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As Summer Sets July 22, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Personal.
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Idaho – This is where God lives.

There’s no denying it. The end of summer is in sight, especially since this year the first day of school has been moved up to August 20th. How can this be? I just emerged from my school-induced coma! My husband said I could become a professional sleeper, but I like to think of my inert state as similar to a medically induced coma. I’m allowing the swelling to go down, so my brain cells can regenerate.

It’s no secret that most visitors to my blog are seeking information on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I don’t often write as much about school or my personal life. But there are times when I, too, need a respite. So please hear me out.

I feel the need to take stock in what I HAVE accomplished so far this summer. Mind you, it doesn’t help that I set the bar so low that I literally trip over it when I get out of bed. My summer mantra is “Things to do – get dressed by 2.”

1) I’ve watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey so I can hold up my end of the conversation in the Teacher’s Lounge. I did make the mistake of calling my husband “Carson.” I won’t make that mistake again.

2) I flew back to the Midwest to help my mother write a zillion thank you notes to friends and family who helped when my father died in early March. My sidekick was my niece, whose job it was to provide me with comic relief. Well done, Ali! While rummaging through drawers, I stumbled upon my report card from Second Grade. I was happy to see that I “read with comprehension.”

We ate at the wonderful Bluebird Cafe in Kansas City then wandered around the neighborhood. Cathy said that a lot of scenes from “The United States of Tara” were shot in this locale. What a find!

3) While back in the Midwest, I drove down to Kansas City to visit my college roommate, Cathy aka Catherine Sherman on my blogroll. She took me off to explore parts of Kansas City I never could have imagined. Way cool. Old friends are gold friends indeed.

4) At 1/2 Price Books in Omaha, I picked up two books, Olive Kitteridge and Year of WondersI read both. Olive Kitteridge is a collection of overlapping stories that revolve around a retired teacher living in a small town in Maine. Most of the characters would qualify for the senior discount, so when the going gets rough they cheer themselves up with the thought that if things get any worse, they can always commit suicide. Did I mention that this book won the Pulitzer Prize? Year of Wonders is set in the plague years in England. I highly recommend it.

5) We drove (with the younger kiddo) to Idaho to visit my husband’s family and celebrate his father’s 88th birthday. I haven’t done long haul driving in years, and our younger son was barred from driving my husband’s car, so it was just the two of us and all those Starbucks gift cards I received from students at the end of the year. The photo of the sunset was taken as we drove by McCammon, Idaho. All three of us had our iPhones out and then I remember asking, “Hey, who’s driving the car?!!!)

One of the musical chairs from the Extreme Makeover house made from the piano that was salvaged from the fire.

We stayed with my husband’s sister Jane in her Extreme Makeover house. She’s since opened a Montessori school, The Morningside House,  in her basement. My husband said when I saw it, he thought I was going to cry. There were actually TWO sinks and some newfangled things called electrical outlets.

6) While in Idaho we saw my oldest son and his girlfriend. We laughed so hard at the new Japanese restaurant, Sumisu, that the waitress declared that we were her Number One table for the night. It also helps that we Californians are accustomed to tipping 20 percent, whereas the local Mormons tend to only tip 10 percent. Is this what it feels like to be a “whale” in Las Vegas?

7) Having returned home, I’ve already (with a lot of help from my husband) repainted out bedroom in the same color that I loved in the Extreme Makeover house. It’s Sherwin Williams “Seascape.” When the guy told me how much the paint cost  (it was already mixed at that point) my jaw dropped. It must have flecks of gold in it!

Now that the end of Summer Vacation is in sight, I’m trying to make the most of every day. In no time at all, I’ll be sitting in the Teacher’s Lounge eating a partially defrosted Lean Cuisine. Up next is working on a picture book that I’ve had in mind for quite some time. I might have to start sleeping in my clothes so as to get a head start on each day.

Here’s to sitting out on the front porch and watching the world go by.

Photo Credits: Jan Marshall

Last Zombie Standing November 14, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Teaching.
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I’m pumping that hand sanitizer like a lab rat desperate for a reward.  So far, so good.  I feel like I’m the only person who hasn’t come down with IT. Whatever IT might be.  So far I don’t think anyone’s been diagnosed with H1N1 at my school.  Just the usual prelude to Thanksgiving flu and chronic bronchitis that dogs you when you’re a teacher and never get to rest your voice. (It’s true – There is no rest for the wicked.)

My husband and son went to see Zombieland the other night.  I passed, since I work in Zombieland.  Just when one kid comes back to school, another goes down.  Pump, pump – More hand sanitizer.  I’ve taken to slathering it on my neck and arms. One boy came back after a week out and promptly announced he felt like throwing up.  I tossed him a plastic bag along with a pass to the nurse.  I have my students trained. I told that straight out, “If you think you’re going to get sick, don’t come to me, cause I’ll run from you.” They laughed, but I was dead serious.  I just don’t want to be undead. Seriously.

The school nurse donned her face mask on Friday when she had a roomful of germ factories sick children all complaining of being “hot.”  The school librarian told me she’s glad she’s already had IT.  “I got it over with early, ” she said, though she said she’d paid dearly for her immunity.  I mumbled something about how quickly viruses mutate, to take that smile off of her face.

November is always a tough month for teachers, what with report cards and all those parent teacher conferences.  I’ve just got to make it to Thanksgiving.

When I wrote my post Time Zone Zombie – Asleep at 30,000 Feet, about the world’s longest trip over the Atlantic Ocean, I was looking for a picture of a zombie.  Who knew there were thousands of them on Flickr from Zombie Walks around the world?  Here’s an activity the whole family can do together.  The cool thing is that I wouldn’t even need make-up to play a zombie.  I can just crawl out of bed.  As a big fan of Shaun of the Dead, I’d be up for the zombie pub crawl myself.  That is, if I make it to Thanksgiving.

POST MORTEM:  Officially zombified on Nov. 18th.  Tried to pass as human for two days, but finally succumbed.

Photo Credit:  Zombified Children from Wikipedia’s Zombie Walks

Making Book on Book Club September 15, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life.
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The three most important things about our book club are booze, food, and what’s that other one? Oh yeah – books. Our book club had a rather inauspicious beginning. Carmella saw the movie The Jane Austen Book Club. Next thing I knew, we had ourselves a book club.

Our first book was A Thousand Splendid Suns (Kelley’s pick) and we got off to a bang up start eating Middle Eastern food at her place. We’d all read the book and talking about women in burkas generated a lively discussion. That was almost two years ago. We’re all teachers, though we let Tina’s sister Angela join because she has a great house a high tolerance for “teacher talk.”

Some books we’ve liked more than others. To be honest, there’s been several times when half of the members downloaded excepts from the book on-line. I think Angela’s last pick How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read was an apt choice. Angela was the only one who’d read it, but we still talked about it. And ate. And drank.

We’re all crazy busy, and it’s become apparent that Book Club is just an excuse to get together with people we really like under the guise of talking about books. I envisioned intellectual introspection, but what I got was a second helping of fettucini. Can’t remember the book, but the fettucini was killer.

When I went to England last spring, I went to my friend Lesley’s book club. We met at The Station, the local pub, where we spent a fun evening discussing the book White Tiger and the dark side of life in Mumbai while enjoying the local Asphal cider.

Last summer I visited my college roommate Cathy. She’s been in a book club for like a bazillion years. Her book club even has its own blog, Blather, which you’ll find on my blogroll. I was led to believe it was a Serious Book Club. But while I was there, Cathy’s husband made the observation that they only spend around 20 minutes actually talking about the book at book club. Hmmm. Come to think of it, the last post on Blather was a recipe!

Last Sunday we met at Kristina’s. In the evite there was mention of discussing a possible change to our “book club format.”  Every other month? Only New York Times bestsellers? No. It was proposed that we have a theme for the food and everyone bring a potluck dish related to the theme. “Will the theme be related to the book?” I asked naively. Kristina took a deep breath. “Well, we were thinking that maybe we could just leave out the book part.” She quickly added, “But we can still call it Book Club!”  Oh dear. Is this The End or To Be Continued…?

When I emailed my friend Bev in England about this “change in format,” she sent me a link to a hilarious episode of The Vicar of Dibley about what happens at a book club when no one’s read the book. Actress Dawn French plays the female vicar, self-described as a “Babe with a bob cut and a magnificent bosom.” The book club scene is a minute into the clip and is a hoot. Cheers!

 

London Calling May 9, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Travel.
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Screen shot of Lesley showing me her date book so I would pick a date.

I’m off to England, I’m off to see the queen!  No, not THAT old girl – my friend Lesley, a sassy redhead, who could teach the royals a thing or two about having a good time.

“You know this is all quite mad?” Lesley said as we chatted via SKYPE. But it wasn’t so much of a question as a statement of fact.

But some days, I think the whole world’s gone mad. Fortunately, I subscribe to the “Life is short, eat dessert first” school of thought. So, when I found out I got accepted to graduate school (See Masters of the Universe), I knew I needed to reward myself before I got bogged down with classes two nights a week for the next year. And since the classes start only four days after the last day of school in June, it had to be soon – before the end of school.

Lesley and I met via the internet less than two years ago. When she invited my husband and me to come to England to celebrate New Year’s Eve with her family in 2007, all of our friends thought we’d both gone quite mad. (See Thinking of England) But, we’re two crazy redheads, and yes, everything they say about redheads is true! I once read an interview with a man who’d lived to be 105. He said his secret to a long life was he stayed away from “wine, whiskey, and red-headed women.” Poor old sot!

After Lesley and her family spent two fabulous weeks with us last summer, we both worried it would be too long until we met again. So, I couldn’t believe it when she’d offered to pay half my airfare just to get me over there. I found a cheap enough flight, so I’m going on my own dime. I was able to sandwich (as in The Earl of…) the trip in between Testing and Open House, so I’ll only miss five days of school. The MANDATORY MEETING for grad school is May 15th. On May 16th, I’m outta here til May 25th.

We’re taking the train to London for a day to see the art at the Tate Modern and the National Gallery. The rest of the time, I’ll be blissfully enjoying English village life in Framlingham where we plan to sit out front of The Dancing Goat cafe each morning, have breakfast, and watch the world go by.

I’m still deciding whether to take my laptop along so I can blog from the UK. I’ve been known to get “the DTs” (Digital Tremors) when deprived access to the internet for too long. I’m SO not PC –  as in I don’t do PCs, so I might have to pack my Mac. Okay, I’m taking it. You should know that we redheads are prone to impulsive behavior, but we DO know how to have a good time.

Can’t help but add Mad World from one of my all-time favorite movies, Donnie Darko.

Masters of the Universe March 4, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Teaching.
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When I told my husband I was thinking of going back to school to get my Master’s degree, he said, “You know I’ll support you.”  That’s when I said, “Actually, it’s because I’m worried that you won’t be able to support me (us) that I’m thinking of doing this in the first place.” Ouch!  But it’s true.  It all comes down to numb3rs.  If I get a Master’s degree, my salary will bump over two columns.  No small potatoes given the state of the economy.

As a teacher, I’m already performing brain surgery on a daily basis, so it’s about time that I start making the big bucks.  But here’s the catch.  The one-year program I’m appying for is in Education Administration (as in I’ll have my Preliminary Administrative credential when I finish).  Me as an administrator?  That’s like letting the inmates run the asylum.  But what’s a 50 Something to do?  

The price is right.  I can pay for the cost of the program in a year.  After that it’s all gravy. Not a big serving, but gravy none the less.  I’ve applied with three of my friends from school and if the planets align and 20 people sign up for the program, I’ll be going to class two nights a week just across the street from my school.  If the planets align.  Otherwise, it’s the dreaded schlep up the HILL to the local college two nights a week.  

I actually went on-line and checked out other programs.  I figured if I’m going to get an M.A., why not get one in something I’m really interested in – like forensics, or storytelling, or anything that doesn’t end with -tion?  Too expensive.  Several teachers said they were interested in getting their Administrative Credential so they could understand how administrators think. I suggested, if that was the case, they should enroll in Abnormal Psychology. (I don’t know why people don’t take me seriously.) 

The application is due this week.  I had to write a 500-word essay about why I want to be an administrator. I already have a B.A., but fell back on my B.S. to pull this one off.  It’s the first time I’ve accessed the “Word Count” feature under “Tools” that tells you how many words you’ve written – and how many you have to go.  It’s like pulling teeth very slowly, o-n-e  t-o-o-t-h  a-t  a  t-i-m-e.

But here’s the good news. Two people wrote personal letters of recommendation for me and my friend and colleague wrote the most awesome letter. Not only am I a stellar human being, but my students LOVE me. She wrote that, so it’s gotta be true.  >blush< 

So I soldier on, hoping to add a few letters of the alphabet after my name. Who knew that lifelong learning was such a _________ (rhymes with rich).

My Son – Who Happens to be Gay November 22, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Parenting, Politics.
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I have two sons. My younger son, Ian, happens to be gay. I didn’t set out to have a gay son. But then Ian didn’t set out to be gay, and to be honest, it came as a shock to him as well. He was confused about why he felt “different.” And he struggled alone. Even now, I can’t imagine what that was like for him when he was only nine and had a crush on a boy in the fourth grade.

When Ian was 14 and a half, we were sitting in the doctor’s office, and he announced he was gay. We laugh now remembering what happened next. I blurted out, “Oh my god, I hope my parents die soon!” This was because my parents had left their church in the Midwest over the issue of gay unions. My head was spinning. Driving home, I was in a fog. I’ve always had gay friends, but my son? My eyes brimmed with tears. Why me?  What I remember most is what my son said next. “Mom, I’m the same person I was before – it’s just that now you know.”

“Please don’t tell Dad,” Ian asked. My response? “That’s like asking me not to tell your father the house is on fire!” So he told his dad who was surprised, but ultimately okay with it. Then he told his older brother who shrugged. “Just don’t expect me to go riding around in one of those gay pride parades.”

Ian felt such a sense of relief to be able to be honest about who he was. This was the same kid who had written “I’m gay” in Sharpie on the back of another boy’s jacket in middle school. Talk about confused self-loathing. It wasn’t easy for him though.

Ian, who’s outgoing and always had lots of friends, thought once he came out, other students at his high school would come out as well. He waited…and waited. There was one other boy who was extremely flamboyant, who Ian wanted nothing to do with. Ian had played Little League baseball and considered himself a jock. His attitude was, “If I want to hang out with a girl, I’ll hang out with a real girl.”

Looking back, I can’t believe how brave my son was. Yes, he took a boy as a date to the prom. He was confident no one would give them a problem as Ian is infinitely likable and has a wicked sense of humor. No one did, but I held my breath. As a parent, I was frightened that someone would lash out at my son, verbally or physically. But being young, Ian was convinced he could change the world – or at least people’s opinions – one at a time.  And to his credit, he did and continues to do so.

Meanwhile, my husband and I found PFLAG ,Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians And Gays. (I should note that at the meetings I attended there were also families with transgender children.) We met so many incredible people at those meetings. People came because they too had family members and friends who were gay. Those who’d been attending for awhile always described being able to acknowledge their child’s sexual orientation as an amazing “journey.” It was painful though when parents who’d just found out their child was gay came to a meeting. Some were still in such a state of shock or denial they couldn’t speak. But the important thing was they showed up. It was the first step on their journey.

There was a Chinese woman who wanted to know if there were herbs that could turn her son, who was in his 30s and a doctor, back to “normal.”  There were African Americans whose childhoods were so interwoven with the church, they felt ostracized in their own community. And there were people who’d gotten married because, “I thought if I got married and had a family, it might make IT go away.” They’d come to the conclusion that telling a lie is easy, but living a lie takes a toll on one’s soul.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep The Secret any longer. After a year, I broke down and told my parents their grandson was gay. They were in shock, but they love Ian. Several years later when they were visiting, my father said to Ian, “Someday when you meet the perfect woman…”  He caught himself. “I mean man,” he said. Ian was overjoyed as he adores his grandparents.

My son has never been interested in the club scene. “That’s not the way you and dad raised me,” he said with such earnestness, that my heart ached for him. He talks about “when I have a kid.” He has that optimism that comes with youth. It helps that we live in Southern California. Ian is still put off by “girlie” guys and was critical of people who are transgender until he saw the movie Transamerica.  He watched it again the other night and said it made him cry. So even he has been on his own journey of understanding.

My son is now 22. He goes to college and he, and his boyfriend of a year, live with us. The other day he asked, “Mom, at what age are you considered a loser if you still live at home with your parents?” I told him with the economy the way it is, this might be as good as it gets.  But we’re all okay with that.

I really don’t give much thought to my son being gay anymore. It’s just one part of who he is, but certainly doesn’t define him as a human being. I was disturbed though when he came to me last night and told me how upsetting it was when several young men chanted, “Yes on 8!” when he and his boyfriend walked by. Ian is a peaceful person, and it was all he could do to not say something. And of course, you always think of just the right thing to say afterwards. But hate, even though Ian knows it stems from ignorance, still hurts.

So when my friend TIna, who also has a gay son, emailed this morning that she’s going to attend a peaceful march tonight to protest the passage of “Yes on 8,” I said count me in. She and some of our friends marched last weekend. They sent me pictures of them holding their placards. What impressed me most was that most of those who showed up didn’t have a gay child. They were there because they thought it was the right thing to do. They believe in equal rights for all Americans.

So now it looks like it’s going to be a gay day. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather be doing on a Saturday night. But the stakes are just too high. We’re not talking about one of THOSE people. We’re talking about my son.

One of the most eloquent and impassioned commentaries I’ve seen on this issue is “Keith Olbermann’s Response to Prop. 8.”  To view his commentary, please press the following link. Peace.

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole November 16, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Life, Teaching.
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During the school year, those nearest and dearest to me know that I disappear down the rabbit hole. I have the best of intentions – but isn’t that what the Road to Hell is paved with?  Between pushing all that paperwork around (without the benefit of a forklift) and being on-call to perform brain surgery daily (and according to NCLB, isn’t that what teachers are expected to do?), sometimes I’m hard pressed to know what day it is.

As a result, members of my family have abandoned all hope of receiving birthday cards. I don’t know how much a stamp costs anymore.  My parents don’t count  e-cards as real cards so I’ve been known to call them and have my entire class of third graders shout, “Happy Birthday!”  And my parents, who are increasingly hard of hearing, have been known to hang up thinking it’s a prank call.  Hey, I tried.

November is the worst month, what with the first report cards due and Parent/Teacher Conferences to schedule (and reschedule) and Thanksgiving. Every year I have my students write a paragraph about what they know about Thanksgiving.  Some don’t get past the date.  You have to understand that many of my students are not native born and Thanksgiving is an exotic concept when you’re from Korea, Pakistan or Bosnia. Most kids write a grocery list; turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce.  Last year one student wrote that Thanksgiving had something to do with Indians hunting buffalo wings.

But by Thanksgiving break, my students will be on a first name basis with Squanto and know that three women/girls did all that cooking for the first Thanksgiving, while the men played games.  (No snide aside here as my husband does most of the cooking).

Next week my students will take home an adorable turkey made from a tie-dyed coffee filter.  They’ll know what a “wattle” is and have written a paragraph about all of the things they’re grateful for that’s stapled to the back.  And what about me? The day before Thanksgiving I have my last Parent/Teacher conference scheduled.  As I drive home, I can finally start calculating how big a turkey I need to buy.  Long lines and over-sized turkeys await.  But I’m thankful that my students now know why THEY should be thankful.

December gets worser (Sorry, I slipped into 3rd grade mode when they’re still figuring out those slippery superlatives).  As I read about winter festivals throughout the world, my students crank out adorable holiday crafts.  Late at night, you’ll find me on-line ordering gifts to be delivered to my family in the Midwest.  I do put some thought into this.  Should I pay an extra $4 for a computer generated gift card? It’s a far cry from the day when I handmade gifts or at least bought them with my own two hands and packed them.  At some point, the ritual of shuffling my gifts along with my feet in the line at UPS lost its allure.  So while my students’ parents are oohing and ahhing (or so I’d like to think) as they unwrap those handmade treasures, my own family will have to settle for something that I personally added “to the basket.”

So don’t wait by your mailbox and expect anything from me.  From September till the end of June, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.

Cockroach Confidential September 20, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Life.
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There were cockroaches everywhere. A biblical plague had descended on the Holy Land – the Holy Land being our overpriced New York City apartment. (Yes, I realize that using the word “holy” in the same sentence as “New York City” amounts to blasphemy.) The final straw came when we found them crawling in the cereal that my sons ate. Cereal killers! Drastic times call for drastic measures. We decided it was time to call in the professionals. Who you gonna call? – (No, not them) – Lady Killers!

I can’t remember how I found out about Lady Killers, but the woman on the phone assured me she could take care of “the problem.” I envisioned a highly-trained entomological exorcist who could banish these six-legged demons that had turned our lives into a living hell.

We’d exhausted the traditional “final solutions.” We’d already sprinkled crop circles of boric acid around the apartment, and all of the Roach Motels had vacancy signs. We’d taken to wiping down the kitchen counter hourly and keeping all food in tightly sealed plastic containers. It was like we were living in a bomb shelter and dipping into rations when we ate.

I eagerly awaited the arrival of the Lady Killer. So I was a bit taken aback when a dowdy, overweight woman arrived and introduced herself as Elaine. This was the Lady Killer? She had an unusually firm handshake. That’s when I realized the Lady Killers were not just ladies, they were lesbians. Talk about a niche market.

As Elaine regaled us with tales of the German Brown cockroach’s superpowers, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the crusty old shark hunter Robert Shaw played in Jaws. All she was missing was the bite out of her forearm. She informed us a cockroach could live off a single drop of grease in the air for a year. And just like those starving Russians during the Siege of Leningrad, cockroaches could survive by eating the glue from book bindings. We had an entire wall of books, which I now realized was a virtual Hometown Buffet.

From her purse, Elaine produced several unmarked plastic squeeze bottles containing a mysterious white powder. Boric acid?  “No,” she scoffed. She informed us that eating boric acid only made THEM stronger. To be honest, I was afraid to ask her what was in the bottles. Although Elaine assured us it was non-toxic to humans, where was the label? This was obviously some home brewed concoction. But we were desperate. Sometimes it’s best not to know.

For the next two hours, Elaine ransacked our apartment squirting the white powder into every nook and cranny. The entire time, we raptly listened as she detailed the down and dirty habits of the German army that had been occupying our apartment and holding us hostage. She informed us the reason THEY were inside the kitchen clock is that they liked the warmth, and it provided an excellent base camp to launch their expeditions. If I’m ever a contestant on Jeopardy, I can only hope that one of the categories is Cockroaches. I’ll take Cockroaches for $500 please!

We wrote out a check for a couple of hundred dollars and waited. Elaine had said it would take a week before we’d see results. My husband was convinced the white powder was plain old boric acid and the “wait a week” ploy was just to give Elaine time to cash the check. He of little faith.

After a week, THEY began dying. Within two weeks our apartment was roach-free (knock on wood!). The down side was that every time we opened a file cabinet or drawer, a plume of white powder would rise up, leaving traces of white powder on our face and hair. This was New York City in the 80s, so I’m sure our neighbors just thought we had a serious cocaine problem. Any New Yorker can tell you that’s not nearly as bad as a serious roach problem.

We didn’t see a cockroach for six blissful months. Six months may not seem like a long time. But after eight years of daily hand-to-hand combat, this was a dream come true vacation. I actually began to relax. We still kept all of the food in plastic containers; but I no longer swatted anything that moved in my peripheral vision, including my children.

After six months, the clock struck midnight and the spell was broken. The roaches began straggling back. So Elaine returned once again with the magic powder. By then, she knew the most intimate details of our lives – as she’d been through every drawer and cabinet in our apartment.

By the time we finally decided to leave New York City, the cockroaches were back in full force. If I had any second thoughts about our flight from the Holy Land, these were put to rest when I saw baby roaches crawling inside the digital display on the microwave oven. Gross! We waved the white surrender flag and were escorted safely out of the combat zone aka New York City.

We were excited to be moving to Mexico. Little did we know that a welcoming committee was already forming to greet us – of scorpions.

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