#342–Covid strikes close to home . . .

I don’t have Covid and I haven’t tested positive, but I’ve been exposed. This is a first for me, since the pandemic began. And some of my friends now have it, and one recently died. His obit was in the Siuslaw News yesterday, June 22. So, Covid is definitely still with us. Up until now, it’s been “out there,” not “right here––up close and personal.” Suddenly, Covid is much too close.

I still wear a mask when I go grocery shopping, but I now wear a KN95 mask instead of this cloth one.

Masks have not been mandated by the state of Oregon for several months, but I continued to wear mine in indoor public settings until recently. I wore it when I was on duty as a clerk at Backstreet Gallery and on duty as a docent at the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum. But the past few weeks, I started removing my mask because I was about the only one left wearing one. I was just beginning to feel safe without it. Then everything changed. . . .

My friend and her husband both got Covid several weeks ago, even though they were vaccinated, boosted, and took precautions. She is my age, 80, and her husband a few years older. Both became very sick, and both ended up in the hospital. She survived; he didn’t. I was stunned when I found out. I’ve only known a few people who’ve had Covid and no one who has died because of it. Not only has it become too close, but it’s back to being scary.

I learned about my friend’s husband’s death just about the same time as we had the June 11 reception at Backstreet Gallery. It was held to honor the Featured Artists––Teresa Zook and myself. It was held in the afternoon during a sun break on an otherwise rainy day. Our live music was held outside, but many people were inside, including me. Only a few people were wearing masks. I planned to wear mine, but I also wanted to eat some of the treats and drink some wine. And, mostly, I wanted to talk with friends that had come to honor me without my mask on. So, I didn’t wear it.

Weaver Teresa Zook and I were the Featured Artists honored at the reception.

At our June 11 reception, hardly anyone was wearing a mask, including Debbie Boyle, Karen Gassawy, and me.

It was a successful reception with lots of members attending, lots of other folks attending, and lots of sales. I said in my blog post two weeks ago that it had gone off without a hitch. Well, that was not quite true, because it became a spreader of Covid. And none of us realized it until five days later.

All of us who are members of Backstreet learned of this late Wednesday afternoon, June 15. We only learned about it after the chairperson of the reception developed symptoms, tested positive, and learned she had Covid. That same day we found out another member also had symptoms and also tested positive. Later, both husbands also developed symptoms and tested positive. (One was at the reception and one was not.)

As of Friday, almost a week after the reception, of the 17 Backstreet members that attended, three developed Covid with mild symptoms and tested positive, two of their spouses also became sick with symptoms and tested positive, and one more member tested positive with no symptoms yet. Most of the rest of us have tested with home tests and tested negative

Here i am with my KN95 mask It is stiffer than a cloth mask and has space around the nose, which makes breathing easier. It is more effective against Covid than cloth.

My friend’s husband’s death and this whole reception experience shows that Covid is definitely still with us. From now on, I’ll be wearing my KN95 mask in all indoor public places.

I had both of my eye surgeries completed before I knew I had been exposed. Each time I was in the eye surgery center, I had my mask on. They required it of everyone. So, I’m sure I didn’t spread anything. And I tested negative on June 15 and June 17.  

 A few days after our reception on June 14, the CDC recommended everyone in Lane (that’s us), Douglas, and Jackson counties wear masks in indoor public settings and on public transportation. Then on June 17 the same recommendation was made for Coos, Curry, and Hood River counties.

Bottom line: Once again, it’s time to do everything we can to prevent becoming exposed. Mask up, keep your distance, and wash hands often. You know the drill! Stay safe, everyone!

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#341–It’s all about the eyes . . .

Those of us who wear glasses or contacts and see our eye doctor every couple years or even annually, get to the stage where the doc says, “I see the beginnings of cataracts.” Then in two or three years, “By next year you’ll probably be ready for cataract surgery.” And finally, “Yes, it’s time.”

I reached that final stage this past fall, when I saw my eye doctor, Dr. Julie Kittock, here in Florence. So, she scheduled an appointment with Dr. Grillo, whom I met with in the Florence clinic. He gave me a step-by-step of what would happen, and later, I received a packet of paperwork that I filled out. Before long, the surgical dates were set for February. I had previously planned for leg vein surgeries to happen just before Christmas, and this would allow plenty of recuperation time before the cataract surgeries.

Well, the leg vein surgeries were postponed again and again and didn’t take place until March, and so the cataract surgeries were postponed again and again also. But finally, it was time. My leg surgeries were done, and now, I could take care of my eyes.

But an unforeseen problem almost derailed the cataract surgeries once again.

No Room at the Inn

My scheduled dates, middle of June, in Eugene, were at the same time as numerous graduations, including the U of O, and just before the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, being held at Hayward Field. This I found out in May when I was trying to line up a place to stay during the cataract surgeries. The Comfort Inn Suites where I had previously stayed with medical and AAA discounts, had one room left with a King bed that would cost three times what I paid in the past and no discounts were honored. Every place I called either had no rooms left or even higher prices. And I tried B&Bs and hostels as well. No luck! No wonder! Eugene was expecting about 30,000 visitors during this time.

My friend, Rosemary Camozzi, offered to let me stay at her place during my cataract surgeries much to my relief!

So, I emailed my friend. Rosemary Camozzi, who had picked me up from medical surgeries before and was going to again this time, to say that I was going to have to postpone yet again. Her response, “Why not stay with me?”, was a Godsend; I did not want to postpone a third time. So, I took her up on her offer.

First Eye

Phone calls from Pacific Clear Vision Institute/Pacific Surgery Center in Eugene, where Dr. Grillo works his magic, gave me exact times and before surgery instructions.

When I got my appointment time, it was earlier than I expected. I was to report at 8:10 a.m., which meant I would need to set my alarm for 4 a.m. and have a stressful early morning drive to Eugene just before surgery.  I called Rosemary to fill her in on the times and she said, “Why don’t you come and stay Sunday evening, also?” Why not, indeed! So, that became the new plan!

That Sunday, I got home from duty as a docent at the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum and watered the greenhouse before fixing a quick dinner. Then I loaded food in my cooler, finished packing my suitcase, and made sure I had the last of the medical paperwork. I left at 6:30 p.m. and made good time until I got to Rosemary’s block. My GPS told me I had arrived and shut off, but I couldn’t figure out which house. I didn’t see a house number. Rosemary had said to park in the back, so I looked for an alley––couldn’t find one. I zoomed in on the map and realized her house was on a corner. I asked a fellow working in the yard at a corner house, and he pointed to the house across the street. Finally!

After unloading, we had a lovely visit and enjoyed the bear claws that I had brought. (I never travel without plenty of food.)

The next morning, I followed all instructions––no food eight hours prior, no liquids two hours prior, scrubbed my face, put no lotion or make up on, and dressed with no jewelry. Then I grabbed my paperwork, and Rosemary drove me to the clinic on time.

Pacific Surgery Center upstairs is where the cataract surgeries took place both times.

After processing the paperwork, numerous photos and scans of each eye took a fair amount of time before I was allowed upstairs to the surgical unit.

Once there, a team of nurses got my info, took my vitals, inserted numerous eyedrops, and prepped me for light anesthesia. They worked like a well-oiled machine. That took awhile, but the actual surgery took only 15 minutes. And I slept through the whole thing. When I awoke, I had a shield over my eye to protect it.

Some time later, Rosemary picked me up. After we got back, she had a Zoom appointment. So, I fixed myself some lunch from all the food I brought and then slept for three hours. Once I got up, all aftereffects of the anesthesia were gone, and I couldn’t tell by feel which eye had been operated on. There was some blurriness, but no pain whatsoever. I was amazed. But what amazed me even more, was when I looked at something with the new eye, it was brighter. And everything with the old eye was in a yellowish, golden haze that I had not noticed before. This was wonderful!  So far, so good!

After each surgery, I was fitted with a clear shield over the eye operated on to protect it.

Second Eye

There was a day of rest between, where I wrote most of this blog post. With my glasses, my new eye could see every single word easily. What an improvement! Mid-day, I had a post-op appointment, and I passed all tests with flying colors! That evening, Rosemary and I went out to dinner to celebrate at a Thai restaurant––my treat for putting up with me for days. I also offered some of my books and she selected three. The least I could do.

Wednesday morning was the date for the second eye. I followed same routine, even wore same clothes in hopes of same result. The pretesting had been done, so, I reported straight to surgery. The well-oiled team was waiting and got me ready in no time. Then I was in the surgical suite. It seemed like they were still getting me ready, when I realized it was over, and they were getting me up. I had on the eye shield and wore heavy-duty sunglasses on the drive to Rosemary’s, which I appreciated, since it was a bright, sunny day.

Rosemary’s Golden Retriever (don’t let the red coloring fool you), Brodie, kept watch over me each day. He was my medical support dog. And he was just a love.

After getting back, I had lunch and napped a few hours. It was becoming routine. And just like before, after awakening, the aftereffects of the anesthesia had worn off, there was no pain, and the blurriness was less.

The next morning, I removed the shield and could see very well—no blurriness! After driving myself back to Florence, I went to my eye clinic there and had the post-op check on the second eye. And just like with the first one, I passed all the vision tests, and they thought I was doing great! I am, indeed, a happy camper.

Bottom Line:

When your doctor says, “Yes, it’s time.” Don’t be afraid! Do your research as to who is the best doctor for you, follow their instructions, and go for it.

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#340–Celebrating Judy & Teresa at Backstreet . . .

Consider this your invitation to attend a reception June 11.

For the month of June, Teresa Zook and I are being celebrated as the Featured Artists at Backstreet Gallery. Teresa’s weavings and my books will be up front in the display window for all to see. And on June 11, from 3 to 5 p.m., we will be honored at a reception for the Featured Artists at the Second Saturday Art Walk. Expect goodies to eat and wine as well as other beverages to drink and live music by Sunny Sundstrom. We have restarted our monthly receptions, much to the delight of the Gallery artists and the public who attend.

Teresa’s fabulous weavings

Below is an exercise in brevity, as I’ve tried to briefly describe my books and cards that are on display and for sale at the Gallery.


The Bridge Lady

Crossings: McCullough’s Coastal Bridges took a year working all day every day to organize Dick Smith’s research, do more research, interview old-timers, produce the written manuscript, acquire photos and illustrations, and check and recheck before sending to my publisher, who happened to be my friend—Bob Serra. It was his first book to publish and my first book for the general public. It was a steep learning curve for both of us, and it’s the book I’m most proud of.

Crossings and The Crossings Guide have a special niche on the Oregon Coast and continue to do well.

The Crossings Guide to Oregon’s Coastal Spans took only months because the info was all in my head. Having previously been an editor for 21 years at Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines, I knew some of the best coastal photographers and could get the photos I wanted. Compared to Crossings, this book was easy, peasy. The updated edition is now available.

More Coastal Stuff

Around Florence is the history of Florence area from 1876 to present day. Having been a docent for several years at the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum (SPM), knowing the old-timers, and having access to thousands of photos, I was the logical person to write this book when Arcadia Publishing came calling. It has 150 SPM photos.(This is my 20th year as a docent there.)

Both of these books continue to do well.

The Guide to the UNEXPECTED!!! appeals to the fascination people have with the odd, unusual, and quirky. Filled with color photos for each of 26 locales, the UNEXPECTED takes the reader from Astoria to almost the California state line. No ghosts, but always something to make you say, “Who’d a thunk it?” or “What the hell!”

Getting Personal

Devil Cat and Other Colorful Animals I Have Known comprises five stories about dogs and cats I’ve rescued. This book has the first two stories I’ve ever written, and so, it means a lot to me. Even though one coastal librarian said right in front of me, “You’d think writers would know better than to write about their pets!”, I simply picked up Around Florence and said, “Well, how about this one, instead?” Most writers, including me, have developed an alligator skin.

These books mean a lot to me just because they are personal.

The Cancer Blog for those who have had cancer and those who haven’t covers one of the most scary, stressful periods of my life when I underwent five months of heavy-duty chemo during 2014–15 for late-stage lymphoma. The book is the result of blog posts written during that time, many of which I shared with other cancer patients. They told me to put them in a book, which I eventually did. The Cancer Blog is upbeat, but tells it like it really was.


During the Covid lockdown in 2020, I started writing Haiku poems. Then I matched them up with some of my favorite photos. Then I created cards out of them. None of which was planned. I started with my Covid series that have humorous Haiku. Then I just kept going to a total of 11. Only five have poetry with them, the others have a simply fabulous photo with the inside left blank.  I love my cards because they gave me a creative outlet during a depressing, uncertain time.

Hope to see you June 11 at the reception held at Backstreet Gallery, 1421 Bay Street, Florence

(across from Mo’s)

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#339–Rhodies especially glorious this year . . .

The rhododendrons were spectacular this year. Both the wild ones in the forest and the hybrids decorating yards and businesses simply outdid themselves.

The wild pink rhodies were sometimes just a plant or two peaking out . .. .

. . . .or sometimes whole stretches of road bordered by pink blossoms.

As if programmed, they peaked right in time for the Rhododendron Festival the third week in May. And I was here to enjoy them all during April and May. Now into June, they are still gorgeous. And all the rain we had in March and April didn’t seem to hurt them.

‘Jean Marie de Montague’ was spectacular, but the storm did a number on the blossoms. Every day, I pick up those that fall in the driveway. There were hundreds after the storm.

There are three ‘Jean Marie de Montague’ plants approximately 40 years old that have grown together. Here the sun is shining through the early morning mists. This photo was taken a few days before the storm.

However, the Memorial Day Storm on Saturday, May 28, was hard on blossoms. The fierce winds really whipped the trees around and blew off all blossoms that were starting to disconnect. And the rain was torrential at times. It was a genuine winter storm—except it’s almost summer??? What can I say? On the coast, the weather is hard to predict!

‘Mrs. Furnivall’ has tough blossoms. They survived the storm in great shape.
‘Mrs. Furnivall’ up close.

Even so, most rhody blossoms survived the storm. All the photos in this post, except one, were taken after the storm. And they are all from my yard except the wild ones. I’ve added some of my favorites that are still looking good.

‘Creole Belle’ is 37 years old and is just starting to peak. It lost some blossoms in the storm.
‘Creole Belle’ up close.
‘Anah Kruschke’ quit blooming a few years ago. I had the trees pruned up in summer of 2020, and this year I have wonderful bloom for the first time in ages.
‘Anah Kruschke’ up close
‘Naselle’ has a lovely blossom that also just started blooming this year with more light.

‘Lee’s Dark Purple’ is one that I brought from the Santa Cruz Mountains in California 37 years ago. It only bloomed the first few years. With the pruning of 2020, these are the most blossoms it has ever had. I love it!
‘Pink Walloper’ up close is just now starting to bloom.
‘Leo’ is another late bloomer.

‘Blue Ensign’ still has some lovely blossoms. When cut with a stem, a bouquet of these last and last in a vase inside.

Rhodies, glorious rhodies!

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#338–Rhody Saturday at the Gallery . . .

For those not from the Florence area, the Rhododendron Festival is the one really big festival that Florence hosts. It has occurred nearly every year since 1908. The only times it was cancelled were during World Wars I and II and during Covid. This year was the 115th and brought in thousands of visitors. We usually double our population, which is just under 10,000 for the town and a couple more thousand including the surrounding area. A few decades ago, bikers started coming and taking over Bay Street, the heart of Old Town, and they’ve been a part of Rhody Days ever since.

A Carnival is set up on Thursday with art, car, and rhododendron shows Friday through Sunday. There’s a Rhody Run, Rhody Mosey, and a children’s parade on Saturday and a much larger parade on Sunday. Florence’s Grand Floral Parade is the second largest in the state after the much larger Rose Parade in Portland. In the Grand Floral Parade, most floats are decorated with the wild and hybrid rhodies that are at their peak in May.

These are some of the wild rhodies throughout the wooded areas within and surrounding Florence––a beautiful time of year.

The following is a report to the Backstreet Gallery membership after I was on duty as a clerk last Saturday during Rhody Days. It is expanded in a few places for the benefit of folks not from the area:

First of all, I survived Rhody Saturday and so did the Gallery, in spite of the fact that the noisiest place in Old Town was right out front on our little stretch of Bay Street. It seemed like nearly everyone had a motorcycle, and they tried to outdo each other in how noisy they could rev up their engines again and again. At times, you could not hear yourself think, let alone speak. But I kept the door open because a steady stream of people kept coming in. I didn’t sit during my entire shift.

Notice all the bikes in Old Town during this shot of Rhody Days a few years ago on Bay Street.

I did say more than once, “I wish I had a sign that says, ‘Get a muffler!'” And people would laugh and make their own comment. That way, I acknowledged the noise and how I had no control over it. But one gal retorted, “At least you can hear us coming. It’s a safety feature.” I muffled my snort of disbelief and had a good laugh after she left. (I found out later that in California, where lane splitting by motorcycles is allowed, the new quiet bikes make their riders even more at risk because they can’t be heard. So, she was correct. I know motorcycles are noisy, my late husband had three. However, my concern was the extreme loudness of the noise here where bikers were not the only folks around.)  

The Gallery has paintings in oil, acrylic, and watercolor as well as photography, pottery, fused glass, jewelry, prints, tote bags, cards, books, and wood work by four different artists––all men, It has been voted for the upteenth time as the best Gallery in Florence and one of the best on the entire Oregon coast.

In spite of all the noise from the bikers, sales were good. One man, who looked positively Gothic ethereal and spoke in almost a whisper, was very impressed with our art and artists, especially Mark Anderson’s black-and-white photography and Pattie Brooks Anderson’s pen-and-watercolor paintings. Those two just happen to be the current Featured Artists and their art was also in the display windows. He bought $480 worth of art, including Mark’s framed “Thor’s Well,” in one window and Pattie’s large print that was in the other window. And he bought a bunch of other stuff. In spite of being a bit spooky, he turned out to be my favorite customer of the day.

Along with the bikes, we also had some noisy cars, as well as some beautiful ones, here for the car show. Backstreet Gallery now has a BSG category and under it, is a new item called “parking gratuity.” A car with one of those engines that emerges through the hood––like a car that endured a partial explosion––pulled into one of our two parking spots. This muscle car––with the supercharger––was, according to its two occupants, overheating and they didn’t want to go any farther and didn’t know where else to park it. (Sure! Wonder how long it took to come up with that excuse?)

This is similar to the car with the supercharger that parked in our parking space.

When negotiating, the pause is essential. The cowboy and “good ole boy” car occupants literally begged to park in one of our spaces. I paused and each pulled out a huge wad of bills and started peeling off 20s. So, I said, “I suppose so.” They each gave me a twenty and were on their way before I could say, “And be sure to check out the Gallery before you leave . . .”

We, the Gallery and I, survived the first part of Rhody weekend! And it was enjoyable and profitable, in spite of all the noise. However, I absolutely gloried in the silence when I got home. 

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#337–Unforgettable students, the good, the bad & the funny . . .

This is my second post concerning teaching this May, which is appropriate since May is Teacher Appreciation Month. The first article had to do with my 22 years at Blossom Hill School––five years teaching second grade and 17 years teaching first grade. This second post covers memorable students during those years that stuck in my memory—some for good reasons and some not-so-good. Most of my teaching career, I was known as Mrs. Clark.

Alan is right next to me, holding my hand, and Gino, who looked like a future football player, is not hard to spot in my 1964-65 class of second graders, during my second year of teaching.

Alan was my student during my second year of teaching when I was teaching second grade. He often brought me flowers, which I finally realized he was picking from other people’s yards. He often took things from the desks of other children in the class, which I didn’t realize until his kindergarten-age sister would return them. At that point, I talked to him about it and to his parents. At Christmas time, he helped me after school, and I mentioned that I was going to get some spray-on snow for the windows. He left, but soon returned with a can of spray-on snow. Later, I realized that he went to Thrifty’s only a couple blocks away and shoplifted what he wanted. He enjoyed helping me decorate the windows. Everything came to a head right after Christmas when he tried to burn down his house. When the fire truck was there putting out the fire, he was caught stealing stuff off of it. The next day, the fire chief and police chief met with me after school and told me I was the only adult he was connecting with and that his mom was mentally disturbed and there would be major changes taking place with this family. The father and children moved away soon after. I’ve often wondered how Alan turned out. I don’t think he was bad, he just needed someone to love him. I think I was the only one who paid any attention to him.

John is the tallest boy in the back row of my second grade class of 1965-66 in my third year of teaching.

John was a smart, good-looking second grader, who was a natural leader. He did everything not just good or correct but above and beyond. He was simply excellent in everything. I keep waiting to hear his name running for President.

Gino looked like a miniature football player in second grade. But not too miniature; he weighed more than I did. Most second-graders weigh 45 to 50 pounds, Gino weighed about 130 pounds. And he was a bully. One day some of the boys on the playground had him down on the ground behind the backstop and were pounding him, and I was on yard duty. I blew my whistle, but not too loudly. I headed in their direction, but not too fast. This time, justice was walking slowly. Gino was in tears and complained mightily when I got there. I comforted him but also told him that now he knows how the kids he picks on feel. Those kids taught him better than I ever could.

Doug was a fabulous artist at the age of six in first grade. He would draw the most beautiful and bizarre creatures and landscapes. And create unique stories to go with them. He would go into his own little world and slip off his chair and sit on the floor and use his chair as his work space. He simply marched to a different drummer. I did not make him sit on his chair, and I let him use his imagination as much as he wanted as long as he got his required work done. I told his mom that he would never make it in the public schools, that he would need something like Montessori or a place that had individualized teaching programs. She was one of my mother helpers, and she agreed with my assessment.

Bobby is the mischievous-looking blond boy in the front row third from the end, and Tommy is the serious boy with very dark hair next to the top row third from the other end. This was my 1973-74 class of first graders in my 10th year of teaching.

Tommy was a sociopath at the age of five, and I did not want him in my first-grade class. But at that time, I was the most experienced first-grade teacher and got him. He could mesmerize other students and talk them into doing things that would get them into trouble or hurt them, while he got away. I saw him in action when he was still in Kindergarten. He was riding his bike on the playground after class while I was in my classroom preparing for the next day. I saw him stop and talk to a little kid who had climbed up high on some climbing equipment and Tommy told him he could let go with both hands and be okay. The kid did and he fell and got hurt. Tommy rode off smiling––right out of a Steven King story. I ran out but too late to stop it and helped the little boy. That’s when I realized just what Tommy was capable of. During the year he was in my class, I figured out right away that he was smart and could do his work with minimal help and did not like being called on. So, I stopped calling on him and treated him with kid gloves. If I did anything he didn’t like, he would get even. He was one scary kid. His parents didn’t quite know what to do with him.

Bobby loved attention and he would get it one way or another. I finally figured out how to deal with him. He loved showing off how great he could do the computer voice on Star Trek. And he had it down perfectly. So, every day, I would have him use his computer voice to give clean up directions before lunch, recess, and time to go home. He thrived on the attention, and it kept him out of trouble. He also had a great imagination and was naturally funny. During an art lesson where I asked the children to draw something that happened during the summer, he just sat and drew nothing except his name on the back. But he was first to want to share. Curious, I called on him. He had a great story about how the white paper he was holding up was exactly what he saw when the airplane flew through a cloud and then the adventures they had when they landed and on and on . . .

Gretchen and her aide as part of my 1978-79 class of first-graders, during my 15th year of teaching. The boy who was Gretchen’s special helper is two rows up from her on the end.

Gretchen developed a terrible disease when she was about two that left her very skinny and weak. She was bright, but did everything in slow motion when it came to talking, walking, or using her hands. She had an aide that was with her until after lunch recess. I put all the children who needed the most help at Gretchen’s table. Her aide was the only paid aide I ever had. One very helpful little boy became Gretchen’s protector and was always at her side. There was no aide in the afternoons, so his help was very much appreciated. He was a sweetheart! When Gretchen needed to move anywhere, she had a walker, but it was faster for me to just pick her up and move her, like during a fire drill.

Katie was a classic “Valley Girl,” even though she was only six. She had all the mannerisms and expressions. You could tell she had older sisters. One day, I had a new haircut, and from across the playground, she shouted, “What did you do to your hair?” and ran right towards me. Of course, everyone stared in my direction. Every time I had new shoes, dress, earrings, whatever, she would notice and want to know where I got them and everything about them. Every Friday when she left, she would say, “Tata for now!” or “Thank God, it’s Friday!.” And when I led the class in exercises at recess on rainy days, she would come up and whisper in my ear that I jiggled. She really was a hoot!

I loved teaching. It was a very important part of my life. And the children made me laugh every day and cry some days. They were such a big part of my life. At the end of each year, I was never quite ready to give them up.  Well, most of them! There were some I was glad to see move on to another teacher and others I wanted to take home. Both were unforgettable.

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#336–My previous life––as a teacher . . .

When you live in a town where most people are retired and moved here from somewhere else, nearly everyone has a “previous life.”

I taught at Blossom Hill School for 22 years.

My previous life was as an elementary school teacher. I taught at Blossom Hill School, located in an upper middle-class neighborhood in Los Gatos, California. Most of my teaching career, it was a pretty basic school. We had a principal, secretary, and teachers. And we had a district nurse, speech therapist, and psychologist, who were there once a week or as needed.

But in 1963, when I began teaching, we had special teachers for music and art that visited the five elementary school classrooms as well as a resource teacher in the library, but that ended in 1968 when we had major budget cuts. We lost our buses. I started paying 100% of the cost for the reading materials I felt I needed for teaching reading in first grade. These materials were not the state mandated texts but ones that actually worked. And the custodians and maintenance folks were almost all eliminated, which meant that the students had to help me clean the classroom each day before they left.

I think I forgot to say smile! I took no photos in the classroom, but occasionally a parent did or someone from the district office.This was in 1971.

I was the only teacher that paid for the reading materials I used in the classroom, and I did it for 16 years. I also was the only teacher that let between 10 and 14 parent helpers (one at a time) in the classroom starting my second year. My first year had a steep learning curve, where I just tried to make it through each day. After that year, I decided that if I was going to continue in teaching, I would do it my way––and I usually got away with it.  

First year teaching

The week before I started teaching, I got married in a double wedding with my sister where we had lived for several years in the Kern River Valley north of Bakersfield, California, and the whole community had been invited. And I hadn’t seen my husband to be for six months, since he returned from military duty the day before the wedding. So, after the wedding, we were becoming reacquainted as we moved to our new home in Los Gatos where I had been hired to teach. These are all milestones of life, first adult job, getting married, and moving to a new home in a new community. And I did it all in one week. Too much all at once. I wouldn’t recommend it even to my worst enemy.

Preparation for teaching any elementary grade in any year of teaching, takes weeks. The teacher puts up bulletin boards, gets to know the students through their records on file, and most time-consuming of all, preparing to teach. There is the over-all teaching plan to create and break down into yearly segments and then the first week and first day. The district had goals, but in those days, the teachers created their own plan. Then preparing all the materials needed for those first few days. I tried to cram all of that into three days, of which one was filled with meetings—district wide and at the school level. All while moving into a new home and getting to know my new husband.

The first year was the most difficult. After that, teaching became easier. In 1980, I developed a motor skills program for the school with one empty classroom filled with equipment and new playground games that reviewed skills in a fun way.

I did not have a car. I didn’t even drive. The first day, my husband drove me, but that put me there at 5:30 a.m. The second day another teacher was going to pick me up, but she forgot. When I realized she wasn’t coming, I called a taxi and that was an expense, we couldn’t afford. I got there just as the bell was ringing. From then on, I either got their really early with my husband taking me or I took a bus that required me to walk 20 blocks to catch it, and get off a few blocks before the school and arrive 15 minutes before class started. Every day, after school, my husband picked me up.

I really struggled those first few weeks and when the district supervisor of new teachers arrived to observe me, I had just realized that the keys were in the classroom, locking me and my students out. So, I sent the supervisor to get a key and pleaded with the students to be on their best behavior while she was there. For the most part, they were. Nevertheless, when I met with her afterwards, she started by saying, “Well, since things can’t get any worse,” which of course they did. Within a few weeks, I got laryngitis and had a weak, scratchy voice for the rest of the year.  

We had no help-the-new-teacher programs then, but I made it through. In those days, a lot of teachers quit after their first year, since it was a sink or swim experience in many districts. I was definitely more prepared the next year and recruited parent helpers within the first weeks.

Teaching took place in the classroom, on the playground, and here in the park adjacent to the school. This was 1985.

I had always looked young for my age, and when I started teaching at 21, I still looked like a teenager. Meeting parents for the first time, they often asked where the teacher was. The first few years, I felt like an imposter, like I was pretending to be a teacher.

Teaching First Grade

After my fifth year of teaching second grade, I moved to the first grade at the principal’s request. A first-grade teacher was leaving and the principal needed an experienced teacher to fill that post, since the district had a policy of not putting new teacher’s in first grade. Since he needed me, I had some leverage. I knew about a reading program used in special ed classes that I wanted if I was going to teach first grade. It was an expensive, individualized program. The first year, the district paid for it, after that, I did because of the major budget cuts. It worked well. I loved it, and because it worked so well, the students and parents liked it. That’s when I realized that I didn’t feel like I was pretending any more. I began to feel like a real teacher.

But I had much to learn teaching first grade, even though I had consulted with two long-time first grade teachers whom I greatly admired. Here’s a good example. The first day, I walked the two rows of children up to the cafeteria and had them all lined up to go inside. When I turned to go back to the classroom, it only took a couple heartbeats to realize the whole class was following me back. They didn’t know anything about a cafeteria. So, we made a U-turn and headed back to the cafeteria. I stayed with them explaining everything and went through with them guiding and directing all the way to the tables where they would sit.  From then on, each year on the first day, we would take a field trip to the restrooms, the playground, and the cafeteria before the first recess. I learned that lesson the hard way.

I often worked with small groups, while the others were involved with other activities or a mother helper. This particular time, was during a reception for me my last week of teaching. Most of my students were there as were their parents.

First grade sets the foundation, so every day something new is suddenly comprehended by someone. That is an “aha moment” and the light of understanding shows in the student’s eyes. I did’t see it every time, of course, but enough to realize that that was one of the greatest rewards of teaching.

The students come so far in first grade. At the beginning of the year, the class attention span is about five minutes. So, there are many, many short lessons in the course of a day, and the teacher has to be prepared for the whole day before the children enter in the morning. And to mix sit-down with stand-up-and-move lessons because the students aren’t used to sitting for long periods. By the end of the year, they have a much longer attention span and can do so much.

After working so hard to get them to that point, I never was ready to let them go. And each year, when the new batch arrived, there was a “why me” moment! Then those lights of understanding begin clicking on, and I was hooked once again.

Another plus is that first-graders (usually) love their first-grade teacher and hang on every word. I had many parents who would say to me “Mrs. Fleagle says” followed by whatever I had said. I even had one parent bring her daughter to me after school one day and say, “Would you PLEASE tell her to XXX because she won’t listen to me. But she’ll do ANYTHING YOU say!” During their first-grade year, I was the most important person in the world to many of my students. Heady stuff!

Show and Tell

Once a week, we had what I called “Sharing.” For something unusual, like a pet or another person, they were to forewarn me. We had every conceivable kind of pet from gold fish to snakes to ferrets and many dogs and cats. One girl, brought her brother who had just returned home from Vietnam and was very impressive in full-dress uniform.

My first 15 years or so, I had Mr. Allen for a principal. He lived in the neighborhood and walked to school with the students. Then the last five years or so, one of my fellow teachers, Sue Russ, became the principal.

I had no idea what would come out of their mouths. One girl, showing off her newly acquired reading skills, read a year’s worth of telephone bills and the class hung on every word. One boy told how his father had fallen off the back steps and broke his leg. When I asked his mother how the father was doing, she had a blank look. The boy had made it up. One that was not made up resulted in a visit from the police. One of my students told of an intruder in their home where the police had been called. No one knew who it was—or so they thought. My student had gotten up to use the bathroom and saw him but told no one. She was saving it for Sharing. She told the whole class all about it, including who it was. Children recognize adults from more than just their faces. I had her go tell the school secretary, who told the principal, who called her mother, who called the police!

Scary and Unforeseen Situations

Good thing I knew that one of my students was diabetic and her mother had given me a tube of glucose just in case. On her very first day, she came up to tell me she was feeling faint and needed to eat something. She was waiting her turn in line when I saw her eyes roll back and she dropped to the floor. Not something you ever want to see. So, I grabbed the tube of glucose and squirted some in her mouth, hoping that she was indeed the diabetic child. Her eyes opened instantly, and she was up and getting food out of her lunch.

During one hot April day, a girl at the front of the line passed out from the heat and landed against the back door to the classroom, blocking me from opening it and getting to her or letting the class in. So, I ran through a neighboring classroom with my key in my hand, and was able to open the door, get her inside and put wet paper towels on her face, as the class all streamed in right past us. She was up and about feeling fine before I was. That really shook me.

Another time that shook me was when a boy swallowed a tootsie pop drop and it got stuck in his throat one rainy day when the class was in the classroom instead of the playground after lunch. I noticed him, when he slumped to the floor. He couldn’t breathe and his lips were turning blue. I used the Heimlich Maneuver on him and the tootsie pop drop shot about 20 feet across the classroom. Within minutes, he was back to playing. Again, the student recovered before I did.

One of my effective means of punishment, was to remove the child from the classroom for a few minutes. They would have to sit on the bench outside of the classroom. Well, I asked one boy who was acting up to sit outside until I came to get him. That day, it was only about a half hour before class was to be dismissed. So, he sat for a few minutes, then got up and went home. I was frantic when I couldn’t find him. As soon as the class was dismissed, I called his home and was very relieved to find that he was there.

Here you see the benches outside the classrooms. On this day during my last week of teaching, the school had a surprise assembly for me. I was overwhelmed as well as happy and sad at the same time. I had been at the same school for 22 years.

First graders often don’t know what “acceptable” behavior is in certain situations. I had a student, Shavon, who had older brothers and was very good at using cuss words in her every day language. So, when she made a mistake one day and loudly exclaimed, “Damn!” I had to let her know that this was not acceptable and would get her in trouble every time in the classroom. I suggested, “Darn!” For a few months, I would hear, “Damn! Darn!” as she corrected herself. Other students, would help her out by saying, “Darn, Shavon, not damn!” You are never supposed to laugh at the students, but every day, they made me chuckle.

I thoroughly enjoyed my 22 years at Blossom Hill School––all except for that first one. But that was the year I actually learned to become a teacher. And I learned to love it.

So, that’s the story of my “previous life.”

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#335–Thoughts on my Mom . . .

With Mother’s Day approaching, I was thinking about my Mom, who was a complex woman. She had very little common sense but was shrewd, had secrets and considered herself a survivor, and grew more and more negative as she got older.  Since her passing in 2017 at the age of 105, I’ve been trying to figure out why she was the way she was. One thing I do know is that she had a fear of being left on her own. Throughout her life, there was always someone to take care of her.


In 1914, at the age of two, her father died in a logging accident. She, along with her mother and eight-year-old sister, were taken in by relatives for a few years.

They eventually ended up in Seattle where Mom’s mother ran a boarding house. Mom mentioned that she had to sleep in the kitchen some of the time and didn’t like all the strangers living in the same house. It must have been a hard life for Mom and a very hard life for her mother, who did all the cleaning, cooking, etc.

She had no father growing up and a mother who had little time for her. From what she said, school was not easy. I think she had little self-confidence and developed an inferiority complex that stayed with her the rest of her life. After high school, she had a few jobs as nanny and waitress.

Wife and Mother

Her mother died when Mom was 21. She moved in with a married friend who lived in Oakland, CA, and got a job as a waitress at a diner at the airport. After some time, her friend needed the room Mom was staying in for her baby that was due soon. Mom had to move out. So, she convinced a fellow she worked with in the diner to marry her. She knew he was sweet on her. The marriage lasted five years and there were no children. When he decided he wanted to attend classes to become a pilot rather than stay a cook forever, my Mom told me she “simply couldn’t have that” and left him and moved in with her sister in Long Beach, CA. That’s where she met Dad.

My Dad, was a sailor in the Navy just before World War II.

Their courtship was in Southern California, but he was in the Navy and his ship, the USS Oklahoma, was sent to Hawaii. Her sister’s husband was also in the Navy and his ship was also going to Hawaii. So, the two sisters traveled to Hawaii together aboard the SS Lurline ocean liner.

My parents got married in Hawaii, and after some time, Mom became pregnant. In September of 1941, my Dad’s tour of duty was up, and he chose to be discharged in Seattle. After he left, life became exciting. I was born in November, Pearl Harbor was bombed in December, and a few months later, Mom and I traveled via troop transport surrounded by destroyers to the states. My Mom and I eventually met up with Dad in Seattle.

Mom and Dad in the 1950s.

The years in Seattle saw my sister and brother born in rapid succession. Then Dad reenlisted during the last year of the war. Mom was terribly unhappy with three children all under four years old to manage and her husband away. She never forgave Dad for that.

The years living in their own homes in Vancouver, WA, Portland, OR, and in the Kern River Valley north of Bakersfield, CA, was a time when she was a committed wife and mother. Mondays were for laundry, Tuesdays for ironing, etc. She had a routine for all the household chores and every day after breakfast read the newspaper. She cooked all our meals and did a wonderful job on pies. She and Dad loved to dance and would often go out dancing, and I was usually the babysitter.

She was a room mother at school more than once, and I remember a few birthday parties where we invited friends. Dad bought her a sewing machine, and she learned to sew. I remember a coat she made me when I was in the middle grades. And in high school, I had several lovely dresses to wear to dances that she made. I loved that coat and those dresses.

Years in Southern California

After 24 years living in the Kern River Valley, all three children had gone onto college and married. Mom was very proud of her children but didn’t much care for their spouses. Mom and Dad moved to Southern California, when Dad was transferred to a power plant near Redondo Beach. That’s when Mom started showing some independence. She rode buses to go shopping and made friends.

Mom and Dad enjoying their cruise to Hawaii.

Then they moved farther south to San Marcos when Dad transferred again to the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in the late 1970s. It didn’t take Mom long to become a volunteer at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla. She took buses to get there and spent about 15 years there, making some long-lasting friendships.

Then Dad retired and they started taking vacations on cruise ships. Her years living in San Marcos were among her happiest and most satisfying. She was highly valued by the doctors and nurses at the clinic and thrived. When visiting her during those years, it seemed like she was talking about her full-time job, instead of a once-a-week volunteer situation. She loved it, and it was good for her. And she loved all the trips that she and Dad made.

Health Problems & Move to Bakersfield

In the late 1990s, they both began having health problems that required my brother or sister, who both lived in Bakersfield, to make numerous trips to San Marcos. My brother and sister both had full-time careers and it wasn’t easy to keep requesting time off. I was working full-time also and lived in Oregon and had a husband who was not well, but came down twice a year for a couple of weeks each time.

In 2002, Mom and Dad finally moved to Bakersfield. It was good timing because Dad was beginning to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Mom did not want to move to Bakersfield. So, she let everyone know how unhappy she was. She did not make friends or join any groups. And she called on my brother and sister for everything all the time. I came down three times a year and stayed a couple of weeks each time to help out. She stayed unhappy about the move for as long as she lived.

After Dad died in 2010, she became even more difficult to be around. Nearly all her comments were negative and anything you told her she remembered and would use against you, if it suited her purposes. And she belittled her children’s advice, but would believe whatever anybody else said. Whenever I was around her, it was like walking on eggshells and you had to think through everything you were going to say. She could turn from pleasant to mean in a heartbeat.

Mom celebrating her 100th birthday in 2012.

We thought about having her move into assisted living, but she absolutely refused to even consider it. She had become very self-centered and liked being treated like a queen bee. So, we hired a caregiver for four hours each morning with my sister and brother alternated meals each evening and my brother continued to handle finances and my sister the yard work. After a few years, we added help to come a few hours each evening, relieving my brother and sister of the evening visits.

As to her secrets, we didn’t know her true age until Dad discovered that instead of 72 as we all thought, she was actually 77. I think that’s why she never learned to drive. She didn’t want to have to carry a license with her actual age on it.

After Dad died in 2010, the attorney asked us whether there were any children from Mom’s first marriage. My sister told him that he must be talking about someone else, because none of us knew about a previous marriage. But he had the papers in front of him. When Mom was confronted with this, she said it wasn’t any of our business. And she never talked about it until she was 104 with me just months before she died. I think the five years difference in her age was her way of deleting the five years of her first marriage.

Like I said, she was a complex woman. Learning how to deal with her, prepared me for dealing with almost anybody throughout my life!

I wish all mothers reading this, a very happy Mother’s Day.

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#334–A tale of tails . . .

I had a dream the other night about pets I’ve had and their tails. Who knows why!  I have no idea, but I got up and started writing. I’ve put the dates of when each pet was mine.  I’ve written just as I remembered them but from each pet’s point of view. I know, it’s quirky and just for fun! So, enjoy!

Pepper in a rare moment of rest. He spent most of his time running for that was what he enjoyed most. –Painting by Karen D. Nichols

Pepper, 1969–‘79 (a 40-pound English Setter given to a family in a suburb when he was two years old, where they kept him tied in the yard where he barked and barked and was miserable, and after the neighbors complained, that is when they gave him to me during a time I lived in a cabin in the woods)––“My tail wags to show how happy I am to be running free and not tied up. It wags when I’m running on the beach, running through the woods, actually running anywhere. I also wag my long, white tail with its feathering inside the cabin while lying on the rug, so the cats can play with it. They don’t think I know what they’re up to. And when I’m in trouble, it seems to wag on its own, while I look away and hope the lady won’t notice me or my tail.”

Eric was a 90-pound, beautiful Irish Setter that loved attention and ran off whenever he was outside and not on a leash.

Eric, 1971–‘73 (an adorable Irish Setter puppy from a line of national champions that turned into a gorgeous but spoiled, 90-pound adult that we finally ended up giving to a family with many children)––“I have such beautiful feathering from the top of my head to the tip of my tail. Such a beautiful tail! I wag it, so everyone will notice me. I love attention. I enjoy sitting on the couch, which is very comfy, but I’m not supposed to. If I keep my tail still, maybe they won’t notice. If the lady sits down, she’ll let me sit next to her. Maybe I can sit on her lap. If I do it slowly and keep my tail still, she might not notice. Last time I tried it, my tail tickled her chin because I couldn’t keep it still, and she made me get down. Here she comes.”

Whenever he was doing almost anything, his tail would be wagging.

Asa, 1992–2002 (a hyperactive, 65-pound Standard Poodle rejected by a dozen families before we took him)––“Wagging my fluffy, round pouf of a tail shows everyone how happy I am to be here where these people kept me and didn’t take me back to the animal shelter. I am sooooo happy! I wag to show it––going for a walk, welcoming home my wonderful people, being petted, eating food, rooting through waste baskets, dragging toilet paper down the hall, and barking at anyone who comes to the door. I just keep wagging. Life is good!”

Jetson was only 10 pounds, but one tough dude.

Jetson, 1989-1994 (neighbor’s cat that visited nearly every day) 1995–2008 (became my cat when I rescued him after being injured after family moved and he came back cross country; wasn’t long before he returned to being alpha cat of neighborhood)––“My tail let’s people know my mood. Fast moving means don’t mess with me. If I’m focused on any other critter trespassing on my territory and my tail is moving slowly and deliberately, keep your distance. If I’m stalking a mouse, I don’t move it. I keep it as still as the rest of me. In the house, I enjoy chasing my tail, but only if no one is watching!”

Sir Groucho went from scruffy, malnourished stray to a lovable, beautiful pet

Sir Groucho, 2009–‘22 (a rescued stray that had been abused in an earlier life and became a contented indoor cat)––“My tail flips up and down, up and down to show how much I enjoy being petted—sort of keeping time with my purring. When I’m sitting on the narrow deck railing outside, my tail helps keep me from falling off. On the king-sized bed, I stretch out my tail to make sure I get my half. If I’m walking between breakables on top of the hutch, I try not to knock anything off with my tail––­unless I want to.”

Actually, I have no idea how my pets felt about their tails. I’m just letting my imagination run wild. But everything I wrote was based on how I knew them, and I knew each pet very well. I miss them all—especially Sir Groucho who was my companion the past 12 years and just passed away in January.

This was great fun to write––a real trip down memory lane.

Maybe it reminded you of one of your pets or triggered memories of one you’ve had. At any rate, I hope you enjoyed it.

Note: If you wanted to read more about any or all of these pets, check out my book Devil Cat and Other Colorful Animals I Have Known.

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#333–Let’s hear it for Central Lincoln . . .

There’s no free give-aways!

No free lunch!

There’s always a catch!

These are the common-sense arguments that pop into your head whenever you hear about a free give-away. But this appears to really be a free give-away that may lower your water usage, cut your electricity costs, and cut your cost of new lightbulbs for quite a while.

I’m talking about the package of free goodies that came in the mail the other day from Central Lincoln, the community-owned electric utility that provides electricity for the Central Coast. It’s part of an Energy Efficiency Program, where Central Lincoln has partnered with the Bonneville Power Administration.

Here are the 14 lightbulbs of various sizes.

In the package are 14 LED lightbulbs of various sizes, including a couple of large flood lights. LEDs should last 15 to 25 times as long as standard incandescent lightbulbs. So, I’m really pleased about getting these. There’s a showerhead and two faucet aerators that are designed to reduce water flow but not reduce performance. So, less water usage and less water heating costs, should save a little money. And there’s a power strip. What’s special about the power strip is that it’s load-sensing. Using this where you plug in your computer or TV helps save energy by powering down other connected devices when they’re not being used. I plan to use it to replace the strip I have in the kitchen, where several plugs share one strip. Not sure if my other strips are this type. I doubt it, since I’ve had them for a long time.

Here is the showerhead and two faucet aerators of different sizes.

I found out about this “give-away” by noticing the insert in the bill in March. I think it was March. I put it aside to read later and almost waited too long. I finally did and realized that that very day was the deadline. As it turned out, I filled out the form and sent it in on the last day possible. I think, it was all done online. Since the insert suggested getting requests in early because there were limited give-away packages, I really didn’t expect to receive anything. I figured they would run out long before getting to me.

And here is the load-sensing, power-saving surge-protecting power strip.

In spite of getting my request in last-minute, I received my package with everything included. And the lightbulbs were even more of a variety that I expected. The insert said the Energy Efficiency package would arrive about May 1, and it came mid-April. Because it surpassed my expectations and arrived earlier than I thought, I’m a happy camper.

Let’s hear it for Central Lincoln!! Way to go!!

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