Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Be Not Proud

Two things occurred to me this week at entirely separate times, both involving some very sad news I received on Monday. A colleague of mine from teaching died on Monday. She was one of the truly good people I ever knew. She was kind, helpful, a devoted teacher, and an adoring mother to her two little children. She was only thirty-one years old. As soon as I heard of her death, I was overwhelmed with a deep sadness. And all I could manage to distill out of all of my emotions was the fact that It Just Wasn't Fair.

That's when I realized that, when it comes to Death, I am a child. I am fearful of losing those I love, and when confronted with Death, I want to turn around and go the other way, and quickly too, because I also feel like I want to throw up. I didn't really experience Death when I was growing up. My dad's parents were already gone by the time I was three, and no one close to me died when I was little. We didn't have pets, either, until I was much older, so I didn't even have a pet to experience Death with. Of course, there is absolutely a chance that there was a death that I simply don't recall. Much of my childhood seems and feels blurry to me, partly because I spent 85% of it reading library books, and partly because I operated on a "need to know" basis. As in "Mom or Dad will tell me what I need to know."

I often wish that our culture had a healthier view of Death. In many Eastern cultures, for example, Death is viewed as a higher plane of existence--not an ending, but a beginning, an even more perfect form of consciousness. I have a lot of ambiguity regarding Death. The idea of a Heaven of some sort is comforting, but I don't really think it exists. It bothers me, the Not Knowing. And I hate the whole social aspect of a Death. When my father died, I was outraged that we--the bereaved family--had to do anything. Why on earth would anyone expect us to receive visitors when our father and, for my mother, her husband had just died? How could we stand there and talk to people, many of whom I did not even know? And my mother started worrying about feeding them, and where we could do that, and yada yada yada. I could barely function. I could still see my father lying there in the emergency room, the sheets tightly tucked around him, nothing showing but his head. (It was only weeks later when it dawned on me that his chest was cracked open in their efforts to revive him. We wouldn't have wanted to see that.) Funerals are brutal things. They're like bridal and baby showers: they're full of good intention on both sides, but they are terrible things for both sides. I can't bring myself to go to funerals, "showings" (there's a horrifying term, right?), any of that. I feel like, one less person means the family can get the hell out of there a few minutes earlier and grieve in private. At the very least, they can rest. I went to the funeral of a former student once, a friend of Jared's too. It was so terribly sad. But Jared was a mess. He got to the casket and broke down, then started choking and retching. He hadn't wanted to go to the casket, but the mom insisted.

The second thing I realized came as a result of sitting in the oral surgeon's waiting room while St. Patsy had her tooth pulled. Quite a few mothers were there with their children, and the kids ranged in age from about five up to seventeen. I leafed through a few magazines as I waited, but some of the mothers merely sat there and nagged their kids. One gorgeous little boy named Andre got a nonstop diatribe from his mother that sounded so nasty and hateful that I almost burst into tears. She reprimanded him about his shoes, the volume of his electronic game, the fact that he sounded "too grown", how dirty he got, the way he talked about his grandmother, and all manner of things. Each time she spat something nasty his way, he looked up at her, puzzled and a little sad. So every time I caught his eye, I smiled or winked. Another mother was there with her two kids, a boy and girl, who looked to be eleven and twelve. She clearly wanted an audience, so she said audacious things to and about her kids, their schools, their behaviour, their father, and whatever she could to get a laugh. She soon started picking at every single thing they said, pouncing on mispronounced words, grammar mistakes, anything they said incorrectly. But instead of merely correcting them, she repeated their error and added 'huh?' at the end of it. For example, "So you already seen the movie, huh?" When her daughter would blush in embarrassment, she would say, "Why ya turnin' red?" It was awful.

I thought about these poor kids, trapped in a life with these parents. What were they learning? What would they grow up to be? I thought about all the people who want to be thought of as pro-lifers, who want every single baby to be born into the world, no matter what. I wondered if they ever saw parenting like this and realized that they were wishing it on an innocent child. And I still think that every single anti-choice hardliner should have to spend a week with a child welfare social worker and a police officer who investigates child abuse claims. They should have to see what life some babies are born into.

I was sitting there, in that office, and I thought about my former colleague and how she so much deserved to be alive. She was a wonderful, loving, devoted parent. Those women are here, and she is not. And it all makes me sick.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

And Here I Thought My Spring Cleaning Was All Done

A few minor changes have been or will be made to the Dept. site, and I wanted to let you know what was happening. Some of it is basic Housecleaning, some is accommodating my Sloth, and some is merely practicality.

A. Commenting: A few of you miss the Comments section being called "Brainstorms." Well, me too! One morning, I devoted hours to my template, trying to troubleshoot it, googling like crazy and trying to learn some HTML coding on the fly to fix it. Ever since Google bought Blogger, they aren't too interested in servicing the platform at all, so we are left to our own devices. Anyway, after noodling about forever, I happened upon a notice that this is what GoogleBlogger calls "An Outstanding Issue." In other words, it's still broken, they don't know why, and they aren't fixing it thus far.

Next, I had changed my Comments policy to accept Anonymous commenters. A few people had contacted me to let me know that they wanted to ring in, but for some reason, they had been unable and did not want to bother setting up a shadow GoogleBlogger account. I am so sorry to say that I Will No Longer Be Allowing Anonymous Commenters. Every day since the exact moment I switched (and, no, I am not kidding), my blog has been flooded with junk comments which are simply commerce bots hawking their crap. The built-in spam filter has been doing a great job, but all the comments come to my private email inbox, and it's a pain. So, since the larger concern is outweighing the few people who claimed they wanted to join in, I've scotched Anonymous comments.

B. Sidebar Elements: I usually change my sidebar elements every time I do a new post. It's very time-consuming, and I wonder if anyone really pays attention. Could you let me know if you do, and if you actively engage with any of the elements? Then I'd know which to keep and which I can let go or keep static.

C. Email Subscriptions: Google also now owns Feedburner, my subscription service facilitator. It's--in a word--erratic. As with Blogger, Google isn't really interested in maintaining or servicing Feedburner, and it shows. I will be switching email service providers soon. Those of you who experienced the glitches in March with my daily postings know how badly the email service screwed up. It's all very frustrating, and it takes a lot of time and effort. I have time, but I detest mucking around with this sort of thing because I fear that everything I do could have fatal repercussions, to what I've already done, to my blog, to my subscribers/readers, to my computer, to the world. Each keystroke is fraught with peril. So. Fraught.

D. Feedback: In Comments, please offer any suggestions you have for anything regarding the Dept., whether it be color scheme, content, or layout. Sometimes, I can't get a fresh view on it because I'm consumed by the work of it. What do you like, dislike, want more of, want less of? I can't promise I'll act upon it because, after all, I have to love it, whatever it is that I put here.

As always, Dearest Readers, thank you.

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Friday, April 04, 2014

What's In A Name? Dollar Store Scents Coin A Few Choice Ones

Lucky for you, Dearest Readers, that my travels lately have once again taken me to a Dollar Store. I am in search of an odd-sized bottle to replace an under-the-sink soap dispenser in the kitchen that somehow got broken. The manufacturer only has the newer model in stock now, so we are left to scrounge around and find something that will work. So far, no luck, but my latest foray into cheapo stores has at least provided me with blog fodder.

Did you know that you don't have to spend a fortune on perfume? Your local Dollar Emporium has many fine scents available at the low, low price of One Dollar. Let me present them to you.

Perhaps you want to remember your Youth. Those days when Mother loomed large in your life. When her advice and admonitions helped you remember what it took to grow up to be The Kind Of Woman Who Would Make Her Proud. For you, may I suggest:

Some women want to project a pleasant, nonthreatening demeanor. They don't want to be a sexy siren; they merely want to convey a kind femininity. Yes, they want to say, I'm a woman, and I'm easy to get along with and somebody's mom. I have extra Kleenex in my purse, and I volunteer at the school twice a week. If you need me to stop and pick up an extra bag of ice on my way to your party, just ask! No worries! This, then, is the perfume gift for her:

She's unabashedly a redhaired, freckle-faced lass who comes from a long line of Catholics. Her brothers and uncles are all policemen, except for Uncle Casey, who's a priest, and three of the women in her family are nuns. She can out-cuss and out-drink all the other women on the block, but they don't care because she has a heart of gold. And now there's a perfume just for her:

Let's say that your mother sent you to Fat Camp where you lost fifty-three pounds and found your breasts and a waist. Now that you're tanned and slimmer, and all those days of swimming have bleached out your hair into a shimmery blond, the boys back at Verizon Co. High School, Inc. are taking notice. You are getting the big rush, and how! Before the twerking starts, you might want to dab a little of this on your neck and wrists:

Gentlemen, consider your needs met as well at your local Dollar Superstore. Allow me, if you will, to showcase just a few.

Men, what is it that you want--and I mean REALLY WANT--from your deodorant body spray? Do you want an odor-killing formulation? Do you want a lady-killing scent? Well then, do I have something just for you:

Dude! Are you, like, totally over all the phony smelling GMO colognes out there? Like, do the American sensibilities offend you with their constant homage to chemicals and forgetting the earth and our environment? If you could, would you totally smell like...oh, I don't know, the earth, and herbs, and nature? Right on. Dude! I feel you, and so does this cologne, which is French for like black tarragon, which is like decomposing herbs. I know, right?

Hey, guys. R u tired of hearing everyone get on you about ur speling? If everyone noes what you mean, then whats the big deal? If ur not gunna be a english teacher then who cares? They'res more important things too worry about then this. Besides which their's even a colone that proves its no big deal. Hear it is:

You know, Dearest Readers, I do these things so that you don't have to.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

And So It Continues


Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Yesterday I chortled in my Joy as the temperature reached a perfectly Springlike 55 and, one by one, I opened wide one window in each room for a good Airing Out. Once the sun reached its noon acme in a Crayola cornflower sky, I was already feeling its warmth radiating underneath my skin and effervescing in my veins. Soon, the Urge came upon me, primitive and tribal, an instinct so deeply inborn that it could not be shaken off or ignored. I was dressed, I was made up and tressed, I was energized by the glorious weather. Like all the women in my family, I was driven now to do One Thing, and One Thing Only.

I was going to clean my house.

How ridiculous, I know. But we simply Cannot Help It. All of us are doomed to behave in this way, and I have no idea why. I can absolutely guarantee you that, had I called either of my sisters yesterday and, if they had the day off work, they were cleaning their houses. It's a sickness. (We also wait until the hottest and most humid day of the summer occurs and then we get down on our hands and knees and scrub the kitchen floor. We call each other, too. I call Patti, and I say, "Hi, what are you doing?" "Oh, I'm down here scrubbing this awful floor," she says. "ME TOO!" I yell into the phone. "What's wrong with us?" Patti asks. "Call Susan and ask her," I say.)

My particular routine is to start in the kitchen and work from there. The stove always slows me down because, unlike many people who own a black and stainless (HA!) steel stove, I actually use mine. I had been ignoring it since Christmas, just giving it a cursory swipe now and again. There it stood, a hulking mess of meal-making memories and olive oil freckles. If only stoves were as affordable as microwaves, I'd get rid of this...this thing and buy a new one. I hate it like I hate my uncooperative can opener. It's still usable and useful, but I want desperately to get rid of it and get a new one. Junking this one is wasteful and dumb, however, so I have to soldier on, silently resenting it all the while.

My spirits remained lifted, however, by continuing to open windows as I moved along. Small challenges were no match for me and my dustrag and Pledge. My leather furniture gleamed, my tables glowed with a soft sheen like moonlight in the forest. The velvety cabernet sauvignon we had last weekend will never be forgotten, thanks to me saving the lovely bottle and adding it to our display. Pictures look brighter and sharper now. Our Vermeer reproduction is relieved of its mantle of dust. I smile a little as I clean up the fireplace area, hoping against hope that we have seen our last fire for the season.

The Season, by the way, meaning Winter, has lasted six months here in NEO. We had our first snowstorm in mid-October, and we had one a few days ago on March 29th. This had better be It. (Or what? What am I prepared to Do About It? Sigh. I don't know, but it won't be Pleasant.)

Here's a Thing, though. A Thing I thought would get way better once the boys moved out, but it hasn't gotten better, really, not by much. Cleaning the bathroom is still a shitfully thankless job, there I said it, and it had to be said. First of all, my bathroom is about as big as a closet. Cleaning the toilet, therefore, is a very intimate experience, and it is not made any better by the fact that A Male Person uses it. Why is it that men cannot--at some point in their Business--grab a wad of toilet paper and wipe the rim of the toilet? Because holy crap! You know? Or is it just me/us?

And boy, did I get sucked in to using this product. The ScrubbyBubble brush thingy. I like the idea that I don't have some icky toilet brush hanging around, but these paperwad brushy doodads are getting ridiculous. They don't really scrub, they fall apart when you wrench them off the big row they come in, and now, they have a new "heavy duty" one that, when you try to wrestle one away from its compatriots, it's almost impossible, thanks to the plasticky scrubby insert that makes it heavy duty. I almost sprained my wrist! Then I bought one of those industrial looking solid cakes that hangs in the toilet to constantly clean the bowl. I put that baby right in the flow of the water so that each time there is a flush, the clean can swirl all over the place. But Marlowe wanders in and likes to chew on it and moves it around.

Marlowe is what my students would have called "a hater."

Speaking of the cats, my mother doesn't read this blog unless she is visiting my aunt in Gettysburg, and she isn't right now, so let me just say this: C A T   H A I R. It is ruining my life. My mother would say, "Well, Nance, you signed up for it when you got those cats." So. What. Did I sign up for burping and farting contests when I had two kids? Anyway.

The cat hair would not be Such An Issue if they were not so patently stupid about being brushed. Let me ask you this: if you lay down and someone came over, spoke softly and lovingly to you, and then proceeded to rub your back and brush your hair for half an hour, would you act like IT WAS A HUGE IMPOSITION AND GET UP AND WALK ALL OVER THE PLACE AND HIDE UNDER CHAIRS AND TABLES AND MAKE THAT SOMEONE FOLLOW YOU ALL BENT OVER UNTIL IT BECAME SOMETHING LIKE A SCENE IN A MOVIE ABOUT INSANE PEOPLE? Just asking. Because I have to vacuum my bed. Did you read that incredulously?   I HAVE TO VACUUM.    MY BED.

It took me all day to clean my house. I did not sit down. Rick came home, took off his work boots, came into the living room, sat down and said--this is a direct quote--"Wow. The kitchen looks nice. You cleaned it today."

Today's forecast is for 64 degrees and partly cloudy. I think I will take a little drive and enjoy my day. After all, my house is clean.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sorry, Walgreens--More Like The Corner Of Confused And Crabby

Sometimes, when a bunch of people gather, I can't help but listen for Blog Fodder. It's not that I'm looking for something to criticize or poke fun at so much as I am--in a Seinfeldian manner--observing things that I can comment upon from a "did you ever notice" perspective. It's like looking at an ordinary drop of rainwater under a highpowered microscope. So much more there than the first look affords.

I belong to two retiree lunch bunches because I taught at two schools in my district. Even though I taught at a junior high only one year, they are gracious enough to include me in their monthly group, and I like their company. Of course, I also attend my high school's monthly lunches. At both, I generally order a bloody mary and settle in for some chatting. In addition to gossip about colleagues or district business, the conversation always comes down to two familiar topics: travel and what everyone is doing to promote health and longevity. If there was such a thing as a Dr. Oz Cruise, these groups would book immediately. I know who is taking flaxseed and chia seed every day, who is using only gluten free products, who is swearing by glucosamine, and who orders everything online from Puritan's Pride. I know that Dr. Bragg's Raw Apple Cider Vinegar With The Mother is the only apple cider vinegar with true health benefits. Oh, and do you want to take a river cruise? Well, forget it. They book so far out now, that it's impossible to plan one any earlier than 2015, and you had better forget the "Downton Abbey" one. That one is sold out for the foreseeable future. Carnival Cruises are just so noisy--too many kids and young people--but you can book a quieter one on Princess or Holland America. But--sigh--it's just sad how some lines treat their employees, who are all foreign nationals. Try to tip them well, if you can. There are horror stories out there that are just awful.

Listening to travel stories is one of my joys. If I can't go, then I want to hear about when you went, and if you have some pictures, even better. My colleagues are generous with their travel stories, and they give good recommendations regarding cruise lines, travel agents, places to see, and places that aren't really worth a stop. They will even give you their guides, books, or anything else that they have that might be of help. The problem is, they never sound very impressed or happy about where they went. I always get the idea that they went in order to have gone, to simply cross it off their list or something.

They get far more exercised when talking about their use of wellness products. I understand. Ten years ago, I didn't think twice about any of that. Now, however, my hair keeps getting greyer. My hands and knees truly hurt with arthritis. My vision prescription changed for the worse, and I have a hard time driving at night. It all seems very unfair to me. That stuff is for Old People. I'm not Old. Then I think about the Simple Arithmetic of it. I have far more years behind me than I am likely to have ahead of me. It's natural to want to tip the scales more in the other direction.

The whole thing makes me feel confused and guilty. Should I be taking supplements, chia, flax, wheat germ, green tea, fiber powder, and shots of vinegar (With The Mother)? How do I know? Every time I watch a little of Dr. Oz, he tells me to eat something else to lose weight. If I ate all of that stuff, I'd weigh 200 pounds. Should I get a Neti pot, or will I collapse and die from a brain-eating fungus? Rick and I eat very little meat now compared with how much we used to eat, and at least three days a week, we eat vegetarian. I start my day with Greek yogurt or a spinach and strawberry smoothie. I use olive oil only. Should I start oil pulling?

Let me say this: I liked it so much better when I was young and talked about makeup and boys. Or when I was a mom and talked about sleep habits and spit-up. Or even when I was in my thirties and talked about work, teenage attitude, and my shoes. And let me also say this: I am deep-bone tired of this winter. It has made me old. Older. Elderly. Aged. Aged and in need of Spring.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

If You Want Your Stuff To Be Like Family

Last night, while Rick and I were sort of watching television and sort of strategizing with our fantasy basketball teams, a commercial came on for a storage facility with a slogan that, for me, was problematic. Do business with us, they said, because "we'll treat your stuff like it's our stuff." I immediately turned to Rick.


Me:  Well, I don't see how that's such a great thing.
Rick:  What?
Me:  Telling people that you'll treat their stuff like it's your stuff. For example, if someone stored their collection of tchochkes here, I'd give them all away. I'm in Streamlining Mode. If that was my stuff, I'd be giving it away or tossing it. So...
Rick:  Or what if you don't take care of your stuff, like hoarders? You just cram it all in and let it rot? How is that good?
Me:  Exactly.  Some people simply don't give a damn about their stuff. So, what if they let other people go through the stuff, or they leave the door open and the stuff gets stolen? I know lots of people who are very casual about stuff, like Sam and Jared with their clothes. Half their wardrobe is in someone else's closet, usually each other's.
(there is a pause)
Rick:  We're never giving them our stuff.
Me:  Ha! You got that right.

All of this reminds me of another business, a restaurant, whose slogan was "We treat you like family" and the similarly themed "When you're here, you're family." Again, how is that good? I don't go out to dinner to feel like I'm at home eating with my kids, or my sisters and brother. And the very last thing I want is to sit in a restaurant and have the atmosphere of sitting in someone's kitchen or dining room while Mom complains that no one appreciates the time it took to prepare and cook the meal, Dad rides herd on some sullen, plugged-in tween who won't eat that because there's some fat on it, and a little preschooler who wants to talk about what a Disney character did and how she's a princess/he's (are there any male Disney characters who are heroes and carry the movie? Well, put his name here).  I have crossed restaurants off my List because of a high proportion of families in their patronage.  I'm by no means against families.  Heavens no.  I've just already had mine and been through all that and don't care to bear witness to it again.

Even Family Dinners at my house, which were not actually like the previous scenario, are still quite calisthenic and can wear me out sometimes. Plus, when I'm at home, no one comes out and serves me my dinner and takes the used utensils or extra plates away. I am not automatically brought nice, icy refills of water at home, either.  There is certainly not the luxury of being asked, "May I take your order?" or the more delightful "And what can I bring you for dinner this evening?"  Oh, how gorgeous.

Perhaps I am overthinking and overanalyzing these slogans. After all, it is only advertising and marketing, not great literature. But when there are so very, awfully many commercials that interrupt programming--especially as we watch the news--it's inevitable that I pay attention to a few here and there. They're asking for it.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

And The Greatest Of These Is Love...Of Learning

One of the objectives that was a Big Deal when I was still formally In Education was helping our students to become Lifelong Learners. At first glance, that looks sort of at odds with a more tangible goal, which is always to get them to graduate in four years. Becoming a Lifelong Learner, however, means to instill into each thriving mind that Love Of Learning--so much so that said mind wants to go on learning new things forever and forever.

I am a Lifelong Learner, but my education didn't make me that way. It's not that I didn't have excellent teachers all along the way; I did. Part of my quest for learning has to do with reading, and the other part has to do with an all-consuming Need To Know that completely commandeers my conscious mind and compels me to find out every single detail, fact, and available piece of information about whatever it is that currently interests me.

My lifelong learning has led me to, at various stages of my life, read deeply in, research the hell out of, and generally beat up the following topics, in no especial order:



1.  Jack the Ripper
2.  Cows
3.  R.M.S. Titanic
4.  Birds of North America
5.  Redwoods
6.  Oscar Wilde
7.  The Battle of Gettysburg
8.  Mary Lincoln
9.  Abraham Lincoln (1840-1865)
10. Human anatomy
11. John Keats
12. Emily Dickinson
13. The Black Donnellys
14. Daniel Day-Lewis

There are others, but I don't want to start freaking people out unnecessarily. I'm not counting the stuff I started to research because I had to teach it, either, like Walt Whitman. I was already deep into Miss Emily before she became part of my regular curriculum.

The Interwebs make this so very, very easy. If I hear about something on NPR, I can research it immediately on the Interwebs. I can then go on Amazon.com (my boyfriend!) and select books which my boyfriend will then send directly to my front porch in a few days or so. I can even get on Netflix and search for any documentaries on the topic. The amount of information available to me at my fingertips is almost overwhelming. There is so much that I can wallow in information: facts, details, witness accounts, photographs, recordings, testimony, you name it. For information addicts like me, it is heaven.

The problem with making Lifelong Learning an educational goal or objective is that it's impossible to achieve if you have a student with absolutely no natural curiosity. Or a student who doesn't/won't read. Or someone who doesn't care about anything but himself and his (insert trivial object here: cellphone, motorcycle, designer something).

I just this minute learned that someone from Maryland discovered what he thinks might be pictures of President Lincoln's funeral procession passing by on a New York City street. The photo, published on a Flickr site, is from the National Archives. Here's a link.  I'll be looking closely at it as soon as I hit "Publish" on this post.  Then, I'll probably click another link, then another, then another.  And pretty soon, I'll be looking at all kinds of other things and learning about them, too.

Being a Lifelong Learner is a gift.  Did you receive it?  What wonderful, interesting things have you learned about?

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