Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

....On the Eve of Destruction

Rule # 15 -  Write your observations

It begins. 


The crash starts at 8:30 am on a Monday morning with the demo of the old kitchen. Everything goes. Some of it was already donated.

And the process still totally amazes me!

And it got me to thinking, too, how easy it is to take something down, or out.

Our contractor scheduled 2 days for demolition of the old kitchen. We started with the carpenter ripping out the cupboards, a wall, and fixtures. He had everything out in one day. He even got it all to the dump and cleaned up his mess, too. One day! Easy, right? Next day the guys from the flooring contractor ripped out the tile and carpeting, and cleaned up after themselves, too. One day and done! The wallpaper came down on Wednesday morning. And that was it!

Forty years ago all that kitchen stuff was new, state-of-the-art, and sparkling. Now it was dust and garbage. Way too easy!

When I watch the home dec shows on HGTV or DIY, the owners always say the demo is such a satisfying thing to do. Just think… you smash! You take a sledge hammer to a wall and beat the stuffins’ out of it. It’s more stress relief than a Whack-a-Mole game on the Boardwalk.

It made me think… if tearing down stuff is this easy, how easy is it to tear down a relationship? Seriously, how many of us took one second and then regretted what we said or did because it tore someone down? The kitchen demo can be turned around and fixed. “I’m sorry” doesn’t always fix relationships. It doesn’t always fix events.

Back when I was still a classroom teacher, I heard way too many kids pump out “I’m sorry” as a reflex. They would say something, see the reaction and then apologize.  The problem was, the kids never changed their behavior patterns or attitudes.  They continued to act like jerks and apologize, thinking that all was well. What was the point of the apology then?

An “I’m sorry” without a change in behavior or attitude is no more than hot air and empty words… and there’s enough of that going around.

That was a difficult concept to hammer into a pre-teen’s head. Or a teenager’s, for that matter. Or many adults, to add insult to injury. Even my own rather thick, Irish-German skull… 

When I look at our construction schedule, there are 2 ½ days allotted for demolition and 3 ½ weeks for the rebuild, with an extra 2 weeks added in for settling and “surprise issues”.  Easy take-down, but hard to rebuild. And a process that takes a long time to complete.

I have lots of friends who have gone through relationship issues. Some divorced and called it quits. Some stuck with the relationship to try to work things out. In both scenarios, trust was the ultimate victim of the behavior choice. After the behaviors tore down the relationship, neither person in the relationship could trust the other for a long time… or ever again. I saw that with parent-child relationships, too. The child got involved with a bunch of loser friends, started taking the parents’ love and bail-out acceptance for granted, and the parents could never trust their own child again. Love may still have existed. Bailing out may still have continued. But trust died a nasty death on the altar of  “It’s all about ME”. Sometimes trust came back, but it took a long, long time.

It takes 3 minutes to lose someone’s trust. It takes a lifetime to regain it. Trust has friends like loyalty and fidelity. Without these, there is no trust.

So the demo of the kitchen is done. Now I have to trust that the crafts people know what they are doing as we rebuild. I have to trust their skill and expertise to have my plans come to fruition. And I have to trust that I will not interfere with their work. My husband and I decided long ago, that this job was a pro job. For the most part, the skills needed were beyond our do-it-yourself skill set. Now to trust…


Flashback to teaching again… My eighth grade kids did a career unit. We used a curriculum plan called “The Real Game” to help them learn job acquisition skills and how to live within their means, among other things. It was always an eye opener for both the kids and myself. I could never get over the idea that kids literally fought to be the doctor, lawyer, or politician in the job community we established, because of the money or fame factors. No one wanted to be the carpenter, or the plumber, or the auto mechanic, or the electrician - the get-your-hands-dirty jobs. They had the idea that you got into those jobs only if you flunked out or dropped out of college. They were convinced that you were not smart enough to go to college if you got into those types of trades. Then we looked at the education needed for the trades and compared it to a college degree ladder. Full master trades people have an education in their field that is equivalent to a PhD. And they have experience in their field. And they have already used their education to make money in their field. And they tend to be able to charge their job worth for their labor. That’s more than many college grads can say, even today. It took a while for them to get the idea that EVERY job - as well as every person IN the job - in a community is valuable, not just the high paying ones.

I wonder how many still get that point. Schools don’t seem to, especially when they take the trades out of the building’s total curriculum, and shove kids toward a 4-year degree, whether the kid likes it or not.

Well, now the rebuilding process starts. And I totally trust the crafts people coming into my house and working on it. I am in awe of their knowledge. I will try to snatch tidbits of “how-to” from them as they work. I need to watch the masters at work.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

About my stuff...

Rule #35 - No profanity please.

     It’s crash time. It’s a major renovation project for us. Not just a coat of paint on the walls… even then, we both tend to add vocabulary to the English language. Little did I know the snowball effect on my life this project would have.

     We contracted to have our kitchen gutted and redone, and to put hardwood flooring through into the dining room. And, as they say, the prep work is the hardest and longest. So true here.

     It took us over a year to get planning for this project underway. It took longer to save the money for it, but we did it. We found our contractor, got our design done, got the components ordered, got a construction schedule, and now have deadlines to have things done. That was easy, compared to the next steps. Emptying both rooms was a taxing and enlightening experience, to say the least. It was time to rearrange all of our stuff.

     Lucky for us, my sister-in-law works for Hallmark. They may have overpriced cards and kitschy gifts, but they ship stuff to their stores in great boxes. We started to pack up as if we were going to do the one thing my husband wants to do most - move away from the over-taxed life in Maryland!

     Before we could do anything with the boxes, though, we needed some packing material. Hmmmm… what would work? I know, I’ve been meaning to clean out the linen closet. We could use the old towels and sheets as packing material. Genius! And, oh, the treasures I found. My husband has over 30 pair of socks that were stuffed in the linen closet, just waiting for him to wear out what he had and pull them into use. We found underwear that we bought on sale, for both of us. Uh oh…. Time to clean out my underwear drawer! The trash dudes are going to love us this week! Closet and drawers, done and done. Back is a bit sore, but I’ll live. And language stayed civil, for a change.

     Now we have a pile of linens and towels decorating the dining room. Time to pack up the china cabinet, an old book case and a media storage cabinet. I would pull stuff out, wrap it up and turn around to more stuff. It looked like the stuff morphed into rabbits and kept reproducing all over the dining room table. I pulled out and boxed up more stuff. Holy (insert cuss word of choice here)!

     Now I needed a place to store the stuff in boxes…. Hmmmm… empty living room corners. That’s the ticket! We hauled the boxes into the living room and stuff them behind the furniture. We have boxes stacked 4 and 5 high near the fireplace. Dining room stuff is on one side, and kitchen stuff on the other. Ok, we can now move around the living room again…sort of. Those boxes were heavy and hard on the knees. (Insert fresh sets of cuss words)

     Next job is the kitchen. Now we have to be organized. What will we need for the four weeks of the renovation and what can we do without? We packed that up accordingly. Wait a minute… I forgot to set up a cook station in the living room. Move stuff around. Ok… got that covered now.

     I now have to crawl into those inaccessible nooks and crannies in the back of the lower cupboards. Hmmmm… I found antique food stuff! How did we get 3 bottles of Karo light (for candy making and when I cat-sit my grand kitty who is diabetic)? What is this molasses stuff? Wow, we do have grits, so scratch that off the grocery list. How many instant puddings do we really need? That can looks funky, so don’t even bother opening it and trying to recycle the can. Chuck it all. Keep the oriental rice noodles, though. (Creative language use course is now paying off)

     Everyone has a junk drawer in their kitchen. You know, the one that magnetically attracts rubber band, twist ties, General Mills box tops for education bits, pens, pencils, crayons, magnets… and so on. I thought I was so cool limiting myself to 1 junk drawer (in that room). Now to go through all that stuff. Pens that don’t work will no longer live in that drawer. Pencils can be sharpened and kept. I’m seeing a pattern here… keep the old school that doesn’t fail and lose the new school stuff that wears out. (Fresh assortment of cuss words used here)

     Purging kitchen gadgets has to happen too. What have I used recently? Hmmmm…. Short list here. Pull out the 5 or 6 items and keep them with the cooking utensils. Box the rest and they will probably be donated when we restock the shelves.

     Well, everything is now out, boxed, organized, moved… all that stuff from 2 rooms, consolidated down into boxes, tote bags, grocery bags and 2 plastic bins (for the food stuff).  I can’t believe how much stuff we accumulated in those rooms. We now have 3 rooms temporarily in 1 and find ourselves crawling all over our stuff. Language gets creative as we accidentally stub toes on boxes of stuff and get feet tangled in cords for our electrical stuff.

     Someone once told me that profanity is a lazy mind trying to sound important. There is some truth to that phrase, especially when you hear profanity-laced speech coming out of people’s mouths for the heck of it. I hear people use the F-word and make it sound like an exhale. Don’t these people know any other adjectives? What’s the point of sounding coarse? But then, if you are hurt, or angry, what’s a choice word or two going to hurt? We just don’t need a stream of obscenities… that is so NOT cool.

     It’s all I can do to keep my language clean through this process. Doing all right so far, I’ve got to say. Hope it stays that way…. Well, it should. After all, moving the stuff back into the rooms should be more fun than moving it out. It should be like Christmas all over again. Then I get to rethink about how much stuff I really do need.

     George, help me out here!!! Tell me about your stuff…

(George Carlin - Stuff, from Comic Relief, HBO)

Now, how much stuff do you really need? Hmmmmm……
dining room stuff
kitchen stuff
And we are living in one room right now...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On fur... and love

Rule #9 - Do not fear emotion

June 5, 2012 - a day that will tear at my heart forever.

     It’s incredible how you remember specific days. I can tell you exactly what I was doing the day President Kennedy was shot. My recollections of 9/11 are still clear as anything. June 5 is another day that will stay with me, because that’s the day we lost our 18 year old dog, Rusty. I will always remember that day, and the few days that lead up to that one. Emotions of those days are still raw and spill out in tears every now and then. The rawness will heal, I’m sure. Until then,......

    This dog was a real family member. I can remember my son and I trolling our Animal Control shelter looking for a dog for my husband as a Father’s Day gift in 1994. We argued about the size of the dog. He wanted big dogs, so they could intimidate anyone who would dare hurt his parents. I wanted a medium-sized dog that looked a bit like our previous hound. I won. After all, his dad and I weren’t getting any younger. A big dog took more space and energy than I was ready to give up. Plus, my son was in college and leaving home for good soon. It was the parents’ dog, not his. He could get his own dog… which he did.

     As we walked into the dog area, I saw those eyes staring back from his cage. He was only 6 months old at the time. He looked so scared and sad. We passed by and gave the other dogs a chance to melt my heart, but we ended back with Rusty. He was called Timber then. His previous family gave him up and left him tied to the fence at Animal Control with his blue blanket. The workers at the shelter found him waiting for them on Monday morning. No one claimed him or wanted him, and he was one day away from that “last shot”. Guess where he ended up?

     We gave my husband a picture of him for Father’s Day. My husband got teary eyed when we told him what we did. Later that week, after his starter shots and a good “fixin’”, our “stallion” came home to our house.

     It was a tenuous start. Rusty wanted to be in charge. Guess his last owner wasn’t too big into pooch discipline. Russ also thought every concave article was his personal food bowl. He helped himself to trash from the trash can, ½ pound of raw bacon from a bowl on the counter (he was fast, too), and some candy from a candy dish on the coffee table. He learned very quickly that his new home was shared with humans and they were in charge, not him. He definitely liked to play, but not really rough. Rusty’s predecessor loved to wrestle. Not Rusty. No bites but he made his displeasure at my son’s pinning him very clear.

     He was also a bit of a drama king. If you accidentally stepped on his paw, he would yelp as you would expect. Then he would limp around and whimper until he got more attention and sympathetic loving.  Once his attention needs were met, he was fine.

     He chose his “alpha” and that was me, for the most part. When my husband and I would cuddle up on the couch, he was right there. When we would hug, he was right there at my feet. He would try to nuzzle in and we would all “group hug”. He was fine with that, as long as he was part of it all. My daughter was still in high school at the time Rusty arrived and the two of them bonded immediately. Rusty made it quite clear that any fellow she dated had to pass the Rusty test. Even if he passed, when they would sit together, the dog wormed his way between them both. No one was going to take his sister from him.

     As the years went by, Rusty proved his worth as a guard dog. His bark was loud and forceful. He did have a tendency to bark at everything, including rolling beer cans. But our neighbors loved the fact that he was alert, loud and intimidating with his bark. His was not a nuisance bark. It was a “Hey, I see something and you have to tell me if it’s friend or foe” type of bark. Usually the neighbors would yell, “Hey Rusty” and he would stop barking. He knew voices too. The only bane of his existence was little kids. He did not like any little crumb snatcher horning in on his territory. He looked at them like they were prey, or a side-dish. We kept him away from little kids. But he loved being around adults!

     Our first inkling that he was going downhill was at 14 years old. Rusty was running like his normal goofy self, chasing this squirrel that drove him crazy. We heard a yelp and he fell down. Then he got up and was limping while he continued to chase the squirrel. Our dog managed to tear his ACL. Well, he was running pass routes like an offensive back, wasn‘t he? But, who thought of knee trouble? His surgery fixed the problem and stunned the vet when he recovered. Dr. Mike couldn’t believe that he made such a great recovery at 14 years old. Rusty was 15 ½ when his popped his other ACL. At that point, surgery was not recommended because of his age. Rusty still defied the odds when he recovered and went on to keep squirrels and blue jays in his sights, chasing them as far as possible. I swore one day we would find him stuck to a tree trunk, because he thought he could climb the tree after the squirrel.

     It was about that time, too, that he started with demadectic mange. We spent the better part of 2 years clearing that issue up once and for all. Again, we also had amazed vets! How could this guy go “Timex” on them? He took lickins and kept on tickin’. Our fuzz-guy was a fighter for sure.

     He was just about to turn 17 when he had his first episode of adult dog vestibular disease. Those symptoms mimic a stroke with seizure. Rusty walked around after the episode listing to the port side and shaking his head. When we took him to the vet for this problem, we all decided it was time for poochie hospice -time for care and comfort for whatever time he had left. Many dogs don’t shake out of the seizure, but Rusty bounced back. It took him about 2 weeks, but he was up and around. That was Christmas 2010. The next year as his 18th birthday hit, you could see deterioration a bit more. But he was still eating, drinking, peeing and pooping at the correct times and in the correct places. He would have another seizure or two but always come back.

     We knew in March it wouldn’t be too much longer that he was with us. His decline was steady and he started with occasional accidents. By May, he was having a hard time walking. We stopped getting him upstairs at night and started to sleep downstairs with him. Yes, he went back to having to go out in the middle of the night. Neither my husband nor I wanted to make the call. But circumstances forced our hand.

     When Dr. Mike walked in that last house call visit, he looked at a fighter who was just plain tired. He checked him out and said that, even if we didn’t call, he would not have lasted more than a week or two. Mike was glad we called and asked for him. Then he explained the process…

     Rusty was laying on the blue blanket that he brought with him from the pound 18 years ago. He sat up, and looked at Mike, my husband and I. Then he knew what was going to happen and laid down on his blanket. Mike gave him the sedative and Rusty started snoring. Then the last shot… no sound, no drama, just peace and quiet in his favorite sleeping spot next to the couch. And tears, from me, my husband and Dr. Mike. Rusty was ready.

     My husband picked up his cremains today. Rusty now rests in a gorgeous box and sits on our picture window sill. It’s the same window he would stand at when he knew it was time for me to come home from work. He would check every knock at the door and every car sound from the driveway from that spot at the window. Now he can keep doing what he did best from his favorite spot - guarding and welcoming us and all who enter.

     Like I said before, my emotions are still raw. I’m crying as I type. I know, as a bereavement minister and former health teacher, that I need to experience all the emotions of grief. Lord knows I cried for about 3 days before his passing. I’m surprised I have any more tears left to shed. But sometimes the best writing comes from raw emotion. I’m not sure if this is my best writing or not. But I hope you got a chance to know Rusty from this piece. And I hope you will also be able to experience the fantastic joy a pet can bring to your life.

    We both miss Rusty so much. The day after his death, we ran errands, and on our way home, we passed Animal Control. It took all our efforts not to turn in. But, we need to honor Rusty by grieving for him. Perhaps at a later date, we will get another dog. We’ve already had 3 and each one had their own personalities. Even our late cat, Duffy, had his own goofy personality. 

     I keep remembering a line from the Muppet Christmas Carol. “Life is a series of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” It’s a line spoken by one of my favorite animals, Kermit the Frog. And it’s true… you can’t have the happy days without the sad. This is one of the sad parts of life that we just have to experience and cope with the best we can.

     Good bye, sweet Fuzz. We will meet again, I know it.