This is the end of my multiple posts about education and our family. The previous ones are:

On Tolerance, Part 1

On Tolerance, Part 2

On Education Rankings, Part 1

On Education Ranking, Part 2

On Awarding Mediocrity

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 1

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 2

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 3

Since this is so long, I will review and cover the rest of the story differently than usual. (Thanks Reluctant Farm Chik for your help on getting my complaint to the school onto one page.)

We were in TN over the New Year. The first part of our journey was ice-covered highway in NM... in the dark. It is interesting to note that NM does not really get worse snow than other places, but they apparently don't get enough to budget snow removal equipment/supplies. Interstates close a lot here when the weather is bad; we were lucky it was not closed when we went.

Historical Facts (as seen by me and elaborated on in the above posts):

  • We live in a region of the country in which education is not a top priority.
  • At Chic’s school, she was one of few scholars.
  • Chic attended a private, parochial school.
  • Chic was ahead of her class in most, if not all subjects.
  • Many in the class ridiculed Chic because she was “smart.”
  • There was little/no teacher intervention regarding the ridicule.
  • Chic has not been raised in a pop culture environment, thus she is “different” from most of the other students in her school, despite its parochial nature.
  • Chic’s social structure for second grade has been difficult because a 4-some of friends turned into a 3-some, and Chic, being different, was the one usually left out.
  • Chic’s teacher/s did not notice that her friend structure had changed.
  • Parent-teacher conferences were not a place to get real information. Teacher/s usually took the approach of keeping parents happy without divulging any real information. Real issues were avoided.
  • When real issues were addressed with teachers, the observations of the teachers changed. (From “she’s doing fine” to “she’s immature.”)
  • Teacher/s were not demanding, teaching, or modeling life skills such as kindness and getting along.
  • Teacher/s were allowing students to dictate classroom environment.
  • Teacher/s punished tattletales inappropriately unless tattletales were pet students, in which case the behavior was encouraged.
  • Teacher/s modeled disorganization and disrespect.
  • Classroom/playground supervision was inadequate.
  • Teacher/s were biased in analysis of students and their academic abilities.
  • Teacher/s flip-flopped on significant educational plans. (“Your student should be placed in advanced classes for certain subjects” to “Your child is too immature to handle advancement.”)
  • Teacher communication was ineffective and unprofessional.
  • Prince Charming and I, as parents, are not perfect. Neither is Chic. We approached this for three semesters with an open mind realizing that not everything could go our way.

When in TN, our friends had a flying squirrel in their house. It had been there a while--behind the fireplace--but they couldn't get it. It came out while we were there. Very cute. (The foggy picture is because it was SO COLD, and this was taken when releasing it.)

Things we did about the above:

  • Discussed concerns at length with teachers. (No results.)
  • Discussed concerns with trustworthy, knowledgeable friends not involved in these issues to better ground ourselves and assure our objectivity. (A very few were unsympathetic saying that schools will always have problems–we realized that already. Most were shocked it could be so bad and made us realize we had put up with a lot more than we should have.)
  • Discussed the issues with the school Principal. (This was ongoing. Many of the incidents did not seem “big enough” to report until more and more happened. The big picture was disturbing, so the Principal knew the whole story by the end of the semester and was extremely supportive.)

Things that could not change:

  • The teacher/s could not be removed. Apparently though I have heard various complaints about Chic’s primary teacher for several years, there was no documentation. (This was the current Principal’s first year and without documentation could do nothing, though she had wished to remove a teacher before I ever talked to her.)
  • The attitudes of the teacher/s. Apparently though counseled on specific behavior problems, issues addressed to them by parents, the Principal or School Board members resulted in: flat denials, blaming others and often subtle retaliation against students of specific parents.

Our Options:

  • Send Chic to another school.
  • Homeschool Chic.

We saw neither of these as viable options since removing Chic from school would be seen by other parents as a huge blow to the school. (Small environment.) We had no quarrel with the school or the Principal, but with specific teachers. The school is small and has financial difficulties, so any blow to it, large or small, could potentially end its life.

Although it was bitter cold for our visit, there were a lot of pretty skies. I was going to save many of these for SkyWatch Friday, but I thought they would go with this post.

Our Solution:

This was not our idea. It was Reluctant Farm Chik‘s. She is my educational/parenting mentor. She is SO with it in those areas. Most people think I am with it (except that I shield my children from a lot of pop culture which many think is cruel), but those people have not met Reluctant Farm Chik.

When she first suggested it (on my voice mail), I thought she was joking. She knew our reasons for not sending Chic to another school or homeschooling her. She said her idea was different.

On December 30, 2009, the four in our family and a minivan packed pretty tightly headed on a tw0-day trip east. On New Year’s Eve we arrived in the-middle-of-nowhere-way-out-in-the-sticks Tennessee. (It was overcast and we missed the New Year’s Eve Blue Moon.)

We spent January 1 and 2 in Tennessee and three of us left on January 3. We left just-turned-8-year-old Chic there to go to school for a semester. This is what I meant when I said in an earlier post that many of you may think we are unfit parents by the time we get to the end of this story. (Who leaves their 8-year-old two days drive away for five months?)

Why we did this:

  • We did not think our options allowed for home school or a different local school. (That was not a permanent decision. We will not continue to let that stop us after this semester.) This option let us tell people that “Chic got this really great opportunity to live on a farm with a horse with great friends–something she’s always wanted to do. We couldn’t pass it up.” No damage to the school, although if we did not have thick skins, there would be a lot of damage to us from people who think we are absolute idiots.
  • We have complete faith and trust in Reluctant Farm Chik and her family. They are treating Chic like one of their own. She has a new “brother” and “sister” (both older–a dream for her). She has 8 new cousins (one who realized he could not have a crush on her because she was “his cousin.”) She has a new set of grandparents and several aunts and uncles. She is in a loving, family environment.
  • Although kids will have bad times in school and bad teachers (I had bad teachers from grades 4-8), the early years are too important in setting the stage for school satisfaction and learning. My first three years of school were perfect which is why I came out of 8th grade not completely despising education. Chic has had a horrible start which is crazy for someone who excels at school. She was starting to hate school AND hate learning. Something had to change.
  • Chic is balanced and mature enough to handle it. (Despite what her teachers said.)

I tried to take pictures of these several times on our trip to and from TN, but going down the highway at 75 mph meant that most of them were not that great. My kids (living in a desert) were amazed by these. They look just what I grew up with in MO.

How it is going:

  • Chic loves school. She is learning at her level in all subjects. She is a little intimidated that her math education here was so far behind that she’s only at the same level of her second grade class (and not doing as well as the 4th graders which is what she expects), but overall it is good.
  • Chic had instant friends.
  • Chic loves her teacher.
  • We hate Skype. (Not really, but it usually leaves us feeling unsatisfied.)
  • We miss her like crazy.  (We already have two visits under our belt.  Ahead are Spring Break and two more visits.)
  • Chic has only cried a couple of times–when we left her, and when I left from a visit. She was fine both times right away.

What the future holds:

  • We don’t know! I wish we knew! Chic will not return to her old school unless there are dramatic changes. (Probably two teachers would have to be gone for her to go back. It is a small school, so unless they are gone, she will have the same teachers next year. If they had major attitude changes, that would be OK, too, but so far they do not even acknowledge that there was a problem.)
  • We might home school.
  • We have even thought of moving. Someone asked if we were living in the right place. No, we are not. Well, I think we are in every way except social culture (which means little to me because I am too busy for much socializing, and we do have some very good friends here. I am referring to the society in general.) and education. We love it here otherwise. Also, Prince Charming’s job is here, and his job means I am a stay-at-home mom. That is why we moved here in the first place. But moving is not out-of-the-question, just not on the immediate horizon. (And giving up my skies would be a tough thing indeed!)

This was the favorite picture I took while on that trip. It includes the "Pondwatch" pond.

It boils down to we are responsible for our children. Our school is not. Our church is not. God forbid if society was! We will do what is best for them.

We are looking forward to May, but we do not regret a bit of what we did. It is changing all of us (mostly for the better) forever. All of us are growing. Experiences like this cannot be bought. And Chic is happy. (And I got the best hug she has ever given when I visited last month.)

So full of innocence and promise. We must take care of her, even if it means someone else is taking care of her right now.


For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

Ms. A came in and told us that the kids made fun of chic, and she was too immature to handle it, so they could not move her.  We were more than a little shocked by this. First, it was Ms. A’s suggestion in the first place that Chic be more challenged in math. Second, we had been talking to and working with Chic to prepare her for this. And also, in our nearly 8 years of being Chic’s parents, we had never, ever heard the word “immature” coming out of the mouth of any adult relating to her. We have only heard “extremely mature, ” “well-behaved,” etc. even if we questioned deeply to make sure they were not saying that just because we were her parents. I do not say this as a blind parent. Anyone who knows me knows that I am extremely objective about my children.

At this point I was tired of the fake smiles and general crap that manifests itself in these PT conferences, so I explained how we had worked with Chic on this very topic and she WANTED to do something more difficult. Ms. A spoke very little, just nodded her head in agreement with Ms. J who told us again how immature she was and how she got in so much trouble. WTH?????? Why was I learning that my child was a trouble-maker in a PT conference? (Upon further investigation, this was a smokescreen.  Chic did indeed get in trouble for hitting a boy, but she and the boy were playing around and just play-punching each other. (The boy did not get in trouble.)  The teacher did not even see this, but this was the result of a tattletale.  I told Chic this was not appropriate and did not undermine the teacher, but I was more than a little angry this was the incident (singular) that labeled her a “trouble-maker” by Ms. J.)

I asked what the solution was if my child was bored with classwork and there was clearly a general unwillingness to modify it. Ms. J then said that she had tried to have Chic help other students, but when she sent them to help, she did not teach them; she just did it for them, so Chic was not good at that AT ALL. (By this time I wanted to punch her in the nose for insinuating that we had failed as parents because our then-7-year-old daughter was not a qualified teacher.)

We discussed the social problems and the ridicule and asked why teachers were not doing anything about the ridicule. I stated that I realized we do not live in a perfect world, and I teach Chic that, but for a 7-year-old to bear it bravely 100% of the time without any intervention from teachers might be asking too much. I also mentioned the social problems that I had discussed before (regarding Chic’s friends leaving her out when Ms. J’s answer was “Oh, I didn’t notice.”) and said that I understand Chic’s position because her personality is much like mine. If kids are repeatedly excluding her, she is not going to make a nuisance of herself and continue to push herself into their circles. All of this was met with no response other than “she is not mature enough to do more advanced work in math.”

After I had made the comment about Chic and me having similar personalities, Ms. J said (in a sickly, patronizing voice), “Now, Mom, are you going to be OK? You said you were like your daughter and I don’t want you to be upset because you are hearing unhappy things.” Yes, she said that.

We got back to math. The truth started to surface. Ms. J said that if Chic did 3rd grade math, she would miss her reading class. I really did not see this as a problem as she was so far advanced in reading. I told Ms. J we were fine with her doing more advanced reading. “But then I would have to change this or that!” she whined. Yes, she whined. So we realized that the real reason for not challenging Chic was that it might require a little extra work for the teacher. And to be honest, probably not actually extra work, just different from what she was doing. And the thing that got me the most is that Ms. A, the teacher that suggested the change in the first place, had totally reversed her position to support Ms. J.

Prince Charming had had enough, so he changed the subject to the awards from the previous year in light of the ridicule. He mentioned there seemed to be little/no incentive for succeeding in school (using the awards as an example) and no deterrents for not succeeding and for bad behavior. Ms. J side-stepped this with “I give awards for fruits of the spirit, not necessarily scholastic achievement.” It was a good thing I was walking out by that time and did not hear this response.  First, she DID give scholastic achievement awards, of which my daughter got NONE though being the top student in at least 3 subjects. And she was saying my daughter had NO fruits of the spirit?????

The fifth parent-teacher conference lasted 63 minutes. We left feeling angry and dejected. The teacher/s had done all possible to make us feel like bad parents for raising a girl who was different than the others and who got her 7-year-old feelings hurt when severely ridiculed for being successful.

Yes, I believe there needs to be a class for an entire semester devoted to holding successful parent-teacher conferences. And if an education major fails that class, maybe s/he should not be allowed to even hold PT conferences.

Now what? I hope the next post on this topic concludes this series (for now). It may be extra long to avoid breaking it up into parts like this and so many others in this series have been. Right now I cannot see how that can be told in parts.

Part 1 is here.

These photos are from the 2007 Mother's Day hike as the prequel post.

The spring parent-teacher conference for Chic’s first grade year was also useless. We got Ms. J’s fake smile and the fake “she is a joy to have in class.” I am sure not everyone thinks these things are fake, but I have really, really good perceptive powers, and I know. I did ask a question about Chic’s best friend who I knew from art class to be a complete airhead. I was concerned about this friendship because Chic is NOT a complete airhead, and I did not want her to be trampling someone (even unwittingly) because that someone might not have the wits to not be trampled. Ms. J assured me that Chic’s friend was one of her brightest students.  This seemed quite strange to me because the girl was only somewhat creative in art class but could not follow a simple instruction to save her life.  I chalked it up to my not being properly perceptive when it applies so close to my life. (Which is not true, but I often do not trust my powers of perception when it involves me or those directly related to my life.)

Now to the fifth parent-teacher conference, October 2009. Chic was not-quite-8 and was in second grade. We had 20 minutes of the fake smile and fake “she’s a joy to have in class” garbage, but Prince Charming and I had other issues to discuss, so we said, “What is going on with math class?” Ms. J sputtered, then said Chic was much too immature and that she would have to call in the math teacher to explain. (We have 2 teachers for grades 1-5. Ms. J is Chic’s main teacher, but the other teacher, Ms. A teaches math, science and social studies.)

Let us back up to the school Open House in September. I had to be in the art room the entire time, and Prince Charming had a prior appointment (the date changed), so at the end I asked Ms. J how Chic was doing. “Just fine,” she fake-smiled. So I asked Ms. A, the math/science/social studies teacher, who I respected much more (at least at the time). She said she wanted to talk to me because she wanted to move Chic to 3rd grade math; she was completely bored in 2nd grade math. I do not know how much math has changed since I was in 2nd and 3rd grade, but I remember 3rd grade math being a LOT more involved than 2nd grade math, so I expressed concern about the concepts missed in 2nd grade affecting how she would do in the 3rd grade class. (Mind you this was not accelerating her, but just advancing her work in one class. I have no problems at all with this. I really have no problems with accelerated work in most classes, but keeping them with classmates their own age is important to me.) Ms. A assured me that neither the 2nd or 3rd graders were where they should be (there was no team teaching before, and Ms. J does not excel as a math teacher), so Chic would not miss anything. She was already as advanced as far as the current 3rd graders. I said I would need to talk to Prince Charming, but unless I spoke differently in the next 2 days, I was in favor of it. Ms. A said she had not discussed it with Ms. J, but she would.

This picture in dry, dry New Mexico could pass for one taken in wet, wet Iceland.

After a week I started asking Chic about math. She made no indication that anything had changed, so after two weeks, I asked Ms. A about it. She said she had talked to Ms. J who said that the students made fun of Chic for being so good at reading, and it really affected Chic, so she was not in favor of moving Chic up. Ms. A told me she would wait until the quarter was over. I again expressed concern about 3rd grade math and starting too late in the year with it and was again assured that the 3rd graders were so far behind that it would be just fine.

At this point I started talking to Chic about the problems at school and also about math. She was bored with math, and she was a little afraid of how the other kids might treat her if she moved, but she wanted to move anyway. We talked about how to deal with bullies and why people make fun of other people, and she was prepared for the change. Also I spoke to the principal about the problem (since talking to Ms. J is useless and often detrimental and Ms. J seemed to not be curbing the ridicule in the least), so the principal singled out Chic a couple of times to call attention to and reward her academic excellence. All systems were “go.”

I knew the quarter was over because I had to turn in art grades. Nothing changed which is what led us to ask about math at the PT conference in October.

To be concluded… Tuesday, February 2. (Yes, February is almost here. Maybe I should take the Christmas flowers off my front door.)

This post is a continuation of my series about some things going on in our family right now. Those are posts are:

On Tolerance, Part 1

On Tolerance, Part 2

On Education Rankings, Part 1

On Education Ranking, Part 2

On Awarding Mediocrity

As usual for this series, the pictures in this post have nothing to do with the post. These are from a hike our family took at the extinct volcanoes near us on Mother's Day, 2007. But before we could go, we had to wake up Chic who would have been more than happy to sleep in longer with her favorite cat.

You teachers and education majors, is there a class on how to pull off an effective parent-teacher conference? I am inclined to believe there is not, but if I were in charge of an education curriculum, I would make sure there was some such class.

Prince Charming and I have attended five parent-teacher conferences in our short history as the parents of a 2nd Grader, and I can promise you that none of them were much worthwhile.

Our first experience in this new world was October of 2007 when Chic was almost six and in Kindergarten. We walked in, the teacher was beaming and asked us to sit down and have a snack. (Do parents of Kindergartners need a snack for a 15-minute conference???) She had a folder in front of her with all kinds of stickers on it. Before she opened the folder, this teacher, Ms. S, started pointing at the stickers, still beaming. She then read each sticker to us: “Well done,” “Good Job,” “Excellent,” etc. My mind was reeling. I cast a sideways glance at Prince Charming and nearly choked at the look on his face. Wisely, he did not look at me.

We got a brief look inside that be-stickered folder to see that Chic’s work was indeed worthy of such praise, but that is something we already knew, and my guess was that every other student’s parents who arrived got the same beaming presentation.

A hill of very busy, giant ants.

I wanted to know how Chic was behaving in school.  Was she being nice to the other students? Was she getting along well with the others? What was the teacher’s perception of the whole school situation since, well, since she saw her 7 hours a day at school and I only got a couple of hours of which approximately 13 seconds could be attributed to Chic’s report of the school day.

So I asked questions. (The folder was closed by now.) The answers to my questions were actually the beaming teacher pointing to the stickers on the outside of the folder. “Her work is ‘well done.'” “She’s doing ‘excellent.'” You get the picture.

Since I knew Chic was a pretty well-adjusted girl and learned things easily and this was only Kindergarten, I decided to not let this bother me. She loved school, and I have come to think that loving school is the biggest key to learning.

In the  Spring we got exactly the same  useless thing, so I asked, “But I am guessing that every parent gets a folder like this with all these stickers on it, riiiiight?” “Yes,” admitted Ms. S, a little of the sparkle fading from her beaming face. “Well, what I really want to know is how CHIC is doing, not the same thing you tell everyone.” She was taken aback, but we had somewhat of a reasonable conversation after that. It did leave me to wonder if we were the first parents to think that the folder covered with stickers might not exactly be what we needed to know. (See the posts on education rankings for my opinion on this.)

Chic had a different teacher, Ms. J (referred to in Awarding Mediocrity) for grades 1 and 2. (She is still in 2nd grade as I write this.) I must admit that Prince Charming and I went into that first parent-teacher conference beaming. Part of that was because we knew Chic was doing so well, but most of it was because we were just excited to be going to a teacher we were pretty sure was not going to throw a folder covered with stickers in front of us. We sat down. We were offered snacks (apparently not limited to Kindergarten parents. For the record, we have never taken any of the offered snacks at these PT conferences.) We waited for an awkward moment, then Ms. J said, “We usually do not like to accelerate kids in first grade.” Prince Charming and I lost our beaming faces immediately as we searched the faces of each other to see if the other had ever said anything to anyone about Chic accelerating. It was easy to see that we were equally confused.

Now let’s point out that I do most of the talking at these events. Prince Charming steps in when I am totally fed up. He is not timid about these things, but we save his words for the really important times. So I said, “I was not aware we came here to talk about Chic accelerating. As a matter of fact, we do not wish her to accelerate in school. We wish her to be challenged and not bored, but we have a few reasons that make us want to not pursue acceleration, at least for now.”

Ms. J responded, “Oh. Well. Most parents with children who do ‘this well’ want to move them up.”

My response was, “We came here to see how ‘this well’ she is doing, and we are not most parents.”

My memory of the rest of that useless interview is gone. I have mentioned in a previous post that this teacher has trouble putting together two coherent sentences. (You may wonder why we sent our daughter to be taught by such a teacher, but we are open-minded, and just because a person cannot communicate with adults does not mean they cannot teach children. And someone whose opinion we trusted much told us this teacher was an excellent one.)

To be continued… (Friday, January 29)

The photos below have nothing to do with this post. I had no pictures to put with the post, so I just took a series that I was pretty sure would never make it to SkyWatch Friday. This is a sunrise about 3 weeks ago. The pictures were taken within about two minutes and I think include the view from every direction from my house.

click photo to enlarge

click photo to enlarge

Before I started blogging, I hesitated quite a long time to do it, even though pressured to do it by two of my cousins. The main reason was time. I  knew I did not have time. I still do not, as evidenced by my irregular posting and visiting. But another reason is that I thought it was a bit narcissistic. I thought WHO CARES about the daily happenings of anyone else.  Before I dove in myself, I spent several months reading other blogs. I realized they are not all self-absorbed. (I do not read the ones that I think are.)

However, I have been thinking about my blog lately because one fairly regular reader and commenter once said something like “whatever your blog is about.”  I laughed (I often laugh at his comments; he has a wonderful sense of humor whether or not he means to be humorous.) because it is true.  My blog has no theme. I knew it would not, but it is glaringly apparent when compared to the blogs I visit. Most could be categorized as something. Mine cannot. It is about me. It does not get much more narcissistic than that. And this post will probably be the worst yet. Thank you to all you who come here even though the topics are so varied and there might be three sentences one visit and an epistle the next. And for putting up with me.

click photo to enlarge

click photo to enlarge

Today I did not really want to say anything about September 11 because so many others have. I also find it irritating how something so tragic that drew a nation together for a few days (or an afternoon?) is now often used in a political sense to tear it apart. (Certainly not everyone, but I have seen plenty of  “Remember 9/11, and be sure you remember why this event makes me right in my political opinions.” I have seen this from opposing viewpoints. Can we just remember a tragedy without being disparaging?) I rarely mention politics in  this space because I hate politics. I hate extremes. I think all sides have extremes. I think the extreme left and the extreme right both want to take away freedom–just in different ways that appeal only to them. (My viewpoints make both sides upset, so if I really got into this, I would likely alienate my entire readership.)  I hate statements that have little other purpose than to be inflammatory. I hate it when people can dish it out but cannot take it.  So I choose to avoid the topic entirely–most of the time. Which is why I was going to avoid any mention of 9/11.  But something compelled me to tell my part of that day’s story. I was pregnant with Chic. I was at work. The tiny television in the Conference Room was on for people to watch the horrific scene over and over. (I am personally not a fan of watching the same tragedy over and over.) Then the Pentagon was hit. Just a couple of weeks before that Prince Charming had been doing an internship at the Pentagon. (Leaving my pregnant self home alone much of the summer.) What was horrible before was real then. But real for me was not, and will never be, what real was for the people who lived and worked  in New York City and Washington, D.C. on that day or who lost someone. They know real. The rest of us just speculate.

click photo to enlarge

click photo to enlarge

In my car today, on the way to drop off some stamps and to pick up Chic, I suddenly started crying about my mother. There is  nothing special about today in relation to her, but maybe I was thinking about the 9/11 loss. Chicklet was talking to me, and I could not even speak. When I started blogging, I thought I would write a lot about my mother. About her life. About her death. About her 10-year dying process. But I have written very little. Some days I want to just unload it all. But part of me is afraid. The few times I  have discussed her before, the reactions have not been at all what I expected. My reason for wanting to share her story has to do with lessons learned. It is not about me at all. I do not want sympathy or consoling words. I want people to understand what happened and why. I guess I do not know how to say it in a way to make people understand, or else I am not ready. But today, I missed her.

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click photo to enlarge

Last Friday (or Saturday, I don’t remember when it went up) I did a post and said I would see you on Monday. I did not. The day had several totally unexpected things happen (I spent most of the day in front of the computer working on things for Art Class), but ended well (and also unexpectedly) with an afternoon/evening with our “gaming friends” playing Settlers of  Catan–Cities and Knights. (And have been behind blogging since.)

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click photo to enlarge

Now for some more random (and hopefully lighter than the first two sections) things…

1– I  have decided I do not like cooking much right now. Nothing has changed, really, but I get SO. MUCH. ACCOMPLISHED on days I do not cook. I am great at multi-tasking, but I think I hate it. When I cook, I want to focus on cooking. When I cannot focus on it, I think I would rather not do it at all.

2– Our electricity has been flashing lately for every thundercloud that goes over. I realize this is common in some parts of the country (southern Missouri, for example), but it is not common here. And it is starting to get on my nerves because I am at a computer so much of the time.

3– I have two times a day when I can think–really think. Those times are when I exercise and when I cook. (And cooking might involve so many other things that it does not count.) But I am thinking about a post relating to my aerobic activity which is biking (usually to school, but sometimes in the neighborhood). It will mostly be a rant, but I cannot get it out of my head.

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click photo to enlarge

4– My husband is gone. He will be gone most of the weekend at a seminar related to his position at church. I hate it when he is gone. (For many reasons not the least of which he is not here to have water boiling on the stove to add to my bath when it gets cold–because I do not like running water in the tub because the wait for hot water is too long.)

5– Tonight’s bath is scented with Black Amethyst from Bath and Body Works. I was not into that scent much during the heat of summer, but I am liking it a lot again now. (Have I told you how absolutely glorious September is in this part of the country?)

6– My biggest project of the week has been doing my taxes. No, not estimated quarterlies, but the ones that were due on April 15. The last few years we have filed for extensions (even though we always get money back) because I do not have time to do them (and Prince Charming, forgive me, is useless in this area). But they have NEVER been this late. If I were married to Daryl (which I think is impossible because neither of us are lesbians, though neither of us oppose them and their relationships, and who also has a wonderful 9/11 post today), she would have divorced me by now for how long this has taken. Prince Charming is just happy he does not have to bother with financial things.

7– I really, really, REALLY do not like word verification on Blogspot. Really.

8– When I grow up, I want to be her.


Girl, Chic and Boy at the Salt River, AZ.

Girl, Chic and Boy at the Salt River, AZ.

My paternal grandparents had 24 grandchildren. My maternal grandparents had 7 grandchildren. (Or 8? Depending on how one viewed it. I never met the 8th one in any event.)  I have one brother, so that means I have 27 first cousins. That is nothing for some people, but it seemed quite a lot when I was growing up.

These first cousins span currently span ages from 18 years old to 55-ish. (An interesting note is that the oldest and youngest are from the same sibling of my father.) Although there is a giant age range, most of them are close to my age or older (up to 12ish years older).

Chic, Chicklet and Girl at Saguaro Lake

Chic, Chicklet and Girl at Saguaro Lake

On my father’s side of the family, the cousins I saw the most when I was really little were the oldest ones because those uncles/aunts were significantly older than my parents and well-established in life. My parents were poor, and my dad’s generous siblings had us over all the time for food and entertainment.  Those cousins were idolized by me. Most were in high school or beyond in those days before I was even in school, but I fondly remember some of the things they did with me.  (Not-so-fondly I still have a scar from my leg touching the exhaust pipe while riding behind one of my cousins on his motorcycle. Come to think of it, I have no idea why my parents even allowed that!)

First Cousins making Christmas cookies

First Cousins making Christmas cookies

As I got older, my paternal cousins changed. My oldest uncle divorced, remarried and adopted his new wife’s three children.  This new generation of cousins was closer to my age, and OH, how much fun my brother and I had playing with them. My uncle by this time had a swimming pool and acres of land. There was nothing more fun than going to their house.

When I played with my cousins, we always paired up or had teams. There was always an odd number, and someone was always left out and probably offended. That person was never me! When the boys played with the boys and the girls played with the girls, I was fine because there were only two girls. When we all played together I was fine because being the cousin instead of the sister, I was a novelty to the boys who sometimes fought to be paired with me in whatever we played.

First cousins at Incredible Pizza

First cousins at Incredible Pizza

I remember sitting at home and hearing my parents say the smallest thing that might indicate a visit to a cousin’s, house. My brother and I would exhange excited glances. Our ears would prick up for further information. Our bodies were on edge as our nerves were hoping against hope we could go play with our cousins.

On my mother’s side of the family things were  a little different. I will not go into that in detail  here because I did quite a bit in this post. What I will say is that neither my brother nor I were as excited to go visit those cousins, but it was not the fault of the cousins as much as it was the family rift that made it so unpleasant to be there. When we got there, we had fun with those cousins.  There was always a price to pay, however, so we would dread it until we actually got there.

My other maternal cousins were about ten years younger than me, and they lived in another country; we saw them about every three years. I used to really love it when they came because they probably idolized me the same way I had idolized my older cousins when I was little, and they were novel. Although they were from the same family from where came all the misery in our lives, they were far removed and not like that–at least then.

Girl, Chic and Boy dancing at the marshmallow roast

Girl, Chic and Boy dancing at the marshmallow roast

So now I am grown up, and it is interesting to me to know to which cousins I am now closest and are “my favorites.” It is not my childhood favorites, for sure! Most of my oldest cousins went their own ways and care very little what happens to me. That is not true for all of them, but most.  My younger cousins from another country now live in the United States, but they do not make the “favorite” cut, either. In fact, I am mostly of a mind that I do not care if I ever talk to them again. (Hopefully I will cover some of this later, but now is not the time.)

Chic, Girl and Boy in Salt River

Chic, Girl and Boy in Salt River

The cousins that mean the most to me now are the ones about whom I was most ambivalent in childhood.  They have been the loyal ones. They suffered through the same family (but in a much worse way than I did). They understand why I would not go to my grandmother’s funeral (and why we will all go to their step-mother’s funeral wearing party clothes).  They have always loved me. Even when we were little and I KNOW I could have been nicer, they loved me. Maybe then it was because I represented something so far from their own lives that they could only dream about it, but they could have resented me for that. (I have had plenty of friends who have resented my seemingly charmed life.) Not only did they never resent me, but they have stood with me in my own troubles. They have never judged me for the problems that have come my way or for my viewpoints that may not be like their own. (Though most of our viewpoints are amazingly similar–probably due to the unbelievable stupidity around/in which we were raised. I was raised witnessing it; they were raised in the midst of it.) And they are even nice, EXTRA nice to Prince  Charming even though there could not be found on this planet more polar opposites politically!   They are almost the sisters I never had. I say “almost” because they are sisters themselves, and I can never be to them exactly what they are to each other, but they are to me what I imagine sisters would be.

Second cousins in Salt River

Second cousins in Salt River

Something else about these cousins is that they are not my flesh and blood; they were adopted into my family. Their wicked step-mother was my aunt.  (I have always thought she adopted them because my father’s brother adopted children from a later marriage. She was always trying to keep up with people who were esteemed in some circles.) I would not even bring this up, but recently there was a question about why we were so close, and our children are so close, when we are “not blood.” To me this is a ludicrous question, but the answer, given by one of them was, “Because we grew up together!” To me it is more than that. I grew up with other cousins, too. But the three of us had shared experiences that were often unpleasant (definitely more so for them than me), and the three of us have a strength of character that maybe not all the other cousins have. The trials brought us together, gave us solidarity and gave us love and understanding for one another.

Chicklet, Girl and Chic in Salt River

Chicklet, Girl and Chic in Salt River

Now our kids are the best of friends whenever they are together, but thankfully without all the tenseness, struggles and abuse that we had. Maybe it is the word “cousins” that makes people close, not blood.

Note: The title of this post has been in my head for weeks. It was originally meant to be about my children and their cousins, and how although they do not live near any of their cousins, when they get together, they act as if they are best friends and have the best times. My kids play well with most kids, but it is different with their cousins; it is magic. (I was also going to briefly discuss 2nd and 3rd cousins and “removed’s.”) But when I started typing, the story above came out. I do not know why; it must have been meant to be.

And another note: All the river pictures were taken mid-December when we visited Arizona. It was not exactly warm, but it was nice!

Fishing Guy tagged me for this photo meme that I have seen on a lot of blogs lately.  It is to find the fifth folder in your picture files and post the fifth picture from it. (I just went there to make sure I had the link right, and he’s got another photo meme up. Beautiful picture!)

This is actually my 5th folder for 2007 because I did not want to post the 5th picture from the 5th folder which was 2006.

Chic and Chicklet are on the phone with a great aunt who is reading to them out of the books that they have on their laps. The aunt, who lives in Missouri, has a copy of the books and calls them on the phone for story time. I like this idea because it keeps them in touch with distant family members by doing something they love very much.


I never like to tag people for things, but please do not hesitate to do this meme if it interests you!


In my mom’s birthday post I explained why I made the scrapbook page for her and wrote some things I remembered about her.  That was in 2004, and her birthday was the day before Thanksgiving that year. The very next day my dad went to the hospital with respiratory problems. This is not uncommon with him. When I was little, I remember spending hours and hours days on end at the hospital because he had pneumonia. There were many winters I thought would be his last due to it. So a trip to the emergency room was nothing out of the ordinary.


But what WAS unusual, is that his breathing was so bad he was put on life support. Then they discovered he was septic in many places in his body and had a very bad strep infection in his lungs. His organs started shutting down. He was in Missouri; I was in New Mexico. I did not go. Many of my family and friends were more than somewhat unhappy with me for not going, but my point was that unless they could wake him up and I could talk to him one last time, there was no point for me to be there waiting for him to die. My mother’s situation would require a lot of time to sort out if he died, so I could not leave and take extra days waiting for him to die. Call me cold, but he was in a coma.


What I did do at this time was make a list of reasons I loved him and things I remembered about him like I had done for my mother’s birthday just a few days before. I e-mailed it to my mother’s caretaker so someone could read it to my dad–just in case in the far reaches of his mind he could hear something.

Well my dad is tough, and he pulled out of that to the amazement of every doctor and nurse caring for him. I DID go visit then and arrived the day he was discharged from the hospital. (The picture you see in this post of my dad and me was from that visit.)


Below is a list of things I wrote then about my dad. Like my other lists, it is certainly not all-inclusive, but it gives you a peek into why he is so special to me. (A lot of these will not make sense to a lot of you, but I decided to leave them in anyway.)

The pictures are from a small (3-1/2″ x 3-1/2″) book I made for him for Father’s Day the following year that included everything on the list. (The best picture here of him is the black-and-white one. It just looks like who he is. It is the photo I held while he was in the hospital and I did not go.)


Things I remember about you….
-The maroon Dodge.
-Always wearing safety belts, years before the rest of the population did it.
-Saturday nights at car dealerships.
-Your calling my boss at my first job in high school to make sure I was doing a good job at work. (I answered the phone.)
-NEVER late to church!
-TV Santa.
-Fireworks on 4th of July.
-How you put your all into everything you did.
-Taking us to see Mom at night when she worked at the nursing home.
-Hours at the foundry and DPC when I was little.
-Mason Shoes work boots.
-Model airplanes.
-Robert Hall.
-Pocket Watches.
-Home movies and slide shows.
-Visiting you at the academy when you lived there to build the new plant.
-Helping you change the mold on “my” test machine at work.
-Hanging on for dear life on the boat.
-Dinner wherever we pleased on our birthdays.
-The Class of 1960.
-Interesting Sabbath School programs at church when you were the superintendent.
-Your business presentation at Union College.
-Brush-hogging and mowing.
-The cows.
-Driving tomato stakes.
-Eating out. 
-Your big heart for everyone.
-Business lunches.
-Giant Cannons.
-Steam Engine Exhibits.
-Big M&M’s cookies.
-Tractor Pulls
-MO trips:  Johnson Shut-ins, Elephant Rocks, Big Spring, Silver Dollar City, St. Louis Zoo, KC Zoo

Things I especially love about you….
-Instilling in me a love of gardening.
-Teaching me that I am responsible for my own life and to not make excuses or blame others for my problems.
-Assuring I had a college education and the ability to support myself.
-Making me believe that no matter what I wanted in life or what I wanted to do, I could have it or do it.
-Your example of standing up for what you believed was right even if it was very unpopular.
-You made sure I was exposed to life by many various experiences and visits to unfamiliar places.
-You made sure we periodically saw all the distant relatives we could, especially great aunts and uncles and great grandparents on both sides of the family.
-Weekend visits while I was at the academy.
-That you never bought me a car.
-You raised me to know right from wrong, but rarely lectured me when you didn’t approve of my choices.
-You made me feel like there could be no better, smarter daughter in the world.
-Providing 16 years of Christian education for me (but making me work to pay for a giant portion of it).
-You are the most generous person I know, probably to a fault, but you passed to me the desire to be generous also.

So Happy Birthday to my dad, whose birthday is tomorrow. And if you have been following this series, that means his birthday was the day after my mother died. He spent his 65th birthday in a funeral home taking care of the arrangements for his wife. But that is life, and we have to make the best of what life hands us. He, more than anyone, has shown me how to do that.


Moon when we arrived at my dad's house on December 4, 2006

Moon when we arrived at my dad's house December 4, 2006

I have warned you that there is a 10-day (actually 11 if you count the first day) of family events in my life about which I will post. Today’s is the fourth of five. Tomorrow will be the last one.

This one is the toughest because it is not a happy topic, and most of the time I am a pretty happy person. I tend to look on the bright side of things and make the best of the worst circumstances. This story does not really have a bright side–or at least I have not been able to find much of one. And also, there is no way to tell the whole story at once which is why I do not know how to say it; there is way too much to say.

This is about my mother’s death. I have thought long and hard about why I want to tell her story, and I have come up with some reasons; however, I am not positive they are reasons to tell it. I believe there are things to be learned from her illness and death on many, many levels for any type of person, and that someone needs to tell her story because she could not.

My mother died on December 3, 2006, 9 days after her 65th birthday. She had been in Hospice care since October of the same year. My husband, my girls and I visited for a few days in October, then I returned with the girls for two weeks in November. Had she survived, I would have returned in mid-December.

When she died, she weighed about 80 pounds. During her “good years” and even during most of her illness, she had been overweight. She was tall and big-boned, so she carried her weight well. She was active, too, so that helped, but she was never thin in my memory of her. For her to be reduced to 80 pounds was a horrendous thing to see. She also had several bedsores, the largest of which was more than an inch deep and was about 10″ long and 5″ wide. (Once we brought Hospice into our lives, they provided a different mattress that we could  not procure before, and there was slight improvement in the bedsores before her death.) She had little ability to show emotion, and when these awful wounds were dressed two or three times daily, she could not cry or moan or move away. She sometimes flinched almost imperceptibly.  My worst memories may always be the witnessing of the changing of dressings. I never personally did it because I did not live there and was not accustomed to it and did not want to learn how to do it when I might hurt her more than those with experience.

So what killed her? I have mentioned before that she had been declining for ten years prior to her death. About 8-1/2 years before she died, she was hospitalized with seizures. This event was a turning point downward for her. It would be weeks before we knew what caused the seizures, but she never got better after that. For a while we believed she would get better. Some days were better than others, and we clung to those threads of hope as if they were our lives. I do not remember when it happened, but one day we all sort of realized that she would not get better, that we had to enjoy each day for what it was and make the best of it, because that might be the best day we ever got with her.

So the seizures did not kill her, though sometimes I wondered why they did not and wished they would have so her life could have ended quickly and painlessly rather than the many years she suffered afterwards. But we did realize along the way that although her quality of life was not what she wanted or would have chosen, it might have not been as bad as it seemed at times.

After the seizures, she began talking less and less, and within three years, she did not talk at all. Either the seizures or what caused them affected the part of her brain that houses the “executive functions.” That means she could not decide to do something. She could not decide to respond and could not decide to get up and walk to the bathroom and could not decide to pick up food with a fork and move it to her mouth. She was “all there” mentally, and we could see that in her eyes, but she could not communicate much at all. Once in a while we could see a slight smile at the corner of her lips, but usually the only type of emotion she showed was in tears, either happy or sad.

Because of my mother’s changed demeanor, most of her friends ditched her. In fact, pretty much all of my parents’ friends ditched both of them because “We just can’t stand to see Kate in this condition.” For ten years almost all of my parents’ dearest friends avoided them because they could not handle seeing my mother. This is one of the lessons I have tried to gain from this experience. It does not matter how uncomfortable a situation might be to ME, I must think of the person in the situation and how much more uncomfortable it might be for them. I could see the pain in my mother’s eyes when I took her to church with me and people walked hurriedly as far away as possible, as if they did not see us.

To avoid sounding too saintly here, I must say that there is no one… NO ONE… associated with my mother’s illness and death that handled everything gracefully all the time. I know I had my own frustrating moments. One I remember vividly (and with significant shame) was when she was staying with me (I used to keep her at my house one or two weekends a month to give my dad a break), and I was brushing her teeth. She clenched her mouth shut over the toothbrush, and I could not get it out. I tried to get her to open her mouth, but she wouldn’t/couldn’t. I finally pulled very hard and yanked it out. Handling that gracefully might have meant sitting down beside her and talking about something funny or just waiting until whatever it was that told her to open her mouth happened. But full-time care of anyone can wear on a person’s nerves and patience. It showed in everyone from time to time, some more than others.

In the midst of all of this we had my mother’s family to deal with. Most of them have been antagonistic toward my father, and then me, for all the time of their acquaintance with us. There was no support from them during all of this, only insults and accusations. I learned as a child to avoid them because they did so much damage to how I felt, but my father did not learn the same lesson and succumbed to their attacks. He always tried to make them happy, knowing that there was nothing he could do, for his mere existence made them unhappy. The relationships with my mother’s family made my mother’s situation, and dealing with it, so much worse.

So what actually killed my mother? She starved to death. How undignified is that? And what is worse, the family (including me) had to make the decision for that to happen. She was going to die anyway. She could not swallow food without aspirating on it for the last few weeks. We had to decide to let her choke to death or sedate her and starve to death. We thought sedation was more humane. (This decision was made with the help of our Hospice staff that was invaluable to us during this time.) Deep down in our hearts, I believe we all wanted her to just not wake up one day so we would not have to make such a horrible decision, but it was not meant to be. There was a time 1-1/2 years earlier where she nearly died from an infection. My family was driving to Missouri, and she was not expected to live until we got there. When we got close, we learned she was still alive so went straight to the hospital at 4 a.m. She not only lived, but lived normally (for her state of decline) for another 15 months. I often wonder why she did not die then. Her life by this point was devoid of much of anything good, but she could still walk and go places. I do not know how much she enjoyed that, but I have to think there were still lessons to be learned from her being with us longer. It just seems that she was meant to die in a terrible way.

In the end, we were glad for her death because we know she was in terrible pain the last few months. And really, I am not sure of what was supposed to be learned from such a miserable, drawn-out dying process, but I think everyone in my childhood nuclear family somehow gained a little strength and character from the experience. I wish those lessons would not have been so tough to learn, especially at my mother’s expense, but I refuse to believe they were in vain.

I want to write about why she had the seizures in the first place and what was going on in her life before that, but apparently I am not ready to do that yet. From my perspective, my mother’s death could have been prevented. There were no natural causes. She was physically healthy her whole life and barely ever had colds, let alone anything life-threatening. Her illness was inflicted upon her, and there were so many places in her life where it could have been stopped, but it was not, either from selfishness, maliciousness or ignorance. Truth be told, it was a group effort to kill her. Definitely not intentional on probably anyone’s part (though some did not care if they damaged her with their selfish agendas), but all of us close to her, and my mother herself, probably played some part (big or small) her illness and death.

Come back tomorrow for something a little more cheerful!

Chicklet, Grandpa M, Grandma D, Chic

May 2008, L-R: Chicklet, Grandpa M, Grandma D, Chic

In the post about Chic’s birthday, I warned you that we are in a string of family events that I feel the need to commerorate  with a post. This one is the third of five that happen in a ten-day span. Just a little crazy here!

Grandma D is my father’s wife. My mother died nearly two years ago, and my father remarried about nine months later to “D.” 

Probably similar to most families, my family is about half “good” and half “bad.” Possibly not similar to most families (but I know definitely similar to some), the “bad” ones are REALLY bad. Most of my life I have tried to ignore them; it is just easier that way. But sometimes they will not be ignored. Those family members were not terribly appreciative of my father getting married again. The things they have said about him and his wife (who they know nothing about) are hair-raising. They have made it much easier for me to ignore them without guilt.

My opinion of my father’s marriage “so soon” after my mother’s death was good. I did not know his new wife, but I knew of her. My mother’s decline lasted 10 years. She did not even speak for the last seven years. She needed full-time care for the ten years, and that was always in my father’s home. My take on it was that he had basically been without a wife for ten years, so what was wrong with him finding a little happiness? He was ony 65, and I was grateful he managed to make it nine months before getting married. He married my mother three months after they met. I was expecting something similar.

I had a small amount of concern about the character of “D,” but after I met her, that was washed away. She is a wonderful woman and could not be better for my dad.

When you read this, I will be out of town, and Grandma D is in the hospital. (I’m not out of town visiting her, however.) She had some kind of surgery a couple of weeks ago. There was a tube of some sort in her, and it was not done properly. It leaked, and she became septic. She worsened and worsened until she was put on life support to try to allow her to heal.  She was intubated for about a week, but yesterday they removed the ventilator. She is on the mend, but being that sick and in the hospital is not the ideal way to spend one’s 70th birthday, which is tomorrow.

So why do I love Grandma D? There are lots of reasons, but I will just tell you a few.

-She is a wonderful grandmother to my children. Prince Charming’s mom passed away when Chic was 4 months old. My mother was already in her decline when I met Prince Charming. My daughters had never had a real grandmother in their life until Grandma D came along. (They had also not had much grandfather activity because Prince Charming’s dad lived far away and lived in bereavement after his wife’s death until he passed away two years ago, and my father was consumed with taking care of my mother, so he was also preoccupied.) Grandma D treats my children as if they are her very own, much-loved, biological grandchildren. I realize biology has nothing to do with it (I have biological family who are horrible), but she shows no partiality between her own grandchildren and my children. She is thoughtful and sends them things and treats them like royalty when we are together.

-She treats me like a daughter. I do not call her “Mom,” nor will I likely ever do that. And she is NOT my mom, but she is kind and loving to me.

-She is a jewel to my dad. She truly loves my dad and is a wonderful wife to him. She takes care of him (which he needs) and does it with a smile.

-Although she moved into my dad’s house, she did not turn it upside-down. Nearly 1-1/2 years after their marriage, she is starting to make the house a little more personal, but she is careful about what she does with things. Every time I visit, she tells me it is MY house, and if there is anything I want, to please take it. I don’t even have to take things away. The house is big, and I can store things there until I am ready to take them to my house. But I love the fact that she did not sell everything right away and is respectful of my mother’s things.

-She is also respectful of the relationship I had with my mother. She never knew my mother, but as the “second wife” with a ghost hanging in the background from time-to-time COULD be unpleasant, but she is not.

-Grandma D is a joy to have in our lives. We are grateful for her and the love she brings to our family. We wish you a speedy recovery, Grandma D!


Note: Grandma D does not read my blog. Almost no one in my family does, so she will not see this, but I still want to give her honor and credit for who she is. Oh that more people in the world had her kindness and sensibilities.