Friday, December 27, 2013

Wrong Labels, Right Attitudes

A co-worker and I were lamenting some of our mutual observations from work. She asked me to “write a blog post about that, please." So, I did and hopefully you will enjoy it.

Everywhere I look there are caution labels. I am sure a quick search with Google will net a myriad of examples of labels that border on the ridiculous, such as: Caution, Knife may be Sharp; Blow Torch May Burn; or Dynamite may Explode if Fuse is Lit.

I think the biggest danger is from labels themselves. We live in a great big messy world and we like to make sense and order out of the chaos we see. Thus, we label what we see. Unfortunately, labels convey attitudes that vary widely. A wonderful lady I work with gave me a small tin of homemade Italian cookies for a present. I brought them home and the entire family enjoyed them. Almost. For Middlest, the label of ‘cookie’ meant sweet and gooey and probably chocolaty. She tried one of the cookies eagerly and immediately expressed her distaste. Like a good Italian, she threw her hands in the air, gesturing eloquently as she exclaimed, “That was not a cookie! That was....FIG PASTE!” Apparently the Italian in her extends to hand gestures and not to cookies.

My full time job is full of labels. I work with people who score lower than you or I might on some test of intelligence. Years ago, the label affixed to these people was mentally deficient, then mentally retarded, and now, people with mental challenges, consumers of services, or residents.

Twenty-five years ago, when I started working in the field, we had training classes to take, like First Aid, CPR, and Behavior Modification and Control. At that time the Government body that regulated, and funded, the agency, had a history of label changing in order to make peoples lives better.  I would tell you the name of the governing body, but they have changed it so many times, no one is sure what the name really is. In that they couldn’t change the names of First Aid and CPR, they changed Behavior Modification and Control to Strategies for Crisis Intervention and Prevention.

Along with the label change, there came a bunch more rules and regulations. The agency I work for, not to be outdone by the state of New York, added their own policies and procedures. Not to be outdone by administrators, the behavior specialists (these are people who specialize in having behaviors) also enacted new guidelines.

One of these new regulations by the State of New York, was that all employees of agencies like the one where I work, had to take a class called “Positive Approaches”, the basic theme of which is, find the most positive ways to help a person become independent and as productive as possible.

Some time ago, an administrator heard some interactions between staff and residents at a house I was working at once and didn’t like what she heard. The next staff meeting she visited and said, “You cannot use the word ‘no’ when talking to the residents.”

I questioned her to make sure I really heard what she said. “You are saying that, 'No, we can no longer say 'no’ to the residents?”

“That is what I am saying,” she replied.

This lack of insight and concentration on eliminating restrictions misses the point entirely. Rather than concentrating on what restricts people, we should be concentrating on what makes them free and independent.

When we concentrate on labels and restrictions, we get it all wrong.

Consider my friend who had the attitude right, but the labels wrong.

I picked this gentleman up from a visit with his parents that had lasted a few days. He was so excited when he saw me, he couldn’t sit still. He sat in the back of the van, yelling and pounding his fist on the ceiling of the van.

He yelled my name, “ROB! ROB!”

When I asked him what he wanted, he replied, “Rob, I love you, you bitch you bastard.”

Sense of duty pulled me to correct his labels, but my heart rejoiced in his attitude, because even though the labels were wrong, the attitude was right.

At least I hope so.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Plain Old versus New and Improved

Hold your hats on, I went shopping. All of my dear readers know that shopping and I are not the dearest of friends. However, this was grocery shopping, and I am on friendlier terms with groceries. In fact, the scale in my room tells me on a regular basis that I am much too friendly with groceries.

As Beloved and I strolled the aisles of the grocery store, I was suddenly struck by something. Thankfully we were in the cracker aisle and it was only a box of Wheat Thins that had fallen off the shelf and landed on my foot. Thankfully, we were not in the canned vegetable aisle.

Being a good citizen and conscientious shopper, I put the crackers back on the shelf. Then, as I looked up and down the aisle, something occurred to me; everything new and improved is simply the old tried and true product with a different flavor or unique twist thrown in. Not only can I buy my trusty old crusty crackers, but now I can buy ones with basil, sundried tomato, garlic and herb, or a variety of cheese flavors.

These flavors make me uncomfortable. When I come in from working at the newspaper at 2:30 in the morning, all sweaty and dirty, I don’t want to feel like I need to take a shower, and put on my Sunday goin’ to meetin’ clothes, just to slap a hunk of cheese between two crackers and munch contentedly. I do not feel like I can do that if my crackers are “Red Onion and Rosemary with a hint of Goat Cheese”.

This making something new by adding different flavors has leaked into coffee (Hazelnut Mocha Cinnamon with a dash of Cayenne Pepper), Salad dressings (Bacon Peppercorn Ranch with a twist of Lemon Lime), and even Potato Chips (Sweet Sea Salted Potato Chips with a light Dusting of Cocoa Powder).

I am all for trying new flavors. I once cooked a pot roast in Barq’s Root Beer; it was delicious and had a bite. But let us be realistic here, you know that all of this unique flavor business is to catch our attention and make us all think we are more cultured and eclectic than we really are.

So, I am making a call to all my fellow “Sticks in the Mud”, to join me on a boycott of the odd and unique flavors. As soon as I get done here I am going out to the kitchen to get the coffee pot set up to brew a pot of plain old coffee tomorrow morning, and in the morning I am going to pour that plain old coffee into a plain old travel mug to drink while driving my plain old car to my plain old job.

Who is with me?

Monday, December 16, 2013

So this is Christmas...Shopping

Christmas is almost here. Due to the diligent planning of my wife, we have finished shopping. I think there may be a couple of odd gift cards to special stores that need to be acquired, but the bulk of the shopping is  done. In fact, Beloved is so on top of the situation, she has the presents wrapped already.

Getting shopping and wrapping done early is a very good, but very exhausting, thing. In fact, everything about the holiday season is tiring. The longer nights and shorter days, the rushing hither and thither to visit family, the cooking and baking-- and squeezing that into the cracks between three jobs--all of it tends to tire me out. In all of that coming and going and doing, we sometimes forget to enjoy the Advent season. For my family, there will be church services, holiday parties, and we will find one night to go out and look at Christmas lights. Hopefully we will be able to spend one night drinking hot chocolate and speaking to one another in our best English accents. And, if we are very fortunate, Middlest will serenade us with an operatic rendition of the mundane activities of the day.

Speaking of Middlest, she is involved with “Service Club” at her high school. The entire purpose of this club is to be of service to the community. This year, the entire school donated money for the service club to buy Christmas presents and food for some disadvantaged families that live in the district.

And that meant more shopping.

So Saturday, after working until 2 AM, I took Middlest and two of her friends out to the stores. There I was with three teenage girls, shopping. This could have disastrous consequences. I tried to distance myself from them, under the guise of allowing these young adults the freedom to make their own choices and be productive members of society, without the intrusion of one of their parents.

The real reason I moved to a different part of the store was-- honestly-- three girls shopping! After an hour or so of wandering aimlessly in the wasteland of consumerism, I found a chair and tested it out. Finding it quite comfortable, I relaxed. And after what seemed to me a brief rest, a sales person who was stocking shelves nearby made a comment about my having a nice nap.

Feeling a bit embarrassed I began to search for my three shoppers. I finally found the three girls, delightfully shopping away, but not quite done. After another couple of hours, they were finally ready to check out. When we approached the registers, the sales associate who noticed my sleeping, was manning the cash register. She looked at the three girls and asked them if they found everything they were looking for. Then she looked at the two carts, loaded with toys, and her eyes widened a bit. Then she looked at me. I could see a flicker of recognition in her eyes. Then a look of  understanding crossed her face and with her eyes wide, she said, “Ah-ha, now I totally understand.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It was "One of Those Days"

I hate “those days”. I am sure you also do, as I am sure you have had them as well. Just this past week I had one of “those days”.

It started in the afternoon when I arrived at work. This would be my job at a group home. This is a home where individuals live who score a bit lower on some silly standardized test than you or I might score.

Like the awesome employee that I am, I checked the assignment book and found that I was cooking dinner on this soon to be disastrous day. I like dinner; I like to eat; and I like to cook. I was eager to get started. I flipped through the menu and the dinner for the night was a variation of chicken pot pie.

This brought to light the first problem. All of the chicken was frozen. I quickly immersed the package in warm water to let it start to thaw. Reading the recipe, I looked for the rest of the ingredients and realized we didn’t have the mixed vegetables that were called for.

Despite these two major set backs, I was undaunted I decided to make a substitution on the vegetable.

The kitchen at work has two ovens, and I decided to take full advantage of them this evening. I put the chicken in one baking dish, covered it in creamy goodness to make a delightful gravy and put the dish in one oven. Then I turned on the other oven to pre-heat. This was my critical error.

After a few minutes, the fire alarm went off. I was perplexed and checked the ovens to see what happened. It seems that someone on a previous shift had put a plastic plate with food on it, into the oven. The plate had melted, and when I opened the oven door, I was assaulted by a cloud of noxious smoke.

I turned the oven off and we evacuated the house and waited for the fire dudes to arrive. When they did, I explained what happened, leaving out the fact that I was the one who had not checked the stove prior to pre-heating it.

After the fire dudes, along with a dudette, ventilated the house and declared it safe, we all went back in. I finished cooking dinner; instead of biscuits I made mashed potatoes.

The good thing? Everyone enjoyed dinner and no one succumbed to food poisoning.

The bad thing? A few days later I was looking at the menu book again and realized I had read the menu for the wrong date. I was supposed to make Chili.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving, Politicians, and Turkey

My family and I hope that your Thanksgiving was wonderful. If you didn’t celebrate, whether it be for reasons of geography, or of choice, we hope that your Thursday ranked among the better ones you have had the fortune to encounter.

In case you missed it, it snowed across much of the United States just before Thanksgiving.  The Weather Channel named this winter storm Boreas. I don’t think naming a storm makes it more personable. I think, instead, that most people ignore the name and just run screaming into the grocery store for milk, bread, and eggs.

Storm Boreas struck my neck of New York State on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The timing of the storm caused a great panic. People, who normally put off shopping until the day before Thanksgiving were horrified to learn that they might have to go a day early. This put many procrastinators in a state of great agitation, conflicted over whether to shop a day early, or hope that the storm was not so powerful as to keep them from the store on Wednesday, so they could put off shopping for one more day.

As it turns out, Old Man Boreas was not as bad as it could have been. The roads were bad during the overnight hours, so travel was not bad during the day. The heavy wet snow caused a large section of tree to fall across the powerlines in our back yard, but we still had power. That is until a transformer blew a couple blocks away; then we lost power. 

Photo courtesy of Eldest @pianowoman94

The snow made Thanksgiving look more like Christmas. 

Photo courtesy of me

Thanksgiving has its roots in the history of the “separatists” coming over to the new world. Apparently, the in-boat movie for their trip starred John Wayne, and many of the youngsters on the trip kept calling each other Pilgrim; the name stuck.

After landing in the new world, the Pilgrims set up a colony and then decided to have a feast. The native people, Wampanoags, feasted with them. They feasted on shellfish, deer, corn, squash, but no turkey. After much painstaking research I discovered why they did not have turkey that first thanksgiving. A local First Grader told me with all certain seriousness, “The pilgrims didnt have turkey that first thanksgiving, because turkeys weren’t invented yet.”

It is my opinion that the first turkeys were invented around the time of the first elections. This has also led to the tradition of the President of the United States pardoning a turkey on the day before Thanksgiving. It is such a heart-warming ceremony, seeing how politicians look out for each other.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jonah, Monstro, and Mr. Bunko

 This past Sunday, the pastor of our church spoke from the Old Testament book of Jonah. You, I am sure, are familiar with the story. Or are you? Apparently Jonah was swallowed by a fish. It was Pinocchio and his creator, Geppetto, who were swallowed by a whale. Jonah was vomited onto dry land by the un-named fish, and Pinocchio and Geppetto were sneezed out of Monstro the whale. They then surfed and paddled to safety from the enraged Monstro, who pursued them angrily.

During the sermon, my mind wandered back to elementary school, where we had a student teacher who had a great idea.

Understand that I was in elementary school in the ‘70s. This was the decade of free love, earth day, sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and macramé. In the midst of this mix of craziness, a college senior had a great idea.

This young man, whom I shall call Mr. Bunko, was enthused about saving the earth, teaching the youth of the world to read and write, and passing on a deep appreciation and commitment to saving the earth from being destroyed by people.

How did he accomplish these lofty goals with only a few days in the class room?

He had his students each write a letter to the emperor of Japan, asking, pleading, reasoning with him to stop killing whales. I diligently wrote, after thinking about it for quite some time (I was an excellent procrastinator even as a young boy).

I knew that whale hunting was a big business in Japan and employed many people. I reasoned that if Japan stopped hunting whales, many people would not have a job and that would be bad. Therefore, in a stroke of genius, I offered the emperor of Japan my allowance.

Mr. Bunko was unimpressed. He called me to his desk, which wasn’t really his desk; he simply was squatting in my regular teacher’s territory. I do not remember his exact words, but he was not happy with my offering the emperor of Japan my allowance. He seemed to think that this was a silly, trifling thing that would not, could not, sway the supreme ruler of
Japan to stop a huge industry with a long and important history to his country. And he demanded a re-write.

I don’t think I ever did that re-write.

He was right about my letter. Yet, I was crushed. From that day I hated writing, especially letters. Now, today I write a letter to Mr. Bunko.

Dear Mr. Bunko,

Many years have passed since I wrote that letter to the emperor of Japan, the letter in which I offered him my allowance if he ended the practice of hunting whales. I was saddened by your reaction to my writing. I am still sad to this day. I am not sad because of your words to me; I am sad that you did not recognize the absolute natural genius sarcasm I wrote in that letter.

Honestly, did you think that 23 letters written by elementary school students from New York would change his mind regarding this large and historic industry. Students, not from the great city of New York, but in a medium-sized city in a part of the state that many people forget is even there. Students who were not even residents of that city, but lived in a nondescript suburb of that medium-sized city. I am sure that those letters produced as much change in the emperor’s attitude as my promise of turning over my measly allowance would have.

Today I realize the sarcasm that naturally flowed into that letter, and I am proud.

Therefore, as an adult, a parent, a writer, and a lover of education, I demand you re-write your lesson plan. I expect the revisions on my desk by the end of the day.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I Hate Shopping

Here, where I live, in New York State, we had our first accumulating snow of the season. To narrow the geography down a little bit, I live in the western portion of New York State. For those who are unaware, there is a lot of real estate in New York that doesn’t include New York City.

When the snow started to fall, around 7:00 in the evening, I happened to be driving for work. My co-worker and I began to sing Holiday songs. His humor being as warped as mine, we created our own lyrics that were slightly amusing, at least to us. Lyrics like, “Oh the weather outside”

Since Halloween, the Christmas shopping advertisements have started on television, and the snow only added to the impending sense of Christmas. The church I attend has, for the past few years, invited the congregation to participate in Advent Conspiracy. I encourage you to check out the website and read about it for yourself. I especially like the idea of spending less; doing less shopping. I hate shopping.

Let me clarify that it is not the act of shopping that bothers me the most. I shop, but when I shop, I like to get all Walter Mitty and imagine I am on a CIA rendition. I swoop in fast and low, grab the target, pay off an official on the way out, and escape before being spotted by the enemy.

The things that bother me the most in executing my mission are an unspecified target, civilians milling around impeding my progress, and long lines at the border check points.

I am quite thankful that Beloved understands these things and that is why we start our Christmas shopping in October and are usually done by Thanksgiving. We take a couple of weekdays and get out to the mall as the doors open. We shop until the crowds start to swell; and by swell, I mean more than 10 other people in the store.

I am always amazed at how people can safely drive to the mall; they follow all the rules of the road, keeping to the right, neither speeding, nor impeding traffic, and entering  traffic safely. Then they arrive at the mall and immediately upon walking through the doors, lose all common sense. They walk against the flow of traffic; they enter the flow of traffic without looking both ways, and stop without warning in the middle of the lane of traffic.

This addlepated perambulating is infuriating.  

That is why I hate shopping so much, and so, Beloved has a detailed plan when we shop. She knows which stores we are going to attack,which packages we need to extract, and what is a reasonable amount to be paid to each border guard. Every step is planned out. Our Christmas shopping rendition complete, it is now time for my favorite part of the holiday season, eating cookies.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Brainwashing Anyone?

The news this week carried an article about research done right here in my back yard. Well, not really my literal back yard, but a few miles up the road at the University of Rochester. The study showed that when a person sleeps, the brain is actually washed, by cerebral-spinal fluid, removing toxins that have accumulated during the day.

This brought back memories from when I was a young boy. I was fascinated with the concept of “brainwashing”. It seems to me that the concept appeared in a few shows that I watched. In those shows, brainwashing seemed to sometimes be accomplished by hypnosis and at other times complex machinery was used to plant suggestions for the brainwashee to act on, when stimulated by a specific stimulus. In more extreme cases, brain washing wiped a person’s memories and replaced them with new ones, creating a whole new person.

In fact, as a child, I wanted a pocket watch so I could hypnotize people. After all, it would be totally stinking awesome to get my brother and sister to do my chores for me. Then one Christmas, my brother and I got toy stop watches that I could run a string through and use to hypnotize my siblings. 
My evil plan was about to commence.

I tried to hypnotize my brother first, by spinning and swinging the plastic watch, dangling on the end of the string in front of his eyes. In as deep a soothing monotone as I could muster, I said “You are getting sleepy, very sleepy”.  It didn’t work. Then I tried my sister. This time i turned the lights down, to create a relaxing atmosphere. Once again, slowly swinging the watch, I chanted soothingly, “Sleepy, you are getting sleepy.” It still didn’t work. For a long time the three of us went back and forth, each of us trying to hypnotize each other, without success. No hypnosis, no brain washing, no getting our siblings to do our chores for us.  

Perhaps it was because the watches weren’t real pocket watches; they were toy stop-watches. Or maybe it was because they were plastic and not shiny silver or gold disks that beautifully reflected the light. Or maybe it was the string, rather than a fancy chain, we used to suspend the watches from our hands.

Years later, I took a psychology class, and the professor actually spent one class period teaching about hypnosis and demonstrated it in class. It was then I realized how complex the concept of hypnosis really is and that what you see on TV is not quite proper, because they don’t want little children hypnotizing their siblings and planting  the hypnotic suggestion of doing another person’s chores. 

Now that I have a better understanding of hypnosis, as well as three daughters, and lots of chores, if anyone is looking for a present to gift me for Christmas, I could use a nice shiny, metal pocket watch, with a real chain.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Government is Shut Down? What Ever Shall We Do?

The biggest news of the week has been the shutdown of the Federal Government, at least the non-essential parts. This, of course, screams to have the question asked, “Why do we put up with any portion of our government being non-essential?” With a national debt into the trillions of dollars, why do we pay for things we can do without?

Of course, people have differing views on what is essential and what is not. This is usually divided along lines of personal priorities. Those visiting national parks believe that after months of planning and hundreds of miles of travel, it is essential that they view the wonders of God’s creation, although the Government seems to think that adoring  and basking in the glory of creation is non-essential.

And people are arguing over who is to blame for this shut down. Democrats are pointing the finger at Republicans, who in turn are retorting, “When you point a finger at me, there are three others pointing right back at you.”

To which the Democrat’s reply, “Well, you are a big doody head.”

From Facebook timeline, not sure who to attribute it to.

Then we turn our attention to the furloughed federal workers. These fine men and women insist that their jobs are quite essential if they are to feed their families. Still the entire federal government, from the President on down, points at each other and shouts, “It is HIS fault.”

While our esteemed legislators are reluctant to take responsibility for the mess we are in, they are eager to remind us that they are powerful and benevolent leaders, and the country would be in a mess without them, and that without their amazing leadership we would hardly be able to survive.

What is lost in all of this noise is the individual American. The furloughed worker, the grieving widow of a soldier waiting for her loved one’s casket, the harried mother separating fighting children and scolding them for calling each other doody heads. 

The key to America being great is not found in our government, it is in each individual American, getting up and treating the day as an opportunity to be productive, ignoring the TV and the lack of contact with reality that seems to come with living in Washington, and doing what it takes to survive, and provide, and be productive, despite the government’s best to stop all individual forward progress.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dreaming is Hard Work

I must confess that September caught me flat footed. Most months actually do that. However, the start of school brings crazy hours of work for me, and with crazy hours of work comes crazy hours of sleep. I have found that it takes me a couple weeks to get my feet back under me. At least that is the excuse I am giving you, dear reader, for my lack of blog posts.

The good news is that with the weird hours of sleep come weird dreams (at least weirder than normal) which in turn has made for inspiration for this week’s rambling.

In the opening sequence of my dream, I showed up for work at the third job at the bright early time of 10:00 AM.  This may sound rather late, but when the presses don’t normally start until between 11:30 PM and 12:00 AM, my arrival in the late morning is rather ghastly.

Shortly after I arrived at work, I left again. I don’t know why I left. This is a dream folks and things do not always make sense in dreams. As I was driving down the road, I decided to stop and get coffee. My preferred purveyor of the caffeinated elixir of the gods, is Tim Horton’s. In our family we refer to Tim Horton’s as Tim’s . Tim’s is an invention of Canada and exported to select areas of the North Eastern United States. Not only do I like their coffee, but they sell donuts, and muffins, and bagels, and ice cream. And I am gaining weight just thinking about it.

Back to my dream. I was driving towards Tim’s and I realized that I should check with my co-workers and see if they want coffee. I pulled out my iPhone and opened up the texting app. Texting while driving in New York State is illegal, but I, apparently was unconcerned, since I was in a Dream State.

My phone had decided to update itself to iOS 7, without consulting me. This was  troublesome. In my dream, iOS 7 had taken on a retro look. The screen background was black and all of the characters were a lovely shade of green. Just like the old cathode-ray tubes from the early 1980‘s.  

To make bad things worse, everytime I tried to text my co-workers the simple phrase, “want coffee?” my dream phone decided to tell me that I had taken new pictures and asked if I wanted to share them via text message.

In the midst of all this craziness, I missed the entrance for Tim’s and ended up in an apartment complex, completely contained underneath the bridge of a superhighway. This was an unfortunate place for the apartments.

By this time, I decided to stop the car. Now in real life, I would have sat in the car and texted my co-workers to get their coffee orders and when I got their orders I would have driven to Tim’s , purchased said beverages, returned to my car, and driven to work.

Did I do that in my dream? No! That would be much to mundane. I parked the car, opened the trunk of my Toyota Corolla, pulled out a ten-speed bicycle, put on my helmet, and started to randomly pedal around the complex, dodging things splatting on the ground from the highway over head, getting nauseous from the smell of the engines roaring and still tried to text my co-workers.

At this point in my dream, I woke up....exhausted.

Monday, September 30, 2013

After a restful summer, September always seems to catch me unprepared and this year was no exception. The beginning of school has meant working three jobs, getting used to a convoluted sleep pattern, and trying to squeeze more activity into less time.

September and the beginning of school has been a little unkind to Eldest too. Just as she was reaching her stride in the beginning of the semester, she fell ill. That sounds ominous, but thankfully, it was nothing horribly serious, and antibiotics have worked wonders for her.

In the midst of her not feeling well, she was cuddling with a teddy bear she received when she had her appendix removed. As she thought about the events that led to her being given the bear, she realized she hadn't named the creature. With keen and witty insight that makes her punny father proud, she decided on a name, Appendecteddy.

So, wonderful reader, I will re-share my recounting of the events surrounding Eldest and her appendectomy.
I originally posted this in December of 2011.

Friday, December 23 was a crazy day. I picked Eldest up from school and brought her home. She complained of a stomachache while we rode home. I assumed it was from anxiety due to wondering whether she was going to get coal in her stocking this year. After we arrived home, we sat on the couch together to chat. The pain must have gotten worse because, all of a sudden, she gripped my arm in a death grip, dug her nails into my flesh, and let out a low moan.

My wife and I decided a trip to the doctor was in order. So, Eldest and I went off to see the doctor. After explaining the situation to him, he looked at my arm, applied a little antibiotic cream, and said I would be fine. Then he said I probably should take Eldest to her pediatrician. I called my wife and told her what my doctor said and that we were on our way to the pediatrician’s office. There was dead silence on the other end, then she said, “Wait, what?”

When we finally made it to see the pediatrician, he sent us off to Strong Memorial Hospital Pediatric Emergency room. There she was asked a hundred questions; although it was actually the same five questions asked twenty times. “Where does it hurt? What is your pain level on a scale from 1 to 10?  What is your birthday? Do you have any allergies?” and “What is the meaning of life?”

After a while, when someone new would enter the room, Eldest would blurt out, “I am allergic between 7 and 8, it hurts July 2, I was born on the lower right quadrant and it hurts due to seafood and peanuts. Oh, and I am allergic to cats too.”

The doctors explained there would be a couple of imaging tests to determine what was going on, although they were ‘fairly certain’ it was appendicitis. The first test was an ultra sound, which apparently was not ultra sound, since it did not show anything definitive. The next test, and the most concerning, was a cat scan. As I already mentioned Eldest is allergic to cats. When I mentioned this to the wonderful technician, she just laughed knowingly and said she was sure my daughter would be fine.

The rest of the evening was long on waiting and short on activity. Doctors came and went, nurses took blood, and Eldest finally was moved up to the 4-3600 unit of the hospital, the “Pediatriac Surgical” unit. I had previously thought I had three daughters, when I actually have three pediats. This revelation, which came at 3 a.m. with no sleep, was quite disturbing, but not as disturbing as realizing my eldest pediat was going to have her appendix removed.

After a short nap, Eldest was wheeled down to pre-op, and by 8 a.m. was in surgery. The surgeon informed me that everything had come out fine.

“Everything?!” I asked.

Not everything, he assured me, just her appendix.

Eldest returned to her room, and we joined her. There we waited some more. What a way to spend Christmas Eve. Middlest, in her best radio announcer voice began to intone as a TV announcer advertising the latest Christmas album, “For your enjoyment this year we have some of your favorite holiday songs; ‘I am dreaming of an appendix less Christmas’, ‘I’ll be home for Christmas, just without an appendix’, and of course, everyone’s favorite, ‘All I want for Christmas is an appendectomy’.”

Eldest laughed, clutched her stomach and moaned, “Stop; it hurts to laugh.”

It was a pain sitting in the ER, waiting for surgery and waiting for her discharge to come home late Christmas eve night. My family and I are thankful for the doctors, nurses, and patient care techs in the ER, surgery, and especially on the 4th floor of Strong, for their wonderful care for our precious Eldest.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Was it a Mouse in the House, or a Moose on the Loose

Middlest has been known to speak with a British accent, and at one time looked at the clock and out of no where said, “It’s Five O’clock? God Save the Queen!” So, she was not amused on Thursday when she discovered we had a surprise visitor to our house. That visitor revealed its presence to Middlest early in the morning as she was getting ready for school.

The visitor was a wayward field mouse, who had mistakenly wandered into our house and sought out the comfort of our kitchen. This greatly displeased all three of my daughters, and  Beloved as well.

I am puzzled by this attitude towards the small and lowly mouse. As my daughters grew up, they enjoyed watching a set of videos starring a country mouse and a city mouse. This dynamic duo of mousedom traveled all over the globe, had many fine adventures, and contributed greatly towards the good of mankind. This animated duo helped save people during the San Francisco Earthquake, preserve priceless ancient artifacts in Egypt, inspire Monet to paint water lillies, and even protected the crown jewels of England.

Despite this early education regarding the wonders of mousedom, my daughters do not like mice. They think they are evil.

And my phone registered their discomfort Thursday morning as it rattled incessantly with messages of grief, anguish, and disgust. Finally, after a bazillion texts, the phone heaved a sigh of quietness as daughters went off to school and Beloved was certain I would be home to take care of the situation.

The last set of texts went like this:

Eldest - I didn’t see the mouse when I left this morning,
but I also wasn’t looking for it.

Me - K. Thanks

Eldest - But I could feel its evil little presence watching my every move.

Me - Ha! I shall poison the evilness. And  
      let its carcass rot outside for all eternity

Eldest -  My ears rejoice at the sound of such an evil plan!

Me -  But soft, I am eager to slay the
        beast and return my domain to a    
       happier state

Later, Eldest once again texted:

Eldest - Has the enemy been vanquished?

Me - The trap has been laid.
        The enemy shall be caught
        unawares and sickened by its
         own appetite

Eldest - This Lady protesteth not.

Some people have the nack for taking a mole hill and turning it into a mountain; my family takes a mouse and turns it into a moose.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On the First Day of School, My Boss Gave to Me

Thursday I drove a school bus. This isn’t really a revelation, since many of you know that during the school year I work three jobs and one of them is driving school bus. Today was also the first day of school, which means lots of frustrated parents, teachers, bus drivers, and administrators.

In the morning I rode along with a new driver, but in the afternoon I had my very own route. Well, since I am only a substitute driver, I never really have my own route. I simply borrow someone else’s route for a short time and give it back when they want it back.

The afternoon’s run started out dreadfully. I was assigned my route and went to the file cabinets where the information on all the routes are kept. I found the folder for the route I was assigned to and it was empty. That could be good or bad. It could mean that there really wasn’t anywhere for me to go, or it could mean that I had to guess. Not sure which it was, I did the unfathomable, I checked with my boss.

That was a mistake.

Apparently, there wasn’t a regular driver for that run. The paperwork hadn’t been completed. And no one was sure where the bus actually was and the students needed to be picked up from school in 30 minutes. With amazing speed, I wrote out the directions, found the bus, and made it to the school with time to spare.

My first school was an elementary school. I got all the students delivered in a timely fashion and without incident. My next route was a middle school after school run. I figured this one would be easy, since the pupils were older and more mature. I got to the first stop, at the corner of Trig Terrace and Chemistry Lane. I opened the doors and announced where we were. Nothing. No one moved. So I started on and asked the students if anyone was on the bus for the next few stops. I was ecstatic since there were quite a number of stops I could skip.

After I reached the halfway point in the trip a young scholar approached me and said, “I think I missed my stop, I needed to get off at Trig Terrace and Chemistry Lane.” I smiled politely and said, “Yes, you did, but have no fear, I shall safely convey you back to your appointed stop.” Or something like that.

I was disappointed the run was going to take me a little bit longer than it should, but it wasn’t a big set back, and I could recover. I was heading to my last stop at the wild west side of the district, when the student, who had told me she lived on a corner of English Road, suddenly exclaimed, “Bus Driver! You have gone the wrong way. I live at 131 English Road and that house number is 3163.”  That was on the far eastern side of the district.

She had gotten on the wrong bus. But all was still not lost. I turned the bus around and on my way back to the totally opposite side of the world, I dropped the forgetful, and apparently deaf, and most likely blind, student off at the corner of Trig Terrace and Chemistry Lane.

It soon became apparent that my last student had great confidence in her non-existent geography prowess. As we traveled down Mt Read and when we reached English Road, the road she lived on, and only a few blocks from her house, I asked, “Does anything look familiar?”

She looked out the window and read the road sign. “Oh, Mt Read, you are close, but you need to keep going straight.” I almost lost it. Not in a bad way, but I almost laughed out loud at the young lady. Although we had come from a different direction, this was the intersection she had been describing for the past few minutes, using phrases like, “I am an expert on my street and how it looks” and “when we are close, I will be able to give you directions.”

I turned down English Road and the student said, “This looks kind of familiar.” Then she saw a street sign. “Wait, there is a road just like that near my house. Oh, look, that's my house!”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Will It Be Like in Twenty Years

This was the last full week of summer. Next week school begins, at least in my neck of the woods. From reading comments on Facebook and Twitter, along with more traditional sources of news, I understand that for many of you school has already started. My daughters would say to you, “That’s ridiculous. Ain’t nobody got time for that going to school and listening to muddle-headed teachers yet.” Let me extend my apologies to all of you teachers, we really do appreciate you.

Eldest, being in college, has been back to school for a week. Monday, her first day back, was Convocation, a deeply symbolic service, celebrating the return of professors and students to campus.  Professors dress in full academic regalia, the Grand Marshall of the college carries the College Mace (a great big stick with some goo-gaw on top, like a royal scepter only for collegiate setting) and leads a processional down the main aisle of the auditorium. I have no idea how the Grand Marshall is chosen; I think perhaps the faculty chooses one of their members who isn’t afraid of walking down the aisle and carrying a big stick.

And so, during Convocation, the campus, dusty and bored from the summer absence of students and faculty, enfolds the new and returning students and faculty into it’s protective embrace, yet again.

I did not attend Convocation this year and haven’t attended since my years as a student. However, after Convocation I did attend a luncheon on campus, with Beloved. Prior to the actual luncheon there was a punch hour. Now, it sounds as if this college has a violence problem, what with Mace at Convocation and punch hour prior to a luncheon. I assure you that it is a very non-violent place and I saw no evidence of a pugilistic melee prior to the meal. At the punch hour, I ran across the college’s 

First Lady. To be clear, I did not literally run across her, that would be considered vehicular assault, and I am first, non-violent (despite playing violin from elementary school and into college. Yes, it is the same college where Eldest now attends.), and I am a professional driver.
The First Lady, although not imposing in stature, certainly commands attention with her warm spirit, keen intellect, and that warm Texas twang in her voice. As she made her way around the room, she stopped to share a funny story with me.

She shared a scene she saw in Convocation, this most pompous of circumstances, with the dimly lit auditorium, quiet music playing, the soft swishing of the robes as the faculty wait in the wings for the cue for the Grand Marshall to commence the procession. At the outset of this regal event, she watched as Eldest, and one of her biffles (my children tell me that biffle means, best friend for life) saw and greeted each other.

“Now mind you, these two haven’t seen each other for, what? All of twenty minutes. When they saw each other, they hugged and squealed and jumped up and down, like they hadn’t seen each other in years. I can only imagine what homecoming will be like for them in twenty years,” she said.

So, gentle reader, whether you are hugging this new school year and jumping up and down with glee, or you are entering it with all the seriousness of the Grand Marshall carrying the big stick, do it with all your heart.

Even Littlest, who suspects that all teachers are escapee’s from a lunatic asylum, have absolutely no idea how to teach, and who does not want to go back to school to sit under their tutelage, has decided to complain about this year with all her heart.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Trip to the Zoo and Avoiding the Traffic

One of our plans for the summer was a trip to the Buffalo Zoo in Buffalo, NY, and Thursday was the day that was chosen. We needed to wait until after Eldest returned from her trip to Guatemala, which she did, and although she brought me neither avocados nor guacamole, she did bring me 100% Guatemalan coffee, which is decidedly delicious, and astoundingly awesome.

There was one small drawback: apparently someone else decided to visit the Buffalo and Western New York area Thursday as well. If you, gentle reader, guessed President Obama, you have read the news and are correct.

Thankfully, we passed the airport just before Air Force One landed. We made it to the zoo just after the gates opened and had a wonderful time laughing at the baby gorilla's antics, oohing at the young polar bear frolicking in the water, and haha-ing at the hyena's laughing.

After the PGA tour made it’s championship stop in Rochester, I was eager for this trip to the zoo to see the lynx and a tiger. We stopped to see the lynx, but no one was on the greens. We saw not one, but two tigers. One was stuffed dead and the other was alive. So at least half of that plan worked out for us.
Sure sign for Lynx, but no one was home

Stuffed Tiger
Sleeping Tiger, I am jealous

Then it was on to the adventure called lunch. We tried to find a Dairy Queen that served burgers and not just ice cream. This was a futile search. We opted to stop at the first fast food joint we found. Not being that familiar with Buffalo, we ended up at a McDonald's just off the campus of University at Buffalo (UB). Yes, the same UB where the President of the United States was speaking. When I realized where we were, I was mortified. After all, we may have gotten stuck in some presidential traffic constipation; and I hate that. 

In an effort to find out how much trouble I was in, I turned to social media. I searched twitter for the official President Of The United States hashtag (#POTUS). The first thing I found was autocorrect thinks POTUS should be corrected to POUTS; how sad is that? After manually correcting autocorrect, I discovered that the POTUS was no longer at UB: he wasn’t even in Buffalo. He was at a diner in Rochester. In order to reach that diner, he had to travel practically right by my house and I missed it! This day was turning out to be totally stinking awesome.

We left Buffalo and returned to Rochester, tracing the same route Mr. POTUS followed. I want you to know I was able to negotiate the route without the aid of a phalanx of state troopers clearing the route for me and without helicopter air support. I guess I am just more awesome than some people.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Oh What a Beautiful Fair.

This past week we took an hour drive through the farm fields of Western New York. We went to the Wyoming County Fair, in Pike, New York. By we, I mean, Littlest, Middlest, and one of her friends, Ms. Mel Mac (whose name has been altered to blur the lines between reality and whatever I decide to write after this point).

During the hour drive the three young ladies conversed intently about trigonometry, statistics, and calculus, debated the benefits of taking physics versus taking chemistry, and examined which foreign languages were best for which careers.

I listened carefully to the conversation and when there was a lull I inserted my well thought out observation, “My goodness, isn’t the corn high?” This unleashed a barrage of intelligence from these three young ladies. There was talk of using trigonometry to measure the height of the corn, physics to measure the force of popcorn popping, and biology to detect how long it took corn to digest in a goat’s stomach.

Littlest, who loves elephants, but has never been to Oklahoma, wondered how high an elephant’s eye is from the ground and if corn could ever truly reach that height. When there was another pause in the conversation, I interjected, “What is a buccaneer?” They all looked at me with brows furrowed in confusion. I went on, “A buck an ear is an outrageous price for corn.” They all groaned.

The major draw of this fair is looking at the animals. There are rides of course, but the animals are so darn cute. Take for example these sleeping pigs, who seem to be smooching.

Of course, the cows were not to be out done and began to smooch as well.

All of this kissing began to make me nervous. After all, I was escorting three innocent young ladies.

Finally, after fretting and worrying, I found the perfect place for them.

By the way, as we left the fair we saw a sign that advertised 15 ears of super sweet corn for $3.50. So, a buck an ear is a crazy price for corn.