Thursday, June 30, 2011

The current passion

Our local newspaper, The Kansas City Star, runs a column (usually once a week, I think) about things that a selected columnist currently feels passionate about. Here's my list:

Seedless watermelon: as a kid every summer my favorite food would always be my mother's mustard potato salad and cold watermelon. This summer my watermelon taste has returned with a vengeance. Hubby likes cantaloupe and honey dews. I prefer huge juicy red wedges of watermelon sprinkled with salt.

The newspaper delivered by Kindle every morning: my father worked for the Kansas City Star for over 30 years and he loved that paper (this was when the Star was employee owned and was delivered both morning and evening -- the morning paper was the Kansas City Times). During my adult years I've tried having the newspaper delivered and thought when the paper had become a once-a-day publication, I could actually keep up with reading it. But I never could. The paper would be delivered for a month or so and pretty soon I would have piles of never opened rolls of newspaper gathering by my front door, in my yard, and stuffed in all the nooks and crannies of the house. However, I tried a monthly subscription on my Kindle when I first got it and found that, even without pictures and obits and comics, this was a habit I could quickly adopt. There are no bulking pages to try and fold out, there are no leftovers to dispose of (simply erase right off the Kindle), and best of all no advertising comes with the subscription so no huge sections of auto, food, and furniture sales to throw away. Now I read the paper daily.

USA and cable summer TV series: its great to have new episodes of Leverage, White Collar, Burn Notice, and Royal Pains to watch when the prime time networks are showing reruns of NCIS, Glee, and the Mentalist. Even worse for me are the endless reality shows that ABC, NBC, and CBS introduce in the summer. Who cares which bachelor is chosen or what happens in the Big Brother house? Certainly not anyone in this family.

Making travel plans: sometimes looking forward to a vacation is almost as good as taking one. We are going to Washington DC and Annapolis for a couple of weeks in July and the family is joining us there on Chesapeake Bay. It's fun to exchange emails as we research our tourist plans and settle on beach reading material. Hubby actually went clothes shopping and got new shorts, shirts and shoes. I know the trip itself will whirl by in an instant -- but we are having a great time extending the whole thing with lots of fun planning time.

Going to bed at 1 p.m. and sleeping past 6 a.m.: every morning when I wake up at 5 a.m. and realize I don't have to get up and get ready for work, my heart gives a happy little skip and jump.

Summer is a time for relaxing and recuperation from the stress of the teaching schedule. It's a time for cooking up interesting dishes and eating them at no prescribed schedule. It's the time when bedtime can come when you want to sleep. Naps can be had when you feel tired. Laundry need not wait until the weekend. Best of all, the dogs get cuddling 24 / 7. Maybe best of all is the ability to write in one's blog when the idea hits -- not just when the odd brief moment of free time is available. Once the paper writing was completed, this has turned into a really great summer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The voice in my head

That voice we all have in our heads (you know you have one -- if you don't you are either over-medicated or need to be medicated) has been speaking loudly and clearly to me this week and I've made a horrible discovery about it. It's my mother's voice and she isn't saying nice things, not that she ever really did but you'd think after 38 years away from her with essentially no real contact I'd have learned to shut her up -- or at least drown her out.

One of my spring grad course professors wrote me a lovely e-mail this week. She had graded the paper I'd written for scheduling and teaching basic life skills students and she was very pleased with it. This is the paper that I had struggled so much to complete and felt very inadequate about but the upshot was that the professor thought I'd gone above and beyond on the assignment and graded the work with a very satisfying A. She also suggested that I might like to publish in some educational journals and she and my adviser had agreed to help me get started if I was so inclined.

Instead of being really proud of myself, the voice in head suddenly chimed right in:

"You know she's just being kind because you whined about the course. You know you don't have the follow-through to really write. Look how long it took you to get just two papers finished. YOU had to take an extension in those courses. Nobody else did. Everybody else could do their job AND take the coursework AND write their papers. But NOT you! Nobody would be interested in anything you have to write about. And you don't have any original ideas anyway."

On and on the voice went, reminding me that I just wasn't "quite up to par, smart enough, organized enough, or hard working enough."

And then it hit me. The voice was my mother. It was her actual voice. I could picture the words coming right out of her mouth, just like they did all through my teen and young adult years.

For the last 38 years Hubby has tried his best to obliterate that voice. He's been supportive and my cheering squad and my champion. And every single time, he'd tell me that I COULD accomplish something, that voice was there telling me I really didn't have the "right stuff." I have effectively drowned out every single compliment I've ever received with that voice and reduced them to little piles of sh*t because the voice always told me that nobody really knew that I wasn't accomplished enough or smart enough or productive enough. It's gotten so bad that I'd actually prefer not get any compliments because I'm quite, quite sure I really don't deserve them. Hubby has pretty much given up trying to over-ride the voice, because I've always found ways to shoot him down.

Now my mother wasn't (isn't) all bad. She was very competitive though, and I have been able to see for some time that when she "knocked me down" she did it partly because she didn't want me to be "better" than her. But she also didn't want me to be too "proud" or believe that I could accomplish things beyond my grasp and thus get hurt. And she only had 27 years to work her wiles on me, while Hubby has been trying for 38 years to break down those early years of indoctrination. It was me that wouldn't let any other voice in my head.

This week I finally realized whose voice has continued disparaging me all these years. You'd think if I had any really sense of self, I'd have realized it way before this. I've always believed that one of my greatest talents is that I can cope -- whatever comes my way, I can figure out (eventually) how to deal with it. Yet I've never stilled that voice in my head -- and I'm not at all sure that recognizing now whose voice has been running me down all these years makes any difference at all. Because you know, I'm not strong enough to silence it. I'm not bright enough to figure ways to overcome. I'm just not good enough.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Strange dear, but true dear . . .

. . . when I'm close to you dear, so in love, so in love, so in love with you am I . . .

Don't you hear those old songs in your head when they seem applicable.

My love at the moment is my Kindle. It was my Christmas present from Hubby's sister and I have adored it from the moment I got it home and found out how easy it was to download books to it.

I wouldn't buy hard back books before the Kindle, well almost never. So I was always reading the best sellers two to three years after they came out. I love to read books that belong to a series (like the Spenser books by Parker or the Hamish McBeth books by M.C. Beaton) -- but because I wouldn't buy them when they first came out, I'd often forget what I had read and what I hadn't. I stopped reading the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum series after the 12th one. She's now up to 17. I was also way behind on the Midnight Louie cat books about Vegas, as well as a couple of the cooking mystery series that I follow.

But with the Kindle, I just down load the book at a discounted price and read away. No too heavy books to try and hold up with carpel tunnel wrists. No print too small for failing eyes to see. No books to find new shelf space for -- space which at this point in our lives is sorely lacking.

This week I ordered #12, 13, 14, 15, & 16 of the Plum series (wanted to re-read #12 to remind myself where the series had been) -- and they cost me only $2.99 each (versus the $5 - $8 paperbacks now cost). Hog heaven! I also am reading the John Locke series of books -- which are part of the huge best sellers on the Kindle. He sells them at $2.00 each -- and I liked them so much I wanted to order Hubby his own set (Hubby won't touch the Kindle so he has to have real, true books). Darn it if the paper versions of the Locke series were selling for $15 each and up. Wow! What a difference!

Every day this year I would cart my Kindle to school so I could read for 20 minutes during reading time. The kids loved to see me swishing through the pages on the Kindle. They would examine my menu of books, ask how it worked, pick it and hold it. Because it was going in my rolling suitcase every morning, frankly, the Kindle took a beating. It's no longer pristine perfect -- there are four little squizzles on the screen now that I have to read through.

So in honor of the vacation Hubby and I are starting a week from today, I ordered the complete 15 piece accessory kit for my Kindle. I will have 3 kinds of adapters, 2 carrying cases, a portable lamp, two skins to protect the screen and case -- and I can't remember all what else. Hubby and I are going to spend two weeks on Chesapeake Bay with the Houston contingent of the family -- and Hubby's oldest brother from Philly. My Kindle will be able to travel safely.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reclaiming a piece of my past

Hubby and I looked around our house and decided it was time to get rid of things that might have some value but we didn't enjoy, look at, or have family to inherit. We tried selling things on eBay and found that it cost us more in eBay and PayPal fees and FED EX shipping costs than it was worth -- plus we have a local jewelry shop we really like and the guy is so honest . . . and so he bought a lot of our "saved" valuables.

I had a collection of little bags of gold rings -- all which I had removed the stones from eons ago and had made into designer jewelry. We had just stored these empty husks in a drawer, thinking they were pretty darned worthless. Well, they weren't. Gold is at such a high cost that these ugly old ring casings made quite a pretty penny. Hubby had a bunch of collector coins -- he'd been hiding coins away for over 50 years. Those brought a nice return also. Finally, we had some jewelry that nobody we knew would ever wear -- and that brought the best return of all.

In gathering up all the things we never looked at and didn't appreciate on any level other than to tell ourselves that someday we could sell them and make some money, I found my lovely wedding bands and the pretty rings Hubby had gifted me with through the years. Nearly everything was too small -- some way too small -- for me to wear comfortably.

So along with the sales, we had all my old rings resized to fit arthritic, fat fingers. When the rings came back I was astonished at just how lovely they were. Twenty or so years ago Mother sent me her engagement ring, my grandmother's engagement and wedding rings, and my great aunts engagement rings. Hubby had given me a modern wedding set (two rings) back in the early 80's. I had taken all these rings into a designer store and had them create me a lovely set of three wedding bands -- but then age and weight took their toll and I could no longer wear them.

This week all the rings came back re-sized and cleaned up. I'm so pleased. We had sold enough "stuff" to have a nice vacation in July -- and I have a lovely set of rings that are now big enough for me to wear for the rest of my life (we sized up instead of to fit -- everything's just a little big so swelling and meds and arthritis and weight should no longer be a problem).

The bottom ring is my grandmother's wedding band. She wore it from 1916 until her death in 1963. The middle wide band was designed because all the diamonds are very different colored. The diamond in it on the left was my mother's. The two middle diamonds belonged to my great Aunt Frances, grandmother's sister. The diamond on the right was my grandmother's. The top band was made from the diamonds in the set Hubby gave me in the 1980's. Each ring has special meaning and I will now be able to wear them with great pleasure. Our little selling spree was quite successful and a piece of my history that I cherish has been restored.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Our newspaper, The Kansas City Star, published this sad obit today:

I thought I would be okay about the closing since I knew it was coming but when I read about the dismantling of the symbols of the church, my heart just broke.

We did not attend the final service because I knew that my attitude was not in the right place. I wanted to be spiteful to those people who had finished this grand old lady off and certainly not in a Christian way. I didn't want to act like they had, at least in public.

I hope to keep the happy days Hubby and I spend there in my heart and thoughts but right now I just feel lost and very, very sad.

Almost There!

It's not time to pop the cork yet but the glasses are chilling and the ice is in the freezer.

I'm O N E day away from finishing up the two grad papers I put off until summer.

O N E day.

That day is for the final re-reading to a make sure no gross errors exist and that I covered most of the topics demanded by the rubric.

On Friday I expect I'll deliver the papers to the college center, pop the cork on the carbonated grape juice and collapse in a heap with doggies frolicking in glee that no more curse words and ugly voices are hollering from the computer room.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Each new e-mail brings more news of change and I'm beginning to really get stressed out. I wasn't thrilled about the ending of this school year -- in fact, I began to feel so overwhelmed by my professional community, English, that I chose to withdraw from it and join the social studies community for next year.

After all, my three year collaboration with the social studies teacher was the longest and strongest one in the building. We had actually reached a true c0-teaching status that included daily planning and actually working as professional equals inside the classroom. So it just seemed to make sense, even if I'm not nearly as strong academically in World and American History as I am with literature. I thought this was a very balanced, well-thought out decision and my administration agreed to the change. The vice-principal in charge of the inner-school social studies group was thrilled I was joining her group.

I also knew that my collaborative English partner was resigning, She had twins at the end of the school year and she now has four children under five at home. Of course she needed to resign! She and I hadn't gotten along very well -- she wasn't an easy person to communicate with, though I thought she was a fine teacher. However, the second semester, we really hit divergent paths and our collaboration was actually pretty much non-existent. I hated nearly every English lesson she introduced, most of which I had no idea were coming my way. Her resignation, though, puts me at a distinct disadvantage for English collaboration for the fall semester -- another reason why I though switching professional learning communities was a very good idea.

On my third floor the other SPED teacher finally decided to retire after 47 years in the district -- she's actually a year younger than I am. Sometimes our relationship involved butting heads but I really liked her and respected her commitment to the job. And I could always count on her for the inside "dope" around the school and the district. I will miss our working relationship very much. I hear that the person replacing her, only one year with our district, brings quite a reputation for absence, being difficult to work with, and late to nearly every class / meeting.

At the end of the year, our district SPED head announced she was resigning to take a new job. Frankly, this woman had been a thorn in every side and I think nearly the entire district heaved a sigh of relief to know she was leaving. Of course, it's always out of the frying pan and into the fire, because the next thing we knew, the dreaded functional district SPED head had simply absorbed the collaborative teachers. The district was on a "cost cutting spree." It's the functional curriculum that has been laying me low for the past semester -- I am NOT at all a person cut out to teach life skill classes. And this new woman has a rep that is far worse than the one leaving us.

Then Friday I got the e-mail that my three year collaborative social studies teacher was resigning to take an ESL position with the district. Our three years of working closely and successfully together is over. Also I will not know any of the staff I am supposed to co-teach with next year. Every co-teaching class I'm with will have a "new" teacher, probably new to the district and no idea that they are walking into a classroom that has been designated at "collaborative." Dear god!

Finally, today came the e-mail today that our lead English teacher had resigned to accept a new position -- lead English teacher for the entire district.

Hubby and I have just had the retirement talk, yet again. I look at the economy and I cower with fear. I worry that we simply won't have enough money to make it through another 30 years. If I could just make it five more years, I could nearly double our retirement funds (we're socking it away hard and fast but the stock market and economy is doing us no favors here). It's just that physically and mentally I don't think I can take much more of these changes.

Hopefully every problem I'm envisioning for the upcoming fall will not be nearly as bad as I fear. I know that as we age we accept change less gracefully and with more trepidation. I know I have resilience. I know I love the kids. I know that Hubby will be supportive -- if his health holds. I know that my friends will continue to support my efforts in the classroom. Now I just have to find a place of serenity to get me through the unknowns of this summer . . . and I've got finish writing these two god-awful papers. Heaven help me!

Monday, June 06, 2011

So Much Harder than Even I Expected

Friday was the first day of summer vacation -- meaning the first day away from the dreaded 5 a.m. "grumbling out of bed" routine and putting on "business casual clothing" and combing my hair. Instead I stayed up Thursday night until 3 a.m. -- and got out of bed at 8 a.m., lolled around without my underwear, and ate when the mood struck me. I designated myself a three day weekend before I even began to tackled the "paper writing hell" that awaited me on Monday.

I must admit though, if I thought about the papers ahead of me, my stomach churned and my heart raced and my brain said, "Ho! Ho! You KNEW it would catch up to you!"

This morning I stumbled out of bed at 9 a.m. after finishing a Kindle novel and reading the KC Star on the Kindle. I swallowed the blood pressure meds and two strong aspirin "just in case" and opened the file for the most challenging of the papers. And . . . promptly realized I was in deep dodo. I honestly don't know how to do this stuff. I know I sat through an entire semester doing all these webinars about functional learners and strategies for them -- and gagged through almost all of it, swearing I'd never do this stuff.

Here's how bad are the case files for the students I have to write inclusion plans for: one 15 year old (in the 6th grade) had to have eye drops at 7 a.m. 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The only way to get him to lie still and take the eye drops was to pretend the drops were a train and go "choo choo choo" as you put them in. That was just one of his problems. Another uses picture language to communicate because she's bi-lingual at home and her teachers claim they can't understand her.

How in the world do parents, clinicians, teachers, paraprofessionals, home care providers cope with all this?

I could not. Ever. I know that's probably a deficit in me. But I was never cut out to do this kind of work and I don't want to waste my time at this stage in my life pretending that I can / could / or even know how.

So . . . since I had already chatted with the prof for permission to elevate the students I had to plan for to high school level -- I put them all in MY high school, explained the building and our scheduling in an introduction -- and dropped the poor "choo choo" kid from the program, even though that was discrimination. Poor kid couldn't cope with our five story building with no elevators under any circumstances and I didn't want to figure out how to make it happen. I decided to let the chips fall where they may.

This means I only have four students to schedule and write lesson plans for. It's cheating, I know. But at least I'm recognizing the limitations facing some kids -- and where they should not be placed. Maybe I'll get some credit for that. And maybe not.

I'm studying the rubric for the paper closely -- if I can pull a B on the paper, I'm just fine with that. I'm actually figuring out what portions of the paper I can either avoid or skim over. I've got two weeks to figure this plan out (internal schedule that I set). The one after this one is not nearly so hard (fingers crossed) and I've given myself a week for that one.

If Rumpelstiltskin showed up about now, I'd have to think hard about trading something dear for two completed papers.

Friday, June 03, 2011


1883 - 2011

Word came this week that the only church I've ever given my heart to will be closing its doors on June 19.

Hubby and I haven't attended the church for the past year and half -- a new minister, a new church direction, a congregation that no longer spoke to our spiritual needs caused us . . . and clearly many others . . . to leave.

Since 1883 this church has dutifully and prayerfully served that northeast section of Kansas City. The last two years of its life, the United Methodist ministry stole the heart from it -- but that can only happen if the congregants allow it to happen.

Two years ago my heart would have been breaking. Today I'm just sad that one more piece of Kansas City history has fallen away.