Sunday, February 26, 2017

Like a Phoenix

I died about 21 years ago.


I sacrificed myself on the altar of education.

In roughly 3 full months---94 days---I will resurrect myself.  My bff has a tattoo of a phoenix on her ankle.  She got it after a particularly difficult time in her life.  I will be like that phoenix, and I, too, will rise from the ashes.

I am getting weary of people telling me I'm too young to retire---or better yet, I'm "lucky."

I am neither.

About 4 years ago, I was headed into a meeting when a colleague literally brusquely brushed against my shoulder in the cafeteria---and dropped with a stroke.  He had a couple of more in the hospital and died about a week later.  Rick Cavaluzzi is my model for retirement.  Rumor has it he was contemplating retiring that summer.  I am not sure how old he was, but he was in his 50s.  I said at the funeral home that I would not end up like him.

Why would someone say I'm too young anyway??  Is the expectation that I'll work until I'm 65 or 70 or beyond?  Why?  Life truly is *short,* so I aim to have a rebirth--a second life--while I'm healthy enough to enjoy it.  I will not be a Rick Cavaluzzi.

Then, there are those who claim I'm "lucky."  They truly are speaking without thinking.  There is no luck to it.  I will have worked 28 years in public education in SC, and when I signed up, that was the magic number to retire.  I have earned that right.

Then, there was someone last year who told me maybe I shouldn't retire.  I really resented that coming from someone who stopped doing what he hated years ago.  For many years, he has been doing as he pleases.  I got over the resentment, though, because I realized he wasn't thinking when he said that. 

So, exactly *what* will I do?  I have plenty planned.  As I stated earlier, I sacrificed my life on the altar of education.  I am one of the rare people who goes at something full throttle, and then I can't unwind.  Even if I came home and had no school work to do, I could never unwind; I still can't, even at this stage.  My bff says it may take me a year to truly "let it go."  I believe her.

I gave up so much to teach.  I gave up *me* and all the things I loved.  There are many more blog posts to come, but for starters--- I want to get back to my handwork:

I used to love to cross-stitch and crochet.  I even took knitting lessons and made some sweaters, but I never loved that like I did crocheting.  I was not dexterous enough to work both needles at once.  If you look at the dates on some of these pictures, they were done about 1989--one year into teaching.....and they stopped.  By the time I moved to my current town in 2001, I gave all my supplies to the school's art teacher.

Above you see the bedspread on the trunk in my closet.  It fits a full size bed.  When I was 12 before she died, my sister-in-law taught me how to make the granny square, and this is my prized creation from way back in my teenage years.  I want to revisit this.  Some colleagues knit prayer shawls and give them away.  I could do that with crochet.

Then, there's reading.  In my youth I could read a book a night.  Since teaching, I have been lucky to have read 15 books that were for *my* pleasure, not work-related.  One thing on my list to read is the Koran.  I have it on my Kindle Fire.  I want to *know* what is in it and be able to intelligently discuss it should the occasion arise.

So, I will be like that phoenix; I *will* rise from the ashes and be reborn.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

On A Mission Against Ignorance

I write this post very cognizant of the fact I may "offend" people; so be it.  I guess if I offend you, you are among the category of "ignorant, uninformed, gullible," or any other moniker you want to put on it.

I have spent my adult years---close to 29 of them now--on fighting ignorance.  I am a public school teacher (I did spend one year in private school hell, but that's for a later post.).  An English teacher, to be precise.  I'll cut to the chase; when the internet came out (Remember, Al Gore "invented" it.), a CARDINAL rule we learned is "Do not believe everything you read on the internet."  That was in direct opposition to the argument, "But, I read it on the internet, so it must be true."  The older I get, and the closer I get to retirement, the less patience I have for ignorant people.  Let me be clear what I define as ignorant; it is a person who should have the brains to be discerning, but chooses to be easily led by right wing or left wing propaganda because it "suits" their political views to be dumb.  There, that's it;  It substantiates their political views.

In my years as an English teacher, especially since the internet, I have tried to steer students to REPUTABLE websites to get their information.  I have also tried to get them to substantiate what they've read by visiting several websites.  Thus, when I see adults, some of whom have college degrees, posting/commenting on OBVIOUSLY propaganda sites as though they are the gospel (and for some of these folks, they are!) because  it supports  their narrow-minded, bigoted, brainwashed opinions, I shake my head and truly think, "What  'would' Jesus think?"  I really do believe the 90s wrist band, "WWJD" was twenty-something years before its time; it is more appropriate NOW in this hate-filled culture led by The Crusades-minded evangelicals who would use propaganda to fuel their hatred for anyone who is not a christian. 

When I read this, 

I knew we were in trouble.  "Head of church"?  Really?  So, what is next?

This past week in one of my classes we read a nonfiction text on Eleanor Roosevelt as First Lady.  One of my students' tasks was to formulate questions as we read it.  In response to the Japanese-American internment camps during WWII, my Japanese-American girl asked, "Why did they put JA in those camps when they couldn't control what the Japanese government did?" (The point was she tried to get FDR to close them, but ever the politician, he wouldn't until he won his fourth term.)

WOW!  Out of the mouths of babes!  How stupid we are when we don't learn from the past.  How far away are we from repeating this heinous practice?  The only question is, "Will it be against Muslims or Latinos?"  And, The Crusades-loving Christians will be leading the charge.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Dad's Health

My dad has outlived all three of his brothers.  Uncle Ed, the baby, died in December of 1989.  He was a brilliant businessman in Atlanta.  His glass furniture business could have made him a millionaire, but alcoholism killed him.  In short, he got back on the interstate near Augusta, Ga---going the wrong direction--and killed himself and a 23 year-old nurse.  He was in his late 50s.  Only six weeks later, the eldest brother, Uncle Robbie, died of a burst pancreas (I think.)  I remember sitting in the waiting room at the hospital and watching the bombing of Baghdad at the start of the Gulf War.  Then, in September of 1998, Dad's second brother, Jim, died of an aneurysm in his stomach.  Dad had just returned from flying out to San Antonio to see  him when Uncle Jim died.  The picture above is the end of a walking stick he hand-carved out of sassaphrass that grew at Grandmother's homestead.  More pictures follow, and at the bottom are pictures of my walking cane he made for me.
That inscription is so full of meaning:  "Good Health, Bro!"  Indeed, my dad has been blessed with good health.  He had a stint put in an artery roughly 23 years ago.  He had colon cancer about 5 years ago.  And, he has battled skin cancers all over his head and face for over ten years.

Today we found out Dad does not have lung or colon cancer; evidently the cancer in the lymph node in his neck began in one of those skin cancers.  The GOOD news, and answer to prayer, is that there is a brand-new drug called Ketruda that just last week got approved (after clinical trials) for Dad's Merkel Cell cancer.  This is an immunotherapy drug, not chemotherapy.  Dr. Chahin (our Middle Eastern-born, Syrian medical school-graduated, Clemson-loving-National Championship attending oncologist) has said he did not think Dad could handle chemo because not only is chemo hard enough for a strong person, but the kind he would need is brutal.  So, as an immunotherapy drug, Ketruda reves up the immune system to attack the cancer.  In clinical trials it was used on all ages, including patients in their 90s.  He sounded very optimistic.  Dad should not have severe side effects.

So, this cane from my favorite uncle has a special meaning for me.  Dad has, indeed, had good health. He begins the immunotherapy on Tuesday at Keyserling Cancer Center, where I had mine nearly 10 years ago.  Dr. Chahin will take care of him as I trusted him to care for me all those years ago.  And, I will be there with Dad every step of the way.

Now, just for fun, here are the pictures of my cane, which stays in my foyer closet until I need it.

(Mine is two-faced!)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

For Whom the Bell Tolls

For whom the bell tolls---

Today it tolled for public education with the confirmation of the most unqualified person yet to fill the Secretary of Education position.  A woman who could not intelligently discuss education during her confirmation hearing.  She couldn't discuss the difference between growth and proficiency.  She was unfamiliar with special education laws.  Make no mistake:  She was confirmed because she is a billionaire, and the only two republican senators with balls have no literal balls because they're women.  The rest of the republicans either voted party line and/or were bought off by her prior contributions to their campaigns.

I am angry.  I hope I am wrong, but I am penning this post now so if I am wrong, someone may come back and tell me.  Betsy DeVos loathes public education as much as my former pastor who spewed venom against it any chance he got.  She is in favor of vouchers for charter schools, religious schools, and maybe even home schools.  Home schools?  Really?  And, pray tell, what kind of accountability is in home school education?  I know some wonderful home school parents, but like anything else, there are some crummy ones, too.  The fact is that not everyone can teach--even parents.  

Betsy DeVos is from Michigan.  All one needs to do is look at the Detroit public school system to see what charter schools have done there:

I have spent 28 years in Title One high poverty schools, devoting my career to teaching the most downtrodden students.  There are several charter schools in my town, and they are not diverse.  I call charter schools here "private schools with public dollars."  They get around enrolling truly special ed students by saying they don't have the money for those teachers, or they claim they have a lottery system.   I'm not fooled; they cherry pick who is allowed in.

I'm glad I am exiting the system before the inevitable happens.  Maybe someone can come back here in four years and tell me I was wrong...........but I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


I have written posts about my dad before, but today as I was cooking my parents' lunch, I was thinking about why I love him so much.  In my opinion, he deserves man/husband of the year sainthood.  One day (a LONG time from now I pray), God will say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."  He is the most easygoing person I know.  Rarely do I even remember him losing his cool; in fact, I really don't remember when he did.

As a child, I loved him so much, and I was always fearful of disappointing him.  Consequently, whatever he told me to do, I did.  I remember in 5th grade I had Ms. Bodison as a math teacher.  To this day, I remember her standing in front of the class in what must have been a science room once due to the large table at the front, which served as her lectern.   I was having trouble in math due to not knowing my multiplication tables.  She must have sent a note home or bad papers.  I remember a Monday night and standing next to his recliner.  He handed me my brothers' old flash cards and announced I was not watching tv until I knew them.  Now, this was the day pre-cable when we had three Charleston channels:  ABC, NBC, and CBS.  Even so, I knew them within two nights!  I wanted to be able to come back into the living room to watch tv with him (We had the one tv.).

Also, it was probably about the same time that I would stand behind his recliner, patting his head, begging him to stop smoking because I didn't want him to die of lung cancer.  At some point, he decided to do as I asked (He still does.) and announced before dinner that he would smoke one more cigarette, after which he handed me the rest of the pack.  I wasted no time in getting the kitchen scissors and painstakingly cutting each cigarette into small pieces (just in case he tried to change his mind on that pack!)

Fast forward to high school.  At the time, Dad was working at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, and he paid a man to ride on his van with other workers.  We had a powder blue van that he had stripped on the inside and built a bed in the back and added a chair behind the driver's seat for Mother.  We used it to drive to visit my eldest brother, who was in the Air Force.  Well, that was my senior ride to school.  

                           (Uncle Ed, Aunt Eva Jean, Mother, Dad, cousin Stanley, Grandmother, Uncle Robbie, and Aunt Jessie.  Uncle Robbie was the eldest, then Uncle Jim, Dad, and Uncle Ed was the baby.)  circa 1974 or 75

Fast forward to my high school graduation.  I stayed home as my parents went to Charleston one day.  When they came back, Dad was driving a 1980 (This was 1981.) Clemson orange Mustang with black interior.  I never asked for it, nor was I expecting it.  The following fall I was going to Columbia College in Columbia, SC.  I could not drive it up there until my first semester grade report came out. Needless to say, I had it in Columbia the next semester.

This is out of order, but I want to take a few minutes to reminisce about my two trips to France.  The first time I went was in April of 1979 with students from John C. Calhoun Academy.  When I brought home the information, I really had no clue he would say "yes."  He did not bat an eye.  I never asked why, but I assume being that he was retired from the Air Force, he knew the value of world travel.  So, four years later when I wanted to go for three weeks as a college freshman during May Mester (as the three weeks in May was called), he again did not bat an eye.  That trip entailed Paris, Normandy, the Loire Valley (as the first trip had included), but this one added Monaco and Nice.  I remember thinking how small and plain the palace for Prince Ranier and Princess Grace was (She died that following September.).

By the time I graduated from college, I had nothing to pay.  What was not covered in scholarships he paid off monthly as we went along.  When I graduated, he told me what he had told my brothers:  he would pay for my education as far as I wanted to go.  Now, we were not wealthy.  Dad worked civil service jobs after retiring from the Air Force, but my parents were smart with their money.  Anyway, after teaching one semester, I decided to enroll at The Citadel for my master's degree.  I was the only one who took him up on it.  I am so grateful I did because it saved me $$$$ and enabled me to make more over the course of my career, which will affect my retirement in the upcoming months.

This is just a little reminiscing this afternoon.  I'm sure there will be more at a later date.