Monday, June 27, 2011

Lesson 66: Fly Away

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Eloise needs to report to you on the first of several summer concerts I have on my plate this summer.  Two cute chicks and I made a two hour excursion east to Darien Lake, NY to see headliner Tim McGraw with The Band Perry and Luke Bryan. All three acts were superb and I highly recommend the show if the big tour buses roll by your area.

I love music and will go to just about any concert; rock, pop, country, even the philharmonic orchestra.  From experience though, I have decided that the country concerts are by far my favorite.  I like the music no doubt, but it is the crowd that I enjoy the most.  They are a beer drinking, sing along type.  You don't have to worry if you will have some jerk in front of you who wants to stand and watch the show blocking your view.  Everyone stands up.  Everyone dances.  Everyone sings.  You can almost pick out the designated driver in every set of people because I think they are the ones that laugh the most.

My computer is still giving me fits and my computer guys Jerry and John have abandoned me.  It is time to call in the big guns to fix my posting problem--teenagers.  One of my students should be able to hook me up in no time.  Until then, you will have to continue to click on the above youtube link to find the musical slide show set to the tune of McGraw's "Last Dollar" better known by its subtitle, "Fly Away."  Don't miss this one.  There are some surprises.

The movie opens with some pictures of 44 year old Tim McGraw.  If you are not up on American Country Music in Slovenia, he is a star.  Check out the snapshot of Tim's tattoo---an ichthys, more commonly known as "the Jesus fish."   The actual word ichthus is Greek for fish.  Christians back in first century Rome were not too popular, therefore they had to meet in secret.  This symbol marked their meeting places like the catacombs beneath the city.   I was sure my facts were correct on the ichthys as I have been fascinated by the bravery and creativity of the early Christians.  I've known this piece of history for many years.  I had to look up "ichthys" again just to check the spelling.  I'm not that great of a speller.  It was when I consulted the wikipedia article that I found this new piece of information.  Not only this the word Greek, but it also is an acrostic. 

If you are a teacher reading this blog, you know what I am talking about.  They are those dumb poems that we have to teach the kids about after the PSSA tests are over and there is nothing else good to do until the end of the year, so we always stick in the "poetry unit."  Those words usually send shock waves of despair around many a classroom.  Too bad I don't teach in a Christian school, or else I'd use this as the unit kick off.  Each of the letters in the world "ichthys" represent another Greek word symbolic of our savior.  Check this out (from Wikipedia): 
Ichthys can be read as an acrostic, a word formed from the first letters of several words. It compiles to "Jesus Christ God's son Savior" in ancient Greek "Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ", Iēsous Christos, Theou Huios, Sōtēr.
  • Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for "Jesus".
  • Chi (ch) is the first letter of Christos (Χριστός), Greek for "anointed".
  • Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), Greek for "God's", the genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, Greek for "God".
  • Upsilon (u) is the first letter of huios (Υἱός), Greek for "Son".
  • Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for "Savior".
That is not Tim McGraw's only tattoo, though.  His right shoulder is emblazoned with the word "Faith."  You all may be thinking I should be referring to him as Father McGraw after you see the first photo of Mr. Handsome with the cross around his neck, but "Faith" represents the name of his wife,  beautiful country singer Faith Hill.  Unmarried ladies who read this blog, please let me extend a cyber word of advice:  look for a man who sings like a bird, wears a cross around his neck, has an ichthys tattooed on one arm and is willing to have your name tattooed on the other.  It's cool how it all worked together for the greater good for Tim.  How nice he chose Faith for a mate and not someone named Gladys.  It would kind of be image killing, wouldn't it?

The photo show I created is really just a few snapshots of Tim and Faith, as well as a few of me and my concert going pals--my sister and a friend.  You can even see a shot of my daughter Natalie, playing with the iPod.  She's been alternating between her folder of Tim McGraw #1's and Christmas music.  I know she's doing it just to annoy me, but autistic or not, she is 13 after all and that from what I understand, is pretty normal.  The larger part of the photo display is dedicated to my two new friends, Beautiful and Handsome.

Beautiful and Handsome are two baby birds that made their residence in a nest, set in a wreath I made and hung on my front porch.  I discovered the eggs just before Memorial Day and took a picture of them every day throughout their development.  Nature is a beautiful thing. 

The entire process, from egg to chick was less than three weeks.  I was in awe of how fast those birds grew.  You will see that there were three eggs in the nest at the beginning of the process.   The birds hatched within 24 hours of one another.  Two were completely out of the shell, and I have shots of the third bird's beak cracking out.  I could actually see it opening and closing and heard the weak peep.  This shot appears about the minute and thirty second mark of the movie.  I was dismayed the next morning when I discovered the egg had disappeared, gone without a trace.  It is still a mystery if the baby was too weak and never made it out of the shell or if Mama had to take care of it herself, knowing intuitively that there was not room in the nest for a third baby bird.  Again, nature is a beautiful thing.

Because I am a nature girl, I know that nature takes care of itself.  I know this on a personal level because I was pregnant six times in my life and was able to carry half that many babies to term.  Although I was sad with my miscarriages, I know that some things in life are hard to explain.  I am not sure why I wasn't able to carry those other babies, but I have what Tim has emblazoned across his right shoulder, faith, but mine is in my heart.  I do believe that all things work together for the greater good and that it is not up to us to know and understand it all.  If you doubt this, just go to the words of the prophet Jeremiah, in book 29 verse 11:  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Eloise is reminding you today to have faith in that.

You will be amused to see a photo of my notorious on Sam, peeking into the birds nest.  Notice I have him donned in a "peace" t-shirt, hoping that maybe some of that message will soak into him through osmosis.  Also look for a couple of pictures of Beautiful and Handsome as they became annoyed with me.  Handsome appears to have become bothered by my lens in his face all of the time.  That's fine, Handsome; I'll step away and give you your space.

The birds little bodies became big fluffy bodies and like the song says, they grew "beautiful wings."  I knew the time was drawing near for me to say goodbye to my friends and it pained me.  We were scheduled for a camping trip around that time, and I sensed that they would take their first flight while we were away.  Sure enough, upon our return four days later, Beautiful and Handsome were gone.  They left me with an empty nest on my porch, but a heart full of the time I spent with them.  Their early life was such a beautiful process that I had to share it with all of you.  I was just waiting to find the perfect song.  It came to me the night of the concert as Tim McGraw entered the outdoor amphitheater singing this song.  On a summer night, in an outdoor venue with grain silos standing as the backdrop, this was quite a moment and I knew it was the perfect song choice for my bird story.

Beautiful and Handsome flew away.  They left me, but I always knew they would.  I was just glad I didn't have to say goodbye, because I hate goodbyes.  There is always the possibility that it won't mean "until next time", that it will mean "goodbye forever."  The latter is something more than I could handle.  So I will hold on to the hope that Beautiful will return to the nest again one day, at a different stage of her life, perhaps to lay her own eggs.  I can't wait for that.  I'll always keep an eye out for her and will wait forever if I have to. 

Enjoy the song and the movie. 
Until next time,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lesson 65: Songs of Summer All Summer Long

I'm a girl who enjoys the change of seasons, and in each one, certain songs fit the mood.  There are songs that remind you of cold November Rain, like the Guns N' Roses song, or Chris Tomlin's Awakening makes one think of spring.  I've been trying to teach Natalie, my iPod obsessed autistic daughter, that Jingle Bells is not a good song to play right now.  She's not listening.  Songs have a way of conjuring up memories for all of us, and the one posted today reminds me of summer along the banks of Lake Erie--my stomping grounds.  The version is live, and not nearly as good as Kid Rock's recorded version, but the video has a few suggestive scenes.  My ten year old reads my blog, so we'll sacrifice tunage a bit in exchange for a few more moments of innocence. 

Kid Rock is an interesting dude.  I was surprised to find that he is only about six weeks older than me.  I would have pegged him mid forties for sure.  The rocker lifestyle has taken a little toll on his skin if you ask me.  I like Kid Rock for several reasons, one being that he performs under a stage name.  I looked up his real name and it is Robert James Richie.  He just doesn't strike me as a Bob, so good move, Kid.  I also like him because he grew up along the Great Lakes--although his lake is Lake Michigan.  He lived outside of Detroit, a blue collar town which has had its fair share of struggles in today's economy.  In the song he sings of catching walleye off the dock in Lake Michigan.  The song is reminiscing about the summer of 1989, a year when his "thoughts were short and his hair was long"----just like me!  1989 was my high school graduation year and my thoughts were very short--like "when is the next graduation party?' kind of short.  And boy was my unruly hair long (and big).  Thank God for the development of the hair straightener or Eloise would be the brunt of everyone's jokes for sure.

But the best thing about Kid Rock is not his tunes---it's his loyalty.  He loves Detroit and has made his permanent home there, despite his rocker fame.  As he became more famous he began to hobnob with some of the Hollywood types and met Pamela Anderson.  They married and quickly divorced 5 months later.  No it wasn't because he got a glimpse of her without her make up on (ladies, I heard she's just as scary looking as we all are upon dawn's first light).  It was because Mr. Rock wouldn't leave Detroit, his hometown.  Pamela loved him and followed him there, but I am sure she looked like a fish out of water---a Pacific swordfish amongst the schools of walleye.  LA was not for Kid and DE-troit was too working class for her liking---so they split.  She left him to go back to the close proximity of her plastic surgeons out in LA.  They just didn't to have any good ones out there in Detroit. 

"Catchin' walleye off the docks, watchin' the waves roll off the rocks...." reminds me of a great fish tale from last weekend.  My nephew Jack is an avid fisherman and has his pole in his hand during any free time that he has in the summer.  He has a few poles, but his favorite as of late is a combo given to him by both his grandpas---the pole belonged to one of them and the reel to the other.  Jack was fishing off of the Marina wall--a dock of sorts-- and had his pole propped up like any good fisherman.  He released his grasp "for just one second" to scratch his leg and Mr. Fishy decided to take his bait....and his pole along with him.  He lost Mr. Fishy and his favorite pole in one second.  Far be it for a boy going into 7th grade in the fall to cry, but according to his dad, he was beside himself with upset.  In keeping with family tradition, Jack was told to "suck it up" and move on.  He could use another pole for the afternoon.  Lesson learned.  Father and son were having no luck in that spot, so they moved down the wall some hoping to find that elusive school of perch.  Over an hour later Jack hooked the biggest catch of his life--he snagged his old pole!  It was back in his arms once again.

The rest of the snapshots posted above are from some things we do All Summer Long.  You will see sunscreen and sky rides; watermelon and water slides.  We made our annual trek to Waldameer on Tuesday and some of the photos are from there.  My readers are always complaining that I never post pictures of myself on the blog, so I heeded your request.  That is me on the flying swings.  Can you tell which one I am?

We were measurably proud because Sam made it a whole 75 minutes in the Water Park before he got kicked out.  Apparently there is a rule about standing up on the slides.  Sam is long and talk but short on listening, and refused to heed the lifeguard's polite, but stern warnings.  After she threw a thumb over her shoulder and said, "You are outta here!" Sam protested by splashing water on her.  Pray for me.  I have my work cut out for me.

Luckily though, I didn't have to witness that one.  We flipped a coin, my hubby and I.  Someone had to stay in the kiddie pool area and man Sam, and the other had to go on the water slides with my girls and their two cousins.  If you know Eloise well, I opt for a national park over an amusement park any day.  I prefer ponds to pools and would gladly swim with the fish rather than in chlorine. Just thinking about sitting in a public tub of hot water surrounded by strangers who should not be baring flesh gives me the willies.  A rash appears at the mere thought of all that dead skin, human hair, and bodily fluid that the pool filter picks up.  I'll swim with the fish poop any day.  Sam or snot?---there was truly no winner.  My hubby has a bit of an unpredictable ticker and I wasn't up for an ambulance call with 5 kids in tow, so I got the water slide duties, although I think Sam makes his heart race just the same.

Upon our meeting at the picnic pavilion to regroup for lunch before the amusement park portion of the day, I yapped at my husband for not watching Sam closer as I caught wind of the banishment.  But I admit, I had a couple of slip ups, too.  At the top of the water slides--the kind that you go down with just your body--you have two choices--to the left is the slower one, and to the right is the one labelled "Free fall" with the warning for the pregnant women, the elderly, those with bad tickers, and the plain old out of shape.  I bravely chose the lesser evil and went down first so I could wait at the bottom so that Natalie didn't wander off and get lost.  I kept watching for her to pop out the tube behind me when suddenly she came out of the tube on the right.  She had mistakenly gone on the "free fall."  Natalie is the opposite from Sam--she's short on words so I wasn't quite sure what she made of all that.  I said, "Natalie, are you okay?"  She slapped my arm, then said, "slides good mom."  I take that as a mild reprimand and "its all good." 

My in laws are regular blog readers so I know you will appreciate this one.  You have never experienced life until you have gone down a water slide on an inner tube, riding double with Kayla on the back.  My ear is still ringing from the repeated screaming of, "Oh MY GOD WE'RE GONNA DIE!"   Let me tell ya',  two adult sized women pick up a high rate of speed while going down that sucker.  We hit the water pool at the finish like the tidal wave hit Japan this spring.  The tube was perpendicular for a second and I saw my life flash before my eyes before I was pushed to the bottom of the pool.  Luckily Eloise has quick wits about her and I was able to think through the moment when Kayla's size 9 1/2 was pressing my face to the cement surface of the pool bottom.  I taught buoyancy to my students this spring and knew eventually I'd float to the surface for Baywatch Babe to save me.  I was a bit stunned as I surfaced, so naturally I thought that the lifeguard was Pamela Anderson for a moment.  I almost told her she blew it with Kid Rock and that blue collar towns were way better overrated LA.

Hope you Slovenians make a trip to Erie, PA this summer.  The food and lodging are short on the dollar and the fun to be had is way long.  Just ask one of the lifeguards about Eloise and they'll know where to find me.  They have my son's face posted in the employee locker room with a big red circle with a diagonal line running through it.  He's a wanted man.

Happy summer,

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lesson 64: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

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Follow the link above the picture to see some images from the season of the Best Little League Team in the World (plus a friend or two from an opposing team).  The girls of Old Station One, sponsored by the good, down-home cookin' of a local eating establishment, finished their last regular season game last night.  They played with the Fab Five.  I'm not giving special kudos to my daughter or anything because everyone else was on vacation.  Seriously, they only had five players. 

For those of you out there raising girls, I feel for you.  It is much harder than I anticipated.  No, not just because of the sighing and eye-rolling thing they do.  All drama aside, it's walking a fine line with girls and sports.  I want my daughters to be tough, but not b*&^$y.  They should play for the team, but never shy away from showing their individual talents.  Playing on a team helps them practice skills they will need throughout life like hard work, humility, and the healthy expression of human emotion.

This season, we celebrated a win in our first ever tournament and took home a nice medal as a spoil of war.  The generous folks at Old Station One even picked up the tab for some ice cream after the game. I also helped Ellen work through the tough games and her first shot of putting herself on the line--well, more like the mound--with all eyes on her.  She gave pitching a try this year despite her apprehension.   She did great!

I often have to leave the games early as I am toting the other two with me. Natalie gets ornery when she kills her iPod battery and Sam resembles the Tar Baby after playing King of the Hill on the dirt mound. (Picture below on the blog--notice that his shirt says Prince Charming).  Early this season, I did just that--came home early when Ellen was at it on the mound, but they were safely ahead by 4 runs.  When she walked in I exclaimed, "How's the Super Star Pitcher doing?"  I looked up to find my husband behind her making a choking gesture with his hands.  Whoops.  I had to nurse her broken heart that night as she told me that she "lost the game for the team" and walked in the last 5 runs for the other team to win--her friend Kara's team, nonetheless.  That was actually harder to heal than the line drive she took to the shin the other day.  Look closely and you'll see the lace marks of the softball on her leg.  Yes, Slovenians, I did photograph it.  People in America photograph injuries all the time because we are, well, lawsuit happy here in The States.  I took the picture to remind Ellen of how badly something can hurt, and that most all things heal in time.

To the parents of the players, thanks for letting them play.  Thanks for all the running back and forth to practice, and sitting your behinds on uncomfortable bleachers in all kinds of weather.  Your daughters undoubtedly learned many of life's lessons this season.  That is what this blog is all about--life's lessons.  We finished up about 500 this season, which is just about what I would have chosen for a team of ten year olds if I could have.  We won some, we lost some, we got hot, hurt, and learned the most annoying dug-out chants in the universe.  These girls learned what it is like to play on a team, and we are all teammates folks, whether you like it or not.  We wear the colors of the Human Nation.  Thanks for giving your little ladies a chance to learn what it is like to be human.

Thanks for a great season.  Click on the words "youtube" and it will take you to a nice photo display of the season.  In the end, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

Smack!  Home Run!
Eloise--Your #1 Fan

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lesson 63: You Can Count on Me

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Hello, Readers!  Eloise has just returned from a four day stay in the big woods in the Middle of Nowhere.  (That's a joke, Slovenians--I mean The Cook Forest in Pennsylvania, USA).  If there is one thing you can count on, it is a good story about our adventure.  Here it is:

I'm a nature girl, and I really like wildlife.  My body is happier outdoors than in, and I like to spend my free time tromping around in the woods.  I am not a hunter or a fishergirl, although I am not opposed to either sport.  They just aren't for me.  I can't look into the eyes of a dead thing, and think about it living or swimming free just moments before.  It breaks my heart.  Food is plentiful in America, Slovenians, so I guess I haven't been hungry enough to get over that yet.

I've been on a bit of a bear obsession lately.  There have been reports of bears roaming the areas near my husband's family's camp and also in my hometown.  Since then, Eloise has been on the lookout for them, and I have come across some good, solid evidence which I have put on this blog that you can see below.  I've actually found tracks and sighted bears on two occasions with my own blue eyes.

A couple of summers ago, there were tons of sightings of bears surrounding the area near the camp.  I listened to every single one.  Many people dismissed the reports as tall tales from drunken fishermen.  Not Eloise.  There was something I could feel deep in my bones that there were, in fact, bears around.  On the next trip down that summer, I was hell-bent on finding one.  I chattered for days about looking for one.  "Put down that DS, Ellen!  We have a bear to find."  I even went to the little touristy store in the heart of Cook's Forest and bought a little bear figurine for good luck.  I would set him on the porch railing of the camp and do a little dance around him like the Indians did.  I know you Christian folk are conjuring up images of the Golden Calf incident.  That didn't end well for them, I know.  Eloise is aware of the story, so I told God first that it was just a fun thing to do with my kids.  He must have thought it was funny, because he sent that bear my way on the last night we were there.  And he was a big one who came right along side the camp, next to our van, and kept right on walking.  Either God put him in my path or he was lured by the bacon I was frying over the campfire.  You decide.  He was moving fast, so I couldn't get a good photo of him, but you can bet your butts that I was out looking for a track early the next morning.  My dog Josie and I discovered the bottom photo of Smokey's track.  It is the summertime one, minus my Royal Ring because this was a couple of years ago.

Just this past December 30th, I found the wintertime track shown next to the orange mitten (yes, that is my mitten--the tops flip off, they are cool).  Josie and I discovered that one during a New Year's Eve-Eve walk behind my house.  I was convinced there was a bear around.  I flashed that photo around my parents' New Year's Eve party the next day, as well as e-mailed it to several avid outdoorsmen friends.  The reaction was mixed; some said yea and others nay.  Shouldn't the bear be hibernating?--the naysayers would ask me.  Not if it is a bear like Eloise.  Who wants to sleep that long anyway?  About a month ago, I spotted him in the field across from my house.  My trusty binoculars told me my instincts and wickedly sharp eyes were correct--it was a bear.  So I did what any nature lover would do--sent my husband and 10 year old to check it out while I stood post on my front porch.  Hey, someone has to guard the north 40.  No luck in finding a track, but much luck in recirculating the bear rumors.  A fellow teacher of mine caught wind of the incident and told me that a neighbor called to tell him that a bear was on his back deck two weeks ago and has a photo to prove it.  Ah Ha!  Smell that?  That is the sweet, sweet smell of an I Told You So.  Delicious.

This brings us to the more recent past in the big woods of Marienville, PA just two days ago.  My husband, son, nephew and his family were fishing about 50 yards from the camp.  My son Sam, who is known for his incessant chatter about nothing and his barrage of imaginary friends stated rather matter of factly that there was a "bear over there."  Of course, he was ignored.  Don't call Children's Services, please.  Just read my past posts and you'll get some idea of my pain.  Since Sam didn't even get a passing glance from his father who was trying to hook that elusive brown trout, he asked Alesha, my nephew's wife, if she had seen the bear.  No she had not, but inquired as to where he saw it.  "Over there," Sam said simply, gesturing towards the woods.  It was almost chow time and Eloise was assigned the task of preparing the chow, so I called them to come back to the camp to eat.  They pulled their chairs around the fire ring and no sooner sat down when I heard my nephew, a three time combat tour army guy yell, "Get the kids in the camp--BEAR."  Eloise did what any good mother would do; knocked my kids out of the way as they ran into the camp as I ran out with my camera.  He was a smaller one this time.  My best estimates determined from the interviews of long time residents of that area that the bear was about two years old--momma must have kicked him out of her cave and he went exploring about on his own.  I hopped in the van and followed him.  When he was a safe distance away, I was able to grab the snapshot of him below.  Give me a break--it was nearly dark, I was leaning out of a van window, and in my haste, I forgot to put the flash on.  The photo is a bit shadowy, but if you look REALLY closely, you can see him on the left side about a third of the way up from the bottom.  That dark spot is his butt ducking into the underbrush.  I feel for those people who have claimed to have seen Sasquatch or the Yeti and can only come up with a hazy photo.  It's your word and that bad snapshot that people rest their beliefs on.  It sucks trying to defend yourself with something like that.  But trust me, 'Lil Smokey is in that underbrush.

I could not resist the urge to tell friends and family members back home, so I decided to drive up to the main road to try to get a satellite signal for the cell phone.  I texted just one word to everyone before I lost the signal.  The message read:  BEAR!  Before I left on the ten minute drive uphill, I did what any good mother would do.  I left my children in the care of my tough, army guy nephew and his wife and said, "Keep my babies safe.  I'll be back in a bit."  But before I left though, I handed my camera to my ten year old and said, "If he comes back, make sure you get a picture of him---and don't forget to hit the flash button--it's pretty dark out here now." 

Did you hear that?  That was my mother who just read that and is sending me a text.  I am going to ignore it.  Did you hear that?  That is my phone ringing.  Wait, let's let the answering machine pick up this one.  Let's listen.  Yep, it's Grandma.  Yes, I understand you just sent me a text.  No I didn't read it.  Beep.  Did you just hear that one?  Looks like she just sent me an e-mail too.  I'll be right back--got to go check it...................Yep.  It was her again.  No, I didn't read my text or answer your call, Mom.  I am not going to repeat what she put in the e-mail.  Not nice.  Maybe you should all call Children's Services on HER.  Do you think they'd answer a call about abuse of a 40 year old?  I WAS JUST KIDDING---Ellen gets me.  She knew I was just joking.  Geez.  Some people have no sense of humor. 

While I was deep in the woods the next day trying to track "Lil Smokey (I had my dog with me and a whistle, so I was safe), I had some time alone to contemplate life.  I do that a lot.  I've learned the skill from my father.  I watch him out my window when he is in his yard picking up sticks.  I see him pause often and stare out into the world, and I know he is doing just what I do--contemplating life.  He doesn't blog about his thoughts, but give him a few beers and ask him a question about politics, religion, or society in general and you will see that he's put some time into formulating his opinions on things.  Pull up a chair though, because he tends to be a bit windy when he's standing on his soap box. 

I thought about my friends a lot this trip, and how I couldn't make it without them.  You know who you are, so this song posting is for you.  You have to go to the embedded link again--Eloise still can't solve the posting problem so I will have to break down and call my computer guy, Jerry to fix it.  I'll try to get the posts to appear the old way soon.  It will save you a step.  Make sure you listen to the Bruno Mars song Count on Me.  It is about friends and the lyrics are as good as the tune.  It climbs a notch on my Favorite Songs list.  I hope you all like it too.

Counting On YOU to keep reading,
Eloise---scroll down for the pics and click on the link above for the song

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lesson 62: There's A Place for Them

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Sorry, everyone.  For the life of me I cannot figure out why my video won't post.  It is something wrong with the java script reading and I can't figure it out. Eloise is puzzled, but the embedded link on here should work.  Click on it and it should take you to a picture slide show of my now 14 year old nephew Erik.  If it doesn't, go to youtube and put in the search box this:  June 13, 2010 elafuria     (yes, I know the date is a year off, Slovenians.  You are picky people.  It was the date of a snapshot I took of him on his birthday last year and it grabbed as the title for some reason).

Back in 1971, had I been born male, my name would have been Erik.  I would have still loved school, played football, and drank beer.  No doubt gym teacher material.  Whoops.  Physical Education Instructors.  My teacher peeps don't like that too much.  I stand corrected.  Nevertheless, I would have been a teacher and liked beer and football no matter my gender.  I am glad I am girl though because there is only room for one Erik in this world, and he turns 14 on the 13th of June.

Erik is the most unique individual you will ever meet.  He is almost hard to describe, even for a wordy girl like myself.  Erik has severe autism and communication impairments.  He has yet to speak his first clear word, although there have been utterances which have given us hope in recent months.  Imagine raising a child whom you've never had a two way conversation with.  He is a boy, just like anyone else. Erik gets tired, hungry, crabby, silly, wild, and has to go to the bathroom just like the rest of us.  Problem is he has a tough time getting the message across.  Those who know him best, my sister, her husband, his brother Jack, his teacher Mr. Fritts, his school aides Sarah and Jenn, and his therapists Rob and Candace can read him like a book.  They know what he wants, when he wants it.  They can tell by his facial expressions, hand gestures, and sometimes by the sound of his growls. 

On top of the autism, the boy also suffers from Epilepsy.  The seizures seem to come out of nowhere and leave him vomiting and sleeping for up to 12 hours after them.  They are under control for the moment, but something as simple as heat or a slight hormone change can set them off again.  When this happens, that lanky boy sleeps between his parents, with one or the other of them awake, holding an all night vigil by his side.  The seizures often set off sleep disturbances which can last for a week or more.  He often awakens for the day, wild and ready to go at 2:30 in the morning.  He's done this for nearly all of his life.

Am I describing Erik in this way hoping for sympathy?--absolutely not.  Sometimes though everyone really needs a reality check about what life is really like living with autism.  It's hard.  In my book that will never be published, Misunderstood, I wrote a true hard nosed account of the pressure and heartache of it all.  I wouldn't have a friend left in the world if I published it for the world to read, and my sister and I really need our friends now.

Yes, we need you--all of you, whether you know us or not.  Be aware that beyond the melodrama of the commercials shown during April, which is Autism Awareness Month, life is challenging.  The walks that raise money and TV spots that focus on the positive are great.  They are no doubt improving public perception of this puzzling problem that is plaguing our children.  Know that for every autism triumph, there are thousands of heartaches and headaches just to reach one single victory.  Like for Erik, a victory would be putting his arms in his own coat or a shoe on his own foot.  If you see someone in public throwing a tantrum, consider they may be autistic.  Don't just walk on by with fixed stares trying to pretend that you don't notice to spare the family any humiliation.  We're way beyond that folks.  We're tired and worn out.  Ask us if we need any help.  We most likely will say no, but it sure would be nice to hear once and awhile.  We need you to realize that just bringing a child like Erik or Natalie to a summer gathering like a picnic takes hours of preparation and management just to survive.  So thank us for coming.

I understand your discomfort.  Many of you may not have the slightest idea how to talk to or help with an autistic person.  You think that you need a college degree or must be a parent of a handicapped child, in order to know what to do.  Guess what.  Neither did we at first.   Autistic people are all so different.  It is hard to say there is one approach that works with all of them.  The best advice I can give my readers is to talk to them as normally as you would any other person their age.  Talk to Erik about the Green Bay Packers and how they got lucky against the Steelers this year.  Tell Natalie you love her lime green nail polish and ask her what song is playing on her iPod.  They may not answer, or you may not understand their responses, but just smile and nod.  That will work.

A doctor once told me a little over a decade ago that having an autistic girl was like going out in your garden, digging for a potato, and finding a diamond.  Although autism does affect more boys than girls, the numbers are becoming more balanced.  Natalie has four girls in her class this year. 

I did find my diamond, doc, but she's in the rough.  I'm chipping away at her tough exterior to get to the sparkly beauty that lies within.  When you can't remember what to do when confronted with an autistic individual, put this mental image in your head--diamond in the rough.  That will help you remember that there is much more beyond that hard shell.  That's how Erik will spend much of his 14th year--getting polished up by the most wonderful, patient people on the planet; his family, his teachers, and our friends. 

Happy birthday, Erik.  Green Bay stinks, by the way.  I can't wait for the rematch!
Aunt Eloise

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lesson 61: No, Governor--We're Not Going To Take It Anymore

Today is my last day of school.  We're closing up shop for the summer.  Everything is boxed up ready for the cleaning crews to come in and repaint, shine up, and most importantly disinfect the buildings.  Kids are germy little things.  And then it starts......nope, not just "summer".......something else.  The digs.  The barbs.  The snide comments about what I will do with all of my free time. 

Usually every year I laugh off the comment with, "Well, you could have become a teacher, but you chose not to."  But not this year.  No way, sister.  Nuh-uh, brother.  The state of education in my great state is in a bit of a crisis and I am not in the mood for jabs.  I'm going to swing back and I have a mean right hook.  I've watched Rocky beat Drago countless times so I'm ready for you.  I'm not going to take your snippities any more.

Governor Corbett's budget for PA (that stands for Pennsylvania, Slovenians), cut the education allotment by 1 billion dollars.  Yes, I meant Billion, with a B.  That was not a typo.  A drastic slash of that measure leaves schools hurting.  Districts are trying to find ways to adjust to the reduced dollar amount.  They are doing this through several unpopular options such as furloughing jobs and cutting needed programs. 

We live in a nation where bigger and faster are better---but not so when it comes to schools.  Sometimes small and slow is what you need.  Fewer teachers mean of course larger class sizes, which is the key issue that will hit the students first.  Class sizes in the low 20's are manageable.  As the numbers creep higher, nearing 30 per classroom as they were in the 1970's when I walked the halls, the crucial interaction between student and teacher is jeopardized.  You do the math--a 42 minute period, roll to take, homework to collect, behavior to manage, and 16 state mandated standards to get through.  Now look out at the 30 faces and try to figure out how you are going to reach each one in that limited time block.  Find some way to communicate with them by having them answer a question, give them verbal or written feedback, or listen to them read.  If things are clipping along, you have to get to one kid per minute.  Talk to me honey, but you're on the clock, so make it quick. 

House Bill 1485 was approved on the 26th of May by 109-92 margin.  The 90 Democrats hung together and were convincing enough to persuade two smart Republicans from Philly (O'Brien and Taylor) to join the club.  According to the PSEA website information, the passage of this bill now ups the negotiation process a notch as the bill moves on to the Senate.  The final budget is to be passed June 30th. 

I've been told I resemble a number of people throughout my life.  Eloise prefers to keep her identity a secret, and am not one prone to posting my picture on the Internet, but here are a few mental images to help you out:  Goldilocks, Oprah Winfrey (yes, someone told me that once), some chick who lives out in Girard, and Twisted Sister.  Twisted Sister, Slovenians, was a heavy metal band from the 80's.  The lead singer who happens to be male, had hair a lot like mine back in by hair monster days of the 1990's.  Someone told me once I looked like Twisted Sister and I hoped they meant the hair and not the nose. 

The above song post is the lyrics to the Twisted Sister song, We're Not Gonna Take It.  I put it on here as a caution to my family and friends about their condescending comments about teachers and their summers off.  We are professionals who work very hard in the best interests of your children, and moreover our children, our society.  I take my job very seriously and feel safe in speaking these sentiments on the behalf of my colleagues across the state and this nation. 

Yes, I recognize the obvious grammatical mistakes.  I am well aware that ain't and gonna do not appear on the Test of Standard Written English and I've so righted them in the blog title.   If this message somehow crosses the computer screen of Governor Corbett through cyber circulation, I will end with the words of Twisted Sister that contain no grammatical mistakes:  .......If that's your best, your best won't do........  We're right, we're free, we'll fight, you'll see......"  Never underestimate the power of a teacher.  We're used to enforcing quiet and "inside voices" but we can make a little noise when we need to.  Governor Corbett, we hope you hear our song.

Rock on,

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lesson 60: Do the 60's Like My Mother Does

Here is a special post today for a special person.  My Mother rolls the dice on June 6th and she gets a pair of 6's--her 66th birthday.  When your 66th birthday happens to fall on 6-6, you can't help but celebrate with something a little more than just the usual birthday card.  The above video is made from snapshots of my mother set to the tune Like My Mother Does, sung by one of my Idol season favorites, 2011 Runner-Up Lauren Alaina.  Eloise loves to find the perfect song to fit with my words, and this was no challenge.  The second I heard the song a few weeks ago, I knew just what I would do with it--send it to blogdom attached to my mother's pictures.

A friend told me once when I was in my early 20's that he thought I would have a ton of marriage proposals.  Flattered, I blushed and thanked him for the compliment, and asked him why he mentioned it.  He told me that he followed a formula when "checking out chicks".  My friend told me that you just couldn't look at the girl, you had to check out her mother.  If her mother was beautiful and in good shape, than chances were good that the girl would hold her youthful beauty as well.  He then threw a drunken arm over my shoulder and asked if I would like to go out with him sometime.  Readers, that was a resounding NO in case you were wondering---CREEPY.  However, I never forgot the nice, yet slightly inappropriate compliment that was to my mother.

Outer beauty aside, it is the inner beauty that you will see when you know my mother.  She enjoys life and is one of the most positive people you will ever meet.  She is selfless and kind, so much so that I have called her a "sap" on occasion throughout my life.  As the years have gone on I have realized what great strength it takes to be patient, loving, and strong throughout all of life's hills and valleys.  Devoted to my father for 44 years, never a day went by when she didn't get up with him in the morning, pack his lunch, and give him a kiss before seeing him off to GE.  That is a feat when the man worked day in and day out for 42 years.  Always our cheerleader, she was the biggest fan in the stands waving her white hat and calling our names while we marched around as cadets on football field.  Ever the disciplinarian, she would also be there body slamming us into a wall if we got mouthy as strong willed teenagers.  We hated her for it at the time, but with the wisdom gained with age, my sister and I appreciate her for it now.

Eloise loves a good quote and I felt my mother deserved a good one on this blog.  I searched through Bible verses, but none seemed right.  I then did a google search of quotes about mothers, and they all seemed so serious.  My mother is modern and funny.  She's up to snuff with the most current technology.  I just need to get her to stop calling me to tell me that she sent me a text.  That is getting rather annoying.  She loves music and can boogie like nobody's business.  My mom is a die hard Pittsburgh Steeler fan, loves her beer and cigarettes, and is a wicked good poker player, too.  See, melodrama and flowery verses just don't work for her.  Then I remembered one that I found several years ago, and I printed it out and framed it for her.  It sits on top of her roll top desk, amid all of the photographs of my sister and I and the grand kids.  This is the verse that so suits my mother perfectly:  Live your life in such a way that every morning when your feet hit the ground, Satan shudders and says, "Oh, shit!  She's awake!"

Writing on behalf of my sister as well, we agree that like the song lyrics, she is our rock, she is grace, she's an angel, she's our heart and soul, she does it all.  We feel truly blessed to be chosen by God to be her daughters and hope that Mom enjoys her birthday.  She's about to get a rockin' great present, too.  My sister and I are known for being really good gift givers.  This blog post is just part of the deal.   I'll let you know how she likes the second part of the gift on a future post.  I am sure you'll be waiting on baited breath, even in Slovenia.

Love always,
Daughter Eloise
Daughter Karen (who says, "Yeah, what she said" while pointing to me)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lesson 59: Are Diamonds Really a Girl's Best Friend?

What was that I was saying on my last blog about being done with stone rings? ---- That I was too hard on them and that I preferred gold bands and crosses around my neck.  Remember that?  Well, take a looky at what Eloise got for a late Mother's Day present---the Royal Replica Ring.  Delivered straight to my door via the good old, US mail.

My daughter Ellen and I followed the royal wedding closely this spring and got up early to watch the nuptials happen in real time.  She happened to see an advertisement for a royal ring and decided I needed to have one for Mother's Day.  A few weeks ago, I opened a ring box with a note inside that said in Ellen's little fourth grade printing, "A surprise is on its way!" 

"Please don't tell me that a stork is bringing us a playmate for Sam!" I exclaimed.  Eloise would be no more.  I'd jump in my van and head west, never to be found again. 

Much to my surprise, the ring arrived this week.  I've been wearing it to school and I was floored as to the number of children who noticed it on my finger (really, how could you miss it?) and knew what it was.  Never underestimate the mind of an elementary schooler. 

What pleased me the most was the gift and the thought that went into it.  Ellen is going to inherit my family trait of being good gift givers.  You don't necessarily have to spend a lot of money on the perfect present, it truly is the thought that goes into it that matters.  Ellen beamed when she handed me the blue velvet box as my trio circled me.   When the lid snapped back she said, "We each pitched in $10 for it.  It was really only $19.99 but we sprung for the extra $10 to get an extra shiny one.  Sam paid for that."  ( From the grief he gives me, Sam should have forked over the whole wad, but that is beside the point).

Real or replica; it doesn't matter in the least to me.  They say diamonds are a girl's best friend, but diamonds are not people.  Best friends are your best friends, and loving children are loving children.  Kate's ring is worth half a million dollars, but mine is worth far more than that.  It is priceless because I know special thought and consideration went into its purchase, and for this reason, it will be my most cherished piece of jewelry. 

I said on an earlier blog that I like to keep my identity a secret, but you could spot me from the cross that I always wore around my neck.  Now you will have another clue.  Look for the light from the Lamp Post glinting off my bling. If the light catches me just right, you will see sparkles reflecting in every direction.  Recall that earlier post about God's light:  We are not the light, merely a reflection of it.  Don't forget that.  Teachers always remind you to remember important things.  That's important.  How nice my children will now give me a daily reminder as I look down at my left hand.   As the above photo shows, it may look a bit out of place on my long, bony hands (worn thin from all of this typing, for sure), but it will never be out of place in my heart. 

This post wouldn't be complete without a song, of course.  I chose the Marry You song from Bruno Mars.  This was played as background music for commercials in preparation for the Royal Wedding broadcasts on TLC, the channel my girls and I watch all of the time.  Funny too, how Bruno Mars is his stage name, not his birth name.  It just seems that Peter Gene Hernandez doesn't have quite the same flow to it as Bruno Mars.  Good choice, Petey--we dig it just like we dig your Hawaiian influenced groove. 

Enjoy the song and always remember, it's not the size of rock that matters, it's the thought that goes into choosing it that does.