Friday, August 31, 2012

Stuck in the Middle

The disposal was making a horrible noise.  It was grinding and complaining and I turned it off as quickly as I could. Making sure that the switch was off, instructing TBG to step back from the toggle and promise to touch nothing, I stuck my hand down the drain.  There are times when his big hands are a help; in this instance, they were a hindrance.  They didn't fit through the hole.

There was nothing clogging the rotors, nothing wound around the chopping blades, nothing stuck against the sides. We're pretty careful about what falls down in there, having had a few too many holiday dinners ruined by overloading the system with potato peels. Between the starch and the amount of material I'd shoved down there, motors just gave up and died.  I learned how to use the Allen wrench to reset the machine.  I know how to disconnect the pipes below the sink and remove what might be causing a problem.  None of those tricks worked.  It was time to call for help.

I'm a big believer in insurance, ever since we saved money by not itemizing my jewelry on our homeowners' insurance policy and lost money when it was stolen.  I read all the operating manuals and I buy the warranties, and the extended warranties, and I renew them when they expire.  It's much easier to call a central phone number and have them send someone out to do the work than it is to find a reliable repair person.

Or so it seemed at the time of purchase.  Sure, GE sold its extended warranty business to Assurant, but I was assured that the coverage would be the same. Over the six years we've lived here, I've made calls on the refrigerator and the microwave and the oven and the dishwasher and the disposal.... and that's where the problems started.

According to Assurant, I've never had any service done on my disposer (their term).  It's not in their records.  The fact that the device I have under my sink is a Whirlpool model installed by a technician they sent in April, 2008 seems to be irrelevant.  According to Assurant, I own an Insinkerator (a much better name, I must say) which was installed in November, 2004 and, as such, is too old to replace.

No, said I.  That one broke and replaced in April, 2008.  I have the invoice right here; with all the signatures and serial numbers and model codes and official tags affixed to the front.  Well, said they, I don't know what to tell you.

No, there is no one higher up the food chain to whom I might speak.  The facts are the facts.  Was I certain that I had not called the technician directly?  Of course I was.  I can barely keep track of the contract for service let alone a random repair man I'll never call on my own.  I go through the extended warranty; that's why I bought it.

My protestations fell on increasingly-unwilling-to-listen ears.  In passing, she told me that sometimes GE doesn't send them information.  Had I called GE?  No, she didn't have a phone number or a suggestion for a department to contact.  This was my problem, not theirs.  Assurant was insuring an Insinkerator that was too old to be repaired so the technician wasn't even going to come out.  Instead, they were cashing out my claim.  They'd send me a check.

Cashing out my claim? I have no idea what the means, even after it was explained to me.  They aren't cancelling the whole extended warranty package; my other appliances are still covered.  This one, the one they don't remember replacing four years ago, is seven years old and not worth the time/cost/effort of a service call so they're sending me $46 and cashing out the claim.

I tried, denizens.  I really tried.  I tried to figure out why they were reneging on their deal to cover my appliance after I had paid $27.85. Cashing out has nothing to do with the policy.  They are giving me the amortized cost of a new disposal, $46.  The fact that a brand new machine will cost about $100 and that I'll be charged for labor and that I paid $27.85 so that this would never happen to me again makes no difference to Assurant.

And, NO, they are not refunding any portion of that $27.85, even though they will no longer be insuring a product. Steam began rising from my ears.  TBG left the room; he hates it when I start to sputter at Customer Support people.  Really, denizens, I do it only when they deserve it.  I promise.

GE was no more help.  They have no record of the repair and the service contract and they don't seem to care very much.  The woman at the shop which sent the technician was as sympathetic and as helpful as a human could possibly be.  Marilyn had all the numbers, had the dispatch code from GE, knew I hadn't called directly, and was just as appalled as I am.

Amster says that it's not worth it to sue for $27.85.  It's really more than that, though, because I have to pay to replace the device instead of having it covered by the warranty.  Plus, I've spent an entire morning dealing with this, and my time is worth something.  What gets me angriest, though, is the fact that they promised to deliver services and they failed.

I'm not giving up on this.  I'm sending this post to GE and Assurant and Better Business Bureaus in a variety of locations. I'm alerting you, my faithful readers, that if you, too, had an extended warranty contract from GE it might be worth your while to check that what's in your kitchen is accurately reflected on the paperwork. I went over every service visit on every appliance this morning while I was on the phone with a variety of pleasant but unhelpful humans.  Only Mike, the first person who answered the phone at Assurant this morning, was able to be of any service at all.  The rest of them seemed to be trained in the read from this script and give no more information than necessary so that the caller gives up in frustration school of customer service.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Have The Look

Crystal mentioned it yesterday at PT; there's something going on behind my eyes.

It's not anything to do with the residue of being in the path of 9mm bullets.  It's not anything to do with my aches and pains. G'ma is fine, or as fine as one can be with dementia and glaucoma and a set of clicking dentures.  TBG doesn't go to the dentist again until October.  The people I wanted to win won in the primary election yesterday and one of them even takes my phone calls.  Life is good.

Yes, life is good..... and if it weren't for the fact that 100some people will be partying in my backyard in less than thirty days.....less than 30 days, denizens!

It was decided so long ago, she was asked and said yes so long ago, it's been on our plate since so long ago that some part of what's behind the look in my eyes is the fact that the anticipation period is almost over.  I've always liked the part leading up to the event almost as much as the actual party.  Watching the home team's pitcher on the mound right before the first inning is my favorite part of baseball, too.  All that work, all that time, all the effort and worry and preparation was in service to that moment - the beginning.

This is a true beginning - the start of my daughter's married life.  She will probably have a new name, though that's presenting somewhat of a quandary.  She's leery of sounding like a law firm when she answers the phone.... she likes her maiden name..... she loves SIR and his name is a good one.... and who wants different surnames within one family?  Ask Not-Kathy..... she'll tell you in graphic detail why she gave up the different-from-my-children's surname. This should be at the top of my worry list.

And yet.... there are plates and cutlery and napkins to be secured.  There is weather to be worried about.  G'ma needs a dress and mine is on the third fitting with no end in sight.  Little things keep popping up, like how to keep people from parking in front of the house without putting orange cones on the street.  JannyLou has been a fountain of information and suggestions and ideas; they flow from her brain to her mouth to my welcoming ears.  There are solutions to every issue; I just have to act on them.

That's where I'm stuck.  Taking action brings me closer to the day..... and that should be a good thing, right?  Everyone loves everyone else. The plans put a smile on everyone's face. It's a party.... what's the problem?

I don't know, denizens.  I just don't know. I am anxious about everything - the parking and the deliveries and the set up and the staffing and most of all, the biggest worry, the thing that keeps me up at night, is that I'm forgetting something huge.

We have to figure out the order for the ceremony... who will walk when and with whom and sit where and stand when.  I have to conceive of a clever way to close the library doors to guests without making them feel unwelcome in my home.  The second french door to the yard is stuck; it needs to open so that the inside and the outside feel like one and it's refusing to cooperate.... perhaps because it's on TBG's side of this problem: bugs might fly in if the doors are open all night.

But all of these issues are manageable and not worthy of sleepless nights and anxious tummies in the middle of the day.... like right now... sitting at Amster's table, waiting for Mr's 7 and 9 to come home and play with me.  I'm afraid that if I take care of these issues others will rear their ugly heads... others that might have no apparent solutions.  I laugh at myself when I think that, as I did when I typed it just now.  Yet, I do nothing.

I've been paralyzed into inaction before in my life.  I've stared at tasks and wondered why I continued to leave them undone, even as deadlines approached.  This is different, somehow. I don't know why; I've hosted big parties before without tying my belly in a knot.  I'm not sure there's an answer deeper than "it's a wedding at home" that is needed.  I just wish the feeling would go away.  Soon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

PWR!Gym Rules

There was a time, not that long ago, when I perceived these as formidable obstacles.
That was before I met Becky Farley.
I used to go to the gym and lift and press half my body weight.
Now, walking on this balance beam, 
mere inches off the floor, is a major accomplishment.
For those of us with a compromised ability to put one foot directly in front of the other, not deviating as we compensate for our disabilities, that little height is a challenge.

Becky just laughs and asks me to turn around and try it again, this time with gusto.

The gym is furnished with gently used cast offs from Canyon Ranch and local gyms.
The bikes may be last year's models, but they are newer than the ones at LA Fitness, my "real" gym.

The BoSu (Bottom Side Up) is bouncy enough to repel my good leg and cosset my damaged one. 
Becky has me bounding off it, using hiking poles for balance.
It's a good thing the floor is rubbery and safe; I've never landed on it but it's nice to know that I wouldn't hurt myself if I did.  

Becky's expertise is Parkinson patients.
The program gets them down on the floor and has them challenge themselves in all sorts of ways they doubt they can..... oh, my, there I am doing it after all.....
There are cables of all dimensions and tensions, attached to the walls and the ceilings
and the poles
Hanging from them relieves the pressure from my hip and helps me learn to walk with enthusiasm.

The  hiking sticks seem to multiply each time I return.
Those black poles to their right are used to keep my shoulders parallel to the ground.

There is all manner of support and encouragement and gaiety in this space.
 It's easy to imagine getting better.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Apocalypse Now?

TBG and I were listening to the talking heads on CNN this afternoon, putting away laundry and making snarky replies to the voices when we stopped in our tracks, looked up at the screen... then each other... stunned.  80% of the victims of violent crime in Chicago refuse to cooperate with the police.

Amidst an epidemic of deaths and mayhem, only 20% of the victims are helping the police to solve the crime.  As the CPD interviewee ruefully reminded us, it's hard to turn the tide when the victims are hostile witnesses.

Hearing that, I had to stop and wonder, were they hostile or were they afraid?  Were they prepared to settle the score themselves, or were they frightened that further damage would be done should they choose to help? Did they feel so uncertain, so insecure, that laying low was their only option? What is it like, being unable to trust the police?

Politics aside, I'm making a connection between the people in those neighborhoods caught up in gang violence and villagers in Afghanistan. Both here and there, random guys with great big guns are tearing around, shooting up the populace. The police are trying, but they aren't getting much help from the victims; it's too dangerous to speak out.

At least, in Chicago, the local officers aren't turning their weapons on one another.  Would that the same could be said for the Afghans. NPR posed the question clearly - how do you trust someone with a loaded gun?  Working side by side makes no difference; the distrust is so deep, the political environment so toxic, the weaponry so available that safety becomes relative. The US military has begun stationing armed troops with the police training forces, for the safety of the US trainers. 

We are there to help them build a nation.... and they are shooting at us?  

Fly back with me to Chicago.  I wish I could embed this map but the interwebs won't let that happen.  If you click through you'll be able to hover over fists (representing assaults) and guys in black (robbers) and bulls-eyes (shooting) and see the date, time and details, like these
One man was shot.... shooting stabbing no perp info....shooting stabbing.... armed robbery.... 37 year old man shot in the back.....15 year old boy was fatally wounded...
and on and on and on.  Yet 80% of the victims won't work with the police to bring their assailants to justice.  Like the Afghan villagers, they are at the mercy of the thugs who rule the roost.  The police, the soldiers, they all go home at night.  The residents remain, in thrall.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Errands with G'ma

I used to laugh at the old people sitting in the cars outside the dry cleaner or the drug store.  On a hot or a cold day, the cars would be running so that the temperature inside was just right.  I wondered who the responsible parties could be.... who would leave a running car with a passenger sitting shotgun?  Now, the answer is clear - it is I.

I arrived at the pod castle late in the morning, to find my mom up and watching The History Channel.  There was nary a remote-control-tv-component-device to be found; in two rooms there are not many hiding places. It was altogether possible that she brought the damn thing it out to the dining room with her and left it there, unwittingly.  Last spring, I found her glasses atop her knee-high-hose in the closet; she forgot to put them back on after removing them to change into her nightgown.

Since this has been an on-going issue in the pod-castle, I found sympathetic ears attached to the staff's clever minds.Most likely, we imagined, one of the wandering residents had joined her for viewing and left with the device.  I was sent to Suite #8, where Arne's family had crafted a solution that might just keep the device near to hand. With the design in mind for my brother's arrival and technical expertise, I returned to G'ma's room to find her holding the remote which the aide had located - in the bathroom.

I really don't like being reminded of my mother's steady decline.

We fussed with batteries and a dual system and it's fine until Comcast comes out this week and gives us the correct equipment and by this time none of us wanted a fashion show from the closet for the wedding.  G'ma and I limped and pushed our way out the door and into the Schnozz.  I promised her lunch if she'd keep me company while I ran my errands.

"As long as I don't have to get out of the car," was her only request, so I became one of those people who left their oldster in the car while they just ran in to get a few things.  I asked her to be sure that she wasn't kidnapped, and we laughed and I left but I admit that I was kinda sorta worried. No way I am running after anything or anyone these days, even if it were my mother in my car being stolen.  And yet, there she sat and there I went.

Such is my life these days.

The dry cleaner, Goodwill, The Gardens on Campbell of the Pima County Master Gardeners - I dropped things off and picked things up and then we went to an upscale mall for a little bit of browsing and some lunch. The first saleswoman accepted our "We're just looking," with her name and an offer of help if we needed her.  Ten minutes later, the second seller was less accommodating. Interrupting our convivial chatter about nothing and everything, she kept asking questions about the event and the style and when she began whipping clothes off the racks we had passed and dismissed G'ma gave me the look.

I took the jacket the woman was waving and held it out for G'ma's inspection.  Her wrinkled nose and shaking head coupled with the glint in her eye and the saleswoman's incessant chatter let me look at the price tag - $495 - and tell my mother that the item was too expensive.

Actually, what I said was something along the lines of "You won't live long enough to amortize the cost over future events."

G'ma laughed and nodded in agreement; the saleswoman looked at me as if I had leprosy.  Her face was a mask of outrage at the crudeness of my remark.  My mother and I just laughed louder.

Fleeing the store, we crossed the parking lot past the Farmer's Market and shared a grilled cheese with tomato, fries on the side.  We chatted, again, about everything and nothing.  I told her stories about the past, why she moved from New Jersey, why I was limping, why the hostess was wearing that very unattractive dress.

She didn't want to go to the grocery store with me; "I've seen a grocery store," she said, with a twinkle and a grin.  "I want to take a nap."  When she first moved here, light-years ago, I would have argued and cajoled and pleaded and coerced her to join me, to move, to take advantage of the experience.

On Friday, I drove her home. She's nearly 90, she's old, she's tired, I've given up trying to make her be the mommy she was, the woman I remember.  I'm embracing the person in the front seat, in the here and now.  She's who I have.

She was seeing designs on the side of an unadorned white van; I'm assuming the glaucoma has something to do with that.  She spilled her iced tea on her blouse and she didn't notice the spot.  There is less of her each and every time I see her.

Yet, when she grabbed my hand and said, "NO, not death; you don't want to be associated with killing someone," I  knew that my words on the Victim's Impact Statement came from the person she'd raised me to be. For that moment, I was having lunch with my mother... and she was having lunch with me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Best Use of Our Respective Skill Sets

It's so nice when your children have skill sets.  It's especially wonderful when those skill sets complement your own.  The very best is when they offer those skill sets to the task at hand. Right now, I am a very happy person.

GRIN, my hassle-free-volunteering-not-for-profit, is joining with No Excuses University's Tucson campuses to fill their classrooms with collegiate decor.  Bulletin boards are covered with powerful imagery that makes a statement: college is in your future.  Kindergarteners play going to college with the blocks; many of their first generation parents knew little if any schooling at all. 

It's a remarkable concept, one which the students embrace with enthusiasm.  "You brought us that Penn State garbage can," was my host's introduction as he escorted me to my destination on the middle school's campus last May.  We talked about engineering and the weather in Pennsylvania and it was like any other middle class conversation wonderful to be having it in an immigrant community's public school. 

They are making Americans on Prince Road here in Tucson.  I'm proud to be a part of it.  Don't worry, you won't feel left out. Filling the classrooms with swag is GRIN's way of helping you clean out your closets, your garages, your attics and your basements while doing good at the same time.

Think about it; do you really wear all those college logo t-shirts sitting on your shelves?  Gently used is more than welcome; kids need smocks and dry clothes after a micro-burst dowses them on the playground at recess and your castoffs will bring a smile to their faces.  Even better, it's one less thing for the teacher to worry about.

These are enthusiastic, devoted human beings who spend their days teaching lessons of all varieties, lessons about fairness and competence and responsibility and honor as well as the ABC's and 1-2-3's.  Were they compensated for the actual number of hours they work, most could actually take those summer vacations so often decried by those comfortable with cutting funds for public education. The last thing they need to think about is finding bling for their walls.

Not every teacher has her alma mater as her adopted college; there's only one UofA room though many more could claim allegiance. Teaching 23 children who speak seven different languages ought to be enough.  Ms. Levine shouldn't have to add interior decoration to her To Do List.

So, look around you.  Are your pencils sitting in your alma mater's coffee mug?  Do some of those pens and pads of paper you use for random notes have the logo?  Are you a denizen of a certain age who still has a blotter, the one underneath the laptop and the smart phone?  Empty them out, dust them off, and send them to the address on the website ( also appended below).

Do you have a fleece blanket tossing around in the trunk of your car?  The one they gave you at your reunion, that you keep there just in case? My Cornell blanket was wrapped around a series of 8th grade math students last year.  Have you moved to a warmer clime and no longer need five college sweatshirts taking up space?  If it is in the room it will be worn.  Is it because of a chilly classroom or is it a cozy space when a heart was aching?  These are 13 year olds, after all..... they are fragile and fungible and this is your chance to influence one... or two.,. or fifty.

Alumni magazines have pictures and stories and the class notes sections which open a world of possibilities.  Sports schedules are printed on colorful stock and show that fun is also involved.  A subscription to the school newspaper for the room to share would..... well, you're reading this blog so you can fill in the rest on your own.

If you need help with postage, email .

Thank you for allowing this bit of shameless self-promotion.  It's also been the best use of my skill set: writing.  While Big Cuter is creating a spreadsheet of contacts at 40-some schools, I have been tasked with writing the pleading email.  Rather than have him try to find my voice, I will lift pieces from this post and, voila, my skill set has multiplied itself with barely a tweak from me. 

I love it when a plan comes together.
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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Planning Proceeds Apace

One month from today my daughter and future son-in-law and his parents will be in my house.  One month from Saturday, there will be a wedding at my house.  These facts are incontrovertible.  They make me happy.  They are the reason for the rest of my angst.

The kids are getting married and we could not be happier and if I could invent a Make It Not Rain machine I'd be out in the garage attending to the task right now.  I can get the tableware and the flowers and my necklace and have a good time through it all.  I cannot control the skies.

If the National Weather Service had not decided to tamper with things, I might be less concerned. Let me insert something I wrote on June 18,
The National Weather Service has decided to take charge of our monsoon season. Up until 2008, the monsoon season began after 3 consecutive days with the dew point over 54. In 2008, the National Weather Service decided that that was too much to deal with, and they set June 15th as the official start date. Too bad that it's still dry as a bone. Too bad that their own data shows that the average time for the start of the monsoon by the old standard, the one based on actual facts and science instead of bureaucratic comfort, was sometime in July.
NOAA decided that monsoon ends on September 30th, not when the dewpoint is below that green line up there.  I am losing my mind because it has rained just about every day for three weeks and monsoon has another month and a half to go... according to the government, that is.  If I manage to stave off my hysteria long enough to look at the facts, I can take comfort in the chart, realizing that we are on the downhill slope of the daily dewpoint tracker, and that it's supposed to be this wet at this time of the year... and that it won't be this wet in five weeks.

At least, that's the plan.  When TBG and I were married 37 years ago tomorrow, it poured the night before and the grass in the backyard was sodden. The tent kept us dry, and the mud on the bottom of my never-to-be-worn-again-anyway dress didn't bother me at all. 

What annoyed me was the fact that I had stopped worrying.... and because I stopped worrying, it rained.

Even the Catholics were unable to help. Mrs. Wirtanen planted St. Joseph upside down in her yard.... and gave G'ma one to plant in ours. He could do nothing about the fact that I had given up the angst.

Laugh all you want, denizens.  Go ahead, join TBG in telling me that I am much too intelligent and grounded and sophisticated and mature and adult to believe such nonsense.  Smirk at me behind my back, or to my face, as you wonder where the real me is hiding.  This is the real me.  I relaxed and it rained.

A friend replied to an email describing my worries by assuring me that a rain dance was being performed at that very minute, and I laughed as I hoped that it was an anti-precipitation-terpsichoric performance.  Chicago Gal's husband claims some karmic connection to the weather and promises that it will not rain. The wedding set decorators stood in my living room this morning.... because it was pouring outside..... and assured me that it would not rain..... no way..... by then..... no chance.... it will be lovely.

Easy for them to say. 

For my part, I'm going to nurture that knot in my stomach and that twisting in my heart from now until the dj starts to play and the food is eaten and the party begins.  I've learned my lesson. I won't be fooled again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Own Personal Never Ending Story

Like my rehabilitation regime, the legal piece of this drama goes on and on and on and on. It requires more than I can give with comfort and yet it cannot be avoided, nor ignored.

There aren't many situations like this in my life;  TBG and I have worked very hard to get to a place where we owe no one anything we don't want to give. When the law reaches into my living room and asks me a question, though, my reality shifts... just a little, but just enough to remind me that it never ends.

And so, as I do with my exercises which annoy me and take me away from less onerous but less necessary pursuits, when the big manila envelope from the U.S. Department of Justice United States Attorney District of Arizona arrived this afternoon, I opened it before I could figure out a way to put it off.

If I don't go to the gym first thing in the morning I never get there at all. It's the same thing here.

There's a cover letter or two from the Victim Witness Coordinator and her assistant inside the envelope. Boilerplate for the most part, explaining who she is and what I'm receiving and what will happen and how to get more information and it's fairly routine except for the 4 bullet points in the middle of the first page:

Number of Charges
14 Federally protected activities Guilty
2 Attempt to commit murder or manslaughter Guilty
Assassination, kidnapping and assault of certain officials


It's okay..... take a moment.... I certainly took a few.

There I am, one of those 14.... right there at the top.....right above assassination and kidnapping and murder.  There are all those guilty dispositions, just what thought I wanted.

It's not enough and it's all that there is.  It's awful, it's right, it's just..... and it's all attached to me.

I'm not saying that I am at fault.  I was in the right place at the wrong time and the shooter planned it so it's all on him.  I know this is true because it's on page 12 of the plea agreement:
Factual basis
I agree that the following facts accurately describe my conduct .... On January 8, 1011, I went to...the.... Grocery Store....I was armed with a Glock model 19, 9mm semi-automatic pistol, loaded with 33 rounds of ammunition, and 3 additional magazines containing an additional 60 rounds. Prior to arriving, I had formed a plan to kill Congresswoman Giffords and the people who were at Congress on Your Corner....I ... shot people who were participating in Congress on Your Corner, with the Glock pistol, intending to kill them, and having planned the killings.
and then on page 13, he admits that he
shot Susan A. Hileman....with the Glock pistol, willfully injuring, intimidating or interfering... I shot them because they were participating in Congress on Your Corner. 
I know that he said all these things because his initials are scrawled in the bottom right hand corner of every page.  A light touch with the pen, no bold strokes, no definitive gestures there.  Just JL in cursive, his initials on the paperwork which will send him to prison for the rest of his life... and then some.

I read every word.  They all matter to me.  The names of those who were there that day will be with me forever... for as long as the shooter is living in a box... and longer.  Good deeds have been done and good works have been promoted but the brutal facts are that this was a well-thought out attempt to create a different kind of America than the one in which I choose to live. We don't settle our grievances with weaponry.

The packet contained print outs of the official FBI and DOJ statements.  There was also another manila envelope included in the packet.  I went back through the pages and I found the Victim Impact Statement, which is to be returned to the Judge "who is interested in knowing the impact this crime has had on you," in that other envelope.  Dutifully, I began to read:
1. Have you experienced any of the following feelings since the crime occurred? (Please
    check the appropriate response(s).

__Depression  __Anxiety  __Fear  __Anger/Rage  __Loss of Sleep  __Loss of  Appetite
It's going to be a long night.  There are 7 questions and I can attach additional pages if more space is needed.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

School Supplies

Mamacita's rant over on her blog, Scheiss Weekly, covers the essentials.  I'm choosing to take a more nostalgic approach to this very serious problem... the problem of community supplies in the classroom.

We're not talking about the box of tissues or bottle of hand sanitizer or chalk for the blackboard (markers for the white board?) that are logical for a classroom to share. We're talking about pencils and notebooks and folders.  The thought of buying it and having to give it away and receive something lesser in return makes my stomach ache.  But, I am getting ahead of the story I want to tell.

Come back with me to 1959, as I enter third grade.  Mrs. Josephs was our teacher, and she was elegant, polished, sophisticated to my younger-than-everyone-else's eyes.  I was delighted to receive the list of "recommended supplies" and to thrust it into G'ma's hands the moment I got off the school bus.

A return trip to the store was required.  I was in stationary heaven.

Smiles was at the triangle in downtown Oceanside; half a block from the library, across from the local department store, Chwatsky's, and close enough to Pasetti's that we could walk and get ice cream after we were finished with our shopping.  I always believed that there was an eponymous Mr. Smile, because the store did not exude a happy vibe.  The sales staff was always on the prowl (probably for shoplifters but I was naive enough to worry that they just didn't like me touching the stuff) and the cashiers were grim.

The wooden plank flooring, running from the front door to the back left me vaguely vertiginous whenever I pushed the handle and heard the jingling bells above my head as I entered.  Following the planks I passed purses and sewing supplies and Colorforms and pens and pencils and notebooks and every kind of loose leaf paper imaginable.

I was a stickler for the right kind of paper, and Mrs. Josephs was the first teacher to suggest that a 3-ring binder with binder paper was appropriate for class. I could hardly wait to get there and start to compare.

I knew just where it was; on the lowest shelf, near the edge.  I can close my eyes right now and remember my skirt falling over my knees - it wasn't until 1968 that girls could wear pants to school - as I took out two packages.... one from the last pile and one from the one beside it.  I had to be sure that the lines were just a little bit narrower and the blue ink just a little bit softer and the paper just a little bit more absorbent than that which was sold to the less discerning customer.

In third grade you were allowed to write with pens, and the ink in Parker's cartridge pens soaked into my preferred paper just so.  Ball points were just being introduced; the Bic Stick glided over my paper in a much more satisfactory fashion than the stiffer, darker lined stuff my siblings preferred.

I chose my notebook with similar care.  It was light blue denim on the outside cover, with a blue-grey paper lining inside.  The one I chose opened (not too) easily to the pressure my tiny hands could deliver, and I could close it without fear of pinching my fingers in the rings. Some of the binders on the shelf had linings which were crinkly or not properly glued in all the corners and edges.  Some of the rings were impossible for me to use; I went through quite a few of them before I found the right one.

There were marbled composition books and pencils and crayons or colored pencils and no one cared if they were Crayola or generic, whether you had 24 or 36 or the big box of 64.  You were responsible for having the supplies you needed at your desk, sharpened and filled and usable.  Asking the teacher for a pencil or a piece of paper was akin to requesting a trip to the principal's office, please.

We were responsible for our own stuff... the stuff we brought from home.... the stuff we selected for ourselves.  There was no such thing as community property in the classroom.... not for anything that lived in my desk on a permanent basis, that is.

Not to get all Ayn Rand-y here, but I think that the notion of giving up my supplies for the common good would have made me school-phobic.  There was something really special about starting fresh with my own new stuff, ready to receive the wonders that the next grade would present.  Without the right tools, the carpenter cannot function.  Hammers and screwdrivers must fit the hand of the worker,  just as pens and paper must fit the hand of the student.

Some things are not interchangeable.  Caring for the tools of your trade moves you along the way to becoming a master craftsman.  Picking up brand-specific-glue-sticks and #2 pencils for a basket in the corner of the classroom feels like abdicating responsibility for preparation.

Plus, it sucks out all the fun of shopping for school supplies.  I'm just sayin'......

Monday, August 20, 2012

Random Thoughts

For 18 months, or so it seemed, the wedding was out there in the future.  The future is now and my to-do-list is burgeoning with tasks I cannot avoid and hope they will disappear... my usual modus operandi and one which has stood me in good stead lo these sixty years.

On the other hand, without cutlery and napkins this could be a messy affair.
We've had a wet monsoon this year and the ground is no longer rejecting the water; it's soft enough to allow absorption instead of creating run-off.  If I could wield a shovel and a rake and bend down to scoop with my trowel and a pail I'd be redirecting the streams to the white lantana in the front and the citrus trees in the back. But I can't so I won't and there will be no pictures of my activity to enliven this post.

There are times when the residue of getting shot really sucks.
On the other hand, GRIN's Pilates at Amphi Middle School starts on September 5th with the girls' sports conditioning class.  How rare to find an administration which embraces the extraordinary and sticks with it until the job gets done.  We are a disparate group of individuals united with a single purpose and we spend a good deal of time complimenting one another.

"No, it's because you...."  "Only because you...." "Had you not...."  "Without your...." Sometimes it's hard to remember who is talking about whom.
The road construction project on the main thoroughfares surrounding our neighborhood is a stagnant source of irritation and dirt.  Sections are tended randomly; residents are tantalized with the hope that their little slice of heaven might be finished. But then, the crews move on... no one knows where... and our piece of the project remains, unsightly, unloved, unimproved.

I wouldn't mind so much if it even kinda sorta looked like they were anywhere near being finished.
TBG was watching Grand Prix this afternoon as I puttered and paid attention in snippets enough to know who was married and cheating or married and lusting or young and reckless or old and burned out.  There was no reason to follow the plot; in 1966 the outcome was obvious.  The cheater died, the girlfriend cried, the wife snarled, the wayward in her heart but not body wife returned and was loved.

Those were the days......
The Happy Ladies Club is going to the movies tomorrow afternoon and even though I know the chances of a crazed gunman opening fire when Meryl Streep is on the screen are fairly remote, Aurora is still close enough  to keep me at home.

As I said, the residue from getting shot is unpleasant.......
A late addition:  be sure to check out Jane Goodwin's post by clicking here or on the sidebar link.  Hands Off My Pencils says it brilliantly, as Mamacita always does.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Electronics Meltdown

Necessary Roughness is one of my summertime guilty pleasures.  I went to high school with girls like Dani; the sets are as much fun for me as the stories.  It's often puerile but just as often it's profound.  Sometimes, like last night, it hits me right where I live.

A bit of backstory is required.  I won a Kindle Fire several months ago.  I have some books on it, but screen time is not the same as holding a book on my lap so I rarely use it as a literary aide.  Instead, I have downloaded games... many games... far too many games.... and it has turned into a monumental time suck.... worse than Facebook.

I tried to play Words With Friends, but I don't always use the device in a wifi zone so that was a
short-lived experience.  Solitaire and Free Cell are stalwart standbys, always ready in a pinch.  But the real problem, the headache, the just one more game and then I'll start to make dinner, is contained in Word Drop.

It's simple, really.  Letters in bubbles drop from the top of the screen.  I create words and receive a score.  If the bubbles cover too much of the screen the game is lost, the score is recorded, and I start again.  I'm good at games like these, games that require an extensive vocabulary and an ability to spend hours rearranging consonants and vowels.  It feels marginally more acceptable than Tetris, the last video game that captured me.....  not my attention.... it captured me entirely.

Word Drop is doing the same thing now.  TBG can watch talking heads and sports and I can keep him company on the couch, exchanging a word now and then if conversation is required, splitting my time between red and yellow and purple and blue and green letters and the pithy words of my sweetie.  It makes me feel less of a sluggard as I sit with him on Douglas. 

The problem is that I can't stop.  I am certain that a chemical reaction is occurring in my brain that keeps me connected to the device.  I can feel the muscles controlling my eyeballs straining and tiring and yet I go on.  The phone rings and I ignore it.  The pool beckons and still, I sit.  It's a physical connection that I find nearly impossible to break.

It's a good thing that the Kindle Fire has a short battery life; I'd never get anything done if it didn't shut itself off every now and then, drained of energy and freeing me to live my life.

Big Cuter played Everquest.... or EverCrack as it was known in our house... the game that was stupid and evil and should not be played....the game that kept him from the dinner table until I insisted that he join us... the game in which he was a guild leader at 16 but which sucked that year entirely from his existence.  He had on-line friends, it's true.  We just wanted him to have some who took him out of the house, too. 

I came to realize that he needed some lead time to leave his post.  He agreed to come willingly if I alerted him in time.  Last night he reminded me of the time I dragged him away and he lost hours of work and his fury knew no bounds... and that brings us back to the start of this post.

I took Amster's kids around town on Wednesday.  Mr. 7 was otherwise occupied as Mr. 9 and I waited for him in the lobby, each of us on our own device until he came over to see what I was playing.  Snuggling up nice and close (ahhhhhhhhh), Mr. 9 began to pick out words.... three letter words at first, but soon four and five and six letters were strung together and we were high fiving and feeling pretty smug. 

I was ranked 99th in the world in that game that afternoon.  Mr. 9 was impressed.... until I told him that in another version of the same game I was ranked 5th in the world.

Impressed doesn't begin to come close to the look on his face.  Awe. Admiration. Stupefaction. Pride.

All I felt was ridiculous. 

Another grown up in the room asked what it all meant.  Mr. 9 said that I was better than all but four people in the whole world.  My response was more accurate.  "It means that 4 people wasted more time on this game than I did."

"Why aren't you higher?  Can we try to make it so?"

No, honey, we can't, because I exited instead of saved that game and there's no way to get back into it.  The score remains on the leaderboard, but it cannot be improved. When it happened, I screamed.... I cried... I felt awful for days. 

We all sighed and that was that until I watched Necessary Roughness and saw the gamer character, a first-person-shooter champion,  become frantic when, distracted, he was defeated.  All that effort, lost.  He had a seizure.

While I was never that obsessed, I came close.  And when I shared my story, lost game and all, with Big Cuter that night on the phone, his glee knew no bounds.

How did it feel to have the shoe on the other foot?  Did I have sympathy for the younger him, now that I'd felt that same pain?  Did I enjoy my just desserts?

The answer was simple - no.  I was embarrassed that I allowed pixels to make me sad.  I was furious that I had invested so much time in such a meaningless pursuit.  I rued the days I'd squandered and the emotions in which I'd wallowed over something so unimportant.

Perhaps this public confession will shame me into quitting..... once I move up from 99th to1st in this new game I've started, that is.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Afternoon Delight

Little Cuter described herself as transportation. We volunteered at an after-school program for elementary school kids who found her to be a delightful way to cross the classroom. Their feet would have taken them, but riding on her back or her shoulders or grasping her leg as she dragged them was much more fun.

Today, I'm sitting in Amster's dining room, waiting for her boys to get off the bus and into my car for the errands they must run. Amster's at work and I, retired and in love with her kids, get to be their transportation. Just as with Little Cuter and Bahia Vista's care program, it's a win-win situation.

There's something very comforting to me about this time of day. I can't start a big project; the kids are on their way. I can't run a quick errand; there has to be a grown up to meet them here. The house seems to know that they are coming home; there's an expectant comfort in the air.

G'ma was usually home when I arrived at the end of the school day, at least when I was very young and my siblings even younger. I clearly remember the afternoon I was alone, all alone, for hours. Homework was finished and the dishwasher was emptied and I wandered around my room and the public spaces of our home, lonely and desperate to talk to someone. G'ma and my sister eventually returned, dinner was put on the table, and, from the depths of his bedroom emerged my brother. My brother, who had been home the whole time I'd been talking – aloud – to myself and begging for a response.

I asked him why he hadn't replied to my “Hello, nobodies!”, why he hadn't come out and spent time with me? “I had nothing to say.” That's my brother, in a nutshell.

Once I became a parent, this hour before the kids came home was my sacred time. I treasured the last moments of quiet, of solitude, of my own issues and no one else's. With TBG at work, my home was my own for those brief periods. I could crank up the music and dance foolishly across the wooden floors, slipping and sliding in my socks, with no one to laugh at me. I could call my girlfriends and moan and groan without worrying that little, prying, ears would overhear. This was my space to gird myself for the full onslaught of parenting which was soon to be dismissed from school.

When I drove carpool, I'd get to the line much earlier than anyone else. I'd roll down the windows and close my eyes, mistress of the 20 minute power nap, The kids loved to be the first to the car, frightening me awake with tickles or tossed acorns or a screeched “HI MOM!!!” It makes me smile to think about it.

Now, I've opened the garage door and checked out the kitchen cabinets and counters for snacks. I know where we are going once we've had our bathroom break. Until they get off the bus a little before 2pm, I'm going to revisit that power nap. Writing about it has made me sleepy.......

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Congressman Ryan, the Media, and Me

I'm watching Game Change this morning as TBG recovers from his visit to the dentist. He's napping and I'm rubbing his forehead and Julianne Moore is morphing into an Alaskan governor. It's no wonder that my thoughts have turned to Paul Ryan.

John Stewart was looking for substance last night. The Republicans touted their vice presidential nominee as the intellectual leader of their party. Given that, there ought to have been thoughtful, issues-based, questioning. All he could find were quotes about the Congressman's exercise routine, his father's early death, and how clever he was to sneak out of Janesville and into Boston without the media's knowledge.

Where was the substance? Certainly, when dealing with the man who created a plan for the future of our country, a budget to reorganize our government's priorities, certainly there is more to discuss than his abs. Now, when people might just be paying attention because it's something new, while people are listening to stories they might otherwise avoid, now would be the time to bring policy and insight on the issues of the day to the fore.

An informed populace is, somehow, less frightening to imagine than the mindless mob I picture every night before I go to sleep... the idiot in the lane ahead of me, the cashier who was flummoxed by the math required to include those two pennies I put on top of the bills, the family at the table next to us, each one playing a separate game on a smart phone, exchanging not a word nor a glance. They are permitted... and might even show up... to vote. Now, when even their thoughts might be captured , now would be the time to show how the Ryan budget plan would affect a young family of 5 living on the Congressman's salary of $174,000, forced to maintain two residences because of the job.

Make it real. Make it pertinent. Make it factual. Make it interesting.

Sarah Palin was the mother of a special needs baby and a pregnant teenage daughter and a son in Iraq while she was running for office. They were props in the campaign. Congressman Ryan has an adorable family with no skeletons revealed... thus far. Frankly, I don't care about their families, except as to what it says about the candidates as men. There was a time when Bill Clinton's only redeeming feature, as far as I was concerned, was Chelsea.

PX-90 is not a campaign platform. Why, when the candidate is presented as a man with a mind, why are we subjected to drivel?

A Mormon chose a Catholic to run with him against an African-American and an all-American. There's a lesson to be learned here. It's a moment for pride, a real melting pot taking place in our polity, and I have yet to hear anyone wax eloquent on the topic.

It's a piece of the election story that resonates with me. As a child, I knew I couldn't run for president.... I was poor, I was Jewish, I was female. Today, even the richest candidates spend two hours each and every day making fund raising phone calls. Religious beliefs are less important than Tea Party allegiances, and being female is now a blessing instead of a political curse. Times have changed and I'd like to hear someone say something about it.

Actually, I'd like to hear someone say something about anything other than the potential veep's abs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Three Broken Ribs

Remember those x-rays G'ma took last week?  The ones that they were "sure will be no problem but we'll call you if there is something of note," the ones I stopped worrying about because I was leaving for BlogHer'12 and I'd heard nary a word?  The ones that we thought were unnecessary, perhaps overly cautious, but that she had, anyway, because the Nurse Practitioner thought it would be a good idea.

"Can I afford it?  Will Medicare pay?"  Assured that it wasn't going to be a financial burden, G'ma accepted the procedure with her usual, snarky attitude. "A little more radiation won't kill me, will it?"

Since I've promised to keep her alive at least through the kids' wedding in late September, I paid a little bit more attention to the answer instead of rolling my eyes.  She's decided she wants a new dress for the affair; I want to be sure she's there to wear it.  "You'll be fine," was the answer and we exchanged a look because we both know that she's not fine and won't be fine but the NP didn't need to share our moment so we grabbed the prescription and bolted.

Those x-rays were taken and I traveled and returned and the arnica kept G'ma's swelling and purpling to a minimum and I attributed the extra kvetching as she got into and out of my car to the bruising and swelling..... until the phone rang early Saturday morning.  It was the pod castle and they were wondering why I wasn't over there fussing over G'ma and her three broken ribs.

Three broken ribs?

Between dead cell phones and new offices and inexperienced secretaries any attempts to communicate with me went astray, they say.  I'm refusing to believe that they didn't want to tell me and made a conscious decision not to call.  Everyone from every side apologized.  I'm not wasting energy there, worrying that those entrusted with my mother's well-being are plotting against us.

They did tell me she fell.  They did acknowledge it was during a supervised activity.  I'm really not angry at all. 

Should someone have been spotting her as she finished her turn and went back to her chair?  Probably... until you've spent any time around her and have been treated to the venom spewing from her eyes when you've offered assistance.  "I'm fine!" and a snarl is what will come your way, just ask TBG or Big Cuter, each of whom tried to be gentlemanly and received the full treatment.  I understand my mother's need to be independent and do for herself those things which are still within her reach, and I know the staff does, too.

Accidents happen.  That's why they call them accidents. 

But still, three broken ribs?  I drove over to the pod castle and asked G'ma if she felt weird, having thre broken ribs.

"Broken ribs?  I broke my ribs?  On which side?  I don't feel anything broken.... should I?"

There's my mother, worrying that she's disappointed me by not being able to identify broken bones.  I hugged her and she laughed.  "I thought I had broken ribs.  Be careful with that hugging."  No, I hadn't hurt her.  Couldn't I take a joke?

It's hard to be furious about three broken ribs when the patient has already moved on. 

Everyone at the pod castle is very concerned - about reporting, about phone calls, about safety, about prevention.  Underlying it all is their very real fear that I'll sue.  I tried to reassure them.  I smiled and I hugged and I expressed delight that the injury had happened when she was participating in an activity, rather than rolling off her couch like the last one.

Because the truth is that there was a last one and there will be another one and there's nothing we can do but smile and try to be sure that the same mistake is not made twice. A law suit would solve nothing.  I have enough aggravation without adding to the pile.  She receives loving care day in and day out.  I couldn't ask for more.

Still, it's nice that they had the grace to worry.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Stylin' in The Big Apple

Driving into The City (it's always going to be The City to me) on a $12.50 comfy shuttle bus to Grand Central and then a free van to the Hilton on 6th Avenue (which will never be Avenue of the Americas to me) fed my inner Scrooge as it afforded views like this
which I never see in Tucson. 
I didn't mind the signs and the narrow lanes and the grit.
It felt like home.
I closed my eyes and Daddooooo was driving and G'ma was grumbling and we kids were trying to see just how much mayhem we could accomplish before someone noticed.
It was bumpy and noisy and grimy and I loved it.

I took myself to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) after the conference ended on Saturday. It was only half way down 53rd Street, after all, and I have a membership.  My walking stick and I cruised right past the lovely ticket taker who smiled at my pretty membership card and clicked me through the turnstyle.

There are certain places I like to be, like between Van Gogh's Starry Night and Cezanne's The Bather, standing on the cool rocks below that nearly naked man's feet. It's an odd picture and I have spent more time than I did that Saturday contemplating the perspective.  That day, his right side's disconnect did not seem much different from my own. 

I saw some random wonderfulness, like this lovely bit of blue and yellow .
which are Little Cuter and SIR's wedding colors and if I'd been smart enough to notice the artist's name I might be able to do something wonderful but, alas......
It does make me smile, though. 

With that smile on my face, I entered and exited an elevator, turned a corner or two and saw these
mine detector shoes and a hand held device for personal use.
My smile was a little bit harder to find for a while.

I looked down from the third floor
and was entranced.
As soon as I caught my breath I went downstairs where I saw Giorgio Boetti's embroidery on fabric, six years in the making, world maps
and those remarkable rugs.
Handwoven in Afghanistan, the artists were given a simple instruction. 
Using two colors and a 10x10 grid, count to 100.
Take your time... start at the bottom right corner and track to the left.
 Some had colorful borders.
Some made fanciful shapes and designs.
The whole squares and boxes thing was everywhere
and I do mean everywhere.
I am certain that there was a point to all those televisions in one room but it was making me a little nutty so I left before I figured it out. 
There was an exhibit on The Century of the Child in design but they wouldn't let me take any pictures so you'll have to dig deep into your memory banks, or Google Images, and imagine the legos and slinky and color forms and the erector sets all carefully displayed near the Spirograph and the Etch-A-Sketch.  There were educational blocks with arches and ramps just like the ones my siblings and I painted red one wet afternoon.  Blow up dolls and Tetris and Dr. Seuss and Soupy Sales and the same Marimekko bedding Big Cuter had on his bunk beds for years were almost as enchanting to the actual children who were there as was the interactive shadow play exhibit.  It was all about them.
Kathleen was not only the perfect person to register me and quietly upgrade me and gush with me over the divers and swimmers and her love for all things equestrian, she recognized me as I crossed the lobby three days later.  She reminded me that she'd sent an amenity to my room, reminded me to call and ask for it, and so, denizens, I spent my last night in New York City indulging in berries and bubbly
compliments of the New York Hilton at 6th Avenue between 53rd and 54th... which, while not cozy, manages to be friendly and efficient and almost like home anyway..
I was too sleepy to take pictures of the city at dawn as my cabbie pointed out Ward Island and the various bridges and parkways, just because I wondered aloud which one was Randall's Island.
If only the airlines were as forthcoming with information and style and a sense of warmth and welcome.
I'd travel back and forth more often if I could beam myself there.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Getting Over Myself

It's been a tough week.  Just as I was finding a place in my soul for Aurora, Sikhs in Wisconsin were killed in an act of stupidity surpassing understanding. I spent a day in court and a piece of my heart was shredded, just a little bit more. The temperatures have been in triple digits and there's no end in sight. It's too hot to swim in the pool. 

Deep thought is at the very edge of possibility when perspiration is running down every surface of my body.  Profundity gives way to whimpering.  Yes, everything is air conditioned, but you have to get there first.  Our schools are one story, stretching over lots and lots of land.  There were great distances between the places I wanted to go this morning.

Today is the first day of school for the Amphitheater District.  Moms and Dads and aunties and day care providers held the hands of terrified tiny ones who stood in the lobby, staring, bemused, at the controlled chaos surrounding them.   Big Kids - fourth graders - herded younger siblings and cousins to the desk, where classroom assignments were clarified and directions given.... in several languages.

Ms. Levine was expecting at least 24 students .... and seven her kindergarten room.  The usual capable, competent, all-knowing smile was on her face; those little ones are luckier than they know, having her as their introduction to education in America.

The faces and the outfits were all the colors of the rainbow.  Hair was slicked back and held in place with barrettes and clips and ribbons and more gel than Diana Taurasi has ever used to affix an errant strand. Pink was the predominant color, and worry was the predominant emotion.

That's where the magic stickers came in. 

Haven't you heard of these magic stickers?  The smiley face in the top point is very very special.  If you rub it when you're feeling sad, it has the power to send the love of the grown-up who's holding your hand now... here in the lobby... that hand that feels so good and that you'll miss so much... all that love is sent right to your heart... at any time... whenever you need it.... all day long... just by rubbing the smiley face on the star.

Do you think you are the only one who is worried and afraid and a little bit scared?  Not so, my young friend.  Everyone who is wearing a similar sticker has had this same conversation.... was just as nervous... needs just as much help as you do.  If you see a sticker, smile at the person behind it; she'll know just why you're doing it. She'll probably smile back at you.

I left cookies and chocolate kisses for the staff, and I found Lowis's classroom after several false starts.  Precious was deposited in kindergarten. We were hot and sweaty and all a bit overwhelmed when Ms. Call and the student body president appeared on the flat screen for the welcome and the pledge of allegiance.

New technology and all, school still starts with the pledge.

It was time to drop off snacks at another middle school, and then to start my day.  Once again, doing good, sharing the love, receiving the hugs and the grateful handshakes has taken me away from the sadness and the horror and the grief that surrounds so much of the noise in my brain.  For a couple of hours this morning, my biggest worry was how to spell Lowis's last name, how to find room 605.

Plea deals and semi-automatic weapons didn't figure into the picture at all.  It was lovely.