Dad

Dad2013

August 2013

I got word yesterday that my father died last Wednesday. He would have been 95 on August 25 this year.

The way I learned about it was strange. My cousin found out about it after she badgered my sister for news about Dad, who had been in failing health since April. He’d been hospitalized for a number of problems: the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, except that he was extremely malnourished and dehydrated. They told my siblings they needed to make sure Dad at least ate small meals every other hour. My sister complained she couldn’t get him to eat (she hadn’t seen him since Christmas, so that seems like an “I’m covering my ass” kind of excuse), and my brother said he couldn’t look after Dad because he had a bad back, a mysterious affliction that appeared whenever he didn’t feel like working. After a month of repeated hospitalizations, it was decided to place Dad in a nursing home. My sister said she had to get back to her very important job as a camping permit issuer at a state park and couldn’t possibly look after Dad any longer. Bro had made things worse by giving Dad a marijuana supplement that sent him into a three-day slumber, which required yet another trip to the hospital.

Dad of course fought going into a nursing home, but by that point he was in a wheelchair and unable to put up much resistance. After a day there, they tried to load him into a medical transport van for a doctor’s appointment. He apparently had some sort of seizure and died on the spot.

I find it profoundly ironic that Bro and Sis put Dad in long-term care. One of the reasons why Bro hired a lawyer to have my power of attorney revoked was because he was afraid I would place Dad in a nursing home and sell the house out from under him. Except for a very brief time, Bro has lived with our parents, rent-free and with very little effort put into contributing to the maintenance of the house or their well-being. I can’t imagine what’s going through his head right now. By California probate law, the house has to be sold and the funds divided up among the three heirs, or Bro has to buy my sister and I out of our shares if he wants to continue living there.

Anyway, I haven’t heard a word from my siblings about Dad’s death, or the funeral, or the estate. Everything has been conveyed to me via forwarded emails from my cousins. It sounds like my sister and brother have already made plans with the funeral home and the Buddhist temple for Dad’s service. I’m grateful for my cousin’s efforts to keep me in the loop, though behind their emails is a tone of reproach: Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t you feel bad about your father and the way he died?

Yes, and no. I feel sad at the moment, but I also feel this is what Dad’s own actions led up to. He said he didn’t want me “interfering” with his right to control the house, the finances, and his healthcare; he said he preferred my brother and sister to me because they stood back and knew their place, unlike the older daughter he scorned for being “overeducated” and not subservient enough.

I also have to say, Dad and I never got along. As many of you who’ve been following my blog for awhile know, he and I fought a lot while I was looking after Mom during her final illness, and even while we were planning her funeral. It wasn’t affectionate bickering either: it was mean-spirited, nasty, and frustrating, done more out of spite than out of any desire to do what was right for Mom. It was like Dad couldn’t do enough to make my life or Mom’s miserable.

I don’t think I will go to the funeral. I essentially said goodbye to Dad the day I left his house on Thanksgiving 2013. Deep in my heart, I’d hoped that someday, maybe, we would reconcile, but I also knew it wasn’t realistic. Also, there’s enough tension surrounding the service, as the extended family is upset that they weren’t told about Dad’s health or his being moved into a nursing home. Knowing my siblings, they’d use my presence to distract everyone from being angry at them. If I’m not there, they’ll have to stew in the broth made by their own choices.

All that said, I admit I cried a little after getting the news. Nothing reminds you more about how alone you are, or how old you are, than when you’ve lost both your parents.

 

 

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punk rockers and kittens

moon over palm tree, san diego

moon over palm tree, san diego

I’ve been back from San Diego for a week now: it has been soooo forking hot here. The temperatures in San Diego were so cool I would put on a sweatshirt after getting up in the mornings. Here in the Central Valley, the temps have topped 100 degrees F. It hardly seems worth getting dressed at all: as soon as you go outside and do anything resembling physical effort, your clothes are soaked in sweat.

Younger Daughter is okay. Leaving her was hard—it’s always hard, no matter how many times I do it—but she’s well into recovery now. She’s in physical therapy, stretching those unused muscles and scar tissue (ouch) and is driving herself to work and around town. She doesn’t need Mom to look after her anymore, which was the goal of my being there in the first place.

(I couldn’t believe how long I was there. When I got home, my wall calendar was still on April. I had to flip past a blank May page and go straight on to June.)

I didn’t do a lot of sightseeing, but once Younger Daughter was feeling better, she wanted to get out of the house and get some fresh air. She showed me the Gaslamp District where conventioneers, college students and tourists go to party.

Gaslamp district pedicab

party pedicab

Two towers San Diego

twin towers by the convention center

It was noisy and full of 20-somethings partying when we visited. I was probably the oldest person there (well maybe not: there was an older couple, looking like Grandpa and Grandma visiting the kids, wandering the streets very lost and not particularly happy). It definitely wasn’t my scene. While we were there, Younger Daughter and I had dinner at an overpriced Indian restaurant with a Bollywood interior. The food was just okay (it’s not promising when the best dish on your table is the black lentil dal, a simple home dish in India) and the mango margarita was flavorless: but we were paying for the ambience and the neighborhood, not the food.

I liked Seaport Village, San Diego’s version of Fisherman’s Wharf, but like its San Francisco counterpart, it was a massive tourist trap. The best thing there was the Maritime Museum and its display of tall ships. We didn’t go aboard as the museum staff warned us that there were lots of stairs, no elevators, and Younger Daughter’s knee was still immobilized. There was also a strong breeze coming off of the bay and the ships were creaking and rocking ominously. I have a stronger stomach than most, but I didn’t want to chance standing on a rolling deck when I have knee issues of my own.

Pirates of the Caribbean ship

we were told this was the ship used for the movie pirates of the caribbean

Tall ship sails

mast of the star of india

I think my favorite moment was when I went to see my son play with his band, Dyke Drama, at the Casbah. The club is in San Diego’s Little Italy, which is also right under the flight path of jets coming into the airport. I was told people like that the airport is right there in the city, “right next to everything:” but sitting outside, trying to enjoy an outdoor meal in a cafe patio, made me wish the city had located the airport out in the damn desert. Of course, once the band started playing, you couldn’t hear the lousy jets.

My kiddo is playing backup guitar right of Sadie Switchblade, the lead singer/guitar. Sadie, Samuel (bass) and Catherine (drums) were so nice, I wanted to call the people who made negative comments about the news my son was playing in a punk band and scream at them, “Are your kid’s friends nice to you? I DON’T THINK SO!”

I did have to wear earplugs (available at the bar) in order to stand next to the stage. The amps were so loud that at times I felt like I was getting punched in the ribs by the bass. But IT WAS SO FUN! I hadn’t gone to a club in years; listening to live music again had me thinking about my lost youth and ‘why did I stop doing this?’

I missed out on the other warmup acts, Potty Mouth and California (the latter being a big deal because the guitarist was from Green Day and the drummer was formerly from Jawbreaker), and the headliner act Beach Slang, which reminds me a lot of The Replacements back in their Minneapolis-First Avenue days. Son wanted to see his sister, who was waiting at her studio for her wayward mother to come home. We took an Uber home (I left the car because I didn’t want to hunt for parking in a strange town); he visited for about an hour and a half and we got to catch up, which was a rare treat, since we are such a far-flung family. He then had to run back and catch up with his bandmates, who had booked into a downtown hotel. It was hard saying good night, but I was happy for him, happy he has such great friends.

diana and chris san diego beach slang tour

diana & chris convo online

My second to favorite moment was looking after the kittens my daughter’s landlady was fostering for the local shelter.  It was hard not to get attached to the little monsters: I don’t know how the landlady could give them back to the shelter after caring for them for two to three weeks. She said it was hard, but she had to accept that she can’t keep every cat who comes through her door, and all of the kittens she fostered found homes within a few days of returning to the shelter.

Help I'm squished!

black and white one is only two weeks old and always seemed cold

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tiny black imp: this one was always clawing my foot 

The landlady asked us to watch the kittens while she visited her boyfriend over the weekend. It wasn’t overly complicated, though the tiny black and white guy wasn’t eating solid food and had to be given formula every other hour, like a human baby. Someone had taken him from his mother ‘way too early: occasionally, someone will find a kitten while its mother has gone off to find food and assume it’s been abandoned; so they bring it to the shelter, where they have to bottle feed it or get it to take solid food quickly. Itty Bitty, as I had started to call him, could barely walk properly, let alone eat minced canned food.

itty bitty kitten drinking milk

itty bitty eating dinner

At one point his foster mom had to take him to the vet to give him IV fluids, he was so malnourished. She also took the black kitten back to the shelter, as it had gotten in the habit of eating all of Itty Bitty’s food before he could finish it. (I know, Black Kitty was too cute for words, but he was also too aggressive and would bite and knock over the other kittens while playing with them.)

Itty Bitty is staying with my daughter now while he continues to gain weight and get bigger. He might be ready for adoption in July. *sigh*

 

 

 

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mama bear

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As some of you know, I haven’t been home in awhile. Back in late April, Younger Daughter fell while trying to catch a train in London and ended up shattering her kneecap into three pieces. (She did make the train to Gatwick Airport and caught her flight to Stockholm, where she spent three days limping about until she finally went to the ER at a Swedish hospital. I would have quit right there in London, but she is made of tougher stuff than me.) Her appearance in New York—on crutches, brace on her left leg, struggling to get out of the cab with a carryon suitcase—so alarmed her sister and brother-in-law, they called me and said I needed to fly to San Diego asap to look after her.

There was still a month left in the school year, and I was working at a school that I’m hoping I’ll be assigned to permanently. (Someday.) I didn’t think twice about it, however: I told my supervisor and coworkers I had to leave the next day, then went home and packed, and asked the Landlady to look after Sunny. I took a two-hour nap before calling the airport shuttle, and within four hours I was in San Diego at Younger Daughter’s place.

It was kinda grim that first week. I’ll spare you the grief YD had with her health insurance provider over a billing/”we dropped you from our rolls” error. (Why does anyone in the federal government, or for that matter, the entire US, think that having health coverage with a private insurer is better than a single-payer/Medicare-style program?) Or the hoops she had to jump through in order to see an orthopedic specialist, who delivered the news that she really, REALLY needed surgery to repair her knee. But it ended with her checking into the medical center Friday morning for outpatient surgery and me killing time for five hours while waiting for the surgical team to call.

It felt surreal: on the one hand, my stomach was roiling with anxiety; it was hard to keep my mind from thinking of all the horror stories I’ve heard about Surgeries Gone Wrong. On the other hand, the volunteers in the waiting area were puppy perky and made sure the families of the patients were comfortable and kept informed of their loved one’s progress. For lunch, they directed me to the cafeteria where I had a so-so egg salad and a huge iced tea while watching the medical staff come down in their blue scrubs and footie shoe covers to get ice cream and coffee. (The surgeons seemed to have a thing for Klondike and Nestle Crunch bars. I wondered if they crave carbs after a long surgery.)

Back in the waiting room, I chatted with a very sweet older woman from LA and her son-in-law, who were waiting for her daughter who was undergoing a biopsy for breast cancer. The woman, who said she was 92 and had come o the US as a refugee from Romania, was herself a cancer survivor. She was upbeat about her daughter’s condition even while she worried. I can’t say enough about how awesome it is to meet someone like that when you’re worried yourself: she didn’t deny how serious the situation was, but something about her said, ‘Everything will be okay.’

(We exchanged numbers and occasionally text each other. Her daughter is in chemo and doing all right. I wished E. and her daughter a Happy Mother’s Day last month: all moms should high five each other now and again.)

 

When one of the volunteers finally called me to see my daughter, who was awake and sipping juice from a snack pack, it was already rush hour on the highways. I was anxious; she was anxious, and the nurse, who’d just come on duty, didn’t give her the pain meds she was supposed to take before leaving postop. “If I do, you’ll have to stay for another hour to make sure you don’t get nauseous after taking the pills,” he said, almost like a threat. “And I already checked you out on the computer,” he snarked. So I went down to get the car, which I had valet parked because I couldn’t find any goddamn spaces in the general lot. Only, the valets had gone home for the day, so I had to look for a security guard to get the car keys. By the time I got the keys and the car, they already had my daughter in a wheelchair parked on the curb.

She was in tears. Because driving steel screws into your knee joint freaking hurts. The orderly, who acted like he was on pain killers, was zero help as I tried to get her into the backseat of the car without hurting her any farther; he was mostly interested in taking the wheelchair back to the floor. Thank dog for Google Maps, which directed me back to Younger Daughter’s house on an unfamiliar freeway system, and for a relatively traffic-free road. Getting her out of the car and inside was a greater problem, but she slowly and silently made her way on crutches. Like I said, that kid has grit to spare.

She took her first pain pill, but it didn’t work. I checked the discharge instructions to see if it said she could take an additional pill, then noticed: “Before discharge, patient should take first dose of pain medication.” Which the nurse clearly did not give her, since he was in such a hurry to get us out of the room.

It was a bad night, which segued into a bad morning. I called the outpatient nurse line because, dammit Jim, I’m not a doctor and there is only so much practical nursing and an ice pack can do. The nurse first talked to me, then to YD, who described her pain on a scale of 1-10 as a “9,” worst she’d ever felt, short of unbearable. The nurse then told me I’d have to go back to the hospital and pick up a supplementary opioid medication because “the pain has spiraled out of control” and no longer could be held in check by the usual Vicodin dosage.

By then I wanted to throttle the discharge nurse; it was a really good thing I didn’t run into him at the hospital. I was courteous to the medical staff and the pharmacist, but I was transforming into Mama Bear mode: mad, bad, and ready to rip the head off of anyone who hurt my kids. It’s not a pleasant place to be in: I’ve seen plenty of Mama Bears go ugly at a parent-teacher conference because the teacher criticized their children, no matter how valid it was. (And I can vouch for the teachers: a lot of kids aren’t learning anything because they’re more interested in throwing spitballs or drawing all over their math book covers.) I try to keep my inner bear in check, but it’s a primal thing that comes with motherhood. Nobody messes with your DNA. Nobody.

Unfortunately Mama Bears aren’t very sociable and don’t have much of a sense of humor. I’ve had to work on regaining that, especially as a number of things went on back at home that put me into tear-your-face-off mode. I won’t go into it now, but it’s made me wonder about the people I’ve thought of as my friends, and how maybe I should get out of Dodge altogether.

After a few days the new cocktail of pills took effect. Now my daughter doesn’t even need them. Recovery has been slow but steady. The orthopedic nurse removed the protective brace and staples two weeks after surgery: the sutured wound looked like something out of a horror movie, but it’s healing well and with luck won’t scar too badly. Today my daughter went to work without her crutches, which is a huge deal. She’s going to physical therapy in another two weeks. She won’t be able to run or jump for a year, but Mama Bear doesn’t think that’s a bad thing.:)

It’s been a long two months, however. Lots has happened—an earthquake that hit last night (there were aftershocks shaking the desk as I wrote this), the state primary, an anti-Trump protest that turned violent, my daughter’s birthday, a visit from some foster kittens, my son’s band stopping by on tour. (Oh yeah, I’ll write a post just about that night! Woohoo!)  It’s been quite an adventure, but I’m about ready to return home.

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strawberry tiramisu birthday cake

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kittens!

 

 

 

 

 

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60

Happy Birthday Me

Cards from Younger Daughter (far left, she made it herself), Older Daughter (center), Aussie Emjay (top) and my friend Sheila from MN (right)

It actually happened Wednesday, but I was too busy and too broke to observe it. This was also not a birthday I was looking forward to. Sixty is a strange age, at least in the US: you’re too young to retire, too young for senior discounts (though I’m offered them all the time by young cashiers trying to be helpful). Yet you’re regarded by hiring managers, marketing execs, and advertisers as being “old,” i.e. worthless and sick. Online I’m seeing ads for arthritis and cholesterol meds, and on a couple of occasions, handmade hardwood coffins built by Trappist monks. Memento mori!  I need to switch to a browser that doesn’t collect data about my age.

(Re hiring: no, I didn’t get the job at the college. They did indeed have an internal candidate for the job since November, according to the friend of a friend who works as an English adjunct there. The interview was just a dog and pony show for HR. Needless to say, I won’t be applying for a job there again.)

In Japan, 60 is considered an auspicious age because the person has lived through five cycles of the lunar calendar and thus, it is believed, s/he has begun life anew. Men celebrate it with the kanreki, a big party where the birthday boy wears a red hat and vest. I’m not sure if nowadays Japanese women also celebrate kanreki. No one threw a party for my mother when she turned 60, but Dad got a banquet at his favorite Chinese restaurant and was presented with a red cap and sports jacket. I didn’t attend—I was living in Minnesota back then, and nobody sent me an invitation, which was interesting—but it’s probably good I didn’t. I would have ruined the day with snarky comments. I do not hold well with old Japanese traditions, including the feting of males while dismissing the value of females. And don’t get me started about the worth (or lack thereof) of old men. I’ve found most of them to be whiny, incompetent, and a general pain in the ass.

I found this awesome article on The Huffington Post about turning 60. Most online advice/inspirational articles don’t do much for me (if I see another article about how to work more productively, I will hunt down the author and smash her Pomodoro), but this one struck me as true. I understand myself a lot better now than when I was 20 or even 30 or 40. I dress comfortably but well, and fashion can go fuck itself. I take care of my health, not because I “have to”—there’s no Mommy or Daddy to tell me to brush my teeth and eat my veggies—but because I want to. I do things for myself, not because somebody else, especially somebody else on social media, will think I’m cool.

I also have less patience for friends who suck the life out of me. I’m a little ashamed to say this, because I realize many of them need help: they’re depressed, stuck in emotionally abusive relationships, or struggling to stay afloat financially and emotionally. They have, however, a tendency to call me as soon as they’re down or troubled, but never when they’re happy or having a great time. (“Oops, sorry, I forgot to invite you to my party. We can have coffee later and I’ll let you know how it went!”) I’ve also stopped making plans with these people: they tend to cancel or not show up anyway, because of one excuse or another. Mostly, I suspect they’re passive aggressive: I didn’t show them enough sympathy over the phone, or I remind them of their mother, or they want me to drive to their home, knock on their door, and rescue them from ODing on pills and liquor. I had one episode like this two weeks ago: I won’t go into it here, but it angered and upset me enough that I won’t take this person’s calls anymore. It sounds harsh, but putting a friend through something like that is ugly and selfish. This person is smart, with plenty of resources and who knows how to get help. (He sees a therapist.) Instead, he tried to put me through a guilt trip: tried, but I didn’t take the bait. He ended up on tubes in an ER and is now under suicide watch in a psych ward. I understand what it’s like to feel as if your life is in the toilet: but you don’t drag others down, especially the people who care about you.

Anyway, I’ve been sick for the last couple of weeks, which has given me the excuse to baby myself a little. Instead of running errands after work, I go home, change into pajamas, eat a light supper, then go to bed and read or watch a little Hulu. Older Daughter sent me a Harry & David gift tower, and I’ve been slowly savoring my way through the treats. The only conflict I have is with Sunny, who likes to sleep in the middle of the bed and slowly nudge me off of the mattress.

Sunny hogs the covers

 

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on safari

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children

It’s spring break here, but in my typical lucky fashion I came down with a virus. The student I worked with this month coughed in my face all last week: so I had a feeling I was going to get sick.

It’s an odd situation, because her IEP doesn’t stipulate that she needs an aide. She has diabetes, which requires that a nurse come in twice a day to check her blood sugar level: but she also has another life-threatening condition (which no one will disclose to me) which caused her to miss two years of school. As a result, this third grader can’t read or write, let alone do grade-level math and spelling. I asked the teacher why she wasn’t held back; the teacher gave me a brittle smile and said, “We don’t do that anymore.” Instead, whoever makes these decisions chose to toss the student into a regular third grade classroom, where she struggles just to copy words from the whiteboard. I just sit at her elbow and enable guide her when I can, but trying to make up for her having missed first and second grade is not within my abilities. I just do what I can, knowing that in April I’ll be moved to yet another school and student.

Before all this—before this student, before the interview—I was in San Diego. Earlier, my younger daughter asked if I wanted to go on a whale watching cruise, or go to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. (We went to the San Diego Zoo the last time I was in town; the Safari Park is located in Escondido, a half hour’s drive outside of the city.)  One of my coworkers at the time told me about her horrific experience during a whale watching tour in Monterey, where the waves were so rough she became seasick and passed out after throwing up over the side of the boat. California has been experiencing extremely high surf levels this winter, so much so there have been almost weekly warnings for people to stay away from the beaches. I don’t know if that contributes to a choppy ocean surface, but my last bout with seasickness left me with no desire to repeat it: so I voted for the Safari Park.

We went on a Saturday, which is not a great day to visit any theme park, especially if you’re an adult. The place was packed with families, some with very small babies who, depending on their level of discomfort/disinterest, either slept through the exhibits or screamed bloody murder. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the sun was fierce. My daughter had offered to lend me a sunhat, but after trying on a couple, vanity took the place of good sense and I said, “Nah.” I did slather on sunscreen, and the park had strategically placed patio misters that sprayed cool water while you were waiting in line for exhibits or tickets. Having just come from an area where it’d been raining and the highs were in the low 60s however, I was overdressed. Not that I wanted to wear a spaghetti strap tank top and short shorts, the off duty uniform of young women in SoCal: but I caught myself staring enviously at the older women wearing long, loose sundresses and big floppy hats. I need to embrace my oldie self and choose comfort over misplaced dignity.

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my sensible daughter and her clueless mom

The Safari Park takes up 1800 acres, and while not all of it is accessible to the public, it’s smart to wear sensible walking shoes and bring water. The map the park provides for visitors isn’t very good: it wasn’t clear how to get from the entrance to the actual Safari Park where you have to line up for as much as an hour to board one of the guided shuttles to see the animals on a open plain. Daughter and I wasted time getting lost in the “Safari Outfitters” mall and “Nairobi Village” where all the gift shops and overpriced cafes and concession stands were. I thought, cynically, that the park designers probably planned it that way, given the number of children wailing to their trapped parents, “I want that! Mommy, Daddy, want that!” In spite of the $50 admission fee (this was with a AAA discount; I was horrified, but Daughter paid for all of it), the park constantly throws in your path snares to capture your money. At a number of the exhibits a “host” grabs you and makes you pose in front of a backdrop for a photo like the one above; she then shows the end result to you and asks for $30 for a copy. We didn’t buy one: the photo you see was a screenshot grabbed by Daughter from the park’s photo website. We were reminded however that all the money spent there went to caring for the animals, which undoubtedly was expensive.

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lemur tails

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I said, no photos!

Two features that were almost worth the money were the ring-tailed lemur and rainbow lorikeet enclosures, where you actually go into the cages with the animals. For the lorikeets, you can buy little cups of fruit nectar; if you hold them quietly and with an extended arm (kids had a very hard time understanding the former concept), the lorikeets will land on your wrist and drink the nectar. I’d never seen birds so unafraid of humans: they would come down and check you out as you entered the cage to see if you had a cup for them. If not, pfff: they would disdainfully hop away and go to the next guileless human.

To enter the lemur’s enclosure, you were warned not to bring any food or drink inside, unless you wanted to get mugged by a gang of lemurs. Visitors were also warned to stay upright and not crouch down to the lemurs’ level unless you wanted a lemur to jump your head. Ring-tailed lemurs are primates; they’re extremely curious, nimble and smart. They can do basic math functions. They have hands, and they like to hang out in social groups. So you’re forewarned.

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By Diana Grande, All rights reserved

The lemurs aren’t afraid to check out the humans walking through their ‘hood. This guy hopped down from his perch to sun himself right in front of a large family who had just entered the enclosure. One man crouched down to take a photo, and the docent yelled at him to “stay on your feet!” The lemurs have been known to snatch baseball caps, baby bottles, smartphones, and very expensive camera gear, just because they can.

From the lemurs’ enclosure we rushed to the Safari section to secure a place in line. The park closed at 5 p.m. and we were warned that the shuttles stopped taking passengers at 4, even if you’d been standing in line forever. The shuttles drive down a narrow road enclosed in a long fence while the animals live on an “open” but manicured plain. It’s still a zoo: the animals aren’t free to roam wherever they like and the humans are in no danger of being attacked or even touched by any of the animals. There are signs everywhere warning you to keep your hands and body inside the car, but most of the animals were napping in the afternoon sun. If anyone was hoping for an action shot of a rhino charging the shuttle, he was sorely disappointed that day.

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white rhinos: the guy in the front just took a mud bath, so not so white

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this landscape reminded me of the lorax and the truffula trees

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oryx

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local deer

This deer made me and some of the other passengers laugh. Just by being there, the Safari Park has created a kind of wildlife refuge for the local animals. The guide said deer often come into the enclosure to eat the hay left out for the rhinos and other herbivores; the rhinos will take exception and try to chase the deer out. I wondered if the zoo didn’t worry about the deer bringing in parasites and disease and infecting the African animals—Minnesota dairy farmers worry about it happening to their cows all the time—but what do I know?

As it got closer to evening, we saw more napping animals.

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Malaysian tiger so done with you

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fennec fox, by Diana Grande, all rights reserved

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fruit bat, by Diana Grande, all rights reserved

Daughter and I got frozen lemonades at $8 a cup (yes, they’re the same kind you can get at a 7-11 for three bucks) and inspected our photos and mulled over what we had seen vs. the cost. Daughter with her DSLR camera and lenses got the far better photos, though the iPhone didn’t do a bad job either. We had a full, fun day, but Daughter scoffed that “nothing is worth $50!” I had to disagree a little, but then she was the good hostess and paid for everything.

We didn’t have to pay for the view of another San Diego sunset, however.

Sunset San Diego

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spring high spring low

I promised I would write about my interview on St. Patrick’s Day, but something else happened which made it seem sort of unimportant:

Saya

Meet my granddaughter, Saya. She was a nice healthy 7 pounds, 11 ounces at birth. Lusty cry, pinked up as soon as she took her first breath. Mom was tired after a fairly fast delivery of four and a half hours. She and son-in-law didn’t even have time to find a sitter for Kai (not that anyone, even in New York, is up at 2:30 a.m.), so my daughter had to hop into a taxi by herself for the ride to the hospital. By the time son-in-law’s cousins arrived so he could make the trip to the delivery room, Saya was already here.

I got the news while sitting in the department office, awaiting the call by the hiring committee to interview. When I glanced at my phone and saw the above picture, I had to clap a hand over my mouth to keep from screaming. I wanted to share the news with the world and the department office manager sitting at her desk across from me, but she’d been about as friendly as a TSA inspector at JFK.

“You’re a little early,” she snapped as I walked in ten minutes before my appointment. Uh, in my experience one is supposed to arrive ten minutes early so the receptionist or whoever is the office gatekeeper can call the interviewer and check the candidate in. Or am I keeping you from finishing your coffee?  :roll:

I didn’t say that, of course, but it made me wonder why the office staff didn’t look very happy in general. I could see from the number of nervous-looking people in suits wandering the hallway that it was interview day for several open positions. Maybe it was a huge disruption for the staff; maybe it meant everyone had to come in early and stay late, though that didn’t seem like a good excuse to be rude to someone coming in for an interview.

l was also mindful that I didn’t want to announce there, of all places, that I was a grandmother. I’m too aware that even in academia, age discrimination is rife. I didn’t see anyone else in the office waiting to be interviewed, but the academic job market being what it is now, chances are there are several younger candidates with better interview skills or more recent experience working in a tutoring lab. I worked at a community college over six years ago, and chances are, tutoring practices and theory have changed.

During the first half hour I was asked to provide a writing sample based on a prompt: “What is your ideal candidate for a reading tutor? Imagine you are creating a workshop to train a group of student tutors. Write an agenda of what you would cover in that workshop.” It wasn’t hard, but I’m frankly a slow, ruminative writer, at least with things that require some thought. If it’s an article for a newsletter, I can usually have that done in ten minutes once I have all the facts. For the ideal tutor however, I had to think about what worked for me: patience, empathy, a little insight into what the student was struggling with, and of course some knowledge of the subject in front of us. (I was a little thrown by the students writing research papers about scientific subjects like gram positive viruses and gene splicing, but I can fake it after looking over the notes, provided the student took any.)

Also, I noticed the term “reading tutor.” I was given the impression that the position was for manager of the writing center, but apparently they wanted me to cover college reading. Community colleges now give assessment tests to new students to see how ready they are for college-level work, after discovering how many incoming freshmen couldn’t write an essay or do algebra. I can understand, if back in high school you had no plans to go to college and took the basic courses just to graduate and get your diploma. Community colleges were designed to be a bridge to help these people ease into the college track.  What no college wants to deal with however are a class of dropouts who couldn’t handle the coursework: so they now screen students using assessments. If an applicant is found to need more work in say, writing or math, s/he is placed in a remedial (“pre-college”) program.

Students who fail the reading assessment, however, have the highest likelihood of dropping out of college and are likely to struggle through all of their classes. It’s why I despair when I see students in elementary school struggling to read at their grade level. If you haven’t mastered a certain level of fluency then, it only gets worse as you get older and the classes become larger and more difficult. I’ve also observed that students who struggle with reading often haven’t quite learned to speak English yet. I enjoy working with ESL students, but it is agony to watch them parse a single sentence in a textbook when the assignment says they have to read 35 pages that night (which isn’t much by college standards). The tutor can’t sit there all day and guide the student through all 35 pages—that’s not what we’re supposed to do anyway—but when the student’s lack of fluency is that huge, it’s hard not to feel sad for him or her. Some do make it if they are iron-willed and determined to jump through the hoops: but most give up, discouraged if by nothing else the financial cost of taking all those remedial classes before tackling the first required courses for say, nursing or law enforcement, the reason they wanted to come to college in the first place.

So I was disappointed before I even went into the interview. And distracted. (Baby!) The unfriendly office manager handed me a list of questions the committee would ask me and printed out my writing sample—which was short and ended abruptly, because god, I can’t write fast under those conditions. Then she introduced me to the cheery glad-to-meet-ya! chair of the Literature and Languages Department, who took my writing sample and escorted me to the interview room.

It’d be nice to say the whole committee was like the chair, but no.  A couple of them scowled through the entire half hour, as if I was an enormous pain in the ass and they were just waiting to get done so they could get out of there. The one HR representative slumped in his chair and looked bored. (He said he was in “statistics:” so why was he there? To count the number of positive and negative answers I made? Or was he the only guy available in HR to sit through the interviews?) I did my best to sound upbeat and positive, but the more I looked at those scowls and “not listening, la la la,” the more nervous I got. The more nervous I got, the faster I began to talk, and the faster I talked, the harder it was to think of smart things to say. I have to admit I was becoming exasperated myself: I just wanted to finish the damn thing so I could get out of there and text back to my daughters and son-in-law. (Younger daughter was getting ready to fly out to New York the next day. Saya had come a bit early and caught all of us unawares.)

I was wearing a pair of black dress pants with a black Gap t-shirt and a black knit, informal blazer, by the way. I realize the all-black outfit probably made me look a bit “dark” and rock n’ roll, but it was also very slimming: over the winter I’ve put on four pounds that I can’t seem to shed, no matter how much I diet, and the white button-down shirt I usually wear with suits puckered open when I sat down and made me look frumpy. The black at least gave me a sophisticated look, though thinking about it, I suppose someone might have taken objection to my Black Widow appearance.:-/

To make things worse, there were no followup questions: they almost chucked me out without letting  me ask any, either. I had to stop them to request a phone number just in case I had any questions about the interview. It felt very rushed and unprofessional, as if none of them had done an interview before. Or maybe, they’d decided on the spot I was not their candidate. It was hard to tell: I don’t read poker faces well, though I can see boredom and irritation.

I talked to my younger daughter later that day. She said, “Don’t take it personally. They’re not there to be your friend, they’re there to see if you’re a good fit for the job.” But I didn’t get any sense that they liked me or if I impressed them at all. They just seemed to want to get me out of the room so they could move on to the next candidate.

I went home after that and changed into a green t-shirt and jeans, then drove out to the school where I’ve been working this month. The students I work with squeaked with joy when they saw me. “Miss HG! Where were you? Are you going to walk the track with us? The cows are out!”

The school is literally in the middle of a cow pasture. It’s a hella long drive from where I live, but I took a lot of comfort in seeing the cows, and the students.

Cows at Franklin

I know I’m loved here. *sniff*

 

 

 

 

 

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in the hour we lose

I know, I haven’t updated in awhile, so I now have a backlog of stuff to talk about. Trying to be brief, however:

I did my taxes last month and discovered I owe the IRS $394 and the state of CA $54, even though I took home less than $20K last year. I was aghast: if your last paycheck was just $744 and your rent is $550 (and I’m not even going to mention car insurance, student loan payments, gas and groceries), a third grader can tell you aren’t going to have enough money to pay your taxes. I asked a friend who’s a retired financial analyst if I was doing anything wrong, and he said 1) I’m now considered single with no dependents, so the only real deduction I can take is for myself (otherwise known as empty nester tax shock); and 2) the school district isn’t withholding enough money from my pay to cover my taxes. He suggested I go back to the payroll office and have them take an additional $40 out of my paycheck. Forty bucks! I screeched. I hardly make enough as it is! The financial analyst shrugged. “Well, it’s that or set aside $480 in a separate account to cover your taxes come April 15.” Agh.

With that in mind, I have good news—well, I hope it’ll result in good news. I have a job interview at a local community college on Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day. It’s for the position of full-time manager for the college’s Writing Center. This is a job I can do with one hand tied behind my back, and I know I have the experience and education nailed down. The question is, and it’s been coming up, unspoken, in interviews: am I going to be aced out by some enthusiastic young Millennial just out of college and willing to take home less than what I used to earn at the community college I worked at in Minnesota? I’m thinking of dyeing my hair to make sure there are no silver streaks showing when I appear before the hiring committee.

I also find myself agonizing over whether to wear my very polished-looking black Hillary Clinton pantsuit, which may mark me as distinctly over 50, or if I should try something more laid back and hipster-ish. The thought of wearing even twill or khaki, let alone jeans to a job interview makes the Mom in me cringe. (“Were you raised in a barn? Go get dressed, young lady!”) But if I overdress for a quasi-academic job, am I going to look desperate or “trying too hard?” I’m actually tickled to be called in for this interview, and I want the hiring committee to know how much I enjoy this sort of work. But maybe a black suit isn’t going to project that. Should I splurge and get, dog forbid, a pastel-colored suit? (Those who know me know I don’t do pastel. My closet is mostly black, with flashes of gray, red, and brown.) Maybe opt for light gray or navy? I’ve always been able to pull a sharp outfit together at the last minute, but this time I’m frozen with doubt.

Better news: two weeks ago I went to San Diego to visit my younger daughter. It was just for three nights, as both she and I had to be back at work, but sometimes short vacations are that much sweeter.

IMG_3341

view from daughter’s terrace

Table for two at George's San Diego

table for two at George’s on the Cove, La Jolla

La Valencia Hotel La Jolla Feb 2016

La Valencia Hotel, La Jolla (no I didn’t stay there)

Younger daughter is thinking of leaving all this for Vancouver, British Columbia, because all the animation studios are moving there. Canada gives them big tax breaks, plus it’s cheaper to do business there. (Daughter did grumble about being paid in Canadian dollars, which won’t exchange well in the US: but if you’re going to stay up there for awhile, it’s still a decent living.) Her friends in the industry are moving out there, and she has no particular love for her current employer or the video game industry, which is still mostly white male and full of themselves. It does make me sad that I essentially won’t have family in California if she moves: but I also recognize I raised my children to be adventurous and to live a life true to themselves. Several of my older friends in the Midwest live just down the road from their adult children and see their grandchildren every week if not daily. I don’t have that, but I don’t want it either, not for my kids anyway. I took Kahlil Gibran’s advice on raising children very seriously, and I hope I’ve succeeded at sending mine “swift and far.”

Diana & Horton La Jolla

Look Horton! It’s a Who!

 

While I was in San Diego, we went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Mission San Diego de Alcala, and Balboa Park. I’ll write separate posts about each of these. I should add here that on my first night my daughter took me to La Jolla for “margaritas on the beach at sunset,” which was on my list of things to do in San Diego. La Jolla also happens to be where Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, lived as an artist and writer for most of his adult life. We happened upon a show of his art at a private gallery downtown, and like all good tourists we had to mug with the art for the camera.

The margaritas were excellent, by the way. The bar at George’s on the Cove, a toney restaurant overlooking La Jolla Cove, made them to perfection: not too sweet, not too strong, and with just the right amount of salt on the glass rims. I had two, because I wasn’t driving and because they were that good.😉

 

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