Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lesson 78: Cache Me if You Can

The light is back on at the Lamp Post, readers.  If you drove by and noticed that it was always on at the tippy top of my house as usual, I fooled you.  It was on a timer.  We were away for a week in the woods and I didn't really want all of cyber space to know it, so I pulled a little trick on the locals.  Sorry.  It was all in the name of safety.  I wouldn't want anyone rifling through my stuff, not that I own anything that valuable anyway. The things of greatest value in my house are the pool table and the piano, so I say in advance to a thief, "Good luck with that."

When we spend our annual week in the woods at the camp of my in laws I have to mentally prepare.  Any mother reading this blog full well knows the torturous planning involved in getting ready for any vacation when kids and pets are involved.  You need things to keep them warm and dry.  You need things to keep them nourished.  You need things to repel the biting insects.  But most of all, you need things to do--to combat the boredom that sets in after the first couple of days.

Guests took care of that for the kids this year.  A couple of sets of friends made the trip down for visits.  They had fun fishing and swimming and hiking and poking sticks in fires and crayfish catching and also geocaching.  What?  Back up a minute.  What did you say?  Geo-catching?  No---geoCASHing--that's how you pronounce it Slovenians.

Geocaching is actually what Eloise does to combat boredom.  It is a hobby some friends turned me on to in 2009, and boy did it catch me.  It is the perfect hobby for someone who likes to be outside.  I love the outdoors but my peaceful nature prohibits me from hunting and fishing for sport.  I have no problem with those who do responsibly, it just isn't for me.  I have a hard time killing a mosquito, so shooting a deer with anything other than my camera would be impossible for me.

So what is it, you are asking?  Allow Eloise to instruct--one of my favorite things to do:   Geocaching is a game that is played internationally.  It is similar to a treasure hunt.  Little hidden "caches" are placed around the world, and the coordinates and clues are left on the geocaching website  Anyone can hide them.  Anyone can seek them.  Membership is free.  All you have to do is sign up for an account and you need just a few things.  You use a GPS--a Global Positioning System--to find the treasure you want to look for.  Mine looks like this yellow one.  I got mine about 5 years
ago for my husband to use when fishing to mark his schools of fish.  I keeping with nearly every single thing I ever get for him--he never used it.  I dug it out of his fishing bag myself, figured it out, and typed in my first coordinates on a wet, dreary April day in 2009.   You obviously have a computer because you are reading this blog--so that is all you need to get started.

You can read more about the history of geocaching on the geocache webiste or the wikipedia article if I've peaked your interest.  In brief, the game began in 2000, after President Clinton allowed GPS technology for civilians.  Up until that time it was reserved for the military.  Some guy named Dave out in Oregon hid something in a bucket and logged in the coordinates, curious to see how accurate the little gem he held in his hand was.  He called his buddy who also had a GPS and told him to see if he could go find it.  Buddy did, and the game grew from there.

To find your first cache, sign up for the free geocaching account, then go to "hide and seek a cache."  I suggest you type in your home address and click, "search within 10 miles."  You will be shocked how many pop up--even in Slovenia.  When I did that, the computer told me the nearest one was 440 feet from my house.  I put on my boots and slogged through the backyard with the GPS pointing me to the area of the picnic pavilion in the park behind my house.  It brought me and the kids right to the middle of the picnic tables and it read, "Reached destination."  My kids were like, "Now what?"  I said, "Look for something."  They replied in kid like fashion, "What?!?!"  I replied in Big kid like fashion and said, "I dunno.  Just look for somethin'."  Sure enough, we found a little hide a key holder magneted to one of the posts.  We slid the key slot open to find a piece of paper.  Upon unfolding it, we found a long list of names and dates--people who had come before us and found the very same hidden treasure.  Someone had discovered it only the night before.  How cool!

After you find a cache, you can log back into your computer account and click "found."  The computer keeps track of your finds for you.  It is also good to log in and click "not found" if you got skunked.  It lets the person who took the time to hide the cache that something could be wrong with it--that the coordinates are off or some little punk stole it, which they are known to do.  I just checked my account this morning and I have 45 finds to my name, but I have found more than that.  I am not always that good about going back in to log in the finds.  That is because I really don't care about the accumulation---its the journeys that matter the most to me.  I run the race to run, so to speak--not to get the ribbon or my name posted in the paper.  The same applies for geocaching I guess.  

The above photo story set to the U2 song I Still Haven't Found What I'm Lookin' For, is a collection of photos from some of our caches.  The first ones are from this past week, and the end ones are from two years ago when we first began.  You can tell the time change just looking at Ellen.  It is amazing how much a little girl can change in two years.  She's braver now, so I lower her down into some crevices that my 40 year old body doesn't want to cram itself into.  She's a trooper about tromping through belly high ferns, too with nary a complaint.  That's muh-girl.

You will see that from the camera shots, I am always at the same position of the line up no matter who I've roped into going---I'm bringing up the rear.  Now that, Slovenians, is a figure of speech in America that means I occupy the last place in the line--not that I got a butt lift.  Those are the Californians--I'm Pennsylvanian, remember?  I lag back and walk last purposely to get shots like the ones on the movie, and that I walk a little slower, savoring the scenery.  My kids argue that I am just a big chicken, and let them go first in case there is a bear, mountain lion, or rattle snake.   Not true.

When I slowly walk and take in nature at its beauty wherever I am and whatever the season, I can't help but think about God.  I don't really pray, but I feel connected to it all for some reason.  I like to read about the US Presidents.  Not the political stuff--the other stuff they write when they are not campaigning.  Jimmy Carter is my favorite because I share his Christian and peace-promoting beliefs.  I love to read Clinton for his sheer craftiness and originality of his language, but it is Ronald Reagan that was the biggest nature lover.  He loved the time he spent walking and riding out on his ranch.  It was then he said that he felt closest to God--when he was out in nature.  I believe him because that is how I feel, too.

I had a rough week leading up to the camp trip.  If you are a regular blog reader you will recall that I lost a friend this week in a tragic way.  While we were on a relatively easy hike, I lagged back as usual and thought about Melanie and wondered if I had done enough to help her.  I didn't know until I read her obituary that she collected angels.  I should have figured that, because she has a big one in her front yard.  I run past it nearly every day.  I thought a lot about her as I put one foot in front of the other and promised myself that I would never forget about her.  I whispered to the trees, "I hope you are at peace now, Melanie," just before we came upon the Catch a Cache hide in Cook's Forest.  It is placed about a half a mile's walk from a fish hatchery.  My daughter and her friend Kara found the box.  It was a bigger one with trinkets inside.  It was Kara's first time geocaching, so you will see photos of Ellen showing her how to sign the log book, and take a trinket from the hidden stash, replacing it with one we brought.  I was half paying attention, trying to keep track of the dog, Sam, and listen for Natalie (she always has that iPod playing so it makes it easy).  I said to the girls, "What did you pick out?"  Ellen replied, "Oh, Mom.  I just had to take this.  I doubted anyone wanted it because it was broken, but I like it for some reason."  I looked up to find it was a small angel, painted gold, with a broken wing.  No lie.  Intrigued?  I guess you will have to click play on the above photo story to see it for yourself.

You just can't make up stories this good, Dear Readers.  It was a message.  Melanie must have heard me somehow.  The little gold angel now sits on my desk here at the Lamp Post.  And there it will remain forever, watching over me while I write, blessing my fingers as they try to send messages of good news and hope.

It is my hope today that everyone can get outside for a bit and air out your bodies.  Let them breathe a little, no matter where you are.  And while you're at it--give something a new a try--geocaching.

Always (as in always looking for something),

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lesson 77: Favorite Song #4

The light is a little dimmer here at the Lamp Post tonight, Readers.  Eloise lost someone today, far too early in life.  In the seven months of this calendar year I've lost a mother in law, two friends that happened to be my neighbors, and my 20 year old cat.  I had a longer essay in mind with some pictures of me at some crossroads in my life, but my fingers don't feel like typing.  I am sad.

This song by Green Day really is on my Top Five Favorite Songs of All Time list.  I didn't make that up to fit my current situation.  Time of Your Life is the title, but it is also subtitled Good Riddance because it actually was written to be a break up song.  The songwriter thought the title was a bit too fluffy for how he was really feeling so he gave it the second subtitle.  Green Day climbed to fame during that strange "grunge" era in the early 90's.  They are sort of a cross over alternative band that had some hits on the Pop Charts.  This one came out in more of the middle 90's, I believe.  I loved it the first time I heard it and it's stayed with me all of these years.   Although this song was intended to be a song to play if you get dumped by your significant other, it has now been adopted as the song to play at life changing moments.  It is often played at graduations, celebrations, and even funerals.

Inevitably, we all reach a crossroads on our path through life.  Sometimes you find yourself standing there in the middle not really knowing which way to turn--at that fork stuck in the road.  Have you ever been in that place where your heart is pulling you in one direction, and your brain and logical self tells you it makes more sense to go another way?  I've been there and it is tough.  No, tough is too gentle of a word.  Let's substitute tormenting or heart wrenching. Yes.  Those are better.

Sometimes we feel like we don't even get the choice, just like the song says: "time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go."  I am certain that is how a friend of mine is feeling tonight--that time has got him by the wrist and has yanked him in another direction.  Like Green Day sings, "It's something unpredictable".  The song writer reminds us that it is up to us to carry that faith that in the end it will all work out--in the end it's right--even at times like this when it seems impossible to believe that anything will ever be right again.

Make the best of this test and keep putting one foot (boot) in front of the other.  You can do it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lesson 76: Girls Run the World

I've been waiting for nine months to write this blog, Readers.  Sunday, July 17th was the day of the big race, the half marathon my friend Tracy Northern is running in.  If you will recall, I have two friends named Tracy I frequently make mention of on this blog.  Tracy Northern lives above the Mason-Dixon line with me.  Tracy Southern flooped the coop to Dixie Land and lives in the dim witted, heat ridden, flea infested south.  I pissed her off and had to apologize publicly on my last blog post--Lesson 74:  Hard to Say I'm Sorry.  Whoops.  Probably just did that again dissin' her Carolina peeps and all, or worse yet, just lit the match for Civil War #2.  Don't worry readers, Eloise has read most of Jimmy Carter's works and he was a great peacemaker (as well as from the south).  I know just what to do.

Nevertheless, my friend Tracy Northern made up her mind about 9 months ago to make a try for the 13.1 miles.  TN is a mom like me, and has spent more years on the bleachers watching her husband or kids play than actually playing herself.  But she felt it was high time that she did something for herself for a change.  Time invested into long runs, often late at night after her family was all settled, or at ungodly hours of the morning became commonplace and just part of her daily routine.  I am proud of her for seeing it through to the end.  As you will see from the photo story above, she crossed the finish line with a smile on her face.  Amazing.

Tracy Northern isn't insane.  She's just determined---and she's not alone.  There were nearly 900 other people signed up to put themselves through the same endurance test.  Some more of my friends also took the challenge and pushed their womanly bodies beyond what they once thought their limits to be.  Congratulations Kira, Erica, Kristen, and Heather.  Kudos to you, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word.  I just looked it up to be sure of its definition (we teachers are nerdy like that) and it means "honor and glory."  Perfect.  As per my suggestion, Tracy had Lady Ga Ga's Edge of Glory on her iPod as her finishing song.  Great choice.

My little sis, who I also love to poke fun of on this blog has become a runner of a different breed.  I can pick on her freely because she is my only sibling.  Every time we fight, just before I hang up on her I always shout, "Oh, go call all of your other siblings and see what they have to say about that."  This is all good, today though because I am here to tell you that my sis has grit.  She's the sparky fast one who is pushing those 5K times down into the low 20's.  Known as a speed demon of a driver, it is no surprise to those who know her that she is a lightning fast runner as well.  Karen places in nearly every race and wins lots of them.  She is the one that you don't want behind you in a race, because she's sure to catch you.  She's got a big, long race brewing inside of her too, but hasn't made it there just yet.  She was at the half marathon volunteering at the 8th mile, holding a mile marker and cheering everyone on.  Karen is the one responsible for writing "Go Tracy!" in chalk on the bike path that you see on the photo movie.  

You will also see on the movie pictures of my girls--the next generations who have been so inspired from women like my sister and Tracy Northern and gang.  At 10 and 13 years of age they already have six 5K's under their belts and asked me when we can sign up for the next one.  This makes for one proud Mother Eloise.  Ellen, my ten year old ran back to back 5K's on Friday night at 7:30 pm and woke up early to do another one at 8:00 am.  Impressive.  Natalie, my 13 year old with autism was the shocker of the weekend.  She usually walks the 5K's, as I am a bit protective of her and still hold back a bit from pushing her to her physical limits like that because life in other areas, like basic communication, is such a challenge for her.  Natalie's prearranged walking partner was unable to make it and she was left to do the 5K with Ellen and I.  "Run, Mommy.  Okay, please," said Natalie.  Ellen and I exchanged glances and shrugged and agreed we'd run as long as Natalie could then walk in the rest of the way with her.  Imagine our surprise when SHE RAN THE ENTIRE THING!!! without as much as even a practice!  Never underestimate the power of a woman, folks. That is all I can say.  

There is never a better time to be a girl in America.  We can do anything.  It is acceptable to choose to bear children or not, stay home and raise them or go to work.  You can be a singer, a soldier, a sports star, or a school teacher.  Pick your fancy, ladies.  Sure, it would be a heck of a lot easier to sit on a southern plantation like the belles did and fan themselves.  What you choose to do today will undoubtedly much harder.  But you have the choice.  That's important.  Don't forget that.  Not all women in this world today have this right.  When your journey gets tough, try some running to help you cope.  And don't do it to lose weight.  You don't lose with running--you only gain; confidence, perseverance, and strength. Ladies, we've never needed these traits more than we need them today.

What about me?  Does Eloise run races?  Sure I do, in my Eloise sort of way.  I am in good condition from making running a daily part of my routine six days a week (always saving the Lord's day to rest my weary limbs as He had intended).  I enjoy the treks through the woods and up and down my country road.  Don't look for "Eloise" when you check the race standings though.  I register under the names of US Presidents.  For the next one, look up Thomas Jefferson, 40 year old female.  Did you hear that?  He just rolled over in his grave.

Run on my friends and watch your backs, fellas.  Girls really do Run the World.
Eloise Jefferson

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lesson 75: Favorite Song #5

As promised, here is the beginning of my top 5 favorite songs of all time, starting with #5 and I'll work backwards to #1 throughout the rest of the summer.  These songs are not my "theme song", which I will post sometime this fall.  They are my FAVORITES--ones that withstand the test to time.  There is a difference, and I suggest you begin thinking about your favorites, and also finding one that fits you perfectly enough to deem your theme song.  It may not even be written yet, and you'll have to keep searching for it, and that is fine.  Some things in life are not found until later, like peace of mind, financial security, or even love.  So even if you don't have your theme song yet--keep listening.  It will find you.  Until then, you can at least compile a list of favorites.  Again--please send them to me when you do.

When you are an elementary school teacher, you find kids have favorite everythings:  favorite songs, favorite movies, favorite teachers (always me, until I give a test, of course).  When I taught kindergarten for a hellish one year stint (say prayers tonight for any Kindergarten teachers you know), when I would ask kids about their favorite whateveritwas, they would always say, "They are all my favorites."  That is testament to their immaturity.  It's hard to choose a favorite when you've only had 60 months of life experiences. Sure, I have my list of current favorites as fickle as the Kindergartner's favorite flavor of ice cream.  I have a huge crush on Tim McGraw right now and that's all I've been listening to, but can Timmy and that to die for ichthus tattoo withstand the test of time?   I don't know, we'll just have to see.  As we grow and mature, songs come in and out of our lives, just like people do.  They give us memories and smiles and even sometimes tears.  You can always connect a place and time with a special person or a special song.  Which ones have stayed with you for all of your years?  What songs do you connect to special people or events in your life?  True favorites.  Find yours.

This song has been around for a long while--in 1968 it held the stop spot for four straight weeks.  The cool thing about this song, Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay, was that the singer Otis Redding, a mere twenty six years old, died in a plane crash just three days prior to its release.  The song is actually considered unfinished.  Listen to the whistling part at the end.  According to legend, there was going to be another verse there, and Otis had not completed it yet.  When he recorded the demo, he just whistled the part hoping to fill it in later.  Tragically, Otis never got the chance.  Erieites, another interesting fact is that Otis Redding's last performance was at some little bar in Cleveland, Ohio.  From there, he and some of his band mates were flying on a small aircraft to Wisconson for their next gig, and the plane crashed over a lake outside of there.  One band member did survive the crash.

It is also chilling how the song is about a lonely man who trekked 2,000 miles across the country to San Francisco and parked his butt on the dock of the bay and pondered life.  He didn't seem to have any plans on going anywhere and was content to watch the tide roll in and out.  It seemed to me after listening to it a few times, that this man was lonely, but he wanted to get a fresh start somewhere else.  He just stared out at the water and rested and contemplated what to do next.

That is exactly the thing I do when I need to clear my head.  I seek out water.  My sister will tell me that it is because I am the astrological sign Pisces, the fish.  I don't believe in that stuff, so I pay her no mind.  You can't tell me everyone born in March is drawn to the water.  When the stresses of life get to me, I'll find a creek (luckily there is one that runs through my yard, so I never have to go too far), or go to the shore of Lake Erie and sit awhile.  I've been to the ocean a few times in my life and that is a marvelous place to go, especially at sunrise, to ponder life.  If you ever doubt for one second that there is nothing beyond this world---that we are all here as some sort of cosmic accident, I beg you to go sit quietly by a body of water, whether it be the vast ocean, a great lake, or a stream.  I guarantee that "knowing" will find you too.

The photos on the movie I made above are all taken from my parents' little beach side paradise otherwise known as "the cottage."  It was a little steal they nabbed almost 25 years ago and I've spent my summers there ever since.  I love to play with my pictures on, but I promise you I doctored NONE of them.  The skies in the last two weeks were just those colors.  Spectacular.  I am sure you will agree.

Enjoy my top 5 favorite tune and the beautiful sunsets that only God could design.  Come for a visit, Slovenians.  I live in a beautiful place.  I'll take you for a walk on the beach and we can look for beach glass.  The green pieces are my favorites.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Lesson 74: Hard to Say I'm Sorry

OK, OK, OK.  I am making my first public blog retraction.  74 posts since last August and nary a miswrite---until now.  I am retracting a statement I made in the prior blog post.  The Smokin' In the Boys Room song suggestion by my fake southern belle friend was NOT, I repeat, NOT, her suggestion for her theme song.  I forgot---it was part of a quiz she sent me.  She was trying to get me to guess whose song it should be.  I received her message in the form of a text and I was riding a train with my son Sam at the time, so I'll admit,  my brain was a bit fried.  South Carolinian is right.  I was wrong.  In no way shape or form should you think that this health nut friend of mine would put a cigarette in her mouth.

I needed to correct this fast, because she is coming home tomorrow, and I'll be the first to admit I am afraid of her.  All four feet, three of her  (OK, OK--second retraction, four feet, TEN--but I was just using literary licence to draw you all in).  I don't want to have to do the bob and weave moves that I've learned from watching all of my Rocky movies.  She's a bit a bit short in the bulk department, but she is long on the punch, man.  Don't underestimate the power of the height disadvantaged.  They pack a mean punch, too.  Did you ever watch Rudy?  It's another one of my favorite movies.

Why did I pick this video?  Well, first it's length--3:33---only good things come in threes like tricycles, and my birthday, and secret numbers on Rolling Rock bottles, and the Holy Trinity, and blog apology songs.  Secondly, for some odd reason that I cannot figure out, the video is about polar animals.  I don't get it.  If you do explain it to me-----but I thought she'd like to see the snow.   She forgot what it looked like living in sunny South Carolina and all.  It kind of looked like our last winter here, didn't it Erieites?  Thirdly, it is a Chicago song--a band from our high school era.  One who did Hard Habit to Break and You're the Inspiration.  Love those songs and always will.  Three reasons for a 3:33 apology song.  Perfect just like the triangle--the strongest shape.  Strong like the bond of friendship, right?

It really isn't hard to say I'm sorry when you are a blog writer though and you can do it in this fashion.  So, Sherlock, I AM SORRY!!!!!!!

See you in two days,
Your very special long time friend blood sister forever,

Lesson 73: Tiger Lilies in Bloom

"Are you the one that lives in that house with all the Tiger Lilies in front of it?"  I heard that often after I took my new job five years ago.  I was the hometown girl, returning to teach in the school of her roots, but I was still a newcomer.  Not many of my colleagues knew where I lived.  My house is smack dab in the middle of all the schools I travel to each week.  It couldn't be in a more perfect location.  In July every year, my Tiger Lilies are in full bloom.  They line my yard where the road meets it and surround the tube where my creek runs beneath it.   They also are placed in strategic areas around my yard and my parents' connecting yard.   Many people recognize my house simply from the tiger lilies.

I like the tiger lilies for several reasons.  I love them because they are hearty and don't need a lot of fuss.  Once you plant them and they take root, they spread like wildfire.  Most of the ones on my property are split from the original ones my mother planted in the yard I grew up in.  I remember her planting them when I was just a little girl.  Their orange color reminds me of my Alma mater--the orange and black school colors of Harbor Creek.  My mother has several varieties of them--pretty yellows and reds, too--but I just stuck with the orange. That is just how I am.  When I find something I like, I tend to stick with it.  I'm loyal like my Labrador Retriever.

The photo story above shows some of the tiger lilies that are in bloom around my house.  My camera actually has a "flower" setting on it, making the focus very clear.  If you look closely into the center of one of the tiger lilies, you can even see a lady bug inside.  Cool.

So, Readers, I'm telling you to look deep into the eye of the tiger, hence the reason for the song posting with the pictures.  I did that for a couple of reasons, too.  I told my friend whom is pretending to be a South Carolinian, but is a Yankee at heart because she grew up right here in my hometown with me----to find her theme song.  I told her I thought everyone had one.

Earlier this year, I chose a good theme song for Natalie, my 13 year old with autism.   I picked Butterfly Fly Away by Miley Cyrus.  You can read it back in the February posting called Butterflies are Tougher Than Moths.  I have one all picked out for my daughter Ellen, but I will post it for all of you in September when she turns 11, so you'll have to check back to see what it is.  I picked Eye of the Tiger, the 1982 hit by the band Survivor for my scrappy son, Sam, whom you hear so much about on this blog.  The song was used as the theme song for one of the Rocky movies, which I love.

If there is one of my kids that has my ticket right now, it is Sam.  He really knows how to push my buttons and it has been a battle of wills over even the slightest thing.  I am more stubborn than he is, he just hasn't realized that yet, so I have won nearly every battle that we've fought this summer.  I am always running around with my camera and I think he senses that my snapshots mean a lot to me, so he's playing this little game where he's refusing to smile.  OK--I'll admit--there are a few situations where a little boy of four may not want to smile, like when the only life jacket that fit him was a pink one, or when he was down with the flu.  Also check out is $20 some dollars worth of Cherry Festival prizes.  Should I be alarmed that the first prize he picked was a sword?  I caught him in the living room the other day trying to butcher that pink pig, which he named cleverly "Pink Piggy" (unlike Ellen, he is missing the creativity gene), which he also won.

I have my own list of favorite songs--my top five that will stand for all time, and I will begin posting them in backwards order on this blog tomorrow, so stay tuned.  However, there is a difference between "favorite songs" and "theme songs" for you life.  See if you can find your "theme song."  Since I've told my fake southern belle friend this one she told me it is driving her nuts.  She keeps sending me suggestions for her like, "Smokin' in the Boys Room" but I keep turning down her suggestions.  Keep listening.  See if you can find your theme song.  That means you are thinking.  Thinking is good.  Otherwise you are just existing and just existing is bad.  If you have my contact information, send it to me so I can see what you picked, or post a comment on this blog.  You have to be a "follower" to do that--if you aren't yet, just create a google account and that function will become available to you.

Look deep into the eye of the tigers on this blog post, both the flowers and my son's eyes.  I've been telling everyone not to make direct eye contact with Sam, because you may turn to stone.  However, I take that back.  Look deep into his baby blues.  There's good in there.  I can see it.  Perhaps this difficult time is just a phase and "this too, shall pass."

Enjoy the full bloom of the summer in PA, Slovenians,
Eloise Balboa (as in the fighter, not the explorer)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lesson 72: Felt Good on My Lips

I need to follow up my dead cat blog (Lesson 71:  Ode to Amtrak) with something a little more upbeat.  I like to post songs that remind me of the season, and this Tim McGraw song is deemed my new summertime song.  Since I saw Tim McGraw in concert three weeks ago, his playlist has been running through my iPod ever since.  I've even got Sam singing Fly Away.  The concert was so good that I would actually go back for a second dose and take my girls if I could.  The August 6th date out in Salt Lake City, Utah is looking pretty good to me, but I don't think the hubby would be too keen on the girls and I ditching him and leaving him with Sam for some hot country guy.  Bummer.

If you can't make it out to Salt Lake City like me, you can at least watch this video.  It will give you some idea of what a Tim McGraw concert is like.  I honestly think our smaller crowd out in Darien Lake was much more lively than the one shown on this video.  I think that is me holding up the I Love Tim sign.  You can get a good look at his ichthys tattoo on his inner arm (wait----got to go look up the spelling of that i word----I'm a horrible speller---be right back-------------glad I checked---it can be spelled with a "ys" or "us"---I think I like the "us" ending because after all, He came for all of US).  Handsome also is wearing his famous black hat.

I like the lyrics to Felt Good on My Lips, too.  They are clever.  I like the part about the hand me down name in the first verse:
Said her name was a hand me down name 
From the side of a family that long ago came 
Over here on a boat from somewhere in Spain 
Sounded to me just a little bit strange, I guess. 
But I have to admit, it felt good on my lips. 

I like words and phrases that have multiple meanings and change within the context of how they are used.  Good Will Hunting is one of my favorite movies and the title is used in this way.  Felt Good on My Lips is a little story and  the line changes from a figurative expression to a literal one later in the song.  Listen to it a couple of times and you'll hear it.   All country songs tell stories.  I think that is why I am so fond of them.  Cowboys are good story tellers, I guess, and they seem to suck me in every time.  Especially handsome ones wearing black hats with ichthUS tattoos.  

Now how do you like them apples?
Enjoy your song.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lesson 71: Ode to Amtrak

If you've been keeping up with this blog, you know that I recently returned from The Great Train Excursion (Lesson 70).  It seemed nothing other than a full circle moment that I would return home to a dead cat named Amtrak.  Yes, my friend of 20 years passed on to the great ball of catnip in the sky.  I hope as he crossed through those pearly gates that he found fields of tall grass, chock full of mice to hunt for all eternity.

The story of Amtrak is interesting and I deemed it "blogworthy" (an Eloise coined term, soon to become mainstream I am sure).   We've had Amtrak for twenty years.  I say we've, intentionally, as caring for him has been a family affair.  Twenty summers ago, on a day when the mercury in the thermometer climbed well into the 90's, my sister heard a funny sound on her way home from her place of employment, the Shur-Fine grocery store.  It sounded as though a weak meowing was coming from the back seat of her car and it bothered her enough to pull off of the road to investigate.  To her surprise, she found a picnic basket in her back seat with a note on top that said, "Give me a good home."  She lifted the lid to find a limp, sweaty, half dead kitten in the basket.  We revived him by giving him eyedroppers full of water until his gray fur dried out and he was a fluffy, spry kitten once again.  We never found out who's brainchild that was, but let Eloise send you this delayed message:  If this was your handiwork--that was pretty idiotic.  Don't shut an animal in someone's car in the middle of the summer for God's sake!  I hope you are reading this blog and feel guilty and have since corrected your ways.

Now we had the matter of how to sneak this cat past my father.  My beloved lab Molly had recently died and my mother and sister and I sniveled over her untimely death for weeks.  My former Coast Guard, GE shop guy dad is not the most warm and fuzzy of chaps.  His idea of sympathy is a punch on the arm while telling you to "suck it up."  After he was tired of our tears, he issued a "No more pets!" ordinance in my household, effective immediately.  Dad had one daughter in college and another on the way there, and worked every second of overtime he could to help us through.  There was some overtime available around that time and in the manufacturing business you take what you can get when you can get it.   Since Dad had us rolling in the dough, we thought we'd try to name the cat a train name and see how he did with that.

Choo choo---no, too cute.  Sparky ("electric"--get it?)--uh uh, too playful.  General---nope, too old sounding and this was a wee kitten, probably taken too soon from its mama.  "Amtrak!"  one of us exclaimed.  I'd love to claim the credit for this one, as I am the clever one with words and really good at naming pets, but I honestly can't remember if it was my idea.  Nevertheless, the name suited this scrappy cat perfectly.

We did what women in the family do best when they band together--we ganged up on my dad and stood our ground.  It doesn't happen often as we are generally respectful of his wishes, but when we do--look out!  He was no match for us, so Amtrak took up residence on Firman Road.

Karen and I grew up and moved on getting married and such.  My dad tried to stuff that cat in every single moving box we had, but Amtrak would escape.  You just can't move cats.  Either one of us would have taken him, but Amtrak became an outdoor cat, a strong mouser and feared by every chipmunk in a mile radius.  His roots were here and he needed to stay.

In 1998, I moved back for good, back to my roots like Amtrak.  I realized that my hometown wasn't boring and it was a great place to live.  My parents subdivided their lot, and like many people do in my area, I settled in next to them for the long haul.  My parents became empty nesters and found themselves on the go more than they had anticipated.  I think Amtrak got lonely over at my parents' house and he kept coming over to mine.  He'd hang out with me on my front porch, and he eventually wormed his way into my house.  Occasionally I'd find him on the back of the couch, snoozing in the sunshine, but most often he was outside.  He has a heart like mine.  We long to be outdoors and do so as often as we can. Eventually I started buying food for him--the really good stuff because I figured he wouldn't live that long.  There are many dangers like coyotes, and cars visiting the park nearby my house, so I knew eventually something of that sort would get him.

WRONG!  Amtrak's decision to move in with me was 13 years ago.  I cannot imagine how much I spent on expensive cat food over the years.  Here is a little longevity hint your vet may not tell you, Cat Lovers.  Amtrak only ate Purina Kitten Chow his entire life.  He must have developed a taste for it and never would eat anything else.  He'd get a regular bowl of that every morning as he wound around my feet.  When I'd come home from work he'd greet me and I would give him an extra little wet food like Fancy Feast.  It always made me laugh as I peeled back the lid on that smelly can and looked at the fluffy, long haired white cat on the label, being served his dish on a silver platter.  I'd scoop the food into the bowl of my ratty, gray cat, who was covered with burs, mud, and the blood of the day's kill on his chops.

Since I've been home this summer, I could see that Amtrak was eating less.  His back was becoming bony and he was developing that skin sag that you often see on older cats.  He was sleeping more and moving around less, so I knew his days were numbered.  I broke the news to my mom, sister, and my kids to tell them I didn't think Amtrak had long left.  A vet visit would have probably been warranted, but I prefered not to upset the old guy and wanted him to die at home.  When we left last week for the Caboose Hotel, Amtrak wanted to go out.  I knew we would not be back for the night and I wouldn't be there to let him in.  If that wylie coyote came around at night, I didn't think Amtrak would have the strength to outrun him anymore.  I didn't think getting eaten alive would be so great a way for him to die, so I sat down and had a heart to heart talk with him.  All the while I talked to him and scratched him between his ears just where he liked it, Amtrak gazed out of the sliding door window.  He didn't want to go to the doctor and couldn't tolerate regular cat food let alone any medicine.  I understood that because I am the same way.  Amtrak wanted to go outside and brave the elements.  He needed to go to where he loved.  I scratched him one last time and opened the door.  I am not one much for goodbyes, so I gave him a little boot in the butt to get him moving across the threshold to lock up.  "Godspeed, My Friend," I told him.  I had a feeling that was the last time I'd see my cat.  I was sad because I figured he'd go out to the field across the street to take a try at one last mouse.  I knew I'd never find him.  I wiped a stray tear, grabbed my purse, and got into the van with some sadness in my heart.

We returned the next afternoon, and the first thing I did was hunt for Amtrak.  On the three acres with two houses, two garages, a barn, and an outbuilding, trying to find him would be tough.  I had no sooner had the washer going when I was summoned to the driveway.  Ellen spotted him while she was riding her bike.  Amtrak was laying on his side underneath the oriental grass that decorates my garage door.  A nice shady, cool spot he chose to take his last breath.  Good job, My Friend.  Eloise is well pleased.

I took the above picture of him about a month ago, preparing for this blog post.  It was my kids first real brush with pet death--we had some others that died but they were too little for the deaths to have made an impact.  So I did what only Eloise would do--I wrote his kitty obituary, posted the picture on it, and passed them around the neighborhood.  Natalie hand delivered them.  "Kitty dead.  In the ground.  Dead." in her matter of fact autistic way.

He is buried beneath his favorite tree in the back yard where there are plenty of bird nests and the squirrels have made their homes.  We placed some tiger lilies on his grave, and Ellen is working on a  marker for his resting place as we speak.

For you childless or petless readers, you probably think I am nuts.  But pet death is an important milestone in life that nearly everyone is touched by in their lives at one time or another.  If you are old and never owned a pet yet, then I encourage you to read either Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows.  Both will touch you deeply and help you understand that humans really do grieve their pets.

When the girls were young, we went through a string of cats---seven in one year.  Strays kept showing up or people kept bringing them to our house.  They knew a sucker named Eloise lived there, I guess.  We'd no sooner get the first series of expensive shots done and they would be gone--a couple disappeared, one was found along side of the road (Floyd--my favorite!), and one got run over by a school bus on Natalie's birthday--"Kitty squished" she said that time.  I tried to find any pet death stories I could at the library and found a couple, but thought--heck, I could write one better than that---so I did.  The story below written in blue was my handiwork from years ago when Ellen asked me, "What happens to cats when they die?  Do cats go to heaven?"  I combed that Bible and could not find a difinitive answer, and she was little, so I wrote this for her and read it to her at bedtime for many, many days.  I am no poet, but you are all badgering me to share my stories more often, so here you go.  Enjoy.

A Tale of Tails  by Eloise--circa 2003

My child of mourning, fear not, said I
Hear this story to hush your cry

For your dear departed feline friend
Now an angel in the end

“tis the story that all true cat lovers know,
Is where the cats and kittens go

When a cat’s life with a family has passed,
Lies a secret place for all kittens and cats

This tale of tails as told to me,
By a wise old cat beneath a tree.

Nose to nose my friend and I
Sat underneath the Northern Spy

He told to me of secrets deep
Now I tell you for you to keep

So weep not my child, calm your fears
HELP ME HERE READERS!  I never got the right line here.  I am open for suggestions.  Ellen was little and never caught the break in rhyme and rhythm.  

The old gray cat did tell me this
Of the sweet young feline sorely missed.

 He spoke with a voice kind and good
"Come dance with us in tall dark wood"

Over the bridge and through the hollow
The trodden path you shall not follow

Where the long tall grass that sways in the breeze
Meets the gray and spindly trees

Beneath the bush where the shadows land
And old and broken tree stump stands

On the top knock once, knock twice
You will be greeted by two fat mice

No longer will rodents be your foe
Together you’ll join, tail to tail you’ll go

We’ll walk erect and join our paws
Together we’ll fight a noble cause

To protect the families that loved us so
Over the hills and fields we’ll go

By day we sleep, by night we fly
To comfort the waking child’s cry

We circle her bed and say a prayer
And blow sweet kisses in the air

Never wake afraid your dear ones will
As you guard them while all is still

Come with us, get your wings,
Learn to do cat-angel things.

Over the creatures great and small
You soon will watch over them all

Dry your eyes and hush your tears
For pets will stand guard for many years

So close your eyes sweet child of mine
You'll meet again one day in time

Don't laugh--it's bad, I know. I stink at math and am worse at poetry, but the girls liked it and that is all that matters.  I hope Amtrak who is now buried "where the long tall grass that sways in the breeze, meets the gray and spindly trees," also is enjoying himself now, too.

Also enjoy the posted song, "When I Die Young"--originally done by The Band Perry, but this version is Idol contestant Lauren Alaina singing it.  I saw The Band Perry (who is awesome--a sister and her two brothers) open for Tim McGraw a few weeks ago.  I give my props to them, but I have to tell you, that youngun' Lauren really did a kick butt version of it and I like her singing this song better.  Amtrak certainly didn't die young, but I was coming up dry on songs about dead cats.  This was the best I could do.

Rest in peace, Amtrak.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lesson 70: The Great Train Excursion

There are reasons I vacationed with my family recently in Titusville, PA instead of Tahiti.  They are called collectively, my children.  Titusville, PA for those of you who are happily unaware, is about an hour's drive south of the Lamp Post.  Yep.  60 minutes.  Long enough for Sam to ask, "When are we going to get there?, about five times."  Just long enough before I jumped from the moving vehicle.

Titusville, Slovenians, is pronounced with the long i sound for the first vowel. The rule in English is that when a vowel is followed by a consonant and then right again by another vowel, the second vowel goes back and makes the first vowel long.  My parents paid $16,000 in the early 1990's for me to learn that in college.  Thanks Mom and Dad for that useful information.  Consider it diplomacy.  Slovenians struggle with English and need our help.  My ten year old during a fit of mischievous boredom decided to tell Sam that the town's name was pronounced the way it looked, with the short i sound; tit (short i)- us-ville.  She only had to whisper it a few times that my super sensitive ears pricked up and I knew what she was doing to entertain herself in the back seat of the van.   Now Sam, in his booming voice, has been announcing to everyone that he saw the trains in Tit-us-ville.  Nice.  Try undoing that one.  Paybacks are hell, Ellen and the next thunderstorm I'm telling Sam that he will sleep much better with you in your bed.

Titusville was an oil town back in the mid 1850's.  A man named Drake struck oil in the hills of Pennsylvania on August 27th, 1859.  The cool part is that the town of Titusville uses that date 8-27 as the first three digits of the telephone numbers in their area.  Neat.  Drake's well still stands and it is a historic place that you can visit.

On the above slide show, if you can get past the dreamy, deep baritone of country singer Josh Turner, you will see a photo of my daughters biking the 9 mile path that begins at Drake's Well and runs along Oil Creek.  It is a beautiful flat ride through the woods on a paved trail.  We didn't make the whole nine miles, because frankly, to quote my mother, "if you've seen one tree, you've seen them all."  We turned back at the 5 mile mark.  We didn't kick out any deer, but we did see lots of chipmunks.  However, we did come across a deer getting a drink in the creek though which was pretty cool.  I took this photo, and the girls said, "Awwwwww!"  I could hear this little noise behind me that sort of sounded like a sneeze.  I turned to see Sam, strapped into his bike seat, making a pretend gun with his pointer finger and thumb, acting like he was shooting it.  I got problems.  The photo of the girls on the slide show is blurry because I was on my bike behind them and I realized all too quickly that it is a bit hard to take snapshots while biking along a creek ravine.  I was a bit wobbly, but I recovered in a graceful move before plummeting to my death.  Lucky for all of you because the blogs shall continue.

Sam is a train fanatic.  He is a Thomas the Tank Engine fan and loves to read my Dad's train magazines.  We took him on a ride through Tionesta.  He's the only one who never complains when we hit a train at the Walbridge Road intersection.  He likes to count the cars or shout out the colors of them.  We all got to ride in a passenger car, and also one of those open air cars along the back.  It was then as I was moving from car to car as you are allowed to do once the Conductor gives you the go ahead, that I realized motion is starting to get to me like it never has before.  I rode the new flying swings at the amusement park Waldameer a few weeks ago and wobbled through the park for about 15 minutes afterwards.  I thought it was an isolated incident, but the train trip bothered me a bit, too.  It must be why I can't help Sam count the boxcars as they go by while we are stopped at an intersection lately.  That makes me dizzy, too.  Unless it's the 40 thing.  Someone told me once all hell breaks loose once you hit it.  Could my new found motion sickness be part of the hell?

There was a retired teacher on board who served as a volunteer tour guide.  His name tag read Douglas.  When I watched him for the first part of the trip, I could tell by his mannerisms that he had been a teacher as his profession.  There were dead giveaways in the way in which he inflected his voice and held 2 to 3 second eye contact with the passengers as he spoke into his microphone with ease.  Nerds have a way of finding one another and I struck up a conversation with the white haired gentleman.  Teachers like to be asked questions, no matter how long out of the daily grind you are.  Douglas told me lots of cool new information about the town of Titusvillesmushed!  File that away for when you need it.  You never know when you may take a ride on the Cash Cab.  I may have just saved you your Street Shout Out or something.

I dissed my kids in the first paragraph there, but I am really only teasing.  They aren't THAT bad.  They are just kids being kids in the middle of the summer.  Natalie is the easiest to take places now, which is saying a lot about the kid who rarely left home for four years during her intensive therapy.  Once I redirected Ellen into thinking about something besides teasing her little brother, she was manageable.  Sam overall wasn't too bad.  I know we are giving him a complex, poor kid.  He can work it all out with his therapist later in life.  No one wanted to sleep in the motel bed with him because he's know for peeing the bed.  I drew the short straw.  He stayed dry but kicked me and farted the whole night.  Restaurant food doesn't agree with him apparently.  It does with Natalie, who manages to eat her menu choice, plus the remnants of everyone else's meal too.  She is truly a bottomless pit.  We had to come home the next day because I simply could not afford to feed them anymore.

What is your lesson for today, Readers?  Simply put, you don't need expensive vacations or to travel a great distance to discover something new.  We've been to Disney World once when the girls were young, and when you get there, you don't have to think.  Just sit back and let Walt and Friends entertain you and boy do they know how to put on a show.  But many of you are like we are and can't afford that type of trip every year, but that doesn't mean you can't find something fun to do.  We drove around a new town and discovered someone lives in a lilac colored house with dark purple trim.  We were intrigued as to why someone would paint their house in shades of grape, and we would have asked the person had we seen them out in their yard but no one was around.  It's left us all wondering about it, and maybe we'll be back for another train trip in the fall when the leaves are changing and we can ask then.  Sometimes questions go unanswered and once in awhile that is good because it gives you something to wonder about.  That means you are THINKING.  Thinking is good, otherwise you are just existing and JUST EXISTING is bad.

Speaking of questions, a couple came up about oil.  "If there is oil in Pennsylvania, why do we buy it from the desert then?" Ellen asked me.  That is kind of like the, "Where do the babies come from?" question she asked me a couple of years ago.  There is no easy answer.  If we go back to Titusville for another dose of Smalltowndom, I'll have to ask Douglas that one.  He's a retired teacher, so I bet he'll have an answer for me.  

In the end, you don't have to max out your credit card to have some fun with your family. An hours drive away and three $20's later you have yourselves a little vacation.  You just have to employ a little bit of creativity and you'll find a way to have fun---even in Tit-us-ville.

Until next time,

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lesson 69: I Suggest Firewords Instead

Eloise is happy today for a couple of reasons, Readers.  As you can see above, my posting problem has been solved!  Thank you to Stew, a long time family friend, an Erie native who was pretending to be a Chicagoan for most of his life.  Recently he wised up and returned to his roots to reside back in his hometown.  After all,  the fish caught out of Lake Erie are much more tasty than the ones caught out of Lake Michigan anyway.  Luckily for me, Stew's stint in Chicago did allow him to gain a vast knowledge of computers while hobnobbing with the big city folks.  While at a family picnic yesterday, he diagnosed my posting problem and told me how to fix it. Yeah!

Eloise loves a reason to celebrate, so the day itself greets me in a happy mood.  Today is a national holiday in America, Slovenians.  America's Birthday, July 4th, Independence Day, The Fourth of July--they are many ways of saying it-- a day of picnics and parties that begin in the afternoon leach into the sunset, to commemorate the beginning of our nation 235 years ago.  My fellow Americans and I don our red, white, and blue apparel and gather with friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry.  The kids play games and after a few drinks, sometimes the adults join in too.  It depends on what drinks were in the adults' cups that help determine how fun(ny) the games can be.  The most popular picnic games in America are Corn Hole, Horseshoes, and a pick up games of softball.  After the last piece of pie has been eaten and everyone is afraid to touch the potato salad because it has been sitting out in the sun all day, people gather up their things and move to somewhere they can watch a fireworks display, so the merriment lives on a little longer.  Americans drive to any nearby field with a blanket and some loved ones to top the night off with a resounding display of fireworks.  Sparklers are passed around to the children and everyone enjoys seeing the joy it brings to them.......well everyone except for my son Sam, that is.  

This year Sam decided that he is afraid of fireworks and is not shy in telling anyone from the store clerk to the newspaper man that he doesn't like them.  Fireworks and moths.  Yes, harmless little moths.  Sam is deathly afraid of those, too.  This from the kid who spends more time in the Naughty Chair for punching people than any kid I know.  I am trying to be patient and rationally try to explain to a four year old that fireworks don't hurt you and that they are part of the way our culture celebrates the birth of our country.  Instead Sam shoots back fieryWORDS in my direction:  he HATES them, fireworks are STUPID, he is going to live with GRANDMA & GRANDPA (CLICK!--Did you hear that?  Grandma and Grandpa just turned the lock on their door).  Surely, some fiery words spoken from the passion of a four year old with an irrational fear.  Today's blog will be about another set of fiery words born from passion. History lesson for today-The Declaration of Independence.

Our Declaration of Independence, Slovenians, is much older than yours.  Ours is 235 years old today.  On June 25th, I see that your country celebrated its 20th birthday, as it gained its independence from the communist ruled Yugoslavia in 1991.  I spent a little time reading about YOUR history this morning and Eloise found it very interesting.  After your Slovenian Declaration of Independence was signed, you were attacked by Yugoslavia sparking off the Ten Day War.  Just how did you all manage that?  It took us much longer than that, but then again, you have to consider our push for independence came prior to the cell phone and the Internet.  

I loved reading your history, Slovenians, but I skipped the part about the actual war.  Eloise is a peace-lovin' lady and it pains me to read about people killing people, no matter what the cause.  What I like to spend more time on are the stories about the catalysts for conflict.  What Little Events led up to the Big Event?  A war doesn't break out one day for no reason.  What leads someone to the breaking point--unfairness, disrespect, money problems?  The events that lead up to a war are far more interesting than the actual battles themselves if you ask me.  There are passions and great ideals that mark the start of any movement.  They are the things one holds true to and will fight for if need be.  Today I want to brief you on a few individuals and events that were the catalysts for the independence and freedom that I enjoy today.  The fiery words of some fiery individuals who deserve a few moments of fame on this blog.  

The Colonists were lucky to have some brilliant people involved in the revolution.  On the photo history lesson I created for you above,  you will see paintings of whom I refer to as The Fab Five, the five men who had the most say in the wording of the Declaration of Independence.  They were Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.  They were appointed by the Continental Congress to draft a formal declaration to send to King George of England in June of 1776.  This marked the point that we had had enough.  If Twisted Sister were around then, the colonists would have blasted We're Not Gonna Take It from the tower of The Old North Church for all to hear.  The details of that couple of weeks are sketchy because the Committee of Five left us no minutes.  Historians do agree that Thomas Jefferson was given most of the credit for the wording of the draft.  The Fab Five emerged from their work session and presented the draft to the Continental Congress on June 28, 1776.  The men involved in the government at the time had a few days to mull it over, and got to vote on it.  On July 2, 1776 representatives from the 13 colonies voted--12 yeses and one abstention, to officially sever ties with England.  July 4th is the day that the final wording of the document was approved and sent to the printer for publication.  

You will see John Hancock's portrait on the photo movie.  I never knew what the man looked like, as he is most famous for his big signature, smack dab in the bottom, center of the document.  History rumors tell us that Mr. Hancock did that intentionally, to make sure King George could see his name without his spectacles on.  The man who actually copied the words with a feather dipped in ink was Timothy Matlak.  I put his picture on the movie, too.  You never get to hear much about him.  

So Jefferson got most of the credit for the wording of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock is our most famous signer, and Timothy Matlack got picked to do the feather dipping because he had the neatest cursive.  But who got everyone riled up the most?  Who is the one responsible for convincing the people that we needed to make the break---a writer--Thomas Paine.

I doubt the revolution movement would have gained the support of the people without Thomas Paine's publication, Common Sense, published in January of that same year.   Paine began working on Common Sense, which he originally called Plain Truth, in 1775 after he was tired of putting up with the bull@#%$ from England.  Paine had strong ideals and knew that the written word was the best way to make a connection to the people.  Humans can gather to listen to passionate speeches about any subject, but in time, the words are forgotten.  Putting thoughts in writing, in plain and simple terms that common folk could understand, was the best way to get the word out to the people.  They could read Common Sense at their leisure, and discuss it with family, friends, and neighbors.  If something came into question, they could always refer back to the pamphlet for clarification.  Oh, the power of the written word!  It doesn't matter if it is a word printed with an ink dipped quill or if a word is typed on a keyboard and sent out into cyber space.  A word in print is a beautiful thing.  Fearing punishment dolled out for treasonous acts, Paine too wrote anonymously, and signed his 48 page pamphlet, "Written by an Englishman."  Smart move.  Paine's pamphlet sold 500,000 in the first year.  He donated all of the money back to the Continental Army that was forming and I am sure some of it went to the stockpiles of weapons at Lexington and Concord.

Putting drawn pictures to music and song is not my idea, but it is how I grew up learning best.  I am a child of the 1970's and woke up every Saturday morning with the bliss of Saturday cartoons.  A couple of hours every day number six of the week,  dedicated just to kids.  During those cherished cartoons on lazy Saturday mornings, the networks inserted little School House Rock episodes.  The creator of the historical cartoons ingeniously made 3 minute clips about American history, things ranging from how a bill becomes a law to the American Revolution.  Grammar sure is boring, but will any of you ever forget Conjunction Junction?   Lessons 67 and 68 are homework assignments for all of you---a little brush up on American history Schoolhouse Rock style, before you go to your fireworks displays tonight.  You never know if Eloise may show up, and if I do, be prepared to answer a few questions.

Many years ago, when I first began teaching, I noticed how little kids knew about American history.  It's confusing and spotty and without the heavy national curriculum like some countries have, individual states address American history in schools differently.  I actually prefer the states to hold more say in schools, but as a result, not every kid in America studies the American Revolution at the same time.  God forbid if you are a military family and move from state to state.  You jump ship in Louisiana and move to Pennsylvania and you may miss the Revolution entirely.  For kicks, I remember asking kids sitting next to me why we were having fireworks.  I remember some replying, "It's George Washington's birthday," and another stating "It's the end of the Civil War."  I decided then and there that I would do what I could to bring American history, especially this time period, into school whenever I could.  Even just telling students how excited I am about this time period sparks off their inquisitive nature to see what is so great about it.  I like to do my best Eloise trick on them--I tell them not to bother looking up the American Revolution---that I felt that it was too violent and upsetting and difficult for them to understand.  Beep, beep, beep--Did you hear that?  That is the sound of books being checked out of the school libraries from the American History section.  Those little buggers are defiant just like their predecessors back in the 1770's---go on--tell us what we can't do and we'll show ya.

Readers, if you want to revisit some of the most exciting stories of our nation, take a trip back to 1775.  What a year!  The Colonists were at their tipping points.  Wounds were still raw from the Boston Massacre five years prior, and they had dumped their tea in the Boston Harbor in 1773.  They were sick of King George and his taxation without representation.  From what history tells us, the British were pretty sick of us, too.  The soldiers wearing the red coats, weird hats, and dorky knee socks were ordered to seize the arsenals at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775 and round up the rabble-rousers Samuel Adams and John Hancock.  We caught wind of the plan, stuck a light in the tower of the Old North Church, and Paul Revere and pal William Dawes took off on horseback on their famous Midnight Rides, warning everyone that "the British were coming!"  Exciting!  You can't make up a story this good, folks.

I normally would feel bad about the length of this piece.  You may have needed a second cup of coffee to drink to get through it, but I always am long on words when they are written about my great nation.  I've assigned you an extra bit of homework, Lessons 67 & 68 Schoolhouse Rock Episodes, and this lesson and photo story #69.  But hey, many of you have an extra day this year as the Fourth of July fell conveniently on a Monday.  That spells LONG WEEKEND for most of you.  Carve out a few extra minutes to review some firewords along with your fireworks.

Enjoy your history lesson and I hope you, too can find a renewed interest in American History.  Make sure if a tall, blond woman asks you in a fake Slovenian accent, "What are the fireworks for?" you are able to answer correctly.  If you say, "To mark the death of Abraham Lincoln" you will blow my cover.  You will experience fireworks of a different sort---the kind you see after coming to after a fist connects with you jaw.  I have a mean right hook---don't make me use it on you.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Happy 235, America!
Proud Patriot Eloise

Lesson 68: No More Kings

Homework assignment.  Please read and sing along, loudly.  --Eloise

Lesson 67: The Shot Heard Round the World

Homework assignment.  Please watch and sing along.--Eloise