Family, 2015

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Drawing I did of Veronica as a child.

 

Family is an interesting thing.  We’re all aware that it’s not just who’s married to whom, and who shared bloodlines.  It’s far more complex–and, simultaneously, simple-than that.

I’m adopted, first of all.  When I was two-and-a-half years old, in the fall of 1968, I was adopted from foster care into the Olson home.  I was Leonard and Leone’s only child (they’d lost a baby at birth nine years before I was born), and they were in their middle forties, and both professionals.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson.  September, 1969.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson. September, 1969.

I hit the jackpot on families!  No one could ask for more loving, more dedicated parents. I am grateful, daily, for my upbringing.

Also, I’ve been married twice.

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First husband and me, 1994, St. Cloud, MN

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Justin and me, 2007, Clear Lake, MN

My first marriage was ill-advised, but I deeply loved my husband, and altogether we were together ten years. Shortly after he and I began dating i n 1988, he found out he was going to be a father.  The child’s mother was a high school friend of his, Beth, with whom he’d kept up a friendship, and they’d celebrated his birthday that year, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy. To make a long, long, story short, he has not been the world’s best father but I lucked out in our divorce, in 1998, and got to “keep” the kid–well, Veronica, his daughter, lived with her mother, obviously, but Beth was wonderful enough to allow me to remain in Veronica’s life.  As Beth aptly put it–I still remember what she said, and how I cried for happiness–“You love her, she loves you.”

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Veronica at Aunt Geeney’s house, 1992

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Veronica at her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1995

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Veronica and her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1996.

 

 

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Veronica at Twin Cities Gay Pride with her father and me, circa 1996.

There were a few family reunions–my ex-husband’s family, mind you–that were non-traditional.  I’ve stayed in contact with my former in-laws, and they’ve accepted my current husband without any problem. I do distinctly recall one summer gathering, at my in-law’s family homestead farm, where sitting together in a row on a picnic table were Veronica, Beth, me, and my now-current husband, Justin.  A few distant relatives, not knowing all the ins and outs, asked how we were family; this led to very interesting answers.  “Well, I used to be married to your cousin, see, and this wonderful girl is his daughter and this is her mother and his old friend.  Oh, and this is my boyfriend…”

Beth, Veronica, Justin, and I have vacationed together (Yay, Duluth!).  When asked, simply saying “family” supplies all the information anyone really needs.

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Brighton Beach, north of Duluth, 2006

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Veronica, Park Point (Duluth), 2006

Skip forward several more years, and Veronica’s now nearly 26 years old.  She lives in Sacramento, holds a Master’s Degree in public policy, and is doing great work on behalf of many people in the capital city of California.  She’s brilliant, funny, creative, and everyone’s dream of a daughter, stepdaughter, or former stepdaughter. I’m honored to have her in my life, and further honored to be friends (family?) with her mother.

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Veronica in Germany, 2006ish.

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Veronica and friend Angela, St. Cloud Java Joint, early 2000s.

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Veronica at Mills, freshman year.

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Veronica and proud mother Beth, Graduation from St. Paul Open School, 2007.

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A favorite picture of Veronica.

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Veronica at Mills. (I’ve edited the wall message for public consumption…)

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Trivia Party, 2007, St. Cloud

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Veronica’s going-off-to-college party, George Street, St. Paul, August 2007.

All this to say that while Veronica was still in junior high and high school in St. Paul, and Justin and I lived in Marshall, MN (four hours from them), our gatherings were looked forward to, and we always had the best of times with hilarious and scholarly discussions on pop culture, literature, current events, politics, childrearing, education, music, and, well, anything.  Games would be played (Wizard of Bees!). We’d eat good food (well, if we visited St. Paul, that is, rather than they visiting Marshall).  Libations would occur.  We’d go home with our bellies hurting from the laughter.

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Veronica, Beth, Justin

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Justin, Bindu, Veronica: St. Paul, circa 2008

 

Additionally, there was the annual KVSC Trivia Contest.  Veronica has played on our team (Those Meddling Kids, then WWSD) via phone when she was young, then in person from adolescence onward.  Beth now plays with us, too, though a latecomer compared with Veronica.

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Trivia nap…circa maybe 2008?

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Trivia, circa 2006

 

Since Veronica left to go to college in California in 2007, our group gatherings have been limited to summers (when she still came home, which ended a while back) and, currently, at Christmas, when Veronica still makes the trek home to Minnesota to see friends and family (and likely organize everything in sight, as she’s wont to do).  While we can connect on facebook and via email and twitter all year, Justin and I very much look forward to when the four of us (now five, as Beth is partnered with Aaron, who’s a terrific addition!) can get together.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

Which we did this past Friday.  In the Twin Cities.

Theses were written on the implications of Breaking Bad and Fight Club.  Second wave feminism butted against third wave, as it normally does in our gatherings.  We spent a good forty-five minutes discussing whether “mansplaining” was appropriate or obsfucating.  Knitting occurred.  There were liters and liters of coffee drunk. Snacking and eating in interesting establishments happened (Longfellow Grill, Peace Cafe, Riverview Cafe and Wine Bar) . There was disagreement on The Decemberists (Veronica votes Nay, Karla votes Yay) and The Shins (Karla votes Yay, Veronica votes Meh).  Presents were exchanged.  Dogs were fed (and pigdogs carried…). There were hugs.

And, my God, the laughter.  Open-mouthed, head back, full-throated laughter.  The absolute best part of being with these people.

I love my family. And how I look forward to these Christmas get-togethers!

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Veronica and Justin, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

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Beth and Veronica, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

 

Gratitude 2014

I wrote a couple of years ago about being grateful, but it’s high time I revisited this destination. It’s imperative for happiness, for perspective.

In the intervening time since that blog post, I’ve lost my mother to Alzheimer’s, my father’s moved into Assisted Living, two of our cats have passed on (Muffin and Frodo), and we’re in the middle of a fight to keep our house (legal battle with the County over Medicaid assistance for Dad).

I painted Mom's nails the day before she died; she always had impeccable nails.

I painted Mom’s nails the day before she died; she always had impeccable nails.

 

 

Frodo, near the end of his illness.

Frodo, near the end of his illness.

 

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Muffin, my mother’s cat

 

Additionally, I’ve had surgery this year on my foot, keeping me immobile for a long time, then in a walking cast and on a scooter. Health concerns continue, unabated. Financial issues, as with everyone, seem to only worsen.  Justin and I have often thought that 2014 has *not* been our year.

Ouch

Ouch

 

Steve, the Scooter, and Rufus, the Cast

Steve, the Scooter, and Rufus, the Cast

 However, attitude is everything.

While I miss my mother terribly, and Alzheimer’s is the worst disease in the world, as far as I’m concerned (I once heard it described on NPR as a disease in which the victim watches as her own brain is eaten away), she was more than ready to go, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be by her side, holding her hand, as she took her last breath.  She lived a full and happy and interesting life, and left a massive legacy through her teaching.

Dad seems very happy in Assisted Living, and is getting healthier in some ways even as his age is slowly taking away other things.  He’s ninety-one, now, but still enjoying living.

Dad, winning at cards, as usual, at his apartment.

Dad, winning at cards, as usual, at his apartment.

Dad at Thanksgiving, 2014

Dad at Thanksgiving, 2014

 

Dad, Sept. 2014

Dad, Sept. 2014

Dad at Assisted Living at a music concert (his favorite: Stonybrook Band).

Dad at Assisted Living at a music concert (his favorite: Stonybrook Band).

 

Dad this week on Christmas.

Dad this week on Christmas.

We miss Muffin and Frodo immensely, yet we’ve acquired both Pixel and Hershel in the last several months. Part of owning cats is acknowledging that lives are finite, and grief is inevitable.  We do it because the pain is worth it.

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Pixel

 

Hershel

Hershel

 

Our legal fight is hugely stressful, and we still don’t have final results, yet for the time being we have a roof over our heads and are enjoying our property.  And as Justin and I keep saying, “You, me, and the kitties; that’s all we need.  We can face anything else.” We don’t want to have to, but we can if we need to. Us and the kitties: that’s home.

While the surgery and recovery were problematic, I’m walking and living without the daily excruciating pain that I’d had in my foot for over three years due to arthritis and bone spurs shredding tendons.  Every month, I’m walking easier and easier!

And finances?  Well, hell…that’s just the human condition (unless you’re one of the 1%). We’re both employed. We have a place to live (at least for now, LOL). We have plenty to eat. Everything else is gravy, when you really think about it!

Hershel’s story (written elsewhere) has done a lot to restore my faith in mankind, and to bring back smiles and hope.

Justin and I at a Twins game, 2014

Justin and I at a Twins game, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

My husband is the best person on the planet, in my opinion, and I’m grateful daily to share my life with him. And while we didn’t have snow for Christmas, we did get some the next day…it’s beautiful outside.

 

 

 

Snowblowing.

Snowblowing.

 

Justin, at dinner before an Ike Reilly show in Minneapolis

Justin, at dinner before an Ike Reilly show in Minneapolis

Justin likes coffee.

Justin likes coffee.

 

I love my husband.

I love my husband.

 

Justin with Wednesday Cat.

Justin with Wednesday Cat.

 

Here’s to seeing 2014 out–perhaps none too soon, but maybe I’m giving it a bad rap–and ushering a bright, beautiful, bountiful 2015 in.  

May we all have plenty to be grateful for in the coming year.

 

Outside our front door just now.

Outside our front door just now.

 

 

 

Justin’s Blog, and Why We Do This (But No Answers).

My husband has started blogging again.  Here’s my initial response:

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He writes, in his Christening piece, the following:

So, here’s the first thing; I’m not very good at this. Oh, I can navel-gaze and wool-gather with the very best of them.  If worry was a super power I could be an X-Man.  It’s just that I have not, up til the present day, been very good at keeping a record of it.  I have more than a couple of paper bound journals lying around the house with three entries in them. Digital culture and social media have been very helpful with this– I have moved through all of the platforms as they have come and gone.  I have a Myspace out there (watch out for squatters nobody’s been there in a while), Facebook, and Twitter. Of these Twitter has been most useful because it appeals to my lack of attention span.  So, while I have every good intention of keeping this going–I have to tell you this is not my first blog.

This makes me ponder the nature the navel gazing, why we do this. Even when no one is reading (or when lots of people are).  Are we justifying ourselves?  Are we marking time?  Are we reminding ourselves that time passes? Are we connecting with others?  Are we sending our brainwaves out into the universe to bounce off planets and nebulae billions of light-years away?

Are we selfish? Self-absorbed?

Are we too uncommitted to publish “real” literature?  🙂

In any case, it’s probably all the above. So what the Hell.

Happy 2015. Ours is likely going to be a blogging household.  I have three blogs (my others, besides this one, include my school blog as I blog with my kids, and our new Hershel the Christmas Cat blog).  One desktop, two iPads, two smartphones…no waiting.

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My husband, always so very serious. He needs to lighten up.

 

Philae and the Rosetta Mission

Since I’m a baseball fan, I’m used to hearing the adage about how hard it is, actually, for a moving ball and a moving cylinder to make contact.  From a physics’ point of view, that is.  We should be surprised that it happens at all, let alone well enough to produce, say, a grand slam.

Europe’s Rosetta Mission, however, managed something a million times more precise and precarious this week, when they maneuvered a spaceship–Philae–to land on a moving comet, 317 million miles from Earth.

 

According to the New York Times, there were a few glitches, but the mission is considered a success. I, too, would be hugging my colleagues if I managed to be part of this team!  What a phenomenal feat!

Success! The Rosette Mission Team.

While I’m not sure I’d ever be brave enough to travel off-planet and to new locations in space, I’m more than intrigued and fascinated.  I hope that I live to see the day when we make First Contact, or manage to establish living quarters on another planet.  Like the Golden Age science-fiction writers, I’m antsy to explore new worlds, even if I would do so vicariously though the pages of periodicals.

And who knows…maybe I would have the guts to go myself.  As long as there were coffee, I suppose…

Coffee, Nectar of the Gods

 

Chang, Kenneth.  “Landing on a Comet, a European Space Agency Mission Aims to Unlock the Mysteries of Earth.” The New York Times 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. 

This blog originally published as a sample for students on my school blog.

 

 

I’m Not Really a Hypochondriac; I Only Play One on TV

I often worry I’m a hypochondriac.  Actually, I know I’m not, but I often worry that others will perceive me as a hypochondriac. My medical history is just too weird, too full. This fear wouldn’t mean much…except when it does.

Take, for instance, the fact that since our move in August, my parents’ cat, Muffin, and our cats, Ella, Frodo, Litha, and Wednesday, have been waging a war. Muffin growls when any other cat is in view, the other cat simply is curious and wants to check her out, the fur flies, doors are closed between, and resentment and malcontent reign.  I dislike this conflict, so I counter with daily “kitty integration” time…which often goes very badly. Take last Friday night, fer instance…

It was late.  I was very, very tired. It had been a long, difficult week. I just wanted to sleep.  However, if I closed the bedroom door with just Muffin in with us (as has been the case), the other cats worry at the door and pull up pieces of the very expensive carpet. If I open the door and integrate, I deal with growling and catfights all night. What’s a girl to do?

Our bedroom

I was just going to transition from open-door integration to closed-door house destruction, and Muffin and Frodo–the pair that cause the most trouble as they struggle for alpha–were both under our bed.  Justin and I were both lying on our stomachs next to the bed, attempting negotiations of the feline kind, when I decided that I’d simply move Muffin to on top of the bed and hopefully Frodo, who was showing his belly (i.e. acquiescing to Muffin’s dominance), would simply leave.  I grasped Muffin by the scruff and was gently moving her to a position in which I could pick her up with both hands, and she, accordingly, yowled a bit louder.  Not in pain, but anger. Something we’ve been through a zillion times.

Muffin, sleeping on Justin's pillow

This time, however, the acquiescing Frodo heard or saw something that suddenly snapped his psyche, and in a split-second, literally–as in, I didn’t even see it clearly and didn’t really know what had happened–he turned, leaped at me, and bit my hand, the one around Muffin. Then took off like a bullet, the other three cats hissing and trailing him.

Captain Bitey-Pants

I was stunned…physically and mentally.  Justin took off to save Frodo from the gang fight happening elsewhere, Muffin removed herself to an undisclosed location, and I sat on the floor bleeding, my entire arm hurting, wondering why this felt so different from Frodo’s usually clawing.  (Note: Frodo is a giant cat, part ragdoll, with enormous paws and claws, and uber ginormous fangs; he’s generally a wuss and gentle as can be, but twice, now, in about nine years, we’ve seen him fear for his safety and lash out.  When he does, the lackadaisical cat suddenly becomes the fastest cat on earth.)

When Justin returned, I was still sitting there, bleeding and uncomprehending.  He led me to the bathroom and washed off my hand–we were deciding it was a bite, afterall, and one of the punctures was deep–and went to bed.  We thought that was the end of it.

The next morning, my hand in massive pain, I wrapped it and we went to Justin’s parents to do the fall chores.  My awesome mother-in-law took one look and brought me to the bathroom for a peroxide wash.  My awesome sister-in-law lent me some Thieves’ Oil for the week.  While I was swelling and in pain, I didn’t think much of it.  I was more worried that Frodo had broken a bone, by the way it felt, than any infection.

At the In-Laws' house

Yeah.

By Sunday night, I was beginning to worry.  The deepest puncture was swelling and red, with a very hard lump. My knuckles were appearing again, but very tender.  My hand felt warm to the touch.

I posted on facebook, with a couple of pictures.  I had dozens of good people tell me that I needed to go to the doctor, and soon.  In fact, some of these good people had said so two nights earlier, after the bite occurred.  I should have listened to them!

My normal (right) hand, unbitten, on Sunday night

 

Bitten hand, Sunday night

 

Bitten hand, another view, Sunday night

I finally did some research.  I saw pictures that looked amazingly like my hand.  Every site said that I needed medical attention immediately, and that–again–I should have gone in immediately.  But it was Sunday night in Milaca, MN.  The only available medical care would be going to an ER in Princeton or St. Cloud, and that seemed just plain silly.  Go to an ER for a little cat bite.  Phooey.

I went to work on Monday, feeling miserable.  I’d been sick to my stomach since late Sunday night.  My hand hurt. I had a headache. I called for an appointment and got one at 6:00 p.m., because I certainly wasn’t going to leave work.

Yep, you guessed it.  The doctor’s first words when seeing my hand were, “When did this happen?”

“Friday night,” I said.  It was now three days later, remember.

“You needed to be here Friday night,” the doctor said, then proceeded to poke around the lumps and debate whether she should open up my hand or not.

“Okay…I’m not going to send you to the hospital for IV antibiotics just yet…” she said, and I groaned.  “But that doesn’t mean you won’t have to.  For now, start oral antibiotics–amoxycillin–tonight, and if this worsens at all in the next two days, you’re going to the hospital.  And no matter what, you need to come back in a week so we can check for deep tissue and bone damage.”

It’s now Thursday afternoon, and the antibiotics (and Thieves’ Oil) are helping.  A lesser puncture wound swelled up yesterday, concerning me, but it’s been, uh, getting rid of its infectious material, shall we say, and better today.  There’s still a ginormous, ugly, painful mountain beneath the deeper puncture wound, but my knuckles are far less tender and the infected areas seem to be decreasing.  At least they’re not increasing, and there’s been no sign of the infection entering the bloodstream.

My hand, this afternoon (Thursday)

 

Pretty ugly! This is today's view

The moral of the story (besides “don’t piss off Captain Bitey Pants, aka Frodo) is twofold:

1)  My facebook friends are right.

2)  Don’t let the fear of appearing a hypochondriac stop you from getting needed medical attention.

I recall the autumn I got my diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, six or seven years ago. For months, I dragged myself through my day, unable to move properly, in massive pain.  By the time I went in to the doctor, in November, I couldn’t walk the 200 feet from my classroom to the office without resting, and I couldn’t comb my hair. My hair was falling out, I was slurring my speech, and could barely function.  Yet, I’d not missed a day of work.  I thought I’d just gotten lazy over the summer, that my weight gain was my own fault and causing it all.

By the time I went in and got tested, my TSH (normal range 0.3-3.0) was at a whopping 84.75, one of the highest amounts I’ve come across in research. My muscle CPK levels (the stuff that makes your muscles feel tired after a workout) were at 747, at rest…and normal is around 60-80. It was a wonder I wasn’t comatose (myxedema coma is the final stage of hypothyroidism).

It took me two years to get my TSH under control, and years later, I still don’t have it right.  I take more hormonal supplement (the only treatment) than anyone I’ve ever met.  They don’t even make pills with a high enough levothyroxine content; I have to take two pills.

I also recall the time I refused to go in when I had chronic asthma so bad I could barely breathe (and this just months before the Hashi’s diagnosis).  While I’d quit smoking  months earlier, I still felt horribly guilty about it, and pooh-poohed the idea. If my husband hadn’t come home, unexpectedly, from work that day, I’d be dead.  Instead, he found me moments away from losing it and rushed me in; by the time we got to the clinic, I was starting to turn bluish, and my blood pressure was 200/120.  I was gasping and climbing the walls.  I spent five days in the hospital on oxygen, and have taken daily asthma medication ever since (which has worked wonders).

After I had abdominal surgery in 2005 in which I lost a fallopian tube to a torsioned ovarian cyst, I quickly realized that the surgical wound wasn’t healing as expected.  I hobbled around for a couple of days, then called, tentatively, feeling silly.  I was told to wait a day or two and come in, which seemed sensible to me.  The next day, I exploded with staph infection and my husband rushed me to ER; they cleaned me up and sent me home, telling me to check with a doc the next day.  The doc took one look and admitted me to the hospital, where I spent several days on IV antibiotics and the next several weeks doing wound irrigation for infection.

Okay, so I get it. Let them think I’m a hypochrondriac. It’s okay to check to make sure things are going okay. I get it, I get it!

We’ll see…  🙂

 

Hay and Meditation

I’ve been known for a few things for all my life: I doodle, I’m stubborn, and I have zero patience. This summer has shown me a clever (read: frustrating) way to combine all three!

As I’ve been talking about, we (husband, father, all our collective cats, and I) have been planning a move across the state. Good things afoot. Found the perfect house, one I can’t wait to move into. Which obviously means, of course, that it’s time for the obstacles to enter, stage right. Getting a loan, having inspections, and now finding out how best to get the septic system up to code in order to get the loan when the sellers may not wish to comply.

And it’s been a holiday weekend.

And our loan officer seems to be mostly…MIA and uncommunicative.

I like the pace set at the beginning of this process.  I interviewed on May 26. I was offered the job on May 31. I resigned my old job June 1 and formally accepted the new position June 3. That same day, the 3rd, we found the house we wanted. We put in an offer on June 6th. Wow.  Whirlwind of changes!  Here we goooooooooooOOOOOOOOO!

And then…wait. Look at clock. Panic. Draw diagrams of new house.  Color-code the placement of furniture based on which house and which room the pieces are coming from.  Fret.  Rearrange.  Color-code some more.  Sketch some more.

mainfloor.furnished

Refuse to dream too much about the house because it would be heartbreaking to lose it.  Offer accepted (with some changes), inspection completed (with further changes).

Dig heels in, get good news, and finally start to relax and dream about the place.  Smile a lot.

Stubborn, but Smiling

Stubborn, but Smiling

Then, the septic system snafu (tension tends to run to the alliterative). Still in the process of this one, and I’m losing years off my life, here. While I don’t want to hear a definite “no” to this house, this limbo sucks, too, and there’s nothing else in the area in our price range.  I start my new job next month. Things are crazy!

There’s nothing left for me to doodle about (digitally or otherwise). Being stubborn will only go so far. And now, my patience is completely and totally gone.

Send help. I’ll be the one braying while holding a pencil and hitting my head against the wall, drowning in boxes.

It’s the Yellow, Stupid!

And now for something completely different…

I watched this film/documentary on Van Gogh just a couple of hours ago (related: Netflix instant on blu-ray is a wonderful, wonderful thing). I’ve long been a Van Gogh fan, and I’ve often wondered why, exactly; this documentary, which was brilliant and refreshing (and told with “Van Gogh” himself as narrator–you’ll have to view it to see what I mean), helped me crystallize my thoughts.

It’s the yellow, stupid (meaning, me).

And the heavy brushmarks.

And the wide angles.

Weaver, Interior with Three Small Windows, 1884

Weaver, Interior with Three Small Windows, 1884

While I still like Van Gogh’s earlier, darker, pre-Arles paintings, it’s the vibrant use of a yellow-blue-green palette that always draws me. Yellow is my mother’s favorite color, and I have many happy associations with it–as does Van Gogh, it appears.  While primary-secondary colors in a less-able hand would be childish, and precious, Van Gogh’s colors are instead both comfortable and energizing. That yellow light of Arles, man. I’ve never been there, but I’m damn sure I’d recognize it.

Wheat Field with Cypresses at the Haute Galline Near Eygalieres

Wheat Field with Cypresses at the Haute Galline Near Eygalieres

While I’m intrigued by the masters’ blending and realism (and I’m also a fan of J.W. Waterhouse’s mythic paintings), I LOVE LOVE LOVE Van Gogh’s boldness in his brushstrokes.  The eye blends; the painter layers and juxtaposes and knifes on. It’s no apologies painting. It’s allowing the paint to have an aria itself, rather than making it stay backstage to the whole image. It’s textual and begs you to touch it (if you’re lucky enough to be by an original).

Olive Grove 1889

Olive Grove 1889

And, what I never really got at all before watching this documentary today was the viewer’s angle; far distance at midpoint, horizon high, looking down. It’s using a wide-angle lens, which “draws the viewer in” according to the voice over. And it’s true. It’s epic and intimate at the same time. It’s like that great shot in Branaugh’s Hamlet, where his entire “let my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth” speech is done against a vista of the Norwegian army heading to Poland, in the snow, with a single long shot pulling away.

View of Vessenots Near Auvers 1890

View of Vessenots Near Auvers 1890

I only wish that the man behind the paintings, that tormented and driven, prolific soul, could actually be around today to see what a success his work was, after his death. As pointed out in the beginning of the documentary, Vincent only made a pittance during life, selling one, with, what, 900 paintings to his name, but recently his work has drawn the highest resale (82 m) through Christie’s.

Not that money alone is a sign of success, of course. But I wish he could have known how happy, how intrigued, his work would make generations of being around the world when he was alone in his wheat field, or under the olive trees, being led by his muse.

Self-portrait 1887

Self-portrait 1887

Have you seen Julie B.?

I’m not generally a sentimental person. At least in my adulthood; as a child and teenager, I had massive issues with separation anxiety and attachment, likely because of being bounced around my first two years of life (foster care, bio mother, foster care, adoption) and, well, I wasn’t a happy kid. I also grew up partly on a fishing resort in Alexandria, MN, which was fantastic (and I have more fond memories of that than anything else in my childhood), but also meant saying goodbye, weekly, to friends I’d made, as they went home to the Twin Cities, or Illinois, or Iowa.

I used to have to keep every memento, every scrap of paper or photograph or tangible evidence of life experiences, even to the point of obsession. It was seriously as if the event didn’t happen unless there were written or photographic proof.  Boxes filled.  Drawers were overflowing. Add to this the fact that throughout my depression- and anxiety-ridden adolescence, I kept a journal (oy, vey, the horror of that now), which became a ginormous stack of wire notebooks, filled with the most godawful declarations of angst and despair imaginable.

Veronica, 1996

Veronica, 1996

My stepdaughter from my first marriage, Veronica, now twenty-two and living the academic boho life in California, also recalls that I would photograph her every move. (She also recalls that I would always have Kleenex on my person, and together, these two things raise my Motherly Quotient.)

Along the way, however, something changed. I know I, myself, got healthier, in some ways–I no longer need photographic proof.  Ironically, this movement toward not needing memory-enhancements coincides with my own once-perfect memory losing its strength from middle-age and, mostly, effects of auto-immune diseases and fibromyalgia, but that’s another story. I recently saw a Michael Moore tweet that pretty much sums up my viewpoint, in some ways: “More crazy things we believe:Taking a picture of our kid getting his diploma is better than watching it w/ our eyes& storing it in our brain.”

Or, on the other hand, it’s less to do with noble philosophy and clutter and more to do with I really don’t want to remember a lot of things from my youth.

I have never attended a class reunion, for starters, and don’t really see a time when I will.  High School was miserable; I was bullied, I hated myself, and I still cringe when I see the building. Ick. For the most part, people I went to school with that I wanted to stay in touch with, I have–or I’ve reconnected in other ways–and I have absolutely no desire to buy a fancy dress to try to impress people who never liked me, nor I them, and listen to horrid 80s music that I couldn’t stand the first time around, spending money I do not have. (Okay, a slight bit of bitterness, perhaps…ahem…)

But I have lost touch with people from my past that I did like, and would like to talk to again, which brings me to today.  I dreamt this morning, before waking, of a couple of these people.  In this case, the kids of neighboring resort owners, kids I used to hang with quite a bit. Thinking of those two led me to think of others, and thus I’ve just spent the last two hours combing the internet, trying to locate them.  One of them I had a good lead on–I’ve been in contact with family members, etc.–and I’ve just posted to her brother’s facebook that I would like to get in contact with her (Julie B., are you out there?). She’s in St. Petersburg, FL, doing very well, and I seriously just watched nearly an entire online medical presentation about cleft palate babies because my old friend, a speech and language pathologist, was one of the presenters.  She looks exactly as I remember her at 16, dammit…

The other was tougher.  I found her mother’s obituary, eventually, which made me sad to see, and that, in turn, pointed toward Oregon where my friend now lives.  However, my friend has a very, very common name, and that’s as far as I’ll get right now, it seems.

Today’s activity leads me to a couple of conclusions.  First, the internet can be entirely scary. I did a search on my name (after finding the tool) and you can see a picture of my house. I’m not about to pay the money to find out if the site is accurate as to my hobbies, religion, and income. Second, nostalgia can hit at the oddest times, but perhaps it’s because I’m moving and saying goodbye to yet another place and group of people that’s triggered this. (Not to mention avoidance of sorting and packing…)

After my divorce in the late 90s, I found I wasn’t able to let go quite as quickly as I’d want to.  I’m not big on process, and I don’t deal well with the non-logical (i.e. emotional) aspects of life when they consume me. I sought a therapist, who pointed out something that should have been obvious to me: because of my attachment issues, I don’t do goodbyes. I’ve always avoided them.  I recently was explaining to my husband and a close friend, here, that I’m thrilled that I didn’t find my new job until my school year was over, because facing saying “goodbye” or having others say it would have been murder. I’m far better at just sneaking out in the middle of the night, leaving a note, and starting new without looking back as much as possible.  Which works fine, until it’s a divorce, of course, or others don’t understand and assume I don’t care.

And, I suspect, such behavior also tends to lead toward the frantic, “OH MY GOD I HAVE TO FIND JULIE!” moments twenty-five years later on a Saturday morning.

Changes, Shakeups, and Being the Worst Blogger in the World

So, yeah…the whole point of blogging is to do it regularly.  Not, as the case may be with *some* bloggers (ahem) every year or two, but, you know, at least weekly.

I am setting a goal right now to do that.  At least once a week, form my thoughts on education, life, the universe into a coherent (or semi-) whole to post.  Not that I believe others won’t live without insight into my psyche, but because it’s good for me. It’s part of my reflection process, and important.

And, besides, I love blogs (other people’s) and I love writing and thinking, so…there you have it.

Okay, enough meta-process analysis.  Blech.

We’re moving! Yep, that’s the big news here. I have resigned my job at Minneota, I have accepted a position teaching English in points NE (of here) close to Lake Mille Lacs and St. Cloud (and far closer to the Twin Cities and Duluth, both), and we’re moving.

In addition, my 87-year-old father is moving with us, each of us selling our respective homes and combining efforts and living space in a new home, and then also moving my mother, who has Alzheimer’s and is in Memory Care, to a facility closer to us.  It’s all very, very exciting, and very, very nerve-wracking, especially for a person (moi) who hates banks and bureaucracy with a passion that borders on the pathological. I opened my first bank account in years on Friday in our new town (to have a place for automatic deposit of paychecks), and it was a joint savings with my husband so I still don’t have to deal with it if I choose not to.

Baby steps.

As with any major shakeup in life, it’s a time for a person to boil down the ingredients of one’s life and come to some sort of essence; mine is no exception. I have three goals for the next couple of years with all these changes, and they are, in no particular order:

  1. Hone my teaching practice; better lessons, better feedback, and better focus.
  2. Increase my physical health.
  3. Attain financial health.

Part the First:

I think I’m a good teacher, but like anyone who’s good at what they do, there’s room for improvement. Always. Changing districts is an opportune time to learn from past habits and adjust accordingly. I will be teaching different grades, different courses, in a different cultural milieu, and in a school that’s been going through a focusing process of its own because of AYP issues and reorganization. While anyone who’s ever spoken to me for four seconds knows I disagree, vehemently, with the mindset and process of NCLB and AYP, that doesn’t mean that everything that’s done to address it is bad.  I think shakeups are good, in general, on occasion, as long as they’re done for the right reasons and with some sort of common sense and transition between. I’m unsure at this point whether what’s happening at my new school is mostly healthy or mostly unhealthy, but I suspect the former, by a great deal. I have enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with colleagues and administrators thus far, and the overall feeling I get in that building is not despair and oppression and resentment, but good humor and hope and professionalism. I hope I’m right!

The Principal of Curriculum (or it’s a title like that…I’m still learning…) has already given me two books to read over the summer: Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time (Jane E. Pollock) and Conscious Classroom Management: Unlocking the Secrets of Great Teaching (Rick Smith). I’m always up to find new and better ways to ply my craft, even if I know I won’t agree with everything (the first is built on the premise that the teacher is the number one factor affecting student learning, but I believe that subsequent research has proven that while the teacher is extremely important, socio-economic status and environmental factors actually have more effect, especially before a child enters school). However, that difference in opinion doesn’t mean squat if I’m trying to be the best, most effective teacher I can be, and I suspect this book will help me a great deal.

I haven’t begun reading the second book as of yet, but I’m interested.  In my nine-plus years of teaching, discipline and classroom control have never, ever been  issues for me, but I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m a big believer in the Love & Logic philosophy, but I’m very intrigued by learning other methods and means of having a respectful and fun classroom.  I look forward to learning from this book, as well.  (And I’m sure I’ll be blogging about my reflections on these books in coming days…)

My New Environment

My New Environment

Part the Second:

Ah, health. The last few years have tried to kill me, repeatedly (not always just metaphorically, either). I keep NOT finding the time to try to get healthier, and that’s my first habit to break. I. Will. Find. The. Time.

Moving to a place that is full of trees, including pine and birch (natural blood-pressure relievers for me), and water is going to have an enormous effect on my health, for the positive. This may sound silly to those whose environments aren’t integral to their well-being, but I’m a creature of trees and water. I have never been comfortable on the prairie, and I crave–CRAVE–being surrounded by trees.  I’m not moving to the North Woods (which I would love, but that’s another story…), but I am moving off the prairie. I will be able to see water every day if I choose (Lake Mille Lacs, which is a HUGE lake, plus other smaller lakes and many rivers), and trees are around everywhere.

Additionally, my best friend since seventh grade, Mimi, lives and works in the very area I’m moving to (a twist of fate that will warrant its own blog entry eventually). She is the healthiest person I know, and she has promised to help me find some peace physically and mentally. Already, she’s given me suggestions, and through her I’ve learned that across the road where our intended house (if all goes through) lies is a Natural Healing Center that offers, amongst other things, reasonably-priced acupuncture.  While I’m a science-based, non-homeopathy-believing person, I do believe in a mix of traditional and modern medicine (when there’s science behind it), and acupuncture has been proven (by the Mayo Clinic, no less) to help relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.  I’ve had a few treatments in the past, and I found this to be true.  I will gladly spend the money to have regular treatments, especially when I don’t have to drive six hours round-trip to receive them!

I am also going to invest in a good treadmill, since this house (hereafter referred to as The Beauty House) has a master bedroom large enough to have both the bed and exercise equipment. Therefore, my morning routine can easily contain a few minutes of watching the news while on a treadmill before my shower.  Considering my contract days will be 7:30-4:30, plus whatever extra meetings and extracurriculars (four-day-week schedule), plus some Mondays, this will be far more attainable to going to a gym. Beauty House also has a whirlpool in the master bath; there can be evening treadmill followed by a soak in the jacuzzi.  Again, this makes for a Happy Karla.

And, intentional living…finding some mindfulness and a less frenzied existence..is a goal, and will also help.  I’m trying yet again to get through Vidyamala Burch’s Living Well with Pain & Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering, because I do believe the principles behind it would help me.

Finally, living with my father will bring some order to our household; regular meals made at home. Healthier ingredients. More peace.  Of course, not yet knowing Justin’s schedule (or even where he may be working), this could change, since he’s the cook, but I think it’s a goal we can reach one way or another.  Dad being in the same house will also ease my own stress level immensely; while living together will bring other stressors (he and I are both innately stubborn, intensely private people), I honestly believe they will be far offset by not worrying that he’s fallen, or hurt, or terribly lonely, living on his own miles and miles down the highway from me. And Dad seems quite pleased with this prospect, which is the best part of all. There will be evening games of Buck Euchre and Pinochle; there will be good, healthy meals; there will be a new yard for my Dad to apply his nurturing gardener hands. And it’s a nice, little town, the one we’re choosing to live in, that will be easy for Dad to get around in and, we hope, meet a new friend or two.

Part the Third

The financial health should follow directly from the other changes, mostly.  Combining our households will help us all, not only in covering the basics but in keeping track of things.  My father is an amateur accountant who actually enjoys (yes, I said enjoys) balancing checkbooks, adding up figures, analyzing budgets, and planning for the future.  All of these things Justin and I suck at (but have been getting better, especially Justin). This move will be another chance to start fresh, and that’s a mighty good feeling.

And Dad will be watching over my shoulder, which, despite my advanced age, is likely something I need.

In Summary:

I am very hopeful, very happy, very energized about this move (except for the actual packing and sorting part). I will miss my colleagues and friends here on the prairie, but I’m not moving to Romania or anything (which is what one friend heard when we said where we were going, LOL). I seem to like to shake things up in my life every decade or so; they’ve served me well in the past.  I have every hope that this one will be beneficial, as well.

Q-Crump

You know how “educational” trends come and go every few years, sparking massive levels of devotion, construction, and deconstruction? If you’re in Minnesota, the latest one down the pike is “Q-Comp“–Quality Compensation–one of Governor Pawlenty’s babies.

The basic idea is that if teachers will only work harder to raise test scores, the State will pay them a little bit extra and everyone’s happy.

Yeah, so that’s the idea.

My lack of enthusiasm would explain why, when it was first tossed out to districts, my own voted to not even look into it because it sounded like a bunch of hooey.  However, now it’s nearly necessary, and it will soon be mandatory, so this year we’re starting.  Perhaps you can feel my joy; or perhaps that’s only snark

I shouldn’t be so cynical; part of it makes sense. It does, indeed, promote more staff development time (mandates an hour a week, actually), that could be a great thing and exactly what’s needed for overworked, flying-solo teachers existing in little separate boxes. Of course, in our district that means showing up an hour early every Tuesday, but that’s okay. We need this time.  (The great news about these meetings is that it’s not, thank God, some touchy-feely encounter group, even if having to work on process more than outcomes right now is annoying. The only thing Dr. Laura and I have in common is that I, too, don’t want anyone to ask me how I feel about a topic–who truly cares, ugh–but I do like to be asked what I think about it. Relational, I’m NOT.)

However, what turns me off (and doesn’t surprise me in the least, as it’s coming from Minnesota’s Department of Education, which like in most states seems to be run mainly by people who’ve never taught, never met a spreadsheet they didn’t like, and who haven’t spoken to a child in fifty years) is the bureaucracy and nitpicking micromanaging. Ugh. I don’t want to work in the corporate world. I don’t want to be controlled by data. I don’t want to have meeting minutes taken and sent in to prove I’m freaking worthy of that extra $300 (or whatever it is–I honestly don’t know and don’t care) so they’re willing to pay for 36 hours of meetings outside my already long day.

Pretty soon, we’ll have to file a department form in triplicate to bring up a topic of discussion at any random faculty meeting.  Bullshit.

Our–and by this I mean our PLC (don’t even ask me, I couldn’t tell you the acronym) which is the group that meets every week, and will be observing each other and whatnot–current problem is that it seems MDE (see above re: bureaucratic idiocy) doesn’t think anything that happens in a school outside of reading, math, and science counts for diddly squat. We’re supposed to come up with SMART (no, I’m not kidding, and yes, laugh with me, please–stands for something else that boils down to measurable*) goals, but the only ones the state seems to want to approve are those based on raising test scores in the above three subjects.

Which is fine, if public schools didn’t have Phys Ed teachers.  And guidance counselors. And teachers of health, shop, and FACS.

My PLC has a Health/Phys Ed teacher and a guidance counselor; the latter doesn’t teach classes, and it’s as if her education, her bona fides, her contribution to the school’s climate and the growth of *people* (you know, the kids) is worthless in the eyes of the boneheads who came up with Q-Comp (T-Paw, you listening yet?!?).

Are we managing figures in Excel, or are we forming well-educated, capable human beings that can contribute to the world?

Yeah, I know.  Silly me and my John Dewey, Diane Ravitch sensibilities of education.  They’re not kids…they’re scores.

Color me terribly unimpressed.  I’d much rather the State keep their paltry 30 pieces of silver and let us actually do things that matter and include all of us.

Addendum (later same date): Just got this in the news.  Only one study, true, but it also reflects many other things I’ve been reading.  Sigh.  Will they ever learn?!?

* Anyone else notice that in the world, acronyms seem to usually start with a cute word and have the elements match that, instead of the other way around?  Annoys me to no end. Waaaay too cutesy.