Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: Spring training is upon us!

Caught in the headlights...

Caught in the headlights...
The author of Mark's Work, at the botanical gardens inFort Bragg...

Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks
Why I grow flowers

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Brought to you in Three-Bee...

At the coast

At the coast
Love is the greatest power.

Beauty abounds!

Beauty abounds!
Tomatoes are what's up. Sooooo close...

If you've seen one butterfly, you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.

If you've seen one butterfly,  you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.
"You put your left foot out..."

July Jewels

July Jewels
Bees to the Kingdom

Bells of Ireland

Bells of Ireland
My first time growing these lovelies....

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Best Halloween Movie Ever


Best Halloween Movie Ever

The best Halloween movie ever made is Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” I say this because it encompasses everything about Halloween that appeals to me, and shuts out the component that pushes me away from this fall holiday.

I hate horror movies overall because they tie into my panic attack syndrome, which capitalizes on the unexpected in my life, and used to send me reeling. “The Twilight Zone,” “Tales from the Crypt,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” were already enough to paralyze me with fear, before the whole masked, chainsaw-wielding-murderer genre of horror film came into being.

No set of circumstances in existence, could ever find me watching anything remotely resembling this kind of picture. I am still baffled beyond belief, as to what the attraction is. I felt that way as a ten-year-old, and I am 64 now. Nothing has ever occurred to shed light on this subject.

The first thing TKAM has going for it, is the setting: Halloween, a costume contest and a dark and windy night. Secondly, most of the novel sets the stage for a confrontation between two prevalent themes of prejudice and mental illness. 

The most base form of prejudice is laid out in black and white for the reader to examine, with the only conclusion to be drawn being that white prevails over black in the most egregious manner possible. That would be in a court of law, where reason and sanity are supposed to prevail.

Mental illness comes under scrutiny because the novelist focuses on one character with severe issues, and through the kids, allows another form of prejudice to come to light. When this man turns out to be a hero at the end, it becomes obvious that there was no validity to the mean stories that were being told about him for the past two decades, helping to dispel myths about mental illness.

Finally, TKAM is the best Halloween story because it uses the holiday to help people understand just how vile it is, to hate someone or something, for no other reason than a preformed concept of what that person might be like.

Being black does not make a man a rapist, any more than being mentally ill makes a man a monster. However, when people form hasty conclusions, based on prejudice, often reality never comes to light.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” used to be on the core literature list for eighth graders, and in Laytonville, I always found it to be amazingly well-received, despite the challenging vocabulary, and complex themes.
Dozer

Laytonville middle school students were inordinately capable of getting their collective dander up, and they used to get so indignant as to make me feel there was hope for this generation of rural Americans, after all. In different years we did mock trials, we did reenactments and we always watched the film when we were done hashing through it.

So tomorrow night, when Annie goes down to Ben and Holly’s to watch, er, scary movies, I will stay here and watch “To Kill A Mockingbird” with Dozer, who just so happens to have the best Halloween face mask ever invented.

It’s so good he wears it all year-round.



Friday, October 28, 2016

Let the Reader Beware

Let the Reader Beware

One year ago today, I posted an innocuous piece on Mark’s Work, entitled “Behind the Mask.” There was nothing particularly singular about this essay on my unease with Halloween, except that it was to be the last post for me for the next six months, due to a massive tech failure from which I was unable to extricate myself.

To be honest, I was not posting that frequently at this point in time, being immersed in harvest season and not having the inclination to impart pearls of wisdom, so I just marked time. After all, I knew nothing more than “The Tale of the Spinning Icon,” the ominous result of trying to access either my blog or the stats for my blog.

Who ya gonna call when your blog goes on vacation?
The tools of the trade

Combined with the pending demise of my first MacBook, I was plunged into the abyss of a blog blackout, and there was nothing I could do.

Writing for me is equivalent to living, at my advanced age. I say that facetiously, to a certain extent, but the reality is that nothing rocks my right brain like writing. Photography is more vibrant, aesthetically, but arranging words on paper in different and fresh ways, and posting them on Mark’s Work, requires far more brain power.

“Far more” is a relative term, because neither the photography nor the writing requires a tenth of the effort that say, trimming cannabis does. That’s what I ended up doing last winter, beginning at this exact time, and going through the end of February, before it was time to venture out and begin preparing the soil for spring, 2016.

I was stuck in limbo, with an ancient computer (five years old, which in computerese, is 105 years, each year equivalent to 21 human years), and a tech issue far beyond my limited knowledge. The story is long and sordid, but 181 days after my blog failed, my friend Joe resurrected it and I was back in business. 
Already ten-and-a-half years old in computerese,
this is Suzy Puente.

I write for myself and I write for enjoyment. If someone does not like what I have to say, that person simply steers clear. My political views center on social injustice, of which there is no shortage, and of course, the travesty which is the current election.

STOP!

And rightfully so, because I have alienated enough of the locals already, as it is. I didn’t mean to; it just happened.

My blog is the representation of my inner voice, one which never stops. Whatever flow of consciousness is shifting the pebbles of my mind, at any given time, is that which will appear on Mark’s Work.

So let the reader beware.



Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Negative Self-Talk

Negative Self-Talk

Whether you refer to it as stream of consciousness or call it that inner voice, we all have thousands of thought bubbles-both positive and negative-wafting through the expansive caverns of our minds, helping to set our mood for the day. What many people do not know is that we have far more control over which direction our days will go, than we might realize. 

Let’s refer to the pessimistic thought bubbles as “negative self-talk,” and look at four examples of how an inner dialogue might go. I am going to focus on these four because there is a cause-and-effect thing happening here, and several of the negative self-talk concepts are closely related.

Catastrophizing is a long word that should be easy to define by the context of the word catastrophe. It simply means to approach an event or responsibility with an ominous sense of impending disaster. Are you starting a new job? One that you are certain will be challenging? Are you fixated with past punctuality issues, and worried that you are going too go through it all again?

As challenging as it is to do, I have found I can turn off the negative self-talk voice by refusing to follow its line of reasoning. I will also counter it with logic as in, “I know I have had this issue, but am going to start from Day One to address it by setting my alarm clock a half-hour earlier than I used to, by having my lunch already made and by keeping the gas tank on my car more than halfway filled, so that I never have to stop for gas on the way to work.”

Catastrophizing goes hand-in-hand with “What-if?” questions, and both should be avoided at all costs. For instance, “What if I get a flat tire on the way to work my first day, and am late?” is an example of “What-if?” thinking.

It builds up a sense of impending disaster, when there is no need on earth to do so. Because I am afraid I will mess up, invariably I will find a way to do so, and anger the boss at the same time.

Filtering is another self-talk concept which simply means that in examining any given situation, one filters out all that happened that was good, and focuses on what went wrong. You had a good day and your coworkers made sure you knew they appreciated it, but you remain disconcerted by the fact that you stuck your foot in your mouth at lunch, right when everyone was listening. You get overwhelmed by how bad it all sounds but forget that most of the day was quite productive.

Black and white thinking is another self-talk mode, one which involves seeing a situation as all-good or all-bad, instead of recognizing that things are far more likely to end up somewhere in the middle.
That's me all right...

For me it comes down to last night when, for the second evening in a row, I was so wiped out that despite having kids over both nights, I ended up skipping the meal and going to bed. I was not in a bad space, just too tired to care about eating. It makes no sense to me to eat when I am so tired I can’t even appreciate how tasty it is.

Meanwhile, now my brain wants to complicate matters by catastrophizing: “I bet everyone is angry at me because I am antisocial,” as opposed to, “I bet everyone is a little worried about me because I am so tired.” There is no reason for me to assume something negative.

My brain wants to ask "What-if?" questions, as in, “What if they think I went to bed because I was mad they were here?” instead of saying, “They obviously see that I am so tired I don’t even want to eat” so the fact that they are there has no bearing on the case, because I can go to bed any time I want. 

My brain wants to filter out that the kids did not come here to see me, so much as they came here after a hard day to eat some Mama-Made grub. Nothing happened to prevent them from having a delicious dinner, because all I did was fade into the background without so much as a whimper.

What occurred was still a pleasant evening for everyone, that might have been a little more complete, had I been in attendance, but was not affected adversely by my absence.

The fact that I had already been up for eighteen hours, even with an afternoon nap, simply left me too tired to make the effort to remain upright. If I had been indulging in alcohol, I could skipped that step, but no such luck.

Water is still my beverage of choice, so I can’t blame booze. In fact that is the whole point of this post: There is no blame to assign so let’s move on.

Negative self-talk is about examining events or scenarios-either in the future or in the past-and continuously choosing to follow a path of pessimism. Overcoming negative self-talk not only leaves you with more energy for the task(s) at hand, it gives you a huge boost to know that you are far more likely to experience success with a positive outlook, than with a negative one.

I looked at four examples of negative self-talk, but there are at least fifteen altogether. To be aware that these inner, mood-changing modes of thinking exist, is to be one step ahead in charting a positive course through life.

Speaking for myself, I need all the help I can get.






Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Face-Punched

Face-Punched

I see the nationalists are out in force these days, posting memes on social media that bluntly state that if you desecrate the American flag, you will be face-punched. These folks, who would take such extreme steps in opposition to Americans expressing their freedom of speech, are not patriots.

They are nationalists.

The 199th Personnel Service Co.
There is much confusion over what constitutes a patriot and how that differs from being a nationalist. Succinctly put, a patriot supports his country, but recognizes that it is not perfect. A nationalist supports his country to the extreme, believing it can do no wrong, ever, and feels threatened by those who dis on his country.

A patriot would witness the flag being burned, and recognize that in a country where personal freedom is paramount, this desecrator is merely exercising freedom of speech. A nationalist would spring to the defense of the flag, and punch the desecrator in the face, no questions asked.

I am a patriot and not just because I spent two years in the military. I am a patriot because I believe my country is founded on principles that in theory make everyone equal, even if my country has temporarily forgotten about the fifty million who live at or below the poverty level.

I feel comfortable criticizing the government for its lack of compassion for the common man. The current system heavily favors the wealthy, and continues to hammer the working man into an existence, not that far removed from what originally constituted slavery.

This is patently wrong and our government should hide its head in sorrow.

If you object to my criticism of the government, or you fume when I support individuals’ rights to desecrate the flag, you have taken yourself out of the ranks of the patriots, and entered those of the nationalists. You believe that the good ole U. S. of A. can do no wrong.

You support the notion that we should speak softly but carry a big stick, and that if some other pesky nation gets in the way, we should just smack it upside the head, kind of what we did to the native peoples of this land.

Actually, it is exactly what we did to the native peoples of this land.

See, a patriot recognizes that his country can make mistakes; a nationalist refuses to acknowledge this. A nationalist believes that Manifest Destiny is and was the right ticket, whereas the patriot observes with great interest what is happening in North Dakota right now, with the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A patriot roots for people who are fighting for their land and their cultural heritage; a nationalist roots for Big Oil because that is what makes America great.

If you feel so strongly about your country, that you would step up and defend it by punching someone in the nose for desecrating an American flag, just recognize that doing so does not make you a patriot, it makes you a nationalist.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Go Easy on the Coffee


Go Easy on the Coffee

I am not a fan of Halloween but it doesn’t make much difference, because I live on a mountain and have not been visited by trick-or-treaters since some time in the early nineties. I mean, I like giving out the candy and everything that has to do with kids having fun; I just do not like participating myself, primarily because of the costume thing.

I hate not knowing who is behind the other masks. I am sure a competent therapist would take no more than one session to pin down the cause of this to my anxiety issues, as neatly as a shot glass of Jameson, but that does not alter matters one iota.

In an effort to break down some of these barriers, early on in my teaching career, my partner in the classroom, Paul, did everything in his power to coerce me into changing my opinion about this fall holiday. From the first year I taught onward, he and I did the Halloween party for the middle schoolers, including the assembling of a haunted house attraction the first couple of years I taught.

Traditionally, the party took place sixth and seventh periods, thereby allotting around ninety minutes of class time to celebrate the occasion. Included in the usual slate of activities was a costume contest, with a panel of three judges evaluating all costumes and awarding prizes accordingly.

Students were encouraged to dress in costume for the entire day, the one stipulation being they could not disguise their faces. Teachers had to know who the little jaboney in the costume was at all times, and the probability that any number of mask-swaps could be in effect, was a real crowd-downer from the teachers’ perspective.
Paul, as the invisible man

Paul was big into the costume thing, an obvious yang to my yin. He always put much thought and creativity into his costumes, but never could he duplicate the success he/we achieved, with the Siamese Twins concept that we pulled off at some point in the early years of our partnership.

If you are going to be conjoined with another human being, you had better be fairly comfortable with this individual, because if you are not, four hours would seem like a lifetime. Additionally, we could have taken the easy route, and had Annie sew our shirt-sleeves together, but no, we had to go the whole nine meters.

Annie sewed the left leg of my favorite Levis, to the right leg of Paul’s favorite jeans, compensating for our difference in height, by aligning the bottoms of the pants, and letting the rest follow suit. You simply have no idea.

The irony of the costume is that Paul, the math and science teacher, the more left-brained of the two of us, conceived of the idea. I, the more right-brained of the two, went along with the gag. 

Need to xerox something up in the staff room? Want another cup of coffee from the office in Paul’s classroom? Phone call for Mr. O?  The kids must have had a field-day.

We had to coordinate every step we took, or else one of us would be in for a rude awakening. How comical must the students have thought that was? To see your normally dignified, tie-wearing teachers, inextricably attached to one another? It was so outrageous it actually got their attention.

Whether you hated us or loved us, you had to hand the prize for the best costume to us. Unfortunately, having occurred prior to the age of camera-phones, I have no photos of the event.

All I have is a memory of the two of us sauntering through the staffroom door, at peak time before school started, and the looks the elementary staff gave us.

If glances could speak, they might have quipped, knowingly, “At least Mark and Paul teach at the same level as their arrested development…”

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Who's Your Daddy?


Who's Your Daddy?

If there is anything worse than being manic, it’s being manic when Annie is not here. Take yesterday, please, your basic twenty-hour day for me, and one in which I moved a mountain or two, and rebuilt the Taj Mahal. Whereas going to bed at 6:30 in the evening and arising at 11:30 after five-count them!-five hours of sleep, is not unprecedented, it still makes for a potentially productive day. 

I always get up expecting to write and post a piece of writing, but I never feel compelled to do so. Having swung into full manic-mode upon Annie’s departure Thursday morning, she being off with Casey and Amber to Yosemite for a big-wig conference, I had already completed the chores in the kitchen that had been at the top of my honey-do list.

That’s the once-a-year muscling of the stove away from the wall, and the wading in with cleanser and elbow grease to try and hack my way through the jungle of grit and debris that accumulates in the most challenging of places. 

Though I have never specifically nailed a guest peering back behind the stove, flashlight in hand, I still worry about these things. I am seeing a competent therapist to help me deal with this.

My headphones provide the tempo and the more frantic the pace, the higher the volume. Now, with still most of Friday, plus Saturday and Sunday to go, I launched into the more perfunctory sweeping and mopping of all downstairs rooms. This includes the steps and hallway leading upstairs to the extravaganza, which is what I call Annie’s sewing complex.

I stopped cleaning after completing the downstairs bathroom, the dining room and the living room-no sense in killing the job. I jumped into a quick baking project, utilizing the pippin apples that I had harvested before the rains last week. Annie had provided a recipe for me, blended some gluten-free flours and lined up the xanthan gum, the compound which keeps everything together, so I was good to go.

I breakfasted while the cake was baking and then spiffed the kitchen up again, before turning my attention to the chicken-yard, now that it was light enough to see what I was doing outside. I had been planning to upgrade the outdoor, eight by sixteen-feet yard, by tearing off the existing roof and replacing it with one that actually functioned to keep it dry beneath.

The original had been pieced together in fits and starts, and was now a foot deep in leaves, dirt and debris, causing it to sag precariously in places, and leak like a colander. The yard was a veritable mud-bath last winter and I had promised the girls “bucket seats and four-on-the-floor,” before we got into winter.

Who’s your daddy, girls?

Casey had told me he had some corrugated metal sheets up at his spot, so I gathered up a goodly supply and set out to correct matters. By removing what was already in place and starting from scratch, I made short work of the project. 

By one in the afternoon, I had the flat shovel in-hand and was attacking the inside of the little house, to line up another wheel-barrow of chicken manure for my ongoing composting project. I replaced the soiled straw with fresh and just for good measure, swept all the cobwebs out of the upper corners of the coop.

None of the chickens actually acknowledged my efforts, the little ingrates, but if they ever get done molting, I will get paid in triplicate with their egg production. Besides, molting or not, they are magicians at converting the organic compost I place in the coop from the kitchen, into organic fertilizer, a twofer if ever there were one.

As far as moving mountains, it’s still there for the time being, but I will at least move enough of the three cords of wood I had delivered last week, back to fill up the little storage house we have. Half of the storage is for the chunky living room wood, and half for the smaller box of the Superior stove in the kitchen.
Tooth picks barely fit into the fire box...

Eventually over the next couple of weeks, I will move and stack all of it, along the new fence that separates the house from the back garden with the cannabis. This is a different approach from past years, but I like it because the wood is closer to the house.

What I temporarily abandoned-ship on, to work on the chicken coop, was the process of bucking cannabis buds off the branches and into turkey bags. With more rain on the way, we are in full harvest mode, the boys hacking and hanging at a prodigious, though drama-free, rate of speed. 

This has been almost my sole occupation for a few weeks now, no longer needing to do anything out back, except break down the bamboo frames of the now bare-boned girls still standing.

I paused for a power nap at two, still plugged in to the headphones and playing them at high volume. I can sleep at will during the day, for an hour or so at a time, if I am listening to my music. That way Annie can use her blender, Dozer can return Emma’s greeting up the road a ways and the crew can eat lunch in the same room-all at the same time-and I will never have a clue.

Upon awaking yesterday, I put on an episode of “Bones” from my DVR library, and attacked the Sour StrawBerry-bucking with a vengeance. “Bones” is perfect for this because I can enjoy the wit of the dialogue and follow the story, without having to subject my fragile psyche to the graphic images that inevitably accompany this forensic science-based television show.

Unfortunately, the baseball playoffs had the uninitiated gall to take the night off, while the Dodgers and Cubs return to Chicago for the completion of the National League Championship Series. Otherwise, I would have been plugged into this October ritual, having long since moved on from the Giants’ 2016 season, a disappointing but illuminating one for the orange and Black.

Getting closure will require no more than getting a closer, but that is fodder for a different post.

I quit working at 7:30, having bagged up the bucked buds in a fresh turkey bag, and disposed of the detritus. I was feeling sore from my construction project, but had escaped major disaster by accruing no back or knee issues in the process.

I have two more days to accomplish the rest of my list, items 12-49, and I am confident I can do so. After all, there are still 48 hours left, so let’s see, that ought to make for about 40 more hours of labor.

Well, unless I take a nap…


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cure for Cancer? Don't Hold Your Breath...

The cure for cancer is to prevent it.
Cure for Cancer? Don't Hold Your Breath...

On a good day I can handle the election on social media. I can handle the God-squadders, the waving-the-flag-makes-me-a-patriot people and even the graphic photos of abused women/children (Like and share if you think these animals need to be drawn and quartered in a public venue, preferably Times Square).
What I can’t handle-at any time-are the memes that plead for a cure for cancer, especially when the plea is being made to God. I’m sorry but God is not going to be a factor in this matter. Move on.

What frustrates me most is that many people do not seem able to grasp the fundamental principle that finding a cure for cancer is not what pharmaceutical companies are interested in doing. What a preposterous notion!

Kill the goose [geese?] that lays the golden eggs? How much sense does that make?

Patently, cancer is good for business, and the more people prattle on about finding a “cure” for cancer, the more I bristle. What Big Pharma does not want you to know is that the cure is in what you put into your body in the first place.

If you shop for all that packaged poison available on the shelves of Walmart, and then microwave it for a quick and easy meal, and you do it often enough, you may as well just resign yourself for the inevitable results.

It’s recognizing that by microwaving your "food," you are transforming it from potentially nutritious goodness, into simply matter. Waste matter, if you prefer. Substances like ramen enter your body, hang out for a while, and then exit, leaving you no better for the exchange, except for a temporary respite in your stomach.

To live with an awareness of this concept, that what you ingest and come into contact with, is going to have far more to do with limiting your chances of getting cancer, than getting rid of it once you are in the grip, is to be able to do something about it.

Eat fresh fruit and vegetables, avoid processed meat, drink water in lieu of sweetened beverages, walk for exercise if your lifestyle is sedentary, limit your intake of red meat, use sugar in moderation and avoid second-hand smoke. Any and all of these strategies will help.

Folks who do not follow a healthy eating regimen, and who do not exercise regularly, tend have more health issues than those who follow some sort of guidelines. This is one of those “duh” statements, but needs to be included because these folks are soon going to be lining up for cancer treatments.

The longer the line, the more expensive Big Pharma makes the medicine. Why not? When folks are over a barrel, they will pay up the nose. I mean, it’s simply bad form to allow your loved one to die, because you cannot afford the medication.

So you hock the house to be able to do so. You are just the kind of customer that Big Pharma is looking for.

Pharmaceutical executives who jack up the price of their products exponentially, and then get exposed for their callousness, argue that they have every right to do so, because they need to continue researching for-you guessed it-the cure for cancer.

It infuriates me and many others, that the Food and Drug Administration refuses to acknowledge that cannabis has been proven effective in treating more than 700 forms of cancer. There is an industry-wide conspiracy to adhere to policy established back in the thirties, policy which vilified hemp to make way for the more expensive synthetics, being introduced by big business.

Black Arkansas apples
Unfortunately, here in the land of the free, it isn’t what cures cancer that matters, it’s what gives job security to Big Business, and that is money. Plain and simply, medicine costs money; creating a cure diminishes the ability to make money; ergo, focus on medicine and forget the cure.

Mama didn’t raise no fools-just a bunch of greedy, self-serving jerks, who don’t mind living high on the hog, at the expense of millions of ill people, most of them kids and the elderly.

Their money is as good as any, as long as it doesn’t run out. 

So much for a cure for cancer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Not THAT Finger!

Rattlesnakes with no rattles are the worst kind...

Not THAT Finger!

What I cannot understand, is how blatant corruption can exist at high levels in our government, and nothing is done about it. Why is there no system in place, to monitor individuals who fulfill positions of trust, to ensure that they are behaving appropriately?

How is it possible that a man like Clarence Thomas can preside on our nation’s highest court, after working as a lawyer for Monsanto for four years, and not recuse himself when Monsanto is involved in court proceedings?
America, sleeping at the switch...

He has been involved in several decisions involving his former employer, and ruled favorably for Monsanto in each instance. This constitutes a conflict of interest, because even though he is no longer on Monsanto’s  payroll, that we know of, he still must recognize that he is too close to the situation to be objective.

Isn’t that what being a judge is all about? Particularly when he is on the Supreme Court, his responsibility is to represent all Americans equally. Clearly, siding with Corporate ‘Merica, and allowing this purveyor of poison to continue to ply its deadly trade to innocent people, is wrong.

Clarence Thomas has a moral responsibility, in addition to his legal one, to fulfill his role on the Supreme Court with a modicum of integrity. If he fails to do so, then he needs to be held accountable for his actions. 

Where is the finger on the pulse of our culture, when we need it? The one which monitors and regulates when insanity is running amok? The one which used to sound the alarm should a Richard Nixon act with impunity?


Now we have Dick Cheney and Halliburton Corporation raking in (make that bulldozing in) $39.5 billion, as a direct result of the Iraqi invasion, and everyone is good with it. 

Again, how can this be?

Oh, yeah, now I remember. This is the country where the media is bought and paid for by the same folks who brought you Dick Cheney and Clarence Thomas: That would be the One Percenters.

And about that finger on the pulse of our culture, and where it went? It WAS monitoring the presidential election, but fled when the pulse of our country threatened to exceed the limitations of the chart.

Yes, the fickled finger of fate is now directed at the presidential election, all right, but not THAT finger.

Zounds! Rudeness abounds! But at least that explains why Judge Clarence Thomas is allowed to ignore protocol, without being held accountable for his actions.

When the main acts in the circus make a habit of it, who is going to care about one more clown, off to the side?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Plan B


Plan B

“Roll, roll, roll a joint,
Gently take a hit.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, 
Life is but a trip.”                          

Family folksong, sung to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat…”

I was not aware there was even such a thing as Infant Loss Awareness Month, and that October 15th is the day set aside to acknowledge those tiny people whose presence on earth was destined to be interrupted early on. Whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS or for any other reason that a child can be lost, we simply remember-and reflect on-that which might have been.

Rather than reflect on what might have occurred, I tend to gravitate to what would not have been, had either of the two pregnancies from my first marriage, come to full term. Twice Nancy and I suffered miscarriages somewhere in the first trimester, necessitating medical assistance and leaving us flattened.

Had either of the two tiny entities survived, I can most assuredly tell you that my life would have been altered in such dramatic fashion, as to defy comprehension. The issues that arose between us would have vanished with the presence of a child, and that would have meant that I would never have met Annie.

Annie and I would never have created our three sons, and none of this current existence I occupy, would have taken place. I almost certainly would not have taught, because I had already eschewed the opportunity to obtain a teaching credential by selecting Plan B of my Humanities Program, instead of Plan A, which would have garnered me a free and clear California Teaching Credential from SJSU.

Only circumstances which originated here on the mountain, brought about a change in my personal outlook, and guided me into the teaching profession. I posted thirty or so installments in January of 2015, here on my blog, chronicling the rise and fall of our little educational collective, the demise of which was the motivation to make the transition into the school district in town. 

They say a mother will always be able to tell you how old her deceased child would have been at any given time, and whereas I cannot provide that information, at the time of the events in question, I was pretty devastated. In the poker game of life, the ante went up prodigiously.

There was one in 1976 and one in 1978, and I never met Annie until 1981. I would never have had cause to glance twice at her, when she came to pick her brother, Joey, up at United Auto Stores, when his hot Camaro was in the shop, had I still been with Nancy.

Whereas Nancy and I bought the twenty acres in 1975, we never once seriously talked about moving up to the land, once the parents had not only made the move, but built both the original barn, and then the Big House immediately afterwards.
Nancy

It was not until after first brother Noel had built a little cabin, and then both Matt and Tom followed suit, that I got interested, but Nancy and I were already history by then. Each of the boys erected small structures which would serve as living quarters, as they gradually expanded their houses. 

The first time I ever saw any of the three smaller versions of what homes could be, up here on our mountain, was in February of 1981, when Annie and I ventured off the beaten track and up to northern Mendocino County.

We stayed at Matt’s and for the first time I saw what the possibilities could be. Interestingly enough, though Nancy and I never got to the point of discussing a possible move, the subject came up the very first time I took Annie out on an official date, to dinner at Lou’s Village (Its doors closed for the final time in 2014), about six blocks from our little apartment.

When I described the twenty acres, and told her I had been making payments for six years, and was almost halfway through paying the land off, her eyes sparkled. She talked about San Jose and how much it was changing, and what it would be like to move to a place where there was no electricity, running water or even a structure, to raise kids.

We were definitely on the same page.

The page, however, was in a different book than the one in which two tiny  entities began to form and then dissolved. It was not the same book which featured the original action, that one having closed when Nancy chose to walk the path of life with Brian, the father of her son, Patrick.

Her choice left me spending the next year of my life, living, working and going to San Jose State, full-time, until that day when Annie strolled through the front doors of the auto parts house, and flashed me a one-time-only look, that I have never forgotten. 

When I pause now to consider not so much what might have been, but what actually is, all I can do is marvel at life and what a “strange trip” it can be.

And when I think of the two little unborn children I fathered so very long ago, I don’t.




Monday, October 17, 2016

"For the Rain it Raineth Every Day"



"For the Rain it Raineth Every Day"

“When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy, 
For the rain it raineth every day.”

Feste, “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare

The rain began last Thursday, at times pouring down in buckets, the winds peaking at 55 MPH, according to the National Weather Service. This is Monday, so we’re working on day number 5. Though we are due to see a return to sunny skies shortly, I can’t help but look back on those days when I was still hanging out in the middle school, and remember how we coped with those times when the rain kept students under cover for weeks at a time.

Beginning the year Casey was in sixth grade, I opened up my classroom at lunchtime, when it rained, so that students had an alternative to the multi-purpose room, as exciting a venue as that was. Students were encouraged to bring their lunches into my class and eat, and then afterwards, remain to take advantage of a warm, dry environment, in which to spend their lunch-break.

Students could do a last-minute assignment if they chose, or they could do anything they wanted that did not involve being up and about. Over the years I had accumulated a number of board games, including plenty of decks of cards, and these were available on a first-come-first-served basis. 

There was really only one rule that accompanied the basic “Be respectful to the environment and those in it,” and that was that you had to be seated in a chair-your own chair-no sharing. 

That way, it was a given that you weren’t in there to play football or musical chairs. The volume was loud, of course, but it was an organized chaos that allowed students to let out a little of that pent-up steam, before they returned to their next class.

There would undoubtedly be music on the boom-box, and if I were desperate, I could even make use of the time to get blast-minute assignment graded before the next period(s) began. 

I remember Judy and Kathy, both yard supervisors for many years, covering my classroom for me, so that I could go up to the staffroom and check my mail, use the facilities, or even xerox something for later on that afternoon.

It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, because the more students who were in my classroom the fewer who were out in the quad, trying to stay warm without running around on slippery concrete.

I never worried about students making a mess and just leaving it. First of all, their peers would never allow them to get away with it; secondly, they recognized a good thing when they saw it. If they abused the privilege, they would lose it.

I wanted my sons to have a comfortable place to be at lunch, and it just so happened that their friends were welcome too. After all three had moved on beyond the middle school, I still kept my classroom open at lunch when it rained.

Now when we have these extended periods of rain, I look back and remember those days in the classroom, with forty or so kids all sharing lunch, and smile. 

How many of you can say you have shared lunch with more than two eighth graders, and lived to smile about it?

Lived, sure, but still smiling when it was over? 



Saturday, October 15, 2016

All Hands on Deck

Treasure Island
All Hands on Deck

I got a hankering to read “Treasure Island” the other day, and went looking for a copy of it. I have a shelf devoted to some of the classics I used to teach when I was hanging out in the middle school, but there was no copy of the novel I was seeking. Upon further research, I not only found what I was looking for, I found a hardbound copy that I think may have been a Christmas present to a son, many seasons ago.

In any case I am delighted to be able to revisit the account of the greatest of all adventures, and one of the earliest examples I can think of, where good and evil were presented to me in such ambiguous terms, as to make me realize how complicated the whole process could be.
Evil Long John Silver


Good and evil are not as easy to distinguish as white and black. Was I supposed to perceive Long John Silver as evil, because Jim Hawkins actually witnessed him murdering the honest sailor, Tom, in cold-blood? Or was I to look at him as good because he protected Jim against the other cutthroats?

As a kid I used reading as an escape mechanism. I was small and wiry, with three older brothers and three younger brothers. To say I sought attention is akin to saying that Hurricane Matthew sought attention; I was not a child to be ignored.

I learned early on that there was a right time to seek attention and a wrong time, and the wrong time was anytime that Papa was in the vicinity. Take those hour-long rides in the 1951 Plymouth, on our way to visit Noel at school, when I would ride on the floor right behind Papa, among the legs of those riding in the back seat.
I was that small.

I also had a book at all times, a necessity for being able to escape a potentially hazardous setting, one which involved my incurring the wrath of Papa. A copy of “The Prince and the Pauper” was more than adequate to do the job. 

Reading not only entertained me, it kept out of trouble, a twofer if ever there were one. As a family we would go visit Mama’s older sister, Frances, or as we called her, Sister Mary Petra. I was an adult before I ever remember referring to her as Aunt Frances, and when we visited her at the convent, we would seat ourselves in the most formal of settings, the parlor of this elegant edifice.

All of us in our family, dressed in Sunday-go-to-meeting outfits, would be seated silently around the room, and if someone did ask a question or make a comment, it was in hushed tones or even a whisper. Fortunately for me, books were not only acceptable, they were encouraged, until, of course, Sister Mary came into the room.

After devoting my life to reading, I find I am less adventurous than I used to be, when it comes to staying current with what’s out there. I always have a book going but more often than not, it is exactly that: an adventure that is more likely to be “Treasure Island,” than the National Best-Seller, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” 

All the years I was in the classroom, with all levels of ability under one roof except for special-needs kids, I used to read most of each novel I taught, out loud. For those who questioned why, I said the primary  reason was that it gave access to the material to all students. Those who struggled to read, could not only follow the story, they had to read along. 

How did I know they were reading along or not? I encouraged students to read aloud but did not insist in it. However, if I called your name to read, and you declined, you still had to be able to read the next line so that I knew you were with us.

Those who were “against” us would be easy enough to spot. If a student weren't following along, then her eyes would be somewhere other than on her book. It’s harder to keep one’s eyes clamped to the front of a book and not follow along, than it is to simply go with the flow.

[Editor’s note: Despite the recent revelation that the “singular they” is now acceptable, I chose to use “her,” instead, in the above example. I could have used “his” or I could have used both. “They?” Not yet…]

As a teacher, I was quite adept at navigating the classroom, using that strategy of proximity to keep potentially squirrelly kids on point, and taking in the next line or two of the story. That way I could cast my eyes adrift throughout the room, to ensure that all hands were still on deck.

Should a question arise in my mind, I would throw out a net. All one had to do to avoid it was to show you knew where we were at. What were the consequences of not knowing your place?

First, you lost face in front of me and your peers; second, it cost you participation points in my grade book, generally a way that a grade could be salvaged if you were struggling academically; finally, it put you on my radar, as a candidate to be called on again within the next fifteen minutes.

I did the voices, so that when Long John Silver was talking, I did the pirate thing. I never even made cameo appearances in the plays I directed, but I got my acting in, anyway. The longer I taught, the more dramatic I got. It was a gift, or a curse, if you were a student who was not enamored with the program.

Hey, we could have been diagraming sentences.

Now, the attraction to electronics is so strong, that parents need to have kids on board before they start hanging around their friends who are already plugged in. The best way, of course, is to read aloud to them from the earliest possible age, and the older they get, the more you read to them.

Not only does it promote comprehension and literacy, it promotes closeness between parent and child. Sharing this time together is a precursor to helping a kid with his homework when the time arrives.

Helping with schoolwork, especially projects, is a logical extension to the shared-reading experience, and with a solid foundation in place, the tutoring should go smoother. 

Now when I see those memes on social media, which question the need for libraries, I bristle. The idea that libraries are outdated is so short-sighted as to be ludicrous. Notably are they essential to the fabric of our culture, they are the pathway to treasure chests of gold, such as that found in “Treasure Island.”

The only thing missing are the coordinates, and you’ll have to get those yourself.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Christmas Interrupted

Christmas Interrupted

“Christmas is coming; the geese are getting fat.
Won’t you please put a penny in an old man’s hat?
If you haven’t got a penny-a ha’penny will do;
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you.”

Rarely have I sat down to write, and found my topic so challenging that I struggled to frame my thoughts in some semblance of order. I can relate the events without hesitation but for once, when I assemble all the parts, what I expect to find at the end, is an incomplete accounting of the emotion I am attempting to convey.

I didn’t know we were poor when I was young because our family life was rich. When the last kid had arrived, we were nine siblings in all, being raised in a home where the head of the house pulled in an annual salary of $7,000.  
Christmas means house-cleaning.

Though economically challenged, the folks were experts at extracting every last penny’s worth of enjoyment out of any given occasion. They demonstrated it when we went camping every summer, managing to take us all “On Holiday” for a pittance, and they showed it by always acknowledging birthdays, with a special meal and all of the festivities

Nowhere, however, did this skill surface more apparently than at Christmas time. The parents placed a great deal of emphasis on both the spiritual and material side of the season, resulting a unified effort on their part, to bring us kids a joyous Christmas every year.

Pauline told me once that Robert always felt strongly that kids needed to wake up on Christmas morning to a pile of gifts, that did not consist solely of new socks and underwear. They made good on that goal every Christmas of my youth. 

Inexpensive but well-chosen gifts, books being number one on the list, were the order of the day. A new Hardy Boys Mystery or Bobbsey Twins book; “The Call of the Wild,” or one year, “Treasure Island”; “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates,” “The Swiss Family Robinson,” and “Little Men”; all of them filled the bill.

Anticipation of the grand day itself, actually took a back-seat to that of the season overall. I counted the days down with a keen sense of eagerness, but the reality is that just getting to December was good enough, because then the folks would begin playing Christmas music and lights would start appearing on neighbors’ homes. 

I had mega-problems sleeping Christmas Eve night, needless to say, and it only served to illuminate how intense the whole experience was. I grew up carrying this intensity around with me, and it remained unbreakable for sixty Christmases.

The first year I began blogging, 2011, I wrote a series of “Christmas Memories” with a great deal of enthusiasm, thus demonstrating that my feelings were still very much alive and well. There were twelve in all, representing the twelve days of Christmas, filled with vibrantly rich memories of my childhood.
The Nativity Set was a huge deal at home, on Fellowship Street.

The picture I painted left no uncertainty, as to why I would form a lifelong attachment to this season, and why I never failed to feel intense anticipation, no matter how old I got. Particularly during the years I taught, did I look forward to this season, because along with the big day, came two weeks of R & R.

Nothing occurred-ever-until December of 2012, to rain on my parade, but when it did, the downpour was enough to extinguish this enthusiastic anticipation, forever.

Zounds, one might respond. What kind of horrible event did it take to take the air out of my balloon? Someone died on Christmas Day, itself? My wife left me for a trimmigrant? My dog died?

What?

My emotional state was already strained by Annie’s diagnosis of kidney cancer in August of that year, and by her having to spend most of the time in Willits near her health care provider. I was keeping the home fires burning because that was the way I could best help Annie.

I commuted back and forth from the mountain to Willits, as circumstances and weather allowed, having to spend far less time in Willits than I might have liked. The reality, though, is that there is always a lot happening up on the mountain, and I could not pretend that such was not the case. 

As Christmas approached, I naturally began to build up my anticipation. Even if I had to go back and forth, at least I could spend the key times down in Willits, because the critters didn’t care what day of the calendar it was. Of course I was thinking the key days were Christmas Eve and the next day, and the same a week later, on New Year’s Eve and the following day.

These were simply MY thoughts as December approached; I never vocalized them because, well, I never saw the need, as if everyone felt the same as I did.

Which turned out to be quite accurate.


Annie had taken a part-time position in the video store, working for an old friend of both of us, attempting to defray the cost of the little apartment. In the aftermath of her surgery to remove a tumor the size of a softball, along with one kidney, Annie did not want to feel imprisoned in her small living quarters.

Naturally, she wanted to be a team-player when the boss asked her the first week in December, if she could work both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, so that those who had families could spend those days with their loved ones. 

Annie automatically said yes and that was that.


She had no idea how much that decision, made spontaneously because she was put on the spot, would impact me. I was simply thunderstruck. I felt as though I had been run over by the proverbial Mack Truck, but there was nothing to be done.

I couldn’t blame Pete for asking, I couldn’t blame Annie for saying yes, and all I could do was roll with the punches, from my punch-drunk position on the floor.

I understood exactly what had happened and why it had occurred, and what’s more, I could explain it as clearly as I could recap a ballgame. It didn’t help with my emotional letdown, but it did help in terms of the big picture, and Christmases still yet to come.

My expectations for any given Christmas season, no matter how festive it turned out to be, could never match the reality of what I actually encountered. Going through life with this expanded set of expectations, was bound to set me up for failure, somewhere down the line. 

It was simply coincidental that it took so long. Now, however, with this clear recognition that the upcoming Holiday Season will undoubtedly NOT be the best one ever, I am in a far better position to enjoy, that which I actually encounter. 
Always a jig-saw puzzle going...

As much as the fall is always painful, I feel as though I am better off for having had enough of a parachute, as to be able to find some meaning in it all. Now I am more aware of how important it is to enjoy each day, one at a time, the way life is meant to be experienced, instead of some variation on a theme.

That way, if we have to spend Christmas Day down at Howard Hospital, dealing with side-effects from Annie’s immunotherapy treatments, as we did on my birthday, I will not miss a beat. 

I will just switch my Pandora station to Christmas music in the hospital room, and go down to the cafeteria for some egg nog for me and Annie. 

And like the critters, I won’t worry about which day of the calendar it happens to be.