Friday, November 13, 2015

Not Like That!

Benny is a five-year old with charisma. The girls in the class just adore him. One of them is pressing him for a commitment, telling him that their relationship is "meant to be" and that she intends to marry him. They sit together on the classroom rug. She holds his arm and looks at him adoringly while he tries to act cool and not too interested. Benny tells his parents that many girls like him and that it is "so hard to choose." His "meant to be" girl decided yesterday that she and Benny needed to sit next to each other during snack. Staking claim, she pecked him on the cheek and one of our classroom assistants reminded her that she should keep her lips to herself. "But I LIKE him," she replied, quite upset at being challenged. She and Benny are, after all, "meant to be." Exasperated, Benny spoke up. "She likes me," to which the assistant replied, "Well… it is nice to have people like us. It makes us all happy." Benny shook his head. "She likes me the way my mom likes my dad and I don't like it!"

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Arrows from the Heart~

When I was very young, I lived with my grandparents in Highland Park. Grampy was an L.A. City Firefighter; in his spare time he was a woodworker. He often made me toys - my favorites were arrows that he notched out of old shingles. He gave me a stick with a piece of knotted string attached to it. The knot fit into the notch of the arrow and I would fling it around the backyard, cautious not to "put anybody's eye out." Eventually, I flung the arrow over the fence and into the tall weeds behind the neighbor's yard. Grampy would notch some more arrows and the pattern continued. Losing Grampy in 1976 was my first real experience with gut-wrenching grief. The loss was unimaginable. In later years I would lament that I never really had the opportunity to talk with him as an adult, to properly relate to him how very much he meant to me. The recent sale of my grandparents' house got me to thinking about those lost arrows and the comfort of sawdust and a table saw in Grampy's garage. In recent weeks I find myself grieving the loss of my other grandfather. My maternal grandfather. A man I saw once as a young adult. I was told by my father my grandmother that this man, Russell, loved me and came to visit me when I was a baby. Nonie said he sat by my crib. I must have sensed that. I was given little morsels of information about him before the subject was forever changed. Why, oh why, would this loss, this grief, rear its head now? Where was it before? It was a "shame," it was "unfortunate," it was "too bad." But it wasn't real grief. Then suddenly, I am running along this mountain path with tears, real tears, welling up in my eyes and I am missing somebody, a grandfather, I never knew. I had to muster courage to ask questions. I messaged Scott, who is my brother in the same genetic sense that Susan is my sister. We share a parent. We don't share experience. I lament this. How he feels about it I do not know. I asked him about Russell and then I went to sleep. I tend to have many recurrent dreams. One of the dream-locations is my grandparents' house in Highland Park. In the dream, I am there with my friend Ana and we are searching for a hanger for her blouse. (Dreams are strange.) In front of Grampy's garage is a pile of wood. The neighbors are next door and speaking in Spanish. I think, Ana will know what they are saying. In front of the doors of the garage, underneath some of the wood, I find some arrows. These are fashioned from the creamy white sticks I see on my mountain hikes. They are long, slender, and curvy. There are no notches but they are decorated with bright paint and beautiful feathers. They are exquisite and delicately carved. I gather them up, as if they are a gift. I am overcome. Then, Ana and I are on a speedboat. Such are the quirks of dreams. In the morning I read the message from Scott. He corroborates what little I know and he speaks lovingly of this man, his grandfather. He tells me that Russell liked to shoot with a bow and arrow. I stare at this. I read the message over and over again and I want to cry. I have a story, I think. It is a good story. I want to tell you. It is about arrows. Beautiful arrows, hand-made and colorful. Longer than Grampy's arrows, painstakingly decorated. It is a story about family, about love, about mistakes, about loss. It is a story about my grandfathers. In mythology, in old stories, arrows pierce the heart. In my story, the lift it up and I try not to lose them in the weeds.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Chicken Wire~

The funniest joke I ever heard was about a chicken on the freeway. I laughed so hard I ended up forwarding it to everybody in my address book. Only... I can't remember it. Chickens are like that. They are ubiquitous and we are entertained by them, but we don't consider chickens too much. Or, at least, we don't recall the salient details of funny chicken jokes. Today I was talking with my kindergarteners about compost bins. I was drawing diagrams on the board and mentioned "hardware cloth" and "chicken wire." Explaining chicken wire isn't so easy because you have to ensure that the kids understand "wire" and why it is favorable to use "wire that allows ventilation" instead of just leaving it open or just creating slats that may or may not allow vermin into the compost bin. Then you have to explain 'vermin.' But, before I could explain "chicken wire," Alexandra asks, "Chicken wire? They use chickens to make wire?" I laughed out loud and this, of course, made Alex indignant. "How many chickens do they use," she demands. Now, my evil twin would have blandly replied that they don't use that many, but the easiest explanation seemed to suffice. But visions of chicken parts sacrificed for compost bin wire dance in my head.

A tree falls in Indiana

Sometime in the mid-to-late 19th century, a young boy named Fielding was born into a farm family with at least 8 children. He was the youngest; his brother Lewis was a couple years older. Before he was 14, Fielding was an orphan, earning his keep on another Indiana dirt farm worked by the husband of his sister, Nancy. What he thought about or what he knew is lost to the ages - at some point, he and Lewis set out on their own. In 18__, Fielding married Elizabeth Wainscott. The marriage record calls her "Betty Winscott," but this isn't unusual since many folks in that region of the midwest at that time were barely literate. The area was filled with Earls, Wainscotts, and Jameses - they intermarried and gave their children the same family names. Betty died young after giving birth to Fielding's only son, James Milton Earl, known to his friends and family as Milton. My dad called him "Bampa." Fielding did remarry - Josephine Boarders became Milton's stepmother in 18___. The disconcerting end to Fielding's life occurred in his 30th year. He was, according to Mabel, my great-grandmother, walking behind the house whistling. The death record indicates he was crushed by a falling tree. The whistling, she reported, stopped abruptly. Everyone has stories. Not knowing them is like an abrupt ending.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Maybe using the term 'tirade' is a bit strong, but after spending almost 10 minutes attempting to access my own blog, I am a bit ticked-off. This whole "google" thing is supposed to be simple, free, and easy, but I have yet to experience the "easy." Turns out that all I had to do was logout of the Gmail account I never use and login the good old-fashioned way, but who knew? It certainly wasn't intuitive. The tirade is supposed to be about all the technology in my life that has screwed up in one way or another. But I got sidetracked with attempting to access my own blog, which ratcheted up my stress level and sent all my writerly impulses flying into oblivion. That's how it is with writing - you have it, but if you don't act upon it, it goes away. This morning I texted Laura, the school's front office manager. She knows somebody who doesn't speak any English but can fix computers. He's like a miracle worker - people light candles at church for him because he can repair the impossible. Of course, the not speaking English part required Laura to ask me what was wrong with my desktop PC and one thing led to another. Laura: Well, give me an overview of what is wrong with your computer and I can relay it to him. Me: Well, last week it started revving up like a car engine. I thought it was going to explode because it just kept revving and revving. I manually shut it down out of sheer terror because I don't want shrapnel all over the room. Laura: Okay. Me: I gave it a couple of days to calm down and get over whatever issues were driving this behavior. When I turned it back on, all was well. Everything worked fine. Then, I got home on Wednesday and Dan said something like, I don't want to alarm you or anything.... I knew it wasn't good. He found the Black Screen of DOS when he turned the computer on earlier. When he followed the limited prompts, he got a pseudo-Windows screen and then (DEAR-GAWD) the Blue Screen of Death. To say I was annoyed is an understatement because the last time he used the computer he managed to contract the FBI Virus, all while claiming he just went to the bowling alley's website to look up stats for his bowling league. Sure, I thought to myself, SURE. He probably clicked on some flashing thing and subjected the PC to techno-mayhem. I solved that problem myself. God Bless Malware Bytes! Laura: Oh dear. I hope he can fix it! Me: Me too! The school Macbook has a funny rattle and I can't get a DVD or CD into the slot - it pokes out and then ejects. I don't want any more computer difficulties. Laura: Uh oh. Me: I know. No bueno. Laura: Si! I will call and leave him a message. Me: Thanks, Laura. I can use the Macbook otherwise, but I need to print and the printer is attached to the ailing PC. I used to have a classroom printer that also took photocopies and I really liked it. But then it stopped working and only shot out paper with mean gray streaks on it. So I have to print at home. But the printer bitches at me constantly about wanting more ink. MORE INK! MORE INK! As soon as I satisfy one need it starts barking about another need. Sheesh. It is a needy printer. Laura: Oh! Me: I bring this up only because I need to use the CD thing (or DVD thing, whatever it is called these days) to make podcasts of books on audio. I am yanking out the computers in my classroom because I cannot use them - no bandwidth and no way to get past the screen that demands an administrator's login. Only the administrators don't know the login. So, out they come and in goes the Listening Center. Except now I can't make CDs for the "listening" portion of the "listening center." Laura: You are making me cry! Me: I also own a cute little red Dell laptop but the external CD thing stopped working one day, about the same time as the computer's wireless capability. Since I needed the computer to complete the 8-step attendance process, this was an issue. Laura: What happened to the wireless? Me: I had it on a table at school. Sammy spilled his drink on it. He apologized. But the wireless never got over the damage. I bought an external wireless when Staples said they couldn't repair it, but that only lasted a good month. TRY to keep track of a small little protrusion that sticks out of your laptop. I didn't lose it, but it managed to stop working. Laura: That's awful! Me: I know. I liked that computer. Not that it didn't have its own issues, but still. Laura: You are definitely having techno difficulties! Me: Don't even ASK me about the iPhone. I can get wireless anywhere but my own home with my iPhone. Laura: You're having wireless trouble at home? Me: Oh yes. I had to reboot and uninstall and reinstall the CISCO router thing several times since I got it. Finally, I just bought a NetGear and installed it myself. It took an hour. But, the phone won't talk to it. Laura: Have you tried synching your phone? Me: Well, I let my daughter-in-law use the Macbook to try and update her iPhone 4. Now, my phone won't talk to the laptop. Or iTunes. Or anything Mac. The PC just snorts when I connect the iPhone after synching the iPad. I mean, really - it just does this "guffaw" thing. And my digital camera? I can't get the timer to go off. Laura: I will call the repair guy and see if he can come out tomorrow. I will translate. Me: Thanks Laura. I'm going to make a cup of tea now. Laura: Good. Enjoy. Me: Only thing is... the microwave is making funny noises when it starts up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Land lines and Trimlines~

I was cruising around the web the other day and found the most beautiful red telephone! A deep red, rotary dial, standard telephone, built back in the day by Western Electric. What a beauty! That color! The history! The... dial!

I still have my land line. It rings through on my trusty mustard yellow trimline - a Western Electric bestseller with a rotary dial and spring-curl cord that gets all tangled, despite how many times it isn't used.

We bought the Trimline from Pacific Bell when the phone companies were deregulated. It has been in use since 1976. We probably paid too much for it, but for some reason, I was attached to the fact that it was attached.

The only people who call us on the land line now are telemarketers - and my mother in law. She gets her land line free, since my father in law retired after 45 years with Western Electric. My father retired after 30 years with Pacific Bell, so the sentimental factor is way up there. (She has a cell phone. But she keeps it turned off in order to "save the battery.")

Most businesses I call on this line require a touch tone in order to make selections. It is a weird sort of frustration when you can't make selections so the company "can better serve you." You used to be able to stay on the line and the call would default to an operator, but now you have to give up and go get the cell phone. My kitchen-centered wireless land line is a piece of junk that has never worked right, has lousy sound quality, and must be used while facing east with one leg up in the air, bent at the knee. Don't EVEN try to dial it while the microwave is running. This sorry excuse for a phone also provides extra static - just for kicks and giggles.

The best part of having this rotary-dial phone was when my adult kids were younger and their friends would ask to call home. This was before every child under eight had their own cell phone - "for emergencies only." (Yeah, right.) The perplexed looks on their faces when faced with that rotary dial were worthy of photographs - that I never took. That's a shame since, coupled with the cord, the phone was a real kid-confuser. Do you remember how dirty that cord would get? I mean, how can ONE phone cord get so dirty with only a few people using it? Good old rubbing alcohol!

I remember the first Trimline we had. I was a kid. My dad, the consumate Pacific Telephone "communications consultant," brought one home from work. I loved that dial! It moved while you dialed! How cool was that? It was sleek and so stylish! Ours was a drab olive green, but my mustard model isn't any more attractive as far as colors go. I pleaded during my teen years for a Princess model in deep red, but never to any avail.

Getting rid of the land line is an emotional thing for me. I have a rotary dial wall phone in my garage that belonged to my great-aunt. I would like to hook it up. For that, you need the land line.

What is the price tag for sentimental value these days? I guess family and cultural history can be bought and paid for through a nondescript, mega-corporate entity for $35 a month - in a bundled package.

At least my cell phone is red.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Desert Trash Diaries: Episode 1

I started carrying a bag with me on my walks into the desert because the tree-hugging ecologist in me just can't stand the litter. The haul includes the usual fast food containers and pieces of odd-ball plastic. Water bottle caps, food wrappers, and cigarette packages also show up with regularity. But it is the odd-ball stuff that I find comical. Annoying, but funny. Annoying because I just can't fathom how anybody can just drop their trash and keep on going. I just lack that mindset.

Today's gems include a rope-pull dog toy, a grocery cart wheel, and parts to some car's air conditioning vent. I mean, think about it. An air conditioning vent? Why? And why THERE, of all places, half-buried in mud from recent rain. I picture this scenario:

"Marge, I swear to GAWD if you don't stop complaining about the A/C I am going to rip it off the dashboard!"

With the dog toy, though, I am less sure. It was a perfectly good dog toy and those things aren't cheap.

"Honey, where is Rex's chew toy? You know, the rope thing?"

"In the desert."

"Where you walked him last night?"


"WHY is Rex's chew toy in the desert? That thing set me back eight bucks!"

"I threw it for him but he didn't find it."

"He ALWAYS finds it. What the heck?"

"He couldn't run after it. He was on the leash. There's a leash law, you know!"

My favorite find for today has to be the grocery cart wheel. At some point, it was duct-taped - probably onto the cart. But my question is this: How do you manage to walk away in the dirt with a 3-wheeled grocery cart?"

Maybe it's a stroller wheel. How did THAT go down?

"What's wrong with the stroller?"

"I dunno. He just didn't like that wheel, that's all. So we took it off."

The Lizard That Got Away~

Before I started writing all this stuff down, I used to send eMails that recapped funny experiences to my family and friends. My mentor professor saved them in a folder, but she did not save the one about the lizard.

When I started blogging, my friend Ann told me to include the one about the lizard. She said it was the funniest story ever. In the history of school anecdotes, this one was the best.

My dad was always on my senders' list and he loved my stories. He would write back and say that he had to go retrieve his liver or some other organ that popped out while he was reading, especially, the one about the lizard. My sister remembers the lizard story but no details. Only that, if my dad had still had his spleen, he would have ruptured it when they discussed, by phone, the one about the lizard.

My dad lost his spleen during a high school football injury. It is a good family story, complete with a huge scar and lots of gory details. The fact that the revered spleen is brought up in conjunction with the lizard story only adds to the credibility of its hilarity.

I eMailed Dr. Rodriguez, my mentor professor, to ask her about the lizard story. I asked her if she had saved it. She replied back a few days later that the giant SMACKING sound I might have heard was her head hitting the keyboard as she realized, out of all my school-related stories, she did NOT have the best one - the one about the lizard.

The lizard kids are in high school now. I doubt they remember although a quick message on Facebook might dig up something. All that I recall is that the lizard was a large and fat alligator lizard. He hung out under the bushes along a walkway we had to use to go to lunch. Each day there were lizard shenanigans. One day the kids responded in such a way that I had to write it down.

Somewhere, in time and space, is that story. The one about the lizard.

Adding to the list: Things I never thought I would say in school...

Our classroom has a play kitchen, something I am proud of since it is real wood and has all kinds of delightful accessories. There is play food, pots, pans, dishes, a baby bed, and a poor little baby doll that the girls cuddle and dress, then carefully lay in the baby bed. The boys torture this doll and undress it for some reason known only to child psychologists.

The other afternoon, a group of mixed gender children played uneventfully in the play kitchen until the inevitable conflict arose regarding treatment of the baby doll. Wails came up from the female contingent as the boys shouted and snickered. A glimpse of their conversation led me to put my hands on my teacherly hips and call out to the budding misogynists,

"BOYS! Get the baby out of the microwave!"

Grampy's Yee Haw!

My grandfather loved hunting, fishing, shooting, and camping. An L.A. City Firefighter, he followed the tradition of most firemen and worked a second job doing carpentry from the garage. By the time I knew him, he was "Grampy" and never had anything but a kind word and the abundant love only a grandparent can provide. But by all other accounts, he was a real "man's man." That never prevented him from taking me camping when I was younger, despite the fact that I was a girl - a girl who felt sorry for the worms on his hook and "washed" his fish, effectively letting them go.

I have tried over the years to locate the campground at Glass Creek, up near Mammoth. What I am able to locate does not even begin to match my memory. I can picture the fallen tree trunk, the wide expanse of the campground, Grampy's 1965 Ford Econoline van, and that wonderful creek - a place I would just watch, down on my belly, looking for signs of life. Once I found a small rusty pocketknife on the stream bottom. I retrieved it and proudly brought it back to Grampy, hoping he might find it useful. He exclaimed over my treasure, then put it up and out of the way.

Grampy loved to cook, especially in the van - he had a small cook stove in there. His speciality was chili - loaded with bell peppers and onions, items too strange for my grade-school palate.

One late afternoon, I was by the creek. My father had just driven up, having been to a business conference in San Francisco. Dad was sitting by the tent, enjoying a beer and Grampy was cooking.

All of the sudden, I hear this loud and joyful, "YEE HAW!" from the van. I looked over and started laughing. My dad was smiling.

It is a good memory.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Missing Yosemite Moose

I saw a Ted Talk recently that challenged viewers to keep a record of everything they are grateful for in a journal - 21 days in a row. I am unsure where the magic number of 21 comes from, but the speaker cited "research" and I seem to recall that it takes that long to break a bad habit.

I have some quirky blessings but I must share that I love quirky. I strive to be quirky and avoid being demented or viewed as narcissistic. I also want to avoid weird. Too many bad connotations with that one, especially with spelling. It just never looks right.

I am grateful for a good cup of coffee. It jangles, enervates, and soothes - all at the same time. Add some milk, and voila! Happiness in a cup. But not just any cup. It has to be my aqua green Yosemite Moose coffee cup, with a repaired handle that nobody in my house will confess to damaging. Somebody, somehow, broke the handle of this beloved cup and then repaired it. Like I wouldn't notice. Then they committed conspiracy and hushed it up.

My work cup is a Starbucks travel mug. This mug doesn't leak, which is good when you set down the coffee within the vicinity of children and their feet. This mug replaces the original Starbucks mug - it was a real coffee cup with a flat bottom and sealed tight lid. But I dropped it. It didn't feel right throwing it away. It deserved some kind of roasted coffee bean burial or something.

But back to the Yosemite mug. I have used this mug for years and years. Sometimes I even wash it. One day, I carried it somewhere in the house and set it down. For the next few days, I thought it would turn up. But nothing, zip, zilch, nada. NO Yosemite mug. Dan asked where it was and for a minute I thought he might be messing with me - either he KNEW where it was and was teasing me, or he found it, broke it, and wanted to play innocent. Since the handle was obviously repaired with epoxy (something he actually uses regularly) he is my chief suspect.

Nonetheless, I am grateful for that good cuppa coffee, even if it has to be in a Starbucks "New York" souvenir cup... with an intact handle and beautiful Lady Liberty. I have patriotic devotion to our national statue, but she ain't no Yosemite Moose.

Ducks and Lipstick

For some reason, ducks are a popular topic in the classroom. There are many stories that feature ducks. Ducks as heroes, ducks as workers, ducks driving trucks, ducks using typewriters to get diving boards. You know... the usual duck fare. Ducks are exploited for rhyming sense and the attractiveness of their bills and webbed feet.

In the children's classic, The Chick and the Duckling, a young chick follows and copies the antics of his friend, the duckling. The climax of this tale is when the duck goes swimming and the hapless chick follows suit. Our duckling heroically saves the drowning chick's life, setting up a lifetime of gratitude and guilt, I am sure. The kids always ask about the chick and why she couldn't swim. I always tell them that ducks swim because they have protective oil on their feathers that prevents them from getting wet.

Later stories touch on this issue as well. In The Surprise Family, Mother Chicken, unable to produce her own offspring, adopts some orphaned ducklings. It takes her awhile to realize that her babies are DUCKS, not chicks, so she freaks out when the ducklings wander into the pond to swim. She has to flap helplessly along the side of the pond, squawking her "danger squawk" and pleading with the errant youngsters to return to the comforting folds of her feathers. Again, the kids wonder why the hen cannot swim but many kids remember why and a good discussion ensues.

So the other day, while reading a PELICAN story, of all things, I pointed out that the shore birds have very long legs - to enable deeper wading and to keep their feathers dry. The question came up again: "Why can't the birds get their feathers wet?" The old "oil on the feathers" explanation met with blank stares so I had to come up with an analogy.

"Have you ever used Vaseline on your skin or lips?" I asked. They affirmed that they had, indeed. I explained that it protects skin from moisture, so you don't get chapped lips. Several eyebrows shot up.

"How about lip balm?" I continued. "Those protect your lips from moisture. Has anybody ever used lip balm?"

Several nodded that yes, they had. I prepared to explain why lip balm is similar to the protective coating on duck feathers.

But young kids hook onto tangents and the lip balm subject did not get dropped. So, I asked them if they preferred lip balm or Vaseline, in an effort to steer the explanation back on course.

Rowan, who was trying to stand on his head, slowly replied, "Yeah... lip balm is okay. But I prefer lipstick."

Cat Ears~

You probably don't realize how much math you can do with animal ears, tails, paws, noses, eyes, and horns. With my K-1 kids, I handed out scratch paper with directions like, "3 cats. How many ears," and "11 cats. How many ears?" This is one of those differentiated activities for all math abilities. The kids liked drawing the cats and enthusiastically counted all those ears. The information was shared out and recorded on a T-graph. All went pretty well until I got to Colby, who had been assigned to draw 7 cats.

"How many cats did you have, Colby?" I asked. "SEVEN!" he replied dutifully.

"Okay. Then how many ears do you count with 7 cats?" "THIRTEEN!" he yelled out.

"Thirteen ears? Really, Colby? Check again," I prompted.

"I did," he said.

"There are seven cats. But the last cat only has one ear."

(Thirteen it is.)

Diaperless in Fillmore~

Yesterday, Mable was walking around the place like she owned it - half dressed and armed with the modesty of a 17-month old who knows all and shares it. Since Brandy was working with the plummer, I took Mable out front so I could throw a ball for Ziggy. Mable promptly pees on the sidewalk, steps in it, then delights herself with artistic footprints. Wanting to wash off her feet, I take her inside where she demands freedom, then toddles purposefully into Danny's office. The room with the white carpet and loads of stuff Mable would dearly love to get her hands on for further examination. I ask her if she would like a new diaper. She replies, "NO," with a full head shake. I follow her, just in time for her to pee on the carpet. As I cleaned this up, I asked Mable if she would like a new diaper NOW. She shakes her head and replies, "NO." I look at this precious child who is now vigorously patting the wet spot. "Mable," I say, "We don't pee on the rug. We don't pee on the sidewalk. We pee in the toilet."

Immediately, Mable begins striding purposefully towards the bathroom, where she invites me in, slams the door, then throws open the lid to HER toilet. She sits down and promptly empties all aspects of her digestive tract, with much satisfaction. One small piece of toilet paper is not enough, so she demands more. Then she spends several minutes wiping.

She is reluctant to discard her used toilet tissue, but finally I convince her to throw it in the big toilet, where she promptly flushes and watches her whole toilet session's artwork go down the drain, babbling parting remarks with much enthusiasm.

"So," I say to my pleasantly satisfied baby girl, "How about a new diaper?" She furrows her brow, shakes her head, and says, "NO."

We go to the sink to wash. She demands that I pick her up, which I do, but before I can get her hands under the warm water, Mable sticks her pee pee fingers into my nostrils and babbles something that eerily resembles, "Where's your brain?"