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Why Math? A Modest Proposal

One nasty aspect of this terrible pandemic is the struggle with online learning. The eighth-grader in our house is one of those struggling, and because of local Covid cases and her asthma, she is unwilling to return to in-person school.

The biggest struggle is with math. I can relate because I had similar problems at about the same grade level, but at least I was in school, face-to-face with teachers and others who helped. (Although my eighth-grade math teacher was a misogynist and thought girls weren’t good at math, but that was the 1950s.)

I don’t get it either.

I am 75 years old and never in my life have I needed to be able to solve anything like the problem above. Nor have I ever needed to find the area of a triangle or a circle. A rectangle, yes, if you’re measuring for wallpaper, but that’s about it. Given her similar skills and inclinations (art, English and theater) I’m guessing the same is true for her.

So this is my Modest Proposal:

In seventh grade, test kids for math aptitude. In eighth, track them thus: those who show skills for engineering, science, medicine or as math teachers learn geometry, calculus, trigonometry and whatever other -metries there are.

The arty kids, the sporty kids, the ones who can be successful without learning how to plot an angle on a graph (like me), learn what I call useful math: basic arithmetic, simple accounting, financial planning, budgeting, yes, even how to find the area of a wall to see how much paint to buy. Problem solving, puzzles and calendar/clock math are also useful. That’s how I got math credits to graduate from college–a course in programming in Basic (I could program a quadratic equation but had no idea what it was) and a summer course that was all about Venn diagrams and problem solving. It was actually fun, and I got an A, thanks to a brilliant young grad student brought in at the last minute when the scheduled professor died.

This two track systems seems so obvious to me that I don’t understand why educators haven’t figured it out as well. My therapist says doing hard math helps with brain development. But so do reading music, learning a play script or balancing a checking account.

I wish educators would wise up and try this. It would save tears and grief across the land: my small contribution to child-raising. Let’s start a movement!

Friday Thankful: Thursday Circus

Yesterday was an even crazier day than last Thursday, which I thought was quite crazy enough, thank you.

I had been trying to get my shaggy Covid hair cut all week, and when I tried online sign-in the wait was too long (because of an appointment with the roof guy), so I put it off again. The pool guy came early, so I was glad I missed the haircut, because the roofers (stay with me here) had damaged the vacuum connection when they dropped the tarp onto the pool. The pool guy ordered the part and I ran down to the pool store–so grateful it’s only a couple of minutes away even with the continuing road work blocking some of my route (are you still with me?). So when the roof guy came at 10 I was able to give him the $34 bill for the pool part, which he said they would, of course, cover. We did a walkaround for the remaining repairs.

Then granddaughter came to me with a very sick hairless rat (have I mentioned the pet rats? I don’t think so.) She was so bereft I called around to find a vet who treated rats, fortunately nearby. Made an appointment for 2:45, forgetting we had a 3 o’clock video appointment with husband’s neurologist. Then I realized we could do video anywhere, so he would just trundle along to the vet so we could catch the call in the parking lot if necessary.

Took granddaughter to her midday in-person elective. Came home for lunch and fed the dog. Picked her up and did a quick Walmart stop for a prescription and a few items. When we got home Eros (the rat) was much worse and he soon died in her hands. Called and canceled the vet appointment (saving $50; the rat had cost $25). Between then and the doc video call guess what we did? Dug a hole in the backyard and had a little rat funeral, Eros joining Milo and whatever the other guinea pig’s name was.

After the seemingly endless video call (Parkinsons makes everything move in slow motion), granddaughter and I went across town to the pet store, where she picked out two more rats to join the living Winnie (not hairless this time; I think the genetically modified hairless rats have poor immune systems. Eros was only about three months old). Phaeton and Silas* are now happily (and, I hope, healthily) in their little rat home in her room. Oh, and we got 100 superworms for the dragon (words I never in my life imagined writing).

Let’s play find the rat! I can find two of the three….

Picked up comfort food for her, came home, had a glass of wine and fixed tuna casserole (comfort food for us). Walked the dog. Watched the debate until I couldn’t watch any more. Read a little, “In Praise of Difficult Women” (I think I am a difficult woman).

Slept like an innocent child.

That, my friends, is where the gratitude comes in. After that insane day, even with trying to juggle two nearly simultaneous appointments, I never stressed out.

Must be the CBD oil. Whatever it is, I’m grateful. I got a haircut this morning.** And it’s raining. The rain barrels are nearly empty.

What are you grateful for today?

* I have no idea where she gets these names.

** No pics. A new haircut needs to settle in.


Roofs, Roads and Other Obstacles

The past couple of months have felt like a slog up a mountain, dragging a boulder behind me. Or sailing stormy seas in a leaky boat with an unruly crew. Fighting my way through a forest of brambles. Pick your favorite metaphor for struggle.

A recent New Yorker article explored in great detail the perils and shortcomings of online schooling. The upshot, after a great deal of data analysis, was that kids are better off in school.

Our eighth-grader has been doing mostly online school for these first 12 weeks, and it hasn’t gone well. Her best work is in her one in-person class, theater. I’ve been trying to persuade her to go back to in-person school, but she has been resistant, partly with justification because her asthma can be aggravated by wearing a mask all day.

Given her recent progress reports, the school psychologist, who has been working with her since last school year, attempted to talk her into returning to school. I felt somewhat vindicated when even she failed.

But I think the child got the message, while I realized that if she’s going to succeed I need to be more proactive, supervising, sitting in, providing incentives and consequences–all that parenting stuff, which is tough for a grandparent.

I often say that the job of parenting a grandchild requires the ability to be two contradictory things simultaneously–loving, indulgent grandparent and stern disciplinarian parent.

New rules, plans, schedules, organizing tools and so forth are in place. The trick now will be follow-through, but it’s too important to allow failure. She says she wants to return to school after the winter break (presuming no Covid cases at school), so we just have to hold on for a couple of more months.

In the meantime, the challenges of a husband with Parkinsons, the usual household care, including yard, trees, pool–all those possessions that own us (thanks, Thoreau, who said “We are owned by our possessions”).

After the big hail storm May 27, we got our new roof yesterday. The same day, major road work was being done around our neighborhood. So at dawn I heard workers setting up outside my window, then men with pitchforks on the roof, and air compressors and hammering all day long. The road work closed off one end of our street, making all my trips in and out slow and convoluted, dodging massive trucks and paving machines. It was such an insane day of disruption I had to laugh, and in way I’m glad we got it all over with at once, including the trauma of a possible confrontation with the kid.

So today I got up at 5:30 a.m. ready to take on this new phase, optimistic that the new regime and routine will work.

Grateful for our beautiful home with its new roof (and having insurance!), and looking forward to getting back to my reading, needlework, doggie play, plus a driveway coffee tomorrow with a few friends.

Laurie Graves of “Notes from the Hinterland” writes weekly gratitude posts. I haven’t been so regular, and I’m going to try to keep my blog more up to date, and especially with gratitude.

Much to be grateful for.




After the failure of homeschooling, the granddaughter started back to public school on January 8. We finally got a good rhythm going after Spring Break– two-and-a-half very rocky months.

But we have a pretty good system now, where getting to and from school is going like clockwork, without the drama of the first weeks.

I had wanted to get back to the gym since last fall, when the outdoor pool got too cold. So a few weeks ago I finally started doing aquatic aerobics. It’s a great workout with an indoor pool full of nice, mostly older, mostly women. The first person I met, who was friendly and welcoming, is 90. I’m already trying to keep up with her!

The Buddha quote hangs on our bathroom wall. Years ago a therapist told me to go to one of Austin’s New Age shops and find something that really spoke to me. That was it. I had an epiphany a few years later. I’ve always thought “Everything that has a beginning has an ending; make peace with that and all will be well,” means “this too shall pass,” as a difficult time. Then one day while pushing a grandchild in a baby stroller it struck me that it means everything, the good bad and the ordinary. When mired in chaos and confusion, when my back hurts and everyone is cranky, I need to remember this. When walking the dog in sunlight and a gentle breeze, I need to remember it.

One of my father’s favorite sayings was “nothing is constant except change.” (At my suggestion, that was my high school senior class motto.) It’s so natural, in bad times and good, to get stuck, to think this is the way it’ll be from now on. And it never is. Get used to the roller coaster.

While drifting to sleep recently, I coined a word: “Rest-spa,” or, “respa,”a place I want to visit, if only in my imagination. A spa for respite, rest, massage, meditation, eating and sleeping, being alone or with others, peaceful.

In real life, my respites are what they’ve always been, with the addition of the new water exercise regime: music, our comfortable home, being in nature, reading, knitting, making art, walking the dog.

Home meditation


My view from the dining table.


Pecans, the last to bud, a true sign of spring.

Baby tomatoes in the garden.

Junior making friends with his “negative double” in the neighborhood.

Knitted scarf three years in the making. Fine German wool.

Starting a new shawl project with deep rainbow yarn (probably another three-year project, which is ok).


Summer Chilling, Part 2

Indulge me.

This morning, after the pool guy left, and while the cleaning lady was here, I had a pedicure.

Sitting there while a sweet young Vietnamese man massaged and groomed my feet while my house was being cleaned by a sweet young Hispanic woman, I got to thinking:

(First, I am so grateful for immigrants, myself included. These gorgeous Vietnamese people who run nail salons and restaurants and raise families here add richness to our culture, as do the Mexican, German, English, Dutch, Syrian, Chinese, Brazilian, African and all the other folks who add to our beautiful melange. May it ever be so.) Anyway.

But as I was feeling a little guilty about so much self-indulgence, I realized some things. About half my lifetime ago, roughly my cleaning lady’s current age, we were new in Texas with two pre-teens, whom we had promised horses to sweeten the move. We had some acreage, a paddock and small barn, chickens, a big garden, plenty of lawn to mow, and we put in a pool. I took care of the girls, cooked, shopped, did all the housework and laundry, helped with the horses, the chickens, the garden and the mowing, and did all the pool care–I used to say I spent way more time caring for that pool than I did swimming in it–and I worked part-time at a weekly newspaper. The girls were active in 4-H, an admirable organization, and I taught cooking and sewing and chaperoned trips. Seems like I did the room mother and PTA thing, too, although memories are fading.

Indulge me indeed. We are supporting the local economy–a pool-service company, a young woman’s cleaning business, the yard guy (who comes tomorrow), while I read, take naps, knit, and stitch comfort bears for the refugees. And still do almost all the shopping, cooking, laundry, gardening, and managing another generation pre-teen.

Tonight it’s margaritas by the pool.

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

I first thought we might ask our granddaughter to live with us when she was about seven, but it seemed impossible. Where would we house her in our condo? How would we travel? Would I keep up my volunteer activities? How would our marriage fare?

After she and her mom moved, not just to a small town, but 10 miles outside a small town, with its long drives and even longer bus ride to school (and sometimes she missed the bus and mom didn’t have a working vehicle); no close neighbors with kids; and a very white-bread conservative community ill-fitted to the funky creative family.

Living in a vibrant city with an excellent elementary school nearby, we decided to invited her to live with us–on a temporary, experimental basis.

Two-and-a-half years later it doesn’t seem temporary and we no longer live in the big city. But our new hometown, though small, has everything we need: good schools, beautiful geography, lots of culture, a church community we all like, and plenty of activities.

Not only has it not been impossible, it is our normal and I wouldn’t have it otherwise. As challenging as a (now) 11-year-old is, she is bright, talented and funny. And if we didn’t have her we would never have acquired our beautiful dog, Junior, who is my comfort buddy.

Beautiful Junior.


I had a few days of solitude over the holidays, unplanned, unexpected and totally delightful. No husband, child or dog. Just me and the guinea pigs. I can’t even relate what I did most of those days, except for lounging in bed after waking, drinking coffee in my silk robe, eating when and what I felt like, and taking long walks. Other than a grocery run, I didn’t go anywhere or talk to anyone for three days. I did a lot of reading. It was just what I needed.

One thing I did was arrange my messy scarf drawer so I can see what I have and actually wear them.


One of my walks.

On New Year’s Eve, everyone returned, and it was back to the noisy TV, insistent dog, meal prep and laundry. I was determined to maintain some of the self-care that had been so therapeutic, but often I can’t think a thought or type a sentence or read a story without an interruption. I try to be patient, try to meet their needs too, but it’s a difficult balance–self-care without being selfish!

Yes, I should delegate more, and I handed laundry off to my husband. Unfortunately it can take three days for a load of laundry to get done, which tries my patience and I end up nagging reminding him repeatedly, “the washer’s done,” “your dryer is buzzing….”

Granddaughter is becoming much more self-reliant, fixing most of her own food and spending hours in her room drawing with her new tablet that shows the image on her laptop screen. We also collaborated on the decoration for a Little Free Library to be installed in front of our church, but I’m not terribly thrilled with how it came out, or how much of my effort it took.

One of her first attempts with the new drawing tablet.

One side of the Little Free Library, a collaboration between the two of us that took way more effort than I expected.

When she was at her mom’s over the holidays Chloe texted me a picture of a puppy she wanted. I put my foot down and said absolutely not. But the other day I was cuddling Junior and thinking about how calming and therapeutic a dog can be (there is a lot of anxiety in this family), so I’ve laid out conditions that must be met before I will even consider a dog for her birthday in November:

  • It will be her dog, meaning she walks it twice a day, feeds it when she’s at home, and manages all its care inasmuch as the school day allows. She also needs to help with Junior’s care.
  • She must show more responsibility than she does now for cleaning, and keeping clean, her bathroom and bedroom. Consistently, over the long haul, not just a blitz cleaning now and then.
  • She must keep up her school work and her attendance.
  • She must maintain a generally helpful and cooperative attitude around the house.
  • IF, and it’s a big if, we get another dog, it has to be a rescue dog, an adult under 30 pounds, and she wants a female so it’ll have to be spayed.

There are still the issues of vet bills, travel care, and what happens when she grows up and leaves home?

I’m still struggling with the balance and self-care, so is this nuts? For the record, I’m staying caught up on reading, having finished three books I started last year. I’m getting needed medical services for myself, now that the rest of the family’s medical needs are being met. I sing in two choirs, attend a weekly knitting group session, go to church every week and feel well-connected with our new community.





Resistance is Futile

For the two-plus years we’ve had the granddaughter, it has been simply a loving duty. People sometimes call me a saint. My response is always that you do what you have to do.

But I grieved my retirement, the loss of freedom, lazy mornings sleeping in and drinking coffee in my silk robe.*

Between her 11th birthday, early in November, and Thanksgiving, we turned a corner, so subtly I didn’t realize it right away. It was getting not only easier, but actually fun.

It’s against my personal code to go shopping on Black Friday, but circumstances necessitated otherwise, and I found myself in the local craft store—even Walmart, for heaven’s sake!—over Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t hate it. C. loves to decorate and she goes nuts in the craft store, wanting the cute snowmen and gingerbread ladies, elves, tiny trees, and ornaments.

We laugh. She has inherited our family’s snarky, dry sense of humor, and she makes me laugh—a lot. Now when she asks, “Grandma, can we go to Hometown Crafts?” I’m ready to go. Living in a small town with a great craft and decor store a five-minute, no-traffic drive away, makes a huge difference. In Austin I wouldn’t think of venturing out on Black Friday.

But it’s not only shopping and decorating—that’s fun for almost everyone. Her whole personality has changed. She spends less time in her room, drawing and chatting with online friends. She plays with the dog, asks me to go for walks with her, and talks a blue streak while we’re walking. She does her homework without prompting, asking for help when needed. She gets herself up with no difficulty and arrives at school well before the bell. She’s making an effort to eat healthier.

Walking to school one recent day she wanted to talk about the Big Bang, and she didn’t mean the TV show. On the walks to and from school I try to just listen as she chatters about whatever is on her mind. She used to march on half a block ahead, me trailing behind.

Yes, she can still be tween moody, even downright mean. Yes, her room is messy, she “forgets” to put dishes in the dishwasher, and she doesn’t always come to dinner when she’s called. She’s 11!

It could be a chicken-or-egg question: has my new attitude affected hers, or has her new maturity made me feel better? I suspect it’s a little of both. I definitely think it’s her brain is maturing.

But I am finally at peace with my reality: not only is this life ok, it’s the life I should be living and I love it. My only sadness is that she still treats her Step-Grandfather (she emphasizes the “step”) like an obnoxious little brother. I wish she’d treat him more like a favorite big brother and appreciate all he does for her and what he, too, has given up.

She doesn’t like me to post her picture, so here is a heavily photoshopped one of her and Junior in the neighborhood park one recent chilly day.

A friend spent Friday night and most of Saturday with her last weekend, and all I heard was the sweet sound of girls giggling.

* I now have four silk robes. More on that to come.

The Wolf

More than one person is wondering, if not saying aloud, why did I wait so long to go to the doctor after two weeks of coughing?

The short and easy answer is I kept thinking it would be better the next day. Magical thinking. It was just a tickly drainage cough and I didn’t really feel bad, except for interrupted sleep.

It’s not about money. Medicare and our Humana Medicare Advantage Plan (thank you, Government, for working well) mean that’s not an issue.

The other reason, as I told someone in an apology email after twiddling around with an RSVP for much too long: Grandmas just soldier on. It’s not conscious self-sacrifice; it’s just what we do.

Mostly, it’s time. Every day seems to get eaten up with errands, appointments, meal prep, shopping, child care, and my one essential nap. If I have one activity in the morning, it breaks up the day sufficiently that I don’t get to my own things: art, writing, knitting, reading. It’s more efficient to use those broken-up moments do a load of laundry, unload the dishwasher or walk the dog.

I should have gone to the doctor late last week, after a week of coughing. My Friday was totally open, but I just couldn’t give up my only free day that week. So I enjoyed a day of painting and futzing around doing what I wanted.

A few days ago I wrote:

If I am not the shepherd of my hours,

the Wolf of Time will steal them like helpless lambs. 

Interesting I should use that analogy, since Chloe is in her "wolf" phase right now.

Interesting I should use that analogy, since Chloe is in a “wolf” phase right now.

By Monday I decided I needed to see a doctor, and the earliest appointment with the ENT was Thursday. I could have tried my primary doc, but again that magical thinking had me believing I’d be better by then and I could cancel the appointment.I ended up seeing a P.A. She did a thorough exam and workup and prescribed a steroid, antibiotic and cough relief. 

What started as a tickly drainage cough morphed into a respiratory infection. I skipped allergy shots for this week, which the P.A. agreed was probably a good idea.



After a year and a half of shots I’m wondering when this will get better in this sopping, humid, never-gets-cold-enough-to-kill-off-the-allergens environment. A move to the desert? But I’m English! I couldn’t live in the desert. Last time I was in New Mexico, the mountains outside Albuquerque were on fire, the humidity was in the single digits and I woke up every morning with a nosebleed.


Can’t Believe I Pulled This Off

People often tell me I’m a hero for what I’m doing with my granddaughter. I don’t feel heroic; I’m just doing what needs to be done and grateful I have the wherewithal to do so.

But yesterday was so above and beyond I’m a little stunned myself.

We had planned for weeks to have a smaller dinner party last night. Chloe was going to go to her mom’s, but she wanted to stay and we agreed if she (a) helped and (b) was unobtrusive.

I planned to make Rachael Ray’s chicken thighs marinated in red wine, and had the chicken in the marinade Friday night.

I had a brunch to attend Saturday morning. When I left Chloe with Gary, she said she had a headache and was back in bed. I thought maybe she was tired because she was up at 5:30 a.m. I went to the brunch, which was lovely. It was a member appreciation event for KMFA classical radio. There were mimosas, crepes, flowers on all the tables, a panel Q&A with the announcers, and a short recital by a pianist who was quite the showman, Michael Schneider. I chatted with some people I knew afterwards and headed home.

I could hear Gary talking to Chloe as I walked toward the front door: “Can you make it to the bathroom? Here comes Grandma,” and as I walked in the door she threw up all over the bedroom floor.

I gave her sips of ginger ale and coke, which she kept throwing up, and she had a 102F fever; before the day was over diarrhea hit. About 1 o’clock I told Gary we should postpone the dinner, for obvious reasons, but also because I didn’t want to expose our guests to whatever she had. One in particular has had severe digestive problems and this was the last thing she’d need!

He agreed and made the calls, asking for callbacks to confirm. One couple did so, but he didn’t hear back from the others.

Wondering if these folks might show up, and needing to cook the chicken anyway, I proceeded on the notion that we may still have guests. The house was fairly picked up, but I hadn’t set the table. I had on shorts and a t-shirt, but at least I had on makeup since I had gone to brunch.

As 6:30 neared and still no word, I started fixing kale to go with the meal, not knowing how much to prepare. At about 6:40 the phone rang at the gate and Gary went out to greet them and explain the situation. I told him to make sure it was their choice to come or go, and scrambled around clearing up clutter and putting (thankfully clean) place mates and silverware on the table, telling myself “be gracious no matter what, be gracious,” but feeling very ungracious after spending the afternoon caring for a sick child.

The guy hadn’t looked at his phone all day. When he pulled it out, sure enough there were two voice mails and a text from Gary. We didn’t have their home number. How anyone could not look at their phone all day long, especially when you have dinner plans, is a mystery. They did repeatedly insist they would be happy to reschedule. I said they needed to help us eat up the food and, after pouring some wine I went back to tearing up kale, putting it and bread in the oven. (The recipe calls for cooking the chicken on bread but I’ve made it on a bed of brown rice and I like it better, and serve bread on the side. Problem was, it had been awhile and I couldn’t remember how I prepared the rice, so it was a little soupy, but as my mother used to say, “it’ll eat.”) Chloe went into the bedroom with headphones and a laptop.

It turned out to be a pleasant evening. I liked the couple very much. Gary plays golf with the man, and he discovered they met the other couple, old friends of ours, on a cruise, so he had cooked up this sort of “reunion.” The woman was very kind, and when the guys were talking golf and she asked if she could do anything to help, I said “No, but come and chat with me while I finish up,” and we got to know each other a bit. She is a former teacher, and he, I learned, was born in the Soviet Union, both topics for further inquiry. They loved Junior, which makes them fine in my book.

When I checked on Chloe during the evening she was asleep with headphones on. I did slip out for a few moments while the others visited because the poor neglected dog hadn’t been out since about 3 p.m.

We’re going to try scheduling a lunch next time and hope we can get all six of us together, with all our travel schedules and responsibilities.

After they left, Gary and I cleaned up (and I took the dog out again). I put a futon mattress on the floor next to Chloe. She was up all night with diarrhea, but I got nap this afternoon. Chloe’s fever is down and she’s eaten a bit today. I’ve changed the sheets, and both the washer and dryer are full. I just realized I haven’t showered since Friday afternoon so that’s next on my agenda. After I walk the dog.

I will consider that medal now.

I even remembered to put flowers on the table.

I even remembered to put flowers on the table.

Leaps forward, hops back

Short update on granny parenting: It gets easier, it gets harder, we make progress and we fall back.

The school counselor and Chloe’s teacher give me good reports. We’re doing better with sleep and getting to school on time. The therapist is helping a lot with dietary advice and supplements. Chloe is making friends and seems more confident and happy.

Overall I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track. But it’s still a struggle; I’m often irritable and exhausted and Chloe gives way to much lip (although probably not an unusual amount for a smart 9-year-old girl).

I could ramble on for a while about how hard this school year has been, but y’all already know that. So I’ll just post a few photos and say that we have registered her for school here next year, and I’m going to be secretary of the PTA board, which I think will be a manageable way for me to be involved, get to know school staff and other parents, and keep up with what’s going on at the school.

Chloe’s doing art camp the first week after school gets out, which should be fun because she loves the art teacher. After that summer’s open–time with other family members, exploring the nearby creek, and lots and lots of pool time.

Chloe and friend, first pool day of 2016 (April 20).

Chloe and friend, first pool day of 2016 (April 20).

With our beloved dog, Junior, acquired in October as a rescue.

With our beautiful blue heeler, Junior, acquired in October as a rescue.

Junior enjoying Chloe's blankie.

Junior enjoying Chloe’s blankie and his favorite toy, a ball. He goes berserk for any kind of ball.

She loves manga, anime and fantasy. Sometimes she's a witch, sometimes a werewolf.

She loves manga, anime and fantasy. Sometimes she’s a witch, sometimes a werewolf.

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