Paul was Here

March 5, 2013

ImageI don’t know why I didn’t stop to talk to Paul that day.  I said a quick “hi” as I charged on past into the commissary.  I could see that he was troubled, but I didn’t stop.  I didn’t want to intrude.  It wasn’t my business.

How stupid.

Everyone said Paul was “two days older than Moses.”  He looked it.  In actuality, Paul was around 75 – some 10 years younger than he appeared.  He was retired Navy and came in to our clinic for his all-too-frequent dental care. 

Military retirees are entitled to continuing medical and dental care on base.  They are worked in “space available” between treatment appointments for active duty marines and sailors and their dependents.  I was a dental technician and a third class petty officer (DT3).  I sat chairside, took x-rays, cleaned teeth, worked the front desk, ran supply, and whatever else was needed. 

Yuma was a unique community.  About 30,000 civilians living in modest, ranch-style homes in suburbs scattered around the desert town.  The balance of the population worked and largely lived on base at the Marine Corps Air Station.  There was another contingent as well: the Snowbirds, or as we called them, ORFs.  That stood for “Old Retired F—-s”.  We weren’t very sympathetic to the plight of the old geezers on walkers.  They lived in northern states during the summer.  When the cold weather hit, an estimated 80,000 of them migrated en masse to Arizona and California. Yuma’s population more than doubled during the winter months.  On Saturday mornings, a few of us from the clinic would go down to the “mall”  – a short strip of stores that was the center of commerce in Yuma – sit in our booth at the diner, eating Belgian waffles with strawberries and watching the ORFs playing bumper cars in the parking lot.

 For sheer entertainment value, Paul was the best.  He had shrunk in his old age – shoulders and back a bit hunched, legs bowed – so he was a good foot shorter than his youthful height of almost six feet tall.  Now, probably less than 5’ or so, he couldn’t even see over the steering wheel of his massive V-8 sedan.  He’d peer under the top curve of the steering wheel and gaze down the mile long hood.

On the firing range we’re taught to not look directly at the target but only focus on the sights at the end of the barrel.  The target would still be visible sitting right on top of those sights.  I could imagine Paul squinting down the barrel of his sedan, his fading eyes only focusing as far as his hood ornament.  Then, when his aim was right, his foot stomped down on the pedal and off he went.  As good as that was, what we really lived for was when he’d back up.  Paul never looked behind him.  He’d just slam it into reverse and go.  Whatever was there had better just get out of the way, cuz his yacht was a’comin’ through!  It was better than Saturday morning cartoons.

Winter 1987 was like any other Yuma, Arizona winter: typically in the 70s during the day. After a summer of 120 in the shade, that was downright cold.  We might even have to put on jackets at night.  The day Paul came in was no different – not remarkable in any way.  Even the reason for Paul’s visit was just another in a long line of chronic complaints.  They come with age.  It starts with the knees or hips, then the elbows, then the eyes or hearing.  If the hands shake, brushing teeth may be a challenge.  Gum disease is a given.  A lifetime of mediocre dental habits brings periodontal pockets that trap microscopic bits of food.  Those require deep scaling with hand instruments or an ultrasonic Cavitron. Nothing a technician like myself can’t do, but on an older patient, the risk of injury or loosening teeth grows, so the dentists (“dental officers”) handle them.

We didn’t have a true Commanding Officer at MCAS Yuma.  Our boss was a Lieutenant Commander who would probably never make Captain.  He had ticked someone off somewhere along the way, or maybe he just failed to impress the right people.  Still, he had his clinic; he had two other DOs working under him, along with half a dozen techs.  So, he had his little kingdom.  We didn’t think a lot about it.

The commander saw Paul that day.  That was normal.  Old people like routine, and this was Paul’s.  He came in, the tech got him seated in the chair, and the dentist slid up on his stool, big smile and friendly greeting at the ready.  A quick look around and a few x-rays later told the commander that this wasn’t going to be the normal routine after all.  Paul’s gum disease had gotten out of hand. He had rampant infection and it was eating into his already pencil-thin jaw bone.

Infections in the mouth are nasty enough in healthy people. The smell, the taste, the pain, are all great motivation to do whatever the doctor says to get rid of it.  Most conditions are very treatable and curable.  In older patients, it’s different.  Dry mouths, poor blood circulation and impaired immune systems make fertile ground for infection.  Bones are brittle and thin.  In older patients, the boney sockets set like concrete so pulling teeth is risky, frequently requiring sectioning with the drill.  Heart conditions can turn into full cardiac arrests when infections enter the blood stream.  All in all, they’re just bad news.  Still, Paul had a problem, and the commander had to do something about it. 

I try not to second guess people too often, especially when they are far more educated and experienced than I. Besides that, in the military, you just don’t question, period.  The officer decides his course of action and that’s that: no discussion. It’s hard for civilians to understand, but this is just the way it is.  To do otherwise may be construed as insubordination – a serious offense. So, when I heard that the commander wasn’t going to just treat the infection but he was going to pull all of Paul’s teeth out, I did my best to choke down my shock and go on about my day.  This was, after all, his patient.  He was the doctor, and I wasn’t even his technician.   I went on with my work while the commander and his tech pulled every remaining tooth in Paul’s ancient mouth then sent him home.  Paul would come back in a couple weeks to be fitted for full dentures.  In the mean time, his mouth needed to heal.  He would be fine.  Really, he would.

That was two days before I saw Paul at the commissary. 

I should have known something wasn’t right.  He just sat there, his eyes staring vacantly at his softly quaking hands, his normally cheerful countenance downcast. No, let me restate: I did know. I just didn’t take the time to stop. I didn’t want seem pushy. Besides, I was busy. I needed to buy milk or dog food or bread or some such earth-altering thing.  My world loomed huge in my own sight.  The rest of the universe could wait.  It would be okay.  Paul was fine, really – just tired or sore. That happens.  He’d get home, rest and be up and around again by morning.

A few days later, a clerk at the commissary told me what had happened that morning.  It seems that Paul had driven his “yacht” in to the commissary parking lot then walked to the door – all before they even opened.  When the clerk saw him, Paul had his pants down around his knees.  His hands were bent in a permanent curl, like he was holding a couple of eggs in each one.    He was crying.

She asked him what was wrong.  His voice, shaky enough on good days, was barely intelligible.  “I can’t fasten my pants.”  The clerk, kind and gentle by nature, helped Paul hitch his pants up to where they belonged, then fastened them.  She asked if he needed anything from the store.  “No,” he had said.  There was nothing.  He just needed help and had no one else to turn to.

I don’t know where Paul lived – how far off the base, how long a drive he had made that morning to find someone, anyone who could help him fasten his pants, but there was no one else.  He had no son or daughter living close by, no neighbor with a willing hand, no fishing buddy across town. The closest thing he had left to a community of friends were the people who bagged his groceries or sold him postage stamps or pumped his gas – those who smiled because they had a job to do and wanted to treat their customers well.  These were the last vestige of community Paul had.  When he needed help, this was his only place to turn.

Paul had gone home after the clerk had helped with his pants.  She knew she shouldn’t have let him drive, but she didn’t want to seem presumptuous.  Besides, he had come back a few hours later, so he must have been okay, right?   That was about the time I had seen him.  No, he wasn’t okay, but I didn’t do anything, either. 

Paul died that night.  The infection in his gums had gotten into his blood stream through the open wounds of oral surgery.  His body was in shock from the trauma of a difficult and extensive extraction.  In hindsight, Paul’s fate was sealed as soon as the commander decided on treatment – maybe before.

More than once, people have asked about my reaction. I could go on about the proverbial “punch to the gut”, the sudden dizziness, the denial…  Paul, dead?  Impossible!  I just saw him the other day!  In retrospect, though, what does it matter what I felt?  Of what good were my feelings at this point?  What service could they possibly give now when I never bothered to share them with him before? To use lines and effort to express my own remorse or shame or whatever seems inherently self-serving and arrogant, continuing the self-centered egotism that is the crux of the problem in the first place.  Are we not so completely drawn up in our own feelings, our own needs that those then become the focus?  What about this man I passed up?  What of Paul’s feelings?  Where is his chance to express, to be heard?  Who was listening when breath still filled his lungs?  Who can now raise his voice from its eternal silence?  My reaction?  Irrelevant – just as I had caused him to be.

Like everyone, I’ve known people who have died. Grandparents, friends of my parents, even some of my own.  It happens.  Death is the fraternal twin of birth.  The tragedy comes when a person faces that darkest hour utterly, hopelessly alone.  We come into this life with all the attention, the love, the companionship that can possibly be heaped upon a seven pound lump of drool.  We are the center of the universe.  Even as we grow past that into childhood, we have siblings and friends and cousins and teachers and, and, and…  We go to school, we date, we play sports, we attend church, we serve others, we work, we live in a community, and we are known.  When we don’t make it to the office or a 4-H meeting or French class, someone calls to ask if we’re okay.  We gather for holidays, we share events and vacations.  We connect.  When something major happens – good or bad, we come together.  We celebrate, we lend a hand, we mourn, we cheer, we pull together.  We share more than our hand-me-downs and cups of sugar. We share ourselves.

But Paul sat alone.  His last days, last hours slipping by, his pants lifted up by a virtual stranger.  He went home but then came back.  Why?  Was it because in those, his final hours, his soul cried out for the companionship he hadn’t known in untold years?  Just as he entered this world among those whose lives were bound to his, did his very being cry out to be among them again? Did he yearn for a hand to hold while his own grew cold and stiff?  Whose tears would silently run as he quietly removed from this life? When none could be found, a stranger would do.

But strangers didn’t stop.  With the bench as his only companion, did Paul know the approach of that great night?  Did he welcome it, hoping for the foretold reunion with those who truly loved him? Or did he just return to an empty home and slip away, unmarked in the world?

Someone much wiser than me once said, “A rose to the living is more sumptuous than a wreath to the dead.”  To let someone know while they live that they matter, that they have value, is so much better than all the flowering eulogies after they are gone.  What possible good do such eulogies do besides trying to placate those who didn’t take the opportunity when it first arose?  Of what value is that to anyone but ourselves?

No, to speak now while we have the chance, to call someone “friend”, to say “I love you” while that person can feel the glow of amity and affection, the lift on a bad day, the balm to loneliness in old age; even if we do nothing more than to telephone and say “Hi. I was just thinking about you.”  Is this not so much better than telling his surviving family how special he was, when we never let him hear those words himself?

I still live in a hurry.  Life, always too short, becomes a constant struggle to cram in as much learning, as much growing, as much life as I can, not only for myself but now for my four children as well. The difference is now I try now to notice more.  I search faces around me and listen to that inner guide inside us all; a smile, a kind word, a gentle touch on the arm, a friendly inquiry– not too probing, but kindly personal. A note to a divorcee who lost her old dog – her only companion; a phone call to my friend who just moved to a new city; a quick visit a widowed neighbor because my daughter loves to see her doll collection; these aren’t too much trouble, after all. Meager efforts to try and answer in some small way that greatest need of all – to know that we exist, that we matter in someone else’s eyes.

Crazy Couponing

June 12, 2012

Betcha didn’t even know that “couponing” is a word! Well, maybe it’s not, but it will be. Trust me on this!

Self-titled experts claim to save 70-80% or more by using coupons.

If you’re one of those who has watched show after show and read article after article about these uber-shoppers who can not only save 89% of their grocery bill by using coupons, but sometimes even get the stores to pay them, and yet you can never really seem to make it work for you…you’re not alone! I’ve been trying to use coupons to my advantage for years! I’m still learning.

A couple things I’ve figured out – First, coupons don’t always mean the best deal. I frequently buy generic – good product, low price. If I find a name-brand with a coupon that beats my generic deal, then I’m in! Takes a bit of time and math (who says you never use algebra after high school?) but it can be worth it.

Second, just because I have a coupon for it doesn’t mean I need it. The best deal is to not buy it at all. That’s 100% savings! Coupons, sales prices, BOGOs, etc, are only good deals if you need the thing in the first place. Otherwise, it’s just a little less money wasted. But it’s money wasted, nonetheless. (wow – that sounds a little weird…)

Third, using coupons is a lesson in organization and planning! Don’t expect to grab the paper and run. General Schwartzkopf once pointed out that amateurs think “tactics”. Professionals think “logistics”.

I still haven’t figured the secret to slashing my grocery bill to $10/month. In fact, since moving to Texas, our groceries have jumped 33%! What a wake-up call for us! What I have figured out is that we have to do  something. If you figure the same, join me as we find the best way to get control of this monster before it eats us!

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The Follow-up:

Since publishing this article two months ago, I have been faithfully seeking, clipping, printing and otherwise collecting coupons. I’ve subscribed to ezines like Fabulessly Frugal (great collection point for all things savings) and Groupon,  joined mailing lists for savings at our local theaters, used a trial newspaper subscription (Wednesdays and Sundays only, please) at a hugely reduced cost, and followed every tip I could glean from more experienced friends. I’ve attended meetings and talked to every thrifty shopper I can find (frequently, that’s in the aisles of WalMart as we’re both combing through our coupons!)

Grocery stores in my area don’t double or triple coupons, so that’s out. One store thinks they’re offering a huge boon by allowing one day a week when shoppers can use both last week’s sales ads and this week’s new edition. Yippee. Not terribly enticing. The rest of that store’s pricing is so out of line that except for the occasional phenomenal sale on meat or produce, I won’t even bother with them.

The results? On a typically $220/week grocery bill, I save about $20.

Not exactly the tremendous savings I was looking forward to. When comparing my meager savings with those of the authors of Fabulessly Frugal and others who claim to save sometimes 50% or more, I think I have figured out the difference. I’m already there. Yes, $200/week is huge. But I’m feeding a family of six – all of whom except me are far taller than average and VERY active – plus a Labrador and an old cat.  When we moved a year ago from Montana to central Texas, I had thought, that the grocery bills would just naturally drop because they grow everything here. Not so. Food is every bit as expensive, if not more so, here than there.  Plus we pay 8.25% sales tax on non-food items. (Montana and Oregon have no sales tax.)

The point is, that I am already saving about as much as I reasonably can on food items. I make about everything from scratch, which saves over prepared, pre-packaged meals.  Price comparison is my chosen art form, and I buy generic in most cases. My husband doesn’t care so much for the line up of white, plain label packages in our cupboards, but that’s the only way I keep from raising that weekly bill to over $300.  And I don’t buy a lot of juice, treats, or Nutella (much to my daughter’s distress). Not only does that help keep the costs down, it keeps my family a lot healthier! Not to say they don’t eat treats – they definitely do! But in very reasonable, regulated amounts. Besides, I make awesome brownies a whole lot cheaper than any bakery department!

I shop for certain staples like milk, cheese, eggs, salad, et al, at Sams Club (I have little preference between SC and Costco – whichever is closer gets my business.) We get good quality products at generally the lowest price I could ask for. I’ve tried running all over Round Rock and Austin to “cherry pick” at different stores. Not worth the time and gas, especially as fuel prices are climbing again. I shop sales, but rarely get to combine sales and coupons before my home-printed coupons expire. Not sure how the FF ladies make that one work.

So, the savings for my family really have to come from other sources than groceries. For instance, instead of going to new releases at the theater, we use Red Box, cable Pay Per View, or go see second-runs at the dollar theater – and those only as special treats. Just have to watch those refreshments! We rarely go out to eat, like maybe once every couple months at the most. Occasionally we’ll get a soft drink if we’re out and about for the whole day. But not much more than that.

I LOVE thrift stores – good ones, at least. A few weeks ago I went to a Goodwill warehouse. It was very different than anything I’d experienced before – buying EVERYTHING by the pound! But when I was done, I’d spent around $65. For that, I got a pair of sweats, eight pairs of jeans – name brand and great shape! – a boat load of school supplies including three backpacks, ten 2″ and 3″ binders, locker organizers, a full set of art pencils, a sketch pad, a crystal goblet, and a few other things I can’t even remember. New, that would have cost between $350-$400. That’s my kind of savings!

 

 

Danger – Puppy in Training!

August 13, 2010

Gunny’s life expectancy may be far shorter than average if he doesn’t change his ways.

Today was one of those times when I really wish I could look into the brain of this dog and understand what the heck he’s thinking. Or, rather, IF he’s thinking!

Gunny has gone for several days sans accidents. Then, he’ll have a woops or two and go back to being good. I figure that’s not bad, overall.

An hour ago, Rachel was sitting on Rich’s recliner and Gunny decided she needed to be attacked. He pounced on top and gave her kisses all over her face. Very sweet – if you ignore the way he snitches out of the cat box.

When Rachel got up to do something else, Gunny got back up onto the recliner and peed! Fortunately, there was a blanket on the seat that got hit, not the cushion. Still!

There was an incident about a month ago that really makes me wonder. If Gunny had been asking to go out, no one heard him. Instead, he went to the door, found Richard’s shoe, straddled it and filled that size 13 halfway up! This dog can pee like a race horse. I really shouldn’t have laughed, but how can you help it?

Rich is convinced the dog meant it personally for him. As smart as this puppy is, he may be right. I don’t know. All I know is that if Gunny continues to target Rich’s clothing or furniture, that dog’s days on this earth may be numbered.

Gunny - attitude adjustment wanted

Fires of Yellowstone – Life from the Ashes

June 2, 2010

YNP fire 1988 - used by permission

The summers of 1986 and ’87 were uncommonly wet. The following spring of 1988 sent more rain than usual into the Yellowstone ecosystem. Plants lapped it up and grew beautifully. Then came the drought. All that new plant growth slid to a halt and dried out. Plentiful dry fuels, hot temperatures, summer lightening storms set up a deadly combination.

The park service had adopted a “natural suppression” policy (a.k.a. “let burn”) in 1972. Overall, for the next several years it seemed to work. Fires were typically small and extinguished themselves when they ran out of fuel or other conditions prevented them from burning. Then, in 1988, 20 early fires had started and only 11 of them had put themselves out. By July, a few were still burning and had reached up to 99k acres within the park. The “natural suppression” policy was pushed aside in favor of intervention. Unfortunately, some of the fire fighting methods they used backfired. Prescribed burns intended to rob the uncontrolled blazes of fuel got out of control themselves and only exacerbated the problem.

The fires were getting out of hand and the worst was yet to come. Winds in August blew flames into 150,000 acres in a single day – the worst fire day of the season. Fire fighters were at a loss. It wasn’t until the snow started falling in September that they finally began to make headway. By the time it was over, more than 1.2 million acres were burned, 1/3 of it outside the park boundaries. Almost 800,000 acres, thirty-six percent of the park was charred.

We know that fire is a natural part of wildlife. It’s necessary, it’s beneficial (within reason, of course). The fire releases new life, especially in the trees. Seeds from tree species like spruce, lodgepole and others burst into germination. The soil was enriched with new nutrients all brought in the ash.

More recent (?) fire damage

Today, some 22 years later, the regrowth is nothing short of phenomenal.

22 y.o. growth after burn

Trees grow thick where once was just scorched earth. Intermingled are black and gray spikes – skeletons of the dead, ever-present reminders of what used to be there. Still, these are being slowly swallowed up in the green velvet of the new forests.

There are groves of young trees in some areas that are so thick as to make you wonder how on earth they can be thinned out enough to allow healthy growth of only a few. In some instances, forest service personnel will come in with chain saws when the trees are older and selectively thin them out, allowing the healthiest to grow properly. Other than that, I couldn’t say. Perhaps they do some of that on their own. These seem to have done well enough without a lot of help.

Not all stands are regrowing as quickly. One section of Douglas

This stand of Douglas Fir was almost completely consumed.

Fir was virtually wiped out and is still rather barren. Usually the thick bark of the Doug Fir protects it from fire. But these fires raged so incredibly hot that even these trees weren’t safe. Their regrowth has been painfully slow.

Interpretive Sign explaining damage to the forest.

There is no easy solution to the threat of wildfire. Man has interfered for so long the forest can no longer manage itself. As with so many things we have manipulated, we have likely gone so far that we have no option to turn it around. Our hands are in the mix. All we can do now is try not to make any more of a mess.

Source: National Park Service – http://www.nps.gov

Memorial Weekend in Yellowstone

June 2, 2010

To visit Yellowstone National Park on Memorial Weekend is to spend a weekend of rain, snow and wind inside your tent or camper, wondering why on earth you thought this time would be any different. But the wonders of YNP are so far beyond the scope of weather, that all the snow can do is enhance it – if you’re lucky enough to have a working heater!

From Bozeman, the nearest entrance to the park is the North entrance by Gardiner. So, of course, we headed south to West Yellowstone and the West entrance. I’m so glad we did! For some reason that we can only guess at, the bison cows were on the move. They may have been migrating, they may have been asked to move by the rangers. Who knows? But move they did – by the hundreds! In the dark of night, a miles-long stretch of cows and calves made their way across roads and past the lake. I don’t know where they had come from or where they were heading. All I know is we saw more drop calves (none more than a week old and many probably less than that) with their mamas in one night than we’ll likely ever see again in our lives.

Taking pictures of bison calves in the dark while in a pickup is not easy! Most cows stayed between their babies and the lines of cars. This is about the best I could do.

Young bison calf at night

We didn’t see too many cows and calves any other time through the weekend. There were several scattered bulls, some alone, some with one or two others, but rarely any more little ones.  Single bulls quite frequently, in fact, decided that they needed the road to get where they were going as well. After all, the roads were built for them. (If you disagree, DON’T try to convince the bison of this! They don’t generally lose an arguement.) Of course, traffic backs up even more when people think that one bull in the road or off to the side is the only one they’ll see through out their entire trip. We saw countless clusters of half a dozen cars all parked to take pictures of some obscure bull bison 1/4 mile out in a field. Guess I’m just a bit pickier about my subjects. Not much, but a bit.

Bull bison sharing the road. Photo by Jeff Linehan.

These things weigh upwards of 2,000 lbs. I’m not sure my car weighs that much! One time when Rich and I were first married and I was driving truck with him, we went through Custer Nat’l Park in SD. As usual, there were a few bison outside of the boundaries. (like the beasties really care!) Rich pulled the Freightliner over so he could “go see it.”

Say what??

He actually got out and went right up to the thing. And this bull was HUGE! Probably closer to 3,000 lbs.  Now all over the parks out here are signs warning idiot tourists (like us) to stay away from the bison, that they are wild and unpredictable. So, of course Rich walked right up to it and around the other side. All I could see of my new husband was the top of his head and his waving arms. (Rich stands 6’7″, so that gives a bit of an idea how massive this creature was.) I’m thinking, “Does our life insurance cover acts of lunacy?”

Fortunately, the bison really couldn’t have cared less who was standing where. He was just mosying his way along the side of the road and wasn’t about to give Rich the time of day…thank heavens!

We saw more elk than any bow hunter ever should out of season. The bulls were in velvet – some with nubs, some with more.

Bull elk in velvet

No calves that I could see.  A little disappointing. Elk calves are tall, leggy and very awkward when they’re new. Beautiful! Also didn’t see any moose. That would have been fun.

Rich kept hoping to see some grizzley or wolves. There had been numerous grizzley sightings, at least in the eastern part of the park. But we never saw any. Did see one young black bear, probably about two years old. He was just sitting up on a hillside, minding his own business. Didn’t pay any attention to the throngs of visitors snapping photos of him.

We also saw some pretty impressive grizzley tracks in the snow. Not something I’d be too inclined to follow.

There were a few other animals – numerous herons and raptors, crows by the hundreds! I don’t know rodents that well, but there was some fat, furry thing that looked like a squirrel ate a volleyball. It was living in the geyser area near Old Faithful. Someone called it a rock chuck. I don’t think it looked that much like them, but who knows?

For those who remember the massive fires in 1988, I’ll post photos of the regrowth on another blog entry. It is looking really good! There have been more recent fires, of course, and they are barely starting to grow in. You’ll see the contrast.

Song, Dance and a Marshmallow Trick

May 28, 2010

Rachel played and sang John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”.                                     (photo by sofamonkez)

Lately I’ve been hearing “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” in my dreams. No, I’m not reminiscing about the Rocky Mountain Boy (John Denver, for those of you under 40). Rachel has been practicing this song on the guitar for the past several weeks, preparing for the upcoming school talent show. Considering she only picked up the guitar for the first time at the start of this semester, she did really well. During her performance, Rachel’s voice was a little quaky at first, but grew stronger as she went on – especially after recovering from forgetting the third verse. (oops)

Truth be told, I was very pleasantly surprised with the level of talent shown today. While most were visibly scared to death, there were some really lovely singing voices, some outstanding pianists (we won’t name names, Josh), and an incredible tap dancer. In addition to the music and dancing, there was a skit that unfortunately was drowned out so I couldn’t really hear – but the one boy’s costume (pink dress, heels and, um, soccer balls for a bosom) made up for it. For one act, a couple boys did a “marshmallow trick”. Basically, that was one boy tossing throwing mini-marshmallows at the other, who tried to catch them in his mouth. Actually, he did pretty well – missing a few but catching some really tough shots. Silly, but a nice break for a few minutes.

Of course, there were a couple vocalists who might have benefited from voice lessons, but they had great courage to stand before some 300+ of their peers and put it all out there. In all this, there was one moment that showed more about the people in this school, and by connection, their families, than any other. About 2/3 of the way through, a girl came to the mic to sing. She looked like nothing extraordinary. In fact, for all outward appearances, she might be the one left out of games, sitting on the sidelines of anything fun or social. Still, the kids in the audience cheered for her start as enthusiastically as any other. Her music cd started, and she fumbled over a few words. The girl’s discomfort was palpable as she stumbled, hesitated, and finally apologized, turning away to leave. From across the gym, a girl yelled, “You can do it!” Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE cheered for her to return and start again.

Because there is one deaf girl in the school, an asl interpreter was signing the songs, generally using written lyrics to go by. The girl who was trying to sing came back and told the interpreter she had forgotten the words. (little wonder with all the pressure these kids feel!) The interpreter passed the music stand with the lyrics over so they could both look on, then the music resumed, and the girl tried again.

While this girl was singing – quiet, not really on key, but following through to the end – I looked around the gym. Virtually every eye was on her. Kids leaned forward, willing her to succeed. There were a few smaller fumbles, but nothing too noticeable, and she saw it through to the finish. She may have been no Taylor Swift, but her reception as she finished was every bit as wild and enthusiastic.

To a person, everyone I’ve ever talked to in the eight years we’ve lived here has told me how warm and welcoming the people here were. We certainly found that when we moved in. Today truly bore witness to me that this warmth is not merely superficial. Sure, kids squabble. In my last entry is a great example of some of the conflicts kids encounter – here and everywhere. No place I know is immune. But the level of support – universal support – for one who isn’t in the “popular” crowd showed something here far more significant. In this day of bullies, troubled teens and general identity confusion, there’s something redeeming about teens reaching out to another who needs them, claiming her for their own and helping her stand.

“Wherefore be faithful…succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, an strengthen the feeble knees.” D&C 81:5

Bully on the Bus

May 25, 2010

Rachel

I wasn’t expecting Rachel to come running into the house this afternoon in  tears. Especially with Jeff right behind her fighting to hold his back as well.

Jeff

All four kids were agitated. Rachel was nearly hysterical. When I finally got her to speak coherently, she told me she was in a fight on the school bus. Turns out, it wasn’t really anything I could qualify as a fight, per se, but it was the first real conflict with one of two regular trouble-makers that involved physical contact.

Let’s see – how do we leave names out? Okay, there’s Girl A and Girl B. We’ll call Girl B the usual bully, but she wasn’t on the bus today. Her sidekick, Girl A, was.  Jeff was sitting with Rachel. Girl A challenged Jeff to his seat (temporary replacement bus while the regular one was in the shop – no seating arrangement, no on-board camera). Jeff told her she needed to say “please”. Girl A grabbed Jeff by the shirt and hauled him out of the seat. He lost his balance and about fell back onto Rachel, who immediately was up and in Girl A’s face about treating her brother like that. Girl A was right back in Rachel’s face, then turned around. Rachel swatted the girl’s shoulder, and Girl A gave a very weak backhand to Rachel’s face.

Of course, the bus driver saw none of this.  Amazing, n’est-ce pas?

There was more yelling, and Girl A got off the bus at her stop.

Okay, I don’t know about other mothers out there, but when someone messes with my kids, Mama Grizzly comes barreling out of her den ready to take on the world. Of course, I had to rein that tendency in.

What I was able to do was to call the bus barn and talk to the driver, making sure that he wasn’t going to just let this slide. Both Girls A and B have been problems throughout the school year. This was the final straw – for A, at least. Girl B was fortunately absent.

Long story short, Girl A admitted to what she did. I have to give her credit for that. She didn’t try  to hide from it. She volunteered to stay off the bus for the last few weeks, her dad driving her from now on.  We’ll just have to see how this all plays out at school and in the neighborhood.

Recognizing that not all kids are as lucky as some of us who go through our entire lives never having a single fight, Rich and I took the opportunity of Family Home Evening to teach a little self-defense. (Not your typical FHE, to say the least!) Ground rules were laid, e.g. You do NOT strike first, you do NOT go for the throat, etc. We even started off by referring to Chief Captain Moroni in Alma who did not delight in bloodshed, but was very protective of his people and their right to live, worship, etc as they chose. He never caused the first offense – not even the second. But when the safety of his people was threatened, he did whatever it took to protect them, offering his enemy the chance to withdraw in peace as often as he could. When they didn’t, he cleaned their clocks.

Rich has had more experience with this than I have. Okay, that’s not hard – I’ve never fought! He grew up with his brothers and he forming something of a small gang. When another “clan” threatened or beat on his family, they all stepped in. It wasn’t like they went looking for it, either. All the brothers are tall – 6′ 3″ (Ronnie) to 6′ 7″(Rich).  The others are all in between there. Growing up in Santee, CA, if there were any trouble-makers looking to prove themselves, they picked out the biggest guy in the room – that usually happened to be one of the Linehan boys. As long as it was one on one, no problem. But it rarely was. There were occasions when one brother would come home pretty ragged, having been cold-cocked by three or four rivals, and Ron – that SgtMaj Linehan, thank you! – ordered the other three to go find the culprits and take care of it. They did.

How is it that guys can pound the daylights out of each other, then share a six-pack afterward? I’ve never quite gotten that one.

We’re not going to do that whole “track them down and take care of it” thing with our kids. We don’t have that kind of problem here. Just the one or two who get a little to pushy and need to be put in their place. I expect this may be the end of the problem. If so, great. If not, I guess they’re going to learn really quickly to take care of themselves.  Could be a rough couple years while they figure that one out.

Gardening in Montana

May 3, 2010

Growing up in California and Oregon gives one a smug sense of superiority over nature. Winter lasts a few weeks or maybe a month. Spring starts peeking through around February and by March you’re outside tilling the garden and planting seeds. If all goes well, the first harvest can be as soon as May.

Then we moved to Yukon South, also known as Montana.

Now, before anyone makes any snide comments about our lack of seasons here, we definitely have seasons. Two of ‘em. Winter and summer. Seriously, we actually get into the 90′s in summer. Night doesn’t fall until around 10:00 in June/July. Pretty awesome, actually. But that only lasts a couple months. Winter starts in late September and runs through April. I’d love to say that’s an exaggeration, but we’re currently in the middle of another “winter storm warning” and it’s May. Lovely.

We did have spring this year. It was a couple weeks ago. Then another blizzard hit, and I’m not talking about Dairy Queen.

I was in the MSU library in March when I overheard a girl complaining about the snow. “It  wasn’t supposed to snow!” she had whined. “I just put all my stuff away!”  We just shook our heads, “Newcomer to Montana!”  Around here, you don’t “put your stuff away” until July – and then only for a week! Gardens don’t get planted until Memorial weekend, at the soonest. On a warm year I’ll try to push that by a week, maybe, but that’s only after a careful check with weather.com. Even so, you have to keep plastic handy to throw over the tomatoes, etc, for those last ditch frosts.

Tomatoes are another joy. The only kind that stand a chance are the Early Girls and anything properly started inside six to eight weeks before last frost. Wait any longer and they won’t ripen before first freeze in September. I lost about 40 heirloom plants one year because of that! They just take too long.

This year, though, I’m doing it right! My garden is going to be gorgeous – and productive! A friend disked up over 1200 sq ft of rocks. We (read: Rich and the kids) added several pickup loads of horse poop and shavings. We’ll till that in soon and plant ON Memorial weekend. This garden is going to feed our family for a full year or more!

Okay, so I planned to do it right. Remember, the name of this blog is “Of Mice and Moms”. This is where the “best laid plans” part comes in.

I had this wonderful little starter box filled with 70 or so beautiful little seedlings, all growing faster than I could possibly hope to keep up with. I never knew how fast pumpkin plants grow! Honestly, if they had survived, there’s no way they could have waited until the end of May. They would have been eight feet long!

I had also gone by MSU’s greenhouse sale and picked up a couple tomato plants and a basil plant for my herb garden (planter!). I was “hardening” them by sitting them out on the deck for a few hours every day to enjoy the sunshine. That was during the week when we had spring. The problem came when I forgot to bring them back inside one night. That was the night it started to freeze again.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. For those seedlings that foolishly thought they had managed to survive the cold, I set the box on a chair in front of my sliding glass door. It was just a little too close. I know – you can see this one coming. Door opens (yes, I did that) and knocks off the box.  Upside down on the floor.

If you swear in another language, is it still swearing?

Now, we’re a little closer to the end of May, and I’ve replanted the starter box. Things are starting to sprout again. They sit in front of the sliding glass door – only a few inches further back. I make sure of that every time I go look! Since even the daytime temps are in the 30′s and 40′s, these little guys aren’t going outside for a while.

Hey, at least my pumpkins will only be four feet long when they get transplanted!

Missing: Grey Cat with White Markings and a Massive Attitude!

May 3, 2010

Ten years ago, when Rebekah was five, we picked up a kitten. I mean that literally. It was out on the sidewalk across the street from our home in Clarkston, WA, and I heard it mewing as only young kittens can mew. I found this little fur ball, no more than about four weeks old. I asked around the neighborhood, but couldn’t locate any owner. Looked like the old story of abandonment. Bekah had been asking for a kitten, so after checking with my non-catloving husband, we brought the puff-ball into the house and introduced him. He’s been an attention-deficit pain in the tush ever since.

Kinda grows on you. But then, so does athlete’s foot.

Actually, Britches, as he came to be called, turned out to be a rather nice looking animal with a definite sense of entitlement. My lap was no longer my own. Nor was my computer keyboard. Nor was anything else that was potential for getting attention. Not that he wanted to be picked up. He didn’t like that. Only to be snuggled on his terms – and that means NOW!

Ten years of this included the occasional scare. Once, Britches came home with several puncture marks on his head and throat and a nice abscess. Some dog must have gotten hold of his head and darn near killed him. I’ve never seen Rich ready to kill a dog over a cat, but if he had known the culprit I really think he would have.

On another occasion, Britches tangled with another cat. Looked like he got caught as he was running out. There were some scratches and small punctures on his hind end. We cleaned them up and applied medicine. Didn’t think anything of it. The next day we came home to find Britches holed up in my bedroom and looking very ill. His mouth was foamy and discolored, his posture was all wrong – like he was in pain internally. Bekah took one look at him and thought he was dying. We weren’t so sure she was wrong. Honestly, I was thinking rabies.

We kept everyone out of the room and called Sue Geske, our mobile vet. Sue came over and examined Britches thoroughly.

Thank heavens, no rabies. All that was wrong was a bad tummy ache from licking the medicine (BluKote) off his wounds. Stupid us! We never thought to read the label which clearly stated “Do Not Use on Cats”. The foam was his nausea – colored purple. A day later he was just fine. Oops.
A few days ago, Bekah came home from school and said she couldn’t find Britches. He had “helped” her doing her sit-ups in the morning, but Rich hadn’t seen him when he left for work a few hours later. No one saw him all that afternoon.

This cat has spent the last couple years staking out the foot of my king-sized bed as his own. He would leave for two reasons – food going in and food coming out. That’s it. Other than that, he was curled up in my comforter snoozing. This cat could make Garfield look athletic! So, to have him missing was, to say the least, rather disconcerting.

I tried to comfort Bekah, telling her that this was the first beautiful spring day after a typically long Montana winter and Britches was probably out exploring, searching for voles, birds, prairie dogs (locally called “gophers”), etc. I said he would be in for dinner and don’t worry.

In the mean time, I worried. On my way to run some errands, I stopped and asked neighbors, scanned the fields for hunting cats, and scanned the roads and ditches for bad news.

Nothing. So, I came back home and kept silent.

When my own cat, an 18 y.o. Persian named Blue, died, I was in the navy living in another country. My mother wrote that most difficult of letters telling me that he had died in his sleep. I had known it was coming. While sad, I could accept it without terrible grief. But this would be different. Britches was only 10 and Bekah hadn’t ever experienced the death of a beloved pet. We had lost two dogs – one to a car and one to theft. But she was very young and barely remembers them. I was not looking forward to finding out that Britches had met a car or a dog he couldn’t outrun.

The good thing was, we didn’t have to. That evening, just as I had optimistically predicted, Britches leaped up onto the living room windowsill and allowed himself back into the house, quite unaware of the drama he had caused. The question of “where have you been?” was answered pretty clearly when I tried to pick him up. The last time I saw a belly that full and round was on a python. I think it had eaten a small deer. Wherever Britches had gone, the gophers had been plentiful and seasonably slow. He was one happy cat!

Somehow, the continuous, impatient, entitled demands seemed just a little sweeter that night. And today, he has been back on my bed, curled up, dreaming of mice.

Welcome home, warrior-kitty.

Britches

Driving Lessons – Do We Get Hazard Pay for This??

March 30, 2010

My eldest daughter is 15. That means a driver’s permit. For her, that’s “automatic transmission, only!” For some reason, she’s just a bit intimidated by our Ford F250 3/4t supercab longbed. Hmmm. Don’t know why.

What it also means is finding out that simply passing driver’s ed doesn’t mean the kid can drive! Actually, she’s pretty good skill-wise. It’s her perception that has me wondering a bit. Right-of-way is probably our greatest challenge right now. Despite several months of “Go, it’s your turn…That means NOW!…Before they get tired of waiting and go themselves!…Oh, forget it! Now, just wait until it’s clear.” Somehow, the idea of first come, first served just isn’t sinking in. She knows there’s something about “the guy on the right – or left – or whatever”, but beyond that it’s sheer confusion.

At least she had the guts to admit that she didn’t often move when I told her to because she wasn’t sure if I meant it – or if I knew what I was talking about. That’s just great. And perfectly reasonable! I mean, why should she just assume that 35 years of driving would teach me anything?

The car she drives is my 1984 Citation. It was owned for many years by a kind old lady who only used it to visit her husband in a nursing home. Problem was, every time she would go to visit him, she’d get hit. She gave it to another who gave it to us. It runs pretty darn well considering its age and history. And if my daughter doesn’t figure out right-of-way soon, at least the car won’t notice the difference!


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