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.