Saturday, January 30, 2010

Doggie Daycare

I'd been planning to post a piece about how hard it is to be a parent these days, but after talking to my friend, Allie, I decided to switch my focus in order to make this point: Raising children in the new millennium is nothing compared to parenting pets.
Allie had stopped by my classroom to tell me she'd spent the previous afternoon filling out the paperwork to try to get her dog, Hank, into Doggie Daycare. She'd first made me promise not to laugh before she imparted that little gem; a promise I immediately broke with paroxysms of gleeful incredulity. What? Dogs now need daycare? Paperwork? Are we talking about the rolled-up paperwork you pop them with when they piddle on the patio? Try? This is possibly the most worrisome part. You now have to TRY to get your dog into something called Doggie Daycare? You mean there are qualifications other than humping the vacuum cleaner and licking their parts?
What makes this so difficult for me to understand is that, when I was growing up, we had a dog until it got run over. Then, we got another dog. Cats were something that slunk around the backyard dragging a sad expired squirrel until one of us kids let them into the house (the cat, not the carcass), only to have them be sent back out when a grown-up got home. My daddy said the only good cat was a dead cat.
Although I do remember that most dogs had rabies tags, which meant someone was taking them somewhere at some point to get some kind of shot, they didn't typically go to the vet unless they had barely survived being run over. In that case, they were begrudgingly thrown into the back of the car for a trip to get sewn up or to have something cut off. There were quite a few three-legged dogs on my street because of the above.
My childhood dog's name was Stubby. (I'm now perplexed about and a little embarrassed to admit this). Although Stubby held pretensions toward being a Cocker Spaniel, he wasn't even close. I can distinctly remember Stubby following me from block to block as we kids roamed the neighborhood in a manner children can no longer pull off. Whenever Stubby, who wasn't particularly bright or well trained, tried to cross a busy street, I would holler, "Stubby, watch out!", which he seldom did. That probably explains why we ended up calling him Stubby.
Back to now. I understand that young couples are getting fancy dogs in order to practice for when they have babies - kind of like a starter child. I'm here to tell you that can backfire. My daughter, Melissa, and her husband were given an English Bulldog for a wedding present by some well-meaning friends and her football fanatic father. Luther von Rufus (aka Sweet Lu) arrived in a crate from Russia (I thought he was supposed to be English) about 48 hours before Melissa took the pregnancy test indicating that her honeymoon was, indeed, a busy and fruitful one. Now, Melissa, Trevor, Miles, Georgia, AND Sweet Lu live in a two-bedroom house in Portland, Oregon. Poor Lu has gone from blithely snoring in a queen-sized bed to dozing with one bulbous eye open anywhere on the floor he can safely hide from Miles.
I began to realize things were changing a few years ago when my youngest, Molly, and I decided to adopt a kitten from the pound. Instead of going in, holding our noses, and pointing, as we'd done with former cats, we were told to pick one, in the comfort of our own home, from an online selection of cute and not so cute felines. After we clicked on the mugshot of the soon-to-be lucky recipient of our benevolence, we were asked to fill out a questionnaire. We should have known we were in trouble at that point. There were lots of items, some of which seemed to be trick questions. For example, we were asked if any of our prior pets had met with unfortunate accidents or, perhaps, an untimely demise. We said "no" as I felt that the statute of limitations had run out on Stubby. Then we were asked if our new cat would be an inside or an outside pet. We answered "outside", mentioning that "all God's creatures need sunlight and fresh air," something we thought would be appreciated, applauded, and approved by do-gooders smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt.
We were wrong. After we were turned down in our attempt to adopt a cat that would probably be put to sleep within the next few days, we learned that pets left to their own devices in the great outdoors invariably just fool around and procreate until they or their offspring find themselves right back at the pound, a life-cycle circumstance steadfastly frowned upon by the SPCA.
Now that I live in Atlanta, I find it to be a great place to experience the absurdity of modern pet ownership. Walking in Piedmont Park is a treat as earnest dog owners pick up poop with biodegradable sani-bags and talk to their pets as if they were errant toddlers. I remember one beautiful Sunday afternoon when I observed a young couple pushing a pram (yes, one of those old-fashioned baby carriages) with a full-grown Mastiff sitting inside. The look on the human faces was a combination of "yes, our baby is beautiful" and "no, you don't have one of these." The look on the dog's face was "yes, I'm embarrassed" and "no, I don't know these people".
So, it seems the days for footloose and fancy free pet parenting are over and the same could be said for the animals themselves. I agree that pets need to be neutered and protected against those diseases that can shorten a life or make it less vibrant, but I question just how important it is for a dog who never leaves its home, daycare, or pram to be inoculated against rattlesnake poisoning.
And what about the freedom my childhood pets had during their short lives in the days before leash laws and health insurance for animals? Would that Mastiff in the pram trade his long careful life for a day of being Stubby? Does the cat in the condo window yearn for a juicy squirrel? Does the German Shepherd dream of Rin Tin Tin-like daring-do, and does the Collie ever hear the call of Timmy thrashing in the well? If Lassie were alive today, the only heroic feat she would have the opportunity to perform would be to retrieve her groomer's spritzer bottle if it fell on the floor of her high-priced salon.
Oh wow. For some reason, ending this thing is making me cry. I guess, in writing about people and their pets (then and now), I've remembered the animals I've loved throughout my life. So, here's to Pat Dog, Stubby, Cleo, Keeter (my ex's name for a myriad of cats), Henry the Benry, Sugar, Sheba, and Chloe.
Okay, I give up. Tell me how to apply for Doggie Daycare and more about that rattlesnake vaccine. I can feel a new pet coming on.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Genius

My need to create greatly exceeds any talent I might have in the arts, which may explain this blog. I have some really innovative ideas and a pretty good work ethic. It's the honing of skills that never seems to happen. Another problem is that I'm also lacking in anything anywhere approaching taste. Innovation without good taste usually leads to something that looks like, well, like my last creative project, which was an adaptation to my Aunt Madge's lovely oil painting of a serene river scene. I tried to "spiff it up for the new millennium" by adding edgy colors (in acrylic) and abstract embellishments. It now hangs proudly in my sun room as a testament to my many gifts.

My interior decorating endeavors led to my selling the home I'd lived in for 13 years for LESS than I'd paid for it, an almost unknown occurrence before the real estate bust. As my house went on the market, one wall of my guest room had been painted a shiny copper color; a wall of my kitchen was covered with torn strips from paper bags; the ceiling in my bathroom was sponge-painted green; and a door in my dining room sported a rendition of someone else's garden, partially done in magic marker. I continue to be nonplussed as to why any of the above was a problem for buyers.

My creative edge has, at times, caused me to be socially ostracized. My brief tenure as a member of the Warner Robins Junior Women's Club was made even more abbreviated because of a minor faux pas having to do with the annual Christmas Wreath Sale. Each year, members were charged with creating a wreath to be sold for charity at our local mall, and then with working the booth for a specified number of hours. When I arrived at the sale site with my cinnamon-colored wrapped wreath, adorned with what looked like a homeless woman, I noticed that burnt orange wasn't as popular a color for Christmas as it had been for Thanksgiving. Somehow, while I was happily wrapping my styrofoam circle with tangerine-hued velvet ribbon, other members were adorning their wreaths with Della Robbia fruits and red and green plaid trimmings. Needless to say, my one-of-a-kind creation was the only wreath left on the rack at the end of the day. As they say in merchandising, "We couldn't even give it away." I wasn't ever actually banished from the club but nothing was the same in the new year.

Speaking of the holidays, friends and family run for cover when sleigh bells start to ring, as I am quite apt to make their Christmas gifts my own self. I tend to have a theme each year. One year it was tiny baskets, this year, coasters. The common thread is the tacky factor.

Last year, I knitted hats for everyone in my family, a gift they eschewed immediately upon opening. Please see the attached photo if you think I'm exaggerating. While the adults seem just mildly amused, my granddaughter, Cami, appears to be seething under her placid countenance. What? She doesn't think the jester's hat goes with the skull and crossbones bib?


Then there are the money-making schemes involving artistic endeavors. I've drawn pencil portraits for money; I've sewn all manner of folksy accoutrements for money; I've cut up and stuffed vintage doilies to make pillows for money; and now, I'm writing this blog. Speaking of money, you may have noticed the ads on my blog and how they seem to correlate in some way to my posts. Just how smart ARE those Google boys? The theory is that I will get a certain amount of cash (I think it's 2 cents) each time someone clicks on one of the ads. When I was setting up the blog, I had to agree not to click on the ads myself, therefore earning money for me and not for the advertisers. I was also asked to tell you guys (my many readers) not to click on an ad unless you are seriously interested in, say, purchasing sundresses in January or finding a Toyota dealer near you. So, here goes: Unless you really need a lawyer to get you out of a DUI (and if you do, I would strongly suggest your reading something other than my blog), don't click on the DUI ad. Apparently, you all are already following the rules as, so far, I have earned zero cents.

It's funny how things work out. As a little girl, my dream was to be an artist. I even majored in Art for one college quarter. As life happened, though, I tended to take the more pragmatic route at each turn. But the spark is still there, and I'm just glad that, now, I can laugh about my few successes and many failures. And, more importantly, I'm happy I no longer feel the need to try to fit into a group that doesn't understand and appreciate my genius, or, at least, accept me in spite of my flaws and pretensions. That, in a hand-knit, acrylic-painted, doily-covered nutshell, is what makes being "past my prime" pretty great.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mash Here

When my ex emails the kids or me an attachment or webpage, typically something having to do with the Georgia Bulldogs or conservative politics, he writes "mash here" just above the link. Based on that, it's pretty obvious he has the gist of how computers work but not the nuance. Of course, nuance has never been his strong suit.

Technology wasn't a childhood requirement for my generation, unless you count the record player, the transistor radio, or the hula hoop. We did have a television when I was a little girl; a black and white behemoth, all guts and no screen to speak of. There were two TV stations in my home town of Savannah, Georgia: Channels 3 and 11, with the Star Spangled Banner signaling the end of everything at 11:30 PM.

I remember the night before my wedding, sleeping with my hair wrapped around gigantic rollers in one of those old bonnet hair dryers, hoping I wouldn't suffocate or electrocute myself on my hot air pillow. From that point on, the gadgets for making my life easier seemed to appear exponentially in quick succession: the microwave, the blow drier, the curling iron, the straightening iron, the portable phone, the bag phone, the boom box, the salad shooter, the Snoopy Snow Cone Machine, the Clapper, and lastly but not leastly, the Veg-o-Matic and the Flobee.

I also recall the short but important role the CB radio played in most everyone's driving life: "Breaker, breaker, Good Buddy, is that a Smokey the Bear up ahead?" How archaic that seems now, but, at the time, we were enthralled with the feeling of community we shared with those eighteen wheelers. I bet the trucking industry was pretty happy when that fad met its inevitable demise.


Little did we know what was just around that Silicon Valley corner. The microcomputer, as it was originally called, arrived, for me, via the Apple IIe, the first computer purchased for our local schools. I do have to say that 90% of everything I understand about technology came from a kid, either my own or one I taught.

I now understand that the Apple IIe was just the beginning of the seismic shift that would change everything. I remember my Uncle Walter regaling us at a family gathering with his opinion that computers would never last. Of course they did, while he, sadly, did not.

Now we have Blackberries and cell phones and IPhones and Wiis and apps and gmail (yahoo is no longer cool, I hear). We have twitter and tweets and texting and sexting and Facebook and Linkedin and Plaxo. I don't even know what half of that stuff is, except for the sexting part, which I figured out.

I am, however, better off than some of my cronies. The ex I mentioned above admonishes anyone who touches his computer "not to lose his Google." My friend, Allison, can handle most of the intricacies of her cell phone. She just can't ever find it. Her daughter tells a great story about Allison asking her to call her so the ringing could help her locate her phone. As soon as the number was dialed, Allison's bra started burbling a merry tune. Apparently housing your cell phone in your bra isn't all that helpful if you can't remember, or even worse, tell it's there.

Bottom line, I can feel myself beginning to lose touch with the newer innovations. Like lots of people, I just don't get twitter and why anyone would want to send or receive a tweet. The same could probably be said for why anyone would want to write or read this blog. As for Wii, I lost all respect for that thingamajig when I saw friends hurling themselves through their living room pretending to bowl.

I would say that Wii won't last but I don't want to end up like Uncle Walter.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Neighborhood Crazy Lady

We all know about the Neighborhood Crazy Lady. She's usually older; she wears her pajamas a lot, maybe a housecoat. She's particularly interested in what everyone else on the block is doing. You see her beady eye peering through the blinds; she seems to linger too long when she takes out the garbage (sometimes the can is actually empty); she knows too much about that strange dog in your driveway.

One thing I never understood about the Neighborhood Crazy Lady was that she probably knew that's what she was but didn't care. I understand that now because I am my condo association's very own Neighborhood Crazy Lady and I know it but don't care.

I live in a beautiful, not to mention historic, old building in midtown Atlanta. Its primary claim to fame is that Margaret Mitchell lived here after she wrote Gone with the Wind. Although I'm not as old as Margaret (Peggy to those of us a tad obsessed with her) would have been had she survived crossing Peachtree Street in 1949 (certainly something all Atlantans can identify with),I am currently the oldest person living in my building. Most of the other owners are just children in their mid-thirties to early fifties. I am definitely the Hag.

My friend, Susan, who lives directly below me, could be considered the Hag Apparent or the Hag in Waiting. While not nearly as old or crazy as I, she definitely has potential. One afternoon as I was looking out my window to see the final departure of a man who had certainly warranted lots of watching over the previous months, Susan called me. "Did you see him?" she asked. "How did you know I was looking?" I responded. "Because I heard your big old feet running to the window every time I headed toward MY window." Yep, the girl has real potential.

But that's not the only evidence of my commitment to being the Nosy Nora of Piedmont Avenue. There's a handsome attorney who just goes ahead and waves every afternoon when he arrives home from work. He knows I'll be at my kitchen window fixing my early bird dinner at exactly the same time every day, and I've seldom disappointed him. Then there's the neighbor around the corner who keeps his blinds closed ALL THE TIME and the owners who are NEVER THERE. What's up with that? I only go to Condo Association meetings if they are in units I haven't visited before or if something really juicy is going on. If there's an open house for a condo that's up for sale, I'm there bright and early Sunday afternoon, walking through rooms and checking out storage space. And, I'm definitely the one to yell out the window if people are making a ruckus in the outdoor common area at a ridiculously late hour, say 8:30 PM.

So, there you have it. I've gone from being the party girl who could always be counted on to be the loudest person at any gathering early or late, the woman too busy to worry about someone else's arrest warrant, to the lady who stays in her PJ's all weekend pretending to work on her computer and eating tuna out of the can. The fact that her desk placement affords the best view to the most units in the building, along with maximum ingress and egress routes, is just a coincidence. Excuse me while I take out the garbage.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Old Bag

I'm a second-grade teacher and I really like it, but I always feel sorry for my students at the beginning of the year. All of the other female second-grade teachers at my school are young and pretty and wear trendy clothes. In the fall and spring the other teachers wear cute little sundresses and fancy flip flops. They aren't allowed to wear regular flip flops because those are deemed unprofessional by our superintendent. Also, the sundresses have to have straps so that a child in need of comfort won't accidentally expose parts of the teacher the superintendent has deemed as unprofessional to show. However, one of my work daughters, which is what I call my young co-worker friends, has been known to wear a bolero sweater over her strapless sundress. So far, so good on that. In the winter months, my cohorts wear sweater dresses with high-heeled boots or leggings.

My plan for work wear is somewhat different. In the fall and spring, I wear knit tops and capri pants, which surprisingly, our superintendent currently considers professional. With that I wear sensible sandals that cover most of my wrinkled feet. In the winter months, I wear the same knit tops with cargo pants, which I have found to be the same pants as capri pants, only longer. I have even discovered cargo pants that have a little tab which allows the pants to be rolled up into capri pants, therefore cutting in half my work wardrobe budget. I have, however, had a hard time rolling both legs up to the same height, which sometimes causes a half capri/half cargo effect. In the winter, I wear either black, blue, or brown trouser shoes I bought about 15 years ago. They still look good, although one of my work daughters makes constant catty remarks about them. I think that's because her feet are hurting in her high heeled boots. Finally, if it gets really cold, I have some corduroy pants I wear along with socks I buy at Publix. I also have a couple of hoodies I wear, which I bought at Macy's. I had a great gray hoodie I used to wear with everything, as gray does pretty much go with everything, but my friend, Allison, who isn't all that great a dresser herself, made me throw it away. I showed her, though. It's in the trunk of my car in case I ever need it.

Back to my poor students. I can just imagine, during the summer preceding second grade when the class lists go out, a child asking his mom or dad, "Dr. Mayo, is she the one with the long blond hair and the flip flops? No? Well, is she the one with the long dark hair and the pretty boots? No? Well, is she a real doctor then, the kind who gives shots? No? Well thank goodness for that."

So, with the relief that I'm not a real doctor who gives shots, the kids seem to forgive me for the all-season knitwear and the shoes twice their age. They even tell me I'm pretty sometimes, but that's usually when they are in trouble. I did have a student a couple of years ago who, during story time, would push the skin around on top of my foot. I have to say that irritated me a bit.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Right on a Wrong-Way Street

I'm definitely not losing it. Driving the wrong way down a one way street is such stereotypical behavior for senior citizens, which, by the way, I'm not. Remember, 60 is the new 59 and 1/2.

I was overtaxed and over burdened. I had a lot on my mind. I wasn't used to this way home because, being overtaxed and over burdened, I'd missed my exit, which, being Atlanta, I think they moved. The stupid driver in front of me had his stupid turn signal on, making me move into his lane because that's what I wanted to do - turn. Then he (I'm pretty sure it was a he, being that he did something so stupid) wimped out and carried on, going straight ahead.

So, apparently, I turned onto a one-way street that just happened to be going the one way I wasn't going. And, adding to the problem was that it wasn't just a little street. It was a big old four-lane boulevard with all lanes looking at me as I carefully made my way, both hands on the wheel at 11 and 3, in the far right lane, which turned out to be the far left lane going the other way.

The happy part of this story is I'm still here. The sad part is nobody shot me the bird, nobody screamed obscenities, nobody feigned a near-death collision. One person did politely tap on his horn and point, not with his bird finger, the way I was supposed to be going.

But I don't think the other drivers' politeness was because they were saying something like, "Oh look at the old lady driving the wrong way, I don't want to scare her and make her have a heart attack" or anything like that. I think it's because they were so impressed by the fact that I was driving so carefully, not to mention slowly, up the down-only Juniper Street in Atlanta, during rush hour traffic.

The Curious Lament of a Former Second Grade Teacher

  The timing was perfect.   I was 56 and looking toward retirement but not yet ready, either physically, emotionally, or moneta...