Monday, September 27, 2010

Overcoming Writer's Block

It’s not writer’s block, but a lack of inspiration that has kept me from blogging. After several weeks of vacation, I just got out of the habit of writing and it’s hard to re-establish the routine. I finally resorted to reading the notes I’d made while killing time in the airport. Like a car that has been parked for too long, it will take me a while to run smoothly.

Remember that movie Total Recall ... the scene at the airport? I’m living that scene this morning. The problem with traveling in August is that everyone else is too. The airport is filled with novice travelers. I knew it was going to be a long day when the security line stretched to the entrance door. …and that’s at our small regional airport.

The guy in front of me in line was about 6’2’’. He was dressed in a goth-like style, all black with lots of zippers. His balloon pants were stuffed into pewter colored knee length platform boots. Even the boots had zippers, five horizontal rows. He obviously hadn’t thought through the “take off your shoes security rule.” His receding hairline was somewhat camouflaged by the spiky haircut and red, pink, brown and beige colors. His outfit was completed by a hot pink carry-on suitcase he had obviously borrowed from a teen-age girl. The whole line had to wait while he unlaced his boots. You’d think with all those zippers he could have quickly unzipped and we’d all be on our way.

Why don’t people think through the security procedure in advance? I always wear slip-on shoes so I can quickly get them on and off . Men seem to be the worst offenders. There’s always some idiot who has set off the metal detector. He stands patting his pockets and pulling out change, and keys, and nail clippers, and pulling off his belt and then he sets off the alarm once again and he remembers his watch, and jewelry, and…. For God’s sake, take all the crap off before you go through the detector!

I used to enjoy traveling. I still like to go places; I just don’t particularly enjoy getting there. Sometimes you get lucky and aren’t seated next to the poster child for “Mentally Unstable Monthly.” I’m not usually lucky. There’s always someone with a contagious disease hacking and coughing right behind my seat.

I am surprised at what some people will wear on an airplane. When did wife beater undershirts become appropriate travel attire? I saw way too much underarm hair as a dapper traveler put his bag in the overhead compartment and I was grateful when he sat on the other side of the aisle from me. I travel in coach and the seats are close together. I think we should respect our fellow travelers enough to cover up when we have to sit so close together.

I appreciate my fellow travelers who bathe before flying and who brush their teeth. I could do without the women who bathe in perfume, especially the ones who take out a travel size bottle and give themselves a fresh dose just before landing.

Just about every time I fly I am routed through Salt Lake City. Last time I was there it was raining and all the ground crews were wearing bright yellow rain slickers. I couldn’t help but think of yellow Easter peeps…a whole tarmac of bright yellow peeps scurrying about moving luggage and refueling jets.

How did I get started on this topic? Oh yeah, writer’s block…it looks like I could go on and on about what’s wrong with travel these days. Maybe I should just stop now before I talk myself out of taking that next trip to visit the grandchildren.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Things I Considered Writing About On My Cruise to Alaska

I just returned from a seven day cruise to Alaska. Seven days of no phone, no internet, no responsibilities. Well, the phone and internet were available, but I was too cheap to pay the hefty service charges. I did post a quick blurb to my blog when we found free wifi in a McDonald’s in Juneau. So, I didn’t spend any quality time writing, but in those brief periods that I momentarily stumbled out of my self-imposed exile these are the topics that I considered:

  • Hey, was that a celebrity? There was a guy who was a dead-on look alike for Andy Rooney; Andy Rooney with slightly better groomed eyebrows. I thought this topic had great promise, but when I looked around the ship, other than the too-old- for- Glee cruise performers, there wasn’t anyone else who came even close to looking like a celebrity. 

  • The Deadly Sins on a Cruise Ship: As hard as I looked, I could really only find evidence of two out of seven sins. Anyone who has been on a cruise knows that there’s lots of gluttony going on. Anyone who saw me totally relaxed by day five would have recognized sloth.

  • What to Do When Bored by the Splendor of the Glaciers: We were at Hubbard Glacier, a spectacular natural wonder, on a clear sunny day. We heard the “white thunder” and saw dramatic avalanches of ice as the glacier calved. I was surprised that so many passengers sat at the slots in the casino while we cruised one of the world’s most spectacular glaciers. The white and blue face of the glacier passed by the windows of the casino and their eyes were glued to the spinning cherries. There were also hordes of people earning their gluttony badges at the buffet.

  • Boat People: The ship demographics were equivalent to an AARP convention…lots of gray hair. For seven days we were citizens of a parallel universe. In the boat world there was always a scooter person working his way through a crowd, “Excuse me. Mind your feet. Excuse me, coming through…” There was a group of women who spent every day sitting in a lounge on deck 4 doing needlepoint, and an Indian couple who we saw over and over again.  She was always three steps behind her husband who was constantly pointing...pointing...pointing, and she walked on stone faced behind him. There were plenty of opportunities to eat and many of the boat people were loading up their plates like it was their last meal. Many visually interesting characters, but very few who were interesting when we were seated with them at formal meals.

  • Towel Folding:  Every evening the room steward folded a towel into an adorable animal and left it on the bed (along with chocolate!)  The monkey, dangling from a hanger, was my favorite.  But, what else is there to say about folded towels?  This topic doesn't really transfer into the real world.

All in all, I had a very relaxing seven days and I gained only one pound. So, I guess the only deadly sin that I managed to accomplish was sloth.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nana Remembers Why Retirement is a Good Idea

I had three days at home this week in between vacation trips. On Friday I substituted at the high school for half a day. All of the class sizes are huge this year because budget cuts have reduced the number of teachers and, of course, our enrollment is up. The teacher had left a very well written and organized lesson plan and had made the copies of the worksheets he wanted completed. Since this was my first substitute teaching assignment since school started, I was grateful to have a detailed lesson plan.

The class was language arts for second language learners. The students are at various stages of English language development, but all of them speak at least a little English. I took attendance and several times I had to remind them to quiet down so I could hear. They were a chatty group...which, while it is a really a good characteristic for a group that you want to learn English, is frustrating when you're trying to take roll.

Students were sitting at four large tables with 7 to 10 students at each table. The broad theme of the lesson was the circles of influence that have shaped each of us. We read a poem and discussed its meaning. The author painted a picture in words of his past that made him the person he is today. The example poem by George Ella started as "I am from clothespins, from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride." Students were then asked to write their own poem. It was fairly easy for a native English speaker, harder for a second language learner. They were writing stuff like:
I am soccer and basketball. I am a son and a brother. I am...fill in any special interest, you get the idea.

There were several touching "poems" that spoke of dead or divorced parents or specific challenges that the students had faced. I am always surprised that students share so much of their personal pain in classroom assignments. But, most of them were filled with run of the mill descriptions of typical American or Mexican-American childhood.

Getting them to start writing was a challenge. Half the class amused themselves by asking to go to the bathroom. "Please Mrs. I really have to go" pleaded one boy. The class had just come from a 45 minute lunch break and the teacher left directions that no one should be excused. I finally gave in and let a girl go because "It's a girl emergency, Mrs."  Yeah, she knows how to play her cards.

I circled the room prodding kids to get started and suggesting topics that might have been a part of their childhoods that impacted who they are today. "What did you play with when you were little? What did you watch on TV? Do you go to church? How do you celebrate holidays?"

Pulling teeth...I was pulling teeth and every time I needed to talk to the class I had a long time to wait for them to stop the chatter. One table was especially resistant to working. While I continued to try to get them to write, a student at the table told me that his name was "Pito." The rest of the kids giggled.
"It's true, Mrs. My name is Pito. They call me Pito" and the rest of the group smothered their laughter and one kid said "He calls himself Pito." Giggles all around...

I knew enough not to repeat the name. "My name is Pito. You can google it" he said. So I called his bluff.

The Urban Dictionary gives several definitions...none of them appropriate for a classroom. It's either a rolled cigarette such as a marijuana joint, slang for penis in Mexico and/or someone with a very low IQ. It is usually used in place of someones first name to be made into an insult referring to them.

What I wanted to say was "I don't need this bulls**t.  Shut-up and get to work."   But, being a former school administrator, I know that they frown on that kind of language in the classroom. Well, the kids use it, but teachers really shouldn't.

...and that is when Nana remembered why retirement was a good idea.   I really don't need this bulls**t!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Nana Shares Her Secrets for Scoring a Bag of Crap

Readers of this blog have heard before of my obsession for Woot and for scoring a Bag of Crap.   I recently scored my third Bag of Crap.  After six months of unsuccessful efforts at every Woot- Off,  I have scored three in a row, most recently on 8/20/10.    I am now obsessively checking FedEx for shipping updates and watching the Woot Forum to see what the other Wooters received in their BOCs.   Most of the fun in a BOC is the anticipation.  It's sort of like waiting for Santa hope he'll finally bring you that pony, but Christmas morning you find the usual toys.  I haven't had a big score yet, but I remain eternally hopeful that the Woot gods will smile on me and deliver a box of spectacular technology.

The anticipated delivery date of my latest BOC is this Saturday, September 2.  I won't be home to open it, I'm going on a week long cruise to Alaska.  I have left strict orders for my son not to open it.  While on the cruise I will imagine that my pony is waiting for me under the tree.

I notice that my first Bag of Crap post written several months ago continues to get hits.  I decided to write about how I was finally successful.  So, how did I do it?  How did I finally get a Bag of Crap?  Here's my secret...well, not so much a secret as the procedure that finally worked for me.

After my first experience with a Woot Off I started using a couple of different trackers.  Several of them have a feature that lets you set an automatic buy feature when the BOC comes up.  The first several times I used the trackers I wasn't successful.  I had almost decided to give up.  After staying up all night waiting for the mythical BOC, I was tired and frustrated.  Then I read a comment on one of the Woot forums.  The Wooter said that he was successful because after hitting the buy button, entering the required information and hitting the ridiculously large buy it button...HE DID NOTHING ELSE

Several times I had gotten through to the buy page and got anxious waiting for the order to process and I re-hit the button, or I opened another screen and tried again...none of these strategies worked.  But when I hit the final button and did nothing else, I was successful.

It's worked for me three times now.  Make sure that you are logged in to your account and check that your credit card or pay pal info is don't want to waste time updating during a BOC buy.  I keep my credit card handy so I'm ready to enter the secret code. is the tracker that I use.  Test the alarm and the buy function and make sure your pop-up blocker is off.  And when you're successful in getting that BOC...send them a donation.  I did.

Good luck...and let me know if it works for you.  Happy Wooting!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nana and The Bikers for Jesus Go To a Wedding

I just returned home from California where I attended my cousin’s wedding. Held at a lodge in a mountain town with a lake, the folding chairs were set up on a small patch of lawn in front of an arbor decorated with fresh flowers. The sky was blue and a gentle breeze whispered through the pines. We arrived early since our drive was over an hour and we weren’t sure how easily we would find the lodge.

The minister was a long-time friend of the groom.  He stood under the arbor in front of a cross of flowers and was my first indication that this wedding would be different from any other that I had attended.  The minister’s wife was sitting behind me and in the hour and a half that we sat on the folding chairs (thank God I chose a padded one) waiting for the bride to make an appearance, we had plenty of time to chat. The minister’s wife, dressed in levis, biker boots and a t-shirt, told me that her husband, when first asked to officiate the ceremony, told the groom that he didn’t have anything other than his biker clothes to wear.  His congregation is bikers and he has a roadside ministry.  He was an intimidating figure in the denim jacket with embroidered insignia, the blue bandana on his head and biker chain accessories.

Wedding guests started to fill the chairs at 3:45, 15 minutes before the scheduled 4:00 wedding. The groom waited at the altar. He stood there for two hours waiting for his bride. I had plenty of time to observe the other wedding guests.  It was not my usual peer group.  I thought I was being pretty adventurous because I didn’t wear panty hose with my dress.  Since it was summer, blazing hot California summer, and we had a long car ride, I let my legs go natural.   I wasn’t the only one with bare skin.   The bikers for Jesus and their women folk were showing plenty of skin covered with, ummm…art.

My brother has tattoos; they were covered by the long sleeves of his dress shirt. The other wedding guests had a different style sensibility. The theme seemed to be that if you had tattoos then the maximum amount of skin should be showing.  My sister-in-law thought that some of the women had been told that they needed to gain weight so that there would be more surface area for their substantial tattoos.  Yes, there were lots of interesting wardrobe choices.  My family group stood out…like Gulliver in Lilliput.

The minister had a Saturday night service that he needed to officiate.  He finally left the alter to encourage the bride to start the wedding. The sun was starting to go down when we finally heard the first notes of the bridal march.  After making it safely down the aisle, one of the bridesmaids fell down…either she’d been drinking all day or she fell in a gopher hole, both stories are believable. I carefully avoided the numerous gopher holes myself and based on her behavior at the reception I lean toward the first explanation.

I expected an outlandish ceremony, but it was sweet and loving. The bride and groom read their vows and promised to be true to each other. The “F” word was never uttered (I think they were saving it for the reception.)

Lesson learned: Love can look different, but the important thing is the relationships…well, that and cake.   There was a lot of love at that wedding, and the cake was good too!
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