Sunday, July 30, 2006

In Which I Am Determined to Win

I'm trying very assiduously to lessen the painful bite of the monthly electric bill here in our household. Now, living in the South without air conditioning runs the gamut from "dumbass" all the way to "are you freaking insane?" To completely do away with the air conditioning would be foolhardy in the extreme. So, as part of my cost-saving measures, I'm trying to go as long as possible during the day without having to run the air. Usually, when the cat begins to burst into a rapid boil, that's my cue to turn it on.

When JF arrives home at night, we turn the a/c units on to cool the house down enough to make it possible for us to sleep. We have an older house, so we only have window units. There is one large unit in the living room, and one each in the master bedroom, and in Offspring's. These make it possible for us to live without say, roasting chickens over our broiling bodies, or killing each other in a heat-induced haze. Mostly.

We had a very old box fan that I had given to Offspring to help her try to keep cool (well, cool-er, at least) during those times when we were trying not to run the a/c. (Might I interject here that I was *not* joking last week when I said at Phantom's Wednesday Whine that I was sweating so much that it was pouring off my ass like a flume ride? While I'm grateful that I shared the coveted "Elevated Risk of Mullet" Award for the best sentence in a WW, I wasn't really joking. I chose to let you all *think* I was joking, because that way, I win prizes, and no one really stops to think about my sweaty ass. Because, you know....sweaty ass ain't pretty. Anyway, enough about my ass. Where was I? Oh, yes....)

So, I decided to hie my happy behind to El Diablo WalMarto to pick up a few groceries that we needed, and look for one of those space-saving tower fans. I figured that if I could find a relatively sturdy model for a cheap enough price, I would buy it, and station it in front of the computer where I seem to be spending most of my day. At the very least, I could go from full-on boil to a low simmer. Offspring decides not to accompany me, since she's decided we apparently spend way too much of our time in WalMart already. What she does not realize is that without her presence, the shopping time is greatly diminished because we don't spend an hour in the toy section, gushing over the Bratz dolls and their gigantic heads. So, off I go, alone -- ah, the blessed state of alone-ness! -- to WalMart.

Once there, I find a fairly large tower fan for what I deem is a reasonable enough price. The box, while not heavy, is large and bulky. I wedge it into my cart with my other purchases, and pray that I don't mow down other shoppers like grain before a thresher between the Housewares and the checkout. I make it to the register safely, only to find that everyone else in town decided to go to WalMart at the exact same time that I did. And -- holding true to my luck -- everyone all decided en masse to check out at the exact same time I did. I get behind a perfectly nice older gentleman who decided to, after he'd laid all his purchases-to-be out in a complex pattern known only to him and possibly a NASA scientist, that he was going to conduct an elaborate Swiss banking transaction from the keypad/debit card scanner thingy. I half expected him to break out with a lawn chair and seat himself oh-so-gingerly with a cup of tea while the cashier recited algorithims while balancing a roll of cash register tape on her nose in the manner of a trained seal. It was just that kind of day.

Finally, after Swiss Banking Gentleman had made his (seperate! ?) purchases of Boost! drink, vegetables, rubber cane tips, and wine coolers (what kind of party is this guy having, anyway?!), he toddled off, and it was my turn at the register. My transaction goes off without any delicate maneuvering, Swiss or otherwise, and I limp back into the steamy wretchedness that is my town. I load up my car, and crank the air and stereo to full blast for the trip back home. Pulling out of the parking lot, I remember that JF had asked me to buy him the lightest blond hair dye that they had, and I've forgotten to get it. Apparently, JF is feeling adventurous again. The Nair is no longer enough to sustain him -- he needs bigger and better thrills. I console myself with the fact that he's not got a lot of hair left to dye. I decide I'll go back out later in the day for the dye, and happily blare along with U2's "Vertigo" for the ride home.

When I get home, I pound like a maniac on the door for Offspring -- I'm holding milk, a huge fan box, an ice cream cake, and three other bags with assorted stuff. And we're all melting. She finally hears my flailing, and comes to open the door. She says, "You told me not to open the door to anyone!" I said, "Yes, *to strangers!* You were looking out of your window at me! You knew it was me!" I get inside, get the items put up, and clear a workspace in the living room in which to assemble the fan.

Of course, once you open the box, the pieces multiply or something, because you can NEVER get them back in the box. I take all the styrofoam padding off, and begin laying out the parts for their conversion to fan-dom. The styrofoam, of course, disentegrates, all over the chocolate-brown runner that we keep in front of our comupter. It looks oddly like someone embedded aspirins in a huge Hershey bar. I get all the pieces out of the box, and am somewhat stymied to find that there are no instructions for assemblage. Hm. Curious. I check to see if maybe they're still in the box. No. Maybe stuffed inside one of the styrofoam bits? No. Did they slide under the couch? Hell, if they did, they're just *gone.* That thing is a bitch to pick up! But no -- there's a shoe blocking the way, so they couldn't have gone under the couch. Well. Maybe this fan is so simple to assemble that you can just do it from looking at the picture! So, I look at the pieces and decide that these two over here *obviously* are halves of a whole, so I snap them together. The four plastic hunks that make up the base aren't all that hard to figure out -- look at me! I'm a freakin' genius. I can put together a fan! Uh-oh. Wait a minute! I was supposed to string the electrical cord through the middle of all those pieces! Argh. Now, I have to take all the pieces apart and fit the cord in between the halves. Suddenly, I'm not such a genius anymore.

So, I take it all apart, string the cord, and put them all back together again. I go to then attach this one lump-shaped hunk of plastic to the bottom of the tower, and I discover that the tabs match up, but there's a set of screw holes. Why would there be screw holes, but no screws? I realize that I have no hardware either. Who the hell packed this box? I resolve to stomp myself to Taiwan, Sri Lanka, or China and kick their asses for not giving me my directions and metal bits. I quickly lose that resolve in the face of the truth: I have to go back out into the heat to WalMart. WalMart once in a week is a daunting prospect. Twice in one day seems an awful lot like some sort of cosmic punishment.

I attempt to pack the fan back up in its original state in the carton. The universe laughs at me for thinking that I, a puny human, could manage such a feat. So, half the parts go into the box with the Shredded Wheat that is the styrofoam packaging, and the rest into a Wal-Mart bag. I head back out into the tropical sweatiness. When I get back to WalMart, I have to search for a shopping cart, since everyone in town is STILL apparently wandering aimlessly around in the store. I decide to skip the monstrously long Customer Serivce line, and go straight back to the fans. I find another fan just like the one I already bought, and check the box for signs that it has been opened already by Philips-head Screw Gremlins. It seems to be Gremlin-safe, so I wedge *that* fan into the cart along with the first one. I make a quick detour at the hair dye, and pick up a lovely shade of Lemon Yellow for Juggling Freak.

I now have to brave the Monstrously Long Line at Customer Service to exchange the fan. I wait with the rest of the population who aren't fricking fan geniuses, and try not to implode. I'm not quite successful with the implosion part. All I want is to get home, plug in my fan, and change into clothes that aren't tranluscent with sweat. Finally, it is my turn. I tell the cashier that I want to exchange the fan. She fiddles with her register, and passes over a reciept for me to sign. The next thing I know, she's shoving money into my moist palm. While I normally encourage people to just *give* me money, this was not what I had expected to happen next. I explain to her that I just wanted to do an even swap. She looks at me like I just told her to have coitus with a close relation. She mutters something about having to get the manager to void the last transcation. I stop her -- Wait! I'll just pay you for this one! I mean, she refunded me the money for the first fan, I'll just outright purchase the second, and the hair dye, and be on my sweaty way! She again looks at me as if I've suggested something highly improper, but decides to humor me. I ask her if I can open the box to make sure that the directions and the screws are there. Surprisingly, she lets me, and there they are! I have never been so happy to see simplistic broken-English directions and three tiny metal screws encased in plastic before! Yay! I buy the fan and the Lemon Yellow Clairol, and I'm finally out of the clutches of the evil WalMart.

As I'm trying to heft the enormous fan box into my car, the bottom of the box gives way. Plastic pieces roll under my car. Oh, joy. Hell with it -- nothing seems damaged, and I've got all the parts that went under the car -- I'm not going back into the store AGAIN. This fan WILL work or it will face my wrath. And it shall not be pretty to witness!

I throw the remnants of the box and all the assorted pieces into the back of the car, and head off towards home. Behind me, I hear a car honking maniacally. What on earth is it now?!?! It turns out to be a friend who directs a lot of plays, and he wants me to audition for his next show. He asks for my phone number, and tells me the date of the auditions. It's a farce, which I love. I'm glad to know that even looking like a demented woman on a sweaty bender, the guy was still interested enough to have me audition for him.

I get home, finally, and once again lay out the parts for assembly. This time, having put the fan together and taken it apart twice each, I'm more familiar with what I'm doing. The only real need to consult the directions is to make sure that I'm putting everything where it's supposed to go. I screw the pieces in place, and plug the fan in. There's no shower of sparks, and no immediate brown-out, so I think I've actually done it! The fan whirs to life at the touch of a button. I haven't screwed it up! Yay, me!

So, I'm ending my evening with the fan blowing merrily at my workstation, and the prospect of an audition looming. I survived two trips to WalMart in one day, and I didn't electrocute myself or anyone else with my fan assembly. I'm still not looking forward to paying this month's electric bill, though. Maybe I should send them their check encased in a block of styrofoam. It might anger them, but I'd get a laugh out of it.

Friday, July 28, 2006

One Year

One year ago tomorrow, I began this blog. I'm not sure what it was I wanted to accomplish, or if I've reached whatever goals I had set for myself.

I think bloggers, in some ways, have to be extroverted people. You have to have a certain amount of sangfroid at revealing bits of yourself to the largely unknown public. Yes, you can conceal, and you can obscure, the the truth is that at the end of the day, you are laying chunks of yourself out in the open for public scrutiny.

I'm not happy with the way I've become (unhealthily) addicted to sitemeter and comment numbers. I am happy with the wonderful people that I've met. CCW says her mother refers to her online friends as "fake friends." While I see the amusement in that view, I don't think of you all as fake friends. You're more like technologically enhanced penpals. I've learned a lot from sites like Beanie Baby -- Andrea is a total dominatrix of eclectic and thought-provoking posts. Phantom Scribbler has made me think hard about a lot of issues of import both great and small. And where else can you whine without being told to stuff a sock in it? I have developed a weird symbiosis with people that I've never met and live hundreds of miles from. CCW and Karyn are both long-lost twins (most assuredly fraternal, though) that I've discovered I never knew I had. I've been awed at the love and heart it takes to bring a new family member into your hearts and home like Yankee Transplant. I'm amazed at the courage it took for Linda to not only change her life, but be determined to make it a good life.

Then there are the sites that make me snarf up a lung -- Dr. Corndog has got to be the most hilarious man I've never had the pleasure to meet. I marvel at his humor and cheer his progress through a difficult time. I can't read Anne Glamore's blog without having a box of tissue at the ready. Never try to read Anne's blog while drinking. It's a guarnteed way to short out your keyboard.

There are the parenting blogs that offer so much more -- not only cute kids and slices from everyday life, but warm, open people who constantly amaze and surprise me with every post that they put up. I love to read stories about Phantom's LG and Baby Blue, the two kids who make blogging very easy for Mama by constantly saying adorable, and bloggable, bits. I rejoiced with Purple Kangaroo and CCW when they gave birth to beautiful bundles of pure joy. I cried like a baby myself when I read that Halloweenlover's wish to someday join the exalted ranks of those called "Mommy" was going to be reality. I clapped in glee when I learned that APL was expecting again. I've watched so many children grow over the space of a year: Kid L and Not-So-Baby-H; Ella and Chloe; OD and YD (and now there's Gigi, too!); Finn, Porter, and Drew; Frances; Angry Boy; AJ and M&M; Muffin Man; LG and Baby Blue. I read about dogs who are furry children: Molly and Sam; Tango and Murray; Grimmy and Dozer. I read wonderfully written stories of jo(e)'s family, and I pray that my daughter ends up as poised and self-assured as any one of her children, or as much of a lyrical writer as jo(e) herself.

I can make references to movies or TV, and *someone* always gets it. We can talk babies, or cookies, or even the fact that tortilla chips burn. Who knew? I can say, "Do you *realize* the street value of this mountain?" to APL, and she gets it. If I were to say "twiddlebugs," I would know that Liz, Phantom, and APL will understand. We can make Corndog regret the day he ever heard us utter the fateful word: "Caillou." I can rest easy, knowing that even with all the stupid stuff I've done in my life, the blogosphere will keep me informed of countless legions who've done things dumber than I.

I talk education and so much more with Scrivener, Mystery Mommy, and Purple Kangaroo. I learn about homeschooling and Montessori; college and curricula. I learn what it's like to be a professor from Russian Violets and Medieval Woman. I see God every day in the postings of Songbird, InnerDorothy, PPB, and Gord. They give me faith that not only are there people full of grace out there, but that we can find that grace even within ourselves. They are gentle and loving souls who truly make the world a better place to live in.

There are the people that I'm just discovering and beginning to know: Marni, Harmonia, Haanster, and DevilMacDawg. I've not had all that much time with you, but you've already brightened my life.

I'm not sure if blogging is really right for me. I don't know what it was that really motivated me to start a blog in the first place, other than nagging from Corndog and having a place that I could use instead of waiting impatiently for Phantom's Wednesday Whine to roll around again. I've enjoyed it, to be sure, but I'm not sure I've contributed much more than just words taking up space. At any rate, it's been fun getting to this point. Thank you for all taking the journey with me.


Updated: I wanted to add all these linkity-link-links when I originally posted, but was under time constraint. I have now added in anyone I inadvertently left off, and linked as well. I think all these people are great, and if there's a name on there that you don't know, go visit them!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The State of Education

Scrivener has up a post about a NYT article that talks about the death of play for the average kindergartner. As a kindergarten teacher, I would love to have more playtime in our day. I think we force too much on children, too quickly. We force it on them because that's what's required of us. No Child Left Behind -- while a good idea in theory -- is not conducive to putting the play back into the regular school day.

When I was in kindergarten, I remember a lot of play time. I remember the playground and the giant slide that looked like a clown. I remember getting in trouble for giggling during rest time. I remember meeting other kids and running together like wild hooligans in the schoolyard.

Sadly, those days of endless play are gone. The article references a group of children who do nothing but drill all day. That is not the case for my class. I try to plan my lessons with the thought behind them that all children will be bored with learning unless you engage their attention. Running rote drills does not inspire love for learning. Sure, you can get the kids to do a lot by rote, but they don't truly get anything from it. And if it's not being retained, then why waste your time teaching it?

I mentioned in Scriv's comments that most of the parents that I've encountered here on the blogosphere are very involved parents. They care about education, both the state of education, and their child's role within that framework. They want their children to do well. Most of you with children who are at kindergarten (or near) age have worked with them very diligently on the good foundations that they would otherwise get in kindergarten. Your children know their letters and sounds, numbers and colors, and other basic personal information like full name, age, address, and telephone number. Yours are the prepared children. I see many other children who are not so well-equipped to begin school. I have taught children who did not know their letters, and indeed, did not even know their last name. I had a student last year who came to me unable to do more than draw a very shaky circle. By the end of the school year, he had a very legible handwriting, and a short story that he illustrated was good enough to be sent in to a Reading Rainbow contest. These may not seem like great strides to some people, but they are when the child could barely grasp a pencil before.

I have also had less-than-involved parents. Just last year, I had a father that I met once. And I only met him that one time because he came to complain. I could not imagine being so uninvolved in my child's education. All too often, though, we do see parents for whom we are free daycare. I have had parents tell me that they would not come pick up a vomiting, feverish child because he wasn't their responsibility until 3:30pm. I was stuck with him -- he was *my* problem during the school day. I've had a parent who let her daughter come to school in clothes so filthy that I was reluctant to even touch the child, even though I knew full well that the child had plenty of clean clothes at home because both myself and a friend had donated huge amounts of clothes to the family. I've had children tell me about drug use in their families. And then I've had students who were just pure joy to teach.

The problem with having such an obvious chasm between the high-achieving students and the ones who come to us ill-prepared is the constant state of catch-up we, as educators, are in. We have to play to the lowest common denominator. We have to try and explain concepts to the child in the room who has no clue to what we're referring while still retaining the interest of the child who has already mastered that concept. Are we out to create a legion of folded-hand zombies who do no critical thinking? No, but sometimes we are forced to teach in styles not of our own choosing because of district and national mandates.

These days, the average kindergartener has to be able to count to 100 by 1s, 5s, and 10s. They have to count to 30 by 2s and backwards from 10 to zero. They have to know all of the letters of the alphabet, and each corresponding sound. They have to know common diagraphs like /sh/, /ch/, /wh/, /st/, and /th/. They have to know how each individual letter sounds, and how they sound together. They have to know sight words -- words that are harder to prounounce using typical phonics, and so should be known on sight alone. They have to master simple addition and subtraction. They need to know ordinal numbers -- first, second, third, and so on. They need to know basic punctuation, and the difference between a letter, a word, and a sentence. They learn the concept of more than and less than, not only in objects: "I have more cookies than you," but also "Seven is more than three. How many more than three is seven?" They learn about science, and history. They learn library skills -- what a title page is, what an author is, what does "illustrator" mean? There is so much more to kindergarten now than there was even as recently as 10 to 15 years ago. There are way too many objectives for me to list.

I take exception to articles like this. The reason that I take exception is because it is a wide, sweeping generalization. Not all schools are like this, and even then, not all public schools offer a terrible education. Is there better to be had? I'm sure there is, but don't make the assumption that all public schools are not worthwhile. There are jewels in any school, both in the student population, and in the professional population. Is it sad that there is very little play time left for students? Yes, it is. But, if you have a teacher who engages your child, who makes learning fun, isn't that something?

Another thing is that people don't want to pay teachers. They want us to give the average student a stellar education (which is my goal anyway, regardless of salary) but they don't want to have to actually pay us for it. Do you know, in my area, a Farm Equipment Mechanic makes more money than a teacher does? Is it any wonder that people are leaving the profession in droves? Each year, more and more classroom supplies come out of the teacher's own pocket. I can't tell you how much money I spend in a year on classroom items. It's hard to provide a great education when your family is eating Ramen Noodle Soup so you can buy printer cartridges and crayons for your class.

I do agree that it's a shame that there are fewer and fewer dress up corners and less and less time to make Lego creations. I would love to have more time to incorporate these into our average day, I really would. I would also like people to be more aware of what teachers do for their children. Kindergarten may have more objectives to cover now than ever before, but I'm also the one your child runs to when he's fallen on the sidewalk. I'm the one who hugs her when little Susie won't share the crayon basket. I teach them manners and math. I talk about good citizenship as well as good hygiene. We cover phonics and friendliness. I love these kids. I make them presents for Christmas. Sometimes, I'm the only hug a child gets all day. I teach, and I'm proud to do so. Teaching is not just "my job." It's what I was meant to do.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Danger and Allure of Nair

My husband seems to have this love/hate thing going on with his body hair. He has often said that he was proof positive that we, as humans, do share genetic code with monkeys. He has complained many a time that he has body hair akin to that of a gorilla.

Recently, he was going through another anti-hair phase, and I had assumed that all of this was his usual grousing, and that he would roll merrily along, complaining about his hair, and be constantly checking his chest and back out in the bathroom mirror.

Imagine my surprise when he sidled up to me on a morning notso long ago, and swiped a very disturbingly smooth leg across my own rather prickly one. He leaned down to give me a kiss, and asked throatily, "Do you like?"

It seems that I can no longer leave Nair unattended in the bathroom, for when JF has a block of uninterrupted time, and that bottle calling to him, trouble ensues. He's Nair-ed five-sixths of his entire body. Back, legs, chest, arms, even the underams! All as smooth as an egg!

He gives me this long speech about how back hair is just plain gross, and he was tired of being furry. He maintains that he wants to appear sexy for me - the woman who's madly in love with him, hair or no -- and that he just doesn't feel attractive when he looks down to see greying chest hair. He did it for *me.*

That is -- that's his story until we get to Disney World, and he clocks 63 miles an hour on Summit Plummet. He struts back to our lounge chairs, positively *crowing* about how denuding his body of all hair so he could really FLY down that sucker was the best idea he'd had in a while.

Oops. Busted! "No, no, honey! I really DID do it for you! Having the fastest time ever is just a plus!" He was so proud of his fast time that I couldn't even pretend to be mad. I just won't be leaving him alone with Nair anymore. Or maybe my bras.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Torrential Rain

We're back from CityOfMyBirth, having had a lovely time with my family over the long weekend. We got a large bunch of us together for a nice meal, and it was nice to sit and laugh about happy childhood memories.

The hotel was a zoo. Who knew when we made the reservation that two extremely large and obnoxious families had booked it for their family reunion? And that the local military installation had basic training graduation that same weekend? And doesn't it frost your noogies when the pool clearly has a sign posted that people under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult while swimming, but yet the pool was full Sunday night with seven children who were under the posted age and had no adult in sight? Said children were screaming so loudly in the enclosed pool that it sounded like hyenas shrieking over a kill, AND they were throwing around the plastic deck chairs, which they had placed in the pool. Between the chairs flying about, and them trying to drown each other, Offspring and I stood about 20 minutes of it and called it a night. As the capper, we were awoken last night by thunder so loud that JF honestly thought someone had driven a Hummer through our first-floor window. It sounded like cannon fire. It's hard to sleep when your heart is threatening to leap out of your chest like Baryshnikov.

We drove back home today in the torrential rain. It's expected to pour here for the rest of the week. How lovely.

JF noticed in USA Today that New Orleans is having a drought, and is down about 20 inches of rain below their yearly normal range -- if there's one city in the US right now that does *not* need any more water, it's New Orleans. Seeing some pictures of the 9th Ward, even a year later, doesn't begin to cover what horriffic damage was done there. I wonder if it will ever be the same again?

Hope all of you are well, and that no one else has to drive in such nasty weather!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

Here's an original submission to tide you over until I get back from CityOfMyBirth. Hope you enjoy!


cool water sluices down the plains and valleys of my body
while dew-spiked eyelashes close against the crystalline drops
cold rain gouges furrows into the soil beneath my feet
the glossy green leaves whip back and forth, shuddering in the wind
the delicate buds hunch their shoulders as if to ward off the driving rain
all the fury of the spent storm swirls and eddies down the gutters
out to the sunlit sea
and calm returns again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Going Home

A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I would be leaving this weekend to return to the CityOfMyBirth to visit my family. It's almost Wednesday, and I've done neither washing of the laundry, nor the packing such a trip entails. It's not like we'll be gone forever, but I do have to put some thought into it, which is why I suspect that it has remained undone.

My father, grandmother, and assorted aunts and uncles all still live in CityofMyBirth. We moved a state away when I was a year old, due to a job opportunity my father got. When my parents divorced after 20 years of marriage and my father was badly burned in an industrial accident, he returned home to live with his mother so he could have a 24-hour caretaker.

My relationship with my father has changed a lot over the years. When I was small, I was the apple of his eye. When my brother was born, four years later, his real "dadness" kicked in. He had someone to coach in sports, someone to roughhouse with, and someone with whom he could bond with while peeing upright. I was more or less my mother's child. I didn't really resent it because that's all I knew. I wasn't interested in sports anyway, so it was kind of a relief that he could pour all of his love for that into my brother. We existed in the same sphere of influence, but it was like two single parents, each with their own children, sharing a home.

In high school, I was hopeless in math. As an engineer, my father railed that a child of his should be terrible in math. That's when things started to get really uncomfortable. I never felt that I measured up, that I was always lacking. My brother wasn't any better at school than I was -- in fact he even dropped out of high school at one point. I felt like there was nothing I was good at, no place that I really belonged. And when my parents divorced, my mother made me run interference. I had to go beg my father for the support check, I had to hear the lectures from both parents about how hard it was, divorce, while I lived in it. Divorce truly was the best path for them, but I so hated being caught in the middle. I hated going to beg my father for money, and my mother resented any time we spent with him.

And then Dad got hurt. He was burned so badly in the accident that the doctors were afraid he wouldn't survive the hour-long helicopter ride to the Trauma Burn Unit. They underestimated my father. His stubbornness is legendary. He died several times, and the doctors always managed to bring him back. He stayed in the ICU for months, with us making the three hour drive to the Burn Unit as often as we could. We had to wear the whole suit to go in and see him -- booties, hat, gown, gloves, face mask. There was very little of him visible -- just this blackened face staring out from an entire body swathed in bandages.

The first time I went in to see him, Dad wasn't conscious. The doctor didn't want to let me go in, but Dad had been asking for us, and since my brother was far too young to handle it, I was the de facto Chosen One. I suited up, and went to stand by the bedside of the pitiful remnant that was my father. The nurse came to stand at my side, and explained some of the equipment that Dad was hooked up to. I just nodded at her, feeling sort of numbed by the whole experience. Dad began to stir. He reached for his morphine drip to ease his pain, but he caught sight of me standing by the bed. He started to grunt, trying to make me understand him. The nurse explained that he had a trach tube in, and couldn't talk. She could read lips, and would pass on any message that he had to give me. She looked at Dad for a minute, and then turned to me. She looked me dead in the eyes, and said, "He says he's sorry. He wants you to forgive him. Do you know what he's talking about?"

Yeah, I knew what he was talking about. He may not have been the best father in the past, but he was getting a second chance. *We* were getting a second chance. It was up to me whether or not I could make the most of the second chance. I told him, "Yes. Yes, I forgive you." He sighed, and laid back on the pillow, falling asleep. The nurse said, "Sometimes, they only hold on long enough to give these final messages. He'll fight for all he's worth. Your fight is just beginning. If you truly do forgive him, you need to let whatever it is go."

Ever since the accident, my father's been a different person. He told me once that I never needed to be afraid when I died -- he'd been there, and there was nothing to be scared of. He's never elaborated more upon that, and I've been curious ever since. I don't press for details, and he remains mute on the subject. My father and I talk more now that we live an entire state away from each other than we did when we lived within the same walls. He enjoys life now, where he just seemed to be marking time before. He never remarried, mostly because in his heart, he's still married to my mother. He's happier, more carefree, and more demonstrative than he ever was during my teen years. Our relationship is polar opposite of what it used to be -- we can joke, and we can talk and I like him much better as a person now. What he makes of me, I'm not sure, but I hear the words, "I love you," more than ever before.

He adores his granddaughter. His one real complaint is that he doesn't see her as often as he'd like. He'll get his chance this weekend. Thank God for second chances.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Dealing with the City

I have been involved in a month-long gripe with my city. I fear I'm going to be on the losing end, through no fault of my own, no matter *which* way the whole situation turns out.

A month ago, we returned from Disney World, and JF decided to do some yard work. We have a lot of trees and bushes that surround our house, and he was beginning to feel as if he needed to have a machete in hand in order to navigate a path to the front door. So he hauled out the hedge trimmer and went to town. When he was done, he cut the severed tree limbs into the four-foot lengths required by the city, and set the limbs out by the curb for pickup. The pile of limbs was impressive -- a stack about three feet tall awaited the garbage pickup. We had some naked bushes, let me tell you.

So, all that took place on the 17th of June. Our neighborhood's pickup for trash of this nature (limbs, appliances, furniture, and so on...) is the third weekend of the month. In June, that happened to be the 17th. So, our limbs were placed out on the appropriate day, and since JF got started at an ungodly hour, he was finished by 11am.

The limbs sit by the curb and slowly start to wither and turn brown. Over the next two weeks, we see several trucks come by to look at the pile of limbs. One crew stops to pick up a limb or two, only to toss them carelessly back on the pile and go on their garbage-y way. Now, we have a pile of brown limbs that are beginning to straggle out into the roadway. Maybe they just came by to admire JF's bloodthirsty mowing down of those horrible, backsassy limbs.

On the 26th of June, I open the front door on the way out to the grocery store and get a nice little "courtesy notice" from the city saying that we have this pile of limbs to be picked up, and the telephone number of the man who left the citation, asking us to "please call."

How lovely. Why, I was curious to ask, did Citation Man *not* knock on the door to ascertain whether or not anyone was at home? My car was parked right there. He had to walk to the front door to leave the citation -- couldn't he have knocked to see if he could settle this whole mess right then and there? No, of course not. That way, things might have been settled with one short conversation. No -- it's the City! We have to drag these things out a bit!

I call the number listed on the citation, but the person on the other end informs me that Citation Man is still out in the field (like he's a Special Forces operative on a dangerous mission) and will return my call when he comes back to the office. By 5:30 that evening, Citation Man has made it back to the office, and does call. He informs me that since we have this unsightly pile of limbs out by the curb, we will have to be charged extra for an unscheduled pickup. He then goes on to inform me that our pickup for the past month had been the 17th of June. I explain to the gentleman that our limbs *had* been placed for pickup on that very day. I even went so far as to tell him that we knew that this was so because we had just returned from vacation, and we were sure of the date. Also, unless the truck came by at some point in the early morning hours, JF had been working in the yard since at least 8am, and hadn't seen the truck go by.

The nice man tells me that he'll have to check with the truck crew to see what's going on, but he'd have them come back and remove the limbs. We'd still have to be charged extra, but they'd come to get the limbs. Isn't that the way? To be charged extra when we'd done what was required of us --it's the American Way! Yay, capitalism!

On July 8th, the limbs are STILL sitting at the curb, looking more and more ragged. The pile is sliding slowly into the street, like middle-age droop is taking hold. I call Citation Man's office to speak with him again. I'm damned if I'm going to pay extra for a service that's never even occurred! I speak with a nice lady, and I explain the situation to her -- we had the limbs out on the right day, the truck DID NOT pick them up, they're still there, and I'm not being charged for a special pickup that never happened. She writes down the message for Citation Man, and says that she'll see what she can do to alleviate this matter. About an hour later, I hear a truck rumble to a stop in front of my house. I look out the front window, and see a sanitation crew alighting from their truck and head over to the limb pile. I feel very relieved that the crew will finally pick up the pile, and this whole mess will be over. I go back to blog reading, blithely unaware. When JF comes home from work that evening, I tell him that the limbs are taken care of, and he looks at me like I've gone insane. "No, they aren't. They're still there.", he says. I look outside to discover that he's right. They *haven't* taken the limbs. The bastards left them there AGAIN.

More calls ensue. I get a little snippy with the person who answers the phone at Citation Man's office this time. I tell him that I'm not paying for a pickup that never happened. We had the limbs out on the correct date, and it was anyone's guess as to why the limbs haven't been picked up. Instead, they cling to my curb like a withering, brown limpet. The fellow takes down my information yet again to pass on to Citation Man. I rail at JF about how we're not paying an extra $40 for some mythical garbage truck to NOT haul away our former shrubbery.

On July 11th, I try to telephone Citation Man again, still not managing to get hold of him. I speak to the same man to whom I had spoken with on the previous call. He says that he still has my message, and is waiting to see Citation Man so he can relay it. He even reads back my street address and telephone number so I know he's got the message there in front of him. It seems I have developed an archenemy in Citation Man. We are destined to fight this battle to the death. Victor take all!

I never do hear back from Citation Man. He manages to elude me, slipping like satin through my fingers. On July 13th, the limbs finally disappear. I don't know whether Citation Man finally decided I was a worthy foe, or he just wanted to shut me up and get me to stop calling his office. I suspect it was the latter. Citation Man, you were a challenge, but never underestimate the power of a stubborn woman with time on her hands!

I'm still not paying extra, either.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Random Bullets from the Freaky Sunburnt Chick

You know, if it wasn't for bad luck, some days I'd have no luck at all. Here be bullets:

*As I mentioned in the previous post, Offspring had a friend, LovesHarryPotter, spend the night last night. LovesHarryPotter is the only daughter of my best friend, OzChick. She's one of a set of triplets, and is two years older than Offspring. They have, literally, grown up together. They've been friends for a long time. It's nice for Offspring to have friends come over because there's just not that many that she would care to invite to the house. So, when she does have a friend over, it's pretty special for her. I guess this is why she suddenly seems to develop this attitude of entitlement. I have no other way to explain what happens when my normally placid child suddenly develops the dreaded "teenager/it's-all-about-me" disease when the word 'sleepover' is uttered. Ladies and gentlemen, if you see in the newspaper that I've run amok, chalk it up to the fact that I have a daughter who is ten, going on sixteen. Triple Action Attitude! Now featuring Brand-New Utter Disdain! With more snark for your spending dollar! What a bargain, folks! Don't you want some?

*The waterpark. It's a teeny little place, in a town about 45 minutes away. This town mainly exisits because of the Big University there, so there used to be very little to do. But, as urban sprawl sent people fleeing from the crime-ridden cities, Little Uni Town (which started off merely as a wide place in the road with a couple of cows thrown in) has become a blossoming place, complete with this nice little waterpark. Our supposed "big town" doesn't even have one of those. So, we drive the approximate hour to get to the waterpark, and pay our fee and head in. We claim three chairs, and I *immediately* slather on the sunblock, and put on a special shirt that I save especially for swimming. the girls go off, and in the next five hours, I see them for about a total of thirty minutes. Most of this is taken up by lunch. Fine with me -- I swim, read a book, cover up like the Elephant Man while sitting in the sun. Every time I get out of the water, I lather on the sunblock again. I'm wearing a long shirt, a hat, sunglasses, a layer of sunblock an inch thick, and I've covered most of my exposed flabitude with towels. Not only good for hiding the sun, but as a courtesy -- shielding the public from my pasty girth. You know you're fat when your father tells you not to bed over in an airplane because they'll show the movie on your ass.

I burn any frickin' way. At least, this time, it's on my legs and feet. The legs aren't that bad -- it's the feet that are a lovely shade of burgundy. I tried taking a picture to post, and either it's way too dark or too light. So, you'll just have to trust me on this -- I have nice red feet until about halfway down, where it stops sharply. The contrast of red and white is quite startling, actually. Very artsy.

*The reason my feel burn is that I kept my shoes on the whole time. (I asked Russian Violets the other day -- is absolutely *everyone* wearing Crocs where you all live? I know that they've made it to Utah, since dooce obviously has serious issues with her husband's. Offspring had to have a lurid purple pair, but since we're not what we'd call wealthy, we purchased the Wal-Mart brand. We call them "Mocks." At $35 bucks a pop for foam shoes? No, I don't think so. Not unless we win the lottery. That's a dinner out for the three of us! We'll use that money, go to dinner, and just buy the cheapie $5 knockoffs. That way, if they tear up, we're only out $5 bucks. Sorry, I digress.) Anyway, I have a pair of white Mocks that I wore all day -- in the pools, everywhere. Apparently, the sun decided that this was a great way to screw with me, and so now I have these nicely bisected red-and-white feet with the occasional peeky-hole sunburn dot. I am such a freak.

I thought the Crocs were pretty ugly, but at least they're confortable.

*I'm highly jealous of all my bloggy pals who are having blogger meetups. I feel severely cheated that no one lives close enough for me to meet. Am I just that scary? Or is the South just that scary? I did learn that Liz's mother-in-law lives just a short way over the river from me, so I may be able to (possibly) at some point get to meet Liz. If I don't frighten the bejeezus out of her between now and that far-off date, that is.

*I see a lot of people are making lists/posts about the things on their iPods. Random playlists and such. I won't be doing any of that, probably. The last time I posted lyrics to one of my songs, it was a very effective conversation ender. Suffice it to say there's a LOT of Fish and U2 on there. You all know I like them...I won't bore you with lyrics anymore. Learned my lesson on that one.

*There was a baby scorpion on my rear-view mirror the other day. WTF? I didn't even *know* scorpions lived down here! I certainly never thought I'd run across one in my car! Luckily, it was barely the size of an ant, but I still freaked a little. How the hell did it get there?

*I'm still trying to get myself back on a somewhat regular sleeping schedule. It's not really going swimmingly. I'll keep you updated, if things develop any further.

*I've been commissioned to make a pirate quilt for a friend. She's asked for a red, white, and black color scheme. She's in charge of getting the fabric, and I'll post pics if it ever comes to fruition. Also, I'm working on a project for a friend. Can't say more about that one right now, but I will in a week or two.

*Our school district has decided to move to uniforms for school next year. Offspring is less than enthusiastic about it. We've already been out, scouring the shelves for uniform pieces. So far, she's really liked everything we've bought, but I expect the love to wear off after the first week of school. When JF asked why I was buying things so early, I had to explain that if I wait, there will be NOTHING at all available in her size. Get it now while they're there. I will see if she wants to do a fashion show. She'll probably love the idea. Not shy, my child. During my very first ultrasound, the tech started laughing. She asked JF and I if we had any acting experience. Imagine her surprise when we both answered "yes." When she had recovered enough to tell us why she'd posed that startling query, she turned the monitor to us, and showed us that Offspring was waving. I forsee a stage career of some sort in her future. She'll come by it naturally.

*Do any of you worry that waiters in restaurants/fast food places are doing weird things with your food? I ask because I waited tables for a short period in high school, and I know the things I *wanted* to do to people, but never got the courage to do....

*School starts soon. I will be traveling to the CityofMyBirth to visit my family next weekend. Looking forward to that. My brother's coming down from his home about an hour away. It'll be good to see him. Also have plans to see my Dad, and my grandmother. All my aunts and uncles live there, too, and I'd like to see some of them, but I don't want to try and cram the whole family into one short weekend. There's too many of them for all that. Maybe one aunt.

Well...I suppose I should go and try to sleep. I 'll have to make sure that I check the bed for scorpions first.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Lounging by the Pool

Offspring and I have plans tomorrow to head to a small waterpark about 45 minutes from home. She's having a friend go to the park with us, and will be spending the night. I plan to spend the waterpark time lounging by the side of the pool and praying not to burn. Should I wear a Haz-Mat suit?

I will try to remember to take some pictures. I don't promise anything, though.

At least if I do burn, tomorrow's Wednesday and I can come home and whine about it over at the lovely Phantom's!

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Faulty Wiring in My Brain

Why am I up at 5:30 in the morning? Off-kilter sleep cycle. I'm hoping that by staying up all night, I'll be able to go to sleep at a decent hour this evening, and sleep until a reasonable time on Tuesday morning. Of course, my loving husband immediately sees the flaw in this Cunning Plan, and predicts I'll crash some time during the day. I'm going to try my best to prove him wrong.

Why am I up all night? Other than being a night owl, you mean? I got sidelined with a migraine earlier today, and had to take a nap to ward it off. Not any less of a factor is that I stayed up late the night before, and woke up late to start with.... I hate migraines. I know some of you out there have them, and I'm so, so sorry. I don't wish that pain on anyone. Well, maybe a select few people, but they piss me off anyway.

Having a migraine is a major deal for me. I have the whole "sensitivity to noise and light" component, and if there's a particularly strong smell there, I can have nausea associated with that. For example -- I love popcorn, but if anyone makes popcorn when I have a headache, the smell exacerbates the headache. Even though the smell of popcorn is normally a good thing. No fun at all. Mostly, I have to go to sleep. I have to take some Excedrin Migraine, put on a sleep mask, lie down in a dark, quiet room, and sleep until I can't feel the blood rushing through my veins like Gallagher sledgehammering tympani drums the size of small planetoids reverberating through my skull.

Afterward, I'm kind of groggy, like my head is wrapped in cotton. I can function, but I'm still not quite wholly present. If I've had a migraine that's included nausea, I usually feel like gargling with a gallon of Clorox, too.

I know some people have triggers -- red wine, chocolate, certain cheeses, and more -- but I'm lucky that these food triggers don't seem to set me off. My mother insisted that cheese was a trigger for me, but I think she's off the mark on that one. I do get headachy if I'm stuck in a place with cigarette smoke for an extended period. There's no real predicting them, and that's very frustrating. I try to always keep a supply of some sort of pain reliever on me, because I never know when a headache will pop up.

My mother had migraines, and she said that hers tapered off as she grew older. I only wish mine would. They got stronger in intensity after the birth of Offspring, but I haven't really tracked whether frequency has gone up. I have noticed that I seem to get headaches more often in the heat, so summers are usually more "headache active" than the winters. I can go for a relatively long while without a headache, and then have two within a ten day period. It's very frustrating.

Why am I telling you all this? I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm tired, and people with wonky brain wiring do weird things. At any rate, it's more than you ever wanted to know about migraines, right? If I start to hallucinate, someone plump my pillows and read me some Ayn Rand. That'll put me right out.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

How He Got His Pseudonym

Here are some pictures of Juggling Freak doing what he loves to do. He juggles everywhere we go. These clubs that he's juggling here -- he loves these things, but they aren't really very portable. So, normally, he takes some juggling balls with him whereever he might happen to be. I can't tell you how many little old ladies he's freaked out in the grocery store by asking, "Honey, will you put my balls in your purse?" The little old ladies invariably turn around, aghast, wanting to chastise him for speaking so rudely in public. And, then they see him, with an outstretched hand, full of juggling balls, and me with an open purse.

And ah, Wal-Mart! The scene of his oft-repeated World-Renowned Toilet Plunger Juggling! He's made many a child stare like zombies, entranced by the whirling Toilet Plungers. Adults, too. They all seem captivated that my husband can made household plastics spin like windmills. You know he's becoming famous when all the little girls besiege him at Girl Scout camp: "There's the Juggling Guy!"

Juggling is not just an amusement trick for him. He really enjoys testing himself -- to see how many catches he can do, working on perfecting a certain trick or move, constantly trying to better what he can do. Not bad for a guy who taught himself to juggle, and with nothing more than a book and determination. He's his own worst critic, though. He sees what hard tricks some professional jugglers can do, and he despairs that he'll ever be that talented. What he wants people to know is that juggling is not just for sideshow barkers or carnival clowns. There are quite a few people out there who juggle as a serious sport -- and they want people to judge them for how well they can execute a spin, or by how many balls they can juggle, or how they transition their tricks from one to another; and not by whether they can juggle and eat an apple at the same time. Juggling for him is not just about pushing himself to be better, but also to let people understand that it's not just for the circus anymore. And *I* get to hold his balls.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Nothing in the World Like Crimson Skin

You'd think I would need to stay indoors, or away from the harsh glare of sunlight, much like one of those deep sea fish that are so pale as to luminesce. Here's photographic evidence that the sun and I are not sympatico.

Now I'll go slather myself in aloe and pray for the pain to fade quickly.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I Hope It's Not Like Last Year

So -- plans for 4th of July? I assume that you all have them. My family (and by "my family" I mean "my mother") typically makes plans at the last minute, and this year was no different. Mom calls (at the last minute) to ask us to come to the beach for the day. Actually, she called to ask us to come out tonight, spend the night, and stay all day on the 4th, but we put the kibosh on that post haste. It's not that I don't love my family...I just love them much more in small doses. There is such a thing as "too much togetherness."

Now, a typical beach outing involves us loading up small boats almost to the point of overfilling with people, beach chairs, food, and multiple coolers of various beverages and heading for the nearest barrier island. This way, we can enjoy the beach experience without the hoi polloi crowding us and shaking sand in our faces. (May I interject here to say that it's nice to have rich relatives?) Anyway, we always spend the day lounging in the sun, eating ourselves silly, and swimming. JF usually utilizes this time to either make sand sculptures, or work on his juggling.

As some of you might remember, last year's trip was the occasion for my parents to fight like cats and dogs, using lots of profanities. The tension was suddenly broken when my mother broke the tension by way of flatulence. Hopefully this year, we can avoid both the profanity *and* the flatulence.

I will coat my pasty pale skin in SFP 178 and hope that I don't burn, and if I *do* happen to burn, that I burn evenly, and not like "Half a Lobster." Not pretty, and painful. Since Offspring is cursed with the same 'fair to albino' skin that i have, I will also grease her down well. Hopefully, this year, the "red" in 'red, white, and blue' won't be our skin.

I hope everyone has a great day! For my Canadian readers, I hope you enjoyed Canada Day back on the 1st. You hosers.