When Good is Not Good


I am on a crusade, and it is not ‘good,’ at least not in the grammatical sense. I’ll bet you do this all the time: when someone asks you how you are, you answer ‘good.’ For example, I ‘live’ with a bunch of fellow English professors and I hear choruses of “How are you,” followed by “Good” sung in the hallowed hallways all day long.

Personally I never thought anything of it until I was teaching a grammar course to a group of very sharp administrative assistants and someone raised the question about responding ‘good’ in response to the standard ‘How are you?” query. The question stopped me in my tracks. I took a quick peek at Purdue’s Online Writing Lab and I discovered that to respond that you are good is to really say you are a moral, upright, fine human being. It does NOT mean that you are healthy, wealthy or wise!  The correct response to the proverbial question is “I am well,” and of course another option is “I am fine.”

Whatever your pleasure, I am on a self-appointed mission to promote wellness wherever I go!


By Whose Standards?

I had a view changing experience recently. I have a dear young man from China in one of my classes. His language skills are excellent, but it’s clear he carries the humbleness of his culture heavy on his shoulders. I gave my class an assignment where they were required to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses as listeners. All of the students did this, except for him. Instead, he wrote an eloquent piece about the importance of good listening without ever referring to himself.

At first I was poised to get out my red pen and begin slashing, but then it struck me: he did the best he could within his own experiential and cultural framework.  The Asian view is one of suppressing the ego, being respectful and behaving passively versus our western view where “I” is at the center of everything.  Instead of grading his paper as I did the others, I decided to grade it where he was – in his heart, mind and culture. Did I do the right thing?

The right thing – for years I have taught students from other cultures – many of them Asian. Yes, of course there were differences in writing and ideas – I mostly got hung up on the poor grammar – but until these last few days I never faced the question – by whose rules? Given his good writing skills, the issue became culture and whose should win – mine or his? Let me be so bold as to pose this response: neither.

Human beings embrace their cultures and often stay cocooned within them. A booming global economy insists that we emerge from the cocoons, interact and at least try to understand each other’s cultures. Thus is the mandate of this global economy. In reality we pretend.

Back to my student. Again I pose the question: by whose rules? Theoretically I should hold all students to the same standard, and in terms of writing quality, he was competent. It was this indirect answer of his that unleashed the Pandora of just how do determine and administer standards. If indeed standards remain rigid, then what kind of educational system is it that would penalize students who follow the norms of their ethnicity while enriching our country with the vibrancy of their culture.



Staying Alive While Pedaling

bicylingQuite some time ago, I wrote a piece criticizing what I called the arrogant attitudes of serious bicyclists – how they ride in the lane, forcing cars to make dangerous forays into opposing lanes and how they were notoriously unfriendly to passing, not-so-serious riders. I received a very wise and well-written reply to that post, educating me to the true perils of road bike riding and the necessary intensity with which all riders must proceed.

Hmm – more than a year later … I am still a backyard variety bicyclist, yet in the past week, I have been almost clobbered twice. And it was close – cars careening to stops at the end of residential streets and somehow missing a full view of what was in front of them. In both cases I actually slammed my hand on the cars, while screaming about their stupidity, carelessness, don’t-you-know-you-almost-killed-someone, and so on.

Fortunately, in both cases, my trusted sixth-sense kicked in and I knew what they were going to do before they did it.

In today’s world of seriously distracted driving, bicycling is an ever more perilous sport. Serious or casual riders, we simply must follow the rules for safe riding and not complain about any bicyclists with whom we share the roads.

P.S. – Wear a helmet. I had mine on (always!)

Laying Claim to Seniorhood

I recentlyfootsteps%20in%20snow realized I had entered ‘seniorhood’ when:

  • The ‘man’ who came to fix the furnace looked like he was 16
  • Every Peanut Butter M&M I eat adds a pound to my middle
  • No matter what the exercise and/or diet, the middle has decided to take up permanent residency
  • What was it you said to me 10 minutes ago?
  • My legs have taken on the role of roadmap – they can get you anywhere – in the world!!
  • I go to bed at nine o’clock and wake up at 2 for a rendezvous with a Peanut Butter M&M (just one, of course)
  • What was it you said to me 5 minutes ago?
  • The dust on my desk is high enough to use as a wrist rest when I’m typing on my computer
  • I always have to call my son for instructions on loading/deleting apps on my smart phone.
  • I come to meetings with my trusty desktop DayTimer while everyone else has Ipads and notebook computers, nary a pen to be found (except mine, of course!)
  • I am a very vocal advocate for fine penmanship while many young kids don’t have a clue how to write in cursive.
  • What was it you just said to me?

Anyone want to add anything?

The Lifespan of a Mosquito

mosquitoI am obsessed with mosquitos as of late and it’s because they are everywhere – inside, outside, and all places in between. They follow you, stake you out, and feast on whatever unfortunate part of your body happens to be exposed.

Still, despite their considerable annoyance factor, I am a sucker for all living creatures and when my partner Dominic chased down a swarm of mosquitos with a fly swatter the other night, I found myself feeling sorry for them. That then got me to wondering about the life span of a mosquito. I figured it was something very short, like a day or two, but what I learned surprised me. Some other facts also surprised me.

  • The average life span of a mosquito is two months. (Less if you’re in my house being chased down by a madly swinging fly swatter)
  • Mosquitos hibernate! (I thought for sure that when warm weather was done, they simply soared off into mosquito la la land.)
  • A mosquito is a mosquito is a mosquito, right? Wrong! (There are whopping 3500 species of mosquitos)
  • Mosquitos must hatch in water and live there for 10 days. (Moral: be sure and dump any standing water around your yard.)
  • It’s true that mosquitos favor certain people! Why? It’s a matter of body odor – good, bad or indifferent, there are certain odors that these winged creatures prefer. (What do they like? If your cholesterol level is high, lower it both for your health and to avoid mosquitos. They also like people whose sweat contains folic acid, some bacteria, scented lotions and perfume.)
  • Forget beefing up your squadron of bats. (Counter to popular opinion, bats don’t eat mosquitos.)
  • And finally – these tiny creatures are quite robust. (They have been around since the Jurassic period, as in 210 million years ago.)

So the next time a mosquito buzzes in your ear, think of what you learned here today and that these seemingly simple insects are not so simple after all. So lather yourself with Off and enjoy those mosquito serenades. (Buzz, buzz, buzz)

Cataract Beer and Beefsteak Tomatos

cataractI can’t see. That’s a fine cup of tea for a writer/reader/teacher. (And I do, BTW, like tea). A few years ago I had cataract surgery. (Did you know there was once a beer named Cataract? My ophthalmologist has a vintage advertising tray in his office with the name of the beer intertwined with a waterfall. There’s a story there, but I’ll save that for another day). After my cataract surgeries it was like a whole new world for my distance vision, but a jumbled mass of words and objects for my close-up sight.

Anyway, as a result of these surgeries, I developed a complication which I can only describe as a sort of scar tissue. The effect was like looking through wax paper. And forget close-up vision. Every time I tried to grade papers, read a book or write anything I ended up with a searing headache. Enter laser surgery.

Eye number one was operated on in February, and eye two is scheduled for next week. I am so desperate to see that I don’t even care about having my head immobilized while this incredibly intense light (laser) burns away all that gnarly crap that was rude enough to steal away my vision. All of this is done while awake and in the doc’s office.

Thus is the plight of … maturing, or ripening – like a fine cheese or beefsteak tomato. Last week I had my Shingles shot. This was a cakewalk and my pharmacist did the baking. My right knee has decided to let me know it exists – on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. Bless you, ace bandages! Wrinkles? Get bloated and they’ll fill right out. And so on…

The morale of this story? Other than to embrace these maturing awakenings with humor, there really is none. Is there?

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.

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!

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.

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.