It’s My Hobby and I’m Sticking To It

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I was reminded by a Facebook memory that I have been posting blogs five days a week for six years now. If my math is correct that means that I have somehow managed to write somewhere around one thousand five hundred sixty essays, a number that is almost overwhelming when I think about it. I suppose that in many ways an undertaking that was supposed to be an avenue for advertising the book that I have written has become an obsession, while the book itself languishes in a state of unfinished editing which leads me to believe that I have some sort of psychological hangup regarding my opus magnum. Surely there is a reason for prioritizing my daily chatter over the work that took so much of my time. Anyway, this is an anniversary of sorts which brings me back to one of my earliest and most memorable posts.

Husband Mike and I had gone camping with friends at Ink’s Lake State Park located in the hill country of Texas. Things went awry from the start, beginning with the failure of one of our tent poles that resulted in a fix that left the structure leaning to one side. We should have taken this as an omen and either left immediately or made a visit to a camping store to purchase new outdoor living quarters. Instead we soldiered on, and for a time everything went remarkable well until the next bad sign came with the arrival of a group of young people late one evening. They literally came into the campground like storm troopers intent on stealing our sense of security

The members of the group appeared to have no sense of the lateness of the hour as they set up their tents using the bright headlights of their trucks to throw light on the project as well as all of the nearby sites including ours. They bantered so loudly that we heard every sound that they uttered which included both arguments laced with profanity and laughter laced with profanity. One of the members of the group had a chortle that most surely had been designed to drive people insane. Unfortunately he seemed to think that everything was funny. Even after the new folks finally went into their tents they chattered on and on and on, with the sound of that horrific laugh punctuating every single comment.

Needless to say it was a very long and unrestful night, but I was encouraged when I awoke to find the irritating people packing up to leave. In truth I almost asked if I might help them in order to hurry the process along. Instead I simply observed them while I ate my breakfast. I noticed that they were flying a large flag that was unfamiliar to me so I Googled a description and learned that it was something known as the new Nazi banner. Somehow I wasn’t surprised at all because the group was accompanied by a black Labrador Retriever whose name was a pejorative starting with the letter N. I held my temper as best I might, and soon enough they were gone leaving behind so much garbage that vultures came around to clean up the mess. As creepy as those birds were, they were preferable to the people whose place they had taken.

I was able to laugh at the adventure and enjoyed a lovely day at a winery with our friends.  Later that evening we enjoyed dinner together and played a rousing round of Scrabble while sipping on wine, so I truly thought that I would enjoy a night of deep sleep until thunder, lightning and a torrent of rain began falling mercilessly on our tent. The “sturm und drang” only got worse as the wind picked up and took advantage of the broken tent pole that now threatened to collapse under the intensity of the weather. I was far too terrified to sleep and so I lay on my cot hoping and praying that the little stream right behind our site would not decide to flood the floor of our home away from home, or that the wind might become too much for our structure. All kinds of warnings were making frightening noises on my cell phone, so when there was a small break in the downpour I raced to our car with a pillow and a blanket and found the refuge that I needed. It wasn’t long before Mike had given up his post and joined me. It wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but at least it felt safe.

By morning we assessed the damage and decided that it was time to bail and head back home. As we were leaving the park rangers mentioned that we had been the only tenters left in the park during the storm. They said that they were glad to see that we were okay because they had worried about us and even considered coming to check on our safety,\. Sadly they felt that it had been just too dangerous outside for them to brave it. Somehow I did not feel better for their kind thoughts.

Ultimately Mike and I gave up on being boys scouts and invested in a nice trailer that has kept us safe from other storms that we have endured. We were eventually able to laugh about our adventure in the tent, and I felt some sense of gratitude that it had given me a topic for launching my blog.

I’m not quite sure why I still get so much out of writing so prolifically. I sometimes wonder if anyone other than my good friends Linda and Adriana or my cousin Terri are reading my work. I know that I am addicted to putting my thoughts on a page. It is my drug of choice and since it does me no harm I suppose that it is as good as any habit gets. The ironic thing is that six years later I find myself in a new state of chaos much like the storm of long ago, and it is just as humorous. Who knew the power of water? Just a brief sprinkle from a hot water heater has upended my household for six weeks now. By tomorrow I should have all of the repairs completed including getting new carpet, but the process has been akin to moving out of the house, tearing it apart, rebuilding it again and then moving back in. For someone as obsessive compulsive as I am it has taken a great deal of laughter to keep me from losing my perspective. I’ve even thought of those God awful campers of late and chuckled at the thought of them just to stay sane.

Right now every item from our walls, closets, drawers, etc. is stored in boxes stacked high in the garage. We attempted to remember to leave out things that we would need for the duration but have found ourselves returning again and again to those boxes because we neglected to keep something at hand. Mike realized that he was going to need his checkbook after we had boxed it up,  and after a bit of a hunt retrieved it and carried it around in his back pocket. One morning he came to me and announced that he had somehow lost it. We searched everywhere and were on the verge of calling the bank to have the account changed when I used my most excellent sleuthing skills to retrace his steps. I eventually found the missing item on the floor of the guest bathroom where it had apparently fallen from Mike’s pants when nature called.

I’m doing rather well given my perfectionist tendencies. I’ve made my journey a study in empathy as I think of friends and family who suffered far greater devastation in the floods of last summer. I also have a new appreciation for anyone who is remodeling in any way. I remember Adriana telling me once that she and her husband had been forced to stored their belongings sky high in their garage while new floors were being laid in their home. I honestly had no feeling or understanding for her situation. Now I just want to give her a long overdue hug for what she must have endured.

In the meantime I suppose that I will keep writing, even if it is only for myself. I’m part of a vast group of people crying out in a kind of wilderness, unknown authors who write out of compulsion. Perhaps I am a bit crazy for doing it, but it’s my hobby and I’m sticking to it. Oh, and I really do want to get that book out for the public. I really believe that it has some merit. I hope it won’t be another six years before I get it done.

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Staying Cool

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I was never one of the cool kids in high school. I was a bit too serious for the really fun crowd, but people liked me and I liked them. It was not until I hit my mid twenties that I achieved a semblance of swag. By then I was way more confident and willing to let myself relax enough to enjoy life and all of the wondrous things it had to offer. When I became a teacher I did my best to be one of the cool teachers insofar as teaching mathematics allowed me to do. I learned that the secret to being with it in education involved a mix of subject knowledge along with a great deal of understanding of my students and their particular needs. Over the years my contact with young people kept me abreast of new trends and I was able to pass as someone who was more cool than not, even though I slowly began to see signs that I was losing my hipness when my children began moving toward middle age. Not only did they make fun of my quirky ways and mom jeans, but my teenage grandchildren were beginning to poke fun at them. I got the message that my time of being cool had somehow passed without my realizing it.

We are warned not to go gently into the good night, and J. Alfred Prufrock reminds us of hour hair thinning hair and waning relevance. Even though the calendar tells me that I am no longer a spring chicken, something in my soul feels so very young, When I gaze into the mirror I often have a double take because I just don’t know who the person staring back at me might be. The wrinkles and gray hairs surely must belong to someone else. I wonder when my knees began to ache and why I can’t work all day in my yard like I used to do. I try to remember exactly when it was that I was no longer able to escape the pains that rack body when I over exert myself. My brain has yet to accept my reality, and it is only when some stranger politely treats me as though I am old and frail that I realize that the outside world doesn’t see me the way I see myself. This truth is compounded whenever I discern that my teenage granddaughter is a bit embarrassed when I get really silly, something that used to amuse her but now causes her to turn red in the face. It is as though the world is asking me to act my age, and I am not yet willing to comply.

There seems to be a period of time during which society expects us to begin the process of accepting that we are no longer the rockstars that we once were. We are expected to slowly and gracefully transition into the life of a senior citizen, understanding that it is anathema to dress or speak or act as though we have not aged. We have a role to play, and we must do so willingly. It is only after we have proven that we know how to be members of the elderly population that we have permission to be as daring as we were in our youth. People in their nineties are thought to be adorable if they revert into a kind of second childhood. We love Betty White because she has taken the cute and quirky factor of being old to a level of high coolness, but she is only afforded respect because she paid her dues along the way and admits proudly to her age. She doesn’t try to hide the years. She rejoices in them.

I’m admittedly still raging against the idea that my youthfulness is done. My brain is thankfully still working quite well aside from the moments when I forget what I was about to do or say. I can outwork people half my age, and I know as much about current music as anyone. Still I find myself feeling less and less in the mainstream and more and more of an antique. I have seven decades of memories which seem fresh and new until I find old photographs of myself that look like something from a museum of history. Even worse is seeing my contemporaries with graying and thinning hair wearing the same kind of comfort shoes that I need to keep from hurting myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally enjoy having grandchildren and being retired. I feel for the younger folk who have to go to work each day while I am as free as a bird to do whatever I wish. There are so many perks that go with being my age and I am enjoying every single one of them to the max. I just have to keep reminding myself that to every time there is a season, and mine is far different than it once was. Being cool at my age means handing over the baton to the younger generation and encouraging them to be their best selves. It is a process of enjoying every moment and loving all of the lines and scars that are the trophies of having really lived. Being hip is understanding that the good old days are still coming and while looking backward may be fun, progress is even better. I know that I will never again look like I did when I was twenty five, but I can be happy that I’m alive and active and able to still give of myself to the people around me. That in itself is very cool.

The coolest person that I have ever known was my Grandfather William. He lived to be one hundred eight years old and never once complained that the world was not as great as it used to be. He was excited about each and every sign of change, and celebrated the good that it brought to humanity. He knew when it was time to quit driving his car for safety sake. He adjusted to the challenges that came his way. He always seemed to know and appreciate how popular culture was benefiting us, and he thought that young people were brighter and more wonderful than ever. He understood that being cool meant being optimistic and resilient and that everything old becomes new again. I guess that given his example I realize that while I may not be trending like Beyonce, I’ve still managed to stay cool. Maybe I’m not getting old. Maybe I’m getting better.

The Time Of My Life

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It is amazing how we have certain memories that are so pleasant that the mere thought of them brings smiles to our faces. They are not always of the most remarkable events like a wedding or the birth of a child. Sometimes they are actually quite simple, like the smell of newly mown grass in the summer or the twinkle of lights on a Christmas tree. As I approach my seventieth year I have more than my share of satisfying remembrances, but few turn up the corners of my mouth into an unabashed grin more readily than the time that I shared a ride in a limousine with a group of young boys.

Schools never seem to have enough funds to do the things that they want to do, so they invariably enlist the students to raise some extra money. Such was true when I was teaching seventh grade mathematics at South Houston Intermediate. Each year the kids received brochures filled with enticing photos of candy, wrapping paper, and trinkets that they were encouraged to sell to family and friends. Those who sold the most received opportunities to enter a money machine to nab dollar bills as they floated through the air, but the grand prize was an afternoon riding around town in a limo. It was a highly coveted prize and the winner would be allowed to invite a few friends to go along. Not only would there be transportation, but also funds for food and entrainment. It provided strong motivation for the students to sell, sell, sell.

At the end of one campaign a student of mine was declared the winner. He was a sweet, bright and exceedingly well behaved young man so I was delighted that he would be treated to so much fun. It was soon apparent, however, that he had a very real problem. He had to have a parent chaperone the event and both his mother and father were not able to leave their jobs to do so. It looked as though the poor lad was going to lose his prize until he learned that if one of his teachers agreed to accompany the group all would be fine. That’s when he came to me requesting that I join him and his guests. His invitation was polite and almost impossible to refuse, and so I found myself piling into a gorgeous stretch limo one afternoon without knowing what the itinerary would be.

I drew a sigh of relief when I saw the others who would accompany us on the adventure. They were all rather delightful young men whom I knew well. I doubted that I would have any kind of trouble with them and that proved to be true. I then learned that our first stop would be a small game and go kart center located near the school. It was a very good choice of venue because the boys were occupied with rides for hours. I sat and enjoyed the solitude and people watching while they had a ball.

Next on the agenda was dinner at Sonic. The boys were laughing hysterically at the thought of driving up in a limousine to order burgers and hot dogs. They pre-arranged a storyline with me and the chauffeur that we were to recite, namely that one of the young men was a child star who was filming in Houston and wanted to take a break with his costars for a bit to eat. I was the nanny in charge of the group’s safety, care and education during the shooting of the movie. We were not at liberty to provide any more information than that lest the kids be endangered. Hilariously the waitress fell for the fib hook line and sinker while the boys roared with unmitigated joy as they watched people pointing at the big black car as though a real celebrity was on the premises.

The impishness didn’t end there. The final touch came when the chauffeur rolled down his window and spoke into the speaker with his most refined voice, “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” By then the car was literally swaying from the rolling around caused by the youngsters’ laughter. Even the driver and I were chuckling with unrestrained glee.

Once we had eaten we had just enough time left to visit a comic book store. I stood guard as the students browsed through the bins and selected a few items to purchase with money they had brought in case such an occasion arose. As they shopped the owner of the establishment quietly inquired about the identity of his customers. By then I was all in for my designated role and was exceedingly coy at first. Eventually I explained that one of the young men was an actor and I was his nanny. I revealed that we were out on the town after a long day of filming so that the kids might unwind just a bit. I whispered that I was not at liberty to provide any more information than that and the shopkeeper nodded with respect.

As the kids were paying for their purchases the boy who had won the prize looked at me and said, “Nanny, here’s some money to buy yourself a lottery ticket. It appears that there is a drawing tonight. Maybe you will win and be able to enjoy life more. Go ahead. Buy a ticket.”

Then he looked at the man behind the counter and smiled, “She is such a good woman. It would be nice for her to learn what it is like to be rich like me.”  With a straight face I gathered the boys together and we piled back into the limousine barely able to contain ourselves from laughing before we were once again out of sight. 

We chattered all the way back to the school as though we had just experienced something rather remarkable, and in a way I suppose we had. I truly can’t recall too many times when I had more fun. I would often think about those boys and their leader who had brought us all together and wonder how their lives had been. Then one day I found the young man who had made it all happen on Facebook and learned that he had become a teacher in an intermediate school. It was good to know that things had turned out well for him because he had given me the time of my life on that long ago day. 

La Casa de Cooper

pexels-photo-922934.jpegLast week I was privileged to have my granddad Cooper stay over as a house guest. He’s an old fellow who doesn’t move around much these days. He’s perfectly satisfied with a few belly scratches now and again and generous bowls of food. He adheres to a strict routine these days and only barks when he knows its time for a meal. Never mind that Daylight Savings time is in effect, Cooper insists on enjoying his breakfast and dinner at exactly the same hours each day. He follows me around as I putter in the house and it’s quite nice to hear the pitter patter of his little feet.

I suppose that I forgot to mention that Cooper is a pug who seems to imagine himself as being a regal member of Chinese royalty. He bears his ancestry quite well and spends most of his time sunning in front of my bedroom window with only mild curiosity about the happenings outside. He came with me when I did a bit of gardening and got the attention of the neighborhood dogs who barked ferociously at him. He generally ignored their in hospitable greetings and looked at me as though he thought them to be rather silly.

While Cooper’s family was away having a mini-vacation and enjoying ice cream every single day I spoiled him a bit with treats and extra helpings of food. He’s supposed to be on a diet but what good is it coming to Gammy’s house if he can’t bend the rules just a tiny bit? His favorite activity is lying on the couch next to my husband while we watch television in the evenings. He sleeps peacefully without even noticing that we are viewing a John Wick film. How he snoozes through the action is beyond me, but he does.

Cooper is always welcome at my home because he is no trouble at all. Some dogs are quite demanding and have a tendency to make messes. He just leaves little tiny hairs that I will be vacuuming up for weeks to come. I’m probably the only one who notices them. so it hardly matters that he left them behind.

I sometimes think of getting my own full time pet once again but then I consider all of the responsibilities associated with having a little creature and I change my mind. My life has become far too gypsy-like to include a dog. Perhaps when I begin to slow my pace and spend most of my days at home I will find myself a nice little guy like Cooper and provide him a space in my home. Until then I’ll just keep inviting Cooper over for a stay.

Cooper was a rescue dog. When his family got him his name was Ben. The trouble with that is that they already had a son named Ben and didn’t think that it would work out to have two with the same name. Since it was a lot less complicated to change the moniker for the dog, gentle Ben was suddenly Cooper. He got his new designation because the other adopted pet that they owned was named Shane. Since he was found wandering along a highway the people who found him imagined whoever lost him wishing that he would come back. So Shane and Cooper became dog brothers and had a great time together until Shane died last summer.

The family thought that Cooper would hardly notice that Shane was gone, but instead Cooper was quite sad. They thought that bringing in a new dog might cheer him up. They purchased a yellow Lab puppy named Luna who is a ball of energy. She loves Cooper but wants to play with him all of the time. He gets a bit grumpy when she chases him and he can’t get away, but we can all tell that he actually gets a kick out of the little tyke. Nonetheless I think that he enjoyed having some time to himself at my house. We provide him with way more attention than he gets at home.

Domesticating dogs is one of the grandest ideas that mankind has ever had. They are loyal and and sweet and lots of fun. Some are even protective, but Cooper is a bit too old and tired to worry about such things. He sleeps more hours than he is awake. He’s a bonafide old geezer, set in his ways and happy as long as his needs are satisfied.

Cooper may not be the brightest bulb in doggy land, but that doesn’t mean that he is not smart. He understands that his breakfast consists of dry food and dinner includes a nice moist and meaty topping. If I move too slowly in creating the appropriate recipe he barks until I get my act together. There is no fooling him!

I hope that Cooper gets to come visit many more times. He’s in his eighties in people years so there is no telling how much longer it will be before he crosses over the Rainbow Bridge. I know that I will be quite sad when that happens. I hate to admit it, but he is the favorite of my grand dogs, and besides his snoring is just adorable. Mi casa es la casa de Cooper.

The Art Of The Deal

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My brothers and I were discussing our family heritage the other day. We are all too aware that the untimely death of our father changed the trajectory of our lives dramatically. We often wonder what things might have been like if…

Our daddy had an unstoppable sense of humor. His book collection included volumes filled with jokes. His favorite television programs featured comedians. He was a great storyteller and peppered his tales with yarns that made his friends laugh. He found something funny in the darnedest places and when they happened to be from real life, that was even better.

The first house that my parents purchased was in southeast Houston on Kingsbury Street in a new housing development like many that were springing up all across America in the years after World War II. My father had finally earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering and he landed a job in downtown Houston. The location of the house was perfect for starting a new career and raising a family. Most of our neighbors were young like my parents and the men were college graduates engaged in all sorts of interesting professions. They had children in the same age groups as my brothers and I so there was always lots of fun to be had. 

Most of our moms stayed home back then while our fathers went to work each day. The women had routines that they carefully followed for the care of  their children and homes. I remember that my mother washed clothes on Mondays, which was a bigger deal than it might seem because dryers were still a dream of the future, and so she had to hang her wet items on a clothesline to dry in the sun. 

Tuesdays were for ironing and as I recall my mother had a bottle with a perforated lid that she would fill with water to shake on the clothes that needed a bit of steam from the iron. On Wednesdays our mother dusted and cleaned and mopped the wooden floors and linoleum until they gleamed. Sometimes she even used floor wax to achieve a better shine. Thursdays were reserved for her sewing and mending. She made all of my clothing and most  of hers. Friday brought meal planning, dusting and changing the linens on the bed. Saturdays meant shopping trips and Sundays were for church and visiting grandparents.

While all of this activity was happening I was mostly a free range kid which meant that I roamed the neighborhood with my friends, but never without checking in frequently with my mom. Bear in mind I was only around six years old when I began to assert my independence, but things were quite different back then. All of the ladies kept their doors and windows wide open and provided a kind of community watchfulness over the children. At any given moment an adult was checking on us without drawing attention to that fact.

I generally just went up and down the street playing with whichever kid was available. Most of the time my favorite partner was a girl named Merrily, but sometimes she was busy so I would hang out with a boy who was about my age. His dad was a very successful businessman according to the rumors that floated around the area. His family owned two very luxurious cars and his mom even employed a maid. His house was furnished with exquisite furniture and art work. I enjoyed visiting with him and vicariously living in style.

I had earned a number of holy cards as prizes for good grades and exemplary behavior in my first grade class at St. Peter’s Catholic School. They were beautifully illustrated so I thought that an art connoisseur like my friend might enjoy seeing them. I took them with me on one of my forays to his home, and just as I had thought he marveled at how exquisite they were. He was not a Catholic so he had never before seen such things and he begged me to give him some of them. Instead I struck a financial deal with him, asking for one dollar for each of the lovely images. Without hesitating he broke open his piggy bank and presented a five dollar bill for the lot. I was happy to oblige because I figured that I would earn more of them if I tried really hard at school. It was a win win situation.

All seemed well until the phone rang as I was eating dinner with my family that evening. My mom was a bit irritated by the interruption but answered the phone nonetheless. When she returned she gave me a foreboding look and told my dad that I had sold holy cards to the kid down the street. She explained that his mother was quite upset because they did not believe in such things. Besides, the woman had argued, the price I had charged was prohibitive. She wanted me to return the five dollars immediately and reclaim my holy cards.

I could tell that my mother was not pleased with me but before I even had a chance to explain myself my father burst into uncontrollable laughter, leaving me and my mother quite confused. He smiled and winked at me as he stood to remove his wallet from his back pocket and then he removed a five dollar bill and handed it to my mother. “Use this to pay for the holy cards,” he told her. “Let Sharron keep her profit. It’s worth it to know that my little girl outsmarted the financial wizard’s son. I love it,” he bragged with a huge grin on his face. With that pronouncement I breathed a sigh of relief and smiled with pride at my wonderful daddy who had who seemed to understand the importance of my first foray into the art of the deal. My mom on the other hand simply shook her head while attempting to hide her own amusement with the situation.

I always loved the way my father appreciated the ingeniousness of me and my brothers. He often laughed at antics that might have driven other parents wild. When my little brother took things apart Daddy almost always defended him by asserting that he was only attempting to understand how things work. My dad encouraged us to have an adventurous spirit that would guide us as we explored the world. He believed that life was meant to be lived without fear and I suppose that he went out in a blaze of glory following his own credo.

After my father died I became more cautious. It would be years before I was willing to leave my comfort zone and try things, but I always remembered those moments when he encouraged me to use my imagination and intellect. Mostly though I loved that he knew how to laugh whenever we were just being kids. In some ways he was the man who never quite grew up, a kind of Peter Pan who left this earth for Never Never Land far too soon. Somehow in the brief time that he was around he taught me the importance of viewing the world through humorous eyes. Knowing when to laugh rather than cry has made things so much better than they might otherwise have been.