Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Disaster Strikes Again: Soap in the Toilet

My husband jokes that our son has a standard childhood disaster checklist that Tiny just rolls through one incident at a time. Chin split open? Check. Mooned the children in the cafeteria? Check. Drew on walls? Check. Tonight, it's the toilet. Again.

The last time Tiny Man assaulted the toilet's dignity, it was with Littlest Pet Shops. They were small enough to flush away and not be a problem. Tonight, however, he has managed to flush soap down the toilet--two bars because obviously one could never be enough. One bar was the size of a hockey puck, the other the size of a half-brick. Foolishly, I went to the downstairs potty in hopes of actually using it, but lucky me saw the absence of soap first. Thoughts ran through my head. No, I thought, not possible. I called my son.

"Yes," he said earnestly, "I flushee soap."
"Both?" I was aghast.
"Yeah. Boff soap."

I sent him to bed without a story or a song and began flushing and plunging. Finally and sorrowfully, I retreated to the wisdom of the web and found a helpful string of posts about this same dilemma. I have been laughing so hard there are tears. The link is posted here. Click, read, and just wait till you get to the one about the cornish hen. What people do, how they say it, and even what they don't say-- funny.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bananas, Breasts, and Socks that Stand

This evening a friend called to say she had breast cancer. I felt my breath leave me for a few minutes while she explained the details and then offered a light nod to the situation. She had been complaining to her children that she did not understand how she, of all her family, could get breast cancer when she only had size A breasts.

“With you, Mom, it’s really skin cancer then,” humorously offered one of her daughters.

Humans so amazingly break tension with comedy. Perhaps it is what the Italians refer to as the bittersweetness of life, this ability to find goodness and light in the middle of trauma and hardship. I’ll never forget listening to my grandfather, in his own fight against cancer, rant about lack of potassium. As a grown up, I know now that what he was really yelling about that afternoon twenty-five years ago was not that his doctors were disregarding his body’s need for a particular vitamin, but that he was dying, knew it, and was angry about it.

“What are you going to do if I just pass out, right here, right now, from lack of potassium?” he demanded of my sister and I, the unfortunate witnesses of his tirade. We were no more than twelve and fifteen years old.

“Shove a banana in your mouth?” asked my sister. Silence ensued, and then, in a flood of relief, unexpected laughter.

A close family friend tells this story about his father’s passing when my friend was just a boy. He and his brother were sitting on the edge of the bed, listening to their mother weep and complain. Their father had just died a day earlier and their mother was looking for a pair of socks that would stand up. She was becoming more frantic in her search for appropriate accessories to dress her deceased husband. Suddenly aware that the dead rest horizontally in coffins, my friend said, “But Mom, Dad doesn’t need socks that stand up anymore.” The same response followed, as did in the above two stories: grief broken by laughter.

My girlfriend will survive her cancer. She is one of the lucky ones who was awarded an early diagnosis and a 99% survival rate. I hope her sense of humor guides her through her surgery and treatment. I know she won’t take another day for granted despite the encouraging outcome promised by her doctors. Frankly, thanks to her today, I won’t either.

Best of health everyone, and cheers to your own ability to find a smile in the challenges of your day.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Waiting for the Title Guru

I have been having some problems getting a tag for the state in which I currently reside. I take responsibility for the fact that I lived here nearly eleven months before beginning to fill out the necessary application, but at least I managed to accomplish a state inspection and have that sticker on my windshield. Note that the state inspection process revealed a severely deteriorating chassis. Around $1200 later, I now have a car with new ball bearings, a replaced headlight, new wiring, and a myriad of other improvements, so I really wish the grand guru of tags and titles would wave his wand and expedite the rest of the process. The bulk of my problem lies in waiting for my previous state of residence to send me a new title. Somehow, in the move, I lost the original. I did not discover this problem until I returned home from the mechanic’s.

I blogged about my initial experience with my former state’s motor vehicle website, but after a day or two removed the statement because it was just a lot of whining no one really needed hear. I had found the motor vehicle site to be unclear and have contradicting information, which is frustrating considering it should be written for the general public. What I could finally ascertain from multiple rereadings of the site was this: send an $8 fee, send in a certain form and copies of your driver’s license, the title is processed internally in a three day period, and mailed out again. If you go in person, a customer service person will charge you an extra fee; if you want it rushed, a customer service person will charge you an extra fee; if you want to walk out with your title, you need to go the state’s main branch. According to the woman I spoke with on the phone, none of this is true. I know because when I asked about the three day processing described online, she began laughing.

Yes, today, after a month of silence from the motor vehicle people, I called to ask if we could track the process of my application. Apparently, this process takes weeks. In fact, there is no such thing as checking the progress of my paperwork. Your VIN appears in the system only when approved. I told the lady on the phone, and yes, I was very nice about the whole thing, that their website is badly written and promises what cannot be delivered.

Who is in charge of relaying this information and why are these websites so horribly wrong? The driver’s license bureau of that same state has the same problem—thus making my first effort to get a driver’s license in that state a two DMV trip experience. Nothing is easy whenever government bureaucracy is involved. So if I get a ticket for driving with an expired tag while I wait for someone 530 miles away to open their mail, which is really what the lady described to me today, you’ll hear about it.

And just to let you know, here in the glorious state I currently live, actual wait times for customer service at the DMV centers are posted online. All the information for attaining my license was correctly listed on the website. I was in and out of the center in less than 30 minutes. I believe I waited for less than five. The office was large, clean, and modern. The clerk who handled my application even had a sense of humor. I was given a temporary paper license and the actual one arrived in the mail a few days later. Why they do this here, I don’t know, but the visit went so smoothly that I cannot complain. I hope everything will be this simple when it comes to registering for a new tag in this state as well. If not, you will read my vent here again, too.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Handy and Dandy

Home Depot has long been one of my favorite places to shop. I have spent the occasional day this summer pouring over the flowers in the garden section. I fantasize about turning the front lawn into a semi-bricked and grassless courtyard, generous and hospitable with blooming daisies and bowing lilies, and fringed at the corners with cypress or Japanese maples… and tons of lacey white azalea… and hibiscus… and…. I think you get the point. This time, I found myself in the kitchen and bath section, and then windows and doors. After several deep sighs, I settled on a more practical expense for a renter: a tube of caulk and a set of scrapers.

All I can say about the last person who caulked the tub in the kids’ bathroom is that he must have done this blindly. It was the most botched caulk job I have ever seen. Not a finger-smoothed bead in site. I spent thirty minutes scraping and prying layers of moldy, gross old caulk out of the tile and tub area. (What I really should have bought at Home Depot, in addition to the caulk and scraper, was a haz mat suit.) Right now, the area has been bleached, is drying, and waiting for a fresh coating of anti-mildew caulk. I could smack myself for being the smug caulker, but I cannot wait to finish the job and show my husband, not that he ever doubted my handy capabilities.

Maybe he will be so tickled he’ll give me a Home Depot gift card. There were these really pretty bowls of Shasta Daisies with Spike and flowing variegated ivy… and red deck chairs… and pretty ceramic planters in a myriad of shiny colors….

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Random Notes

I am so sorry I cannot post daily (or near daily). My youngest child is home from school for the summer and I've put his time before mine. Until I can really sit down and formulate a new chunk of creativity, here are a collection of thoughts that have been plaguing me this week:

Skinny jeans are a bad idea, unless as one blog poster wrote, you have the hips of a twelve year old boy. Not even that is a safe guarantee of chic, however. Too skinny, and the jeans make a woman look bow-legged, and then I want to break out in that song I heard as a child on MASH (thank you, Colonel Potter): I like to go swimmin' with bowlegged women and swim between their legs... swim between their legs....

I just read that a child's fascination with his genitals ends at age six. I thought about this as I watched my son dance around the yard peeing here, peeing there. Whoever wrote that particular theory of development obviously had never been on a date with a man. The fascination with a man's own weiner really doesn't ever stop.

Children who rise at dawn and march immediately into a parent's bedroom with demands need to be duct taped to their own beds. No, I will not tie that, fix that, cook that, or jump at your fingersnaps until I have had coffee and my eyes are open. Children who spend an hour trying to fall asleep at night (and keep the rest of the house awake in the process) should also be duct taped to their beds.

Lastly, among the things in life I really liked and miss: a true masterbathroom, a nice custom closet in my bedroom (not down the hall), my close friends (because now I live far), and snowball stands. Among the things I gave up and have never missed: my ex-husband, a bathroom scale, a three-level 4000 plus square foot home, and ski trips.

Happy Friday, folks!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bandaids and Fables

Sometimes, when a child gets a boo boo, the ouchie moment turns into sweetness as an extra opportunity to nurture and soothe.

This morning, before school, my daughter tripped on the concrete walk that runs through the backyard. She came down so hard that her feet flew up behind her. I anticipate her having a back ache from this, but at least she did not hit her head. I escorted her gently back into the house to find that both hands (one in particular) and both knees were sufficiently torn and bleeding. Eight bandaids later, she went cheerfully to school talking about the story I had told her while cleaning her wounds. At age 10, a good story will still distract her enough from pain to stop crying.

You see, the whole thing is really the fault of the chipmunks. There is a pair of them that sometimes play chase in the morning, and one of them was not looking at all where he was running. He bolted right into my daughter’s path. In one horrible split second, she made a life-altering choice—either continue to step and thus risk pinning the chipmunk by his tail to the sidewalk (and a crushed tail would be devastating to these little critters) or stop short and risk her own fall.

Alas, the girl fell, but the chipmunk was able to dart to safety and watch with great shock and sorrow as his beloved caretaker (she does mind the critters of the garden, at least in spirit) took a nose dive onto the unforgiving concrete path. All the garden held its breath as my daughter’s hands broke her fall. When she rose from all fours, the rabbits and chipmunks poked their noses in her direction and whispered well-wishes into her ears. Even the birds sung songs of encouragement, but I think our darling was too surprised and hurt to notice.

When I was little, my father told me stories, too. And now that I have children, my mother tells my daughter stories. I love that the tradition is being passed to my children. I hope with it comes the remembrance of the sweeter things: tenderness exchanged over scraped knees and a time when childhood still could be magical.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

News from the Gardens

Watching the wildlife around here is a bit like watching neighbors in Rear Window, or Melrose Place. This week, we have had dramatic developments.

Herbert has left Frances. Now the little mourning dove pecks alone through the front yard. I suspect that Herbert may have run off with Chuck the squirrel… apparently, they may have had that type of relationship. What a shock this must be to Frances!

All kinds of new relationships have formed in the backyard, including one between a pair of cardinals. The female peeps and tweets ceaselessly as she jets from bush to ground and back again, just behind her male counterpart. He never says a thing. I wonder if he has read The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain because he just ignores her and continues on his way. In fact, I think I have even seen him roll his eyes.

Two robins take a much more active route in the backyard. They swirl and dip together following one another from various perches in trees, on the deck, over by the fence, and so forth. They seem to get along quite swimmingly, in fact. They are the contented lovers of Malvern Gardens.

The squirrels are hysterical. Take the 3 stooges and multiply by two, because they often run in packs that size, and their comedy is just as large. This week I had one in the plum tree, his pooching white belly toward me as he hurled unripe plums to the ground just for sport, while his friends swung (literally like circus acrobat teams) from branch to branch of adjacent trees. A few days ago, in the yard of a neighbor, one squirrel had been playing with a stick and tried to plant it upright in the ground. After discovering that it was too tall for the hole he dug, he began to chew the stick into two. It was a little thicker than he would have desired for quick results, so he started to roll around with it. In his fervor, he rolled straight out of the yard, over the retaining wall, and hit the sidewalk with a stunned smack. This did not deter him at all. He leapt back up into the yard, carried the stick with him, and worked it over for good measure, then gave it to a friend who then tried the same. He even sat there and supervised! Soon the two squirrels were practically cartwheeling about the grass with the stick. Eventually, the charm of the game wore off and the two squirrels, along with about four other friends that had been pillaging the garden beds, scampered up trees.

Chipmunks are as plentiful as ever. One busied himself with a fallen, ripe plum this very morning. He seemed to understand it was too big to cart away, so he nibbled thoughtfully until he was full, and then skipped to the back of the garden. The chipmunks are the industrious counterparts to all the tomfoolery that takes place. I see them scout, gather, stop, plan, and dig. They never seem to hang out with friends, yet they are everywhere. They ignore the activity of the others unless it is to stop and chirp a warning that I am on the deck. I think the chipmunks have formed a Neighborhood Watch committee.

And we have a new member, a baby rabbit who has made two appearances this week. She did not stir at all when I came across her this morning, but instead ignored me and scarfed down a delicious yellow leaf from her shaded refuge under the fig tree. Surely, she has been approached by the Malvern Rabbit Association for a prospective membership and protection from the local hawk population.

I walked through the garden today and made a note of the burrows and tunnels the quadrupeds have created. I will leave them alone. I don’t need a four-star yard. I prefer that the critters live here and entertain me daily with their antics. I am no longer bothered that the animals raid my fruit trees and leave me nothing. Instead I am amused when I neighbor tells me she has found chewed up plums on her porch, yet she has no plum trees at all. I was thinking about investing in a bird feeder or two, or maybe even a bird bath to enhance the courtyard that the little animals seem to enjoy so much. It would at least give them a new excuse to gather and socialize… maybe even discuss that scandalous Herbert and Chuck.

A Teacher's Right

This year, a certain teacher I know refused to communicate with a certain parent I know. The parent said to me that federal law mandates she communicates with him. I am well aware of why the teacher shut the doors on communication with this parent. Her reasons are perfectly defensible; this man frightens her… and he provoked that response through his emails to her. What I began to wonder is what laws are there to protect teachers from hostile parents and what responsibility do teachers really have in regards to communication?

The parent was incorrect about federal law. Current law only guarantees both parents, regardless of custodial arrangement, have access to a child’s school records. One can legally request health charts, absence and tardiness records, and grades. In fact, a school is allowed 45 days in which to provide said records once having received a written request. The exclusion to this policy is if a court order mandates that a parent not have access.

But what about communication, written and spoken, between parent and teacher? What I found online was surprising—policies fluctuated per school, per district, per state-- and then I remembered that I had once been in the same shoes as this particular teacher. I had been confronted by a woman who set up a meeting with a team of teachers, and then used it as an opportunity to embarrass me. Why her son could not behave was a problem that went beyond the structure I could provide as a teacher with 28 or so other kids in the room, and 600 per week on my books total. Her anger and frustration that this behavior appeared in my class and not in English or Math confounded her, but as I saw her anger pour out, visibly and inappropriately, I developed a new understanding for why her boy was a thorn in my side. Look at the example she set. My art class was a non-graded, specialist class without exams, and we met once weekly, by the way—there is no accountability for the student, at least not one he will take seriously under this design. The boy’s mother had no fear of saying what she said to me in front of several teachers. In fact, she was proud of herself. I was visibly pregnant at the time, and entirely shaken with her hostility. Teachers consoled me after the incident, but no one defended me, and no one intervened. No administrator took me aside later to say that they would put a guarded policy in place for dealing with this woman. I almost turned in my resignation. I was 27 at the time, too young to know I had choices. Apparently, after enough incidents like these, other schools have begun to construct their own policies regarding parent-teacher communication. What schools really want these days is protection—not just from parent hostility, but out-of-control students as well.

If a parent defies the initial right to speak with the teacher (due to untoward behavior), communication then takes the route of privilege. One school in Washington State has an email policy which limits communication by email severely in order to prevent two things: massive amounts of emails for a teacher to read and respond, and cyberbullying. Isn’t it tragic that we have come to this? The policy stated that all emotional or highly complex matters be handled in person. A teacher I know at a second school told me once that if a parent is really interested in his child’s welfare, then he will come in person for a full sit-down conference. The parent she was referring to specifically was one that had refused to visit the child’s school out of spite for his remarried and relocated ex-wife. She said, sadly, she has seen this many times before.

There were many sites that said administrators do not protect their teachers when confronted with what we now call Hostile Aggressive Parents. HAPs are not necessarily those that yell. They also threaten, manipulate, harass, criticize, and coerce. How tragic that this exists. Dealing with it is a tricky matter because HAPs think they are justified in their actions and do not see the damage they incur. Provoked fear is a victory for the HAP. Just imagine how the children of these parents must feel.

The teacher that I discuss today has had her right to terminate direct communication with this parent supported by her administrators. Her documented reaction to the difficult parent was noted in a court of law, as well. I do not know if the provoking parent has ever had his deeds truly explained to him, but I sincerely doubt it was worth the effort. Note that the parent’s communication regarding his child was not severed, but re-routed through the school’s administrator and counselor.

Sometimes, absence of law protects a person as much as the presence of one can. If this woman were mandated to work with this parent, imagine what she must endure. I read recently about a woman in another state’s school district who was arrested and jailed for her hostility with a teacher. The school had to call the police while the woman was ranting and thrashing about the building. One of the reasons I have been reluctant to return to teaching in both public and private schools is due to the lack of protection I felt as a young teacher all those years ago. I had trouble not just with some parents (although most provided wonderful relationships), but with a particular student who frightened me so badly I was afraid to walk to my car alone after school. My administrator, when I told him this, laughed at me, by the way, and the child’s mother was less supportive. She endorsed her child’s use of profanity and threats with teachers in general. Eventually, this child was banned from the school. With problematic parents though, teachers are less lucky and have to endure much worse for longer before preventative measures can be put in place.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Heaven Sent

My husband skydives. He careens through the blue, reaching with outstretched arms toward a horizon that no matter how close he seems to fly, rolls away from him.

This past weekend, he filmed a team in a four-way competition. They won a silver medal (and he as well) for their skillful acrobatics in the firmament. For a view of such wonders, visit the video my husband captured with the camera on his helmet as he followed the four-way from the heavens downward.

I asked him the other night as I watched the jumps unfold from the safety of our shared office, if skydiving felt real. In the video, land from above shifts with its sudden patterns of forested versus cultivated and populated, river versus earth, browns and greens laid out in skewed patchwork. To me, the video reminds me of those flying dreams I had as a child. And I can almost feel the cold air rushing me in memory even as I watch this thing, this amazing thing that he does, this thing that cannot be real to an earthbound person such as myself.

Soon, my husband will tumble from a plane for his thousandth jump. While I don’t share in his obsession with the sky, at least not from the same point of view, I plan to be there and celebrate with him.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Feathers and Friends

Every morning since spring, Herbert and Frances rifle through the grass of the front yard. These mourning doves are usually accompanied by one squirrel in particular, Chuck. Today, Chuck was not around. Curious about whether or not he had another social engagement, I began to wonder about documented social relationships among these critters.

Acccording to, the doves are likely a mated pair (BFFs that forage for seeds more than they would insects, surprisingly), but nothing was really said about the relationship between the birds. Most other sites said the birds mate for life, but one claimed their relationships last seven to ten years. Interestingly, the birds will find a new mate if they lose their current love to death. I don’t suppose divorce is an option, but then these birds shun relationships outside their pairing, thus likely removing the temptation to get it on with a nesting neighbor.

But what about Herbert and Francie’s relationship with Chuck? Is this some kind of bizarre animal kingdom threesome? Squirrels are usually considered a threat to birds’ nests, and unlike doves, they don’t bond with a pair, but have multiple complex social relationships. Maybe, in this magical neighborhood, Chuck extended his usual network to include Herbert and Francie due certain commonalities. In fact, recently we did see an incredulous episode among birds, one unfortunate squirrel, and a local hawk. The birds did their best to chase off the hawk, who ignored them completely from his roost on a phone pole. The beast then shocked everyone by dipping suddenly in flight, picking a squirrel off my back fence, and returning to his roost with the fresh entree to dine. The birds never stopped harassing this predatory intruder. Maybe, they even sent the late squirrel’s family some flowers. You just never know around here.

There are anomalies in every group of wildlife everywhere-- things we cannot explain. I have been quite amused by Chuck’s foraging alongside Herbert and Frances this year, and I am hoping desperately that Chuck did not become a meal for the hawk, as this is not my first sighting of such a thing here. The doves, however, did not seem to be fretting too terribly over the absence of their fluffy tailed friend.

By the way, I did come across this wonderfully amusing article about what squirrels think of human behavior. You should visit here to read

Noted sites in the quest for dove behavior are below, just in case you were curious:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gardening from Within

A friend and I had a long talk this year about weeds in our gardens—metaphoric weeds that bring complicated, emotional messes to what could otherwise be a productive, fruitful life. I seem to have taken a year’s frustration with my worst “weed” and have channeled that energy into the yard. The front of the house is tidy, clipped, and visually organized. Dead growth has been pruned to make room for new green. There are a few spots of color in annuals on the porch and at the edges of the house. While I have not done what I would really like to do, what I have right now is good—a modified plan, which is workable, looks nice, and has potential. If you were to drive by our home, you would think, “Someone cares.” And we do. We love it here very much. I feel my own roots settling into place here as I pull mint from the garden and check the plum tree for imminent fruit-bearing. I tug weeds from flower beds and remove vines from the shrubs. Making some of the changes was scary at first—just ask the holly bushes, who are now filling out again after a major cutting two weeks ago. I hope they speak encouragingly to the gardenias.

You know, you can’t always reason with a gardenia. It’s why I wield a saw.

Please forgive me, but this one beautiful gardenia which towered over the front porch has been cut into compliance and it now matches in height its partner—a supposed twin gardenia-- on the other side of the porch. This year’s snow seriously weakened all my bushes, and I am hoping a good trimming helps recoups a loss in strength. The aforementioned twin does not bloom as profusely nor does it do so at the same time. Now, they can sit together, the sorry mates they are, and grieve their new reduction in height together. What the bushes don’t know is that I need to be able to sit on my porch and see kids play in the yard, as well as not get mugged because some criminal has hidden behind a giant bush. In the meantime, I will ply the plants with fertilizer and prayers.

This summer, the backyard will see a coming to Jesus as well. My husband and I earmarked certain bushes and trees for trimming or removal. We fantasized about building a garage should we ever buy this place. I mused about the possibility of moving trumpet vine to the fence and my husband suggested tomatoes in the back of the yard. In the meantime, I have horribly abused a hedge by the deck. My secret hope is that I killed it and can replace it with a nicer looking bush, maybe even, more gardenias. If it grows back, the bush at least will be humbled and more containable. My husband looked at the poor stubs left sticking out of the ground and said, “Don’t ever let me get you angry.”

Yesterday, I extricated our power cable from a crazed, wandering series of grape vines and one smothered plum tree. It required a certain deliberate unbraiding, clipping, de-puzzling, and gentle pulling, all of which I had to do without coming so near the cable that I might slip off the ladder or worse, hit the cable with my metal clippers on the way down. When I was done, I felt relief that the task was accomplished, and I could see better what needed to be addressed in that area of the yard. I spent an hour doing in the yard what I had spent the last year of my life doing within a court of law for my children.

Now, I can see the fruits of my labors, the blossoms that will return next season, and the potential for growth.

Happy gardening, everyone, both in and out of your yards.