Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye Zero Zero

Another decade come and gone. A decade of many changes.

Daughter graduates from high school, goes to college, graduates from college, enters grad school.
Son graduates from high school, enters college.
Divorce, loneliness, new relationship, happiness.
Move to Appleton, relief, comfort, zen-like knowing this is where I'm to be.

It isn't always major events, such as the above, that shape a life, but they are the most outwardly notable.

Over this past decade my belief that out of bad comes good has become even more firmly cemented. So has the knowledge that trusting my instincts is the best guidance for decision making.

I've learned that allowing myself to underachieve while still achieving works well --- type A personalities should give it a try. I am less stressed, no longer care about controlling a situation, don't want to be in charge. It has given me a brighter outlook on life and ability to enjoy most environments simply because I'm not in charge nor do I want to be.

I can accept aging. No, I'm not all that thrilled with jowly look on my face, the age spots that have finally appeared (but I don't regret any time spent in the sun!), or lessened metabolism. But, as this blog title states, every day above ground is a good day. There is a relief in accepting my body, it's working and non-working parts; accepting my essence rather than continually futzing, worrying, working on fighting, trying to improve, bemoaning what is me.

I will embrace this next decade. What better time to enjoy the here and now -- the moment, the experience, the simple sights, sounds, tastes. The beauty of aging and realizing that the decades ahead are limited is not worrying about the future but taking today for what it is.

My dears, Happy New Year, Happy New Decade, Happy Life!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Humorous Thanksgiving

"I have strong doubts that the first Thanksgiving even remotely resembled the 'history' I was told in second grade. But considering that (when it comes to holidays) mainstream America's traditions tend to be overeating, shopping, or getting drunk, I suppose it's a miracle that the concept of giving thanks even surfaces at all."
Ellen Orleans

"I love Thanksgiving turkey....it's the only time in Los Angeles that you get to see natural breasts."
Arnold Schwarzenegger

"I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land."
Jon Stewart

"You know that just before that first Thanksgiving dinner there was one wise old Native American woman saying, "Don't fee them. If you feed them, they'll never leave."
Dylan Brody

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Middle of the Week Day

Moments from my Middle of the Week Day:

The most enjoyable part of the school day today was 5th hour social studies. The class is studying Canada and spent part of the hour filling in and coloring a political map (a map that shows lines defining countries, states, or territories). I worked with a group of 3 students ,and I did a map along with them. Drawing in the provinces (how many know what a province is?) was a bit challenging (we were given an outline of Canada) and figuring out where to put the Saskatchewan River tricky but then it was time to COLOR! Jacy didn't want to color, but I insisted because I love it so much, and, well, that was part of the assignment. (Jacy's been in a mood the last few days) I have always loved coloring and find it relaxing. To be able to color while also answering questions and joking with the kids was a perfect combination. (It helped that my most reluctant learner was absent)

Math is covering graphs and coordinate planes. The class had no problem with graphing but coordinate planes are challenging them. Or maybe it is having to use positive AND negative quadrants (anyone who knows my math skills is probably amazed that I know what a quadrant is!). Homework is an assignment using integers to draw a picture. I can't wait to see what the pictures are but explaining how to use the 50 sets of integers was challenging. I tried to remember what was stated in the short video the class watched prior to the coordinate plane explanation: "Integers are our friends." Well, I hadn't known that, but my day was just brighter knowing I have all these integer friends.

Homeroom (known as Connections) is the last 35 minutes of the day. Our 17 Connection kids are DONE by this time. Their attention spans are non-existent, hyperactivity (diagnosed or otherwise) has kicked in, and we try to corral and focus them --- not always with success. As frustrating as this can be, by the end Jeramie and I are laughing if for no other reason than relief that the day is done. Today was trying to get 7 of them study for tomorrow's science test (4 of them did listen--finally) then 3 worked on math homework -- back to the quadrant quandaries (come on, how often do you find an opportunity to use "q" in consonance?). Jeramie will be in Madison Thursday and Friday for state football finals (I mouthed "I hate you" to him from the doorway as I left) so the sub and I are hoping to survive the last two connections of the week.

Don't get me wrong...the majority of the students are nice kids and I enjoy them. But the disrespectful, cocky, jerk students take away from the class, disrupt learning, and suck adults' energy. In science there are 24 students and 7 of them are disruptive. I try to have contact with the good kids as often as possible just to keep my sanity and perspective. I also try to remember that the jerk kids just may grow out of this phase and become product adults.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How Many Know?

My high school chemistry teacher was a brilliant man who should have taught college students. Eldred Judd was a sincere, kind, hard working teacher whose talents were sorely wasted on me. He had a speech pattern that was also wasted on us -- questions asked were prefaced, "How many know ------" So, dear readers, today's entry will be a tribute to Mr. Judd's questioning style:

How many know that
"Nothing matters but the weekend,
From a Tuesday point of view...." (The Kings)

How many know that talking about farting is almost as unappealing as the actual occurrence (that one's for you Ms. Ex).

How many know what a vacuole is? You may not, but this week 6th graders will be expected to know this on a test which leads to How many know how many times they've ever in their lives needed to know what a vacuole is?

How many know the national capital of Canada?

How many know that announcements 15 minutes after the start of class disrupts 6th graders for about 4 minutes? How many know that what is being announced is probably not worth the disruption?

How many know that the Mac computers in the library are a pain in the butt to use? Sorry, Ann, but NO ONE likes them.

How many know that "Dude" is a unisex proper noun? It's that or these children are seriously lacking in health ed. I've been called "Dude" numerous time of late. (How many know that adding "Ms." would make it more appropriate when addressing a teacher?)

How many know that I'm going to avoid the lounge at lunch time to avoid listening to a certain some one's self inflicted tale of woe?

How many know that shock collars around the necks of certain children would implement instantaneous behavior modification and allow for the sanity of educators and enhance the learning environment of the majority of other students? How many know that some will profess this notion to be distasteful because they are soooooo tempted by it?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Life Skills

Children with learning disabilities function at many different levels in math and/or reading. During 3rd hour I take three lower functioning students to another room and work with them on basic reading skills. Two of these students (Dave and Hailey) have positive personalities and are hard workers; the third has low self esteem and "shuts down" at the snap of a finger when feeling the least bit challenged. This third child is a boy previously referenced in an earlier blog entry -- Vince.

Typically we work on sight words (for example, "I, am, were, because..."), vowel sounds (short a, short o.....), and blends ("bl", "ch", "sw".....). All three struggle with certain words, and I'm not sure why. "Were" is THE word they cannot remember. Every day we review it and the next day they cannot remember it. "Another" and "write" also prove difficult.

Vince and Hailey are mainstreamed in science and social studies where they learn about geography, countries, cells, periodic table and such, but neither Jeramie nor I think they understand what they are to learn. We believe they can benefit from learning life skills, so besides teaching basic phonics, I am teaching some life skills. Another teacher provided us with resource materials, and yesterday we did our first activity. I gave Vince and Dave (Hailey was at chorus) a note card and asked them to write their names, addresses, and phone numbers on it. Neither knew their addresses. Dave did not know his entire phone number. (Checking with Hailey later in the day revealed she knew all the info)

Okay, this was discouraging. The next hour Jeramie looked up the info for me, I wrote it on note cards, and today I had them fill out an pretend contest entry form. The instructions said $100,000,000 was the grand prize........Vince wanted to know if this was for real. Alas, no, but should he ever wish to enter a contest maybe he will have a better chance since he now knows how to fill out a form. Since they had the address info. in front of them the addresses were no problem, but Vince did not know how to spell his father's first name, and Dave wrote Mom and Dad in the blanks for "mother's name" and "father's name." I clarified what was needed --- he then asked me to spell their names.

Not sure how they got this far in life without knowing this info. but we're remedying the lapses. Next week we're going to spend some time on this and reading simple maps. The low skill levels of these children can be disheartening, but we are hoping that learning some basic life skills will ease their way into a highly competitive world.

12 Year Old Energy Level

Whew! Happy it is Friday! The 6th graders have been wound up all week and took it up a notch today. Wound up means getting out of their seats at random to walk around the room, periodically breaking a pencil so there is an excuse to sharpen it, speaking to a friend while the teacher is talking, focusing all attention of a pencil/ruler/folded paper in front of them rather than paying attention to a lesson. If it were only a student or two in a class here and there I'd say "oh, well." That is not the case. I provide student support in 6 classes and each class has at least 3 students per class who exhibit the above behavior on a daily basis. Most of these are boys and they are not impressed/intimidated/cowed by any adult reprimands, cajoling, threats. The only time they settle is when an educational video is playing.

For some reason I was not at wits end today. Maybe I'm getting used to the behavior and weathering it rather than becoming irritated by it. I've also learned where to focus my attention during a class --- and thank my lucky stars I'm not the teacher! I've also developed relationships with our small group of mainstreamed LD students and enjoy working with them. They keep me sane. Most are nice kids who work hard and want to succeed. Those who don't are so low level we often discuss, worriedly, their adulthood fate.

So, even though the students provided some challenges today, I am in a good mood, not tired and looking forward to the weekend. Oh, and its payday!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Eloquence

An eloquent President accords dignity and respectfulness to a solemn situation. President Obama's speech at Fort Hood today is reminiscent of past greats whose speeches historically endure.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday Evening

I'm sitting in my big comfy chair in the living room, junk TV on the screen (Two and a Half Men, to be exact), a mask stiffening on my face. (I just KNOW this time I will wash it off and look 10 years younger -- yup, I can feel it in my bones.) The dog is freshly groomed (he was a very good boy according to the groomer) and smelling better than he has in weeks.

This weekend laundry was done, dishwasher emptied, Halloween decorations taken down (these accomplished while Dan was yelling at the Packers on TV), dog walked, groceries gotten. Garage was finally cleaned out, hoses put away, and bushes trimmed (huge hugs and thanks to Dan for helping with these things).

I love the mundane of my life. While the health care issues, the wretched economy, and the Middle Eastern wars loom large, I am happily ensconced in my snow globe world for the moment. So, for tonight I am not going to ponder the serious topics nor vent on annoyances. This is an evening to relish the cozy simplicities.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gosh Darn It

Gosh darn it isn't what I want to say and while I don't shirk from swearing, don't really want to see my favorite "f" word blasted all over my blog.

I had written a wonderful blog entry on education only to watch it vanish into cyberspace! Wah!!! (picture Charlie Brown crying in anguish) I do not have the energy to begin again tonight.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sham WOW

The Setting:

Third hour resource class. For the unknowing, resource is a study hall type class for the LD students. They can receive assistance on homework and/or work on subject areas that need strengthening. Wednesday was an activity day so the students did not have homework, and since it was the last day of a short week (teacher's convention on Thursday/Friday) they were wound up.

The Characters:

Seven 6th and 7th graders. Allen (names are changed) is autistic, David is CD or LD, Vince has a 70 IQ, Katie and the rest are high functioning but with reading difficulties. Jeramie, the teacher, is also the varsity football coach, and the team had won the first playoff game the previous evening. I am also in the room. At the beginning of class Allen and David are writing on an eraser board, wiping off what is written and shouting "Sham Wow."

The Plot:

The students are wound up and have no homework. The teacher/coach wants to watch the film of the game. The kids are more than eager to watch any kind of video so that is what we do. The following is the conversation during the video. (some of the coach's statements are combined)

J: Watch this play. The running back is great.
K: Mr. Korth, is there a guy named Jack on the team?
J: What's his last name?
K: I don't know. But I know a guy named Jack who plays football.
A: SHAM WOW!
D: SHAM WOW!
Me: What grade is the quarterback in?
J: A junior. There is only one senior on the team.
A: SHAM WOW!
D: SHAM WOW!
K: Why are there so many fat guys on the team?
J. is very engrossed in the video and doesn't hear the question.
K: Mr. Korth, why are there so many fat guys on the team?
Me: They're not really fat, K. (even though I think they are)
J: They are not fat, they are big. Football is a great game because there is something for everyone -- big, small, medium.
D: SHAM WOW!
A: SHAM WOW!
D: Are the Packers winning?
V: It's not the Packers.
A: SHAM WOW!
J: (to me) What are they doing? What's with the Sham Wow?
Me: They were doing it when I got in the room. Maybe they're dressing up as Billy Mays for Halloween.
J: There I am trying to get the ref's attention to call a time out, but I can't get him to look at me. I even run onto the field.
K: What is that on your head, Mr. Korth?
J: Headphones.
D: SHAM WOW!
A: SHAM WOW!

Okay, it was funnier when in the room listening to it all. The Sham Wow was so darn funny and those two were having a great time entertaining themselves and no one seemed affected by them. Maybe I'll start writing down some of the conversations I overhear during class times.....6th graders are still pretty uninhibited and silly. If I overhear anything good I'll post it here.

And while some might frown at the watching of a football video during class time, the kids enjoyed it and it kept them occupied. Another classroom had shown an animated movie the day prior and I know only too well how nuts irregular school days can be.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Impractical

For your consideration:

A 6th grader has an IQ of 70, reads at a second grade level, and struggles to do subtraction.

How important is it that this student learn longitude and latitude, know the taxonomy of animals, describe the differences in an island and an archipelago, or the write the definition of an autotroph?

This real life 6th grader sits in regular classrooms and is expected to pay attention, do the homework, and take the tests. However, he does not have the ability to comprehend much of the information. The result is a frustrated 12 year old with low self esteem who is not learning much of anything. (The equivalent in my world would be sitting me in a calculus class, followed by quantum physics with a dose of organic chemistry thrown in.) Would it not be better to spend the time teaching him to read and do basic math while focusing his energies on life skills?

Even with all the differentiation, individualized educational plans, and learning accommodations (having tests read, extending testing times), such children are not getting what they need. Within the middle school schedule there is no time to teach basic reading and math. So, we send this boy and others like him through the regular schedule whether he can learn from it or not and then wonder why he shuts down. This student is not being taught ..... he's being shuffled through a system that doesn't know what to do with him, doesn't have the resources to help him, and isn't in a hurry to change.

(The above is not an indictment of the teachers who work with him and who are doing their best within an ineffective educational system. It is the system as a whole that is antiquated and in dire need of an overhaul.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Names

Many of us don't want to name our children names that are common and overly popular. Since a name plays a large role in a person's life, parents generally spend a great deal of time choosing one. But, it seems that some parents are trying too hard to be original. If the name itself isn't so unique, then the spelling of it is different. Here are some of the first names I've encountered at school:

Gunner, Tremaine, Stetson, Thalia, Eeva, Keontae, Chauncy, Kylee, Genisis, Rymer, Colt, Kloie, Shaw, Sir, Rylee.

I don't know about you, but I find these smack of the "trying too hard" syndrome.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Substitute

I have agreed to take a long term paraprofessional substitute position at Menasha's Maplewood Middle School. This involves providing educational support for learning disabled 6th grade students in regular classrooms; I attend a math class, 2 social studies classes, and 2 science classes. When the students are working on assignments I circulate the room and an assist any student with questions -- parapros are not limited to helping just the LD students.

What do I enjoy about this job? 1. The interaction with students. Sixth graders are a squirmy, talkative, short attention spanned group but they are friendly, fun to chat with, and pretty respectful. There isn't much facade in place yet. 2. I am also learning 6th grade math. This may not sound like a big deal but for one who is math phobic/challenged herself this has been the most pleasant math experience of my life! 3. The 6th grade LD teacher, Jeramie, is excellent. He doesn't want the students enabled, he treats them with respect as they do him, and he stresses the importance of reading. 4. I have a friend who teaches 8th grade at Maplewood, and I know the principal; both have made me feel welcome. 5. I get to help kids learn without the headaches of planning, going to meetings, disciplining, or dealing with parents. 6. Working with LD kids (and watching one EDB boy) makes me appreciate even more the "normalness" of my own children!

What do I not enjoy about the job? 1. Getting up at 5:45 a.m. to be at work at 7:30 a.m. I am not a morning person but am adapting. 2. I live in fear of germs! H1N1 is a serious problem and kids are coughing all the time. Hand sanitizer is on every teacher's desk, classroom tables and desks are routinely wiped down. 3. It drives me nuts to watch kids not pay attention. I would love to have a video camera in classrooms to show parents how inattentive their children are in class. 4. It didn't take me long to remember that trying to focus and work with slow students in not my forte. I am good at it to a point and then I find myself getting impatient. So, my goal this week is to work on patience.

The teacher's I observe are good people who are patient and work hard to teach the students. I don't envy their job. Sixth hour science has 31 students in it. How in the world is the teacher supposed to teach to that many? The number of alphabet students in a classroom is epidemic (Alphabet students are the ones with labels: LD - learning disabled, ED - emotionally disturbed, ADD - attention deficiet disorder, ADHD - attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, CD - cognitively disabled) and there are approximately 11 autistic students in the building. While having the resource parapros in the classroom to assist is helpful, I wonder how much some of these LD students learn. How will those who are reading at a 2nd grade level as 6th graders function after high school? Why are all these disorders so prevalent now?

While I may not want to teach any more, I find this job interesting and that being in a school setting comfortable. The length of my substitute position is up in the air -- I could be there another week or for a few more months. Either is fine with me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

One More Football Comment

My daughter sent me this quote, and I love it so much because it states what I feel about professional sports:

"Sometimes people devote all their hopes and prayers to people who don't care about them at all. This is called professional football."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Packers vs. Vikings/Bret Favre

Okay, anyone who knows me knows I don't take sports seriously. Whether it is the Olympics, a high school basketball game, a pro baseball game, or the badminton game I'm playing, it is a game. After the game I merrily go on my way and don't give the event any more thought.

Oh, how I wish Packer fans had my attitude. Actually, how I wish all sport fans had my attitude. Tonight's Packer vs. Viking game has reached a fever pitch. Apparently the grand rivalry between these two teams is legend (as is the Bear/Packer rivalry). Now that Bret Favre (the diva who used to wear green and gold) plays for the Vikings, the drama surrounding the game has invaded all media venues and local discussions.

I have married friends, one a Viking fan and one a Packer fan, who have fought so fiercely over such games that one ended up sleeping on the couch after a game. I know other people who dislike anything Minnesotan simply because the Vikings are from Minnesota. This is why the saying, "Get a life" was invented.

I find it amusing and irritating at the same time. Since I think professional athletes are paid too much money in relation to their social relevance, I find Bret Favre an overpaid pathetic attention monger. I hope he gets his clock cleaned in tonight's game simply because I'm hoping he can have some of his arrogance knocked out. (Just like I'd like to see Dick Cheney get his clock cleaned -- arrogance just isn't becoming) I find it amusing how wound up fans get over such games. I find it irritating that Packer games are placed on newspapers' front pages when so many more important issues face us.

Whatever the outcome tonight, I will go to bed and sleep well, happily awake tomorrow and worry about health care, Afghanistan, and the economy. But, I will not give the match up another thought.



Insurance Companies and Health Care

I haven't said much about the health care issue simply because I don't understand what people aren't understanding about how desperate the situation is. Isn't it pretty simple? 1) Insurance deductables are so high that people cannot afford the out of pocket costs of preventative screening tests. 2) Even when employers "provide" health insurance, the employee portion costs so much that people struggle with the simple cost of living on their now reduced income. 3) COBRA sounds great but the rates are too high for most to afford 5) Physicians are not making health care decisions -- insurance companies dictate what medications and care a patient can receive.

Health insurance rates are so high that employers struggle with the costs, so employees who have health insurance now pay for a portion of the insurance costs. But, in order to afford the costs people choose high deductibles which means many cannot afford recommended preventative screening tests. If a person loses a job which means losing health insurance, the price of buying a single or family health insurance policy is cost prohibitive for many. However, a pre-existing condition will totally eliminate any one's ability to obtain health insurance simply because the company won't even consider someone with such conditions. How many get to age 50 without a pre-existing condition?

But, even if a person with health insurance decides they must seek medical care, it is not the physician who makes all the care decisions. No, the insurance company will dictate which medicine can be prescribed and what procedures are acceptable. Don't kid yourself that medical decisions are made by your and your doctor. Your insurance company is the entity detailing your health care. I laughed when Sarah Palin threatened "death panels" under President Obama's health care proposals. Darling Sarah, we already have "death panels" and they are the insurance companies.


I do not profess to totally understand the Public Option that send many into nasty, uncivilized protests, but I am pretty sure that without a public option the insurance status quo will prevail. If employers would readily dump their insurance coverage because employees would have a public option, what does that say? Employers should not have to offer health care and employees may even receive more take home pay if a public option was available. A public option doesn't mean you have to purchase it but for those of us rejected by insurance companies or do not have the money to afford their coverage, the public option would be a god send.


And don't give me the argument that the government can't run programs. Any bureaucracy has issues but the Post Office, Medicare, the Armed Forces, and public education -- while not without problems -- have served the public well. Of course there are issues. But the good done by these agencies outweigh the bad. If the private sector refuses to serve the public good then let the government have at it. Maybe that will be the nudge the insurance companies need to clean up their acts.


What I would like is to have the nay sayers offer positive solutions, the fear mongers to offer realistic concerns, the name callers to grow up. I would like the religious right to actually stop and reflect on "What Would Jesus Do", the socialism-phobes to take a look at European countries and see what does work for them/why/how, and everyone to stop thinking only of themselves. I do not believe we, as a country, can survive without caring for each other.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Goldilocks Healthcare Questionaire

Raise your hand if you have no complaints about your health care. What do I mean by "health care?" Okay, lets take a Goldilocks approach to health care. Answer a) Too much b) Too little c) Just enough to the following statements:

I pay ____ for prescription medication.
Physician office visits cost ____.
The amount I pay in out of pocket medical expenses is _____.
Medical costs in general are ____.
Insurance payments are _____.
Insurance coverage covers ____.
Congressmen/women pay $503.00/year for health care received at the Capitol infirmary. That cost totally covers physical therapy, immediate medical attention (from specialists), etc. This $503.00 is _____.

Those of you who answered all questions with "c" can now leave the blog and contact your congressional representatives to tell them you truly want the status of health care in the US to remain as is. *

Those of you who answered even one question with "a" or "b" are the ones who are not happy with the health care status quo. No, no....now don't run away. Yes, the health care situation can be changed. (hey, you over there --- yes, you in blue shirt ---- don't shake your head at me) But, if you are not happy with the situation you should not be sitting idly by but should voice your health care wants and needs. In order to have insurance costs reduced, prescription costs affordable, health care procedures financially accessible to all those of us "a" and "b" answerers, we must raise our voices to show support for change. (Mr. Blue Shirt, stay after the meeting and Ms. Pink Blouse will show you who to contact and how.)

In fact, those of you who love to tell your health care/insurance company horror stories, there are now people who actually want to hear them. Oh, yes, they do! Rush right over to your phone or word processor and contact your President, Senators or Representative to tell them your story.

Thank you for attending and showing interest in the quiz. Now, get off your sorry butts, be proactive (while remained civil), and contact some politicians!!

*John Boehner, GOP minority leader, is holding meetings for "Just Enough" people in the Unicorn Room. Death panel discussion dates will be available.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cori

Being a friend does not always come easily to me. Since I prefer my own company, I don't need to be with others often and cannot abide people who want to suck me dry with neediness. I have let people into my life only to let the relationship slide. If someone accused me of having commitment issues I would not disagree. That said, there are a few people I consider great friends, and I had dinner with one of them last night.

I met Cori when Patrick was in kindergarten -- she was his learner's aide. I periodically helped out in the classroom and chaperoned field trips during which I would chat with Cori. The one constant in our times together was the laughter. Our friendship is going on 16 years and while we can go months and months without seeing each other, our bond remains strong. When we manage to connect, we talk about our kids, her marriage/my relationship, our dogs, the NL school district, sorrows and joys, but above all, we laugh. Last night I laughed so hard my face hurt.

Since we don't seem to see each other on a consistent basis, our get togethers last hours. We met at Chili's at 6:30 last night and when the restaurant lights came on we realized it was 10:30! As always, we are going to try to meet up once a month. We usually manage to do this for a few months and then something gets in the way and we are off schedule again. But our relationship is one that can't be judged on how often we see each other. Our times together are joyful and treasured.

While I'm not sure why we became friends way back when, I am blessed that this woman is in my life. We care for each other unconditionally and no matter how much time passes between conversations, we always find our way back together. Cori, I hold you in a very special part of my heart.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Yes, Dear

My princess, Annabelle, has demanded I blog again. Her exact words were, "blog, damn it."

It wasn't my intention to quit blogging......summer was here, I didn't have any burning ideas or issues, and kinda had writer's block. But, the princess's wish is my command --- I will again write on significant issues, about random thoughts and flights of fancy.

Thank you, Annabelle, for being my inspiration!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Already July

July already. While the summer temps have been cooler than normal, you'll get no complaining from me. We have had "San Diego" weather for much of the summer -- 70's, little humidity, breezy, sunny. It hasn't rained for a few weeks which means my lawn is slowly turning a crispy brown which is just how I like it. Translation: no having to mow the grass! Oh, the weeds are hearty and growing like, well, weeds but so be it.

I can't seem to focus too long on one topic which is why there have been no coherently written blogs. Oh, I've written my articles for Examiner.com and all but haven't felt a burning desire to communicate any profound thoughts here. Even some of the recent political hilarities provided by prominant Republicans hasn't spurred me to write. The Mark Sanfords and Sarah Palins can implode well enough without me.

How have I been spending the time?

1. Visiting shops and writing articles on them. I have met delightful shop owners, assistants, found bargains, and promoted these places on the website.

2. I have spent time with both children. Patrick is now in Ireland for three weeks and from what we hear, he is having a grand time! Learning Celtic (and the boy thought they spoke English there), dancing (I want a demonstration upon his return), drinking Guiness, and eating new food combinations.

Ann has been back and forth and is in the midst of packing up her apartment to make her move to Milwaukee. I spent an afternoon with her while she got a new tattoo and we had much fun. I cannot wait to have her closer so we can spend more time together.

3. My social life has been busy. Between graduation parties, a bridal shower (please, don't invite me), the 4th of July, and meeting neighbors I have spent more time with people than usual. It has been fun and an upcoming wedding this Saturday should be the icing on the cake.

4. Watson and I have discovered a dog park a few miles away. I know he enjoys the great scents and I love seeing all the breeds of dogs. Yesterday we met a shitzu mix sporting a mowhawk.

5. I have been reading a great deal. Finished two Steve Martini novels--Double Tap and Shadow of Power. Double Tap was good but in Shadow of Power I felt that Martini was lecturing me on his political and social views. Not that authors don't do that but usually are not so overt.

Beverly Hills Dead and Hot Mahogany were the two Stuart Woods novels read. Beverly Hills Dead was set in the heyday of movie studio rule in Hollywood and interesting enough. Hot Mahogany is a Stone Barrington novel and these novels are lightweight Stuart Woods. Predictable but still a comfortable read. The trouble with reading Stuart Woods is he will never top his novel Chiefs, the first book I read by him. Great ending.

Right now I am 3/4 through The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood and it is one of the few non-fiction books I've read recently. The book explores why and how some people survive events and others don't. It is a fascinating book and believe me, the next time I fly I'm going to reread certain sections!

6. Tomorrow is shopping and craft day with three teenage girls. Before you shudder at the thought of spending time with that gender and age group, let me assure you I enjoy these three....helps that that aren't mine! For now, these are like my psuedo-grandchildren!

Well, that is my life right now. Yes, it is a bit mundane but it is summer and that is enough.

Friday, June 19, 2009

This and That

Rain clouds are moving in and there is thunder in the distance. I like an occasional rainy day during the summer.

The friendly Racine Police sergeant emailed to tell me my registration suspension has been lifted. Hurray -- no more criminal activity. Now he is working on getting rid of the ticket for driving while suspended.

Second graduation party of the summer tomorrow. I've heard some parents reminisce about returning to high school which I equate to visiting hell. Yes, it is briefly interesting to think how it would be if we could return knowing what we know now, but I have little desire to be 17 again. I have often thought that we spend a great many years recovering from high school!

North Korea scares the hell out of me. Even when Russia did its saber rattling way back when I at least thought the leaders were sane. Kim Jong-il has isolated his people more than the Russians ever did, and he is a Napolean complexed nut case. Here's hoping China has some leverage with him.

Summer offers a host of festivals in Wisconsin: Paperfest, Summerfest, Rockfest -- but Chickenfest cracks me up. Possibly all the good fest names were taken and someone from this former farming community decided to honor the lowly chicken. What it needs, but doesn't have, are chicken races, chicken costume contests, chicken imitation competitions, egg hatching betting, chicken dance marathons........

If Sarah Palin runs for President in 2012 I will initiate a media black out. That woman has so little substance she makes Bette Boop look deep.

Children should not be allowed to wander about restaurants unattended. While most times children are well behaved when out dining, of late I've encountered children who are allowed to run about, playing near other diners while their parents sit unconcerned. Why do some some people need to inflict their darlings on the rest of us.

I used to like the idea of reincarnation. Then I realized I could come back as an Afghanistan woman in a burqa.

Another robin couple remodeled the next and are waiting for their brood to hatch. How do I know these are different robins? They don't dive bomb Watson and me and their chirp is not as insistent. Not all robins are alike!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Typo Trouble

I am a pretty law abiding person except when it comes to speed limits. Whether it is driving 25 mph through residential areas or cruising the 65 mph highways, I am usually going over those limits. I try to keep the speeding to a level where I'm going with the flow of traffic (a tip from a police friend), but also adhere to the philosophy that one must accept the consequences for behavior. Thus, I've always known that when I do get a speeding ticket I will deserve it.

My day of reckoning came June 7. The day was partly cloudy and the residential road clear. Upon sighting the police car I glanced at the speedometer and saw I was going 40 in a 25 zone. As soon as the police car started moving I pulled over and found my license. The surprise came when the officer stated that she had three things to discuss with me. 1. Speeding (no surprise) 2. the license plate sticker was missing (gee, this is the 3rd time a sticker has fallen off -- stick on more stickem, people) 3. the car registration is suspended. WHAT?

(As a side note, it should be noted that the officer was very nice throughout the discussion and that is much appreciated. In my limited dealings with police -- remember I said I am law abiding -- officers have been nice.)

Officer Laura of the Metro Police Department in Kimberly explained that I had an outstanding ticket from the Racine City Police. Hmmmm. I have never been in Racine but figured maybe the Milwaukee parking ticket I had forgotten to pay was handled by Racine. No, that's not really logical but bureaucracy works in strange ways. She gave me the number for Racine along with two warnings and a ticket: warnings for the missing sticker and speeding/ticket for driving after suspension. I figured I got off easily since she not only gave me the lower priced fine but wrote it up for Kimberly so it wouldn't go on my record. No points lost either.

I paid the Milwaukee ticket, emailed the DOT for a replacement sticker, and continued to merrily lead my life.

Not so fast. An email from the DOT burst my bubble and has me now acting in a criminal manner. The Department of Transportation and the local DMV (one of the circles of hell) refuse to give me a replacement sticker because I have not paid my Racine fine. I realize that at my age I don't always remember things that happen in my life but usually that involves misplacing keys, forgetting grocery items, driving past destinations. So, I called Racine Police Dept. to ask for clarification.

Lo and behold, a mistyped VIN number on a towed car has caused my registration to be suspended. A Pontiac was towed in Racine, the fine never paid, the registration revoked but I own a Subaru, it has never been towed, and I have never been in Racine. Vanessa, of the Racine Police, assured me she would work to rectify this situation. Officer Kurt Maurer from Racine called me for more information and also assured me he would not only get the suspension lifted but have Kimberly drop the fine.

This is all very good, but at this means that at this time I am driving with a suspended registration. And it also means I still must deal with the DOT/DMV for the replacement sticker.
In the spirit of civil disobedience I intend to continue this criminal activity and drive to the bank and post office today. (Does that mean it is criminal disobedience or would Thoreau/Emerson grant me poetic license?)

In the scope of life, this is all a minor inconvenience. I did receive the lessor fine which will turn into no fine, lost no points, and have people working to fix the issue. Plus, it makes a good story and this blog entry!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wisconsin Foods

There are foods that I'm told are uniquely Wisconsin. Most are fat filled, cholesterol laden, bypass precipitating foods, but we love 'em.

Bratwurst is a number one favorite. For those of you unfamiliar with this food, I must clarify the pronunciation: braht-woorst is the correct way to say it not brat-woorst. It always amuses us Wisconsinites when Illinois people mispronounce it. In other states an Italian sausage is comparable. The best brat is a grilled brat and some people boil it in beer prior to grilling (Wisconsinites love their beer).

I, myself, do not eat bratwurst. I loved them until 1973 when I worked at the Hillshire Farm meat packaging plant during college summers. I worked in packaging so saw, smelled, and handled bratwurst and hotdogs hours per day. It isn't how the brats are made that bothers me....it is the memories of freshly made brats, hanging on racks, and seeing the fat globs in them that forever turned me off.

Deep fried foods are always a hit here. Since we live in the Dairy State, deep fried cheese curds are a favorite artery clogger. Cheddar and mozzarella cheese curds are breaded and deep fried which melts the cheese inside the coating. These I eat because they are so darn tasty. I've also had deep fried pickles, deep fried green olives, and deep friend green beans. Sometimes it just seems cooks want to turn healthy foods unhealthy!
Friday night fish fries are a year 'round tradition. While this probably goes back to the Catholic tradition of no meat Fridays, Wisconsin does it right when it comes to Friday fish. Almost every restaurant has some kind of Friday fish fry and a favorite is perch. The fish is breaded, fried, and accompanied by tarter sauce, French fries, coleslaw, and buttered rye bread.

Venison is a popular meat and there is an especially large population of hunters in Wisconsin. Venison can be made into hamburger, steaks, sausage, and roasts but it must be cooked in certain ways so it doesn't taste gamey. Now, I do not like venison because I always think it tastes "funny." I do like the venison sausage although it does not agree with me. But, I have friends who use venison as a staple of their diets. I also prefer not to have looked into the eyes of my food prior to dining.....I like to think that any meat has always been in the packaged form from the grocery store.

Come state and county fair time the fat and calorie content of favorite foods goes up several notches. Maybe these foods are standard in all states at summer fairs. Cream puffs are a huge favorite at the state fair. I have not had the luxury of having one but always hear rave reviews.
Walking tacos are another hit. All the taco ingredients are mixed together in a baggie and its eaten with a spoon or fork while walking around the fair.
Stick food is interesting at fairs. Most of us are used to corn dogs on a stick and cotton candy but pork chops on a stick? Yup. Deep fried and stuck on a stick, the pork chop now becomes walkable.

Not all of our foods are unhealthy or fried. While not uniquely Wisconsin, they are grown here and thoroughly enjoyed by the state's citizenry. Door County cherries are a huge hit and a tourist attraction. This county is a peninsula into Lake Michigan and the bay of Green Bay. Cherry trees grow well in the climate and mid summer many of us head to the Door to pick cherries. Apple picking is another Door County activity.

Strawberry picking is a traditional family activity for many in the state. Pickers ride to the patches on a tractor pulled wagon, given a row to pick and containers for the berries and off you go! These are usually ripe at the end of June and part of the appeal is that you can eat as many berries as you wish while picking.

Last, but not least, dairy products. This state has excellent cheese. Cheddar is king and there is aged cheddar (the best in my book), medium, or mild cheddar. Another favorite of mine is pepper jack. This is a mild white cheese with biting pepper in it. Mmmmmm. Despite current diet trends in the nation, a cheese platter is usually standard at parties in Wisconsin.
There you have it! Wisconsinites are not necessarily the healthiest eaters in the Union, but our food is delicious!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Musings

Nothing momentous, just thoughts, things, this and that.

*Did you know there are pelicans in Wisconsin? I didn't until today. As I was driving over the Fox River I saw a pelican -- one of those moments when I wonder if I've really seen what I've seen. Coming home I went to the ever handy Google, and lo and behold the American White Pelican (the ocean loving brown pelican is a relative) summers here. What's really neat is that this bird was once pretty scarce but is now making a comeback.

*A flower to one is a weed to another. I like dandelions simply because they are a sign of spring. They are a bright spot after grayness.

*Art truly is in the eye of the beholder. While visiting the Minnesota Institute of Art with Ann and friend Rachel (both art majors) we saw some Picasso pottery. While we did not see this particular plate, what we viewed was similar and I was underwhelmed by it. I was reminded that it is, after all, a Picasso --- I pointed out that I wasn't always impressed with Hemingway. Who decides something is a piece of art or a classic novel?

*What is so difficult about using a car blinker? I am going to turn each blinker impaired driver into a toad. Not a frog with the possibility of being kissed into royalty. No, a toad....warts and no chance of redemption.

*I get the Sunday paper so I can look through the sale flyers. I do read the paper, but I relish the flyers. I cut coupons which I then forget at home, I don't shop at most of the stores whose flyers I browse, but there is just something special about those glossy flyers.

*The E-Trade Babies commercials are my favorite TV interruptions. Those kids and the lines they "say" make me smile after even the 100th viewing.

*Wonder what prompted David Letterman to marry the mother of his son? His son is 5 years old. No, I don't really care, just watching his show as I type this and it came to mind.

*If I owned a hobby farm I would have a llama, donkey, goat, peacock, miniature horse, several dogs (all mutts), and rabbits. It sounds like so much fun!

*I have seen Dick, Lynn, and Liz Cheney on TV over the years and they do contentiousness, condescension, and nastiness soooooo well. Yikes, these are negative people. Liz Cheney was on "Sunday Morning" a few weeks ago and what a train wreck....nothing positive came out of her mouth.

*I must give a shout out to Toro lawnmowers. My new Toro mower is so easy to push, and it starts after one pull. Good thing as I'm mowing the lawn once per week. That will only last until mid-July when the lawn dries up for a few weeks. Some people water their lawn but not me. Good heavens, if I water it I have to mow it.

*I own three reusable bags that I bought so I could forgo plastic grocery bags. I actually remember to use them once in awhile. I gave myself a pat on the back when I bought them and now forget to take them into the store....to quote Kermit, "It ain't easy being green."

Ok, this is not the best blog entry. Sometimes an idea is better than the written matter but hey, this is just the way my brain works some days. :)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mama Robin

Robins built a nest on the fireplace vent. I don't care about the vent as I'm not using the fireplace, but my past experiences with guest robin families does not bode well for these babies.

At the New London house robins were hatched and left the nest too early and died. I had evidence that a neighborhood cat assisted in their demise. The next year a new set of eggs hatched and these babies fell out of the nest before they could fly and hopped off into bushes never to be seen again.

All the robins who choose my houses for nesting don't choose the best area of the house on which to build. The New London nests were in the small lilac tree right by the front door. This fireplace vent nest is by the garage door. Cute little bungalow that it is, the location is not prime.

Today I saw three hungry open beaks waiting for mama to bring them grub. Mr. and Mrs. Robin are diligently caring for their babies. But, oh, do the parents look tired! I was able to look at mom sitting on the nest and she has that haggard-sleep deprived look all new parents wear. She still had the spunk to dive at Watson when we returned from a walk, so I have high hopes that she will successfully raise her babies and they will all live happily ever after.

See, I don't do well with real life and baby bird death makes me cry. The robins worked hard to build the nest, they patiently sat on the nest to hatch the eggs, and now tirelessly flit about protecting and feeding their young. I don't know if bird parents feel sad when their children leave the nest or sorrow if they die. But, I want them all to grow up strong, fly away and raise their own babies. Bird fairy tales.....


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Until I was 29 years old I swore I did not want children. Did not, did not, did not. Then one Sunday afternoon in late summer (yes, I remember the day) I realized I might be missing something.....something that I would later regret not experiencing. Nine months later my daughter was born and indeed, my life changed. For the better. Three years later my son made his appearance and my life became richer again.

I have had my struggles as a mother. To this day I wonder: did I yell too much, did I not pay enough attention, will my mistakes come back to haunt them? From talking to other moms I know these are common worries. And even though my children are legal adults, I try to balance my mothering so they know I am there for them, love them ,yet give them their space. I believe the three of us have charmed relationships. We usually talk at least once per week, I have learned how to listen, when to give advice, when to bite my tongue, and always tell them I love them. They confide secrets in me that sometimes I might not want to hear but am awed they trust me that much.

There was an all too rapid passage of time and in a blink of an eye my daughter and son became adults. Each age brought its joys and frustrations but my children were relatively easy to raise and are now admirable adults. There are moments I wish they were once again little and still held my hand when crossing a road, want stories read in bed at night, and think a kiss will make it all better. But, they are now admirable 20-somethings who are everything to me. They may not need me in the same way they once did, they do still need me.

I get to celebrate Mother's Day because I have two fantastic children who make me a better person than I could hope to be otherwise. I have shed tears about them, I laugh with them, I treasure each minute spent with them. I love them more than I ever thought it was possible to love.

To think I could have missed having my children makes me shudder. I'd like to think that the hand of Providence guided me into realizing I needed these two in my life; I'm glad I paid attention!


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Value of Hope

After 100 days in office Barack Obama is one of the most popular Presidents ever and holds a 61% approval rating. Of course there is criticism of what he has or hasn't done in this short time period, but there is agreement that the man has provided the country with hope. People feel an optimism they haven't felt for a long time.

Napolean Bonaparte stated, "A leader is a dealer in hope." If this is true, than Barack Obama is a true leader. Obama campaigned on the message of hope and change; at the time of his election this country was desperate for new leadership, a new vision, and hope. Part of Obama's success is from his essance, his ability to communicate, to remain unflappable, to stay in communication with the media and public. At the very least he gives the impression of working on issues.

The President is what this country needs at this time; he is fresh and has not spent decades entrenched in politics. Yes, he is a politician, but he not part of a political dynasty, is untainted by a long political past and scandal, and is a fresh face (in every way) for the country and world to see. And the country and the world is willing to be patient and allow him to the time he needs to make progress.

I am slightly obsessed with Barack Obama and his family, reading everything I can about them. I don't care that his PR machine is orchastrating photo ops. Every President has a PR machine. Michelle Obama is a fabulous role model, the girls adorable, the dog completing the "all American family" image. We Americans can be very shallow and if being distracted by this family is a way to make us feel better, I'm enjoying it. Every little feel good moment during this Great Recession is welcome.

I am still wanting to have dinner with the First Family. Heck, if hope is the name of the game, I will continue to hope. I am thinking of writing a letter inviting myself to dinner. I don't want to be invited to a formal event as that is not me. Just a little sit down family dinner ....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Suze Orman

An update on my Needs post. I did skim the Suze Orman book at B&N and was underwhelmed. Nothing new that I haven't heard a dozen plus times before on the news, in magazines, etc. I'm not suggesting that this advice is useless but using it depends on a person's life outlook.

One faithful reader recommended that I continue to visit my children regardless of the cost, and I definitely agree. My children are the most important people in my life plus will be picking out my nursing home, so I want to continue my close relationship with them.

Another reader suggested I am either delusional or have an excellent financial planner. Both may be true. I do have a great financial planner and sometimes I even listen to his advice. I don't like reality so possibly the delusional description is true. But, believe me, my delusional world makes me happy, and I spent too much of my life being unhappy. Trust me, money doesn't make one happy; life may be easier in some ways, but happier? No.

Bottom line is unless I cut out my more expensive luxuries, I am not going to save much money. I'm not cutting out cable because I enjoy my plasma TV and all it offers. I'm not reducing my cell phone plan because it allows me contact with my children and the friends whom I actually enjoy. I am not reducing the temperature of the thermostat when I'm awake and at home because I refuse to be cold. I do reduce it at night when sleeping and when gone. I obsessively turn off the lights, don't run water when brushing my teeth, and don't rush to turn on AC although these are more concessions to the environment than to bills.

I do not live extravagantly, I don't have a lot of debt, and I live in one of the more reasonable cost of living areas in the US. I am a moderately conservative investor, so my retirement fund investments haven't suffered as much as others. Yes, I give more thought to money than I did even a year ago. I have cut back on some little things and do not shop are heartily as I used to but am not kidding myself to think they will make a huge difference. I am going to agree with the other faithful reader who reminded me that I can't take it with me. If I want a latte, then I'm going to have a latte. Life really is too short not to enjoy it. Does that mean I won't enjoy my later years because of my lackadaisical attitude now? Maybe. But, nothing in life is certain.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Needs

What are needs? Besides the basic life needs. Someone I know finished reading Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan and apparently she gives suggestions on safeguarding your money. From what I understand, one should only purchase "needed" things. This, of course, led me to ask, "What is a need?"

Possibly, one person's need is an other's want.. or vice versa. Does a city dweller need a car if public transportation is available? Does a college student need a personal computer if computers are available at the university? These are possibly bigger needs v. wants.

I understand that having cable TV is a want. Purchasing books rather than getting them from the library is a want (although the book stores would sorely miss my revenue). Having my hair colored at a salon rather than coloring it at home is a want.

Shallow wants/needs are a bit harder to discern. Do I switch from gourmet teas to Lipton if Lipton is cheaper? Do I stop wearing mascara to save money? Do I stop driving 2-4 hours to see my kids because the cost of gas adds up? And do making any of these changes really result in significant savings?

I'm getting twitchy just typing this because I have long held the "my wants are my needs" philosophy. Yes, I've been spoiled. Do I think I need to strongly assess my wants v. needs? Yes, probably so. But, (she whined) it is so hard!!

I struggle with the idea of saving for retirement because I don't know how long I will live. What if the world really does end in 2012 (according to the Mayans), and I've been putting money away for naught. I understand that material things don't buy happiness. But if I'm going to bother with retirement funds I'd like to be able to experience the joy of spending them.

The way I see it, in order to really stick to needs, I must cut out cable, buying books and magazines, buy store coffee rather than gourmet coffee and tea, use only the card supplies I have rather than buying more. I could groom my dog myself, color my own hair, stop getting facials, massages, and pedicures (I don't get them often), not buy new clothes or shoes and use what I have. I would stop buying lattes, expensive eye shadow, candles, plants, and would stop going out to eat. But, would I enjoy my life as much? At age 54 am I to stop doing what I enjoy?

Hard questions for each to answer. I'm trying....I more often fail to say no to wants than I succeed, but I am trying. I'm going to save money by not buying Suze's book but may browse it at B&N. Maybe then I'll have a better grasp of the concept.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Taxes

My family did not have much money when I was growing up. My father went to school on the GI Bill and my mother stayed home with us kids. My father became a teacher, my mother went to school to become a teacher; there was not much spare change for extras. My parents did not fight about the lack of earnings because my father believed it was senseless to argue about what they didn't have. My financial planner knows my parents so understands the origins of my nonchalance about investments. Understands, not appreciates.

This attitude carries over to my feelings about taxes. I took my tax information to the accountant today so he can prepare the documents that I am too phobic to configure. There should not be any surprises this year but whether I'm paying in or getting back, my reaction to tax time is the same each year. There is little I can do about taxes so to complain is a grand waste of my time.

We live in a country that provides much for its citizens and those provisions cost money. I appreciate the highways and roads, the educational institutions,the parks, protections provided by the armed forces, police and fire departments. I have freedoms people in other countries envy, and I decided long ago that paying my taxes was what I/we do to ensure our country keeps running. No, I'm not always happy with how my tax dollars are spent but that goes with the territory. Are there better ways in which to tax citizens? Maybe. But I don't expect to see a change in taxes during my lifetime.

I also like my accountant. I don't pretend to understand the tax forms and tend to understand the system intuitively. I have numbers and notes scribbled on pieces of paper, he cheerfully takes them, and doesn't make me feel stupid. I also called late last week for today's appointment and was assured there was ample time for him to do the taxes. That was great news! He charges half the price of H&R Block, I enjoy chatting with him, and he will get my taxes to me in time for filing.

Most friends think I'm nuts for this outlook. That's okay.

Monday, March 30, 2009

My Heart Hurts

My worst nightmare as a parent would be the death of one of my children. I cannot imagine surviving that.

My high school next door neighbor died in a car accident when we were seniors in college. My mother told me it was not natural to have a child die before the parent. While probably not fully appreciating the comment at the time, it stuck with me, and as a parent I fully understand what she meant.

This morning my son called to tell me one of his friends died last night. The boy was a freshman at the same college my son attends and had been at Patrick's house two nights ago. I have known LM and his parents since the boys began playing soccer in elementary school. His mom, JM, and I had taken the kids to movies and swimming when they were younger. I ache for her.

Does it matter how one dies? In the long run, no. A child's death is horrific. But the rumors and innuendos that surround some deaths only exacerbates a painful time. Early reports indicate that LM died from a overdose. An overdose of what is not clear although alcohol seems to be the likely substance. Alcohol poisoning of college students is, unfortunately, not uncommon, but when it is one of your own, none of that matters.

I want to ease my child's pain, I want to comfort my friend, I want to show support in any manner I can. How I do that will become clearer as the day progresses, but for right now my heart hurts. It hurts for another chip in my son's innocence, for the sorrow leaving his girlfriend speechless, for the agony I know LM's mom is experiencing.

To my children: I love you with all my heart and wish to keep you safe. To my friends: I hope you never experience this pain. To all of us: always tell those you love that you care because we never know when it will the last chance to do so.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Favor

I have undertaken a new project and am having great fun with it. While browsing employment sites I stumbled across Examiner.com which is a go-to site for local information and events. It is an interesting site which, at this time, covers 60 major markets across the country.

I am part of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, market even though my title is Fox River Valley Boutique Shopper Examiner. (quite the mouthful!) The geographic area I cover is Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Oshkosh, and possibly Green Bay.

I have a favor to ask. Would you be so kind as to take a peek at my articles periodically? Examiner.com is a pay per view site which means I am paid for how many times my articles are viewed. I am in the early stages of writing and have published 4 articles thus far. My aim is to publish 4 articles or more per week. Any constructive feedback would be appreciated -- yes, even criticism!

To find my website, click here. Thank you!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Annoying Bird

I enjoy watching birds although I won't go as far as to say I'm a "bird watcher." No, "Hark" in the woods for me, but as a casual observer I have favorites I smile to see.

Cardinals and chickadees are two favorites. Mr. Cardinal's (started calling the male cardinal that when the kids were little) song and bright color appeal while the chickadee's call and spunky attitude perk up winter days. Red poles, golden finches, and blue birds all have the color component going for them. So do blue jays and while they can be obnoxious, they are fun to watch hop about. Another favorite is the rarely seen orange and black oriole. That bird takes my breathe away.

In the "power bird" category red tail or marsh hawks and owls awe me. The soaring, swooping flight, keen eyesight, and larger size demand respect. While not a predatory bird, the great blue heron's size, long legs, and crooked neck give it a commanding appearance, and I always "ooooh" when I see one. Kingfishers and snowy egrets cause the same reaction. The above mentioned birds are just plain wow-worthy.

Now, there are a few birds that drive me crazy. I respect a crow's intelligence although when they caw at 6:30 in the morning I am less than thrilled with them. But today the bird highest on my annoyance list is the killdeer. This bird's instinct to run the opposite direction from their nest might make sense in theory but any human familiar with the bird is not fooled by this behavior. And while the killdeer is running away from the next it is yelling in its high pitched killdeer voice.

What did I hear this afternoon out my patio door (which was, Halleluia, open because it was 68 degrees outside) but the squawking of not one, not two, but three killdeer in the backyard. Aye yay yay. Is this threesome (birdy menage a trois?) going to nest in my garden area or at the base of the neighbor's trees? Their mating season begins in March, so they are probably scouting out birthing rooms.
Maybe I'll grow to love their endless hysteria. If not, I'll try to remind myself that at least its not a family of skunks who have adopted my yard.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tulips

Yesterday was spent recovering from the 6 inches of snow dumped on Appleton Sunday night. Today's gray, rainy, foggy and sleet/freezing rain weather is depressing. (my apologies, Annabelle, for writing about the weather) To combat the never ending winter, I went to a favorite florists/greenhouse. Ah, the earthy smell, green sprouting geraniums are a sign of spring and just what I needed.


I was looking for a potted, blooming daffodil plant but those won't be available for a few weeks. However, the suitable runnerup, a tulip bouquet, is now sitting on my coffee table. Some would not consider this a practical purchase in these tough economic times, but the mood uplift of these flowers is worth the price.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dancing with the Stars

I confess to watching "Dancing with the Stars," the only reality show I follow. Because I have two left feet and feel too inhibited to dance, the show appeals to my inner Ginger Rogers. (Who did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels)

There are dancers I automatically like, some whose performances are cringe-worthy, a few I want voted off as soon as possible. But, I sure give anyone willing to sign on for this show credit for their hard work.

What makes this show different from other reality shows? The contestants must learn a new skill and the judging isn't mean spirited. "The Bachelor" is nauseatingly predatory, "American Idol" has Simon who is arrogant and nasty, and "Survivor" is filled with back stabbing contestants. "Dancing with the Stars" is a a friendly, fun, glittery competition. It gives me the mind candy I like this time of year.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

LMAO

So many jokes are passed on through the internet that we read the same ones over and over. This morning I received a forwarded email that had me laughing aloud. I just had to share it.

The Best Smart Ass Answers of 2008 !!
SMART ASS ANSWER #6
It was mealtime during an airline flight. 'Would you like dinner?' the flight attendant asked John, seated in front. 'What are my choices?' John asked. 'Yes or no,' she replied.

SMART ASS ANSWER #5
A flight attendant was stationed at the departure gate to check tickets.
As a man approached, she extended her hand for the ticket and he opened his trench coat and flashed her. Without missing a beat, she said, 'Sir, I need to see your ticket, not your stub.'

SMART ASS ANSWER #4
A lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store but she couldn't find one big enough for her family. She asked a stock boy, ' Do these turkeys get any bigger?' The stock boy replied, 'No ma'am, they're dead.'

SMART ASS ANSWER #3
The police officer got out of his car as the kid who was stopped for speeding rolled down his window. 'I've been waiting for you all day,' the officer said. The kid replied, Yeah, well I got here as fast as I could.'
When the cop finally stopped laughing, he sent the kid on his way without a ticket.

SMART ASS ANSWER #2
A truck driver was driving along on the freeway and noticed a sign that read: Low Bridge Ahead. Before he knows it, the bridge is right in front of him and his truck gets wedged under it. Cars are backed up for miles.
Finally a police car comes up. The cop gets out of his car and walks to the truck driver, puts his hands on his hips and says, 'Got stuck, huh?' The truck driver says, 'No, I was delivering this bridge and I ran out of gas.'

SMART ASS ANSWER OF THE YEAR 2008 !!
A college teacher reminds her class of tomorrow's final exam. 'Now class, I won't tolerate any excuses for you not being here tomorrow. I might consider a nuclear attack or a serious personal injury, illness, or a death in your immediate family, but that's it, no other excuses whatsoever!' A smart-ass student in the back of the room raised his hand and asked, 'What would you say if tomorrow I said I was suffering from complete and utter sexual exhaustion?' The entire class is reduced to laughter and snickering.
When silence was restored, the teacher smiled knowingly at the student, shook her head and sweetly said, 'Well, I guess you'd have to write the exam with your other hand.'

Friday, February 27, 2009

Casual Observations

Just some thoughts running through my head:

1. Sunshine makes everything better. This kind of goes hand in hand with a tan makes everyone look 10 lbs. lighter.

2. I love a good storm. In the spring and summer a thunderstorm is exciting. Some try to jack up the excitement level during tornado warnings by looking out the window watching the clouds swirl while looking for the funnel.
Last night we had a snow storm with howling winds. I curled up with a Greg Isles book and enjoyed the coziness.

3. I love the soundtrack to "Slumdog Millionaire." While I haven't seen the movie yet, I watched the Academy Awards, saw a dance expo on GMA, and have ordered the soundtrack. Am toying with the idea of ordering some tunic tops and caftans so I can float about in my clothes. I already own the hookah so am on my way to adopting a new heritage.

4. If I were to live by the saying, "What would you do if you could not fail?" I would be a performer. I would at least be a doo wop girl, work my way to diva status, and then star in some movies. Since failure isn't an option the fact that I have a lousy singing voice doesn't matter.
(A huge problem with being a famous performer would be having every move documented and having people invading my privacy. I just don't like people enough to have them in my space. Rather than carrying a little rat dog in my purse I'd have to take a bull mastiff with me everywhere.)
Being a pianist, author, figure skater, comedian,or nail polish namer would also be "no fail" jobs for me.

5. I've had four dreams about meeting Barack Obama. Hopefully prophetic dreams! How fantastic it would be to have dinner with the Obama family in a relaxed atmosphere, chit chatting about what not.

Ah, just zig zagging thoughts this afternoon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Technology Addiction

At one time in my life I shunned computer use. I had no need so why use a technology I found difficult to understand. Then came along Windows 95, and my entry into technology addiction began. Why, one can talk to people across the seas! Want to buy a shirt online at 11:00 pm -- here's my credit card number. I surf the web, keep a blog, store photos, file documents, bookmark favorite sites, and email my children via the computer. Am I addicted to my laptop -- oh, yes!

Computers allow for news inundation, instantaneous communication, and split second gossip dissemination. We don't have time to have information filtered when it is before us from a myriad of medias. Information isn't even substantiated before it is let loose to the masses so misinformation becomes fact when it shouldn't. There have been a few times I've had to do without my computer and those are the times I understand how much time this thing sucks out of my life. Maybe I need to designate one day/week a non-computer day.

Cell phone usage came later than computer usage for me. My first cell phone was bulky, had about 30 minutes of call time/month and was only to be used for emergencies. Service was dicey. I do not believe it had voicemail let alone caller id. Now my cellphone has more services than I know how to use, has caller id, various ring tones, takes and stores pictures, plays music, has a calculator, a clock, a video camera, and text messaging. It is always with me and that is the rub.

I first started carrying a cell phone when away from my children (they were of an age where they could be left alone safely and were self sufficient enough). I kept it on so if there was an emergency they could contact me. I will never forget when I first realized that cell phones were intrusive. I was in a dressing room at Dayton's when my cell phone rang. My son, who was well able to make a sandwich, use the microwave, and who had been raised to be independent called to ask what was for lunch. After explaining my location and that lunch was whatever he made, I turned off the phone realizing I did not always want to be found. I did not always want to be connected.

That feeling has not faded away. Was it really so bad not to have 24/7 access to everyone in our lives? What real emergencies do we have in our lives? I understand the significance of having a cell phone when driving at midnight on a lonely country highway, that a 16 year old who has just earned a diver's license should carry one, and that cell phones at Columbine helped the police but that is not the reason people really have cell phones. I have friends whose children call them 9 times a day about the mundane: what's for supper, have you washed my soccer jersey, why aren't you home yet? And my friends get exasperated at those calls! When it is suggested that the phone be turned off, the parents are astonished at the thought of being disconnected from their children.

I am a person who values my alone time. I like quiet, I enjoy solitude, and I don't particularly like talking on the phone for more than 15 minutes. I ignore my land line more than answer it, and I believe one of the greatest inventions of the last 100 years is caller id. That way I can choose when to answer my cell phone. Distinctive ring tones have aided me if I can't see the caller id (aging eyes), so I can identify the caller by the ring tone. Voice mail allows the caller to leave a message, or not, and I can contact that person in my own due time. I always answer my children's calls. Everyone else depends on my mood.

My children are enveloped in technology, cell phones in particular. My daughter rarely answers her phone (takes after her mother) but text messages often and receives texts even more often. She even has one of those phones that has a regular little typewriter keypad. I drew the line the last time I was with her and she started to text while driving -- with me in the passenger seat. I don't think so! Her brother should just have the thing surgically implanted in his hand. Until recently it was dicey as to what mood a call would find him since he never shuts the thing off. It seems I always called when he was sleeping (whether it was 10 a.m. or 3 p.m) and he was pretty ugly upon my awakening him. When I suggested he shut off his phone during naps he informed me that he uses his phone for an alarm clock......(the tone of voice used was one we parents know only too well --- "like how can you be so stupid as to not know that!")

I drew the line when we vacationed in Palm Springs last March. I asked both kids to turn off their cell phones during the day when we were all together because I wanted to enjoy them without interruption. (I do find it rude that people cut off the person sitting with them at dinner or during a face to face conversation to answer their cell phone. I apologize to store clerks if I end up answering a call when checking out. Do we really need to share/listen to other's conversations?) They agreed, and I can't help but think it was a moment of enlightenment for them -- they could live without the phone.

What if we end up like the characters in science fiction stories? "Star Trek" had the computer able to identify the location of everyone on the ship and crew members were always accessible by communicators. In later stories the Federation crews had communication chips implanted in their brains. No thanks. GPS is already evolving to the point that our locations can be the business of others and means there is little chance of escaping.

Yesterday I purposefully left my cell phone in the car while I ran errands. That felt good. I want to do that more often. Better yet, I should turn it and the computer off and have a little less technology in my life.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Book Stores

Books have always been important in my life, and I tried to pass on the love of reading to my children. One way of doing that was when we made a point of stopping at bookstores whenever we vacationed with the kids. Whether it was a university bookstore (a move to acquaint Ann and Patrick with colleges and more deeply impress upon them the wonders of higher learning), mall bookstore, or mainstreet bookstore we made a point to visit it on vacation.

We found the Crow's Nest on the wharf in San Diego in the early 1990's and thought it delightfully revolutionary that it also contained a coffee shop. Hark, what an idea -- books to browse while sipping coffee! Fortunately this trend moved to the Midwest, a Barnes & Noble settled in Appleton, and I had a new favorite place. When in Toronto we visited Chapters, a two story book store; in Madison Canterbury Tales and Borders demand a visit (both with coffee offerings).

Ah, I love going to such bookstores, browsing books, sipping coffee, people watching.
I have rarely met a bookstore I don't enjoy and when a bookstore also houses a coffee shop a near perfect setting happens.

This Saturday we spent a few hours at Barnes & Noble; Dan skimming a computer programming book while I paged through a magazine and then began reading "The Reader." It is my understanding that bookstores such as B&N encourage people to spend time reading in the store because the longer customers are in the store, the more they are tempted to buy. I read half of the book and may return this week to finish it. A friend once asked if I felt guilty about reading a book there without intending to purchase it. Because I spend a lot of money at Barnes & Noble (the most popular family gift is a B&N gift card) I do not feel guilt.

On Saturday I left the store with the Barack Obama Vanity Fair.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Few Weeks Into the Presidency

Just a few observations about recent political news:

Loved, loved, loved that President Obama said, "I screwed up." While it would be easy for us followers to make excuses, to blame Daschle for it all, question who the heck vetted these people, I am a firm believer that the person at the top is the one in charge and the one responsible. How refreshing, after eight years of a President who lied, ignored, overreacted, and bumbled yet never admitted mistakes.

I admit to not understanding the stimulus bill. Can someone explain to me how resodding the Mall, helping out Hollywood, and funding education on sexually transmitted diseases stimulate a desperate economy? The plea to quickly advance this bill because of the horrific state of the country doesn't move me. The first stimulus package did little to help and was injected without being properly thought through. I am happy to have a bill closely scrutinized by both parties and the public for a change. Why not pass a bill for only its initial purpose without loading it up with "wants" not "needs."

Kudos for the House and Senate for passing an expansion of the government children's health care which was vetoed by President Bush. The bill will be signed by President Obama later today. When Bush denied this program I wrote him a letter questioning his leadership. Happy to see the program finally gets the go ahead.

Nice to see that the White House has some muscle to flex with companies bailed out by federal money (your and my money). While this should have been clearly established as part of any bailout in the first stimulus bill and may even just be window dressing, I like the statement being made for all of us who will never see such salaries. Since the President has blasted executives Wells Fargo cancelled a Las Vegas retreat and Bank of America is selling corporate jets. Seems a no brainer that if an executive has not successfully led his company, he should not receive huge salaries let alone bonuses. Business won't attract quality leadership if not well compensated? If quality leadership got us to this point, gee, give me some not so quality leaders. Where else are these people going to work these days? Drive a company into the dust and now the execs can be rewarded accordingly. What ever happened to doing a job for the fulfillment of the work and belief in what work is done rather than only for the compensation involved? Yes, I realize that sounds Pollyanna-ish, but remember that I have taught. Say no more about working without adequate compensation but for the love of the job.

My last comment has to do with the American media fascination with the Obama's family spending on less glamorous clothing and furniture. Because the Obamas are not routinely dressing in Paris designs or purchasing custom made furniture, the media is fawning over the "inexpensive" purchases they have made. Let me assure the media that those of us in middle America find J.Crew and Pottery Barn expensive. Target, Shopko, and Walmart offer reasonably priced items to folks in the middle class.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How to Manage a Rhinovirus

Gather Kleenex. Cough. Drink quarts of orange juice. Sneeze. Think about cutting off your head. Blow nose. Dose with Dayquil. Cough. Take a nap. Sneeze. Drink peppermint tea. Blow nose. Heat can of chicken noodle soup. Cough. Suck on cough drop. Curl up on couch and watch junk TV. Blow nose. Answer phone and assure friend you are alive. Hang up sure you're going to die. Rub Vicks into chest and under nose. Sneeze. Drink glasses of water. Suck on popscicle. Google do-it-yourself tonsilectomy. Gargle. Feel sorry for self. Cough. Dose with Nyquil. Go to bed to read waiting for drugs to make you tired. Pat dog and assure him he is your best ever friend. Sleep.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Narrow

Mom always said to avoid conversations about sex, religion, and politics. How right she was.

My current social minglings are steeped with conservatives who were used to associating with only those of their own ilk. I came along (I socialize with the people because of my significant other. He has the good grace to look at both sides of an issue), and they quickly learned that not everyone agrees with their political or religious points of view. Not really wanting to discuss any of the aforementioned subjects with them, I never bring up such topics. Some of them, however, cannot seem to avoid them and being me, I refuse to let them off the hook without some accountability.

Recently I lived through such an occasion. President Obama has only been in office 16 days and already two of these conservatives have to criticize the economic road he is taking. I can understand concern over the stimulus plans and have my own misgivings. But, what astonished me was the assertion that our economic woes began with Jimmy Carter and that the present state of the economy had nothing to do with the past eight years of President Bush's reign. Huh?

While my mouth was still hanging open at that assertion, the one that rendered me almost speechless (speechlessness does not often happen to me although I'm beginning to think it should) was the claim that Barack Obama is not a moral person. Why, you may ask, do they not consider him a moral person? Because he is pro-choice. These people vote on that issue alone. (As you can imagine Bill Clinton was Satan to them) The answer to any liberal consideration from that moment on was countered with "I only answer to my God." Lots of wars have been fought on that premise, but then, this couple supports the "war on terror", i.e. invasion of Iraq.

At this point I stated that any further discussion on politics, the economy, or other issues was moot since their main concern was alleged morality. What puzzles me is the notion that immoral behavior does not seem to include torture, holding people at Guantanamo without due process, and lying. I did not have the gall to ask if God approved of those.

This morning I had coffee with a friend who happens to be conservative but with whom I question, discuss, and mull current affairs. She concurred that the morality/pro-choice/God stance is very narrow and not one to which she adheres. Guess I needed to hear that. One reason I like discussing such topics with her is I know she goes beyond Rush Limbaugh and Fox News for information.

While I am a liberal, I try to consider both sides which is what I expect of others. Unfortunately, that was not going to happen during that recent surreal discussion. Knee jerk reactions from either side is not healthy and at present it is dangerous. More than ever we need to keep open minds, set aside traditional differences, and try to work together to solve this horrible economic mess. I doubt only considering the morality of pro-life is going to get us the answers.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gift of Watermelon Pickle

When I was younger my father enjoyed the poem, "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity" by John Tobias. The title alone is so atypical of starchy English and early American poets that I found it immediately appealing.

This is not only the title of the poem but also the title of a poetry book in which the poem is contained. The verses included in this book are more modern poems which steer away from the usual themes of war and love and contain poems on less weighty although not necessarily less interesting subjects. "Apartment House" (Gerald Raftery), "The Toaster" (William Jay Smith), "The Garden Hose" (Beatrice Janosco), and "Steam Shovel" (Charles Malam) to name a few. This is one of my favorite poetry books.

Because the weather of this endless winter interfered with my spending Christmas with my extended family, I received Christmas gifts via UPS from my parents yesterday. My father, who often has a unique sense of sentimentality, included a jar of spiced watermelon pickle found at The Vermont Country Store. My dad was wise enough to include a copy of the poem with the preserve (although I immediately located the book). I know why he likes it and upon reading it after so many years of forgetting it, I am very touched by this present. Each child has extra special links with a parent, and I believe one link between my father and me is literature. I have many books that were gifts from him, and he always signed and dated them. While he did not technically gift the "Watermelon Pickle" book to me (I think I 'borrowed' it when I was teaching poetry and didn't return it), his name is stamped on the inside cover. While my father and I might not always understand each other, when reading the poem I felt a connection with him and an understanding that, much like the poem, I had forgotten. Thank you, Dad. I love you much!

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer--
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
That the one that was--
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;
And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite;
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

John Tobias