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Not A Leg to Stand On June 15, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Personal.
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metalkneejpgI’ve gone and done it again.

When I last wrote about my knee in 28 Days Later, I was four weeks out from Total Knee Replacement (TKR). I’m pleased to say that at six weeks, I no longer wanted to die. And just as my doctor had predicted, by the time I hit that 12-week mark, I was in love with him.

I went back to school after 10 weeks, as I’d exhausted my sick leave and was on Extended Medical Leave  (1/2 pay). I was a little bit nervous about my ability to navigate the stairs, but ultimately I did just fine. And it took me all of 10 minutes to regain control of my classroom after being out for so long. It was all good. Too good?

Okay, my right knee now makes a THUNKing sound  (which is good way to teach about onomatopoeia?). I asked my doctor about this and he said, “Well, your knee is all titanium and plastic, so what do you expect?”  It’s not like it was in Silent Running mode before. Point well taken.

I was floating up and down the stairs at school. Heaven!  Then my LEFT knee began acting up. A shot of Cortisone did the trick. My husband had tickets to go to The Strawberry Festival in Yosemite to meet up with his best friend from kindergarten, Anne. I love Anne because she remembers more about my husband’s childhood than he does. Approximately 20 some odd people were to converge at Camp Calamity. Oh, how aptly named.

Neither my husband or I had ever been to Yosemite. Finally, we were going. Oh what fun we would have.

The first night was great. The camp was set up so that there was a long table for all of us to gather. The women’s restroom wasn’t too far. Who could ask for anything more?  Okay, the ground was uneven, but our hosts had laid out artificial turf and rugs so that it was the ultimate outdoor space. They had this down as they’d been doing this for 31 years. I was in awe of just how organized they were.  We slept the first night on an air mattress. Oh, what a difference it made. This was going to be fun. (I’d never uttered the words “camping” and “fun” in the same sentence before.)

The second day we got in Anne’s car and she drove us to Hetch Hetchy. We walked down the road and across the dam and through the tunnel. I couldn’t believe how easily I could walk. I hadn’t walked this far in years and kept waiting to be in pain – but I was fine.

When we got back to Camp Calamity we dined and then as the sun began to set, we set off to the Music Meadow. The paths are traced with white chalk, so it’s easier to walk. We hadn’t gone far when I stepped off the path. My left knee twisted as I slid into a hole. I would have fallen to the ground if the two guys walking next to me had not grabbed me. The pain was exquisite. So I was carried me back to Camp Calamity. I was laid out on a chaise lounge and someone made me a wicked Margarita. My husband, Richard, soldiered on to the Music Meadow. When he returned, I was immobilized and had to be carried to the tent. Not a good sign.

I’ll cut to the chase. We drove back to Los Angeles the next morning as I had to have people carry me to the restroom. Talk about humility. I was wheeled into the hospital ER where it was determined that I had no broken bones. My entire leg was encased in a knee immobilizer and I was sent home with pain meds.

The hardest thing was writing to my students’ parents that I’d injured my OTHER knee.  I was out for four days while awaiting the results of an MRI. Meanwhile, our collection of crutches was ever expanding.

The MRI showed a torn meniscus, a Baker’s cyst, and some arthritis, but I was given the okay to go back to school. I managed for two days and then everything went south. By the last day of school when I had to clean out my classroom, I was limping and in excruciating pain.

I finally met with my doctor. I now have arthroscopic surgery scheduled, but he couldn’t fit me in before my trip to the UK, which was to be my reward for having the TKR. I had this same surgery on my right knee in 2006 which compared to the TKR was a piece of cake.

So I’m hobbling. I have been ordered NOT to pivot. I ice my knee three times a day and try to keep it elevated. This was not the summer vacation I envisioned. I’ve warned my Lesley/s in the UK that I might not be up to doing the Highland Fling. I might have to just be put in a wheelbarrow and taken to the local pub?

So if my readers wonder why I’ve been errant in posting, it’s because I’ve been waylaid once again. At least this has made it impossible to put my foot in my mouth. I, however, choose to see the glass as half full. Cheers!

Photo Credit: Drawing by Daniel

28 Days Later – After Total Knee Replacement Surgery January 20, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Personal.
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16 comments

kneecap

I’ve never gone so long without writing a new blog post, but then I didn’t know that Santa was bringing me a new knee for Christmas.  Nothing says Merry Christmas like jingle bells on a walker. Ho Ho NO!

Six years ago when I had arthroscopic surgery on my right knee for a torn meniscus, the surgeon informed me that I had the knee of an 80-year-old woman. I was considered too young for joint replacement, so the “conservative” measures began. A strap on knee brace that made me look robotic. I saw the look on a student’s face when they got a glimpse of it one day under my skirt and ended up doing my own Show and Tell. The kids thought it was pretty cool. But, in reality, it was hot and itchy since it was all synthetic. Then there were Cortisone injections that did nothing. And for two years, I worked with a personal trainer to strengthen the muscles around my damaged kneecap. I was on prescription meds, but the doctor worried that ultimately they could damage my liver. “Geez, if I’m going to blow out my liver, I could just do that with alcohol,” I said. The doctor nodded sympathetically.

Meanwhile the two flights of stairs at my old school loomed. Up and down a dozen times a day. Some days people asked if I was limping. A peg leg was beginning to seem like a viable option. My last option was an injection of an organic substance made from chicken combs (I’m not naming names). It was worth a shot (no pun intended). Oh, the jokes about whether I would sprout feathers or lay an egg. But a week later, the pain had only grown worse.

On a walking field trip to the nearby bookstore, I winced and hobbled. I resorted to doing my Lamaze breathing. One of the oh-so-nice parents asked delicately, “Are your wearing new shoes?” By the time we arrived at the bookstore, I had to sit down. If I was a boxer, I would have been down for the count. Later I hobbled back to the school and then home to book a sub. That was the end of November.

I went to see a new surgeon. He thought I was one of the less than 1 percent who have an allergic reaction to the chicken combs. Great. But, when he said he could do the surgery just before Christmas it was music to my ears. He pulled no punches, “For the first 12 weeks you’re going to hate me, but after that….you’re going to LOVE me!”

So, it’s been a month now. The three days in the hospital were doable as the IV painkillers did their job and you’ve gotta love those nurses. I was even visited by a volunteer with “Happy” the therapy dog. But then it was time to go home. The night before I was released my husband returned to find boxes lined up on our front porch. Enough equipment to start a convalescent home. Hey it’s three seats in one – a chair, a commode AND you can sit in the shower in it! Oh the look of horror on my husband’s face. “I’m no nurse,” he said proclaiming what has always been obvious. It was seeing me using a walker that unnerved him the most. When after a week I finally decided I needed to get my hair cut, he drove me up to the side door, let me out, then sped away so no one would see him with me.

Each morning I settled in for the day on the couch with my leg in the CPM (Continuous Passive Motion) machine. Our dog, Layla, didn’t appreciate losing her el primo spot on the couch to this whirring machine. I’d hoped to read, but mostly I laid in a zombified state while my knee went through the spin cycle. My husband, Richard, is an amazing cook so I was served breakfast each morning with the admonishment, “You better not get used to this!”

I don’t know how people manage to go through this operation who have a family who expects them to soldier on. I literally did nothing but watch movies and read. I followed comments on my blog. Friends texted daily. My husband usually works at home upstairs, so if I needed something, he was only a text away. He cooked three incredible meals a day.

Initially a physical therapist came to the house. After the first visit she informed me I’d need ice next time – and not for drinks. After two weeks I graduated to outpatient therapy. I actually drove to my first appointment, feeling like I was finally out amongst the living.

It’s now 28 days later. The guy hauled away the CPM, so Layla has reclaimed her spot on the couch. Last Thursday the physical therapist kicked my butt. He had me on my belly with something like a dog leash attached to my ankle that I had to pull on to raise my leg behind me. S&M. That day I told him my new nickname for him was “The Mangler.”

“If you don’t climb the mountain, you can’t see the view” is a quote I often tell my students, so I shall continue to claw my way up the mountain rock by rock even on days when gaining a foothold seems almost impossible. I can’t complain. I have insurance and I’m in pain because I’m getting better not worse. I’ve done the math. I should be “in love” by St. Patrick’s Day though I have to go back to work before then. I’ll have to settle for being “in like”.

So for this and all my family and friends who’ve been there for me, I am so grateful. Santa may have brought me a new knee, but he also brought me a new appreciation for all that is truly important in my life. Happy New Year!

To find out what came next, read Not A Leg to Stand On.

Drawing by Colby

Close to Home August 7, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Entertainment, Personal, Uncategorized.
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5 comments

As a child, I couldn’t for the life of me sell Girl Scout cookies. My next door neighbor, Mrs. Dodge, would buy two boxes from me every year and I suspect my mother called her ahead of time.

So, when my filmmaker husband asked me to blog about his film End of the Beginning because he’s looking to raise $23,000 via crowdfunding on Indiegogo, I visibly winced.

What can I say, filmmaking is his passion. The script is great (I know because I did the final edit.) and those involved are professionals of the highest caliber. Want to buy a cookie?

Check it out. Click End of the Beginning. Even only one box of cookies would help. Boxes of cookies start at $20.

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

Day of the Dead or Dia de Los Muertos for Dummies November 3, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Art Education, Holidays, Personal.
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5 comments

I’d planned to write the definitive post on Day of the Dead aka Dia de Los Muertos, a holiday that is near and dear to my heart. But the reality (surreality?) of having 31 students killed that. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then I have a table reserved front row center.

I’d never heard of the Day of the Dead until I moved to SoCal. I grew up in the Midwest. There was no talk of death when I was a child. Death was just so downright-morbid.

So when I moved to Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s with all of these figures of skeletons partying and drinking cerveza and tequila?”

Then a friend and I happened to visit Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles where Dia de Los Muertos merchandise was everywhere. We came upon an empty storefront that featured a community exhibit of ofrendas (altars).

There were the usual ofrendas for beloved relatives, but also one for battered women, a young child who died at the hands of his mother, and even one for a beloved dog that featured the dog’s collar and treats. The ofrendas were beautiful in their simplicity and originality. I found myself weeping tears of…joy?

There was also a huge wooden box filed with sand. People were urged to write a message to a loved one who had passed. The message was wrapped around a stick, tied with a piece of embroidery thread, and then planted in the sand.  I can’t remember now who I wrote a note to. But when I planted my stick with a hundred or so others, I felt a connection to all of the people who’d taken the time to write a message to someone they missed. How often do we get to do that in real life?

Unlike Halloween, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the temporal nature of life. Each ofrenda is created from scratch each year. They’re not dragged off to be stored with the artificial Christmas tree and trotted out the next year. That’s one of the things that I love about this holiday.

Several years ago, I decided to host a Dia de los Muertos celebration. Several friends who came were Mexican Americans, but they’d grown up in regions of Mexico where the holiday was not celebrated. This was a first for them, so I wanted to get it right.

My friend, Martha, who is from a close knit Mexican family, talked to her parents, and they came up with some “musts” for a traditional altar. (But, keep in mind, that each altar is open to individual interpretation.)

Basic Structure of an altar:

Four Levels to represent:
earth,wind, water, fire
north, south, east,west
summer, fall, winter, spring
birth, childhood, adult life, death

A picture of the loved one is placed at the highest point

Symbols of the 4 elements
a jar/dish of water for the thirsty soul
a shell – symbolizes water
a flute –  symbolizes wind
Corn, shiles, tomatillos, and cacao –  symbolize earth
candles – to light the way, to symbolize fire
marigolds for their scent & brevity of life
copal (incense) – a dish of worship, its scent
calaveras (sugar skulls with names) to mock death
dog – to guard the soul, to accompany the soul to its afterlife
dish of salt – for purification of the soul

Food

Pan de muerto – to nourish the soul (Sweet with anise seeds)
Any favorite food of the deceased
Money – to pay the dog for guarding the soul and the fare to be paid for crossing to the other world
Petate (Mat) on the floor – a place for the soul to rest after the long journey.
Mirror – to scare evil spirits & so they won’t eat the food
A frog – signifies twilight of another day.

Optional: Papel picado (cut paper banners), masks, an arch, calaveras, mementos.

The biggest problem was that year the marigolds bloomed early. There was not a marigold to be found. But then I spotted a huge clump of them at an apartment complex and went out late one night to do a little hunting and gathering. Problem solved.

Martha, a dog lover like myself, brought over the collars of some of her beloved dogs. She said with utmost sincerity, “We’ll need a bowl of water because they’ll be thirsty after their long journey.” I fetched it, while she lit what seemed like a zillion candles.

That year I’d googled the name of my first true love only to learn he’d died four years earlier. He’d never married. So it was his picture that I put on the ofrenda along with a shot a whiskey, something that would sooth his soul after a long journey. One of my friends made killer tacos and another brought pan de muerto from a neighborhood bakery that was way better than mine.

I’m afraid that this year, Day of the Dead drew the short stick, what with Halloween on a Monday. I had warned parents that I thought Dia de los Muertos was of cultural relevance ahead of time and we’d be doing an activity. (I’ve got a group of parents at a local seminary, so I tread lightly.)

I brought in my box of sand on Tuesday. Most of my students were zombified from trick-or-treating except for the ones who believe it’s the Devil’s birthday. I suppose I should have given THOSE students homework. I was not too together. I asked my students to collect twigs off the playground and we made an arch that was held together with paper marigolds.

Students had the option of writing a message to a loved one who’d died. One girl wrote three for various goldfish who were last seen swimming in the toilet bowl. I was most touched when one of my students asked if she could write a note to her mother. Everyone knows her mother died when she was in kindergarten. She was worried because her mother only spoke Spanish, and she’d forgotten most of her Spanish. I was fortunate to have an aide in the room who translated her message into Spanish. I helped her wrap it around the stick, noticing that she’d drawn a lot of hearts on it. “I see a lot of love in this message,” I said. The girl smiled.

The students loved how the box turned out. “It looks like a little graveyard!” someone said. Tomorrow, I’ll bring home the messages. They’re ritually burned. I’ll never know the words of love that they contain, but my students do. And that’s what’s most important.

As I originally said, I’d hoped to write the definitive post on Day of the Dead, but that didn’t happen. A fellow teacher told me a hilarious story in The New Yorker about a preschool teacher who decided to celebrate Day of the Dead with disastrous results. The entire incident is told in a series of painful, yet hilarious emails that should give any teacher the will to get up and go to work tomorrow. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I know the writer of the article will be sitting at my table. Mas cerveza por favor!

Steve Jobs – The Real Big Apple October 6, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Food for Thought, Personal.
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On Facebook, my “religion” is listed as “Apple – I bleed in six colors” I wasn’t always a “Mac person.” In the 1980s in NYC, I flailed away on a huge blah gray IBM trying to remember the alpha-numeric code that made it all happen – and not a lot happened at that time. The computer seemed like a glorified calculator and one step up from the IBM Selectric typewriter that allowed you to retype over misspelled words with that magic white correction tape. Now THAT was innovation!

When my neighbor showed me her new Apple computer with all of the excitement of a mother with her newborn, I was clueless. It was one of those early all-in-one chunk models, and I so didn’t get what this “computer for the rest of us” was all about. (To learn about the history of Apple – the logo, what a dogcow is, and lots of other weird facts, go to TAM (The Apple Museum).

But my husband, a film editor, quickly took to the the Mac. As I write this, I believe there are seven Apple computers under my roof. Add to those three iPhones and three iPods and you have my iHome (and to my thinking) a little bit of iHeaven.

I got fed up with the ancient PCs at my school – they were basically boat anchors with a cord. I instituted an Apple-only computer policy in my classroom as Apples will go the distance. Yes, we’ve got some funky bright blue and green ones donated, but I was able to upgrade the memory on these mules. They hum along even though they’re 100 plus in dog years. There’s no right click-left click in my room – that’s like goose-stepping to my artistic ears.

One of my favorite posts that I read on The Critical Thinker was Apple as a Religion, which was taken from The Varieties of Religious Experience: How Apple Stays Divine. I’d sing in the choir, but those who know me, know that when I sing, dogs howl.

It was only last weekend that I was  thinking of writing a post about Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos. I remember thinking that if Steve Jobs HAD died, I’d put his picture on my ofrenda (alter). Then it occurred to me that if Steve Jobs were to die soon, one of my students could play him at the History Wax Museum for Open House. Now, I feel like the person who didn’t forward the chain letter, and so that’s why JFK was shot.

As the news was breaking earlier today, I came across the Gizmodo. Way cool. The ad people encouraged Jobs to do the voice over, but in the commercial that aired, Jobs opted for a voiceover by Richard Dreyfuss, so this is the version that didn’t air.


Steve Jobs was a true visionary, and he sure accomplished a hell of a lot for a guy who didn’t drink coffee.

Extreme Makeover Hits Close to Home August 19, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
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11 comments

Always Jane

Karma has come ’round for my sister-in-law Jane who awoke yesterday to the sound of chickens, but by noon could hear the Extreme Makeover truck rumbling out in front of her house. Oh, what a year it’s been.  No, make that years for Jane and her amazing family.

Last summer when Jane went to her high school reunion in Pocatello, Idaho, her former classmates asked her if she wasn’t worried that her house might burn down while she was out for a night –  what with all those kids.  (Jane has a married daughter from her first marriage and eight children at home from her second ages 9-18.)  Jane just laughed, so when someone told her later that her house WAS on fire, she thought they were kidding – but they weren’t.  The fire started in the basement where the washer and dryer were located and where most of the kids slept. Everyone got out safely, but the house was toast.  All was lost save Jane’s indomitable spirit.

The fire came just a year after Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I wrote about that in Fortune Has Arrived.  Jane underwent a double mastectomy followed by chemo and eventually breast reconstruction.  Then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, (which fortunately is benign and slow growing).

A friend shot some video and sent it in to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (a show I’ve never seen, but I’ve heard it’s the ultimate “feel good” experience). We all crossed our fingers, toes, and eyes. There were endless interviews and hurdles to clear.  I think the show spent more time vetting Jane and her family than they do with most presidential candidates.  And so we waited.

Last month Jane was told that the show had narrowed it down to five families. Meanwhile, rumors swirled around Pocatello about building permits being pulled.  It was like pulling off the world’s biggest surprise party ever and no one was supposed to spill the beans.

I can’t imagine any family more deserving than Jane’s. One year she drove down down with all of her kids to spend Thanksgiving with us.  They all packed into two rooms, the kids sleeping like puppies in a pile-up in the den.  Her children are all incredibly responsible, creative, and downright fun! That’s the way they’ve been raised by this single mother with a BIG heart. They work together. They’ve had to. Over the years Jane has received support (financial and otherwise) from family, friends, her church, and the government.  But they’ve worked hard to fend for themselves.

Her children all play a musical instrument, and I still remember when they set up outside a restaurant to make some extra change.  They had their own cleaning business. They’re very good at making do.

With the house uninhabitable, but still waiting for the insurance settlement, they spent last winter in a rental making daily trips back to their old house to feed the chickens. When we visited this spring they’d decided to move back and camp in the backyard.  There they’ve been living in a trailer and a small back house which was untouched by the fire.  The washer and dryer are in a tent. And it’s easier to tend their chickens.  Jane told me the kids refer to their outdoor digs as “The Haitian Five Star.”  When we left, Jane sent us off with a jar of smoked paprika.  She said that since the fire, the smell of anything “smoked” makes them all nauseous.  As the months went by, we began to wonder if this Extreme Makeover was for real.  The clock was running out.

Several days ago all of their cell phones were taken away, so it was only after my mother-in-law drove by their house that we got the news.  She reported that there were also two vans packed with their suitcases as they were being whisked off to an undisclosed location. They got a choice between a tropical island, a mountain resort, or a theme park. I still can’t believe they didn’t want to come stay with us, where we have our own extreme home makeover going on. (Though you can’t get much done with a crew of one.)

In case you’re here because of the NPD link, you can read Jane’s story on the Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 3 Comment 27.

I so wanted to blog about this great news, but waited until the story broke on Facebook. Their story will air later this year. In the meantime, they have their own Extreme Makeover Facebook page where you can follow the construction day by day by clicking on Photos. It was on this site that I learned they’re in Key West, Florida (even their dog Betsy went with them!).   Everyone loves a “feel good” story and this is it!  Karma has come ’round.

Photo Credit: Shellee Christiansen

Night Owls July 16, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
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From September until the end of June, I’m up with the chickens (though chickens in LA tend to sleep in to get their beauty rest).  But come summer, I revert to being a night owl.  Oh, I still get up at 6 a.m. to feed the dogs and slop the hog.  I drink a Coke and spew toast crumbs on my keyboard, while I check my email.  But then I go back to bed – because I can.

In the summer, my mantra is, “Things to do – get dressed by 2.”  Today was a triple-digit day, temperature wise, which only served to remind me why it’s ridiculous to be up and about during daylight hours.  I’m blessed to have a son still living at home, who’s also a night owl.  There are no small children to care for.  The silence in the crypt house during the day is only punctuated by the incessant barking of the dogs.  But it’s too dang hot to even yell at them.  I just can’t get up the energy.

It’s like when we lived outside Seattle.  My son Ian, who’s a bona fide sun bunny, swore there was a coffee bar on every corner because people were trying to get up enough energy to kill themselves, but never could.  That’s basically how I feel about summer and the heat.  It’s best to lay low.

When I first moved to California, I worked the night shift at CBS typing scripts for TV shows – 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. or sometimes 4 a.m.  I felt out of sync with the rest of the world.  I remember walking into a supermarket at 4 a.m. and seeing the Christmas trees for sale outside.  At a gut level I knew there was something terribly wrong with this picture.  But, then I was still in culture shock after having moved from the Midwest.

Last night, to celebrate my finally turning in ALL of the coursework for my master’s degree, we had the neighbors over.  They brought nephews and nieces and their friends who’d moved to LA only days earlier from Georgia and Virginia.  Although the day had been uggy hot, it cooled down and we sat outside under the chandelier (my husband has a silver one rigged up to slide along a wire – Phantom of the Opera style). We swilled sangria and laughed ourselves silly.

I loved that these newcomers were so bedazzled by a typical Los Angeles night. And the best part? The night was still young.  Summer has begun!

Glad to Grad June 14, 2010

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What a long strange trip its been since we started our masters in Educational Administration just a year ago. That was before I even knew what a cohort was. I liked to joke that, “We put the whore in cohort.”

Fourteen Powerpoint presentations is as close to Hell as you can get. Last Thursday was the final night of our final class. Tada! After Powerpoint presentation #6, my FSB (Favorite Study Buddy) Teresa whispered, “I think I’m going to throw up. I mean it.” I told her, first of all, to move away from me, and second, to step outside the room for some fresh air. She did and returned a paler shade of green. “So this is how the world ends,” I thought, “not with a bang, but a whimper.” I think someone else said that, but we all agreed that we’ve become much stupider since entering this program. “I don’t want to sound intelligent or anything” has become our mantra.

If Starbucks stock plummets, it’s because Thelma and Louise (AKA Teresa and Jan) are no longer refueling our engines every Wednesday and Thursday night. Even after a year, I still couldn’t remember the difference between a “large” and a “grande.” And Teresa complained her “CRS” was getting worse. “CRS?” I asked. “Can’t Remember Shit,” she replied. Yes, we teach small children. You should be scared.

I woke up on Saturday and for the first time in a year reveled in not having to write a reflection for a class like “The Machine as a Metaphor the Organization.” It was bad enough that we had to write our Action Research paper using APA format. I can hardly wait to delete Son of Citation Master from my bookmarks. Let’s face it, the person I’m most fond of quoting is myself. And when in doubt, go to Wikipedia.

We still have five weeks to assemble our digital portfolio, but the grunt work is done. My poor husband has been looking at the back of my head for a year as I sat at the computer cranking out paper after paper. “You know, if this was a two-year program, I’d be divorcing you,” he said matter-of-factly. Can you blame him? Not to mention how this program got in the way of my blogging. But “at the end of the day” (accompanied by air quotes), I’m back. I look forward to posting more frequently.

Brain in a Jar clipart is from Discovery School.com

When Your Relative is a Pig April 10, 2010

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In her Easter bonnet...

My sister-in-law Jane called from Idaho to tell how her seven year-old twins, Izzy and Kate, told their teacher they didn’t eat pork. When their teacher asked why, they replied, “Because our cousin Maisie is a pig.”  The teacher thought this was so imaginative, she shared it with Jane, who looked at her and with a straight face and replied, “Their cousin IS a pig.”

Of course, Jane then asked if we could dress Maisie up in some clothes and send a picture so the twins could take it for Show and Tell.  Yes, an outfit for a pig.  I added that to my very long “To Do” list.

By chance, our friend Nora was visiting from Chicago.  She’s hopelessly artsy and prone to flights of fancy. When she heard this story, I swear I saw her ears prick up.  “Maisie needs a hat,” Nora announced, as though this was the most sensible idea in the world.

With all the frills upon it.

The next day, Nora was “on it” though she returned home midday to measure the distance between Maisie’s ears.  Two days later, I found her sitting outside fashioning a hat from crepe paper and all the trimmings she’d purchased at Zinnia. There was a chill in the air, but compared to the the weather back in Chicago, it was downright balmy. While Nora fussed over the details, Maisie snoozed in the sun nearby. Every artist needs a muse.

Last week, I finally decided we had to get a shot of Maisie wearing THE hat. Working with a Plus Size model with an attitude is no walk in the park, but Maisie sees Project Runway in her future.  And I finally got to cross THAT off my “To Do” list.

Ultimately, this “project” made me thankful for all the crazy creative people in my life.  Those people, who without hesitation said,  “Their cousin IS a pig!” and “Maisie needs a hat.”  My hat’s off to them.

It’s The End of the World As We Know It April 4, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal, Teaching, Worth Knowing.
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A lot of my third graders have asked me if it’s true that the world is going to end in 2012.  I tell them, “The world will end when I say it will.”  They seem relieved.  To them I’m the Oracle of Delphi.  I tell my students that the world was supposed going to end so many times in my lifetime that I’ve lost track. “And I’m still here!” I announce, almost giddily.

To think that all this hubbub about the world ending is because those wacky ancient Mayans were too shortsighted to carve a calendar past the year 2012.  Sort of like my husband and I not planning for our financial future when we were having so much fun back in NYC during the ’80s.

The above map is from USGS shows just how fractured the Earth is.  Imagine if it took into account the global economic climate?  Yikes!

Several weeks ago we had an earthquake drill at school.  An announcement came over the PA informing us that, “the earthquake has begun.”  My students dutifully ducked and covered under their desks stifling giggles. Someone always farts. More giggles.  Then we marched single file out onto the field. If only Mother Nature would actually announce upcoming attractions over the school PA.  Sigh.  Hey, I take this stuff seriously.

My husband and I moved back to California just in time to experience the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. We scrambled out of bed and ran for the doorway.  I stood there in the dark screaming for my sons, who swear that would have slept through the entire ordeal if my screaming hadn’t awakened them.  We lived in a second floor apartment in a masonry building built in the 1920s.  As we stood there listening to the sound of glass breaking, I could feel a wave roll under the hardwood floor as though we were riding a giant ocean wave.  Never have I felt such power.  Never have I felt so scared.

As soon as the shaking stopped, we ran outside and went across the street to an open field in front of Beverly Hills High School.  People were drawn by the safety of a large open space.  After a few minutes, I realized we weren’t going to back to bed anytime soon.  I told my husband as long as he was running back into our apartment to get a radio, he might as well get me my morning Coke.  I’ve got my priorities straight.

We stood there with our bewildered neighbors, in various stages of undress, trying to guess the magnitude. On the horizon, huge explosions of blue light pierced the night sky as tranformers around the city blew out.  It was surreal. My husband returned with my Coke.  While he was in our apartment, my parents had called from Omaha. They were watching CNN.  We learned the magnitude was close to a 7.  (Later it was downgraded to a 6.6.)

We were lucky.  The living room plaster cracked and the TV was tossed ten feet across the room.  It left dents in the wood floor where it landed.   It could have been so much worse.  We invested in straps for the bookshelves and wax that held everything in place, so you could just dust around it.  Two weeks after the earthquake, we were still all sleeping in one bed.  I wore my clothes to bed and slept with my glasses on.  That’s how big of an impression the earthquake left on me.

Time passed.  We bought a house and paid to bolt the foundation with a cash advance on our credit card. Our house is made of wood.  If this was a story about the Three Little Pigs, the smart pig would be the one living in a house made of wood – that’s the way to go in Earthquake Country.  We didn’t bolt the bookshelves because they were built-ins.  We told ourselves that our house, which was built in 1910, had weathered almost a century of earthquakes.  The chimney is in perfect condition. We lost the earthquake wax. This was a period of inactivity on our part accompanied by seismic inactivity on Mother Nature’s. The earthquakes in Haiti and Chili have been a clarion call. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Today I was doing report cards online when my desk began swaying.  A slow gentle rocking that made everything in the room seem like it needed to be screwed in tighter.  A creaky boat kind of feeling.  I ran outside where my neighbor and my husband were talking.  They hadn’t felt it, but our neighbor told me to google the USGS.  I learned the swaying I felt was from a 7.2 earthquake in Calexico.  In case you didn’t live in California or on the Ring of Fire, that’s definitely a Mama Bear-size quake.  I’ve already double checked to make sure the flashlight is next to the bed.

I’m counting down the days until Spring Break, but not until 2012.  I’m more inclined to think that it’s more likely that the Earth “as we know it” will end. And to be honest, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Hard times have already forced people to focus on what’s really important in life.  And it sure isn’t more stuff that you can’t even move now on eBay.  Just a thought. Enjoy Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire and REM’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It. Two of my all-time favorite songs.

Comedy Traffic School – Not! March 15, 2010

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I was speeding.  I admit it.  But the time should fit the crime.  What on earth possessed me to sign up for online Comedy Traffic School?  “I don’t hear you laughing,” my husband called to me from the next room during what turned out to be a 7-hour ordeal.  On a Saturday.

It didnt help that I’d spent so much on time on the computer in the past three weeks that my husband accused me of hooking up with terrorists in a chat room and planning to kill the Swedish cartoonist who made the mistake of putting Mohammed’s head on the body of a dog.  I assured him that as a die-hard Pearls Before Swine fan, that was too lightweight to even register on my radar.  By the way, did you know that “Radar spelled backwards is radar?”

Just to make sure you don’t go straight to the questions, you’re warned that odd sentences are planted in the text.  You need to be able to recall these to prove you read EVERY word of the California Vehicle Code.  So one minute you’re reading about how high the fog lights, er I mean lamps, need to be off the ground, and then you suddenly bump smack into a clunker like, “My favorite fern is my best frond.”  or “Jacques Cousteau’s fingertips were always ‘pruney’.”

Just to provide some levity, there’s some side splitting jokes like the Five Things NOT To Say To a Police Officer.  The first one was, “Sorry officer, but I was reaching for my bag of crack when my gun fell off my lap and wedged between the accelerator and brake pedal forcing my car to go out of control.” Or, “Excuse me, but which one of the Village People are you?” It only got worse.

Did you know, “a Toyota” spelled backwards is “a Toyota?”  Just wanted to make sure you’re still paying attention.  More important is that you pay attention while you are driving, or you too could spend a Saturday afternoon in front of the computer with no prospect of a trip to Sweden.  “Ancient Egyptians shaved their eyebrows to mourn the death of their cats.”  Hey, you passed!

Best Friends Forever August 14, 2009

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Cathy - Have a great yea039

Someone needed to talk me off the ledge, and Cathy’s card arrived just in time.  A card for me?  Was it my birthday?  I actually had to think about this. Since I’ve been in my masters program and knee-deep in data, I’m not even sure what day of the week it is.  Wait a minute – my birthday is in April.  Now curious, I tore open the envelope.

Cathy’s a fabulous photographer, who’s usually stalking butterflies and other six-legged creatures with her camera.  While I visited her in Kansas City in July, she took pictures at the one-room school house at the Deanna Rose Children’s Farm, which she used for the card above.  You can find Cathy’s cards at It’s a Beautiful World.  I ordered several and they were top quality and arrived quickly.  But here’s what I didn’t know.  You can personalize the cards at no extra cost and and even change the message and the font, which is what Cathy did to the card above.

So here’s the personalized message that kept me from jumping off the ledge. I’m sure Cathy won’t mind me sharing it, and I won’t mind if you steal it, though I’m crossing out the stuff that might not apply to you.  For the record, I actually cried when I read it.

Dearest Jan,
I’ve really enjoyed our friendship through the years.
You’re so much fun and have a delightful, brilliant and hilarious
take on the world.  I’ve loved all of your tales of school and of your other adventures.
I definitely wish that I’d had a teacher like you!
It’s been great blogging along side you in cyberspace.
Your visit here was fabulous!
Hopefully, I’ll see more of you.
I’m so grateful I have you as my best friend forever!
Love, Cathy

FYI:  I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that you are also delightful, brilliant and hilarious.  If your name is not Cathy, you might want to change that too.  First day of school, this will be sitting on my desk. Thanks Cathy!

You can find more of Cathy’s photos on Catherinesherman, which is on my blogroll.

Seeing Red June 5, 2009

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ginger

Better dead than red. That was my mother’s take on red hair. So it was my misfortune to have been born with red hair (as was my mother’s). There are gorgeous photos of my mother in college, but alas they’re all in black and white. So, there’s not even any hard evidence that my mother ever was a redhead.

My mother always felt that her red hair made her stand out, something she was loathe to do. As a child, I watched her mix the magic solution that changed her hair to a color that can best be called basic brown.

She mixed two shades of Nice ‘n Easy hair color to get just the right color for me. I called it “House Mouse Brown.” Can hair actually look beige?

Many people assume that with my red hair and green eyes, I must be of Irish ancestry. But my ancestors were from England, Wales, Scotland, and Germany. Scotland actually has the highest proportion of redheads with 13 percent having red hair and 40 percent possessing the recessive red hair gene. Even my father had reddish sideburns that emerged in middle age and remained red long after his hair started going gray.

While my hair was strawberry blond, my younger brother’s hair was carrot red. My mother tried to talk my brother into dying his hair too, but his defiant “stage” outlasted mine.

What I didn’t know (and what my mother didn’t tell me) was that for centuries “red hair was thought to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration.” Hey, that’s me to a T!  To learn more, check out Redheads: Myths, Legends, and Famous Red Hair.

In college, I let my hair revert back to its natural color. And I finally quit trying to straighten my hair. I had a virtual mushroom cloud of golden red curls and, for the first time in my life, I was okay with my hair. In fact, I actually quite liked it.

My friend Lesley in England is a gorgeous cheeky redhead, and she’s joined a Facebook group called “Ginger – It’s not a hair colour, it’s an ethnicity and a way of life.” That’s where I got the photo above. I had fun reading through the group’s invitation to “live the ginger life.” (I’m still adjusting to this “ginger” thing.  It didn’t help that they did an entire episode on South Park on “gingers.”)

I keep my hair cut shorter now. I tell my hair stylist to think of my hair as a native shrub – low maintenance. There are entire weeks where I simply run my hands through my hair and that’s that.  But now I know – better red than dead!

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And eat men like air.

Sylvia Plath

Fortune Has Arrived January 26, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Personal, Politics.
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fortune

The mother of one of my students, who’s Chinese, came in Friday to talk to students about Chinese New Year.  I love the color red so I was already sold on the holiday.  Several years ago I didn’t have time to send out Christmas cards but saved face by sending Chinese New Year’s cards instead.  She read stories and brought beautiful Chinese dolls and a gorgeous woman warrior puppet wielding a sword,  “A woman can be a warrior,” I informed the skeptical boys (brandishing my own verbal sword).

She explained how it was important to clean everything to prepare for the luck and good fortune that a new year brings. (It’s the Year of the Ox, in case you didn’t know.)  All of my “Dragons” cleaned the entire classroom along with two students who were born in the Year of the Rabbit.  Because they were born at the end of the year, we learned they are officially “Rabbit Tails.”

I was also given the character fu above which means good fortune in a general sense – wealthy, happiness, success (a green card?).  The character is to be hung upside down. (Like I would know the difference!)  When turned upside down, the character creates an auspicious phrase (Chinese for pun) Fu dao le that rhymes with the character for “arrives” or “comes.”  So you’re expressing your wish that fortune be directed to wherever the upside down character is found.  That’s why you’ll find the upside down character throughout the year and why not? Everyone needs good fortune heading their way.  When good fortune comes, you turn the character right side up to signal its arrival.

I love symbols or maybe it’s the ritual, as so much of modern life has been stripped of ritual (other than the ritualistic stop at Starbucks).  It seems to me that just about everyone I know could use some good fortune, including our new president, Barack Obama.  Boy, does he have a big mess to clean up, and I think he’s going to need some help from the likes of you and me. Just to be on the safe side, Obama needs to hang up a really big upside down fu above the steps to our nation’s Capitol.

There are lots of people I know and love who could use some good luck. They cling to Hope while they await its arrival.  I’m thinking tonight of my sister-in-law Jane (“Janer”).  At 47, she’s already survived two marriages, one to a narcissist.  She has nine children (eight still at home) and learned just last month that she has breast cancer. Tomorrow she’s having a double mastectomy.  I know she’s scared, but chooses to focus on the positive (“I’m getting a tummy tuck and they’re going to use all that extra skin for reconstructive surgery.”)  Know this.  A woman can be a warrior.

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