Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman---RIP

Paul Newman died. Gulp. But he was 83, so it isn't a tragedy. I feel badly for his wife Joann Woodward; they were married for 50 years. That's just the first thing about him I admired: staying married (and apparently happily) for all that time to the same woman. It is a rare thing among famous Hollywood guys to pull that off.

But there were lots of things about him and his career to admire. I like that he devoted so much time and fortune to good works. He wasn't flashy about it, either. And he was a real human in that he did crazy things like his passion for car racing. Some famous people might have avoided such a risky hobby, but he loved it and so he went out there and did it.

I was junior in high school when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came out. In our town, the theater (or showhouse, as it was called) was only open Th Fr Sa. They showed the movie twice, with previews and cartoons in between. Usually, we were late, and so we stayed for the beginning of the second movie to see what we'd missed. But, I could drive in 1969, so my sister and I were on time for the first show. We didn't even budge, and sat all the way through the second show, and on Saturday we came back and watched both of them again. Wow. It was something completely different from what we'd been accustomed to in a Western, and it grabbed me. I went out and bought the album, then the piano music. I've watched the movie a hundred times since, and can quote most of the dialogue. Between the relatively new guy playing Sundance (Robert Redford) and the stunning Mr. Newman, I was in love. It creeped me out when I found out that Newman and MY DAD were only two years apart in age---eeww. My dad...But, it didn't keep me from maintaining the crush.

There were lots of Newman movies that were fantastic, Cool Hand Luke, The Color of Money, The Verdict, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hud. They are all iconic, and he was terrific in them all. Oh, yeah: The Sting! But when you're 16 and you fall in love...there's something about that big teenage movie crush...sorry to see him go. Glad he was here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

RainMan Life

It's amazing what things can make a lot of difference. Here's a few from work:
  • This year's crop of fourth graders has no obvious hoodlums; there are a couple of boys who seem to be raising themselves (and we were cautioned by other adults about that) so they are often ungroomed and have learned to be sneaky and adept at lying; there are a couple of girls who are unduly distracted by the little accessories that nine-year old girls collect. But--no one is super-sexualized, no one has clearly declared their gang affiliation, and no one has [yet] declared in a huff, "I'm not going to be your friend!" crossing our fingers...
  • Having only 75 students daily instead of 98 is an amazing relief! I am not completely exhausted at the end of each day.
  • Having 75 minutes per period instead of 60 is another bonus. We can get a complete lesson finished and practice time and extra skills work. Plus, those who are really slow to finish can almost always get finished.

Here are a couple of things from the rest of life:

  • Oatmeal is a terrific food. I could actually eat it twice a day. Sometimes, I do.
  • I hope Jeopardy! never gets canceled--what else would I do with that thirty minutes of my day that would be as satisfying??
  • Is there anything better than cantelope? I don't think so. Well, maybe raspberries, that you eat as you pick them off the vine while standing in the patch at your grandma's house.
  • Routines are very soothing. It is calming to me to have a place for things; to write each new date on the white board; to put the newspapers in the recycle bin; to put freshly ironed clothes in the closet. I can hardly think of anything more unsettling than to run for office: every day a new city, never knowing where or what you'll eat till someone hands it to you, not sleeping in your own bed---bleh---if for no other reason, I'd never be in politics.
  • I love planning what I'm going to wear the next day just before I drop off to sleep. It has become my most effective sleep aid. I go over the possibilities and make the choices of shirt, skirt/pants, shoes, jewelry and then I can drift right off.

And now that I've established myself as seriously OCD, I think I'll go iron some things so that I can safely plan tomorrow's wardrobe, and then I'll eat a portion of cantelope while watching Jeopardy.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wild Living in Las Vegas

I read in the local paper today an article about bighorn sheep, and it was so intriguing, that I got in the car and drove down there to look for myself. The desert bighorn sheep is Nevada's state mammal, so as a fourth grade teacher, I had a professional responsibility to do this. Sort of...but mostly I can't resist seeing wild animals up close and personal.

They are grazing in a small park, surrounded by many people, kids on the playground, basketball courts. This picture just shows a couple, but there were probably 50 animals in this park. If a person came too near, the sheep just sauntered away. Once a little boy broke away from his mom and ran toward them, and so the sheep jogged a little to the other side, as the mom frantically chased her son and snatched him up. It's astonishing. The neighborhood feels very protective. The sheep headed for the mountainside as the sun went down and, on the street they walk through to reach their trail, I noticed that at least three homes had put out watering troughs in the driveways! One was a big metal tub, one was a little wading pool, and another an actual stock trough from a feedstore. It was endearing.

I've seen wild sheep a few times since moving here. They are always on the canyons walls as you drive down to Hoover Dam, and I've seen them on the pass as you leave the valley to the west, also. They are interesting to see because they are so adept at their adaptations. They graze on a surface that seems devoid of vegetation. They leap and hop around on rock strewn, steep terrain in way that defies gravity.

But, this herd is so attached to the lush playground grass, that I guess they'd think it ridiculous to suggest that perhaps it would be safer up on their craggy heights. And it would be silly, because none of us people who showed up today were going to cause them any stress or harm. No, we just wanted pictures!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quinoa Vs LDL--The Smackdown

I went to the gym today to walk and afterward I weighed myself. Blah. I've gained back all the weight I lost in the spring when I changed my diet in an effort to lower my cholesterol. Blah. It was a summer of vacations, and traveling and eating, eating, eating--my favorite pastime.

So, I just came home from the market with cantelope, watermelon, pears, apples, Brussels sprouts, spinach, portobello mushrooms, yams, jicama, humus and quinoa. My diet this week will be wholesome. No chili dogs.

This summer I was riding the train back to D.C. from New York when I heard a lady talking in the seat behind mine and she mentioned that she had lowered her cholesterol to 40. Yes, f-o-r-t-y. I knelt on my seat, peered over the top, and begged her pardon for the interruption, but I couldn't help being astounded at her feat. She was much older than me, but she, too, really didn't want to go on meds. So she did it by not eating any animal products for a month. She decided to try it for a just a month. I said that I didn't think I could face life with no bacon ever again, and she laughed and said she didn't say she was a vegetarian, she just was not eating animal products for a little while. So far, it had been quite a few months (I forget the exact amount). She's lost weight and her cholesterol has plummeted.

I don't think I could eat without using milk, however. But, I can cut way back on several things. One of the foods she eats in order to get enough protein is quinoa. It is a grain from the Andes. I've seen it for years in the bulk bins in the markets where they have bulk bins. I only learned how to pronounce it a little while ago. But read about here. It looks easy enough to cook, and if it is anything like short grain brown rice, barley, or oatmeal, I'm going to love it. I love all those other grains.

So, grains and fruit and walking everyday at the gym on the treadmill. It's still rather hot here, and--I've discovered another reason why I'll walk at the gym and not around my neighborhood. When I walk around the neighborhood, I tend to hurt myself because the sidewalks are not even. Every house has a cut out where the driveway is, or tree roots have lifted the sidewalk, so I find myself walking with my head down to watch out for uneven surfaces, or I turn my foot on the bumps. I'm such a spaz...So, I just take the newspaper and read it on the treadmill and then I hardly notice that the 30 minutes have passed.

Well, this is the plan. Only time will tell if I can execute it. I'm just so sick of the big glob of fat around my midsection. I also want to be able to go to my doctor in a couple of months for another blood test and be triumphant that I've knocked the points off the stupid cholesterol test--without the pill. If I can't, then I'll have to take the meds because everything I've read about it tells me I shouldn't mess around--I'll have a stroke. I'd rather have a steamed yam and a nice salad of steamed Brussels sprouts with tomatoes in vinaigrette.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Copy Cat

Here I am, copying a post from a favorite blog. But it's a good one, so here goes:

I am wearing really comfortable clothes, since all day I've been squeezed into a pair of pants that don't fit around my doughy waist anymore. Time to go back to the gym regularly, now that the pool water cooled off.

I am reading three books slowly, periodically. One is a memoir from a soldier in Iraq, one is the John Adams book, and one is a true story written by a enslaved woman who hid in her grandmother's attic for years in her escape attempt from the South.

I am hearing the murmur of the t.v. in the living room, and the swish of cars driving by on the street. When Cool Guy is out of town, I tend to leave the t.v. on for company.

I am learning all the time things I need to review regularly. Here's a great quote I read recently:
"Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you." (Wishful Thinking, 1973, p.2, Harper & Row)

I am thankful that I finished college and that I can be a school teacher. I love working with my students and helping them to do well. It's a very satisfying job.

I am hoping that my attempt to control my stupid cholesterol with dietary changes will be successful. I do not want to start taking a pill. Besides, when you take the pills, the literature tells you that you have to watch your diet, anyway. I need to be consistent with regular exercise, too.

From the kitchen this evening, the only being who has received sustenance is Kitty Cat. She was served her kitty chicken on time. I will have a bowl of granola and call it dinner. Like one of my sisters says, "I've already proved that I can cook." Tomorrow: chili dogs.

Bringing beauty to my home is a lovely fern that is a cutting from the giant, man-eating fern my mother grew in her living room for 50 years. So far, so good--I've kept it alive for two years, and it is flourishing. Regular watering and misting is the secret.

Around the house are the memories of our 34 years of marriage and children: plaster handprints, framed drawings, photos of the kids taken by their talented photog-father, rocks, seashells, the Idaho clock, and books, books, books. Our most valuable treasures proved to be of no interest to thieves.

Outside my window is a magnificent, rocky, desert mountain, soaring over our neighborhood, allowing us city dwellers to always maintain our perspective that we are just tiny creatures on a huge planet. It soothes me to see it everyday.

I am thinking about the upcoming ruckus of when the gameshow airs on t.v. My students will be completely nuts! Periodically someone will come to me in amazement to say they heard a rumor...Yes, it's true. In a month, I'll be a local celebrity, and it's starting to freak me out a little.

One of my favorite things is playing the piano. I love that I can make music. I really miss the music made by our talented children that formerly filled our house. I enjoyed all of it, and it is a keen sorrow of the passing of time, and inevitable independence of adult children: they leave your home and you are left with only memories.

A few plans for the rest of the week...I must devote some time to sorting out the spelling program I want to implement this year. The parents are begging for more homework. I wish I could find some nearby tomatoes to bottle. I've considered driving up to So. Utah. I don't like commercially canned tomatoes nearly as much. I'll also sleep in on Saturday, duh...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

We're Talking Dirt Here

I don't know if other ex-farmers have this problem, but wherever I live, I can't help but notice the dirt. You know, soil--planting medium--earth. Dirt was a big part of my life as a child and teenager. I learned to drive by guiding the tractor around in big circles on a plowed field, smoothing out the furrows with the harrow--the step after the disc, right before you use the leveler. All that work before you can plant the seeds. So, anyway, having spent a lot of time driving around and walking around on dirt, I notice it wherever we've moved to lately. I realize that I've already blogged about soil, but it fascinates me. So, here are some more thoughts on dirt.

The second place we lived in Southern California is called the Oxnard plain. It has ten feet of topsoil, I'm sure. No, really, I think I read that somewhere. Apparently it was an alluvial flood plain, and so over the centuries or millennia, lots of soil was washed down here and deposited. As I drove around the area doing my mom errands, I could see them plowing and planting and I was just astounded that anywhere could have such soil in combination with their year-round fabulous weather. Here's a photo:
Those aren't rocks, or even pebbles in the photo, just chunks of dirt. It is soil, through and through--full of nutrients, and deeper than you could ever plant. It would grieve me to see them covering it up and building houses and shopping centers in what was once a strawberry field.

The reason it was so traumatic for me to see them use the ground there for something other than growing plants is that my childhood experience with dirt was so much different, and so difficult. Apparently, the farm my parents moved onto when I was two weeks old, was anciently the pathway of a long-gone glacier. Every spring the snow melted to expose the new generation of smooth rocks were heaved up from beneath the ground by the forces of frost. My dad would plow, and sometimes we'd run a harrow over that acreage, too, making it easier to walk across behind the wagon as we picked up the hundreds and hundreds of rocks. Plowed ground was rough with the deep furrows and was difficult to drive the wagon on, and even more difficult to keep your balance as you trudged along looking for the stupid rocks. But they had to be removed, because you could not possibly use the drill (seed planter) without removing the rocks. It would have broken the discs right off from it. Plus, if the rocks were sitting up on top of the ground, then whatever machine you used to cut the crop would also have been damaged by the rocks. So, every spring--picking rocks.

And it wasn't like you'd eventualy get them thinned out and one year there'd be no more. There was obviously a limitless supply! Once, we used the crowbar to pry up a really big one, and under it was a "nest" of smaller rocks, and my dad (he was a humorist) exclaimed, "Oh, look! We got ourselves a brood sow--this'll cut back on next year's supply." Not really. We'd pile them up along the fence lines, and eventually, he just designated one place in the middle of the farm for the rock pile, and we'd dump them there. I wondered how it would be when centuries later, archeologists would be excavating my parent's farm and come upon this huge pile of rocks and how they'd interpret the significance of it in our culture.
Finally, Daddy planted alfalfa instead of barley in the biggest field we'd picked for years. This didn't make the rocks go away, but at least he didn't have to plow it every spring. Alfalfa is a perennial crop, and just grows back year after year without having to be planted. When the last day of school came, and other kids were off to a swimming party, we'd be off to the field to finish the rocks. I remember going up and picking rock before school one chilly morning. I don't know who milked! Of all the crummy jobs we did on the farm, this ranked right up there in the top five of Crummiest. Here's a picture of me, two weeks before the birth of my first child, on a visit to my parents and helping the rock picking crew. (What WAS I thinking??)
Ultimately, however, my dad was able to market his Best Crop: when the state decided to move the highway, they bought the whole giant pile of rocks from my brother who'd taken over the farm after Daddy's death. They used them to help build the roadbed. I like to think of my dad exulting up there in heaven as all our labor finally paid off. I always think of him whenever I travel past farmland and see the dirt. I hope someday, in the eternities, he'll get to farm on a place like the Oxnard plain: just plow it and plant it---that is farmer heaven.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Time Flies

ACK! It's been nearly a week since I made a post, and the main reason is that my life has once again slipped into a groove. I get up and go to school. I work, work, work, and come home. I cook dinner, watch Jeopardy while we eat it, and then soak in the hot tub and go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But it is a good groove. Of course, sometimes I correct papers, or do laundry, or iron, or read the newspaper in the space between "eat dinner" and "soak in hot tub". And sometimes I go to a meeting, or just lay around watching re-runs I've put on the DVR. But, once I've checked e-mail, I tend to leave the computer behind.

I had a little too much excitement the other night. About 9:30 I opened the door between the kitchen and the garage to take out empty drinking water jugs and pick up filled ones, and a startled teenager stood up from the passenger side of my car, where he had been rifling through my console looking for something to steal. We stared at one another for a millisecond before I shrieked for Cool Guy to come. The punk darted back out of the garage by slithering under the big door that had been left ajar, as usual, to let out the stifling hot afternoon air. He ran away too fast for either of us to get even a glimpse of which direction. I wanted to follow him home and yell at him. Actually, I wish I'd had the presence of mind to realize how he got in, and hit the garage door closer button to trap him inside. Then, I'd have taken the broom to him--whack whack whack--until he begged for the police. But I was too shocked to see him in there to remember that the door was still open a little when it should already have been closed down all the way. He didn't take anything, but a few hours off the life of my startled heart. Believe me--the garage door will never again be left ajar for ventilation. What a jerk.

So, aside from that, really, it's been a routine week in the life of the teacher who has started another school year. My students are reasonably cooperative so far, and time flies when you're busy with children. It's Friday already tomorrow! Whoo-hoo!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Panhead Passion

"Panhead" refers to a style of Harley-Davidson motor that was manufactured between 1948 and 1965. It displaced 74 cubic inches and had hydraulic valve lifters. But the compelling, and unmistakable identifier,was (and is) the beautiful alumium pan-shaped heads on the top of the cylinders. I give you beauty:
This is a bike I saw at the Primer Nationals (the car/bike show) last week in Ventura. I don't know why I'm so drawn to Panheads, but they really cause my head to snap around whenever I see one drive by or see one parked. It isn't all that often that you see them except in a show like the one we attended. More and more, the only Harley you see are the "new" style engine. The frame might be chopped, and the paint job incredible. Or the rider might have had the bike all done up in a total retro look: tourquoise and cream paint, fringed leather saddle bags, old-style seat. But one look at the engine, and I know it's just decor, not The Real Thing.

Probably my love for this motor comes from the bike we drove when were newly-weds. Actually, the very first chopper was a 1938 Knucklehead. It was very stylish---long stretched forks, radical rake, hard-tail suspension with a teardrop gas tank, and a tasteful sissy-bar. It was elegant, but I still don't know how Cool Guy drove that sucker around hilly San Diego. It had a foot clutch and hand shifter, so he needed one foot on the brake, one foot on the clutch, and one foot on the ground at a traffic light...oh wait...YEAH! But, we never crashed. And we looked quite awesome: Through a complicated series of events, we parted with the Knucklehead and ultimately ended up with a 1954 Panhead, that needed work, so Cool Guy rebuilt it and repainted it in our spare bedroom. It must be the smooth shiny pans. I just think that they look the most Harley-like of all the models with which I've become acquainted in the 35 years I've been hanging around the garages where he's worked his mechanical magic.

I started hanging around the garage when I realized that if I didn't go to the garage, I'd be excluded from the main passion of the relationship. I can safely say now that the motorcycle doesn't outrank me any longer, but I don't think that was true for the first few years. I read the shop manuals, learned the names of the tools and assorted engine parts. Eventually I began to assist in small, but important jobs, such as bleeding the brakes, helping to adjust the clutch cables, holding up the bike so the headlights could be adjusted just so. After a number of years, and a number of engine rebuilds, I could almost assemble a V-Twin myself. Almost.

One of my favorite stories is the time that Cool Guy was in Wyoming helping his friend with a Panhead engine, but they needed another cylinder to replace one that couldn't be salvaged. I was in San Diego and would be traveling to join him, so I was instructed to go shopping at a used parts dealer. CG told me what to ask for, what to look for, and how to measure the walls with a micrometer to be sure that it hadn't been machined out of tolerance. I stopped off at the shop, really just a converted garage, after teaching my Primary class one afternoon (on a Wednesday). I was ignored for a minute, then given a distracted greeting. I explained what I was shopping for, and after he returned from the back and placed one on the counter, he slouched onto a chair to see what I'd do next. Well, first I ran my fingers down the inside to feel if it was smooth. Then, I held it up to the window so I could more easily see if there were grooves that someone had tried to buff out. By now, the shop owner was sitting up straight on his chair, looking at me curiously. But when I pulled the micrometer out of my crocheted purse and measured the thickness of the walls, now the guys in the back came through the door to the front to see who this little girl in the dress was, exactly. And they offered to bring me a few more cylinders since that one "might not be the best one they had." I managed to get a really nice one, too, for a good price.

Among the informational reading I did in my motorcycle education course was the infamous Easyriders magazine. It was actually one of the few resources for the homebased chopper builder back then. (The only kind of chopper builder at that time, actually.) It had tech articles with step by step photos, and ads for sources from which to buy specialized parts or tools. It had photos of "old ladies" in varying stages of undress, draped on their guy's choppers. The magazine also featured really lame fiction. After reading a dozen or so magazines from the garage collection, I groaned one day that I could certainly write better than any of these people. So I wrote a short story, passed it around to our biker friends for revision suggestions, and after I fixed it up, I mailed it off to the editors. But I gave birth to our third child the very next day, so I promptly forgot about it. Three months later, they sent me a check and a magazine, with my story featured prominently. I was immediately, and ever after, a mythic figure to all our biker pals. The only downer: my original story featured a Panhead, but they printed it in their special 80th issue, which was a tribute to the 80 cubic inch engine, so they took the liberty of changing my fictional chopper to fit their theme. The gorgeous artwork that accompanied the story also featured---not a Panhead---but an eighty. Bah.

But, I will always love the Panhead engine. It conjures a simpler time of life: dumpy houses, too many pets, very little money, and the worst jobs I've ever had. BUT...we were in Southern California, where every day was a perfect day to get the motor running, get out on the highway, and look for adventure. Or at least get the wind in our hair again. I hope I'm never too old to climb up on my seat behind Cool Guy.