Friday, August 31, 2012

Mother-in-Law's Surgery....

Mother-in-law finally had her surgery today, and it went fine. That's the most important part.

I was going to regale (?) you with the details of just how many doctor's office visits this entailed, how many times we had to go to each NEW doctor, how much closer to the heart of downtown Atlanta we got with each successive trip, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Instead, I'll give you the (mercifully) short version.

Mother-in-law told her doctor at her regular visit back in early summer that she couldn't wear her upper dentures anymore because of a "spot" in the roof of her mouth. The first oral surgeon she saw biopsied and determined it to be a benign mass, but something that needed to come out. He sent her to an ENT specialist, who agreed that the mass needed to come out, then reported that "the cancer" was now in the bone.

Excuse me? I thought by definition a benign mass couldn't be cancer. But what do I know?

I may be just a little bit in love with this particular doctor, by the way. He is about ten years old and can't possibly have completed high school, much less medical school, and he has a sense of humor and talks to people like they are ... people.

The good news is that while the mass is cancerous, it is not the kind that spreads, so mother-in-law won't need any kind of treatments.

The bad news is that they removed 40% of the roof of her mouth today. I suppose there are WORSE things to have 40% of removed, but right now I can't think of any.

Chalk up my brain fog to the fact that I got up at 3:00 AM, spent 13 hours at the hospital, and sat in not just Atlanta rush hour traffic, but Atlanta rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon before a long holiday weekend. We just got home. "We" as in me, Hubby, and Hubby's sister. Yes, her. But this isn't about me.

The OTHER good news is that because mother-in-law already has a denture plate, the prosthodontist (who knew there WAS such a profession?) can use what she already has to cover the resulting hole in her head. Please don't tell her I said that. I'm a little punchy.

I hope with every cell of my being that I can be as tough as my mother-in-law when I'm 82 years old. She came through the surgery fine, although she had to stay in recovery for 5 hours due to fluid in her lungs (but not pneumonia) and a lower-than-optimal oxygen level. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her mind, and she was even able to talk and make jokes through her pain. We opted NOT to stay with her overnight, which has caused all three of us some degree of guilt. The young, cute, sweet, funny, handsome ... oh, I already said "cute" ... doctor even said it's possible she could come home tomorrow if all goes well tonight. And believe me, mother-in-law will MAKE it go well.

I'm that kind of tired where it feels like I have sand under my eyelids and I want to cry over silly things like a pack of crackers being stale. But I'm glad the procedure is over, and I'm glad my mother-in-law is on the mend. I'm not quite ready to give her up yet.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Here's a quiz question for you:

What do the following items have in common?

  • Camera adapter for iPad
  • Nintendo DS3 video system with Super Mario Brothers 2
  • Gold ankle bracelet
  • Black leather messenger bag


Give up?

They are all items I find necessary for an upcoming bus trip with my mother and two sisters. I have the first two in hand, the third is ordered and shipped, and I'm still on a quest for the fourth one.

Hey, I didn't say there was a LOGICAL connection.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Amazing Customer Service.....

I promise I'm going to write some individual blog posts about our recent cruise, writing about each port stop individually. Complete with pictures. I know, right?

First, though, I want to talk about the cruise industry in general and their amazing customer service. I don't want to tout the services of one particular cruise line as being better than the others, because we don't have that much experience with different cruise lines. As far as service goes, we haven't had a bad experience with cruising. We did have a particularly crappy ship once (our friends went on the same ship two weeks later, and it sort of blew up), but this is about service.

One thing I noticed about the cruise this time is that there appears to have been a shift toward healthier choices at dinner. Our menus had little symbols to indicate lighter fare as well as foods that were gluten-free. There was an entire page called the "Vitality" section, from which diners could order an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert that were all lower in calories and healthier. They even printed the calories beside each item. I think people on cruises aren't typically trying to watch their calories (even if they SHOULD be, ahem), but I liked the fact that the choice was there.

Just a couple of examples about what I consider exemplary service.

On the first night at dinner, Hubby asked for unsweetened ice tea. (Yes, he's from the South, but since he's also diabetic, he has to get it unsweetened.) His tea came with a lemon in it, which he doesn't like, so I took the wedge and put it in my water. I love me some lemon in my water. Starting the next night and every night thereafter, the waiter brought his tea without the lemon wedge, and he brought me a small plate of my very own lemons. It may seem like a very minor detail, but that's what makes it so significant to me. No one asked him, we didn't make a production of trading the lemons, he simply noticed and made sure he brought the lemons (and lemonless tea) every single time after that. I appreciate that sort of gesture.

On another night, Hubby and Luis ordered the same thing, a steak. Hubby wanted medium rare, Luis wanted medium well. Hubby isn't picky at all, so he proceeded to eat his steak even though it was cooked more than he prefers it. I think Luis was the one to realize the two entrees had been mixed up, so they just traded steaks. No big deal; they had each eaten about half the steak, so they swapped and laughed about it. Our waiter, Rolando, however, was furious. Or as furious as waiters on cruise ships are allowed to be. He went to the kitchen and (apparently) chewed them out about mixing up the steaks, and he brought each of them a new one. They were too full to eat them, so they were wasted, and we all wished Rolando hadn't done that. But he wasn't just apologetic; he was apoplectic that two of his guests didn't get the meals they requested.

Our stateroom was a nice size, with a queen bed, a sofa, a little desk, a private balcony, and of course a bathroom. The only thing was there was no plug-in near the bed for my CPAP machine. (Man, I hate that thing. I hate even talking about it.) So I had to plug it in on the desk and pull the nightstand out from the wall to allow the cord to reach. That meant the cord was about thigh-high directly in Hubby's pathway if he should (inevitably) need to get up and go to the bathroom during the night. But it worked, and he remembered every single time to step over the cord. The next morning, I unplugged the machine and moved the table back next to the bed. We didn't point it out to our stateroom attendant or request an extension cord, because as long as we can make something work, we generally don't like to put anybody to extra trouble. Our attendant, Susan, however, apparently noticed the machine and knew I needed it to be beside the bed. Because when we came back from breakfast the next morning, there was an extension cord on the sofa. We didn't have to ask, she didn't mention it, she simply noticed a need and took care of it.

Several times while we were eating breakfast, some of the "bosses" (not just waiters or assistant waiters) would stop by and chat. They didn't just ask routine questions (although they did seem to mention an end-of-cruise satisfaction survey with great frequency), but they appeared to be genuinely interested in our answers. They also answered OUR questions about cruise life, their homes, etc. They were very friendly, and not in a fake-I-gotta-do-this-or-my-boss-will-kill-me kind of way.

I would never ask anyone how much he or she earns, but Luis had no such qualms. (Apparently it's socially acceptable if you're A) male; and B) from Puerto Rico.) He asked a bartender about his income, and the bartender said he couldn't tell him specifics, but what he made was "good." The same guy also told Luis that some of the guys lower down the ladder, the maintenance workers and general cleaning folks, made $600 a month. A MONTH! That seems paltry, but if you consider the fact that they have no food, transportation, or living expenses, it's not quite as bad as it seems. Still, bad enough.

I asked Juan, our assistant waiter, if he ever got a day off. He grinned and said, "No, we work seven days a week." As soon as our cruise ended, another group boarded and the whole process started over. He said his contract was for seven months, and at the end of that he could go home for two months. He works on the same cruise ship week in and week out, visiting the same ports each week until the route changes (I guess). He said after five years with the cruise line he could apply for a transfer to another ship if he wanted to.

I am fascinated by the prospect of working on a cruise ship. (No, I'm NOT considering another career.) I knew a lady whose daughter worked as a singer on a ship, and I would love to talk to her about her experience.

Funny story: I once heard a motivational speech in which this guy was talking about a childhood friend of his who taught himself to juggle. Day after day, this kid juggled any time he had a spare moment. I won't subject you to his whole story, but the crux of it was this kid's mother told him time after time, "You have to concentrate on something else. You can't juggle twenty four hours a day and expect to make a living at it." The next time the guy saw his friend, he was an entertainer on a cruise ship, juggling for one of the nightly shows. The moral of the story was that the kid's mother was right: he COULDN'T juggle twenty four hours a day and expect to make a living at it. Actually, he could juggle twice a week for forty-five minutes, make a living, and see the world all at the same time.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Long Day.....

I'm too pooped to blog (properly) tonight. I took my mother-in-law to the hospital today for what I thought would be routine pre-op stuff.

Actually, it WAS fairly routine. I just didn't know it was going to take over 4 hours. So I didn't take food. Or enough money to get the car out of the parking deck. Or any money at all, for that matter. We got finished at the hospital just in time to join 4,113,510 other cars in the daily party that is known as Atlanta Rush Hour. Hurricane Isaac was the featured act.

And I pinched my hand putting her wheelchair back in the car, resulting in a cool-looking blood blister. I don't know whether to pop it or wear it proudly as a symbol of my sacrifice. Or just keep picking at it. Or take a picture of it and post it on my blog. Just kidding.

And I got my hopes all up when I was texting my misery (minus the blood blister, only because it hadn't happened yet) to Hubby, and he responded with a couple of texts referencing both going out to dinner and margaritas. My eyes were dancing, a little bit at the prospect of a fishbowl-sized margarita, but mostly at the fact that the waiter brings a basket of warm tortilla chips to the table even before we are seated.

But for some strange reason, when I FINALLY got home and Hubby offered to go get something to eat, the words that came out of my mouth were, "Just go get me a salad somewhere."

Mother-in-law's surgery is this Friday, and I hope after that this whole saga will be over. I'll post later about what it entails (minus any gory details), but tonight I'm too pooped.

It's a good thing I retired. Otherwise I would have had to quit.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our Table Mates.....

I think if I gave him the option, Hubby would choose NOT to go to the dining room on a cruise ship. He hates the dressing up part (even though SOME PEOPLE refuse to acknowledge or follow the rules), and sitting in one place for almost two hours is more than he's comfortable with.

I am not all that big on the dressing up part myself. We do go to the two formal nights, and Hubby even wears a jacket and tie. But he doesn't own a suit, and we're not about to buy one just for the times we go on cruises. I typically wear a cocktail dress, but not a particularly sparkly or showy one, and heels. I refuse to wear pantyhose, though. What I DO like is the formality of the meals at dinnertime on a cruise ship. Even when the dress is "casual," the atmosphere is still very professional and polished. More on that in my blog post about our waiter and assistant waiter.

Hubby says he doesn't much like meeting new people and being forced to talk to them every night for a week, but he is very good at it. We usually find a lot more in common with these "strangers" than we think we will, and it turns out to be an enjoyable time. That was certainly the case last week.

The first night, only one other person was at our table, a woman from Puerto Rico. (The other couple assigned to our table never did show up. My personal guess is that they didn't want to pay the expected gratuities.) She was a woman of indeterminate age, but younger than I am, and she said her husband had stayed at the bar because they had a stressful experience getting to the ship. Their flight was delayed, and they only barely made it in time to board.

Hubby and I both thought he would turn out to be some stick in the mud if he wouldn't even accompany his own wife to dinner. (I think Hubby started getting ideas, but I nipped those in the bud.)

We couldn't have been more wrong. Luis turned out to be a wonderful dinner companion, with a sense of humor and excellent conversational skills. Both he and Symara had a little trouble with English on a couple of occasions, but one of them usually bailed the other out. Symara had a tendency to speak hesitantly, and we couldn't decide if it was a language problem, an attention-getting device, or the result of a car accident that left her in a coma for three months. (I forgot to ask her when that happened.) I'm betting it was the accident, though. It required patience to wait for her to finish a thought, and I admired Luis for the fact that he didn't often interrupt her to finish it for her. Luis lived in New York from the age of 6 to about 14, and he attended U.S. schools up to 9th grade, but I guess Spanish is still the language he uses most. He asked for help for a couple of words, but he didn't seem to have any trouble understanding us. Even with our Southern accents.

Luis is 32 years old, and I guess Symara is about the same age. He works for the FAA and is in the U.S. Army Reserves, and he will be spending 5 months in Missouri starting next week. Symara works for the mayor in her small town (they live about half an hour from San Juan), and she said something about promoting tourism for Puerto Rico. I don't know if that's her only job, her main job, or just a facet of her job.

I find the easiest way to get to know people is to ask questions (duh), and listen instead of waiting for an opportunity to jump in. It was fascinating to hear their opinions on such diverse topics as whether or not Puerto Rico should become the 51st state (they are on opposite sides of that issue), capital punishment, taxes, travel, etc. She called him "Poppy," and he called her "Mommy," which I found very cute and sweet since it SOUNDS like something only old people would do.

We didn't hang around them other than dinnertime, although we did run into them once on the private island owned by the cruise line and Luis scared the bejeezus out of me when he came around a slot machine and asked if I were having any luck.

I enjoy meeting new people, and I wouldn't mind having dinner with Luis and Symara if we were ever in the neighborhood of San Juan.

As for the picture below, I took my camera with me to dinner every single night. And the only time I asked our waiter to take a picture was the last night, the ONLY night I didn't do anything to my hair. My I-don't-have-cruise-hair hair. Sigh.

Front: Luis and Symara. Back: Hubby and me. You could probably have figured that out by looking at the Georgia "G" on Hubby's shirt.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Now I Need a Vacation......

Now I need a vacation to recover from the vacation. Whew! It's easy to forget how exhausting traveling can be.

I was tempted to purchase some internet time and at least check in with you guys (and, admittedly, my Facebook friends) last week, but I went cold turkey and went without being connected for an entire week. 

I won't be able to do our trip justice in this one (sleepy) blog post, so I'll just share some teaser photos and save the good stuff for later. I'm afraid I didn't do a very good job with photos this trip; I'm not sure why. The sun was usually coming up off our side of the ship, and I tried to get some sunrise photos. But every time I took the camera out on the balcony, the lens fogged up, and all those shots were blurry. Drat. (Question for you excellent photographers out there: How does one avoid that? Please don't tell me to be patient and wait for the camera to adjust to the outside temperature. I'm afraid that's not in my nature.)

Looking down from the ship into the shopping square in Falmouth, Jamaica. The commercialism bothers me, and the aggressive nature of the merchants bothers me even more. I guess if we are to go on cruises, though, it comes with the territory. Sigh.

I love the colors of the tropics.

We walked down to this (public?) beach, but we didn't come prepared to swim.

Those storm clouds produced a late-afternoon shower that was actually more refreshing than annoying.

Some things that are worthy of their own posts:

  • Our waiter and assistant waiter, Rolando and Juan
  • Cruise staff customer service in general - wow
  • Our table mates for dinner every night - at least the ones who showed up
  • Our ports of call - Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico
  • The weather and its limited impact on our trip, but its major impact on our sister ship, Allure of the Seas 
For now, though, it's early to bed. Maybe I can sleep without Tropical Storm Isaac rocking me to sleep.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Larry Story.....

Hubby and I are on the last night of our Caribbean cruise, so this is a re-post of one of my favorite stories about one of my favorite cyclists, Larry. I hope to be back live and in person tomorrow night, glowing with wonderful memories of our cruise.

Every time I go to the casino, I play video poker exactly once. It's not my favorite game, and I do it for someone I never met.

Let me explain.

I have an awesome cycling buddy named Larry. I met him the first time I did RAGBRAI in 2004. I cannot describe to you what a kick-ass cyclist he is. On top of that, he is F-I-N-E in a way that makes my teeth sweat. But he's also just a nice guy. On a weekend ride one time, he talked me into a much longer ride than I wanted to do, and he stayed with me. All day. At a much slower pace than he is used to. I said to him, "Larry, you're such a gentleman to stay with me." And he replied, "Well damn, I was just about to say I was going to go on." But then he HAD to stay with me, which was fortuitous, since he changed my flat tire just a few miles from the end.

I never met Larry's wife. Not even his CLOSE cycling friends met her. She struggled with some form of mental illness that may have been agoraphobia, I'm not sure. She didn't leave the house unless she had to, including going to doctors when she wasn't feeling well. Larry finally talked her into going on a cruise, but just before they were to leave, she was forced to go to the doctor. That's when they discovered she had Stage 4 liver cancer, and she died three months later.

One place that she DID love to go, however, was to casinos. No, I can't figure it out either. Larry told an adorable story about one time when they went to the casino, and he took his bike along. When it was time to leave, he left on his bike, giving his wife a meeting location and approximate time he would get there. This was before Larry could be bothered to carry a cell phone on his bike.

He took off on his bike, and when he reached the meeting point and his wife wasn't there, he probably thought he had ridden better than he had anticipated. Or maybe he thought there was a tailwind. At any rate, he knew she would be along sooner or later, so he kept riding.

And riding.

And riding.

And riding.

And riding.

And riding.

Until he reached their home.

He had ridden his bike 126 miles. All the way home.

Shortly after he got home, the phone rang. It was his wife.

"Oh good, you're home. I started winning."

Every time we go to the casino, we pass through Larry's hometown. When I asked him once which game his wife liked to play, he said video poker.

From then on, I started playing video poker one time every time I go, in memory of a person I never met.

Week before last, just before our trip to Mississippi, I received a letter from Larry, one I get every year. He rides in a bike ride called "Ride of Love," and proceeds from it go to Camp Smile-a-Mile, a camp for children with cancer. I usually send him a donation; he sends one when I do the ride for diabetes. His letter was once again asking for donations, and I put it aside to do when we got back.

At the casino, I put $20 in the video poker machine. Then I put another $20.

Then I hit four of a kind.

The payoff was just over $100. I cashed it in, put that Benjamin Franklin in a separate spot from the rest of my money so I couldn't lose it, and I sent it to Larry this morning for his bike ride.

I thought it was so cool that I could make a donation from money I won playing video poker in memory of his late wife.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hypothetically Speaking.....

This is a re-post of a blog entry I wrote about the trip home from a bicycle ride a couple of years ago. It wasn't momentous by any stretch of the imagination, but for some reason I just enjoyed that blog entry. Forgive me for patting myself on the back all the way out here in the Caribbean.

Let's just say you decide, hypothetically speaking, of course, to drive two hours away to do a 53-mile bicycle ride on the first day of spring, an absolutely gorgeous day.

Let's just say, hypothetically speaking, that you not only survive the ride, you actually enjoy most of it. Minus the brutal headwinds in the last 5 miles or so.

Let's just say that after the post-ride meal, when you're feeling all warm and fuzzy and full not only of pasta but of accomplishment, you decide to take the scenic, country route home rather than the interstate.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

It is highly possible in this hypothetical situation that you could hit every small town between the ride location and your home at the exact same time that every resident goes out to buy groceries, fetch prescriptions, go to the post office, visit the bank's 24-hour ATM, fill up the boat with gas, and take the dog to the vet.

You could also hit every red light in every one of those towns.

You could be in the right lane when it ends, or the left lane when it ends, no fewer than four times because you don't usually go through these little country towns.

You could be waiting at a red light (because you most assuredly WILL be waiting at a red light) in one of those infernal little towns with the courthouse in the middle of the square, necessitating three turns to go around it, when a policeman blocks your path to allow a funeral procession to come through.

It could be a record-breaking funeral procession. Hypothetically speaking, one of the cars in the procession could have a sticker across the back window that proclaims, "God is Slap Awesome."

You could wind up following said funeral procession for the approximately 42 miles it takes to get where it's going. You could also wind up hating a deceased person you never even knew. Hypothetically speaking.

You could allow the GPS bitch to guide you onto a "by-pass" that has three 4-way stops and a freakin' red light on it. OF COURSE IT HAS A RED LIGHT!!!! What exactly might it by-pass?

Your low fuel light beeper thingie could come on, and suddenly every gas station that takes the only gas card you have will have moved to the LEFT side of the road. You could ignore the warning four or five times, passing up the opportunity to stop at no fewer than sixteen gas stations and/or convenience stores that take a major credit card that you DO have.

You could, hypothetically speaking, still be wearing cycling tights and a bandanna, ruling out any possibility of visiting a convenience store's bathroom to relieve your bladder of the gazillion bottles of water you drank on the bike ride.

Five miles before reaching home, a furniture delivery truck could pull out in front of you, obviously driven by someone on the clock and shooting for overtime.

The two hour trip home could take you almost three hours.

Interstates were probably built for a reason. You would think someone would teach you that in college.

Hypothetically speaking.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Teacher Tricks.....

This is a re-post about tricks teachers sometimes use in the classroom. Some are from my teaching career, and one goes back to a teacher I had in high school. I apologize for the re-post, but it's so dang expensive to blog from the Caribbean.

When I was in the traditional classroom, I typically made my own tests as opposed to relying on those published by the textbook companies. I was convinced that some of the questions were deliberately written to confuse or trick students, and I don't think that really measures learning.

I did take measures to prevent cheating, however, such as creating two versions of the same test with the questions in a different order or the answer choices rearranged. But I was up front with the students and let them know in advance that there were two (or more) versions of the test, worksheet, or whatever. I really wasn't out to "catch" anyone. But catch them I did. Every semester without fail, some indignant student would march up to my desk to point out my grading error. "Look," he/she would say, "we have the exact same answers, and you marked mine wrong."

"Look at the questions," I would say. "You have different tests."

Long pause. Embarrassment. "Oh."

Occasionally I did resort to something silly. I gave weekly vocabulary tests, and they were always multiple choice. I used the same set of tests for multiple classes in an effort to save paper, so students had to write their answer choices on their own paper. This time I made "E" the correct answer to every single vocabulary word. I still mixed up the order of the words and made my speech about having different versions of the test, but the answers were all "E". I watched the students squirm uncertainly as they took the test. They were glancing at each other out of the corners of their eyes, wanting to ask each other but afraid to bring down my wrath for talking during a test. I'll never forget one of my favorite students' expression when she turned in her paper.

"I changed a random answer," she said in disgust. "I just knew they couldn't ALL be 'E'."

That's when I realized it was kind of mean to do that. Messing with their little minds. But man, were those tests easy to grade. And with about 120 of them to grade every week, in addition to all the OTHER assignments I had to deal with, it was nice to give myself a break.

I inherited some of this trickery from some of my own high school teachers, including possibly the best chemistry teacher on the face of the planet, then OR now. On one of our tests, we had to convert temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius and vice versa. Except way back then it was Centigrade, not Celsius.

We had to memorize the formulas (yes, I know it is technically "formulae") for converting, and we weren't allowed to use calculators. We didn't even HAVE calculators, not for classroom use. I paid $100 for my first calculator when I started college. I should have just rented one, since my stay in the pre-med program was only slightly longer than my visit to the Honors Program.

On that section of the test, Ma Pace gave us a temperature, and we had to write the equivalent temperature when converted to the other scale. Math was always my strong suit, so I had no trouble with the conversions.

Until I got to -40.

I did the math, performed the calculations, and came up with -40.

That couldn't be right.

I erased my work and started over.

I did the math, performed the calculations, and came up with -40.


I erased my work and started over again.

I did the math, performed the calculations, and came up with -40.

"Screw it," I said, writing -40 beside the hole I had erased in my paper.

Did you know that -40 is the only temperature that is the same on both scales?

Neither did I. But Ma Pace did.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dear Marie.....

Hubby and I are currently on a cruise in the Caribbean. I came across this post from 2009, and I thought it was worthy of a re-post. It is about a sad event, but it serves to remind me to be thankful of all the people in my life while I have them.

Dear Marie......

I am sorry that I have spent most of today trying to remember what your last name was when we taught together that one year. Or was it two?

You taught in the room next door to mine, so we were often in the hall together during class change. In fact, we were often still in the hall gabbing after the tardy bell had rung and our classes were seated.

I remember that you had a sharp wit and a marvelous sense of humor. I was intimidated by your intelligence and in awe of your ability to discard one career easily for another. I don't remember if you went straight into law school from your brief stint as my next-door teacher neighbor or if that's something you told me when I ran into you several years later.

You were always involved in the theater, and I was also fascinated by that. I was jealous of the fact that you had nothing to tie you down, and you could devote as much time to your passion for acting and directing as you wanted to.

Remember that one year, when you and I both participated in Spirit Week the week before Homecoming? Not many teachers played along. You suggested the two of us dress alike for Twin Day. I still laugh out loud at the prospect. You were tall, brunette, and thin, and I was (am) short, blond (even if I do pay for it now), and.......not. Still, you brought something to school for me to wear -- was it a scarf? hat? vest? I can't remember -- and we did indeed sort of look like twins. I remember standing in the hall together, our arms draped around each other, posing for a picture. It may have been in the school yearbook that year. I don't know, because I think I threw that yearbook away.

You were either going through a divorce or went through it shortly after leaving the high school where we taught together. I had a hard time adjusting to your new last name when you took back your maiden name. Ironic then, that I have struggled all day to come up with the only name I knew you by at the beginning.

When I heard yesterday that a shooting had occurred at the community theater, I immediately thought of you. Because you were the only person I knew connected with that theater. And there must be hundreds. I told myself I was being silly, thinking that you were somehow involved. I was pretty sure that you would know the three people who were killed, and my heart saddened for you.

I had no idea until I opened this morning's paper that you were one of the three dead. And that it is your (estranged) husband who is being sought for all three killings, apparently deliberate and calculated. There have been no clues as to his whereabouts; no cell phone use or credit card transactions have pinpointed where he may have fled. Call me cruel or heartless or whatever, but I hope that he has taken the coward's way out and saved this state the trouble of a trial.

You waited until later in life to have children, and I can just bet that you were a good mother. Because you were good at everything you took a stab at. You were a good teacher, smart and able to relate to the students. You were obviously good at acting and directing and serving as publicity director for the community theater. I also hear that you were a good lawyer, and I wish I had thought to consult you for my divorce from the psycho.

I am so sorry that your children were in the car with your ex when he killed you and those two men, although I am forever grateful that they did not have to witness your death. At 8 and 10, they will never, ever understand why their lives have suddenly been turned upside down and inside out.

I ache for those children, for the college community you were so much a part of, and for the circle of friends who will mourn your loss. I regret that we did not stay in better touch after our short time of teaching together.

I remember now.

It was Hutchins.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Childhood Injuries.....

Hubby and I are currently on a cruise in the Caribbean, and I refuse to pay cruise ship internet prices. So this is a re-post from March of 2009. It doesn't have a relevant theme; I just thought it was funny.

When I read the blog post of a friend's experience with an injury to her child, it reminded me of some of the unusual injuries Sweet Girl managed to inflict on herself as a child. You haven't truly experienced motherhood until a school official calls you (on your birthday, no less) and tells you to please come get your daughter because she has a star stuck in her ear.

Or the time I had to try to explain to relatives why Sweet Girl was scratched and scraped and banged her armpit.

Or the time Sweet Girl was standing on the toilet and slipped, and somehow on her way to the ground, she managed to pinch her who-who between the seat and the rim of the toilet. I have just clinched my legs tightly together just remembering it.

But the one that took the cake was when the nearly tore off her uvula.

I'll wait here while you go look up uvula. Don't be bashful, have one too.

In a previous wifetime, we had just finished dinner when we heard a blood-curdling scream come from the back of the house. Sweet Girl came running with that open-mouthed, airless, silent scream when a parent thinks the child may never stop to draw a breath again.

She couldn't tell us what was wrong. I thought she had shocked herself in an electrical outlet, then I remembered that our hair is naturally that way.

Finally one of us said, "What did you hurt?"

She said, "I hurt the thing that Tweety Bird thumps on the Pussycat."

I thought she was delirious with pain.


I looked at the ex. "What in the hell is she talking about?"

Somehow his viewing of cartoons must have matched hers. "She's talking about that thing that hangs down in the back of your throat."

You know how our mothers tell us never to run with something in our mouths because we might fall and jam it down our throats, only it has never actually happened in the history of mankind?

Except to my child.

Seems she had this really cool Barbie baton that came with some retarded costume, and she had discovered that if you TOOK OFF THE RUBBER TIP and blew on the baton, it made a really cool noise. Note that this baton that she nearly swallowed was WITHOUT THE RUBBER TIP. That could have protected her uvula when she fell with the baton in her nmouth while making this really cool noise.

There's not really a lot you can do for a torn uvula.

I took her to the doctor, and they gave her antibiotics and something for psychosis (not really, I made that part up) and said that we would have to make her drink to avoid becoming dehydrated.

She told the doctor she was NOT going to drink anything, so he picked up the phone and pretended to call the hospital and have them go ahead and reserve a room for her. (She was a gullible little 5-year-old.) She finally drank a tiny sip of water, glaring at the doctor with hatred in her eyes.

She was probably the only kindergartener who knew what a uvula was.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My $300 Pedicure.....

Hubby and I are on a cruise in the Caribbean, so this is a re-post from August of 2008. Appropriately enough, it has a cruise theme.

This is one of those stories that I swore I would never tell anyone. But the passage of time has dulled the edges of pain that I experienced when it happened, so after telling just my family and closest friends, I'm now willing to tell the world. Or at least the world of the six or seven people who actually read this blog.

Hubby and I went on a cruise this past spring during my Spring Break. We had cruised the Caribbean a couple of times, and we wanted something different this time. So we flew to Los Angeles for a cruise down the western side of Mexico: Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan. The weeks leading up to the cruise were busy, of course, and I checked off almost all the things I wanted to do before we left. The one thing I didn't get around to was getting a pedicure for wearing my snazzy sandals and lounging around the pool. And Mexican bars. Ole.

Hubby and I had already had the discussion about not being reluctant to splurge. We figured we had earned the right to treat ourselves to whatever we wanted, and if our final ship bill was astronomical, well, we'd just..... we'd just...... we'd just pay it.

So after we had boarded the ship and settled into our junior suite on the fantail of the ship WITH a balcony, I tripped right on up to the spa, which was directly above our cabin. I made an appointment for a pedicure on Tuesday with a darling girl from South African whose name I cannot remember. I have probably blocked it out of my memory so I can resist the temptation to track her down and throttle her.

In all fairness, I have to admit that she offered full disclosure. She told me from the beginning that she had a degree in psychology. At the time I wasn't aware that it was a warning, that she wielded that degree like a saber. Probably sabre where she comes from. Whatever.

All I wanted was the roughness smoothed away from my scaly heels, my toenails trimmed somewhat evenly, and a coat of a pretty colored nail polish. Pedicures at home cost around $22, with tip. I figured after three quarters of a school year, sending my child off to the Persian Gulf (again), and a four-hour flight, I deserved a pedicure. Even if it cost $40....gasp.

Of course, these pedicurists (do they have another name?) don't just do feet. They talk. They are a cheap form of therapy. Cheap! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. That's a good one.

I don't remember how the conversation began, or at what point I became sucked into a vortex of tangled words from which I could not emerge unscathed.

You have to picture the scene. The spa was located at the back of the ship on the 9th deck, and her spot was right next to a window that jutted out over the decks below. I was sitting on this raised up chair that felt a lot like a throne, with beautiful blue waters all around me. It felt like I was sitting on top of the world.

We talked about her job and how rewarding it was, and she talked about all the places she had been. She said she felt sad when women came into the spa and turned down some services because "It costs too much" or "My husband won't like it" or even "I'll have to ask my husband." We tsk-tsked women who were afraid to pamper themselves or turn loose of a few dollars and enjoy themselves on a cruise. She had me agreeing with her, saying it was a pity. I took the bait, the hook, the sinker, the line, the fishing pole, and the deep-sea fishing boat.

When she finished, she brought back a little card on which she had written down all the products she had used on my feet and legs. She went over each item with me, and she had written detailed instructions about how to use each one. When she was finished with that, she looked at me and said, "What do you think? Would you like to try these?" Of course! I want my feet to look this good every day! I want my feet to FEEL this good every day! How much could it be?

It could be $300. For a long-handled skin brush (that was supposed to cure everything from dry skin to constipation), a tiny bottle of oil, a slightly larger bottle of a DIFFERENT oil, a ginormous bottle of lotion, and some sea-salt/oil mixture. It was only with difficulty that I caught my breath. But I couldn't let on that it was extreme; I had just sat in her chair for an hour and half, indicating that I had earned the right to treat myself to such a luxury. Besides, she had it packaged up all nicely already.

To make matters worse, in my panic I tipped her on the total amount, not just the pedicure itself........which was a mere $65. SIXTY-FIVE FREAKIN' DOLLARS!!!! I wrote out a tip for $30 and totaled that bad boy up............$330 total. And I felt bad that I only tipped 10%. It took a long time for me to drink up $330 worth of hurt.

I went back to the same girl later in the week for a mini-facial. This time I paid for the service, turned down all the products, and retired to the bar immediately.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sometimes It's Okay to Be Snitty.....

....and sometimes it's wiser NOT to be a snit.

I almost never choose wisely. Sometimes I do...

Like the other day, when I was on my bike. A car behind me started blowing its horn insistently and incessantly. We soon came to a very sharp curve in the road (actually it's more of an "L" than a curve), and there was an accident there. (I'm surprised there's not an accident there every hour of every day.) Traffic was stopped in both directions while they loaded the car onto a wrecker, so it was a perfectly acceptable time to get snitty and turn around to face the driver behind me. I was ready to yell, "What is your PROBLEM?" when the lady (whose windows were down) said, pointing excitedly, "It was her! It was her!" She was indicating the woman in the car behind her, and she was very interested in having me understand that it wasn't SHE who was blowing the horn. The impatient one turned off onto another road, because apparently neither a bicycle NOR a wreck was going to keep her from her appointed duties.

Sometimes, though, I don't choose very wisely as to the appropriate level of snittiness.

A couple of days ago, in preparation for our trip, I went to the bank to cash a check. I was forced to use this archaic form of financial transaction because the amount of money I wanted to withdraw was more than our bank will allow to be withdrawn from an ATM.

Late in the afternoon, our house phone rang. Almost no one we want to talk to uses that number, as we both use our cell phones more than the house phone these days. The caller I.D. indicated a town about two hours away, so I figured it to be a political or sales call. So I let the answering machine pick up. (Yes, we still have one of those.)

The woman identified herself as being from our bank, and she said she was looking for, "Uh.... uh.... Day-na... Uh... Uh... Uh... Poo... Poo-it."

Now I realize my first name, D-E-N-A, is unusual enough to give some people pause. People can't spell it when they hear it or pronounce it (obviously) when they hear it. I get "Diana," "Dana" (pronounced DAY-na), even "Dee-Anna." How the HELL do people get Dee-Anna out of four letters?????

And our last name... P-R-U-I-T-T.

I just don't see a lot of different ways you can pronounce that. It rhymes with "Do It," so we could be our own spoof of a Nike commercial.

There's no graceful way to say this, so I'll just wade on in it. Some members of some ethnic groups (actually a number of ethnic groups) simply cannot pronounce our last name. And I just don't know why. Call me insensitive.

After she stammered and stuttered and didn't come close to getting either of my names right, I snatched up the phone and interrupted her. I may or may not have snarled my name(s) correctly. I felt completely justified in being snitty at that point.

Until the woman mentioned that I had left my checkbook at the bank.

My whole stupid checkbook.

Just roll that snitty attitude up, put it in your purse ('cause there's plenty of room in there, without the missing checkbook), and go on up to the bank to retrieve your checkbook.


Saturday, August 18, 2012


"You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family...."

Truer words were never spoken. And the more extended the family, the weirder those family dynamics get.

We have one branch of our family on my mother's side (I won't even get started on my father's side of the family) that is ... a little ... strange. Sweet people, for the most part, but just strange.

I realize I'm using my own personal set of values to describe them as weird, and they might say I'm just as weird. Or they may not recognize weird when they see it, or they might just be nicer people than I am and say there's nothing at all wrong with me.

My cousin's husband, however, can only be described as a boor. He's uncouth, often unclean, rude, obnoxious, opinionated (aren't we all?), and outspoken. As in not a good way.

Apparently there have been some more serious behaviors at the family reunion, and although I was only made aware of them THIS year, it appears the behaviors manifested themselves at last year's reunion also. Some of his rudeness was directed toward his own sister-in-law (his wife's sister, also my first cousin), and to be honest I don't have information as to how offended she was or if other people were more offended on her behalf. But I do have it on good authority that when it was time to assign cottages for this year's reunion, she expressed a desire NOT to be housed with her sister and her husband. But that's exactly where she wound up.

To make a long story short (and I'm not sure why I'm telling it here anyway), after this year's reunion, the "Elders" (that would be my mother and her siblings) got together and decided this boor would no longer be welcome at the family reunion.

Ouch. That's harsh. Even for a boor. Because by extension, you wind up excluding some people who are blood relatives. I mean, I can't imagine my cousin coming to the reunion without her husband. And they come every year, no matter the location. And they provide breakfast for the whole clan both mornings of the weekend. (No, it's not the loss of the breakfasts I'm lamenting, really.)

It might have been enough to inform them (him?) that he wouldn't be welcome at the reunion. But the letter (more on that in a moment) also said that if he DID show up (really, would anyone show up under those circumstances?), the sheriff would be called.

That might have been going too far. And the author of the letter was my aunt's husband, ALSO not a blood relative. (I might be inclined to call him an uncle, but they haven't been married too many years. It's complicated.) I'm not sure he had the "authority" to write the letter. Or really if anyone had the authority.

My sister and my cousin both used the exact same phrase to describe this situation, and that was "slippery slope."

I never understood fully what that meant, but now I think I do.

I'm not here to make excuses for a boor, and I'm not going to defend his right to be at a reunion where his behavior has been unacceptable. (The source of my information was reluctant to tell me the specifics, and I didn't press for details.)

But if we start letting some people (even if they ARE the elders) decide who comes to the family reunion and who doesn't, what are we setting ourselves up for? What crosses the line of what is acceptable and what isn't? Who decides?

Couldn't someone decide I'm not welcome at the reunion if I'm going to bring my dog? (We do have those who aren't very fond of animals, namely my own mother.)
Couldn't someone ask the smokers to stay away?
If someone doesn't accept the partners of gay family members, could THEY be asked not to come?
What if someone dresses inappropriately - banned from the reunion?
Misbehaving children?
Drug users?
South Carolina Gamecock fans?
Florida Gator fans? (Oh never mind, we don't have any of those.)

I think you get my point.

Naturally there has already been a backlash, as the brother of the cousin in question has said he will attend no more reunions and has asked to be removed from the mailing list. That means almost an entire branch of the family won't be there, and while it has never been expected that EVERYONE would come, I think their absence will be awkward.

And I think some people's PRESENCE will be awkward. I almost feel that I shouldn't go, because I don't want it to look like I condone "kicking" some people out of the family. But not going to the reunion might appear to show support for the boor who has been asked not to come, and I don't want it to look like I'm in his corner.

I really, really wish there weren't corners at all in this unfathomable mess of a situation.

Meanwhile, Hubby is trying to come up with something he can do to get barred from the family reunion.

Families. Ugh.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Flashback - The Time I Became One of THOSE Parents......

Sixth grade was not a very good year for Sweet Girl. I don't know how ANYBODY gets through sixth grade unscathed. It was the beginning of middle school, naturally, and math had never been her friend. She had some less-than-nurturing teachers (I don't remember them being particularly HARSH, they just didn't go out of their way to bond), and on top of everything else her home life wasn't the best in the world. Let's just leave it at that.

I had a parent-teacher conference early in the spring about her math performance and to see what I could do to help her. If I had been a better parent, I would have spent more time with her working on her math, but I didn't, and I guess one of these days in the distant future I MIGHT stop beating myself up over it. I witnessed her frustration, but I was frustrated myself because I couldn't see WHY she couldn't do math. It came so naturally to me, and I wasn't able to step outside that part of my persona.

In that parent-teacher conference, I expressed the sentiment that "failure is not an option." All of her teachers agreed with me, saying, "No, no, no, failure isn't even in the picture." Imagine my surprise when two weeks before the end of the school year, AFTER I had paid (in installments) for three weeks at summer camp, I received a note that said if Sweet Girl didn't go to summer school, she would be retained in sixth grade.

I don't know, I'm not the most educated person in the world, but shouldn't there have been SOME indication between those two events?

ANYWAY, Sweet Girl was relegated to the gut-wrenching experience of having to go to summer school. One day when I picked her up, her teacher said she was having difficulty. She made the surprising (at least to me) suggestion that I come sit in class with Sweet Girl and observe.

I suppose the point of that was to "shame" Sweet Girl into doing her math correctly (like she was making bad grades out of defiance?), because it wasn't a behavioral problem at all. The girl just didn't know how to do fractions. Or some of those other math-related things.

I went to class with Sweet Girl for a day (or two?), and I don't think it had the intended effect, at least not at first. She LOVED having me there, because it meant I could explain things to her and she wouldn't have to ask her teacher and draw attention to herself. I resisted the temptation to answer her questions, because I thought it was important for her to ask her teacher.

During one math lesson, I looked around the room and thought to myself, "Hmm... Those students over there don't look the same as these students." They didn't seem to be doing the same activities. After class I asked the teacher about it, more in a curious manner than a confrontational one.

"Oh," she said, "those students are eighth graders. They're studying social studies."

Excuse me? Sixth grade math and eighth grade social studies in the SAME ROOM at the SAME TIME with the SAME TEACHER?

I thought I may have misunderstood, so when I got home I called the principal who was in charge. She listened to my story, verified that teachers had to double up on subject matter, sympathized that Sweet Girl was still having trouble getting the math concepts, and offered me a solution: In addition to coming to the morning session, Sweet Girl could sit through the afternoon session ALSO, and maybe between the two she would get it.

That wasn't satisfactory to me. So I called the superintendent.

He was also very polite, sympathized with my situation, and explained that having teachers do double duty as far as subject matter and grade levels was the only way they could provide free summer school for middle school students. I said I would happily PAY for summer school if it meant my child didn't have to struggle with fractions while the Civil War was going on in the other part of the room. (Seriously, many days there was a movie going on for the eighth graders, and the sixth grade math students were supposed to tune that OUT? Sweet Girl would rather learn about a war than fractions any old day.)

I never thought I would be one of those parents who would call the superintendent and complain. I felt powerless for my child and myself, and it turned out that my actions had no impact whatsoever anyway. Sweet Girl made it through summer school and didn't have to repeat sixth grade, but the whole ordeal was horrible for her. And it was yet another thing that I couldn't fix as a mom. I hate those.

No wonder she still doesn't like math.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Skydiving Days (Part 6).......

If you are interested in catching up with my other posts related to skydiving, you can find them below. They are not chronological in nature, so don't feel obligated to read all of them, or read them in order.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Part 5 was about my skydiving days as they related to my mother. This post is devoted to the intersection of my skydiving and my daughter when she was very young.

I had started skydiving when I was in college, then I quit after I got married and had a baby. I thought my days of jumping out of airplanes were over forever, but I got the itch again when Sweet Girl was a toddler, and I went back to jump again. She was in a stroller the first few times I took her to the drop zone, and I always had someone there who could watch her. The first thing she ever knew about airplanes was that Mom left in one, it came back empty, and Mom floated down from the sky under a parachute. Normal, right?

The first time Sweet Girl was to fly in a commercial aircraft, my mother was taking her to New York only a few days after her 4th birthday. She wasn't nervous at all about getting in an airplane; not nearly as nervous as I was about her being away from me for a week. My mother related this story after they boarded the airplane: Sweet Girl was all buckled in, waiting for take-off, when she turned to my mother and asked, "When do we jump out?" I would give every penny I've ever had if she had asked the flight attendant that question instead of my mother. (Well, that may be a SLIGHT exaggeration, but I think it would have been hilarious.)

When Sweet Girl was a little older and knew her way around the drop zone better than I did (I still had trouble finding the airport from the plane, no joke), I took her with me and left her under the somewhat watchful eye of others at the drop zone while I was in the plane. (I''m sure you'll find that chapter in Good Parenting 101.) They knew Sweet Girl, she was comfortable wherever she was and never met a stranger (including wandering away from her mother in the train station in Munich, but that's a different blog post).

I came back from a jump one day and Sweet Girl wasn't there to greet me as I landed (mercifully) near the packing shed. When I asked where she was, someone replied, "She went flying with James."

"Oh," I said, walking toward the shed. Then I stopped.

"Wait," I said. "Who's James?" Sweet Girl was SEVEN years old.

When they landed, I was too relieved to be angry. Besides, where would I have directed my anger? James? Sweet Girl? Myself? I vote for the last one.

So I snapped this picture before Sweet Girl could exit the plane. Then she spoke words to warm a mother's heart:

"Mom! We went flying in James's plane....after he fixed it!"


Maybe I should have instilled just a LITTLE fear in her?

All this talk about skydiving has made me miss it a little. A lot.

I'm thinking about going back to this very drop zone, but just to make a tandem jump. I'm using a certain weight as an incentive. Because I have to tell them that before we make the jump, and as it's important to tell the truth, I want to make sure my actual weight matches what I tell them.

Until that point, this will more than likely be my last post related to my skydiving days.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Packing.... Unpacking.... Repacking.....

Sweet Girl was astounded when I told her on the phone yesterday that I was packing for a trip that isn't until next week. She ought to know by now, that's how I roll. In a reversal of my usual procedure, however, I haven't packed for Hubby yet. (Yes, I still do that, please don't crucify me. You can't ever go back, you can't ever go back, you can't ever go back.)

I would be a little better at packing for trips if I would give in to my OCD tendencies. If I would write out a plan for the week, schedule when I'm going to wear what, and pack accordingly, I could save myself a lot of trouble. Not to mention avoid having one of us get a hernia from trying to lift my suitcase. (It's the big one.) I was completely packed by dinner time last night. But the thought kept nagging me that I had overpacked (as usual), and I didn't need all that stuff. I tend to be a "what if" traveler.

What if I want to walk laps around the ship's walking track?
What if I spill something on an outfit?
What if I don't FEEL like wearing the green dress Sweet Girl talked me into buying?
What if I eat so much in the first two days that nothing fits?

After dinner, I had another "what if" moment:

WHAT IF I didn't take all those clothes?
WHAT IF I had to wear something twice?
WHAT IF I wanted to wear something and didn't have it with me?

No. Big. Deal.

We are going on a cruise, and I knew I would need two "formal" outfits (unless we decide to avoid the hoopla of the formal nights, which we have been known to do). I went shopping with the express purpose of buying some casual dresses (even though I'm not usually a dress kind of girl), short cotton things that I could wear to dinner, then wear into town the next day or wear around the ship on the days at sea when the most strenuous thing we do is typically go to trivia and hope to kick some arses.

When we go to dinner on the ship, we typically go back to our room, get back into casual clothes, and sit on the balcony and watch the water go by. OCCASIONALLY we go to a show (we saw a wonderful magician/hypnotist on one of our cruises, and RARELY I can talk Hubby into going to a song-and-dance show. Sometimes we wear our dinner clothes for a grand total of two hours, and that's only because they drag out the dinner process until Hubby develops a twitch somewhere.

Sorry, I didn't mean to get so long-winded. I didn't want to scandalize anyone who might find the idea of wearing something two days in a row repulsive. Please don't look in my living room window the rest of this week.

Here is my suitcase as it was last night. It's a little misleading, because it WAS possible to zip it closed at that time, even though it doesn't look like it. I still had my swimsuits to put in, though, so I left it open.

This is a picture of all the clothes I took out of the suitcase. You probably can't tell (and I didn't take individual photos), but I have THREE formal outfits, FOUR short dresses, ONE skirt/blouse outfit, TWO skort/blouse combinations, and FIVE shorts/blouse outfits. Good. Grief.

This is after I have removed the extraneous outfits. And I still have enough clothes to wear, with room for spillages and the occasional "I'm-not-feeling-that-outfit" spells. Yo will notice I did NOT remove any of the shoes. A girl has to have her standards. You may also note that I did not include my unmentionables in any of these photos. You're welcome.

This is the suitcase after everything is neatly packed back in it.

And it zipped with ease.
 Maybe this is the process I need to go through EVERY time I pack for a trip.

Except when we travel in the RV. Having a closet along instead of a suitcase is a definite advantage.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens......

Image from
I wouldn't be so arrogant as to do a true review of this book. Truth be told, I don't do true reviews of ANY of the books I read. I just say whether I liked them or not, what I liked about them, what I didn't, whether or not I think anyone else should invest the time to read a book.

I said a while back that I wanted to intersperse my reading of contemporary literature with some of the great classics I either missed out on or stubbornly refused to read even when they were assigned to me. I also said after my last book review that I wanted to give my brain a rest and read something a little more uplifting.

This wasn't it.

I take that back... It WAS uplifting in that the story ended the way it should have, with wrongs righted, questions answered, good rewarded, evil punished, and everyone living happily ever after. At least the ones who deserved it.

I don't think I was ever assigned to read Oliver Twist, because I should have remembered at least the Cliffs Notes version if I had been. I THINK I was assigned to read Bleak House in college, but I couldn't make it through it.

I've probably related here the story of being assigned A Tale of Two Cities when I was in high school. It was for a social studies class, which I was naive/immature enough to find "not fair" or something equally stupid, and I put off reading it until the night before the test. Then I tried to cram it all in, flipping pages rapidly and skimming my way through. Feeling smug, I turned the last page, only to read, "End of Volume I." What an idiot.

I became a fan of Dickens the next time I encountered A Tale of Two Cities, when I had to teach it to ninth graders. (Is it a sign of what has happened to our educational system that I don't believe there's a group of ninth graders anywhere on the planet now who could/would understand A Tale of Two Cities? Or is that just my cynicism showing...again?)

The language of Dickens can be hard to decipher sometimes, and his punctuation and sentence structure drive me crazy. Did they change the rules at some point regarding commas, semi-colons, and colons, or did he make up his own rules as he went? However, Dickens is so obviously tongue-in-cheek sometimes and downright sarcastic at others that I am forced to admire his work. I especially appreciate the fact that many of his books were first published in installments, and he couldn't even go back and change his mind about a plot line. Talk about commitment to the structure of a novel...

Anyway, I enjoyed Oliver Twist, and I may take on Bleak House. But not tonight.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Hubbyism.......

Don't you like the word I made up?

A "hubbyism" is something funny/cute/dumb/witty/blog worthy that my Hubby does. I was going to post this one on Facebook, but I was afraid someone I knew would mention it to him, and he would be insulted. It's not bad or anything, but he might take exception to being made fun of in such a public way.

The blog? Fair game.

On Friday night, after we went to the vow renewal ceremony of one of his golfing buddies (and the wife, but I couldn't figure out where to put that in the sentence), naturally Hubby fell asleep in his recliner. That is an almost-nightly occurrence, but particularly after an event at which there was an open bar.

While I was watching baseball and/or playing on my iPad, Hubby's phone gave the tone that alerts him to a text message. I would like to describe it here, but "" is the best I can do.

Hubby stirred from his slumber, reached to the table beside his chair, and picked up..... the calendar that has his daily Sudoku puzzle on it. He squinted at it for a moment, then put it back down. Then he picked up his glasses (yeah, that was the problem all along) and put them on, then picked up the calendar again. He squinted at it again, then realized that wasn't what he needed to decipher a text message. Finally he picked up his phone.

Meanwhile, I had burst a blood vessel trying not to laugh.

He can be a little grumpy when disturbed from an alcohol-induced slumber by someone making fun of him.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

End of the Olympics.....

I have been a fan of the Olympics ever since I can remember. Gymnastics has always been a favorite (shocker, I know), and when I was 11 years old, I wrote in to the local paper about a thousand times asking how one went about becoming an Olympic swimmer. (It was the one thing I thought I was pretty good at.)

I've missed some seminal Olympic moments. I was away at a student council summer camp in 1976 when Nadia Comaneci scored the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics. I remember thinking, "Who?" (Then scoring a 10 became pretty standard, so the all-knowing people in charge changed the scoring system so that not only could no one ever get a perfect score again, most people [including those with doctorate degrees] have a difficult time understanding it.) The 1984 Olympics are probably the reason I became a teacher. Sweet Girl was born right before the Olympics started, and I lamented the fact that I had to go back to work and couldn't watch the Olympics all day long. The seed was planted for getting a job where I could have the summer off. Theoretically. When the Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996, I was chosen to be a teacher-advisor to the Dream Team, the teenagers who served as ambassadors for the Olympics in Atlanta. Most of the events were held within an hour of my home. And I DIDN'T EVEN TRY TO GET TICKETS.

This summer I was away for the first week of the Olympics, which was naturally when the gymnastics events took place. I caught some highlights, watched some routines online, saw a few replays. Here are some of my personal observations about the Olympics of 2012, based on my very limited opportunities to watch.

  • The Russians are very poor losers in gymnastics.
  • McKayla Maroney's expression on the podium after winning the silver medal is priceless. I would be inclined to take her to task for it, except for the fact that she has jumped on board and is making fun of herself about it.
  • Image from
  •  I watched a few swimming events just because there are SO MANY ties to UGA among the Olympic swimmers. Several of them are former, current, or future UGA swimmers, where there is a huge college swim program behind a legendary coach. One of our newest gold medal winners may be feeling the vibes I've been sending her way to sign with Georgia. Oh, but she has to finish high school first.
  • The Warrior Princess and I exchanged a few text messages the other night about what should count as sports. She voted against the "ribbon twirlers" (rhythmic gymnasts), although after watching a couple of their routines, I found their timing and balletic moves very entertaining. I suggested the equestrian events were suspect because, after all, you don't get ready to run a track and field event and discover that your tennis shoes are having a bad day. You don't fall off the uneven bars because your grips balk before a crucial move.
  • I saw one poor dude from a country whose name I didn't catch in one of the rowing events. Apparently he had never been IN ONE OF THOSE BOATS until two weeks before the Olympics. Seriously? What do they do, go out to a paving crew working on the highway and say, "Hey buddy, you're coming with us to represent your country in the Olympics"? The dude in question crossed the finish line during a commercial, I think. 
  • I find women's boxing and women's weightlifting a little eerie. Call me sexist.
  • Water polo reminds me of an 8th grade student I had when I was teaching middle school. I asked in class one day if anyone knew anything about water polo, and this quiet kid spoke up from the back of the room. "It's just like polo, only they ride seahorses." Class was over for the day because the teacher could not stop laughing.
  • I like watching beach volleyball, when I can stop hating on the athletes for their bodies. One of our players, though, had to call a medical timeout because her feet were numb from cold. Either we had the SUMMER Olympics in an inappropriate location, or perhaps they need to make it permissible for the beach volleyball players to wear shoes.
  • I would have watched more track and field (and swimming too, for that matter) events if I could have known when I was watching one of a gazillion heats and when I was watching a contest for an actual medal.
  • When I was going to camp as a youngster, we did something called "water ballet" that they now call synchronized swimming. I couldn't watch it without laughing.
  • Synchronized diving, however, was totally worth watching.
  • We watched part of the women's marathon race. And I don't know why.
  • I also watched a little of the women's mountain biking race yesterday. That course CANNOT TOUCH the mountain bike trails over here in our little state park. Let's see those women climb THOSE hills and not throw up at the top.
  • I cannot bring myself to watch sports that are heavily populated by professional athletes, like tennis and basketball. I know, I know, other countries subsidize their athletes and raise them from the crib to compete, supporting them financially as well, but the U.S. basketball team? Really? 
  • Hubby and I were discussing power walking (I think they used to call it "speed walking" a long time ago, unless they are two different sports) the other day. I thought it had gone away, but the Warrior Princess told me it was going to be on television the next morning at 4:00 AM. (I did NOT, as she suggested, set my alarm.) That one kills me, because it's a race, yet you get penalized if you go too fast. The Warrior Princess wanted to know if everyone went the same maximum speed, did all the races end in 8-way ties? Okay, I just did a little "research," and apparently one of the races is about 30 miles in length. I'll stop making fun of them now. (One commenter on the video said, "I haven't walked that way for 30 miles since trying to find a restroom at Disneyland." Now that's funny right there.)
And now I'll allow myself a little while to grieve and look forward to the Winter Olympics in 2014, but they don't have the same punch for me that the Summer Olympics do. In the meantime, there's football, gymnastics, baseball... The cycle continues.

Have a good week!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What a Boy......

I have a little quiz for you. I'm not grading it or anything, so don't feel bad if you don't do very well on it.

How old would you guess this child is?

Oh my, I almost can't bear to look at those blue eyes.

I'll give you a little hint. I wrote about him when he was born, all whopping almost 11 pounds of him.

This adorable boy is my great-nephew, and he's 19 months old. As in NOT QUITE TWO. He looks positively grown-up to me. His name is Wyatt - isn't that a cool name? Sometimes they call him Lincoln, which is his middle name. What a dilemma, deciding which of his two cool names he should go by.

I love this shot of him, and I wish I had taken it. My nephew's wife, Wyatt's mother, took the photo and put it on Facebook. I asked permission before I stole it.

Here's another beautiful shot, this time with his daddy, my nephew.

I love that shot too. Why, oh why, can't I take incredible pictures like those?

This boy is never, and I mean NEVER, still. He's not a BAD child, he's just BUSY. I hope to all that's holy that he never gets his hands on caffeine.

He has already outgrown his 2T clothes and is moving into 3T. He'll probably be shopping at the big and tall shop for men before he starts school. It may have something to do with the fact that his (handsome) daddy is 6'8" or 6'9".

In an attempt to be an equal opportunity great-aunt, here is his big sister.

My goodness, another gorgeous shot. I don't know if these children are destined to be professional models, or if their mother is destined to be a professional photographer.

Rylie was born to my nephew's wife in a previous wifetime, and she was very young when her parents divorced. When her mom and my nephew married, he adopted Rylie. Every year on the anniversary date of her adoption, he takes her out of school and they go to lunch somewhere, just dad and daughter. I can never tell anyone that story without choking up. I'm such a sap.

A word of caution: If I'm this teary-eyed over great-nieces and great-nephews, there's no telling how bad it will be when I have my own grandchildren.

You've been warned.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Flashback Friday - The Time I Became One of THOSE Students......

I was a senior in college, and my friend from high school, Mack, and I were taking a course in Chaucer from Dr. Shaw.

A whole course in Chaucer. Ponder on that for a moment.

It must have been one hell of a scheduling nightmare, or I must have already taken every other course for an English major that didn't involve medieval poetry. I have no other explanation for why I would have voluntarily signed up for an entire course in Chaucer. Unless Mack peer-pressured me into it. He's the sole reason I was an English major in the first place. That and college calculus. And chemistry.

I don't remember a lot about Dr. Shaw. I remember her wearing a flower, either in her hair or on her blouse, and I don't remember whether it was a single occurrence or if she wore it all the time. I also remember that Mack would always turn to me in class and whisper, "Do you think she ever thinks about sex?" I had no idea what the right answer to that question was. Maybe he was referring to the flower.

The other thing I remember about Dr. Shaw was that I was terrified of her. She came across so stern and smart and knowledgeable and no-nonsense that I wouldn't have approached her on a dare. And I was a daredevil.

At the end of the semester, we had two (or was it three?) days of final exams. Exam periods were three hours per class, and the schedule was determined by what time your class was normally held. A 7:50 class (isn't that a dumb time to have a class?) might have the 8-11 slot, an 8:50 class might have the 12-3 slot, and so on. (I'm working on very poor memory of the quarter system, and almost every college in the free world has converted to semesters now, so I don't have anything reliable on which to base my examples.)

Many professors used the last day of classes to give their final exams, even though they weren't supposed to change the schedule. Professors who did that probably wanted to get their grades in (particularly those pesky English teachers, who gave such horrendous essay exams in the first place), and they may have wanted to get a jump-start on their short between-quarter vacations too. We didn't mind not having to show up for a 3-hour exam, and we were ecstatic if OUR breaks started a day (or two) early, so we didn't complain.

Dr. Shaw, however, threw a monkey wrench into the whole mess. She decided our final exam (over Chaucer, remember?) would be administered on the last day of classes (yay!), but it would still be a 3-hour exam (boo!).


By doing that, she was completely ignoring anything we might have in our schedules beyond her class: other classes, jobs, a social life. If someone were unlucky enough to have Dr. Shaw for, say, a 2:00 class, and then someone else for a 3:00 class, then her plan did not allow for a student to attend that 3:00 class on the all-important (sometimes) last day of classes.

Personally, I had a job in the afternoons, and while it would have been a simple matter to rearrange my work schedule to accommodate that final exam, I disagreed with it on principle. I didn't think she should move the final exam to the last day of classes instead of the assigned day just because it fit HER schedule better, and then not take OUR schedules into consideration for the last day of classes.

So I called the chairman of the English department.

I know, right?

I've always thought it was significant that when I called to report my problem, the secretary asked what year I was. Perhaps if I had been a freshman instead of a senior, my message may never have been delivered.

I made the mistake of telling Mack what I had done, KNOWING he couldn't avoid looking my way if the phone call came up in class. But another student saved me.

When Dr. Shaw walked into class the next time, a blond-haired guy who was either a swimmer or a diver spoke up and said, "We're a little concerned by this final exam thing."

She retorted, "You're damn right you are. SOMEONE called the head of the department."

Don't look at me, Mack. Don't look at me, Mack. Don't look at me, Mack. Don't look at me, Mack.

I probably gave myself away, sitting there in the front row, because I DIDN'T look around and make eye contact with anyone else. Especially Mack.

Boy, was Dr. Shaw peeved. It had never crossed my mind that she might retaliate by creating a final exam that no one with an IQ less than 534 could pass, but that was water under the bridge at that point. The horse was out of the gate and charging down the backstretch. (Forgive the mixed metaphors. Dr. Shaw would probably crucify me for them.)

Dr. Shaw must have had some serious out-of-town plans, though, because her solution was still NOT to move the exam to its scheduled time, but instead to give us a take-home exam. I've heard horror stories about take-home exams in college and have always heard they are to be avoided like the plague, but it was fine with me. I didn't have to sit in a classroom for three hours, whether on the assigned day OR on the final day of classes, I didn't have to worry about Dr. Shaw finding me out, and I didn't have to wonder about her flower and whether or not she ever thought about sex while I was churning out some pithy remarks about Chaucer.

Looking back, I have mixed feelings about what I did. There may have been a better way to approach the problem, including going to Dr. Shaw during her office hours. But did I mention I was terrified of her? And in the late 70's and early 80's, students didn't have the kind of collegial relationships with their professors that I think are more common today. (Or perhaps that was just me. I still held professors up on a pedestal, something better than us mere mortals.) I was amazed the blond-haired swimmer/diver even had the nerve to speak up; but boy was I glad he did. Even if I HAD summoned the nerve to go to her office, I had the impression she wouldn't have changed her mind based on the opinion of one student. And we didn't have time to organize any type of group effort; exams were upon us.

I've tried to put myself in Dr. Shaw's position. It must have been embarrassing for her department chair to call her in and chastise her (if indeed he did), but to this day I think she was in the wrong.

I don't even remember what grade I got in that course. Now I'm curious, though, and I may have to go look up my undergraduate transcripts just to see if I got an "A" or a "B".

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Homemade Biscuits.....

For some strange reason, I've been thinking lately about making homemade biscuits.

Actually, I know the exact reason I've been thinking about making homemade biscuits. I saw several commercials for fast-food restaurants on television that feature breakfast biscuits, and I found myself wondering, "Where do they get the old women to come to those restaurants and make the biscuits that early in the morning?" Because I'm convinced that biscuit-making is a dying art, and only women of my mother's generation know how to do it. I never learned. Sigh.

Then I realized that someone in every single one of those restaurants knows how to make biscuits, and it can't possibly be that hard if they can do it.

I think of biscuit-making the same way I think of calculus: It's something I never mastered, and I don't want it to think it has permanently kicked my butt. I'm determined to win.

I must have watched my mother make biscuits a jillion times. There was this metal container (5-gallon?) with a lid that held the flour. Inside the tin was also a flour sifter; it lived there. (Does anyone sift flour anymore? I don't. Can that be why my biscuits don't turn out?)

Mom had a wooden bowl in which she made biscuits. She would pour in the (sifted) flour and make a little well in the flour. She would pour an undetermined amount of buttermilk into the well, and then she would add shortening. (I'm pretty sure it was "lard" at some point, before Crisco became the "healthy" alternative.) She would work the shortening into the buttermilk (or the buttermilk into the shortening?) with her fingertips, working out the lumps and slowly incorporating flour from the edges of the well.

The walls of her well never fell down (mine always do), and she never got anything on her hands beyond her fingertips (you should see the unholy mess I can make in the kitchen when I attempt biscuits). She would work the dough around in a circle, then she would begin picking up the edges of the dough ball, turn one to the center, and pat it down. She continued this way until she had a smooth, floury, perfect lump of dough. Then she would pinch off enough for a biscuit, dip the pinched-off end into the remaining flour, and roll the dough into a ball. Then she would pat the ball down into a biscuit shape, and sometimes she would give it one last pat with her knuckles. No rolling out the dough and using a cookie cutter for HER biscuits. Blasphemy.

There was always a little bit of dough left over, and Mom always made me a "baby biscuit." If anyone else dared get the baby biscuit, I pitched an unholy fit (or was it a holy fit?). There are advantages to being the baby.

I know all the steps by heart, and I have the exact same supplies and the same ten fingers. Why, then, is my kitchen covered with flour, two dish towels have bits of dough all over them from where I tried to clean my hands, several biscuits' worth of dough is lodged under my fingernails, and my biscuits turned out nothing like my mother's?

Oh, they TASTE all right. But they aren't fluffy. You could use a fork to gently pry Mom's biscuits open, and there would be this hot steaming fluffiness inside that almost didn't need any butter at all. (But we used it all the same. And lots of jelly.) One of my favorite things to do was take leftover biscuits the next morning (hard to believe we even HAD leftovers), split them, and toast them. When no one was looking, I would first slather butter and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top before toasting them. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

My biscuits were okay in the middle, but they turned out a little crusty. We had to use a knife (at least a butter knife sufficed, and we didn't have to resort to the knife Hubby uses to cut up fresh pineapple) and saw back and forth a little, but the biscuits were tolerable. They just weren't like Mom's.

We interrupt this blog post for a phone call to Mom...

Her suggestion was that I may need to use more shortening next time. I was afraid of using too much, so that may be the key. I'll let you know next time I get up the nerve to try biscuits again.

Mom also says she doesn't make biscuits anymore. She likes the frozen ones, and that's what Hubby and I eat most of the time. I like those because you can cook one, or you can cook 20. (We've so far not needed to cook 20.)

When Mom was first married (at the age of 16), she made homemade biscuits three meals a day. In a wood stove.

I don't think I would have made a very good pioneer.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Blue Nights by Joan Didion.....

Image from

I know it may appear that ALL I've been doing lately is reading book after book, and that is only PARTLY true. I've also been playing Words with Friends not only with friends, but with random opponents from the Internet. I sometimes latch onto things... One of my games today was with someone I'm pretty sure was a 7-year-old girl, and I know I should feel guilty about beating her 252 to 96 (or something similar), but I'm just competitive enough not to feel bad at all. I made two 7-letter words back-to-back (that's never happened before in the history of mankind), and I was going for the jugular. Please recommend a good, cheap, nearby therapist.

But I digress.

I have been doing more reading than I did when I was teaching (did I mention I'm retired now? ha ha), but a couple of the books have also been relatively short ones.

Blue Nights was another of the books in the Summer Reading list that appeared in The New Yorker. Out of all the ones of those that I've read so far, this is the one that I almost put down without finishing.

First of all, I didn't know Joan Didion from my next door neighbor (in fact, I know a little bit more about Joan, since I at least know her name), and I didn't realize this book was a sort of memoir. How much is too much to know about a book before one begins reading it? I don't typically read book reviews, even AFTER I've read it. I don't want to risk having missed the whole of the book's meaning and feel stupid. I certainly don't read reviews BEFORE I've read a book, because I either feel obligated to love the book or hate it, depending on the style, voice, and reputation of the reviewer.

The part that made me almost put the book down was a long section of questions. I don't know if I would classify them as "rhetorical" questions, but they went on for so long that I started looking for answers. Even if I had to use a cheat sheet.

The style was almost stream-of-consciousness, and sometimes that's too untidy for me. I don't want the story to be formulaic or predictable, but occasionally it needs to go in a straight line without looping around and around and back and forth.

The theme of the book is the author's efforts to cope with the death of her daughter, close on the heels of the death of her husband, and her introspection about a parent's love for a child and the whole process of aging. I'm afraid I'm not saying this very well.

Another thing I didn't like about the book was the fact that I never could figure out exactly how her daughter died. She had been diagnosed with both manic depression and borderline personality disorder, so I wondered if she committed suicide. The author mentioned multiple stays in ICU units, so I thought perhaps there were multiple suicide attempts. A review I read after I started this blog post, however, said she was hospitalized once with a viral infection that turned into pneumonia, from which she recovered, and then she fell ill with acute pancreatitis, from which she did not recover. (The review was from The New York Times, so I tend to trust the research.)

I realize it's a memoir and the author could choose how much to disclose. She is up front from the beginning about the fact that her daughter was adopted, but it is unclear why. I don't mean I need to know in intricate detail a couple's efforts to reproduce normally, but she tells just enough of it to be confusing. She says she was at a party on a boat when she mentioned to a friend that she and her husband were trying to have a baby, and the friend says (paraphrasing), "Oh, you should talk to Dr. ______, he's here tonight, he can get you a baby." Maybe it wasn't integral to the story (obviously it wasn't to her, and it is, after all, her story), but it made me feel like I hadn't been trusted with the whole story.

I don't mean to sound so negative. It wasn't a heart-warming story by any means, but I may also read the memoir she wrote after the death of her husband, The Year of Magical Thinking. First, though, I need to give my brain a rest with something more lighthearted.