Thursday, September 8, 2016

Praying for Zip's Family

Sometimes I have a hard time expressing myself. SERIOUSLY! For a person who has a lot to say, when it comes from some place deep inside, I often get choked up and start to cry. And it is not pretty. I don't think it is supposed to be pretty because when it happens I am in a very sad state of mind and heart even when it is about an animal. So, I am writing about a concern.

I have blogged about losing two precious dogs. One we lost suddenly and horribly. The other we helped cross over "the rainbow bridge." If you don't know about the rainbow bridge, google it. (It is a grief website for people who have lost a pet. It is really very nice and I know it helps with the grief of a furry family member.) Lately, several people I know have made some very unexpected and terrible trips to the rainbow bridge and three beloved dogs are there because of murder.

Murder? I know you think I have lost my mind, but I don't know how else to describe it. So, I will do my best to explain.

In the beautiful and scenic community of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, one of my daughter-in-law's best friends lives with her husband and their precious curly haired daughter. They relocated to the hamlet from Montana with a few horses and three dogs. And due to being facebook friends, I have had the privilege to watch their family grow and change since the couple married. That is one of the great things about social media. It connects you to people you might only see once in a great while or never at all.

At the beginning, I was always amused and happy to see Heidi's photography of her Australian Shepard, Dixie, when Heidi was expecting their baby. Dixie riding next to Heidi. Dixie close when Heidi could still ride a horse during her pregnancy. It was almost always Dixie and Heidi. I remember thinking to myself, "I want a Dixie dog!" This dog was so lovely and so full of personality. And there was another dog, Bill. Bill seemed to be all business. He was a cattle dog and I just got the impression that Bill was too busy for cuddling, riding in the truck, and sweet things. Cowdogs have jobs and work is their life. Until Abby...

Being a great chronicler of their lives, Heidi kept her facebook fan club totally up-to-date with pictures of their red-headed baby girl. In practically every picture, sitting next or near Abby was Bill the cowdog. It was so funny! Just like an old man that falls in love with his granddaughter, Bill was totally devoted to the baby. It was right out of a picture book...devoted dog and tiny baby. It was totally sweet.

Then, there was another dog, Zip. He was a red heeler and Heidi began posting pictures of the little guy. I immediately liked his name because I could picture him zipping through the stock, nipping at heels, moving cattle along for Kenton. (Kenton is Heidi's husband. He's the cowboy.) Heidi even posted a picture of Zip and his lady friend and their off-spring with toddler Abby in the mix. He was a family man. Errr, dog.

As Abby grew, Heidi and Kenton moved their lives and their animals from Montana to Cloudcroft. I thought it was a wonderful place for them to continue their lives. Family live close, they are close to Arizona, and it is one of the most beautiful communities I have ever passed through. Mountains. Trees. Green. Green. More green. Once, I thought Bosco and I could retire there and live happily.

Dutifully, Heidi continued to post pictures as Abby grew. I continued to look forward to the facebook posts of the little family. I chuckled more than once to see a scenic picture with Dixie and Bill in the foreground. Little glimpses of their lives and always including their pets. If I didn't see a dog for a few weeks, I was pleased to see a head, ears, or a tail in the latest picture from Heidi. I even encouraged Heidi to write a book about Abby's adventures since there were wonderful and excellent photos to go with the stories. I could imagine a picture book with Abby, the dogs, and a few horses. I thought it would definitely be a great children's book.

Then, one day while cruising through facebook, I saw a picture of Bill and Abby and a prayer request from Heidi. Scrolling through the comments, I saw that the dogs had possibly been poisoned. Poisoned? People asked questions and sent words of love throughout the post. They thought it could be antifreeze but they had no leaks or substances left out on their property. Antifreeze is very deadly. Bill seemed to be in worse shape and the following day, Heidi posted they had lost both Bill and Dixie.

It was shocking! I couldn't imagine Abby without her two sidekicks and more especially her sweet Bill. I kept picturing Dixie sitting close to a pregnant and beautiful Heidi. Like so many, I posted my condolences and prayed for the family and their remaining dog. I even messaged Heidi encouraging her to seek legal help. It was discouraging to learn the law enforcement of beautiful Cloudcroft didn't seem to understand their loss and the need for justice.

A "neighbor" with the reputation of baiting animals with antifreeze was a suspect. I use the word "neighbor" loosely because a neighbor takes you a casserole when you move into your new home. A neighbor takes in your mail when you are on vacation. They may even water your plants. A neighbor stands by your side when you lose a loved one. Neighbor is not just proximity it is a word for a relationship. A neighbor does not poison your dogs.

Today, Heidi posted a picture of Abby and their little Zipper dog. His kidneys are breaking down and it is just a matter of time. They are keeping him comfortable.

I cannot tell you how sweet that little curly haired girl looks with her dog. It is so precious. Earlier in the week, there was a picture of the two of them under a baby blanket. This chlid has lost two members of her family and is about to lose a third. I just don't understand.

Please don't tell me life is hard. Trust me, after 58 years, I have learned this fact. And if life is hard, then why are there people disguised as "good citizens" killing their neighbor's pets? We protect the eradication of animals in the wild. The US has honored endangered species lists and "good citizens" have flown this flag high! It is common to hear Sarah MacLaughlin's voice singing about angels while an animal protection agency requests donations for abused and abandoned animals. People who hunt out of season are fined, chastised, and threated with jail time which I totally support. It is cheating and it is wrong. We see the picture of a penguin or a baby seal and our hearts melt. Lord knows how many adults think those penguins tap dance and those seals grow up to eat those tap dancing penguins! And Nemo... Didn't your heart just ache for him to find his way to his father? But what about the reality of a child and her parents who are about to bury the third pet in two weeks? What about Abby?

I have wanted to drive to Cloudcroft and risk jail time and the embarassment of my family and friends to petition law enforcement to do something about this crime. Yes, New Mexico does have a crime against intentional poisoning of animals. It is a class 4 felony. No proof? Lab results and other community members agreeing to come forward to state what they have experienced and the perp has admitted to doing. Even then, justice will not fix the problem. Justice will not undo the deed. The murder.

So, for those reading this, please pray for Abby and her sweet family. Pray for their grief and pray for their loss. And most of all, pray for a sweet passing for a little girl's dog.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hope Begins With a Hairnet

Having been an educator for thirty-five years, I have learned that students will give their best and be their best if you actually let them learn. Sounds easy doesn't it?

EVERYONE knows that a teacher is supposed to provide a learning experience for their students, but this is not always the case. And I know this because I did not always allow the kids to learn. Oh, don't get me wrong, I had the best intentions. I planned beautiful lessons complete with all the parts required and learned in my college classes. I tried to be engaging, interesting, and I always had good classroom control. I used to joke that I could give the best darn "pony show" for an evaluation that would convince an administrator that I could perform miracles of knowledge. But I knew the truth. I spent a lot of time standing in front of classes, talking/lecturing, and praying they would gain something from it all. Then, after a whole lot of years and a whole lot of lessons, I really learned about teaching.

During ESL summer school, my administrator talked to me about my lesson plans. She very nicely talked to me about the levels I was attempting to teach my students. She showed me my "verbs" and talked to me about the expectations she had for her students. She was right. This discussion pushed me to examine how I taught and to amp it up. A few summers later, I attended a workshop where things really got down and dirty. This opened my eyes and my mind that kids learned only 20% at the most from lecture and even less from worksheets or book work. The higher levels of thinking involve using skills, analyzing the skills, creating, and evaluating. DUH!!!! I heard this in college but I started to live it.


Teaching the Gifted and Talented Education Program for my district means allowing students to figure out a lot of things for themselves. Lessons are project-based and hands-on. Thematic units rule! This does not just happen in the classroom, but it applies to our field trips as well. I just cringe when I hear students tell me they are going on a field trip to play in the water at the park. I gag when I hear the first graders went to the Bisbee Mine and didn't know anything about mining, geology, or minerals. Yes, I realize I am probably the killer of all free-time, but that's for sissies. My idea of a field trip is to 1) Learn 2) Learn 3) Learn. Repeat as often as necessary.

I have a large group of 8th graders who have been a challenge since day one. Overall, they never let me down, but it can be a struggle. If the project and the lesson do not meet their interest levels, I can expect thirteen year old mutiny. I haven't been told to "walk the plank" but don't think it didn't cross their minds. They are extremely social and one actually told me he felt our class was best spent connecting and hanging out with his friends he doesn't see everyday. (Hello behavior plan!) When they were in the fifth grade, one student's parents told me I might be too old to teach the program as I was strict and had rules for the students to follow. Are you getting the picture? I actually returned three students to school from our field trip when they were in seventh grade due to their horrible behavior. When we studied philanthropy, a few actually questioned why they should care about helping others. Sigh... Needless to say, they didn't get to go visit the patients at the local skilled nursing facility. And yet, I haven't given up hope for them.

This year, when I was thinking of a field trip, I knew I couldn't take them to the Chiricahua Mountains to work with scientists at the research center. Self control was a concern. Someone could get hurt, lost, or even die. No one is dying on my watch, if I can avoid it. So, finding a "learning experience" that met their needs and interests was truly a challenge. Until my son told me about "Feed My Starving Children."

Feed My Starving Children sounds really dramatic, doesn't it? Jordan (aka Mr. Selchow of the Mesquite High School Ag Dept. in Gilbert, AZ) told me he takes kids to volunteer at their sites a couple of times a year. He described the experience to me, assured me his students enjoyed doing it and had to earn the privilege to participate. He encouraged me to check out the website. Okay, I was a little hesitant at the idea but Jordan is no bleeding heart. If he said it was worth his time, then it was worth mine to research.

I barely made it through the online video. FMSC is a Christian organization, but anyone is welcome to help. Their mission is to provide food for people in under-developed countries, especially children. I knew where we were going and I knew just how to teach it. It came easily.

GTE students are generally good researchers by the 8th grade. I allowed them to choose a partner, I told them to choose 10 under-developed countries, and they had to find statistics on hunger and death rates to compare. They would give a short presentation and they had to have charts representing their data. Poof! Off they scurried to their computers and boy did they meet my expectations. One student spoke to me privately about his concern that the majority of deaths in Mexican men was a result of alcohol. Learning? You betcha!

After the presentations, I handed the students their permission slips and we talked about what was to come. On Monday, May 9, at 10:30, we would travel four hours to Phoenix, in vans to work at FMSC. My husband (GOD BLESS HIM!), my instructional assistant (HEART OF GOLD), and I would chaperone. Since we don't have many funds, we would pack lunches and at the end of the day, we would eat at McDonalds. Our appointment was from 3:30 to 5:30 PM and we would be back in Douglas by 10:30 PM.

Yes, I knew it would be a very long day. Yes, I knew my self-control challenged mob could go crazy. Yes, I was worried about the "what ifs." Yes, I prayed for help. Yes, I stressed and lost sleep about the whole idea and thought about calling in sick on the 9th. But at no time did I ever hear or encounter the word, "NO." My program director was very encouraging and told me she believed in my idea. So, off we went.

Bosco drove one van and Ms. ChaCha (Yes, that is her awesome name) had seven in one van and I had seven in the other. I WAAAAAASSSSS tempted to give them the wild ones, but they all can hold that moniker with pride at any given moment. The ride went well. We even had time to drive five miles an hour for road construction and still made it without landing in the parking lot going MACH5 with our hair on fire.

Once in the building, the atmosphere is very "chill and hip." No frills, but it had a World Market feel to it. Sean, the dude in charge gave us a rundown of what we would be doing, showing slides for visual instructive support, and we all donned a hairnet. NO ONE looked good. NO ONE. It was the greatest equalizer in life. No jewelry and wear a glove if your wedding band won't come off. We would be a team, loading ingredients into small plastic bags, sealing them, packing them in boxes, and the result would go to Cambodia. Each day, food goes to different countries. There is no particular favorite.

Our hairnet covered group secured a station and prepared for the experience. Four boys volunteered to work with the warehouse crew moving filled boxes. (The strongest never works out and the rest could be described as scrawny.) ChaCha worked in labeling. My kids would mix rice, soy, vitamins, and flavoring into the bags, Bosco and I would work the sealers and pack the boxes. We were table 5 and we were FEARLESS!!!

And work we did. Listening and singing to loud upbeat pop tunes, we packed about fourteen bags of food. Thirty-six bags fills a box. We were a filling machine! Occasionally, I saw my warehouse boys zoom by with boxes, muscles or pre-muscles bulging. And the time flew! Before I could yell, "Pick-up on table five," it was over and we were cheering our success. We cleaned up the area and returned to the first room with the World Market atmosphere.

Sean talked about our efforts and what it would mean. Children, adults, and old people would live another year for each box we packed. One bag would feed a little child for more than one day. We packed 504 bags of food. We watched a video where we saw poor, starving children who were grossly underweight before being brought to the distribution centers in their countries. Then, they showed us their progress over a year. It was amazing, thrilling, and devastating. I was a mess at this point. I had to grip my poor sore knees to keep from crying. I looked at my kids and they looked so proud and they were so good!

We ate dinner at McD's and hauled it home to Douglas. My van was noisy, but it was good noise. Bosco said his van was a lot quieter, but one kid talked the whole time. The time went fast. My van-kids asked about class on Thursday and I told them there would be no more classes for the year. The field trip was the final. In two weeks they would finish their middle school GTE experience and be high school freshman. There were some surprised comments and it appeared they would maybe miss our classes. I asked them to tell me what they had learned from the experience. No student was at a loss for words. Several told me it was the best field trip ever. Mission accomplished. We arrived at the schools, hugged goodbye, and went home. I am still tired.

A teacher should always have high hopes and high expectations for their students. This I know to be true. A teacher's first responsibility is to teach lessons that will carry students through school and through life. I strongly feel this was accomplished. And their behavior? They didn't let me down but most of all, they didn't let themselves down. And they learned something very important.
Hope sometimes begins with a hairnet.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

I have a call from ...

When my brother was in college, he would call my parents and I each week on Sunday. It was our schedule. We would get home from church, eat lunch, and Gary would call. He would call collect for himself and whomever answered the phone would refuse the call. Then, we would call him at his dorm or apartment and catch-up on our shared news. It was usually me who spoke first, then Dad, then Mom. Mom was usually last. When he married, the tradition continued until my parents moved back to Houston and they could call at anytime. They still talk each week.

In 1976, off I went to college (Ouachita Baptist University) and it was my turn to call collect each Sunday. I, however, called for our dog, Shorty. My dad would chuckle each time the operator said, "I have a collect call for Shorty." My dad would say with a little laugh, "I'm sorry, he can't talk right now." Because Shorty couldn't. And of course, the phone would ring in my dorm and I would tell them all about my week in Arkadelphia. When I graduated, married, and moved to Arizona, the calls continued. We talk each Sunday, unless I am out-of-town. Then, I am supposed to call on Monday. If by chance I don't call by Tuesday, you can expect Katherine, my mom, will be calling to ask if we are all okay. It's a given.

Raising my kids so far away from my parents has often brought questions from people wondering how close my kids are to Nana and Papa. After all, Houston is 16 hours away and that is a lifetime to people who live close to their grandchildren. I do my best to explain that they have heard their grandparents' voices on the phone regularly since they were babies. Each week, I would hold the phone to their little ears so they could listen to Nana and Papa tell them they loved them and other things. When they could hold the receiver without licking it, they listened intently as Nana and Papa shared little stories and news with them, ending in how much they were loved and missed. I kept their pictures in their rooms so they would recognize them and they wouldn't think the phone was Nana and Papa. As they grew older, their talks were often private and I would talk to Mom and Dad when the kids were finished. We saw my parents at least twice a year, sometimes more, but they spoke to their grandparents each week. Our phone bills were expensive, but it was money well spent. My kids spoke to them regularly when they were in college and they still do. Close? Very.

The news we share is usually not too important. Important news or concerns get a call during the week. This usually follows a trip to the doctor, the emergency room, a biopsy, a death, a birth, and things we know can't wait. If they call me on a weekday or at night, I am a little frightened when I see the caller id.

Dad often updates me on the sports he follows. The Dallas Cowboys take center stage, followed by the Houston Astros, and of course, the Rockets. I never hear much about the Texans and certainly not the Rangers. He watches a lot of CNN and the local news so we talk about the US, global issues, and politics. The man loves politics, as long as it is his point of view! I know all about the tomato plants and other things growing in his yard. I receive a pecan report each fall. It concerned me to learn someone called the police after he was seen shooting his BB gun at the squirrels in the front yard and five cruisers showed up like a SWAT emergency. Squirrels are the enemy and he must defend his pecan crop. Dad might have a joke he heard at church and I always hear about his friends at College Park Baptist. Advice is free, but not insisted.

Mom and I talk longer. She goes into the bedroom to speak privately and she has been known to complain a little about my dad. I keep her complaints to myself because I understand that a girl sometimes needs to vent. We laugh about things my students say and she always wants to know about my classes. She coaches me through cooking, quilting, sewing, and other things she has mastered. She knows I don't have her green thumb so gardening information is usually short. Every year, she inquires as to whether I am up-to-date on my mammograms and am I staying healthy. Concern becomes a worry if my voice is hoarse and she will make extra calls in the week if she learns I am ill. For a woman who struggles with memory loss, she never ever forgets a worry I have shared with her. I am her baby and she is still the mother.

Conversations with my parents have helped me make it through some very trying times. I have cried on the phone more than once when I have been worried, afraid, and frustrated with life's challenges. My dad always reassures me with, "God will take care of you." My mom is the pep club. She tells me she is proud of me, encourages me to do what is difficult, and helps me believe "All things pass or it's just a phase." I know they always have my best interests in their hearts and minds.

One day, I fear a different call will come and I know the day is getting closer and closer. I don't like to think about it, because I don't like to think about my life without them. So, I call each Sunday because every minute and every call counts.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Far From Home

If you have met me and listened to me talk about my family, then you know I have two kids. I call them "wanna be comedians" in the description of me on this blog because they think they are so funny. And sometimes they are. When I felt like I would pull my hair out in frustration, anger, embarrassment, or hurt, I could depend on the comedians to do or say something epic. And sometimes they did something truly kind. That's what family is supposed to do for you. Drive you crazy, make you laugh, and pick you up when you are low.

There hasn't been a full-time comedian in the house since Jordan left home in 2009. And most days the quiet isn't so bad. They blow in a couple of times a year and the noise level rises then once more they are gone and it's quiet at home. The coach and I go back to our routines and everything resumes.

I left home to go to college in the fall of 1976. My parents and I talked every Sunday afternoon when we weren't together. We still do. (They are 87 and 85) If I have to miss a week, then I can expect a worried call during the week checking on me. I always felt bad for my parents when I would leave them at the end of the summer, Spring Break, Thanksgiving, and Christmas breaks. My mom would tell me that my dog would look for me and their house would be too quiet. In 1981, I married and I saw them less as I moved far, far from them. I made my own home, made a family, and made a life away from them. When I go to Houston to visit, they are sad when I leave. Dad usually cries a little and Mom hugs me several times before I walk out the door. It's hard but leaving is supposed to be hard. I know they love me and that will never change.

Now, when we say goodbye to our kids and their spouses, it's sad. I am usually quiet, kinda cranky, and I have been known to cry a little. I hug them several times before we part and I try to make sure they hear me tell them over and over that I love them. We part ways and the quiet returns.

I was going through my ITunes collection yesterday and I found something I forgot I had. It's a song by the Doobie Brothers. "Far From Home" The words are perfect and the music is lovely. It reminds me of the comedians and it reminds me of me. They are far from home, like me.

"Far From Home"
by Simmons and Templeman

I wish you could have stayed a little longer cause it seems like only yesterday
You've gotten so much stronger now I know you're on your way
We've waited for this moment now it's hard to let you go
Cause baby when you're gone away I know I'm gonna miss you so

Spread your wings and fly away
When the rain begins to fall
Just remember that you'll never be that far from home

I looked in your room today I saw an old and worn out shoe
It's one from your favorite pair. I remember when they were new
You used to wear them everywhere when you used to hold my hand
Time slips through your fingers just like a tiny little grain of sand

Baby just spread your wings and fly away
When the rain begins to fall
Just remember that you'll never be that far from home

Just remember that you'll never be that far from home
Just remember that you'll never be that far from home
Just remember that you'll never be that far from home

Spread your wings and fly away
Spread your wings and fly away
Spread your wings and fly away