Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Land lines and Trimlines~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least my cell phone is red.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Desert Trash Diaries: Episode 1

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

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

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

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

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

"In the desert."

"Where you walked him last night?"


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

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

"He ALWAYS finds it. What the heck?"

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

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

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

"What's wrong with the stroller?"

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

The Lizard That Got Away~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grampy's Yee Haw!

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

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

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

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

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

It is a good memory.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Missing Yosemite Moose

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ducks and Lipstick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cat Ears~

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

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

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

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

"I did," he said.

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

(Thirteen it is.)

Diaperless in Fillmore~

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Techno Tyranny!

I am the proud owner of several techno gizmos that know more than I know. This can be a bit disconcerting at times. I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at a young age, lounging on the top of a '68 Mustang with my friend Dede at the local drive-in. Her dad really wanted to see the flick - Dede and I, in the throes of early adolescence, entertained ourselves by calling Hal names and asking a lot of questions about the monkeys.

My very first laptop was a proud purchase. It is a little red Dell. I liked it because it was red and on sale with a student discount. The guy at Best Buy told me it was a fantastic deal. What he didn't tell me was that it had NO CD Drive and that the software was only free for 90 days. The CD Drive I should have checked, but the software thing made me crazy for several weeks with ominous popup warnings and strange sizzling noises. But I was lucky: A coworker took my machine home and "somehow" got all the software on it that I needed. I asked no questions. She told me no lies.

I bought an external CD drive early this summer so that I could use educational software in the classroom. This external CD drive no longer works. No reason, nothing spilled on it, no acts of terrorism by small child, it just... stopped working. Work stoppage with a computer accessory often means union issues. If one thing doesn't work, then the other things conk out in sympathy and commiseration.

So, of course the internal wireless thing stopped communicating with anything wireless. This might be because of a student and a water bottle. He owned the mistake, but the wireless still didn't work. So, I bought an external wireless thing. It worked once and never worked again. The wireless thing must have gotten to it and communicated the work stoppage order. This is one reason I dislike unions. The school's handy I.T. Wizard brought me a cord to connect to my phone so that I could upload my attendance - a multiple step process that is on-beyond irritating. Then the other I.T. Wizard, trying to make my life easier, brought in a work horse printer. She attached it to the phone line. Now I am afraid to disconnect it and reconnect the little red Dell. Something might explode. Union espionage.

The printer was brought in because my classroom printer just stopped scanning. Suddenly, without any warning. I had used it for less than a year and treated it very well. The Copier Dude took one look at it and called it a nasty name, but I paid for it myself so I was not amused. Did I mention I paid for it myself? Yes. I wanted a working copier/printer for my classroom since I could not connect to ANY printer network at the school. The why and the wherefore remain unknown. The little red Dell has many enemies. I believe they are jealous of its cuteness. (That or my union conspiracy thing.)

Since I cannot go online with the little red Dell, I cannot take attendance using the school's adopted attendance program that hails from the deepest bowels of hell. I must either borrow a computer or weep copiously in frustration. The latter proves ineffective.

I have a school-issued Macbook that is so dang pretty it almost hurts the eyes to gaze upon it. I love this computer except when I need to do anything with a spreadsheet (Numbers isn't speaking to Excel. Jihad has been declared.) One might think this piece of Apple artistry could take attendance since the hellish attendance program is very widely used. SURELY this company would have a plugin for the newest Macbooks, right? WRONG. No plugin. This means no attendance can be taken on this beautiful machine.

So I borrow an older Macbook to take attendance. But get this: I have counted and it takes exactly 11 steps to submit attendance on the older Macbook. Eleven. I have counted them while my precious recess potty break time slips away. I have commiserated with the owner of the older Macbook. She reminds me we should be grateful we don't have multiple class periods for which attendance must be taken. She has a point.

My original iPod disappeared from the classroom. While I suspect union thuggery, the fact remains that I had no tunes for the classroom. I received a gently used version from my daughter in law, but the capacity is less than half that of my pretty purple Nano. So I can't find things that easily. Everything iTunes-related is on my iPad, but, naturally, the iPod docking station will not work with the iPad2. Who knew? The docking speakers are dreadfully pricey. Why? Because Apple is in cahoots with the union thugs and knows that teachers with missing iPod Nanos MIGHT just want to use an iPad instead.

And the last thing? My beautiful Macbook will NOT play the CD software I spent good money on so the children could practice number bonding. It doesn't like it.

It's bad enough that I have to keep the two machines separate, out of sheer jealousy. But now, the little red Dell does appear to connect to my home wireless but my attempt to send important documents through eMail are for naught. Nada. It ACTS like it is sending, but in reality, it fakes it. This is because it won't cross the picket line. Only a few hours later does the Mailer Daemon tell the truth about this latest bit of techno tyranny.

I am going to read some articles about how to "cord cut" television services. I will read them the new iPad2, mine for only ten easy payments. I have to remember to hold it 'just right' so the screen remains stable and to be careful not to accidentally touch any advertisements.

Or maybe I will just watch cable and drink whine. I mean wine.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fronds and Elephants

This morning I awoke to a sky that is cloudy-gray and white. Against this backdrop, through the bedroom window, are the fronds of a palm tree, planted on a whim back when the house was new. The breeze blows and tree moves, imitating a life of movement, the only movement it will ever have. I am reminded of the backdrop in a snow storm - the eye sees nothing but the surrounding gray and white, the falling of the dense and foggy source, and that feeling - that pure sense of solitude, of being apart from the world.

The funny thing, of course, is that solitude is a sense, a perception, a state of mind. I am looking from the window of a second story bedroom, from the warmth and comfort of bed, a night of dreams, and the simple pleasure of a good book. It is a book from which I look up often because it makes me think. I glance outside by pulling the paper-thin shade towards me and I ponder. I think about the book and I think about the tree and then I read.

That palm tree reminds me of a story about a blind man and an elephant. There are other versions; one that comes to mind is a story in a well-loved basal reader about seven blind mice. The moral, which resonates in science, literature, the arts, and just life in general, is that you have to know when to get in really close and when to take a step (or 2 or 3) backwards - to get the big picture. From the window, what I see of the tree is melancholy and beautiful. The fronds are a dark green, with ribbon-like tendrils that move with the breeze like the fingers of a dancer - not separate from the hand, but with their own movement. I think about getting my camera. I am framing a shot. There is no light for this picture but it is a photograph nonetheless. Like most photographers, I am not so much seeing the dulled contrast of the green fronds and the gray and white surround, I am trying to capture an experience.

But from the ground, this tree is a tall, thick trunk that grows straight up. Dead fronds are pressed downward against the upper reaches of its trunk, dying fronds are beginning to lay back, away from the top, away from the sun, giving up green and succumbing to the inevitable process of death, sacrificing itself so that other, newer fronds can grow. The tree is not ugly - it is rather pretty. From the sidewalk, it is impressive in size and height. But the beauty of its canopy does not resonate on the ground. It is a suburban palm tree, planted two decades ago. It looked interesting as a young tree. It lacked the harshness of the mature tree's trunk. The fronds were small, green, and looked nice in the hunter green of the nursery's plastic pot.

From the window, on this morning of rain and wind, the upper reaches of the tree engage me as I think about what I am reading and pondering meaning. Surely my mind, always active to the point of insomnia and strange, inter-connected dreams, is seeking meaning. There is an allegory here, a story. What is it? The elephant? We can't change stories that belong to other people. We can only imagine the elephant walking away, leaving a befuddled blind man or seven mice pondering what the animal's presence meant. The tree? It isn't in a story. But it cannot walk away or leave anyone befuddled or amazed. It just moves in the breeze.