Thursday, December 28, 2006

13 Depressing Sights or Places to Be on Dec. 25 & 26

1. The Laundromat. At 8am , enroute to feed my friends cats I passed a Laundromat. Not only was it open but inside sat a lone man – doing his laundry.

2. A stack of unsold Christmas Trees. The Houston Garden Center near
our house appears to be the resting place for the surplus trees. The weather was damp and the sky was gray and that added to general gloom of the sight.

3. The cars in front of the X-rated video store. It too was open and while the parking lot was not SRO there were definitely customers inside. Of all the places to spend Christmas Day, a “Private Viewing Booth” is truly last on my list – right above “a prison cell”. Not that I’ve ever (knock wood) seen the inside of either them.

4. Christmas cards that arrive on Dec. 26th. They always look forlorn.

5. Wrapped Christmas gifts under the tree. On Dec. 24th they appear mysterious and festive. On Dec. 26th they appear tired and shabby.

6. Store shelves after the “Dec. 26th” holiday bargain folks have picked them clean. I’ve always wondered what happens to all the unsold decorations. Could someone enlighten me?

7. Stacks of leftover Christmas goodies in the grocery store. Who could possibly want a about to be stale sugar cookie bell sprinkled with red sugar?

8. A lone Christmas TV Ad that slips by and is still running on the 26th. I’m so over those ads anyway and ones that aren’t pulled on the 25th are not only tiresome, they are ludicrous

9. Bus terminals. Depressing under the best of circumstances. On Dec. 25th I would assume that they are soul stupefying.

10. Movie theaters. In Houston they tend to do a good business – mostly because I think folks need a break from to much “Christmas Cheer” and “Christmas Togetherness”. Movies are something a family can do together but it does not require conversation or any sort of interaction.

11. Pro sports events. I don’t feel any sorry for the athletes, they are paid such obscene amounts of money, nor sorry for the announcers who also earn a hefty salary. However, I don’t think the camera men and other behind the scenes folks make enough mega bucks to take the sting out of being away from their family.

12. Obligatory news stories of the “Troops at the Front Lines”. Those boys and girls belong home, celebrating the holiday with their parents or their wives and children. Especially the latter – so many of them are the parents of little ones. It’s the little ones that make Christmas a magical time.

13. Martha Stewart Magazine. No matter how hard we all try, Christmas never quite measure up to the yardstick held so firmly in her hand!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thumbs and Pointers

For Christmas this year, we not only have our two daughters we also have the boyfriend of one and for a couple of days the BFF (a charming gay man we’ve known since he came out) of the other. Two lesbians, 1 queen, 2 breeders living in sin and unattached eldest twin – gender bending hits a new level.

At a recent library meeting, we had a presentation on “thumbs” and “pointers”. Those of us who are digital immigrants use our pointer fingers to operate all these new
gizmos and gadgets, those of us who are digital natives use their thumbs. 4 of the current members of the household are natives and 2 are immigrants (there are also 5 cats but they appear to be indifferent to the controversy).

The 6 people are accompanied by 6 cell phones (each with a different ring tone), 5 laptops and 5 iPods. When several cell phones ring at once, the colophony of sound is overwhelming.

Every morning the “thumbs” drift downstairs, grab a coke from the fridge and fire up their laptops to check e-mail and pursue the daily news and weather. Need a phone number? Don’t need the yellow pages – Yahoo has the information. What time does the movie start? Don’t need the paper, don’t need to call the theater, just check on line. Plane delayed? Ask Southwest to send a text message so that airport times can be calculated. Where’s the museum? Don’t need a paper map - Mapquest suffices nicely. Anything good on television? Hope on over to and check the listings.

This morning I looked up and all six of us were sitting around with our laptops checking our various e-mails, blogs, Hollywood gossip sites and news sources.

The Houston Chronicle , our daily paper newspaper? It lay unread and ignored on the dining room table. Times they are a’changing.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Holdiay MeMe

For some reason I'm having trouble coming up with original thoughts and original posts. I thought once I was on winter break and had some extra time that my brain would go on overdrive. Nope, my brain is on winter break too. Thank goodness for Memes and the Thursday 13. Nothing like a good writing prompt to prime the pump.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot Chocolate, the real thing, made with milk, Dutch process Cocoa and topped with a dab of real whipped cream.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? No Santa any more. I wrap. I hate it. It’s a ploy to sell increase Hallmark’s profits and kill trees.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? None. At least this year!

4. Do you hang mistletoe? In a house with 11 foot ceilings? No!

5. When do you put your decorations up? We avoid it as long as possible. One year we didn’t do it at all. This year they go up on the 20th when the girls come home and can help. The Little Red Hen moved out some time ago.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Crispy turkey skin and Southern cornbread style dressing with gravy.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: The arrival of the “Care Package” from Holland. In the pre-Internet, Campbell’s Soup Cuisine 1950s and 60s we couldn’t buy Dutch cheeses, sweets and cookies in the United States. Every year my Grandparents filled up a big box full mouth watering treats, which always arrived just before Christmas. Whenever we opened it I felt just like Laura Ingalls Wilder when she helped open the Christmas barrel from the family back in the East.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I can’t remember. It could not have been too traumatic.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? All the Family Gifts get opened on Christmas Eve – that’s part of my Dutch Heritage. When the girls were smaller the Santa gifts were opened on Christmas Day. Now only the stockings are saved for Christmas Day since said children are 24 years old.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? We are among the Live Tree Holdouts. Inspired by a chapter in the Betsy – Tacy books I always took the girls shopping for an new ornament when they were growing up. One of these days they will take them and hang them on their own trees. Both adore Disney so it’s heavy on the Hallmark inspired Disney ornaments. My Beloved used to ride a Harley-Davidson so we also have a very large collection of Harley Davidson Christmas ornaments.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? In balmy 75 degree Houston? Not likely. Looks like we’re going to have a wet Christmas.

12. Can you ice skate? I grew up in Miami, now live in Houston. Enough said

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? A mind is a terrible thing to loose! I adore a pair of garnet earrings My Beloved gave me a number of years ago. They suit me perfectly.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? People take stock of their lives, make positive changes and appreciate each other.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Peppermint Bark! This year Pepperidge Farm has these wonderful new cookies with chocolate icing sprinkled with pieces of crushed up peppermint. Totally addictive. I hope they are a Christmas only item!

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? I have been through so many changes in my life and the traditions have changed too. I am always off during the holidays (a teacher perk) and My Beloved always takes some time off too. Normally our lives are so rushed and hectic that a week of no alarm clock and spending time together is a lovely treat. Better than any vacation. Her family lives in town so we normally don’t travel. We don’t do much – just hang out at the house and catch up on odds and ends but it is always a soul nourishing time.
My mother always sends us Chocolate Letters – that’s a Dutch tradition. They used to come in the Christmas box from Holland but now they can be bought stateside. My girls (and My Beloved) always look forward to their arrival.

17. What tops your tree? A couple of blown glass pink flamingos!

18. Which do you prefer giving or Receiving? Receiving – I can never think of what I want. My life is very full and very complete.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? I used to love Christmas music. That’s USED to – before every radio station in town started playing it 24/7 for 2 months prior to the big day.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?? To sticky. Yuck. They should be smashed and sprinkled on a chocolate dipped pretzel.

13 Musings on Hospitals

My Beloved’s back went out so lucky me got to accompany her to the Doctor’s office, which is part of one of Houston’s major hospitals.

1. Pulling into the parking garage and encountering 4 employees who are obviously loitering outside (in the rain no less) smoking cigarettes and drink soft drinks does send a positive message to prospective patients.

2. I understand why hospitals need linoleum floors but why do they have to be battleship grey in color?

3. Hospital halls are very, very long and battleship gray or beige linoleum only add to the sense of endless corridors.

4. It’s easy to tell the nurses from the pharmaceutical sales representatives. The nursing staff wear Crocs & scrubs, the sales reps wears pencil toe 3” heels and $500 suits. I wonder whose feet hurt the worse at the end of the day?

5. When did mint green and dark purple become mandatory accent colors for the medical profession?

6. I realize that hanging around a waiting room can be boring to the extreme but what is wrong with a book or a magazine to while away the time? Why must the room be dominated with a big screen TV with the volume turned up LOUD?

7. Especially on a weekday morning when the only choices appear to be game shows and Fox News. Don’t the receptionists get tired of the constant drone of sound?

8. And speaking of waiting rooms? Who selects the chairs? May they one day have to sit in one for 2 hours while cursed with back pain.

9. Potted Poinsettia plants (slightly whilted) are mandatory décor during the Christmas season. The red of the flowers clash with the purple of the mandatory accent trim.

10. Hospitals have lots of bathrooms. That’s a good thing.

11. They don’t have an unsecured wireless network. That’s a bad thing.

12. Food in the hospital restaurants costs twice as much as a meal in the real world. They must assume that everyone who enters the doors earns a doctor’s salary. NOT!

13. Is there any other place on earth where both so much happiness and so much sadness are contained under one roof?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

13 Things I Don't Like About Christmas

I’m feeling rather Scrooge Like this week. Most likely our unseasonable high temperatures and humidity have some bearing on this.

Incessant Christmas Carols. Clear Channel Radio starts their Christmas Medley about mid- October. The medley consists of The Little Drummer Boy, Have a Holly- Jolly Christmas, It's the Most Magical Time of the Year and White Christmas. Play and repeat. Over and over and over again.

Christmas makes school children wild and crazy. Very wild, crazy and rambunctious. Everyone is so ready for the winter break (which is a good thing about Christmas) and tempers are short.

All of network television goes on hiatus and we are treated to one re-run after another, not to mention one sapppy Christmas special after another.

It marks the beginning of the College Bowl season. This was fine when the bowls consisted of Sugar, Orange and Rose. Somehow, I have trouble taking The Chick-Fil-A Bowl, The Bowl and the Meineke Bowl seriously.

Said re-runs and bowl games are interrupted by Christmas themed commercials. The musical backgrounds for said commercials are selected by Clear Channel.

The traffic! It’s bad enough in Houston under the best of circumstances.

The pressure! I don’t think even Martha Stewart has a Martha Stewart Magazine Cover Page worthy Christmas. If this is such a blessed time why does every magazine and newspaper include lists and tips on surviving the season?

Mugs! Who decided that Christmas Mugs are a suitable gift for all holiday occasions? They must have unlimited cupboard space. May they be pelted with them.

Tacky Decorations. Christmas seems to be a license to kitsch. In Houston, it’s spawned a rash of giant blow up lawn art. The fat Santa’s were bad enough but this year the best yards are sporting a giant snow dome with moving figures and Styrofoam snow. Did I mention our weather is unseasonably warm?

Food – to much, to sweet, to high calorific. I don’t want to see, let alone taste another slice n’ bake, sugar sprinkled star cookie for a very long time.

Holiday Decorated Sweats, Shirts, Vests and Sweaters. Perhaps this is a Texas thing but Christmas seems to result in woman wearing sequins in the daytime. A 50+ woman with a double F chest has no business wearing a shirt adorned with a snowman who has appliquéd goggley eyes atop each nipple. Don’t get me started on twinkling Christmas light earrings and Reindeer headbands.

Slim pickings at the thrift stores and garage sales.. Slim pickings are not good for acquiring inventory.

Long, long, lines at the Post Office. Which has Clear Channel Radio playing.
Did you know that they really do play “Holly Jolly Christmas” once every 15 minutes?


Sunday, December 10, 2006

I Go Shopping!

My Beloved, who just got a major promotion & I went to Austin for her annual company meeting and Christmas Party. The party was "and spouse . One of the "benefits" about her being out at work is that I get included in these sorts of things. This is both a blessing and a curse.

I am not interested in clothes and fashion. I'm a librarian at a poor school so I wear very casual things to work and jeans and polo shirts around the house. Clothes keep me warm in winter and cover up the parts that haven’t aged well in summer. We do not attend church so I haven't needed "nice" clothes in years. The bulk of my wardrobe comes from thrift stores and garage sales, with my 2 main criteria being “does it fit” & “is it machine washable”.

I'd planned to wear a pair of velveteen pants and silk shirt and a velvet vest. We joined some of the company folks for breakfast who were also in Austin for the meetings and festivities. I took one look at the quality of the clothing they were wearing (all men) and decided the outfit I had would not do at all.

Everyone on my Betsy-Tacy list-serv always raves about Nordstrom. I decided to venture forth to the one in new upscale mall (they just entered the Texas market last year) in search of something to wear.

Turns out the Ladies of Betsy Tacy List are correct. Nordstrom is everything they said and more.

I called to find their hours expecting to hear a recorded voice intoning:
"Welcome to Nordstrom's, for Spanish press 1, for hours press 2, for directions press 3, if you know your parties extension please enter it now”. Instead; a real live person answered the phone. Said person was not in India, they were in Austin. I did not have enough time to take advantage of their personal shoppers so she suggested I come in and ask a salesperson for help.

I wandered into ladies clothing, found a saleslady and said "dress me".

Once she got over the shock of encountering someone as fashion impaired as myself she rose to the occasion. She spent over an hour with me, she got a top from here, a skirt from there and finished it off with the perfect jacket. By the time, we were finished I’d spent a lot of money but I had fabulous outfit. She personally took me to shoes, purses, lingerie and makeup and helped me find just the right things. The only reason we didn't visit jewelry is because that was the one thing I already had. In fact; I brought my necklace with me and told her I wanted something that went with it.

I asked for makeup suggestions (I am also makeup impaired). She consulted a colleague and they decided Trish McEvoy was the brand for me. Down to cosmetics I went. They were right – even though my newly opened Nordstrom account now has a rather large balance – the experience was worth every penny.

Nordstrom is perfect for someone like me who does not like to shop and does not follow fashion. Here in Houston we had Foleys (which is now Macy's). You can’t find anyone to ring up your purchase, much less offer assistance and fashion advice. We have one Nordstrom in Houston, in a mall I loathe due to traffic but I'll deal with it the next time I need something other than kaki pants and a polo shirt.

I sent the store manager an e-mail telling her how impressed I was and received the most delightful ( and personal ) e-mail in response. It is so refreshing to realize that there are merchants out there who still subscribe to customer service.

My Beloved was delighted with the result. I meet the wife of the President of the company and the first thing she said to me was that she really liked my top and that she had one almost like it that she'd bought for her son's wedding – at Nordstrom no less!.

I am very glad I braved the doors of the mall. Now I had better have a good month on Amazon so I can pay for it all!

Jury Duty Part II

Well, I wasn’t chosen despite the fact that I really wasn’t trying to get myself struck. After much, much waiting around 63 of us were herded into a courtroom where we sat in numbered, assigned seats and were told that under no circumstances were we to forget our number. All reading materials were to be under our chairs, all cell phones were to be turned off and all talking was to cease. There is a great deal of similarity between jury duty and school or the army. Sit down, be quiet and do as you are told.

It was a drug case, possession of less than a gram of cocaine. Texas has mandatory sentencing laws (news to me, but I don’t really keep up with changes in the drug statues) and if guilty the defendant would have to serve at least 180 days in jail. There then followed 2 hours of the most painful hair splitting as various potential panel members questioned the judge and the lawyers and in return answered the questions posed by the legal teams.

Some of the possible jurors were having a great of trouble visualizing a gram.
The judge couldn’t give a clear explanation. Finally, in frustration she announces:

“Well it’s no wonder I don’t know anything about this –my undergraduate degree is only in education”.

That remark didn’t sit well with me, since one of my degrees is also in elementary education and I am perfectly capable of visualizing a gram.

I raised my hand.

“I have a degree in elementary education; in fact I’m a teacher and you just insulted me and every other teacher in the room. Teachers get enough grief and bad press and I never expected to hear something like that from an elected official.”

She looked taken back
“I didn’t mean to insult teachers”

“Well, you did”.

“Do you think my comments would it difficult for you to render an impartial verdict”


“Oh, I do apologize”

“Thank you”

After that exchange neither the defense, the prosecution or anyone else wanted anyone as outspoken as me on their jury panel.


The irony of it all?
I didn’t protest in hopes of getting struck, I was so angry at her statements that I couldn’t keep quiet. I'm tried of teachers being the whipping boy for all the the ills of society.

Friday, December 08, 2006

13 Observations About Jury Duty

Thirteen Things about Jury Duty

The parking garage was designed by architects in Europe where a Mini- Cooper is considered a big car. This does not translate well to Texaian where a Ford F10 is considered a small car. In this parking garage 2 Expeditions take up 3 parking places. Two Chevy trucks parked opposite each other create an aisle so narrow that a Hummer got stuck between them. It made me giggle.

The room is full of people waiting. The chairs resemble those in the airports (and are about as comfortable too) but the atmosphere is totally different. The airport always has a happy excited hum about it, of people coming and going, meeting up with family, going on their dream trip or heading out for new adventures. Not so the jury assembly room. The atmosphere is one of painful resignation.

The majority of the people are Anglo. This is not a jury of of “your peers” in a county where at least 50 % of the residents are African American or Hispanic. Of course you do need to speak English, be a US Citizen and have no criminal record so that would disqualify a number of the citizens of Harris County.

The information video is being played for the 3rd time. Nobody is listening.

I’m amazed at how many people have brought nothing at all to do. The better dressed a person is , the more likely they are to be occupying their time with something other than sleeping.

Having to be somewhere at 8 rather than 6:45 meant I got a sleep an extra hour. That’s a good thing!

There is no wireless access in this room. That’s a bad thing.

I wonder where the closest Starbucks is?

It’s only 3 weeks before Christmas and 1 week till my Christmas break. I sure hope I’m not chosen. I know this marks me as a “bad citizen”. The video says I’m very important. I’m not feeling especially special.

“Vor Daire” pronounced with a Texas accent sounds like the name of a small town in West Texas.

I hope my laptop battery holds old!

It’s easy to spot the cigarette smokers. They are all fidgeting.

The very large woman in front of me has her hair pulled back in a short pony tail. The bow is bigger than her head. That makes her a bow head. I would hate the thought that my life was I the hands of a bow head.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

13 Things About Starbucks

Thirteen Things about Starbucks

I know some folks call it the "Evil Empire" but I'm rather fond of the place!

Fresh, hot coffee, always strong, always good, never bitter (or lattes – my weakness) with many options

Real 1/2&1/2- not powdered creamer (an oxymoron if there ever was one)

Clean, spacious bathrooms

Friendly, cordial employees who seem happy to wait on you

Easy on/ off access at most freeways

You can bring your own cup (granted you had to buy it from them first) – they will even rinse it out for you so the back seat doesn’t get piled ankle deep in Styrofoam.

Good Sandwiches

Semi nutritious breakfast – the yogurt and granola parfaits. Yes, there are plenty of diet busters too but at least there is another option

Comfy Chairs

Open early and late. And on Thanksgiving. And Christmas

Unlike most stores they did not begin to play Christmas music in mid October. In fact, the one I frequent has yet to make me endure upteen versions of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”.

You can spend a little time or a while away a couple of hours.

Fascinating people watching

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Things for Thanksgiving

Oh course it's a cliche but what else could one write about for a Thanksgiving Thursday Thirteen but Thirteen to be thankful for........

  1. My Beloved. We're about to celebrate 10 years together. I can't imagine what life would be life without her. It might be a bit more predictable but it wouldn't be nearly as interesting. And fun.
  2. My 2 Daughters. Bright, successful, finished with college and doing well on their respective coasts. And having no desire to join the army and become cannon fodder in Iraq.
  3. My Job. While I do hate it when the alarm goes off and resent the fact that I can't go to Friday estate sales I'm still very lucky to get to spend my day surrounded by books and computers and kids. The day never drags and it's never mundane or boring. Teachers aren't paid nearly what they are worth but I can't imagine doing anything else for a living (other than selling books).
  4. My Mother. Decided (along with my Father) to downsize, sell the house, leave Miami and moved to North Carolina, close to where my brother lives. She made it so easy for us, unlike many of my generation we aren't going to struggle with "what to do with Mom".
  5. My Other Job. Over the past 6 years I've been building up an Internet Book Selling business. It's growing nicely and will dovetail nicely with retirement plans. It fits perfectly with My Beloved's golfing passion. Where there are golf courses there are thrift shops - or given the average age of most golfers - estate sales.
  6. The Internet. It's changed my life. It's given me My Beloved, my book selling, a column for Bookthink and host of friends to book scout with.
  7. The Kitties. Always warm, fuzzy and full of purrs.
  8. My Principal. When you work in an elementary school the Principal can make your job a joy or hell on earth. They can support you in everything you do or thwart you whenever possible. I am so grateful my principal is of the former and not of the latter persuasion.
  9. Our House. 8 years ago we gambled and bought a lot in the last undeveloped section of the Houston Heights. We rolled snake eyes and the neighborhood is booming. And we love the house.
  10. My Health. Yes my knees creak, there's an extra 20 lbs I can't seem to shake and my eyes aren't what they used to be. Considering health issues friends are facing those are all small potatoes.
  11. Houston. Yes, it's big, sprawling, the traffic is horrid and the weather worse. But it is also vibrant, diverse and full of opportunity.
  12. Living in America. And not in Iraq, Iran, The Sudan, China, Darfur or Afghanistan or any of the sad and violence plagued places on this earth.
  13. Being Alive 2006. And not in the Middle Ages, where I'd be dead in childbirth before the age of 25. Or in Tudor times where freedom of religion was not an option. Or in the US in the last century when being Gay was a crime.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Things Found in Books

Booksellers are always finding things in books – usually bookmarks and sales slips. I’ve heard tales of booksellers stumbling across $100 bills in old books but I’ve never been so lucky.

Last Sunday my friend Lou and I went to the mother of all book estate sales and encountered an extravaganza of items stuffed into books. The former owner didn’t own a home, he owned a library. Every room of the 4 bed room tract house was wall to wall to wall bookshelves, ditto the hall and the closets.

They weren’t all old Readers Digest Condensed Books, Book of the Month Club books and ancient textbooks either. The bulk of the collection was like new non-fiction hardbacks of the scholarly persuasion. The man was Renaissance Man with interests ranging from evolution to geology to art to archaeology with an intense specialty in military history.

Not only did he buy books, he noted when he’d acquired each volume and he rated them on style and content. The end papers had such comments as “inadequate maps”, “inaccurate information p. 232” or “style 1 star”. He also collected ephemera about the subject of each book and tucked them into the books. Every piece was carefully clipped and dated. The findings ranged from newspaper clippings to articles to maps. A biography of Wendell Wilkie yielded a Wendell Wilkie postage stamp.

Every clipping but one I found matched the books. The one exception was a wedding announcement, which I found in a 1948 Geology textbook. The clipping details the marriage of
Marjorie Cortelyou to Mr. Charles David Allen. My bookman is named Albert who married Margaret Allen so the lady in question isn’t his wife. However, Albert attended MIT and Marjorie hailed from Princeton so it’s possible they knew each other. In addition, Margeret's maiden name was Allen so perhaps they were sisters or cousins.

Posted by Picasa

A bit of Goggling produced obituaries for Albert, Margret and Marjorie (who went by Martha in her later years).Marjorie is wearing a full wedding dress and veil and judging from her hair style she married in the late 1940s. Unlike most brides she’s not looking directly at the photographer and her face isn’t aglow with happiness. She’s looking to the side and her face is pensive and thoughtful. Who or what was she thinking of and why did Albert keep the clipping till the day he died?

Paper: Houston ChronicleDate: Thu 09/21/2006Section: BPage: Edition: 3 Star
passed away peacefully at his home in Houston on September Saturday September 16, 2006 surrounded by his loving family. Al was born on December 27, 1923 in Portsmouth, Ohio to Albert Elwood Singleton and May Sharp Singleton. Al attended college at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston until he joined the army. He served in the Second World War with the 75th division and received disabling wounds. After his honorable discharge from the Armed Services, Al resumed his college studies at Virginia Polytechnical Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he received his Baccalaureate in Mining Engineering and went on to an advanced degree in Geology from Colombia University, New York. There he met, fell in love with and married his beloved Missy, (Margaret Laura Allen) to whom he was wed for over 50 years until her death in 2002. Al spent a productive career with Chevron Oil. The happiest times of his career were spent as a field geologist in the oil camps drilling wells all over Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Houston was next, where he headed the geophysical processing center. His last posting was in London where he negotiated drilling rights on behalf of Chevron in the North Sea. After Al retired he indulged his lifelong love affair with reading. books and knowledge. He is survived by his children, Matthew A. Singleton of Grapevine, TX; David M. Singleton of Galveston, TX; Nicholas D. Singleton of Houston, TX; and Anne E. Singleton of Houston, TX; as well as his daughters-in-law, Jenny Singleton, Mary Jo Singleton, Peggy Sweeney and son-in-law, Jack Douglas. His grandchildren are Amy E. Singleton of Houston, TX; Will Singleton and Katie Singleton of Grapevine, TX; Trent Singleton and Thomas Singleton of Galveston, TX; Gwen Singleton and Timothy Singleton of Houston, TX; and Jackson Douglas of Houston, TX, and dog, Chespah. We will remember and miss him for his intellect, sharp wit and insight and love. He will live forever in our hearts. Al requested that he be cremated with no formal service but that a "Celebration of Life" be hosted in his honor. Details to follow. In lieu of flowers the family has requested that a donation be made to your favorite charity or foundation.

Paper: Houston ChronicleDate: Thursday 02/07/2002Section: APage: Edition: 3
Our beautiful, beloved wife, mother, sister, friend departed peacefully on February 4, 2002. Born March 2, 1928 in Huntington, West Virginia, she is survived by: husband of 50 years Albert E.; three sons Matthew, David and Nicholas; daughter Anne; eight grandchildren and brother Thomas. She attended Connecticut College and graduated from College of Wooster with a BA in Education and later received her Masters Degree in Education from Banks Street School. She was a world traveler, bird-watcher and consummate lover of life! Our hearts are breaking that she is gone yet joyful that we have known her. A celebration of her life will be announced at a later date. The family suggests in lieu of flowers a memorial to her favorite volunteer activity, The Houston Audubon Society.440 Wilchester Blvd., Houston, Texas 77079-7199.

Martha C. Allen
Martha Cortelyou ("Marnie") Allen,
81, of Charlottesville, Va., formerly of Princeton, died April 9 at home after a lengthy illness.
The daughter of Rose P. and Raymond V. Cortelyou, she was born in Princeton.
She attended Princeton High School and earned a bachelor of arts in English from Oberlin College.
She lived for much of her life in Princeton and Rocky Hill before moving to Puerto Rico in 1977. While in Rocky Hill, she directed a pre-school program and was active in community affairs, helping to found a Meals-On-Wheels program in Princeton. She was instrumental in founding the Rocky Hill Library.
During the 1980s, she served as director of library outreach programs throughout New Jersey for the New Jersey Committee for the Humanities, a state-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
She was predeceased by her first husband, Charles David Allen, in 1979. In 1993 she married Joseph Blotner, biographer of William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren. She moved to Charlottesville in 1995 following Prof. Blotner's retirement from the English Department at the University of Michigan.
She is survived by three sons, Peter Jackson, Christopher Talbot, and Stephen Noyes Allen; a sister, Priscilla Cortelyou Little of Washington, D.C.; a brother, the Rev. James Upton Cortelyou of Lake Luzerne, N.Y.; two step-daughters, Tracy Willoughby of Ann Arbor, Mich. and Pamela Blotner of Berkeley, Calif.; and six grandchildren.
A celebration of her life for her friends and family will be held at Stonebridge at Montgomery at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 17.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Princeton Hospice.

Posted by Picasa
Marjorie (Martha) later in her life

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Posted by Picasa

Albert’s Thanksgiving is one of my favorite Thanksgiving books. Albert is a hapless goose who works an elementary school and is at the beck and call of Patsy Pig, a strong minded PTA President with a penchant for delegating. The book is written as a series of notes from Patsy to Albert.

Our 4th graders take the state writing test in February. They hate to write and I love to – though given how sparse my blog entries have been that statement might be debatable. One of my many assorted jobs is to help generate some enthusiasm among 9 year olds for putting pencil to paper.

The story ends with a twist, which we turned into a sequel. We entitled our opus Albert’s Plant a Flower Day. Plant a Flower Day is one of our fund raisers. Parents and students buy a flowering annual for $1 and plant them in the flower beds. The parents can also stay for lunch and the kids love it. The beds look really pretty, unless you are Martha Stewart and insist on perfection.

We haven’t much of a PTA (a common lament of Title I Schools) so our Principal played the part of Patsy Pig and the school custodian made her debut as Albert.

The results were delightful.

Ms. Smith’s Class
Miss. Juanita was outside clearing the weeds and dead plants. She looked up and saw Juan Carlos and he had a note in his hand.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
Tomorrow is Plant a Flower Day. I have to go to a meeting. Will you please go to Home Depot and buy the flowers for the children to plant tomorrow?
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Jones

Miss. Juanita bought the flowers and went back to the beds to clear the weeds. Janet ran up with another note.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
The shovels are all dirty from our last Plant a Flower Day. I have to go to the Administration building to pick up the 4th grade writing tests. Will you please wash the shovels?
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Jones

Miss. Maria cleaned all the dried mud off the shovels and went back outside. Grecia skipped up with a note in her hand.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
The tables need to be set up. I’m so busy writing notes on all the student’s report cards. Would you please arrange the tables for tomorrow?
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Jones

Miss. Juanita went storage closet and brought out all the tables.

Dear Miss. Jones,
The flowers are all set up on the tables and the shovels are all clean. I have done everything you asked me to do but the garden beds aren’t ready!
Sincerely yours
Miss. Juanita

Miss. Jones, the students and their parents volunteered and the beds were ready in no time at all.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
Thank you for all your hard work. Plant A Flower Day
was wonderful. Christmas is coming and I have an idea for the decorations.
Miss. Jones

Miss. Gonzales’s Class
Miss. Juanita was outside Housman Elementary school digging holes for Plant a Flower Day. Helen walked along the sidewalk and in her hand was a note for Miss. Juanita.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
Have you finished digging the holes yet? Can you please set up the tables? I can’t do it because I have to go to a meeting.
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Jones.

Miss. Juanita set up all the tables and began to dig holes again. Soon, Julia scooted out the door and brought Miss. Juanita another note.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
Would place the chairs in the hallway by the cafeteria for the parents? I have 3 naughty children in my office and I can’t leave them alone.
Sincerely yours,
Miss Jones

Miss. Juanita arranged all the chairs and went back outside. Susie rapidly drove her wheelchair over Miss. Maria’s foot. In her hand was another note.

Dear Miss Juanita,
We don’t have any flowers! Please go to Lowe’s and purchase some. I’m having a conference with the parents of the 3 naughty children who were wrestling during recess.
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Jones

Miss. Juanita jumped into her car and drove to Lowe’s to get the flowers.

Dear Miss. Jones,
I have set up the tables, arranged the chairs and purchased the flowers. Who is going to dig the holes for the flowers?
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Juanita

Miss. Jones sent the 3 naughty children out to help Miss. Juanita dig the holes. Plant a flower day was a success.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
Thank you for all your help. Don’t forget the Christmas show is coming up and I’ll need your help!
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Jones

Mrs. Johnson’s Class
Friday is Plant a Flower Day at Kingsdale Elementary. Miss. Juanita was busy pulling the weeds and cleaning the leaves in the flowerbeds. Up ran Keanu with a note in his hand.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
Will you please go and buy the flowers for Plant A Flower Day. I would go but my e-mail box is full and I must respond.
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Jones

Miss. Juanita drove to Wal-Mart and bought the flowers. She then went back to the flowerbed. Nancy came skipping up with another note.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
Would you make the signs for Plant a Flower Day? I must attend a PTA meeting so I’m not able to make them.
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Jones

The Art room was full of paper and markers. Miss. Juanita borrowed some of the supplies and made the signs. Just as she finished Christina walked up with yet another note.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
We need as many holes as we have plants. I forgot my blue jeans and don’t want my new suit to get dirty because I have a Principal’s Meeting with the Superintendent.
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Juanita

Miss. Juanita found the tools and dug the holes.

Dear Miss. Jones,
I bought the flowers, made the signs and dug the holes. However the beds are still full of weeds.
Sincerely yours,
Miss. Juanita

Miss. Jones called the Assistant Principal and he sent the detention kids outside to pull the weeds. Plant a Flower Day was a success.

Dear Miss. Juanita,
Thank you for all your help with Plant a Flower Day. Remember that Open House is right around the corner!
Sincerely yours,
Miss. ones

And Plant a Flower Day was a success! I e-mailed the “sequels” to our Principal who had a good laugh (which she really needed).

I think that lesson’s a keeper!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Different Perspectives

Me to child: "How was your weekend?"

Child: “Boring, we had to drive my Dad around all weekend. But I did have lots of time to read”

Me: "Oh, why did you have to drive your Dad around?"

Child: “He lost his license”

Me: " So you had to take him to DPS to get a new one?"

Child: "No. the judge took it away from him for 6 months."

Me: “Oh”.

Encouter #2

Another Child: "I’m going to go see my Dad at Thanksgiving”.

Me: "How wonderful , I bet you are really excited!"

Child: " I’ve only meet him once in my life, he’s been in jail. But now he has a stable job so I’m going to go see him”.

Me: “Oh”

I seem to be saying “Oh” a great deal of the time!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Not many books nor Fine & Gross Motor Skills

Middle class and upper middle class children are enrolled in classes such as Tumble Bears, gymnastics, Kinder Music, swimming, Gymboree, art, dance, cheerleading and similar eke from the time they can toddle. They go to the park, to the playground (each piece specifically designed to encourage certain skills), and the nature center. They have so many puzzles, Legos and art supplies that an entire new industry has evolved to store it all. If they do not have their own computer, their parents ensure they have ample computer time on the family computer – or computers. These days countless families own more than one. By the time my girls were in high school, we owned 4 – one for each of us, complete with DSL access for multiple users.

Not so with many of the children whom I work with. It is not uncommon for us to have 4 year olds who don’t know how to use a crayon. This week I introduced the first graders to, which has a puzzles and games component. Most of the children were unfamiliar with puzzle basics such as do the corners first, then the edges and work inward. More than a few could not recognize an end piece from a center piece. Some didn’t have the fine finger motions necessary to right and left click the computer mouse.

They may have a computer in their home, but it is shared by all 10+ people living in the home and they are very low on the computer totem pole. It’s also hard to have internet access when your family doesn’t have a land line. Our families tend to use pre-paid cell phone plans and change them so frequently that often the children do not know their phone number.

The apartments haven’t any playgrounds and their parents, who work at least 1 if not 2 minimum wage jobs haven’t the time for leisurely excursions to the nature center. The local drug dealers and other undesirables frequent the local park so it is not an option.

If the apartment has a pool it is frequently an unappetizing & unsafe shade of green. The parents have migrated from desolate and dry areas of Mexico, so they do not know how to swim and don’t ensure that their children learn. Swimming lessons or any other kind of lessons are not only a cultural anomaly, they are also a financial impossibility. Skipping, marching in line and Patty Cake Patty Cake Baker’s Man are all foreign concepts

One of the first grade teachers has a scissors center so the children can practice cutting. At Family Library Night the children gravitate to the puzzles and blocks I’ve picked up at garage sales. All of them, even the 5th graders love to play with the puppets I’ve collected at the local thrift stores.

So, Mr. President Shrub just how are schools expected to ensure that these children aren’t “Left Behind” when by first grade they are already 5 years behind the starting line?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Back in Cyberspace

Having trouble concentrating long enough to put fingers to keyboard these days. Work is hectic and E-bay & Amazon sales are zipping right along. A small part time job is becoming a big part time job. The book sales pay off debts, so it's a good thing though it does eat up the evenings.

I'm also still writing a monthly (more or less) column for
BookThink. My latest is all about buying teacher and education books. . I'm pretty pleased at how it turned out. It came about after a dismal experience at a Childre's Only Book Sale. The pickings in the Kiddie Lit have been slim these days. Heading up to Austin on Friday for their Mini Monster Sale - I hope it is as good as it was last summer.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

No Gays...Update

Some folks have asked if this story is really true- sadly it is, here's a link to the news story

And here are the links to Rick Casey's column - he's a writer for the Houston Chronicle, our local very conservative mullet wrapper.

Wife of Garden Guy sent Mr. Casey an e-mail. She is quoted as saying that it has been a "privileged to see just what happens when you make the homosexuals and the devil mad."

Hummm...I didn't realize the Devil had a e-mail address!

Friday, October 20, 2006

No Gays or Dogs Allowed

Imagine if a hotel posted a sign in their window stating “No Jews Allowed”. Picture what would occur if a restaurant refused to serve African Americans or if a business refused to hire anyone of Hispanic descent. The NAACP, LULAC and the media would be outraged. There would be boycotts, marches, pickets and every politician up for re-election would grandstand in front of every TV camera they could find.

Here in Houston The Garden Guy, a local landscaping firm refuses to work for homosexuals. A gay couple, most impressed by their “before and after” pictures contacted the firm to request a quote. In the context of the conversation, the client referred to his “partner”. Five minutes after hanging up the phone, he found the following e-mail in his in-box “

From: Garden Guy IncDate: October 18, 2006 9:08:36 AM CDT
Subject: Cancel Appt -Garden Guy

Dear Mr. Lord,
I am appreciative of your time on the phone today and glad youcontacted us. I need to tell you that we cannot meet with you becausewe choose not to work for homosexuals.

Best of luck in finding someone else to fill your landscaping needs.

All my best,SabrinaTodd and Sabrina Farber
Garden Guy, Inc.
visit us at:

The story is getting press here in Houston. Sabrina opted to send an e-mail, rather than make a phone call so her message is also galloping loose in cyberspace and making the rounds of the biosphere.

Mr. Lord hired another firm and the Garden Guys are refusing all requests for interviews.
They did issue a statement saying that as a small business they had the right to pick and choose their clients.

I wonder, since they so firmly believe in the sanctity of marriage if they also refuse to landscape the yards of couples who can marry but choose not to, people who have a divorce or two in their past or couples who married in a temple?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

It's Fall, It's Fall, It's Fall!

Fall in Houston lasts all of 2 weekends so we relish it while we can. The leaves don’t turn and there isn’t the smell of wood smoke in the air but we still know it’s fall.

I can go outside without my glasses fogging over.

The windows are open and crisp breeze is blowing through the house.

We had breakfast at an outdoor café.

My Beloved played golf yesterday and didn’t come home red faced and panting.

Everyone on the block is happily doing yard work.

The kitties are frisky.

The Friends of the Library Booksale Season has begun and new inventory is flowing into the house.

There’s a pot of soup on the stove.

We are only taking one shower a day, not 2 or three.

Kroger has replaced the lawn furniture displays with great stacks of firewood for sale. Not that we need it yet but it’s delightful to walk by it and envision a crackling fire in the fireplace.

The wheel of the year is turning yet again.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Are We Ready for Some Football??

185 Million dollars and the New Orleans Superdome is back in business. Are we ready for some football? The shrub is. He is going to do the coin toss. Where was he a year ago? I guess there were not as many good photo-opts a year ago as there will be tonight.

The Lower 9th Ward is still in shambles. Most of the schools have not re-opened. Ditto the hospitals, the libraries and many of the businesses. Rents have sky rocketed and folks are living in FEMA trailers. The people of New Orleans are still scattered far and wide – other than the criminal element which seems to be migrating back and is busily engaged in turf wars.

As far as many of the residents of the city of Houston are concerned, that criminal element is not migrating fast enough. Houston has a massive case of compassion fatigue.

But according to the strident voices of the sports announcers New Orleans is back in business.

Do you think the powers that be will be able to find an additional 185 million dollars to rebuild the schools, the Lower 9th Ward and the public housing complexes and the rest of the infra-structure?

Highly unlikely. That wouldn’t provide as good a photo opt for the shrub.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tale of Two Classes

Constitution Day is Friday and once again, I am letting the other teachers off the hook and presenting the mandatory “Constitution” lesson. I did the same last year and my feelings on the subject of “Mandatory Constitution” have not changed one whit.

Among today’s classes were two fifth grade classes. One a regular (not the Gifted and Talented class, but a bright bunch none the less), the other a 5th Grade Bi-Lingual class.

I start the first class with my standard lead about whether they have classroom rules and build up to explain the Constitution is the rules for the United States. Earlier one of the boys had expressed amazement that we had a biography of Hitler in the library and I use that comment as a springboard to discuss Freedom of Speech and Freedom to Read.

We talk about how Hitler may have been evil but he still changed the world for the worse while Martin Luther King changed it for the better. We talk about the fall of Nazi German lead to the creation of Israel and affect on their lives today. We also touch on the KKK, the war in Iraq, 9/11 Day and restrictions on airline travel. 35 minutes later I look up and realize my next class (5th grade bi-lingual) is at the door.

First class gets up to get books, second group sits down. Same lesson, same lead in and again we are sidetracked. Not on the lasting effects of Nazi Germany, not on why the KKK is allowed to assemble, not even on the effects of 9/11. No, we are sidetracked on “what country do we live in?” I get various responses ranging from Houston to Texas to Mexico. A few know that they live in the United States but it is not a universal answer.

Their teacher, whose Spanish, is better than mine helps interpret and by the end we think everyone knows where they live. I think about asking which continent but figure I had better quit while I am ahead and besides, I have yet another class at the door.

The Powers That Be that passed the Mandatory Constitution Law are the same Powers that mandated Bi-Lingual Education. Perhaps they know how to teach the meaning and importance of the Constitution to a group of 11 year olds who are not sure where they reside.

What is sad is that these are not recent immigrants; these children are mostly native-born American citizens. And what’s even sadder is that in about 8 years many will go off and become Cannon Fodder in whatever war we are fighting . I hope they figure out what the Constitution is before they end up dying to “Protect and Defend” it.

I also hope the Powers That Be take a long hard look at Bi-Lingual Education and make some radical changes.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

To Young to Be a Widow

One of my favorites on my blogroll is The Library Lady Rants. We’ve a number of things in common- we are both librarians, liberal Democrats, the mothers of daughters and lovers of kid lit.We actually found each other via the Betsy Tacy list and then meet up again a number of years late on Blogexplosion.

She marked the upcoming 5th anniversary of 9/11 with a post entitled “Dead at 21”.
Some 3000+ young men and women have given their lives for The Shurb’s little overseas adventure. I’ve been ruminating a similar post round in my brain for some time.

The local news always covers “The Death of a Hero”. There have been all too many of such sad segments. Texas has more than its fair share of enlisted men and women. Most are Hispanic or African American – reflecting the racial make up of our “All Volunteer Army”. The Anglo soldiers hail from East Houston and smaller towns surrounding the Houston metroplex – areas that are overwhelming blue collar – the land the urban cowboys call home.

These soldiers are oh so young and most are fathers. Only 19, 20 or 21 they already have a wife and one, two or three children. Many of the wives are living with their extended family and look much too young to be bear this kind of burden. They are 17, 18, 19 years old and should be in school, out shopping with friends or exploring the world. Instead, they are coping with motherhood, single parenthood and now widowhood. A lifetime of living in just 3 or 4 years.

That is not the way it is supposed to be. Nature intended us to spend 30 or 40 years on this life path, not 3 or 4. They look at the camera and talk about being “proud that he died doing what he believed in” yet we never see any follow up stories. We don’t know how they feel 6 months or a year later. Do they still mouth the party line? Or has reality set in? Do they realize that their husbands gave their lives for oil prices and party politics?
Are they angry? They should be.

The politicians sent their husbands off to war and turned them into widows’ way before their time. Yet the children of said politicians are safe in college, marrying, starting families, beginning their careers with no thought of going forth to fight and die in the heat and squalor known as Iraq.

In the eyes of the administration, the war is a good war, so long as the black and brown citizens of America are fighting it. What is going to happen when we run out of black and brown cannon fodder? The Soccer Moms who brought this President to office will turn on him like a lioness defending her cubs if the draft is reinstated to feed the war machine.

And the first one will be the Wife of the Shrub – her blond, blue eyed daughters are just the right age to go forth and fight their Daddy’s little war. He knows they never will, which is why he thinks it is a good little war. The newly made widows would beg to differ.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Ways of the Evil Empire

  1. I know many call Starbucks “The Evil Empire” but when it comes to customer service they have the market cornered – at least the ones I frequent do!

    A new one just opened in my neighborhood and the employees already know their customers. They know names, habits and beverage preferences. It gives a small town feeling to living as an anonymous soul in a sprawling city.

    The assorted fast food joints in the neighborhood seem to have new employees ever other week. Said employees don’t appear to like their jobs very much either – and it shows in their attitude toward the customers. The checkers at the local Kroger are to busy gossiping with the sackers about the manager to ever favor the shoppers with a second look. The gas stations are all self -serve – in fact with the automated pumps you don’t even have to talk to anyone to fill up the car.

    I don’t know how Starbucks manages to inspire their employees to go the extra mile, to appear to enjoy their jobs, their colleagues and their customers. But whatever it is they do, I wish they would package it, like their coffee or fairy dust so it could be scattered around at the other neighborhood establishments.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Where'd They Go

Schools been session for a week and the dust is settling.
The cries of “Welcome Back” and “I’m so Glad to See You” are mere echoes.

Then I look around and I notice some children aren’t with us any more. We have a high mobility – it’s in the 90+% so we’re used to kids coming and going but there are some that make a niche for themselves. And they leave an empty space behind when they vanish.

Where’d the 3rd grader who loved to read go? She’s a recent immigrant, just learning English and could read circles around everyone when it came to the Spanish language books. She loved the 2 Harry Potter books we had & over the summer I’d ordered the rest of the series in Spanish just for her. I hope her new school library has them.

And where is the 2nd grader who was in my G/T class? I dropped her off at daycare one day a week as a favor to her single, working Mom and she talked my ear off the entire trip. She so wanted a pet – I hope they moved to a house so she can have one.

What about M? He’s the determined 4rd grader who is switching from Spanish to English and gobbling up the Bailey School Kids books as fast as he can. He was determined to earn his way into the Sleepover for the second year in a row and by golly he did. I hope he landed at a school that will give him a little extra attention. He has the potential to break out of the cycle of a life as a day laborer and construction worker.

Z is gone too. A precocious 1st grader, he wasn’t just gifted, he was profoundly gifted.
Give him a laptop and PowerPoint and he’d be engaged for hours. I hope he ends up with a teacher, who will appreciate his very outside the box comments and observations.

So is A, just six years old, with a smile a mile wide that show his missing front teeth.
He was so sweet though I’d heard through the grapevine that his parents were none to pleasant. I wonder if his permanent teeth came in over the summer?

I really miss G, a little owl eyed boy with wire rimed glasses. Rarely said much –my Spanish and his English are on about the same level but he did love the M& Ms game I had on one of the library computers. Computers transcend the language barrier. I hope his new librarian realizes that too.

His little spokesperson is gone too. Big brown eyes rimmed by long, lush lashes and an amazing command of the English language for one who spent most of his time in a Spanish dominant environment. He was always willing to help with translations.
I hope he has found a teacher who appreciates his gifts.

Of course, we have new kids to fill up the empty slots. I’ve dubbed one Mr. Math. He’s barely 9 and can do decimals in his head. I’ve a 3rd grader who is reading 4 books a day and is so proud that she’s learned to check the books in and out by herself. There will be others as the year progresses. However, there are always some children I will always remember and wonder about, no matter how many others have come and gone.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What Fresh Hell Is This?

To quote Dorothy Parker, when it comes to teacher in-services, the phrase that comes to mind is “What Fresh Hell is This”.

Today we all found out.

The background: The children arrive next Wednesday. Rooms need to be set up, bulletin boards done, welcome letters written, PR folders read, lesson plans created – the treadmill is beginning to rock n’ roll.

We’d spent the morning gathered together reviewing test scores and welcoming the new teachers and such like. And while we might begrudge the time we certainly understand the reason why we were gathered together.

At 1pm we are ordered all to present ourselves, along with half the employees (2,300 other souls), for a “Convocation”. Attendance is mandatory for everyone from the custodians to the principals.

A bit more background: My school is at the far east end of the district, the “Convocation” is being held at a coliseum at the far west end of the district. Between Point A and Point B is 15 miles of seriously under construction interstate that is normally bumper to bumper, no matter what the time of day. It’s a 45 minute commute and gasoline is currently hovering at $3 a gallon.

We arrive. A quick glance at the audience (and the empty seats) shows that the word “mandatory” has many different meanings to many different people.

One of the high school orchestras serenades us. We listen to a rather rambling speech about all the important people who have graduated from our district and the important people whose children attend them now. For some reason the name of one of our alumni, who was recently in the news is not mentioned. Granted, he was killed in a home invasion and granted he was doing the invading but it was newsworthy.

An elementary school chorus sings a couple of numbers. The 2006 Valedictorian rehashes his speech. I didn’t care for this sort of thing when my own children were involved, never mind children I don’t know. We listen to another rambling speech. The person to the right of me is sleeping, as is the person 2 seats over. Several people are text messaging, others are whispering. I play solitaire on my PDA. The person to the left of me is jealous; he wishes he had a PDA too. The speech rambles on. And on. And on.

We all then get to watch a video. The powers that be seem to have forgotten that the district has the technology to broadcast live video over the internet and has their own in house TV channel. The noise wakes my neighbor. We create a TAKS math problem:

2,300 hundred district employees spend 45 minutes en route, plus 2 hours sitting through and 45 minutes returning from a “Convocation”. The employees are paid approximately $25 an hour. How much did this event cost?
  1. To much, teachers are overpaid and get the summer off

  2. Not enough, teachers are underpaid

  3. $230,000

  4. Priceless – how can one put a price on the joy of bonding with one’s colleagues?

The correct answer? Well, that would depend on the point of view of the person answering the question! What do you think it is?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Musings on the Medical System

A particularly venomous migraine that defied all oral medications landed My Beloved in the hospital where attempts are being made to tame the beast with IV drugs. My Beloved, despite her robust appearance is a fragile flower so she has had many hospital and medical adventures. Actually, I should say “we” since where she goes, I go. I function as a combination patient advocate, practical nurse and security blanket. By now, I’ve gotten so good at the nursing aspect that I’ve been asked by hospital staff members if that’s what I do for living. “No” I tell them, I have just had lots of experience – and I have a strong stomach!

I noticed that most of the nurses in the Houston hospitals are either African American or imported from a certain third world country. The Anglo nurses tend, at least in Houston to end up in Doctor’s offices or day surgery units. I suspect hospital ward duty is harder and the hours must be horrid so perhaps that explains the division.

The African American nurses we’ve meet are a delight. Chipper, cheerful, accommodating and friendly. No matter what I ask, they are happy to comply and they seem to be grateful that I’m taking over some of the nursing duties. They always have a smile, a quip and a joke.

Not so the nurses from the third world country which shall remain nameless. The ones we have encountered are competent in a detached sort of way but bedside manner is not their strong point. They are brusk to the point of rudeness and seem to consider patients a necessary evil. They are also firmly convinced that they know best and resent any suggestions or advice. My Beloved has bad veins and it’s hard to get a good stick. We both know this; we warn them but they go ahead and jab anyway. The African American nurses, on the other hand take one look, listen to what I have to say and call in “the expert” – the one person in the hospital who can always hit a bad vein on the first try.

This “I’m always right” attitude spills into their relations with the other staff members too. Last night we were privy to some rather loud altercations between staff members, one of which cumulated in the slamming of a door. Hospital room walls are thin.

I’m not sure where this post is going and realize that some it comes across as very prejudicial and judgmental. It’s not meant to be, but I wonder if some of the bad press the hospital system receives isn’t the result of culture clash between the expectations of American patients and the nurse training that is prevalent in the third world country that shall remain nameless.

Hospitals who recruit from there might do well to insist on a class in Beside Manner 101 once their nurses are stateside.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Things I Hate

Robin over at The Other Mother suggested I do the “20 Things I Hate” meme to get out of my doldrums. The doldrums are very noticeable today because tomorrow I HAVE TO GO BACK TO WORK. Which means getting up at 5:30am as opposed to 7am.

I checked my contract and it says I don’t have to report till the 7th. But for some reason I have meeting after meeting scheduled for next week so I might as well bite the bullet and get into the routine. Texas teachers have no union with any power so when the administration says “Be There” we have to “Be There”. Or else. And “or else” does nothing toward getting the bills paid

  1. I hate the alarm at 5:30 am. I really do like my job, I just wish school didn’t start at 7am
  2. I hate the Katy Freeway (also known at Interstate 10 West). It is under a state of permanent construction.
  3. While I don’t mind getting old, in fact life gets more and more interesting with each passing day, I do hate the fact that my eyes and knees don’t work as well as they used too.
  4. And while I’m at it, I hate the fact that my metabolism doesn’t work as well as it used to either. Once upon a time, I could anything and everything. That was then, and sadly, it is no longer now.
  5. I hate folding the sheets.
  6. I hate buying clothes – especially in large department stores because the staff would rather do anything but be helpful. Houston just got a Nordstrum where I understand the staff is actually happy to assist customers. I plan to check them out the next time I need “real clothes”. Which I hope won’t be till one of my daughters marry. Which isn’t about to happen anytime soon. Which is good.
  7. I hate it when the state or any institution squanders thousands and thousands of dollars on fancy furniture, parties and trips while children haven’t health insurance and park workers are laid off to accommodate budget cuts.
  8. I hate it when parents seem to have money for cigarettes but not for glasses for their children. You’d be amazed how common this is.
  9. I hate writing book descriptions for E-bay. I love scouting for books and selling books, but writing descriptions is an almighty bore.
  10. I hate it when my computer is balky.
  11. I hate the fact that the school district is so worried about cyber predators that they throw out the baby with the bath water and ban all access to blogging sites and anything else that might cause a problem. Wouldn’t it be better to teach the kids safety rules instead?
  12. I hate this stupid war. It’s pointless. I wonder what all the Soccer Moms who supported the shrub will do when their children are called up for provide cannon fodder? With enlistments going down I wouldn’t be surprised to see the draft reappearing.
  13. I hate Hummers. What a useless excuse for a car and what a statement in selfish conspicuous consumption. Have you noticed that people who drive one are always on their cell phones and think traffic laws and traffic courtesy are for everyone but Hummer Drivers?
  14. I hate out of control children. For someone, a portion of the population who shops at thrift stores thinks nothing of letting their children turn the place into a playground. They also see nothing wrong with letting their baby or toddler scream and cry for a solid 20 minutes.
  15. I hate it when the cat pees where she shouldn’t. It’s normally when she’s mad at us. She is one smart cat.
  16. hate talking to technical support people who reside in another continent and yet try and convince me that they are stateside. The jig is up when your accent is so heavy that I have to ask you to repeat everything 3 times. That’s the main reason I didn’t replace my Dell with another Dell.
  17. I hate anything having to do with Health Insurance. Yes, I’m lucky to have it, but why does it have to be so cumbersome and difficult to deal with.
  18. I hate it when Amazon and E-bay buyers have unrealistic expectations regarding mailing times. If someone buys a book on Monday it is not going to show up in their mailbox on Tuesday. And despite what they think, I have no control over how long it takes the USPS to deliver. If I had that kind of power I wouldn’t have to work for a living.
  19. I hate ED commercials. The golf channel runs 24/7 at our house and I’ve decided that men spend way to much time worrying about that particular portion of their anatomy. I consider those commercial to be TMI to the extreme. The enlarged prostate medication commercials are just as bad.
  20. I hate it when the car breaks down. In my next life I want to live in a city with good public transportation and not own one.

You know, it worked, I do feel better! I’m not passing this on to anyone but take it and run with it you want to! It is very cathartic!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Bit to Much Time with Books?

Dallas Posted by Picasa
I’m happily wallowing in a DVD of second season of Dallas -my favorite prime time soap. One of the characters walks over to a bookshelf and pulls down a book. I notice that shelved beside it is the The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, Third edition.

I start to wonder – why is that book on the shelf? Sue Ellen hasn’t been sent away to dry out yet nor admitted she has a problem so she wouldn’t be reading it. Even though I know it, and all the books were just stuck on there by some set dresser with no thought as to what the titles were.

Then I muse “What would it worth on E-bay?”

And to make it worse, I already know the answer – not much, I’ve sold 3 of them lately! To bad it wasn' the First Edition.

Back in Cyberspace Again

Though I've not been posting them, I'm still writing my monthly article BookThink. It's great fun and makes me feel like I'm a real bookseller - as opposed to an E-bay Bottom Feeder!

Buying and Selling Children's BooksThere's No Business Like Show Business
Guusje Moore dances onto the BookThink stage today, and the theme song is children's books with a show biz angle - and a special emphasis on ballet. As always, key authors in the genre are identified and flashpoints abound. Speaking of flashpoints, Guusje also illustrates a pattern in books with special value: The best ones often possess two or more flashpoints.

There's No Business Like Show Business
Many girl's novels from the 1940s to the 1960s were written by middle and upper class white women for middle and upper class white girls. These were times when women had, wrote Betty Freidan in The Feminist Mystique, very limited options, especially in career choices.

Girl's fiction reflected these limitations. Many of us dreamed of careers in television or the movies. After all, wasn't Annette starring in the Mickey Mouse Club? And what girl didn't dream of being the next Shirley Temple or Margaret O'Brien in the movies? There was also ballet. The annual ritual of the Nutcracker Suite ballet inspired dreams of more than just sugar plums. From these dreams grew the show business genre. Yes, the chances of any child making it in the entertainment business were and still are slim to none, but what 10 year old is a realist? In any case, childhood is a time to dream big.

Many, many girls took ballet lessons and avidly read the Susie books by Lee Wyndham: Susie and the Dancing Cat, A Dance for Susie, On Your Toes Susie, Susie and the Ballet Family, and Susie and the Ballet Horse. A couple of these were published as Scholastic paperbacks, and while they aren't worth much individually, they still sell well in lots. Susie and the Ballet Horse follows the familiar rule of series books: It is the last and the hardest to find, and it commands the best price. You can easily expect to get $50 for it on eBay, and it might even break $100 if multiple bidders are competing for it. You'll notice this title has another flashpoint - "horses" - besides "ballet."

Wyndam was a prolific author who also wrote career romances. Candy Stripers, Beth Hilton: Model, Slipper Under Glass, and Golden Slippers are all common since they were available in paperback, but Lady Architect is worth a very tidy sum.

Eunice Young Smith set her Jennifer books in the mid-west at the turn of the century. Her most popular, Jennifer Dances, has a ballet theme, but her scarcest book is - following the same pattern - the final one in the series, High Heels for Jennifer.

The girls across the pond are just as ballet crazy as their American counterparts, and British kid lit feeds this passion. You'll find many of these books listed on eBay from sellers located in Australia or England. US bidders who are uncomfortable with overseas sellers will naturally gravitate to listings closer to home, especially if you emphasize that they will only have to pay USPS Media Mail rates.

Mabel Esther Allan, creator of the Ballet Family series, was the most prolific British writer in this sub-genre. As Jean Estoril she wrote another ballet series, the Drina books. Using her own name and the noms de plume Anne Pilgrim and Priscilla Hagon, she wrote many other books for girls. The Ballet Family books (The Ballet Family, The Ballet Family Again, and The Dancing Garlands) were published in this country under her own name, but overseas they sometimes appeared under Estoril. We Danced in Bloomsbury Square is part of the series: It also appears under both names, and it's another book with double flashpoints - ballet and twins.

The Drina books begin, as so many ballet series do, with Drina taking her first ballet lesson, and end with Drina as a prima ballerina. Long out of print, they have a devoted fan base and even the paperbacks sell, and sell well. Each one of them has the name 'Drina' in the title, making them easy to spot. In fact, this is a common trait of most series books: The main character's name is usually part of the title. That made it easy for children to find them on a library shelf, and today it is equally easy for a bookseller to find them at an FOL sale.

Most of the books Allan wrote as Anne Pilgrim and Priscilla Hagon are stand-alone books written for teenagers, and they too sell very, very well. I once sold a very ratty, battered, rebound, ex-library copy of Clare Goes to Holland for $50. She also wrote a number of books set in British boarding schools - a very collectible genre all of its own - as well as mysteries and young adult romances.

Keeping pace with Mabel Esther Allan was fellow countrywoman Lorna Hill. Hill wrote more than 30 books, and thank goodness she wrote them all under the same name! Like Allan, she wrote series books - the Marjorie series (not about ballet), the Sadler's Wells series (this was the original name of the Royal Ballet School and is also a flashpoint; the theater was commonly referred to as "The Wells"), and the Dancing Peels series. Snap up any of these you see. It doesn't matter if they are paperback, hardback or ex-library. Her other non-ballet books are the Vicarage Children series and the Patience books, and there are three books for adults as well.

Non-series books of these prolific authors often command higher prices than series titles. Often, not as many copies were printed, or libraries didn't buy them, preferring to allocate their always insufficient budget toward the series books instead.

Noel Streatfeild, whom I've mentioned before, is best known for Ballet Shoes.
This title is still in print and not worth listing, but she wrote many other show business books. The American editions were all re-titled to include the word "shoes," including Dancing Shoes, Skating Shoes, Movie Shoes, and Family Shoes. The English editions retain the original titles: Wintle's Wonders, White Boots, The Painted Garden, and The Bell Family among them.

Little girls still dream of being ballerinas, and there are many contemporary books available to satisfy their passion. ChildrensLit has an extensive list, with pictures for those of you who are visual learners. And you'll also find lists on Amazon. The best approach for more recent titles is to use bag day sales to put together lots.

Along with ballet, there was the lure of the bright lights of Broadway. Helen Dore Boylston is best known for her Sue Barton nurse books, but she also wrote (with the help of her actress friend and neighbor Eva Le Gallienne) the Carol Page books - Carol Goes on Stage, Carol on Broadway, Carol Goes Backstage, Carol Plays Summer Stock, and Carol on Tour. These are much, much harder to find. A full set of this series might get you close to Power Seller status on eBay!

Janet Lambert, another author who has previously appeared in my columns, couldn't resist the lure of the theater in some of her Penny Parrish books. In fact, she had so much fun putting Penny on the stage that she wrote the Parri MacDonald series about Penny's daughter, who also aspires to tread the boards. Happily, if you're a reader (or sadly, if you're a bookseller), Janet Lambert has been re-printed in paperback, but her avid fans will still snap up any hardbacks that you come across.

Showboat Summer, one of the Pam and Penny books by Rosamund Du Jardin, is a summer romance book with a theater background. Again, note the double flashpoints; this time it's theater and twins.

The eight-volume Peggy Lane series, written by Virginia Hughes, was actually penned by a syndicate in the 1960s. The Girls' Series Companion sums it up rather well:
"This series is based on the premise that a girl from Rockport, Wisconsin - having no previous acting experience - can come to New York and become a stage and screen actress in a short period of time. Initially, Peggy gets some unbelievably lucky breaks that will irritate anyone who has struggled and starved to become an actor." These are more common in paperback, although Grosset & Dunlap did publish hardcover versions with quite sophisticated and distinctive cover art. Keep an eye out for later titles such as Peggy Finds the Theater, Peggy Plays Paris, or Peggy Goes Hollywood.

The crossover genre of career romance novels for young adults of course includes books on the theater and dance. Yankee Ballerina by Marie-Jeanne and Hollywood Starlet by Dixie Wilson are but two examples.

Have you noticed a trend here? Many desirable children's books have double if not triple flashpoints. I can't recall any books about an orphaned little witch who becomes a dancing sensation and then adopts a pet cat, but I am sorely tempted to write one. It would become an instant classic. In the meantime I'll keep looking for books with pictures of stage lights and tutus on the cover!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Something Else!

I really feel like writing today- I’m finally feeling ahead of myself book listing wise and I’m allowing myself to do SOMETHING ELSE!

Among the something elses is surfing Blog Explosion, reading the blogs and looking for the gold nuggets among the chaff. Trust me; there is a great deal of chaff out there in the blogsphere!

I did find Dementia Blues, written on a subject I thankfully have little experience with, but so well written than I just kept reading the posts. From experience, I know that folks with well-written blogs link to other well-written blogs so I clicked around and found, A Long and Writing Road which had one of those fun “snapshot” memes that are always enjoyable to read and complete.

1. Yourself: Contented & semi hungrey.
2. Your boyfriend/girlfriend: Alternately dozing and watching golf while prone on the couch
3. Your hair: Brown with threads of gray.
4. Your Mother: In Holland visiting her sister and showing off her two granddaughters.
5. Your Father: Died 3 years ago this month.
6. Your Favorite Item: Laptop and WiFi
7. Your dream last night: Bizarre and muddled.
8. Your Favorite Drink: Coca Cola – the Real Thing or a Starbucks Latte.
9. Your Dream Home: Library or a well stocked thrift store.
10. The Room You Are In: Living Room
11. Your fear: Overstaying my welcome on this earth
12. Where you Want to be in Ten Years? Retired
13. Who you hung out with last night: My Beloved, our 5 cats and my buddies on the Internet.
14. What You’re Not: Pessimistic.
15. Your Best Friends: Few but cherished.
16. One of Your Wish List Items: Wall to wall built in bookshelves.
17. Your Gender: Female
18. The Last Thing You Did: Listed books to sell on Amazon
19. What You Are Wearing: T-shirt & shorts
2o. Your favorite weather: Houston in March – not to hot, not to cold, which is unlike Houston the rest of the year.
21. Your Favorite Book? Changes every week if not every day!
22.Last thing you ate? Lentil & rice salad with feta cheese.
23. Your Life: busy, active and fulfilling.
24. Your mood: Cheerful.
25. The last person you talked to on the phone: Sister in law.
26. Who are you thinking about right now? That a margarita or cold beer with some Tex-Mex would taste really good!

Whom am I passing this one too? Nobody, but if you feel so inclined go for it!