then disaster struck Hubby. Hallmark phased out Walker. It took about three months of moving the show around, interrupting the weekly night casts, and finally Walker was off the air. Hubby has now switched his napping to the two hours before the nightly news. He watches and sleeps through all the Judge shows on TV, culminating in the aggressively sarcastic and evil Judge Judy. But usually when these shows come on I'm busy around the house, recovering from the school day, or doing graduate studies homework.

This has left a void in our TV viewing. After the nightly news we didn't have anything we actually wanted to watch. Hubby has switched his 6 - 8 p.m. activities to playing computer games, leaving me in charge of the remote control. And this is when I discovered that USA was showing marathon rounds of NCIS, a show I had never watched during the prime season run.

When I was 18 and in my senior year in high school I fell passionately and head-over-heels in love with David McCallum who played Illya Kuryakin on Man from U.N.C.L.E. I watched every episode for the next two years and then somehow real life took over, the show went on and I moved on. I look back now and wonder at how immature I was at the time -- and what the heck was I thinking, lusting after such a pale, small, delicate man?

Sometime in the 1980's I saw a couple of movies with Mark Harmon in them. When People magazine selected him as sexiest man alive I wondered how that could be . . . but People has their own standards and I'm too old to get very concerned about them.

In discovering the reruns of NCIS, I found a show that usually has a decent plot, is not all that bloody, has recreated good characterizations for its cast, and has David McCallum, much older (78 I think -- he MUST have had a lot of work done to look this good at 78!) and suddenly very attractive to me again. Even Mark Harmon look darned good. I think this might be a need to relive my youth just a bit on the McCallum thing, but the show is quite diverting.

So I've recorded hours and hours of it -- almost all my TV watching is now done by DVR because I can no longer stomach commercial interruptions -- and I'm slowly moving my way though all the episodes from 2003 to today. The thing about recording them from USA is that they don't show in sequence so you get an episode from 2004 and then one from 2007 that has new or added cast members. Interestingly, the women change a lot more often on the show than the men.

I still have 30 some hours of shows on my DVR player after the USA Memorial Day NCIS marathon. I think I've eliminated all the ones that I've seen already. Mixed in with NCIS are a few other good TV shows like Numbers, but basically most of my stored watching hours are of NCIS.

Because I've watched so many hours on USA, I'm now also tuning into Burn Notice and Royal Pains. And yes, I've discovered that USA does show Walker on Thursday nights -- and I've offered to record it for Hubby. Seems he's moved on from his addiction while I'm just starting one of my own.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

School Days (Daze?)

Last night was my first night in summer grad school. I'm taking Technology for the SPED Classroom. I liked the new professor -- have no idea what happened to the old one, but the reports from last summer's class filled the fall semester students with shudders for those of who had yet to take the course. So I'm glad there has been a switch in profs.

The class is large -- about 30 students. We did a minimum of interacting with each other -- just enough to get to know the folks around us. All-in-all, the evening was fairly entertaining; it's hard to be really inventive for three solid hours. Best of all, she let us go home to access our own computers and do the lab work assignment. I like when I'm treated like a professional and I'm trusted to actually complete the assignment without presenting proof I actually did it.

This morning I popped out of bed at 7 a.m. and started doing my homework. Because the class is every Tuesday and Thursday there is little time in-between to get assignments created. We had a short (X in the blank) survey to complete and then one that took me over an hour because I had to compose answers. The downloading and reading took another hour. The on-line media presentation was supposed to take 20 minutes, but I needed notes so it was more like 40 because I had to rewind a couple of times. Then I faced the miserable assignment because we had to use a free source tool called Bubbl.US to create a graphic organizer of all we had read and watched in the presentations. Awful tool. Looked easy to use -- but the reality was that it was too simple. You couldn't maneuver the text boxes, add notes or titles, and saving for use in another medium was difficult. It took me three hours to create a simple "organization" type chart that was readable. Bah! I had the chart created on paper in 10 minutes -- and then it was three full hours of futzing with the software to make the chart legible.

I hope that the other tools presented in the class are more manageable than this. The information presented during class though related directly to technology assistance that should be used in creating IEP's and I've never really had a lot of information about that, so all wasn't lost -- just the three hours using Bubbl.

Monday, June 08, 2009


If you listen to old folks for a bit, one of our biggest complaints is that we no longer sleep through the night. The old bones won't stay without complaint in one position for more than two hours at the most before the pain kicks in. The legs get antsy and you begin to shuffle them all over the bed trying to find some spot that won't make the arthritic knees complain and will allow the calves to lay quiet without tingling. The arthritic shoulders get sore if you lay on your right OR your left side too long. The arthritic spine says don't lay on your back because the pressure points are are all wrong. The acid reflux says don't lay on your stomach or you'll wake coughing up bile. The bladder demands you get up and empty it at least twice a night. The allergies require two pillows but no more or the spine and neck start yelling. And most indignant of all, if you're a woman, you will have hot flashes at least twice a night so badly that you'll wake up throwing off the covers and wiping the sweat off your face, neck, and chest and swearing that somehow the temperature in the house has been set at 90 degrees and you are sweltering. Then, if you actually manage to get back to sleep, in an hour you'll wake up freezing because you've been so hot just 60 minutes ago that you threw all the covers on the floor.

If you have dogs (or cats I'm told) who like to sleep in bed with you -- and though you may promise yourself when you get that puppy that he will sleep in his own expensively acquired soft bed, you will eventually succumb to the soft pleading eyes and the little whines emanating from the floor-- you will also find that the dog(s) will sleep soundly through all your waking hours and most inconveniently also manage to sprawl right in the middle of the bed, leaving you with only a small strip at the far side of the mattress.

In May I turned 63. Thirty years ago I swore that was an age where you were definitely classified as old folks. Now I'm trying to tell myself that I'm only at the far, far end of middle age (yeah, right -- and Hubby who is 74 is still a whipper-snapper, himself). However, for the past five years I've been "old folks" when trying to get a good night's sleep. I find that each year brings me less and less satisfying nights in bed. I'm down to maybe four hours of sleep on an average night and quite often a lot less. Last night was a case in point.

I slept well from 11:15 until 1:35. Then I was up and wandering the house, reading magazines, organizing computer files, watching TV until just about 5:00 a.m.. As the early morning local news came on the TV I managed to doze, in and out of consciousness until 6:45. Because I had agreed to be at school for student scheduling, I forced myself to get up and take the morning meds, get dressed, and wander out the door by 7:45, bleary eyed and grumpy.

Of course, by 3 p.m. I was exhausted -- and here comes the real problem with not sleeping at night. I HAD to take a nap. My head was nodding, my eyes barely open, and I was worthless for any activity that required thinking -- or sitting (because now I can fall asleep sitting up I'm so tired). The conventional wisdom is that a 20 minute nap will revive you -- but I never manage to sleep just 20 minutes. It was 5 p.m. when I finally woke up, feeling groggy and mean and still very sleep deprived. And because of the nap I can guarantee that at 11:30 tonight I'll still be wide-awake, unable to fall asleep at a reasonable bedtime.

I've thought about taking some of those sleep medications advertised on TV but I know two people who actually do take them - and both of them require pills to also wake them up in the morning. And the medication itself says not to use it unless you are sure you can get eight hours of sleep at night.

So I've become sleep deprived. I honestly feel tired almost all the time -- bone weary tired. And the options to try and solve the problem -- naps, pills -- don't seem viable in my circumstances. The only thing that I think might help would be aging backward. I fondly remember that at 18 I could sleep fifteen hours with no problem at all. Sadly I doubt there's a Dorian Gray portrait in my future.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Hubby and I got up, got dressed, and drove to our church this morning. We sat in the back, the folks farthest from the pulpit. Under 20 adults graced the pews. The "new" minister, probably on vacation, wasn't there. None of the "old folks" were there either, except for Hubby and me. We were the oldest ones in attendance.

With the advent of the new minister last year, the older members of the congregation have been relegated to the role of observer. The hymns are now often praise songs, sung at break neck pace, often without any music to follow. The lovely traditional Methodist hymns are mostly gone. The music ministry is often a solo sung to a taped recording. The organ is closed and shuttered. The choir loft is vacant.

The traditional altar decorations have been replaced with two odd wind sockets. I'm not sure what they represent, but they've been in place since Easter. Once a lovely wooden cross, Christ-size, would hang over the altar from Easter to Pentecost. Obviously, that tradition has been replaced.

The sanctuary is still beautiful, but with a sad decay emanating from it. The furnace has not been repaired from when it broke two years ago, so there is no air conditioning and even worse, no heat. During the winter we sit in a moldy, dank basement -- the Parish Hall. The hall is fine for pot-luck suppers but it is a basement -- and Christmas services there are sad-looking and feeling events. The temperature in the sanctuary on a warm winter day never gets above 50 degrees. Even on Easter Sunday this year, when we finally moved upstairs, the church was bone-chilling.

When we joined the church it was dying. Only ten to twelve adults attended on Sunday morning. Then we had a small resurgence (see the picture above -- around 2005), got a new minister who got us another new minister -- both retired gentlemen. We limped along for ten years and more, but when the last retired minister finally officially retired, we knew the time had come to either give up, or bite the bullet.

We bit, hired a full-time minister, and moved into this new world, where the traditional Methodists are phased out of the church and the old folks are sent to the back pews. The Methodist regulatory body did not let us interview pastors -- they assigned us one. Whether she was actually a good fit for our diminishing congregation in an urban core neighborhood is still up for debate. Some members think she's the answer to their prayers; others, especially the older members, shake their heads in despair.

At Easter I took my final communion in a church I have grown to love, but now found lacking in grace and fellowship. It was my goodbye. I told Hubby, who has refused to take communion in the church for the past year, it was my last gesture of love towards the church. Hubby had promised that he would attend the church through August, and so once or twice a month we have traveled the highway to our church, sat through services in the basement, listened to the strange new music and gritted out teeth, and tried to find something redeeming in the situation.
The other Sundays we attended neighborhood churches or visited services when our friends invited us. After ten plus years of attending church EVERY Sunday, we also enjoyed a lazy Sunday morning here and there. Sunday brunches are very nice. Sunday errand running means we have more time to ourselves on the weekends.

Today we sat in the back pews for 15 minutes. Then Hubby turned to me and said, "You want to go get breakfast?" and we quietly got up during the silent prayer and left. I don't think we'll go back. There's just nothing there for us any longer.

It's sad to say goodbye to something that was such a meaningful and wonderful part of our lives. But when your heart no longer finds joy and peace in the church, it's definitely time to look elsewhere.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Gettin' Edge-cated

Summer plans are frighteningly busy for me this year. I've already attended two meetings around curriculum development and have homework assigned for developing a plan for teaching a Language Arts Study Skills class for SPED.

Next week I spend the first three days at my own school working on scheduling 200 students in the Health Community. We've never done the actual "computer" scheduling before, so factoring in the learning curve time, I figure we've got about 15 hours of work ahead of us.

Also next week I start three hours of graduate credit toward my SPED certification. I'm 18 hours into acquiring the 36 hours I need. This summer's course is called SPED Technology and I'm not looking forward to it -- in fact all the courses still ahead of me make me pretty disgruntled. It seems I have to take a whole heap of courses for teaching elementary education and functional students. The SPED Technology course is geared to students who are much more disabled than the ones I work with. I admire those who can deal with functional kids -- those who are more profoundly disabled than the ones I have in my collaborative setting -- but I'm very clear that these students are not the ones I'm destined to teach. I simply don't have the patience or the motivation to cope with their problems. In the same vein, I have no interest or ability to work with elementary kids. I spent seven years early in my career with middle school kids and thought that was my milieu -- but the first year I was transferred into high school, I realized I had been wrong. The 14 to 20 age bracket is where my abilities shine.

Before I left teaching in 1990 I had been coordinating and developing a college preparatory program for inner city high schoolers -- freshman through senior. So it was quite a change, when I came back to teaching 16 years later, to enter into the special education classroom. I'm not sure that in 1988 I was geared to teaching SPED, but the intervening years away from teaching taught me more patience and gave me a different perspective on life.

The business / construction world requires nothing if not patience. Folks come to work at 8 a.m. and sit around. They work maybe two, three hours tops. They go to meetings and sit around. They take hour lunch breaks -- maybe longer. They schedule meetings outside their office -- and drive around the city. They talk on the phone when they feel like it -- making PERSONAL calls all day long. They chat at the copy machine, in the hallway, in the break room. They can eat anytime during the day. They have cafeterias that serve full course meals at breakfast, at lunch, and then prepare food you can buy and take home with you for dinner -- and the food is healthy and delicious (NOT corn dogs, corn, pudding, and milk). They can actually go to the bathroom whenever nature calls -- and not wait until passing period or when they have a planning period. It was an amazing world to me, in business / construction. Sure, there were hectic times during the year -- but even then people took hour lunches and went to the john when they needed to. My doctor laughs and tells me that women teachers have the worst urinary tract infections of anybody she works with -- because we're required to hold "it" for hours at a time -- and certainly that's been my reality in the classroom.

However, in the SPED room we move along at a slower pace. I do have less students -- this year only 11 on my caseload -- though the year before I had 21. Then we hired another SPED teacher to carry part of my load. The kids understand if I have to go the bathroom. They like the lunches I bring from home and want to share. It's okay if I need to pop out a bottle of water to get me through the 90 minute periods, as long as they get an applesauce or a breakfast bar in the bargain. For the last three years I had a paraprofessional at my command who could sit with the kids if I needed to leave the classroom. This year she's been fired and will not be replaced due to budgetary demands. Yes, my workday starts at 6:15 -- but I'm on my way home at 3:00. I have two weeks vacation at Christmas, a week of spring break, all the major holidays off (President's Day and Martin Luther Kings birthday -- you never get those in business) and two months during the summer. Yes, I'm back in grad school working on my second master's degree -- but that's okay, too, most of the time. The district is paying my tuition and buying my books. Because I have years of experience behind me I'm pretty quick at making lesson plans -- and because I'm a SPED teacher I get a full 90 minute break, where I usually get most of my planning accomplished. Because I'm a collaborative teacher, I don't have the massive papers to grade, except that now I'm actually teaching three English classes. Still, I'm experienced enough to know how to get that accomplished with minimal effort on my part. The only onerous chore I have is the SPED paperwork required (IEP's, SOP's, etc.) that have to be completed in timely fashion. An IEP is truly a "labor" of love.

This summer I'm going to be busy -- at least during June. The state college I'm attending tries to make education for busy people accessible -- so my three hour class is schedule for six classroom hours each week during June with the class ending July 2. The curriculum workshop planned to have all its work completed by July 1. Scheduling of the Health kids will only take three days next week. I'll be busy in June -- I hear the Technology class requires a lot of outside the classroom work -- but in July, I'll be reading novels and eating bon-bons. Or cleaning the bathroom. Whichever seems more important.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Oum-Pa-Pa It Wasn't

Accordions call to mind Lawrence Welk and polka music, so it was with a bit of trepidation in our hearts that Hubby and I took in an accordion orchestra concert Sunday afternoon. The concert was free and we were joining good friends for the event so we had nothing to lose.

Except our local university has a world famous accordion orchestra, led by the renowned international accordion teacher, director, and arranger Joan Sommers. We were treated to a thrilling concert of music that was approachable, beautiful, and fun.

Performing were 15 accomplished musicians, many who are required to earn a living outside the music profession, but who dedicate themselves to weekly rehearsal of all types of serious music that has been transposed for the accordion. These folks travel to town from as far away as New York City to bring us great accordion music. Their ages vary from high school graduates to seriously retired.

For Sunday's program, the orchestra performed music ranging from the traditional waltz from Faust and the familiar pieces in Brasilia Potpourri to the serious classical Tamboruin by Jean Philippe Rameau. Two favorites of the audience were the beautiful The Gem of the Kaipara with a solo performance that brought tears to our eyes and the absolute stirring Suite from Video Games Live which was performed with a marvelous video showing appropriate video game snippets. The Video Games Suite was arranged by Ms. Sommers for the 2009 World Accordion Orchestra II to be performed in Auckland, New Zealan in August. Now that's some serious credentials!

Our orchestra was so good that often we didn't remember it was accordions making all that wonderful swelling (and reedy) sound. Performing with the orchestra were three percussionist who really helped bring the music alive, playing everything from the marimba to the bongos.

After I first quit teaching in the early 2000's, Hubby and I would attend the noontime concert of a 100 tubas serenading our downtown area with Christmas carols. That music was fun and brought a lot of joy to those of us who liked tubas. I thought the accordion concert would be along those lines. Instead we were treated to a serious performance of beautiful music made by dedicated musicians.

I was especially taken by the fact that they musicians were really enjoying themselves. They smiled and looked happy throughout the concert. They reacted with unconscious joy to the music they were making. And as an audience we were simply enchanted.
This was our first venture at an accordion concert. The director, Ms. Sommer, asked that next year we look for another performance of the orchestra. We'll be sure to attend.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Summer -- and It's Time to Blog!

In the last month plus I've written numerous blog entries in my head . . . but the closing of school was arduous and tense, though not emotionally painful, so I husbanded my strength for getting through. I did. School is out for the 2008-2009 year, all three of my senior students for whom I case-manage, did graduate, and today is the first full day of summer vacation.

Except, not really. At some point I need to go back to my school to help schedule all the students in my community for next year. Counselors don't do this anymore. The truth is, I wonder, what their job description actually is now-a-days. The four counselors in our building have been cut to two, what with the economic cut-backs we're experiencing, and not one teacher regretted our loss 0f 50% of the counseling staff.

Today I start a reading curriculum skills building workshop. I've never taught reading, and this is to be a "Reading Skills Summer Work" but the SPED group wanted my English curriculum building expertise (such as it is) so I'm scheduled to meet from 1 to 4 today, with more sessions TBD.

I received my state teaching license this year -- and I'm vastly relieved to get it. The state I'm teaching in has had a very strict and complicated procedure for licensing and it's taken me three years to convert my lifetime license from the neighboring state. However, I am now properly certified to teach English, History, and Government in grades 9 - 12 until the year 2014. Cool.

Next week I start three hours of grad school -- a course called Special Education Technology which is meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. -- but only goes from June 8 to July 2. I'm now starting on the SPED courses that are pretty much all directed either at elementary students or are for functional students - neither if which I'm ever going to teach (never say never, you opine? Hum -- well, I'm certainly never -- and I really mean NEVER -- teaching elementary school) so I'm not very enthused about them.

Last week I had my 63rd birthday. It was pretty much a non-event but this weekend I received two dozen (!!!!) pink birthday roses from a dear friend -- and they are the most beautiful and fragrant roses I've ever gotten. The entire back of the house has the delicious aroma of rose petals.

Hubby and I have been going to garage sales on Saturdays for a couple of hours. He's in the market for pre-school material for his daycare adventure, while I'm collecting books and video tapes for high school SPED kids. Not that DVDs are so popular, VHS tapes are selling for a quarter -- or in one case five for a $1. Can't beat the price!

Hopefully this summer I will be able to write more on this old blog -- starting my third year now -- chronicling the ups and downs of an older woman, returning to the classroom after a 16 year absence. It's going well, my friends. Really well. My job, even as I watch those around me getting laid off and fired (my paraprofessional was fired in a closed door hearing last Friday), is secure, I love it, and I work with great folks. I'm truly blessed.