Onward

Halloween Saturday and it comes at the end of a simply brutal week. Sue’s hospitalization and the subsequent piling up of child and house-care duties combined with paper grading, lesson-planning, administrator-appeasing, deadline meeting and fundraiser planning, left me wanting a bit.

She is doing better–recuperating if somewhat slowly. Her whole body seems to have gone haywire and the docs aren’t sure why. I’m fairly convinced it was a reaction to the drug Levaquin that she was prescribed for a small infection that she got after surgery on October 5. We’ll find out more on Monday.

So, trick-or-treating tonight with Peanut after a soccer game today (we lost by one point) and an afternoon of rest. Scoop and I got in a 2 and a half mile hike later this morning and I’m trying to get back above water this week but part of that quite honestly is a need to rest and to do nothing. Tomorrow is a busy day at church and afterward. But, there is another need here that is harder to pull together.

Simply put, having been un-nerved and unsettled by Sue’s mysterious condition, illness, injury, whatever it was–it’s just too easy to fall back into routine where we all get busy spinning wheels again. In short, it’s comfortable to do that because that’s what we know. But the fact is, falling into those routines are only good if they’re meaningful and I am not sure my routines are. I’m still at the beginning of this, so I have not thought it all through. But having Sue fall ill in such a mysterious way, having doctors not know how to treat her or how to make her better and having her admitted to the hospital simply undid me.

It is that undoing that has forced upon me some thoughts about change. Life is short and when you have children, it’s not just important to keep them safe–though that is, of course, the overarching concern. But if we’re keeping them safe so that they can grow to live a routine life in which they question what they’re doing, then is it really worth it? If we’re raising them to be comfortable, middle of the road people who don’t draw on their own passions, their own abilities and their own faith–both in themselves and in God–then are we really raising them to be what they can be?

I’m still ferreting this out–but the fact is, life is for living and we’re not doing ourselves any favors by forgetting that fact.

Onward.

Going to Ground part II

“I am about wrung out,” as my grandmother used to say. Sue is home, she is healing and mending–but several odd things have happened. Her knee has swollen up and become hot to the touch and after all she’s been through, it’s a terrible thing.

I did some research tonight on the web, I won’t link to it because I am uncertain of it, but as near as I can tell–one of the drugs she was on after her surgery was levaquin. And that drug has a great many side effects including tendonitis as well as stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, etc. In other words, I am beginning to wonder if her entire episode could have been related to her levaquin prescription. I am rather hoping that if that is true, then the fact that she is no longer on the drug will ameliorate the problems she has been having.

I stayed home from work today–and worked harder than I do in the classroom. I’m looking forward to going back to get some rest. I only hope that my wife is able to have a better day tomorrow. Her g.i. symptoms have mostly abated, now, though, her knee is a mess and I’m hoping that changes.

Honestly, people, that is all I have right now. I’ve been so focused on her–and on home matters–that story deadlines, planning for the wine tasting, Holiday planning, classroom planning, all of it has taken a back seat. I graded some papers tonight–that’s about the best I could do.

I’m ready for bed.

Going to Ground

I have ignored posting because things went haywire on Sunday…

By 3:00 PM, Sue was in bitter and remorseless pain in her abdomen. She couldn’t keep food down and she was having severe pain in her right side. She had a hysterectomy on Oct. 5 and so all of the markers pointed to some kind of post-operative infection. But that turned out not to be the case.

We got home from the hospital at 9:00 PM on Sunday and she survived Monday as best she could. To bed early on Monday night but by 4:00 AM Tuesday morning, Sue was in the same pain, vomiting and getting worse. Back to the hospital.

They medicated her, ran an ultrasound for the second time and found nothing. They ran a CT scan and found nothing. By this time, our Doctor was awake and on the case. He admitted her to the hospital reasoning that we could either drive her in her discomfort around town to different specialists or we could just put all together here in the hospital and get it done more comfortably for her. I didn’t want her admitted–I agree with the ER nurse, Richard–a really great guy and a true caring professional. “You don’t want to be admitted here. It’s full of nothin’ but sick people.” Well–I guess Sue was one of them.

She spent all day Monday in the hospital and they medicated her and got Dr. Rotenburg, a gastroenterologist to come and see her. He too was a good dude and he did a pretty thorough examination and investigation. He said, “I had a great teacher at UCLA-an old school diagnostician and he used to say, ‘sometimes, it’s better to not do anything and stand there. Particularly when it comes to the g.i. system.'” In other words-we’d run a battery of tests, all of them were negative-blood tests looked fine and there was nothing leading us anywhere. “You’re here in the hospital, if you get worse in the next 8-12 hours, that will lead us somewhere. If you get better, well–that too will lead us. Let’s let that happen because right now-we’ve done enough tests to rule out some pretty major assumptions.”

So, that’s what we did. This morning, Sue said she was no better and Dr. Rotenburg’s partner, Dr. Sanchez, came in ordered a nuclear scan in which dye is injected to the patient and a large x-ray type machine scans the internal organs and intestines. The hope was to catch her g.i. system in the act of malfunctioning. If that would happen, they could pinpoint the symptoms and nail them right to the problem–and act to treat it.

But, you guessed it–the scan was negative. So, by this afternoon, we’d done blood tests, ultrasound, CT scan and the hide-a-scan and enough poking, prodding and palpating to tenderize meat–and the result was—nothing.

That led us back to Dr. Rotenburg’s original diagnosis–a virus of some sort. “And the thing about viruses is, they tend to be self-limiting. That is, it’ll go away when it’s ready to do that.”

Sue started to feel better, though, by sometime just before the hide-a-scan. Her pain level was going down and her nausea was intermittent allowing her to take a good 4 hour nap this morning. Dr. Fung, our family physician, after consulting with the other two docs, said that if Sue could keep a liquid lunch (though, not that kind of liquid lunch) and a light dinner down, he’d release her to come home. The results of all tests were negative and by then Sue was headed toward feeling better, so if she could do those things, out she’d go….

And she did them–she ate her lunch of jello and broth, water and tea and she ate a light supper of pork loin and fruit, a bit of potato and veg and she felt better. So at 7:00 O’clock, I went and got her and brought her home. As I write this, she is sound asleep upstairs with Peanut in the room with her sleeping soundly. The hospital was under swine flu protocol and no one under the age of 16 was allowed to visit patients. So, really Peanut had not seen mom since Monday night. They missed each other pretty badly. To alleviate the problem, I carried my SVP flip camera with me with a video message from Peanut to her mom each day and night–and then I’d record Sue’s message back to Peanut and they communicated that way. It was kind of fun and I was going to post the videos here, but Sue has not given permission. If you saw her in full hospital regalia, you’d understand why. I just thought she was beautiful either way….she demured.

And that, gentles, is what I have been doing since Sunday. I apologize for not posting–but even some deadlines took a back seat. I simply wasn’t prepared to do anything other than focus on Peanut, the house and a couple of hours of work here and there.

Tonight, I am prayerfully thankful that God has watched out for all of us, especially Sue, and He has brought her home to us. We’re praying she is on the mend, feeling better and getting herself back to health again.

More posts to come. Happy Halloween Week.

Running on Empty

A long day that has seen Sue back in the hospital. She’s still there, but sent me home while the E.R. folks treat her. Her hysterectomy went well a few weeks back–but she’s had some pain and nausea the past two days and earlier, they thought she had a simple infection. Now-they’re not sure–but blood test and ultrasound were fairly normal. No fever, no other problems. I’m going back to get her in an hour or so from right now and it’s 8:00 o’clock.

Hurt my neck a little bit–again. Nothing serious, I think–but I tried to cradle the phone next to my shoulder and I know better. So, I pay the price. It’s been a long weekend, honestly–and I’m happy to see it end. The winds kicked in today and the temperature shot up to close to 90 degrees and what with all the other stuff going on this weekend, I’m just rather….unhappy, I suppose.

When that happens, there is nothing else to do but to pray. And that’s where I retreat tonight–inward to commune with God–because quite honestly, all the other stuff can overwhelm and I’ve been teaching myself this line of my faith–that one has to rely on one’s God if one is to feel comfort and so, I am doing just that.

I have no rhetorical witicisms this evening and nothing terribly exciting to write about. I did do a piece today for the paper on Adolfo Camarillo’s birthday. It should run tomorrow in the Ventura County Star. Camarillo’s claim to fame, aside from having a town named after him, was to breed a unique horse now known as the Camarillo White. Long set of stories but that White Horses are back in Camarillo family hands and they are beautiful animals. Why…here’s are some pictures.

Good night and good luck.

IMG00042
This is Pelon. At 39, he’d be remarkable no matter what kind of horse he was. He’s an old man and he’s as docile as he could be. He’s a great, great, great grandfather, though. He’s a Camarillo White Horse and those beautiful eyes–that are closed unfortunately–are blue.

IMG00043
This is Gavilon and he is one of the great, great, great grandchildren. He’s only 16 months old and still very much a baby. His owner, Tanya-pictured here-babies him as do all of the owners of the Camarillo Whites. Just a lot of fun to do stories on stuff like this.

"…things I know, things I wonder, things I'd like to say…"

It’s not that I’m worried about swine flu. I mean, if we define our terms-I don’t wake up in the morning wondering whether I’ll get infected. I don’t get the thousand-yard stare considering what might happen should my family or I get the illness.

But, I do think about it. I do get concerned. My wife has asthma and my daughter was diagnosed with it, though she seems to have either grown out of it or simply gotten better. She has allergies, but largely she’s getting by. So, it’s a little disconcerting and I am considering the H1N1 vaccine for the fam. We’ve all had our flu shot this year and we do that every year. I’ve been reading a lot about it and other than the conspiracy theories, I don’t see much of a down-side. If you have a non tinfoil hat reason I shouldn’t get the family vaccinated, do tell. I’ll listen. But be warned, if you go off and explain how the President and the Congress are using the vaccine to plant mico-chips or have mixed in a secret mind-controlling agent capable of forcing you to support single payer healthcare, I will publish your piece here for all to see.

Mind you–I think that the Congress and even the President are capable of such things, I just don’t think they could do it. Well, OK–saying that Congress is capable of much of anything is rather a stretch, I’ll grant you-except taking my money and asking for more. ‘Nuff said.

Meanwhile, under the continued “disturbia” heading, tomorrow is an in-service day at school. These mindless and miserable daylong verbal masturbation fests are held for the same reason most meetings are held–so that those who have control over their petty fiefdoms may show the rest of us how much control they have.

Honestly, I’ve been teaching long enough now that I can actually remember a time when in-service meetings were fun and productive. OK, there weren’t many–but they did happen. There was a time when we were allowed to learn things ourselves–new computer programs, seminars on essays and how to focus kids’ attention on reading comprehension. Those days are gone and I think, sometimes, that they exist in a kind of of ethereal dreamlike place where all good and happy thoughts go to be free.

Alas for us-the fundamental shifting role of the administrators in our school–none of whom have as much specific education as the people whom they lead–puts them in the position of telling us how to teach. Now-those of you in business are used to this, of course. Been happening for years, I know. Incompetent and in some cases well-meaning and affable, but incompetent people tell you how to do your job. I get that–but you knew the job was dangerous when you took it.

Trouble is-the rules of the game changed, but the training didn’t. I still have more education than any one of our four administrators in my subject area. So do my colleagues–and yet, the administrators are being told they have to come in and tell us how to do our jobs better. I know it sounds like sour grapes–or even arrogant–but how does someone who has never done my job and doesn’t even know what a dangling participle is tell me how to do it better? How does someone who doesn’t know Henry David Thoreau from Henry Higgins tell you that you need to focus on reading comprehension? Well, they can’t. But, they do.

And so tomorrow will be one of those times when we’ll be told to “collaborate” and to create “professional learning communities” and all that good stuff. To be sure, some schools are doing this quite well and are succeeding. I’ve seen one up in the Conejo Valley, not far from where I teach. But-what they did was create the learning communities and then the administration let the teachers go be professional. He didn’t (and doesn’t) tell them what to do, how to do it or anything else–because they know how. We all do. He merely explains what result he is looking for and then has the professionals go find ways to obtain that result. That’s not what will happen with us. We’ll be told not only what result to obtain, but how to obtain it and what will happen to us if we don’t obtain it in the “proper way.”

Joy.

Teaching used to be fun. Education should be a gift, a wonder and the kind of thing that makes people want to deserve it. Instead, it has become a burden, a kind of tasteless and bland meal which can nourish, but never satisfy. How many kids will want that if we keep going down this road?

I state again what “A Nation at Risk” stated in 1983: “If a foreign power set up the educational system we have in America today, we would consider it an act of war.”

Rally the troops, friends.

J. Paul's Vision of Paradise

It’s those little things that go un-noticed and need to be more…well, noticeable.

Mom was in town and stayed with us for 10 days. Originally, it was supposed to be a week, but we begged her to stay a few more and to help sweeten the deal, we took her to the Getty Museum.

Now, your humble host considers himself a fairly refined fellow, but I am remiss in my dutiful and regular museum attendance. When Peanut was younger, we would often go to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and she–and I–loved it. It reminded me of my childhood in Chicago where I often went to museums and galleries and historical places and such. Before I was 10, I had a working knowledge of the Civil War and had been to Gettysburg, Springfield, IL (birthplace of Honest Abe), the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and lots of other cool places. Well–now that I think of it, my daughter has a few under her belt, too.

The Getty Museum, the Getty Center as it is known in L.A. is a monumentally beautiful place. Set high atop a ridge of hills off of the 405 freeway in West Los Angeles, it is an oasis surrounded by the grandiosity of all that is L.A. Travertine Marble construction and architecture that is itself worthy of gawking for hours surround a courtyard that is at once immense and intimate. Water fountains and channels along the sidewalks, allowing water to find its level in the center of the patio surrounded by the four pavilions and the research center.

And the artwork–oh my the artwork. We only saw two pavilions and we found ourselves wanting more–but there wasn’t time. One must go many times. I have no art training, no formal understanding of any of it. But, I loved it. I still see the Dutch paintings in my mind’s eye and of course, I didn’t bring a camera–because I’m fairly oafish and stupid–but at one point, Peanut saw a painting of Christ being taken off the cross. It was a magical moment. You could see her head spinning as she walked up to it and stared. I wanted so badly to capture a photograph of the back of her head, looking up and standing there staring at the painting. It was an extraordinary moment.

We will indeed go back–and soon. Our friend Helene is a docent there and she was kind enough to get us in. If you have not been to the Getty Center, I dare say that it is worth the trip–and I say that to those of you reading this from out of state. If you’re in California and you don’t go? Well….it’s like saying you don’t want to see Yosemite because what’s one more National Park? Refinement for free-well, except for the parking fee of about 15 bucks. But seriously–15 bucks to take a family to discover priceless and beautiful works of art amid a backdrop that is so stellar, it is itself a work of art? Best deal on the West Coast I’d say.

Avail yourself.

Sleeping un-Beauty

Better writers than I have tackled the subject of parenthood and I would be foolish for attempting to trump them. My own parenting trials are wrapped up in Peanut, who never did have a good relationship with sleep, getting worse at it.

Having “tried everything” late this summer, I was absolutely at wit’s end when she would wander into our bedroom 2 or 3 times a night and claim she “couldn’t sleep” because she was afraid we were going to “leave her.” Mind you, this child has never been left–ever–not for a moment and so it is hard for us to accept that she has a fear of being left by us. One night last August, at some Gawd-awful hour when she came in and woke me, I said, “is the irony of you having to wake me up to tell me you’re afraid I’m going to leave lost on you?” She’s a very smart kid, you know. But she had no idea what I was saying.

Let’s be honest–this is manipulation. If it were accompanied by difficulties in school or social problems or bedwetting or clocktower standing with automatic weapons or something, I’d worry. But as it is, this is nothing more than…”I’m alone and you’re not paying attention to me right now. Why not?”

So, at the behest of my wife and some friends, I relented. I wanted no more battles. Bedtime had become a bit of a strategy session requiring advanced planning up to 3 hours before-hand. I was weary and I’m far too busy right now to have to start thinking about 8 or 9 O’clock bedtimes at 5 O’clock. So I gave in.

We’d put Peanut to bed, her mom laying next to her in her room on the floor and tell her that if she got “scared” or couldn’t sleep, she need merely come into our room, roll out the blanket on the floor and sleep at the foot of our bed. Most importantly, she would not disturb us or wake us.

Guess where she sleeps most nights now?

Especially now after Sue had surgery and was unable to fulfill her role of laying next to her, Peanut largely sleeps on the floor in our room and it’s annoying me. It was supposed to be a stop-gap measure, a kind of security blanket that would allow her to feel safe and it was meant to by-pass her argument of being “afraid we were going to leave her.” She could come into our room if and when she needed–point made.

Now, it’s all she does.

Sue is fine with it and sees no problem. “One day, she’s going to realize she has a nice comfortable bed and that the floor isn’t very comfortable and she’s going to go back to it,” says she.

“It’s just one more step,” say I. Oh, I’ve tried to make my peace with it. At first, I did make my peace with it. She would always start off in her room and it was only 2 or 3 times a week that she’d show up in our room. But now, she doesn’t even bother. If we try to put her to bed in her room, she claims she cannot sleep and runs us ragged. Again–one lesson I have learned is to choose battles wisely. What Peanut is looking for is to engage. She wants the fight, she wants the drama and she’s not terribly concerned with losing sleep. So, we relent and allow her to sleep on the floor and the one thing good I’ll say about it is that it cuts the argument. She understands that bedtime is bedtime and she is not to talk or to discuss.

Hm. Writing this has actually ameliorated my annoyance level. I fully intended a cynical tirade here that would wind up with a punishing arrow or two that would leave you, my trusty reader, feeling sorry for me and offering wise and brilliant suggestions. But, now that I see what’s in here–I have a different feeling. No, I’m not at all happy with Peanut’s choice to sleep on our floor nightly. But then, it’s better than her waking us up–as well as herself–2 or 3 times a night and claiming insomnia.

Hmmmm. Urge to rage fading, fading. Well–OK, still fading, not gone. But hey, what do you know? What I tell my students is really true–writing works things out a bit and provides answers.

I knew I was right about something, at least….

Dissatisfaction

I didn’t do what I needed to do today. What I needed to do was eat more fresh fruits and veggies and maybe a small sandwich at lunch. Instead, I ate a Pastrami sandwich that was oh so good, but came back to haunt me. Then we had the fundraiser for Peanut’s school at Snapper Jack’s Taco Shack and I ate a salad–but it had, you know, stuff on it. And I don’t think my body is happy with me. Heck, I’m not happy with me.

So, here I am nursing what for now I’ll call a “sour stomach” and let’s hope I don’t have to change the name anytime soon. It’s been a long day in so many ways, but it was also a day where I learned a lot. Unfortunately, what I learned would take volumes to explain and I’m nowhere near in the mood to write volumes tonight. I’m barely in the mood to write this tonight. I’m just rather…”bleh….” Not “blah…” but “bleh…” Yes. “Bleh…” Scoop didn’t get his walk, the rain canceled soccer practice for Peanut, it was just an odd day full of, “yes, we want to do that-but no, we cannot.” And not a valid reason for why we cannot, just that…we cannot.

I will say this: What is happening to Rush Limbaugh at the hands of the liars in the media and one blogger who apparently fabricated a quote from El Rushbo is simply sickening. I’m in the process of teaching Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to my juniors and what is happening to Rush is what happened in Salem. Lies, damned lies and more lies were spun based on people’s prejudices and beliefs. That’s what hung 22 people in Salem in 1692–and it’s what is at work on Rush now. What’s funny is that the more the left and liberals grab on to the extreme, the lies and the stupidity–even of this congress and in many ways, this President, the harder many of us on the right will dig in our heels. The absurdity of the political correctness police stepping in to continue a lie about someone because they don’t like his politics is something that the left claims happens to them all the time-but in reality, it is they who practice this.

Sigh.

I think I just want to curl up and close my eyes…

A Nation at Risk

There comes a time when you have to let people choose and when you’re a teacher, that moment comes quite often. But of course, teaching has so radically changed since I entered the profession nearly 19 years ago that it hardly resembles what I used to love.

The stakes, now a battery of standardized, multiple choice tests that all students must pass, are quite high for teachers and administrators. Those stakes, though, are literally non-existent for students. If a student does well on the test, then there is no problem. If a student does poorly on the test, they essentially retake the thing until they do well–because they take it every single year of their high school career with the exception of the senior year.

So, as educators, we put ourselves into a fairly interesting position. The state and the Feds have made the tests the thing on which we base our entire academic output and input–but there is no buy-in, none whatsoever, for the kids who take it. The test scores don’t even appear on their transcript. They don’t win awards, they don’t get academic favoring (unless they pass with proficient or advanced for their entire high school career on every test–in which case, they get, I believe, entry into CSU or UC schools guaranteed, but not paid for), and there is no real reason for them to do well other than we tell them they should.

The problem is much deeper though because the tests themselves, especially in English and Language Arts, are rather narrowly defined representations of what kids should be able to do. There is no real writing portion, for example but there is an extensive section on the random art of understanding Latin and Greek root words. Who can disagree that a little knowledge of the prefix “anti” is an important tool in one’s linguistic drawer? But it doesn’t say much about the ability to have independent thought and argue a point of view. Altogether, I’ll take the latter as a symbol of what one might want to know, though I suppose you could argue that the knowledge of both is pretty important.

The tests are also multiple choice. As a colleague of mine joked, “10 years from now, these kids are going to be in a board room somewhere, the boss is going to come in and ask for a solution to a problem the company has and they’re going to reply, “what are our four choices?” Life is not a multiple choice game, though again sometimes I suppose it is. Mostly, though, work and academia are about creation and at the sophomore and junior level in high school, there should be a bit more at stake–for the student, not the teacher.

Oh sure, I know there’s plenty to bash about teachers. Hell, I’ll get in line and bash with you. But if you tell me from your heart that the teachers are the problem with the schools, I’ll tell you that it goes far, far beyond that. Every profession has its weirdos, ne’er do wells, miscreants and nabobs. But at the high school level, it’s time to start getting the kids ready to be adults–not to suspend them in the amorphous goo of hand-holding and ignorance.

In the 80’s, the Feds published “A Nation at Risk.” Here we are nearly 30 years later and what have we to show for it? A staggering national debt, a two-front war, politicians in both parties who realize that what really matters is their salary, their election and their pension-and the extraordinarily un-American possibility that the dollar will soon be so devalued, it will cease to be the currency that the world looks to for its future. “A Nation at Risk” was right–if a foreign power had put into place the education system we now have in place in the United States, we would consider it an act of war.

One thing is certain–no one is thinking long term anymore. No one is looking at consequences, whether national, political or educational and figuring out what would work best to keep the nation afloat. In fact, what seems to be the national past-time now is how best to define ourselves down so that the world will like us, unemployment will remain very high and people will soon stop caring about the exceptionalism of living in a country that was “conceived in Liberty.”

We are indeed a Nation at Risk…

Tumbling Down the Waterfall…

Like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream.”

As the kids say, “I’m down for a Friday.” My previous post was climbing up the waterfall–I need to be careful about my metaphors. When I write those, I start to get them for the rest of the week. I’m overcome with a kind of physical exhaustion I usually reserve only for traveling across the country on red-eye coach fare flights and hiking for interminable hours in rugged country–neither of which I do very often, so that tells you something.

The good news? Lots of it. Sue is well onto her recovery from the hysterectomy surgery she had on Monday. All systems are working and she’s eating, sleeping–and other “ings” very well. She’s comfortable and using fewer pain meds instead of more. She has a long way to go yet, and she is indeed very tired much of the time, but that’s better than where she was before.

Biorganicwines is about to launch and we have galleys of the website. I cannot show them yet as they are proprietary, but they look fantastic and I’m really pleased with the design and how it worked out. Greg, my longtime friend from my adolescent Valley days, is the designer and webmaster I’ve hired to do it all and he’s quite talented–and meticulous. I like that about him. He also knows the market–he’s a wine producer and a consumer and he’s good at both. Well, the latter one isn’t so hard to be good at, I suppose.

Mom is here for the week. She offered to come out and help with Sue’s recovery. Aunt Laurie took this past week off to be here for us and now Mom is here. It is a real blessing, one of which I’ve become hyper aware this past week, to have close family and friends who watch out for you and yours. I feel very good about that, very honored to be in the company of such decent and caring people.

Got a few irons out there in the fire and I’m hoping to pitch a couple more on before the weekend is over. Several articles floating around, one or two for some new publications. We shall see where that leads.

Meantime, I’m happy and tired and achy and feeling like sleep is just about arrived.

Good night to all.