The Santa Claus Challenge

th-2Most of us remember when one of our classmates declared that Santa wasn’t real.  Some of us ay recall the famous Dear Virginia editorial response published in the New York Sun in 1897.  Even though, I’m old, and even though I’m currently living through the most turbulent, hateful times I find deplorable, I still believe in Santa.

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Santa Claus is a spirit, who resides within most of us. When we were children, he miraculously answered our letters on Christmas morning.  In most cases.  I didn’t get a pony, but a got a Schwinn bike.  I didn’t receive a drum set, but I got a guitar.  Surprisingly, I was never disappointed.  I was happy with all my gifts–except the underwear.

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As I aged, my experience led me to a greater understanding of Santa.  A mythical figure, who lived in a dreadful climate, who urged children to be good, who fulfilled wishes, for what?  A plate of cookies and a glass of milk?  Doubtful. Santa Claus , St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, or whatever your moniker, came to teach.

His lesson embodied the Golden Rule–do unto to others.  But Santa tweaked it a tad.  Do unto others with anonymity.  For me, there’s no greater joy than giving without acknowledgement, nor accolade. And yes, there are a myriad of ways to get a tax deduction without revealing or bragging.   Trust me, I know.

Inside of each of us is Santa Claus.  In times of disasters, strangers help others; sometimes risking their own safety to render assistance.  With the holiday season fast-approaching, I urge you to accept the Santa Claus challenge.  Do something for someone anonymously.  You’ll be surprised by the joy you receive.    I double-dog dare you.

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Is Low High?

Last week the evil appliance demon struck again, in spite of the presence of St. Joseph, protector of household repairs. This time it was my high-end, five-year-old, state-of-the-art dryer. The repairman said he simply needed to replace a part.

“Sue, the bad news is the part won’t be available for two or three weeks.”

Doable. I would survive the inconvenience.

“But, given all the COVID issues, the Suez Canal, and the international shipping situation, it could be 2 or 3 months.”

What? I flashed back to memories of both my mother and grandmother hanging laundry on their clothes lines in the Ohio summer breeze. Nothing smelled better than sheets dried outside, but in Phoenix? Land of blowing sand and dust? Doubtful.

“You should just buy a Whirlpool; at least, they’re American made so you can get parts.”

Me? Get parts? Wrong, masked man, but after he left, I went and bought a Whirlpool dryer.

“Sorry, Sue it can’t be delivered until next Thursday. We’re really busy with new house construction needs.”

Ok, so I’d have to dry my cabana boy’s weekly wash outside. I decorated my patio furniture with towels, shirts, socks, shorts, etc., and the Phoenix heat dried it in no time. However, I had to shake out the dust as I folded each piece. Admittedly, I did smell one t-shirt. No fresh aroma whatsoever.

Yesterday, aka laundry day, I washed and used my dryer for the first time. The buzzer went off; mission accomplished. I opened the dryer. Wet clothes. Hmm. How about timed dry, instead of normal? After 70 minutes, buzz, still wet. Hmm. Maybe, the installer forgot to turn on the gas valve. Since gas, like electricity, scares the bejesus out of me, I looked and listened, but didn’t touch the valve. I filled the laundry room with blue language instead. I reread the manual. Finally, I decided to wait until Monday to deal with this.

An hour later, I jiggled and wiggled every dial. I turned the temperature setting from High to Low and hit the start button. I waited 20 or 30 seconds and opened the dryer door. Voila! Hotter than a Youngstown steel mill blast furnace!

As one can tell from the photo, this is not the fault of the installer, but of the manufacturer. I can imagine the nightmare of dealing with the Whirlpool Corporation about this mess, so I’ll simply write them a letter for their circular file and remember that Low = High!

Thank You, Teacher

This past week was national Teacher Appreciation week. All of us have had teachers who made a difference in our lives. In fact, when I taught Master level classes at the university, I gave a quiz: Write down the names of your best teachers. Write down the names of your worst teachers. Write down the name of your remaining teachers. Of course, my students could only recall the best and the worst. The remainder were for the most part nameless. No surprise in a society of overload information. Our brains routinely sort and categorize enormous amounts of data into convenient compartments that we can regurgitate when Dr. Suze asks a nonsensical question.

My silly little”test” was merely an intro to an extended discussion about what makes a great teacher. “Some of you in this class aspire to be supervisors, principals, and maybe even a superintendent. Your responsibilities will include hiring teachers. How will you know if you hired the best, the mediocre, or the worst? Finally, based on our discussion this evening, by a show of hands, how many of you have thanked a teacher for making a difference in your life?”

As to be expected, one or two raised a hand. “Your assignment for next week in addition to the readings in the syllabus is to react to the following via the discussion board: What is teacher appreciation?

Of course, the discussion board was jammed with thoughts about teacher pay–no surprise, for that has been an issue for 200 years. However, many mentioned intrinsic rewards. “I had a former student show up in his Marine Corps dress blues.”

“Mrs. Johnson?”

“Wow look at you! I’m so proud of you! Thank you for coming by.”

“Ma’am, thank you. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.”

Another wrote, “I’ve taught for over 25 years. My most treasured possessions are a handful of cards and letters I received from students. Oh yes, every once in a while I got a bouquet of dandelions, a bottle of stinky cologne, and even a salamander! But it meant and means so much to have a student write me a note or draw me a picture. To me that’s priceless.”

It’s never too late to thank a teacher. All of us who have taught or still teach measure our success on the priceless notes and comments we’ve received from students.

COVID and Teenagers

I had an interesting conversation this week with the principal of my district’s alternative school, but first some words about the school and its students. The school was designed for students who didn’t like or succeed in traditional middle or high school for a variety of reasons. Some had discipline issues, some were credit deficient, some were bored, some preferred a small environment, and some, in their words, “just didn’t fit.”

Under the leadership of a spectacular principal and a caring faculty, homeless students found shelter. Due to small, computer-assisted classes every student could work at his/her own speed to attain subject mastery. The archaic 120-hour requirement of seat time vanished. In fact, one enterprising young man, completed 7 math courses in one year! The school faculty embraces a sense of community, and several times a year they hold a barbecue at lunch time for the kids. In return, the students are no longer chronically absent or constantly referred to the assistant principal for infractions.

The principal said, “Sue, COVID has changed my kids. They rebelled against virtual, at-home learning, they missed being at school. Some of them promised to reenroll when things ‘were normal.’ As you know, every Friday I draw names of those for attendance award prizes. In the four years I’ve been doing this, the most popular prize was lunch with the principal from their choice fast food joint. Second, was a bag of candy. But not this year when many of the kids lost their fast food and menial jobs due to COVID lockdowns. Blankets and socks have replaced Whataburger.”

Wow! That anchored me.

“Remember Sue, when your neighbor gave you all the giveaway stuff she’d collected from the casino, and you brought it here over a year ago?”

How could I forget? A trunk load of crap from rice cookers, to dinnerware, pots, and pans, serving dishes, and platters.

“That stuff has sat in the prize closet for over a year, but now, it’s wildly popular. All of this was chosen by our 10 winners today.”

Hmm. Why would a 17-year-old want a ceramic serving platter?

“Can you believe it? All of this is for their moms for Mother’s Day!”

I was moved. So many of these kids were labeled throw-aways, ne’er do-wells, bad boys, etc, but this school culture had changed them. COVID had changed them. They’d gone from selfish, it’s all about me, teens to becoming caring adults. In fact, more members of this graduating class have enrolled at the community college for fall. They’ve experienced first-hand job loss, they’ve struggled with ill family members, and they’ve missed the human connection of regular school.

The incredible tragedy of COVID has changed all of us.

To Pick or to Pluck?

I’m an insomniac. It began when I had babies and tossed around in bed awaiting their cries. Through the years my insomnia has escalated for a number of reasons: the sound of a dog about to heave all over my comforter, the howls of coyotes, or the raid of my garbage can by a raccoon. While these are contributors, the major cause is my own mind. Even when I’m overly tired, the moment I lie down, my mind speeds into overdrive. Sometimes I relive a memory or a recent encounter, but most of the time, I contemplate nonsense. Do penguins have toenails? If tomatoes are fruit, then is ketchup a jelly or a jam? Does an owlet know its an owl? And three or four hours later, I’m still awake foraging the refrigerator for a 4:00 AM snack, followed by another bathroom break.

This week was the bulk trash pick-up in my ‘hood, which occurs only 4 times a year. It is heralded as the time to have the landscape thoroughly pruned, with tree limbs and miscellaneous debris left at the side of the road to be tossed in the voracious garbage monster truck. This is also the time to place at the road all the no longer-wanted stuff, like old mattresses, broken patio furniture, old tools, TV’s, sofas, bookcases, etc.

Many things never get eaten by the garbage monster, for folk cruise the neighborhood looking for treasures. Last night, as I was contemplating what needed to go to the road I wondered: “Are those folk who scavenged others’ trash pickers or pluckers?” Hmm. My mind ran rampant! I pick the guitar or banjo strings, but I pluck the harp’s. I pick my nose (when I was young), but I pluck my nose hairs. So do I pluck or pick the bookcase from the refuse?

Agreed. Obviously, my insomnia has reached a new low, but it forced me out of bed again. After a quick stop at both the bathroom and the refrigerator, I chose a dictionary. (No, I wasn’t turning on the computer at 3:00 AM. My cell phone and iPad were sound asleep. Why wake them? Sometimes, I enjoy perusing through a book.) I found pick was defined as choose or select, while pluck was defined as remove or pick. Now, I know; it’s as clear as San Francisco fog!

On a more positive note, I spent the next three hours reading random stuff in the dictionary, where I learned about soursop trees and that Carry (not Carrie) Nation wielded an axe to smash bottles and furnishings in saloons. I was startled awake by the doorbell. As I stood to answer it, I tripped over the dictionary. Ye gods, it’s noon.

Maybe tonight I write a nursery rhyme: Peter Pipe, porch pirate picker-plucker, picked and plucked a pack of purple packages…. Ye, Gods! Hope Amazon doesn’t switch to purple boxes.

The Rescue

Many of you have seen my Facebook post about the rescue of a baby great-horned owl, who fell from its nest. This football-sized darling was not afraid and chatted with me in little chirps as I promised it safety. Thankfully, with the help of my cabana boy and an expert neighbor, the baby was spared from certain death by a stray cat, coyote, hawk, or roadrunner. But the most intriguing part of my blog is what I learned.

My neighbor, Jim, is a long-time volunteer at Liberty Wildlife. When he arrived to save the owlet, he said, “Wow, Sue! You’ll never see a great-horned so up close and personal in your yard again.” True. When I see the adults, they’re either perched in a tree or on my rooftop. If I try to get a closer look, they fly off.

“Now, we don’t have to worry about him/her using his talons or pecking with his nib. He won’t try to fly.” Hmm, that’s curious. “He doesn’t know he’s an owl. He has to be taught. In an ideal scenario, he’d be returned to his nest up there, but his mom and dad would attack us.” Oh, great. However, the nest was over 20 feet above in a pine tree, and we’d need a cherry-picker to deliver the kid.

My cabana boy vaulted the six foot fence, picked up the owlet and placed it in the cardboard box. “Now what, Jim?”

“I’ll take him home and feed him, and drop him off at Liberty tomorrow morning.”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “The baby will be ok until then?”

“Yes. In fact, some folk become so attached to owlets they raise them to adulthood. By then, the owl is incapable of being returned to the wild. It doesn’t know how to hunt or survive. But this little guy will be acclimated with other babies and adults and eventually released. For forty years, Liberty Wildlife has been rescuing and rehabilitating a variety of Arizona fauna. Approximately, 75% of its budget depends on individual contributions. All of the veterinarians are volunteers, as well as hundreds of people like me.”

“Does Liberty rescue most everything?’

“Reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and lots of birds. We have volunteers across the state and a relay system of drivers to transport them to our Phoenix facility.”

I’ve live in Arizona for almost 40 years, and I didn’t know squat about the majestic, great-horned owl. “Hey, Jim, just one more question. Sometimes I hear the owls meow like a cat. Am I crazy?”

“No, just uneducated. Barn owls meow like cats.”

Touche. Thus, I just became of member and learned they also serve as a national, non-eagle feather repository for Native American tribes to provide, at no cost, feathers for their endeavors. How cool is that?

Guaranteed to Make You Look Young

Several months ago, my bestie informed her husband she was going to remodel their master bath. Her husband had just endured over 8 weeks of chaos when she had the guest bath remodeled, and he was not jazzed about another disruption to his status quo. (Men, not only are blind, but don’t deal well with change. I swear the house could be falling down, and men would say, “It looks ok to me.”)

However, her hubby issued an ultimatum: “You clean out the pantry and put it in order so we can find things. Then you can remodel the bath.”

The pantry was large and was designed for food storage, but due to its size it also became a hidey hole. Unexpected company show up? Stash away the clutter in the pantry. Don’t know where to store this or that? Stick it in the pantry. Put away the groceries and the new stuff goes at the forefront. Now, because the new bath was important to her, last week she began. Much to her surprise, she unearthed best if used by 11/17/2009 items. Stacks of unopened napkins and paper plates. Halloween candy, flower vases, and even an ice bucket she stopped searching for five years ago.

Then she uncovered a hidden treasure trove of supplements and beauty products, which promised the proverbial Fountain of Youth! My bestie not only believed, but bought into P.T. Barnum’s elixirs, creams, and capsules. However, she never tried 90% of them! One of them, Skinny Fit Super Youth . Another Super Neocell Collagen for skin, hair, nails, joints, and bones. Two trash bags later, she discovered the ultimate: Snail Jelly Mask! Made in Korea, the mask is “designed for ultimate absorption and hydration.” It includes: “5,000ppm Snail Secretion Filtrate.”

As she’s telling me this, I’m thinking snail slime? Really?

“Oh, Sue, it has no expiration date, and the movie stars use this mask. I’m going to try it.”

Hmm. Snail slime? Of course, by all means try it. The movie stars do all kinds of things you should emulate. “The movie stars do drugs, undergo numerous plastic surgeries, shoot their faces full of botox, and step on each other to win a starring role. So you’re going to smear your face with snail snot? Have at it.”

She burst into laughter! “Do you think I’m crazy?”

Crazy? More like a lunatic. “Who am I to judge? I bet I could dehydrate dog doo and convince you to smear it on your wrinkled brow, particularly if I scented it with lavender.”

Yes, Virginia, there is a fool born every minute.

FOMO

Believe me, after spending fifty years in education, I abhor acronyms. Lord knows the public schools were overrun with them: IEP, ADD, DECA, FBLA, MMR, EEO, FASA, etc. The federal government is awash with them: NATO, OAS, GSA, FDIC, FAA, TSA. Texting has added even more: TMI, LOL, IMO, CU, WTF. I’m tired of trying to break the codes–just tell me Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, or Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and I’ll get it.

However, this week one of my longtime friends dropped a new one on me. FOMO. “My daughters were complaining that one of their brothers showed up at the girls’ weekend. One said, ‘ You know Eddie, Mom; he suffers from FOMO.'”

Hmm. FOMO? What the hell does that mean? Eddie is a schlep? A party crasher? Needs money? Has no life?

“You do know what FOMO means, Sue.”

I didn’t, but should I act like I was hip and up on all the latest teenage language nuances? “No. I’ve not a clue. Tell me.”

Fear of missing out!”

Wow! My longtime friend finally diagnosed a disease I’ve struggled with for over sixty years. I have FOMO! I can hardly explain my relief of finally putting a name to my malady. It was like I was freed from chains and shackles. I can openly declare, “I’m Sue, and I suffer from FOMO.”

Of course, at my age, there are invitations I decline, e.g. skydiving, wrestling with alligators, or participating in a timed hot dog eating contest. But for the most part, I’m eager to try something new, even if I fail. And if you invite me to come visit, don’t be surprised if I show.

COVID has severely cramped my lifestyle. And while I’m somewhat reluctant to do anything uber crazy, I am ready to take some chances, like eat in an uncrowded restaurant, entertain twenty people in my casa, and even fly east of the Mississippi. My kids are having too much fun without me!

Think about it. Isn’t it time to stop missing out?

Lobster Sisterhood

In keeping with International Women’s month, this incident occurred last week. One of my kids and her fiancé, B, were visiting me. B, in keeping with the Lenten season, eats seafood on Fridays. They had requested I fry Dover sole for dinner, but alas, no such fish was to be found in either of the groceries I routinely visit. I was dismayed; I pondered shrimp. Then I saw 3oz. lobster tails were on sale. However, 3oz. were dismally small. I looked farther to the left and saw the large ones were also on sale! A pricey $15.99 each, but better than the usual $20+, and of course, far cheaper than eating in a restaurant.

Lobster it is! The kids will be jazzed. The line at the meat counter was long; I waited. Then, this old man shuffled to the counter spying the seafood. Finally, the young female clerk walked my way, “Who’s next?” she asked.

I raised my hand, “I am.” Then….

“NO! I’m next!” proclaimed Sir Grumpy Curmudgeon. The clerk waited on him. He made her cut his salmon filets three times; they had to be the precise weight he requested–not an ounce over or under. The clerk fulfilled his order, and off he went.

“What can I get you, ma’am?”

“I’ll have three lobster tails, please. By the way, I was next.”

“I knew you were, but I’m not allowed to argue with the customers.” She placed the three tails on the scale. I looked up–$6.99 a lb. The price of the small ones.

“My dear, you entered the wrong price; the large ones are $15.99.”

She emphatically replied, “Don’t worry about it. That old man cuts in line in front of women all the time. He’s so cranky and demanding. Consider this my thanks for being patient and not making a scene about his rudeness.”

We had a delightful Friday night dinner. A special thank you to my newfound sister at the meat counter.

My Quirky Teacher

Since March is International Women’s month, I’ve been reflecting about women who made a difference in my life. A handful come to mind, which may be due to some women’s reluctance to mentor other women. If they’ve broken the glass ceiling, they revel at being the exception, not the rule. In contrast, most teachers strive to make a difference in the lives of each of their students. They cajole, encourage, tutor, counsel–in short, they do much more than pontificate from the podium. They’re not the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side.

Then there are teachers like my fifth grade one, Miss Peddlar, who was odd, peculiar, and prone to outrageous behavior. She would have been fired within a week in today’s public schools. Yet, Miss Peddlar changed my life.

She was a tall, big-boned woman, slathered with make-up and rouge; her hair was some rendition of a French twist. She’d pull into the parking lot in a humongous Cadillac, donned in very fashionable attire. Our glimpse of her suits or dresses was short-lived; for once we were in our assigned seats, busily at work on a writing assignment, she went out in the hallway, took off her dress/suit, and put on an oriental silk robe. At 9:30 A.M., she’d send two of us girls to the home ec room to make her breakfast–two slices of toast and butter, a half of grapefruit, and a cup of coffee. We’d return to our classroom and serve her. At 10:00 A.M., Miss Peddlar turned on her radio and listened to Arthur Godfrey, while she ate. No one was allowed to talk, nor ask questions during the radio show.

Every other Friday, she’s select two girls to take her paycheck to the bank for deposit. The bank was four blocks from the school on a four-lane highway. We surreptitiously took orders from the rest of the class, and we’d stop at the store to buy fireballs and licorice to distribute on our return.

Obviously, both of these behaviors would have gotten her fired, but she had a wicked temper too. She called me to her desk once, while grading my paper: “Suzanne, I can’t read this!” She tore up my paper and tossed it in the wastebasket. “When you learn to write legibly, I’ll grade it.”

Once she lined up all the boys in front of the room and swatted each of their behinds for flipping the bird behind her back. (Not that we knew what it meant–just that it was bad.) On several occasions when she was mad, she threw two large flower pots out the open windows of our second-story classroom. Then, she sent two boys outside to clean up the mess.

Surprisingly, we didn’t live in fear of Miss Peddlar, we just thought she was odd. None of our parents ever complained about her outrageous antics. She improved all of our handwriting and spelling skills. We knew all of the state capitals, and we memorized one poem each week from When the Frost Is on the Pumpkin, to Barbara Fritchie, to The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Every Friday, each student had to recite the assigned poem–some I recall over 60 years later! She played the piano and taught us patriotic, holiday, and even religious songs, and she taught us how to march in order during our singing.

Years later, I learned Oma Peddlar was Sarah Smith, a married woman who drove 120 miles round trip to school each day. She created her single persona because at the start of her career, women teachers were forbidden to be married. What a character!

I’m forever indebted to Miss Peddlar, who taught me to memorize, which has proved invaluable in both my personal life and professional career. However, my handwriting is still a work in progress.

The Job from Hell

Yes, I’m old. Yes, I’ve had to scale back on the jobs I can safely execute. I no longer climb ladders above the third rung, and I no longer use a weed whacker because too many pieces of stone have whacked my legs. However, I’m still capable of cooking, cleaning, maintaining the pool, doing the laundry, and mowing the lawn. I rototill my garden, plant it, and tend to it. But this week, it took me three days to complete the job from hell. A job I will never do again!

The job? Clean the built-in barbecue grill. This task was an absolute nightmare. The stinky, caustic, heavy-duty oven cleaners were of minimal help. Hours were spent scraping with wire brushes, five rolls of paper towels were expended wiping, as were three cans of stainless steel wipes. Even though I was wearing gloves through part of this ordeal, my nails were trashed by my efforts. Then I cleaned the granite counter top using the top-recommended product, which took another four hours. Finally, it was done.

As you know, I spent my entire professional career in public education; I’m a master at rubrics; I know how to fairly evaluate performance. I assessed my grill cleaning. Hmm. My completed project was NOT even average. “Sue, that’s a D. You can do better.” (Perhaps a quote by Mediocrates!) It was probably a F performance, but the grill looked a bit better than it did when I started.

I carefully covered the grill with its tarp, and it will be a long time before I cook a steak or a hamburger. Damn! I just remembered I’m having company next week from cold country. Of course, they will want to fire up the grill. So be it. But the next time the grill needs cleaned, I’m hiring a pro.