Sunday, December 30, 2007

Seamus Gone Wild: Adventures of the Off-Leash Brown Dog

What is the definition of insanity, anyway? I've heard several times that is repeating a behavior, expecting a different outcome.

Well, that would be me, I guess, although it is difficult to admit publicly that I may just be a bit unbalanced when it comes to the brown dog.

Going back years and years, ALL of my dogs could go off-leash in appropriate hiking areas, away from traffic, cats, and other people. They all learned how to do this quickly and with little trouble. They listened. They came back when they were off on a tangent and called back to the trail.

Even Little Beans, our puppy visitor, could go off-leash. He just followed Augie and Duke.

But not Seamus. My dog with little brain just doesn't get it. He WANTS to go off-leash like the black-and-tans. He WANTS to chase lizards and bunnies into the bushes and come back full of foxtails and cockleburs and a wide doggy-grin. But it never happens because he forgets the "come back" part.

The very first time I lost Seamus I was in tears. He went off the trail at the top of a hill, into the brush like he was on a mission. Augie went in after him and would return every minute or so to reassure me, then go back in, hunting for the brown dog.

When Augie chased him back out to the trail, I swore NEVER AGAIN and didn't - for about 3 months. Then, I rationalized that I really WANT Seamus off-leash because he will get better exercise with all the running they do, be happier because he is unfettered, and (here's the biggie) IT IS EASIER ON ME not to hold a leash.

So, he went off-leash again and was a Good Dog for about 10 minutes. And then he saw a rabbit and all heck broke loose and I couldn't locate him. It was long enough for panic to set in, me calling and calling, and Augie going in looking, and Duke just wanting to GET GOING. I picture mountain lions, dropping temperatures, and big black bears. It is awful.

So, I swore this time NEVER AGAIN. And I stuck to it. But then, I rationalized how much better he was listening at home, really, and how if I work with him, and teach him, he will be a GOOD DOG and stay on the trail.

We were doing a really good job. I praised him each and every time he returned to the trail after a bush tangent. I have him a piece of dog bisquit. I should have known, though. He was on a mission, with that look in his eyes, running a bit further ahead of me than I like. “Seamus!” I called. “Come back!” HA! He just goes faster. No more loping and moping.

But I was calling to no avail – the brown dog took off like a bat out of hell at a fork in the trail. Instead of staying on the well-maintained Pacific Crest, he veered right and went straight up a trail that hasn’t seen clippers or hikers in years. Off I ran. The faster I ran, the faster HE ran. It was a vicious circle. Augie and Duke struggled to stay caught up while Seamus ran like his fur was on fire. I am panting and my lungs are burning. We are going UP a mountain. And the dog just keeps running.

Eventually, after about 20 minutes of “chase,” I knelt down on the road up top and, because God is good, the brown dog came right to me, pleased with himself, fishing for a bisquit.

This was about a year ago and he hasn’t been off-leash again. But he HAS been listening better at home and I began wondering today if maybe, this time, he could do it. I am nothing if not optimistic, right?

Now, Seamus on a hike is a bit like Eeyore. He lopes along with a pained expression on his face and flops down in the shade about every tenth bush. He pants like he’s running a marathon and eventually ends up behind me, which is a very pathetic thing indeed.

So, after an hour of hard hiking, I decided Seamus was tired enough to trust. I unfastened his leash and let him go.

It is always at this point that Seamus turns into a different dog. Loping and moping is replaced by leaping and scrambling. Panting is replaced by exciting yipping and doggy smiling. And, for the first 10 minutes he is a Good Dog. He comes back to the trail when called and accepts praise like it’s his due.

As we run down the trail, I recall the time at Devil’s Punchbowl when I let him off-leash and he promptly ran DOWN a steep incline after a bird. Since we had been hiking awhile, he was tuckered out and REFUSED to move. I had to climb down to get him and then haul his burly butt all the way BACK up. This took thirty minutes, with me pushing him and cursing him and swearing to GOD I would never, ever, let this dog off-leash again.

But Seamus is being good. Until he isn’t good anymore and goes off the side of the trail, into some bushes. And he doesn’t come out. I call and call. Augie goes in looking but comes back alone. Duke begins the anxious pacing, ready to just leave the brown dog if necessary. For Duke, stopping is painful and unnecessary - unless he has to mark a bush. Even that he does mid-pace.

Seamus is gone for 10 minutes, long enough for me to bargain with God and swear I will never, ever, again let this dog off-leash. When he comes back, panting through the bushes on the UP side of the mountain (??), I hitch him up and the spring in his step leaves and his doggy smile is replaced by loping and panting.

This time, I mean it. Really.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bless Your Bloggings.. I mean, Blog Your Blessings!

The hard part about making a Blessings List is that it looks like you are ranking them when you put them in some sort of order. Using numbers, letters, or bullet points, it doesn't matter. It still looks like a ranking. So I shall state for the record that there is no particular order to these blessings. They just ARE.

Family, health, friends, home, reading/writing, teaching, learning, dogs, cats, all other animals, cars, education, computers, coffee, swivel chairs, ice, heat, warm pools in winter, cool pools in summer, trees, plants, soil, vegetables, fruit, Cheezits, soft material, blinky lights, good music, wine, good jokes, nice pictures, details, eclipses, the universe, languages, feathers, and Happy Trails.

Happy Trails are the hiking paths the LowDawgs and I haven't taken yet.

Friday, December 28, 2007

In Praise of the Lovely Brandine~

Her name is really Brandy and somewhere along the line during their college years, she fell in love with my son, who absolutely adores her. They are getting married pretty soon. Dustin calls them Cletus and Brandine and somehow that stuck with me.

There are many things to love about her, not the least of which is the fact that she is a GIRL and I can now buy GIRL CLOTHES after always having to buy GUY CLOTHES for the boys. I am going to have a daughter and this is going to be fun.

I think I spend more money on Brandy than I do on the boys. I just keep seeing things that "look" like Brandy. I can't help it. I am hoping the boys don't notice.

Other things to love about Brandy:

1. She is tenacious. This girl sets her mind to things and doesn't give up. She wanted to go to college but didn't have a scholarship or lottery winnings. So she just packed up her Dad's old Honda and went. She worked her way through school and finished her degree in 5 years. Did I mention she made the Dean's List?

She wanted to learn how to crochet. So, she went to Michael's and picked out a book. She then sat there on the floor for hours, using a crochet hook and some yarn and taught herself how to do it. THEN she made me a lovely scarf that I call my "Brandy Scarf."

She received a book about knitting from her clueless future mother-in-law who SWORE it was knitting that she sat on the floor at Michael's to learn. Did she return the book or throw it on her shelf? NO! She worked THAT NIGHT until 4:30am to teach herself to KNIT and PURL, using the book.

2. She loves animals, all animals. This includes Mufasa, who got lost in the car one day. Instead of just waiting the snake out, she and her friends ripped apart the inside of the car to find the hiding snake. I don't think the upholstery or door panels were ever the same after that. When 'fasa got sick, she took him repeatedly to the vet, spending money she didn't have in order to get him well. Although it wasn't easy, Brandy injected him with vitamins and things he needed to get well. When he died, she grieved.

3. She is a hard-worker.

4. She is smart. Scary-smart. But I am not sure how she is with Jeopardy. If she is better at it than I am, maybe I better not know. I am proud of the fictional big bucks I win every night on Jeopardy.

5. She loves to read but claims she is taking some "time off" since college reading fried her brain. I am waiting to figure out WHAT she likes to read. In fact, I am rubbing my hands together.

6. She loves my son, which isn't hard to do, but she truly LOVES him. I can tell because a mother knows these things.

7. She is a loyal friend. She has many friends and they all love her very much. Most of them drove a long way to our house for the engagement party. A really long way for some of them - and they were all delighted to be here.

8. She has the first tattoo I ever really liked. She thought a lot about it and then only had the outline done. She is "thinking" on the colors and when she decides, she will probably think some more and maybe - maybe - she will have the tattoo colored. She says the colors have to make themselves known and these things take time.

I will have to add to this list as I think of things to add.

In Lieu of a Fiery and Sarcastic Email~

Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a reader from way back and come by it honestly. My nightstand always has a stack of books and you can generally find books, magazines, journals, and other material almost anyplace in my house.

Being enrolled in a doctorate program means lots of professional reading that takes a lot of cognitive energy. The whole point of being in school again is to learn, which just so happens to take place when you READ. Go figure, but I do know what I am talking about here.

So, in the mail last week I receive the Box o' Books from the university for my second class. I only recognize one of the titles and think the others are written by or contributed to by university staff. Since none of them appears particularly enticing, I eMailed the new instructor to ask where I should begin reading.

The first thing she did to tick me off is ignore my eMail for over a week. Maybe I am being sensitive but I think this is a bit rude.

But then she replied - today. Her two paragraphs have pissed me off to the height of pisstivity and it is all I can do, friends, to NOT fire off a nasty and sarcastic response.

She sent this "wagging finger" eMail that is just dripping with TONE. You know what I mean. It is the type of communication that makes you feel dressed down, castigated, disrespected, and patronized. I had flashbacks to grade school - when I was kicked out of my sixth grade class for daring to "read a book" (artfully hidden in the desk, I might add) instead of participating in the "discussion" the teacher wanted to have. Our desks were all pulled into a circle for this purpose. I couldn't see any purpose to this "discussion" and was in the middle of a good book. The teacher actually KICKED ME OUT of class! I don't know which was worse, being forced to sit on a picnic table during the little kids recess or being out there WITHOUT MY BOOK. Then, we had to walk to the office to CALL MY MOTHER, something I got out of when I started crying - in anger more than contrition. But the teacher thought I was sorry and that's all that counted. I still want to track that woman down and ask her about THAT. Kicking a kid out of class for reading - PUHleeeeze. What was this, some 1960s touchy-feely, ultra-progressive yak-yak curriculum? I was reading a BOOK for gawd's sake. In school.

So THIS instructor replies to my very upbeat and friendly eMail with the admonition that I must wait until the class officially starts and that she "appreciates my enthusiasm" but that "this is a process" I must follow.


It is a BAD thing to want to begin the reading for a doctorate-level class? It is WRONG to want to get started on what appears to be a grip-load of reading WHILE I AM OFF school for the next week?

I am failing to understand this response and my anger has flared. My Pavlovian response is to fire off a really nasty and sarcastic eMail that will just drip down the keyboard. I also want to forward this rather bitchy response to the powers that be at the university, demanding to know why I am PAYING to be treated like a recalcitrant child.

Yes, I could begin reading anywhere, but I want to be efficient. The last batch of books - and there were many - were all good but we only read certain chapters out of them. I want to read for understanding - isn't that the whole point? Can you not read better for understanding when you don't have so much of a time constraint?

I am telling you that I am so pissed off I can hardly stand it. I am having to sit on my hands in order to avoid an uncomfortable 18 weeks with an instructor who somehow thinks reading is BAD and got called to task for it by a student whose grade is at her mercy.

Heaven help me. This is taking more will-power than keeping away from the cage of kittens at the pet store. (Cute ones. Cute PLAYING kittens. Adorable SLEEPING kittens, all curled up.)

I think I will leave the house and go cool down at the BOOK STORE. Ha! Then I will come home, pick one of the books and START READING! HA! Then I will send her a PICTURE of me READING.

Double HA!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lost and Found

About a week ago my favorite holiday shirt went missing. It is a long-sleeved tee shirt by the makers of "Life is Good." There is a picture of Jake wearing a Santa hat. He and Rocket are on a snow board, traveling up and over a snow hill. The caption reads: Road Trip.

I love this shirt. I found it on eBay right at Thanksgiving, while doing my weekly search for the best Jake and Rocket tee shirt of all - the one with Jake and
Rocket hiking up the trail. Can you believe they don't make that one anymore? Unbelievable! The caption reads: Life is Good.

I have worn this shirt a LOT to school and around town this past month. Since it is holiday-themed, this was the week to really take advantage! But I cannot find it
anywhere. Nobody in this house has seen it and Second Son went so far as to MAKE FUN OF IT. This would normally make me suspicious, but he made sure to emphasize that the shirt was not to his liking.

The same thing has happened before. Most recently, it was a tee shirt I got in June Lake. There is a picture of a drunk cowboy, slumped over in the saddle. His dog is
holding the reins, taking him home to safety. The caption reads: Designated Driver.

Before that, it was my trusty navy blue cords, all worn it at just the right places, size 8.

Anyway... I recently wanted to wear THAT shirt but do you think I could find it anywhere? NO! It wasn't in a drawer or any of the usual places shirts in my house hang out.

Before that, it was my hiking socks. Not just a pair - SEVERAL PAIRS of my thick and pricey hiking socks came up missing, including a brand new pair of blue Thorlos.

Since I had hiked with my sister and we tend to buy the same socks for each other for Christmas, I called her and nonchalantly brought up the missing socks. She played completely innocent. So then I had to get more aggressive. I ACCUSED HER, via eMail, of taking my socks and not returning them. She got a little testy with me and swore to God on a stack of holy Bibles that she didn't have them and asked how in HECK one manages to LOSE ALL OF one's hiking socks anyway.

She DID get me a pair last Christmas. Guilty conscience, I was thinking. To shut her up, is what SHE was thinking. (I know this because I know her very, very, well.)

So today, I am cleaning out my closet. Behind some long "teacher" dresses that my colleagues at school would pay me money to get rid of, I found my very old wicker
laundry basket, the one with a missing handle. I have had that basket a LONG time. It came as a set. Only this one remains. The others went missing a long time ago.

On the top of the basket were some khaki pants given to me by a teacher who outgrew them and heard me say that I needed some size 12s and didn't want to go buy them. Well, she came through. There were about 14 pairs of khaki pants without. I got a large bag and started the process of pants-culling. Since I don't wear 12s anymore, I thought I may as well bag them up.

After awhile, I started to reach bottom and was AMAZED to find my Drunken Cowboy with the Dog tee shirt, AND 3 pairs of hiking socks! (Except the blue Thorlos.)

But, no Jake and Rocket holiday tee shirt - anywhere. My grief is escalating.

Bet I get a pair of blue Thorlos this Christmas. The card will read: TOLD you I didn't have them.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Annual Holiday Pageant: A Report from the Trench

This is a report from the trenches, with regard to our Holiday Pageant, created especially for my dear and illustrious Principal:

1. The pageant went beautifully. Nobody was late, nobody forgot anything, and nobody threw up.

2. The Master of Ceremonies was somebody you know and love and has a big mouth. Rumor is she had them rolling in the aisles. Okay, yeah, it was me.

3. Most of the parents arrived on time. The vast majority DID NOT get up to leave when the K-2 portion was over. So much for the idea that space would be created for the Grade 3-5 parents.

4. The B*****S family arrived late, entered the cafeteria with a stroller AND a baby buggy, wife and concubine in tow, and blocked the only entrance door until somebody asked them to move. They did - 2 feet to the right. They were considerate and left the dogs outside.

5. The 5th Grade members of the middle school band were outstanding. Loud applause accompanied the introduction of Mr. Mac and the group. When they arrived for the 2nd performance (Gr. 3-5), the Emcee mistakenly called them the "Challenger Band." She was very loudly corrected by the McM****** men, both of whom were in attendance, arms folded, scowls perfectly in place. Heartening to know they were paying attention.

6. The Grouchy Gramma from H*ll simply could not be appeased with assurances, made generally and otherwise, that the 3rd graders WOULD eventually perform. She barked at the Emcee every single time the poor woman raced back to talk to the custodian about something. When told (again) that they third grade would perform last ("We save the best for last!") she angrily snarled, "WHY?!"

The Emcee, when accosted for the 7th or 8th time, wearily gave up reason and replied soulfully, "It's in the Bible," and patted Gramma on the arm.

7. Only ONE (1) Inebriated and Scantily Clad mother showed up to give the Emcee grief. A non-inebriated and much-embarrassed family member was kind enough to save this woman a seat. In the front row. This proves that blood is thicker than alcohol.

8. The Inebriated and Scantily Clad mother had the Grouchy Gramma beat HANDS DOWN with her repeated requests for information about the status of 3rd Grade. Each and every performing group was mistaken for 3rd grade by this most-proud maternal unit, who stood up to take pictures with a camera phone that had a dead battery. She didn't notice - any of several times she held it up before realizing that her child wasn't there.

("Is this 3rd grade?" she would slur to the Emcee. "No," the most patient Emcee would reply.)

9. The piano player was wonderful and the violin player even better. The CDs all played and we remembered to switch the boombox over to "tape" when it came time for the 2nd Grade to perform.

10. The Powerpoints in the background were a huge hit. They were loaded onto YOUR laptop and currently occupy most of your hardrive. Sorry about that.

11. After several inquiries and TWO (count 'em, TWO) general announcements about the performing status of 3rd grade, the Inebriated and Scantily Clad mother grabbed the Emcee by the sleeve as the Emcee attempted to set up another Powerpoint.

"Where is 3rd grade?" she demanded in her best slurry-speech voice. The Emcee very patiently turned off her microphone, leaned down into inebriated mother's face (gin, I'm guessing), and said sweetly, "Didn't I just announce that?"

12. The entire first row erupted into laughter at the 'taken aback' look on the inebriated mother's face. You gotta hand it to her though. She shot right back, "WELL, SH*T! I am FU*&(#!@G FREEZING HERE!"

13. To her credit, the Emcee did NOT lean down and sweetly reply, "WELL HELL's BELLS! Is it MY FAULT you decided to leave your house this morning at o'dawn thirty in 38 degree weather wearing a skanky tank top, bra straps down to here, tattoos exposed for the world to see, and hip-huggers just a couple sizes too SMALL for your frame, drunk as a freekin' SKUNK at 9:00 in the morning at her child's CHIRISTMAS SHOW?"

14. Instead, the patient Emcee offered her a school sweatshirt. The drunk lady declined. The color was ALL WRONG.

15. Only one Hispanic male, approximately 30-35 years old, with dark hair and an oversized white tee shirt entered the pageant at 10:30 am, exclaimed "HOLY $h**!" and backed out the same way he came in.

16. Only ONE male parental unit had to be spoken to by Officer Mark about his rude and unbecoming behavior when told that, NO, he could not just take his child off the stage risers and LEAVE.

17. Grouchy Gramma, impatient after a minute of photo opportunities for 3rd grade parents, did NOT take any pictures. The fact that 27 parents WERE snapping away mattered not. Instead, she castigated the Emcee for not dismissing the kids RIGHT NOW D&^%$it! so SHE could take her grandchildren home. Despite signing them out, neither of the children wanted to leave with her. In fact, the kindergartener cried and the third grader escaped to the playground. Go figure.

18. You will be proud to note that both of the Instructional Assistants who were challenged to "fight in front of this school" politely declined and then suggested for a SECOND time that these rather annoyed parents sign their children out in the office.

19. A lovely time was had by all - except the office staff. They will be filing for stress-related leave within the next few days. Karen was twitching and Gail had hives. The whereabouts of the attendance clerk could not be ascertained for quite awhile.

20. Officer Mark was flushed from all the excitement.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Missing: One Chihuahua Terrorist

It's been odd these past few mornings, waking up without Bobby wrapped around my neck and leaping from bed in a single bound in order to start his doggy day. It was strange coming home these past few evenings without the chihuahua greeting me with such excitement that he would nip me in the butt if I didn't pet him RIGHT NOW.

This morning Duke was attached to me, following me around the kitchen and watching my every move. I don't know if he misses Bobby, but he is moping around and very subdued since Bobby died. Augie and Seamus are the same way, although neither one of them bothered to get up with me this morning, only Duke.

Sometimes I wonder when people tell me they don't have dogs for just this reason - they don't want to hurt when they die. This makes me consider again the old saying about loving and losing or not loving at all. As bad as it hurt to lose Kody, Max, and now Bobby, I have to say I am richer for having had them in my life.

I love all animals and always have - even though I was never allowed many as a child. Only one cat - Tabatha.

I cried over my first animal story when I was around 8 or 9 and my dad gave me his copy of My Friend Flicka. I remember wailing in abject sorrow when I thought Flicka was dead and my dad yelled from the other room to "just keep reading!"

I read Where the Red Fern GrowsAFTER my 6th grade teacher read it aloud to us. I was in agony and wept bitterly when Big Dan and Little Ann died - and haven't been able to read the story since.

Dogs and cats love you absolutely, without any agenda. They are so guileless and so devoted - how can you not fall completely in love with them and want to give them a happy life?

I had Bobby for such a short time but he was loved enough for a lifetime, I think. I pray that "the cutest puppy in town" knew he was loved and that he mattered in a world where people abandon devoted pets as if they were nothing more than old tires or food wrappers.

I miss Bobby and pray there is a heaven so I can wake up some morning and find him wrapped around my neck, ready to leap off the bed and begin his doggy day.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Ratly Visitor

Here I am on a Thursday night, minding my own beeswax sitting at the computer checking my eMail.

I hear scuffling and clawing in the kitchen. I am used to this, so I don't think too much about it. Dogs will be dogs. They scuffle and claw around in the kitchen.

Then, I hear the barstool moving, as if one of the dogs is trying to climb up. This IS a bit odd, since they prefer the couch.

The barstool continues to move and at least one of the dogs starts barking. Now I am really suspicious and I get up from the computer.

The kitchen light is off when I climb over the baby gate to see what the ruckus is about. I can see that the outlines of all four dogs, attempting to climb on the barstool, which is being moved around the tile floor. The cat is crouched right near the edge of the kitchen island - he is growling. The last time I heard Otis growling was around 1995. So my curiosity is piqued.

I switch on the light.

Dear GAWD in heaven as I sit here typing, perched ON TOP of the barstool back support, balancing on about 1/2 inch slick surface, is a large gray rat.

The dogs are going nuts and the cat is licking his chops, certain that God is Good and cat prayers ARE answered.

Sensing that danger is eminent, the rat is frantically looking for safety. His back is wet - the telltale sign of dog slobber. His tail is mere centimeters away from Augie's jaws and Augie is NOT giving up lightly. The cat is giving Augie the evil eye as he crouches low and begins swishing his tail. He may like Augie most of the time but I think Otis will go to battle for a chance at RAT.

Instinctively, I put my hand out to cup the rat, who scurries up my arm and rests on my shoulder. I reach up and cup him in my hands. I get the sense that he is somebody's pet because he is very docile - frightened but not aggressive.

I am not sure how he got in - I have a feeling one of the dogs got a hold of him. He must have been in the back yard, but how did he get there? Is he somebody's pet? Are they aware he's gone? Since he lacks a collar and tag, it's anybody's guess.

I put him in one of the extra snake enclosures with some water and dry dog and cat food. (I don't know what he prefers.)

Right now, the dogs are on point and burning calories. The cat is languidly spread out on the top of the enclosure - just biding his time. He is none too pleased that Nirvana is less than a foot away. So near and yet so far. (Patience, thy name is CAT.)

The rat is surveying, twitching his whiskers. He has very dark eyes and a very long tail. I think he wants to keep them.

I am going to compose a sign for the local mailboxes:

Missing a Rat?

Do I post a picture or ask the owner to call and describe?

And I STILL haven't checked all my eMail yet.

Bob and the Tomatoes

It is obviously very important that Little Bob not be left unsupervised when I am busy doing other things. As the official "Puppy of the House," he has certain obligations to create as much mischief as one puppy can do in a specific amount of time.

Seamus was nice enough to introduce Bobby to the wonders of the compost heap. This the brown dog did without compensation - just for the love of sharing. Now Little Bob loves the compost heap and visits it often, looking for new treasures.

Yesterday, I brought a vegetable tray for a potluck at school. This morning, I tranferred the leftovers to a plastic bag, except the baby tomatoes.

I do not like tomatoes. I never have. It has caused unending consternation for other people throughout my life and they have always felt compelled - no - obligated to comment upon this aversion. My dad used to offer me money to eat the tomato bits that ended up in my salad. I always declined. (He also offered me money to try escargot a few years back. I also declined.) Whenever I pick them out of anything or order something sans tomatoes, the comments begin. It seems most people have no qualms about voicing opinions in this matter.

So, knowing I would not eat these leftover tomatoes, I took them to the compost heap, where they basked in colorful splendor upon last week's lawn clippings. Then I proceeded to do other things, out of puppy range.

At some point during the next 20 minutes or so, Little Bob got lots of exercise, bringing each and every little tomato back into the house, where he placed them on the family room floor before running back outside for more. I walked into the family room and was greeted with a colorful sight - baby tomatoes in various stages of doggy testing and tasting, as each of the dachshunds gave them a sniff, a small bite, and then moved on to the newest sample Bobby was dutifully providing.

None of the dogs actually wanted to EAT the tomatoes. But the fact that they didn't care for THIS one doesn't mean that they might not care for THAT one - so each one had chew marks. For Little Bob, these were nothing more than little red balls - and Bobby LOVES balls of all shapes and sizes.

Grumbling, I retrieved all the mangled bits of tomato flesh and returned them to the compost pile. I admonished Bobby to "leave them alone" and stood guard until I was sure he was off to another puppy adventure.

But no. Bobby revved up his heartbeat again, retrieving the tomato pieces ONE by ONE. When I caught on to his shenanigans, I stomped into the room. He dutifully ran upstairs with the one currently in his chops, while I retrieved the tomatoes AGAIN. This time I put them into the trash can.

I am unable to locate the one Bobby was hoarding during the last confiscation. The idea of finding it, someday, is less appealing than finding the lizard corpse that I know will be uncovered during some housecleaning binge in the near future.

I wonder if I can offer Dustin money to go look for it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Brownie Scarf

After looking at Paulie's Blog and seeing pictures of the scarves she knitted, I remembered the one and only scarf I ever knitted.

I loved Brownies and was so excited to be in a Brownie troop. My troop number was "44" and I recall it was quite large. I don't know how the troop leaders did it. Girls, girls, everywhere.

My mom gave me 15 cents for my dues and I walked to Karen DeRossett's house after school for the first meeting. Karen was the leader's daughter, but I didn't figure that out right away because my mother told me to give the money to a "Mrs. Dee Rosette." Her instructions were very explicit and woe unto me if I messed them up.

Now, my mom has always had difficulty pronouncing things. To this day, she can't say my last name correctly and I have been married to Dan almost 30 years. But I was 8 years old when I started Brownies and didn't realize yet that mom couldn't pronounce things.

So, I listened politely when this Mrs. DeRossett (DeROSSett)did troop leader things and then asked for the dues. I didn't turn over my 15 cents right away because I had been under strict instructions to give it to Mrs. Dee Rosette. In fact, I think I got in trouble for hoarding the 15 cents. I couldn't win. I didn't realize that Mrs. DeROSSett and Mrs. Dee Rosette were the same person for at least a few years. In fact, I think we were Cadet Girl Scouts when I figured it out. I just silently wondered what happened to the "real" troop leader and at which point did Karen's mother step in?

One of our first projects was knitting. My knitting needles were gold and the yarn I was given was this putrid color of washed out blue/green, a pallid turquoise with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But everyone else had the same yarn so I didn't whine out loud. We were to knit until we had a "square." Then this Mrs. DeROSSett lady would "cast off" and add our "square" to the other squares and make a blanket for the convalescent hospital. (This was the place we had to go and sing at Christmas time. It was scary and smelled bad. I didn't see the knitted blanket anywhere.)

I took to knitting like a cat takes to yarn and just knitted away, night and day. I loved the way the knitting needles tapped together and how each little row made the "square" bigger and bigger. I loved it SO much that I just kept knitting. And knitting. That "square" got longer and longer and longer.

Then I managed to get a hold of some really nice looking burgundy yarn. I am not sure where I found it but I did. I think it was in my gramma's sewing cupboard. I thought it was beautiful. The fact that it didn't match the putrid stuff did not matter at all. Plus, I was almost out of the putrid stuff so I just tied the burgundy stuff onto the putrid stuff and kept knitting. And knitting.

The troop leader asked me for my "square" and I told her that I needed more yarn. This should have clued her in that all was not right with Kim's knitting project, but all she did was hand me another ball of the putrid color. Since there wasn't much of the burgundy yarn left, I just tied another knot and added the putrid color to the burgundy and kept knitting. And knitting. Then I tried purling. Knit one, purl one. Knit one purl... what? Or just keep purling for awhile. Then knit. Then purl.

What emerged from my needles on the day I brought it to be "cast off" was a scarf-looking creation with a fat patch of burgundy towards the end. Some rows were longer than other rows and the leftover yarn from my knots was sticking out like a couple of cowlicks.

To her credit, the Mrs. DeROSSett lady "cast off" my contribution while muttering something to the assistant troop leader, who kept glancing over at me with a sorrowful look. I can hear the click of her knitting needles as I watched my knitting fall away from the gold needles. I can't remember the explanation I got but my "square" was not added to the big blanket that was going to the stinky convalescent home.

I brought the creation home with me and at some point wrapped it up with tissue paper and gave it to my dad. He did NOT look at me sorrowfully at all. He clearly loved the scarf, despite the putrid color, the burgundy patch, and the cowlick knots. He proudly put it on.

Over the years, my father wore that scarf during cold weather, wrapped tightly around his neck, not caring that it was a fashion catastrophe made by a Brownie Girl Scout who, somehow, managed to have the wrong troop leader.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

San Diego to Disneyland...

To say the least, my little Diego has a few "issues." He was diagnosed a couple years ago with Pervasive Development Disorder, which means he MIGHT be autistic but whoever diagnosed him doesn't want to commit. So the umbrella term was used.

Diego is very bright and very funny and has absolutely no impulse control. He just says what he thinks as loudly as possible in a very high pitched voiced designed to grate away on the very last nerve I possess.

Yesterday he was annoyed, as usual, when the music came on and he had to clean up and get ready for our day. He was not mad enough to go scream in the bathroom about it, but he did announce, in no uncertain terms, that he "quit."

When I didn't respond, he added that not only did he "quit," but he "hates school" and "doesn't care."

As soon as I explained our group time activities, he rescinded his resignation from Kindergarten and reevaluated his "I hate school" proclamation. Such is the way of San Diego - who keeps me humble and on my teacherly toes all day long.

Today, Diego came in and very seriously announced to me that he had to talk to me. I said okay, and leaned down to hear him better. "You take me to Disseyland?" he asked, quite earnestly, as if this thought had been brewing around for quite awhile.

To say Diego loves Disneyland is an understatement, like Kobe Bryant "throws a few hoops now and again." Disneyland is the BE ALL END ALL for Diego and he talks about it often. It is his favorite writing topic, especially the "luca luca car," which is a mystery to most of us but we presume it is a ride at Diego's favorite place on Earth.

"Well, Diego... I think that is a family trip," I replied very seriously. "You have to talk to your Papi about that."

He raised his voice and looked surprised. "You can drive Papi's car! You can! You can take me to Dissyland!"

"I'm sorry, Diego - I can't. You should talk to your Papi about this. I am sure he will take you again."

"No, no!" Diego protested. "You can drive Papi's car! You talk to him! You can DO IT! You can DO IT!"

When he excitedly reassures me that, yes, I "can do it!" he sounds eerily like a Lamaze coach.

Knowing I had to get him off this topic and soon, I tried to reassure Diego that I would talk to his father about Disneyland and warn the man that Diego is being a bit liberal with the car keys.

Throughout the morning, Diego returned to the subject of Disneyland and his insistence that I not only take HIM, but the entire class.

"Who wants to go to Disseyland? Who wants to go on the luca luca car," he shouted with the zest and zeal of a Texas cheerleader.

"I do! I do!" the class would respond each and every time he offered. As if he had the power to offer such a thing. But such is the mind of a Kindergarten child.

During rug time, Diego resumed the Disneyland discussion, to show me that the whole class really wants to go so the LEAST I could do is take them - in Papi's car.

"Diego," I said steadily, "it is story time. I need to read this story. You need to be quiet now. And sit down."

"But I want to go to Disseyland!"

"Yes, Diego, I know you do. But we have to go to school today. Not Disneyland. Please sit down and listen."

He looks deflated and huffs out a long sorry breath. Then he sits down. Then he bings back up and throws both his arms up in the air and shouts, "Who wants to ride the luca luca car?"

This time most of the class is quiet, except Raymond who seems to think Diego can get them all OFF the rug, into Papi's car, and POOF! Instantly to Disneyland. It doesn't matter how many times I've reiterated that we are NOT going - Raymond looks ready to go pack up.

"Diego. Honey. We are not going to Disneyland. Sit down now. Sit down and listen. Listen to me. I am going to read."

Again, he deflates and sits down. His disappointment is palpable and he starts rubbing his fingers on the carpet, humming under his breath.

I hold up the book and begin to read.

From Diego's corner of the rug comes a softer version of his voice: "The luca luca car?"

I put the book down. I take a deep breath. I say the Hail Mary even though I am not Catholic.

"Diego. Let. me. read."


He puts his head down between his knees. The injustices of the world are falling all around him. This is not what he signed up for. Maybe he is thinking he should "quit" again. But he is quiet and I hold up the book again.

I start to read. I make it past the very first word.

Diego's head shoots up from between his knees and he doesn't miss a beat.

"Once upon a time," Diego says loudly...."WE WENT TO DISNEYLAND!!"

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Dog Ate My Homework. No, really!

This is Little Bob. To say that he gets into mischief is like saying Dale Earnhardt liked to drive fast.

This newest additon to our pack is lovingly referred to as a chihuahua-terrorist because nothing is safe from his puppy jaws. He has chewed on books, shoes, backpack straps, clothing, rugs, furniture legs, and various yard items he "finds" and brings inside to work on.

He may look cute but he is in BIG BIG trouble.

Sleeping Bags

Despite a plethora of appropriate and comfortable sleeping locations throughout the house, Otis chooses to sleep on a pile of plastic bags.

Occasional movement reassures me that he is not going to get bedsores.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Two eMail Tails

Today I received two eMails from Walden University. (Well, really, it was three, if you want to count the 50th time they eMailed me about the Student Satisfaction Survey - which I won't fill out because I have been in class for exactly 6 weeks now. Hard to claim satisfaction or dissatisfaction.)

The first message said that there is a "credit balance" on my account. They don't "do" credit balances. It just isn't proper. I must contact them RIGHT AWAY. I will have to authorize it, signing in blood and sending a urine sample to verify competency to authorize such a thing. Credit balances are apparently very serious things at Walden University. Who knew?

The next eMail states that my newest tuition bill is ready to view and pay. You can almost hear the cyber-licking of chops in anticipation of a payment that rivals only my mortgage in size and pain. You can almost sense, over the cyber-waves, the glee and delight that accompanies these eMails every month. "Mo' money, mo' money, mo' money!"

So please tell me what is wrong with this scenario. I am going to guess that it is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is up to these days.

If you hit "reply" it goes deep into cyberspace and nobody but God will ever know that you responded. And God couldn't care less about my tuition bill, no matter how large or how painful. Go figure.

If you eMail to ask somebody about it, you will get an "automated response" that is generated whenever these types of questions enter the university's eMail system. The automated response will depend entirely upon the time of day you send it and what color font you choose.

I am in a doctorate program, an endeavor notorious for NOT being cheap. There are people with Ph.Ds all over the world who swear to God they will be dead by the time the outstanding tuition is ever paid off. This is why they buy life insurance - so decendents won't be stuck with the cost of the last year and a half of law school - or whatever. The kicker is that because Sallie Mae - the government -- knows you owe money, adds to the stress level. I am sure there are doctorate people all over the place with elevated blood pressure and premature death rates because of this. But I digress.

How in HELL anybody can have a CREDIT balance when the outstanding bill is as much as the cost of my childhood home is beyond me. My parents paid $20K for a house in Burbank in 1964. They made a whopping $5K in profit when they sold it in 1970. My dad's 1967 royal blue Ford Mustang cost less than those capital gains. But I digress.

I have made 3 payments to date. The first one started before I was ever enrolled in a class - because of the time of month I signed up. The financial aid lady was so apologetic about that. Had I waited a week or so, I wouldn't have had to make that payment. The lesson was to NOT set up your payment plan before they are ready for you to do so. It is best to wait until they start sending out the "collector" after you. Being diligent and setting up early deserves retribution because, as the saying goes, No Good Deed EVER Goes Unpunished.

They don't tell you this in the initial courting phase of the program. This is because they want you to think it is nice and cheap and relatively painless. "Relatively" is the loaded adjective here. Parting with this money every month hurts almost as much as my cesearean sections. In case you are not familiar with that kind of surgery let me explain. A doctor cuts through your abdomen and uterus with a sharp object. Then he sticks half his body into your most private areas, yanks and tugs and pulls with the force of a wrestling match, and emerges victorious with an infant. Then he sews and staples you back up. The UP side is that you get opiates. With Walden tuitoin payments, you get more reading. And huge papers that are due often enough to make me think you are going to have to WORK for this. Go figure.

Walden University is very helpful with the "people to contact" department. There are concierges, academic advisors, instructors, janitors, and Sallie Mae people. The latter tend to be a bit nerve-wracking since they are technically part of the government - people who pay $812 for a toilet seat. But I digress.

Then there is Kathryn. She sends reassuring eMails that preach non-violence and the benefits of Zen and yoga. In a pinch, you have your Walden cohorts - always good for a laugh and healthy commiseration. Usually they just advise wine and a good night's sleep.

But just TRY to get a straight answer to an automatically-generated eMail that has a link with a URL the size of a juvenile gopher snake. I am thinking I might just wait this one out and see if what happens. It's a cyber tug-o-war!

A small explosion might be nice.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Nit picking or picking nits?

I spent all day Saturday and Sunday crafting my Doctoral Development Plan. Or Dissertation Development Plan. It's named one of those and goes by the acronmym "DDP." It sounds like pesticide or something.

I have to keep looking at the instructions. There are two sets of them. They don't say exactly the same thing but it must be the university's way of making sure you are paying attention.

So I am perusing the ever-so-helpful APA guide the instructor posted online. This is a good thing since the APA (American Psychological Association)Manual is written in Greek by some guy wearing a pocket protector holed up in his rented room somewhere in New Jersey. APA is a GAWD-awful format that was invented by a sadist. After spending hours and hours crafting and editing this piece, I check the sadist's checklist again only to discover that I am to talk about myself, my goals, my experiences... without using "I" ? Do I talk about myself in the 3rd person like Queen Victoria? Don't people with severe mental problems talk about themselves in the 3rd person?

And what about the elimination of double spacing after punctuation? Hello? Is this not one of the most ingrained practices of keyboarding people everywhere? Was it not pounded into our heads and fingers during the days we slouched over the finger-scraping Royal Manual Typewriters that you are to hit the space bar TWICE after each and every punctuation mark? Or risk an F? Or a smack on the hand?

I have been typing since high school, when hip-huggers were in style the first time. I have earned degrees, written casually and formally, professionally and personally, and in COPIOUS amounts over the years. NOW I find out that I am, according to the APA, to "eliminate" double spacing after punctuation? Does this EVEN make sense? Is this an experiment to show how people who have typed regularly for over 30 years are supposed to break an ingrained habit?

The person who dictates these things for the APA has entirely TOO MUCH TIME ON HIS HANDS. I am thinking that this person desperately NEEDS the help of the APA with his severe anal-retentiveness. (That and coming out of hidey-hole in New Jersey, where he picks the wings off flies and organizes his cupboards using expiration dates.)

I SO enjoy spending time eliminating extra spaces.

It reminds me of picking nits out of a kid's hair.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hell-Bound: "Because I said."

Most of you are aware that I have a very special class this year. It is even MORE special than the class I had last year. I seem to get the special classes every year. How I manage this I do not know. It's like I lost a bet with God or something.

There are days when stars align just right and ALL of my "issue" children will act up at the same time. That would have been yesterday. Then there are days that some "issue" children lay lower than usual and one or two get to shine and show off their talents. Today would have been that day.

Today, the stars only aligned partially and they took turns having meltdowns, temper tantrums, kick boxing matches, and other problems. I guess I am making progress in that regard. It is GOOD to take turns. If they could take turns with tricycles, I could get the trikes out of the shed again. (Sigh.)

One of my boys was in rare form today. This was the day he needed to rock, repeat phrases, talk to himself, and periodically scream out loud. No, he never answers himself, but this is because he can't get a word in edgewise. His weekly allocated "bathroom screaming fit" ("I AM ANGRY! I AM ANGRY! I AM ANGRY....!") occurred on Monday, so I didn't need to worry about THAT one. Today being Thursday and all.

So he gets louder and louder as the day progresses. At 10:50 we gathered on the rug for our Math Lesson - using clipboards. This was very exciting. We are learning procedures for passing things out and I quietly gave jobs to several students. He began calling out, "What about ME? What about ME? What about ME?" This continued until everything was passed out.

A few minutes later I realized that one of the kids was missing a pencil and asked a middle school helper to get her one. Immediately, D began caterwauling, "Pick ME! Pick ME! Pick ME! Pick ME! Pick ME! Pick ME! Pick ME!"

The children next to him began covering their ears and diving between their knees.

So help me, friends, I know I am going to Hell. I KNOW that messing with a borderline autistic kid is wrong on so many levels. I KNOW that it is NEVER good to mess with such a kid. But you have to understand that I have HAD IT UP TO HERE at this point, my stomach is really gurgling and growling and cramping up, my one last nerve is quivering in the corner, and I need a haircut. And this behavior is just one more in a string of behaviors that are turning my gray hair whiter by the minute.

So there he goes. "Pick ME! Pick ME! Pick ME!"

I looked at him. I opened my mouth. And I asked the question.

"Why?" I deadpanned.

The class went silent, looking at him expectantly (except for the two now smacking each other with clipboards. And the two trying to find the tonsils of a third one. And the one who has pulled all the pennies out of his pocket and is spreading them out on the floor).

He didn't miss a beat. "Pick ME! Pick ME! ..... BECAUSE I SAID."

I stayed quiet.


The newly arrived pencil is handed to the pencil-less child and D immediately notices that it is shorter than all the others. This makes it attractive.


And I did it again.

"I want to lose 20 pounds! I want to lose 20 pounds! I want to lose 20 pounds!"

"I WANT IT! I WANT IT! I WANT IT!" (My weight loss issues apparently do not concern him.)

"I want it too! I want it too! I have a stack of pants I can't get into!" (Good lord, I think the devil is sharpening his pitchfork.)

I started the math lesson anyway. It was about ordinal numbers. I had 4 of the children closest to me stand up to demonstrate who is standing first, second, third, and fourth.


I reached down to the very core of my being and gathered the strength and enthusiasm to continue the lesson, despite the screaming, caterwauling, clipboard fighting, penny counting, and the one nerve jangling in the corner. We used math language. We practiced. We used more math language. We completed the practice sheet together. We followed procedures.

The lesson goes well. But then Jason, the class Police Officer and Arbitor of All That is Wrong, shouts out, "TEACHER! D and A traded pencils! They traded pencils!" The tone of voice he uses suggest they might have slit their fingers, exchanged blood, and swore an oath to be blood brothers or something.

So now I am thinking that I am not only going to hell but that the flames will eternally lick my feet.

I put my hands to my face in mock shock and hysteria. I take on the countenance of a shocked and crazy person. This isn't hard to do.

"OH MY GOODNESS! NO! NO! They TRADED PENCILS? Dear Lord in heaven... they traded pencils!"
The children begin laughing. My mock-hysteria comes off as funny to them. Go figure.

They laugh. I continue the lesson. We finish. All is well.

Until the end when we are cleaning up.

There D sits, rocking back and forth on the rug, long past the "pick me!" frenzy and now muttering quietly to himself, as he holds his head in the perfect mirror image of his hell-bound teacher, "I traded the pencil. I traded the pencil. Oh my goodness. I traded the pencil."

I had to carefully pick up the quivering nerve and put in in a lined shoebox. Maybe I can take it with me to the bowels of hell.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

How to Slide Face-First Down the Steep Learning Curve: In 25 EASY Steps!

1. Sign on early and often to your first online doctorate class. Spend 2 hours cruising around the site, become overwhelmed, and log off.

2. Pull out course readings and begin to read. Read for hours straight without coming up for air. Discover with alarm that the book you spent weeks trying to navigate in an attempt to be really prepared isn't even assigned. Yet.

3. Re-read course readings and eMail friends about them. Bore them to tears with quotes and ruminations and endless ramblings about some German philosopher named Habermas.

4. Log in to course homepage at least 50 times over the span of several days, forcing yourself to read everything and then printing it out "just in case."

5. Blow a printer cartridge printing everything out "just in case."

6. Assume that the "focus" points at the end of each reading assignment on the computer screen is to use for the first assignment - the Digital Journal, which will be used as a writing sample and your first grade.

7. Spend at least 4 anxiety-filled hours after a hellish day at school writing a well-crafted and tightly compacted essay that links the 3 main ideas of the readings into a drop-dead fantastic essay - complete with A.P.A. references.

8. Realize that this essay should have taken 8 minutes and silently curse the inventor of the A.P.A. format.

9. Be an overachiever and cite at least 5 references instead of the required ONE reference - "just in case." Make sure one isn't even from the readings.

10. Happily submit the paper EARLY to the instructor's drop box - BEFORE proof-reading it. (Practice spelling "pos i tive" for at least 5 minutes.) Then submit
the same paper to the discussion board for your peers.

11. Log in to the course the next day to find several entries to the discussion board. Snicker to yourself very smugly that THOSE entries are all "fluff" and YOURS in well-written and professional. Pat self on back for remembering not to use "I" in the essay.

12. Log in to course the next day to find that everybody's entry is "fluff" and that NOBODY has commented about your well-crafted essay. Sulk.

13. Realize with an "I coulda had a V-8" head-smacking moment that something is terribly wrong. Go back and hunt down the instructions - the ones you SWORE you read.

14. Gasp in horror as you realize that YOU did not follow the directions. Make sure you do this at school during lunch time so there is NO possiblity of remedying this error right away.

15. Tell NOBODY about this error. Wallow in horror for the six hours it takes for the school day to end and repairs to be made.

16. Email instructor and eat crow. Admit mistake. Promise better diligence. Ask for permission to re-post since assignment is still not technically due yet.

17. Receive absolution ("Dear Kim... No Worries!!.....the first few weeks have a steep learning curve.")

18. Get up early and finely craft the real assignment. Make it witty and full of examples and cite ONE source so as not to court arrogance. Throw in reference to ProfReading Board and Ellin Keene and the professional conversation, "just in case."

19. Proofread entry and then submit to instructor's drop box and the discussion board. Breath sigh of relief.

20. Realize in horror that you FORGOT TO INCLUDE THE WORKS CITED PAGE as required in the instructions.

21. Email instructor again from under the desk. Use words like "flabbergasted," "appalled," and include something about "not being worthy". Congratulate self for being able to type from the under the desk.

22. Resubmit corrected version. Begin lighting candles to the Patron Saint of Doctorate Studies.

23. Nurse bruised ego as you ponder the reality of the Steep Learning Curve - which is liberally coated with slick and slippery stuff that oozes and stinks.

24. Return to discussion board and liberally praise each and every "puff" piece and follow the directions to the letter ('add your opinion,' 'cite an experience,' ask a
clarifying question', etc.)

25. Take long hot shower to rid self of slick and slippery stuff from the Steep Learning Curve. Pay close attention to nose and facial area.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Vocabulary in the Schoen Book: Nice to Know

I have successfully navigated Part I. Part I is approximately
30% of the book.

Here are some words I either figured out by context or had to
look up:

Positivism (Auguste Compte) - Been awhile since I had philosophy. He was a French dude who spouted the importance of science and technology in all things. All things, in order to be real and provable, had to have a scientific base. Which is why theories based on science are good and real and other stuff is just "soft" science. This led to the Scientific Method, which is good, so I suppose ol' Auguste was on to something.

tacit - This is a word he uses a LOT. Since he was discussing many ways of "knowing" stuff WHILE spewing this term, I assumed, rightly, that it has to do with knowing something but not necessarily being able to articulate how you know it. It is an internal thing - like KNOWING that throwing up is not good and caused by bad seafood and therefore it is not good to eat bad seafood - although nobody ever really told you that. It is tacit knowledge. You know how to solve the
quadratic equation, having the knowledge of an algebra textbook inside you, but you could never actually WRITE that textbook. (Well.. at least you USED to be able to solve the quadratic equation.)

tautological - A redundant argument in that the argument is framed redundantly but not in a negative way. For instance, if a=b and b=c, then a=c... this is a tautological argument. It is very scientific and takes away the mysticism and touchy-feely NPR-type stuff.

epistemology - This is the study of knowledge. At least I hope so since I am writing it here based on pure memory from that theology-philosophy class I took back when my hair was naturally a very dirty blonde.

hegemony - This is power over others and I can't remember why this term was in the book. But I wrote it down which means it must have been important at the time. I guess I better re-read that part.

Johns Hopkins - The founding of this school, according to Schoen, "was perhaps the single most decicive event in the history of learning in the Western hemisphere." Being a history major and in love with all things educational, I can't believe I missed that.

avocation - "the antithesis of a profession." This, I think, is something NICE to know. I am going to try to work that into casual conversation more, I think. Too many people do not know this.

Thorsten Veblen - Some German dude whose ideas of society were important to the founding of American universities. He has something to do with the Johns Hopkins thing. I think I have to read that part again. But I can't help fixating on why in the world anybody would name a precious baby boy, with tiny, perfect fingers and toes, "Thorsten."

I will keep you apprised as more important vocabulary comes up. Some of this stuff is just good to know for the sake of knowledge - very tautological and tacit, if you ask me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

This Book Needs a Backhoe

..or a front-loader snow shovel or something.

I am trying to get a head start on my reading for my first doctorate class, which starts next week. I am trying to be proactive and efficient. My plan was to finish the reading before the class started so I could dip in later and think profound thoughts and participate in profound and meaningful discussions, thereby increasing and enriching my comprehension. This would eventually lead to a pipe and a smoking jacket (in hunter green).

The book I chose to start with is The Reflective Practitioner by Donald Shoen. It is paperback and about as thick as most heavy-duty professional reading books. The print is very small, which must be the publisher's version of "neener neener neener" since nobody at the publisher's place is ever going to have to actually READ the tome once it is in print.

This Donald Shoen character was apparently well-regarded since he was an Ivy League professor of something or another having to do with business and his obituaries on
the internet nearly make him the 4th member of the Holy Trinity.

He wrote two books. This one and the follow-up. Both are considered classics and must-reads; among those titles that "your education is not complete if you haven't read it" kind of thing.

So, I dove in a couple weeks ago and had this immediate recollection of putting my rosy boa into the wading pool when the boys were younger. Rosie did not want to BE in the wading and pool and my normally docile and slow-moving snake whipped out of that water so fast you might have sworn it was electrified.

Well, THAT is how fast I put the book down and tried to read the other title. The other title is so bad that I can't even recall what it is right now, only that it is on my nightstand.

So I tried again and got through a few pages.

I posted on the ProfReading Board at Teachers.Net, my online reading group, and asked if anyone else had read it. Jan, a mentor and hero and Woman of Wisdom, who not only READS hefty titles but actually writes and publishes them, responded, as I hoped she would.

I was praying for some discussion so that the dense James Joyce/Feodor Dostoyevsky/Leo Tolstoy-like prose would make sense to me.

But alas... it is a title Jan attempted several times then "gave away," which I think is a euphemism for donating it to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. (I think it
is still there, marked down to 25 cents.)

So I dug in again. The last week or so it was all I could do to plow through two pages. (Not even that if a glass of wine was involved.)

Today, I made it through a dozen pages and believe that I can succinctly summarize what it is Shoen is trying to say. This perplexes me since I really don't understand why he has taken all these pages so far to posit a really simple thesis.

Proud of myself, I Googled the title thinking it might have a Cliff's Notes study guide. HA! I tried Spark Notes and could swear I heard "neener neener neener" when the query came up empty.

Desperate, I Googled again and found a book review for the follow-up title which says in a nutshell EXACTLY what my little succinct summary says in my head.

I am barely a quarter of the way through the book. My goal was to finish it tomorrow, according to the timeline I drew up for myself last week, when I had forgotten how dense and muddled this book is to actually read.

It is said that James Joyce wrote the greatest book in English ever written. The problem is that very few people have actually navigated Ulysses successfully. But I suspect the book is full of profound things - since it is said that Ulysses is the greatest book in English ever written.

John Dewey wrote like this and he had profound things to say. Paolo Freire wrote like this in TWO languages - and he had profound things to say. (He used the word "apprehend" a lot.)

So, I am going to hope against hope that Donald Shoen is worthy of his glowing obituaries and stellar book reviews and general pedestal-est qualities. I will again attempt to read and ponder.

Then I will attempt to "apprehend" what he means.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Molly's Classroom: Proper Display of the Cards~

Molly the Cat has shared pictures of her classroom with me. I have yet to photograph my classroom and share with her. If I did, one might notice that I also have nifty and eye-catching alphabet "sound/spelling" cards on my wall in a particular order.

Molly teaches in California. I teach in California. There was a 50% chance that we would be displaying the SAME type of cards in our classrooms. Aren't statistics fun?

In California, you have two choices: Teach in an Open Court district or in a Houghton-Mifflin district. Your district gurus decide - you don't get to.

The cards are mandatory. You will be severely beaten by the Muslim guy with a stick if you don't put the cards up on the wall IN THE CORRECT ORDER.

Notice that the pictures on Molly's cards are a bit more realistic than the cartoonish pictures of the K-2 version. This is because the publishers are very aware of the self-esteem issues of older elementary kids and won't insult them by using such infantile pictures.

So - they use the more "mature" pictures.

Since Molly teaches near the state capital, where all this "fidelity to the core of the gosh-almighty program" emanates, she is also required to have an altar in her classroom to the gosh-almighty program. She didn't include it in her pictures because the altars don't look right without the lit candles and technically, candles are not supposed to be lit before the children have been trained HOW to genuflect appropriately when they enter the classroom. The altar fruit is added after Unit 2 - along with the picture of the electrical engineer who invented the program.

The inventors of the approved religion... I mean PROGRAMS (gosh, where IS my mind these days...?) liberally grease the palms of Sacramento politicians who get to decide which programs get adopted. In case you wonder, these deciders ARE NOT TEACHERS! Go figure! Isn't that FUNNY?

But I digress.

Just wanted to explain the nifty and visually eye-catching cards!

The Ironic Iranic Photo Opportunity~

I just can't help thinking about the photo album.

Let's say you're perusing the album a few years from now and run
across this picture.

"Yeah.. that's my sister on the left and her sister in law next to her.. and I THINK that's my mom but I'm not sure.. oh yeah..that's Sarai.. NO, wait... okay.. that's Sarai on the end because her burka had that little tear in the sleeve.. or was that Rania? No.. oh shoot. I can't remember. Which one is the taller one? I can't remember.... Oh well. These are just the "women" in the family."

But what if one of the women snapped a picture of all the guys?

(That is, IF women are allowed to snap pictures of guys. Or maybe they can snap pictures if they are related to ALL the guys. They can't snap the picture if they are related to only one or two of the guys. That would be blasphemous and immodest.
Okay, so let's just say that somehow a picture of all the guys got taken.)

So here's a pic in the album of all the guys in their nice white tunic things. Or maybe they were wearing regular clothes that day. (They get to, you know.) Every guy could be named because .... WOW! You can see their faces! So they get names! Yes! This is okay because it is the GUYS of the family. The gals don't count.

Heck, they normally can't even POSE for pictures unless some male relative takes it and the other women behind those comfortable and cozy looking tent things are RELATED to him too! Because some guy can't come along and take a picture of gals

They CAN come along though and beat non-related women with sticks for showing too much baggage under the eye or a flash of wrist. This they do in the name of Allah and the local Iman because they CAN. They can do what they want because they are guys.

And this guy taking the pic had to do it quickly because OTHER GUYS were around and standing awfully close to the unrelated GALS.

But now that this photograph has made the internet, all the gals in the picture get beaten by the stick guy - for being so immodest and getting put on the internet for non-related guys and infidels to look at.

Especially the one whose shoe is showing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Homework for Monday

I mentioned before that teaching kindergarten at the beginning of a school year is a lot like giving birth. You swear to goodness you will never, ever, EVER do that again, but then you forget. And you do it again.

I have also mentioned that teaching kindergarten at the beginning of a school year is a lot like herding cats. Cats on meth, lacking ears, and possessing the loudest of caterwauling capabilities. This was proven yesterday when Brandy entered the classroom, after having been called to come inside more than once or twice, and screamed at the top of her lungs just because she felt like it.

So what I want to reiterate is the fact that many young kindergarten children entering school for the first time are feral.

Yes, feral. They are wild, undisciplined, and clearly living only for the moment and to grasp any and all things in the world that will interest them for that particular nonosecond in time. This includes bodily functions, the drinking of water, the making of noises, the extreme movement of any and all protruding body parts, and the use of much scented soap. (In one week, 3/4 of the first bottle of scented hand soap is gone.)

This week has been hellacious. My old room partner called me last night and said, "Remember. It takes you a few weeks to bond with your kids." She does this because she watched my shell-shocked reaction for many years over the course of numerous "first days" and "first weeks." She, for some reason, doesn't forget how hellacious it is. Go figure.

Last night I made a list. It was a list of the 9 children I like in this class. This morning I added another one. Then I remembered that he kicked Haylie in the head, and acted the victim when I asked him to apologize. So I erased him. Which means I like almost half my class right now.

Yesterday I considered tethering some of them to trees so that I could actually teach the nine I like. These are the kids who sit still and listen and act like they truly enjoy what I am telling them. They raise their little hands and they treat every new activity with excitement and dedication.

These are the kids trained by their parents to LISTEN. They are taught to be kind to others (most of the time) and to pee INTO the toilet and not AROUND it or on the seat.

After dealing with temper tantrums, pushing, shoving, running, leaving the instructional area, and extreme kick boxing yesterday, I fantasized about a nice little job in an antique store or book shop.

When Raymond left the bus line to stand, scowling, with crossed arms, in the middle of the lawn, I was tempted to leave him there. I started thinking about what might happen if he didn't get on the bus to go home. If his parental units had to drive to school and remove his ramrod stiff body from the lawn and heave him into the car. Would they be mad at him? Would they teach him that standing in line is civil and polite and that we don't shove our way into the front just because we think we deserve it by virtue of being "Raymond?" "Raymond the Center of the Universe Who Must Always Be Allowed to Do What He Wants?"

My principal already had to peel him off the cafeteria floor once (because I was "mean to him" and didn't let him slide across the newly polished floor when he was supposed to be eating.) So when she ordered Raymond to get back in line and HE DIDN'T DO IT, she shouldn't have expressed surprise. In fact, when she ordered all of the feral cats back into line and to stand in one place, she shouldn't have acted surprised at all. Especially when they looked at her, told her about their latest video game, and continued playing "swing the backpack as far as you can" instead of actually LISTENING to her.

"OH MY GAAAWD," she squealed into my ear. "OH MY GAWWWWD!"

So on Monday, I will send homework. It is an assignment that asks parents to discuss 'civility' with their children and to discuss why it is important to stand in line. Examples and suggestions are given - like, 'talk to your child about courtesy and waiting in line WHILE you are doing so in the market or the bank.'

And here is what will probably happen. Nine papers will be returned with copious notes written by nine parents about the discussion they had with their child about standing in line. I will proudly post them while Raymond unties his shoes again and Brandy screams because she feels like it.

The rest of the parents will be calling the office to either complain about the leash marks around Junior's neck or ask where they might find one for home.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Cost of Butterflies

The bushes outside my classroom are currently blooming with pretty little white flowers. Since I work in the armpit of the Mojave Desert, this is quite special. These bushes are attracting hummingbirds and one very pretty yellow and black butterfly. Lack of rain met no wildflower display this year, so I often find myself watching the wildlife with sincere appreciation.

This butterfly has been flitting about all week and I knew it was just a matter of time before the kids would see it and try to 'catch' it on our way to the cafeteria.

Sure enough, it was flying around the bushes yesterday and the kids began squealing, "Butterfly! Butterfly!"

A couple of them gave chase and were clapping their hands together in an attempt to stop the poor thing in midair.

"NO!" I admonished in my best teacher voice. "We don't hurt butterflies! Don't touch their wings or they won't be able to fly!"

"Why?" asked Tabatha, who had been hoping for a butterfly kill before lunch just as a matter of principle.

"Because, Tabatha, we don't want to hurt it," I said, leading her back to the line.

With wide brown eyes looking quizzical, she asked, "Why? Are they expensive?"

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Classroom Preparation Using the ADHD Method

There are so many things to do in this classroom that I had to sit down and create a LIST. Then I had to pick a place and start. This sounds easy but it is not.

The first thing I did was put back all the heavy furniture and bookcases that were stacked all over the room so the custodians could "clean." I don't know about
you, but I was taught while growing up that when you make a mess, you clean it up. Maybe I am intolerant and lack flexibility, but I get a bit cranky when I have to spend 3-4 hours replacing furniture and shoving full bookcases with my fat a$$ back where they belong. I could swear when I LEFT the room in June, the chairs were NOT stacked 24-high on my counter. I also didn't leave ceiling tile dust all over my workspace or straight edge razors and nasty cleaning rags in my sink.

I was also taught that when you use SOAP to clean something, like furniture, you have to WASH IT OFF or the furniture will be STICKY. Again, maybe it's just me, but sticky furniture does not have that squeaky-clean presentation. Perhaps I am turning into Mr. Monk.

Once the furniture is arranged (including the pieces I don't think were HERE in June but surely somebody will claim them....)I begin tackling other projects and it goes like this.

I see a piece of border that is loose from the Calendar area, which we did not have to completely strip off the wall this year. So, I get my stapler to go fix it. But I
am out of staples so I have to go to the cupboard to get some more. Once in the cupboard there are a few things I need to rearrange. Once that is finished, I return to the sticky table to continue working on name tags and birthday balloons, affixing string. But my scissors were left someplace so I have to go find them. My classroom has at least 6 pairs of nice Fiskar scissors. I was able to locate the ONLY pair that was "decorated" with white glue last June by one of my students.

Returning to the table, I begin working and notice that little piece of border that is waving free from the Calendar area. So, I go back to get the staples and then fill the stapler. This reminds me that I have a NEW stapler and I may as well fill it also, but it is still packaged. It is packaged so well it would survive a lunar landing. So what should be a quick task turns into a finger-scraping JOB.

I have to find the scissors in order to free this extremely well-packaged stapler and fill it with staples.

But now I have trash to put in the can - which is missing a liner.

So, I go hunt for a custodian to find a liner to put it in the barrel. While I am gone, I visit the restroom, stop by the talk to the school secretary, pick up a check from the office clerk, and chat with a co-worker in the hallway.

I return to the room and notice the Office Depot bag where I retrieved the new stapler an hour ago. I decide to put away the new supplies I purchased while I was there - to buy binder combs. (But I spent $88 on other stuff besides binder combs.)

The binder combs remind me that I need to count out enough paper for our tactile alphabet books and since I am preparing for my class I may as well go ahead and prepare for my partner teachers as well. This means rounding up 4 reams of paper. I put the binder combs down somewhere. They'll turn up eventually.

Seeing all those office supplies on the floor reminds me that I better get them off the floor and put them away - leaving the alphabet book preparation for tomorrow.

It takes me 2 hours to put up one bulletin board because 7 different teachers stop by my room to talk to me, ask me something, drop something off, pick something up, or because they are looking for somebody else - who already left. Because I am
talking, I keep putting the border up backwards and have to redo it because of the Mr. Monk issue.

The board is finally up and it takes me another hour to put the finishing touches on the area I usually post classroom pictures - because I just can't leave well enough alone and now everything is perfectly color-coded, matched, and symmetrical.

I don't think I ate lunch today.

It is almost dinner time and I am not even half-finished with what I wanted to do today. I sit at my table to examine my LIST. Only two things are crossed off. I could add a few things that I did earlier and then cross THOSE off, but decide against it. Certainly, I think, there is a way to WORK SMARTER and get this all done in the next half hour.

But I make the mistake of looking up. There is a little piece of border waving free from the Calendar area. And heaven help me - I can't find either of my staplers.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Gradient of Important Things: Reflections of a Trip

I have returned from Virginia grateful to be off airplanes and back in the land of the "dry heat." My own bed felt wonderful last night and my dogs are following me everywhere - I can't get a moment's respite from canine curiosity. Even the cat seems happy to see me; I suspect this is because the male members of the family are less than likely to attend to his nutrition needs in a timely manner.

After a good night's sleep, my mind can finally reflect upon the wonderful trip and the excellent time that I had - a perfect ending to a summer that is proving too short. Such is the mindset of the traveler, I suppose. Weary, contented, and then reflective.

I must count my blessings.

Cavey and the Rocket Scientist have a lovely home and a delightful family. The conversations were englighting, envigorating, and amusing. Cavey is the perfect hostess and attended to my every need - often before I knew I one existed. I will admit that at times this made me uncomfortable because she waited upon me hand and foot. At one point I was ready to demand something to do - dishes, laundry, floor-mopping, bathroom cleaning, anything! But she would never hear of it. I had to be sneaky in order to wash my own dishes and was physically insistent when it came to loading and unloading the dishwasher. And still, if I had grown up Catholic, I would be wracked with guilt, attending confession, and telling the priest that I was slothful and lazy while a guest in someone's home. And then I would look around the confessional and say quietly, "It's DAWK in here!"

The children are so intelligent they frightened me. I found myself watching my grammar and making sure nothing asinine or trite rolled off my tongue. My sorry attempt to educate the youngest on the wonders of raccoons was met with patient politeness - it seems she already knows everything there is to know about raccoons. The cuteness factor didn't appeal to her either. When I showed her a picture of my son feeding the raccoons that visited our June Lake Cabin a few weeks back, she shook head mildly and said, "They're pests. You feed them and they will only come back."

I was enthralled by the squirrels visiting the birdfeeder outside the breakfast room window. "They are so cute! Look at those little claws!" I exclaimed one morning. The boy was raised with impeccable manners so he desisted from eye-rolling or deep sighing. "They're vermin," he said quietly.

And the dog - they have the cutest hound down the street who obviously loves life and barks happiness whenever anyone makes the slightest sound. Hounds are known for their sharp hearing and legendary noses and eyesight. So he barked often. "What a beautiful dog," I commented when we drove by his domain - which is directly across from the Rocket Scientist property. "That ol' blue-tick-hound-mix?" the daughter replied. "No, he is not. He's obnoxious." (I guess he gets loose a lot and eats the cat's food. Since the Rocket Scientist is loathe to spend more on cat food than he absolutely has to, this little quirk does not amuse him. It falls under the "obnoxious category").


The son, like his father, is an expert waterskier who casually careens across huge boat wakes and slaloms - then repeats the process over and over again. For a long time. My only goals for waterskiing this trip inluded staying UPRIGHT with zero face-plants, lasting long enough that disgust over shaky legs and tired shins would not emerge, and at least moving out of the wake once. I was lucky that the boy did not see my one and only face-plant, which occurred when my body was quite literally to the point of shaking with exhaustion.

The Rocket Scientist Cat, Mike, is one outstanding speciman of feline. Never have I encountered such an intelligent, loquacious, and conversational animal. The sheer contentness that Mike exhibited when I picked him up can only be described as close to painful. Had his razor claws kneaded any deeper into my flesh, blood would have been drawn and Jack the Obnoxious Dog would have begun baying at the scent. "He never hops onto ANYONE's lap, ever," the kids told me when I motioned for Mike to join me after dinner one evening as we conversed at the table. In keeping with the attitude of cats everywhere, he immediately proved them wrong by leaping onto my lap and "loving" me to the point of pain - something like what they say about the shots you get for lockjaw.

I saw beautiful countryside that is overrun with lush beauty and rolling hillsides. I visited Monticello for the first time and learned much about one of my favorite historical figures, Thomas Jefferson. I got to sample some of the best home-made cooking in the commonwealth and become reaquainted with some dear friends. I got to renew my acquaintance with Cavey's delightful and beautiful mother, and laugh with her soon-to-be stepfather, a man she loves dearly and respects wholeheartedly. I got to enjoy the company of a family that loves and respects each other - with such warmth and laughter that just being with them causes your heart to swell with contented happiness.

I got to read something touching and memorable that was written by my friend. It was a wonderful piece of writing that evoked concern, fear, frustration, relief, and supreme happiness. AND I got to watch her mother read it - for the first time. Seeing the effect of this writing upon Cavey's mother was very touching. Her mother had gone through these events with Cavey years ago - she had been there. Nobody can hurt for you like your mother can. It is your mother who always wishes to shield you from life's heartbreaks and the random devastation often wrought by fate. To watch this was something akin to interloping - I felt several times I should have left the room.

I have bruises on my shins for trying to climb onto the boat after skiing. I used the "flopping fish" method, after attempting to just hop out like everyone else. My guess is that my exit from the water was somewhat amusing. My skin is tanned despite numerous applications of sunblock.

I went to Virginia this time weighing at least 10 pounds less than I did 3 years ago. Cavey never saw me when I reached my highest weight ever - 189 pounds. And since last July I have taken off 34 pounds of fat. When I left for Virginia this time I weighed in at 155 pounds and prayed to goodness I wouldn't gain any of it back because these last 10 pounds have been brutally stubborn.

We ate well. We ate healthy food and didn't snack too much. We stayed active, walking, swimming, and waterskiing.

But I was fearful of weight gain for one reason: We had partaken a bit too much libation (for medicinal purposes). I never libate that much, ever. I surpassed my usual limit of 2 small glasses of medicinal libation and drank another one. That kept getting refilled by the Rocket Scientist, who was playing classic rock on his IPOD and encouring us to dance around the room like lunatics.

So this morning, you can only imagine my elation when I fearfully got upon the scale of doom. I held fast to the windowsill, willing with exquisitely fine-tuned psychic force the needle of the scale to stay under 140 pounds. Gradually releasing my hold, I watched fearfully, with a lump in my throat as the needle squeaked up past 150 and landed on 155. I couldn't believe it.

I stepped off the scale and did it again - cursing my poor eyesight because it looks, if you examine closely enough, as if the needle IS on 155 but WANTS to go just a tad higher - to 155.4 or something.

So I stand relieved, allowing myself now to fully enjoy this wondrous adventure.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Nickel's View

This day has been almost too wondrous for words but I will select a few anyway in an attempt to explain for you the most wonderful things about today.

Cavey surprised me today and took me to Monticello - the home of Thomas Jefferson and a monument to the man's genius and creativity.

Having always lived the readerly life, I have read about pastoral Virginia and her native sons. I have perused stories about the horse farms and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I read Fawn Brodie's biography of our third president and am well aware that the writer of the Declaration of Independence, crafter of the constitution, died a slaveholder - with many progeny by his mistress and slave, Sally Hemmings - children he never claimed.

And yet this man doted upon the only 2 of his children to survive infancy and lived with grandchildren underfoot for many, many years. By all accounts, these children were much enjoyed by their grandfather.

So, my background knowledge is rich and my love for Virginia and its rich sense of "place" is well-known by anybody who reads my writing and knows me well. I am not being obsequious when I proclaim the beauty of the Virginia countryside, the marvel of her lush greenery, and the architectural superlatives that describe her homes.

Driving to Monticello was one of the most beautiful road adventures I've ever taken. The road is almost covered by the canopies of ancient trees and the lush greenery and
grasslands extend as far as the wandering eye can see.

The roadside churches are perfectly exquisite - I literally sucked in my breath when we passed an old Episcopal church with its Gothic windows and beautiful red brick. The Presbyterians, never as grandiose as their Church of England neighbors, have a simpler dwelling inspired by its austere Calvinist roots - and yet they manage to convey majesty, peacefulness, grandeur, and history - all in a flash beside
the two-lane highway.

It would be heaven to call one of the many beautiful homes along this route home. The horse farms, of course, are for the very rich - and all of the farms have names that are carved on very ornate signs. There are vineyards with acres and acres of grapes - with homes almost too obscured by the growing harvest. Can you imagine living in such a place? Going to the market from such a place? Picking up the mail from the box that rests under the ornate iron sign thatdeclares the name of your "farm?" Driving up the driveway that resembles a small road, to a house nobody can see fromthe road - to your own version of earthly paradise?

But Monticello itself is almost beyond words. Walking those grounds and touring those rooms just cannot be described adequately enough for you to get the true picture of how inspiring and how wondrous this place really is. It is a marvel of architecture and design. The gardens still grow and the vegetable patches, designed by Jefferson himself, still produce. There are trees wider than the expanse of a large man's outstretched hands - trees that were no doubt purchased by Jefferson and planted by one of his workers. Ortrees already there, perhaps saplings, when Jefferson first
decided to move away from his home of birth and to the "little mountain" claimed by his father, Peter Jefferson.

And they remain today.

After the house tour, we emerged onto a terrace that led to the front yard of the house. This, explained the docent, was the "nickel's view" that opened up to one of the largest front lawns you'll ever see. It seems we entered from the back of the house - which is as grand as the front.

We walked past the family cemetery and saw the obelisk that marks Jefferson's grave. He wanted to be remembered as an architect, the author of the Declaration of Independence, andthe founder of the University of Virginia. And that is what the stonecutter chiseled on his tomb. He is surrounded by family and only Jefferson descendants may petition for burial at Monticello.

This trip was truly the highlight of my journey to Virginiathis year. And to top it off, Cavey and I talked about books all the way back. Not just any books, but books that inspire rich thinking and lead to rich writing. This was as itshould be - in keeping with words penned by Jefferson to John Adams many, many, years ago:

I cannot live without books.

Monday, July 30, 2007

California Sweating vs Virginia Glistening: A Cavey and Kim Adventure

After a day of antique shopping, Cavey and I decided we needed some real excercise. The original plan was to use the treadmill but that evolved into a brisk walk.

Now, a brisk walk in California is nothing much. It may be hot, but it's a dry heat - so it is best to walk in the evening or early morning during the summer.

In Virginia, a brisk walk means losing 5 pounds of water weight due to the humidity. If I have not adequately described the humidity, allow me to take a moment to do so.

Picture taking the hottest shower you can stand. Once you step from the shower and begin drying off, you long to open the bathroom door, don't you? Notice how steaming HUMIDLY HOT it is until you open that bathroom door?

Okay. So now I have described for you the typical humidity in Virginia at 6:30pm.

So, we are taking this brisk walk and I am absolutely ecstatic over the many things that are beautiful in Virginia.

It is green - everywhere. Just rolling green lawns, broken up by huge green trees and thick green shrubbery that comes from the richest looking black and brown soil you've ever seen. Whole plants just spring up out of nowhere along the side of the road and in the ravines that run in front ofsome houses. In fact, whole shrubs can spring up overnight in a sidewalk crack.

"Those are beautiful flowers," I exclaim as we pass a particularly lovely brick house with an abundance of yellow and black flowers and huge green leaves and stems. "Oh those...? My mama's been tryin' to get rid of those things FOREVER..." responded Cavey.

And the houses? They are so full of character you want to cast them in a movie. They are beautiful homes dripping with architectural amendments that literally make me gasp. And shutters? Real shutters! Clapboard? Detached garages? Basement windows?

Lest you think me odd (or a closet architect), let me tell you that shutters in California tend to be factory fabricated and encased in polymer. All houses look alike and vary only in shades of beige. And if flowers grow in the desert, it's because their owners are anal-retentive and bring the plants in every winter. And half the summer.

Here there is brick and moss and NO FENCES! The lots are huge and this is such a beautiful neighborhood.

So naturally, I went on and on about that. Cavey looked a bit perplexed but she is a good hostess and let it go.

She told me as we passed each house the name of the occupants. These are neighbors and friends she and her husband's family have known for a lifetime.

"Those people there, in the white house? They haven't lived there very long.... only 10 or 15 years," she said, while I pondered that I don't even know the last names of any of my neighbors, although we are good about waving to each other.

After our brisk walk we returned to Cavey's lovely home and I quickly noticed that there is more than just architecture that makes us different. I was sweating profusely, at the point of dripping.

Cavey is not even glistening. Neither one of us got our heartrate up too much with this brisk walk, but I am rapidly losing water weight while she just looks a little "bothered."

I was then enticed by Cavey's children to jump on the trampoline. I am not sure how long I lasted, but at some point, I had to accept the fact that these children were
trying to kill the visitor from California.

"You sure do sweat a lot, Mrs. L," said the lovely and talented younger child.

"The only thing funnier than you on the trampoline, Mrs.L.... is Mike [the cat]," offered the exquisitely handsome son.

Not sure what to say in response to these effusive compliments, I stood there gulping water in an attempt to replenish what I just dripped out into the back lawn.

"Um.. Mrs. L? You're gonna take a shower, now...right?" asked the curiously sweat-free daughter.

"You think I should?" I replied.

Ever the Southern hostess she smiled. "Well... only if you want to."

She did look noticeably relieved when I emerged from the shower and represented myself - all cleaned up.

I think the poor child was truly concerned - after all, I am sleeping in her bed.