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Vanilla Milkshake

Monday, 23 Jul 2018, 21:59 UTC

Today was “day one”, except that it wasn’t. It was in the sense that I spent the entire day at the high school. It wasn’t in the sense that school hasn’t started yet. It was a professional development day. I took two classes related to some of the online tools we’ll be using.

Today was hot. No doubt about it. Today was definitely hot. It got up to 110. (That’s the air temperature, dad. Not the humidex.) After the sun went down, it was still 98. The term blast furnace comes to mind.

To celebrate the “day one” that wasn’t, to give myself a treat, and for a break from the heat, I stopped and had a milkshake on the way home. I haven’t had one for many years. I don’t need the sugar. And in any event, my throat has never regained it’s ability to tolerate sugar, so sweets hurt as I swallow. Yet here I was at the end of the day, turning into the PTerry’s parking lot. 

The sugar cravings of the human brain are slow to fade, and since it was (and wasn’t) “day one”, and since it was so hot today, I had a milkshake. My throat didn’t like it. And I felt lousy for an hour or two afterwards. But I had a vanilla milkshake. Ok?

And… well, I don’t think I need to do that again.

Splayed Out Charlie

Sunday, 22 Jul 2018, 16:38 UTC

Once in a while when he’s running thru the house, we’ll hear Charlie wipe out.

There will be the galloping sound of his feet on the flooring, a sliding sound, and then a crashing/wipe-out sound. It vaguely sounds like he took a corner too fast, except that often there is no corner involved. Sometimes he just collapses — his hind end legs just give up, splaying out perpendicular to his body as he tries to keep moving forward.

There’s nothing in his expressions when this happens to suggest that he hurts. He just stands up and goes on.

I was at the vet with him a couple weeks ago, for a different problem. They took an X-ray of his knee. The diagnosis was a luxated patella, something that Miss Izzy had when she was young.

“But you know,” the doctor said, and then she stopped for a moment. “You know, his back hips are both out of socket.”

My eyes went wide.

We adopted Charlie as a senior dog when he was approximately 10 years old. No one knew his history, but there must have been some kind of trauma in his life. On our first ride home and in every ride in the car for many months to follow, he would shake uncontrollably, clearly scared to death. And when there was a loud sound nearby (a dropped pencil or fireworks down the street or a thunderstorm), he would start shuddering unconsolably.

“Was there some kind of trauma with him?” the doctor asked.

I told her what I just told you.

So… we don’t know what happened to him.

My theory used to be that he was driven out into the country and abandoned in the middle of nowhere. But that theory doesn’t seem right, anymore. It’s pretty clear that there must have been some kind of accident (a car crash?) where he was banged up pretty bad. Something made his hips pop out of socket, and they never got put back. In the years that passed, his body just adapted, tendons and muscles holding on to his free-floating femurs, fibrous tissues building up.

The doctor said there’s nothing to do for it, now. And it’s a relief to us that he’s not in pain. It’s just the way it is: once in a while everything lets go, and Charlie’s back legs splay out.

Retirement’s End

Sunday, 22 Jul 2018, 14:33 UTC

I have been in pseudo-retirement for two and a half months.

In late April I quit my job to focus on my alternative certification class. I had been struggling to find time for the class while I working and commuting. So I quit. Goodbye work. Goodbye commute. Hello pseudo-retirement.

I found myself with plenty of time left over after the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday classes and the associated homework. Good thing, too. The yard was in need of attention. And someone needed to be at home everyday to deal with the unpredictable schedule our kitchen remodel contractor set (or didn’t set, as the case may be). Oh, and there were library books to read. And dogs to pamper.

Kinda sounds like retirement to me. But that is coming to a close.

As of a couple weeks ago, they say I am an officially contracted teacher in the Bastrop Independent School District. On Monday, I start a week of professional development training along with my future teacher colleagues — full days Monday thru Thursday. I’m also enrolled in a full-day alternative certification class on Friday. Following that, I will take my ESL certification test (which I should be studying for right now), and then more than a week of teacher orientation and development at the high school. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to see what my classroom looks like. All I know is that I’m going to teach Algebra II.

When all that development and training finishes, there’s… Well, there’s school!

So today qualifies, I guess, as my last day of pseudo-retirement. It was great while it lasted!


Sunday, 22 Jul 2018, 11:45 UTC

1. Fallen Arches

Years ago on the streets of New York City, as the story goes, we were walking along the sidewalk, my brother, my mother, my aunt and I, and as was evidently par for the course, I was lagging behind. My mother used to call me the “Poky Little Puppy,” after the book, and on this day I was living up to that moniker.

Now, my mother and brother were used to this laggard nature of mine, but my aunt wasn’t. So she tried to get me to hurry up. I must have responded with some usual lament about my feet hurting.

“His feet hurt, Beverly,” she said to my mom. And as the story goes, she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me into a shoe store that was right there and got me some Dr. Scholl’s arch supports. 

I had fallen arches. With arch supports, my feet never hurt again. I never lagged behind again. I was no longer the Poky Little Puppy. And my mother, as she tells it, felt guilty for years.

2. Tenderfoot

Years ago, I was living in Houston, working, eating, sleeping and training for marathons. 

I had heard something about how running shoes have “spoiled” our feet, that our foot muscles have atrophied. So I decided to act.

I added a barefoot workout to my daily routine: one slow, no-shoes lap around the infield of a quarter mile track after my long run. At the end of a week, my ankles hurt — noticeably. 

“My ankles hurt when I run barefoot,” I told my sports physician brother.

“Stop running barefoot,” he said (instantly).

I did. And the pain went away (immediately).

Yet… in the back of my mind I still wondered about my feet. And my son, who was growing up barefoot much of the time, would tease me about being a tenderfoot. 

3. Barefoot Gardener

Last April, I quit my job. 

I had decided to become a teacher, and I was struggling to keep up with my (evening and weekends) alternative certification class. Furthermore, our company had just gone thru some changes, and my new boss (a terrific guy) was beginning to depend on me.

I needed more time for class. And I wasn’t comfortable pretending that I could own my assignments for the long term. So I submitted my resignation.

So I entered pseudo-retirement. I had days “off”, which I did use for classwork but also for springtime gardening. The yard had been neglected for a long time, and there was much to do before summer arrived. 

I decided to do my gardening barefoot.

4. Progress Report

Now, working barefoot in the garden was a challenge. I was indeed a tenderfoot, and stepping on sticks hurt. (Our yard is effectively nothing but sticks.) Also, my balance was lousy without shoes. Lacking support, when I bent over to pull up some Bermuda grass or a nascent Hackberry, I’d start wobbling and begin tipping over. Finally, I anticipated the pain of nails in my fallen arches.

Still, I kept at it. 

After a week, I was more sore than I can remember being in a long time. My feet were sore. My calves were sore. My thighs were sore. Even my toes were sore.

But I kept at it.

Week two. Week three. The soreness did not diminish. Trudy grew weary of my nightly lament. I found Advil to be a good friend.

But I kept at it.

Weeks. Months. And although today I still am moderately sore every night when I go to bed, I have progress to report.

First: I am no longer a tenderfoot. I am able to walk barefoot on sticks and on hot pavement in the summer sun. I barely notice the sticks, and I can cross the street barefoot at midday. Second: my balance is terrific. Whereas I used to teeter putting on my jeans in the morning, I now find myself almost jumping into them one leg at a time. And my calves and thighs no longer hurt at all. Third: I can go all day barefoot or in no-support sandals. The arch nail pain is gone. Fourth: I have a normal footprint again. Whereas my wet footprints used to be featureless ovals with no obvious arch, I noticed a few weeks ago after an afternoon rain that my footprints are normal with a full arch indentation.

I’ve been cured!

… just in the nick of time, too. My pseudo-retirement is over. Full time teacher training starts tomorrow!


What’s Up With That?

Wednesday, 18 Jul 2018, 23:26 UTC

So I will have a job in the fall. Bastrop Independent School District. Cedar Creek High School.

Hot dang, but that’s a good thing! Although I confess it will be with some sadness that I say goodbye to pseudo-retirement. And the dogs are sure to be sad, also. They seem to have adapted to The Man’s pseudo-retirement just fine.

“You’re hired!” the email said. Some automation behind the job application web site had figured out that I’d been made an offer and accepted it. This was followed by an orientation. And getting a username so that I can log into their systems. Descriptions of calendars and paydays and benefits. Forms to fill out.

There are so many upsides to this. (1) I have a job! (2) The commute will be half what I used to put in. 20 minutes door-to-door. (3) Bastrop is a small town with smiling faces on the staff who went to school there themselves and whose kids did and whose grandchildren will.  (4) And they told me today that I’ll be teaching Algebra 2, which is frankly what I’d been crossing my fingers for.

So with all the upsides, why can’t I fall asleep?

It’s not stress. I know what work stress feels like. This isn’t close to that. And it’s not as if I’ve been sleeping in late. I get up just like a normal day (albeit with no commute) and start studying for the certification class and upcoming ESL certification test. I have full days. I should be tired at the end of them, just like anyone else. It’s not fear or apprehension. I just can’t wait to be in the classroom. So it’s not that, either.

But I’m sitting here just past midnight telling you this, when I should be asleep in bed. What is up with that?

Public Libraries

Monday, 16 Jul 2018, 08:34 UTC

0. Bird Baths

The Wrens and Chickadees are fluttering around the water I set out in the front yard, yesterday. Their approach is cautious, always cautious.

What a lot of work, looking around, hopping from branch to branch before finally satisfying themselves that it’s safe to drink, only to look around some more from the brink before they finally dip to take a sip, only to dash off after just that one sip.

… this makes me think of public libraries. 

1. A Card Carrying Member

30 minutes outside Austin…

“Can I help you?” the librarian asked. There were three librarians sitting at the desk (although one of them appeared to be an intern). Each of them was smiling.

I asked if I could get a card, even though I live out of town. I explained that I will be a teacher in town, and I thought it would be a good idea to get to know the library so I can talk to my students about it.

“Of course,” she said. “I can do it now.” And she handed me a form, which I filled out.

“Will you mail the card to me? How long does it usually take?”

“Oh no. I’ll do it now,” she said, as she reached into a drawer, pulled out a blank card, wrote my name on the back, scanned it into their system and handed it to me.

I am now a card-carrying member.

2. Making a Copy

While I was standing there, a woman walked up to the desk and asked a question. She had shoulder length white-gray hair, a wrinkled top, and looked to be in a hurry.

“Can I borrow $0.20,” she asked in a low voice. “I really need to make a copy, and I don’t have any money on me.”

“Of course!” one of the other librarians said with a smile and a go-ahead wave of her hand. “Pay us the next time you come in.”

For all the wonders of the new downtown Austin Central Library, this would never happen there. And I am a card-carrying member

Cattle Drive House

Thursday, 12 Jul 2018, 07:13 UTC

There were oak trees by the Cattle Drive house. Live Oaks — a cluster of them shading a narrow walkway. But we knew there was a broad swathe of Oak Wilt ravaging the neighborhood back then, and we worried those trees were in its path. The prospect of them dying was painful. They were what made the house worth buying. Without them, there would be nothing in the yard except for some young Cedar Elms in the back.

We bought the house and devised a backup plan involving two new trees in the back  and four in front. They were tiny, but we treated them very well. They thrived in the years that followed, and the cluster of Live Oaks thrived along with them.

That was three decades ago. And time has taken it’s toll. Many years ago, a squirrel killed one of the backyard backups (a Texas Red Oak), but the other one (a Monterey Oak that always felt like a brother) did well. And fortunately the Live Oaks did, too. Until recently.

I drove by the other day, taking the long road home from the vet. The cluster of oaks on the side of the house is dead. Barren branches. No leaves left. And Brother Oak in the back is dead, too.

That the Live Oaks died should perhaps not be a shock. We had braced for the event 30 years ago. But Brother Monterey Oak’s passing hurts. It was two feet tall when I planted it, mulching it with great care, spraying its leaves with fish emulsion in its early years to give it a boost until it had grown too high for the fishy smelling spray to reach. As I drove by, I could see its dead branches from the street, grown taller than the house, and my heart dropped.

On the other hand, the Cedar Elms in the back are big now. And there are four backup trees thriving in the front. There is the Texas Red Oak which has grown into an impressive tree near the street, surrounded by the limestone terrace I built that week long ago is such a fit of multi-day focus that the sounds of my Mockingbird companions sang in my dreams for years. And there is an Arroyo Sweetwood that buzzes with bees in the spring. And the Mexican Plum with its drought tolerant, wrinkled leaves. And the Lacy Oak that I sadly planted too close to the plum as young homeowners are apt to do when they young trees.

So the backup plan worked.

The trees have grown much since we planted them, and the front yard has much shade from them, even though the walkway along the side of the house is no longer as magical as it was that day thirty days ago when we first saw that little Cattle Drive house for sale.

Hard and Harder

Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 14:36 UTC

Seeing these was hard.

Doing this was harder.

Poodle et al.

Tuesday, 19 Jun 2018, 11:53 UTC

Funny what you find when you have to clean everything out of a room. Today I found a pile of hand-written papers, among them a half-ripped sheet that had “Fall 2009” in the lower right corner and some untitled notes scribbled in the middle.

There are two with check-marks, indicating that they made it into jumpingfishhood back then. There are others that evidently didn’t.


Sunny day yesterday
Rains today
Good for my barrels
Bad for Ben


Spent hopes dashed


Local lunch spots
With happy people



Notes from Long Ago

Monday, 18 Jun 2018, 20:40 UTC

There is a Houston phone number on the paper. 703 area code. Old school, not 281. And there are some scribbled notes on the paper, too. At first they bring back nothing. But then then do. Notes from Occupy Austin. Old school.

Show up before the crowd
Parking meter, dreadlocks and drums
Spark hands and mic check
Yellow balloons and child care
Big postcards
Write your own sign
Who owns the PA? Joshua
Police give us a lane
Chief of police