Friday, March 06, 2015

Do Not Pass Go; Go Directly to Jail

My first novel was for young adults, After Pa Was Shot, published in 1978 and set in a small East Texas town in the early years of the twentieth century. A teacher friend read it and said, "My superintendent would never allow this in our library if he read it." Me? Pollyanna? It seems it contained the word "kike." The years around the turn of the century were years of immigration, and European immigrants who didn't go to Ellis Island often ended up in Galveston, from where they made their way north to the towns of East Texas. Many were Jewish peddlers and their families. The word passed the classic historical test: appropriate to time and place.
Censorship in education is not new, but it's taken a strange twist these days--jail time. A substitute teacher in Ohio has been sentenced to 90 days in jail for showing an "inappropriate" movie to five classes. Granted it was inappropriate, and it was a bad call to show it without viewing it and then to continue showing it after she knew the content. But jail? Another state is about to pass a law where teachers can go to jail for assigning inappropriate books. The trouble with all this is who decides appropriate vs. inappropriate? Are we imposing someone's personal morality code on our students, narrowing their options for reading? That will cut out classics that they should read. I believe, for instance, that  To Kill a Mockingbird has been on the banned list several times, along with Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, The Color Purple, Beloved, The Lord of the Flies, and 1984. Would you send a teacher to jail for assigning those works? Some right-wingers, guardians of our morality, well might.
Education is in the midst of a controversy right now--should students be taught to the test or should they be encouraged to explore, investigate, question, develop critical thinking skills. Teaching to the test involves memorization, not creativity. Censorship also stifles creativity. The Nazis had a strict censorship program--they wanted people to obey and blindly believe, not to question and think critically. If we are to raise a generation of national and world leaders, we need to teach our students to think critically, to question what they read. If they read something inappropriate, the teacher should discuss it and listen to their questions.
I always remember the sound advice given to parents worried about the moment a child asks a question about s-e-x. Answer the question fully and completely, but don't go any farther. Don't load them down with more information than they asked for. Seems to me the same explanation holds for teaching materials.
But send a teacher to jail? That's going to discourage a lot of college students from entering that profession--a loss to the whole system.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Haiku, snow, and words

I have an internet friend who I admire greatly for many things, among them the fact that she writes beautiful haiku, seemingly with ease. Today was a day meant for haiku, but I don't have the words for that lovely brevity. Last night, when I looked out the back at the deck, in the light I could see big snowflakes drifting gracefully down. If I looked out the front to the distance, an empty street stretched before me and the air was almost fog-like it was so thick with snow. It apparently kept on until about three in the morning--I wouldn't know. But this morning everything was covered with rounded mounds of snow--no tracks, no footprints, no tire marks. The world was white and still and wonderful. Then about noon, the dripping began. Tonight the streets and sidewalks are clear, the driveway almost so. More functional but not nearly as pretty. Tomorrow it will all go away.
It was another day home alone--Jacob's dad took him sledding and kept him all day. Tonight they've gone to the airport to get Jordan, just back from a five-day work trip (so she says) in sunny southern Mexico. Sophie has been good company. I managed to spend way too much time on Facebook but I also wrote my thousand words (okay, honesty, I still have 300 to go) and read some on the book I'm  to review. Evening is my productive time, and I'm getting ready to get back to work.
On Facebook today, Republican lawmakers have been busy. Ted Cruz hasn't given up his dream of denying health care to the poor--is that some kind of Darwinian survival of the fittest test? A lawmaker in Arkansas (I think) gave his two adopted children away--to a man who had raped one of them. That makes the adoptive mom in me scream in pain for those very young girls. Another Midwestern lawmaker says President Obama is about to make it illegal to prosecute African Americans for any crime, and then there's always the NRA which claims that banning ammunition for AR-15s (I may have the caliber wrong) is the first insidious step toward total gun control. If those are the president's goals, he better hurry along--he only has less than two  years. Paranoia continues to astound me.
And then there's the Facebook offer: I could have a set of Golden Girls prayer candles of my very own--be still my heart. I can hear Betty White's laughter all the way to Texas.
Back to the world tomorrow--I hope.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Joy (?) of Facebook

Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech brought out the best and the worst of people in Facebook--both conservatives and liberals, and the reaction emphasized something that's been bothering me of late: the unbelievable crudeness of language on Facebook. At the risk of sounding like an the old fuddy-duddy some of my grandkids think I am, I have to say I'm appalled. Of course as a liberal, I'd like to say the conservatives are much worse, but unfortunately it's not true. This language comes from extremists on both sides.
Don't get me wrong. I love Facebook; I'm almost an addict. I've made many new friends there, I've gotten to know acquaintances better, and I've promoted my books, made helpful professional contacts. Sometimes it's the first way I hear of breaking national news since I don't keep the TV on when I'm working, and many times I find intelligent discussion of current economic and political conditions which enlarge my understanding.
But the use of epithets--from comparison to anatomical parts to threats of impeachment and hanging and banning from the country--strike me in terribly poor taste.
I'm afraid--and this isn't a new argument--that it reflects a decline in manners and civility in this day. We all know that were there was once collegiality and cooperation in Congress, now there is open hostility--and followers reflect that hostility in terms that should humiliate the speaker and not the subject. President Obama is of course the primary target--I once had a Facebook friend who referred to the president as the Kenyan until I insisted his mother was American and Anglo; thereafter he called him  the half-Kenyon. And that's the least of the insults. I think it's the anatomical words that bother me most--asshole being one of the milder. And of course liberal use of the F-bomb, which, sorry, I still don't believe belongs in polite society. The boys may say what they like out behind the barn.
Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell come in for their share of abusive language--and not being at all a fan of either one, I find it tempting to use slurs. But I also know that logical argument, well researched, is the best offense. Not blind accusations that sound wonderful and have more leaks than a fishing net.
Politics has probably always been full of slurs and slam--the Lincoln/Douglas debates come to mind--but frequently I long for the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when gentlemen were gentlemen and women were ladies. And people had respect for the president, elected to lead our country, and for other elected officials.
So here's a question to ponder: Have politicians perhaps brought some of this on themselves, by their behavior?
PS Sorry there was no blog last night. I actually felt creative and knew where I wanted to go next with my novel. Couldn't let go of the thread.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Emerging from hibernation

My house in the snow
I feel like I've been housebound for ten days when it's actually only been three full days. Last week in spite of ice and snow, I got out to dinner twice, the grocery store once. The three days I was home I had company twice--once for wine and once for dinner. So I wasn't really as pitiful as I felt.
Still today when I could freely walk down the driveway, I felt like I was coming out of  a long winter's sleep.
When I'm home alone too much, my anxiety builds up and I get too introspective--like, "Hmmm--how do I feel now?" Even last night, after my company left, I was a bundle of nerves, possibly due to the incident with Sophie, partly because I was determined to get out today. My lunch date cancelled, so I went grocery shopping--we're supposed to have sleet again Thursday and possibly be still frozen on Friday. So I stocked up on essentials--wine, cottage cheese, bread, and the like. In spite of nervousness about emerging into the world, I felt like a normal shopper in the store, talked to people, etc.
For the first time since last Thursday, Jacob was here and we did homework all. darn. afternoon. That boy can find more distractions--he has to go to the bathroom, he has to call his father, he has to love on Sophie. It was wearing on my nerves but good to have him back in the house. He was studying Africa, and I know nothing about the geography nor all those small countries, except I could usually help him with pronunciation. He explained to me several times why I was wrong about Addis Adaba--but then he used that answer. "I'm not arguing," he said. It's now an old joke between us.
Update on Sophie's temper tantrum. Vet says that is just what it was--misplaced aggression. She was really mad at the other dog but couldn't get at him, so Jacob and I were both handy and got the snarls and snaps. Punishment is not the answer. Ignoring her by going into another room is recommended, which we did. Jacob and I were both wrong to reach for her collar, and I was wrong to smack her in instinctive anger, something I'm not sure I've ever done to a dog. He said to watch her eyes: if they're dilated, she's upset. And of course if her ears are back. He recommended just walking away until she "settles." When she does, give her a command, like "sit." And reward her if she does it. Soon, he promises, the command will replace the need to walk away and will be her signal to settle. We'll see. Who knows? We may never have another incident (fingers crossed). But it struck me that might be a good technique to try on Jacob too.
A bonus of a day still much at home alone: I wrote about 1200 words. I read about someone who writes in whatever fifteen minutes she finds handy. I would normally think, "Oh, I only have fifteen minutes. I can't get into it." You know what? I can, did several times today.
Somehow the result of all this is that I'm really tired tonight. G'night all.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

A snarl and a snap

My sweet, loveable Sophie, who everyone adores, snarled and snapped at me tonight. It's the second time in recent weeks she's done that, but I dismissed the first time because I think I woke her out of a sound sleep by reaching for her collar. And the incident passed quickly--she seemed unaware and came for her nightly tummy rubs. Tonight it was willful disobedience.
Friend Phil was trying out the new sectional in the sunroom, sitting quietly petting his seeing-eye dog. Sophie adores the dog, Santiago, but she also thinks she should be first in line for any affection in this house. She hopped up on the sofa. I'm trying to teach her that the new sofa is off limits. When I catch her on the sofa in the living room and say, "Sophie, get down," she looks guilty and hops off. Didn't work tonight.
Jacob got her off once, but she hopped back up. He reached for her collar again, and she snarled badly enough to scare him away. So I marched over and reached for her collar--only to be greeted with a snarl and a snap. I did rap her smartly on her nose and say, "No!"--which earned me stinging knuckles because they came in contact with her bared teeth.
Christian said, "If she were my dog, I'd punish her," and I agreed but I didn't know how to punish her. I sure wasn't going to reach for her again. We all decided to go into the living room and ignore her.
Obviously, she knew she'd done wrong. She followed me everywhere I went all evening--if I was having wine in the living room, she was at my feet, staring at me with soulful eyes. If I was in the kitchen, so was she--watching me nervously. When we had dinner, she sat right by my chair. Eventually we made friends, but I don't know if the lesson will stick with her. It will stick with me--I've learned not to reach for her collar and to always make sure she knows it's me and is awake.
But I need some way to deal with this if it happens again.
Jacob helpfully said, "Lock her in her crate for the rest of the party." (A quick dinner for four is a party to him.) I explained she wouldn't connect the two. She's very subject to bribery, but there ought to be a better way to make her understand that is unacceptable behavior. I'll appreciate any advice from dog-training friends. I don't exactly want to risk my fingers again.
Sophie will be four in May, and I certainly hope this isn't a sign she's going to be a crotchety old lady.
The good news is that the world is thawing--not going to be in the twenties again for three nights, but then watch out. Rain and freezing temperatures. I'm going out tomorrow if I do no more than drive around the block. And if we can tolerate this stuff one more week, we should be headed into the sixties. Come, spring....

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ho-hum--and a new veggie dish

Another day of being shut in. Since last Sunday (maybe Saturday) I have been out of the house twice. This is getting old. Tonight my solitude was nicely broken by my Canadian daughter and her partner who came for wine and then went on to a party. Made me feel almost social. They reported driving is easy but walking is treacherous. I'm glad I stayed home.
I discover that if I sit at my desk too long, either writing, checking email, etc., or reading, I develop a sort of inertia. So this afternoon I folded the laundry I'd left in the dryer a shamefully long time, made the first layer of a casserole for tomorrow, and made myself a new dish for supper--pea mash.
I asked my Canadian daughter if she'd ever had pea mash, thinking it sounded British. She said it sounded like bangers and mash (which I love) but no she'd never had it.
I sautéed some defrosted sweet peas in olive oil and mashed them with a fork. Lesson learned: they don't mash with an old-fashioned potato masher. The peas just roll around between the tines of the masher. I seasoned them with a bit of garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper (got a little heavy on the pepper, which is often a failing of mine), and added a chopped scallion. Really good. I'll do that again. Good thing because I have two full bags of peas in the freezer.
Not a bad day--200 emails, 1000+ words written, some reading, couldn't nap. Tomorrow it's supposed to be fifty, so the great thaw will come. By Tuesday, in the seventies but thunderstorms. I think I'll sing and dance in the rain.

Friday, February 27, 2015

An old story by now

Snow is a tired old story in the Metroplex by now. We had our share of ice and snow early in the week and some of us--count me--thought it was mostly behind us. Yesterday there was a light dusting which proved to be just that and no more. In spite of Jordan's misgivings, I went to the grocery and nothing bad happened.
So this morning when Christian said, "Hunker down. It's going to snow," and Jacob crowed, "It's snowing already," I didn't think much about  it. It was a light dusting--tiny flakes--but it kept coming all morning and into the afternoon. If you live here and watch TV at all,  you know how bad the roads were: at one point, police were working 45 accidents with 30 in the queue.
I had more social plans than usual this weekend and was looking forward to being out and about. Tonight is (was?) a preview at the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame of a special program, scheduled later, on the making of the movie, Lonesome Dove. Not sure how I got an invitation, but I did, and Carol Roark was going with me, threatening to wear those rhinestone chaps she doesn't have. Tomorrow night we were going to take friend Phil--and his seeing-eye dog--to Weatherford for the opening of a show on The Buffalo at the Museum of the Americas--cancelled. We may go to the Old Neighborhood Grill for supper. It will be good to get out of the house and among people if that happens.
I did worry about getting Jacob from school, because the TV had dire warnings about how slippery things were. The mother of one of Jacob's friends picked both boys up about 10:30 this morning. Jacob went home with them to play and was to be delivered back here. But then he was invited to spend the night. Every time I glanced out my office window today I saw parents picking children up early. The school never did officially dismiss early.
There are good things about snow days--I'm more likely to do my yoga when home alone all day, and I get a lot of work done. Dug into my novel-in-progress last night, reading from the beginning, and found lots of holes and contradictions. Then I lost track of what had happened when, so I will have to do that again. I will write more tonight and then read--not the book I'm reading for review but a mystery that I can lose myself in.
Next week doesn't look much better--freezing rain and sleet tonight, rain until midweek, but by Tuesday the predicted high is 77. Today it didn't go above 28. Want to talk about whether or not climate change exists? I have a few words, not polite, for the legislator who brought a snowball into Congress to demonstrate that the earth is not warming!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A doggy, snow week

Sophie at her most adorable, saying, "Notice how cute I am." The week has been much absorbed with dogs. One of Jordan's two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels developed pancreatitis--during a snow day when the vet didn't open until noon. She was in the vet's overnight and the subject of much concern . Since it was a snow day, Jacob was here and Jordan brought Cricket, the other dog, because the two are not used to being separated. Sophie thought that was delightful--a playmate. Cricket, and her sister Juney, are quiet, reserved dogs who prefer to sit on your lap and not move. Sophie made overtures to Crickey, which Jacob interpreted as bullying, causing him to lock her in the office which drove her frantic. I explained we couldn't lock her up in her own house when we were all here and if he'd calm down, Sophie would too. And that's just what happened. Juney is now happily at home with her sister and feeling better.
But Sophie loves happy hour, when it seems there's almost always someone here for a glass of wine. First of all it's her signal to become desperately hungry. After she's fed, she wants attention and shows us how cute she is.
Sometimes I think about living alone, which mostly I like, and think I couldn't do it without a dog. Yes, I talk to her, and she responds. Yes, she gives me comfort in the cool of the night--if someone threatened the house, she'd sound the alert. Though pretty much when she's in her crate, she considers herself "off duty" and doesn't bark until she wants to go outside--usually about four in the morning, thank you very much. But then it's not a bark but a sort of soft "Ruff." She's crated because she seems to have forgotten that she can wake me up to go out and has left puddle marks on my kilim rugs. I don't think I've ever in my life had a perfectly house-trained dog, and I consider it a deficiency on my part.
Other than that it's been a snow week--two days of school closed and then yesterday was a gorgeous day, sunny, not too cold. Today the prediction was for a light dusting of snow in the morning, though Jordan looked at the radar--which looked like a huge something was going to hit us--and announced I should not go to the grocery. I protested it's liable to be much worse the next two mornings, and I should go when I can. The light dusting was barely even that--tiny flakes that disappeared before they hit the ground. At her urging I went to the store so early that I was home by 9:30 and can stay home the next two days, although I have evening plans both nights that I hope the weather doesn't cancel.
Saturday is the Cowtown Marathon, an event for which planning began in my living room many many years ago. I well remember the first marathon--it began to sleet about ten the night before, and my ex, Joel, one of the founders, sat in our bedroom and said, "Shit! I don't want to hear sleet." Next morning I drove four young children to the North Side (I was doing publicity for the marathon) and we stayed all day.  Now when I think of having turned them loose on East Exchange I am horrified but they assure me they were always with a bunch of kids.
This Saturday it's supposed to be freezing rain. Jordan and Jacob are scheduled to run, Christian to walk. We'll see what happens, but the weather forecast does bring back memories.
The trouble with snow days, for me, is that I get too comfortable staying home and then have to remind myself I am perfectly capable of moving about in the world. Felt a bit of that this morning.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Legal tangles and an exploding computer

For about ten years, I held power of attorney for a cousin in Canada. I hadn't seen her since I was twelve--which, believe me, was a long time ago. But she was incapable of handling her own affairs, and I was the only close relative. I remember my father years ago saying, "If anything happens to us, you will take care of Jenny, won't you." It was like a legacy.
Jenny died last May, intestate. I don't think she ever had a happy life, but she was perhaps the happiest she'd ever been in the provincial home where she lived the last few years. I grieve for all that she missed in life, but I'm glad she was comfortable, well cared for, and had a sense of being cared about.
Finally this month the Canadian courts named me as executor and sole heir. I had meantime arranged a funeral, burial, headstone--all the details that go with death. And I thought I was through. Today my computer exploded with emails from the Toronto lawyer and the trust company tax preparer. It's complicated enough when a person dies in this country  with a will--take away the will (I never would have asked her--it would have scared her) and put the only relative in another country, and it gets complicated beyond measure.
I apparently have to file two returns--one with the Canadian Revenue whatever (the trust company will do that--for a fee, I'm sure) and one to meet a new requirement of the Ontario judicial system (the lawyer will do that). We're not talking about much money here, and I can see it rapidly diminishing with legal fees. We had some discussion about filing under the new requirement--the lawyer said she didn't think I was required to but it was a risk. Seemed like a small risk until she mentioned the minimal fine is $1000 (okay, not the end of the world) and/or two years in jail (oops! the end of the world). We're filing.
But I got so I hated to check my email--and each time I heard from either of these wonderful people (they really are most helpful) I saw dollar signs spin before my eyes.
Meantime I got into another computer dither, trying to apply for a Twitter widget for my newly designed website--Twitter refused to accept my URL as valid. The web designer finally said she'd do it herself, and of course it worked the first time--after I'd tried ten times. At least I was glad to have that chore taken off my hands.
By the end of the afternoon, I needed a break desperately. The morning's snow had melted and the day turned gorgeous. My dining adventurer friend Betty and I went to the Tavern...and ended up across the aisle from my son-in-law who was having a drink with a client. We split an odd combination for dinner--the appetizer of deviled eggs (love them) and a bowl of rigatoni Bolognese. The Bolognese was neither the rich red sauce I expected nor the cream-added sauce I sometimes encounter, but it was meaty and good and I suspect pretty authentic. Good food is always a solace.
 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Yep, it's my zoo and my monkies

The sectional couch in all its glories is put together--after 18 cartons and untold hours of work, mostly by Jordan, Christian and Jay. Note one pillow doesn't match--missing a slipcover. It's not quite finished, because we will link the pieces together after we get the TV in place, and also decide what to do about the hassock (nobody seems to know that word) and the coffee table, which is an antique munitions chest and I really want to keep. But it's done, we can sit on it, and it changes the character of the once-playroom completely. I'm excited about it. No red wine can be drunk on it--house rules. One of my daughters (I'm not naming names) will remember a recent disaster with red wine and a couch!
Other than that, it's been a day. You know the phrase, "Not my zoo, not my monkeys"? Today they were all mine. We were iced in this morning and Jacob was to spend the day. He didn't arrive until eleven and then came accompanied by a dog and a flustered mother. They have two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and one was desperately ill--turns out she has pancreatitis and is in the vet's overnight, maybe for two nights. Meantime they didn't want to leave the other dog, Cricky, home alone because the two are very attached and sort of insecure.
Sophie thought it  was fine, even exciting to have Crickey, but Jacob gets upset when Soph jumps on poor passive Crickey, so I have to tell him to chill. He wants to lock Sophie in the office, which she won't stand for. Eventually everyone calmed down, and Jacob did his studies with his dog curled next to him. Sophie gave it up and retreated to her chair.
Friend Carol called wanting to go to lunch to beat off cabin fever, and I explained I couldn't leave two dogs alone, so we had tuna sandwiches here, and Carol swept me a path to the side steps off the porch--by tonight it had all melted anyway and was fine.
Jordan and Christian arrived about five, Christian left Jordan, Jacob and Crickey here, and I eventually left them to go to dinner with friends--Tuesday night at the Neighborhood Grill. With, I must add, a sense of relief. No ice, good dinner, nice companionship, and I came home to a quiet peaceful house.
No idea what tomorrow will bring--except snow. Supposed to melt by ten or so. This has been the week that was for weather and isn't really supposed to get better until the weekend. Yuck.
Who, me? Write? Not a chance. But I did get some work done. Going to sleep early with a clear conscience.