Saturday, September 26, 2009

An Alarming StorY~

Like most places of business and the majority of public and private schools, my new school has an alarm system. It wasn’t installed right away, which was a good thing considering how many people were in and out of the building during the last of our construction stage and the chaos that was euphemistically called “moving in.”

Setting up a school is a herculean feat on its own, but building a school from scratch is certainly not for the faint of heart, weak of spirit, or those lacking physical and emotional stamina. Our “moving in” phase was punctuated by ever-changing plans, diaphanous rules and regulations, and communication that resembled a six-pack of rubber bullets flying around a padded room.

To say that most of the school’s staff has worked 12-15 hour days, plus weekends, over the past 6 weeks would not be an exaggeration. Opening the school on time meant hitting the ground running – then sprinting to keep caught up and quickly changing courses in order to avoid the hurdles that suddenly materialized from a very dynamic sideline.

So maybe the alarm system was casually noticed. It made sense that we would have one and that it would actually work. Ours was installed about the same time as the fire alarm. Those of us working during the fire alarm’s “testing” phase have a permanent loss of hearing in both ears and lost the ability to smell anything sweet for two days.

The school’s excellent administrative assistant, who could run the school with both hands tied behind her back and duct tape around her ankles, hunted down almost everybody and passed out room keys, door keys, and signatures on alarm codes. She was so stealthy about it that many employees forgot they talked to her and can’t remember giving her a code, signing a paper, or collecting keys. Yet – they have keys, their signatures are on the dotted line, and codes were collected. Since it was during that hellishly busy “moving in” time, it is no wonder some people don’t remember the whole exchange. Caffeine, physical exhaustion, and drywall dust will do that to you, I suppose. (Anybody ever find that Allen wrench?)

Somehow, we got an alarm installed right under our noses. At an unclear point after the first week of school, it was activated. And, for kicks and giggles, they changed the classroom door locks at the same time. The reasoning behind the latter action is still rather nebulous but we dutifully exchanged our still-shiny “old” keys for “new” keys.

Teachers attempting to enter the school that first weekend immediately, with much fanfare and ear-splitting cacophony, set off the alarm. And since the “new” keys hadn’t been handed out yet, they couldn’t enter their classrooms anyway.

The next morning, two of the school’s finest teachers had the temerity to show up for work at 7am. Unaware of the alarm issue, they immediately jolted the entire adjacent community awake with the shriek of an ear-splitting alarm. Unable to access their classrooms, they stood there for 20 minutes attempting to make the noise stop. They took turns putting in their own codes and then, giving up, attempted to figure it out by punching in every numerical combination that anybody and their mother could have come up with on short notice during what we euphemistically called “moving in” time.

Nothing worked. Several more teachers arrived. Their codes didn’t work either. Two of them went for coffee, apologizing to any and all business people gathering on the sidewalk to observe a cluster of well-educated human beings attempt to look non-descript amid the shrieking of the world’s loudest alarm.

Now, remember that I mentioned that the security and fire alarms were installed around the same time? Well, (you’re going to laugh about this one, really….) the keypad for the FIRE ALARM was put right next to the door. So, the stunned and rather shell-shocked teachers were desperately trying to turn off the security system with the keypad for the FIRE ALARM. Who’d a-thunk it? It seems that the security keypad is in THE HALLWAY and the FIRE ALARM keypad is next to the door! Funny, huh?

All that frantic pounding of the fire alarm keypad got the attention of the local fire station. I didn’t actually see or hear any firefighter personnel, but word on the street was they weren’t too pleased. Morning coffee at the firehouse is so much calmer when local schools aren’t playing with their fire alarms.

I must point out that one of the teachers frantically called the school’s director, principal, head custodian, building manager, construction supervisor, a yoga instructor, and her mother. By the time the coffee-bearing teachers returned, the situation was under control, replacement keys were being issued, frowning sheriff’s deputies were being placated, and the teachers were sprinting for their classrooms. Full hearing in their ears didn't return for several hours.

Let’s fast-forward to the end of the same week. It is a Friday and the school’s first International Day Celebration is over. The building is looking more and more like a school now, with forgotten backpacks, snack wrappers, and bits of construction paper all over the floor. Somebody’s first graders went through the back hallway and rocked it like a hurricane. Reminder notices for an upcoming fundraiser are taped to the walls.

Teachers have worked late into the afternoon and, with the dinner hour soon approaching, the first grade teachers decide to wrap up their planning and quickly pick up the chunks of child detritus that might be deemed a safety concern. Around 5pm, these teachers hear what was described later as “a funny noise.” Is that the alarm, they ask each other. No, it couldn’t be. We are still here. We are making noise. Our lights are on. Our staff children are still roaming the halls, looking for food, drink, and anything remotely interesting to do while parents continue to work in hot classrooms and stuffy offices. “Just a little while longer,” the children are promised.

Several teachers are hunched over their desks and one is killing a sapling at the copier. Two office staffers are trying to reach bottom on their work surfaces. The remaining staff children have are now shoeless and have given up running the halls. They stretch horizontally on the floor, praying for dinner, green grass, the family pet, a soft couch, and a video game.

Around 6pm, the aforementioned first grade teachers load up their matching red bags, sling purses and backpacks over their hunched shoulders, and chat as they exit the building. What do you suppose happened?

YES! The blasting of the world’s loudest alarm could be heard at the local park when these teachers exited the building. Everybody within a 5 mile radius is now aware that two slacker-teachers left the building at 6pm while other school employees continued to work. The working employees, slightly hunched over with fatigue, are jolted upright as their world explodes into a range of decibels that would make Guns n’ Roses proud. The culprits, finding a burst of energy they didn’t know existed, race back into the building. One searches frantically for the correct keypad while the other one, who paid attention at some point and figured out where it was, attempted to enter her code. “Put in your code,” she says. “Mine doesn’t work.”

The second teacher enters the code and the shrieking stops. Both teachers stare at the keypad. It has a message. Something about an exit window. Despite being college-educated, they are unsure what this means. Thinking they disarmed the system they leave again. Guess what? YES! The alarm does its job and warns all diners at the local eateries that somebody is trying, once again, to escape the school.

The teachers run back to the keypad and the scenario is repeated.

The first teacher is beginning to suspect that something else needs to be done. After her partner enters the code, the teachers bolt from the building and into the parking lot. All is quiet.

Words about the reasoning capabilities of anybody who would set an alarm in a building still occupied by working people are exchanged. There is laughter about the whole ridiculousness of the episode and the jangled nerves of the remaining staff.

It may be reasonable to assume that the alarm sets itself automatically. Maybe that noise everybody pondered around 5pm was the alarm magically setting itself. After all, the classroom air conditioners shut themselves off around 4:00. Do they belong to the same union?

All those ricocheting rubber bullets have to stop at some point. The one labeled “alarm” has been snatched from the air and attached to a key ring. Using deductive reasoning and the power of “discovery learning,” the local community can rest assured that the comings and goings of their local charter school will no longer disturb the peace.

On Monday morning, we will deliver coffee to the local firehouse.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mulling Mosquitos

The only fly in the hiking oinment isn't a fly at all. It's even more irritating: A mosquito! Using the singular term is misleading because these gosh-awful life forms rarely travel alone. They sign up for tours of duty and head out in packs.

I am an environmentalist and love all animals and the vast majority of the Earth's life forms. I have a "live and let live" philosophy about annoying and dangerous creatures like Black Widow spiders, alligators, venomous snakes, and mosquitos. I leave them alone, they leave me alone. It is a good philosophy.

I am also altruistic. If a small creature needs a bit of blood from me in order to survive, hey - I will share! I donate blood for mankind, why not animals?

Mosquitos hum loudly and this is most annoying. But what is worse is when they bite, it itches! It itches to distraction and won't stop itching for days and days!

Mosquitos should take lessons from vampire bats. These little bats inject an anesthetic that makes their presence and feeding virtually unknown to the host. They daintily lap up the blood they need, then leave well enough alone. No pain, no irritating buzz, no "in your face" swarming, and no itching!

But mosquitos did not pay attention to this most excellent model, which makes them the scourge of outdoor enthusiasts everywhere.

Wanting a good hike with mosquitos in the mix requires the use of a good repellent. "Natural" repellents do little good except tick the mosquito off. And DEET is hazardous enough to kill small animals, cause blindness, and make all exposed epidermis toxic. The warning label is enough to cause a serious gulp before application.

Mosquitos are an intricate part of the food web and many species of birds, fish, and other animals dine on the humming hordes without leaving a tip. I just wish the mosquito eaters would do a better job before I get there.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Buzzing Flies~

The warmer weather, with all its blessings and sunshine, brings flies.

And unless you are religiously diligent in picking up the "leavings" of four very digestively-active dogs, there are more flies.

We have a doggy door that has stood us in good stead for the past six years, but the plastic flap that seals the opening no longer seals properly and the flies consider this an Open House invitation. Finding a replacement flap has not been easy AT ALL. The company's website offers a variety of flaps, but none of them have the precise measurements needed to replace THIS flap. But that is beside the point right now.

So, in come the flies.

I like to stun the flies with a good swatm then let Augie Doggie finish them off. In his prime, Augie could catch a fly IN MID-AIR and with one snap, dispatch it and add protein to his diet. He was so good at it that captive audiences would throw coins into his dog dish.

Eadie, my newest rescue, is pretty good at it but she is not as fast as Augie and rarely makes a mid-air catch. So, my stunning them gives her a sort of “affirmative action” advantage in the fly-catching department. No accolades for her though; we use the "abused puppy" excuse in explaining away her obvious deficiencies in this area.

As part of my kitchen d├ęcor, I had a vintage mustard yellow fly swatter that dated from the fifties at least. I like it – it was quite the find. One can go years prowling antique stores and never find an actual flyswatter from back in the days of I Love Lucy and The Patty Duke Show. (Notice how they never had flies in those shows?)

I was more than a tad annoyed to find my husband vigorously killing flies with it one afternoon. This was not a flyswatter to be USED, it was a flyswatter to look at and admire. He got fly guts all over it and I had to wash it. For some reason, this was a source of amusement for him, but sometimes you just can't understand men. This adtrocity continued on a regular basis because he claimed that he just couldn't find a modern flyswatter when he went to the market.

But the worst travesty was yet to come when I noticed one day that HALF the vintage flyswatter was MISSING. I tried to keep my temper, I really did. But this was a piece of history, recklessly sacrificed as a direct result of an ill-fitting doggy door and a pet door company negligent in its duties to provide appropriate replacement flaps.

I gritted my teeth and remembered the "for better and for worse" part in the marriage ceremony. I measured my words and basically accused him of a crime tantamout to treason. My dear husband then informed me that one of the dogs, (“YOUR GRAND DOG”) had gotten a hold of it and took off running like a hound out of hell. "MY GRANDDOG" managed to chew off half the swatter part before the historical piece was rescued.

It isn't so much the flies themselves that bother me - it is the incessent buzzing. If flies could just fly around without the droning noise, I wouldn't be compelled to supplement my dogs' diet with extra protein or, in a fit of annoyance at the loss of my mustard-colored vintage flyswatter, smack them into smithereens.

Meanwhile, MY GRANDDOG chews on pinecones, Augie rests by the ill-fitting flap awaiting a tasty morsel, Eadie sleeps next to the couch, and get to go get the shovel.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dreams Stashed Behind the Couch~

Last night I had a dream about Glen Campbell. Why I would dream about Glen Campbell is a mystery I am pondering.

I know the man’s work and sporadically watched his television show as a kid, probably because my dad liked him. I can remember how he sang the words to Gentle on my Mind so fast that I messed up the lyrics. I thought the guy was sleeping behind some girl’s couch (“… that makes me tend to leave my sleeping bag rolled up and stashed behind your couch,” became “thatmakesmetend to leave my sleeping..back..…behind your couch.”)

The reason this dream sticks with me is because Glen Campbell came out on a stage and, and in my dream state, I stood right next to it, over it, seeing all – the omniscient player. He began singing while “stashed” behind some rolled up cloth that I now realize must have been the sleeping bag. He quickly came out, still singing, and darted behind a container of Clorox wipes. There were two Matchbook-type cars on the stage. One of them had to be held and wound up for speed by holding onto the car and revving the wheels. The other one was larger. In the dream, Glen Campbell was able to make these cars do tricks and the audience, such as it was, applauded. But here is the important part. He sang a song that I have never heard before. It rhymed perfectly and told a snippet of a story from his childhood, in which he was never allowed to utter the name “Glen,” and had to be called “Jack.” It was a sad song, really, and touched me emotionally.

I immediately connected, during my deconstruction of this dream sequence, that my great-great uncle was named Reginald John Campbell. He was called “R.J.” or “John” his whole life. I don’t think he was ever called “Jack,” but I think I need to find out. It sounds reasonable, since his father's name was John. The Very Reverend R.J. Campbell was the Alex P. Keaton of his day because he was the stalwart Anglican priest born to a minister and his wife in Northern Ireland. That minister, John Campbell, listed himself as a “free Methodist” on his son’s birth registry. This means that John, as a minister of a break-away sect, fathered a son who went back to the family’s religious roots, which were much more conservative. This is like Steve and Elise Keaton, of Family Ties, raising Alex P., played by Michael J. Fox, a staunch right-wing Republican who always wore a shirt and tie.

Recently, I saw a magazine interview of Michael J. Fox, who played Alex P. Keaton, on Family Ties. Fox, as you probably know, suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, the disease that eventually killed my Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob met the very Reverend R.J. Campbell at some point in his early marriage to my auntie Joycie – who was, you guessed it – a Campbell by birth.

Now, Michael J. Fox also reminds me of my father, who whose mother, my grandmother, was born a Campbell. She saved several of R.J. Campbell’s letters written during WWII and later. I have these letters and treasure them. My father was J. Michael, not Michael J., but the strange thing is that my father was in one of these dream sequences, as a young man, carefully laying out some clothes. He was wearing a carefully ironed shirt and tie. He looked back at me and smiled – he was slender and young, looking like he did when I was a child.

The fact that Glen Campbell came out in this dream is a puzzle until I remember that I was watching and listening to a television music channel very briefly last night and one of the artists featured was Tanya Tucker. There were several pictures of Tanya Tucker flashed upon the screen – two when she was younger and one as she looks now. I swear that I did not make ONE connection to the fact that she used to hang out with Glen Campbell and shared an addiction to alcohol with him. I was not thinking about that at all – only the fact that Tanya Tucker was 16 when she released her first album and that I went out and bought it because she was my age. There is another connection, though, that brings this thing full circle – my father spent his entire life addicted to alcohol. Go figure.

It gets better. My Uncle Bob and Auntie Joycie had two sons and Rob, the eldest, posted on Facebook yesterday that he was visiting wine country this weekend. Rob’s middle name is Norman. He was named for his grandfather, my great grandfather, Norman Campbell. And guess what? Norman T. Campbell had a little problem with alcohol.

My father’s music tastes were eclectic but I don’t remember him having any Glen Campbell albums. But he did watch Glen Campbell’s show and would make comments about Bobby Goldsboro, who always sat next to Glen and played guitar. My dad thought Bobby was equally talented and voiced this opinion often. Bobby is, of course, short for Robert – like my Uncle Bob. And the name Campbell? I didn’t made THAT connection until I began writing all of this down.

During a sequence of this very strange dream, I picked up an armful of grass that had been mowed and was piled on a lawn. I proceeded to call the names of graduates and then hand them “leaves of grass” instead of a diploma. There was much consternation among the graduates but approval from Glen Campbell’s audience. I told them that handing out “leaves of grass” was MY IDEA. Of course, in the dream, I don’t remember saying anything about leaves of grass and Walt Whitman and the gift of poetry. That connection came later, as I attempted to deconstruct this dream.

Where did this idea come from, I pondered, since I don’t own any books by Walt Whitman or know any of his poetry except the Leaves of Grass title. I am reading a book about the history of reading, so perhaps the link is there since Whitman was a popular poet back in the 19th Century.

But here’s a connection, one I didn’t make until a few minutes ago as I straightened some books lent to me by a friend. Yesterday I considered one of these titles for future reading. What is the title? You won’t guess: Falling Leaves. (Get OUT!)

The very Reverend Reginald John Campbell would have been a Canon in the Church of England, but was denied this promotion because he went off on a tangent for awhile with some wacky theology. He eventually returned to the fold, but his penance, I suppose, was to remain the very reverend and retiring with a smaller pension. He wrote books. His brother, my great-great grandfather, James Johnston Campbell, was a writer. His books remain on a shelf in my father's library. He often referred to himself as "Jimmy," which lends credence to the idea that R.J. might have used the name "Jack."

What any of this has to do with Glen (Jack) Campbell and his magnificently lost song – the one I can’t remember – remains a mystery.

As a kid, I would flop belly down behind my grandmother’s couch and pore over a volume of British history. I looked for the exciting parts, like tower imprisonments and bloody executions. In my subconscious mind, I suppose, is the connection to Glen Campbell, who slept behind some woman’s couch in my childish mind’s eye, ever Gentle on my Mind.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

James and the Giant Tooth~

On Thursday, James had me at my wits' end. Knowing how short my wits are lately, he alone has the capability of finding them, nudging them, and stomping on them with his high-top black Converse tennis shoes. (The ones he takes off. In class.)

James joined my class last month. He has never been in school before and lacks all the social graces and academic finesse one would expect of a kindergartener at this time of year.

James has the patience of a gnat and the processing skills of .... let's see. I need a good analogy here. Suffice to say that James does not readily process ANYTHING YOU SAY to him in a timely fashion. Unless the response you give him involves dropping everything to replace a lost shoe, tie an errant lace, or be at his beck and call, he simply doesn't "hear" it.

James has cerebral palsy on his right side. Instead of fitting him with a shoe that will properly support his turned in foot, his mother laces up a pair of black
Converse high tops, which James promptly messes with and removes several times a day. Replacing this shoe involves unlacing the whole damn thing and shoving his poor twisted foot deep into the bowels of it, and praying that your efforts will result in the shoe remaining ON for the rest of the day.

When the shoe comes off or, in most cases, is removed by James, he will caterwaul and carry on in a fashion designed to send even the most patient of saints towards
the fava beans and nice chianti.


This is repeated until the other children have covered their ears and dived under tables for safety. This, I presume, is the result of my careful Earthquake training.
When they add "stop, drop, and roll," I will be officially ready for retirement.

You can reassure James that you will "get to this shoe" as soon as you are damned good and ready, but all he processes is the word "shoe," coupled with a tone of voice that communicates to him that you are not ABOUT to stop what you are doing to spend 5 solid minutes replacing a shoe THAT HE TOOK OFF IN THE FIRST PLACE.

So, on Monday, James lost his first tooth. It was quite the experience for him. It was emotional, full of blood, and demands that I call an ambulance. I put the tooth into a little tooth necklace and convinced him to put the whole thing into his backpack for safekeeping.

On Thursday, James lost another tooth. I repeated the procedure with the tooth necklace but this time, James insisted on keeping it around his neck.

After many admonitions to leave his tooth alone,and NOT OPEN THE LITTLE TOOTH CONTAINER I CAREFULLY TAPED SHUT AND PUT AROUND HIS NECK WITH A CAREFUL LITTLE SQUARE KNOT, James interruped a beautiful rendering of "The Whales," by Cynthia Rylant.

Y'all KNOW how I feel about Cynthia Rylant. The kids were DEAD QUIET for once and actually enthralled by this book.It was - it was - dare I say it? A teaching MOMENT! They were in the palm of my hand and Rylant's carefully chosen words, complete with "feathers in a sky...." and "the rose being lost on them."

And what does James the now-front-toothless wonder do? HE starts SCREAMING AT ME.

"TEACHER! I can't find my tooth!"

And does he say it once and let it go so we can try to solve the problem!? NO! He begins that James-Caterwaul, repetively screaming it while I lower the book and say
something profound about James and his MOST OUTSTANDING LISTENING SKILLS.

Moment? Rylant Moment? HUH? (nnnnyeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrr! pffft!)

Did we find the lost tooth? Yes - it was next to the block pile. Everybody in class was on their hands and knees, searching for the lost tooth. You can imagine how quiet and peaceful it was in kindergarten right then. They found paper clips, some loose staples, and an old sticker, too.

Did James use the tooth, safely encased back into his tooth necklace, as a castanet during the rest of the reading? Why, YES, he did! (How did you know?)

And what did I find after the kids left that day?

1. An open plastic tooth container, empty of tooth.

2. A lime green plastic strand of filament, used to fasten
tooth containers into necklaces and tied around little...
NECKS. (grit teeth when you say that word. NECKS.)

3. A bit o' tape, affixed to outside of James's cubby.

4. The tail end of one of my wits.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Recalcitrant Door~

On Friday, the kids and I noticed that we couldn't properly close the back door that leads into the classroom from the playground. All attempts to pull it shut resulted in the door swinging right back out. This caused quite the uproar since a recalcitrant door is not within the realm of usual kindergarten experiences. So, the kids practically dogpiled each other to get at the door and properly close it. After all, if I can't close the door, they reason, surely one of them can!

I redirected them and eventually we got down to the brass tacks of reading The Teeny Tiny Woman for the 17th time this week. Shouting "GIVE ME MY BONE!" quickly took their minds off the door that would not properly close.

Later that afternoon, after Julie and I put away the tricycles, we entered my classroom using the recalcitrant door.

"Your door won't close," said Julie.

"I know," I replied. "It started acting up today."

She examined the door from the outside and then from the inside before pronouncing that if the door won't close, the alarm can't be set, and this could be a huge problem.

We bent over to examine the door frame and the metal plate that holds the prongs that come from the doorknob.

"Look," said Julie, wiggling the plate, "this is loose." She began using her keys in an attempt to tighten the loose screws.

"Maybe we should get a screwdriver," I suggested. But Julie was successful with her door key. Since all jobs require just the right tool, she carefully tightened the loose screws.

Alas, having a screw loose wasn't the recalcitrant door's problem. It still wouldn't close. As before, it immediately popped back open when we pulled it shut.

"Hmmm," said Julie.

"Yeah. Hmmm," I answered.

We looked closely at all the scrapes, holes, and gouges up and down the door frame. It is an old door frame, so these imperfections are to be expected. There are probably marks on that door frame that go back to the 1950s. They are practically vintage.

"Check this out," I said, running my fingers along two particularly nasty looking horizontal gouges along the frame, adjacent to the metal plate Julie repaired.

"Wow!" answered Julie, running her own fingers in the grooves. "This looks like somebody tried to break in!"

"Oh my gosh! Yeah, it does," I replied, quickly looking around the room.

"Is anything missing?" Julie asked, looking alarmed. We looked at each other. This was not good.

"I don't think so, but who knows," I replied, turning my attention to the door itself. I began pushing on those protruding things that match the metal plate and are supposed to fit inside it when you close the door. They bounced back, which was a good thing. They were in working order.

"Hmmm," said Julie.

"Yeah. Hmmmm," I answered.

We pulled the door shut again and watched to see if we could get the metal door prongs into the hole in the metal doorplate.

"Oh, look," said Julie, "that's where the gouges come from."

It was clear that years of vigorously being pulled shut caused the gouges on the side of the door frame, two violent-looking parallel indentations. No attempted break-in, after all.

We gazed up - to the top of the door, noting that the door didn't shut up there either.

"Is Gary here?" Julie asked, referring to our trusty custodian who can fix just about anything.

"I don't think so," I said. "I think he's gone home for the day."

"Hmmm," said Julie.

"Yeah. Hmmm," I answered.

"Well," I said, after a pause. "I better tell Laura about this. She won't be able to alarm the building. She may have to call Gary and have him come back in."

"On a Friday night?" asked Julie. "Will he do that?"

"Yeah," I said with certainty, as if I knew for sure. "He will. He's a good guy."

"Okay," said Julie, walking towards her own classroom. "We tried. At least we tried."

"Yeah. We tried," I said, heading for the front door to find Laura, our night custodian. She is usually easy to spot since she pushes around a cart the size of a Fiat, loaded with buckets and mops and other large cleaning objects.

I located Laura across the Quad, in front of the first grade rooms. "Hey Laura," I called, "I need to let you know something!"

Laura emerged from one of the classrooms, holding a cleaning rag and looking at me inquisitively. Since I usually don't track her down to tell her important things, her curiosity was aroused.

"My classroom door won't close. Julie and I tried and tried. I just want you to know in case there is trouble with the alarm tonight."

"Which door is it?" asked Laura, heading for her cart.

"The back door," I reported.

I described in detail for Laura the problem of the recalcitrant door. She nodded, the grabbed a broom. We walked back towards my classroom. I wondered about the broom and worried that she might bang it on something to make the door close.

"Julie and I thought maybe somebody tried to break in," I said breathlessly, "But we realized it was just marks from the door lock thingy - hitting the doorframe. Then, Julie fixed the loose door plate with her room key," I added. "We really tried to fix this and not bother you," I said with pride and enthusiasm.

Laura said nothing.

"Since Gary isn't here, I thought it best to let you know," I said, as we entered my classroom from the front door. "We don't want any alarm trouble tonight. Do you think we need to call him? Or can somebody from maintenance come over?"

Laura didn't say anything. She approached the door and pushed it open, then looked down at the door jamb, where the door meets the threshhold. There was a rock, sitting right against the threshhold, effectively blocking the closure of the door.

Laura expertly wielded her broom and swept away the offending object. Then she pulled the door closed. It stayed that way.

My embarrassment was complete. To her credit, Laura only smiled, and opened the door again to sweep away some sand, pebbles, and chalk dust.

"Oh GAWD Laura... I am so sorry," I mumbled, unable to look her in the eye.

Julie came over and stood next to me. "Did you fix it?" she asked Laura. "What was wrong with it?"

Laura said nothing. She just smiled and finished her sweeping, then grinned at me and left the room.

"It was a rock. A boulder, really," I said, shuffling my feet and feeling quite stupid.

"A rock?" asked Julie. "Just a rock?"


"Hmmm," said Julie, turning around to leave.

"Yeah," I replied. "Hmmm."

Friday, May 01, 2009

James and the Lost Tooth

Today, James came to school with a look of consternation on his face. Something was up and I knew that in due time, I would hear all about it.

Sure enough, as soon as we started our Morning Meeting and began a lively discussion about our brand-new month of May, James blurted out, "TEACHER! My tooth is loose!"

The kids quickly abandoned the brand-new month of May and gathered around to peer inside James's mouth.

"Wiggle it," commanded Jovana.

"Yeah - wiggle it!" said Clinton.

I asked James if I could see his tooth and, sure enough, it was quite loose.

"Wow, James!" I said, "a loose tooth! How cool is that?"

I redirected the students and we were able to continue work on our calendar. We began a discussion of upcoming events and the number of days left in school. James continued to wiggle his tooth.

We began singing about the months of the year and then James interrupted us with a huge caterwaul and proclaimed that his tooth was BLOODY. He showed everybody two of his fingers, fresh from the inside of his mouth, glistening with wet spitty blood.

"Yes, James," I said calmly, "teeth will bleed when they are very loose." I asked the children to share out how many of them had lost teeth and how many had experienced blood. They all agreed that losing teeth was a bloody affair.

James was not convinced and stared at his fingers. I got him a tissue and told him he could use it to staunch the blood flow.

"Wipe your fingers, James," I said, trying once again to regain the students' attention and take notice of our brand new month and to begin counting down the days left in school.

"Teacher!" demanded James. "It's still bleeding!"

"Yes, James," I said, "it will do that for awhile. Just wiggle it and it will come out."

He looked alarmed. "YOU DO IT," he said, standing up.

"You want ME to pull out your tooth, James?" I asked.

James nodded very seriously.

"Are you sure?" I said, "maybe your mom will want to do this."

"No. YOU do it," said James.

The kids, sensing an event of great importance, gathered around and demanded that James open his mouth for consultation. There were many "ooohs" and "aaaahs" as the kids determined that YES, indeed, James had a loose tooth and TEACHER should definitely pull it out. Several of the students began telling old war stories about their own tooth-loss experiences. James's eyes widened a bit.

I pulled out a fresh tissue and asked James if he was sure. He nodded gravely. I approached his mouth with my tissued hand and he promptly leaned backward with alarm in his eyes.

"James," I said patiently, "if you want me to pull it out, I have to grab a hold of it."

He looked thoughtful, eyes still wide with concern, and then opened his mouth.

"Okay," he said.

I approached again. "Will it hurt?" he asked plaintively.

"Yes. A little bit." I put my thumb and forefinger together and indicated a space of about half a centimeter. "It will hurt this much."

James considered again and decided to go for it.

I used the tissue and expertly grasped the tooth and gave it a good yank. Out popped the tooth and the kids clammered around to get a good look.

"He's BLEEDING," yelled Carlos.

"Yeah, Teacher! He's bleeding!" shouted Justin and Manuel.

I instructed James to put the tissue in his mouth while I dug up a little tooth container. I snapped the container closed after depositing the tooth, then made James a necklace to carry around the lost tooth. I admonished him to be careful with it and warned him against losing it.

James sat on the rug in stunned silence and we slowly got back to normal.

A few minutes later, as we were taking attendance, James announced to the class that he was still bleeding.

"It will bleed for awhile, James," I said, continuing with my lesson.

About a minute passed. Suddenly, James looked up at me with total impatience.

"Is ANYBODY going to call an AMBULANCE?"

Floating Bananas

Today I gave the kids a huge jug of water and asked them to explore sinking and floating. They tried various things like paper clips, popsicle sticks, marbles, cotton balls, crayons, rubber bands, and pencils. After awhile, I sat down with a group of them and asked them if they thought my apple would float.

No, they all said, it will sink. To their amazement, the apple floated. I asked if anybody had an orange. Isaias dug around in his backpack and came up with an orange - which promptly sank.

"I have grapes," said Madison with excitement, and ran to get exactly two. Both of them sank and much discussion erupted about grapes and oranges and apples.

"Does anybody have a banana?" I asked. For a split second, nobody responded and then Aaliyah piped up, "Teacher! I have a banana!"

"You do?" I asked, "Well, go get it!"

Aaliyah stood there smiling like a deer in the headlights.

"Aaliyah," I prompted, "go get the banana! Is it in backpack or the snack bucket?"

Aaliyah paused and then shook her head.

"No, Teacher," she said, "It's at my house!"

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Eadie's First Hike~

Today was Eadie's first hike.

I took her to the Joshua Ranch trailhead to see how she would do on the trail. Seamus and Augie came along with their usual pre-hike excitement.

After several minutes in the car, Eadie threw up. Since she threw up the last two times I've taken her in the car, I am getting the sense that Eadie throws up in the car. This does not bode well for a dog that is supposed to be my newest hiking companion. In order to be my hiking companion, she has to travel in the car because that is how we get to the trails.

Eadie didn't know what to make of all the new smells. The uphill portion of the early hike bothered her and she didn't like her new harness.

After about 20 minutes, Eadie had an encounter with a stink bug. This did not go well for her. The stink bug scurried away while Eadie shook her head a lot and began sneezing.

A few minutes later, I gave the dogs some water. After politely waiting her turn, Eadie proceeded to empty the water bowl and look up at me for more. I poured more water and she drank that too. Five minutes later, she threw up.

Hiking is a new experience for Eadie and she is not in shape for it. The dog was a trooper and didn't complain or flop down under a bush the way Seamus does when he thinks it's time to rest. But I did not sense a love of the great outdoors emanating from Eadie and I don't believe I saw her smile. She ignored the wildlife after the stink bug incident.

After an hour and a half, we finished the hike and got in the car to go home. It is an eight minute drive from the trailhead. I cracked windows and opened the sun roof so Eadie could have air.

When we pulled into the driveway, Eadie promptly threw up.

Floss Promises~

This week I had my teeth cleaned.

I have a mouth that makes a lot of plaque so I get to see Rhonda the Hygienist every four months. Rhonda replaced Gail, who retired from dental life. I referred to Gail as the Floss Nazi and made sure to use lots of floss in the days leading up to my appointments. Being a professional, Gail caught on to this ruse and managed to extract regular floss promises. I always reverted to haphazard flossing habits until the week before the next appointment. This behavior resulted in Gail following me out to the parking lot with extra floss samples and a shiny bullwhip.

My appointment with Rhonda lasted a long time because poor flossing habits have consequences. Sometimes, I neglect to brush well before going to bed.

These lazy dental habits pay off with a FULL PROBE EVALUATION. This includes a very sharp dental tool and numbers representing one’s gum health being called out while another dental worker records the shame into a computer, next to a diagram of your teeth. Rhonda pokes this sharp tool into the gums with too much gusto and my poor floss relationship is recorded for posterity. If my dental records are needed for identification after an untimely plane crash, my embarrassment will surely transcend the grave.

What you want are very low numbers. A one means dental sainthood and is reserved for people like Rhonda, Gail, and the doctor himself. I think they clean each other’s teeth weekly with the latest professional tools and gadgets.

A two is pretty damn good. If you get twos, admiration oozes from the dental staff and your picture goes on the Smiling Wall of Fame. Most dental patients are content with threes, interspersed with an occasional two (“good job!”) and a possible four in troubled areas (“uh oh!”).

Threes mean you don’t have to slink out of the office with your head down. You can make eye contact with the staff while promising to hit those trouble spots with extra vigor henceforth. You probably won’t be getting the FAQ brochure about dental implants.

But I reached a new low this time. Rhonda was very serious behind her mask and goggles as she called out the numbers in a strained voice. There was a three here and there, but she fixated on the number “four.” Fours mean you have been very, very bad. The lady imputing the numbers was practically snorting. I can’t PROVE that she actually snorted, but the vibe was palpable. I was mortified.

I can live with “fours,” since becoming toothless is not in the near future. It means hunkering down and bonding with dental floss and making sure a toothbrush is in the purse at all times. Fours mean the doctor might come in.

Then Rhonda barked out the worst number of all: A FIVE! I think she said it TWO TIMES. Fives mean that if you possessed a tail, it would be plastered between your legs because you are looking at periodontal catastrophe. There will be plans to peel back your gums and to scrape the teeth with scalpels and hacksaws. Whirring power tools are in the equation too, with liberal doses of consternation and a substance akin to Clorox for Dentists.

The worst part is when Rhonda produces a model of Mr. Mucky Mouth, a teaching tool designed to scare little kids into brushing and flossing. Mr. Mucky Mouth is the stuff of nightmares.

I think I shall begin wearing dental floss as jewelry. One visit with Mr. Mucky Mouth is enough.

This time I promise.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Trip to the TheaTre~

Yesterday, my mother and I went to a play in Glendale, put on by a small theater company. The play was excellent, well-priced, and worth the drive.

It is an old building that has housed the theatre, a family venture, for years. The current manager is the grandson of the founders. The lobby employees pull double duty, collecting tickets, playing usher, and working in the small concession area.

The restrooms are upstairs. To their credit, the owner has installed at least 12 cubicles and a nice sink area in the ladies’ room. The women ALWAYS have to wait in line at intermission. As luck will have it, that is when all the women in attendance have to use the restroom.

I often tell the women towards the end of the line, where I usually am, that “we can storm the men’s restroom ladies, what do you say? Who’s with me?”

Usually there are smiles and some fake bravado, but yesterday there was just more grumbling. One woman in particular went ON AND ON about how SICK she is of climbing those stairs. She wasn’t feeble, she looked to be in good health and her age was somewhere around mine. Granted, she could have some debilitating illness, but she never mentioned that – only the fact that she, a well-dressed middle class woman well-acquainted with the risks and benefits of plastic surgery, was SICK of climbing a lousy set of stairs. Since the plays change about every other month, I am guessing those six trips a year are exhausting.

This was the same woman who whined about coffee not being included as part of the package. When you buy a ticket to the play, you get a complimentary soft drink. She stood behind me in line and bellowed about it to anyone and everyone who would listen. Since it is a small theater lobby, it is safe to guess that everyone had to listen, including the very pleasant and hard-working employees.

I forked over a couple bucks for a refillable cup of coffee. When I stepped aside, she began barking drink instructions to the young lady behind the drink counter. She wanted seltzer water – the kind used to mix the sodas, she said, but a bit of lemonade had to be added to the mixture with just the right amount of ice. NO… that was too much, pour it out. The drink has to be just THIS much seltzer water and THIS much lemonade and the ice has to be added AFTER the mixture has a chance to, you know, MIX.

This is a “theatre in the round.” There are no bad seats. But for a woman who has to have her lemonade and seltzer water mixed just so, the dearth of acceptable seats was just abominable. She stood on the stage, looking around, agitated and pontificating.

Apparently, the woman she picked up was LATE and spent TOO MUCH TIME IN THE BATHROOM AT MC DONALDS. So, they couldn’t get here in time to secure her “usual seats.”

An elderly gentleman sitting across the aisle caught my eye during this diatribe. He must have been present for the others, since his wife was rolling her eyes and hiding behind her program. He looked around and then leaned over to me and whispered, “it must be a BITCH being her.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cubicle Debacle

A lot of people are annoyed at John Chiang. He's the guy in charge of California's money, and he didn't win any popularity contests when he threatened to stop paying bills and replace our tax refund checks with IOUs. The last time this happened, banks honored the IOUs and collected from the state when a budget finally passed. But since banks are taking bailout money to prevent insolvency, I am guessing that won't happen this time.

If there's no money, there's no money, and you can't blame the guy for being practical. When responsible individuals are out of money, they stop spending. It’s the same for state governments. Chiang’s checkbook is just bigger than ours. Pragmatic people understand these financial quandaries.

But this guy has really ticked me off because of cubicles, and I am not alone in my anger. Chiang is now fodder for the talk radio hosts who lambaste public officials on a regular basis. He is experiencing a “cubicle backlash.”

Cubicles, you may ask? Yes, cubicles. Nobody seems to like them much but they are ubiquitous in office buildings around the country. Workers toil away inside their portable walls. They hang up photographs, calendars, and posters about perseverance. People working in open office spaces talk too much and grate on each other’s nerves. So, office managers utilize cubicles in an effort to keep distractions to a minimum.

Apparently, the state controller has an affinity for them, so during this, the worst economic crisis in California's history, Chiang is processing purchase orders for a million dollars worth of cubicles - for the state controller's office! (Maybe the workers are talking too much.)

It's a bit disingenuous to tell working people that their tax refunds are not forthcoming. No paying off bills or funding home improvement projects just yet. But John Chiang can authorize overdrawing the state’s checking account for CUBICLES.

I keep hearing that businesses are leaving California to escape high business taxes. So, wouldn’t they leave behind some cubicles that Chiang could exchange for tax credits? And what about the businesses that are going bankrupt in this desolate economy? Retail outlets, chain stores, and small businesses are calling it quits in record numbers. I bet Chiang could settle a number of tax debts by trading for previously-owned office cubicles with low mileage and only a few sporadic thumbtack holes.

Local governments are feeling the pinch of Chiang’s pennies. There won’t be a lot of money in the city’s coffers for parks and recreation, after-school programs, youth sports, or stuff like libraries and public swimming pools.

The direct result of the state’s fiscal irresponsibility is being felt, quite painfully, by local school districts. Unprecedented budget shortfalls are wreaking financial havoc in classrooms across the state.

The Wilsona School District, with three schools, is considering closing a campus, cutting 25 teachers, and eliminating most classified support staff. What would a million dollar cash infusion do for this little district? What could it do for the countless other schools in the same precarious situation?

It is more than disingenuous for the state controller to spend a million dollars on cubicles when a fraction of that money could save jobs and keep schools open and operating. With higher class sizes, a skeleton support staff, and fewer classroom resources, there are serious consequences for California’s school children.

So why does Chiang need cubicles? He needs to focus on what is truly important.

Schoolchildren don’t need cubicles either. They need teachers dedicated to the business of education and not distracted by the ridiculousness of cubicle-loving bureaucrats and the frightening prospect of unemployment.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

My Bodybugg

I just love my Bodybugg. It is a device that keeps you honest. It tracks your steps and activities and lets you know how many calories you are burning. The accompanying computer program allows you to enter your food log and figure out if you are on track for weight loss, maintenance, or whatever your goal happens to be.

Here are some observations about the Bugg that I have been pondering:

Here are a few things I notice about my Bodybugg:

1. It likes to be clean. If I don't wipe it off every morning, it gets testy and reports that my metabolism belongs to a slug.

2. It is very egocentric. Once certain "goals" have been reached, you simply MUST wait for the readout to trumpet the feat TWICE. It does you no good to ask it to stop.

3. The bugg ignores cycling. It obviously prefers counting your steps and not the revolutions your thighs, buttocks, and calves make while riding a bicycle. It will count your calories, but only begrudgingly. An hour of cycling does nothing to increase your step count.

4. You can't wear it in the water. All that technology and it is not waterproof. Which means you never really know how many calories you burn swimming or participating in water fitness activities. You have to estimate just how vigorous your shower is - or take the program's word for it.


Revisiting a Core Value: Grampy and the CCC

Today's L.A. Times has an article about the original Civilian Conservation Corps, as developed by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. The CCC was envisioned as a way to fix the heart and souls of American workers during the Great Depression. The end results included infrastructure that survives today, the nation's first freeway system, and work for the National Parks system.

My grandfather signed up for the CCC during the height of the Great Depression. Born to Indiana farmworkers in 1913, he was 20 years old when the family moved from the midwest to California, searching for a better life. At some point after the move, unable to find work locally, he signed up for the CCC and began the hard work of rebuilding the state's National Park system.

The L.A. Times article cites numerous recollections of former CCC workers. The work gave them pride, good food, and gainful employment. The fact that it was difficult did not play into the equation. The workers felt valuable and respected for the work they were doing.

The article goes on to suggest that reviving the CCC and its core principles is an idea worth considering today. This suggestion has given me pause.

My grandfather, Paul V. Earl, was in his early 20s when this photograph was taken. Having worked from the time he was a child, this CCC work came easily for him. He went on to marry in 1937, when he could afford it, and had a job with the United Parcel Service, which he supplemented with carpentry and cabinet work. Several years later, he became a Los Angeles City firefighter - having circumvented the height restriction by wearing lifts in his shoes. Being 5'7" tall did not prevent him from working over 30 years for the fire department.

I wonder if today's generation of young people who would benefit from a CCC program would be successful. This is a generation raised in front of the television and adept at video games, computer applications, and loitering around malls and movie theaters. This is a generation with too many members who do not bend over to pick up trash and seem to lack the work ethic that made my grandfather's cohorts what Tom Brokaw dubbed "The Greatest Generation."

Today's young retail workers seem, for the most part, to dislike the entire idea of WORK. They are satisfied with "good enough" and quickly change jobs when the requirements to actually put forth effort becomes too apparent. This is the generation who rarely dressed for P.E. unless they were in that special class known as "athletes."

My grandfather always supplemented his work as a firefighter with manual labor. He was rarely idle unless "practicing" for a night's sleep by taking a short nap after dinner. He made cabinets and was a skilled carpenter, called upon often during his lifetime to build, re-build, and repair. His table saw was always buzzing and I delighted in gathering the mounds of sawdust and repurposing it for my wild and imaginary play purposes. He took time to fashion for me slender wooden arrows that I could fling with a notched handle and promptly lose in the yard next door.

My husband and son both work retail and often recount the frustration they feel when having to compensate for the lack of effort put forth by other employees in their work environments. Dan spends time every single work day cleaning up the mess left behind by employees who refuse to put forth even a minimal effort to work as a team. My friend Dave, a fast food manager, wages a constant battle to keep employees and to keep their respective operations running smoothly. The work ethic, he complains, is just lacking.

How many times have we entered retail establishments and left dissatisfied because customer service seems an antiquated value from the past? Too often, I venture to guess.

Do I paint with a broad brush? Of course I do. There are many hardworking employees in retail too young to remember vinyl records and life without cell phones. But they are under-represented in today's workforce.

I think the Civilian Conservation Corps is a good idea and worth revisiting. But I have to chuckle since most of the teenagers I am familiar with are loathe to bend over and pick up a piece of trash that doesn't belong to them. There is a sense of entitlement that was reinforced by my generation of parents, in a misguided attempt to make our children strong and responsible human beings.

My grandfather's work ethic was a model for my father, who rarely missed work during his 30 year tenure with the phone company and years of communications consulting that followed. It was ingrained in me and my sister by our parents and passed along to our children. I can count on one hand the number of times my husband and sons have called in sick to work in the past decade. My nieces do not shun hard work.

My grandfather would be proud - but only to the extent that this is how it is supposed to be. We must work together as a nation to dig ourselves out of the mess that our country is mired in today. It will take hard work - is the generation with the most physical energy up to the task?

Are we?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Crippled Ant Theory~

Okay, I am not 100 percent sure of the efficacy of this method, but my sister swears by it and it makes logical sense to me.

Ants are terrific communicators. They leave scent trails and clean up after themselves, and manage to build entire colonies without spoken language. They also raise baby ants, bring food for the Queen Ant, and change trail directions when imediments get in the way. There is also a song about the ants going marching. Not many insects have songs about them. (La Cucaracha excepted.)

So - here is the theory. You select one of the ants for "maiming." You must be careful because ants are fragile and pinching off a leg or thorax with your fingernail MIGHT result in death. This does no good, since ants don't usually collect their dead. (They might. We aren't sure.)

The maimed ant hobbles back to the nest and leaves distress pheranomes along the way. The maimed one then collapses in the nest and the rest of the colony gathers around and demands an explanation. Who did this horrible thing? Why?

Meanwhile, other ants come streaming in, briefed by the distress scent and communicating that THIS PLACE is a BAD PLACE because look at "________!" He/she is MAIMED for life and will have to go on welfare (or get eaten).

The ants convene a council meeting, decide to change course, and leave the offending property.

You will then be ant-free.

My sister swears by this. (If it doesn't work, she gets a can of RAID, then calls her exterminator, who is on speed-dial.)


A Dadism: The Chicken Plucker

Driving back to my sister's house one day, my sister began talking about dinner.

My dad asked her if he could do anything to help and she jokingly replied that he could pluck the chicken.

My father said that he was not the chicken-plucker or the chicken-plucker's son, but he could pluck the chicken till the chicken-plucker comes.

Later that day, Sue and I took her very elderly dog, Nook, out for a walk. In recent weeks, Nook had started squatting on the pavement and letting loose, no longer waiting to eliminate on the lawn or grass areas. A simple plastic bag no longer sufficed, since the dog "went" about a dozen times during the walk. So, I had to follow along behind Sue and Nook, holding a shovel, which I put on my shoulder like a rifle.

Dad came out of the house and and asked me what in the world I was doing.

I told him that I wasn't the sh*t shoveler or the sh*t shoveler's son, but I could shovel sh*t till the sh*t shoveler comes.


Hitting "delete" and holding.....

I decided to take some time this morning to clear out some old stuff in my eMail program. Connectivity has been a problem for several days and the messages were piling up.

After initially browsing my inbox and replying to outstanding messages, I began the process of culling old messages. At some point, I hit some keys on the keyboard without meaning to and descended into a Twilight Zone of eMail Hell. I was only paying half-attention, so the transition was pretty flawless.

I began noticing that the messages I was deleting were from ME. WHAT, I asked myself. Did I mistakenly tell Outlook to send me a copy of any and all messages that I send out, reply to, or forward? What have I done? How do I fix it? I hate not being technical! Can I go Leo LaPorte the tech guy? Do I ask on Tnet? Will they laugh at me?

For 20 minutes, I leaned on my hand, dull and bored witless, trying to delete all these messages. Surely there is a better way, I thought. But I could not find one in all the drop down menus and buttons and other handy dandy features included in Outlook. I began timing the deletions so that I could just hit the button, delete, and then hit the button, delete, hit the button, delete. It was numbing. My appreciation of factory workers increased.

How long has this been going on, I asked myself, panicking. No wonder the computer is acting up and sounds like it is always processing something. I have really screwed up this time! I send out and forward a LOT of messages! Now I am reaping the consequences of being so communicative, so loquacious, so… VERBAL. Hit the button, delete, hit the button, delete. Good GAWED! Can't I just cut and paste and THEN delete? But NO.

And then I realized something, as I deleted messages from Thanksgiving, hitting the button, deleting, hitting the button, deleting. I received a huge jolt of clarity and tons of humiliation, embarrassment, and shock.

I was in my SENT ITEMS file.

I have an appointment with the Alzheimer's Specialist tomorrow.

Burrow Decor~

In kindergarten this week, we have been talking about winter. Monday, I read the kids a non-fiction book about animals in winter and introduced the kids to vocabulary like "hibernation," "migration," and "burrow."

There is a place in the book that shows a woodchuck's burrow. The kids were very interested in the tunnels, bathroom chamber, and sleeping chamber. We discussed how many burrowing animals will have more than one entrance to fool predators. After discussing the book, we did a "directed drawing" of a woodchuck's burrow. We labeled parts and then some of the kids asked if they could color the drawings.

I reminded the children that this was a "science" drawing, so accuracy in color is important. The kids decided that brown was probably going to be the predominant color, since the picture of the burrow was under a winter landscape. Some children put green on a few trees and colored the hibernating woodchuck with tan and brown colored pencils.

I walked around the room, giving feedback. I stopped short when I saw McKenna, one of my most competent students and a very good listener, using a pink crayon inside the woodchuck's sleeping chamber. She was carefully coloring the outline of the chamber. Knowing that McKenna would not deliberately disregard my instructions, I stopped to inquire.

"McKenna," I said, "what's this? Is the sleeping chamber PINK?"

McKenna looked up and me and smiled.

"No. It has grass. And dirt."

"Well... what is the pink crayon for?" I asked.

She continued coloring and replied, "Wallpaper."

Snack Stealing~

Kindergarten students often have difficulty understanding the concept of stealing. Over time, the idea of "right" and "wrong" begins to form, but this is a hard thing to internalize when a classmate has a really cool snack - and you don't.

I have had some "snack stealing" off and on in my classroom and I finally caught the culprits yesterday. Neither are sophisticated enough to pull off this kind of a lie, so finally BUSTING them was a real treat.

Today, Josias had a baggie with some cereal and a fruit roll-up inside. He decided he wasn't hungry and left it on the picnic table. At some point, it disappeared.

I rounded up the usual suspects before they could lawyer-up and began the interrogation. No shifty eyes, no suspicious pocket bulges, no tell-tale leftovers on faces. They swore innocence but couldn't provide good alibis. I gave the usual "stealing is wrong" and "choosing the right" speech and they all looked like deer in the headlights and swore to gawd they were in Montreal at the time of the theft.

I quickly dashed off a note to Mrs. Abrams, asking if any of her little miscreants had "made a mistake" and "borrowed somebody else's snack." Two of my future police officers gleefully took the note down to Room 4 and the class settled down and began working. Within minutes, Nathan comes in to my room, looking very sorry....sorry he got caught.

I had him apologize to my usual suspects because, I explained, they were wrongly accused (this time) for something HE did. Nate dutifully apologized. Then I had Josias come up to Nate and I instructed Nate to talk to Josias.

"What do you have to say to Josias?" I asked.

Nate just stood there, looking at Josias.

"Nate, you have something you need to say to Josias," I prodded, using my best teacher voice.

Nate inched closer to Josias but remained silent.

"Nate!" I prompted. "Don't you have something to say to Josias about his snack?"

Nate gulped, put his hands in his pocket, looked at Josias and said, "Can I have it?"

Friday, January 09, 2009

Who repaired this parachute? Would you jump?

I guess Billy Mays is the pitchman favored by the "as seen on t.v." product producers. I personally like the ShamWow guy, but there's no accounting for taste in an industry that allowed Ron Popeil to stay on the air for so long.

Currently, Billy is pitching so many products I get them mixed up. The one perplexing me right now is Mighty Mend-It, which will is making sewing obsolete and will repair anything, even the levee holes near New Orleans.

So, Billy tells us, you can jump out of a perfectly good airplane with a parachute that has been repaired by Mighty Mend-It.

It took me awhile to digest this but, apparently, somebody had a RIP in a PARACHUTE. For those not familiar with parachutes, they save your sorry life when you make the booze-induced decision to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. This genius repairs this rip with Mighty Mend-it and then proceeds to hurtle towards the earth at 125 miles an hour before the parachute deploys.

Notice that Billy Mays does NOT jump out of the airplane. He just shouts at us above the din of the open airplane.

Now I ask: Would you? Would you use a parachute that was repaired with Mighty Mend-it, just because Billy yells at us that it is OKAY TO DO SO?

Wine and Cheese~

I was teaching Kindergarten out in Rosamond and had a little boy in the class named Alex. When I first met him, I thought he was the cutest, sweetest, most adorable child on earth. He had this tiny little voice that was just so….so…. CUTE!

Well, after awhile it wasn’t cute because Alex had a tendency to whine. He whined when things went his way and when things didn’t go his way. He whined just because that is what got him attention at home and elsewhere. In fact, his major mode of communication was a variation on "whine." Light whine would give way to full-whine on days when I lacked the patience to professionally deal with it. It would grate on my nerves and I would urge Alex to use his “big boy voice” and not his “baby voice.” Sometimes this worked but it was slow-going. Being a professional, I resisted the temptation to scream STOP WHINING!

We were a year-round school and when our first break came in late autumn, I was ready. The track change coincided with the first trimester report card and I had parent conferences during our last week. I told Alex’s mother that, despite her son’s brilliance, cuteness, and excellent personality, his whininess could really get on my last nerve – the one quivering over there in the corner. She laughed and said something like, “ya think?”

The day we tracked off, Alex brought me a gift that was nicely wrapped. I waited until recess to open it, since none of the other kids had gifts, it was not traditional to bring gifts, and I didn’t want anybody feeling bad because they didn’t have a gift.

(All kindergarten kids believe that gifts are for THEM. Anybody receiving a gift instantly reminds them that they are not getting a gift. Then comes the question, “What about ME?”)

Anyway, I hoped the gift bag and unwrapped a huge hunk of very expensive-looking cheese. Attached was a note:

“Some cheese to go with the whine you will be missing.”

Thursday, January 08, 2009

All because of a dog~

Dan and I both learned early in life that money does not grow on trees. We have always been careful with money and plan major home improvement projects with an eye on how we are going to pay for it without long-term debt. This usually results in big plans for home improvement projects but very few actual home improvement projects.

We decided a few years ago that the ten-year-old carpet was going to be replaced, eventually with laminate flooring. At least in the downstairs portion of the house, since this area gets the most wear. We like laminate flooring and often visit the Laminate Flooring Shrines at all home improvement centers.

Then, last week we adopted a new dog. Eadie is a good dog and, despite always being outside in her first eighteen months of life, she is practically housebroken. She had two accidents the morning after we brought her home. This was after holding it all night and before I could get her outside to do doggy business. Suffice to say that new surroundings, new food, and nervous dogs don't lend themselves well to healthy dog business. The results were the worst smell in human and dog history.

Scrubbing the carpet in the affected area did much for looks but little for odor removal. To be blunt, the floor smelled awful. The whole downstairs smelled awful. No matter what we did, it smelled awful. We lit a scented candle. It started to smell like baking cinnamon bread over the smell of something awful.

So, I took a good look at the slightly textured white tile in the downstairs bathroom, the slightly textured white tile in the laundry room, and decided that Home Depot or Lowes must sell these slightly textured white tiles by the box. Why not, I suggested to Dan, just rip up the stinky carpet here and tile this little hallway ourselves? It will look normal, I said, and probably won't cost very much.

So Dan the erstwhile tiling man came over to look. When Dan is pondering things, he usually strokes his mustache and pulls on his beard. He did this a lot. Yeah, he says, we can do that. So I get out the measuring tape and find that the tile in the bathroom is 12 inches by 12 inches, exactly. A square foot. How easy!

The tile in the laundry room is exactly 11-3/4 by 11-3/4. I measured most of the tiles in both rooms and, crazy at it sounds, they are not the same size.

Of course not, says Dan, who is rethinking the whole tiling man business. Then he starts pulling on the beard and smoothing out the mustache. How about, he says slowly, we start putting down laminate flooring? We want to do that anyway... we could just start here and then continue when we have more money?

So I stared at the little hallway with the awful smell and agreed. That, I told Dan the laminate flooring man, is exactly what we will do.

I left for my water fitness class and when I returned, the offending carpet was pulled up and surrounding baseboard was yanked off the wall. Two boxes of "Old Hickory" laminate flooring was opened in the garage and the table saw was set up.

Then Dan started playing with the planks. They are just like a giant puzzle. After much smoothing of the mustache and pulling on the beard, Dan declared that he would rather start from the family room, even-steven with the hearth, and go from there into the hallway. It makes more sense, he says.

So, the attached picture is what the whole area looks like right now. The unplanned and not-in-the-budget home improvement project.

All because of a dog.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Death by Hiking

I never cease to be amazed by the beauty and proxmity of the Pacific Crest Trail - and how I seem to always be the only one on it.

I don't mean the WHOLE trail, of course, I refer to the section that is within a half hour driving distance of most denizens of the Antelope Valley. A half a million people - and very few of them hike along this outstanding and well-maintained trail.

Part of the problem is timing - I just don't happen to be on a particular section of the trail when other people happen to be on that same particular section of trail. I do see evidence of other hikers, like cars and footprints. But I rarely see hikers.

I have come to the conclusion, over the course of several years, that many people are afraid of hiking because they think they might die. I wish I had a buck for each time somebody at school made reference to my hiking obsession and then refer to death - their own. As in, "God, I would just DIE if I hiked that long," or "that far," or "that high," or just "in general."

I've brought a few people with me in years past - but most of them act like they are going to die. Like Becky, who hunched over with her head between her knees about a half hour in one afternoon and announced that she was, in fact, going to die. We turned around.

My Outlaw, Jim, uses a variation of that sentiment when I eMail him the highlights of a particularly good hike. "You'd have to carry me out on a stretcher," he responds. This from a guy who likes to walk and does so on a somewhat regular basis. I think that HE THINKS he is going to die. Which means he never offers to come hiking with me.

Then there is my cousin Terry. Terry is really more of an uncle to me, having grown up with my father with a "brotherly" relationship. But he is my second cousin, to be exact, and perpetually young and vigorous.

"How about making plans for a hike up the Angeles Crest?" I write, full of hope and optimism. He usually ignores these pleas but on occasion he will reply that such a hike is not conducive to the health of "old fat guys." I usually double-take at this point since, in my mind's time warp, Terry is just out of UCLA and in his early thirties. He was the first guy I EVER knew who sported a pony tail. He was so WAY beyond cool that mere words could never describe him. I told my closest friends that I sincerely LOVED him and wanted to marry him and that he actually looked like John Lennon. For real. Of course, I was fourteen and he was in his thirties. (Which I don't think he's seen since the Carter Administration.)

And now, my cousin Terry, who is married to the marvelous and sophisticatedly down-to-earth Sandy, tells me he is ready to retire soon and that hikes are out of the question, for now. He has to "get in shape" which is hard because, you know, he WORKS and does not have the time and energy and inclination. I think it is more of the latter, although he will probably tell me that his mind is willing but his flesh is weak. I am pretty sure that if I haul his John Lennon ass up Mt. Baden Powell, he will claim he is going to die. Then Sandy would be ticked off at me.

My sister Sue is an intrepid hiker and my best hiking companion. Her legs are longer which means she is always ahead of me and it doesn't matter how good of shape I am in, she will always mention something about my "breathing." I think this is a dig at my state of cardiovascular shape-ed-ness, which is just fine, really. But hers is always a tad better. When we do the really brutal "good GAWD I can't breathe" hikes, she is in the lower end of her cardio "range," while I am pushing the point of being almost damned uncomfortable.

In recent years, her fibromyalgia, bad shoulder, and sports-wracked knees have given her trouble, which means shorter hikes. But she never says she is going to die. She's said she needs a big bag of ice, or a jar of Advil, or a hot bath, but she never threatens death.

This is not to say that Sue and I haven't run across a few people over the years who appeared on the brink of death while hiking. These experiences always occur on a trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains. These are the trails way up high in elevation, full of breathtaking beauty, and sought after by dedicated hikers everywhere.

There was the Diabetes Family. We named them that because all four of them were either shooting insulin, on the verge of shooting insulin, or the recipient of a family doctor's "suggested diet." We came across them as we attempted the Fern Creek Trail. Now, the Fern Creek Trail is listed in the Eastern Sierra Hiking Guide as "difficult." If the hiking guide says it is difficult, then it is in a class with mountains like Everest and Whitney and Denali. This hiking guide calls trails we would rate "difficult" as "moderate." The author is obviously a smart-ass. But I digress.

So, Diabetes Family is on the way UP to where the Fern Creek trail forks away from the main trail. Sue and I were on our way down and were appalled to see two middle aged people, a man and a woman, with bright red faces, totally out of breath, leaning on walking sticks, trying to remain upright. They were both on the "hefty" side, to be kind, and looked like heart attacks ready to happen. They were accompanied by a boy and a girl who were collapsed on the side of the trail. They had NO WATER. They had NO IDEA WHAT THEY WERE DOING.

"This trail is difficult," Sue and I tell the Diabetes Family. "May we suggest a nice flat trail that runs behind Gull Lake?"

The family waved away our concern and Sue and I continued on our journey, certain they were all going to die.

Then there was Flip-flop Girl.

We pulled in to the Lundy Canyon Trailhead one nice summer day at the same time as the Flip-flop Girl's family. They were loud and argumentative, not dressed at all for a serious hike. Sue and I picked up our pace so we could sign the trail register before them and get a good head start. Nothing is worse than being stuck with people who resembled the family from "Roseanne."

This trail ascends steeply from 7,398 feet to just over 10,000 feet in about an hour and a half. This is not a beginner's trail. Yet, here was this family, with a surly teenaged boy wearing head phones and skater shoes and a little girl of nine or ten wearing.......FLIP FLOPS. Yes, flip flops. Mom was screeching, Dad was swearing, and Sue and I were certain that they must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

The family had no food except the bag of Skittles in the boy's pocket, which he refused to share with FF Girl. The family had NO WATER. Sue and I gave them a half hour, tops.

"They're gonna die," Sue said, as we hurriedly tried to put distance between ourselves and the bickering brother and sister.

Near Mammoth Lakes, we ran into a young couple who had not seen a gym or serious exercise in quite awhile - if ever. She was looking like she needed an I.V., while he was paused on the trail SMOKING A CIGARETTE. It gets worse - they had a toddler with them. They were obviously new parents who sincerely believed that if they coaxed and yelled enough, the child would happily toddle along in front of them. The "happily" part was missing. The child was in full-whine.

"One of you is going to have to carry him," Sue said, as we prepared to overtake them.

The mother looked disgusted and the father looked annoyed. "He's fine," snapped the annoyed one, struggling for breath.

"This is a long trail - we've only just begun," I offered. "Perhaps he can ride on your shoulders?" I asked. It was the mother in me - I just couldn't help it. "You'll burn extra calories..."

Suffice to say that we didn't see them a few hours later on our way back to the trailhead.

They either gave up - or died trying.