Little Lucky, Please be Lucky

When it comes to animals, I am a mush, advocate, passionate caretaker and devotee. This passion did not arise from anyone in my family, at least as far as I know. I must admit that my passion for animals outweighs that for humans. Animals are honest and simply live free uncomplicated lives, unless humans intervene. Don’t get me wrong, human intervention can be good, but usually only after prior intervention has been very bad.

I have adopted many animals in my lifetime and loved every single guinea pig, cat, horse and guppy just the same and grieved at the passing of them all. In fact, I never seem to quite get over the agony of those one last trips to the vet.

Last night I found out one of my precious Boston Terriers has mast cell cancer — high grade. It was a shock because other then the suddenly ulcerated small spot on his hip, he’s been fine. We go to the vet on Thursday to talk about the chemo options. It will NOT be the last trip we make there with Brinkley.

What has inspired me to write today is the plight of another precious baby who is in bad shape as we speak. He is in the loving hands of a dedicated foster mother who is one of the proverbial ‘good guys’ who takes in pup after pup and prepares them for their forever home, letting go of the ones she has fallen in love with to make way for another needy soul. Lucky is one of those souls and now we are all praying that he finds his way through.

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Buzzy Burped!

Buzzhy TeethYep – it has been a while. Like months. I have emerged from the horrific winter that has just recently loosened its grip on everyone and everything. It’s hard to believe that a few short weeks ago snowflakes taunted our winter-tortured souls while today it is almost 90 degrees. Overnight it’s gone from winter to summer and the ugly gray mounds of melting snow piles have been replaced by robust bursts of blossoms and blooms! Then there is the grass: rich, juicy and sweet-smelling – a feast for horses who have also suffered through the long winter.

I have a horse who shivered in the winter cold despite his toasty stall and plentiful grain. Buzzy is my 23 year old rescued Standardbred, a former harness racehorse who did quite well during his racing career. I’ve had him since he was 8 and right off the track. Over the years we have myriad trials, tribulations and adventures, but those are for another chapter.
Actually, the story for today is rather simple. My boy is relegated to a paddock where he has great friends, but little grass. He is, however, constantly munching on some of the finest hay in these parts. Yesterday I drove out to the barn and decided to hand walk my buddy out to a gorgeously lush field that was oozing with grassy nutrients – nature’s gift after a difficult winter.

Buzzy could barely contain himself and when we got there he promptly buried his nose in what would later become the prized first cutting of hay of the season. Horses’ bellies are delicate mechanisms so I was wary of his munch time, but erred on the side of more time rather than less. When he brought his nose up without me pulling, I knew he was full, for the time being anyway.

We ambled on back to barn – a nice, lazy stroll – when suddenly – out came the loudest belch I have ever heard! The thing is – horses don’t burp! Most horses, that is. I’ve heard Buzzy burp once before, and it was after a similar round of spring grass.
So with his eyes glassy and his belly full, back home we went. No doubt the burp was his way of heralding in a much needed and deserved spring!

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Lure of Whittier, Alaska

WhittierThere’s a little city on Prince William Sound in Alaska called Whittier. Its population is approximately 200, and of those, 75 percent live together in a 14-story high rise named Begich Towers. But not only do most of the town’s people live in the towers, so do most of its municipal services as well as a laundromat, small convenience store and even a school.

The tower stands sandwiched between the sound and a steep mountain range and the views are reportedly astounding no matter which way you look.  Only two routes allow passage to Whittier; one is through a 2-plus mile, single lane tunnel and the other is by boat. In winter, boat is not an option, so anyone needing to come and go must wait for the times when the tunnel is open in the direction they need to go. But it’s not just directional vehicle schedules, people must also work around the trains that bring supplies and transport other materials to and from Whittier.

Built shortly after World War II, Whittier was the U.S.’s western outpost during the Cold War, and it housed military personnel assigned to that duty. In fact, Begich Towers, and another, now eerily abandoned and desolate building, were built to house the military personnel who were stationed there.

Why do I write about this funky place strapped between ocean and mountain where 200 some people live under one roof? Because it absolutely fascinates me, wondering what it’s like, especially during the winter when snow is relentless and winds often blow at 60 mph. What is it like to be inside, side-by-side with the same people day in and day out? Do the people socialize? Do they get sick of each other? Do  they get depressed with the weather, their isolation and the long nights of the far north?

Nevertheless, I find myself wanting to see what it’s like to live in this precariously unique place, and more specifically, in its tower. I yearn for the safety of a winter spent cozily protected from driving on treacherous roads or schlepping through deep snow and slush. I envision looking out my picture window at a raging blizzard and knowing there’s no place I need to go except the first floor grocery or the gym in the small school where I can practice yoga or do laps around its perimeter. I dream of reading to my heart’s content, of finally finishing my novel and of drinking cup after cup of black tea infused with orange blossom honey. In short, I daydream that all my troubles lie outside the walls of Begich Towers and I remain safely encased in its cocoon.

Sigh: a lovely fantasy that diminishes my anxiety as I navigate the ice-covered roads and bone chilling winds of my icy world outside the four walls of a permanent winter prison.

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White Knuckles in Winter

My children laugh at me, my fiancé torments me and I muster up my courage for each 20130210_131911non-jingle bell, non-laughter-filled drive through the country side on a snowy morning. The truth is that I really like winter. I don’t mind the cold, I like shoveling and there’s nothing like walking through an aromatic pine forest on crunchy snow. But what I don’t like, and have never been fond of, is driving in snow. I am quite honestly: terrified. Each winter I manage. In the past few years, the days of white-knuckle navigation have been relatively few on the three days I work each week. But this year horrendous driving conditions have been frequent and formidable. Take this morning – the worst winter driving conditions I have ever experienced. Last night the temperature plummeted into the single digits with a nasty wind for wind chills well below zero. Couple this with a healthy dose of Lake Effect snow and if it wasn’t snow on the roads, it was black ice. I made it the 20 miles to my workplace, crawling every inch of the way. We are having another one of those days today and it looks like at least one more during the upcoming week. I am un-friending the weather person.

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All in a Day’s Work

It started out simply enough: the usual and seemingly indestructible routine of my Cheerios, blueberries and vanilla soy milk along with an entire pot of very strong decaf. Then to the cyber room to sort through emails and student papers. Some would say my routine is boring, but I actually love it and pray for many more to come.

On this day, my daughter asked me to pick up her medicines at a pharmacy in an old and re-invented hospital in a lousy part of town – in fact, probably the lousiest if you count the shootings, murders and myriad drug deals gone badly. I’ve been going down there to get her meds for several years and though I keep a keen eye out for everything around me, I have always feel safe in making this trip. Today there were two trips. The first was supposed to be the only, but it turned out that the doc had not called in two of her scripts.

“Please go back, Mom. I don’t have enough to get me through the weekend.”

Ugh – what choice did I have? A mother is a mother is a mother.

Back I went and as I stood in the lobby of this very run-down and dreary place, waiting for her partials to be filled, people began running to the entrance.

“He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe,” someone yelled.

A throng of guards and med techs surrounded the opened door of a car out front. Someone else shouted ‘code’ and then the throng moved into the lobby. Three people carried the body of a man – I couldn’t see how old – and it was clear that he was not responding to their efforts. Someone next to me said he OD’d, but I think he was guessing. Still, in that neighborhood, it seemed plausible. Aghast at what was unfolding before me, I slipped my way past it and made my way to my car.

I left feeling shaken and very, very sad. I thought about the man who woke up that morning, got dressed, maybe ate some Cheerios (stuck himself with a needle?). I thought that perhaps he would never see another day, never eat more Cheerios and never stick himself with another needle.

That afternoon, I picked up a few items in the grocery store and as I left the store, I passed an ATM machine and was struck by the number of people, all men, in line to use it. I looked into their relatively benign faces until I came to the last face. Actually, the smell hit me first – an intense, almost permeable odor of alcohol. Next – his demeanor – slouched, his face — eyes half-shut, and overall: very, very dazed-looking.  My first thought was fear: what if he got behind the wheel of a car? What if he was driving on the road with innocent men, women and children? What if he killed himself, someone else, me?

I passed the customer service desk and I agonized over whether I should go and tell someone. Then I thought about privacy laws that are doing more to hurt others than protecting us as individuals.  Perhaps I wimped out because I chose not to stop and tell someone about the dazed drunk man who if he got behind the wheel of a car, had a fair chance of doing serious damage.

It was an intense afternoon. Death – maybe; dying — perhaps. Drunk – definitely. All of it so fragile. You just never know when you get up in the morning – well, you just never know …

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Things I Know My Kids Never Will

Sad TEddyOn winter afternoons my mind often wanders to the warmth of treasured memories, to places and things my kids never knew and for that I feel sad.

I feel sad they never had a Popeye doll. In my early years, I developed an intense crush on my spinach-eating hero.  I watched Popeye cartoons constantly, over and over and over again. I had a Popeye jack-in-the-box and I would coerce my dear friend Patty to being Olive Oil to my Popeye in pretend games. Sad but true, in their childhood, my children never had a cartoon hero that they actually wanted to marry when they grew up.

Hot summer days, sitting under the elm tree in our front yard, cutting out the latest fashions to dress my paper dolls in: I can almost smell the grass and hear the cicadas as I dreamily float through this memory.   Similar were Color-forms! I loved Color-forms. They entered my life as a sickbed diversion and exited my childhood as a dear diversion filled with imagined tales and stories.

Ah – Barbie! I adored my Barbie and her case-full of clothes. I was meticulous about hanging them using little plastic Barbie hangers and keeping track of all accompanying shoes and accessories. I had Barbie’s friends Ken, Midge and Skipper as well as the Barbie Dream House and pink Barbie sports car. I spent hours coming up with stories and dramas involving all the Barbie characters. It was a wonderful world to escape into. My daughter had a Barbie doll, but she never appreciated it like I did. In fact, she never really played with it and certainly never made up all the stories that I did when I lost myself in play. I feel sad for her.

Horses – my passion, my dream, my obsession even to this day. In my simple childhood world, everything was a horse: my bicycle, snowbanks where I so carefully crafted saddle with stirrups, and the best of all: gym horses with their leather coverings so like a saddle.  I drew horses all over my school notebook. But I was a lousy artist, so I mostly traced from one of my bookcase full of treasured horse books.  I never could understand why my parents wouldn’t give me a horse that we could keep in our little city backyard and garage. I now have a horse and I do not keep him in my little city backyard and garage.

There were so many magical things in my childhood filled with dreams and simple things. Perhaps my children feel they have also had childhoods filled with magical things, and I hope so, but I bet I have them beat .. and that makes me feel sad.

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You Are What You Write

100_0263I read this post in the Huffington Post today and it imparts many truisms about why our language is deteriorating into a cacophony of abbreviations, misspellings and complete ignorance of all things that show care for being precise and correct in written communication.  After all, we are in an age when “You are what you write” since face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication are relegated to the annals of history and it’s all about email, blogging, texting, Tweeting and more.

In her article, “10 Things I Learned as an Adjunct Teacher,”   Pauline Hawkins talks about 10 writing issues she found in her first year  teaching college comp classes. I have been teaching upper level college writing courses for 20 years and I find the same issues and they make me want to cry because of the evident and growing disregard for the language.

Here is what Pauline found in her first year:

  1. She knows she is a teacher because she cares that students get it right.
  2. Grammar has to make its way back into the high school curriculum.
  3. Writing teachers need to be writers.
  4. Standardized testing has ruined education.
  5. Some students need to take a year (at least) off before going to college.
  6. Vocational school needs to be a bigger and more respectable option for graduating high school students.
  7. Parents should encourage their kids who are not ready for a 4-year school to go to a community college for at least 1 year.
  8. Parents need to know when to help and when to let their kids learn it ‘the hard way.’
  9. People are dealing with a lot of crap in their lives.
  10. Learning to write well is one of the most rewarding skills we can acquire!

As I ponder my past and present experiences with students, and although I wholeheartedly agree with everything Pauline has said here, I particularly carry the flag for numbers 2 and 10. Students come to college without grammar skills. It starts with punctuation, or rather, lack-there-of. Comma usage causes immediate panic and either students place them all over the page—and I mean ALL over,  or they are nowhere to be found.  Forget colons and semicolons – students have not a clue what these are let alone how they should be used.  Sentence structure is also a major issue: fragments, run-ons and comma splices abound. I dare not use the technical terminology for fear of watching eyes glaze, so I constantly seek clever and simple ways to teach the concepts without the scary labels.

Second for me is the thrill of learning to write well. I was an English nerd dating back to elementary school. I loved diagramming sentences (my students today don’t even know what this is), writing essays and poems, and taking those grammar tests that my friends detested. As the nerd, I always got the A while many of my friends struggled  for a C. A or C, the thing about it back then was we cared about whether we could write. English as a subject was a big deal and perfection was realistically sought after – the nuns made sure of it.

All of what Pauline says is true. Not only do students come to college never having diagrammed a sentence, they know none of the terms that were drilled into us back when: participle, present perfect, compound complex sentence or even past, present and future verb tenses. Admittedly, I don’t think the terms are important, but what I do think is imperative is that students know how to place a comma, write a correct sentence and construct a decently written message.

After all, this is the age when it’s not who you see or speak with that counts (though I fully believe these should also count), it’s how you write that determines your image – good or bad. Imagine: if writing skills continue to deteriorate, then no one will be able to recognize or care about quality in the written word. Where will that then leave us as a civilization?

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