Sunday, May 29, 2011

Counting Up...Counting Down

Tick Tick Tick Tick....

I keep joking to my fellow teachers that they need to speak up since all I can hear is the ticking of the countdown clock that is finally bringing about the end of the year.  It is only eleven days until the end of the school year.  Not teaching days, eleven days.  And not that anyone is counting, but to say that I am ready for that final bell that announces the kids leaving is like saying that Missouri is ready for a sunny day!  (I realize that when this blog is made into a book that is required reading in all high schools across the land it will have been far too long for this reference to make sense...and they may not get the weather channel way out in the Slovenian wilderness...let me just say that right now Missouri = devastating storms.  And the Cliffs Notes version of my book just does not do justice to the nuance I put into every analogy...I'm totally'll probably get a B)

I have so much to accomplish at the end of the year and it is very hard to stay focused when you are being challenged at every turn but my sister has asked demanded...a new blog post.  I'm thinking of signing her up for the insider edition of my blog for a low low fee.  It will include being able to read what I write for free and in addition, she will be invited to Thanksgiving dinner.  (I'm pretty sure that my mom would want me to limit the number of members in that club so act fast!)  Also, if any of the parents of my current students are reading is my sister's fault that the comment on your child's report card is something like, "I am pretty sure I saw your kid in my room and I am almost positive that she/he was conscious."  What the heck, I only have to deal with these parents for another 268 hours.  Not that anyone is counting.

In thinking about counting I happened to go across a bridge.  And going across a bridge got me thinking about a time that I was counting...on a bridge.  Try to stay with me as I go back to my youth.

I was born a poor bla...wait, wrong movie.  But maybe that line will lure people googling "The Jerk" (a favorite movie of my sister...this is for you sis...and you owe me a thermos!)  When we were younger we lived about an hour away from my Uncle, Aunt, her mom, and my cousins.  To get there we drove on a bridge.  This is a good thing since they lived on the other side of the San Francisco Bay and driving straight across would have been soggy.  We had several options to get there.  There are a few bridges to choose from.  We could have gone across the very romantic Golden Gate Bridge but we would have had to take a bridge to get to that bridge...and we could have even driven around on land, but that would have taken a long time and wasted a lot of gas so I don't even know why you brought it up!  Can I get back to my story now?  Thank you.  I'm sorry.  You see I am a little frazzled since there are only 16,123 minutes left in my school year.  Not that anyone is counting.

There were two bridges that we chose from the Dumbarton (yup, that's its real name) and the San Mateo (which totally ignored the city of Hayward when naming their bridge)  They were both reasonable choices, most of the time.  One problem was that the Dumbarton (snicker snicker) was a narrow drawbridge back in the day.  (Can I hear a WOOT WOOT from all the old people in the audience who actually remember getting caught at the bridge before they rebuilt it with a rise...*4*1*5* area code in Da House!!...before they split it into two area codes...I guess I need to work on my rallying cries....but I digress)  Hey!  Give me a break!  I'm a little stressed since there are only 964,950 seconds until the end of the year!  Not that anyone is counting!

I think we were actually caught as the first car once at the drawbridge.  My brother was not a bridge lover and I think that had something to do with us usually traveling the San Mateo Bridge.  It was no problem for me going across in the day time but when we came home at night I hated that bridge.  The problem was that the designers had decided to light this bridge in a way that made waterboarding seem like an afternoon at the beach.  As a passenger, who was trying to sleep, it was always a time to wake up since the lights, right at window level, would glare and flash as you drove by.  Later, when I was a young driver, it was awfully distracting to have these near-seizure-inducing flashes glaring at you from the strips of horizontal fluorescent lights just a few feet from your eyes! 

And then it happened!  Someone decided that it was time to stop the madness and install lights that made it safer and less irritating.  They took out the blinding lights and put in light poles!  I remember my brother and sister and I cheered when we saw the new lights!  It was a big deal! (In fairness, it may have only been my brother and I that actually cheered since my sister was far more mature than me.  That happens when you are so much older...not that anyone is counting)  It was a travel-the-bridge-to-relatives kind a holiday and we had gotten it into our heads to count all of the light posts as we traveled across the incline of the bridge.  We were joyfully calling out ever increasing numbers, 46, 47, 48.  Dad was driving the Oldsmobile 98 at warp speed.  69, 70. 71!  We were over the top and bouncing down toward the end of the bridge and the end of the lights...when all of a sudden my mom chimes in with 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  Have you ever tried counting anything while someone just randomly calls out different numbers?  It ain't easy!  That's the kind of thing comedy routines are made of!  It may be possible for some people but it wasn't for us.  We all got flustered, shouted things like, "Arggg!" and "MoOoOoM!", and totally lost track of the number we were on. (To this day, I still don't know how many light poles are on that stupid bridge.)

In fairness, my mom wasn't trying to scar me for life, she was being a good sport and joining in!   She was actually trying to show that we were near the end!  Exactly ten away from the end...not that anyone was counting. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Papa Needs A Sponsor!

How would you like to be in my movie?  Nobody has offered to make one but I can tell it's only a matter of time. 

Here's the way I see it.  Through circumstances related to time, money, and a few other things beyond our control, our laptop has become a paper weight with a cord attached to it.  Well that's not entirely accurate.  It will start, operate for a while, and then right in the middle of  It turns off.  One problem I have is that it is almost old enough to be steam powered and I don't know if sinking any money into this antique would be worth it.  It has needed to be plugged in for some time since the battery is long defunct but now that is no longer an option.

The second problem, the family is going with our church on a missions trip to a Navajo Reservation in Arizona this summer and I have been asked to write about our experiences while we are there.   I would love to be able to end the day by decompressing while typing out a few of my reflections on the laptop.  I think it would be counterproductive for all of the people we were trying to help to be awakened by someone pounding repeatedly on shards of laptop while screaming, "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" 

The third problem is that I won't be able to annoy, I mean entertain, you people while I am away unless I have a way to write my blog.  I could do it long hand with one of those yellow pads of paper but I think that would be tedious, I cannot afford to copy and then send copies to everyone...and I don't even know what the postage rates to my reader in Slovenia would be!  Also, I really am writing a book.  A personal book that I think could help a large segment of our population.  And I was hoping to do quite a bit of writing over the summer. what?

The fourth, and most important (in my eyes) is that my mom has recently purchased a new laptop and how embarrassing is that!?  Mom has a better gadget than me?  Oh no you di'int!

Here's where the sponsor comes in.  I am thinking that when they make the movie I will be sitting and writing for a large portion of it...The camera aimed at the back of the laptop when all of a sudden it pans down and shows that the laptop is covered with stickers.  Just think of it...Pizza restaurants, Home improvement stores, Book stores, Penzoil, and surrounding the logo of my brand new computer that ( I will insert your computer name here as soon as your company donates a computer) is next to a large number 28 on the side!  I could be to blogging what Junior is to Nascar!  I think it could work! 

So get on it.  Start telling your company that I am open for business!

And now to get serious...I have included what I wrote up about my last trip to the Ganado Mission.  The Missions pastor and I took a four day trip to the church and surrounding area to see what sort of need there was and how we could get a group from our church to go and help them.  It is fairly long and I understand if you don't want to read further.  A lot of this was in the newsletter of our church so my feelings won't be hurt if you don't read further.  I just thought I would put it here by way of explaining.

Our Trip To Ganado

I entered into the trip to the Ganado Mission with trepidation. I wasn’t sure how we would be received. I had no idea what to expect concerning conditions. I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know much about the Native American culture. I expected a portion of the people to be withdrawn, standoffish, and maybe a little suspicious of us as strangers. These people were welcoming, open, warm, appreciative, and hopeful. It is exciting to see such determination and hope in the face of such adversity.

The Ganado Presbyterian Church is a church in need. It is not in need in terms of guidance, luxuries, or conveniences, but in terms of real practical elbow grease. There is so much to be done that it's hard to say where to start. Audrey, the volunteer pastor (CLP), showed us around as soon as we got there and before we took two steps from her door we saw things that needed to be addressed. It seems to be a lack of funds, expertise, and support that keeps these things from being done. Vivian, who is the glue that holds everything together in the office, works far beyond her paid time. It seems to be the Navajo way to share in a burden when there is a need...Vivian sees this church as a need.

In the Christian Education building we were shown structural repairs that require immediate attention but it seems that none is on the horizon. The roof needs to be replaced and that has created a domino effect of problems. The leaks in the roof have compromised the ceilings in many of the upstairs rooms, including the pastor’s old office which someone had placed hay bales as insulation. The bales absorbed the moisture and came crashing down. Another room has a composite tile ceiling that is on the verge of coming down. This building also had a main boiler heating system that needed to be repaired but inattention has made it necessary to dismantle the system. This presents a problem in an area where "the summers are at 100 and the winters are at 0." This building is also where the church has their own version of a thrift store. It is where they display items that have been donated and ask for twenty five cents per item. When they have more clothes than they can display they pack them together to donate to other churches on the reservation. It is an example of the sharing of resources that is common among the Navajo people.

The Church building is a beautiful historic place. It is in much better condition than the education building but there are needs here too. They have reinforced a wall that was separating from another and that has fixed that problem, but another wall has begun to separate and there are structural cracks over the main doors. Between the cracks are chimes that have not worked since the pastor has been there. She has said that the church members have requested that these be fixed. “They want to hear the chimes again.” Attached to the main church building are a kitchen and a medium sized multi-purpose room. While we were there it was used for eating and VBS for work crews (and CPC visitors) and a viewing chapel for a funeral of one of the members. After observing a small portion of the VBS that was being led by the high school work group visiting the same days we were, and if Pastor Audrey requests VBS from our group, I think it will be imperative to think very carefully about being sensitive of the Navajo culture.

Being surrounded by all of these challenges might make the leadership of a church feel overwhelmed but Pastor Audrey is moving ahead. She has spent her relatively short time at this church being a bridge between Christians and the “traditional” Navajo population. She has a unique advantage by being married to a Native American. She has talked about feeling very welcomed and there have even been privileges that have been given to her that are usually reserved for the Navajo. She is accepting of these privileges but still relies on the help of a Navajo Christian named Custer to help her maneuver through the cultural differences. While we didn't feel it was our place to attend the funeral, we were able to hear about this delicate mix of traditional and Christian Navajo traditions. Pastor Audrey was adamant about funerals that she helped with, being Christian. All are welcome but the service will be led by her. She allows for traditions that do not conflict with Christian beliefs and what the Dine (dee nay...translated as "the people") want to add to the service fall more into the logistic side of things... how the hole is dug, the placement of the coffin, and how the coffin is covered. It all seemed mutually respectful.

The elders of the church have had the difficult job of maintaining the church for ten years without a pastor. Vivian is a large part of why the church has remained. She is married to a "traditional" man who does not attend the church but is the first person to respond when there is something to fix that the people can do themselves. When Audrey came to the church she had a hard time convincing the elders that they were the ones who decided what was to happen. "It was their church." They complained and said that, "It was Christ's church." They have agreed that it is Christ's church but the elders are the ones responsible for taking care of it here on Earth. When Audrey first arrived there were 20 members of the church and now the numbers are at 47. She is growing this church, performing multiple baptisms, and maintaining an open door for "traditionals", some of whom have been told that they should never set foot in this church.

When we attended the service led in Navajo this was the time to present the gift from the missions committee. I was expecting a single minute of the service to be dedicated to receiving the envelope and then Custer, who leads the Navajo service, would continue on with his sermon. Instead we were both brought to the front where all of the people present came and thanked us, shook our hands, and gave us hugs. It was an emotional time for me. I felt none of the uneasiness that I was worried about before the trip. Custer then gave his sermon, on the prodigal son, and I was enthralled. While not understanding the words, I was (following an 8 week sermon series and reading The Prodigal God) able to follow along in his sermon due to his hand gestures and facial expressions. I couldn't help but think, I was supposed to come here. I was glad I didn't let my fears and hesitations lead my actions.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Pressure!

Today is dedicated to all the people out there who have to live with stress.  I feel your pain.  I have had a few jobs in the past that have been regular pressure cookers.  I have had two, in particular, where I would start to get this heavy feeling in my chest as I drove in.  The feeling would last all day and then magically dissipate as I was driving home at the end of the day.  I get it.  It got so bad that I, a male person of the American variety, actually went to the doctor to see what I could do.  He said, "That heavy feeling in your chest is your body telling you that it doesn't like where you are taking it." 
I had one job at a parts counter where I swear a little dark cloud formed over my head as I left my house.  When I had a particularly awful customer the little cloud would send out sparks and lightning bolts.  I never could direct the bolts toward the unruly customers but not for lack of trying. 

I am in awe of people who can dedicate their lives to doing things like being firemen, policemen, or soldiers.  It is not my personality to put my life on the line like that.  I'm sure, if the situation arose, I could manage to lift a bus off of a bunch of burning nuns (I figure I will have to do it one of these days since that is what I tell work when I come in a few minutes late) but to be prepared to do that daily...not this kindergarten teacher.

Don't get me wrong.  There is stress in my line of work.  But it is mostly limited to wondering how many bacteria were sprayed onto me when the student I was helping sneezed right in my face!  Of course there is way more stress than that but you get the idea.  But I'm sorry, worrying that there isn't enough artwork up on the walls for Open House is not on the same level as wondering if I should cut the red or green wire.

I have had a teensy little problem that is adding to my daily stress.  My fancy shmancy smart phone has decided that a few hours is plenty of time to hold a charge.  Nothing like being somewhere and want to call home to ask a question and find out that you need to go on a quest for a pay phone.  (I am really curious how the makers of Superman 6(?) are going to handle him changing without phone booths...Truth!  Justice!  Public Nudity!!)  but I digress...

I went in to the store yesterday, while walking home from having new brakes put on the van (so we could stop without scaring small children with the loud grinding sound...more stress) to see if they could help me solve this dilemma.  I won't mention the name of the store but they, Verizon, did little to alleviate my stress.  The salesman asked to see my phone to try to squeeze a little more life out of the battery...and then he walked away with it!  The other salesman took me over to the new phone which, "Has much more battery capacity!  And all for the low low price of only $300!" (Stress!)  I regretted handing over my old phone and hoped they weren't trying to make me walk away with the new one by putting my old one in a car crusher.  Or maybe I watch too many Chevy Chase Vacation movies.  I grabbed my old phone and got out of there...besides they didn't have the newest phone in the correct shade of 'metallic pea'. 

After a long day of this and that and errands and shopping and car repair and animals and phone calls and laundry and life...I was ready for a peaceful night's sleep.  And then the true stress hit!  There I was, minding my own business, when out of the bathroom came Sylvia.  The tiny, thin, drawstring on her sweatpants had developed a knot!  I am the official knot un-tie-er of the family.  I was on!  I worked feverishly!  The kids were off to the side blotting the sweat from my forehead!  Sylvia did her best to not dance up and down and I tried to figure out exactly which thread pull would tighten and which would loosen this problem.  And then I got it!  The day was saved.  Sylvia was relieved...literally.  All was right with the world.

I gotta tell you, if having to untie the minuscule knot on your wife's sweatpants so she can "go" is not one of the training exercises to be a Navy should be!  Talk about pressure!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Twins

"Damn it Sue!  Not again!!"

As I walked into the house we heard keys being thrown to the kitchen floor and my mom yelling those now famous words.

I had been helping my teacher and family friend Miss Webber in her classroom and it got to be late.  She gave me a ride home to spare me having to walk the ten miles it was to get to my house, in the snow, uphill, barefoot...while dodging snow-scorpions! (this is so going in the movie) Peggi, as I was allowed to call her away from school, and I looked at each other not knowing what to do.  Mom rushed Sue past us and said exasperatedly, "We'll be back." 

We walked into the house and shut the door not knowing where they went, how long they would be gone, or why Mom was mad about going.  Mom didn't ask Peggi to stay.  I'm sure she stayed with me with a mixture of not knowing if it was ok to leave me alone  (probably was, but I appreciated the company) and just plain morbid curiosity.  As for the house, nothing seemed to be terribly out of place.  There was a big black or green (colorblind remember?) garbage bag sitting on the floor of the kitchen but other than that, it looked pretty normal.

I would like to take this break in the action of the story to announce my upcoming multi state three month book tour.  The "But I Digress..." tour.  I would like to, but since no one has asked me to write a book yet, that will have to wait.  The book I am writing (even though no one has asked me to) is plugging along slowly.  I will enjoy the summer off and the time I will have to write.

Back home...After waiting for what was a good sized chunk of time, in kid-years, my mom and Sue came back into the house and we got the story. 

Both of my sister's calves were wrapped in gauze bandages (my sister, the nurse, will tell you that they were steri-strips but to me it was just bandages).   She had stitches in both and we found out that they were nearly identical wounds.  Mirror images of each other.  They were twins.  If memory serves, one had nine stitches and the other ten.  That bothered me.  Symmetry is important in my family.  There she was, both legs bundled up.  For all I know Sue was the person who started the leg-warmers craze!  Two bandaged legs?  Curious. 

Two legs and, apparently, two trips to the doctor.  Just before I used my red aluminum house key that hung on a chain around my neck (I still have that key by the way) Sue and Mom were inside talking about their first trip to the hospital. Mom was trying to wrap her head around the fact that her daughter had just gotten stitches.  I'm sure it was the usual, "You have to be careful." and "The doctor said that you should..." 

And now, the garbage bag.  It was garbage day and Mom was gathering garbages from around the house.  In one of the garbages someone had put the remains of a broken drinking glass.  Knowing our family, it was probably a collectible 'Hamburglar' or 'Grimmace' glass from McDonalds or a 'Mama Bear' or 'Papa Bear' mug from A&W.  We had the complete set of many a decorative glass collection.  If the TV said you got a glass with your food, we pestered Mom and Dad until we got them.  Marketing worked on the Garrett children.  But I digress...

Inside the bag, a shard of glass had worked its way to the outside edge and could not be seen by the naked eye (or the fully clothed eye for that matter).  When this goes into the movie about my blog this scene will have to have very dramatic music and lots of shots of the seemingly harmless garbage bag in the middle of the kitchen floor.  Menacing.  Mocking.  Lying in wait!  Ready to reach out and attack anyone who got within range.

Unbeknownst to Peggi and I, just as we were walking up the steps to the front door Mom and Sue were finishing up their conversation.  As I reached out to open the door (and the movie music reached it's crescendo!)  Mom, in an effort to understand what just happened, said "Just how on Earth did you manage to cut your leg?"  Sue's reply, "All I did was sit down next to this this."

"Damn it Sue! Not again!!"

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Look At The Birdie

Today is Kristiana's birthday!  I have already been informed (by her) that it is not her "real" birthday yet because she was born at 10:31 P.M.  And since this is not the 'real' birthday I thought I would talk a little about what was really happening at this time 15 years ago...besides, Sylvia is yelling, "At this time I was in a lot of pain!"  Allow me to explain. 

Sylvia fought through both of her pregnancies.  She suffered what I called "all day sickness" because it wasn't only in the morning...and it didn't only last the first trimester.  (I studied 'pregnancy' at this time...don't be alarmed if I use some of the lingo...correctly)  We took every class that our hospital offered about pregnancy, birth, and raising a child.  One such class was lamaaze (sp?) lamaze (sp?) llamaz (sp?) you get the idea.  If you are a Slovenian farmer (I am totally going to start an international incident one of these days) you may not know that the Lamaze class is where they teach your wife to rhythmically breathe while still being able to curse your ancestry and grip your fingers tighter than an industrial vise...with love. 

Our Lamaze class was taught by a sweet, knowledgeable woman named Danette.  Danette showed us "squirmer" movies about birth.  She had us bring pillows to sit on the floor.  She invited us to write a birth plan for what we did and didn't want to happen when we were in the hospital.  She told us to pack a bag with everything we would need and put it right by the door.  It would be easy to grab when we realized halfway there that we had forgotten it because your wife could say, "it's right by the door!"  She talked to us about the realities of epidurals and what to expect if you couldn't make it without drugs. 

As an aside, our birth plan, where we asked to hold off on the drugs as long as possible, is sleeping with the fishes and someone has scribbled "YEAH RIGHT!!" all over it in Sharpie.  We also, when it came time for Jake to be born, inquired about a home epidural kit that I could administer before we got to the hospital...but I digress.

Back to the class.  We were taught how to breathe and not hyperventilate.  Ok, good to know.  Apparently if you just keep breathing quickly, the room starts to spin, the lights dim, and you start reciting lines from classic movies, "Auntie Em...Auntie Em..."   That would be bad.  So we had a plan!  Danette taught the poor dumb guys how to stand at the end of the bed and, when instructed by the doctor to do your Lamaze breathing, we got to be in charge.  You see, if Sylvia had just done the same number of breaths over and over she could have tried to speed things up by finishing her pattern earlier and earlier and then..."I've always relied on the kindness of..."  We, the clueless males, were told to tell her the number of quick breaths to take between the longer cleansing breath.  We were supposed to put both of our hands behind our backs to get our fingers ready (but also to keep our hands away from the superhuman gripping strength of our wives) and while Sylvia was doing her cleansing breath I was supposed to switch hands and show her a new number of fingers.  I had been to college!  I got this!  Then Danette warned us of two things, "Do not show your wife just one finger because one quick breath between cleansing breaths is not medically beneficial" and "Do not flip off your wife." 

We all laughed thanked her and went to our homes to wait for the blessed event...that people have alternately described with lemon and watermelon analogies or pulling your lip over your head.  The human race is so lucky that childbirth was handed to women! 

Man, "You want me to do that again?!  No way!!  You want how many kids?  EIGHT!!!  Are you insane!?  What the heck is a reality TV show anyways?!"  but I digress...again...

Back to Sylvia in the hospital (because it is not 10:31 P.M. and it isn't Kristiana's birthday yet...gotta love teenage girl logic) with me at the end of the bed.  Following a full thirty five hours of labor (have I mentioned before that Sylvia is my hero?) I was dutifully alternating hands to show her how many breaths to take.  hoo hoo hoo...breathe...hoo hoo hoo hoo...breathe...three...breathe...two...Breathe (with angry eyes from Sylvia...Two breaths are not enough breaths) I got flustered as I was trying to get my fingers to work...I don't do well with no sleep for a day and a half...and the next hand came out...ONE!  Yup, you guessed it.  Not only did I do the unthinkable and put out the medically inaccurate 'one.' I totally flipped off my wife!

Luckily for me (and for Jake because he would not have been born otherwise) Sylvia burst out laughing and I regained control of my body and settled into a more predictable and less dangerous, three, four, five pattern until the doctor had to resort to other means to convince Kristiana that the world was not such a bad place and she should come out to see for herself.  They wanted to wait to make her cry until they suctioned out her mouth and nose (I know the reason why but thought I would spare you the details).  At 10:31 P.M. Kristiana was born...and she screamed immediately...less three seconds old and already with the attitude?!  Uh oh!

Happy (almost) Birthday Kristiana!  I love you Sweetheart!