Archive | May, 2011

Help! I Smell Like An Old Person

26 May

HELP!  I SMELL LIKE AN OLD PERSON!

© 2009, Ernie Zarra

My sisters and I refer to the smell as “old person’s smell.”  The odor in the house of my slender, gray-haired 75-year-old grandmother never seems to disappear.  With the windows open, or with them closed, the smell is always there.  Some days the smell is so strong that I am able to taste it.

The “old person’s smell” in Grandma Maggie’s house is actually a combination of several strong scents–at least I think so.  It is so strong that my friends always make fun of me after I return home from visiting.  As a 12-year-old, I hate that.  But my friends and I all share the same problem:  our grandparents houses smell like old people.

           Grandma Maggie has the most wonderful crushed-velour sofa.  Every time I visit, I pounce on the left side with my bottom, and slid into a well-worn corner.  This is grandma’s favorite corner of the sofa.  I stand up in the center of the sofa, when grandma is not watching, and jump up and down, as if on a trampoline.  The springs are so lively that I hear their baritone “boi-yoing” sound, at times, when I jump really high. 

           The gross part of the sofa is that with each plop onto the sofa, my nose catches a scent that is forever part of the pillows.  Grandma’s pillows smell like an old person.   So, when my face touches any of them, I wrinkle my nose and try not to breathe too deeply.  The pillows smell like a combination of moth balls, lilac toilet water, chicken soup, and hand cold cream from the super market.  Old people have funny smells.

           Like her house, my Irish grandmother seems to have a scent that hovers over her all day long.  It is like an invisible cloud of scents.  Every time she walks by, or every time she grabs me for a kiss on the cheek, there is that smell—the old person’s smell!  Now, the smell is nothing terrible, and she is my grandmother.  But sometimes, I am afraid to let her kiss me.  Even her breath has a funny smell.

           Grandma Maggie washes clothes by hand in the large, black, stone wash-basin in her downstairs utility room.  In order to fill the basin, she must turn on the valves for the hot and cold water.  The water from her Artesian well always rumbles and screeches through the shaky, old metal old pipes as it fills the water heater.  The water heater makes popping and snapping sounds inside, as the water begins to heat.

After a few minutes, grandma squeaks and tweaks another valve, and then turns the old galvanized metallic faucet knobs to just where she wants them.  The hot and cold water faucets begin exhaling air.  The water begins to come out, mixed with air, first with a sputter.  Then, it is followed by a loud spurt or air and a forceful flow follows.  Eventually there is a steady stream. 

Sometimes the water looks brown and rusty, so grandma has to let the water run and run to become clear.  Rusty water tastes like metal and has a dirty smell all its own.  Ewww, more old people stuff.

           One late October weekend, while the fall leaves are quickly dropping from their trees, my parents drop me off for a weekend visit with Grandma Maggie.  She lives in the country, where the temperature is always cooler, and the air always fresher. 

Grandma is in the bathroom fixing her hair when I arrive, so I head to the sofa to make my presence known.  I have a routine to follow, you know!  So, I enjoy a few private minutes of sofa jumping.  While jumping, I can actually feel the gusty drafts coming from the window that is directly behind the sofa.

           Before Grandma comes out of the bathroom, I get bored and run outside to enjoy the wind and to play “catch the leaves.”  It’s fun to catch falling leaves and crinkle them into small pieces, by rubbing them between the palms of my hands.  As the wind gusts, leaves fall quickly to the ground, in large numbers. 

I enjoy standing under the large, twisted branches of a 30-foot tall oak tree, which is 50 yards from grandma’s house.  This tree is my favorite tree to climb in and pretend I am a bat, by hanging upside down by my legs.

           The branches of the oak tree are so long that they shade the ground for over 30 feet.  But its branches are also very creepy.  They are shaped like the arms of monsters, with long, gangly, claw-like features. 

           This oak tree is the kind of tree where the roots are like octopus tentacles, reaching out of the ground, searching for whom to latch onto.  At night I am afraid to go near this tree.  But during the day the tree is fun. 

While standing on several of its bulging roots, I try wrapping my arms around the tree trunk, but my arms are far too short.  My arms are always too short.  Old people don’t have this problem.

           The wind is now blowing strongly enough to shake the large branches.  Even three bushy-tailed, gray squirrels are bobbing their furry heads as they cling to the dark-brown, bark-covered branches with their tiny claws.  One gust of wind blows a smaller squirrel right off its branch and it falls several feet onto the ground.   Off it scampers, unhurt. 

           After playing with the falling oak leaves for a several minutes I am bored again.  So, off I run toward grandma’s house.  I decide to enter through the utility room screen door.  I grab the handle and quickly fling open the door.  I step into the soap-smell-filled utility room and immediately the wind slams the door closed, behind me.  I am afraid of that screen door.  I jump forward.  That door always seems to scare me. 

Grandma is leaning over the wash basin in the utility room when I enter.  Her feet are firmly planted on the freshly painted “battleship gray” color floor.  She shrieks and squeezes a bar of soap extra tightly in her hands.  The screen door always seems to scare Grandma Maggie too!

As she squeezes, the bar instantly fires across the room like a rocket, hits the nearest wall, and drops to the floor with a soapy thud.  But that does not matter. 

Grandma picks up the soap and giggles with a high-pitch sound, which almost sounds like her old tea kettle spout as it begins to release steam through its nozzle.  She just shakes her head.  I am watching as Grandma scrapes her dirt-covered overalls across the ribs of her well-worn washboard.  Brown lye soap is being brushed into the stains with a boars’-hair bristle brush.  The clothes are sloshing around in the basin, as grandma dips them in and out of the water. 

Grandma is forcefully rubbing each piece of clothing across the ribbing of the washboard.  I watch her arms move back-and-forth quickly.  Then my eyes open wide.  Grandma’s upper arms have lots of loose skin, and the skin flaps side-to-side, in unison with the back-and-forth strokes of the bristle brush.  Grandma switches hands and her arms really get a workout.  Grandma Maggie sure has old person’s arms and her hands smell like soap—brown, lye soap.

Wanting to get a closer look, I jump up onto a three-step stool and politely ask grandma if I could help her.  She smiles and nods her head.  When she nods, the wrinkles of her neck have a way of bunching up right under her chin.  When she smiles, the wrinkles seem to stretch and disappear.  Grandma Maggie has old person’s wrinkly neck.

           As I stand on the three-step stool, I lean over into the wash-basin to begin my work.  Grandma hands me the bar of slippery, smelly brown soap.  Then she hands me the washboard and her bristle brush.  I rub some soap into the firm bristles of the brush, dip the brush in the basin water and begin to brush away a stain on one of grandma’s kitchen towels. 

           I am so confident that I could easily handle this chore that I rise up onto my toes, grab the washboard with my left hand, and slap the towel onto the ribs with my right hand.

           I begin a rhythmic-like stroke, up-and-down, dragging the brush bristles over the washboard ribs, with only a towel separating the two.  I bear down and, as I do, slip my tongue out of my mouth, to wet my upper lip.  With one strong down-stroke of my right hand, my body weight shifts and I slide off the stool and land head-first into the half-filled wash basin.  I thought I was going to drown.  I was gurgling soapy water and it tasted awful.  I even hit my head on the bottom of the stone basin.  I am afraid of that stool.

           Grandma Maggie lifts me up by my shirt collar.  I am dripping wet and coughing very loudly.  I look over at grandma and she is laughing and smiling, which means the wrinkles on her neck are gone.

           Besides being wet, I quickly realize that I now smell like an old person.  I smell like Grandma Maggie’s house and hands more than ever.  I smell like her!  I am afraid at what my friends going to say about this?  Oh well!  I accomplish one thing by falling into the basin.  I won’t need for a bath at the end of the day. 

Grandma Maggie hugged me later that evening and said I smelled really good.  I asked myself, how can an “old person smell” be good?  Then it hit me.  I was busy wasting far too much time on what I did not want to smell like that I missed something very important.  If being old, and smelling like an old person, was good enough for “my” grandmother, then it was good enough for me.

I am trying to remember to ask Grandma Maggie one question before bedtime.  “What is Fels Naptha, anyway?

Ms. Interpretation

24 May

“He is a fool who thinks by force or skill to turn the current of a woman’s will.”  (Thomas More)

I was sipping my coffee this morning and, in-between paying bills and prepping for the day, a bit of humor emerged from the midst of the mundane.  In other words, my brain was seeking its own entertainment.  Sorry guys, my mind sometimes works to the chagrin of others and this blog will prove to be no exception.  The reader might very well consider most of what I write along the lines of “sigh”-chology.  Be that as it may (I love colloquialisms too), I am smiling at the possibility of the trouble I am going to get myself into this morning.  Want to know why I say “trouble”?  I bet you do!

Well, hold on tightly.  Here is my first crack at trouble:  I think women interpret things so very differently than men interpret things.  In fact, women have a higher tendency, or let’s call it a gift, an intuition, to “read into things” much more deeply than we men read into things.  I think most readers know exactly to that which I am refer. 

As a result of this intuitive “reading,” women may be more prone to misinterpretation.  Now, if you are interpreting what I just wrote, you missed the part where I said women MAY BE MORE PRONE.  Make no mistake about it, women do not corner the market on misinterpretation.  Men are also prone toward this!

Uh oh!  I can hear it now.  “What does he mean by that?” 

See what I mean? 

All the men are nodding their heads in agreement, folding their arms and loving that someone finally told it like it is.   The women are trying to figure out some elaborate and grand interpretation. 

OK, stop.  STOP! 

Men are more apt to take things at face-value.  We say, “I love you,” it’s precisely what it means.   If we say “I love you,” we are not thinking compared to whom, or more than so-and-so, or she is better to love than Gertrude.  When we love we are not saying it to have you think, “OK, what does he mean by this, and how much does he love me?”  We are not trying to get something from you.  How shallow is that?  We mean it at face-value.  Too often, men cease using the words and resort to love-actions.  Actions speak louder than words, and are often less misinterpreted.

Allow me to illustrate.  Women love diamonds.  They are told that “Diamonds are forever.”  Marilyn Monroe sang, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”  We get it.  We really get it.  Women love stuff.  By contrast, man’s best friend is “dog.”  We love our dogs.  We love our women.  Face-value, ladies!  FACE-VALUE.  We don’t love our women like we love our dogs.  And we don’t treat our dogs like we treat our women.  (I can hear the mumbling and gossip now. “Yeah, they treat their dogs better.”  See?  You did it again)  Now, just pretend you understand and we’ll buy you a diamond ring, or a set of earrings.  There!  Is that better? 

There is truth in the statement that sometimes men think you love them as you love your diamonds.  Thus, we believe that you conclude we love you like we love our dogs.  Speaking on behalf of most men (and I surveyed millions of men just this morning), we separate the things and people we love.  This is called compartmentalization.  We love stuff.  We love people.  These are different loves.  Get it?  Cool!  You keep this up, and we are going to throw in a necklace with the ring and earrings.  Are you smiling yet?

Second point to be made is this:  Women see body language, and they interpret.  Not only do they interpret body language, but women interpret another woman’s interpretation of body language.  Nuances in words are interpreted.  Looks are interpreted always seeking meaning and even motivation.  Mind if I ask just what language is being used to “interpret” these things?  For men, it’s seems kind of foreign. 

OK, play a little game with me this morning. 

It’s spring.  The birds are chirping, trees are blooming (No allergies are allowed in my game), and you are young all over again.  A guy sees your gorgeous visage, closes his eyes and drinks in your perfume.  He is lost in the rapture of your voice, and you are both 17, once again.  You watch all of this.  Your heart is touched.  He opens his eyes, saunters on over to where you are seated.  He smiles and says, “I think I’m in love.”  Your eyes meet and you smile. 

INTERPRET PLEASE! 

For the guy, at that moment he thinks he is in love.  What do YOU think?  Is he is love with you?  Is the young man in love with someone else, something else?  WHAT?

Do you hear wedding bells?  Are you seeing something that he does not see?  Is he a keeper?  Is he even yours at all?  Do you size him up, like a pair of shoes?  Does he have the potential to be an excellent father and grandfather?  Is he going to be rich?  I am waiting for an answer.

“The so-called weaker sex is the stronger sex because of the weakness of the stronger sex for the weaker sex.” (Anonymous)

Women and men are different and that’s the way it is supposed to be.  Our brains and hearts are wired differently to complement each other, and not just for the couple’s benefit, either.  Raising children is a chore done best with both male and female present.  No apologies for that.  Children in schools have female teachers so much more than they have male teachers.  Students are taught from female perspectives more than from male perspectives.  I wonder what to make of that (flipping the tables on you).  But we’ll save that discussion for another time.  You bring the remote and we’ll bring the earrings. 

I am just lost this morning how Ms. Interpretation and Ms. Construe have become best friends–soul mates, as it were.  Men should take a lesson.  A good place to start is in the kitchen.  Consider the old Home-Economics teacher who “espoused” . . .

“Help your wife . . . When she washes the dishes, wash the dishes with her.  When she mops the floor, mop the floor with her.” 

Stop interpreting ladies!  We mean well.  For once, just once, would you mind sitting up nice and tall, open your mouths, begin to pant like our presence touches your existence, and look at us like we are sovereigns?  We have diamonds! 

California is in Trouble

17 May

My home state has caused its own trouble economically.

We have no one to blame but ourselves.

Democrats have ruled this state for decades and now they’ve created the
largest mess in the nation.

Illegals have so drained precious resources in education, medicine, law
enforcement, and monies for incarceration.  What illegals bring to the state, in
terms of revenues, is overshadowed by the annual allocations provided to
them.

I am not against people.  I am certainly not against people wanting to
be in the United States.  But we have to get these folks who are here illegally
either into the system, or out of our nation.  They cannot be protected as some
“legal class,” or granted minority status.  They are illegal.  If nothing else,
I implore my democrat-friends to consider the numbers.

California is on verge of going bankrupt with a $26.3 billion deficit.  We
are considering saving hundreds of millions of dollars annually by cutting
monthly welfare payments to illegal immigrants.  This equates to $640 million a
year.  But we’ll see if the democrat-ruled state ever votes to allow that.

California has an estimated 2.7 million illegal aliens (7% of the
state’s population).

Here is an example of entitlements given a family of illegal immigrants.  My
state gives a 43-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico $650 a month for each of
her four children and about $500 in federal food stamps and other vouchers.
That is $2600 plus $500 for food.  That’s $3100 a month for the family of
illegals.  This is $37,200 per year.  This does not include education
expenditures and medical expenditures, which are at no real cost to illegals, in
terms of the taxes they pay and the benefits they receive.

Let’s play the numbers game and lump everything together.  Assume that
the 2.7 million illegals in California were broken into family units of four.
There would be 675,000 illegal families in California.  Take the $37,200 per
year, per family, and multiply it by 675,000 families, and the annual
expenditure equates to over $25 billion.  We cannot assume that all illegals are
taking funds, as such.  But we can assume all illegals find their ways into
California public schools and hospitals, and some find their ways into
inarceration.

California spends between $4 billion and $6 billion annually on schools,
jails and hospitals for illegal immigrants. That doesn’t even include other
local government costs such as police and fire, road maintenance and other
public services.

~$2.3 billion anually, the largest amount 300,000 illegal immigrant
children at public schools throughout the state.  Each of them comes with a
price tage of $9,015 per student, annually.  Again, do the math.  300,000
illegals being educated in California public schools puts the tab at 2.7 million
dollars a year.  In one decade alone, $27 million has been spent on illegals
just to attend public schools.

Having compassion is one thing, but we have created a monster–one so
large that our illegal population surpasses the populations of more than a few
states’ population, overall.

Here are some other numbers:

~California spent around $834 million to incarcerate nearly 20,000
illegal aliens in fiscal year 2009-2010.

~My state spends $700 million annually for medical treatment on an
estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants.

More than half the healthcare money will go to emergency services but a
substantial portion will pay for non-emergency health services such as
abortions, prenatal and postpartum care and even nursing homes.

California is in serious trouble.  The democrats control every political
majority in the senate and assembly.  They occupy the governor’s and lieutenant
governor’s offices.  The attorney general of the state is a democrat.  Judges
are appointed by democrats.  Major cities are “blue.”  Taxes are high, and
Governor Brown is threatening to cut to the bone, causing massive layoffs for
citizens–yes citizens.  Yet, he and the Democrats will do little-to-nothing to
send illegals packing.

In plain English, we are a mess.

http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2011/calfacts/calfacts_010511.aspx#zzee_link_29_1294170707

Anger Misses Out

17 May

Has our human anger kept us from the very blessings of God?

A quick thought for the reader’s consideration: Is our anger the very thing we choose, thereby missing out on God’s hand of blessing in our lives?

I was having this conversation the other day with my students about why it is that man takes most of the credit for discoveries and inventions, while God gets the blame for “acts of destruction.” It’s just not fair that God gets blamed for all the evil and bad things that happen in the world, while man takes all the credit for the good things. It is a cheap shot to blame a higher power, especially when that is the only time His presence is acknowledged.

Critics allow their anger to get in the way of that which is good in this world. God often emerges from the conquest of evil. But oo often we cannot get beyond the pain of the evil. Critics claim that mankind cannot be the blame for something that God allowed and could have easily stepped into the dimension of time to solve. But critics cannot have it both ways. Either God is present in time when good occurs, or He is not present in time when evil occurs.

Human anger is imperfect and misses out on things that are good.

So I am just here wondering how many of us are carrying around internal anger and missing out on the good that awaits our relinquishing of the negative and self-oriented emotion.

Art or Science?

16 May

Sitting here having coffee and running a few things through my head.

If teaching is a gift, and art form, why then are we seeking to quantify the qualitative aspects associated with this art?  Can we understand how to paint better by analyzing the colors on the canvas?  Can we understand what it takes to be an artist, by dissecting each stroke used by the artist?  Are educators made better by meeting with others who are painters, merely to describe what we can do to get better paintings?  The creation of a common canvas does little for the deep and passionate gift that lies within.  This gift is best expressed by merely painting.

When the artist is able to use his or her creativity, there is often no explanation; Things just happen.  Following a specific set of protocols minimizes creativity.  Likewise, quantifying this creative process and then standardizing and commonly formalizing what is a gift, equates to gathering artists and seeking to replicate similar results on canvas.

Psychometricians want to measure apples and oranges and place giftedness into numbers, so as to justify methodology.  Education is now akin to “painting by numbers,” while calling those in the profession “artists.”  Educators whose cognitive bent is to acquiesce to this form of reductio absurdum miss the real place whereby education occurs.

Education is not in the numbers; It is in the brain where context and learning occur.  A student learns despite the ability to give back what is learned.  The forming of context occurs differently for all of us.  Some take longer than others to frame schemata and add to it the newer concepts formed, or knowledge gained.

Since we are all unique, and our brains contextualize very differently, there is no one format and style of teaching that fits all.  Neither is there one test that is common to all learning, and learning styles.

In a real world, all students would test according to their learning styles.  Good luck with that.  This would require students to be assessed, in terms on a common formative assessment given across 400 students of all levels, male and female, auditory and visual, communicative, gregarious, and shy, etc.

We need to end the hyper-scientizing of education and celebrate the giftedness of both teachers and students.  There is a reason the scientizing comes from the top-down, administratively.  Most administrators are numbers people and have drunk the Kool-Aid served by other administrators at the District level.

Measuring student learning with a series of short assessments after a lesson is an attempt to secure something in return, from students, that may very well be in their working memories to some extent.  The real test is tomorrow, or next week.  Did that learning stick and transfer to another context?  Unfortunately this measure is not completed best by a multiple choice “bubble” test.  Measuring qualitative giftedness is done best by student’s expressing their “own” learning.

In closing, I think we all know that bureaucrats have assembled a list of standards that students are to master at all levels, to a large degree.  One one level, it makes sense for students to “learn this and be tested on this.”  That is the mathematical approach.  However, on many other levels, we must ask ourselves whether bureaucrats know best what best prepares our students for the real 21st century world they face?

Should not those with the gift be the ones setting the course?  Instead of analyzing “red,” may we allow those of us who understand how red, blue, yellow, green, and other colors best fit on a canvas, as well as what strokes work best on any given surface?

Mixed Messages

12 May

Sometimes we use excuses as a means of sidestepping responsibility for actions, or words.  Blaming others is part of human nature for many.  We see this in our politicians blaming predecessors.  We see this in our children.  It appears in the media, and it is certainly found in the workplace.  Taking responsibility for things that we say and do just seems like something passe.  Today we are told that words and actions do not have to line up.  In fact, words are justification for ill-behavior and it is quite annoying.

Take, for example, the sign that was tacked to a tree near a Catholic convent:  “No trespassing!  Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law–Sisters of Mercy.”  We call that a mixed message.  I cannot help but wonder how often we come across the same way, because of our words and actions.  I am sure it is pretty close to daily.

Nothing irks me more than the practice of hypocrisy, which is most likely why one political party bothers me so much.  Momentary, political expediency and vilification of anyone different is the practice.  Character assassinations and double standards are hypocritical and send mixed messages.  I think the height of this “mixed-message-syndrome” is found in the recent killing of Osama bin Laden.  Allow me to explain.

On the one hand, the president is against any technique that causes a terrorist to give up information to save lives.  Information given up through touch interrogation techniques yielded a booty of intelligence that lead to bin Laden.  Obama defines such techniques as torture.

I am sure the president would allow torture of a terrorist if his wife’s, or daughters’ lives were in jeopardy.  But all of that aside.  How can a person be so against a technique–torturous or not–and then be in favor of assassinating a terrorist and others in a raid?  We don’t torture, we just kill?  I call that a definite mixed message.

Politics aside, we struggle daily with the sending of mixed messages.  The root of this struggle is found in two areas of our human nature.  First, we value “self” over others and seek to hide things deleterious to our reputation.  We see this “saving our hides” attempt in the Garden of Eden story in Genesis.

Second, with power comes the ability to make certain of outcomes in one’s favor.  So, our words can be overridden by actions.  Both are hypocrisy at their core.  We find each of these problematic–both in our own lives and in the lives of people to whom we entrust power.

As an educator, I work in the trenches daily.  I am entrusted with power over many lives.  The moment I say one thing and do not follow-up with actions that align with my words, my students are quick to call me out on it–and rightly so!

I get quite frustrated with the media that does not hold our president accountable to his words and actions.  I wish I could get the same pass by those who hear and see me, but I can’t.  My power is limited and it is shared.

Power is addicting.  The more it is used, if combined with lessened public accountability, one begins to think he or she is actually right over time.  Therein lies to deception that comes with hypocrisy.  Promises are made and broken, and are not reported.    Controversies arise and are quelled.  Events are spun to sound like “truth.”  No wonder power can be so intoxicating.

The lasting truth about mixed messages and hypocrisy can be summed in double-mindedness.  It is quite clear that those of us who practice double-mindedness in words and deeds are “unstable in all our ways.”  (James 1:8)

Have you ever wondered why our chief executive says one thing, does another, confuses all of us with rhetoric, etc.?  Remember all the promises he made during his campaign just to get elected?  The truth is that he is unstable, due to shifting ideologies.  In other words, the anchor in his nature dangles just above the ocean floor.  There is no greater mixed message than what emerges from a messenger that believes dangling, unfixed anchors are actually evidence of positive change.

Power is best used when it is shared.  Power used to obtain more power is glorification of self.  “Do as I do, not as I say,” is a hypocrite’s mantra.

Know what I mean?

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