Friday, October 10, 2014

Random Sightings

     It's been a crazy week! I drive back and forth to work every day and usually it is pretty uneventful. But this week has been different. I don't know if it was the full moon this week, or that I changed up my routes to do some errands...but there were just some odd things going on.
     The first random thing I saw was on Monday. I had gone to get my nails done right after work and then my car was so disgustingly dirty that I decided I needed to get it washed. I didn't want to spend too much time so I thought I would drive through the car wash at the Chevron station. On the main street of our town, between the nail salon and the Chevron, I notice a woman, probably about 40-45 years old. She was walking in the opposite direction I was going. Not strange. A lot of people walk up and down Grand Avenue. What was strange was that I noticed she was not wearing any shoes. And then I noticed she was wearing a nightgown. Yep. A nightgown. It was pink with flowers on it and it looked like a long t-shirt. She was very determinedly walking away from, or to, some place. If traffic had allowed I would have stopped and asked her if she needed help. Put it didn't seem like she wanted help. I went around the block to see her again and she was gone. There are no houses in that area of Grand Ave. and no real businesses...Hmmm...strange.
     The second random thing I saw while driving I saw yesterday, Thursday. I took a different route home from school because I had to mail some letters. The street took me past the Santa Maria Cemetery. As I stopped for a red light I looked to my right and there were two older gentlemen in lawn chairs sitting by a grave in the middle of the cemetery. They were just sitting out there talking and drinking (looked like beer but it could have been soda.) They both had hats on and their feet stretched out; pretty comfy looking. I just thought that was random. Maybe they were visiting with an old friend? Maybe this was a ritual they promised each other they would do?
     Last night, after I got home, my husband and I drove to San Luis to check out some night stands I had seen on Craig's list. (We bought them...they were a good price and in nice shape.) We were looking for the address of the seller, going slowly through a neighborhood. At one corner there was a young man ( maybe mid to late 20's) walking along with a wheelbarrow full of bricks. I looked up the street in the direction he had come from. No truck. No construction. No big pile of bricks. I looked in the direction he was walking. No truck. No construction. No landscaping going on. No big pile of bricks. Where was he coming from and where was he going to? He had gotten to his destination, I guess, by the time we found our address, bought the night stands and returned down the street, because he wasn't anywhere to be seen. I wonder what he was building?
     And, on the same street, we drove by a parade float with a big whale on it. It was probably 10 ' long and the tail rose up about 7' at the back. No people. No real decorations. No lights. The tail was pointed up and across the top of the flukes was a black and white sign. But I couldn't read what it said. So I'm wondering: does this float live here all the time? Was it on its way to somewhere? Who built the whale and why a whale? Did the neighbors think it was o.k. that there was a whale in front of their house? It didn't look friendly.
     Life is random and quite fascinating if you take the time to look around. The more I find, the more I like to look. It makes me wonder what's going on that I don't see.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Kitchen Remodel

     In June of this year we decided, after living with our kitchen for 37 years in this old house, that we would take the plunge and remodel the kitchen. I, maybe not so much my husband, had been planning on a new kitchen for 36 of the 37 years we have lived in this house. I think the beginnings of a plan started the day I prepared the first Thanksgiving dinner on 3' of counter space. Yep, that's all I had. And every year since then I have envisioned counter space to spread out on; to be able to do more than one thing at a time on. Once you put a mixer on that space you barely had room for all the ingredients needed to make cookies or whatever else you want to make that day. And where do you lay out the cookies to cool? Where is the place for another person to help cutting and chopping and, well, anything else one would like help with in the kitchen. I'll tell you: they were non-existent. Being the creative person I am, I made room for cooling cookies by putting up a portable table in the walkway. I planned so that I could do a holiday dinner over several days. Since my kids got married I have delegated holiday dinners to my daughter, Jennifer, and my daughter-in-law Joscelyn. They both were happy to take on the chore even though the kitchens in their apartments were not even as big as mine! And mostly we reduced our fancy multi-course dinners to more simple occasions: meat, vegetable, salad, dessert, instead of the huge dinners of multiple choices.
     Now, I must digress here and tell you a little about my old kitchen. This house was built either in the late teens of the 20th Century or the 20's. (One of these days, I'm going to look it's on my list of things to do!) Life was simpler then. The kitchen had room for a wood burning stove, (that took up probably 4' to be safe) a sink with storage underneath, (probably one of those lovely old porcelain sinks with drain-boards incorporated on both sides) that probably ran 5' and maybe some kind of Hoosier cabinet that took up the last 3 feet of space. That's it folks! There was a dining room attached with an archway between and in the dining room were two doors. A small 2 1/2 ' door to a walk in pantry and a small 2'x4' high door that opened to an ice box that drained into the sand under the raised foundation. Above the sink there were three windows (people didn't use upper cabinets in those days.) At some point in the 60's (pretty sure about the date because of the colors) the kitchen was remodeled. The windows were reduced to one, above the sink, and a stove/oven was installed with cabinets running all along the wall where the sink was. A gold Formica counter top was put in and a really poor tile job was attempted. A refrigerator was put around the corner in a utility room. The dining room, pantry and ice box were left intact.
     I thought it was charming! What did I know? I was 21 years old buying my first house that had an old ice box and  coved (rounded cornered) ceilings, not to mention a beautiful hand made, natural rock fireplace in the living room. It was love at first sight!
     But it was with great glee that we finally had the funds to remodel. Counter space was to be the main focus. Trying to stay true to the age of the house but still being more modern was high on the list also.
     The first thing I did was flip the dining room and kitchen. Goodbye arch, pantry and old ice box. Their time had come. We gutted both rooms, a feat that took the contractors three days as our walls were lath and plaster. I chose white appliances, antiques light fixtures, bead-board cabinets, (very few upper cabinets and they have textured glass in them) a farmhouse sink with faucets coming out of the wall. A white-washed wood floor. I think it turned out bright, vintage modern and charming.
     You would think that after planning for that many years, I would have thought of EVERYTHING! You'd be wrong. The kitchen is not finished yet but there are some glaring issues I did not consider. #1 is that I did not plan for a garbage can. Hmm. I can put a small one under the sink but I don't have room for a bigger one. #2 is that I didn't plan for the cat's food bowl. We planned for his new cat door because his old one used to be in the dining room window, (the last 15 years that room has been used as an office) but now I need to find a place to feed him. #3 I did not plan for a junk drawer. One might ask, "Do you really need a junk drawer?" Probably not. But faced with the stuff that was in the junk drawer I am left with the inevitable question of where to put these items and, more importantly, will I remember where they are living when I need them?
     Luckily, those are my only issues (so far). Everything else has tuned out exactly how I dreamed it would be. I have enough counter space now to take a nap on. I am ecstatic! All my appliances are actually IN THE KITCHEN! All the surfaces are easy to clean and maintain and my antiques fixtures look amazing. I think with a little creative thinking I can solve the problems that have come up. Come on! If I can cook 36 years of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners in 3' of space, I CAN DO ANYTHING!

Friday, September 26, 2014

What Do We Have Here?

     Two months ago I was in the market for a new plant to install in a planter my best friend Nancy gave me many moons ago. It is an old metal bucket out of the mines in, I think, Borax. Any who..., I have had this planter on the side steps of my porch for many years and had a Coral Bells: Marmalade plant in it; the one that looks like fall leaves. So beautiful. But I guess over the years it became root-bound and it eventually died, even with many valiant efforts to keep it going. So I went to one of our local nurseries and poked around until I came upon a plant with bright long, shiny, green leaves and pretty clusters of red flowers with tiny yellow flowers seemingly protruding from the middle of said red flowers. (It's called Tropical Milkweed, picture to the right.)
 I took the nursery lady's word that it like water (it sits in line with one of my sprinklers) and that the Monarch butterflies like it. "That's cool," I said. "I like to attract small wildlife when ever I can." "Well," she said, "This'll do it."
          Now, I must add here that we live just about a mile from one of the major migration layovers for the Monarch. They spend the summer down in Mexico and come up into different spots in the United States, one of them being nearby Pismo Beach, and stay here from November to February.
     My plant was doing fine but, about a month ago I noticed, when I came home one day, several Monarchs feasting on the nectar of the flowers. Oh, I thought, that lady was right, they do like these flowers. I watched for about 10 minutes, afraid to disturb them. They hung around for a couple of days, on and off, and then they were gone. Well, I thought, maybe as the plant gets bigger next year, more will come. Won't that be nice?
     Three days ago, as I was walking up my steps, I noticed that there were some small holes in some of the leaves of the plant. Hmmm, What was eating my plant? I looked closer and, lo and behold, there was one of these critters on the underside of one of the leaves. A pretty little caterpillar, but it really wasn't very little. It was about 2" long. I took a picture, meaning to look it up on line. I showed my husband the picture and he looked it up and we realized it was a Monarch caterpillar. Within two days the plant was full of them. In a count this morning I found over 2 dozen of these babies on that plant, happily munching away at the leaves and the seed pods.
     I don't think they will kill the plant but they are stripping the leaves from the stems, leaving the hard husks of the seed pods and the main veins of the leaves to wither. But they are not invading the main stems or the new growth at the bottom of the plant (unless they just haven't gotten there yet!) According to the web site they are fattening up to go into the next stage: chrysalis. Here's the cycle:
Sept/Oct - the 4th generation is born - egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult butterfly . . . but THIS generation does not die. It MIGRATES south and lives 6-8 months in Mexico or Southern California. They begin awakening and mating in February/March of the NEXT SPRING, and then lay their eggs! Withered and tattered from their migration and hibernation . . . they finally die.  
     So I guess we are hosts to this 4th generation; the one that lives the longest! We are going to be seeing the chrysalis develop soon. And then we will have to track the days (10) and watch them emerge. I can hardly wait. What a cool thing to be a part of. I will gladly forfeit the plant and plant dozens more next year if this is the outcome. Mother nature puts on a great show!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A New School Year

     I haven't posted in the last month or so. I have been having fun posting to my other, new blog. Find the Welcome page here: It is all about my daily life as a high school teacher. I wanted to start the new blog before school got going so I was busy doing that and getting ready for the new year. We had some changes this year (school districts just can't leave well enough alone!) Our campus has been on a block schedule for over 10 years, long before I started my tenure here. It was a nice schedule: 3 block periods a day every day. The students took 3 classes in the fall and 3 in the spring, very similar to the semester schedule of many colleges.
     When I first started to teach on this schedule I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep the kids busy for 95 minutes at a time. But I quickly learned that I could do so much more with 95 minutes: group work, monitored essay writing, daily SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), art projects, days in the computer labs that actually produced a nice volume of work, etc... Now, we are back to a 6 period day, (the norm for a lot of high schools in the United States and the schedule most people my age grew up with) and it is proving difficult to adjust. The school day is longer, we teachers get here earlier than we used to and stay an extra 1/2 hour. That is because we have to have 10 minutes passing periods because our campus is so large, so those extra 3 passing times add on to our day. Since I require a certain amount of work from my students, (quite a bit this year because I have all Juniors) and now there is only 50 minutes in a class, there is not enough time in a day to do everything I used to do, so they have more homework. And the activities we have done, have taken longer. Take for instance their common notebooks formatting. I am used to being able to do that in 2 days. This year it took 4 1/2 days. A trip to the library, to check out books, pretty much takes up an entire period. And now I have 130 kids all at one time, which means I had to have more copies of everything done at once. Add to all of this; we are trying to fuly implement the new Common Core standards, which means I had to revamp much of my curriculum to accommodate them. And I find I am really tired. Just so much more to attend to everyday. I am hoping as the months go on that I will acclimate to this new schedule.
     The students are adapting; some faster than others. the Juniors and Seniors are having a hard time of it. The Freshmen don't know any different, so they are not stressed. The Sophomores are busy grumbling. It means all students take 6 classes a day and because we do not have the budget for class sets of books, all the kids have to carry, sometimes, up to 5 big textbooks around all day. We no longer have lockers on this campus, (they were removed many years ago and they are quite costly to maintain) so the burden is on the kids. Here's what I've noticed: Kids walking around with backpacks on but carrying their books. Why don't they put them in the backpack? Because they're not used to carrying books. When we were on the block schedule only 1/2 the population took, say, English, at a time so we had enough books to have class sets, which meant the kids didn't have to carry around their books everyday. It looks really odd they way they do it. And it not as if their backpacks look full already. I guess it will take all of us a time to adjust.
     So, if you are looking for me, I will be posting every school day on my other blog "Good Morning, Mrs. Nelson!"  I'm not giving up this blog, so don't worry! I will be back to rant and ponder and opine, hopefully on a regular basis. And for those of you who have been following me, I am hoping to publish my personal essay work (blog posts included) in the near future. I'll keep everyone posted as that process goes along.
     In the mean time, the day is almost over for me. I need a nap!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


     It has been 37 years since we moved into this house. We had been married 2 years and moved from Bakersfield, CA to Grover City. (Yes, now it is called Grover Beach. The city changed its name formally quite a few years ago to capitalize on the fact that it has access to a beach and, I think, because the city officials wanted it to sound more vacationy like Pismo Beach and Shell Beach.) The first 6 months we lived on the Central Coast, (as in the Central Coast of California) we lived in a mobile home out in Arroyo Grande, on the road to Lake Lopez. The couple that owned the mobile home were good friends and neighbors of my husband's grandmother. They had recently retired and decided to take a 6 month RV trip around the United States. We house-sat for them. Rent was $80 a month. It was heaven! The mobile home was part of a small park, just one road long, with the homes sitting on one side that gave them all views of greenery. It was quiet on that road that wound away from the main road to the lake. We had a huge yard and a creek that ran through the back yard. We had deer and other wildlife including quail every morning and evening. After the owners returned from their trip we moved for a short time into another mobile home in the park but started looking for someplace more permanent.
     We found our house. It was an old Spanish style house with a flat roof (but a facade of tile so you couldn't really tell it was flat) dirt front and back yards on a lot that was only 50' wide but 100' deep. It didn't look like much from the outside but I could see it had potential. We walked in and I fell in love! It had coved ceilings in the living room and a large, natural rock fireplace. It had an arch between the kitchen and dining room  and was two bedroom, 1 bath. In the dining room was a walk-in pantry that contained the original ice box, for you see, this house was built in the early 1900's. Before refrigerators and forced air heating.
     But, the kitchen. I don't know whether the charm of the house skewed my vision or at the time I thought it was just old and quaint, or if I figured we would surely have enough money to change it, but the kitchen was impossible. Now, I should mention that I have been living and cooking in this kitchen since the day we moved in. The kitchen consisted of a stove with a double oven, (made in the 60's, they don't make them like this any more.The second oven looks like a microwave above the cook top but it is all one unit) 3 ft of counter space, a sink and 2 more feet of counter space. That's all. The room was 9'x11' but the counters stuck into that so the floor space was only 6 1/2' wide. There was no dishwasher. There was no refrigerator in the room. At the end of the 11' was a doorway leading out onto what used to be a utility porch that had, at some point, been enclosed and dry-walled. In that utility room was the refrigerator.
     The first thing we did was install a garbage disposal. Then, in a year or so we installed a small dishwasher to the right of the sink, where a column of drawers had been. We moved the drawers to a part of the pantry. And that was it. Over the years we had children, lost jobs and got new ones. But never had the money for a renovation. So I have cooked in this kitchen for 37 years, yes, even preparing holiday dinners on that three feet of counter space (the 2' on the other side of the sink was taken up by the coffee maker and a little shelf that held coffee accouterments) and had to go into the utility room to get anything out of the fridge. Some things one just gets used to over time.
     It is 7:35 in the morning as I type this. We are expecting a contractor within an hour. Demolition on the kitchen starts today. Finally, after 37 years, I will actually have about 10' of counter space, all new cabinets and appliances and a refrigerator in my actual kitchen! Call me happy! I will miss the walk-in pantry but will take the space in the utility room where the fridge once lived and build a new pantry. But most of all I will miss the original icebox and the arch from kitchen to dining room. I tried to configure the new kitchen to keep them but they just take up too much real estate and when you are dealing with a room that will be 11'x18', some things just will have to go.
     I have been planning this new kitchen in my brain for so many years, it seems impossible that it is actually coming to fruition. Will I miss the old kitchen? No, except in the fact that it was a personal achievement every time I actually cooked or baked in there. But I plan on enjoying my new kitchen. I will have enough counter space to take a nap on! (Not that I would, but I'm going to be very tempted!) Wow! I can't wait!  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Version 2.0

     It's summer again. Actually it is almost exactly half way through summer for me. I used to love summer as a kid. All kids do. We used to get three entire months off for summer vacation; beginning in the early days of June and lasting until the Tuesday after Labor Day. Now THAT was a summer. Now we get out in mid-June and return to school in mid-August. Of course we now get three weeks off for Christmas (excuse's called Winter Break) and an entire week off for Thanksgiving (which they still call Thanksgiving Break) and a week off for Easter (which of course can't be called Easter Break but Spring Break) that , at least in our district, includes an additional day off for Good Friday. But, I digress...back to summer.
     Last year in May I wrote a blog called "Summer"
In that post I recounted all the things I had on my list of things to do during the summer. As a teacher, I think this is a fairly common thing for us to do. There is just not enough time in the school year to get done, all the things we want to do. Looking back at that list, I had a lot of things I wanted to get accomplished and I did get some of them done but not all of them. (To be truthful, I really didn't expect to get them all done; too much pressure!)
     I don't know what happened this year. It was a very stressful school year. We had a lot of issues with negotiating between the CTA Union and our district (I try not to get into the politics of it all but it does reflect on our daily teaching, and I think on the kids also.) This brought up conflicts between the staff. I eventually just had to back away from it all, close my class room door and teach, which is what I am there to do. One of the main issues in dispute (beyond the issue of a pay raise which is always at the front and center. Come on... we hadn't had a raise in 7 years!) was the district's action of taking away the ability of us choosing our own schedule, which we have been doing every other year for as long as anybody can remember. We ended up going from our lovely block schedule to what is called the 5 and 2. A 6 period day where one teaches 5 periods with a prep during the day and an additional prep before or after school. This necessitated revamping all the curriculum and ancillary lesson plans. And we didn't have much time to do it all. A very stressful time, indeed.
     Which brings me to the list making for the summer.
     As one can see from the list, I didn't take this year as seriously as I did last year. As a matter of fact, I didn't even come up with a list until my husband, Doug, bugged me about not having one. (Yes, he makes fun of my summer list because it is usually, o.k. always, over the top with expectations, and he knows me well enough to know I will not get them all done.) So, here, in all it's glory is THE LIST FOR SUMMER 2014! Items in no particular order, certainly not in importance!
  • Clean my keyboard (I actually got that done this morning!)
  • Sleep late as many days as possible. Check! (How about all but one so far?)
  • Leave stuff where I've been. Check! (This is called Jody happenings)
  • Not do the dishes Check! (If I leave them for any longer than a couple of hours the kitchen fairy does them: Doug.)
  • Drink more than one cup of coffee in the morning. Check!
  • Try to make Biscotti again. (Nope.)
  • Play in my sewing room. Check!
  • Clean out bathroom medicine cabinet. On my list for tomorrow!
  • Read. Check! On my 4th book.
  • Go out to breakfast. Check!
  • Go out to lunch. Check!
  • Go out to dinner. Check!
  • Play with cat. Check!
  • Harass Doug. Because I can. Check!
  • Work at quilt show. Check!
  • Change toilet paper rolls as needed. Check!
  • Write blog and novel when I feel like it. Check!
  • Swiffer floors when I feel like it. Check!
  • Visit with friends. Check!
  • Go to garage sales. Check
  • Not think about school. Well, mostly check but as all you teachers out there know, this is virtually impossible. I have done some research and some new lesson plans.
  • Stay up late. Check!
  • Finish all the episodes of Breaking Bad. Check!
  • Go to the movies. Check!
  • Eat popcorn. Check!
  • Get the mail. Check!
  • Check email. Check!
  • Play "Words with Friends." Check!
  • Play "Hanging with Friends." Check!
  • Play "Chess with Friends." Check!
  • Get my nails and toes done. Check!
  • Check my Facebook and post pictures. Check!
  • Visit Melody (my Acupuncturist) Check!
  • Go shopping with my Jennifer. Check!
  • Talk with my best friend, Nancy. Check!
  • Miss my David. Check!
I think it's great that this year's list has been so successful! I have three weeks of summer left and really, don't have anything to do except make Biscotti and clean out the medicine cabinet. Yay!

Thursday, July 10, 2014


     I hear them calling from the pantry. I hear them everyday. They are hard to ignore. Crispy, salty, yummy potato chips.
     At this current moment I have 4 types of chips in my pantry, because you know, one is just not enough. I need ( like that word need?) to have a selection that I choose from everyday. Oh, please, let's be frank here...I put a little of all of them in a bowl, a smorgasbord of chips, to enjoy with my afternoon iced tea or coffee, a good book and, if I can convince him, my cat on my lap.
     I have shamefully gotten into this habit in the past school year. Coming home every afternoon, and rewarding myself with this hour of luxury, which actually sometimes turns into a full on napathon (my new word; look for it soon in a dictionary because I think it will catch on!)
     Since I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and had gastric surgery three years ago, I have been battling stomach and digestive issues. I have given up so much. And one would say, "But you feel so much better. Isn't it worth it?" Well, yes. In some ways it IS worth it. I physically feel better, but on the inside my whiney, food-addicted self has not been a happy-go-lucky girl.
     Since doctors were not helping me solve my body's issues, I started going to an acupuncturist who is trained in Oriental Medicine. The first thing she had me give up was dairy. ACK! No cheese! It helped my issues. The next thing I gave up was gluten. I do not have Celiac Disease (I really feel for those that do) but my system sure liked being without gluten so, we decided I have a gluten sensitivity. Two wins! I lowered my intake of sugar, leaning more toward Stevia and honey. That helped also. Three points for the better. I've lost weight. Yay! Not going to be on a commercial or anything for rapid weight loss but every pound has made a difference.
     I tried many of my favorite things when I became food sensitive, just testing the waters, like a good food addict would. Through trial and error (more error than success unfortunately) I have discovered I can eat my home-baked gluten free bread but most of the store bought brands do not like me. I have learned that taking the time to make crackers was a complete failure. I have come to the conclusion that I do not have the "gift" just like I found out a long time ago I do not have the "gift" to produce flakey pie crusts. You bakers out there, you know what I'm talking about. Some people have it some people don't. That's just the way it is. I tried some lactose free dairy items...found out that it is not the lactose (sugar) in the dairy I seem to be allergic to but the casein (protein). Even in some of the dairy free products the manufacturers add casein. I found out I don't handle soy very well either, which is used in many vegan food items. And the list goes on and on, and depressingly on.
     So, one day I was sitting at my desk in my classroom and I decided I wanted to go next door to the 7-11 store (so convenient) and get an iced coffee. I picked up a bag of potato chips. Read the label. Potatoes, oil, salt. Hmmmm....I ate them with trepidation. And waited. Usually when I eat something my system doesn't like, my body lets me know in about an hour. I was pleasantly surprised as my body accepted the chips. But once was not enough to set the precedent. So I followed that up with another couple days of experimentation. Hooray! I was able to tolerate chips. So, the addiction developed (like I wasn't addicted to enough food already.)
     Now, so many people would probably tell me, or anybody that would listen, that potato chips are the worst food one can eat. I have considered giving up chips but I have come to the decision that I am done giving up. I'm taking a stand; drawing a line in the sand. On one side will be the world of doctors and health enthusiasts. And on this side will be me, with my food allergies and a smile on my face; holding a bag of chips. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014


     I stand, staring at the wall. Up close. Back away. Squinting my eyes to see if there is anything that doesn’t look right. One thing that stands out amongst the rest.
     I built this literal wall. It is built of Styrofoam insulation covered in flannel. It is a design wall in the room where I do my quilting and it’s in continuous use. As I create my quilts I put up the individual blocks, as I sew them, turning them this way and that; moving them from one side to the other. My wall gives me the opportunity to change the pattern, and redirect the colors, and depth of colors, until the entire project is pleasing to my eye. I have come to this wall late in life. On this wall I pour out my creativity for anyone to see. But this wall is different than my past experiences with walls.
     I believe everybody builds walls. They protect us from a myriad of things in our lives. I built a wall around myself when my mother died, of cancer, at the age of 49. It was easy then. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. It was so easy to put up that wall and hide in the joy of an impending baby on the other side. That wall did not come down until many years later as I was faced having to deal with another relative with cancer. Both my children had been born by then and I had nothing to support the wall any longer. I grieved then and for about a year after that. I still grieve sometimes for my mother, missing the relationship we could have had as I grew older.
     My son built a wall once. He was in high school when he was forced to dissolve a friendship with a good buddy. The young man in question had been new to the school and had lied about basically his entire life to gain friends and sympathy. David felt betrayed when the lies and pretense all came to light; when the young man got in trouble with the law. The courts sent David’s friend to another state to live with his mother, and as far as I know, David has never heard from him again. So my son built a wall in my kitchen. He started baking. Every day: after school, on the weekends and school holidays. Cookies and brownies and more cookies and muffins and yet more cookies. For several weeks this went on until it slowly died away, the wall crumbled and he stopped baking. He was grieving for the loss of a friend and for the loss of trust his friend brought into his life.

     As I was going through my credential program I was lucky enough to have some excellent master teachers for my student teaching assignments. My first class was with a Mr. Carson who taught seventh grade English at a local middle school. I thought it odd that he had taken yellow tape and marked off a square about two feet out from the edges of his desk. When I asked him what it was for he told me that it was his invisible wall and students had to ask permission to cross it. It kept students away from his grade book on the computer and his personal stash of teaching supplies. I marveled at how well his students respected this tape on the floor. A very short wall, but a wall never the less.
     When I first started teaching I built an emotional wall in my first classroom. I was determined to be taken seriously by the teenagers in my classes (yeah, I know… do teenagers take anything seriously?) and so I put up a thin emotional wall and made sure they were on one side and I was on the other. Every once in awhile one of my students would jump over that wall, and I would be taken with their humor and honesty, and their wonderful outlook on life. Once the wall was breached by a student that enjoy stealing from me; sodas out of my fridge, my special bathroom pass, nice pens off my desk, whole sticky pads, hall passes, water bottles and probably a lot more things I never noticed. He was good. I knew who this student was but never could catch him in the act.

     My second year of teaching I moved to a new school within the same district. As I dismantled my old room I decided not to put up the wall in my new school. I felt like I could hold my own without a wall. But it turned out, as much as I didn’t want to, that I had to construct a very short, thin, almost translucent wall that sits around me. As one gets to know teenagers, one gets to know their struggles and difficult lives. I have had students living in cars, locked out of their parents’ house, living with their entire family of 6 in one bedroom, sleeping behind city garbage cans. Ones that only come to school because it is one of the only places they can get food for free. Ones that come to school bruised and battered; ones that wear the same clothes day after day. The wall is to stop me from gathering these children up and taking care of all of them, which would truly be impossible. And now, as I go into my eighth year of teaching, I have let most of my students breach my wall. I have let my students into my territory because I have found that if you don’t let them in, you cannot expect them to respect you and learn from you. They have no patience for people who do not want to get to know them. I want my students to know that I am approachable and that I really do like them, or I wouldn’t be standing in front of them all day. And I have learned that for the most part they respect my personal space, even though there is no wall.
     So, now, as I have finally deconstructed the wall in my classroom, I begin to use a new wall in my sewing room. But this wall isn’t to keep things or people out. It is to release my creative spirit so that I can share it with others in my quilts, my art. I am happier using this wall than I was using my old walls. Maybe it’s age or wisdom, I don’t really know, but I have finally peeked over the emotional walls I used to build in my class room and found out that, for the most part, they‘re just not necessary. I’ve tried to impart this idea to the student teachers I have been honored to guide over the years. Tape on the floor is O.K. but anything taller than that their students won’t be able to jump over. You’ve got to reach ‘em to teach ‘em. (Wow, that was kind of poetic!)


Friday, May 9, 2014


     'Tis the season. On my way home from San Luis yesterday, on the back road, there was a home-made sign advertising blueberries. Yep, must be blueberry season. I didn't have time to investigate but I am assuming that these people have a fairly large area planted in blueberries, seeing that they want to sell them to the general public. Their sign was out last year, for the first time, and I contemplated stopping then, but never got around to it.
     I like blueberries. But I like them raw, uncooked; blueberry muffins were not my favorite back in the glory days when I could actually eat a Costco muffin. You know...those wonderful muffins Costco bakes, that you can smell from a mile away, as you're filling your tank at their gas pumps? Costco does that on purpose, you know...They do live up to the sensory hype. Even the basic ones have something like 45 grams of fat in them. With all that fat, and then added sugar; what's not to love? But the blueberry ones were not my favorite. In the fall, just in time for the holiday season, they put out a pumpkin with brown sugar streusel topping. OMG! And even though I am not a chocoholic, I must admit that the memory of the chocolate with chocolate chips was pleasant. Especially eaten with a nice hot cup of coffee. And their carrot cake cup cakes...oh, wait...I digress...we were talking about blueberries.
     So, I like my blueberries fresh from the vine, so to speak. Don't mess with them. O.K. you can put them in a fruit salad but no fancy dressing!
     Before I moved to Massachusetts, when I was in 4th grade, I don't recall ever having a blueberry. They are not indigenous to the West Coast. We talk oranges out here and in the Central Valley we talk almonds and melons. So, when I got to Massachusetts blueberries were exotic, new, revolutionary. I remember the first time I ate them. We had gone on a camping trip. And in a culvert under a bridge my mother found a patch of blueberry bushes. Me, my sister and mother spent the entire afternoon picking them off the bushes; my mother instructing us just which ones were ripe and juicy. How she knew so much about blueberries, I will never know. Maybe they grow in Minnesota, where she grew up? The gardening books do say they grow best where there is a natural frost, although you can buy varieties that grow well here on the coast of California.
     Anyway... back to the summer of my childhood. We ate blueberries with cookies that night; sprinkled with sugar and topped with some whipped cream my mom purchased from the little store at the campground office. And my mom put them on our cereal in the morning. We snacked on them for the time we were camping and before it was time to go home we revisited the patch and gathered enough to take home for my mom to make cobbler. Yum!
     But for most of my adult life, blueberries came at a premium, not free, on the side of the road. So up until a few years ago, I did not reacquaint myself with blueberries. I have come to the realization that I like them as much as I did when I was a kid.
     This year, as we were making improvements to our rather large backyard, I decided to have our handyman make me a raised planter. I wanted to plant boysenberries, another favorite of mine that can be costly. About the time the planter was finished I was at a nursery and, there in front of me, stood a display of blueberry bushes. It was late in the season (they had been bare root) and were discounted to half price. I picked the best one out; they were all pretty scraggly, (think Charlie Brown Christmas tree) and took my prize home to plant in my new planter box next to the thorn-less boysenberry plant. The plant I chose had a little cluster of berries, green and immature on one of its branches.
     Every couple of days I go out and check the bush to see how they are coming along. I had a dream the other night that big black crows had made a nest under the bush. A silly dream seeing that I have a cat and no bird in its right mind would make a nest on the ground in my backyard. But in my dream they were waiting for the berries to ripen. I went out in a panic to check on the bush the next morning. All was well, but I thought maybe I should prepare for the birds and get some netting or something. Maybe the cat will keep them away. All this for a handful of berries.
     But I look forward to the day, sometime in the not-too-distant future, I hope, that I can harvest enough of those blueberries to make a cobbler. I will have to see if I can find my mom's recipe.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Little Boy

     I love summers. One of the reasons I love summers is that it gives me extra time to make little day trips with my husband, Doug.When my husband was still working for Union Bank I would go with him, into The Valley (Fresno, Visalia, Hanford, Porterville, etc...) on his calls as an IT Servicer. We would download books from Audible and listen as we traveled for the day back and forth across California (usually about a 3 hour drive, one way.) We have gotten a ton of books read this way over the years. I like it because even though I am actively listening to the story I also get to watch people on the city streets and sight see along the way.
     We were heading home one afternoon from Lemoore, a small town in The Valley that is home to Lemoore Naval Air Station. I was tired, probably from eating too much at lunch and the book was droning on. I could feel myself beginning to have that desire to nod off; a little afternoon nap while Doug drove. We were driving on the outskirts of town through an area with a lot of apartment buildings; many of them looked to be low-rent. We stopped at a corner and waited for the light to change in our favor when out of the corner of my eye, off to the right, I caught a movement.
     In one of the apartments on the ground floor a curtain had moved. It was so hot outside, not many people were about; none in the apartment complex, as far as I could see. Doors and curtains were shut to the blasting heat of the early afternoon so common in The Valley. Temperatures of 100+ are a fact of life in the summer. People stay inside and tough it out. When the sun finally goes down, the temperatures do also, making outside activities mostly bearable.
     As we sat there at the light I continued to watch the window where I had seen the curtain move. A fraction of a minute went by and more movement. I could see a brown haired child doing something under the window. And then I saw the full view. The curtain parted a couple of feet wide, the back of a chair appeared and on the chair was a little dark haired boy, probably about 5 or 6 years old. In seconds he made himself comfortable, kneeling on the chair and propping his elbows on the windowsill. He then put his hand up to rest his cheek on, and proceeded to look this way and that, to see what he could see. As his eyes met mine, he smiled and waved and as the light turned, I tried to wave back but don't know if he saw me or not. I hope so.
     As we drove on and the story we were listening to unfolded, I thought about that little boy. His mom had probably told him it was too hot to go outside and play so he was stuck inside. It looked like the motions of his actions were well rehearsed, like he did this everyday, just to see what there was to see. A true people watcher.
     I will probably never get that way again now that my husband is retired. We still take day drives and listen to books but it is at our leisure now and certainly have found more comfortable places to travel in the summer. But every now and again, I think about that little boy and his happy face in the window. The heat wasn't bothering him. He had found something exciting to do. Who knows what he saw through that window every day? Maybe it will spark a desire to travel and meet people outside his little town. You just never know. But it was great having that singular, happy moment with him. It made my day :)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Bit of Randomness

     Today is Thursday. Well, that doesn't seem too important or momentous, I know. But this morning as I was driving to work, through our neighborhood, I saw the drink. There it was. I smiled.
     Since Sunday afternoon there has been a cold drink glass from Starbucks sitting on the side of the street, on the curb to be exact. Sunday, as I was driving somewhere, (I have no idea where now) I noticed it. I came over the hill on 12th street. Someone had left a totally full glass of an iced drink on the curb. It was sweating like it had just come out of a television commercial; cool and full of ice. It was dark pink in color; maybe a flavored ice tea? It sat there, a Vendi, looking like it had just been ordered; with the green straw and everything.
     Monday morning I was surprised to see it was still there. Tuesday: still there. Wednesday: still there. This morning, Thursday: still there. It stands, a little lighter in color from the bleaching glare of the sun, full and refreshing to look at.
     Now, I must add to this little story that the weather has been extremely hot for the past week. The beaches have been in the high 80's and low 90's. The inland temps have been in the triple digits.
     I don't know who left the drink on the side of the road. I wonder why, after 5 days,  it hasn't been disturbed. People walk up and down that street often, walking their dogs. Has no one touched it because people are holed up in their houses waiting for the heat to subside? Why hasn't it disappeared in the name of a cleaner environment? Or are people letting it stand to a testament of wishful thinking. Will it bring the cold weather back? Is it an offering to the rain Gods? A clever advertising gimmick by Starbucks? Maybe it is a fake glass of tea; glued to that spot on the curb. Subtle. It seems strange that even the wild animals that inhabit a near-by water preserve haven't bothered with it. Maybe the green straw freaks them out? I really don't know.
     It will be interesting to see just how long it stands. A lonely sentinel of hope and refreshing coolness. But more importantly a reason to smile in the early morning as people drive to their daily routines. I can hardly wait to drive to work tomorrow. I don't know how I will feel if it is not there.
     Isn't it funny how, sometimes, the smallest things just get to you?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Buzz Cuts

     I don't know if many of you have taken the time to notice, and maybe it is because I am around teenagers all day, every day, but the youth of this country are really setting trends in the hairstyle department, especially the boys.
     Every year brings a new crop of designs to the heads of the students on our campus. Yes, there is always the prerequisite colors. Red is a big on on our campus because red and white are our school colors. I find it interesting that no one ever goes for the white, and I must admit I have never seen a student stripe their hair red and white. Probably the next most popular color is purple, followed loosely by kelly green and then in a far fourth place, comes orange. And I am not even going to mention the black; dark inky black that many of the girls color their hair. And they are not Goths; very few of those in the Hispanic community. Interestingly enough, much of the hairstyle craze every year is shown off by the boys on campus. Nodding to the passage of time, we rarely see the Mohawk or the Mohawk Spike any more, thank goodness (not an attractive style on anyone, including Mr. T.)
     At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year the T.V. show Jersey Shores was a big hit amongst the younger crowd. We saw a lot of up-swept hairstyles on the boys, imitating those characters. But one really stood out. He was a freshman in my third block class. He worn his hair up-swept and it stood up almost 12 inches from the top of his head. I know this because I asked him if I could measure it! Picture an office trash can, made of hair, sitting on top of a head and you've got the idea. I asked him how he got his hair like that. He told me that his sister did it for him and it took her 2 hours and a lot of styling gel to get it stiff enough to last all day, which it did. He became pretty well known on campus and would let kids practice tossing paper balls into his "do" during lunch. He complained once that he had to go use the restroom during class because he thought some kids had thrown their baby carrots in his hair. Too funny. How could I not laugh?
     Around Christmas time he must have gotten tired of getting up two hours early to do his hair (or his sister put a stop to the craziness) because he came to school with his hair down. I was so shocked at how beautiful his hair was! It was thick (I suppose it would have had to have been to do the style) and swept his shoulder blades in length. I don't usually notice my kids physical appearance much but this was just such a reversal of his whole aura (he was still the class clown unfortunately :/) He wore it down for the rest of the year.
     So, fast forward to the beginning of the this school year. My student had passed on to being a sophomore. The first week or so I looked for him as I took my walks on campus. I didn't see him. Until about a month in when I saw him entering a math class. I had expected him to recreate his up-sweep hairstyle. But true to form he was now on to the latest craze the boys were sporting: a buzz cut with designs shaved into the hair on the top and sides of the head. He was too far away for me to see the design that day but I had plenty of other boys in my classes to get the idea. Some of them were team logos, some were lightening bolts, some were names. One kid had the audacity to have "805" shaved into his hair. This is a sign of gang affiliation and, much to his disappointment, the administration made him wear a beanie every day until it grew out.
     It will be interesting to see what type of interesting haircuts the kids will come up with next fall. Never a dull moment in high school!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rain and Wildflowers

     It's been so long since we have have any decent amount of rain here on the Central Coast of California. The last week it has been raining off and on, which has been such a gift. The hillsides around the county are getting green again. I am hoping that it brings out the wild flowers, in mass, this year. Even the mustard seed plant, that grows profusely in this area, (that some consider a weed) would be a welcome sight. It covers the hills and valleys and surrounds the back roads I prefer to drive. Legend has it that the mustard seed was sewn along the path the priests traveled (most believe they walked most of the time) as they set up the missions that expanded the Catholic Church up and down the Coast of California (following the trail that is called El Camino Real). I don't care how it got here. It is pretty to look at when it blooms.
     In my teenage years I lived in Bakersfield, California. It is located in the Central Valley of California. When the seasons behaved themselves, we would have spectacular displays of poppies (California's state flower, orange in color) and lupin, a low growing plant that produces stalks of purple flowers. Mixed into these would be the mustard seed plants, a bright yellow in color.
     Just as New England is famous for their fall leaves, the Central Valley is famous for the wildflower displays. Every spring it was well worth the time to take a Saturday or Sunday drive and go out into the foothills surrounding Bakersfield, encompassing small towns like Shafter and Delano, Taft, Buttonwillow and out to the rolling hills around Lake Isabella, to look at the wildflowers. Miles and miles of hills blanketed in purple, orange and yellow blooms. Sometimes they were mixed but more often the flowers claimed their territory a color at a time. Sweeping hummocks of purple, valleys of orange and flat mesas of yellow. It truly is one of the best features of that section of the state.
     And it is a big thing. I don't know if they still do this, but when I was living there in the mid '70's, the newspapers would track the wildflowers' emergence, day by day, and post when it was optimum viewing day. Both locals and visitors were kept up to date as the wildflower season progressed. And then, it seemed, just as quickly as it came, the season would be gone. And the beforehand beautiful hills and valleys would be back to their velvety browns and tans and taupe colors. Lovely too, but not as sight- seeing-worthy.
     We don't get as many wildflowers here on the Central Coast. People visit us to see our beaches and tour our wineries. But the mustard seed plants always take me back to those years in Bakersfield and the fantastic display we would all wait and hope for every year.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Gratitude: Verse 2

     Yesterday I got a dose of reality. In 2012 I had surgery for colon cancer. I was so lucky that when they did my surgery they were able to remove the entire mass and it had not spread anywhere else. The doctors think the tumor had been there for 5-7 years and had probably been cancerous for at least 2 of those years. I did not have to go through chemotherapy. I did not have to endure radiation. I did not have to take medicine with side effects. Everybody was happy: the surgeon, the oncologist, the general practitioner, my husband and family and me; I was ecstatic!
     Once you are diagnosed with cancer, there is always the possibility that it will return, either in its original form or in some other place in the system. So, for the first year after my surgery I met with an oncologist every three months and had blood tests done to look for "cancer markers." There were none. The first year spiraled into the second. Still no markers present. This year, I have only had to see the oncologist every 4 months. He tells me that if I can survive this year as is, I will be able to reduce the visits to every 6 months. Where they will stay until my 5 year mark (at which time they feel you are in remission; not cured, mind you, but in remission.) I don't know when they consider you "cured": 10 years? 20 years?
     In the two years I have been going to this doctor, I have always had good office visits. My tests have been clean, the office staff is a little aloof but efficient and pleasant (I think this is a defense mechanism. I'm sure they quickly figure out that to become too attached, or even personal, with a patient in their office, very often means a heartbreak down the road. Sadly, it is the nature of the disease. I can't fault them for this.) The oncologist is warm and caring and interested in what I have to say and does his best to answer all my questions truthfully. So, why is there a pit in my stomach before every visit?
     Because there is always the possibility that, this visit, I will get the news that something is just not right. Your world hangs motionless for a moment, and then all the questions come flooding into your brain so quickly, like they did when I was first diagnosed, that you basically just sit there and stare, with this spaghetti of thoughts. Luckily the doctors always have a plan (not their first rodeo) and they continue talking, giving you plans and options and slowly, ever so slowly, you come back to reality enough so that you can answer their questions, and by the time you leave the office, your brain has kicked into high gear and is already dealing with the ancillary of related topics: work, family, logistics, side effects, where will I search on the Internet to get information, and most importantly - how fast can I get home and cry?
     A simple walk to the bathroom in the oncologist office takes one past the chemotherapy rooms. And all these thoughts embark on their hopefully, fruitless journey. And the hollow feeling in my stomach lurches awake. I don't look at these people; it would be rude. But I know there is a room full of people and nurses and equipment. And I think: There, but for the grace of God go I.
     And when the visit is over, I sit in my car for a minute and try to think of the groceries I need to get before I go home. But it doesn't work. I close my eyes for a minute and let the feeling of gratitude wash over me.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


     It's final. I'm going to have to stop listening to my country western station in the car. This morning on my way to work, the first song I heard was about beer. The second song I heard was about beer. The third song I heard was about, you guessed it, beer. The fourth song I heard was about following your arrow, and how when you get stressed, light a joint. And to round it off, the final song, before I turned into the parking lot at school, was Keith Urban's "Cop Car." For those of you that haven't heard this song it's about a guy who falls in love with a girl in the back of a cop car. Really? Have we sunk so far that no one can write a decent song? Maybe a song about something other than beer and getting arrested, and glorifying both?
     I knew it going in. I admit it. I knew country western music was always about the sad life: the girl leaving the guy, the guy's dog dying and on and on. And don't get me wrong. There are still good songs out there. Patriotic songs, well written love stories, songs with beautiful instrumentals (I must say, as I get older I am being drawn to a well played acoustic guitar and even the new age banjo.) And these are why I started to listen to country western. I especially liked the fact that you can hear the music and I used to think it was a good thing that I could hear the words in the song. Now I'm not too sure that's a selling point for me.
     Maybe I am not the target market for this genre of music. I am a 58 year old white woman from California. Most of the songs tend to focus on the young men of the world. The ones with little responsibilities and the time to spend a whole day drinking beer on the end of a pier or on a hill top overlooking their hometown or the ones that frequent bars. According to the country music lyrics, this population of young men must be the target market.
     So this begs the question...why am I listening to it? The answer is simple. I cannot find, in my semi-rural area, a decent radio station that better caters to me. I used to listen to a modern rock station that I liked for quite a few years. And then someone came in and bought the station and the format changed. Not much, but enough for me to only like every third or fourth song. This was not worth my effort, so I switched.
     One might say, "Well, get yourself an ipod and create your own music station." I have an ipod. I have downloaded hundreds of songs that I like: country western and rap, modern rock, golden oldies like the Beatles, Elvis, the Beach Boys. I play these songs in my class room as the students are writing or working on projects. But that doesn't give me the radio personalities. I enjoy the jokes, the little contests, the camaraderie of the DJ's. It makes my morning light and the drive to work less tedious.
     What to do? What to do? I guess I'm either going to have to buck it up and succumb to my country western side or be satisfied with only one song out of four. Or, here's a thought...maybe I'll switch to a talk show. Hard to sing to but maybe I'll learn something. My brain will have to work. It's so early in the morning...heavy sigh...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Double Negatives

     I know I haven't blogged in a while. And I hate to start back now with a rant. But I just can't help it! I might scream.
     It has been bothering me for some time now that the world (and by world I mean singers of all genres, the general public and yes, even the news media) is talking and singing with more and more double negatives.
     "We don't have no where to go."
     "She don't love me no more."
     "I never get no love."
     ACK! As the Sunday comics' character Cathy might say. Only I really want to say more.
     Maybe it is because I am an English teacher, but I don't think so. But it could be that because I am constantly correcting (and I am talking daily, hourly, by the minute sometimes) my students. They look at me like I'm crazy. I tell them, "Please don't sound like you are unintelligent." (and sometimes, depending on my mood, I even use the word stupid. I'm sorry. Not really.)
     People who are educated do not use double negatives. Even if you come from a part of the country where the dialect uses double negatives, one can train oneself not to use them. Pretty easy. I don't know why country western singers, especially, use them. They make themselves targets for the argument that all Southerners sound stupid.) Let's face it, a great many country western singers come from the South. It's a fact.) And don't they want to set a good example for the young people that listen to them? Or are they just in it for the money? Hey, if it sells, it must be good? They are ruining my enjoyment of their talent and instrumental prowess. I'm going to have to change the station before I hear one more double negative and run my car off the road...into a deep ditch. My luck: the radio would be the only thing that survives and I would have to listen to the singers and their double negatives for days while somebody finds my mangled and broken body. Or worse yet, they would be the last thing I hear before I die...
     So why are people still using double negatives?
     (Sigh...) I don't got no idea.