Category Archives: Family Life

Tragic Vacuuming Accident

I’m deeply in love with my little robot vacuum, but even my beloved isn’t perfect. This is what happens when you vacuum after leaving too long a tail on the roll of toilet paper. My husband had to rewind it laboriously by hand. And was he annoyed? It’s quite possible he was.

Good Thing I Didn’t Understand You

I was on my way to the grocery store to get food for Sunny’s 18th birthday dinner when my cell phone rang. I answered and a frantic girl’s voice yelled at me, “I need rice!”

It was one of my daughters, but I wasn’t sure which one. Either way, it was odd, because neither one of them is a big fan of rice.

“What?” I said.

“I want rice!”

“You want rice? Who is this?”

“Rice! I want rice!”


Eventually it became clear that she was trying to say “I have lice,” not “I want rice.”

“I’ll look at it when I get home,” I said, and hung up.

Luckily, it turned out not to be true.

Sometimes my life feels a bit surreal.




A Real Gentleman

Marcus is not what you’d call a well-behaved dog, so he usually sleeps locked in his crate. This keeps him from rooting through wastebaskets, lying on the (forbidden) couch, and jumping up on chairs to grab food off the kitchen table. Last night, though, his crate was drying out after being washed. It needed washing because he ate a whole lot of fudge over the weekend and spent a couple of days vomiting it up wherever he could.

Anyway, last night his crate was still outside drying, so I put his bed in my little bathroom and shut the door. Sometime during the night he decided that he really needed to perform an eliminative function. So he politely jumped into the bathtub, pooped in the tub, then jumped back out of the tub and went back to bed.

What a thoughtful dog he is!

Mother’s Day 2012

My brother got these roses for the three mothers who were at his house on Mother’s Day: his wife, me, and my father’s wife. (He also cooked us all a delicious breakfast.)

Other highlights of my weekend visit to Philadelphia: attending a half-human, half-puppet version of Shakespeare’s revenge bloodbath Titus Andronicus, eating lots of Indian food, and and visiting Chanticleer, a former rich man’s estate and now a magnificent public garden, where we saw these foxgloves:

I also got a beautiful note from Basketball Girl about how much she appreciates me as a mom. And where did I find this note? Buried in a pile of miscellaneous garbage I was cleaning out of the back seat of the car this morning. I only opened the envelope because I thought it might be a note from one of our tenants. Somehow this sums up something cosmic about my life.

All in all, it was a very happy Mother’s Day.

Adventures in Modern Education

One of the more interesting things I’m doing right now is being a once-a-week writing coach for a couple of freshmen from the local public school. I’ve been working with the same two students all semester, trying to help them learn how to write a basic essay.

The class where I’m coaching has almost forty students in it. Many of them don’t speak English at home. It’s a pretty safe bet that none of them has ever seen a book at home. I haven’t come across one student in this class who can read a paragraph out loud without stumbling over several words. One of my two regular students has never done any of the assigned reading all semester.

Yesterday, more than half of the usual volunteers failed to show up, so I got two other kids to help in addition to my usual two. The assignment: write an essay comparing and contrasting Odysseus, hero of the Odyssey, to another hero of your choice.  Completed essay to be turned in at the end of an hour and a half class.

  • Challenge #1: none of my students has actually read a word of the Odyssey.
  • Challenge #2: while the teacher did outline a couple (by no means all) of the Odyssey’s main plot points in a previous class, they don’t remember anything she told them.
  • Challenge #3: the hero they choose to compare to Odysseus is Spiderman.
  • Challenge #4: One of my two new students can barely write his own name.

After tutoring for most of the semester, I’ve learned enough to come prepared for Challenges 1 and 2. I printed out copies of a Sparknotes plot summary of the Odyssey, plus today’s assignment, for my students to use as cheat sheets while they write their essays. But since I had two extra students, I couldn’t give them each a copy. While the plot summary is fairly short, it’s still too long to read during our session.

And that’s the biggest challenge: there just isn’t enough time. No time to discuss what a hero is, or read what happened in the Odyssey (even the radically condensed version), or explain the structure of a basic compare-and-contrast essay. There’s REALLY no time to help them write an introductory sentence or a summary paragraph, or help correct their spelling and grammar, or least of all, to try to get them interested in the story.  I had about forty-five minutes with each group of two students, and part of that time went to walking them from their class to the library and back to class again, to prevent them from escaping and roaming wild around the halls.

So in the end, I told them the story of how Odysseus tricked the Trojans with the Trojan horse and how he tricked Polyphemus the Cyclops. That’s all of the Greek classics we had time for. I spent a few minutes getting them to dredge up Spiderman’s heroic qualities. Then I baldly told them to write these four paragraphs:

1) Say that your essay is going to compare Odysseus and Spiderman. Say who Odysseus is and what makes him a hero. (I had to supply all the Odysseus facts.) Say who Spiderman is and what makes him a hero.

2) Explain two ways that Odysseus and Spiderman are LIKE each other.

3) Explain two ways that O. and S. are NOT LIKE each other.

4) Write one last sentence  summarizing what you just said above. Since the idea of a summary is foreign to them, I suggested that they might say why they liked Spiderman better than Odysseus. At least that would give them the chance to put something of themselves into this essay.

God only knows what the final results looked like. Better than they would have otherwise, I suppose. But what did they learn? Is this really going to help them find their way in the modern world? Taught in this way, what can the Odyssey be to them but another dreary hurdle they are forced to jump by the Powers that Be?

The sad thing is, these kids have potential. The girl who never does the reading is spunky and gets upset if her handwriting doesn’t look perfect. When I work with her alone, she gets interested in writing the essays in spite of herself. My other regular student is a hard worker, a quiet and thoughtful kid, who does try to do the reading and actually remembers some of what the teacher tells them. He could get really interested in literature if anyone tried to relate what he’s doing in school to what’s important to him.

It’s not the teacher’s fault, either. She’s trying to stay in control of a class that’s too big and has too many kids with learning and behavioral problems. She has to spend weeks and weeks of the year getting ready for and administering standardized tests on topics which are way over the heads of this class.

It’s a sad story, though. A tragedy in the making.


A Pile of My Own

Seeing all the energy and attention my husband has lavished on his dirt piles over the years has sometimes made me feel, well, a little left out. So when I drove  by some tree guys who were chipping an enormous Monterey pine tree they’d just cut down, I saw my chance. I got them to bring the wood chips over here and dump them in front of the barn. I’m going to use the pile to mulch my gardens and Marcus’ outdoor area.

You’d think the arrival of a fresh new pile would be pleasing to my husband. After all, he really seems to love piles. But you would be wrong. He thoroughly disapproved of my pile. The aspersions flew freely about my plans for the pile. He even said it would COST MONEY to get those chips spread around the various places I want them spread.

Now he’s away for a couple of weeks. While he’s been gone, I’ve been moving the pile slowly, one wheelbarrow full at a time, into our tenant’s yard. At this rate, it will be gone in a couple of years. Weeds, watch out!

My own pile. It’s a satisfying moment.



The Lover Boys

In a little pack, showing off for the girls right behind my kitchen this morning. They were busy well before sunrise. It’s spring! And the girls showed the usual level of interest (zero). You can see one of them in this photo, heading off in the other direction to look for some delicious bugs.

In other news, here’s the fortune I got with my Chinese takeout last night: “Rarely do great beauty and virtue dwell together as they do in you.” I’m glad to know that someone has finally understood me.

What They Did on Vacation

Spent some time in the water with Beluga whales at Sea World in San Diego.

This was the highlight of a trip that also included visits to our good friends Mary and Theresa and Dan, plus a Padres baseball game where we got to see a grand slam home run.

And that was just the beginning. The day after we got home from San Diego, Basketball Girl and I flew to Pensacola Beach, Florida, where my cousin Mike was putting in his last day of work after 30 years in the Navy. His retirement ceremony, which was held in the Navy’s Museum of Naval Aviation, in an atrium with Blue Angels fighter jets hanging overhead. A couple of admirals gave speeches, and all the participants wore their dress whites, complete with chests full of medals and swords (!).  I felt privileged to witness this testament to a career spent in service of our country.  Here’s Mike with his family at the reception after the ceremony:

The grey structure they are standing in front of is from the U.S.S. Cole, a destroyer that saw a lot of action in World War II (and was then attacked by terrorists in in 2000.)

Here’s a closer look at the superstructure. Those red flags represent all the ships and planes destroyed by the Cole during the war in the Pacific.

The museum was full of sobering reminders of how many people sacrificed their lives in our country’s wars. And the ceremony reminded me how much even we West coast peaceniks depend on the people  in the military to stand between us and people who want to do us harm.


Spring Beauty

Thanks to my stepmother Darian for this spectacular amaryllis.

(Don’t you think there should be a nicer word to replace “stepmother” in situations where the person in question is always a pleasure to be with, and sends you nice presents instead of ordering her chief huntsman to take you out in the woods and cut your heart out, a la Snow White’s stepmother?)

Tea Parties of Yesteryear

Sunny just got admitted to the college of her dreams, and will be leaving us in the fall. Basketball Girl is about to graduate from eighth grade and go on to  high school. I was looking through my photo files to gather some old photos of Basketball Girl to use for her eighth grade graduation project when I came across this happy scene at our favorite tea shop (really should be “shoppe”, because that’s the kind of place it is) in San Francisco. The friends in the photo are the ones Sunny will be seeing a lot of when she moves to Portland, Oregon for college — her family away from home.

This tea party was just two years ago, but it feels like time is speeding up and the girls’ childhood is already receding into distant memory.

The Auction Winner

An entry in the “What was I thinking?” category…

I went to a “hoedown” fundraiser for Basketball Girl’s school last night, and when my husband got really tired and had to go home early, I came back for the live auction on my own. That might not have been such a good idea.

Released from his frugal force field, I bid on and won a big oak barrel full about 50 bottles of wine (plus a giant chocolate Easter Bunny, an enormous goblet full of Hershey’s Kisses, and this truly charming wine bottle holder.)

Keep in mind that I am mildly allergic to alcohol and so drink less than one bottle of wine a year.  He drinks a little more, but neither of us is what you would call a big drinker.

Some of the wine is good, and some of it is of the screw-top variety. I’ve never heard of Bixler Vineyards, for instance, or Jest White, but listen to this copy from the Jest White Label:  “This tempting ambrosia is blended from the most sensuous grape varietals lovingly pressed by the tender caresses of 69 nymphs dancing under the pale light of the full harvest moon.”

Now we’re trying to decide what to do with it all. Hosting a TYOB (Take Your Own Booze) party? Maybe we can corrupt some other charitable organization by donating a couple of dozen bottles. Clearly some kind of big wine blowout is in order.


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